Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Challenging the police harassment warning

I would like to make it clear from the start that I have no problem with the police, I respect them for doing a very difficult job with very limited resources. It seems that not everyone takes this view, Mr James dumped his bag of dirty laundry on the doorstep of the chief constable and expected him to do a full Dot Cotton.

However, I have no other option other than to file a complaint. As it happens, this is also one of the only courses of action available to challenge a Police Information Notice.

So further to my earlier post, The police visit Caebrwyn, I have sent the following email, and hard copy, to Dyfed Powys Police to challenge the Police Information Notice (harassment warning) and file a complaint regarding the investigation.
If the response is unsatisfactory, I will take the matter further.
As for this blog, as I said in my previous post, it will be business as usual.

Here's my letter;

"To the Chief Constable
Dyfed Powys Police

Dear Sir,

I wish to make a formal complaint in relation to the Police Information Notice (PIN) issued to me by your force on Thursday 18th August 2016 and I am requesting that the notice is revoked without delay. The PIN reference is ACT/1094/18/04/2016/01/C.

I am also making a formal complaint about the manner in which Dyfed Powys Police conducted the investigation.

The PIN relates to allegations of harassment made via a complaint to the police by Mr Mark James. As I told the police officers who issued this warning notice, I deny categorically that these allegations constitute harassment in any form, the allegations are totally without merit.

I write a blog which is critical of Carmarthenshire County Council, and its decision makers, when I believe those decisions or actions would benefit from further public scrutiny.

I have a legitimate right to comment as a member of the public, and a Community Councillor, on matters which concern public decision making in a local authority.

The PIN is an attempt to stifle public debate and is in breach of my human rights, namely Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

I believe the complainant; Mr Mark James, chief executive of the council, has used the Police to serve what essentially an attempt at a civil injunction which has no right or means of appeal, nor is there, of course, a proper civil judicial procedure where I would have had the right to a defence.

This is an abuse of power by the police and the chief executive and interferes with my Article 6 right to a fair hearing. The fact that the PIN is kept on official police file for 14 months, this further interferes with my Article 6 rights.

With regards to my complaint about the police investigation, Dyfed Powys Police were called up on to investigate Mr Mark James and Carmarthenshire County Council in February 2014 following two Public Interest Reports from the Wales Audit Office. In that case, due to the close working relationship between the two authorities they passed the matter on to Gloucestershire Constabulary. In other words, there was a conflict of interest.

That same conflict of interest was present throughout the time that Dyfed Powys Police were investigating myself, on behalf of the chief executive of that same local authority, this year. The matter should have been transferred to an outside police force, neutral to both parties.

I am also making a complaint concerning the length of time the matter has taken. As I was informed by Mr James, via his solicitor, that I had been reported to the police in early April this year, I was aware of the investigation. This has caused me severe stress when it appears that the documentation relating to both complaints by Mr James were readily available.

Mr James' complaints, both harassment and perverting the course of justice failed in their entirety to meet the evidential test for criminal proceedings, and this is something the police should, and could have identified early on; police time has been wasted.

Please regard this communication as a formal complaint which I expect to be logged and treated as such.

Please acknowledge receipt of this email, which I am also sending as hard copy, and I look forward to your very prompt reply.

Yours sincerely

Mrs Jacqui Thompson"

Monday, 22 August 2016

The council and the Rainbow flag - this week's Cadno

This week's Cadno piece in the Carmarthenshire Herald takes a look at the council's continuing reluctance to fly the Rainbow flag; the symbol of equality, solidarity and inclusion for lesbian, gay and bisexual rights. During Pride celebrations and LGBT history month the colourful symbol proudly adorns the headquarters of most public bodies across Wales, including the Welsh Assembly.

As we discovered in February 2015, (see No fly zone for the Rainbow Flag), despite the council appearing in the top 100 of Stonewall employers, they refused to fly the flag to celebrate LGBT history month, this just happened to coincide with an unfurling and raising of the Duke of York's flag instead, as a birthday tribute. Wry commentators at the time wondered if this was to increase the odds of additional CBEs, OBEs etc being showered on the great and good of county hall.
It was established at the time that the council actually possessed a carefully folded Rainbow flag, pristine and unused.

Questions were raised by members of the council's own diversity group who were initially told that as the council had sooo many requests to fly flags for various groups, it flew none. Not a problem for the Welsh Assembly or other councils it seems.
A direct appeal to the chief executive met with refusal.

Move forward to February 2016, another mention in the Stonewall rating, and this time it was the Herald which enquired about the absence of the flag during LGBT month. The council 'had a procedure', the newspaper were told. Enquiries to other public bodies as to whether they too had 'procedures' were met with derision.

Cadno noticed that the flag was again absent from the turrets of county hall during recent Pride events held in the county. The Herald asked the council for an explanation last week and received no reply. The newspaper then learned via other sources, that the 'procedure' involved 'applicants' making a formal request twenty eight days beforehand to be considered by the Leader and Chief Executive.

Further enquiries were made, including the question as to why a procedure was necessary at all when other bodies managed without one. Again there was no reply, despite, as Cadno says "the council is well used to defending the indefensible, or at least unlawfully funding the defence of its officers", so he had expected a fairly swift response.

And as Cadno also points out the Council's Rainbow flag made a brief appearance over County Hall following the Orlando massacre, without any procedure at all. This, I noticed at the time, was prompted instead from a plea on Twitter, and presumably the threat of a PR disaster played out on social media.

Cadno then recalls the council's long standing indulgence of another organisation, the Towy Community Church and is reminded, that 'some rum religious types have inveigled their way into County Hall over the years'.

Regular readers of this blog, and Cneifiwr's, will be aware of the considerable support, around £1.4m, in land, loans and grants to the evangelical church bowling alley. One such grant was, as Cadno reminds us, 'almost simultaneous with a cut to the funding of a school for children with special needs' and featured, in March 2015, a visit by the council's executive board to iron out some planning difficulties and express a desire to bless them with a new boiler.

Cadno penned this piece at the time.

The Towy Community Church, as with some other evangelical groups, put their faith in the literal truth, the living word if you will, of the Bible and this includes elements, and links to other organisations which are at odds with the advancement of the inclusive society we cherish today. An additional bonus is that eternal conscious punishment awaits all non-believers.

It was on this basis that the council funded, and 'partnered' with the organisation back in 2011/12, relying on the church's own equalities policy rather than creating their own.
Requests for copies of correspondence between the two organisations were not just refused by county Hall, but resisted with particularly dogged determination.

Cadno concludes the piece by denigrating, naturally, 'any suggestion that those involved with the formulation of a policy in relation to the Rainbow Flag would - in any way - allow their personal beliefs to over come and affect the performance of their public duty...."

Thursday, 18 August 2016

The police visit Caebrwyn

After four and half months I had a visit from two Dyfed Powys Police CID officers today. I was not arrested nor spoken to under caution. The investigation into perverting the course of justice has been dropped as the evidential test was not met. I am not surprised. As I suspected, this criminal complaint, which was also made by Carmarthenshire Council chief executive Mr James, related to the libel judgement of High Court judge, Justice Tugendhat in March 2013.

The judge, in 2013, made this finding on a balance of probabilities, and in a civil court. That 'balance' was not based on any factual evidence whatsoever and was made simply on the whim of the judge as to who he decided to believe. It was this finding, a total miscarriage of justice, which led to the withdrawal of my legal insurance.
There is further comment, an extract from my closing statement in 2013, on the sidebar of this blog.
I now feel completely vindicated.

In March 2013 a local paper asked the police if they were investigating me for this alleged offence following the judgement, the police said "they were not aware of having to do anything around this".
Clearly, at some point since April 2016, over three years later, the chief executive decided that they did.

As for the complaint of harassment, I was issued with a Police warning notice. This was for alleged harassment of the chief executive, entirely in respect of this blog. It is utter nonsense. The alleged harassment appears to refer, in the main, to my reference to the unlawful payments scandal and wider comment and opinion. This is not harassment.
The warning takes effect from today (18th August 3.15pm).

As this is not a legal notice nor a caution, there is no direct way to appeal it, or defend myself, however, I told the police that I did not accept the allegations, nor agree to any part of their 'warning'.

It will be business as usual.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Caebrwyn - In this week's Carmarthenshire Herald

Later post 18th August; The police visit Caebrwyn

As you can see from the front page, this week's Carmarthenshire Herald carries a couple of articles relating to Caebrwyn.
This opinion piece below which considers the current involvement of Dyfed Powys Police, is well worth a read, see also my previous post, Police investigation - where's it heading? which is now updated, and includes comments.

By Matthew Graham Paul
There is also a full report on recent, and not so recent matters relating to Caebrwyn, here;

Reporter; Pat Racher
The council has responded to a couple of questions put to them by the Herald...well, I say responded, a question concerning the (still) ongoing police investigation and whether the council were concerned that they themselves might appear 'excessively hostile to criticism' was quietly ignored.

In what appears to be a novel concept for our senior officials in County Hall, the council informs the Herald that it has a 'responsibility' to the taxpayer to recover the money.
Of course, had my name been Mrs Scarlets Regional Ltd, or Pastor Thompson of the Church of the Literal Word things might have been different. And anyway, as I have mentioned before, an early settlement had been on the cards until the opportunity arose for Mr James to be unlawfully bankrolled to bring the counterclaim.
I can only wonder at the mounting cost to the taxpayer of Mr James' very lengthy involvement of the police. I'm sure they must have better things to do than this...

In the opinion piece above, Matthew Paul quotes the words of the former Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Commissioner;
"It was not Jacqui Thompson, but the outgoing Police and Crime Commissioner Chris Salmon who very publicly described Carmarthenshire Council as being “Wales’ answer to a Sicilian cartel. It’s everywhere you look (thankfully only in Carmarthenshire – so far as I can tell). 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.”"
Oddly there's still not a whisper about recovering the £41,000 unlawful counterclaim costs, yet. Perhaps they're reluctant to raise those scandalous skeletons in court, or at least until a few key players have departed.

They also state that the question of whether or not I have the means to pay £190,390 (plus Mr James' £30k+) will be 'something for the court to consider', despite already placing an interim charge on my home. Perhaps Mr James could pass his newly gleaned information on to his colleagues and let them know that although I have an elderly microwave, I don't have a video player or a dishwasher. Nor £220,000.

Update 17th August
Re previous post;
I have been informed by the chief constable's PA, via email, that I will receive a "full response" to my letter in "six weeks' time".
Obviously the letter from the chief constable (reproduced in my previous post) was not a full response, so what exactly is going to take another six weeks is anyone's guess...
The situation is becoming beyond ridiculous.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Police investigation - where's it heading? - Updated

Updates, 13th August and 17th August at the end of this post

As I have mentioned, I was informed, via Mark James' solicitors at the beginning of April this year, that he had made an allegation of harassment against me to the police.

I was further informed, on the 12th July, following enquiries made with the Police Commissioner's office that an additional criminal allegation of perverting the course of justice had also been made against me, at some point, and that "officers are currently carrying out an investigative assessment of the complaint details".

Four and a half months have now passed since April and we are now heading towards the middle of August, and so far the police have made no contact with me at all.

That letter, from April, also informed me of Mr James' intention of taking me back to the High Court alleging a complaint of contempt of court. Again, I have heard nothing, so far.

I do not believe there were, or are, any grounds for criminal complaints, in fact I find it ludicrous and believe that the actions of the complainant(s), and the use of the police in this way amount to nothing more than intimidation. This has gone on long enough.

I have sent the following email, and a hard copy to follow, to the Chief Constable of Dyfed Powys Police this morning;

Simon Prince, Chief Constable
Dyfed-Powys Police

Dear Chief Constable, 
I am writing in connection with Dyfed-Powys Police’s investigation into allegations of harassment and perverting the course of justice, which it is suggested I committed between January 2009 and April 2016.  
Your investigation began in April, and I have received no information as to its progress. I am unaware of the precise nature of the complaints, although I presume they relate to comments made on my blog, ‘Carmarthenshire Planning Problems and more’ concerning the activities of Carmarthenshire County Council and of its Chief Executive. 
I do not consider that there are any grounds to investigate me for these alleged offences. It is furthermore my view that the investigation is not being conducted expeditiously.  
I would therefore be grateful if you would provide answers to the following: 
i) Are you actively seeking any further evidence in the investigation? 
ii) If you are seeking further evidence, when do you expect your investigation to be complete? 
iii) Do you intend to send a file to the Crown Prosecution Service? 
iv) If you do intend to send a file to the CPS, when do you expect to do so? 
Your investigation is having a chilling effect on my ability to report the activities of Carmarthenshire County Council. 
If you are in possession of any evidence capable of supporting a case in respect of either of the alleged offences, it should be passed promptly to the CPS so that a decision can be made as to whether it passes the evidential or public interest tests. Otherwise, please inform me without delay that there will be no further action in respect of these complaints. 
Yours Sincerely,
Jacqui Thompson


Update 13th August

Response received today from the Chief Constable;

* * * 
This week's Herald features this opinion piece which is relative to the police investigation, and well worth a read.

Update 17th August
I have been informed by the chief constable's PA, via email, that I will receive a "full response" to my letter in "six weeks' time".
Obviously the letter above was not a full response, so what exactly is going to take another six weeks is anyone's guess.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Carmarthenshire County Council seat up for grabs - Cilycwm by-election - updated

Update 22nd August 2016 - pleased to confirm that my nomination papers have been accepted and I am now a candidate for this by-election.
More in due course.
Vote for Jacqui Thompson!


A by-election is on the cards for the County Council seat of Cilycwm. The vacancy has arisen following the death of the sitting councillor and the first Notice has been published to request an election.

The 2012 local election result for Cilycwm was;

Jacqui Thompson - independent - 264
Matthew Graham Paul - Conservative - 136
Tom Theophilus - Independent - 307 (elected)

I will definitely be dropping a line to Mr James to request an election.....

The next local council elections across Wales will be held in May next year.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Wellness centre - or a luxury health spa?

With the summer hibernation descending on County Hall for the month of August, it seems there's no stopping the very, very exciting plans for the 'Llanelli Wellness Village'.  At a single Exec Board Member meeting tomorrow (Friday) the council will by-pass it's Contract Procedure Rules and commission design and engineering consultants Arup Ltd to create another masterplan for the project. This isn't any old masterplan though but a  "feasibly [?] and sustainable project specific master-plan".

Back in February Welsh Government minister Ken Skates provided £1m to develop an initial 'Scoping Report', also by Arup Ltd, with more funding announced at the end of June. This seems to be the funding for the latest masterplan, although the council report doesn't specify who is paying.

The report comments that Arup are well placed to create the latest document, which of course they are, but yet again, public money is spewing forth before a brick, even a wellness brick, is laid. This, unfortunately is par for the course these days, the Welsh government have paid £7m over the past few years to Arup (it could be any company) for various reports and appraisals over the M4 relief road without an inch of tarmac making an appearance.

With the project led by Carmarthenshire Council (which should be concerning in itself, and, as recently reported, can't even conduct a small scale catering tender properly), it was surprising that back in February, the chief executive claimed that it was unlikely that any decisions would be a matter for full council yet the land itself has already been gifted to the project.

A few months back the executive board agreed, behind closed doors, to enter an exclusivity agreement with a private company, Kent Neurosciences Ltd, locking out any other contenders to develop the project. Recent documents also show a £25,000 council contribution to the new project manager's salary.

When there is little in the way of detail, or even data, but merely an endless procession of concepts and visions it is time to take a closer look. A little scrutiny, a few facts and figures, and even a healthy dose of cynicism, can be useful at this stage, rather than waiting for the whole thing to go pop (god forbid), the mysterious investors disappear, the auditors being called in, and the council having to do a cover-up exercise like never before.

The only efforts so far have been from Councillor Caiach who asked Meryl earlier this year how much the council was likely to have to cough up - her question was ignored, and another councillor asked if it might possibly feature a care home for the elderly, the enquiring councillor was treated to a barrage of PR waffle when the simpler response would have been 'no'.

With so many 'partners' involved, including universities and our hard pressed health boards, it is difficult to determine what exactly is in store for the health and wellbeing of Llanelli or even Carmarthenshire. It's even more important that public money is wisely spent.

The council's own Special Planning Guidance for this Delta Lakes site included, unusually for such a document, the potential for private healthcare, and rarely has a project attracted so many press releases, so much visionary waffle, with so little substance.

The total cost has ranged from £60m to £100m. Therapy clinics, conference suites, a Wellness primary school, a Wellness sports and wellbeing centre are just some of the plans mentioned, and no doubt, just to provide the investors with a guaranteed income, 'wellness council offices'.

So who exactly is going to benefit should the project ever materialise? Will it be the residents of Llanelli as Mr Skates said, or will this in fact be a luxury health spa, merely creating low-paid jobs for locals who will ill-afford the facilities on offer? Who's economy is it likely to boost?

Aside from ARCH, the Swansea Bay City Region Board thingy, and indeed Carmarthenshire Council (or, to be specific.Mark and Meryl) there are other, more international organisations involved, notably the Global Wellness Institute which suggests its end use won't be for you and me.

At a 'Global Wellness Summit' held last year the managing director of Lisner Hospitality, specialising in the 'luxury wellness industry', and based in Austria, advised the 'team' early on to concentrate on the 'spa' concept, and the PR company for all things Global is Kyricos & Associates, a 'boutique advisory firm' providing 'strategic guidance to hospitality, tourism and lifestyle companies', based in Maine, USA.

Other 'Wellness' projects in the pipeline include one in China 'targeting the high-end Chinese community', one in Dubai and one in Tampa, Florida.

However, it is not private companies, nor private investment that should concern us, but the use of public money. With local Carmarthenshire health services stretched to their limits, and poverty levels requiring a record use of foodbanks, public cash in and around Llanelli is probably best spent on the basics rather than a speculative luxury spa destination.

Though to be fair, the Council chief executive has yet to make his usual, if inaccurate declaration, that the latest wheeze 'won't cost the taxpayer a penny', probably because it already has. (I am reminded here, amongst other things, of Cadno's poem from last October.... ). Vanity projects, and white elephants, don't come cheap.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Ombudsman tells 'brawling councillors' to behave in future - update from 2015

Back in April 2015 the Llanelli Star (article has now gone but I blogged about it here) reported that the police had to be called to a meeting of Llanelli Rural Council after an'altercation' between two councillors on the 8th April 2015.

The ladies concerned, Cllrs Tegwen Devichand (Lab) and Theresa Bowen (Ind) also happen to be Carmarthenshire County Councillors as well as rural Councillors.

At the time, in April 2015, Cllr Devichand was deputy leader, no less, of Labour/Ind led Carmarthenshire Council. Cllr Bowen had parted company from her Labour colleagues and had joined Meryl and Pam on the Independent benches.

The police took no further action but one of the ladies reported the other to the Ombudsman for breaching the code of conduct by 'blocking her pathway' and behaving in a 'threatening manner'. The Ombudsman, given the conflicting statements which suggested that both were quite possibly as bad as each other, decided to investigate both councillors on his own initiative and this was concluded last month.

The outcome was that even though the bust-up had occurred on rural council premises, neither had been acting in their 'public capacity' at the time and so the 'respect' and 'bullying' elements of the Code had not been engaged. Presumably, had they come to blows over the re-positioning of a litter bin, it would have been engaged.

Whilst he concluded that they may well have brought the council into disrepute, and warned them both about their future behaviour, it wasn't in the public interest to refer them to the standards board for further action.

In another case looked at by the Ombudsman last month it seems that Carmarthenshire Council are still having trouble apologising - it's always been an unnatural concept for the top brass at County Hall.

Due to the council's failure to repair a central heating system a gentleman went without heat in his home from October 2015 until February 2016. He complained to the council who apologised - 'Carmarthenshire style'. The Ombudsman clearly judged the apology to be inadequate and told them to try again, re-issue a proper apology, and give the chap £280 for his hardship during those winter months.

You may recall the council were rapped for failing to issue a proper apology to the Breckmans following a damning Ombudsman report in 2012, and in the same year were slammed by the Ombudsman for the way they handle complaints.
In February 2015, in another example, the Ombudsman again took them to task over their complaint handling, describing it as "very poor.... defensive and lacked objectivity", it was also 'inadequate and ineffective' .
Nothing changes....

Friday, 22 July 2016

Carmarthenshire Council enforce £190,390 legal costs

4th August; My objections against charging order being made final now filed with court and council.

Further to the Executive Board decision to pursue me for legal costs, I received an Interim Charging Order today for £190,390 against my home. I have 28 days to object to the Charge being made final. As I understand it, following any objection, and I will object, the matter will be then be decided by a judge, possibly at a court hearing. A hundred and ninety grand...
The Council have transferred these proceedings to Carmarthen.

Council chief executive Mr James already has a Charge on my home in relation to his damages of £30,913 and as I have already said, I have been ordered to attend court next week (on the 29th July - this linked post is now updated) to be questioned on my finances regarding this matter before a judge.

There has been no enforcement, to date, for the costs (£41,000) of Mr James' counterclaim, which was illegally funded.

As for other matters, Dyfed Powys Police are still assessing complaints made against me, and I have not heard anything, as yet, about Mr James' threatened High Court action for Contempt of Court.

Whatever happens, I'll fight to the bitter bloody end.

Further posts, for background, can be found on the sidebar of this blog.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Executive Board Agenda - Questions, budgets, Masterplans and the Guildhall - updated

Update 26th July
After a very lengthy meeting, most of which concerned the changes to Llangennech schools to Welsh medium, the Board voted to accept the council's proposals to be sent out to formal consultation. Each side of the argument will have a further say on the matter and the final decision will eventually be made by full council.

Following the inadvertent release of the Guildhall report it was decided to discuss this in public. The Board decided to buy the building for the sum advised by the district valuer, £225,000. The report, with the other options and implications, should now be published (or re-published) on the agenda.

I've heard that work on the new shower block planned for the Pembrey 'Masterplan' actually started a couple of years ago. Construction was stopped when it emerged there was no planning and no building control, and was stopped completely when the newly purchased boilers mysteriously disappeared... (See also Pembrey Park scandal - where does the buck stop?)

*  *  *

There's quite a packed agenda for our executive board councillors to nod through next Tuesday. The Member for education, Cllr Gareth Jones (Plaid) will be particularly busy as the raft of public questions, both for and against council plans to change Llangennech schools from bilingual to Welsh medium, deferred from June's Executive Board meeting, (see post here) have reappeared on the agenda and will be put to him.

The deferment was required as Cllr Jones had apparently gone to watch the Euro footie in France. A 'long standing arrangement' which, unfortunately or otherwise, hadn't been conveyed to the twenty-odd folk who turned up at the last meeting.

The answers will have been carefully prepared, particularly as a judicial review challenge has been mentioned by those opposing the plans, and the priority will be to control any potential outbursts, but whatever your take on this whole matter, it is refreshing to see members of the public exercising their democratic rights to speak.

Also on the agenda is a taster of the next budget which won't actually go through until next February so it's early days yet. There's plenty of time to chop and change but as signalled back in February this year, school budgets are in for a hammering. £6 million to be axed in 2017/18, another £6 million in 2018/19 and £3.4m in 2019/20. How this will impact on educational standards remains to be seen but at a rough guess, it won't be positive. Valuable teaching staff will be lost - there is a limit to how much can be saved through 'back office efficiencies'.

In general terms 576 jobs have been lost across the council over the last three years, 374 of them from the bottom rung of the pay scale and exit packages have cost a total of £11.2m. Out of the 374 (which accounts for £2,4m in exit packages) 142 have been compulsory redundancies.

On the subject of education I took a brief look again at the 'Education through Regional Working' website, ERWs being the regional education 'consortia' of officials and councillors, and the relevant body in these parts covers Carms, Pembs, Ceredigion Swansea, Neath Port Talbot and Powys. A brief delve into the minutes show a great deal of talking, and, surprisingly, given the topic, several spelling mistakes...I noticed, for example, there were numerous 'observors' at these meetings.

Presumably these regional arrangements were a Welsh Government precursor to council mergers which are now on the back-burner, in the short term anyway, so each authority is still a Local Education Authority. As with any extra tier of government the ERW is a multilayered organisation of bureaucratic expense and its main existence seems to be as a vehicle to dish out the WG education cash to its constituent parts.

Prior to the ERW, this money was paid direct to each LEA but now there's an additional layer of middle men and red tape. It's not cheap either costing over half a million to administer per year, In last years accounts, the figures included a Managing Director on £70k and another unnamed employee on £100k. £221k was also shelled out on consultants.

Another purpose of the ERW is to improve, or at least maintain, educational standards and a network of Challenge Advisers are employed to support and monitor local standards.  This is on top of each councils' own scrutiny committee. The challenge advisers are not employed by the ERW though but by each local authority.

Carmarthenshire is currently advertising for three of them (£55k - £58k pa) though have limited this to internal applicants only. Perhaps this arrangement will provide an opportunity for those senior teaching staff displaced by the council's mammoth education cuts. Personally I'd prefer teachers in the classrooms to 'challenge advisers' with clipboards.

Back to the agenda and what better way of persuading people to forget about dodgy deals, clandestine meetings, hidden agendas, cover-ups and alleged corruption, (see previous posts), than a Masterplan or two.

The future visions for Parc Howard and Pembrey Country Park are reproduced in glorious glossy technicolour graphics. £150k has already been dug out of the reserves for the play area at Parc Howard, much to the surprise of town and county councillors who have been told that the council can't afford to maintain their own local playgrounds so they must take them over, or else...It was an 'exceptional circumstance' apparently. No one begrudges a playground but the rest of the vision appears to be highly dependant on private investment so let's hope things are a little more transparent this time round...

The plans for Pembrey park are even more visionary with the estimated cost put at £1.5m, but unfortunately there's only £80k left this year after some emergency work. Again, 'sympathetic' private investment is required. Again, given the scandals, and the mess over a relatively small catering tender,  the words brewery and p***up spring to mind. See also my previous post.
I suspect, in the long run, the dreams of Mark and Meryl and their Grandmasterplan will be realised... it's just a roundabout way of getting there.

There's a small but quiet hint of what's to come with regards to the Wellness Centre, or Wellness Shed, as Cadno recently dubbed the project with a £25,000 'contribution' to the project manager's salary. So far none of the payments to this project have to be signed off by the council, just Mark and Meryl by the look of it. Exactly how many £millions will be involved remains to be seen..

Finally I must mention the report on the council's prospective purchase of the Carmarthen Guildhall. Obviously this grand old building, the former court, is a central feature of the town and calls have been made for the council to buy it from HM Courts. The report appeared on the agenda for about 20 minutes until someone decided it should be exempt and discussed in private. However,  the deletion wasn't complete and, at the time of writing, it still remains on the full report pack.
I have kept a copy if anyone's interested, and in case it disappears completely.
(Update 17:41 - after 24 hours online, the report has now been removed and is a 'restricted' document)

The decision whether or not to buy the Grade 2* listed building, for £225,000, is up to the Executive Board only, not full council but the cost implications (running costs estimated at over £100k per year), options, potential uses and negotiations should be of general interest. I particularly favour the option to turn part of it into a police station, with bars on the windows to boot, combined with council offices...preferably the chief executive's...

The report adds that HM Courts "claim" (sounds like the council don't believe the courts) to have spent £1m on refurbishments since 2009. It does seem a little incredible and appears to have amounted to little more than a lick of paint, a bit of polyfiller and some rewiring. It sounds like it could actually do with a new roof. The costs could be astronomical.

The disability access is poor and the restrictions from the listing and involvement of CADW could prove problematic as well as lengthy. Various council owned historic artefacts are currently in the building and in danger of damage, these would have to be removed and stored.

But it is certainly a grand old building and a historic centrepiece of the town and, as the report states, HM Courts might go and sell it to someone "unscrupulous" (there's irony there folks) and, more to the point, there might be "public criticism" if they don't accept the valuation and go ahead with the purchase. For those who cherish the Guildhall, even with the potential cost in capital and maintenance, the other option, to hold out until HM Courts, out of desperation, accepts the council's lower offer, might be a gamble too far.

An interesting one to watch and given its inadvertent publication, maybe it'll be put back on the open agenda and considered in public.

Guildhall, Carmarthen

Monday, 11 July 2016

Pembrey Park scandal - where does the buck stop?

Update 13th July at end of this post.

Previous post; Pembrey Park scandal - an update

The council's Audit Committee met on Friday and discussed, amongst other things, the Pembrey Country Park scandal. It wasn't called that of course and appeared on the agenda as the innocently titled 'Coastal facilities'. The Audit Committee is not webcast (it should be) and so filming/recording is banned, however a short report has appeared in the Llanelli Star.

As I have mentioned in my previous post (link above), there is an opposition question from Cllr Jeff Edmunds to Cllr Dole on this very topic scheduled for Wednesday's (13th July) full council meeting, which will be webcast. Worth a watch perhaps although there has been plenty of time to script the response... (Update 13th July below)

The Head of Leisure, Ian Jones, presented the damning report on Friday and appeared to blame the chaotic failures on cutbacks and departmental restructuring. On that basis we can expect similar reports from every other council department. The 'lessons had been learned' line was trotted out and one middle manager has been suspended pending an investigation.

Whatever happens next, the most significant aspect of all this remains the fact that the 'issues', ie possible fraud and blatant breaches of nearly every policy and procedure, were flagged up long ago but were never acted upon, and as the Herald revealed, were actively covered up by senior officers. The internal audit report was commissioned following the retirement of the previous director.

The Star article quotes Cllr Bill Thomas (Lab) who demanded to know who was responsible and said that given that this was one of the worst example of corporate failure he'd seen, the buck stops with the Head of Leisure. Cllr Thomas, being one of our more outspoken councillors, has the dubious honour of being a subject of the Mark James Intelligence Service and have his own file in the presidential suite.

During the time which encompassed many of the 'historic issues', the Country Park was also under the general responsibility of the Director of Regeneration and Leisure, Dave Gilbert OBE, he is now an adviser to the Swansea Bay City Region Board. He was also the deputy chief executive of the council, with all that that might entail...

We know, of course that the buck actually goes higher than a mere Head of Department, or even a Director; as I said, it's the failure to act on earlier warnings, and attempts at cover-up, which is so damning. This was corporate knowledge. and to say that this knowledge didn't go right to the very top is simply laughable. In addition, the entire Pembrey peninsular, including its 'coastal facilities' have been the subject of one of Mark and Meryl's numerous 'Masterplans' which now includes the hiving off of leisure facilities to an arms length trust.

Incidentally this all seems to have happened (along with the pension and libel indemnity scandals) on the watch of Head of Law/Monitoring Officer Linda Rees Jones, who's appointment was made permanent in a curious interpretation of the constitution, ie, hand picked by the chief executive.

Heads tend not to roll in the corporate fortress of county hall, no matter what. From illegally bankrolling lawsuits to tax avoidance pension scams to shortchanging the taxpayer to benefit a private company. From snooping on councillors emails to emasculating the democratic process into an officer-led toxic culture. From threatening the local press to economising with the truth when speaking to them. To name but a few.

The only heads to roll are those belonging to the people who blow the whistle, those that criticise. or those that uncover something nasty in the woodshed...

Update 13th July;

Cllr Dole responded to Cllr Jeff Edmunds' question to full council by saying it would be inappropriate to comment whilst an internal investigation into a member of staff was taking place.

Cllr Edmunds' supplementary question enquired as to the fate of the whistleblower, to whom they should all be grateful, and the current situation regarding their employment. Cllr Dole merely repeated his first response.

Cllr Dole's response was to say as little as possible, a classic council PR exercise in containment....
There was no further discussion. Discussion is possible at the discretion of the Chair but this never happens. For 'Chair' read 'Chief Executive'.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Unison Carmarthenshire campaign against outsourcing social care

Carmarthenshire County Unison branch have launched a campaign against the council's plans to outsource part, or all of social care services by forming a Local Authority Trading Company (LATC).
The union's concerns are outlined in their newsletter below;

(Pic source; Branch Secretary Mark Evans' Facebook page)

Followers of Mrs Angry's Broken Barnet blog will be well aware of the dangers of large scale outsourcing for staff and residents, particularly for those residents who are elderly or vulnerable and, as she says in this post from 2013 "the company is run by a board of unelected and unaccountable members, removing the scrutiny of democratic overview from its operations".
She continues with the warning of introducing a "market economy into an area where it is grossly inappropriate, seeking to make profit out of the needs of our most vulnerable and dependent residents".

In Carmarthenshire the latest buzzwords are 'innovative' or 'alternative' methods of service delivery, which Plaid once condemned (in those far-off days in opposition) as nothing more than back-door privatisation, as I mentioned earlier this year;
'Whilst in opposition last year the Plaid group criticised the Labour leadership for their 'obsession' for 'essentially outsourcing services and reducing democratic oversight'. It seems that the obsession for back-door privatisation was highly contagious'.

Another issue regarding LATCs, trusts and other arms-length arrangements, despite delivering public services, with public money, is that they are exempt from Freedom of Information requests as they are commercial trading companies.

Since being granted the Key to the Presidential Toilet, Cllr Emlyn 'two barns' Dole and the Plaid leadership have embraced the progress to outsource Leisure Services and Affordable Housing, both of which are well on their way to join Cwm Environmental, the existing LATC for waste services. Social care privatisation has already begun with the closure of council run care homes and over 70% of home care services now in the hands of private companies.

With the final push to form a LATC, currently aimed at adult social care, what precious little scrutiny and democratic oversight there was, (there's never been anything resembling accountability), will be lost forever, or until it's too late.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

The Pembrey Park scandal, an update - updated

Later post 11th July here.

Scroll to end of post for update 6th July

Back in March an internal audit report emerged identifying serious issues with the running of Pembrey Country Park and the Millenium Coast. The audit was carried out following the retirement of the previous director and deputy chief executive, Mr. Dave Gilbert. These issues were described as 'historic' and assurances were given that no fraud had been identified.

Calls by councillors to be told exactly what had gone on, and to involve the police and the Wales Audit Office were dismissed by council leader Dole as the height of impertinence, shrugged off, and matters remained in-house.

In April the Herald reported on further allegations including recorded phone calls suggesting a cover-up of the 'issues' by very senior officers, for example, "for f***s sake don't go to the police". The Herald also learned that some documentation had now been passed to the police though not, of course, by the council. It was also rumoured that a senior manager had been suspended from within the department.

Meanwhile, a further report is going to the Audit Committee next week (Fri 8th July) to update them on the 'action plan' and progress made to date. Reassurances are given to the committee, in the form of restructuring, realignments and the creation of more managers, to suggest that all is now in hand.

A little more detail of those 'historic issues' can be read from the report, for example;

"It was not possible to place an assurance that all income due has been collected, recorded, banked, monitored and accurately reflected in the Authority’s accounts."

To you and me this means quite simply that money went missing.

"It is not possible to place an assurance that all assets are fully accounted for."

So not only did money go missing but so did equipment.

And "Employee Declaration of Interests are not being completed when it would be appropriate to do so" suggests a very smelly can of worms.

There was a failure to follow Financial Procedure Rules, Contract Procedure Rules, Quotation Procedure Rules, Transport & Engineering Unit Policy, Health & Safety, Building Regulations, Control of Vibration at Work Regulations and Human Resource Policies.

There were also issues with public liability insurance cover, and also the security and safety of fuel storage.

All in all a time bomb waiting to happen. The problem for the council is not what actually happened, maybe the police will make their own enquiries (if their time is not wasted elsewhere), nor future measures to rectify the mess, but who knew what was going on, and for how long.

As I have said before, even I have been aware of serious allegations for over two years and the information which has emerged inside and outside the confines of County Hall makes it very apparent that the knowledge, and alleged cover-up, went right to the very top.

Update 6th July

Labour group leader Cllr Jeff Edmunds has tabled a question (see below) to Council leader Emlyn Dole for next Wednesday's full council meeting. Expect the usual flannel by way of a response so let's hope Cllr Edmunds can articulate a decent supplementary question.

“An article in the Llanelli Herald on the 20th May 2016 made extremely serious allegations against this council. The front page headline of the report was ' COUNCIL SCANDAL AT PEMBREY PARK' and this article alleged the 'fixing' of the contract to provide catering facilities at the park and conspiring the termination of employment of certain staff member(s) amongst other things. 
These are extremely distressing and alarming accusations of possible corruption in the authority and my question to The Leader of Council is:- 
What is the council's current situation surrounding these allegations and what are we doing about it?”.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Enforcement of damages - questions in court - updated

Update 29th July - The hearing

Well, I'm not sure what that exercise set out to achieve, other than another means to apply unnecessary pressure.

Mr James' solicitors had drafted numerous reasons why it was imperative I was questioned before a judge, rather than the usual court officer. I've no idea why. In the event I basically swore on oath that I am of limited means, something Mr James has been very aware of for three years. His solicitor read from a standard form of questions which, I'm guessing, were complied at some point in the mid-1980s. Aside from the usual financial basics, I was asked, for instance, if I had a hi-fi, a video player or a camcorder.

I made a token offer of £1 per week. Not quite sure how that's going to go down. Mr James has rejected all previous offers (despite trying to claim I had not made any) and I have told him repeatedly I have no money. He already has a Charge on my home. The council now have an interim charge for £190,390

*  *  *

The latest development in the recent flurry of legal activity hovering over Caebrwyn concerns the damages awarded to the chief executive, Mr James, following his counterclaim for libel. This now stands at over £30,000.

An 'Order to attend court for questioning', regarding my finances, was served on Friday evening. The court in question is in Carmarthen, having been transferred from London due, according to the paperwork, to my previous assertions of limited means...

The hearing is on the 29th July and I will be questioned under oath and as, apparently, there are 'exceptional circumstance' it will be before a judge.

Mr James currently has a Restriction on my home and this latest move appears to follow the unsuccessful attendance of High Court bailiffs a few months back.
Mr James has been aware of my financial situation for three years.

As I have said before, I disagree with the judge's findings against me, from the libel, case in their entirety and my position has never changed.
Also, I probably don't need to remind anyone that the counterclaim was unlawfully funded.

For the 'recent flurry' of ongoing legal activity, including involvement of the police which began three months ago...and the threat of Contempt of Court proceedings, please see here, here and here. I have yet to hear about any of that.

I will be seeking (yet more) legal advice and for reasons which I hope are obvious, I will not be publishing comments on this blog post.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Constitutional contortions from County Hall

Back in April 2015 I mentioned the fact that the word 'Acting' had recently vanished from the job title of the Council's Head of Law and Monitoring Officer, Ms Linda Rees Jones. Ms Rees Jones had been 'acting' since the retirement of the previous postholder in the summer of 2011 and was, of course a key player in the libel indemnity and pensions scandals.

As I pointed out in that 2015 blogpost, the Council's Constitution, Part 4 (8) Officer Employment Procedure Rules, states that if the position is to be permanent, and whether or not the candidates are external or not, the appointment must be made by 'Appointment Committee B'.

Finding no trace of any relevant minutes from 'Appointment Committee B' or any other letter of the alphabet there was some speculation that the seamless move from acting to permanent was based on the acquisition of sufficient Mark James Loyalty Card points.

The mystery continued and I felt sure, given the terms of the Constitution, that I must have overlooked some council minutes somewhere that showed the involvement of councillors in the permanent appointment, particularly as the role of Monitoring Officer is a statutory post.
Last month I made a Freedom of Information request for any relevant minutes.

I received the response on Friday, and well...Who knew?

Here's the, erm, explanation;

Part 3(8) of the Constitution is the 'Scheme of Delegation' section which confers decision making powers to senior officers, including the chief executive.

The section contains a rather wide ranging clause authorising senior officers 'to make arrangements for the proper administration of the functions falling within their responsibility' on the proviso that it fits in with legislation, council policy etc or at least can be made to look that way. (This section also happens to contain the 'suspended' unlawful libel indemnity clauses, but that, of course, is another story).

Anyway, the FOI response informs me that, under this catch-all clause, a delegated officer decision was made (undoubtedly by the chief executive), via the 'Organisational Change Policy'.
So, in fact, Part 4(8) and Appointment Committee B were by-passed completely.

The 'Organisational Change Policy' was approved in 2013 in a single Executive Board Member meeting, held behind closed doors and in the pre-WLGA Governance Review days when the agenda for these meetings were not published until well after the event and did not include any published documents.

Within this policy, I am told, is the stipulation that 'employees who have been seconded for more than 2 years within a post may be eligible to be confirmed in post'. (my underline)

So there you have it! Nothing's ever quite as it seems when it comes to County Hall's 'Rule book' and it can be 'adapted', and open doors, even back ones, according to the whim of this officer-led council perhaps I was a little closer to the truth the first time...

Recently, the Wales Audit Office recommended that, like other councils, and for the purpose of transparency and scrutiny, Carmarthenshire council publishes a register of delegated decisions by individual officers. Sounds like a very good idea to me...

The Freedom of Information request and response can be seen here.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

School questions...and a new low for Meryl

Carmarthenshire Council's recent foray into public question time at meetings has, to put it politely, been a bit hit and miss. Until a year or so ago it was unheard of for the great unwashed to enter the sanctity of the Chamber, let alone have the whole thing broadcast to the nation. Yesterday's meeting of the Executive Board was no exception.

The agenda included a raft of questions concerning the council's proposal to change the language category of Llangennech schools to Welsh medium. Members of the public from both sides of the argument were present. The issues have been well publicised in the local press and, it has been suggested, have become somewhat politicised and locally divisive. For the record, I'm taking no sides with this one, merely commenting on the process.

The questions, which are all on the agenda as they have to be submitted well in advance, were all addressed of course to the executive board member for education, Cllr Gareth Jones (Plaid).

The meeting started with the announcement that Cllr Jones was not there.

According to the Chair, Cllr Dole, this absence had been arranged some time ago. It's not clear when the questioners were told but they had taken time off work to attend and were given to understand (they'd checked the constitution) they would be able to ask the all important supplementary question.

However, it just so happened that the Director of Education, Mr Rob Sully was present with pre-prepared responses and as the executive board councillor was absent, the Chair decided that he would not subject the Director to any supplementary questions from the public.

The Chair has this discretion of course and given the strength of feeling, and the political aspect, perhaps it was fair enough (mind you, on a salary of £135k per annum you'd think the Director would be up to batting around a few questions from the hoi polloi).

This arrangement, prompted by the absence of the councillor, gave casual observer the impression of the usual stage-management.

Eventually, after the usual dithering about, and ever-conscious of the webcams and press interest, it was decided that the only option was to postpone the questions until Cllr Jones could be there to respond (and to respond to supplementary questions), probably next month.

It was also agreed that those who wished to ask questions there and then could, but in the event it was only those who agreed with the council's plans who chose to do so.

In light of this, the actual decision to change the language status of the school also had to be deferred until the next meeting.

As I have said, I take no sides but whatever your view of the subject matter, if this was an attempt by County Hall to prevent proper public engagement, it failed miserably and the whole exercise is now due to be repeated in a few weeks time.

Aside from the revised email policy, see here, which was nodded through without so much as a whisper, another item worth mentioning from the meeting was the total agreement by all present, councillors and chief executive included, that the National Procurement Service set up by Welsh Government was a total disaster as it took away the ability of local authorities to make their own procurement arrangements and support local businesses.

I was left a little confused, forgive me if I'm wrong but didn't the council just decide against awarding the tender for catering at Pembrey Park to a local company which had run it for five years, in favour of a company from Bradford? Whilst on the subject of Country Parks wasn't one of the serious allegations currently being (internally) investigated a 'failure to comply with the council's procurement procedures'?

Lastly, I must mention the remarks made by Cllr Meryl Gravell who, towards the end of the meeting, decided to offer her condolences and comment on the awful murder of Jo Cox MP.

Meryl remarked that 'lots' of councillors had to put up with 'lots of nonsense' from the 'press and blogs', 'lots of lies were, and are still being said'.

What was she implying? Was she suggesting that this death of an MP, in all its appalling circumstances, was somehow comparable to valid criticism, and calls for transparency, levelled at the council by the press and blogs?
It was a disgraceful cheap shot to infer that facts, opinions and critical comments on blogs or in the press in Carmarthenshire should be mentioned in the same breath as the appalling events last week.

If Jo Cox MP epitomised democracy, tolerance and justice, then Ms Gravell and her chums, sit squarely at the other end of the scale. 

Monday, 13 June 2016

Cadno's special case - This week's Herald

Readers of the Carmarthenshire and Llanelli Heralds will be familiar with columnist Cadno's excellent turn of phrase, and this week's piece was no exception;

Cadno’s special case

May it please the Court: 
I appear on behalf of the Defence in this matter. My learned friend Mr Polecat appears for the Claimant, Mr Fatcat, and he is in turn instructed by Messrs Rook and Weasel. 
Mr Fatcat’s claim is as follows: he alleges that my client has not only grossly impugned his character occasioning a serious libel, but, furthermore, has continued to point out that – in the manner of the Emperor in Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved tale – not only has no clothes but glories in his nakedness. 
The libel case was decided by Mr Justice Owl-Botherer, who concluded that Mr Fatcat had been the subject of a libel made by my client and was eligible for the receipt of damages and costs set at a level that any sane person would have known was both unaffordable and irrecoverable. Needless to say, Mr Fatcat has taken steps to enforce the judgement in his favour. 
It is, however, now alleged by Mr Fatcat that, in breach of undertakings given previously to the Court, my client has published certain information which places her in contempt of Court. 
Since the alleged breach has taken place recently, let us examine what that breach might be. 
The Herald reported and was able to verify earlier this year that when Mr Fatcat said that offers to settle my client’s liability to him had not been made, he was in fact being economical with the truth. 
Indeed, they were able to publish evidence that showed that Mr Fatcat’s words – given on the record to several news outlets without qualification – were not only untrue but untrue with knobs on. 
Offers to settle had been made. It matters not one jot whether those offers were acceptable to Mr Fatcat or not, contrary to the bald assertions either made by him or made on his behalf, they did exist. 
Now, even if it was the case that the disclosure of the offers to settle the liability breached an undertaking to the Court, I would remind the Court that they who come to equity must do so with clean hands. 
If exposing Mr Fatcat’s calumny regarding the offers made to settle my client’s liability to him breached an undertaking of the Court, I would suggest such a breach was rendered inevitable and in the interests of natural justice by the conduct of Mr Fatcat. 
So, let us look at a further possibility. 
Was the existence of offers to settle the alleged libel case made by Mr Fatcat before his employers decided to bankroll his countersuit against my client a breach of an undertaking given to the Court? 
This is far more likely. 
But even if that disclosure represented a breach of such an undertaking, let us consider the position. It is trite law that inter parties communications usually attract privilege, particularly where and when they relate to offers to settle made both pre-action and during litigation’s course. However, that there is an intrinsic public interest in the existence of the costs indemnity and the circumstances that gave rise to it being granted is demonstrated by the decision of the Wales Audit Office to issue a report in the Public Interest determining that Mr Fatcat’s employer’s grant of such a costs indemnity was unlawful. 
Mr Fatcat’s assistant, the Right Reverend Vole, has recently appeared on the TV – yes, M’lud, a popular device of televisual entertainment akin to a magic lantern – to say that the WAO were very naughty indeed in ruling Mr Fatcat’s employer’s actions unlawful. It remains a fact, however, that the Right-on Reverend Vole held precisely the reverse view in opposition. An impartial observer might conclude, M’Lud, that the Right Reverend’s protestant protestations should be taken with a massive pinch of salt. Certainly, M’Lud, that is what the Head of the WAO decided when he bashed that benighted bishop in print. 
Yes M’Lud, ‘naked opportunism’ is such an ugly phrase. 
Moreover, Mr Fatcat’s employer has never once challenged the decision of the WAO or tested it in Court. And that decision, M’lud, cannot be because they are afraid of incurring further costs in Mr Fatcat’s favour at cost to the public. No, M’Lud, they have not challenged it in case they lose. For if they lose, rather than sulkily pretend the ruling did not exist, then Mr Fatcat’s chums across the length and breadth of the land would curse him softly before they went to sleep each night. 
So, it appears as though the Court is in fact being asked to pop a genie back in a bottle. 
The truth about Mr Fatcat’s search to settle the action in my client’s favour is out there, as is the truth about the Right Reverend Vole’s moral outrage both in opposition and in power. 
Both are matters plainly in the public interest. Mr Fatcat’s determination to fight this case to the ends of the earth is powered by the inability of his employers to say ‘no’ to him or to stop spending money on his behalf. 
Yes, M’Lud, there is indeed an investigation ongoing by Dyfed Powys Police. That allegation is that by publishing material about Mr Fatcat, for example the existence of the offers to settle his claim against her, the existence of offers to settle, trying to establish precisely what Mr Fatcat’s employers think they are doing with public money, that this is in some way harassing Mr Fatcat. 
Yes M’Lud, you might well ask how publishing material in the public interest can harass Mr Fatcat. He cannot feel aggrieved at having his erroneous memory as to the existence of those offers to settle his claim being corrected; neither can he be aggrieved that the existence of offers he made to settle the action were drawn to the attention of the Right Reverend Vole and his Church of Latter Day Saints when they would otherwise have been unaware of their existence; neither can he be aggrieved at the suggestion that scarce public resources would be better expended elsewhere. 
Yes, M’Lud, I entirely agree.
‘What are these people doing with public money?’
I am grateful to the Court for that indication.
Yes M’Lud: it really is too good for them.
 From the Carmarthenshire and Llanelli Heralds, republished with kind permission

Cadno, the fox

Thursday, 9 June 2016

June meeting

Given my current circumstances I was particularly aware yesterday that it was five years to the day since the #daftarrest incident at County Hall. Quite a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then but at least we can now watch proceedings from the comfort of home rather than endure the aroma of boiled cabbage and political repression. You can, of course go along and film a meeting now, as long as it is also being webcast of course, in that control freakery kind of way.

One thing that raised eyebrows across the nation in the early days of webcasting was the call to 'be upstanding' not only for the entry of the Chair and vice-Chair, which you might expect, but also for 'the chief executive', this has now been replaced with the less embarrassing call just to 'be upstanding', without the mention of titles.
The prayer, as ever, fell on deaf ears as those taking part hoped to be blessed with tolerance and wisdom.

The new Chair, Cllr Eryl Morgan, (it was Labour's turn this year, they take it in turns, and it works on loyalty points and obedience), seems a little mystified about the whole business but fortunately the chief executive will always be on hand to guide him through every step of the way. This will be even more useful should anything controversial crop up of course, there will be no bruised shins for Cllr Morgan and we know who will be in control.

The Chair and chief executive went through the usual blurb about webcasting and fire drills (if there's a fire any intrepid members of the public in the gallery must stay where they are and wait to be rescued) and as, apparently, there were no Chair's Announcements, the meeting moved on.

Next up was a 200 signature petition for the council to make safe and do something about an 'Ugly building on Penygroes Square' either through compulsory purchase or legal action against the owner. The petition was presented, by Cllr Sian Thomas (Plaid), on behalf of a member of the public, to Cllr Jim 'dog dirt' Jones (Ind) the executive board member for all things environmental and, it seems, ugly buildings. As Cllr Bill Thomas rose to speak in support, a reminder was given that no discussion was allowed, good grief no.

A petition is handed over in the crucible of democracy...
While I'm on the subject of petitions you may remember that one of the recommendations of the WLGA governance review was for the council to have a dedicated online petition facility on its website within three months. That was over eighteen months ago and there's still no sign of it.

But back to the meeting and it was at this point that a councillor enquired whether they were going to pay tribute to a former councillor who had recently passed away. Oops said the Chair, er, there were some Announcements and rummaged through his script and reeled them off. Oh dear.

Next up was the Wales Audit Office Annual Improvement Report which, believe it or not, is within the remit of Cllr Pam Palmer. She waffled on about improved governance and public satisfaction and generally how good they all were, she managed to stop short of recommending a pay rise for herself.

Cllr Palmer and the rest of the Stepford Wives
There was a WAO recommendation that scrutiny needed improving, indeed, there was not one Councillor Question at the meeting. With committee reports now consigned to the end and just for 'noting', the plan was for councillors to place formal questions on full council agendas having read these reports, unfortunately, for whatever reason, hardly any scrutiny minutes have been published since early March and when they do eventually appear, whatever was discussed will be lost in the mists of time.

Once again the opportunity arose for the chief executive to criticise the WAO, a body he holds nearly as dear as he does bloggers, and the last spat with the organisation must have made things worse. Damn their meddling auditing ways. Unable, under polite circumstances and the dratted webcams to say what he really thought, his comments had to be confined to challenging the WAO to find anyone else who did things better than Carmarthenshire Council...

Much was made of the need for affordable housing which was also a feature of the WAO report and Cllr Lemon pointed out that a recent planning application, by the council itself, for six homes only included 20% affordable, why weren't they all affordable? A missed opportunity surely? Cllr Linda Evans, the Plaid executive board member for housing reminded everyone of her recently announced Affordable Homes 'Journey' and how it would 'deliver', well, sometime soon anyway.

With a light agenda the meeting moved on to the approval of executive board meeting reports which had included several exempt items. Questions were asked about the botanical gardens and how the Welsh Government Task and Finish Group, chaired by Meryl, would make a difference to the garden's struggling finances. Meryl was on hand to remind everyone of her importance and to say that wonderful ideas were currently being incubated. No one was told what these might actually be.

Cllr Caiach enquired about the 'wellness centre' and wondered when full council would be treated to a presentation from the 'partners' as the executive board had enjoyed, behind closed doors? And, crucially, how much money were they actually going to fork out for this project?

Meryl, again an important mover and shaker in the whole project, announced that this wouldn't be quite the right thing at the moment, and ignored the question about the cash. They were, however, most fortunate to have the private sector so involved...hmm. Council (and the taxpayers) shouldn't worry their pretty heads with the details, this project would TRANSFORM Llanelli and indeed Carmarthenshire!

Cllr Meryl Gravell...our Wellness guru
So with another Meryl and Mark vanity project looming ominously on the horizon the meeting drew to a close. All that was left was to pay tribute to various officers for a series of successful dismissals, a very difficult business, said the chief executive. These seemed to relate to earlier reports of alleged misdemeanours in the refuse collection department, data protection laws prohibiting the release of details.
Sadly there were still no dismissals to announce from within the Presidential Suite...

Oh, and just in case you don't peruse the Public Notices section of the council website on a regular basis (surely everyone does?) the annual statutory public inspection of the council's accounts runs from the 5th July until the 1st August. You are legally entitled, by appointment, to pop along and inspect the books if you so desire. I went once, quite some time ago.

(webcast here)

12th June; For more on the 'Wellness centre' mysteries read Cneifiwr's latest blogpost;
Merylmania and the Return of the Undead

Saturday, 4 June 2016

The police 'investigation' continues...

July 15th; Following my own enquiries with the police commissioner's office I've been informed that the police are still carrying out the investigative assessment of the complaints, so this is still ongoing.

*  *  *

As eight weeks have now passed since I was informed by the chief executive's solicitors that he had reported me to the police, and as I have heard nothing since my enquiries with the police three weeks ago, I am understandably concerned and so asked them for a further update.

Clearly I am not really supposed to do this as I am not supposed to know that I am under investigation and the officer repeated his disquiet about 'the council' having told me.

Anyway, I do know, and although the officer in charge was tight-lipped I was informed that the matter is still ongoing. The police are again waiting for more 'documents' from 'the council'. Or at least that was what I was told.

This time I was told that the complaint relates to the 'ongoing' civil court action. This seems bizarre, was Mr James' (or 'the council's') original complaint too feeble for the police to take any action, so they're asking him to 'beef it up'? Or is Mr James himself drawing out the whole thing, and misusing the police, in a purely vexatious attempt to bolster his threatened High Court proceedings to his advantage?

Is the complaint so intertwined with the civil case that it is inseparable and is in fact a civil matter, not a police matter? Someone is having difficulties with this somewhere and it remains to be seen whether it will go anywhere.

As I have said, all this relates to the blog and I will, if I have to, vigorously defend all allegations, in a criminal or civil court, or both if it becomes necessary.

One other point I'd like to mention is that back in 2014, when Mr James went on gardening leave during the criminal investigation into the pension and libel indemnity scandals, Dyfed Powys Police decided that as they had a 'close working relationship' it would be proper to hand the investigation over to an outside force. Does that also apply in this case? How exactly does that 'close working relationship' come into play in this case? (Update 8th June; I understand questions have been put to Dyfed Powys Police regarding this point)

Incidentally, I am aware that six weeks ago this blog (three years worth of it) was printed out from a council computer, during working hours, clearly in relation to all this and not for a little light reading. So I hope the council don't try saying that this is a private matter as yet again council facilities and scarce resources are being deployed for highly questionable purposes.

As soon as I have any more information, it will be on the blog. 

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Email snooping...policy 'amended', three years later - updated

Update 14th June; In the final draft of the email protocol which is before the Exec Board on Monday June 20th the authorisation for tracking councillors emails has been extended to include 'and/or the chief executive', so in fact the monitoring officer can be by-passed completely. What possessed the Scrutiny committee to suggest this is beyond me. I think we're back to square one.


Readers may recall that back in 2013 it transpired that Cllr Caiach's emails had been snooped upon by the chief executive. The incident had occurred in 2011 and related to the libel case, Cllr Caiach then went on to act as a witness against Mr James and the council during the trial.
She was unaware that her emails had been tracked until mid-2013.

It was never established if this snooping was habitual and/or ranged further afield. Concerns from opposition councillors were raised in full council in 2013, but, true to form, these were swiftly and sourly silenced with the chief executive claiming that the 'snoop' had been on the order of the High Court, this was entirely wrong and highly misleading. After successfully kicking the subject into the long grass, it resurfaced at a scrutiny meeting in March 2014.

The 'review of the email usage and monitoring policy' found even longer grass this time and languished in the meadow for over two years.
The 'amended' policy finally reappears on the agenda for next week's Policy and Resources Scrutiny Committee.

Much of the policy is standard stuff but a section has now been added which states that if a councillor's email is to be snooped, tracked or monitored in some way, presumably covertly, any request must be 'signed off' by the Monitoring Officer who is then supposed to 'inform' the Standards Committee.

In an ideal world, and for future generations, this may provide some sort of balance against abuse, but at the moment, with the toxic culture of Carmarthenshire Council's top brass alive and well, it's not worth the paper it's written on.