CAERPHILLY’S Plaid Cymru leader has questioned the use of public money to pay a private company to promote the council’s regeneration masterplan.
Cowshed Communications is being paid £100,000 to run Caerphilly County Borough Council’s public relations (PR) for Caerphilly 2035, despite the council having an in-house communications team of 16 employees.
Caerphilly 2035 includes a range of proposals that will see the town benefit from “multi-million pounds worth of investment” – including the new container-style market, transport interchange, and a boutique hotel on Cardiff Road.
A Freedom of Information (FOI) request, submitted by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, revealed the £100,000 will pay for a two-year contract with the communications company, which will end in December 2024.
Councillor Lindsay Whittle, who represents Penyrheol, said the money should be spent on “improving frontline services, such as filling in potholes”.
Cllr Whittle said: “The Labour leadership is brilliant at pleading poverty and hiking council tax bills. But they don’t seem to bat an eyelid when it comes to shelling out public money on consultants. I suppose that’s not surprising, as it’s not their money.”
He added: “What is happening here is council taxpayers are helping to fund the operations of a PR company employing more than 30 people based in Cardiff’s office heartland.”
The money will come from Caerphilly’s placemaking funds, and 50% will be match-funded by the Welsh Government.
A council spokesperson said Cowshed Communication’s role is “much wider” than PR and the task is broader than what the in-house communications team can provide.
The spokesperson said: “It was recognised in the early stages of the Caerphilly 2035 placemaking plan that there would be a need for extensive business and citizen engagement, a detailed marketing strategy, a communications plan and a new brand identity for the town.
“Cowshed were appointed, following a tender process, to provide these necessary services as CCBC does not have the internal capacity to service these complex and resource intensive requirements. This is common practice for significant, long-term schemes such as this.”
Cllr Whittle said: “I note the council is arguing that the private PR company’s role is broader than what the in-house communications team can provide. That begs the question why doesn’t the council’s 16-strong team of communication staff have the breadth of experience needed for this task?
“If they are considered unable to carry out this project, as seems to be argued, then there is a need to change the structure so the in-house team can carry out this type of work in the future and save taxpayers money.”
Council leader Sean Morgan said: “Cllr Whittle has called on the cabinet to reconsider the market development at Park Lane, and has also stated publicly that he needs a new transport interchange in the town ‘like a hole in the head’.
“So it’s understandable that Cllr Whittle is questioning money spent on actively consulting with residents on important, progressive, regeneration within the borough.
“Cllr Whittle also fails to recognise Welsh Government’s ambitions for Caerphilly town, by paying 50% of the project fees.”
Cowshed Communications is said to be supporting the Welsh Government, Cadw, Transport for Wales and Linc Cymru as part of the Caerphilly 2035 contract.