West Wales News Review — analysis with a sustainability slant

‘Wellness Centre’ to Worsen Financial Starvation?

Part 1

Talk of a £60 million ‘Wellness Centre’ in Llanelli is not unalloyed good news because such a major complex would bring with it major running costs – when public authorities of all kinds are having to axe services because they have no money.

Cllr Meryl Gravell (Independent, Trimsaran),  Carmarthenshire County Council’s board member in charge of regeneration and leisure, spoke in quite rapturous terms in praise of this flagship/iconic project during Wednesday’s council meeting.

The Wellness Centre would be linked to ARCH, ‘A Regional Collaboration for Health’ between the health boards Abertawe Bro Morgannwg and Hywel Dda, and Swansea University. The £600 million ARCH plans include expansion of services at Morriston and Singleton hospitals, a medical science park at Swansea University, and the Wales Centre for Rural Health on sites across the Hywel Dda area of Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire.

The Wellness Centre would be funded with the help of grants from the European Union, and built in the Llanelli area, possibly the Old Castle Works ex-tinplate factory site, which Carmarthenshire County Council bought in 2005 intending to build a leisure village for which funding never materialised, or at the Delta Lakes industrial park.

The Wellness Centre would incorporate a replacement for Llanelli’s leisure centre, and probably a day centre, health and social services and occupational therapy. The town’s existing leisure centre in Park Crescent, which had expensive repairs last year after storm damage, appears more conveniently sited for townspeople, though.

But of course everyone visiting a Wellness Centre for occupational therapy, or to see their social worker, would both own a car and be able to drive it, wouldn’t they? Well, no – there would be big public transport implications. Centralisation of services shifts transport costs (and time) onto the ‘clients’ or ‘customers’, often to the detriment of their ‘wellness’.

And what happens when the council’s share of the running costs starts to appear in the accounts? The portents are not good, as if there is no interest from the private sector, projects which turn the revenue accounts red are either closed or passed to community councils or voluntary groups, for them to contemplate the gaps between expenditure and income. Currently Carmarthenshire is trying to offload 96 parks and playgrounds, and this week confirmed a decision not to prioritise saving the meals on wheels service (now costing £3.70 a time). A hot meal delivered to the door, and a local park in which to take the air, both contribute to ‘wellness’. If the county council can’t guarantee these basic services, what chance is there of contributing to keep a Wellness Centre, somewhere outside Llanelli, operating as comprehensively as its founders would wish?

Grants for the capital costs of new projects can turn into fool’s gold if there are scant prospects of the projects operating at a profit, and there are insufficient subsidies towards the running costs.

Despite our ageing population, Carmarthenshire County Council plans to cut spending on social care, health, housing and leisure by a net 6.4%, £5.8 million, between 2015-16 and 2017-18, which can hardly be done without also cutting ‘wellness’. A huge cut in home care services run directly by the council will reduce net expenditure from £5.568 million this year to £530,000 in 2017-18. The work will go to the private sector, who will get £3.561 million-worth of extra work – but this still means an overall budget cut of almost £1.5 million.  How this will assist ‘wellness’ is, as yet, a mystery.

More coming in Part 2  



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