|Western Mail 27th April 2018. Click to enlarge.|
At a Neath Port Talbot meeting last week the council leader Rob Jones stated publicly that, at the moment, they would not be signing the City Deal Joint Agreement between the four councils. The decision follows another critical report from NPT chief executive, Steve Phillips. An earlier report, which I blogged about last October, similarly urged caution.
As you can read from the article above, Cllr Jones said "I am not prepared to put this council financially at risk on a wing and a prayer"
This is unlike Carmarthenshire where not a word of criticism about the even bigger 'funding gap' has been voiced, or even murmured. Why is that I wonder. According to the article there have been 28 drafts of the Joint Working Agreement, I don't know if that's an exaggeration but whatever the case, there is something seriously wrong and the City Deal is a scandal in the making.
I voiced a few thoughts, and facts, in my previous post, here are a few more.
The City Deal has become, somehow or other, the latest baby of Carmarthenshire chief executive Mr Mark James. I suggest that the other three councils take a very hard look at his record and strongly consider whether he is the right man for the job.
NPT, and Pembrokeshire both express concern about financial risk, Mr James cares not one bit about 'protecting the public purse', nor his own council's budget, nor the reputation of his council. Can we expect Carmarthenshire's council leader Emlyn Dole to say anything critical? No. Forget about that option, he sold his soul for the Leadership and Mr James' hand is so deeply inserted that he can no longer think nor speak for himself.
To leave Mr James in charge of this ongoing fiasco is a risk in itself. Even if it all goes ahead, it will plunge all four councils into an abyss of debt for projects which no one in the real world actually wants, or needs.
Let's have a look at the rap sheet shall we? Firstly there was the Boston Stadium, a massive burden on the taxpayer which he said wouldn't cost them a 'penny'. Then there were the other allegations from Boston which suggested exactly what our Mr James was capable of.
Then we move to Carmarthenshire and the Parc Y Scarlets stadium. A well documented drain if ever there was one. This is a private company yet it has been allowed to occupy the stadium rent-free and not worry about paying back a £2.6m loan...how many other Carmarthenshire businesses have been given such accommodating treatment, the council even pays rent to Scarlets' Regional Ltd for 'office space'. I was told, in court that just because Mr James likes rugby, that was no reason to be critical...
Then there was the 'bung' over the Scarlets' car park where Mr James' last minute intervention went directly against the advice of his own director of finance and directly against the interests of the Carmarthenshire taxpayer.
There's the Eastgate development in Llanelli where yet again a large chunk of real estate was gifted to developers and now houses, you've guessed it, council offices.
Another strange arrangement was the enormous financial gift to the Towy Community Church and the 'evangelical bowling alley'. For some reason a Christian 'social enterprise' was considered to be a suitable prop for the council's own struggling social care department. The fact that Mr James has, apparently, deeply Christian beliefs involving the literal truth of the Bible, has nothing to do with it of course...
And let's not forget the pocketing of council cash, and liberal use of facilities, resources and staff, to pursue his own private legal battles. None of which he has paid back. And while we're on the subject, what about the pension scam which gave him a nice little earner? And which he has also failed to repay.
The City Deal 'Wellness Village' looks set to be the white elephant extraordinaire, a vanity project which will leave a legacy of debt for future generations of Carmarthenshire residents. Llanelli wanted a leisure centre and a care home, not private health care and holistic therapy pods. I find it deeply concerning that councillors are not speaking out and are swallowing the spin and nonsense spouted by Mr James..have they not learned any lessons by now?
I can speak from personal experience and say, quite categorically, that the only thing that concerns Mr James is his own wallet and his own reputation, not the council, nor its residents. And as for taxpayers' money, no doubt he'd be quite happy to stuff it in the gutter. Aside from the financial aspect, there's the toxic culture, still alive and well, and the years of insidious threats to those who disagree with his world view; councillors, politicians, regulatory bodies, the press and members of the public.
Let's remember, once again, the words of the former Police Commissioner, Mr Salmon, who spent four years 'liaising' with Carmarthenshire County Council and came to the correct and inescapable conclusion that is was "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".
My message to the other three councils is that I cannot think of a more unsuitable and untrustworthy person to be in charge of this City Deal. He has trashed Carmarthenshire, do you really want him to do the same to your neck of the woods?