Thursday, 19 January 2017

Allowances, Penny-Pinching and City Deals


No doubt, after the election in May, there will be the usual unseemly scramble, back room deals, and vows of loyalty to the chief executive in the pursuit of special responsibility allowances, now known as senior salaries. Carmarthenshire councillors are allowed eighteen such positions by the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales (IRPW).

They range from £22,000 per annum for committee chairs, to £48,000 for the leader of the council. Plus expenses. The make-up of the council might change in May but the scramble will undoubtedly still happen.

Last year, when the final IRPW report went to the Executive Board, and in her usual were-all-in-it-together form, an indignant Cllr Pam Palmer (£32,250) grumbled that they were all worth far more, and the Panel's shock-horror recommendations that some Executive Board members should take a meagre 10% cut needed to be "banged on the head".

The Democratic Services Committee (not webcast, so not allowed to be filmed) were recently tasked with conveying its thoughts on the draft IRPW report for the 2017/18 municipal year, to start in May.

Not content with just eighteen senior salaries they wanted to extend the coveted rewards to the committee vice chairs as well. No sign of belts being tightened there then.

As sound justification to extend the quota of senior salaries has to be put to the IRPW, it's unlikely to get very far. It's pretty difficult to justify the ones they've already got.
Disappointing that it was even considered though.

Although a £100 rise in the basic allowance of £13,300 is recommended by the IRPW it states that there'll be no rise in senior salaries. But as the basic allowance forms part of the senior salary, they will receive the extra hundred quid anyway.

I'm not against a basic, reasonable allowance and the sums are relative small compared to executive officer pay, and although modest, no doubt the extra £100 will come in handy. It'll cover the new executive-board-approved £48 grass collection charge I suppose...and it will help our councillors with those increased car parking charges....

So, as Members recommend themselves a £100 pay rise and grumble that there's not enough lucrative senior positions, in another scrutiny committee, and to put things into penny-pinching perspective, a proposal was put forward to stop a planned 30p increase in the price of meals on wheels. This proposal went to a vote and was, incredibly, defeated.

The final IRPW report will go to full council in a few weeks time and I daresay, by then, some of them will have remembered that there's an election in May...

------------------------------------------

Next Wednesday (25th) the council will be asked to give the Chief Executive and Leader delegated powers to sign off the various arrangements for the Swansea Bay City Deal (SBCD). Pembrokeshire, Swansea and Neath Port Talbot councils are also part of the deal.

This a £1.3bn package consisting of long term grants from central and devolved government, local authority, and health board borrowing, and private investment. Cardiff Council recently agreed to their city deal and other deals are in different stages of development across the UK. The Swansea City deal features, amongst other projects, the Llanelli Wellness Village which will feature private health care and involve a contribution from Carmarthenshire council of £32m.

This blog is concerned with Carmarthenshire and the report for the Executive Board can be found here. As usual it is couched in glorious, visionary, no-other-option terms, heavy on PR and low on detail.

Considering that the council 'needs' to charge pensioners an extra 30p for meals on wheels; has trouble running a small country park; an appalling track record in grant management, and a history of unlawful decision making, councillors should approach the deal with caution and an appropriate level of scrutiny before giving the CEO and Leader the power to sign off millions of pounds, or go headlong into la la land, if that is your view. The council is already £376m in debt.

Some might find it equally concerning that the SBCD has featured the, er, expertise of Meryl Gravell as a Member of the Board and the manoeuvrings of Mark James, lurking in the corridors of power.
Although perhaps confidence should be buoyed by the chief executive's recent national accolade...

A few points in the report should be of concern to councillors, not least of all the lack of detail about the various projects. The level of borrowing required by the council has not yet been calculated, nor have the terms and conditions. Governance and accountability arrangements appear to be still at the 'legal advice' stage and the long term financial commitment needs to be quantified. The aim appears to be to lock the council into the deal before the May local election.

As for transparency, the involvement of the private sector precludes openness from the start and in relation to the Wellness Village for example, the council have already gone behind closed doors and signed an exclusivity agreement with a private medical company from Kent, some background to the company can be found here.

A useful and simple general summary, including the pros and cons of the City Deal 'model', can be found here as Australia considers whether the concept will be suitable for them. The article concludes by saying "adopting the model without careful scrutiny and analysis feels more like taking a punt than backing a certainty"
At worst it could be one of the most disastrous PFI style deals in history. On a massive scale.

Friday, 13 January 2017

A New Year Honour from Private Eye


The Rotten Borough Awards for 2016 have been announced in the latest edition of Private Eye, here's one of the winners;




Sunday 15th January:

It must be heartwarming to see that the local press, the Carmarthenshire and Llanelli Heralds, have acknowledged this important national accolade....



Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The 'Wellness' Village; The cost escalates

With the news dominated by stories of our A & E departments at breaking point, patients in corridors for hours etc etc and our NHS in general facing huge funding issues a disturbing snippet emerged from some recent scrutiny minutes concerning our council's foray into private health care. 

Wendy Walters, an Assistant Chief Executive (we have two of those, and a Deputy Chief Executive) informed the committee that the cost, or 'investment' as the council prefers to call it, for the 'very very exciting' 'Wellness Village' proposed for Delta Lakes, Llanelli is now £200m. 

This is twice the £100m estimate from last summer, but, she says, £127m is 'anticipated' to come from the private sector. I'm guessing no one's got a clue how much it will cost. And even if private investment materialises, that still leaves at least £70m. 

For background to this project, which is Chaired by Meryl Gravell as part of the ARCH collaboration programme and led by Carmarthenshire Council, (well, Meryl and Mark), please see my post from August; Wellness Centre - or a luxury spa? and Cneifiwr's post Merylmania - return of the undead from June. 
Otherwise, please google, there's some spectacular 'Wellness' life-coaching jargon out there.

With the £7m put by for a new Llanelli care home, and a £3m pot for repairs both being funnelled into this public/private venture it's time for some serious questions to be asked. The Welsh Government has already stumped up a couple of million for scoping exercises and consultants reports. 
Fortunately, Ms Walters has offered to arrange a seminar on the project for all councillors. This will be for their information only of course as the Chief Executive has already declared that councillors will not be making the decisions. 

So before councillors get swept away by motivational, 'futurist' conceptual b******s, and a '3D architectural visualisation' of how the vision in white might look, perhaps they should consider doing a bit of research and asking a few pertinent questions;

For example;

1. Doesn't a decision to funnel public resources into private health care fly in the face of moral and political commitment to preserve and invest in the NHS?

2. Given the financial crisis currently faced by the two health boards, the county council and the Welsh Government, where is the £70m coming from?

3. How exactly will this benefit the people of south west Wales? Would they not prefer Carmarthenshire's public money was 'invested' in helping our hospitals, extra staff for A & E perhaps, rather than meditation rooms and conference suites? Have they been asked?

4. How much of this project is based on the conceptual ideology of the Global Wellness Institute, the promotion of luxury 'health and beauty tourism' and alternative therapies?

5. Who exactly are the private investors coughing up the 'anticipated' £127m? 

6. Will this be another Parc y Scarlets, bleeding the taxpayer dry for years to come? Or even another Welsh Government Technium Project, defunct after ten years? 

7. How much taxpayers' money has already been spent? Including the value of the land?

Visualisation from ARCH
A wholly private enterprise would be a different matter but this involves public cash and at the very least, and given the current crisis in health and social care, never mind the highly questionable track record of County Hall vanity projects, the involvement of the County Council should be open to scrutiny, challenge and democratic oversight. 

Monday, 9 January 2017

'Lumpy carpets' and other comments


Cneifiwr's latest post, 'Undulating Axminster' brings us up to date with the state of play over the Pembrey Country Park scandal. Along with evaluating just how level the Axminster actually is, Cneifiwr also comments on the priority amongst some corporate bodies, and one in particular, towards reputation management rather than openness and honesty. I have covered the progress of the emerging scandal in Pembrey several times and, as Cneifiwr points out, was reported to the police early last year by the chief executive for my reference to 'lumpy carpets'.

As a footnote, and as I didn't refer to Mr James personally wielding the broom, his complaint to the police, which I suspect was drafted by a media lawyer rather than a criminal barrister, included a reference to a stock photo, and reads thus;
"This post contains a photograph of a man sweeping something under a carpet.  Mr James believes that any reasonable reader would associate the reference to “lumpy carpets” with the phrase “sweep under the carpet” with its associated implication that the carpet hides something embarrassing that he didn’t want people to know about."

I am reminded of a couple of other allegations to the police which, in Mr James's view, constituted criminal harassment and which, in my view, certainly do not.

Prior to the Police Commissioner and Assembly election in May 2016 there was something of a cock-up over the postal ballot papers, Mr James was the chief Returning Officer and the incident was widely reported at the time. More to the point, electors had contacted me because they were confused over the postal ballot papers.

Within the post I had made this comment, subsequently reported to the police by Mr James as evidence of criminal harassment;
"The Returning Officer, Mark James, is no stranger to controversy of course and it was only a couple of years ago that Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards called for 'ministerial intervention', questioning whether Mr James should preside over the European election whilst on gardening leave during the criminal investigation following the unlawful payments scandal.
Earlier, in 2012, there was controversy over an 'advance payment' of £20,000 to Mr James for the local elections, a payment made before the number of contested seats were known, and in the previous financial year."

It remains unclear whether Mr James reported Mr Edwards to the police for harassment in 2014, or those who flagged up the returning officer fees in 2012. I suspect not.

Interestingly, recent controversy over the blocked Notice Of Motion put forward by Cllr Alun Lenny, with the curious reasoning that it might constitute contempt of court, has led to several suggestions, here and there, whether the role and remit of Head of Administration and Law/Monitoring Officer, Linda Rees Jones, includes sheltering the chief executive with an occasional legal umbrella.

I suggested that this might be the case back in March when Ms Rees Jones refused to consider a complaint I had made following the chief executive's remarks, to the Western Mail, falsely accusing me of lying over offers I had made regarding the damages from his unlawfully funded counterclaim.
Given her involvement in every aspect of the case so far (and since), it seemed odd that she suddenly decided that the matter was 'private'.
My comment, in the same vein as that umbrella effect, was also reported to the police.

As per the format of the harassment warning I received back in August, the police made no judgement as to whether Mr James's complaints were worthy of not only their own time, but also the council resources and facilities it took to cobble them together. However, they were happy to issue it, and the warning still stands and could be used in court should Mr James make further criminal allegations.

In effect the warning is akin to a high court injunction against legitimate comment concerning the business of a local council, without the accused being able to dispute or formally counter the allegations.

And, unlike the accuser, I am not in the position of having a publicly funded legal department at my disposal.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Rhodri's Return?


The announcement earlier this week that former Assembly Member Rhodri Glyn Thomas (Plaid) intends to stand for the St Clears seat in the May council elections is an interesting one, the seat is currently held by Independent Group member Cllr Phillip Hughes (who, I hear you ask? Ah, former member of the executive board during the pension and libel indemnity scandals).

Mr Thomas remarked to the BBC that he wants to challenge the "democratic deficit" where "officials run the council", adding, "We need to ensure elected members run the council."

This is in contrast to the corporate world view adopted by his Plaid colleague and leader of the council Emlyn Dole who, bathed in the warm embrace, or, perhaps, clutches, of Meryl and Mark, has convinced himself, but no one else, that everything is now fine.

Perhaps Mr Thomas noticed that only last month, the 'ruling', and largest group on the council, Plaid Cymru, couldn't even get a Motion on the council table and, worse still, didn't seem to have the bottle to try and assert their authority.

In May, Plaid will be hoping, clearly, to break the grip of Pam's Independents and their cosy relationship with the chief executive, defeat Labour, and assume full control In my view the current Plaid leadership is not helping matters, quite the opposite in fact. Meryl is standing down in May and the chief executive is rumoured to be off at the same time, though whether this rumour is based on anything more than collective wishful thinking we'll have to wait and see. A £20,000 returning officer fee might stall him for a while.

To the observer the Plaid politicians outside the council have been a little more forthright in their views over the years than their councillor colleagues; joining the toxic culture in County Hall rather than defeating it was a bad error of judgement. Maybe Mr Thomas has been brought in to try and pick up the pieces for Plaid...

He is, however, regarded by Mr James as a very unwelcome irritant. He (Mr Thomas, not Mr James, obviously) has consistently supported calls for inquiries into the planning department, most notably in regards to the Breckman case; he has called for the council to be put in special measures over the democratic deficit; called for Mr James to resign over the unlawful payments scandal called for his formal suspension as returning officer and along with Jonathan Edwards MP called for the police to investigate. He has also campaigned for some level of control over chief officer pay and was openly critical over the dodgy payment to the Scarlets and the proposed half a million golden handshake to Mr James.

None of this has endeared him to Mr James, as you can imagine. If elected, it will be interesting to see if he follows up his words with actions, we might even see a leadership challenge to Emlyn Dole, better still would be to see the chief executive finally held to account; if Mr Thomas seriously wants to end the democratic deficit then Mr James has to go.
If nothing else, I can't see our chief executive's bullying tactics, legal posturing and bluff having the desired effect on Mr Thomas.

Interesting times ahead.
Oh, and someone has started a petition, please sign if you wish.

And with that, a Happy New Year to all.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Cadno sets the Scene - The Carmarthenshire Herald


As a festive treat, here's another splendid offering from Herald columnist Cadno;


Cadno Sets the Scene

What is Christmas, if not a time of tradition? You know, readers: the rising of the sun. the running of the deer, holly, mistletoe, the warm glow of festive cheer. All of those things and Boxing Day: Revenge of the sprouts.
And panto,
Ah, panto, readers! 
When Cadno was a wee young cub, panto was very much part of the period around the Christmas festival. It always struck Cadno as very peculiar that Mr Hopkin, the village's lonely Anglican, who spent most of the year looking like he sucked lemons for a living, threw himself into womens' clothing with such abandon as soon as the stage was dressed in the village hall. Odder still that Cadno's grandmother, a woman of strict rectitude and devoutness, chortled mightily to all those double-entendres about farting, which Cadno was sure she should not get. 
There was something about pantomime that was both hearteningly old-fashioned and compellingly modern. The best pantos mocked the events and personalities which were in the news or - as we used to say  - 'on the telly', while remaining old-fashioned. And they haven't changed much, readers: at least, the best of them. 
But Cadno's favourite bit was the oldest remnant of staging a performance: the prologue that set the scene. These are, of course, fossils from very old comedies indeed - the concept would have been familiar to those who sat in the rickety temporary theatres of Rome in the centuries before what is now regarded as the first Christmas. Playgoers watching the Roman equivalent af a Carry On film penned by Plautus would understand the stock characters and elaborate smutty jokes. And so we come to Cadno's own effort to add to the ouevre.
The houselights are dimmed. And before the curtain goes up on Gaol Hill's stage on comes, well, readers, see if you can guess who it is...

I am neither fool nor knave
In fact, I think I am quite brave
Are you surprised I'm quite cranky?
Working with Trimsaran's Widow 
Twankey

Believe me, I'm not the vengeful sort
Brandishing contempt of court
Around my head like a shroud
To keep you local heroes cowed.

Two thousand and seventeen, in May
That;s when there will be hell to pay
At ballot box, in public vote
And on this you can me quote

The Indies patiently their chance bide
All the blame they'll put on Plaid
While Labour hope you have forgot
That they achieved precisely squat

In fact they're pulling a confidence trick
Because they believe you're all quite thick
And will not begin to wonder how
Their policies they've abandoned now

High principles they now proclaim
In truth they should share the blame
With Meryl and her Indie gang
For bankrolling me without a pang

Too late, too late, now to repent
Once the public money's spent
With Meryl telling me I'm great
Labour gave me on a plate

The keys of Carmarthenshire
And now put all the blame on her
For not restraining my ambition
And leading the Council to perdition

With Labour's help Meryl indulged
My sense of self-worth 'til it bulged
And bursting out from every pore
Led me to the High Court's door

There the judge ruled in his decree
That there are no strings on me
A vile calumny, His Honour said
And poured opprobrium on the head..

On her who]swore upon the Bible
That she had not poor me libelled
Yes, her criticism I'll now douse
By sending bailiffs to her house

At this festive time of year
I'll see her out upon her ear
To fund my action I have spent
Council cash on a learned gent

To make sure I shall have my way
And Councillors shall have no say
Upon my scheme to make her homeless
With the aid of those quite boneless

And I will bend their will to mine
In lieu of them possessing spines
From criticism I shall be exempt
By threatening all with contempt

Of court for it is plain
That for all I have disdain
So long have I been their king
I've got them all for me to sing

From the hymn sheet of my choosing
While oleaginously oozing
Wise words of guidance as I sit near
The Council Chairman's very ear

Words which are told to me
By those who advise legally
Upon what it is I want to do
To make sure nothing can get through

Displeasing me to raise my hackles
By those from the tin tabernacles
Which sit upon the hillside green
Who want me to control my spleen

And show that surprising rarity
Acting with Christian charity
I'll take no lessons from their sort
With derision I shall snort

To add to my position sheen
I'll get advice from the team
Described as hopelessly 'cavalier'
For their arguments most queer

Of legal issues small and great
To make sure discussion shall abate
A biddable counsellor I'll seek
To give the council's rules a tweak

Bereft of independent thought
They'll do for me just as they ought
A panto horse, each end a sphincter,
My faithful steed, the Erylinda

And now, electors, on with our show
But do not worry, feel not low
Whatever happens at the next election
The council shall not change direction

Your new reps will all play along
As I plan to go on and on
For truly friends, is it not written
It is better to reign in hell...
than serve in heaven?

(The Carmarthenshire Herald 23rd December, reproduced with permission)

Monday, 19 December 2016

Cadno's Complete Contempt - from this week's Carmarthenshire Herald


Here, to reach the parts that the printed version of the Carmarthenshire Herald doesn't, is this week's Cadno opinion piece;

Cadno’s Complete Contempt

In February 2002, Donald Rumsfeld, the then US Secretary of State for Defence, stated at a Defence Department briefing: ‘There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don't know.’
Poor Donald 
Rumsfeld rather had the mickey taken out of him for that little lot, but careful examination suggests that what he said has both logic and is a sound way of testing hypotheses. You insert a hypothesis in one end of Rumsfeld’s statement, and at the other end it emerges either intact or in pieces. 
Here’s a hypothesis to test, readers: never mind what councillors and the public think, Carmarthenshire County Council, as a corporate entity, has no interest in
attempting to extract itself from what has rightly been described as a ‘toxic’ situation with blogger Jacqui Thompson. Cadno is not chewing over what Mr Justice Tugenhadt said and whether he was right, wrong, or both. Neither is Cadno remotely interested in how the case ended up in court in the first place. You play the ball from where it lies, not where you want it to be. We are now at the sticky end of litigation, everything that has been said has been said; everything that has been done has been done. Now is the time to pay the piper for the dance. 
The Council has no interest in the public relations cost of its present situation and, if one accepts that Mr James’s action against Mrs Thompson for damages is entirely a private matter (and Cadno is proud to have kept a straight face writing that phrase), then it has no interest in how, when, or whether Mr James chooses to
extract his pound of flesh. 
Except it does. 
Mr James would not have defended Mrs Thompson’s claim against him – offers to settle had been made – and would not have launched a counterclaim without the Council writing their Chief Executive a blank cheque. 
Moreover, the complaint by Mrs Thompson would not have arisen had not someone at the Council authorised Mr James to write the comments about Mrs Thompson and her family that he put – in his own name but with his employer’s authorisation – on another blog. 
The Council will not say who gave Mr James that authorisation, but three scenarios present themselves:
(1)   A senior councillor, possibly on the Executive Board, gave him the nod;
(2)   Mr James used his delegated powers to grant himself the authority to do so;
(3)   Some unminuted meeting took place in which a combination of senior officers and councillors signed off on the deed. 
Now, we know – because it is minuted (and the minutes have not been challenged) – that Mr James was authorised ‘by the Council’. 
That rules out number one, because even a leader of the council could not authorise Mr James to do as he did; we can rule out number two, because that would be an unconscionable action for which Mr James would already have been disciplined, if not dismissed; that leaves number three. The presence of councillors – or at least one shy and retiring type – would also be essential for three to work, due to the problem of officers using ‘delegated powers’ to bind the council to a course of action that they would or should have realised on any assessment would have led to at least the threat of litigation. 
So, the Council is as bound up in Mr James’s legal travails as Mr James is. 
Last week, the Council – through the unlikely personage of Eryl Morgan (aka Linda Rees Jones) – claimed that Mr James’s action was wholly private in nature. 
Don’t make me laugh, readers.
That’s comedy gold on its own. 
What the Chair of the Council determined (hahaha) is that the Council should not discuss matters in which it has spent the money for the benefit of a private individual who just happens to be its most senior employee. 
But what got Cadno was the suggestion that somehow even bringing forward the matter for discussion could constitute contempt of court by Cllrs Alun Lenny and Cefin Campbell. 
Umm. You’re having a laugh, is Cadno’s response to that.
‘Publication made as or as part of a discussion in good faith of public affairs or other matters of general public interest is not to be treated as a contempt of court
under the strict liability rule if the risk of impediment or prejudice to particular legal proceedings is merely incidental to the discussion’. Contempt of Court Act 1981 s5. 
Obviously an aspect of statute law of which Cllr Eryl Morgan was unaware. Cadno suggests asking Cllr Morgan about it when you see him out and about. Your discussions of what is and is not contempt of court with Eryl Morgan should be refreshing and enlightening. 
Of course, Eryl Morgan might have had in mind the provisions Part 81.12 of the Civil Procedure Rules, expressly ‘interference with the due administration of justice
in connection with proceedings’. But that wouldn’t even come close to biting in the case of the councillors’ rejected motion. 
Thankfully, Cadno is prepared to help Eryl Morgan out. In 2012, Appendix F of the Law Commission’s report 209 provided a list of all the statutory and regulatory
provisions under which it is possible to commit contempt of court. 
The ‘Thou Shalt not Annoy Senior Council Officers Act’, or the ‘Sabre-Rattling (Causes) Act’ were not among them. 
With nigh on a quarter of a million pounds of public money spent on court costs in support of Mr James (including the counterclaim costs, which seem to have vanished), plus hundreds – if not thousands – of officer hours spent on the matter, the idea that there is no public interest in what happens next is bonkers. The idea that a public employee who could benefit to the tune of £35K in his own right as a result of that money being spent should not have his promise to remit the money to his employer (curse those unchallenged minutes!) discussed in public by the body which bankrolled him is similarly crackers. 
Any suggestion that contempt of court is even possible in these circumstances is not only nonsense but nonsense on stilts. Nonsense on stilts on stilts on top of scaffolding poles. 
The law of contempt, however carelessly waved around, is not a cloak behind which a body like the Council can try and hide things it does not want discussed. 
Now we look at those known unknowns, readers: how many councillors are prepared to do something about it?
(Reproduced with permission)

See also recent posts on this blog, including, The Vice-like grip and from Cneifiwr's blog, Contempt and Mr James's legal glacier

-----------------------------------

I'd also like to add the following - an observation, received from a correspondent, and included in a letter to a Member of Parliament;

"Whenever I think that this matter has reached rock bottom and can’t possibly sink any lower events disabuse me of this conclusion.  There is a sinister irony of Orwellian proportions when democratically elected representatives invoke the rule of law to undermine it.  These acts of abuse and, put in religious terms, desecration of the rule of law, are risible and reprehensible. This travesty applies to the denial of Sian Caiach’s question and the denial to allow the motion to be put by Cllrs Lenny and Campbell; a motion that was limp and pathetically inadequate and yet even this miserable offering roused the angst and paranoid thuggery that masquerades as democracy in County Hall.  
I am not privy to every aspect of the current chief executive’s behaviour, nor his performance in carrying out his public function, but from what I know of it, he seems to have a cavalier approach to compliance with the law and an unhealthy disrespect for democracy.  As such he should be dismissed for gross misconduct...."

An Oops from the Ombudsman

In non-council news I had some interesting, if rather odd correspondence with the Ombudsman's office. A couple of months ago I requested an ombudsman's report which partially upheld a complaint against Carmarthenshire council concerning an adult social services issue.

These anonymised reports are available on request and are usually sent within a couple of days, sometimes a summary is sent instead. They happily sent me the full report, anonymised but unredacted. However, I felt that it was of a particularly personal nature and, more to the point, the content of the report didn't really raise matters of wider public interest. So I left it at that.

Two weeks ago I received another email from the Ombudsman's office telling me that my Freedom Of Information request for this report had been refused. The refusal stated that;
"having taken into account the interests of the person aggrieved and the extent to which redactions could be made, we do not consider that it would be appropriate to disclose the report in question. Consequently, on the basis that disclosure would not be made in line with the provisions of section 21 of the PSOW Act, we therefore consider that the report is exempt from disclosure by virtue of section 44 of the FOI Act"
As they'd already sent it weeks ago, this appears to be something of a data protection hiccup, and I'd never made a FOI request anyway.

Tender troubles


One issue which has been troubling our council in recent years has been the problem of how to put the recycling service out to the required tender when, aside from a private operator in Llangadog, the service is run by its own arms-length company, Cwm Environmental.

The waste and recycling service five year contract expired a couple of years ago but with confusion and complications over conducting a fair tendering process, the contract with Cwm was extended 'informally' for three years. This was retrospectively approved by councillors and fortunately for them, wasn't challenged by potential bidders given that the three year extension was worth several million quid.



Further issues then arose with the conflicting role of the Director of Environment who would be overseeing the bidding process at the same time as having roles and responsibilities with the governance of Cwm. The Director's role had to be amended, temporarily, so as to be legally impartial in the bidding process. How this was achieved is not clear, perhaps the Directors responsibilities no longer involve Cwm. There is precious little scrutiny or democratic oversight of Cwm, and quite possibly even less now.

Moving forward, a soft marketing exercise was carried out to invite expressions of interest, cost, as usual, unknown.

Clearly, ensuring that no bidder gets an unfair advantage is one of the problems with arms-length companies, and the council is looking to do the same, or similar, with leisure, housing, and social care. Of course, they could just try and do it through the back door, but with the disastrous, illegal, and now abandoned catering tender for Pembrey Country Park, it's probably not the best option.

What exactly would happen if Cwm happened to be unsuccessful in bidding for the contract are not known, especially given that the company's considerable assets are technically owned by the public. Or that's how I understand it with a company wholly owned by the council.

However, the problem is not just causing a prolonged scratching of heads, it seems to be costing a small fortune as well.

A report to scrutiny last week provides some detail, though not the figures of course. A Project Board of senior management has been set up to oversee the process, and a dedicated project manager, along with external legal, financial and technical experts are all being appointed...cost, again, unknown.

The report also states that given the complexities associated with owning Cwm, which include employment issues, the external legal and financial advisors may well find that the current process needs to be 'reviewed' or, in simple terms..sent back to the drawing board. Oh dear.
Another shambles in the making.

Whilst I'm here don't forget that budget time is approaching and the council have an online consultation running until the 8th January. Out of £25m cuts over the next three years just under half the 'savings', £11.2m, are planned to be cut from education. A £3.4m cut this year is likely to equate to the loss of 60 teaching jobs.

The online consultation states that if this cut isn't made your council tax will go up by 14.6%. A scary figure designed to send most people reaching for the 'agree' button. In reality I would question the wisdom of the council putting so many efficiency eggs in one basket, a very risky move, let alone the potentially devastating effect on your child's education.

The budget will be decided in February, and by then the May local election campaigning will be well underway. So look out for those pre-election u-turns and planted red herrings which will creep back in once the 'new' administration settles in for the next term of office.

With the focus on cuts, Plaid blaming the Labour Welsh Government, and Labour blaming the Tories in Westminster, what the council is actually spending your money on remains something of a mystery as, unlike English councils, those itemised spending figures are not released. Clearly even the tendering process for recycling is straining the finances, let alone the drip-drip feed to the 'visionary' and 'trailblazing' Wellness Shed, or 'luxury spa' as it's otherwise known.... Armchair auditors out there need the tenacity of Sherlock Holmes. A disproportionately overstuffed legal department and press office might be a good place to start, along with our astonishingly overpaid chief executive....

Anyway, more on the budget, and other council matters, in due course.

Friday, 9 December 2016

The vice-like grip


December 16th; A further post from Cneifiwr; Mr James's Legal Glacier, well worth a read....

-------------------------

As I'm sure many of you are aware, the Motion put forward by Plaid Cllr Alun Lenny (see end of post) for the full council meeting on December 14th was rejected. As was, for the second month running, a question from Cllr Sian Caiach asking for clarity about Mr James' intentions should he ever succeed in getting the damages. It remains unclear whether he's going to give it to the council, charity, or pocket it himself.

It wasn't the Chair who rejected the Motion, he neither knows, nor wants to know, anything about all of this, this was Head of Law and Monitoring Officer, Linda Rees Jones acting on behalf of the person who gave her the job, the person with a vested interest. Impartiality doesn't come into it.

Let's not beat around the bush, as Cneifiwr puts it so well in his latest post, 'Contempt' ;

"The last 24 hours have brought a powerful reminder that for all the talk of reform and change in County Hall, and despite the WLGA-led review of governance, the chief executive retains a vice-like grip on the running of the council, with councillors reduced to being impotent onlookers.

The checks and balances which are supposed to prevent abuses and protect the interests of the wider public have been subverted and corrupted." 

As for Ms Rees Jones, she likes to remind Cllr Caiach, somewhat scathingly, that she, Cllr Caiach, was a 'witness for Mrs Thompson' in the libel trial. What she fails to mention, as she imparts her legal advice, is that she herself was a witness in the trial, for Mr James and the Council, her witness statement consisted of her attempt to justify the libel indemnity clause, a clause found to be unlawful, and now suspended.

As Cllr Caiach has been single-handedly raising questions concerning all this, or trying to, for years, , I felt that Cllr Lenny's Motion was a little late in the day. However, despite some misgivings, and clearly I do not agree with the second paragraph, I gave it a cautious, but sincere welcome. In fact, prior to the Motion appearing I had a letter from Adam Price AM (Plaid) explaining that he had spent a couple of weeks speaking to colleagues in County Hall, and had made representations to the leader of the council, all of which had led to this Motion.

Indeed, I hope Cllr Lenny can find a way forward. The threat that the Motion could be contempt of court is, in my honest view, nonsense. Courts will look favourably on efforts by the parties concerned to resolve matters prior to trials and hearings or during litigation, which was all this motion was suggesting.
Legal threats, of one kind or another, are used by the chief executive and his legal department, in a variety of scenarios, to persuade enquiring councillors to back-off. This is a perfect example of that behaviour.

Mr James has, basically, slapped them down, and not for the first time. A couple of years ago former Plaid AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas called for intervention in Carmarthenshire Council, and that was when Plaid were in opposition...

The chief executive's actions, aided by the legal rubber stamp of Ms Rees Jones, and a very pliant Chair, have totally undermined the democratic process. Something he has been doing since he first arrived in Carmarthen, he started by threatening and trying to control the local press. This is not just about me and the libel case, this is about the toxic culture created and led by Mr James for fourteen years.

This culture was recently described, by former Police Commissioner Christopher Salmon, as "Wales' answer to a Sicilian cartel....It extracts vast amounts of money from residents which it showers on favourites, hordes property, bullies opponents, co-opts friends and answers to no one, least of all local councillors."

If you're wondering where Plaid council leader Emlyn Dole stands on all this I received a letter from him this morning confirming that 'we now have a charge on your property'. He invites me to contact his office if I have 'constructive proposals' to repay £190,390.... He doesn't elaborate on what will happen next if I can't.
However, if Cllr Dole is prepared to remove the Charge, he's welcome to contact me.
So hopeless is the prospect of recovery that the judge didn't even make an order for costs for last week's hearing.

A few days ago, welcoming the Motion as a possible glimmer of hope, Cneifiwr wrote a blog post titled 'Common sense v Revenge'.
It is now clear to me, as if it wasn't already, that Mr James prefers revenge, and will let no one, no one at all, stand in his way.

Here's Cllr Lenny's response to the rejection;

"Cllr Cefin Campbell and I had submitted a Notice of Motion to next week’s full meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council urging the Executive Board and Chief Executive to seek means of settling the libel issue involving Jacqui Thompson in a way which would not result in her being forced to sell her home to pay damages and costs. The NoM was drawn up with the best of intentions, in an attempt to bring a conciliatory note to a toxic issue which has dragged on for several years. I’m sorry to say that the Chair has refused to place our NoM on the Agenda. The Chair was guided by the legal department, who e-mailed us in his name. Basically, it said we had no business to interfere in the Chief Executive’s “private and personal” affairs and legal rights. It warned that such action could constitute contempt of court. Cefin and I were also accused of showing “extreme discourtesy” to the Chair by making the Press aware of our Notice of Motion before he had time to consider it.  
For now, I will just say this.
Many would perceive that the Chief Executive’s action was hardly “private and personal” as his counter-libel action was publicly funded by the Council, an indemnity deemed unlawful by the Welsh Audit Office. As regards “extreme discourtesy” shown towards the Chair, that it utter nonsense. An elected member has the democratic right to make public an intended Notice of Motion at any time. Giving the public an opportunity to discuss such NoMs – or intended NoMs – is a key part of the democratic process. Cefin and I discussed seeking independent legal opinion, but came to the conclusion that enough money has been pocketed by lawyers and barristers in this matter already. We shall leave the court of public opinion to make its own judgement for now. But this is not the end of the matter…"

Here's the rejected Notice of Motion;
NOTICE OF MOTION 
Carmarthenshire County Council expresses concern about the way in which its reputation has been tarnished in recent years by the court actions involving our Chief Executive and Mrs Jacqui Thompson. 
We fully accept that the previous council was obliged to defend its most senior officer in the High Court against a libel accusation. We also accept that it was the Chief Executive’s prerogative to launch a personal counter-libel action to protect his reputation. 
The judicial outcome clearly vindicates these actions. 
However, we are now concerned that the pursual of damages and costs is having the
perverse effect of causing damage to the reputation of this council and its Chief Executive. 
We urge the Chief Executive and the Executive Board to seek means of settling this matter in a way which will not result in Mrs Thompson losing her home. 
We believe that such a conciliatory approach would enhance the reputation of this council and its Chief Executive and help bring closure to this toxic issue.
-----------------------------------

The council acquired a final charging order for £190,390 last Friday and the chief executive is currently trying to force sale of my home for his damages. There has been no mention of the £41,000 unlawfully funded counterclaim costs.

There has been press coverage on BBC Wales and the Carmarthen Journal.
This week's Carmarthenshire Herald has again reported on these matters in detail, and includes full coverage of last week's delivery to County Hall of a pound of flesh.





13th December; A post from south Wales blogger Owen Donovan; FMQs: On Strike
Thanks Owen, aka @oggybloggyogwr

14th December; Carmarthen Journal; Motion to protect blogger Jacqui Thompson's home blocked over contempt of court concerns


Sunday, 27 November 2016

"For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?" - Updated


An update, 2nd December;

 I was in court today to resist the council's charging order for £190,390, on our home, being made final. The judge decided to make it final, as it had been an issue with a higher court, but did so "with reluctance". It was patently clear that I would never be able to pay it, even if the council took the next step and forced sale. He gave something of a warning, in so many words, to the council, that if they did spend even more taxpayers' money by trying to force sale, with nil return, the Wales Audit Office might have something to say about it.

Anyway that was that. Whether they force sale tomorrow or in ten years time is immaterial as the chief executive is already trying to do exactly that. Papers are currently being exchanged and a hearing will be listed in due course.

I would like to thank everyone who has supported me both online and off, and those who have taken the trouble to write letters questioning the council's actions. Given her position as a county councillor, I am particularly grateful to Sian Caiach for her support.

A small but determined protest was held at County Hall today, and an attempt was made to deliver a pound of flesh, a reference to Shylock's desire for revenge, to Mr James. It seems he declined to accept it. The Llanelli Herald has the details.

I said a few words to the Llanelli Herald and BBC Wales before and after the hearing, including this statement;

"This was a pointless, wasteful and vindictive exercise against a critic of the council and has nothing to do with any 'obligation to the taxpayer', if it was, then the council wouldn't have funded the chief executive, unlawfully, in the way they did, this is about destruction. The charge is more than our home is worth and will never be realised. I will continue to fight, and continue to blog, and the next step will be to try and stop the chief executive's attempt to force sale of our home. Another deeply vindictive and unnecessary action. 
As ever, I would like to thank everyone who has supported me and all those who have sent messages of goodwill." 

3rd December; For Cneifiwr's take on recent events see 'Pecking Order', an excellent analysis, as ever.

------------------------------------------


First of all I must apologise for the lack of 'normal' blogging. Caebrwyn always keeps a watching brief but, to be honest, the recent actions of the chief executive and the council have been a bit of a distraction. And not just recently, the whole year has been a bit difficult. Having said that, it will be business as usual in due course. I hope.

The actions of 'the council' to place the Final Charging Order on my home for £190,390 court costs will be heard next week (Friday 2nd December, in Carmarthen). The chief executive's plan, to force sale of our home, is currently making its way through the court process, and, with no sign of abating, a date will be set for that hearing before long.

The two actions are not separate, the lines between public and private are blurred and the motives for both are unique. This is not about financial ruin as they know I have no finances to ruin other than the family home, it's about destruction.

As I've said before, I stand by everything I've written over the past seven years. In my view I have scrutinised the local council and those that make decisions, nothing more and nothing less. I have been motivated by trying to open up an organisation which has acted like a Victorian gentlemens' club for the past 100 years, not by "revenge" or "malice".

This whole episode started by my attempt to film a meeting, this made a small but positive impact, leading to webcasts, greater public scrutiny,  greater public engagement, interest and understanding of local democracy. If it led to one less thing being swept under the carpet then it's been a good thing. Incidentally, a reference I made to 'lumpy carpets' in relation to the decision to keep the investigation into the Pembrey Country Park scandal in-house, formed part of the chief executive's weird and wonderful list of 'criminal' complaints to the police earlier this year.

The ins and outs, and legal (or illegal) points of all this have been covered by this blog, and, more eloquently, by others. There will be more to come.
However, I'd like to make a few comments.

Firstly the £190k defence costs, the subject of next week's hearing. The decision to pursue me was made, in March this year, by the Plaid Cymru led Executive Board, along with input from Gravell, Palmer etc, and with the guiding hand (possibly literally) of the chief executive no doubt. Details from the exempt report, along with the Executive Board decision were leaked to the press and the Herald commented on the whole business, as I did, here.

This is being done on the pretext of an obligation to the taxpayers. Let me assure you it is not. There was not one iota of concern when the chief executive was illegally bankrolled for his counterclaim, there was a possible risk of £100k for that alone, with no knowledge of whether I could meet those costs or damages if I lost and the damages were never covered by insurance anyway. Cllr Sian Caiach has recently mentioned the then secret report which went to the executive board in 2012 recommending the indemnity. You may recall it was approved, and added to, by Mr James himself prior to the meeting, the meeting in which he remained...

And let's not forget the second Public Interest report from the Wales Audit Office which declared the chief executive's pension arrangements equally unlawful. As for the strange decision to pay off a third party loan for a private company, Scarlets Regional Ltd, obligations to the taxpayer couldn't have been further from anyone's mind. My comments regarding this payment also featured in Mr James' police complaint.

One (unintended I'm sure) consequence of Mr James' attempt to involve the police was that the police found no evidential basis to pursue the "criminal" findings in Tugendhat's civil judgement which had formed the basis of Mr James' belated complaint.
As I have said, the serious findings in Tugendhat's judgement in 2013 led to my insurance being revoked, the police looked at the same evidence as the judge and saw, and found, that I had no case to answer. The episode revealed a lot about the mindset of Mr James as well as reinforcing the fact that the judgement was a horrendous miscarriage of justice. Will the courts take any notice of the police outcome in respect of the £190k court order? I don't expect so, neither will it take into account, I don't suppose, that the enforcement action is malicious and punitive.

Plaid Cymru supposedly 'inherited' the situation created by the previous administration of Independents Meryl and Pam and Labour's Kevin Madge, and at one time, in opposition Plaid were all guns blazing. And if you think that the chief executive had no hand in putting them 'in power' then, in my opinion, think again. What better way to silence opposition than to offer the Reverend Dole thirty pieces of silver, or in this case, £48k per year as leader of the council, still with Meryl and Pam in tow of course, In return, Dole has played the chief executive's game and enjoyed the trappings of power, trips to the hospitality box of the Liberty Stadium are not for the likes of lowly opposition councillors.

Cllr Dole has denied that the payments were unlawful, even challenging the qualifications of the appointed auditor (on behalf of Mr James) and has continued to authorised further use of public money in solicitors costs and court fees to pursue me for something I don't have.

Which brings me on to the chief executive. He has certainly kept to his promise to "vigorously pursue the payment of damages due to me, by all legal means"  (my underline). Earlier this year he made a less than accurate statement to the press that I had made no offers regarding his damages when in fact he knew I had.The issue of whether he's going to give it back to the council, or 'good causes, or immortalise himself as a gold plated statue in Notts Square is all a moot point for me at the moment, and him. He hasn't had it yet.

I understand that Mark James CBE is a religious man, I am not religious and cannot imagine myself ever threatening to make a family homeless.
Perhaps Mr James should re-familiarise himself  with Matthew 16:26 "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?" 

Whilst the Reverend Dole is preaching the Christmas message at his local chapel, and Mr James CBE says Grace before carving his Christmas turkey, I hope they consider the importance of family, and most of all the importance of the family home.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Further thoughts...and this week's Cadno


Update 9th November; Carmarthenshire Council have top billing in Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs column (again), out today.

Also today, from Mrs Angry's excellent Broken Barnet blog; The Ritual of Vengeance: Welsh blogger Jacqui Thompson fights for her home  which also includes the Private Eye article referred to above.

Update 12th NovemberCarmarthenshire's Roll of Dishonour is also well worth a read, from south Wales blogger, Oggy Bloggy Ogwr.

Update 21st November; County Councillor Sian Caiach makes a request to Council leader Emlyn Dole

-------------------------------------

(This post continues from; Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire Council applies to force sale of my home)

With what has been written by others over the past couple of weeks, Cneifiwr here, and here, Cllr Sian Caiach here, and the Madaxeman here, as well as various online reports there is little left for me to say. I urge you to have a read of the articles, and the comments and judge for yourselves whether or not the council, and Mr James have descended, yet again, not only into a legal, but a moral minefield with the consistency of gloopy mud.

According to Cllr Lenny (Plaid) their group is meeting today (7th) to try and resolve this intractable situation.. I have no idea what they will propose, if anything.
All I can say is that the final charging order hearing has not yet been held, and neither has Mr James' attempt to force sale of my home, both of which I will resist with all the resources I can muster, which mainly consists of simplicity and common sense. And fight.
I will not be handing over my house keys anytime soon.
I thank everyone who has sent messages and comments of support.

The issue of the currently unenforced and illegal counterclaim costs of £41,000 is being studiously avoided. I asked Cllr Lenny if the council were going to ask Mr James to pay it back...he didn't answer that one.

Sadly, a question tabled by Cllr Caiach for this whole matter to be discussed, in the open, at Wednesday's meeting of full council was rejected. What a bloody surprise. I understand a private response was sent by Emlyn Dole (Plaid council leader) who yet again shows his undying loyalty to Mark James by refusing to accept that the counterclaim payments were profoundly unlawful.

In fact, with the council funding the action, and the council (supposedly, and in theory...) having any damages, the Derbyshire Rule that a governing body cannot sue has been blown to pieces by the actions of Mr James and the executive. But I knew that all along. It took some serious digging into my blog to find anything actionable for Mr James to take forward, and the posts complained of were months old and involved just three words 'pinocchio', and 'slush fund', which turned out to be rather slushy after all.

This week's Herald carries several articles and letters about all this. A series of detailed questions were put to the council by the Herald, and they refused to answer any of them, the questions can be seen on Cneifiwr's blog.

Before I leave you with this week's Cadno opinion piece from the Herald, I must just mention that I had a response this morning to my complaints to Dyfed Powys Police (see earlier post here). None of my complaints have been upheld; there was no conflict of interest and no, they're no revoking the Police Information Notice which will stay on record for fourteen months.
One point I did notice was that Mr James made his complaints to the police (in a letter to the Chief Constable, as you do..) on the 22nd January this year, yet he didn't bother to provide a detailed statement until more than five months later...
I have yet to study the report in detail, and I have yet to decide whether to take it further given the current pressure I'm under from someone who's motives seem even more questionable (updated post) than I first thought.
Anyway, more on that, in due course...here's Cadno;

Cadno and the disgusting act 
A saying, often attributed to Einstein, suggests that common sense is made up of the prejudices one acquires before the age of 18. 
That does not say much for some things that are incontrovertible common sense: for example, 'if you pick it, it won't get better'. Carmarthenshire County Council carried on picking at a gnat's bite, and has managed to create an open and festering sore which has exposed the rotten matter at its core. 
In light of that, Cadno supposes that there is a very special sense in which common sense means not those things which people know to be true but no longer believe.
Either one of those categorisations would encompass the current actions of Carmarthenshire County Council and its bike-riding chief executive. 
It beggars belief that the Executive Board imagines it has a cat in hell's chance of recovering anything like the £190k of public money it blew on Mr James's defence of a libel action brought against him by Jacqui Thompson. It follows, therefore, that the additional costs being incurred by the council in pursuing the matter are simply public money being pissed away as though the authority was an incontinent drunk after a savage night on the Stella Artois. 
In addition, the money the council has wasted in office time and resources, scuttling around County Hall in support of the original litigation or scouring the internet and the blogosphere on what is, to any rational examination, a vendetta against an individual has not only been wasted but is practically incalculable. After all, it is our money they are wasting for their own good and the benefit of their most senior employee. 
This issue is examined at length elsewhere in this newspaper in a masterly dissection of the council's track record on this subject by Y Cneifiwr, but what Cadno is homing in on is one very simple question - not the right and the wrong, but the waste of what we are always told are 'scarce' resources when the hope of recovery of a meaningful contribution being received in respect of those resources are vanishingly small. 
The Herald has previously revealed Mr James' estimable gift for inaccurate precis, when we revealed that his assertion that no offers had been made to settle his judgement against Mrs Thompson was so wrong it suggested a somewhat casual relationship between what he said and what was true. 
The fact that he repeated to The Herald a claim he made to Wales Online, little knowing that we had a copy of the offer letters - plural - speaks volumes of his conduct.
And yet, despite that, the council are still engaged in acting as the executive arm of Mr James; wounded amour propre. 
It is a bloody disgrace and the councillors involved in rubber-stamping this shameful and wasteful exercise should hang their heads in shame. And it is to the undying shame of the current administration that it is continuing the folly embarked upon by the clueless bunch of well-meaning dupes and time-servers that preceded them. It taints the whole of Carmarthenshire's local government, in which there are many fine initiatives and sound future plans, that the Party of Wales is now merged and indistinguishable from the Party of James. 
When you think about common sense, readers, do you think that it is common sense to take political capital and goodwill and waste it fighting a battle that was picked by your predecessor in favour of someone who is unelectable? Put it another way, knowing what they know about Mark James now, how many of the current Labour and Plaid membership would have endorsed his original appointment? 
Cadno reckons not bloody many, if any. 
We have a chief executive under whose carefree guidance Carmarthenshire became indistinguishable from a kleptocracy and synonymous with self-serving sharp-dealing and the public waste of public money, still leading councillors not by the noses but by the rings through their noses. 
You might say that, having won the action, the council is entitled to attempt recovery of its costs, That much, it could be said, is common sense. 
Well common sense is wrong, readers, with knobs on. 
Councils have many interlocking responsibilities, the primary one of which is to act in the public interest with public resources. cadno does not go so far to suggest that having notably failed in that duty in any number of projects, not carrying that duty in the present circumstances is an option.
Not only do two wrongs not make one right, but there are practical constraints to consider. The council, it could be argued, is duty bound to ameliorate the impact of its own decision to bankroll Mr James; defence upon the public purse. 
The answer to that is yes and no. The council is bound to consider whether or not recovery is possible, but the present position is that Mr James' claim for damages awarded to him personally as a direct result of the Council's largesse takes priority over the Council's claim for costs. The council is, or should be, well-aware of Mrs Thompson's capacity to satisfy any part not only of the council's claim for costs but also Mr James claim for damages. And all the mock 'Chinese Walls' argument in the world wil not convince any reasonable person, reasonably informed, to the contrary. 
Mrs Thompson has no money. There is a limited amount of capital in the family home which could be converted into cash, but the value recovered as a result of a forced sale of the capital asset is going to be markedly less than the true capital value of her share in the matrimonial home. 
The council was aware of the risk of not effecting recovery right at the outset but pressed on regardless. 
In private practice that sort of chimpery would result in a very unhappy client looking to their legal advisor to make good the shortfall between what they were awarded and any receipts, especially if the lawyer failed to advise the body maintaining or funding the action (the lawyer's client) to secure a pre-emptive charge over any damages paid to the party it bankrolled (the litigant). That is part of proper analysis of what is part of 'litigation risk', which encompasses not only the likelihood of victory but the odds of recovery once a case is won. 
It is obvious to anyone but the dimmest and most backward of lawyers that the threat of financial ruin is generally only effective when the person threatened has finances to pay the debt. 
Anything else is rather, in Lyndon Johnson's deathless phrase, like wetting yourself in public; it gives you a momentary warm feeling but to anyone else witnessing it, it's disgusting.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire Council applies to force sale of my home


On Friday I received a court claim from Mr James, Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council for an Order for Sale of our home for his libel damages. These damages, now £35,392 with interest, arose from a counterclaim which was funded, unlawfully. with taxpayers money. I have 14 days to respond.

Running in parallel to Mr James' application to force sale is the enforcement action brought by the council for £190,390 in court costs. A court hearing in December will decide whether an interim charge on my home will be made final. Following that, they will also be able to attempt to force sale, if Mr James hasn't already succeeded.

For the first time in these whole proceedings I have asked my Plaid Cymru MP, Jonathan Edwards and Assembly Member, Adam Price to intervene in this grave miscarriage of justice, and offer support morally and practically, on my my behalf. (Oct 31st....they have written to Plaid Council leader Emlyn Dole in my support...November 26th; still haven't heard if there's been any response)

As ever, I am not seeking any financial help but if anyone feels strongly enough about this to write to their MP, AM or councillor, I would be very grateful for moral support.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to fight this, day by day, especially against someone who is never held accountable, but fight it I will, to the bitter end. 



31st October; See also Cneifiwr's blog here

Later post 7th November; Further thoughts...and this week's Cadno

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Green waste charge


The decision made at Monday's Executive Board meeting to charge for green waste collection passed in the blink of an eye. I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago when it was before the relevant scrutiny committee. According to the officer's report, the new bin lorries lack the facility to take the current green waste binbags so a separate service will have to be arranged.

Anyway, as I think I've also mentioned before, Exec Board meetings, or rather the half-hour bit under the public spotlight, are little more than a PR exercise with everything decided before the meeting. With Meryl regaling the group with here recent exploits with the ARCH project and the Wellness Thing, this little sting from Plaid Cymru and the Indies went almost unnoticed.

From April next year it will cost you £48 a year, with payments spread over six months. If you can afford it as a one off payment, there's a 15% reduction, thereby penalising the less affluent. A nice little addition to your council tax. You will be supplied with a new shiny bin, with two sizes to choose from, although the cost will be the same.
There are no concessions for pensioners, or anyone else. Nor has there been any consultation or engagement with the elderly or disabled who will now have to manoeuvre a big plastic bin.

The hope is that more people will compost the waste or take it to their local recycling centre, the latter not exactly reducing the carbon footprint. Caebrwyn's gardening is more, er, rural, allowing a few sheep in when I can no longer see the bottom of the garden but this is not the case in our towns. I predict a little more fly-tipping and a lot more bonfires. Get your washing in.

At £48, it is also the highest charge in Wales.




Malice


Update, 9th November, below

Since I became aware that the chief executive had made complaints to the police earlier this year I have been struggling to understand his motive. As I have reported there was insufficient evidence to bring either of his complaints, harassment nor perverting the course of justice, anywhere near a criminal court. It backfired. The Police Information Notice, or harassment warning, was nonsense and I am attempting to challenge it through the system.

However, it was the allegation that I perverted the course of justice which I found most puzzling. The police eventually confirmed that this related, entirely, to the findings of the judge in the libel case. I need not repeat here what I thought of the judgement.
The decision to drop the criminal investigation raises two questions, why did Mr James make the complaint, three years after the judgement (and what did he hope to achieve), and how could a judge find me guilty of an offence in a civil court, which didn't stand up to the criminal standard of proof? The consequence of the libel judgement and this finding in particular, which was astonishing, and so wrong, was that my legal insurance was revoked and I'm facing a charge on my home for £190,000.

Back in 2011, five years ago, Mr James wrongly accused me of this offence in his letter to the Madaxeman blog and it was this grave accusation which prompted the legal case. In his letter he said that the council chose not put the complaint to the police as 'the officer concerned, like many others, did not want to make a fuss and the Council respects that'
Further to that, following the judgement in March 2013, three years ago, there was no criminal complaint made to the police, a fact confirmed by the police themselves in response to media queries.

Which brings us to 2016. When I learned of the allegation, which appears to have been made sometime after the complaint of harassment, I was shocked but not unduly concerned. I had told the truth all along and my conscience was clear. As it was, the police could find no evidence anyway so that was some vindication at least.

The council didn't make the complaint to the police, it was the chief executive, personally. He was also quite prepared now to involve all those concerned, who apparently, and according to him, hadn't wanted to 'make a fuss', to pursue a personal criminal allegation.
I can find no explanation for his action other than simple malice.

Update 9th November - The following extract from my police complaint report suggests that the police were also wondering about Mr James' motives;

"It was also considered that Mr James could be looking ‘at having two bites of the cherry’ in making a criminal allegation as the civil case was finalised some three years ago and the timing of the allegation when Carmarthenshire County Council and Mr James are actively pursuing Mrs Thompson for the outstanding monies from the civil action must be questioned."

Pembrey Country Park - another twist in the tale - updated


Update 28th October - The case was heard in court today. Mr Dickinson resigned from the council on Monday and changed his plea to guilty. He was ordered to pay costs and fines of just under £1000.
Llanelli Herald report here.

* * *

The Audit Committee met at the end of last month and considered an report updating progress to improve matters at Pembrey Country Park. As you may recall a damning, but brief, internal audit report earlier this year had flagged up profound irregularities over a number of years. I'll not repeat them here but one of the issues concerned the tender to supply catering services, invitations to tender were to be addressed to the Council's Countryside and Coast manager, Mr Rory Dickinson.

The local catering supplier SFS Events, was run by Ms Stephanie Thomas, had operated the cafe and kiosks for a number of years but was unsuccessful in renewing the contract. The contract went to a company from Yorkshire after, according to Head of Leisure, Ian Jones, "a rigorous application process designed to get the best value and service for the County Council and users of Pembrey Country Park"

The tender was challenged, and recorded conversations between council officers which emerged, as reported in the Herald, make it clear that the tender process was gravely compromised.
'Rigorous', it certainly wasn't.

The whole tender process was eventually abandoned at the beginning of July with the council stating "it is possible that a member of staff involved in the process may have had a personal interest which might be perceived to compromise the impartiality and independence of the process".

There is now an 'acting' Countryside and Coast manager, suggesting that the previous manager is no longer in post, temporarily or otherwise.

The audit committee heard that progress with the new catering tender was being delayed by 'difficult legal issues we could not have forseen', there was no further elaboration. However, a couple of brief reports in last week's press suggest what some of those legal issues might be....

Llanelli Star/South Wales Evening Post

Llanelli Herald

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Still no fly zone at County Hall - The Carmarthenshire Herald


This week's Carmarthenshire Herald reports again on the mysterious business of the Council's flag flying habits. Of particular interest over the past year or two has been the reluctance to fly the Rainbow flag, the universal symbol of support for diversity and inclusion for LGBT rights and which flutters from most civic buildings during Pride celebrations.

Rainbow Flag at Llanelli Police Station

Despite the council appearing in the rankings of Stonewall as a LGBT employer, back in February 2015, requests to fly the flag by the council's own diversity group were refused. The final say resting with the chief executive. The council chose to fly the Duke of York's flag instead, in honour of his birthday (the Duke of York's, not the chief executive's...I think).

Moving forward to August this year and after the flag failed to appear again, the Herald made some enquiries and discovered that there were 'procedures' about flag flying. Indeed, Herald columnist Cadno also made some interesting observations, covered on this blog here.

The article prompted a freedom of information request to enquire about the council's policy on flags and when such a policy was adopted by council. The response stated that a policy had been adopted on July 10th 2015.

Having studied, in detail, all published agendas and minutes around that time neither the Herald, nor I for that matter, could spot any reference to a 'flag policy' being referred to councillors for approval, or even endorsement.

One of the earlier reasons given for refusing to fly the rainbow flag was that County Hall was besieged with 'so many' flag flying requests from groups, it chose not to fly any.

On that basis the FOI request also asked for some numbers. How many requests were made before the policy? How many were made after?

The answer to the first was 'We do not hold the information', so presumably they, if there were any, went straight into the Presidential Pedal Bin. And after? There had been two, both rejected. One was from CEMTA, (Community Engagement, Media, Technology and Arts) and the other from Seafarers UK.

With the lack of recorded requests, and only two since last July, it's difficult to justify a policy, even one dreamed up over a cup of Earl Grey in the confines of the Presidential Suite, with no publicity whatsoever.

As CEMTA are involved in LGBT and Pride projects, the Herald asked them why their request was rejected. It turns out that they have made two requests to fly the Rainbow Flag. Their 2015 request appears, coincidentally, to have been made just before, or at the same time, as this 'flag policy' was adopted. It seems it was refused under the premise that there was some sort of lengthy procedure and they were out of time.

Incidentally, the Rainbow Flag made a brief appearance over Jail Hill, once, just after the Orlando nightclub massacre, in response to a request on Twitter, and without any procedures at all. Aside, perhaps, for a damage limitation exercise with regards to the potential for negative publicity on social media...

As nobody knew about the 'policy', CEMTA asked again this year, in plenty of time for the Pride celebrations in Llanelli. The chief executive gave a personal response, and although he was happy to support community ventures, due to the 'many' requests 'we have taken a view that this does not extend to flag flying at civic centres'. 

Was this the usual 'Royal We'? Or did leader of the council Emlyn Dole (Plaid) know about it, and agree? If so, then it's disappointing.
One might even conclude that 'flag flying' was not a matter for the chief executive, an employee, at all, and to introduce a policy, even if it was conjured up in the executive broom cupboard, without any record of necessity, is highly questionable, even irrational.

Of course the perception that anyone in County Hall has a particular aversion to the colourful Rainbow flag, and all it represents, would surely be wrong...though a 'policy' to refuse 'all', captures the repeated requests to fly this one...

As The Herald concludes;

"As it stands, on the face of Mr James’s words, the policy is redundant. Mr James will never give permission to fly any flag. On the basis that nobody will get permission, of course, the policy cannot be said to be discriminatory in any way.
Which, of course, it isn’t."