Sunday, 30 September 2012

MP accuses Leader of making defamatory comments

Plaid Cymru Carmarthenshire have published the wording of the Motion being put forward to the next Council meeting. The meeting will be on the 10th October in County Hall and promises to be interesting, and it also sounds like the Public Gallery will be full.
With 28 Plaid Councillors, a couple unaligned and a few Labour rebels, Cllr Madge faces a grilling.

I wonder whether, like the rest of us, Jonathan Edwards will have to sign the undertaking before he's allowed in, and be escorted to the Public Galllery by the wardens?

Cllr Madge has a week now to apologise and retract his statements before he comes under the spotlight on the 10th October.

Watch this space.

The motion has been proposed by Plaid Councillor Darren Price, it is reproduced here along with the comment from Jonathan Edwards MP;

“It’s been two weeks since the blatantly political and factually incorrect press release from the County Council was issued and no apology or retraction has been forthcoming from the Council Leader.

“The Council Leader and his advisors should know that the decision to call-in planning applications rests squarely with the Welsh government. The Council itself passed on the applications to the Welsh government under the Shopping Directive legislation.

“To accuse our national Plaid Cymru politicians of trying to sabotage investment in the county and jeopardising additional employment is not only misleading but potentially libellous.

“We have firm evidence from the Welsh government itself to prove Councillor Madge’s comments untrue and we have tabled the council motion to provide the Leader with the opportunity to retract his disingenuous statement.”

Jonathan Edwards MP added:

“The use of taxpayer’s money for partisan political attacks which have no basis in fact has brought the local authority into disrepute.

“The political neutrality of staff has been compromised and the integrity of the Council’s Executive has completely diminished.

“On no less than three occasions has Councillor Kevin Madge made defamatory comments against me and my constituency colleague, Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM. I will be attending the public gallery for the debate and expect Councillor Madge to recognise his fictitious comments are not fitting of a local authority leader.”

(From Plaid Cymru Carmarthenshire)

How open is your Council meeting?

Over a year has passed since many councils in Wales pledged to be more open and transparent, or so it seemed at the time, with particular attention being paid to the recording of council meetings.
Progress is slow to say the least. It probably doesn't get much slower than Carmarthenshire though where we remain 'on the brink' of a recommendation to (or not to) pilot webcasting after the Task and Finish Group have chewed over it for a mind numbing 18 months. The Brecon Beacons National Park Authority have taken the plunge with an 18 month pilot and Cardiff Council has been webcasting its meetings for some time with no ill effects. Monmouthshire Council has also took something of a lead in publishing spending details as well as being able to see the advantages of modern communication technology. They even have a real life, and responsive Tweeting Chief Executive.

As for members of the public or bloggers being free to record meetings, again progress is inexplicably slow. Swansea Council made promising noises about 'leading the way' in transparency late last year but eventually came up with such a restrictive and I have to say ridiculous set of criteria that I doubt if anyone's bothered to make a request.
Just what is the problem? Eric Pickles has done his bit to try and move things along but whilst you have individuals running councils who have no concept of modern social networking, and that there's a big internet world out there, forget it.

I noticed a story from the Borough of Greenwich this morning where a request was made to amend their Constitution to allow the public to film and record council meetings. Their Constitution currently contains a clause preventing recording by the public and press without prior permission of the Chief Exec and Mayor. Previous requests to record have been refused. The leader of Greenwich Council typifies the insular attitude calling it 'anti-social networking', I doubt if our own Cllr Madge, with his fear of Twitter, would think any differently. Are some people born this way or is it something that happens to them when they get into public office after the long crawl up the greasy pole of local politics?

Carmarthenshire Council, unlike Greenwich, and as we now know, has no such barrier in their Constitution, there is no mention of filming, recording etc anywhere in their Constitution or Standing Orders. The 'ban' in Carmarthenshire has no basis, the claim that it is 'policy' to prevent the public from filming has no basis either in any democratic decision nor any written document.

There is still no rule, or law, which will prevent you quietly (but openly) filming a meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council. In theory anyway.

The requirement therefore to sign a written undertaking before you are allowed (to be escorted and then locked in) to the Public Gallery is unlawful and a breach of your democratic rights.
I find it absolutely astounding that neither a) the councillors, nor b) the Minister, Carl Sargeant haven't insisted that this wasn't kicked into touch over a year ago. Clearly 'operational decisions' by individual senior executive officers of Carmarthenshire Council can only be repealed by an act of parliament.

There were four people in the public gallery at the last full council meeting and one of them was me (10am, most people are in work and you'd be very fortunate to get there at that time on rural public transport), the published minutes give you a sanitised skeleton account of who was there and decisions taken. A video would have shown you, for instance, two councillors storming out in disgust after being prevented from verbally declaring an interest. Of course it was that verbal declaration that the senior management didn't want aired in public in the first place. The minutes merely record a declaration of interest.

There seems to be a fear that unless the authority remains in control of recording the meetings their innermost secrets (as publicly discussed in the public arena of the Council Chamber) will be ridiculed on You Tube and the proceedings viewed with as much amusement as a three ring circus. This is naive, there is a genuine interest, and a public interest in seeing how decisions are arrived at, not just the bare bones of the minutes, and if the authority does behave like a three ringed circus, then people have a right to know.

I am well aware of the arguments for and against the various practical steps to openness, including the question of exempt reports and not least of all the danger that more decisions will be taken out of the Chamber altogether. However, I remain an optimist (believe it or not).

There is an ongoing project for those who are interested in tracking the progress of opening up council meetings; an introductory blogpost can be read here, follow the link, or go directly to; 'Open Council Meetings', where you can register and contribute.

I am particuarly interested in Wales, please email me or leave a comment if you have any updates from any Welsh councils or National Park Authorities as to progress to open up meetings through filming or webcasting and developments with tweeting or blogging at meetings, or for that matter, any backwards steps to 'close' the doors to your Town Hall.

Update 30th September;
I was sent a link to the webcast of Powys Council Windfarm meeting held last week. The video runs for six and a half hours, but it's a good example of well presented, clear webcasting. 
Unfortunately the public were not allowed to film or record the proceedings which is a shame and a brownie point is lost;

Friday, 28 September 2012

Kev and the Sainsbury's row - latest

According to Plaid Cymru's press officer, the Plaid group on Carmarthenshire County Council have submitted a Motion calling on the Leader, Cllr Kevin Madge to withdraw his 'factually incorrect attack' on Jonathan Edwards MP and Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM.

I have no further details as yet but as it has been submitted in plenty of time, it should be on the agenda for the next meeting of full council on the 10th October. It will be very interesting to see what happens. Cllr Madge also has a few days now to consider withdrawing his remarks prior to a major showdown in the Chamber.

This week's South Wales Guardian covered the story in some detail having already made their editorial views very clear a couple of weeks ago. By far the largest article though was a full page spread which again, like the council press article, appeared to be joint effort between Carmarthenshire Council and Sainsbury's

Kev takes up half the page going into great detail (on behalf of the council) about how vitally important the supermarket is for Carmarthenshire, how we should trust our Planning Committee and officers to make the right decisions on our behalf (no thanks Kev) and that his Labour colleague, the Minister in charge of planning in Cardiff should keep his nose out. Or words to that effect. The other half is taken up by Sainsbury's themselves with a 'fact sheet' putting their case forward. They're very lucky - usually if there is an objection to an application the applicant only has a hurried-up 5 minutes to respond in the Committee meeting, not the full page backing of Carmarthenshire council.

However, it all rather misses the point - we know there are opposing views on the proposals, personally I have no view either way. But we also now know that the objections, from the AM and MP were only regarding the Llandeilo store, and the reason for the call-in was that the planning authority had not given due consideration to retail policy. The subsequent row revolved around the use of the taxpayer funded website to launch a political attack on the MP and AM.
I hope a complaint is made about the latter, and incorporates the wider issue of taxpayer funded propaganda and press control which is such an overwhelming priority for this council.


The minutes from the last meeting of the Standards Committee were published today, and it looks like there was some confusion over the 'Complaints and Compliments' annual report. Different departments had wildly fluctuating figures. It is complete nonsense. For instance, complaints to the Education Department had decreased by a staggering 563%, yet complaints to Regeneration (planning) had increased by 79%, Social Care complaints had increased by 11% but cross-departmental complaints had fallen by 329%. The point was made that 'it would be interesting if the report provided further details to explain the fluctuations'. Quite so. It would appear that the corporate complaints department, or the 'recycling bin', as it's otherwise known, must have been using a faulty calculator.

The Ombudsman's Annual Report was also received by the Committee, it covers all of Wales, but it was interesting to note that it would "introduce a cap on the indemnity that Council's [I think it was meant to be plural] provide to their Members for legal costs associated with Standards Committee and Adjudication Panel Hearings"
We don't know of course how much has been spent on legal costs for these purposes, perhaps I'll ask.

You would think that after the council's abject failure to support whistleblower, Delyth Jenkins (Private Eye - In The Back) they would be maintaining a very close, analytical eye over their whistleblower policy. It would seem not, the Standards Committee considered a report on the policy, and eyebrows were clearly raised at it's vague conclusion; '“the policy seems to be working well” They felt this was difficult to quantify. Indeed, 'seems' isn't very helpful, it might not be working at all.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Royal Sheep

Controversy surrounds this weekend's Llandovery Sheep Festival as shopkeepers get into the spirit of the event with sheep-related window displays. A couple of retailers have opted for the 'Royal Sheep' theme. The town appears to be divided over the issue, fearing they may offend occasional neighbour and, I hear, the new town planner for Llandovery, Prince Charles;

'......former Llandovery town clerk said some people felt it was in “baaaa-d taste” and revealed he had raised the matter with Trading Standards and Dyfed-Powys Police' (South Wales Guardian)

And as for this one, Well, I'm not sure what it's all about......

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Vote of no confidence in Kev? So soon?

The recent row over the Sainsbury's call-in continues. The council press article which has caused the rumpus has been found to be factually incorrect, the accusations against the Plaid Cymru MP and AM are false and politically charged. Ultimately, the press office is part of the Chief Executive's department and the initial publication and continuing presence of the article suggests the compliance of senior management.

Unfortunately for Messrs Madge and co, the Labour/Independent ruling executive, the crisis doesn't appear to be blowing over any time soon.

Jonathan Edwards MP has indicated on Twitter that the key to this is the "lack of integrity of the ruling executive" and that the Plaid group on Carmarthenshire Council will be considering the option of a Vote of No Confidence at their next meeting.

This afternoon, Labour's Carl Sargeant, the Minister for Local Government announced the gradual withdrawal of Commissioners from Anglesey Council. It's a long story, so to be brief, they were sent in due to a drawn out, lengthy breakdown in the functioning of the democratic process, in this case squabbling councillors, to the extent to which it was deemed to be impeding the delivery of services. In other words, the councillors were out of control.

So what can he do in Carmarthenshire? We have a very different crisis here. It's almost a reverse situation. We have a situation where the democratic process is being gradually eroded by unelected senior officers, where there are now mechanisms in place to silence critics, where the local press is effectively gagged through threats to advertising revenue, where unlawful restrictions prevent free access to the public gallery. Where the council press office is used to smear opponents of council-led projects or for political purposes. We have a situation where councillors are punished for asking too many questions or silenced for bringing up 'ward issues'. I could go on.
All this is rubber stamped by the current, and previous, hand picked Executive Board.

It would appear, to all intent and purpose, that no one can breathe without it being passed by the Chief Executive's office first.

Is this any healthier than the Anglesey crisis? No, and as Carl Sargeant hopes to see the restoration of balanced democratic control there, perhaps he'd now consider making a start in Carmarthenshire.

Ineffective Scrutiny

As the council emerges slowly from hibernation (seven meetings cancelled in September) the first set of minutes for one of the new scrutiny committees -'Community' - were published the other day. The meeting records the attendance of thirteen Members and the presence of no less than eleven managers, which included seven heads of service and two senior accountants. Wow.

Amongst the points raised, (and without any bloggers present we only have a sanitised account) were concerns about the difficulty of obtaining rural planning, the Head of Planning made it clear that planning reforms in England didn't apply to Wales and applicants who were refused had a right of appeal. So no change there then.

Another questioned the provision of affordable housing in new developments, they were told that local authorities had been told to 'relax the relevant regulations' due to the 'state of the economy'. Section 106 financial agreements will be used instead and alternative methods of addressing the housing crisis will have to be found. It makes one wonder how, if all new developments are entirely market priced, the rest of us struggling under the 'state of the economy' could possibly afford to buy them. Without a similar relaxation of rural planning for families trying to live and work in the vast tracts of Carmarthenshire countryside it would appear that the big developers again have the advantage.

A question arose concerning the continued funding of vacant posts, if I understand this correctly then (and maybe this is common practice) departmental budgets include financial provision for posts which are no longer filled, which seems a little odd given the council's apparent 'efficiency drive' and a current overall departmental overspend of £1.6m. Vacant posts, for example in the planning service are maintained just in case there's an increase in demand, but as demand has steadily fallen in the last three years it would seem unlikely. Filling the posts, some of which are managerial, with 'modern apprentices' is being considered as an option.

The matter of the £200,000 subsidy to the new owners of Garnant Golf Club cropped up again but with the usual panache, the relevant officer stated that other tenders had incurred a cost of £500k so it was a cheap deal. The option of a deal which didn't involve an ongoing subsidy of public money at all was clearly not considered.

'Community' covers public and private housing, planning policy, regeneration, leisure, sport, European grants, external funding, and economic development - I suspect that even with the best efforts by some Members, democratic scrutiny will decrease even further down the Carmarthenshire Scale. If that's possible.

One of the roles of scrutiny is to review and question, as necessary, decisions taken by the Executive Board and Council and, somewhere along the line, delegated decisions by officers. With the reduction of the number of scrutiny committees from seven to five, as recommended by the Wales Audit Office ('to improve their effectiveness'); one of the main concerns expressed at the 'Community' meeting was the hefty remit of the committee and therefore it's ability to be effective at all. Although, with thirteen members and a shedload of managers, maybe they should be able to cope.

The Education and Children's Scrutiny Committee meets next week where it will consider the Estyn school inspection report. To the casual observers of council press releases/local news articles all is well, but if you care to dig a little deeper and read the, er, 'EESSTTYYNN AACCTTIIOONN PPLLAANN' (here) you will see that despite extensive investment since 2001 in school buildings, monitoring the benefits in terms of 'condition, suitability or efficiency of its schools' is insufficient. A little further down and we learn that the authority 'has the second highest number of appeals to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal for Wales'. Lastly it appears that their methods of 'self-evaluation' are a little incomplete; 'inconsistencies in the use of data led to over generous evaluations of the authority’s progress in some areas of its work…' With this last point (my italics) we could almost assume that only positive data is included in self-evaluation.

And we only have a couple of months until next year's budget comes under the 'spotlight' - and with another election several years away, effective scrutiny in Carmarthenshire is essential.

It should be noted however that controversial decisions, whether they are 'spending' or 'operational', never seem to crop up in scrutiny meetings. Or any meetings for that matter.

Still with scrutiny in mind, or lack of it, it looks like the council's accounts are about to be signed off by the Wales Audit Office. The WAO's audit report will be considered at the Audit Committee meeting on Friday.

The report pulls the council up on a few things, particularly their management of capital accounting and fixed assets, including a requirement to ensure leases are reported in the financial statements. It was also found that the council had forgotten to include in their senior staff salary disclosure a member of staff earning over £100,000. Oops. And the Head of Education Services earned £10,000 more than was stated on the disclosure. Oops again.

As the WAO is so fond of saying, they do not make value judgements on the wisdom of any particular spending decision, they are only there to ensure the procedures are correct.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Another day....and another complaint....

The ongoing row over the Sainsbury's call-in continues. A local businessman and opponent of the proposed Llandeilo store has made a strongly worded official complaint to the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire Council, the text of which you can read below. Whilst I am distancing myself over the political bunfight, the complainant brings up wider issues, including the misuse of the council press office and website which, amongst the rest of the sorry mess, urgently need addressing.

Here's the complaint;

Dear Chief Executive, 
County Council Web site and Sainsbury’s 
I wish to make a formal complaint about the free use of the Carmarthenshire County Council Website, and the failure of the Council, and it’s officers to control and maintain the content of Press releases attributed to the Council, and its officers. 
I wish to make a formal complaint that the content of the press release published by the Council on the Council website on the 14 th September was both factually incorrect, and more importantly gave the Director of Sainsbury’s a public platform which could have been construed as being endorsed by the County Council and it’s officers. 
My complaint in detail: 
1.       The Press release is factually incorrect. The request for the Planning application for Llandeilo was asked to be called in by existing traders, existing store operators, Industrialist like myself, and a significant number of the Public who are genuinely concerned about Traffic, and the impact of further traffic on pollution. The request was for Llandeilo, and Llandeilo alone. 
2.       The Call for the matter to be called in was not only made by Rhodri Glyn Thomas, and Jonathan Edwards, but also by the Welsh Liberal Democrats with William Powell joining his fellow AM, Rhodri Glyn Thomas in their outright condemnation of the scale of the project, and its impact on local businesses. 
3.       No objection has been raised to the extent of the Cross Hands proposal, its potential for Job creation, and the redevelopment of a former Brown Field site. That is to be welcomed, on a site eminently more suitable for development. 
4.       Councillor Madge, therefore not only got his facts wrong, but also used a Council press portal to promote a political attack on Plaid Cymru that was totally wrong in detail, and was used to further his own political party’s position. 
5.       Councillor Madge has also misrepresented a series of other facts. He states that Sainsbury will work with local suppliers to increase the amount of local produce in store. Can he actually produce facts to support that claim? For the avoidance of doubt over 10,000 stock lines are held in the average Sainsbury Store, 100 at any one time come from Wales as a whole, and less that 10 from Carmarthenshire. The extent of what he says is not quantified, and there should not be given credence. 
6.       The Welsh Assembly Government called in the application on technical retail grounds, and not political whims of a Councillor. In essence Welsh Assembly Government reviewed the Planning process and were critical of the fact  that Mr Madge’s Councils planning department had not given sufficient consideration to the Retail Impact Study, and the impact of two superstores on the local economy and that of Llandeilo in particular. Mr Madge was factually incorrect, and misleading in what he said on jobs. Sainsbury uses its own Contractors and uses very little local labour. Mr Madge was wrong again. 
7.       What has not been challenged which will be now by Welsh Government inspectors is the impact of the potential stores on existing businesses, the significant loss of existing jobs and the closure of small businesses, and the wider impact on the  East Carmarthenshire economy. 
8.       The conduct of the Councillors at the planning meeting on the 29th March was laughable. 10 of the 19 had fallen asleep within 10minutes of Graham Noakes [planning officer] starting; Councillors kept leaving the chamber so much so, that the County solicitor had to ask members to remain within the Chamber. Added to which one Councillor admitted openly that Sainsbury had contacted all the Councillors the evening before and spoken to them. By anyone’s standards that is wholly wrong, and the planning department at that time should have stopped hearings; reviewed what had happened and then reported to the Council Executive. That kind of action can only be perceived as being devious and dishonest, and cause unnecessary conspiracy theories as to what has really happened. 
9.       Job Creation is important, and Mr Madge makes out that this decision to call-in will lead to a loss of Jobs in the Communities of Cross Hands and Llandeilo. This is clearly utter nonsense and scaremongering. It is likely that Cross Hands will proceed, and whether Llandeilo does or not is in the hands of the Inspectors. Mr Madge should, and had he  been intellectually flexible on this matter, not have given Sainsbury a platform to voice their one sided position, and offered the same opportunity to people with other political positions. For wider circulation the Council should be working with local Councillors in Llandeilo, and other east Carmarthenshire communities to have a plan B for Job creation. Thankfully myself and a group of lcal business people have taken this on, and with our local Councillor are working on plans that could add a further 25 jobs to the workplace in 2013. This has received widespread support from Plaid, Lib Dems and others, but nothing from Labour. 
1.       Mr Madge has wilfully misled the people of Carmarthenshire in what he has said. This is an abuse of power. 
2.       Mr Madge has used his position within the County Council to use Council PR portals, Council Press officers to further an attack on Plaid Cymru, which was factually wrong, and was politically inspired, this was wrong and an abuse of power. 
3.       Mr Madge has not observed the correct protocols in relation to a matter being reviewed by Welsh Government and the planning process. 
4.       Mr Madge has misquoted the job creation figures, and the reasons for the call in, this is wrong. 
Councils Involvement;  
1.       The Council has allowed its web site to be used to promote factually incorrect information, the use of Council Officials, and has supported a press campaign that is factually wrong, ill conceived, and purposefully misleading.
2.       The Council has allowed a company currently involved in a disputed planning application to put its case on a Council Website, without offering those against the plan similar opportunities. 
I therefore ask that the Council suspends Councillor Madge for an abuse of power, and the dissemination of wrongful, and politically motivated misinformation determined to cause confusion, and wrongfully mislead the people of Carmarthenshire. 
That Councillor Madge make a public apology to Rhodri Glyn Thomas, Jonathan Edwards, and William Powell for the gross misrepresentation of the facts. 
That the press release is immediately with drawn from the Council website, and that an apology from Councillor Madge is posted in its place apologising for misleading the people of Carmarthenshire as to the facts in this case. 
That the Council carries out an internal investigation as to how the Public Relations Department of the Council could have allowed a Council Press Portal to be used to supply, wrong and purposefully misleading information to the Public. 
I should also say that should any legal actions follow this email that I will be paying my own legal fees, and not looking for financial support from the rate payers of Carmarthenshire. 
Simon Buckley
Chief Executive Evan-Evans Group
The offending article on the Council website can be found here , it has yet to be removed. 

Wales Blog Awards

Congratulations to Owen Donovan, winner of the best political blog at the Wales Blog Awards on Thursday, you can read his fine blog, Oggy Bloggy Ogwr here. Myself and Y Cneifiwr were the other two finalists in the category and were most impressed with Owen's very gracious acceptance speech where it appears that the notoriety of Carmarthenshire County Council is spreading far and wide, there was a special mention of the peculiar funding of an evangelical bowling alley and the daily growth of their 'rap sheet'.

Well done Owen for recognition of his detailed and constructive writing. As Cneifiwr has said, all we could come up with in the post-Award analysis to improve Carmarthenshire Council involved barrels of gunpowder in the basement of County Hall, which is possibly illegal.

It was a good night though and thanks go to the organisers for raising the profile of the fantastic and very varied world of Welsh blogging yet again - hopefully it will help to inspire more people to take to their keyboards!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Minister decides that Pantycelyn school will close

Leighton Andrews, the Welsh Minister for Education has now approved the council's plans to close Pantycelyn secondary school, Llandovery. All objections have been swept aside. This is a sad day for the school and the town and one can only hope that the planning process for the new superschool in Ffairfach is not as riddled with as many flaws and misinformation from the council that the school re-organisation process was.
The approval is subject to the Council granting themselves planning permission by the end of March 2013.

There are many posts on this blog concerning this saga if you wish to search for background, and no doubt a gleeful press release will soon appear on the council website.
Maybe our local members Cllr Ivor Jackson and Tom Theophilus will get a special tribute from senior officers for turning their backs on the population of north Carmarthenshire.

Funnily enough the proposed site for the Llandeilo Sainsbury's (currently in the spotlight) was once deemed entirely inappropriate by the Council for the location of the new school (after it had been considered highly appropriate by the council's expensively commissioned consultants), for the reasons, see Sainsbury's, Llandeilo and the new school site.

Lastly, here's a spoof prediction for 2011 from the Western Mail;

"Eyebrows are raised when Education Minister Leighton Andrews announces plans for all schools in Wales to merge.
Describing those opposed to the move – which would see all headteachers but one sacked – as “entrenched in old-fashioned thinking,” Mr Andrews proposes siting the new 15-mile-by-20-mile super-school in Mid Wales “as I’ve looked at a map, and there’s not much there”.

Update 21st September;
As predicted above the obligatory press release appeared on the council website today titled 'Great news for  Dinefwr' as both Kevin Madge and Robert Sully, the Director of Education expressed their pleasure and delight at the ministers decision. Somehow the Council managed to hold back from the usual reference to a 'small group of misinformed troublemakers' or even 'we've beaten the b*****ds'.
As for the good folk of Llandovery, they are fighting back and over 300 have signed up to the residents Association - I don't think the council have heard the last of this.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Sainsbury saga; Kev accused of spreading "blatant lies"

As the Sainsbury's row rumbles on, it seems that 'no one is available' from the Council to appear on BBC Radio Cymru's Taro'r Post programme. Plaid MP, Jonathan Edwards threw down the gauntlet to the Leader of Carmarthenshire Council Kevin Madge to debate the supermarket call-in. There is no news yet either whether the Leader will join in a public debate with Rhodri Glyn Thomas over the issue.
After having seen Kev in action in the Council Chamber I suspect he'd have trouble debating himself out of a wet paper bag.
Still, despite the 'no one available' line, Kev was available to appear on BBC Wales news this morning, (pre -recorded yesterday at County Hall, I believe) to give his opinion. He's finally realised that it was of course his Labour colleagues in the Welsh Government who decided on the call-in.

As one commenter has said about the Planning Committee meeting where the applications were discussed;
"There was no discussion...most of the meeting was taken up by officers reading turgid reports that the councillors should have already read, digested and questioned. They seemed content to let officers take the big decisions". 
This, as we well know. applies not just to planning but also to just about everything else too, and also applies to councillors of all political colours.

The supermarket debate is an important one but equally important is the use of the taxpayer funded council website to launch political attacks, and for that matter its use as a platform for multinational businesses such as Sainsbury's.
The article in question remains online with the misleading title 'Sainsbury plans to open two new stores'. As the planning applications were submitted last year it is not exactly news.

The Plaid Cymru office has just issued a stern statement demanding he "should retract his comments and issue a full public apology for the use of a publicly funded press office to spread blatant lies". It will be interesting to see how far Plaid will push this if he doesn't.

Here's the full statement from Plaid;

Facts expose Council Leader’s disingenuous comments 
The office of Jonathan Edwards MP and Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM has exposed the attack from Council Leader Kevin Madge last week as a ‘complete fabrication of the truth’ after it emerges the Plaid Cymru politicians made no representations to the Welsh Government regarding the Sainsbury’s planning application in Cross Hands. 
In a press statement last week the Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council, Councillor Kevin Madge, issued a ferocious attack on the Plaid Cymru MP and AM, accusing the pair of “deliberately trying to sabotage” the development of a doctor’s surgery, health centre and care home in Cross Hands and school improvements to Ysgol Maes yr Yrfa. Councillor Madge also accused the politicians of being responsible for the planning applications being “called-in” by the Welsh Government. 
Over the weekend Mr. Edwards and Mr. Thomas responded by noting that applications which are called-in are done so by the Welsh Government Minister. Mr. Edwards and Mr. Thomas also noted that the comments they raised with the Minister were a direct reflection of the representations their constituents had made. 
Today, Tuesday 18th September, Councillor Kevin Madge seemed to have realised his error and appeared on television and radio programmes to attack his Labour Welsh Government colleagues for calling in the applications. 
Further developments this week show that neither Mr. Edwards nor Mr. Thomas made any representations to the Welsh Government on the Cross Hands development. 
A spokesperson for Jonathan Edwards MP and Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM said: 
“Mr. Edwards and Mr. Thomas made representations to the Welsh government, on behalf of their constituents, which related to technical planning concerns that were brought to their attention regarding the Llandeilo application. The decision to call in the application by the Welsh government appears to back up those concerns. 
“For Councillor Kevin Madge to suggest that the elected members have deliberately tried to sabotage investment in a doctor’s surgery, health centre and care home in Cross Hands is a complete fabrication of the truth. On no occasion have the members requested the application in Cross Hands be called in. 
“Councillor Madge’s comments are simply untrue. They are inconceivable and inexcusable comments which are not fitting for the leader of the local authority. Councillor Madge should retract his comments and issue a full public apology for the use of a publicly funded press office to spread blatant lies.”

As a commenter has reminded me, the regional AM for Mid and West Wales, William Powell (Lib Dem) also requested that the Llandeilo application should be called in, (like the Plaid MP and AM, he didn't refer to the Cross Hands store). His request, made in March, can be seen here;

Odd that Kevin Madge didn't mention this in his council press release.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Despotic regime to twin with Chinese city

It would seem that the Peoples Republic of China is so impressed with Carmarthenshire, a twinning arrangement is likely with one of its cities, Xiangyang.

Carmarthenshire Council officers have taken their powerpoint presentations to three different areas of the country to relay their success with media blackouts, propaganda techniques, restricting democracy and even their brief foray into imprisoning dissidents.

A spokesperson for the Council said that although China was a little too liberal for their tastes, they felt that a twinning arrangement would provide a unique learning curve for the great superpower.

Council officers hope the 'Carmarthenshire News' will become widely available in China

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Plaid Cymru demand apology from Council Leader - updated

Plaid Cymru are now demanding that Cllr Kevin Madge, Leader of Carmarthenshire Council retracts his accusations against the MP and AM and accuse him of abusing his position by using the Council press office to publish a blatant political attack. (see my earlier post; Carmarthenshire Council - not fit for purpose..)

It will be interesting to see whether Kev withdraws his remarks and what exactly Plaid will be prepared to do if he doesn't.

This is not the first time, as I have pointed out previously, that the council press office has been used for political purposes, and it is also regularly used to attack campaigners opposing controversial council projects.

What is even more troubling is that Kev is very unlikely to be able to 'order' the press office to publish anything of this nature which hasn't had the prior approval of the Chief Executive's office.

Here's the article from Plaid Cymru Carmarthenshire website;

"Plaid Cymru is demanding that the Labour Leader of Carmarthenshire Council Council should withdraw his wild and misleading accusations against a local MP and AM. Plaid also accuses Cllr Kevin Madge of abusing his position as Leader by ordering the council’s PR department to publish a blatant political attack. 
Cllr Madge attacked local Plaid Cymru’s Jonathan Edwards MP and Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM for asking the Welsh Government to ‘call in’ the planning decision on proposed Sainsbury’s supermarkets at Llandeilo and Cross Hands. The company was given planning permission by the county’s Planning Committee earlier this year, despite serious reservations about aspects of the developments. 
FACT: The decision to call in the two schemes was made by Labour minister John Griffiths – a fact conveniently overlooked by Labour’s Kevin Madge in his outrageous attack on Plaid Cymru. The minister’s decision also indicates concern about the planning process. 
Cllr Madge shared his Press Release with a Sainsbury’s director, who complained at length about the democratic planning process. The Labour Leader’s behaviour raises serious questions about his administration’s relationship with this company. 
FACT: Baron Sainsbury of Turville, a billionaire and past chairman of Sainsbury’s, is a former Labour government minister. He has donated £15million to the Labour party and associated organisations. He remains a leading shareholder in Sainsbury’s. 
“Although there was a full council meeting last Wednesday, Cllr Kevin Madge did not raise this matter in the Chamber,”said Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, leader of the 28-strong Plaid Cymru group on the council. “Instead, he ordered the publicly-funded council PR department to issue a Press Release which is full of crude and misleading accusations, suppositions about local job creation and wild projections about what would happen if the Sainsbury’s schemes didn’t go ahead. The council-tax payers of Carmarthenshire will question why the council’s PR department is being used to publish such blatant political propaganda.”
( Link; )

Update 10pm; Plaid press officer Carl Harris (@cjharris85) has just tweeted;

"@RhodriGlynPlaid challenges Councillor Kevin Madge to public debate on Sainsbury's applications being called-in"
....and here's the link to the statement from Rhodri Glyn Thomas;

Update 17th; Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards (@JonathanPlaid) has challenged Kev to a radio debate, using the hashtag #ishemanormouse.

So far I've not heard whether there has been a response from Kev to any of this. Of course he doesn't 'do' twitter, it's too 'dangerous'.

Unrelated to the above, @cjharris85 has also said on Twitter that Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM has arranged to meet with the Ombudsman regarding a number of ongoing issues in the constituency.
Good, this sounds like a positive move.

It was clear from the Chief Executive's critical comments concerning the Ombudsman's report, (and the Ombudsman) at Wednesday's council meeting that, with a flurry of damning reports, the relationship between the two is at tipping point, I don't suppose this has helped either.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

The Sainsbury effect

With the Leader of the Council Kevin Madge, along with Sainsburys screeching from the council website it might be worth looking a little closer at the reasons for the Llandeilo/Cross Hands call-in.

Firstly, the Council were obligated to refer the matter themselves to the Welsh Government under the 'Shopping directive' because, when considered with other eligible proposals in the area the combined floorspace exceeded 20,000sq m. Kev seems to have forgotten this.

Secondary to this were the individual requests, notably from the Plaid MP and AM against whom Kev used the taxpayer funded council website to lose the plot. When 'call-ins' are considered, it is not whether permissions should be granted or not, but who should be making the decisions which is at issue. The "Welsh government policy is to interfere with the responsibilites of local planning authorities only when it is necessary to do so"; in this case it was the cumulative impact of the two stores which was identified as the main issues raised and warranted "taking the application out of the hands of Carmarthenshire County Council".

So,  putting aside local views on the merits or otherwise of the two stores, the Welsh Government were of the view that Carmarthenshire Council were not capable of making the decision, either through a poor assessment of the impact or through lack of objectivity, take your pick.

The WG assessment states that Nathaniel Lichfield Partnership identified that if the two stores operated at the full market rate, this would produce a loss of £36.15m to other retailers in the area, based on that figure, NLP said that the two stores could not be supported.

Sainsburys then came forward to the Council and promised to operate at only 80% average turnover. So, with the help of Sainsburys, the figures were then re-jigged by the Council who came up with a much reduced and slightly more palatable impact of £5.89m.  The Council, using Sainsburys figures, concluded that "there is sufficient commercial case within the County to make both stores viable". 

Anyone with half a brain would be somewhat sceptical that Sainsburys would actively seek to reduce their turnover by 20%, how would they do it? tell customers to go away, 'we've sold quite enough for one day'? It seems the WG is equally sceptical;

"however it is not clear from either officer report whether, or how, that assumption could be assured by the Council either with Sainsburys as the operator or any subsequent operator. Given that the council has to a large extent predicted the acceptability of these two proposals operating together on the basis of a reduced turnover we consider this to be a significant omission in the assessment of the proposals..."

So it would appear that after commissioning a myriad of expensive retail assessments from NLP, White Young Green and Savils, the most influential voice in County Hall was Sainsburys. How unsurprising.

As the two applications were recommended for approval at officer level but were referred to the Planning Committee for the rubber stamp, it is the Committee which is referred to in the Call-in letter, dated the 20th July;

"In our view there is insufficient information in these respects [cumulative impact] to show that all policy considerations have been fully addressed by Carmarthenshire County Council's Planning Committee in reaching its decision on these applications" 

Friday, 14 September 2012

Carmarthenshire Council - Not fit for purpose...

Returned to the computer after a couple of hours this afternoon to find yet another storm brewing. I am beginning to wonder whether this council is finally going into meltdown. Once again the press section of the council website was hijacked by the ruling administration to take a pot shot at the opposition. The row concerns the decision by the Welsh Government to take the Llandeilo/Cross Hands Sainsburys planning decision out of the hands of the council. Not something that is done without good reason and not without extensive consultation with over thirty ministerial and government parties. The decision was made at the beginning of August maybe the penny has only just dropped in Carmarthen.

Kevin Madge, the Leader launches a full scale attack on Plaid's MP and AM, Jonathan Edwards and Rhodri Glyn Thomas, accusing them of 'inexcusable behaviour" and "deliberate sabotage" by asking for the call-in of Sainsburys plans. For greater effect he even accuses them of jeopardizing a new primary school - fancy that! I didn't know Sainsburys were building schools, is this some new bizarre PFI deal? The BBC reports on the row here and I think Rhodri Glyn Thomas is spot on when he says " This type of response is characteristic of Carmarthenshire County Council....the council doesn't want any scrutiny of its decision"  Mr Thomas also says he may make a complaint about the content of the council press release, Can I suggest Rhodri that you make a complaint about the council, not just the press release?

Whether the stores go ahead or not is not the issue here, it is the total lack of understanding that there is a democratic process, and anyone is entitled to use it. The council press office is regularly used to make political statements and smear campaigners using taxpayers money, you may remember the rapidly pulled article earlier this year.

The relationship between Kevin Madge and Rhodri Glyn Thomas has been a rocky one, back in 2009 Mr Thomas reported Mr Madge to the ombudsman for making defamatory comments after Mr Madge accused him of inaction over securing EU grants. A few months later the Labour leader was again rowing with Plaid over their criticism of the Council propaganda sheet. On the same topic, this July, Jonathan Edwards called Carmarthenshire Council a dictatorship.

Come on Messrs Edwards and Thomas, its time to ratchet up the challenge, are you going to let this council repeatedly walk all over you and the residents of this county? Have you any powers at all to insist on some accountability? So far there have been many words but precious little action, it's no wonder people take to the streets in protest. 

Sewers and fisticuffs (almost)

I discovered, after I had left the meeting on Wednesday that there had been an almighty row in the Chamber with voices raised and doors slammed. According to a source, Cllrs Sian Caiach and Cllr Bill Thomas had tried to object to the minutes of a planning committee meeting by declaring a prejudicial interest.

They had indicated in writing that they wanted to declare verbally that they could not possibly approve the minutes as they knew that the Council was complicit in breaking EU Habitat law in Llanelli, pushing to build another 5000 homes over the next few years next to a waterway which is basically being used as an overflow sewer.

They had both attempted to declare this verbally at the start of the meeting but were silenced by the Chair and Chief Executive.

In a nutshell, as this has been a lengthy affair, campaigners are trying to prevent further developments until such time as the antiquated overloaded sewers are brought up to scratch, homes are regularly flooded and it is claimed that pollution in the estuary is a cause of the continuing cockle-mortality problem. One cockler is currently challenging the council in the high court over the Stradey development. Currently in the court of appeal, Cllr Thomas has been instrumental in the case, putting him at odds with the chiefs and his Labour colleagues.

The council, clearly with obligations to various large scale developers to meet has consistently denied that there's a problem and that the cockle deaths were coincidental. The campaigners have been slated in the press by the Chief Executive as a troublesome, "unfortunate example of a small group" standing in the way of, for example, Taylor Wimpey. Any group opposing the council visions, of course, gets similar treatment.

I'll not go into the technical details, and this is a complex issue, but having had sight of some of the extensive research and unearthing of documents by Cllr Thomas their argument is convincing.

The Council executive officers do not want the issues aired in public, so when Cllrs Caiach and Thomas attempted to give their declarations verbally when the actual reports were up for discussion, they were both prevented, loudly, by the Chair and the Chief Executive.

In utter disgust, they both stormed out of the meeting.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Full council meeting - September

I have little to add to Cneifiwr's thorough report on yesterdays meeting of full council, if you haven't already read it, please do. I must make a few points of my own though. I was disappointed to note that all entry restrictions are still firmly in place, I gave my name and address and signed the filming undertaking, even adding "under protest"; all a bit pointless really considering Colin Davies, Head of the 'democracy' department rips them up afterwards, apparently. I also note that  individual members of the public are still, bizarrely, escorted in and out by two members of staff, one in front and one behind.
I wonder whether the new Chair, Cllr Sian Thomas thinks that this is an appropriate method of welcoming the public?

Chair of Carmarthenshire Council
To be honest, it doesn't look like either she, nor any other of our elected members have ever had any say in these matters, even if any of them wanted to. Cllr Caiach had asked the Chair whether she could make an audio recording of the meeting, and all future meetings, purely for her own use and her own records. The Chair informed Cllr Caiach that as the Task and Finish group looking into webcasting was "on the brink" of a recommendation (after 15 months) then the "status quo" would remain and so the answer was no and she confirmed that this was the wish of the Chief Executive and the Head of Law, who both mumbled in agreement. That was that.

On safer ground, the Chair went on to tell the class that she had enjoyed almost all her numerous civic duties over the summer; the recipients of her visits can only guess whether they were the few she hadn't enjoyed. Resplendent, on the table in front of the official podium and was a small framed certificate for all to inspect, I thought it might have been from Private Eye, but the Chair explained to the class that it was from Prince Charles (has a large holiday home near Llandovery for occasional weekend breaks to shoot the local wildlife) which was rather appropriate given the assorted 'honour' holders sat behind it. Apparently it was for co-operation with the Prince's Trust, or it may have just been for co-operation with the Prince....I'm not sure..the translating equipment crackled at that point. 

The Ombudsman's report was, er, discussed with Housing Chief, Mr Staines and Executive Member Cllr Devichand giving the predictable reassurance that everything was now fine, etc etc Several councillors popped up to paint a somewhat different story from their various constituencies, so, to avoid the carefully prepared spin going pear-shaped, the Chief Executive stepped in to insist, (he had reminded them about this several times, he said) that individual ward concerns should not be discussed in meetings of full council. 
I can partly understand the reasoning behind this as meetings can become a very drawn out affair if all 74 members brought up local concerns on every particular topic (72 if you exclude Tom and Ivor who would never dream of doing such a silly thing). But in this instance the councillors were using their local knowledge to democratically challenge a council report.
A similar thing happened later in the meeting when the Social Care annual report was summarized by department Chief, Bruce McLernon, and councillors who attempted to provide a reality check from the experiences of their constituents were ordered to sit down.  A blanket ban such as this is worrying as it may prevent Members from bringing a local issue, such as the closure of a village school, to full council for discussion, even when it has a bearing on county matter or council policy. Still, democracy will always come second place when there's a buffet calling.

I was also puzzled to hear the Chief Executive refer several times to the fact that the average time taken from application to completion of work through Disabled Facilites grants was 200 days in Carmarthenshire, lower than some neighbouring counties, apparently. Yet in the 2012/2013 Improvement Plan it says; 
"We will reduce the average number of calender days taken to deliver a Disabled Facilities Grant from 312 days to 310 days".

As I said, Cneifiwr has filled in the details, including the surprising allegations in the Chamber about a particular evangelical drug rehabilitation centre in Llanelli, where, according to rumour the director of this charity takes home a rather generous £57k a year and has various family members employed 'on paper' alone. According to several councillors, these rumours were rife in the town. Given that these serious allegations were wafting loudly around the Chamber the councillors concerned were hastily reminded that scrutiny of such financial matters were not the councils job, unless there was council funding involved. You would think though, that scrutiny of the Towy Community Church Excel project would be entirely appropriate given that £1.4m Carmarthenshire cash has gone their way, but, despite concerns raised here there and everywhere, it would seem not.

The meeting would not be complete without being interspersed with speeches from Kev, the Leader, who clearly feels he has to 'thank the officers blah blah', at regular 10 minute intervals. Perhaps I'm wrong but there's an almost audible sigh each time he gets to his feet. Perhaps his daftest statement yesterday was during almost customary 'it's ok to give the Scarlets more money' discussion concerning an application for a Marston's pub/hotel on part of the car park. It would seem, from the discussion that it had already been passed but I don't believe it has. Kev decided on the "bringing quality employment" to Llanelli approach. It's nice to know that washing dishes or making beds in a pub is classed as 'quality employment' for Llanelli residents by the Leader of the council.

One thing missing from the meeting was a Notice on Motion from the Plaid group to support Unison's campaign for a living wage for the lowest paid council staff. For reasons unknown, and despite having a Plaid Chair it was not allowed. I would have thought a Labour led council would have welcomed an opportunity to publicly support the whole idea, at least in principle. Maybe it was too 'politically contentious' for our council, clearly though it wasn't too political for the news section of the council's website, where, in so many words, Kev confirms Plaid's fears that decisions will be made behind closed doors. Perhaps he will take part in 'briefings' in the back of the chauffeur driven Merc. Solidarity.

I must add, while I'm here, that I was under the impression (maybe wrongly) that Agendas for Executive Board/Council meeting should be available to the public online at least three working days prior to a meeting. This is haphazard in Carmarthenshire to say the least, and I note that the Agenda for next Monday's Exec Board meeting has yet to materialise.

Lastly, for now, I must thank my local paper, the Ammanford based South Wales Guardian which occasionally reports where others fear to tread, (despite the threats,) for giving me a plug for the Wales Blog Awards;

".....Jacqui, aged 49, began her blog after the county council took the incredible decision to rewrite its own constitution and introduce a clause allowing the authority to fund the legal costs of its own officers who wished to sue taxpayers – the only council in the UK to do so......."

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Presumption against openness

If anyone was wondering whether, after the long summer break and executive holidays in the sun, or even after Eric Pickles' recent  pronouncements on town hall transparency, Carmarthenshire Council would throw open it's locked doors, rip up the unlawful undertakings and generally welcome the public with open arms, they'd be disappointed.

A friend contacted the council today and was told by Mr Edgecombe, the councils senior solicitor, that the legislation only applied to England and that the Welsh Government had no intention of introducing anything of the sort here.

Ok, I know the legislation only applies to England, and so it seems the Welsh Government has no intention of upsetting the sensitivities of our more secretive Councils by requiring them to adopt a 'presumption in favour of openness' or, amongst other frightening intrusive measures, 'new legal rights for citizen reporters'. Pity.

So, unless I am accompanied by an argumentative Eric Pickles to tomorrows full council meeting, it looks like the ridiculous restrictions will continue.....perhaps our Welsh minister, Carl Sargeant would like to accompany me instead?

Llandovery fights back - updated

There is growing unrest in my nearby town of Llandovery. Many residents are no longer prepared to sit back and let the County Council bulldoze various plans through the town without proper consultation. A residents group has been formed and will be staging an exhibition tomorrow. The organisers have brought together local groups with the intention of keeping everyone in the town informed and to give them a voice, this includes the campaigners against the closure of Pantycelyn School who have fought such a long battle. There are some very determined folk in Llandovery and many of them are now questioning the actions of the County Councillor Ivor Jackson and are considering challenging his position as their elected member.

In support of their efforts I am publishing a couple of flyers outlining their aims. I hope the group inspires others in the county to take a similar stance;










Already signed up to LATRA? Come along anyway and view the exhibition. We have your registration cards printed for you to collect. Look forward to seeing you again!
















Update; Glad to see MP Jonathan Edwards and AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas supporting the group and expressing their concerns about Carmarthenshire County Council's lack of proper consultation; 

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Open letter to the Editor of the Carmarthen Journal

Below is an open letter to the Editor of the Carmarthen Journal from the bloggers of Carmarthenshire. As you will be aware from recent blogposts, we are becoming increasingly concerned about the editorial independence of the newspaper.

Dear Editor;

Or should that be 'County Hall'?

We are sure we are not the only regular readers who have noticed that several recent news stories concerning the council have failed to make the pages of the Carmarthen Journal.

To give just a few examples, the BBC, the Western Mail and even Private Eye have found the space to report on the treatment of Day Centre whistleblower, Delyth Jenkins; controversies surrounding the council funding of Towy Community Church's Excel bowling alley; the Chief Executive's failed attempt to censure a county councillor and, not least of all recent attempts by County Hall to influence the editorial policy of another local paper. You will notice that there is a common thread: all are critical of the County Council.

Late in 2009 there were reports that Northcliffe Media, who own the Journal, had advised their editors to steer clear from negative stories about the council as funding from council advertising was in peril after a complaint was made by the Chief Executive of the Council.

The previous editor of the Journal, Cathryn Ings, tried to brave the storm and said  "..if the Council is failing in some way, you will not read about it in the [council] newsletter. The Journal has a duty to give its readers a full and balanced picture and we will continue to do so"

Unfortunately, three years on there is little to inspire confidence in those words, or that the situation has improved. Even the letters page appears to be subject to very unusual constraints. Letters from readers which question controversial decisions by the council are cut short or do not appear at all. Letters, most recently by an ex-editor of the paper, are unnecessarily edited to such a degree that the message is lost.

Newspapers are, of course, bound by the laws of defamation, and a code to report in a balanced and fair way, but there should be no external interference nor interference from the local authority, or its senior officers, which impinge on its freedom to investigate and comment.

The Council, it goes without saying, should know better. The fact that it employs seven staff in its press office and just two in dealing with Freedom of Information requests says everything about its obsession with image.

To be balanced, we need both the negative and the positive. The newspaper should certainly play its part in advertising Carmarthenshire as a great place to visit and invest, but its main duty should be to report the news. It is a competitive world, and local papers are struggling to keep up. Sales are down and the Journal itself faced a 12% drop in sales figures in the six months up to June.

For a weekly newspaper to give the appearance that it is bowing to censorship from County Hall is to sign its own death warrant. The bread and butter of the local press is not quantity, online or otherwise, it's not the number of council press releases you can squeeze into one edition, it's the determination and freedom of its reporters to use their skills to bring us the truth, good or bad.

The Journal is rapidly becoming indistinguishable from the council's propaganda sheet and it's time for the balance to be restored.

Your sincerely

Jacqui Thompson and Y Cneifiwr

10th Sept; Y Cneifiwr has a follow-up post here; News Management

The New Term...and other news

The new term in County Hall kicks off with the full council meeting next Wednesday. I hope to attend and maybe Eric Pickles would like to join me. Amongst the items for 'debate' is a report from the ombudsman. I believe it will be the first of quite a few.

This particular report found maladministration through the council's failure to adequately house a disabled man, a failure to recognise it's statutory social care duties and, consequently, the complainant's human rights. It also catalogued the abysmal council complaints process (see earlier post; council fined £3000), this has become something of a theme recently. Further reports which will follow in the future concern the failure of planning enforcement with the extensive Breckman report and also a very serious investigation into Social Care, the latter is currently the subject of legal action.

Perhaps the councillors would also like to insist on a report about the recent decision by the Ombudsman to dismiss all the Chief Executive's complaints against their fellow Councillor, Sian Caiach.

Due to the lack of full council/scrutiny meetings over recent months there is quite a backlog of Executive, Planning and Licensing reports on the Agenda ready to be swiftly waved through. There have been four Executive Board meetings busy rubber stamping away throughout the Summer.
The full agenda is here and Cneifiwr has more details here.

A browse through the Council Diary reveals the next location of the Executive Board mystery tour of Carmarthenshire. This time (1st October) they're taking the convoy down to Kidwelly. Rather like Kev's Big Day Out to Ammanford, it should provide an endless stream of photo opportunities and spin to grace our local papers the following week.

On the subject of planning there was another glimpse into the strange world of the Planning Committee the other day My own Councillor spoke in support of this particular application, not as you may expect in such a quasi-judicial setting, on the technical arguments of material planning considerations but on the basis that he remembered the applicant's grandfather who had set up in business after the war. He didn't specify which war. The Chair had to remind him that it didn't matter who the applicant was and the application was refused.

Lastly, a letter in an edition of last week's Western Mail. I'm publishing it here as it seems that discontented residents of Carmarthenshire are having to go further afield than the local press these days to voice their concerns;

"SIR – The officials of Carmarthenshire County Council have given new meaning to three familiar words.

Firstly, “democracy”, the few gaining control over the many. The residents of Carmarthenshire elected 28 Plaid Cymru councillors – the largest group on the council – yet without a representative in the inner cabinet.

Secondly, “independent” – that an Independent party joins another party to form a ruling group.

Thirdly, “socialism”, when the chief executive receives an annual salary of £209,498, including more than £20,000 from the Ministry of Justice for his duties as elections returning officer, while the rank and file members of staff received an annual salary reduction of £1,700.

Little wonder that there is unrest in the land.

Mr O Owen
Llanelli, Carmarthenshire"