Friday, 15 March 2019

City Deal reviews - Mark James and the council - not fit for purpose - Updated


Update:

Joint Committee's Internal Review of Governance Arrangements - City Deal

I now have a copy of the above review, led by Pembrokeshire Council. I can't find it online and I understand that Carmarthenshire Council, who have gone all quiet, were, prior to today, attempting to block its release. Not surprising really, it's a shocker. So, until it appears online, if anyone wants a copy please use the blogger contact form or email me. (18th March; The council have finally put it online)

The report is scathing towards the way Carmarthenshire Council, and the chief executive, have run the show. There is a complete breakdown of trust between them and the other local authorities. As I have said, it's been a disaster from beginning to end and this report is no whitewash, unlike those from Acuity and the WAO.

The contents of this report also demonstrate that the 'reassurances' which Mark James and Emlyn Dole have been giving to Carmarthenshire councillors (and blaming the press), are absolute nonsense. They've been lying.

Here are a few key points, with my emphasis throughout;

1. The unfolding Wellness scandal, and the involvement of the police, is creating even more mistrust (than there already is) between the partners. The tipping point was probably the Kuwait revelations.

"Media attention over the staff suspensions at Swansea University and the links with Llanelli Life Science & Wellbeing Village project have identified a number of issues that the Joint Committee should have been aware of as they impact on the SBCD as a whole, including:

a. The links between Kent Neurosciences Limited and Sterling Health Security Holdings Ltd;

b. The role of Sterling Health Security Holdings Ltd and clarity that the company was not directly providing the private sector investment;

c. Links between the Llanelli Life Science Wellness Village project with other worldwide projects such as Kuwait;

d. UK & WG concerns that had not been resolved;

e. Declarations of interest and wider roles that current or former Officers and Members
would have with this company and planned projects."

This is bloody unbelievable.
They should have been following my blog.

2. There is an imbalance of power with Carmarthenshire Council senior officers taking all the key and advisory roles, mainly the chief executive, plus his personal legal aide Linda Rees Jones. This in itself has created division and deep mistrust.

As the Government Review has already made clear, the Regional Office, managed by Mark James is not fit for purpose and this internal review agrees. And wonders why it's costing the authorities £400,000 a year.

There's a breakdown in communication;

"Feedback from the Regional Office and Members of the Joint Committee do not accord with the feedback from UK & WG, so there is clearly a communication breakdown between parties"

As the Regional Office is staffed by employees of Carmarthenshire Council, Mark James, as Head of Paid Service for the council and City Deal lead chief executive, should not be managing the Regional Office. The roles should be separated to provide objectivity and independence.
In other words, there is currently no objectivity or independence, and they want him out.

He also Chairs the Programme Board and the review found that;

"there is no detailed review of the written business case or compliance with processes and procedures"

3.  The Joint Committee has no standard set of governance principles, such as due diligence, bribery and corruption checks, or ensuring all decisions, procurement and spending are ethically sound and within the law.

"there was no evidence of declarations of interest from all Local Authority Officers and Members. Other than holding and recording the declarations of interest, there was no evidence that there had been any verification or consideration of appropriateness by the Joint Committee."

"It was evident through meetings with stakeholders that there is insufficient trust within the
Partnership."

This is down to the imbalance of power, the lack of standard principles (as above) and lack of transparency and openness.

The Joint Committee meetings were described as, well, pitiful; inaccurate updates, correspondence between the Regional Office (Carms Council) and government not shared, unnecessarily 'exempt' reports, secretive pre-meetings and;

"Suspicion that some Members know more information than others"

The review suggests that the meetings should be webcast - what a good idea...

4. There is no 'plan B' if the City Deal cash is withdrawn. A contingency plan was recommended by Welsh government in November 2017

5. There is no confidence between the partners as to where funding is coming from. As for local authority borrowing;

"no clarity over the borrowing requirements (values) and how this will be delivered by the Lead Authorities. There is a risk that Local Authorities will not support the proposed borrowing requirements (although the principal is included within the JCA) which could result in abortive work and wasted resource in developing these projects"

6. The WG/UKG have not approved the Implementation Plan. This is due to the absence of a "credible" Programme risk register, financial plan and prioritisation of projects.

7. Incomplete business cases are being submitted, failing to include sufficient economic, commercial and financial plans;

"Business cases are presented to UK & WG prematurely resulting in UK & WG undertaking due diligence checks they would expect the Regional Office to have undertaken", and, they "appear more as marketing material than as an evaluation of the critical success factors of projects".

The internal processes to approve the business cases are not being followed and;
"cannot be relied upon".

The Regional Office are submitting business cases with insufficient detail, unnecessary information (glossy pics), "incomplete sections" and "Lack of clarity around economic, commercial and financial cases."

Three business cases were submitted to the Joint Committee for approval in November, but they shouldn't have been. Evidence was obtained by the review team that the day before the meeting the UK/WG had said they were incomplete and told representatives what was required before they could be approved. The Wellness Village business case is on 'hold'.

Last October the UK/WG asked specific questions regarding due diligence over the Wellness Village draft business case, which remained unresolved. The WG said that there were numerous informal phone calls/offline discussions, but the review found no email evidence to support this.
What a farce.

8. "The appointments process of the Economic Strategy Board (private sector representatives) is unclear. UK & WG along with the Internal Review team have been unable to gain clarity over the shortlisting of applications and who determined the recommended ESB appointments to the Joint Committee in August 2018. The lack of openness and transparency over the process in respect of these appointments has undermined the trust of UK & WG.

The ESB had also expressed concerns over Phase 2 of Yr Egin project and;
"queried where the private sector investment was coming from for the Llanelli Life Sciences & Wellbeing Village project but did not receive answers"

The appointment of the ESB seems to have been the result of a closed door arrangement, who was the driving force behind that? I'll give you three guesses.

The document repeats certain things again and again and there are several extended references to ethics, including these citations:

"A. Behaving with integrity, demonstrating strong commitment to ethical values, and respecting the rule of law;
B. Ensuring openness and comprehensive stakeholder engagement.

Establishing the ethical values and framework; Counter fraud, corruption & bribery procedures; Due diligence and anti-money laundering arrangements; Programme/project management methodology; and Overarching record of declarations of interest and offers of gifts and hospitality by all Officers and Members".

The document is a devastating indictment of the roles Mark James and Linda Rees Jones have played and outlines what has long been suspected, Carmarthenshire Council, aka Mark James has run this shit-show with secrecy, hostility (they all now appear to hate each other), arrogance, incompetence and without a shred of principle you would expect from public office.

There is also a total absence of accountability.

No surprises there. From Boston to Carmarthenshire it's always been the same. Add to that Mr James' priority for personal enrichment via the public purse, by any means, and this was always a recipe for disaster, and scandal.

Whilst Mark James is undoubtedly apoplectic over such an honest and diligent report, Emlyn Dole, as his frontman, must be squirming, and perhaps it's time to table that vote of no confidence.

The theme underlying both reports is that it is fortunate that Mark James is retiring, if he wasn't, he'd be sacked. He should, however, be suspended immediately, along with Ms Rees Jones.

Personally, given that Mr James is in it up to his neck, I hope the police hurry up and cart him off for questioning.




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

The Welsh/UK Governments 'rapid review' of the Swansea City Deal has been published today. The publication of the internal Joint Committee report, led by Pembrokeshire Council is understood to be imminent.

The Government report, by Actica Consulting provides, in the usual polite and non-specific terms, a damning list of failure and incompetence and lays the blame on the lead authority, Carmarthenshire Council (responsible for the Regional Office) and the lead chief executive, Mark James. It's been a shambles. The aim of the report was to try and salvage confidence in the City Deal through recommendations for improvement.

The report, which can be read in full here, makes several recommendations, but first and foremost;

"The most important is that the Regional Office be reconfigured as a Project, Programme and Portfolio Management Team with a strong and independent leadership"

This means that Carmarthenshire Council will be stripped of it's current position as the lead authority of the City Deal.

The forthcoming retirement of the current 'leadership', Mark James is noted, and the inference is clearly made that if he wasn't retiring, he would be sacked as lead officer.

 "The projects should have been challenged by the Regional Office but they were not. This is we think a window to the source of the real problem - namely the nature of the Regional Office."

The Council led Regional Office, the report continues, lacks professionalism, independence and the authority, experience and expertise to broker a professional relationship with the government departments.
Key information was missing from the business cases, including the financial implications, delivery, long term benefits and risk assurance. These business cases were then submitted for approval to the Regional Office with key elements missing, and no one seemed to notice, or perhaps care. Due diligence was also sadly, but unsurprisingly, lacking.

The report goes on to say that the 'project' led approach has led to stagnation and difficulties as each authority deals with it's own projects, via the incompetent Regional Office, this infers nothing less than poor governance. It suggests that the City Deal should be reprofiled as a 'Portfolio', ie a regional approach with the ability to drop or add projects as circumstances dictate.

The report, reading between the lines, suggests a failure in governance, and a breakdown of trust between the local authorities, a lack of transparency and a failure to communicate. All of which leads to a complete absence of accountability.

These are all the attributes of anything 'led' by Mark James, (including the county council itself), who has now been found not to be fit for purpose, and neither has his Regional Office.

Furthermore, and not in the report, is his shady involvement with the key players and dodgy deals of the Wellness Village, let alone the recent revelations concerning his (undeclared) ventures, with the suspended University staff, in Kuwait. The report does mention, however, that the farce surrounding the Wellness Village, now referred to the police, is further undermining confidence in the whole Deal.

He is a complete liability, and it is interesting to note the difference in this report, to the report from Acuity Legal, Mr James own solicitors, brought in, (an unbelievable conflict of interest) for the council's own review. Despite the difference in remit, the former is objective and independent, the latter is far from independent and reads like a pre-empted defence to criminal allegations.

Last year I suggested that Carmarthenshire Council were unsuitable as the lead authority, and that the appointment of Mark James, as 'Accountable Officer' was nothing short of a joke. Seems I had a point.



For numerous posts on the City Deal and the Wellness Village scandal, please search the blog.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

The blog - ten years old today


As ten years is quite a long time to have been writing a blog, I couldn't let the moment pass without a brief comment.

Whether the blog has achieved anything in the way of improving transparency, encouraging democratic engagement or just exposed a dodgy deal or two is for the reader to decide. I think it has, in one way or another. I have also experienced the grim and disturbing view of the interior of a police cell and accumulated court orders of around a quarter of a million quid. C'est la vie.

The council itself, despite, several changes in administration, remains seamlessly under the control of one man, until June of course when we hope for a fresh start and not a clone cultivated in the County Hall laboratory. Whoever takes the poisoned chalice, he or she can't be any worse. There was some hope when Plaid 'took over' in 2015 given their vocal opposition to all that was bad, but, alas, Emlyn slipped easily into Meryl's shoes and, well, er, 'assumed the position'....

The blog has never been critical of the army of council workers, nor the majority of officials who manage services, and not all policies or projects are bad, far from it. And in many respects, Carmarthenshire is no different to any other local authority, trying to provide a good service with a shrinking budget.

The one big difference in Carmarthenshire is that for seventeen years it has been saddled with a psychotic chief executive, who must have thought he'd hit the jackpot when he breezed in from Boston. The thought that, likely as not, he'll breeze back out again with a gold clock rather than the  criminal record he deserves should be on the conscience of councillors, regulators and government alike. It's shameful.

If an ordinary (I loathe to use the word, but you know what I mean) council worker were to have been found to have lied to his employers, and the courts; engaged in secretive extra-curricular activities to the cost and detriment of the organisation; to have committed fraud and stolen cash meant for public services; to have used publicly owned facilities, and information, for his private vendettas; to have had his hands in the till for the benefit of his 'friends', and threatened and bullied anyone who challenged his self-importance, they would have been out on their ear long ago, possibly even locked up.
And god help the 'benefit cheats', named and shamed on the council website for claiming a few grand they shouldn't have. They're unlikely to be awarded a CBE for their actions.

One problem, as we've seen only too well with the ongoing farce in Caerphilly, is the system. The protections given to chief officers make it nigh on impossible to get shot of a bad egg, especially one as adept at scamming the system, stamping out democracy, and deflecting liability as the arrogant Mr James. It needs to change.

I will not be the only one who will be glad to see him go, and hopefully his publicly funded personal defence lawyer/Monitoring Officer, Linda Rees Jones will not be far behind. Unfortunately he has a vested interest in my home, and his monthly 'gutter money' so, for Caebrwyn, his 'retirement' has little significance. There is, as far as I'm concerned, unfinished business, and I will continue to seek justice wherever he ends up.

This blog has tried to track the less salubrious episodes of this council and continues to this day with the unfolding mess that is the Wellness Village and the City Deal. This is yet another scandal which involves the shady Mr James, along with his diabolical use of his own solicitors in the 'review'. The ongoing nonsense over the unlawful libel indemnity clause is another long running case in point, there's no expense spared to defend the indefensible actions of the chief executive.

I hope this blog, whatever your views, has occasionally provided information and shone a light into the dark corners of County Hall and I intend to continue for the foreseeable future. It's taken a lot of time, blood, sweat and tears, and a hefty number of long-winded freedom of information requests.

And as I have also said in previous 'anniversary' posts, I have no hesitation in repeating every word of this blog, from slush funds to Pinocchio and everything in between, it's been the truth, every bloody word.



Tuesday, 26 February 2019

The Wellness scandal - Acuity Legal report


The news that a fifth member of staff at Swansea Uni has been suspended over the Wellness scandal must have gone down like a lead balloon at County Hall, especially as Monday's Exec Board features an elaborate nothing-to-see-here 'update' on the Wellness Village, with the Acuity Legal, and the Wales Audit Office reports all now online, along with the obligatory council press release.

The way I read both reports, particularly the one from Mark James' personal solicitors Acuity, was that this whole process was an absolute dog's dinner, riddled with conflicts of interest, dodgy dealings and failed due diligence checks, but, remarkably, despite all this, everything was fine and dandy.

The Wales Audit Office, in a two page letter from their 'Engagement Director', appear to have carried out little more than a drive-by glance at County Hall... An ex-employee of the WAO has been in touch wondering if they used one of their pointless checklists, focusing on processes - e.g was the investing partnership's record properly reviewed? Answer "yes", even if the result was found to be laughable.

Acuity Legal, as I've mentioned, are also Mark James' personal solicitors, I can certainly vouch for that. Not something Mr James chose to mention.



For that reason, in my view, the report is not worth the paper it's written on. However, it certainly contains some interesting, if absurd, excuses for such a catalogue of scandal.

For instance, we start with Kent Neurosciences (KNS) and the 'exclusivity agreement' with the council to develop the Village, back in spring of 2016. Acuity Legal claim that as this wasn't really a 'contract' as such, (more a cosy arrangement then?), there was, apparently, no need for the council to go out to tender, nor to make those irritating little due diligence checks.

Presumably though they must have been aware of KNS and the Kent private hospital fiasco, and the fact that Marc Clement of Swansea University had been a director of KNS. Despite this, the agreement with KNS and it's relationship with Swansea Uni, had, according to Acuity, 'no adverse effect' on the procurement process, and the appointment of Sterling (previously known as KNS...)

Significantly, given the tangled web of directorships and companies, outlined in this blog, no potential 'conflicts of interest' were declared until November 2017, nearly two years later when it 'became' apparent (it was already very apparent) that individuals at the Uni (and certainly at the council too) were supporting the Sterling/KNS bid.

Sterling's (or was it KNS?) expression of interest in March 2017 included a submission which, even then included reference to the ARCH project, of which former council leader Meryl Gravell was Chair, and Swansea Uni.
This, according to Acuity, had no implications for the integrity of the procurement process.

The report goes on to claim how robust (very robust, in fact) the competitive dialogue process was, and how every box was ticked, the 'acid tests' passed, and how impressed the council were with Sterling/KNS, culminating in the infamous signing of the Collaboration Agreement last year.

This was despite Sterling having no proven track record and net liabilities of £137,000.

Elsewhere in the report, it 'emerged' that Sterling were not living up to their promises.

Why this was not detected in the previous three years of 'very robust' dealings with KNS/Sterling is unbelievable, literally unbelievable.

The report states that despite the council's engagement with both KNS and Sterling being through a common representative, (I believe this to be Marc Clement but happy to be corrected), the council were aware of the Uni's involvement but, 'there is no evidence' that this link was 'strong' or longstanding'.

Presumably they'd shredded the evidence and forgotten that Mr Clement was, until late 2015, a director of KNS.

"Further, KNS (and by association Sterling) received no advantage because of the existence of the lockout agreement, nor by being involved in the preliminary market consultation".
Of course they did, it was the same people, same council officers, etc.

By November 2017 the council were advising Sterling what to put in their submissions  but, according to Acuity, this was fine, and all part of the process...

The first 'conflict of interest' from 'person A' was declared in the same month, closely followed by persons B, C and D. Acuity claim that despite the involvement of 'person D' in the competitive dialogue, the council were 'entitled to reach the decision' that the integrity of the procurement process had not been compromised. Really?
Furthermore, the fact that the council had dialogue with Sterling outside the proper procurement portal was, Acuity says, 'reasonable and proportionate'.
So what was this off-the-record dialogue then? Share offers? Job offers? Cheap houses?

Quite where the undeclared Kuwaiti connections came into the equation is unknown.

This report from Acuity was, predictably, a waste of time and money and seems to have the sole intention of protecting their private client, the conveniently soon-to-be-retiring Mr James.
Far from providing 'independent reassurance' the use of Acuity provides the exact opposite.



James v Thompson. Acuity Legal have represented Mr James since January 2017. Incidentally, Mr Hitchcock was quoted as saying, in 2016, "With a £1.3 billion City Deal in the pipeline which is expected to boost the local economy by an estimated £3.3 billion, the expert services we offer are going to be in high demand.”
They certainly are, thanks to their private client Mr James.

The stark reality of this whole saga is that is has culminated in suspensions, criminal investigations and allegations of personal enrichment. The close involvement of Mr James and his rap sheet, with Clement, Dickmann, Gravell, etc, from the very start, and his curious determination to appoint Sterling, let alone his friends at Acuity, says it all.
If he's capable of pocketing tens of thousands in public cash which he shouldn't have, lying to his employers, the press and the courts, he's capable of anything. He puts himself first, not the council.

The council are still determined to 'go it alone', desperately touting the Sauna-by-the-Swamp to anyone who might listen and have already arranged the City Deal advanced borrowing of £40m. However, the financial implications in the council's own report state, worryingly, that "this may need to be updated based upon the preferred new structure for delivery of the Village". 
Blimey, £250m? More? Mr James is going to be leaving one hell of a legacy.

Let's hope the police now turn their attention to Mark James, and, if they need some proper information and background, they should search and read this blog.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

The 'CRWG' Minutes - Let's sue everyone!!


As you can see at the end of this post, and after a lengthy FOI wrangle, we finally have the draft minutes of the 'CRWG' meeting, which discussed the issue of libel indemnities, and which was held behind closed doors last July.
Linda Rees Jones' report, referred to in the text is still being withheld under Legal Advice Privilege, and I have appealed to the ICO. Private Eye also questioned this unexplained secrecy, and the fall-out from the meeting, back in November...

I blogged about the meeting last year when it became clear, immediately after the event, that far from removing the unlawful libel clause completely, which had been Cllr Rob James intention by putting it on the agenda, the Plaid and Independent leadership decided it would be a good idea to reinstate the provision.
Worse still perhaps, they wanted to extend it to include councillors.
It's unbelievable.

It's difficult to know where to start with just how wrong all this is, I hope the farcical, and dangerous nonsense speaks for itself. There is plenty of background on this blog, of course.
On the upside, as far as I have been able to establish through FOIs, no letter has yet been written to the Wales Audit Office. Not surprising really, even Legal Linda knows exactly where they'll politely suggest she puts such a letter. I'm surprised she's not written to Acuity Legal instead....

Incidentally, and as I have mentioned before, Ms Rees Jones, who, on the direct instruction of Mr James, advises councillors on these matters, provided a witness statement for her boss in the libel trial. Her statement attempted to justify the unlawful funding of officers' libel claims, or counterclaims, and that it really wasn't a slush fund at all...no, not at all. She has a massive conflict of interest and shouldn't be 'advising' anyone.

So the clauses remain suspended. And they remain unlawful. Aside from the moral, financial and chilling effect of reinstating this ability to sue with taxpayers' money, the legislation below, passed in 2006 specifically prohibits it (my emphasis added);

The Local Authorities (Indemnities for Members and Officers) (Wales) Order 2006 
Restrictions on indemnities 
6.(3) No indemnity may be provided under this Order in relation to the making by a member or officer indemnified of any claim in relation to an alleged defamation of that member or officer but may be provided in relation to the defence by that member or officer of any allegation of defamation made against that member or officer.

There is, believe me, NO case law, guidance or any other loophole (or 'grey area') which circumvents this specific prohibition.
It would be laughed out of court.
However, as we know, Mark James, and indeed Linda Rees Jones, who should have both been sacked for gross misconduct in 2014, have a direct personal, professional and financial interest in attempting, dishonestly, to suggest otherwise.

This they continue to do, and have a helpful mouthpiece in the form of Rev Dole, who's elevation to 'power' and the position, (and £48k a year), as council 'leader' depended on a remarkable u-turn regarding his previously expressed opposition to unlawful libel indemnities.

Reading these minutes, and the potential cost to the taxpayer, is like entering a parallel universe where reality, and the concept of 'difficult budget decisions' go out of the window, let alone any sense of legality. 'Good industrial relations'? Has she, and Mark, completely lost the plot?

Carmarthenshire Council, thanks to the toxic, secretive and malign influence of Mr James, remains the only council in the UK with this outrageous provision in it's constitution, suspended or otherwise.
It's frightening.

Here are the draft minutes;

CONSTITUTIONAL REVIEW WORKING GROUP (CRWG)

FRIDAY, 27TH JULY, 2018

PRESENT: Councillor E. Dole [Chair]

Councillors:
D.M. Cundy, H.A.L. Evans, W.T. Evans, P. Hughes-Griffiths, J.D. James, R. James, D.M. Jenkins, L.M. Stephens and J. Tremlett,

The following Officers were in attendance:
Mr C. Moore - Director of Corporate Services
Ms L. Rees Jones - Head of Administration & Law
Mrs M. Evans Thomas - Principal Democratic Services Officer

Democratic Services Committee Room, County Hall, Carmarthen : 10.00 a.m. - 10.40 a.m.

1. APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE

There were no apologies for absence.

2. DECLARATIONS OF PERSONAL INTEREST

There were no declarations of personal interest.

3. COUNCIL CONSTITUTION - PART 3.2 SCHEME OF DELEGATION TO OFFICERS

The Chair reminded the Group that at the Extraordinary Meeting of Council held on 27th February, 2014, it was agreed to withdraw the provision in the Council’s Constitution which allowed for the granting of indemnities to members and officers to bring actions for defamation, until such time as the legal position was clarified.

A request had been received to place this item on the agenda for discussion as it was felt that, as some time has elapsed and the clause was withdrawn “until such time as the legal position is clarified”, a decision should now be made as to whether to remove the suspension or to withdraw the clause from the constitution.

The Head of Administration and Law’s report on the background to the libel indemnity provision, the relevant law and case law was considered by members.

Concern was expressed by some members over what would happen if the clause was withdrawn and then another case arose.

Members discussed the options of permanently removing the provision from the Constitution, maintaining the status quo or reinstating the provision.  Overall, the majority of members were inclined to opt for recommending that the provision be reinstated.

The question of indemnifying members arose and the Head of Administration & Law explained that this was slightly more of a grey area as the case law relating to officer libel indemnities had been based on the need to maintain good industrial relations and members are not employees of the Authority.  She agreed to research the issue and bring a report to a future meeting.

The Head of Administration & Law advised the Group that, if they were minded to recommend the reinstatement of the clause, then she proposed that she and the Director of Corporate Services should firstly write to the Auditor-General to ascertain his likely response and report back to the Working Group.

AGREED 

3.1    that the Auditor-General for Wales be consulted on the possibility of the indemnity clause being reinstated in the Council’s Constitution;

3.2 that the Head of Administration & Law prepare a report on the lawfulness or otherwise of member libel indemnities.


4. TO RECEIVE THE NOTES OF THE MEETING HELD ON THE 20TH APRIL 2018.

RESOLVED that the notes of the meeting held on 20th April, 2018 be confirmed, and in accordance with normal CRWG practice, a copy of the notes be circulated to all members.

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

Update 25th February: The Carmarthenshire Herald

The following article, by Herald reporter Jon Coles, features in the current edition of the newspaper;

PLAID COUNCILLORS VOTED TO REINSTATE UNLAWFUL LIBEL INDEMNITY 
A Freedom of Information Act request has uncovered that Carmarthenshire County Council’s Constitutional Reform Working Group (CRWG) voted in secret to retain an unlawful libel indemnity for officers. 
Jacqui Thompson, the blogger who was pursued through the courts by departing Council CEO Mark James with the benefit of the indemnity, received the minutes of the decision following her own FOIA request regarding the matter. 
THE UNLAWFUL INDEMNITY
 The indemnity given to Mr James, over which he gave a promise to his employers to repay upon which he later very publicly reneged, allowed the controversial CEO to engage in a legal action he had previously offered to settle. 
When the Wales Audit Office investigated the indemnity, the Council’s Head of Legal was questioned about Mr James’ promise to repay the Council. However, an email trail shows that she declined to address the issue or otherwise deflected the inquiry. 
The libel indemnity and its granting was the cause of considerable controversy, accompanied as it was by the revelation that Mr James and the Council’s Executive Board had also connived in a tax avoidance wheeze to allow its best paid employee to save tax on his seven-figure pension pot. 
The Council has never accepted either that the payments made were unlawful or that the libel indemnity is likewise unlawful. 
 A SUBTLE CHANGE OF POSITION 
Embarrassingly for current Council Leader Emlyn Dole, he inveighed heavily against the probity of the arrangements in opposition but last year approved the indemnity’s retention in the Council’s constitution. Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards, who vigorously attacked the indemnity and the tax avoidance scheme, has been left high and dry by his party colleague’s volte face, which has also caused severe embarrassment for the less brass-necked Plaid Cymru councillors. 
Last year, when Labour leader Rob James called for the indemnity to be scrapped his proposal was booted to the Council’s Constitutional Review Working Group (known as CRWG). 
At a meeting of CRWG on July 27, a secret report prepared by Council Officers was discussed. Instead of scrapping the unlawful clause, a decision was made to refer it back the Wales Audit Office for reconsideration. 
Following Cllr James’ disclosure that the matter had been discussed – and although he didn’t disclose the confidential officers’ report or its conclusions – he was barred from seeing other confidential documents for a period of time at the Council Leader’s own direction. 
Councillor Dole had previously said that Carmarthenshire would be the most open and transparent Council in Wales. 
NO LETTER TO THE WAO 
When we explored whether or not a letter had been sent to the WAO to establish whether or not its views had been sought, we did so on the basis that the Council had not made up its mind as was seeking entirely proper advice from the body which ruled the indemnity unlawful. 
The WAO told us that no correspondence had been received from the Council on the issue in the two months since the CRWG meeting. Jacqui Thompson’s own inquiries revealed that four months after the meeting the WAO had heard nothing. 
As far as we are aware no correspondence has ever been sent to the WAO asking for its opinion. 
And that is hardly surprising. 
Our preconception that advice was being sought as a sensible and precautionary step is shattered by the content of the CRWG minutes disclosed to Jacqui Thompson. 
THE MINUTES AND THE MEANING 
The Head of Administration and Law’s report on the background to the libel indemnity provision, the relevant law and case law was considered by members’.
Pausing there: none of the CRWG members are practising lawyers or have a specialism in public law, so their personal opinions of the correct law would be necessarily ‘guided’.
‘Concern was expressed by some members over what would happen if the clause was withdrawn and then another case arose.’ 
At this point, it is worth observing that the indemnity has been ruled unlawful by the WAO and the Council has never tested that decision, bitch about it though some councillors have. Why councillors would consider continuing an unlawful policy is open to question, not least as – due its unlawfulness – there could be no expectation by officers of reliance upon it. 
‘Members discussed the options of permanently removing the provision from the Constitution, maintaining the status quo (ie that it remains on the books but is never used) or retaining the provision. 
‘Overall, the majority of members were inclined to opt for recommending the provision be reinstated.’ 
In other words, Plaid and Independent councillors were minded to reinstate what has been ruled an unlawful provision. 
YET ANOTHER INDEMNITY? 
But the minutes then go further: ‘The Head of Administration & Law advised the Group that, if they were minded to recommend the reinstatement of the clause, then she proposed that she and the Director of Corporate Services should firstly write to the Auditor-General to ascertain his likely response and report back to the Working Group’.
That has never happened. 
But the second point agreed is a significant expansion of the indemnity principle into new territory, as the CRWG majority approved ‘that the Head of Administration & Law prepare a report on the lawfulness or otherwise of MEMBER (emphasis added) libel indemnities.' 
The deadening hand of such a move on proper scrutiny could scarcely reflect well on such an open and transparent Council as Carmarthenshire. 
Quite what other members of the Plaid Cymru group, let alone Jonathan Edwards MP, would think of such a move is a matter of conjecture. 
You cannot, however, imagine they would be enthused by the prospect. 
(Carmarthenshire Herald 22nd February)
* * *

Private Eye - Llanelli to Kuwait, the scandal continues...


Good to see that Private Eye are following events in the wild west, and that Mark James CBE earns himself yet another well-deserved mention in the prestigious Rotten Boroughs column;




See also December's article 'Tender spot', and January's 'Down the pan'.
And let's hope Dai Knacker is beating a path to County Hall as we speak, the 'Shit of the Year 2016' has some explaining to do, preferably under caution.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Unlawful payments - payback time?


The Wales Audit Office have confirmed that they will be reviewing any exit package agreed for the chief executive prior to his retirement in June.

That was the response I had when I asked the WAO if they would be instructing Mr James to repay the unlawful libel indemnity and the tax avoidance pension cash.

Whatever agreement is made with Mr James, whether it's a straightforward pension or something more, these illegal payments should be returned to the council. The WAO insisted on a similar instruction when the former chief executive Bryn Parry Jones left Pembrokeshire in 2014. The WAO sent me a link to the details.

I have also asked Jonathan Edwards MP and Adam Price AM to detail the steps they will be taking to ensure Mr James accepts liability and repays the cash before he retires.

I mentioned to them that in 2014 Mr Edwards was in the press stating that Mr James should be instructed to repay the money, and, presumably nothing has changed...? Well, apart from their colleague at the council, Emlyn Dole, now a loyal disciple of Mr James, and, remarkably, trying to reinstate the illegal clauses and also enable councillors to unawfully sue with public money.
Anyway, I emailed them on 3rd February but I've yet to receive a response. When I do, I'll post it here.

The illegal cash directly pocketed by Mr James is detailed in the two public interest reports and amounts to around £60,000, but is the tip of an iceberg. The council were charged £51,000 for the two reports, they spent £30,000 on a QC to defend him, and incalculable hours of officer time, meetings and external legal advice. This doesn't include his misuse of council facilities and resources to pursue his personal agenda and failed complaints to the police.

The scandals were indefensible, I'll not repeat it all again here, but in my view it was theft, and he should not be allowed to get away with it. A more junior employee certainly wouldn't have.
As for the illegal libel indemnity we now know that on top of the WAO's findings, he also made false statements to extort the cash.

Mr James once said to me (in writing) that he would use "all legal means possible" to get his 'damages' from me. Well, he's certainly tried. I'd like to say the same about his ill-gotten gains, or proceeds of crime, being returned to the council, but unfortunately I don't have an unlimited pot of taxpayers cash and the free use of a publicly funded legal department, complete with a complicit head of department, at my disposal to do so.

I'll certainly try though, retired or not, and so should those who have the clout, and the bottle, to force the issue.

* * *

My second query to the Wales Audit Office was a request for the detailed remit of the investigation they are carrying out into the Council's decision making relating to the Wellness Village.

This was refused on the grounds that disclosure of documents could interfere with the work of the Auditor General. For instance, the council would become even more reluctant to hand over information, and also that "political and media" interest could effect the impartiality of the process and 'weaken the mechanisms by which local authorities are held to account'.

So, we'll have to wait and see the final report.

As I have already mentioned, the outrageous use of the chief executive's own personal solicitors, Acuity Legal to carry out the council's own 'review' is not, for reasons which are obvious, worth the paper it's expensively written on. 

Incidentally, the WAO's detailed response did not suggest for one moment that they had been 'invited' by the council to carry out the review, as claimed by the chief executive to all 74 councillors.

As I have reported here, Mark of Arabia, Mr James has failed to register any interests apart from his directorship of Trinity Uni, and definitely not his exploits in Kuwait, or even Cardiff.

Register of officers' interests, FOI, February 5th 2019

And as I have mentioned here, the net is closing in, and there are now two police forces investigating the latest scandals involving Mark James CBE.


* * *


Update 20th February
Since publishing this post, and the FOI response for officers' interests above, I received a further response this morning. Apparently, and inexplicably, I was not sent the full list of interests on the 5th Feb. This 'omission' was blamed on a junior member of staff...despicable.

Anyway, for Mark James, we now have this;



There's still no mention of Kuwait, or Cardiff.
Nor, for that matter a financial interest in a certain resident's home...
And I wonder where the candidate site for the LDP is? It couldn't be the one for several acres of residential development adjoining his residence in Carmarthen could it? Well, that'd be one way of giving him a nice little nest egg I suppose....

(For the remaining officers, please follow this link.)

One consolation is that the pay for the new chief executive will be £145k, a drop of over £30k, this was announced at today's full council meeting.

Please use the searchbox on the right for background to the two issues discussed in this post

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

The Wellness Scandal; No Confidence call against Emlyn Dole - updated


(Update below)


Labour opposition leader Cllr Rob James has announced his intention of tabling a Motion of No Confidence in Plaid council leader Emlyn Dole and has written to Cllr Dole outlining his reasons for doing so.

The letter is self-explanatory;

"Dear Cllr Dole, 
I am writing to you concerning the Swansea Bay City Deal and the proposed Llanelli Life Sciences and Well-Being Village. 
As you are aware, since becoming Leader of the Opposition in May 2018, I have sought to highlight my concerns about your administration’s handling of the £1.3 billion city deal and our worry that the on-going maladministration posed a significant risk to the future prosperity of the region. It should be noted that since making my concerns public in November, we have witnessed the suspension of four key members of staff from Swansea University – including its Vice Chancellor, Carmarthenshire Council unilaterally cancelling its agreement with Sterling Health and the launching of four reviews into the city deal. 
Local businesses and residents have since raised concerns that they fear your actions have damaged the reputation of this region, and the city deal rests on a knife edge.
As a responsible Opposition, we have sought to hold your administration to account in the attempt to improve decision-making, rather than oppose at every avenue. Carmarthenshire Council is unique in this region, in that it actively prevents backbench and opposition Councillors receiving information relating to the operation of Council. In Swansea, Neath Port Talbot and Pembrokeshire Councils, colleagues inform me that they are provided with copies of what we refer to as ‘exempt item reports’. This access to information allows Councillors from all parties to scrutinise the decision-making of the relevant authority. Despite raising concerns with the Monitoring Officer and with yourself, 64 Councillors are still in a position where we are being blocked from scrutinising your decision-making. 
Since May, under your Leadership, the Executive Board has used powers under the 1972 Act to exclude the public and backbench members from two-thirds of all of your meetings to discuss exempt items, including a report on the provision of the proposed Llanelli Well-Being Village, the ‘Yr Egin’ Business Case and that of the Well-Being Village. This action appears to illustrate a fundamental disdain for scrutiny, a strategy that prevents the all elected representatives being informed, and a premeditated effort to prevent the opposition holding you and the administration you lead to account. 
In an attempt to fulfil our scrutiny role and ensure that the proposed investment was sound, I took the unprecedented decision to voluntarily commit myself, as Leader of the Opposition, to making no public comment on the city deal in exchange for you guaranteeing access to all documents connected with the Life Sciences and Well-Being Village. This is the first time this has ever happened in Carmarthenshire Council; this clearly demonstrates our desire to see the city deal succeed. 
Last week, we took the difficult decision to withdraw from this agreement after an analysis of the information raised further questions surrounding the independence of the internal review and the promises made to us on the full publication of the internal review to the public was not forthcoming. We believe it is regrettable that this internal review has now been ‘leaked’ to the Western Mail before the other 62 Councillors of our Authority were able to read its content. 
We believe it is also highly regrettable Carmarthenshire Council, in an attempt to reassure the public on the procurement process surrounding Sterling Health, chose to use Acuity Legal to conduct its internal review. 
Members of the public will be aware that this firm was used by the Chief Executive to take legal action against Carmarthenshire blogger, Jacqui Thompson. I am also aware several of the partners of Acuity Legal have been active supporters of the city deal for some time. Jonathan Green, Acuity Legal’s real estate partner, has appeared on a panel with Pembrokeshire Council’s Steven Jones promoting the City Deal, with other partners, such as Clare Tregoning and Hugh Hitchcock, making public remarks of support for the city deal. 
I am of the firm view that Acuity Legal is not sufficiently independent in this case, and therefore was in no position to investigate the actions of officers and that of your administration. Instead, this action has further eroded public confidence in this Authority and all those connected to the city deal. 
It also appears from recent press reports, that the Chief Executive has also been involved with a £600m joint venture to create a private hospital and medical school in Kuwait. In a statement to the media, the Chief Executive is quoted as saying his involvement is in connection with the Swansea Bay City Deal and has been authorised by Council. It alleged this scheme forms part of the investigation into the senior academics suspended at Swansea University. To my knowledge, his involvement has not been sanctioned by Full Council, nor have I been able to identify the meeting in which the Executive Board authorised the Chief Executive to undertake this role on behalf of the Authority. As a result, I have sought guidance from the Monitoring Officer to identify who authorised this action and the legal basis for the decision-making. 
Due to the aforementioned restrictions on opposition members accessing information in connection to the operation of this authority, the Joint Working Agreement stating that it is the responsibility of local authorities to scrutinise their own local projects relating to the Swansea Bay City Deal, and on-going questions into the conduct of officers, I am writing to inform you that we have lost all confidence in your ability to deliver on the promises of the city deal. 
We can not sit idly by as you put this once in a generation opportunity, a £1.3 billion investment in the region with enormous potential to deliver jobs and prosperity to the thousands of local residents, at risk. Therefore, in the coming days we will seek to table a vote of no confidence in you as Leader of Carmarthenshire Council.
The people of Carmarthenshire deserve much better than this"
* * *

Emlyn Dole, rather than address the issues within the letter, has, unsurprisingly, accused Cllr James of  obstructing the Wellness Dream and the City Deal for political gain.
The reality is that Cllr James has highlighted the unfolding scandal which relates directly to the chief executive, the ongoing secretive culture, the defensiveness towards scrutiny, and the bias and incompetence of the Monitoring Officer and her internal legal squad.

As for the Acuity Legal report, I'm not sure which is the most laughable element, the fact that Mr James' own solicitors did it or that it was 'leaked' to the Western Mail. Who was responsible for the 'leak' of this little PR exercise is interesting, given that only a handful had seen it. But you can bet that it wouldn't have happened without the blessing and direct assistance of the chief executive.

And what was the point of this report? Other than to protect Mark James' back, it was to persuade the Wales Audit Office, or anyone else who might want to take a closer look at his dodgy dealings, to back off. Nothing to see here...move along.
What it may have cost is anyone's guess. I do know that Acuity Legal charged £22,500 for a straightforward Order for Sale hearing and £2500 for a one hour hearing to vary instalments. Maybe Mr James got mates' rates this time, or a discount on his legal bills.
To be honest, anything is possible.
Outrageous.

The problem is that Emlyn 'two barns' Dole can't address any of the issues, he has consistently shown himself to be under the direct control of a dishonest, manipulative and vindictive chief executive. He has done what he was told to do and he has said what he was told to say. For that alone, aside from his complicity, he deserves to lose a vote of No Confidence, and the chief executive deserves to be frogmarched out of County Hall and locked up out of harm's way.

Maybe Cllr Dole will now realise that Mark James has no qualms whatsoever of hanging him out to dry.


Update 13:42 - Police

WalesOnline have confirmed that the allegations being investigated by Swansea Uni, relating to the Wellness scandal, have now been referred as criminal complaints, to the police.

This is not before time; it must be thorough, timely, and must include Mark James, who, as I have detailed on this blog, is in it up to his neck.

Interestingly, it's not just South Wales Police, which covers Swansea, who are investigating, but also Dyfed Powys, which covers Carmarthenshire...

* * *


See numerous previous posts, including Mark of Arabia


Friday, 8 February 2019

Mark of Arabia


Well, the plot thickens this morning with WalesOnline reporting another connection with the Swansea Uni suspensions and Carmarthenshire's own Mark James. Not only are the dodgy dealings over the Wellness scandal simmering under various investigations but a murky little exercise to expand into Kuwait is beginning to reveal itself. 

The Kuwait venture, called Project Shifaa, for a £600m private medical university and private hospital is now on hold whilst the Swansea investigation looks at allegations that suspended academics Marc Clement and Richard Davies, who led, and are on the Board of trustees for the project, never declared the necessary interests or gained the appropriate approvals from the University. Clement was lined-up to be vice chancellor of this new University, despite a well-publicised controversial background which includes questionable overseas college degrees.

Also named as a trustee on the Board is the equally controversial Mark James. With Clement and Davies now talking through their lawyers, maybe it's only a matter of time before Mr James follows suit. Perhaps he'll use his own solicitors, Acuity Legal, the very same firm which have carried out the internal review of the council's procedures over the wellness debacle...Anyway, let's hope the Wales Audit Office step lively and take a proper look.

However, as he is yet to be suspended Mr James, in cornered-rat mode, provided a statement to Wales Online saying it was all a wonderful idea and that he had cleared his appointment as a trustee with 'the Council' (ie himself) so there was no conflict of interest.

It's difficult to know where to start with this. Mr James' concept of conflicts of interest are decidedly different to anyone else's. He decided he didn't have to declare his own private business empire in Cardiff, where he runs a property management company, he's director of four companies, owns leaseholds on several flats and is also a registered landlord.

Nor did he declare a whiff of interest when being personally bankrolled for his illegal libel indemnity.

Using the same firm of solicitors for his private interests, and those of the council, is yet another curious decision... and Monitoring Officer Linda Rees Jones, who owes her position to Mark James, wouldn't know a conflict of interest if she tripped over it.

The only registered interest he has made, as of the 5th February 2019, is as a director of UWTSD.
Of course, it would be highly improper for Mr James to pursue his undeclared business interests, including the 'Kuwait connection', during his highly paid working hours....

His involvement, from day one, with Clement, Davies, Sterling and co over the Wellness Village, covered extensively by this blog, should be enough to warrant his immediate suspension, that's without today's news. His ridiculous appointment as the City Deal 'Accountable Officer' should have been terminated well before Christmas, the joke's over, and so is he.

As for the Wellness fiasco, he is showing all the signs of desperation and, with the rats having already deserted this particular sinking ship, appears to be prepared for the council to 'go it alone'. As this week's Carmarthenshire Herald reports, 'Members of Carmarthenshire County Council will be waiting with bated breath for the departing CEO's plans to lumber them and their successors with potentially massive future debt with the prospect of an uncertain return.'

By then, he'd be long retired, and sunning himself in Kuwait I suppose.


The Herald also reports that both Pembrokeshire and Neath Port Talbot Council are getting cold feet over a City Deal rocked by scandal, and the unknown and potentially crippling commitment of scarce public cash. Not so Mr James of course who has already ploughed £2m of your money into his own dodgy vanity project.

At the City Deal Scrutiny meeting last week Mr James claimed that he ended the 'Collaboration Agreement' (with Sterling and Swansea Uni) "to protect the Council's reputation", a remarkable statement from someone who has ensured that the council has graced the columns of Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs on more times than we'd care to mention, and earned the accolade of Shit of the Year 2016.

Worse still, that's not what he told Carmarthenshire councillors. He told them that the Agreement (barely six months old and due to last three years), had "run its course". He has also said that the Agreement was 'not legally binding' when its intention was clearly to create a legally binding partnership, and was drawn up, no doubt at considerable cost, by an external legal firm. It's even got wax seals for goodness sake.
Perhaps if he tried telling the truth once in a while he wouldn't get into such a tangle.

The fact that he's embroiled in another potential scandal is no surprise really. As the former police commissioner once said, 'Carmarthenshire County Council, Wales answer to a Sicilian cartel, it extracts vast amounts of money from residents which it showers on favourites, hordes property, bullies opponents, co-opts friends and answers to no one, least of all local councillors."
Never has truer words been said, and for 'it', read Mark James.

Mr James is implicated by design and association, and with allegations surfacing on a weekly basis, let alone his personal and lengthy rap sheet as council chief executive, he should be removed from his post immediately, preferably in the back of a police car, to ensure that the various investigations can function properly, and without his arrogant and malign interference.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Wellness Village costs; spend, spend, spend!


Update 31st January;

I was surprised to discover that the firm of solicitors, engaged and instructed by the council for their own 'internal review', are Acuity Legal, exactly the same solicitors who represented, and continue to act for Mr James in his pursuit of money from me. Can't imagine they're going to upset one of their clients, can you?

Mr James has had legal bills in excess of £24,000 with this firm, let's just hope the council don't pay them by mistake, a 'mix-up' of invoices perhaps?....that wouldn't do would it? Lets hope the Wales Audit Office keep an eye on that particular trail of paperwork...

* * *

In case anyone was wondering how much public money has been spent so far on the 'Wellness Village', the luxury private spa development at the Delta Lake swamp, then we now have a few figures, well, what they're prepared to tell us about anyway.
The project is mired in scandal, from rigged tenders to allegations of personal enrichment. Five investigations are underway and no one will touch Mr James' 'legacy to the county' with a barge pole.

My Freedom of Information requests to the council have revealed that the total spend, up to the end of 2018 is an astonishing £2.2 million.

The council paid Arup a staggering £234,250 for reports for the planning application and paid itself £30,500 for the planning fees. The total costs associated with the planning application are around £340,000. That's without the costs associated with the farcical planning committee meeting earlier this month and the no doubt generous expenses for the man from Arup.

An earlier request (see 2017 blog post here) showed £750,000 on ground prep work and the latest FOI shows £481,239 was spent on design work for phase 1.
The council have spent £47,000, at least, on external legal advice.
A separate FOI, for general council expenditure on consultants turned up another £35k+ relating to the City Deal office, £3780 of that was for a Bath based PR consultant specialising in 'making words better'...

As you can see from both FOIs here (2017), and here (today's), some of these costs are shared, or hope to be shared, with the Welsh Government and other 'partners'.
All public cash.
The City Deal funding has yet to be committed and is all on hold due to the ongoing investigations. The flawed Business Case for the Wellness Village has not even been approved yet, unsurprisingly, and, due to the investigations surrounding the project, it's all on hold as well.
So far, not a brick has been laid and the pear-shaped planning approval is subject to Welsh Government call-in requests and a u-turn from NRW.

Given that next Monday the Exec Board will outline £9.3m in budget cuts, a rise in Council tax of 4.89%, council rents up by 2.4%,  job losses and a budget shortfall of £2.7m, it makes you wonder who has been dishing out the Wellness cash with such liberal abandon...and exactly whose pockets have been lined with silver...it's criminal, and out of control.
Are our councillors, and the Plaid led administration aware of this massive waste of money? Or have they all been dazzled and duped by the Emperor's New Clothes...?
Also on the agenda is £40m worth of new borrowing for the rapidly sinking Wellness Village, this figure is now likely to be a lot higher, if it goes ahead, perhaps over £200m. The council's debt is already £400m.
Just in case they do need to 'go it alone', God forbid, they've just engaged the services of an 'independent financial market consultant'. I bet they don't come cheap.

And what of the 'Accountable Officer', our soon to be retiring chief executive Mark James? As I've also said, (here and elsewhere) he needs to be investigated over all this, preferably by the police.
Without wishing to repeat myself he has been part of these dodgy deals from the start, he has his own undeclared private business interests and is an all round dishonest, manipulative individual. He's left a trail of taxpayer draining vanity projects from Boston to Llanelli and is not averse to siphoning off public money to boost the Mark James coffers.
He should be locked up, and, for goodness sake, someone hurry up and take the chequebook off him before he bankrupts Carmarthenshire.



Further recent FOIs include the Wellness Village Collaboration Agreement with Sterling's proposals and, while I'm here, an earlier unrelated request for credit card spending details.

Please search the blog for background and recent posts concerning the Wellness project and City Deal. And mentions in Private Eye...

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Private Eye; Mark James....Down the pan


With two recent mentions in Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs, Mark James scores a hatrick in the latest edition with an honourable third. That's without Mr James' numerous previous appearances which can all be found on this blog. And Plaid Cymru must be bursting with pride with Emlyn's new found fame...  


* * *

As mentioned above, the last Private Eye article related to the Wellness Dream, slowly sinking into the Delta Lakes swamp. 

Mark James, and the currently suspended Marc Clement, have been the two key players of the project, and in it from the start, with Kent Neurosciences/Sterling and the Dickmann clan. The suspended Uni vice chancellor, Richard Davies recently alleged that it was Franz Dickmann who offered another Uni official shares, a discounted house and a job.

The secretive manner by which the council, aka Mr James, appointed KNS, then Sterling, makes one wonder why he was so determined that Mr Dickmann signed on the dotted line... 

The 'exclusivity agreement' in 2016 with KNS didn't suddenly pop up overnight. Mr James, along with dutiful former council leader Meryl Gravell, and Prof Marc Clement, who, until late 2015 had been a director of KNS, engineered the deal. Meetings with the company had been held in private and the deal signed and sealed before it got anywhere near a councillor. Apart from Meryl, but she doesn't count.

The deal wasn't renewed in 2017 and KNS subsequently dissolved and, Sterling, with net liabilities of £137,000 were, unbelievably, signed up by Mr James and co in 2018. Sterling, and Kent Neurosciences were, essentially, the same outfit. There were no other bidders. A 'robust procurement exercise' it most definitely wasn't...

Meryl Gravell was made a director of Sterling, until they were ditched, and it wasn't, with respect, for her business acumen. Who made her a director is anyone's guess but, given her undying loyalty to Mr James, she would have been, shall we say, a useful influence on the Board..

Mark and Meryl...
Who knows, perhaps it was the inability of bickering Swansea Uni officials to keep any alleged cosy arrangements or sharp practice under their hats that actually blew the deal as far as our Mr James was concerned.  
The misleading nonsense, and outright lies he told councillors at December's meeting made him look like a desperate, cornered rat.

Mr James should be suspended immediately whilst the various investigations, including the UK Government, are carried out. Despite still being the City Deal 'Accountable Officer', neither he, nor the Accountable body, the council, can even lead the Joint Committee's own internal investigation of the Wellness scandal given their conflicts of interest. 
In fact, due to the Wellness scandal, the whole City Deal is now under investigation.

Incidentally, I have asked the Wales Audit Office for the details of the scope of their investigation into the council's decision making relating to the project. The council have already commissioned their own external lawyers, at unknown cost, instructed, no doubt, to save Mr James' bacon.

His retirement was announced at a very opportune moment, the net is closing in. He should be personally investigated, preferable by the police, and not just over the Wellness deal, and his finances and tax affairs need to be forensically dissected.

As for the secret report on the unlawful libel indemnity mentioned in the Eye article, this featured in the December edition here. The secrecy continues... and six months after the CRWG meeting I am still in the process of trying to obtain both the officer's report, and the minutes.  .   

In the meantime, I have asked Ms Rees Jones, as the senior legal officer, whether Mr James will be repaying the illegal payments, both the libel indemnity and the pension tax avoidance scam, totalling around £60,000 back to the council before he leaves. I've yet to receive a response. (update; it was a 'no')

I've also asked the Wales Audit Office, as it is they who made the unlawful findings and issued the two public interest reports back in 2014, whether they will insist that the money is repaid. I reminded them that it was they who insisted that former Pembrokeshire CEO Bryn Parry Jones paid back his unlawful pension scam cash before he went.

I have mentioned all this on the blog many times, not least of all in my previous post, Mark James retires - the end of a tyrant. The illegal indemnity, and all it entails, is one of those issues which will not go away, retirement or not... 

For background to all this please, as ever, search this blog. 

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Mark James retires...the end of a tyrant


Well, well, Mr James, in a glowing statement from the council, which can only have been written by himself, has announced his retirement, though not until June.

Timing, of course, is everything and with his vision of Wellness crumbling around his ears, and the investigators approaching his office door, retirement must seem a better option than forced gardening leave, or police bail. The net is closing and rumour has it he was told to go.

He may enter the revolving door of local government and reappear somewhere as a highly paid consultant, although I would imagine he's accumulated sufficient wealth, in one way or another, over the past 17 years to retire in luxury. Quite what his golden handshake will be we'll have to see, though I suspect this little calculation was decided some time ago. Anything over £100k (which it will be) is supposed to have approval from councillors, supposed to.

My 'tribute' to Mr James reads somewhat differently. I'll not go back 17 years but you'll recall that his days in Boston, including the allegations of bullying and dishonesty, set the scene for Carmarthenshire.
One of his first ports of call here was the local press, announcing exactly how things would be done now he was in charge, he certainly lived up to that.
Things went downhill from then on. He destroyed democracy, bullied his opponents, helped his friends, and always selected a pliant and weak Leader to do his bidding. Some may even recall the curious incident of the £5000 in an envelope...

As schools and care homes closed, the council press office flourished as, somewhat ironically it turned out, reputation, not truth or transparency, was his number one priority.
With the mindset of a vindictive and vicious control freak, a largely submissive set of councillors, and a legal department he could call his own, he has been able to do as he wished, help out his mates, and take what he wanted. He is a thief and a fraud and will leave the taxpayer forking out for his follies.

There is, as far as I am concerned, much in the way of unfinished business. The seeking of justice and accountability does not recognise the limits of retirement, and personally I'm unlikely to forget Mr James as he has his name on the deeds of my home, and a monthly Standing Order from my bank account.

What really rocketed Mr James to Private Eye-style infamy was his instigation of my arrest for filming a meeting, the libel indemnity and pension tax avoidance scandals. He has repaid neither. When his pension scam buddy CEO Bryn Parry Jones left Pembrokeshire Council the Wales Audit Office deducted his ill-gotten gains from his exit package. They must do the same with Mr James, including the unlawful libel indemnity.

But what about the unlawful libel indemnity? This goes back to 2008 when Mr James in a control freak moment extraordinaire, decided that public money could be used to threaten, silence and sue critics, both the press and the public. This was against the law. It also had all the hallmarks of a slush fund. He has threatened to sue members of the public and councillors ever since, but not, of course, the likes of Private Eye.

Mr James dislike of transparency led to the incident in June 2011. It equates with his theory that anyone who questions his authority, and therefore that of the council, must be a troublemaker and must be dealt with accordingly.

The subsequent libel case, and the counterclaim against me has been widely documented. The judgements will be preserved on dusty shelves, well, online actually, for generations to come. Mr James victory parade was, however, short lived as the WAO finally found its teeth and decided his indemnity was unlawful. And so were the infamous libel clauses, still locked in a suspended stalemate.

This brings us almost to the present day, where Mr James, aided and abetted by Linda Rees Jones and the pliant Emlyn, continues to protect his slush fund. Last year attempts were made to reinstate the suspended clauses. That particular battle is ongoing, earning Mr James another slot in a recent Rotten Boroughs column.

One particularly awful revelation was made in court in 2017 when Mr James was trying to force the sale of my home. In 2012 Mr James had undertaken, in writing, to pay any damages over to the council if he won. This was to sweeten the crooked deal for the blank cheque to countersue. In the 2017 court hearing it was revealed that he'd 'changed his mind', he was keeping it, and could stuff it in the gutter if he chose. Not only had he told a massive lie, this was also a massive breach of trust to his employers but again, nothing happened, apart from another appearance in Private Eye.
This is also unfinished business.

He has gone on to lie to the press about offers to settle then make liberal use of council computers for his own private purposes. A FOI request revealed that eight other employees had been disciplined for the same offence, but not him. He had also tracked councillors emails, and failed to declare his extensive private business and property interests.

The crowning achievement for Mark James CBE was surely his Rotten Boroughs Shit of the Year award 2016. It was richly deserved and is the accolade of a lifetime for which he will never be forgotten.
Mr James used this as part of his failed complaint against me to the police, yet made not a murmur to Private Eye.

This blog has tracked numerous issues but essentially, the faults of this council lay squarely at his office door. From covered-up scandals, to the appalling treatment of whistleblowers, from failed vanity projects to the destruction of democracy, Mr James is guilty.
Regular readers will know that I am not the only one to take this view. And if the 100+ comments on the council's own Facebook post are anything to go by, there are more than I thought....!

He should have been sacked, or locked up out of harms way, long ago, not allowed to avoid censure and retire.

After two years of litigation and a public trial, after more years of court hearings, and all the nonsense with the police, the statements Mr James has provided, courtesy of the taxpayer, and the threats, have shown to me that he is nothing more than a vindictive liar, a bully, a perjurer, a perverter of the course of justice and a thief.


He will not be missed. Good riddance.

...is that Emlyn Dole on the end of his nose?