Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Turning a blind eye

The Welsh Assembly Petitions Committee met today to consider the petition to curb unelected power and restore local democracy. The full petition statement can be read on my earlier blog post here.

The essence of the petition, put forward last year by Mr Royston Jones, was to require the Government to step in where unelected senior officers, most notably chief executives, systematically undermined the democratic process.

Clearly Carmarthenshire stands out as a case in point.

The petition was discussed, briefly, by the committee today (19th Jan) and can be seen on Senedd TV at 10 minutes 50 seconds in.

The Minister, Leighton Andrews (Lab) was asked for his opinion and his letter to the committee can be seen here. Interestingly he denies that the Welsh Government has "'turned a blind eye' to the influence of some senior officers in certain local authorities" 

Mr Andrews goes on to say that the draft Local Government (Wales) Bill, which is currently out for consultation holds the political leadership responsible for ensuring that chief officers do not exert undue influence.

But as Mr Jones points out in his response to the Minister, the Bill does nothing more than state what should happen, there is no mechanism for intervention if it doesn't;

'..he fails to tell us what can be done when elected representatives fail to curb the interference and eventual takeover by a chief executive (invariably aided by some other senior officers and one or two leading councillors). 
In the right circumstances, with a determined and dictatorial chief executive and a compliant council, it is inevitable that we shall see further examples of the problem my petition addressed, a problem to be seen in Wales today..'

The Welsh Government does, as we know, have the power to put a council in 'special measures' but as Mr Jones points out;  "why has it not been used in obvious cases of the chief executive subverting the democratic operation of the council?"

Why indeed. In Carmarthenshire it is something of a mystery. Repeated requests for Welsh Government intervention not only in regards to the chief executive but also with issues over social care and planning have been repeatedly rejected by the Welsh Government.
The chief executive has treated the Wales Audit Office and the Ombudsman with utter contempt and regarded the WLGA Governance Review as a joke.

The Minister, and his predecessors have, let's face it, bent over backwards to 'turn a blind eye'.

The question is why. One theory is that the chief executive not only exerts undue influence over the council but this extends into the corridors of the Welsh Government where Mr James has had various advisory and directorship roles over the years.

The petition was not specific to Carmarthenshire but it might as well have been, The committee decided to close the petition, suggesting that the petitioner contribute to the consultation. However, the Ministers view seems intransigent and, as Mr Jones tells him;

"passing the buck to those who've already exposed their inability to deal with the problem is nothing less than the Welsh Government washing its hands of that problem. We have every right to expect better."

Meanwhile the farce carries on in Carmarthenshire, the latest incarnation of 'officer control' being, in my view, the statement from Council 'Leader' Emlyn Dole over the unlawful payment scandal.

Here in Carmarthenshire the 'problem' of a majority of weak/puppet councillors is compounded by a culture of vindictiveness towards anyone who challenges the officer regime.
Cllr Caiach, with first hand experience of this culture, comments on my previous post to that effect;

"..  officers really do run the council whoever is "in power". Its been going on so long that it's difficult to rectify without outside help..."

 "...This terror is real and you can't rely on those who have quivered in fear for years to support cleaning up this council's act."

It's going to take more than Mr Andrews' draft Bill to effect a change in Carmarthenshire.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have asked Cardiff Bay what action do they take with Councils that fail to follow procedures and criteria as Laid down by the Welsh Government."we do not have the manpower and finance to police the actions of Welsh Councils" So there you have it. The wasted money on "pet projects",the total inconsistency in planning matters. It is evident to all yet the Council continue to act with impunity answerable to no one.Perhaps the residents of Carmarthen should withhold their council tax and then see the reaction of the unelected CEO. No smirking then to be sure.

Wavell said...

Letter of truth in this weeks Guardian.
Should have been front page though !!

Vote Plaid, get Tory cuts

I WOULD like to use your pages to send an open letter to Emlyn Dole and the Plaid Cymru group at Carmarthenshire County Council.

As you are aware our branch presented a No Cuts Budget to the previous Labour -led administration in January 2014 at the same time Plaid was calling on the Labour led council to use £6-£7 million of its reserves to offset the worst of the cuts and at the time you were supporting our members and other employees being paid a living wage.

It seems that now you are in power these policies and campaigns have been silently ditched. For a party that clams to be anti-austerity, under your leadership, the local authority is doing the opposite. Plaid are carrying on from where the Labour Party left off in implementing £40 million of Tory cuts passed on by a Labour Welsh Assembly Government.

Our branch has been consistent in criticising the WAG for passing on cuts and on councillors for voting for cuts. Despite attempts to absolve yourselves of responsibility Plaid councillors have a choice of whether to vote for cuts or not. The validity of our No Cuts Budget is demonstrated by the fact that Plaid and the Independents have recently found £20 million from reserves for capital projects. We believe that the council could find £40 million (another £20 million) from reserves and borrowing etc. to set a No Cuts Budget to protect jobs and services and then launch a campaign with other local authority’s, trade unions and the wider community to fight the cuts.

At the recent Executive Board there was much mutual backslapping and excitement about the jobs this Capital spending could create. However while the possibility of some job creation is welcome why is it that spending is found for this but not to protect current jobs and services such as in Adult Community Education. Some Board members Independent and Plaid displayed a lack of understanding of the importance of Adult Community Education and the impact of stopping courses and closing centres would have on local communities. Until you mentioned the issue at the end of the discussion no one mentioned that people would lose their jobs! What is promised with one hand you have already taken away with the other. Why is it that Plaid and the Independents are seeking to outsource Leisure Centres and Theatres putting our members’ jobs, terms, conditions and the service at risk? Why is Plaid seeking to asset transfer parks etc. and increase charges?

People are quite rightly asking why they voted Plaid to get Tory cuts. Anger against cuts and austerity is building due to the cuts and the policies your party is implementing. Unison will be to the forefront of fighting these cuts that are not necessary and that will negatively impact on our communities. We again urge you to take a different path, implement our No Cuts Budget,stand shoulder to shoulder with our members and other trade unions and the communities you are supposed to serve and represent. We would be happy to debate these issues in public and at least then the public would have the opportunity to hear the alternative to cuts rather than the sham consultation by the council where they were offered a list of cuts that were dressed up as savings.

Mark Evans

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Branch secretary

Carmarthenshire County Unison branch

Anonymous said...

Maybe we could start things rolling with a petition to remove Cllr. Dole from his present role as being Unfit for Purpose.

Jennifer Brown said...

I see no point in the WAG putting together Statutory Social Services (SSSC) guidance when they have no intention of holding a Council to account when they fail to follow it. Be interesting to see the first commenter's question and the answer if it was in writing. I've been asking similar questions and am told that if the SSSC fail to look into a complaint from a whistleblower then to approach the Ombudsman. Problem is he refuses to look into the matter. We pay for these people to look after our interests but are sold down the river over and over.

Anonymous said...

We all know (or should do) that today British politics is totally corrupt and simply works on high level political greed.
We are lied to on a regular basis from Prime Minister down to Councillor level.
I have voted Plaid for many years, but come the next election I shall make a point of getting the message over about Plaids turncoat actions in Carmarthenshire.
Plaid could have been good for Wales by using fact and not fiction in their plans.
I am 75 years old and it saddens me to think of the country that will be left to my grandchildren.
Just look at the EU situation, the closest thing you can get to the old USSR.

What a total shambles.

Anonymous said...

I was saddened by your comments, Anon @14.51 but unfortunately that is how so many of us 'oldies' feel now. What a world we are leaving to our children and grandchildren. Selfishly, I'm just glad I'm no longer young - we've had the best of times when everything was getting better; now it just seems to be getting worse and worse and I despair when I see the greed and corruption that appears to be endemic in both local and national government.

Redhead said...

I think it was always thus but new technology has made it far easier for us to uncover it now. That's why Cameron is trying to water down Freedom of Information to homeopathic levels. Citizen jpurnalists such as Jacquie are the crux of this and why she has been targeted (and financially harrassed). It is essential that she and other bloggers keep it up it is just about all that is left to know what is really going on.

Jennifer Brown said...

Have you seen the good report the council had from the WAO and how pleased Mark James was with it. So people we are all wrong about this council they are now open and transparent. Here is the good news delivered to us by the South Wales Guardian http://www.southwalesguardian.co.uk/news/14233191.Wales_Audit_Office_praises_Carmarthenshire_s__transparent_governance_/ I'm sure Mark James will now look back at my emails and look into how POVA failed to protect the vulnerable and why he ignored my disclosures to him as per whistleblowing policy. I am so happy as will another whistleblower be 'cos the enquiry she has been calling for is sure to happen now. Doesn't this disprove what we've always believed "A leopard doesn't change it's spots". The WAO has discovered something us ordinary mortals can't see so good for them. Another saying "Pigs might fly".

caebrwyn said...

@Jennifer Brown
Yes I've read the full report. Quite disturbing really that the WAO were so easily convinced that there is now 'collective leadership', by which they must mean that after 13 years of damage, intimidation and control freakery Mark James has been put back in his box. If they believe that they'll believe anything.

Martin Milan said...

WTF?

If the WAO truly feel that all is well in Carmarthenshire, then they are (almost) as unfit for purpose as the council itself...

Jennifer Brown said...

I feel sure the very good policies this council has in place would, if followed, protect the public interest; there would be transparency and accountability. Because of this council's culture of cover up, not only does the genuine whistleblower suffer so do complainants and the public interest; reasons for not following policies, even statutory ones, boils down to conflicts of interest, bias, coercion, safety of position and cronyism. Such a council will only be cleaned up if public servants (anyone paid from the public purse) were to speak up and then only if our representatives, regulators, Ombudsmen, WAO and WAG were willing to investigate problem public servants and LAs. These people from the different bodies are well known to each other, including LA officers, from regular meetings that have to take place; no doubt just as we whistleblowers find it difficult to speak up especially when colleagues are involved they too would prefer to look the other way; to me that is cronyism. Good policies and procedures, produced in isolation, do not make for good governance; what does is the following of those policies, accepting accountability and learning lessons. Councils will never learn if they spend all their energy covering up wrongdoing in the knowledge they can do so with impunity. We all have a conscience and when we see or hear of abuse/wrongdoing which injures others, whether physically or mentally, that is what controls our actions. How easy we find it to live with ourselves if we just turn away and ignore what's taking place decides whether we speak up or take any action.

Anonymous said...

The last comment by Jennifer Brown is exactly how it is. Our politicians, agencies that are supposed to represent us, Welsh Assembly Ministers, all public bodies in fact that we pay for, have working relationships with each other. That is where the biggest problem is, especially in rural areas such as Carmarthenshire where they are more personally involved with each other. With Mark James wielding his influence within all of these areas, giving himself too much prominence everyone is seriously compromised. Unfortunately most people will turn a blind eye until it affects them.

Jennifer Brown said...

Well put Anon 07:53 explains situation perfectly. These people should realise their first duty is to the public interest and not the protection of public servants who are working against it with cover up! A democracy is supposed to work in the interest of it's people but so many who we pay to do just that fail us; they prefer not to open the can of worms, not to lance the boil as it could get messy. They no doubt fear they too would suffer the same fate as the whistleblower; ostracism, defamation and removal and the knowledge that the stand taken has achieved nothing in regard to protecting the public from self serving public servants. Self preservation wins out most of the time!

Anonymous said...

One more thing to add to the last two comments which are so true, is that the politicians and public servants who should be serving us are only in it for the money and a quiet life, to take from their job for themselves but not give themselves to the job.

Jennifer Brown said...

It is such a pity that the leaders at the top of the food chain encourage this kind of culture which rewards self interest. I would imagine anyone wanting to work in the public interest (which public servants should be doing) give it up and put their energies into something else or end up keeping their heads down do the best they can despite the culture but turn a blind eye to what others are doing and stay silent. Just the same us at the bottom of the food chain, who actually work face to face with service users and the wider public either give in to peer pressure, give up and get another job, stay "clean" ourselves but turn a blind eye or risk everything and speak out (whistleblow). The only sure way our public interest and safety can be assured is when the culture of "shooting the messenger" stops and the people at the top decide to act to stamp out the culture of cronyism, coercion, cover up and denial in our public services. Maybe if enough employees who have risen up the food chain, by turning a blind eye to wrongdoing, decide enough is enough and start to speak out themselves something might begin to change for the better. They, as us other whistleblowers have, would be putting their duty before their own self interest and will no doubt be made to suffer similar consequences until the Government finally puts in place legislation which make leaders of organisations & public bodies accountable when they ignore and don't act on genuine public interest disclosures from their employees. Carmarthenshire County Council is just one of many who fail the public by shooting the messenger instead of acting and nipping problems in the bud before they become a scandal and a whistleblower finally has to go to the outside media.

When there are these scandals the public (me included) say "Why didn't someone speak up, they must have seen what was happening?"; well it usually comes out later that employees had been reporting their concern up the food chain but no one would do anything about it. It's not so easy to engage in cover up if you have actually made a genuine effort to investigate the problem. This is where denial raises it's ugly head but usually the person at the top of the food chain knows exactly what's going on and leaves it for others lower down to silence the whistleblower by relocation, suspension and finally dismissal if the other detriments have not worked. Like I say our LA follows the herd and it seems after all this time if the Government were really serious about protecting the public interest legislation would have been in place by now. Public pressure is the only thing that will stop this cancer in our public bodies. The comments for this and the last post gives me hope that at least in Carmarthenshire people are becoming aware that all is not right with the leadership and culture within our County Council. Our MPs and AMs need to start asking questions in Parliament and WAG. Without whistleblowers wrongdoing would rarely come to light. Complaints by members of the public are rarely investigated properly and if the complainant continues to pursue the matter they too are treated as the problem and left in limbo so it's not only whistleblowers who suffer it's anyone who tries to draw attention to the wrongful actions committed by our public bodies.

Jennifer Brown said...

Martin Fletcher a past foreign correspondent for The Times was lamenting the loss of investigative journalism in the Radio Times this week. He explains “.....Neither television nor radio has taken over their watchdog role. Bloggers and tweeters lack resources, and many subscribe to a 'post first, verify later' ethos. A handful of philanthropically funded organisations like ProPublica or the Centre for Investigative Journalism have emerged, but few last long.

The consequences are obvious, says Robinson, who recently returned to the Globe as editor-at-large after seven years of teaching. 'The temptations to misbehave or line your own pockets or take care of your friends have increased pretty dramatically over the past decade because reporters who were usually looking over the shoulders of public officials are not there any more.”

This was a piece about a new film called SPOTLIGHT concerning The Boston Globe and an investigation it carried out into the Catholic Church and abuse etc. in 2001-2. The piece in the Radio Times goes on to say “Pfeiffer, who calls the film 'a love letter to journalism' hopes it will 'make people realise you have to buy your newspaper if you want this kind of work to happen. If it doesn't we will see more abuses, more corruption, more powerful institutions out of control, more people victimised in a variety of ways with no one to expose what's happening to them.' …...”

Well we must be thankful for the Herald and our bloggers especially Jacqui who has carried on despite what took place regarding the Carmarthenshire County Council illegally providing Mark James CEO with the funds to sue her for libel. When this kind of action takes place we can all take as said; the Council do not want any one looking too closely over their shoulders.

Anonymous said...

There are Codes of Conduct in place for both officers and members. This code is broken on a regular basis as it states officers have to act with honesty and integrity and thats not all. Whose role is it to ensure that when this code is broken these officers face consequences. If there is no system in place to ensure this code is adhered to then what the hell is the point of their code.

Jennifer Brown said...

The monitoring officer who sits on Council meetings to the left of Mark James (CEO), I believe' has that responsibility and to also advise such as the Standards Committee Chair when matters come to his attention.

To my mind, after trying to persuade her, Mark James and Standards Committee Chair to look into how officers didn't follow policies and procedures regarding POVA (Protection of Vulnerable Adults from Abuse), Whistleblowing, Statutory Social Services Complaints, Disciplinary and Investigation policies, her priority is to safeguard the CCC's reputation at any price. My request for a meeting to discuss this matter was refused as they believed this had been dealt with previously by the CSSIW (who had given me a report on their own actions not the actions of the CCC)and the Employment Tribunal(ET) (the ET does not have any interest in what the disclosures were they only have to deduce whether my dismissal was fair,which, according to the judgement, did not take into account any of the policies I put before them). No one has investigated anything regarding this matter; ongoing since 2009 when institutional abuse was first disclosed to POVA & no action taken. I and others disclosed this again in writing in 2010. Had more effort gone into following proper procedures service users would have been safeguarded and there would have been no need for our subsequent complaint against POVA or further neglect and abuse being allowed to take place. All good reasons why policies need to be followed and officers codes of practice adhered to. I would like to invite Mark James CEO, Monitoring Officer and/or any of the members including past executive members who've been approached since November 2010 to comment; is that OK with you Jacqui?

I am still available for the meeting I asked for and was refused in 2014 by the Monitoring Officer. I still have the documentation which I believe paints a very damaging picture of the CCC. They know how to contact me to discuss this matter.

Mark James CEO made a comment to a blog post as we know to entrap Jacqui so commenting here is not exactly beneath him. He will be aware that libelous statements against me are in the documentation I mention which proves to me how low the officers are forced to stoop to prevent my disclosures/complaint being taken seriously. It's not in my interest to sue any of his officers as I believe the culture emanating down from the top encourages the defamation of whistleblowers and complainants to help conceal unpalatable truths from the public and to protect the CCC and it's CEO's reputation at any cost.

Anonymous said...

Its a great idea to ask these public servants questions on a blog. If the questions are fair and reasonable why not. Let's make it public if there is nothing to hide why not?