Friday, 23 June 2017

Public audit time


Its that time of year again when the public are allowed to enter County Hall and inspect the council's accounts, and should you unearth evidence of creative accounting and/or slush funds, or an abnormally large consignment of brown envelopes, you can report your findings to the Wales Audit Office.



The public inspection period, by appointment only, lasts from 5th July until the 1st August and includes all books, receipts, invoices, contracts etc, well, not quite all but better than nothing. The contact details can be found on the council website here. In all seriousness, this public audit exercise is an important right and especially so when the council refuses to routinely publish its spending details, a legal requirement in England.

A few years back a small group of us decided to take the plunge and pop along to have a browse over several areas of interest. The council were far more concerned about who was coming, demanding NAMES in advance, rather than assisting us with our enquiries. We got the feeling that this was a very rare occurrence and no one else had had the cheek to be so intrusive in living memory. It was all a bit of a muddle but at least we had an experienced accountant in our group to help us wade through some of the mire. In fact, unless the process has become a bit more user friendly, taking your own accountant might be advisable...

One area of spending which was of interest at the time was the council's well resourced, and notorious press office and in particular it's very own recently established commercial PR company, SirGar PR and it's 'team of twenty'. Despite the finance department being a matter of yards from the press office, the bean counters had never even heard of SirGar PR, never mind how much it was costing. Eventually we gave up with it all, went home, and submitted various freedom of information requests instead. No idea what happened to SirGar PR.

Mind you, that was a breeze compared with the horrors of viewing the Register of Councillors' Gifts and Interests. Back in 2011 fellow blogger Cneifiwr and I were escorted to what appeared to be a broom cupboard in the depths of County Hall where the now retired head of democratic services passed us the dusty files, one at a time, returning each to its sacred position on the shelf before presenting the next, whilst pretending to write notes a matter of inches away from the uncomfortable bloggers. A second council officer also remained confined to the room, perhaps as a witness, just in case we told the Russians about Pam Palmer's silk scarf and box of tea...




Eventually the council were kicked into action and the Register is now online. The Register of Senior Officers' Interests, Expenses etc can still only be obtained via tortuous freedom of information requests, a quest I've embarked on once or twice. And as I said, spending details are not routinely published, and some spending will never be found; either deemed too 'sensitive' or lurking under the corporate mattress....

So if you have an interest, and know roughly what you're looking for, it is worth dropping by. If you do, please let me know how you get on...

* * *

Before I go, the Executive Board kicks off its business next Monday and one item on the agenda is an update on the Community Asset Transfers. This was a lengthy list of council owned parks, playgrounds and Recs which have been transferred to local Town and Community Councils to fund and run. 

Most transfers have been completed but its last chance saloon for twenty-one of them, covered by eleven Town and Community Councils (see here page 4, group D). A 'consultation' will now be held with 'various stakeholders' on the final fate of these playgrounds, but what will be uppermost in the council's mind is the valuable development land they sit on... 

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Police summons


I have now been served with a written charge and postal requisition from Dyfed Powys Police to attend Llanelli Magistrates Court at the end of this month. However, a brief adjournment has been agreed as my legal representative is unavailable on that day. The hearing will be relisted  - probably for next month (July) and I will then confirm the date.
The notice tells me I am charged with one alleged offence of non-violent harassment of Mark James relating to several posts on this blog. The details will become apparent on due course should this matter progress to a trial.

I was interviewed under caution in March giving a brief prepared statement in my defence, followed by no comment responses to all the questions.

As I did not comment then, it would not be appropriate for me to comment in any detail now prior to prosecution proceedings but I will be strongly defending my position in this, as I have with everything else that has happened.
Given my knowledge of the content of the police questions, and amongst other things, I repeat what I said a couple of weeks ago; it's ridiculous and misguided, on every level.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Council news in brief, and a BBC report


I'm sure many of us have been a bit distracted, or perhaps driven to distraction, by the general election campaign but the polls are now open so please go and vote. My Twitter timeline has been bursting at its cyber-seams for weeks with polls, predictions and gaffes (from all sides), but, with distractions of my own, and non-aligned to boot, I've left the political analysis to others.
Anyway, all will be revealed early tomorrow (Friday) morning.
(Update; no change for Carms East and Dinefwr or Llanelli with Plaid's Jonathan Edwards and Labour's Nia Griffith both holding their seats)

Meanwhile that old chestnut Parc Howard is again causing controversy. Recent plans put forward by the council include a two-storey car park and the 'sensitive commercialisation' of the historic house and grounds in Llanelli. Just how 'sensitive' it will be remains to be seen. The expressions of interest were due in by the 25th April but so far all is quiet on the council's choice of 'preferred partners'. Let's just hope we don't have a repeat performance of the fiasco we saw earlier with clandestine meetings and peculiar potential partners.

Talking of friends 'preferred partners', also rumbling away in the background is the super-dooper Wellness Centre at Delta Lakes, Llanelli, or the 'luxury spa and private healthcare village' as it's otherwise known. Plans have already been approved to prepare the land, well, to raise it high enough to avoid the thing floating away on the next major flood.

Expressions of interest were invited back in March to deliver the £200m+ scheme with the council. As with Parc Howard, all is quiet even though the formal tender was due to go out mid-May. So far, there's no sign of it. You get the feeling that the partners will actually be chosen at the EoI stage, or in fact, already have been, a couple of years ago.

Despite involving ££££ of public money, you may recall the chief executive stating some time ago that councillors need not trouble their pretty heads about this taxpayer funded extravaganza, it was out of their hands and a matter for far more important people to decide upon. He might, he promised, let them have the occasional progress report. In the end they were treated to a massive PR show, complete with a sales pitch which would have been the envy of Arthur Daley, and 3D Video in dreamy conceptual white.

After all, given the chief executive's track record in creating more white elephants than a safari park, I'm sure all is safe in his hands....and usefully, Meryl's still moving and shaking in the Wellness Dream of course...

These are all items and issues which will be coming up in the future. It takes Carmarthenshire Council, post-local election, a little time for the wheels of democracy, if you could ever call it that, to lurch and stagger into action, and the whole circus shuts down again for August anyway.
Full council will next meet on the 21th June when business will get underway and we can judge the mettle of our new councillors. (update 14th June; this meeting has now been cancelled..). Meanwhile the only notable gathering in the near future is the Standards Committee tomorrow (9th June).

On the agenda is the annual rubber stamp review of the council's Whistleblowing Policy. This is a standard item, with the document, theoretically, ticking all the right boxes, including the warning that going to the press might exclude you from the 'protections' of the policy... In practice however, experiences can be less than satisfactory. It was only a few short months ago that a former manager of Pembrey Country Park explained how the council turned his life upside down and put him through hell after blowing the whistle on malpractice.

Appearing for the first time is a list of recent whistleblowing complaints currently being 'dealt with' under the policy. Details are (understandably) in outline only, but one in particular stands out as being potentially worrying;


And finally...

BBC Wales reports today (online and on tv) that the chief executive has not repaid the legal costs of his unlawfully funded libel counterclaim back to the council. The figure they have is £29,414 although the figure I was given was a shade under £41,000. The true amount, and I guarantee that taking officer time, reports, legal advice etc etc into account, it's a lot more than that.

The costs, which he's not repaying, are not of course, to be confused with the damages, which he's not repaying either. You may recall that at the court hearing on the 23rd March 2017 it became apparent that Mr James has breached his undertaking to hand the damages over to the council.

Furthermore, the BBC have obtained a statement from the council which says; "As far as we are aware, Mr James has yet to receive payment of any damages by Mrs Thompson.". I am not entirely clear when this statement was obtained but as I said to the BBC, I've made two payments so far. I am supposed to pay £250 per month until 2032. If I don't, Mr James will be demanding the house keys forthwith and adding to his burgeoning property portfolio, as his solicitors have made clear;

"For the avoidance of doubt, should you fail to make any payment in accordance with the attached schedule, our client will immediately invoke the Order for Sale without further reference to you"

Perhaps he has put it in the gutter after all.

The BBC online report features a short video about the unlawful costs, and if I had the tech skills I'd put it on here. Here's a screenshot instead, with a link below (have now found a Facebook link to the video here);

Blogger libel: Council boss's £30k legal bill not repaid

14th June; The failure by the chief executive to repay this money was also reported (print only) by the Carmarthenshire Herald and Carmarthen Journal.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Cardiff connections - Jac o' the North's post - updated


Update 19th June 2017; A further post from Jac o' the North - Baywatch 2

* * *

Last week I made a passing reference to council chief executive Mark James' business affairs relating to property in Cardiff.
Jac o' the North has also picked up on these recent developments, via Companies House, so, for quite a bit more than a passing reference, have a read of his latest post; Baywatch



Friday, 26 May 2017

Reported for summons


Later post, 17th June; Police summons

Further to matters outlined here, and subsequent to a formal interview on the 16th March, two police officers called at my home yesterday (25th) to tell me that they have made a decision to prosecute and I am being reported for summons.
I understand that I will receive a summons in the post to attend a magistrates court in due course.
This is ridiculous, on every level.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Carmarthenshire Council AGM, a few points


(31st May - see added link)

Yesterday's AGM was quite a subdued affair, these things usually are, more a formality than a means of debate. The whole thing can of course be viewed on the archived webcast.
After the preliminary chain swapping ritual and speeches, with visiting dignitaries in attendance, the new Chair, Cllr Irfon Jones (Ind) stumbled into action.

New Chair (for clarity, it's the one with the chain)

Cllr Mansel Charles (Plaid) was also invested with chains of office as Vice-Chair. It'll be his turn to be Chair next year.
The nomination for Emlyn Dole as leader went unchallenged and he was duly 'elected' although the Labour group abstained.
Cllr Dole then announced the new Executive Board, adding economic regeneration and 'marketing and media' (including the press office) to his own portfolio.

There are seven Plaid members and three from the Independent Group giving Plaid overall control. Mair Stephens was reappointed to the board and, as leader of the Independent Group, which appears to be still going strong, has boosted her salary as deputy council leader.

A new portfolio of culture, sport and tourism was created for Plaid's Peter Hughes Griffiths and Glynog Davies (Plaid) has education. Jim Jones has been cast aside and replaced by fellow Independent Phillip Hughes on dog fouling duties and Plaid's Cefin Campbell leads on rural affairs and countering terrorism.

Dai Jenkins (Plaid) retains the portfolio for money, Hazel Evans (Plaid) retains roads and rubbish and Jane Tremlett (Ind), social care. Plaid's Linda Evans will be back in charge of housing once the Standards committee have given their nod of approval, due to the fact that she is Emlyn Dole's sister-in-law.
She might also be grateful for advice from the Chief Executive, now expanding his own portfolio with business interests (link added 31st May) in property management in Cardiff...

Emlyn Dole delivered his carefully crafted leader's speech which rambled on for some time, those listening to the English translation (it's very good btw) might have noticed the sound of a yawn half way through. Most of it was spin and naturally, with the general election only a couple of weeks away, resembled a party political broadcast on behalf of Plaid Cymru. Still, he was hardly going to say things were actually all a bit cr*p. To give an example of the spin, the wonderful new mobile library service with it's up-to-date vans was mentioned when, in actual fact, the service is being drastically cut and people will have to travel miles to one of the designated stops, so not so 'mobile' any more. And so on.

Much was made of the Swansea Bay City Deal of course with pictures of the cosy signing ceremony with Theresa May. No mention was made, however, of the as yet unknown millions the council will have to borrow to attract the (also as yet unknown) private investors.

The Labour leader Jeff Edmunds responded to the speech by reminding Cllr Dole that Plaid were just carrying on the policies started by Labour. True to form it wasn't exactly an inspiring response but was, he explained, without the benefit of a script. He sounded one warning bell over the £7m earmarked for a new care home in Llanelli. Was this £7m now going towards private health care in the Wellness Thing? A good question..

Everything else breezed through apart from a small hiccup during the amendments to the constitution item. Plaid Cllr Alun Lenny, clearly referring to the public speakers and the row over Llangennech School, wanted 'public questions' to be limited to a question plus a supplementary. Any preamble would be on the agenda but not spoken. It was not fair, he said, members of the public acted disgracefully, giving long speeches, and elected members were unable to respond.

In actual fact, elected members have numerous ways of responding, access to their own press team for one thing. His amendment, which will be passed on the Constitutional Review Working Group (CRWG) for consideration, is disappointing. Whilst allowing public questions might be occasionally challenging, there have been very few public questions at all and until 2015, when I popped into the Chamber with a question about that curious case of the car park deal, there'd been none for ten years.

The constitution itself (See Standing Orders Part 10) already restricts public questions to a question and a supplementary. I suggest extreme caution over any further restrictions and I suspect that such an amendment would never have been suggested whilst Plaid were in opposition.

Linda Rees Jones was 'embarrassed' as she'd forgotten to add to the rule book, back in June 2015, that members of the public were only allowed to film or record meetings which were already being webcast by the council. She thanked Cllr Darren Price (Plaid) for drawing it to her attention...
This leaves a ridiculous filming ban on all scrutiny meetings and the Audit, Democratic Services and Standards Committees. Presumably prison awaits any who dare record any of those.

It seems her shame didn't extend to the unlawful libel costs amendment which, for the third year running, remains, as I mentioned last week, in the constitution in suspended form, but maybe she's got her boss to thank for that. Something else for CRWG to consider...

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Revisiting that car park deal...


Sian Caiach reminds us yesterday of that mysterious car park deal back in 2013, and the financial, erm, ingenuity with which, in the words of the former Police Commissioner, our very own Sicilian cartel in County Hall "extracts vast amounts of money from residents which it showers on favourites, hoards property, bullies opponents, co-opts friends and answers to no one, least of all local councillors."

With the prospect of millions being poured into a luxury spa and private health care down on Delta Lakes, it's worth revisiting the tale of the car park, if nothing else, for the importance of transparency. As Ms Caiach points out, it's not just the initial investment in County Hall pet projects which sail through, despite questionable viability, but the ongoing costs and bailouts.

To give just a couple of examples, the Parc Y Scarlets stadium doesn't have to pay any rent to the council for the land until such time as it makes a substantial profit, so far this hasn't happened and isn't ever likely to. So, instead, the council pays rent to Scarlets Regional Ltd for office space and functions in the stadium. The Eastgate Centre in Llanelli was another council led project where not only did the council give many millions to the developers in land deals etc it cut a deal to provide the private owners with £5m rent, for more office space, over the next twenty years.

It's only a matter of time before the council rents 'office space' in the evangelical bowling alley for compulsory morning prayers...or the 'Wellness Village' for Executive aromatherapy sessions...

But back to the car park. Adjacent to the stadium and surplus to requirements, the car park was owned by the council but leased to the Scarlets Regional Ltd. To provide the company with some cash, and after some planning 'adjustments', the car park was sold off to Marston's Inns to develop a hotel.

The land was sold for £850,000 and with the split in the proceeds declared as 50/50, you might expect, after some minor deductions roughly £400k apiece for the council and Scarlets Regional.

This wasn't the case.

Efforts to get to the actual details of the deal went on for some time but to no avail. In 2013 Cllr Jeff Edmunds, who was the Exec Board member for resources finally decided to reveal the details to Sian Caiach. As she points out, 'When I walked into his office to hear the explanation he was actually on the phone to chief executive Mark James who, even at the last minute, was trying to talk him out of spilling the beans.'

It turned out that out of the £850,000, roughly £650,000 was going to Scarlets Regional, a private company, in 'allowable expenses' and their share of the proceeds.

Eventually, the following year, during Mr James' 'gardening leave', a series of emails were released under FOI. What they revealed, very clearly, was that two senior officers, one who was delegated to finalise the deal and the other being the now retired Director of Resources, had been deeply opposed to most of the 'deductions', especially a hefty £280,000 to pay off a third party debt for the company.

One of the officers stated that the debt was "a private matter for the Scarlets from their share of the proceeds..and is nothing to do with the Council" and the Director of Resources was crystal clear; "I cannot support any of the deductions put forward"

Unfortunately, they're protestations were to no avail and at the last minute, the day before the deal was struck, the chief executive got on the blower to the delegated officer to ensure that his, Mark James', 'instructions' that the council got £200k went through, leaving Scarlets Regional Ltd with £650,000, the lions share, quietly shortchanging the taxpayer by a few hundred grand.

I wrote about all this is detail at the time, The Council, the Scarlets and the 'Allowable expenses', How this payment was ever considered appropriate, never mind legal, beggars belief and the more cynical amongst us might consider it a favour. After all, how many other businesses could rely on the council pulling out the stops to pay off one of their debts?

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Agenda; Carmarthenshire Council AGM


The agenda has now been published for the council's AGM, which will be held on Wednesday (24th) at 11am. Act One of the proceedings is entirely missable and involves the pomp and nonsense of swapping chains of office in front of several guests in military fancy dress. Following that, the Chair of Council and Leader are 'elected'. Like children taking it in turns to sit in the front seat of the car (mine used to 'shotgun' it) each group takes it in turns to be Chair each year. This year it's the Independent Group's turn with Cllr Irfon Jones taking the front seat (although we all know who the driver is).
Subject to any post-election surprises or subterfuge and anyone else being nominated, Cllr Dole is likely to be re-elected as leader of the council.

Things become slightly more interesting after lunch, in Act Two, when the Executive Board is announced (see my comment below previous post here), and the lucrative (£22,100) posts of committee Chairs are divvied up.

All but one of the 'new' Chairs up for nomination are councillors re-elected on May 4th, the one interesting exception being newcomer, and deputy leader of the Labour group Cllr Rob James (Lab) who up for the post of Chair of the Democratic Services Committee. Alun Lenny (Plaid) will return as Chair of the Planning Committee.

One of the annual items for the AGM is to approve changes to the constitution. This bit always interests Caebrwyn, since a few years ago when buried deep within the unread pile of documents was an alarming and unlawful addition to provide indemnities to sue...

This time round there's a little backward step via a change to the time limit to submit questions, motions, petitions etc by the public and councillors. All will have to be on the chief executive's desk a full seven working days before the meeting (not including the day it's received, nor the meeting day itself), some used to be a straight five days.

All in all, once you've factored in a bank holiday or two and possible rejection on spurious legal grounds, it's probably best to start preparing your question a good six months prior to a meeting...

The decision a couple of years ago, enthusiastically promoted by the chief executive, to remove urgent business and to list all committee minutes 'for noting' at full council, effectively removed any spontaneous, and therefore uncomfortable questions from the public glare. The plan was for councillors to put formal, vetted, questions forward, days in advance, based on the minutes of committees. In practice this rarely happens and it doesn't help that sometimes the minutes 'for noting' are not even available, as I noticed at the last full council with regards to the Audit Committee minutes. The delay in publishing minutes has been solved by a get-out amendment adding the word 'normally';



Due to Welsh Government legislation there will no longer be substitutes on the planning committee. For purposes of probity this is probably a good idea. The rather fluid arrangement whereby a member can duck out of a meeting (for a multitude of reasons...) to be replaced by his or her nominated, and suitably primed, substitute is an area open to abuse, not that that would happen in Carms of course...

Another little gem is about to be immortalised in the constitution and that concerns the filming of meetings by the public, a controversial topic at the best of times. Those councillors who included a drive for 'transparency', less control-freakery, and all that jazz in their election leaflets might want to raise an objection to the bit marked in red?


Caebrwyn was disappointed that yet again there is no removal of the illegal libel indemnity clause mentioned above. It remains suspended for the third year running due to the intransigence of Mark James and his legal rubber stamp Linda Rees Jones; you'd almost think their jobs depended on it.... It will clearly remain as a lasting memorial to local government idiocy and unlawfulness, or perhaps it's just easier to leave it there...less of a palaver to 'unsuspend' it perhaps, should they want to sue someone. Caebrwyn will continue to push for its complete removal and challenge the implications of it all, even if it forms part of my last will and testament...

 

It's perhaps worth remembering what the Welsh Government had to say on the matter, let alone the Wales Audit Office;
"...in terms of the situation in Carmarthenshire, we as a Government have said that it is not right to provide any sort of indemnity in terms of what has happened there.." 
First Minister Carwyn Jones, June 2014

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Email to the Chief Constable


Update 26th May; I was indeed contacted, and was told I was being reported for summons, ie being prosecuted.

Update 18th May;
Response received this morning - seems like a standard reply...

Dear Ms Thompson,

Thank you for your email which I have read with interest. From the details you have provided I will liaise with the Officer dealing with your case and request that they contact you and update you with the current position of the enquiry as soon as possible.

Kind Regards
A------ E----
Inspector / Arolygydd
Staff Officer to Chief Constable / Swyddog Staff PG
Dyfed Powys Police / Heddlu Dyfed Powys

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


Email as sent this morning, 17th May;

To; Mr Mark Collins, Chief Constable
Dyfed Powys Police

Dear Mr Collins,

In January, 2016 I was reported to the police by the chief executive of Carmarthenshire Council, Mr Mark James. After eight months, I was finally given a letter, a warning letter I believe, which I then challenged. An investigation into a further allegation made by Mr James had, I discovered, been discontinued several weeks earlier.

In March of this year I was contacted again by Dyfed Powys police and asked to attend interview as the chief executive had made another complaint. If I didn't agree to attend voluntarily I was told I would be arrested. I attended the voluntary interview on March 16th. I was told by the officer in charge that he would inform me, by phone, whether or not matters would be taken further or not, within a week or so.

Several weeks passed and on the 21st April, I contacted Dyfed Powys Police and was told by the officer in charge that the police were not able to make a decision and he was preparing a file for the CPS.
A further four weeks have now passed.

I find this prolonged delay completely unacceptable and I fail to understand why a decision has not been made.
I have been under investigation, in some shape or form, on and off, for 16 months. Whilst I appreciate that your officers have a job to do, the delay seems to me to be completely unnecessary.
I am considering making a complaint of criminal harassment against the chief executive as his actions with regards to the police have, in my view, been made in direct relation to various enforcement proceedings he has taken against me in the civil court.

If the matter has in fact been passed to the CPS, please tell me exactly when this was and provide me with a reference number so I can make my own enquiries.

If the matter is still with Dyfed Powys Police please explain why this has been such a drawn out matter, given the extended period going back over a year, and inform me when this process will be concluded and when I will finally be informed of your decision.

I do not wish this correspondence to be treated as a formal complaint yet as I do not want another protracted investigation, I just want an explanation which I believe is a reasonable request under the circumstances.

As I was told by Dyfed Powys Police that the chief executive made his initial allegations in a letter direct to the Chief Constable, I believe it entirely appropriate that I address my concerns to you.

Please kindly acknowledge this correspondence and I look forward to your very prompt reply, preferably via email.

Yous sincerely

Jacqui Thompson

Monday, 15 May 2017

After the local election - a few thoughts


Despite the general election campaign lurching along for a couple more weeks, played out on social media, all round, like some sort of pantomime, the local election is over. We've got what we've got for the next five years, pending any dramatic mid-term changes, which, as we saw with Plaid taking over in Carmarthenshire in 2015 was more akin to a quietly revolving door rather than a 'political reboot'.

I haven't got any party axe to grind and most residents and voters will not really be interested in the general background of their councillor, what they may have tweeted five years ago (within reason) nor what their wives/husbands or children do, or did. In politics, no matter who is accused of what, there is usually an equal measure of 'baggage' to be found trailing behind the accuser, it all depends on who can shout, or tweet, the loudest.

The issue of manipulating the postal vote, which, as usual, gets a mention at local election time, is an interesting one as it has gone on for years, pretty much everywhere and practised, in varying degrees, by all sides.
If your ward is blessed with, for instance, a care home for the elderly, a sheltered housing complex, or a substantial ethnic population, the potential is there to 'help' postal voters with the forms and in return gain a few extra crosses just for being the kindly, thoughtful candidate who provided 'assistance', maybe even popping along to the post box on the voter's behalf.

After the rapid rearguard action by Plaid to retain power by joining up with the remnants of the Independent group within hours of the end of the count (did voters realise their 'Independent' candidate was going to join with Plaid?), Labour are consigned once again to the opposition bench.

The importance of a strong opposition cannot be underestimated. Opposition for oppositions sake; for political point scoring or personal attack is counter-productive, even if it means a few column inches in the local paper. All parties should strive for the good of the whole county, and all communities, and should work together to achieve this. Well, in theory anyway.

A good opposition in any council chamber, in my view, provides checks and balances and most of all scrutiny of decision making by those in power (whether it is elected or, in the case of Carmarthenshire, unelected power). This is why no executive board members sit on scrutiny committees, and why transparency is so vital.
All parties have good and bad ideas depending on your viewpoint but the general direction of travel is laid down by the financial constraints on the authority balanced against the demands and demography of the population.

Take for instance the proposed Wellness Village at Delta Lakes, Llanelli (please search this blog for earlier posts). This has actually been in the pipeline for around five years. The council have been paying consultancy firms (mainly Arup in this case) since 2012 to devise various masterplans; they've chosen a preferred developer and even made preparations in the hope that the whole development won't be under water in a few years time, a perfectly realistic possibility.

We don't know how much has been spent on any of this as the council refuses to publish its spending details. Neither has there been any public consultation.
We also know that money set aside for a new care home in Llanelli has been withheld as the movers and shakers in Wellness try and shoehorn it into Delta Lakes instead. This has been to the detriment of elderly and vulnerable who didn't have time to wait for unknown private investors to possibly sign joint ventures with public authorities, arrangements entirely dependent on those public authorities borrowing a shedload of extra cash.

Take this with the fact that the emphasis for development in the Wellness Village is for private health care (mentioned in Arup's brief and the Local Development Plan) and it's quite incredible that both Plaid and Labour have swallowed the spin, described the project as an unmissable opportunity and signed up to invest your money in private health care. I don't think that appeared on anyone's manifesto.

What the whole Swansea Bay City Deal will mean for Carmarthenshire, apart from, undoubtedly, a couple of well paid jobs for the boys, is a completely unknown level of borrowing, adding to the near £400m it already owes. Extra borrowing, or any spending for that matter, to reel in private investment should always be treated with extreme caution and at least be the subject of proper, transparent procedure and efficient scrutiny, especially when it comes to promises based on spin rather than evidence.

If nothing else it doesn't appear to be a development based the demands and demographics of the population

A good opposition group should ensure that they are very well informed, and, to put it simply, cut though the spin and expose policy, plans and even masterplans for what they are. Get back to the basics and look at the evidence, look at the costings, the business plans, the projections etc Check that the independent advice is actually independent and not provided by a consultancy firm looking simply to further it's own financial interests. Never accept that there's 'No other option' as there always is, even if it's in how the target is reached and not just the hoped for outcome.

The problem facing most elected members is how to deliver promises made on the doorstep. In a 'pothole' analogy there are only a certain number which will be fixed in any given year, it will depend on the persistence of your local councillor, and the refusal to take no for an answer which will determine whether your particular pothole will be fixed any time soon. Promises made concerning wider, and more intangible policy issues such as the delivery of affordable housing, social care or education can be safely abandoned to the slowly turning wheels of local government once the votes have been safely cast.

What cannot be avoided is the perception that councillors, and not just the opposition, are nothing more than nodding donkeys. No one wants to oppose plans to provide more affordable and social housing of course and the Plaid group, and Labour before them have tried to improve the housing situation by starting to build a few council houses, removing the Right to Buy, local lettings policies, buying derelict houses etc etc which is all well and good.

What I am trying to point out is that, in the case of housing for instance, how much more could have been done, and could be done, without funnelling millions into a boggy field in Llanelli for the past five years, a rugby stadium for the past ten, or, for that matter, quietly bailing out Llanelly House to the tune of  £350k a few weeks ago. That in itself would have provided enough cash to build four council houses. These decisions, whilst officer-led, were happily endorsed by both Labour, Plaid and the Independent Group. Some spending decisions, as we know, were downright illegal.

Councillors have rights to access a wealth of information and this includes a system to ask officers questions relating to ward issues, or anything in fact related to council matters or decisions. A few years back Sian Caiach had her access to officers restricted for asking too many questions. I also came under criticism, from the same source (guess who), for making too many Freedom of Information requests. The fact that the questions and requests related to a variety of topics, and all related to council business didn't seem to matter, in the present culture, exercising such rights are seen as intrusive.

The problem in Carmarthenshire has been that those who challenge, and those who demand proper and open scrutiny regarding the more fanciful officer-led projects are labelled as misled and misinformed, or as troublemakers acting against the interests of the communities in which they live or represent. This culture needs to change, particularly before the county is unceremoniously plunged into a 'once-in-a-generation' (to use the 'Wellness' hype, of which there is plenty), black hole.

So to conclude, I guess the message for new councillors, the public, the opposition, and even backbench councillors from the 'ruling' groups, is to be informed and never be afraid to challenge anything which even faintly whiffs of spin. You were not voted in to be a useful, pliant, democratic rubber-stamp for the benefit of senior management.
If you find yourself accused of asking too many questions or suddenly depicted as an obstacle to the greater good of Carmarthenshire, you're quite possibly on the right track.

(previous post - Carmarthenshire Council election results, 5th May)

Thursday, 11 May 2017

The December demo - and the role of the council press office


Back in December the local press reported on a small, peaceful demo held at County Hall to protest about the enforcement actions brought by the chief executive, and the council, concerning myself. As reported, and as part of the demo, an attempt was made to deliver a 'pound of flesh' to the chief executive. At the time, I was preoccupied in Carmarthen County Court trying (unsuccessfully) to stop a charge being put on my home for £191,000.

However, I have since learned that it wasn't just a couple of bods from the local press who chanced upon the little gathering on a cold winter's day, but the council's press officer as well.

The press officer, either on his own initiative, or 'under orders', hot-footed it out of the building and proceeded to film the handful of folk gathered at the bottom of the steps.

Now, we have become used to the idea that the police film political demonstrations, usually large gatherings which may, or may not, have the potential for trouble. This is often a highly contentious issue and peaceful, law-abiding activists have sometimes found themselves on police databases, and, essentially, marked as a potential 'troublemaker' for many years, with no recourse to clear their name.

This raises a very interesting question as to why the council, and I use the word 'council' loosely, felt it necessary to record the very small gathering (four or five people) last December, and what exactly it intended to do with the footage; This wasn't an angry mob bearing pitchforks.

Clearly the purpose of filming was to identify who was there and what was said; it was evidence gathering. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. A MI5 complex? To add mugshots to the council's database of known troublemakers? It beggars belief.
It certainly wasn't for the purpose of providing a video for the 'news' section of the council's website.

Whether the footage is still held or not doesn't matter, (I would hope it is not..) it all raises some very interesting issues; from the right to peaceful protest to the principles of data protection. But most of all it raises, yet again, the role of the council's well funded press office, and those blurred responsibilities between telling the public about their bins, and being, all too often as reported on this blog, the eyes and ears of the Presidential Suite, dutifully servicing the toxic culture, and control freakery, of County Hall.


Friday, 5 May 2017

Carmarthenshire County Council election results 2017 - live blog - updated


Later post 15th May; After the election - a few thoughts


Update 8th May 21:18

In an interesting development, the Labour group on the council have chosen the newly elected councillor for Lliedi ward, Rob James, as deputy leader of the group. Cllr James made the announcement on Twitter. The position was formerly held by Tegwen Devichand, who lost her seat. Jeff Edmunds remains as leader of the group, for now.

Update 8th May;

.Only 30 out of 72 Town and Community Councils were contested, the election results are here.

Update May 5th 18:14

Emlyn Dole has already headed off to the council press office to confirm that Plaid will continue to lead the council in coalition with the Independent 'Group', now led by Mair Stevens. Apparently 'negotiations' with the Indy Group took place immediately after the election. Instead of five seats each on the Executive Board, Plaid will have seven and the Indies three.

Sounds like business as usual then...pretty much as we were before, minus Meryl

No change of control at the council... 

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


Counting is underway for the 74 seats (58 wards) on Carmarthenshire Council so I will update this blog as the results are declared. Well, that's the plan anyway.

The average turnout for the county as a whole was 46.81%. In sleepy Cilycwm, Caebrwyn's home turf, it was a remarkable 67.85%, not so sleepy after all.
The current make up of the council is Plaid 29 seats, Labour 22, Independent group, 20, unaffiliated independents 2 and People First, 1.
Three Plaid candidates and one Independent have already been returned unopposed in Llanddarog, Trelech, Llanybydder and Llanfihangel-ar-arth.

Abergwili

A gain for Plaid's Dorian Williams (622) over Indie hopeful Lisa Fearn (448) for former Independent Group leader Pam Palmer's old seat.

Betws

Plaid's Betsan Wyn Jones takes seat from Labour's Ryan Bartlett, 402 votes to 309

Quarter Bach, Llanfihangel Aberbythych, Llangunnor & Cenarth

Plaid hold for Glynog Davies, Cefin Campbell, Elwyn Williams and Hazel Evans respectively

Llandovery

Plaid's Handel Davies gains seat from Independents, former seat of Ivor Jackson

Bynea

Labour's Derek Cundy holds on to Bynea for Labour with 539 votes against closest rival Ian Wooldridge (Plaid) with 373.

Cilycwm

Independent Arwel Davies (307), farmer, wins in a three way contest between him, Maria Carroll (284) for Labour and independent Matthew Paul (191)

Ammanford, Llanegwad, Llangynderyn, Cynwal Gaeo & Llangeler

Deian Harries, Mansel Charles and Tyssul Evans, Eirwyn Williams and Ken Howells hold all five wards for Plaid respectively.

Dafen

A shock result for Labour as veteran councillor Tegwen Devichand (452 votes) loses her seat to independent Rob Evans (508)

Glanaman

Dai Jenkins holds the seat for Plaid in a close contest with Labour rival, also called Dai Jenkins by 430 votes to 413

Felinfoel

Independent group stalwart Huw Richards loses his seat to Labour's Bill Thomas (a different Bill Thomas to previous councillor)
A Labour gain.

Garnant & Pontamman

Kevin Madge and Colin Evans hold both wards for Labour

Elli

Unaffiliated independent John Jenkins holds his seat against Plaid and Labour, the Labour candidate, David Darkin is also the parliamentary candidate for Carms East and Dinefwr.

Cynwyl Elfed, Swiss Valley and Llandeilo

Hold for Independent Irfon Jones, who will now be the next Chair of the council, incidentally, Giles Morgan and Edward Thomas respectively.

Llangennech

This two seat ward saw an acrimonious campaign but Labour's Gary Jones and Plaid's incumbent Gwyneth Thomas were elected. This is a Labour gain as it was formerly a two Plaid ward.

St Clears and St Ishmael

Independent group members Phillip Hughes and Mair Stevens have both held their seats. Philip Hughes saw off opponent, former Plaid AM, Rhodri Glyn Thomas.

Penygroes & Hendy

A Plaid hold for new candidate Dai Thomas who takes over from his wife, and a Plaid hold for Gareth Thomas in Hendy

Glyn, Manordeilo and Salem, Laugharne, Whitland & Llangadog

Independent hold for Jim Jones, a member of the Indie Group along with Indie colleagues Joseph Davies in Manordeilo, Jane Tremlett in Laugharne, Sue Allen in Whitland and Andrew James in Llangadog.

Carmarthen Town South, North and West

Each ward;

Alan Lenny re-elected for Plaid along with fellow party colleague Gareth John (two member ward)

Plaid's Peter Hughes Griffiths holds his seat now joined by Ken Lloyd for Labour in this two seat ward instead of Plaid's Gareth Jones who has lost his seat.
A second Labour gain.

Plaid hold with Alan Speake and new boy Emlyn Schiavone in this two seat ward.

Tycroes & Bigyn

Labour hold for Calum Higgins former seat, now held by Tina Higgins, a relation perhaps (it's his mum) and in the two seat ward of Bigyn, Labour group leader and veteran Labour colleague Eryl Morgan held their seats.

Llanboidy

Plaid hold for Dorian Phillips after Roy Llewellyn stepped down.

Kidwelly

Jeanette Gilasbey for Plaid - a gain from Labour

Burry Port

Labour's John James holds his seat and is now joined by Amanda Fox, also for Labour, replacing Pat Jones who has stepped down.

Llandybie

Bit of a shock result in this two seat ward, Anthony Davies held his seat for the Indies but Labour's Anthony Jones loses out to Plaid's Dai Nicholas.

Llwynhendy

Sharen Davies (Tegwen's daughter) returned for Labour along with Labour colleague Fozia Akhtar,who takes the seat of Independent Theressa Bowen.

Pembrey

Shirley Matthews (Lab) and Hugh Shepardson (Ind) both back in.

Gorslas

Darren Price holds the seat for Plaid, along with new Plaid member Aled Owen.

Hengoed

This is another two member ward, Penny Edwards is back in for Labour but Plaid's Susan Phillips takes the seat from Sian Caiach.
Huge commiserations to Sian, a massive loss to the Chamber.
The vote was close with 408 for Labour, 394 for Plaid and Sian third with 372.

Saron

Plaid's Alun Davies is returned along with Carl Harris for Plaid, ousting Labour's Peter Cooper.
Plaid gain

Lliedi

Another hotly contested ward, with Rob James elected for Labour, replacing Bill Thomas who was deselected. Also elected for Labour is Shahana Najmi.

Llannon

Emlyn Dole elected for Plaid, so I guess he'll be back as leader, dear me, and Dot Jones for Labour, defeating fellow Labour candidate and incumbent, Kim Thomas

Pontyberem

Plaid hold for Liam Bowen who replaces Joy Williams who has retired

Tyisha

Suzy Curry and Andre McPherson both elected for Labour. Formerly held by Jeff Owen, unaffiliated independent and Keri Thomas for Labour.
Labour gain.

Glanymor

Louvain Roberts keeps her seat for Labour and Labour's John Prosser takes the second seat previously held by Plaid. The Plaid candidate lost by one vote.
Labour gain.

Trimsaran

A gain for Plaid as Kim Broom takes the seat formerly held by Independent Meryl Gravell.

And that's it.



I haven't checked the figures yet but according to the BBC there is no overall control, Plaid have 36 (+8) seats, Labour have 22 (-1) and the Independents 16 (-7).

What will happen next is a scramble for power with Plaid a shade (2 seats) short of a majority; we'll have to wait and see what happens, maybe Plaid will tempt a couple of Indies to join them with the promise of a lucrative Chair or two, who knows, another coalition maybe.
All might be revealed at the first gathering of full council, for the AGM, on the 24th May.

Meryl will still be hovering in the background, heavily involved in the Wellness Thing, still prising   ££££s out of the council taxpayers to fund it, with a hotline to the chief executive.

The only one I'm sad to see go is Sian Caiach for the way she has continued, against the odds, to hold the executive, and particularly the chief executive, to account.
I trust the new administration will take on that particular task with the utmost urgency?

I would also suggest that new members treat any legal advice/threats from the chief executive, or legal eagle Linda Rees Jones, with extreme caution. Readers may recall the opinion of eminent lawyer Sir David Lewis who described the council's 'internal' legal advice as 'cavalier' and 'incompetent'.
You might also recall the opinion of the former Police Commissioner who, after a four year stint, likened County Hall to a Sicilian cartel "..it extracts vast amounts of money from residents which it showers on favourites, hordes property, bullies opponents, co-opts friends and answers to no one, least of all local councillors".”

The Council website was worse than useless throughout the count, a complete disaster in fact, but the voting figures have finally appeared here.
I will link to the results for the Town and Community Councils,when they are published.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

A matter of honour


Both local MPs, Jonathan Edwards (Plaid) and Nia Griffith (Labour) have given their reactions to council chief executive Mr James' decision to breach his undertaking and keep the damages rather than hand them over to the council as promised. This week's Carmarthenshire Herald carries a quote from Jonathan Edwards - politically charged of course given the election - but a sincere message nonetheless;

"Its bitterly disappointing that a decision taken by the last Labour administration continues to leave a negative impression of the County Council.
Both myself and my then assembly member colleague. Rhodri Glyn Thomas raised the matter on several occasions with both the UK and Welsh Government ministers - neither governments were willing to intervene.
Now we've seen lengthy court battles which have continued to stain the name of Carmarthenshire.
Given that there has been a legal ruling in this case, I don't know what steps, if any, the council could, or should take to see the original statement honoured.
To this day I have hope that calmer heads will prevail, and that those involved will stand by the statements which have been made
A new Plaid Cymru administration would never follow Labour and allow such an event to stain the name of Carmarthenshire again".

Indeed, Mr Edwards has also written to me in a similar sentiment hoping that the original promise will be honoured.

Labour's Nia Griffith spoke to Llanelli Online earlier this month and whilst, understandably perhaps given the background, keeping the politics out of it, expressed the same sentiment regarding Mr James' promise, talking of moral obligations and doing the 'honourable' thing.

Of course Mr James was given a very high honour, a CBE, a few weeks prior to sitting in the Exec Board meeting where he was unlawfully bankrolled. Whether, since then, the pursuit of his pound of flesh, his use of the police, let alone the breach of an undertaking to council, reflects the honour, dignity and integrity of such a revered distinction is, I would say, a moot point. Many found it quite unfathomable how he'd got it in the first place.

As for Mr James paying any attention to criticism, or even questions from politicians, be they ministers, the first minister, or anyone else, we know from his track record that the words 'rats' and 'arse' spring to mind. As for the reputation of the council, it is clear that this couldn't be further from his mind.

With the first payment being made on Monday (not sure about the next fifteen years) it doesn't really matter to me what he does with it. I remain of the view that he is now gaining, financially, from an unlawful decision in public office. I also expect that my idea of Mr James 'doing the honourable thing' is slightly different from that expressed, in public anyway, by the two politicians.
Whether it goes in the gutter or he uses it to fill up his BMW, we'll never know.




Previous post; Statements in the Western mail - my comments

Last full Council - in brief


As Wednesday's full council meeting was the last before the local election it should at least be mentioned, in passing. For those with a strong stomach the archive is available to watch as Meryl Gravell gave her farewell speech; fortunately Indie leader Pam Palmer, also standing down, was indisposed so we were spared further torture.

The meeting was also the last Chaired by veteran Labour councillor Eryl Morgan, who is up for election again next week. Again, the archive is available should you wish to watch as once again Cllr Morgan get his amendments muddled up with his abstentions, loses his bearings and forgets where he is on the agenda.

As if this embarrassing spectacle, played out every month, wasn't enough, Plaid's Hazel Evans, during lengthy discussion over councillors' pay (the Independent Remunerations Panel Wales recommendations), took things to a new level by proposing that the position of Chair gets an extra £500 on top of his/her £21,500 per year Civic salary. It wasn't fair, she said, that the Chair of Council got less than a £22,000 per year Scrutiny Chair.

Whether Ms Evans had read the report, or even the adopted Councillors Salary Scheme through which she, as an Exec Board member has received £29,000 plus £1700 expenses, plus pension, was not clear.

When it came to voting on the amendment, the chief executive mentioned that they were voting on a rise of £2500. There was then some awkward mumbling as it was explained that the increase had to go by the levels specified in the IRPW report, rather than just chuck an extra £500 on top

Somewhat deflated, Ms Evans persisted with the claim that she supported it as a 'matter of principle' but it took Sian Caiach to remind everyone that this really didn't look good to the watching public, even the councillors basic salary of £13,400 was more than many residents got in a year, and why were they even discussing it; the Chair had plenty of perks, including being driven round in a car and an abundance of free food.
Eventually, Ms Evans withdrew her amendment.

The position of Chair is traditionally given for long loyal service rather than having anything remotely to do with ability or merit, or even a democratic election, and each group, Labour, Plaid and Independents have taken it in turns since records began. It's the Independent Group's turn next with current Vice-Chair Irfon Jones lined up for the car and free food, pending a successful return to the Chamber next week.

The AGM, with, potentially, a few new faces, will be held on the 24th May.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

£350,000 for Llanelly House...?


One thing you could never accuse Carmarthenshire Council of is being overly transparent. Despite many references on this blog to the lack thereof; the findings of the Wales Audit Office and the subsequent exposure by the WLGA, thing carry on as normal, if not slightly worse. From the confusion over the Waste Strategy procurement to the equally dysfunctional arrangements for the Carmarthen West Link Road funding, these items are kept, as best they can, out of the public eye,

One recent example was an exempt (secret) item titled 'Llanelly House' on the Executive Board agenda in March. Llanelly House is a grand Georgian residence located in Llanelli, which, over the past few years has been the subject of a multi-million pound restoration project, the majority of funding being public money.

Llanelly House
According to the latest available accounts for the Cambrian Heritage Regeneration Trust, which manages the project (and has taken on several other large publicly funded projects, Merthyr YMCA and Strata Florida - update; I understand that a bid for lottery funding for the YMCA project failed and the Strata Florida plans have been jettisoned off to another trust) they were £114,000 in the red, double the amount from the previous year. The independent auditor stated in the accounts that this material uncertainty cast doubt on the trust as a going concern. Their chief director, who also acted as a consultant to the project, resigned in December.

The minutes of the Exec Board meeting reveal, if nothing else, that things are possibly getting worse. The board approved a grant as "assistance was required to ensure the project could be concluded and that the House had a long term sustainable future". A further inkling that things are going pear-shaped at Llanelly House Trust was the suggestion that a Council member be allowed to attend meeting of the Trust as an observer. Nothing more was said, there was no great announcement and that was that.

Back in 2013, due to a reluctance by Finance Wales to cough up any more cash for the project, the council approved an interest free loan to the Trust of £250,000 to be repaid in a couple of years, in the event it was never issued as the authority had doubts over the Trust's ability to repay it. The council also have a reserve pot of around £200,000 for a five year funding arrangement. The Trust has eight outstanding charges against it, and this will soon be nine.

Move forward to next Tuesday's Exec Board, the last before the election, and as usual, the Council's Revenue Budget Monitoring Report is on the agenda. Buried within this report, the size of the grant is finally revealed; "....£350k to provide financial assistance to Llanelly House. Funding will come from the underspend in the Corporate Services Department".

What this means is that surplus cash from the revenue budget, mainly from money earmarked for vacant posts (held open and fully funded though not filled) has been given to the Trust.

There is nothing wrong with Llanelly House of course, it's well worth a visit, and the use of public money to create and sustain a historic attraction is inevitable and to be expected. What seems to have happened here is a lack of foresight, from the Trust management, of the long term costs and risks to the point where bail-out has become necessary again. A more appropriate and prudent recommendation would be for a full independent audit of the whole project, and the CHRT itself along with numerous offshoot companies.

This £350,000 is not a loan, nor coming from the Capital budget, nor the earmarked reserve but straight from the revenue budget. You may recall, as recently as February that the council approved a budget which saw 'difficult decisions', including school dinners going up, SEN services cut and care packages reduced. Things were tight and 'savings' had to be made, and jobs were going, as they have been for a number of years.

A spare £350,000 might have gone some way to alleviate the worst of the cuts, fund extra teachers, or mend a substantial number of potholes.
No wonder they kept it quiet.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Statements in the Western Mail - my comments




The article pictured above appeared in the Western Mail last week, it's not online but please click to read in full.
The piece carried two statements, one from council leader Emlyn Dole (Plaid), currently competing for votes for the council seat of Llannon, and one from Mark James' solicitors. I would like to make a few observations concerning both statements.

Emlyn Dole states that the 'gutter' comment was an "insensitive off-the-cuff remark made on the spur of the moment by his [Mr James'] legal counsel in reply to an inquiry by the judge.” The implication being that it is clearly of no consequence, it is unimportant. I have no doubt that the comment came as a shock to Mr Dole, as much as it did everyone else, including me, but Mr Dole was not in court.

During the hearing, before adjourning for lunch, the judge asked for information regarding the promise by Mr James to hand over any damages. We both had an hour. Within ten minutes I had found the report with the relevant clause, emailed it to the court staff from my phone, and they kindly printed it out, let me highlight the clause and had it on the judge's desk within minutes.

Mr James' expensive brief (£3500 for the day) also had an hour to take instructions or at least come up with a decent response to the judge's enquiry. The response, for which Mr James has forked out a total of £22,000 (£14k now payable by me) for, was that he'd changed his mind' and could stuff it in the gutter.

'Off the cuff' remarks are an interesting concept when it comes to the legal world. 'Pinocchio' and 'slush fund' were off-the-cuff, would Mr Dole agree? And comments I have made about not paying Mr James a penny were regarded by the judge on the 23rd March as said in the heat of the moment. off-the-cuff.

And what about words said by your barrister on your behalf? My barrister, during the libel trial and during the cross-examination of Mr James referred, carefully, to the '£5000 in the brown envelope' episode. That line of questioning, was included by Judge Tugendhat in the extra £5000 aggravated damages awarded to Mr James, it was deemed as too upsetting for the CBE holder. I was liable for it.

I acknowledge that Mr Dole had no part in the unlawful decision to indemnify Mr James in 2012 although it was common knowledge that the Plaid group leader at the time, Peter Hughes Griffiths was keen for it to go ahead. There was no comment from Mr Dole until Mr James was rumbled by the WAO in 2014, over both the libel indemnity and the pension tax avoidance scam. During that time I was even contacted by a senior Plaid source stating that they were 'after Mr James' blood'. By June 2015, and now council leader, Mr Dole suddenly became 'unaware' of any unlawful payments; selective amnesia seemed to be a pre-requisite for power in County Hall.

I have no problem with Plaid as a party, nor any other party (all are good in parts, bad in others and to be taken with a pinch of salt at elections time), and I think Jonathan Edwards and Adam Price are decent constituency politicians. I believe they have been badly let down by the Plaid leadership on the council.

Aside from Mr Dole getting some 'off-the-cuff' planning permission, the episode before Christmas when Plaid councillors tried to broker a resolution to my impending homelessness through public debate illustrated the point well. The Motion, engineered by Adam Price, was blocked by Mr James under spurious threats of 'contempt of court'; it was a 'private matter' and all that nonsense.

Mr Dole was silent on the subject despite his councillors coming under flak and even having to remove statements from social media. Mr Dole showed plenty of leadership when he and his executive board decided to pursue me for £191k but precious little when confronted by the arrogance and bluff of Mr James.

Clearly, Mr Dole's everso polite invitation in the Western Mail for Mr James to consider handing the damages over (once his costs have been recouped...) shows that the word 'private' never came into the equation. It also shows we're right in the middle of an election.

Don't think for one moment that this lets Labour, or the Independents off the hook. Kevin Madge, an original member of the Exec board which approved the unlawful blank cheque, and the pension scam, is standing for re-election in Garnant. The current Labour group leader, Jeff Edmunds, has not said a word on the subject. Meryl and Pam have, as we know, finally hung up their Official Civic Broomsticks to retire on their generous councillor pensions.


Now I move on to the statement from Mr James' solicitors which I find remarkable. And if I didn't live in a bungalow I'd be heading to the foot of our stairs.
"The matter of what Mr James might do with the damages, as and when he finally receives them was irrelevant to the purpose of the enforcement proceedings. On the day of the hearing, Mr James' solicitors were unable to take instructions and confirm his position to the court.
Mr James' barrister clearly explained to the court that he had been unable to take instructions and confirm Mr James' position but the destination of any damages payment was irrelevant"

There are two issues here. I clearly heard the barrister say he had taken instructions, who from is not clear, and neither does it matter. Mr James had been dishing out instructions for twelve months. What was said was said, as I have pointed out above.

The second point concerns the matter of irrelevance. An average forced sale hearing should cost no more than £2000 to £4000 and take, at most, a couple of hours. They wanted a whole day and Mr James managed to rack up £22,000 of complete irrelevance. I went to the hearing prepared to defend the forced sale of my home with a two page skeleton argument.

Mr James had clearly instructed his solicitors that an extensive character assassination of Llanwrda housewife Mrs Thompson was absolutely necessary and crucially, relevant. The judge did not seem to think so.

Mr James had, in the course of the enforcement proceedings instructed no less than three barristers, one being Mr Adam Speker, his media lawyer from the libel case (his costs disallowed by the judge). The 250 page court bundle had, unbelievably, cost £1100 to cobble together, a hundred and odd pages of which was Tugendhat's original judgement. The two page Court Order from the trial would have sufficed.

Mr James' lawyers, despite the fact that they had not been properly briefed about Mr James' broken promise, clearly expected a slam dunk victory and the keys of the house safely in Mr James' pocket by 4pm. This was clearly based on the instructions he had given them and the irrelevant documentation they had been supplied with.

It turned out, of course, that the court felt that Mr James' intentions, and indeed his motives, were highly relevant.

There is another way of looking at this. If Mr James felt he was on shaky moral or legal ground, Derbyshire-style or otherwise, and that the unlawful circumstances which gave rise to the damages were casting a niggling doubt over his actions and motives, then what better way to counter it than to go on the attack with as much irrelevance as he could muster.


Update 25th April; BBC Wales article today; Blogger libel case; Council boss repayment pledge doubt
The article states that I have been ordered to pay him £25,000 by 2027, it is actually £45,000 by 2032. I am to pay monthly instalments of £250., somehow or another.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

'In The Gutter' - Mark James back in Private Eye


The latest edition of Private Eye features further national recognition for Carmarthenshire Council and Mr James CBE. This is the third mention this year alone in the Rotten Boroughs column...a hat trick for 2017.

Rotten Boroughs, Private Eye No.1442

I have written to my MP and AM, Jonathan Edwards and Adam Price seeking their views on Mr James' 'change of mind' and whether they are prepared to challenge him in any way, or at least flag it up with the Wales Audit Office. After all, part of the council's justification (Mr James' justification in fact, as he approved and contributed to the report before the Exec Board even saw it) for giving him the unlawful blank cheque was that he would hand over any damages to the council.

In my opinion, aside from the vindictive actions by Mr James, there has been a massive breach of trust and yet another question mark placed squarely over his integrity.  Any other employee would have found themselves sat in front of a disciplinary panel by now, or worse.
Neither Mr Edwards or Mr Price have responded yet.
I also understand that anyone asking for a comment from Mr James on these matters, is now directed to his solicitors.

As for the police, I still haven't heard anything since being interviewed under caution on the 16th March, five weeks ago. So much for "you'll hear in a week or so". Whether the police decide to take further action or not, the details of the allegations made against me will become apparent in due course.

Mr James has insisted that the police investigate me on and off for fifteen months. Given his close working relationship with the force I would have thought he would have been well aware of their limited resources, and that their time would be better spent elsewhere rather than poring over this blog for hours. (Update 22nd April; I've been informed that the police are preparing a file for the CPS)

Update 12:39; There is an article concerning Mr James' intentions regarding the damages in today's Western Mail, it is not yet online. Council leader Emlyn Dole, choosing his words carefully, states that he hopes Mr James will consider honouring his promise to hand over the damages to the council...once he has recouped his £14k costs.

The previous mentions in Private Eye (in 2017) are here, (the national accolade) and here.
Earlier posts on the court hearing are here, and here.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Carmarthenshire Council Candidates 2017 (updated with the General Election 2017 candidate list)


Update 11th May;
General Election candidates declared, in alphabetical order;

Carmarthen East and Dinefwr;

David Darkin @TurkRocker - Labour
Jonathan Edwards @JonathanPlaid - Plaid Cymru
Neil Hamilton @NeilUKIP - UKIP
Harvard Hughes - Conservative
Lesley Prosser - Libdems

Llanelli

Mari Arthur @MariArthur - Plaid Cymru
Rory Daniels - Libdems
Stephen Davies - Conservative
Nia Griffith @NiaGriffithMP - Labour
Ken Rees - UKIP


Update 18th April; With a general election announced for the 8th June, so far Nia Griffith MP (Lab) Llanelli and Jonathan Edwards MP (Plaid) Carmarthen East and Dinefwr have confirmed they will stand for re-election. I will add to the list of candidates as and when they declare.
Turning out to be a bumper year for the Returning Officer...

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

For your information, the list of local election candidates for the 74 seats on Carmarthenshire County Council, to be held on the 4th May, can be found here, and the candidates for the Town and Community Councils here.

Caebrwyn is not standing for County this time, being a little preoccupied with other matters but have put my name forward for the Llanwrda Community Council of which I have been a member for seven years.

After seven candidates stood for the Cilycwm by-election last September the numbers are down to three, Labour and two independents. It appears that Plaid were unable to persuade farmer Dafydd Tomos, who won in September, to extend his brief foray into the world of politics, or anyone else to stand.

There's a sprinkling of Kippers across the board who will hopefully get nowhere; voters of Carmarthenshire be warned as you will recall that somehow we ended up with Neil Hamilton as a regional AM. There's also a smattering of Conservatives who never do very well in Carmarthenshire though it has been long suspected that some members of the Independent Group are actually closet Tories, and veer towards the far right.
Essentially the election will be a three way contest between Plaid, Labour and independents.

Four of the seats are uncontested; three Plaid and one Independent. Plaid have taken the Llanddarog seat by default from the retiring Independent, Wyn Evans as no one else stood, not even Labour.
We'll have to wait and see how many Town and Community Councils are uncontested, Llanwrda will be one of them.

The Libdems are still trying for a seat though hopefully they will not revert to the tactics used in the September by-election. A campaign manager called at Caebrwyn's home to threaten a dirty tricks campaign if I didn't withdraw my nomination. I hope that little gesture bites them on the backside.

There is no Meryl or Pam this time, so we should be thankful for small mercies, but a few other members of the Independent group, who have held the sway of power in County Hall for years, are having another go, including Jim Jones, Mair Stephens, Jane Tremlett. It is difficult to determine on the candidate lists which independents might be likely to join the Independent group, which could still be going strong - this is something voters should be asking, ie, are you a true independent? And candidates should also be on their guard, Pam and Mair turned up at the Cilycwm by-election and made a bee-line for the unsuspecting independent farmer candidate to woo him into their clutches.

Another Independent group stalwart, Phillip Hughes is up against former AM Plaid's Rhodri Glyn Thomas down in the depths of St Clears. If Thomas wins, rumour has it that he will be aiming to knock Emlyn Dole, of recent Private Eye fame, off the leadership perch. Emlyn Dole is in the running in Llannon a two seat ward currently shared with Labour.

Another two seat ward is Hengoed currently represented by Sian Caiach and Labour's Penny Edwards. I hope, of course, that Sian Caiach is re-elected having been one of the only councillors to have consistently attempted to hold this basket-case authority to account with determination and persistence.

Talking of baskets-case councils, let's hope that the long standing rumours that chief executive will be departing after he's collected his Returning Officer fees turn out to be true. Incidentally he took £20,000 in 2012, in advance of the election and before the number of contested seats were known.
If not, then it makes little difference who wins next month, he'll still be running the council.

Anyway, I'm sure there will be plenty of analysis, bickering and social media gaffes to amuse us in the run up to May 4th so I will leave it there for now.
Let's see what happens on May 5th.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Cadno - The Gold in the Gutter - Carmarthenshire Herald


Further to information which came to light at the court hearing on the 23rd March, Carmarthenshire Herald columnist, Cadno has provided us with a thoughtful opinion piece in this week's paper, here it is in full;


'The Chief Executive had an indemnity from the Council in order to fund his defence of a libel claim brought against him by blogger Jacqui Thompson and was also provided with funding for a counterclaim in which he alleged libel against Mrs Thompson. 
Mrs Thompson lost her claim and the counterclaim and costs were awarded to Mr James (and, therefore, the Council recouped the costs it incurred on our behalf when defending Mr James and supporting his counter-suit). 
Mr James was also awarded damages of £25,000, for which he has pursued enforcement action. Based on a valid judgement, there was no defence to enforcement of the judgement debt. Indeed, it is worth noting that a statutory demand based on a concluded judgement has no defence. Quite how he managed to rack up a claimed 21K plus in costs in enforcing a judgement, while changing solicitors several times, is a peculiarity only Mr James can answer. 
At least he faces coughing up over £7K of the extraordinary costs himself, after a District Judge struck them down to £14K. 
In the course of the hearing on Thursday, March 23, a question was put to Mr James’s barrister about whether the beloved and respected CEO, whose name is a byword for integrity, intended to stick by a promise he made to the Council to pay the damages he received over to his employer. 
Mr James, the Court was told, had changed his mind. The damages were his to do with as he pleased. Cadno will not repeat the phrase used in Court, but if Mr James is prepared to take the step his Counsel suggest, Cadno supposes that he must be referring to the gutters between the lanes in God’s Bowling Alley. 
So much is reported elsewhere in this newspaper. But Cadno wants to walk you through the background papers to Mr James’s decision to renege on a promise made to the Council about the damages. 
We start with the fateful Executive Board meeting on January 23, 2012, at which the decision was made to grant the blessed Mark a costs indemnity to go with his CBE. 
Here is the minute, readers: 
The Head of Paid Service has confirmed that he is not motivated by a wish to benefit financially and that accordingly should his action be successful any damages awarded to him will be paid over to the Authority and will not be kept by him.' 
The Council has no interest in the public relations cost of its present situation and, if one accepts that Mr James’s action against Mrs Thompson for damages is entirely a private matter (and Cadno is proud to have kept a straight face writing that phrase), then it has no interest in how, when, or whether Mr James chooses to extract his pound of flesh. 
Except it does. 
Mr James would not have defended Mrs Thompson’s claim against him – offers to settle had been made – and would not have launched a counterclaim without the Council writing their Chief Executive a blank cheque. 
But, even worse is the record of correspondence between the WAO – who ultimately ruled the indemnity unlawful – and Linda Rees-Jones, now Head of Legal to the local authority having been appointed to that role by Mr James’s exercise of delegated powers. 
Ms Rees-Jones told the WAO, on the day the indemnity was agreed, 
‘The Chief has volunteered to pay over any damages awarded to him if his counterclaim succeeds’
Geraint Norman of the WAO responded with a query: 
‘Regarding the agreement to pay over any damages, will this be formalised in writing?’ 
If the WAO received an answer, there is no readily available public record of it. The Herald has made a Freedom of Information request relating to that correspondence, just in case Mr James had changed his mind on what to do with the damages at an early stage. 
However, in August 2012 the WAO investigated a complaint by a third party regarding the Council’s actions relating to the libel case. 
The WAO were able to offer a limited assurance to the complainant based upon what it had been told by senior council officers, and that response was cc’d to Roger Jones and Linda Rees-Jones: 
‘We understand from the the Director of Resources and the Monitoring Officer that Mr James will pass any compensation received to the Council. There is no formal signed agreement in relation to repayment of compensation, but IT WAS ON THIS BASIS that the indemnity was considered and given by the Executive Board’. (Emphasis added). 
And if that was wrong, it was up to the Director of Resources and the Monitoring Officer to put the WAO right. 
Indeed, there was continued discussion about one aspect of the WAO’s report to the third party between Linda Rees-Jones and the WAO, but no issue was raised to correct the assertion that the indemnity was given in light of Mark James’s promise to pay over his compo if he won. 
We can leave the WAO correspondence there and move on to the advice the Council received from Tim Kerr QC about whether its libel indemnity was lawful. Mr Kerr, who picked his words very carefully, said the report upon the basis of which the Executive Board offered the indemnity to Mr James: 
‘recorded that he had agreed to pay over to the Council any damages recovered
by him under the counterclaim’.
 
And when he considered whether the Council’s decision to grant the indemnity, Mr Kerr said it was ‘eminently reasonable’. And he said that: 
‘particularly given the minimal extra cost of the counterclaim using the same lawyers and the offer of Mr James to use any damages recovered to offset the cost of providing the indemnity’. 
And he went further again at a later juncture: 
‘if ever there was a case that was truly exceptional so as to justify using the power to grant an indemnity outside the 2006 Order, this was it. The following ingredients co-existed to contribute to that conclusion: …… (iv) the undertaking of Mr James to reimburse the cost of providing the indemnity from any damages recovered’. 
Well, readers, after the comments made on Mr James’s behalf in Court next week you have to wonder whether the councillors who granted Mr James his indemnity feel ripped off. 
And whether, should the wonder precisely what value they should put on an officer’s word in the future, they should start in the gutter and look for it there. 
Coincidentally, should you consider these lines to be justification for defending one’s good name: 
'Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.'
 
You would do well to think hard on which of Shakespeare’s characters uses them and to which intent and tragic end.'
          (Reproduced with permission, Carmarthenshire Herald 31st March 2017)
       
The 'fateful' 2012 Executive Board meeting to which Cadno refers was also attended by Mr James himself, who neither declared an interest, nor left the meeting as he was being personally, and unlawfully bankrolled for tens of thousands of pounds. The WAO took a very dim view.

In fact, not only was he there, he had also discussed the contents of the Report recommending the blank cheque, privately, three days prior to the meeting, with Linda Rees Jones. The discussion shows that Mr James approved the report, subject to a clause offering to pay any damages over to the council being included.

Of course, you might say that his presence at the meeting, and his offer to hand over any damages were a calculated attempt to ensure that the special cheque book was presented to him on a gold platter. On the other hand, being bankrolled, and giving any award over to the council, might have been seen as a direct breach of the rule that a governing body cannot sue...and one can only speculate whether or not Mr James had any true intentions of handing over the damages in the first place.

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

Anyway, it's a lovely sunny day, so let's finish today with a short poem. This one is written by 'Anonynurse', who can be found on Facebook, here.

A local bod with national honour's praised,
A toast is due, yes! Glasses should be raised!
For, in our midst, we have 'Shit of the Year',
By Private Eye decreed (whom we hold dear).

From deep within the bowels of County Hall,
He issues forth whilst brown-nosed minions crawl
In glistening tracks - be careful not to skid,
Mark my words, they'll do as they are bid.

They dumbly fall in line with their Big Cheese,
And grunt his name, with hands upon their knees;
Bank notes like toilet paper tossed his way,
He's flushed with pride but should be flushed away.

So, come out, sniff the air, what do you think?
Would not Beelzebub envy such a stink?
"Richly deserved" an eminent doctor noted;
I'd like to shake the hands of all who voted!!