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'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.


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."

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Legal Charge £190,390 - Court hearing

Update 25th November; The hearing will now be on Friday 2nd December

Update 20th October; The hearing has been brought forward to 1st December 2016

Update 8th October; The hearing is listed for Thursday 8th December 2016 at 10am in Carmarthen.

* * *

I have been informed by Carmarthen District Registry of the High Court that there will be a brief hearing (approx 30 mins) to decide whether to make the Interim Charging Order on my home, for legal costs of £190,390, final.
I had requested a hearing within my written objection to the Charge and I will be asking, at the hearing, for the Charge to be thrown out.
A date has not been given yet but I'm told it will be in a few week's time.

This enforcement action was brought, ostensibly, by the current Plaid Cymru/Independent Executive Board but I notice that Mark James is still a party to the proceedings. He already has a charge for his damages, sent in the bailiffs and summoned me to court to answer questions. Although he seems to be living up to his promise to use 'all legal means possible' to get his hands on the damages, there has been no enforcement, as yet, concerning his illegal counterclaim costs.

I'll not elaborate further, I've already made my views, and promises, and my financial circumstances very clear on all this.
However, I would like to repeat that the 'criminal' findings of Justice Tugendhat which led to my insurance being revoked and left me liable for these costs have now completely failed the evidential test after a five month police investigation.

As for the Police Information Notice, or 'harassment warning',  I have now made it clear to Dyfed Powys Police that I require it to be revoked. If this is not forthcoming, then the only option available to me is to apply for a Judicial Review.

See previous posts; Police complaints logged,  
Challenging the police harassment warning 
and The police visit Caebrwyn 

Targets, themes and the long grass

Quarterly target monitoring reports are not necessarily a gripping read but are supposed to inform scrutiny committees how well the council is reaching its 'key priorities', as either on, or off target. These involve various themes and promises, ie 'We will do this, we will do that, blah blah. Of course, how the goal posts are set, or how often they're moved is an entirely different matter.

Anyhow, in 'sub theme'; 'Openness, honesty integrity', and with the usual air of self-satisfaction, there is only one 'off target' measure. In the last quarter year, there were delayed responses to no less that 22 freedom of information requests. This was due, the report says, to delays in receiving information from departments, incomplete information being supplied by those departments, administrative errors (whatever they might be) and the "time taken to obtain approval from senior managers to release information".

This shows that despite the efforts of the FOI officer, the general obligations under the freedom of information act are still not taken seriously. A freedom of information request made a couple of years back showed that there were only two full time members of staff dealing with FOI and Data Protection issues. At the time, and by comparison, the council Press Office could boast a 'team of twenty'.

Interestingly the remaining specific measures under the same 'sub theme' are 'on target'. These include a delay in publishing a Register of Officers' Delegated Decisions, a delayed survey to see whether councillors are given sufficient information about their wards, a delay in producing a 'Made Simple' guide to the constitution and a delay in the Constitution Review Working Group (CRWG) meeting at all, and in particular to 'review any opportunity to improve the openness and transparency of the Council'.
Not exactly 'on target', not by my interpretation anyway.

You may recall that the CRWG was set up to chew over the 39 recommendations made by the WLGA back in November 2014. It does not appear to have met since just before the Extraordinary meeting in June 2015, over a year ago. There is still no sign of the dedicated petition page, as promised, nor the final removal of the libel cost clause from the constitution, This was 'suspended' over two and a half years ago 'until the legal position is clarified'. The legal position was of course clarified as unlawful, illegal, immoral, etc two and a half years ago but, well, that's another story, and one which leaves those culpable, though still unaccountable, for the scandal in something of a dilemma.

On a slightly different note, although perhaps hovering under 'sub theme openness', or even the long grass, is the proposal to charge for green waste collection. Much has been made of the changes to bin collections, 'rationalised routes', and all that, but no mention yet, other than a scrutiny report, of the proposed £48 annual fee to collect grass cuttings, starting from April next year.

Whether the Executive Board will rubber stamp this charge remains to be seen but significantly it will be the most expensive in Wales. There will be no concessions, but if you can afford to pay it in one lump there'll be a 15% discount, if you can't, and have to spread the payments, then it'll cost you the whole £48.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Council Leisure Centres undervalued by £7.9m....and other audit news

This time last year, the Wales Audit Office highlighted problems with the council's valuation of assets, overstated to the tune of £38m. This included three sports pitches overvalued by £19m. The WAO were so concerned that they considered bringing in their own valuer. It turns out that instead of taking things into their own hands, the WAO met with the council's internal valuers in April 2016 and came to an agreement as to how certain assets should be valued.

Moving forward to this year's audit, the WAO, whilst auditing one of the council's leisure centres found that this agreement hadn't been followed and, for whatever reason, the asset had this time been undervalued. The WAO looked at two more leisure centres and found the same problem. The total understated value for the three centres amounted to £7.9m.

In addition, when the WAO requested evidence to support various valuations of council assets, for example, council owned theatres, "there was a lack of appropriate evidence to support judgements made" and the council valuers had to "recreate file notes to explain the reasons for decisions made".

The significance of all this not only questions whether the council has the appropriate level of insurance for it's assets, but impacts on the Community Asset Transfer programme, are the valuations for our parks, playgrounds and sports pitches, now offloaded, or in the process of being offloaded, to local organisations, correct?

Then there's the plan, well on it's way, to put the entire Leisure department into a trust. The risks of backdoor privatisation are real enough without cock-ups in the valuation process...there lies the rocky road to asset stripping...

The WAO, for four years running, have been critical of the council's grant management procedures and the subject of highly questionable EU property grants, after languishing in the long grass for a couple of years, also seems to have reached a rather strange conclusion.

You may recall, back in 2014, that concerns were raised over 'Meryl's Millions'. As Exec Board Member for Regeneration, Cllr Meryl Gravell rubber stamped several large EU funded grants for speculative property development. These 'meetings' were usually very brief and held behind closed doors. Questions arose over due diligence and at least one of these grants was reported to the WAO by the council's Director of Resources just before he retired.

Cllr Meryl Gravell
To cut a long story short, the council have been bickering with the WAO ever since and the council has refused to accept the WAO audit findings into two of these grants (worth nearly £3m between them) which found "significant issues".

With the council refusing to agree or accept the WAO audit findings, they, the council, decided that the Wales European Funding Office (WEFO) would audit these grants instead, as well as the final closing audits from these property development schemes, the South West Wales Property Development Fund and Adref.

Council documents from earlier this year showed that the WAO were no longer auditing the council's EU grants at all. It is not clear whether this was a result of a falling out, or if it was an unconnected decision.

The council's relationship with the WAO has been up and down to say the least and the chief executive's contempt for the organisation, and any other regulatory organisation for that matter, is clear.

Earlier this year, Plaid leader Emlyn Dole, on behalf of Mr James, questioned the qualifications of the appointed auditor who made such a mountain out of those darned illegal payments...the WAO gave, pretty much. a two word answer, the second being 'off'.
Cllr Dole and the Plaid group once made a mountain of it all themselves, but now, as we know, the price of power in Carmarthenshire is collective amnesia.

As WEFO is the EU grant funding body, it is part of the system, rather than the supposed 'protector of the public purse', and it is not perhaps in their best interests to uncover cans of European grant worms.
Unsurprisingly, WEFO found that aside from a few minor tweaks, there was nothing wrong.

Of course the subject of EU grants might become a moot point before long, but with failures over the Coastal Social Care grants, the Supporting People grants, the myriad of issues over Pembrey Country Park, unlawful payments etc, Carmarthenshire Council's audits should not only be entirely independent, but carried out by forensic experts.


Update 27th September; The documents relating to Property Development grants are shrouded in mystery and followers of Pembrokeshire blogger (and councillor) Old Grumpy will know he has gone to some lengths to unearth the details of some of these grants in Pembs, which were all actually administered by Carmarthenshire Council.

In his latest post, it seems that Carmarthenshire Council put the brakes on a visit by him and a Pembs Council audit officer to examine (Pembs) documents in County Hall, Carmarthen. As he says, if he were a conspiracy theorist, he might think they had something to hide.

Update 29th September - For more on this decidedly whiffy grant business, here's Cneifiwr's latest post; Something nasty in the woodshed


Head of legal, Linda Rees Jones has been mulling over a request from the Audit Committee for the Chair to attend, just as an observer, the officers' Grants Panel. This request arose following the long running grant management failures identified by the WAO.

After nearly two years of mulling, (to be fair perhaps she's been busy attending to her boss's legal whims) she has decided that constitutionally this is completely impossible...which is strange as usually the constitution can be interpreted in so many different ways...ah but clearly, this is only when it suits...

Friday, 23 September 2016

Police Complaints logged

My challenge to the Police Information Notice, or 'harassment warning', (see The police visit Caebrwyn, and Challenging the harassment warning) and my complaints about the police investigation itself, are now logged with the Professional Standards department of Dyfed Powys Police, as below;

1. Lack of fairness and impartiality; 
Mrs Thompson is making a complaint in relation to a police investigation involving the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council. The Complainant states that she writes a blog which is critical of Carmarthenshire County Council and its decision makers as she believes these decisions benefit from further public scrutiny. 
This has resulted in the Complainant receiving a Police Information Notice (PIN). 
Mrs Thompson is unhappy at receiving the PIN and feels that this action has been taken by Dyfed Powys Police in order to prevent her from legitimately scrutinising the decisions and actions of the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council. 
2. Lack of fairness and impartiality; 
Mrs Thompson feels the investigation should have been transferred to another force due to a conflict of interest. To support this Mrs Thompson refers to a historical investigation against the Chief Executive, which was referred to Gloucestershire Constabulary due to the close working relationship between Dyfed Powys Police and Carmarthenshire County Council. 
3. Other neglect or failure in duty; 
Mrs Thompson is unhappy with the length of time taken to investigate. She feels the complaints made against her by the Chief Executive failed to meet the evidential test for criminal proceedings, and this should have been identified by the police earlier.

The logged complaint above does not reflect the point I made in my letter in that the course of conduct complained of by Mr James does not constitute harassment. Nor does it reflect my request for the PIN to be revoked and removed from the Police National Computer.

Therefore I will be corresponding further with the police, and I will take it all the way if necessary.

*  *  *

By way of an update to the decision by Mark James and the Council to pursue me for £190,390 in legal costs, the matter has now been transferred to Carmarthen County Court.

An Interim Charging Order was placed on my home earlier this year. Naturally, I objected to this charge being made Final and a judge in Manchester (where these things are now dealt with), has transferred this final decision to Carmarthen. I will find out within the next couple of weeks (after another decision by another judge) whether I will be allowed a court hearing.
I certainly hope so, as I have much to say...

With regards to Mr James' damages, (for which he also has a Charging Order) arising from his illegally funded counterclaim, I'm still waiting to see if he's accepted my offer of £1 a week, made at Carmarthen County Court at the end of July.
Seems to be taking a while...

News in care, schools and more

As mentioned previously, the council has decided to buy the Guildhall building in Carmarthen for £250,000. Despite the state of disrepair, and unknown refurbishment costs to this listed building it is indeed a historic feature of the town centre. However it came as something of a surprise last Monday to discover that our Plaid Cymru led Executive Board had used money from the social care budget to buy it.

According to a recent report on the capital budget, 'savings' on the construction of the new Extra Care home in Carmarthen left a surplus of £232,000. Without so much as a whisper to the rest of the councillors, this cash was used to buy the Guildhall.

The current year position on the social care revenue budget is an overspend of over £800,000. Now, money for capital projects is not supposed to used to support the revenue budget but there is no reason why 'savings' on the capital budget can't be used?
According to a recent report from the director of social care the ongoing cuts, with plenty more to come, are proving to be extremely challenging and the demand described as "relentless".
To take any money from the social care budget, capital or revenue, is simply wrong.

Although the Carmarthen and Ammanford Extra Care schemes are complete, there seems to be some delay over the same development promised for Llanelli. You may recall that the then Labour/Independent administration managed to conjure up £7m for the scheme to silence those opposing the closure of the council run care homes.
It's all gone a bit quiet but rumour has it that this £7m could now be funnelled into the ARCH Wellness village, with its private health care, luxury spa and business conference suites....

A saving, or 'slippage' of £400,000 was also made on the new Ammanford Extra Care home (let's hope no corners were cut)...the mind boggles where that will go. A life size bronze statue of the chief executive adorning the grand portico of the Guildhall?

Still on the subject of social care, the council are still ruminating over outsourcing the service by forming an arms length company, a Local Authority Trading Company (LATC) with particular thought to the remaining in-house home care services.
The reason why part of this service has been kept in house up until now, was due to the difficulties in persuading the private providers to cover the rural areas of the county, it's clearly not financially attractive nor profitable, in the business sense. If the current plans for back door privatisation go ahead then the same financial issues will apply and elderly and vulnerable folk in rural areas are likely to suffer.

Moving on to education, it seems that the new £23m, or £30m (depending where you read it) Bro Dinefwr super school on the Ffairfach swamp is having a few issues, I daresay the council would call it 'teething problems'. Several people have now told me that despite the best efforts of staff, long queues have resulted in pupils not having time to eat their dinner and there are also rumours of the need for portakabins for extra space.
It seems that the infrastructure of this state of the art school is insufficient to cope with the numbers. A multi million pound design fault perhaps. In addition, sandbags and pumps are also on hand should there be a shower of rain.

The issue of lengthy bus journeys for pupils from north Carmarthenshire has often been repeated in relation to the siting of the new school, and of course with the closure of village schools even our four year olds will became very familiar with the joys of bus travel. Let's just hope we don't get any snow this winter...

Local alarm bells rang earlier this year when Pickfords removal vans arrived at Pantycelyn to move the old furniture down to Ffairfach. Another shiny new school, some said, without enough money to run it. I needn't remind you that £12m is due to be slashed from the school budgets over the next two years.

Moving on, I must mention the increasingly slow publication of minutes from scrutiny meetings. Whatever the reason, and there is no such problem with the publication of press releases of course,
the council's state of the art website seems to be more cumbersome and difficult to negotiate than ever. For example, after two months, the minutes from the last Audit Committee were finally published. As a blogger, or an anorak, I rushed to see how the 'discussion' panned out on the latest draft Statement of Accounts. Ah, there was no 'discussion', it turned out that all queries had been ironed out in unminuted 'briefing' sessions earlier that week. I should've guessed.

Still on the matter of minutes, the new-fangled statutory Public Service Board, which replaces, in name, the unstatutory Local Service Board (representatives of local bodies, council, colleges, health board, police, etc which discusses strategies,,) also has an exiting new website called 'theCarmarthenshirewewant'.

One section screams 'GET INVOLVED' and includes a list of meetings since May, and there have now been three. The Agendas don't include links to any of the reports and no minutes have been published for the meetings.
With a nice friendly feedback form at the bottom of the page the temptation to GET INVOLVED got the better of me and I enquired about this lack of transparency. Over a week later I had a response, from the council, which informed me that 'The discussion on this has not yet concluded.  I will be speaking again to the Chair of the PSB and will get back to you as soon as possible."

Before I go a quick heads up for next week's full council meeting. It seems that Director of Children's Services and Education, and grim reaper of our village schools, Mr Rob Sully, handed in his resignation at the end of July. As this post attracts a salary of £135,000 per year (inclusive of pension contributions) there is a requirement to advertise the post nationally, unlike some of the more cosy arrangements which usually take place in County Hall.

Also featuring on the agenda are a couple of questions about the latest council led works at Parc Howard, Llanelli. Labour opposition leader (I use the word 'opposition' loosely) Cllr Jeff Edmunds is asking council leader Emlyn Dole about the procurement and tendering process, suggesting that, in fact, there was no proper procurement and tendering. Mind you, it needs to be remembered that it was the Labour and Independents, well, Meryl, who kicked off the whole business of selling off the family silver in the first place.

Cllr Edmunds is also enquiring about the lack of planning permission for the works and whether retrospective approval will have to be sought, still, I'm sure the Rev 'two barns' Dole will be prepared with an answer, having become something of an expert on retrospective planning himself....

Update 3rd October;
I'm at a bit of a loss for words about Wednesday's (28th Sept) full council meeting, which is not like me, but anyone who has a spare three hours to waste to watch it might understand. It's three hours of your life you'll never get back though.

I'll be brief, the two main groups, Labour and Plaid Cymru spent most of the time grandstanding, and bickering over Parc Howard, Llanelli. This was interspersed with some ridiculous procedural challenges, from both sides. Add to this the spectacle of the Chair who didn't appear to be entirely sure where he was, and the chief executive pontificating from the driving seat throughout the entire three hours, and you get the picture. Business as usual.
And those hoping for a glimmer of a mention of anywhere north of Llanelli were set for disappointment.

I'm all for healthy debate but clearly the recent thrills of the Cilycwm by-election was focusing party political minds on next May. And as for the Cilycwm ward itself, I suspect that like Brigadoon, it will once again disappear into the mist.

Then you had the chief Finance Officer saying, in response to a question from Cllr Caiach, that it didn't really matter if the interests rates went up on the council's massive £376m debt as their assets were £1.3bn. So presumably council houses, roads, schools etc are easily realised should the worst happen, Ebay here we come...

The next full council meeting is on the 12th October. Can't wait.

Cilycwm by-election result

The results from the Cilycwm by-election were;

Dafydd Tomos - Plaid Cymru - 201
Arwel Davies - Independent - 151
Maria Carroll - Labour - 123
Matthew Paul - Independent - 106
Jacqui Thompson - People First - 64
Catherine Nakielny - Libdem - 62
Stephen Holmes - Conservative - 15

Turnout was 61%

As you can see Plaid Cymru took the seat but with such a wide field it was always a difficult one to predict. Well done all.

Many thanks to Sian Caiach and People First, and all who have supported me from the Cilycwm ward, and from everywhere's been a very interesting few weeks!

And there's always next May... 

Monday, 12 September 2016

Cilycwm by-election - Election statements

Sunday 18th September - just a reminder to voters, the by-election is on Thursday (22nd September), the polling stations are open from 7am until 10pm, the count will be in Llanwrda Village Hall and the result will be declared that night. Please #votejacqui!

* * *

With ten days to go until polling day here in the Cilycwm ward, election statements from myself and county councillor Sian Caiach are published below. The ward covers the communities of Llanwrda, Llansadwrn, Cilycwm, Siloh, Porthyrhyd, parts of Llandadog and Rhandirmwyn, and everywhere in between.
The count will be held at Llanwrda Village Hall on the 22nd September and with no less than seven candidates, it promises to be an interesting night.

Statement from County councillor Sian Caiach;
"Carmarthenshire County Council desperately needs new Councillors like Jacqui Thompson who represent the people rather than themselves or party interests. This Council has been shamed by Jacqui, as she has exposed waste,secrecy, paranoia and wrong doing in this body. Her efforts have been rewarded by the respect of many outside the Council but hostility and persecution by all of the 3 party political groups within Carmarthenshire council, Plaid, Labour and the Affiliated Independents.

They have all condemned her for her criticism as they have all been involved at one time or another in the unpopular and questionable decisions and service cuts which hurt the public but leave the local wealthy and political elites without inconvenience and sometimes personally enriched.

We need people like Jacqui, fearless champions  of ordinary folk, willing to speak out and not allow local issues to be dictated by the wealthy and powerful. The people must take back control from these nodding donkey Councillors who seem to care far too little for the people who elect them and far too much for the rich and powerful.

People First/Gwerin Gyntaf was formed  in Carmarthenshire in response to the lack of accountability, openness, integrity and honesty in the County Council. We believe in true representative democracy where the people are consulted and control their representatives, rather than Councillors making important decisions without a thought to the people affected. Jacqui will certainly put in the time and effort to help change this Council for the better. We are very proud to support her."

Statement from me, Jacqui Thompson
"I am delighted to be a candidate and to have the chance to represent all the communities within the Cilycwm ward. There is no doubt that this ward has had a raw deal from the County Council, from closing the last primary schools this year, to closing the local secondary school last year. If elected I would ensure that we have our fair share of money and resources, I won't sit back and watch it being funneled into white elephants and vanity projects at the expense of our essential local amenities and those most in need.

I'd be a wake up call to the county council, my reputation proves that I will not be silenced, and will make sure that all the interests and concerns of this entire community, are heard, with passion, very loud and clear!"

This week's article in the Carmarthen Journal

A question time event has been arranged for this Wednesday, 14th September at Llanwrda Village Hall, starting at 6pm. I understand that all the candidates will be attending.

Update 15th September; Five out of the seven candidates attended the hustings, an Independent and the Plaid Cymru candidate did not. There was a good turn out, good questions and plenty of discussion. It's heartening to see that this by-election has prompted considerable local interest which bodes well for a big change across the county council next May.

Text from 2nd leaflet (16th September)
Please also see my earlier post - A few thoughts on the Cilycwm by-election 

Friday, 9 September 2016

Keeping close to the nest

As regular readers will recall, rather than the lid being publicly blown open earlier this year, an internal audit report was commissioned which exposed serious flaws in the management of Pembrey Country Park. The report was presented to councillors as a two page summary with no details as to how exactly the mess, ranging from financial irregularities to tender rigging, arose in the first place.

Calls for the damning findings to be investigated by the police were rejected and it seems this scandal, which had been ongoing for a number of years, is still being investigated and kept 'in house'. No surprises there.

However, further evidence emerged in June this year, reported by the Herald, which suggested that there had been attempts by senior officers, at the time, to cover-up wrongdoing. This evidence included transcripts of recorded conversations, and one senior officer is heard demanding to know what information is held by a third party, adding "For f**** sake don't go to the police".

The report stated that it had been commissioned following the departure of the previous Director of Regeneration and Leisure in 2015 who's responsibility covered, amongst other things, Country Parks.

That Director Of Regeneration and Leisure was Mr Dave Gilbert OBE, who was also deputy chief executive and right hand man for Mr Mark James CBE, standing in for him when the latter was under criminal investigation by the police in 2014. The Executive Board Member with the equivalent portfolio at the time was Cllr Meryl Gravell, OBE

Mr Gilbert then became a Ministerial adviser to the Swansea Bay City Region Board, of which Cllr Gravell is a member. The Board, and particularly Meryl, is currently 'very excited' about the Council led (by 'council' I mean Meryl and Mark of course) project to funnel scarce resources into private health care and a luxury spa in Delta Lakes, Llanelli, the 'Wellness Village'.

However that's by-the-by, I was most interested, surprised even, to see that back in January this year, the former Director, Mr Gilbert, had been appointed as a non-executive director of Cwm Environmental Ltd, which manages the council's recycling and waste facilities, a service which is shortly to come up for tender.

Incidentally recent whispers have been heard of financial irregularities and senior sackings over waste management agreements in the council's environment department, including one linked to the Cwm Environmental site at Nantycaws. Again it seems that this matter will not go to the police as, it has also been whispered, the council itself has been a little over enthusiastic with the categories of waste it has been dumping...

Anyway, Cwm Environmental, you may be aware, manages these facilities as an arms-length company, and is wholly owned by the council, and whilst the role of non-executive director doesn't command a massive salary, it can certainly attract a very decent allowance.

It seems that sometimes, retiring senior officers are reluctant to stray far from the nest.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

A few thoughts on the Cilycwm by-election

Update 7th September; Carmarthen Journal;
Blogger Jacqui Thompson to fight election for Carmarthenshire councillor seat 

*  *  *
What prompts and encourages someone to stand as councillor? It is, or it should be, a desire to embark on public service and become a voice for the people you represent. It is this, the experience I have gained and the observations I have made which bring me to this point today. I conclude, from my observations over seven years, that this area of north Carmarthenshire has had a raw deal from the County council. It has largely been ignored. There are also wider issues, most notably the way the county council has, and is being run, which still needs to be addressed.

So where do I start. How about our councillors, the democratic wing of the empire. Let's go local, as it's by-election time. What happened to our local primary schools, to Pantycelyn secondary school? I have not spoken to a single soul who wanted these to close. Senior council officers had a plan though, and nothing was going to get in the way, least of all public opinion. The public believed that their local county councillors would champion their cause, instead there was a deafening silence. No passion, no threatened resignations if the school closed, no presenting public petitions, no bugger all in fact. And worse still, no one was the least bit surprised.

Let's go back further and consider the Parc y Scarlets fiasco. The same, a bit of flannel from the chief executive and like nodding dogs, the councillors ensured that the taxpayer became saddled with a vanity project which would never break even, let alone make a profit. The fact that the auditors had been called in to Mr James' previous stadium vision, in Boston, seemed to pass everyone by. And as for our local sports facilities, playgrounds and parks, they're being offloaded, charges increased and failing that, potentially sold off to developers.

I say everyone, that's not quite true, over the years there have been persistent, vocal campaigners, one or two councillors, most notably Cllr Caiach, of course. From protesting over the closure of care homes to trying to bring some element of scrutiny to the more barking mad decisions, ombudsman and audit reports, how have they all fared? Badly. Smear and division is the preferred tactic, supported by whatever puppet executive board is currently courting favour, and whoever can be bought with the promise of a special responsibility allowance.

Critics, not just me, have had their say, most recently it was the former police commissioner, Christopher Salmon who, after four years, reached the conclusion he'd been dealing with a "Sicilian cartel", not a county council, adding "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".The former lay member of the audit committee, Sir David Lewis also observed that the council's internal legal advice was "cavalier at best, incompetent at worst" .

Only yesterday, another candidate for this election, Matthew Paul mentioned the chief executive in the same breath as North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, this was published in the Herald, and the Herald itself hasn't minced it's words over the past year.

I have not, therefore, been the only critic of the council and manner in which the chief executive conducts business. One of the most bizarre incidents had to be the #daftarrest episode back in 2011, a perfect example of the misuse of power. Mr James called the police because I was quietly filming a meeting. On his authority I was only released from custody after I signed an agreement not to film any more meetings. I don't know who was more puzzled by the whole business, me or the police. They did contact Mr James some weeks later and told him, in so many words, that they wouldn't do his dirty work again.

But then, back in early April this year, they found themselves in the same position. With, I'm sure, more important things to do, they found themselves having to spend months trawling through some woman's blog. In the end they could do nothing more than give me a letter, which, I am now publicly challenging.

At the moment we're heading for Parc Y Scarlets Mark II, the funnelling of council money (and the already depleted resources of the NHS) into private health care and a luxury spa, the Wellness Thing. In classic style, no one was asked, no one consulted. And by no one, I mean you and me. Shiny plans and exiting artists impressions may pad out the pages of Mr James' CV for when he moves on, I'm sure the Boston Stadium plans impressed Meryl back in 2001, but it'll be a costly CV for the rest of us.

But still, the show rumbles on. The desperately dysfunctional Labour group made the unforgivable error of speaking out against a massive golden handshake for Mr James (there was an election round the corner). Sometime later Plaid mysteriously joined with Meryl and Pam as Labour crumbled. Plaid, up until that moment, had been a fairly vocal opposition, some of them were causing problems for Mr James, what better way of dealing with a problem than by bringing it into the fold, with conditions attached naturally, and in the case of Emlyn Dole, having your memory erased.

The Labour/Independent Group administration, responsible for the whole unlawful payments scandal, a private company having its debts cleared with public money, the mysteries of Meryl's grants, the chief executive's attempts to threaten and control the local press, the dire treatment of whistleblowers, the contempt for regulators, the snooping of emails, the cosy arrangements, and the spin....moved seamlessly into the Plaid Cymru/Independent Group coalition.

Council services from social care to leisure are being outsourced by the back door which will not only remove democratic oversight but will also see amenities which run at a loss, for example the swimming pool in Llandovery, quietly close. Massive cuts to education are on the cards, over £12m over the next two years. The council is in debt to the tune of £376m, (even more than me), and that costs £17.6m a year in interest, £100 per man woman and child in the county, per year. The top rank of senior officials costs £1.2m a year and that's without any legal expenses they may be inclined to incur.

Which all brings me back to the reasons for standing as a candidate. For instance, every penny of public money being poured into the latest addition to the Mark and Meryl Empire is a penny less to spend where it's needed, for example, in this very ward.
Someone, hopefully me, needs to fight our corner. Enough is enough.

I believe I have exposed much that is wrong with our democratic arrangements here and there, and shone a light now and again. As a result of my campaigning, meetings are now being webcast for one thing. I am what it says on the tin, to borrow Council leader Dole's catchphrase. No one, not even council by-election candidates can, or indeed should, promise to perform miracles, they can only offer to do their best and be open about themselves.
Funnily enough Kevin Madge had a catchphrase as well, waking up and smelling the coffee. It must be a Council leader thing, sadly Cllr Dole is wrong, things in County Hall are never quite what they are on the tin and Cllr Madge never really woke up.

As a candidate I am aware that the machine must keep turning, bins must be emptied and our children educated, and the issues I have with the council are by the by, I will sort them out in my own way. However, I feel that the Chamber needs new voices, and sometimes those that decide to play monopoly with your money should be held to account and ensure that everything is being done for the benefit of residents, and no one else, and most of all, if I am elected, for the benefit of residents of my area.
And the one thing I can promise, is that I will do it with passion.

(Later post 12th September 2016: Cilycwm by-election - Election statements

Monday, 29 August 2016

Cadno asks for answers - this week's Carmarthenshire Herald

Another excellent opinion piece from Cadno, in this week's Carmarthenshire Herald;

Cadno asks for answers 
Time is a great healer, or so the well-meaning lie goes. However, there are some things that the passage of time cannot heal. It is certain that once severed a leg will not regrow, while quite how UKIP and Labour will stitch themselves back together remains beyond Cadno’s confused vulpine mind. 
Even worse, readers, is the perception of injustice. 
Once something appears to be unjust, then there is very little that can be done to dispel the idea that injustice has taken place. It does not matter whether or not the act is unjust in and of itself, it is the appearance that matters. 
‘Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done’ runs the well-known dictum, dating from an otherwise obscure case from 1924. In that case, the Clerk to the Justices did not disclose that he worked for a firm of solicitors involved in a civil suit arising from a road accident for which the Defendant, a Mr McCarthy, stood trial in the criminal courts 
The then Lord Chief Justice said that he accepted that: "the justices came to a conclusion without consulting the clerk, and that the clerk had scrupulously abstained from referring to the case in any way. But while that is so, a long line of cases shows that it is not merely of some importance but is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done". 
It was the perception of potential injustice which resulted in Mr McCarthy's conviction being overturned. 
So, readers, the appearance of fairness is of fundamental importance. 
Pop quiz time, then, readers. Let’s exercise the old little grey cells. 
Imagine you are an ever so humble council employee. You rather foolishly publish come indiscreet comments and find yourself being sued for libel. You make an offer to settle the claim against when, spontaneously, your employer decides to indemnify you for defending the suit and funds a counterclaim. 
If your employer had not bankrolled either course of action, you would have apologised and coughed up costs and – in all probability – very modest damages. 
With the backing of your employer’s open cheque book and a very friendly judge, you win the case. 
You have received an award of damages, with the costs incurred the responsibility of your employer to recover. 
Now, readers, Cadno does not want to revisit the dead past. The judge made a decision, an appeal did not succeed. Whether or not one agrees with whether or not the decision was right, it is now final. 
In addition, the question of recovery of damages is, for Cadno, a dead letter. All Cadno can say is that a litigant who is aware, or who should be aware from previous correspondence that has passed between his solicitor and the losing party in litigation, that his opponent has no means to speak of is doing little more than racking up otiose costs by pursuing the matter in the effort to get blood from a stone. And one would hope, of course, that the costs for so doing are being borne by the successful litigant and not by his employer. 
And the same goes for costs, whether they are sought to be recovered by the litigant or the impecunious and unprincipled employer that acted unlawfully in bankrolling its employee, especially when he had offered to settle the case. Those offers to settle would have been done on the basis of what is called ‘the litigation risk’. That calculation is not only based on the likelihood of success in a particular action, but also the costs of proceeding to either prosecute or defend a suit. 
So, readers, we have laid the ground work, with which most of you will be familiar. 
Now, it is one thing for the defendant to feel aggrieved at the outcome of litigation. It is quite another for a successful litigant in a civil case to go running to the Police and make a complaint of harassment when the unsuccessful party draws attention to the way in which he conducts his employer’s business. 
Cadno eschews the suggestion that such a person is motivated by little more than petty vindictiveness and spite. That would unfair, as it would require the almost metaphysical step of peering into the soul of the person concerned. 
But what does it look like, readers? 
Does it look like the use of public authority to pursue a private complain? Does it look like bullying? In fact, readers: does it look like harassment? 
It isn’t, of course. It can’t be. But a reasonable person in possession of all the facts in the public domain could consider (but are not bound to conclude) that is what it looks like.
That is quite bad enough, but when one factors in a version of Lieutenant Columbo’s ‘just one more thing’, it looks far worse. 
Way back when Dyfed Powys Police was charged with investigating allegations of criminality involving direct payments made in lieu of employer’s pension contributions, it recused itself on the basis that it had a close working relationship with the local authority. Another police force investigated. 
How then, in light of that close working relationship, did it feel able to investigate a complaint made by the Chief Executive of that authority against a third party with whom he had been engaged in litigation? 
When that same question has been put – on more than one occasion – to Dyfed Powys Police it has refused to answer. So, Cadno has a challenge for Police Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn: answer the question. And respond to the question below, as well, if you can: 
1. How can the public have confidence in the independence of the Police to act impartially if on the one hand they cannot act when an allegation is made against a public authority and a senior employee, and on the other hand are able to investigate a complaint made by the same senior employee against a third party, the same complaint arising from the third party’s criticism of the performance of that employee’s public duties? 
2. Do you think scarce public resources should have been committed to pursuing what - it could reasonably be suggested - is a private matter? 
Those questions are at the very centre of what it means when it is suggested that justice needs not only to be done but to be seen to be done. 
Over to you, Commissioner.
(Article republished with permission - Carmarthenshire Herald)

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...And in case you missed it last week, here's the latest instalment from the occasional series, 'Council of Despair', by fellow blogger Cneifiwr.

And, from the 18th August, on this blog, The police visit Caebrwyn

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Jacqui Thompson - Candidate for the Cilycwm by-election

Just to say that I am standing as a candidate for the Cilycwm seat on Carmarthenshire County Council. The by-election will be held on the 22nd September and if elected I intend to be a very strong voice for the communities within this ward.

It looks like it might be quite a lively campaign, I've already had one political party threaten me with a dirty campaign if I didn't withdraw my nomination by last Thursday's deadline. Charming!


People First- Fighting For The
Gwerin Gyntaf Ymladd
Dros Y Gymuned

More in due course...