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Y Gaer: hard and costly lessons must be learned

09 Oct 2021 4 minute read
Y Gaer – cultural hub and library in Brecon

Elgan Hearn, local democracy reporter

Powys County Council needs to learn the “hard and costly lessons” from the failings of a flagship project a councillor said.

This is so that future projects don’t spiral out of financial control.

At a meeting of the Governance and Audit committee on Friday, October 8, councillors discussed a report by the council’s internal auditors, SWAP who looked at reasons why Y Gaer in Brecon, was delivered late and £5 million over budget.

The committee believe that the report gives them “partial assurance” that the issues will not be replicated in the future.

They will wait to see reports on the financial governance and management of other building projects, before deciding that they have full confidence in the checks and balances the council now has in place.

Committee chairman, Cllr John Morris said:  “We need to make sure that the public purse is protected.

“It does give us huge food for thought, we have to admit there were huge failings which have cost this council and the residents around £13.5 million.

“The total cost with interest payments and grants comes to £17.5 million, it’s a hard and costly lesson to learn.

“It’s imperative that cabinet, scrutiny committees and we as a Governance and Audit committee make sure we fully understand the costs of projects.”

The report was presented to the committee by SWAP deputy director Ian Halstead and concentrated on the process of governance and financial control to find out if they were effective.

Their report looked back at the project from its inception nearly 20 years ago and identifies 11 areas for improvement.

Catalogue of errors

Mr Halstead told the committee that each building project should have an individual risk register, and that “it would be wise” for them to be able to view those and “be alert” to any issues.

Cllr David Thomas said: “The report reflects the culture at the time, and it represents a catalogue of errors and miscalculations.

“Audit committee, scrutiny committees, Finance Panel, all expressed concerns about elements of this and were proven correct in the end.”

Cllr Morris asked the council’s head of finance, Jane Thomas, how managing building projects had changed in light of Y Gaer?

Head of finance, Jane Thomas answered: “I think the most important changes is to the capital governance framework that we introduced a few years ago that clearly sets out the requirements of how you consider a project.

“We’ve introduced a five-case business model for all of our projects, and it really sets out the roles and responsibilities.

“Most of the schools projects have to go through that in order to draw down Welsh Government funding.

“They are very detailed, and we’ll be bringing them to Audit committee so that you can better understand what’s included in them.”

At the meeting the council’s director or environment and economy Nigel Brinn, said the report did not mention “what’s actually been achieved.”

Fantastic facility

Mr Brinn said:  “It’s genuinely a fantastic facility, it’s clearly one of the most important buildings in the county.”

“We’ve been able to pull £4.5millon of funding and discussion seems to have almost glossed over that.”

“The key decisions and timings were at the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 when the contracts were awarded, it became a more well managed and governed activity after that.”

In December 2019, Brecon’s new cultural hub and library, Y Gaer (Welsh for Fortress) finally opened.

It is the redevelopment of the Grade II* listed Shire Hall and construction of a new modern library at the former Brecknock Museum & Art Gallery.

The council will be paying off borrowing that was used to fund the project for 50 years.

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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
2 years ago

They could sack everyone involved because clearly they were unqualified, to be kind…

2 years ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Much easier to hike up the local pole tax, schools and continue to reduce services!

Ex Plaid member
Ex Plaid member
2 years ago

This is what happens when the councilers across Wales who have business experience of running a gift shop(or less) are responsible for oversight and scrutiny of significant public projects. Don’t worry, its only our money.

Kerry Davies
Kerry Davies
2 years ago

I pass about once a month and didn’t even know it was open. The website is amateurish and the latest “news” is months old. I can understand why a building project in a listed building goes over budget but it is a facility that should be opened up for we taxpayers of Powys to enjoy.

Morris Dean
Morris Dean
2 years ago
Reply to  Kerry Davies

The website looks pretty comprehensive to me, and reasonably well-designed. But I know nothing about the project itself

2 years ago

How on earth did the project cost £17.5 million and take so long???
the library and routing of the museum, as pleasant as they are, could not have cost more than £2-3 million. Allowing for unexpected problems, the unseen areas and security upgrades it beggars belief.

2 years ago

And who has paid the price for this? Citizens of Powys have paid in council tax and loss of other facilities. Example: In Welshpool, the Library has had to move from its purpose built building to be shoved in to wharf offices by the canal which is shared with the museum. A bad deal for both services and a loss to all.
Too many Powys Councillors are not up to the job and give the impression of being there largely to get planning permission for their own farming and other ventures.

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