Thursday, 30 April 2015

Third Sector muddle and culture changes

As part of the council's efficiency savings a non-negotiable £1m is to be sliced off funding to the third sector, ie voluntary groups, charities and the like. This process started roughly a year ago and the current status of the 'Review' is on the policy and resources scrutiny agenda for today (Friday).

What has transpired through this review is that, with roughly £20m per annum going to the third sector, the whole system is in a muddle. No one seems to know who's getting what, there's no centralised control and declared departmental spending is not equating with the cash received by organisations. Good grief.

Numerous organisations are using 'aliases', or to put it another way, applications or contracts are under different names, duplicate funding is suspected and contracts are just being rolled over with no checks or balances. What is apparent from this unusually frank report as that this unseemly muddle has been going on for years.

The change of culture which is supposed to be on the horizon shouldn't just extend to openness and transparency; a similar lack of control and unknown spending was unearthed when this committee requested details of external consultants commissioned by various departments, including legal advice, and it took over a year to cobble together the figures.

Carmarthenshire's Planning Services are another area which has been crying out for a 'review' for many years.

With the current Head of Planning, Mr Eifion Bowen retiring in September, the council's advert for a replacement states that .'Above everything, we will be looking for the right person to strengthen the department’s new culture..' Let's hope this refers to a new culture of consistency and fairness across the board and is not just more meaningless waffle from our 'vibrant and forward thinking local authority'. (Dear me, I think the ad breaches the trades description act).

To illustrate this point some of you may have read about the long running Breckman case*, covered here and more recently over on Cneifiwr's blog here and here, and I'll leave you with an extract from a 2008 email from a council solicitor (now retired) to the head of planning following a subject access request by Mrs Breckman which, in one sentence, still sums up the current culture, across the council, very well;

'..the danger with full disclosure is that there are several potentially embarrassing internal emails which could be used by Mrs Breckman and the media if they were to be disclosed'

In the Breckman case, the council, in the words of the planning inspector, 'turned a blind eye' to developments next door, for ten years, and at last week's planning meeting, in a separate case, the council retrospectively approved two large steel sheds in another part of the county. Against this, I am aware of another couple who have been taken to court twice for failing to remove a small portable field shelter for a couple of horses.

Even more recently is the matter of the Grillo site in Burry Port which, (again, please see Cneifiwr's post) was the subject of call-in requests. Last week's planning committee resembled something of a lynch mob as the identities of those who had put the decision on hold through the call-in requests seemed of greater interest than the real reasons why this massive development might have needed a much closer look.
Aside from the serious environmental concerns, it was not apparent at the meeting, nor presumably to the relevant Town Council, that with the agreement of the county council, the developers had reduced the S106 community contributions substantially....

*Update 4th May;
Cneifiwr provides an update today on the ongoing battle faced by the Breckmans. The chief executive has refused, on behalf of the council, to pay them the £1000 compensation due to the fact that the'privacy board' placed in front of Mrs Breckmans windows was eventually removed. As Mr James well knew, this was immediately replaced by a large curtain-sided lorry.


Anonymous said...

I'd love there to be a wide ranging inquiry into the CCC as there must be many embarrassing emails floating around that tell the full story regarding the CCC's toxic culture. Administration & Law, CEO and the Executive have a lot to answer for as they appear to encourage cover up, maladministration & the avoidance of following their own polices and procedures. Makes you wonder at the amount of (embarrassing) emails and documents the Ombudsman has seen! No wonder he did not want to investigate my complaint, especially after I'd sent him quite damning internal emails of their endeavours to avoid investigating the handling of POVA themselves.

Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)

Patricia B said...

Advert for new Head of Planning:- 'Above everything, we will be looking for the right person to strengthen the department’s new culture and to work effectively as part of the new Management Team'.

Does this suggest that with the current Head of Planning, the old culture was rotten?

A. Thomas - Blaenpant Farm has been afforded favour upon favour upon favour,over years, with each favour afforded him being highly detrimental to us, our amenities and the value of our home.

Favours are not allowed to be given (Code of Conduct under 'Corruption'). I have and will continue to request a police investigation into this department for the damage, the dishonesty and the blight to our home for which they are responsible.

The most recent of favours still being given... whilst A. Thomas bulldozed a SSSI/SAC site, this department failed to issue a 'stop notice' which would have saved the site from further destruction until NRW could investigate matters, they prevaricated, until eventually serving an inappropriate enforcement notice which effectively gave A. Thomas the green light to continue for a further four weeks. A. Thomas continued for six weeks in all, until he achieved what he wanted. That was last year - this year he was allowed to continue all over again - and again no 'stop notice' was imposed and NRW were never contacted. The works continued until again he had achieved building a substantial new road across this protected site (no permission need)according this planning department. This shocking episode is not going away!

Anonymous said...

It shows once again what many in Carmarthenshire have known for many years. There are unelected people at County Hall that feel that they are accountable to nobody although they are there to serve the people of Carmarthen yet are not prepared to have decisions questioned or indeed follow procedures set out by Cardiff Bay."Transparency" being above board,guileless. Not with some members at County Hall I am afraid.

Anonymous said...

Patricia B's comments paint a horrendous picture of what has happened in the planning department of CCC.If this is a question of favours given is that not misconduct in public office and is not that a criminal offence?

Anonymous said...

I would advise anyone thinking of applying for the post of head of planning
to avoid it like the plague.The current chief executive is still there.

Anonymous said...

Why would Eifion Bowen allow such a thing to happen without permission.Fancy waiting till the man has finished before doing anything about it.It absolutely stinks of favour.Councillors wake up.This is a serious flouting of environmental protection laws and is a criminal offence.