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Row over pounds 2m loan for sports stadium.

Byline: By Robin Turner Western Mail

A row has broken out after a councillor failed to declare an interest when his council approved a pounds 2m loan to the company operating Swansea's new sports stadium - even though he is the company chairman.

But yesterday, Gerald Clement, the experienced Liberal Democrat councillor at the centre of the controversy in Swansea dismissed it as 'political muckraking'.

And he made it clear that his role as chairman of stadium-operating company Stadco is entirely unpaid and he has no pecuniary interest.

He said, 'I didn't declare an interest officially because it is a matter of public record I was appointed chairman of the company - it's no secret.

'Also, it would have been totally impractical to have declared an interest and walked out of the meeting because I had to tell the cabinet what the loan was needed for.'

Last March, Stadco, set up to run the pounds 27m new stadium at Morfa which will stage professional soccer and rugby in Swansea from next season, applied for a pounds 2m loan to pay for kitchen and other fittings.

The extra money had not been budgeted for.

The cabinet approved the loan deal and Mr Clement, a JP, who declared an interest in another item relating to change of use of a former magistrates court building, did not declare an interest.

But he said yesterday, 'Being a magistrate is a non-council appointment so I declared that.

'My role as chairman of Stadco is to ensure we get a sports facility of the highest quality for the people of Swansea.

'I have to be in cabinet meetings to ensure that.'

Mr Clement said he did not enter into the vote on the loan decision, leaving that to his cabinet colleagues.

He said, 'I gave them the information then refrained from voting on the issue.

'That is common sense.'

The leader of the Labour opposition on Swansea Council, David Phillips, said yesterday he thought Mr Clement should have declared an interest.

But he accepted the matter was a procedural oversight and that Mr Clement's role with Stadco was unpaid and voluntary.

He added, 'The stadium is a complex arrangement involving the public and private sectors representing a major investment of public money.

'I'm happy this is nothing more than an error, but if the Liberal Democrat-led administration cannot get the basics right what confidence will there be in the running of the stadium?'

Under paragraph 12 of the council's code of conduct councillors are required to declare a personal interest if they have been appointed to run or to be representatives on outside bodies being discussed.

Mr Clement said, 'The cabinet meeting at which the decision was taken was held in public.

'It was all above board.

'The sad thing about this is that it might cast a shadow, no matter how small, over the stadium, a magnificent facility for the people of this city.

'And that shadow has been cast just to score minor political points.'

The council issued this statement yesterday, 'Matters of this nature are subject to investigation by the ombudsman.

'All councillors are bound by a code of conduct and are expected to make appropriate declarations of interest where necessary.'

A council spokesman added yesterday that the authority had received no official complaints regarding the matter on the stadium. Fans and stars confident about new stadium: Swansea's new stadium at Morfa is due to be christened in three weeks' time with a game between Swansea City and Premiership Fulham, managed by Swansea-born former Wales defender Chris Coleman.

Season tickets are selling at record levels as Swansea City fans in particular look forward to League One football at the stadium next season, which begins in five weeks.

The Ospreys regional rugby team, which will also operate from the stadium, will be welcoming its British and Irish Lions to the new stadium, including Welsh rugby's 'golden boy' Gavin Henson.

There is some concern that no major sponsor is prepared to name the stadium after it nor that a product has yet emerged.

But a Stadco spokesman said, 'The stadium is speaking to a shortlist of companies with regards to naming rights and information will be released as soon as it becomes available.'
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 2, 2005
Words:706
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