Saturday, 10 August 2019

Mark James' home searched in police raid


Carmarthenshire is a large county, but when it comes to news that the police have raided certain addresses in a bribery investigation it becomes remarkably small. By midweek it seemed that the details were countywide.

Anyway, we now know that a search warrant was executed at the Carmarthen home of former council chief executive Mark James early last Wednesday (31st July) by the organised crime squad. 


Mark James - police raid

County Hall, Carmarthen, was raided at the same time. 


The Carmarthenshire Herald has also published a report which included the information above concerning Mr James and County Hall.

A search warrant was also executed at the home of another key figure in the scandal, former Council leader Meryl Gravell


Meryl Gravell - police raid

The searches were part of the investigation into alleged corruption relating to the proposed Wellness Village at Delta Lakes, Llanelli.

As the police have stated, search warrants were also executed in Swansea and Kent, and they also confirmed that no arrests were made last week. 

However, documents, computer equipment and, in the case of County Hall, email trails and deleted data were seized.

And not before time, in my opinion.

As regular readers will know, I have tried to unravel the tangled web behind the Wellness scandal for over three years and have set out the facts as I've found them. 

It's all on this blog.

This investigation concerns a public tender, public money and public officials, past and present, therefore, the public have a vested interest and a right to know.

I welcome what is, I hope, a thorough investigation and I'm sure we all await the outcome with interest and anticipation...






Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Wellness scandal - Mark James back in Private Eye


Further to my previous post on the University sackings, Mark James, and the police raids, here's the Rotten Boroughs column in this week's Private Eye....top of the bill no less...



As usual, for more info and background to the Wellness scandal, and for Mr James' numerous previous appearances in Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs column, please search this blog.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Libel indemnities? Auditor General says NO!


Meanwhile, whilst I continue to make my own enquiries and we await more news on Mr James, the police and the unfolding Wellness scandal, another long running scandal has taken an interesting turn.

Regular readers will know what I mean by the unlawful libel indemnity clause. Without going into years of detail, it was Mark James' little plan to to sue people into silence and chill the press, not with his own money though, but with your hard earned cash.

The Wales Audit Office ruled the clause, and the public funding of his counterclaim against me, unlawful in the 2014 Public Interest Report and the clause was 'suspended' but, as you may imagine, the council, namely Mark James and Linda Rees Jones have disagreed with this ever since. Mark James never repaid the money.

The unlawfulness of the clause, and it's use in 2012, has grave implications for Mr James and Ms Rees Jones so they have blindly defended their actions ever since. To have imparted misleading advice, and to gain financially and personally from it, is, arguably, fraud.

You will recall that most of Mr James' counterclaim involved my description of this clause (several months before he sued) as a slush fund. That was before the WAO's ruling.
You may also recall that his written undertaking to pay damages over to the council turned out to be a lie. He ignored political calls to 'do the honourable thing'.

The ban on funding libel claims is enshrined in The Local Authorities (Indemnities for Members and Officers) (Wales) Order 2006.

Emlyn Dole, once a vociferous opponent of the clause when in opposition, had a miraculous change of heart when Mr James made him Leader in 2015....

As I said above, the clause was 'suspended' in 2014 but at a meeting of the Constitutional Review Working Group (CRWG) held on 27th July 2018 an attempt was made by the leader of the Labour group to remove it completely.

At the meeting, quite the reverse happened and the majority Plaid Cymru group, led by Emlyn Dole, with Mr James right behind him, tried to reinstate the offending clause into the constitution.

It was resolved, however, to write to the WAO for their opinion and hope for the rubber stamp.

Incidentally, when the substance of this secretive CRWG meeting was made public (though not the documents), Mark James Emlyn Dole punished the opposition by denying them access to 'sensitive' documents. Including documents relating to the Wellness scandal...

Seven months later (no idea why there was such a delay), on the 28th March 2019, a six page begging letter was sent to the Auditor General from Linda Rees Jones and Chris Moore (Director of Resources) trying to persuade the WAO to change their minds, allow them to reinstate the clause and sue people whenever they wished.
There were no 'new' arguments in the letter.
Mark James of course had a direct interest so left it to trusty Linda to sign his letter...

As you may imagine, I've been trying to get all this information, the Officer's Report to CRWG, Minutes and letters, through FOI, for twelve long months.

The considered response from the Auditor General to the council's letter, which was disclosed to me last week by the WAO, was dated the 10th May and is short and sweet.

He basically tells them to sod off, and goes one step further, warning them that if they attempt to try it again, he has the power to launch a Judicial Review..






This must have been a bit of a blow to Mr James, who had yet to retire, and Legal Linda, let alone poor Emlyn who was even hoping to extend the 'libel on the rates' wheeze to himself and fellow councillors.

It has to be said that Plaid politicians Adam Price and Jonathan Edwards MP have expressed a different view to that of their litigious colleagues in County Hall. Let's hope they now have a word with them?

The AG's letter also must have dashed Mark James' hopes of dipping into the meagre council coffers and sue not only the Chair of the health board but the Herald as well. We hope so anyway.

So, what will they do now?

At another CRWG meeting on the 8th May, just before the AG responded, an opposition councillor suggested (again) that the clause be removed completely, and that they should not even bother to wait for the AG's reply as it was felt that the Authority, even on moral grounds "should not support legal action by officers against members of the public at the expense of the taxpayer".

Emlyn and co again opposed this move and insisted they wait for the Auditor General, hoping he'd pave the way for reinstatement.

Legal Linda jumped in and told them, again that it was all perfectly lawful and that the council could still fund an officer even with the clause suspended...This was a remarkable statement, she is some piece of work and should have been sacked long ago, along with Mr James. This is governance, Carmarthenshire style.

With the clear rejection from the Auditor General, again, let's hope Wendy Walters, the new CEO, expresses support for it's removal forthwith. If she doesn't, she's as bad as her predecessor.


See also this week's Carmarthenshire Herald for an excellent article on the WAO's response. "...In a letter dated May 10, the Auditor General for Wales, Adrian Crompton, effectively tells the Council to go do one."


Wider significance

County Councils currently have the power, under certain conditions, to fund an officer's defence against an action for libel, but not to bring an action. An individual officer can of course sue who he or she likes with their own money.

Councils cannot, under the Derbyshire Rule, sue as a body.

The ban on indemnities arose due to concerns that a governing body could get around this rule by funding an individual to take a case forward. However, the main concern was that this power would stifle legitimate, robust, democratic debate and have a chilling effect on investigative journalism.

Neither is it considered to be a sensible and prudent use of scarce council resources.

Hence there is wider public interest, and the significance of Carmarthenshire's actions had, and still have, implications for councils across the UK.

Friday, 26 July 2019

Wellness scandal; University pair sacked for gross misconduct - updated - Police raids


Later post 10th August;

Mark James' home raided by police 


Update 1st August; 

Police have confirmed this morning that their bribery and fraud investigation centres around the tendering process carried out in respect of the proposed Wellness Village. No real surprise.

So there we are. With the locations of the raids being in Swansea, Carmarthenshire and Kent it it all fell together, and we all know which former CEO was behind that tendering process...if you could call it that (see main post below).

The police will not yet confirm which addresses have been raided, but we know that three of them were in Carmarthenshire...

Update 31st July;

Wales Online reports that police officers from Tarian, the regional organised crime unit, have searched eight addresses this morning in Swansea, Carmarthenshire and Kent in relation to the bribery investigation. Four of the premises searched were in the South Wales Police force area, three were in Dyfed-Powys and one was in Kent. They've issued this statement;

"Officers from Tarian, the Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU) for southern Wales, have this morning executed a number of warrants as part of investigation into alleged bribery offences.

"Seven addresses in Swansea, Carmarthenshire, and Kent are being searched with the assistance of colleagues from South Wales, Dyfed Powys and Kent police forces.

"The enforcement action was carried out in relation to a complaint made by Swansea University to the Serious Fraud Office in late 2018, which was subsequently referred to police.

"No arrests have been made during the searches, however a number of documents and electronic equipment have been seized.  The investigation is complex and remains ongoing."

I sincerely hope they've been knocking at a certain ex-CEO's door in Wellfield Road, Carmarthen. If not then it should be their very next stop.

* * *

WalesOnline report today that Swansea University's suspended Vice-Chancellor Richard Davies and Prof Marc Clement have both been sacked with immediate effect for gross misconduct. This follows several months of internal investigations relating to the Wellness and Kuwait scandals.

"It is understood that their suspensions were linked to the proposed £200m Life Science and Wellness Village project at Llanelli, the first business case and funding model for which was seeking £40m in backing from the £1.3bn City Deal for the Swansea Bay City Region...

The architects for that project were Prof Clement and Mark James, who last month stood down as chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council.

A further part of the investigation that lead to their suspensions and now dismissals was a proposed £600m joint venture for a new university and private hospital in Kuwait, involving Swansea University.

That project, in which Prof Clement was identified as being vice chancellor of the university element, was never disclosed to the university’s governing body in its council. Prof Richard B Davies and the former chief executive of Carmarthenshire Council were listed as trustees of the project’s academic board" (Wales Online)

As I said here, the police, and the organised crime squad are also investigating.

As I've said, more than once, the above-mentioned Mark James is also deeply involved. He has lied and blagged his way through this whole sorry scandal.

He oversaw the appointment of Franz Dickmann's Sterling Health, the sole bidder and a company with no track record and £137k in the red, to develop the project. The same outfit he'd already given a secret 'exclusivity agreement' to the year before when they were known as Kent Neurosciences (KNS). Marc Clement had been a director of Kent Neurosciences until a few months before Marky signed them up. As KNS, they had been involved in developing a private hospital in Kent which required a £20m bail out before they scarpered.

L to R; Mrs Dickmann, Mark James, Richard Davies, Emlyn Dole, Franz Dickmann, Marc Clement. Another key player in this scandal from the start was Mark James' number one fan, former council leader Meryl Gravell, who was, curiously, made a director of Sterling until just before they were ditched.

Mark James then becomes involved in the Kuwait scandal as a 'trustee'. This never appeared as a declaration of interest despite the potential involvement of the council. Nor did he ever bother, for that matter, to declare his own extensive property and business interests.

When the s***t began to hit the fan Mark James not only decided to retire but ordered a 'review of the council's procurement process'. And who did he bring in to carry out this little task? A firm of solicitors called Acuity Law who also just happened to be his own personal lawyers. They were, quite simply, providing him with a pre-emptive defence funded by the council.

The City Deal internal governance report was less sympathetic and, thanks to the behaviour of Mark James, Carmarthenshire was stripped of responsibility for governance and audit. The chair of the health board went one further and called him out for what he really was, a compulsive liar without a shred of integrity.

I have been researching and writing about all this for over three years, so as usual, there is plenty of background on the blog if you wish to search. Remember as well that Mr James was also involved in his own tax avoidance scandal, let alone the illegal libel indemnity. Tens of thousands he never paid back. He's used council resources for his own personal interests, and breached a serious undertaking to the council, his employers, over the indemnity, all without a care in the world. When it comes to personal enrichment, he's capable of anything.
He's carried on like this since Boston.

He was, and no doubt still is, a malicious and vindictive bully, a liar, and a thoroughly disreputable character, but for the purposes of the current scandal he should be subject to a full criminal investigation and forensic examination of his affairs. He has been involved from the very beginning.

He can't be sacked or suspended now, he's made sure of that...but he can most definitely be bundled into the back of a police car and hauled off for questioning. 

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

The 'potentially defamatory' letter; Mark James threatened the Carmarthenshire Herald


Back in April, as I reported here, the Chair of the then ABMU Health Board Andrew Davies wrote an explosive letter to the Chair of the City Deal Joint Committee concerning the integrity, or lack thereof, of Mark James CBE.

The contents of the letter was considered, by 'the council', as being 'potentially defamatory', and public noises were made about suing Andrew Davies. In reality of course it was Mr James, the royal 'we', who considered the letter to be 'potentially defamatory' of himself.

As councils cannot sue for defamation, this raised some interesting questions as to who 'we' were and brought us full circle back to the issue of unlawful public funding for an individual officer to bring a claim for libel, or, getting round the rule that a council can't sue.

Last month I asked, through FOI, under whose or what authority the threatening legal statement was issued.

The response, which arrived this morning, discloses one brief email thread (extract below) which confirms, if nothing else, that the threat came directly from the council keyboard of Mark James himself and, furthermore, he also threatened the Carmarthenshire Herald, using the press office to deliver the statement below.



It is perhaps quite fitting that the death throes of the Mark James regime were marked by a direct threat to sue and silence a local newspaper.
The only contact with elected members was that Plaid Cymru council leader Emlyn Dole was cc'd into the emails.

The email thread (which can be seen here in full) was in response to a detailed press enquiry by The Herald, which was also disclosed.
The council claimed in their FOI response to me that this email thread was the only relevant information they held.

Being a little cynical that this was the case, I approached The Herald, who were surprised that the email trail which had been disclosed did not include all of the emails passing between the paper and the Council, which included an offer of a right to reply which was refused and which responded robustly to the suggestion that coverage would be 'potentially defamatory'.

So, the information released under FOI was sparse and incomplete, deliberately so. One sincerely hopes that they didn't consult the now retired Mr James over this disclosure...)

It comes as no surprise of course that the temper tantrum displayed over this letter, and the assumption that the council would, potentially, deploy the slush fund and sue, came straight from Mr James. He was too cross to even bother with a spellcheck.

As for being 'potentially defamatory', this would not be the case as the factual content of the letter was substantially true, Mr James is a liar, and as for his failure to adhere to any of the seven Nolan principles, this was opinion, and, for that matter, spot on.

The council have since been stripped of City Deal governance and audit responsibilities and the police are investigating the Wellness scandal.

The email from Mr James also refers to the letter as 'private correspondence'. This is laughable given that it was from the head of one public body to another relating to public governance and expenditure.

He had a somewhat different attitude towards 'leaks' when 'Emlyn Dole's' response to the letter, and for that matter the sham Acuity Law report found their way to the Western Mail....

This is all from someone who stated in May that he stopped reading and bothering with pesky newspapers some years ago...

The key question, which was who the 'we' was, and the point about his interest being as an individual was never answered.  My own correspondence with Linda Rees Jones about the matter saw her reconfirm her nonsense that to use public money to sue, or threaten to sue was perfectly fine, and as we saw with their attempt to reinstate the illegal libel clause last year, this is a tactic fully endorsed by Emlyn Dole, and presumably the Plaid Cymru group he leads, as well.

Even against a local newspaper.

The 'suspended' clause must now be urgently removed as it is clear that the 'suspension' meant nothing to Mr James, nor Legal Linda, nor the Rev Dole. Neither is it a comforting thought that the new CEO Wendy Walters was a passive bystander in the email thread.
Whether the 'council's' legal threat against the newspaper was carried out or not is not important, it's the chilling effect that counts. 

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Organised Crime Unit investigate Wellness allegations


Later post 10th August; Mark James' home raided by organised crime squad


Later post 31st July; Wellness scandal - University pair sacked, and police raids


Wales Online reports today that the Swansea University suspensions and allegations relating to the Council's Wellness Village and the Kuwait venture, are now also being considered by the Regional Organised Crime Unit, "dedicated to disrupting and dismantling Serious Organised Crime Groups across the whole of southern Wales".

The allegations were referred to South Wales and Dyfed Powys Police by the University in February (see update to my February post here).

Both police forces have issued this statement;

"Dyfed-Powys Police and South Wales Police can confirm that they have received a complaint which is currently subject of consideration by both forces, as well as Tarian, the Regional Organised Crime Unit for southern Wales. 
"Due to the complex nature of the complaint the matter remains under review."

This police and organised crime unit investigation must include Mark James, former Carmarthenshire Council CEO. As I have set out on this blog, numerous times, he has been associated and involved from the outset with the tangled web of self-interest and the key players in this scandal, he was behind the notoriously shady deals with KNS/Sterling, and the undeclared Kuwait venture.

It's time he had his collar felt. In fact, it's long overdue.

His retirement from the council was, shall we say, timely, and, incidentally, three months before his tenure as City Deal lead CEO was up.

And, as of the 8th July, he has resigned as a Director of Trinity St David University.....Interesting.

Tarian - Regional Organised Crime Unit.
"..from fraud and cyber-crime investigators to asset recovery experts and intelligence specialists...dedicated to disrupting and dismantling Serious Organised Crime Groups across the whole of southern Wales"

For background, please use the searchbox on the right to search this blog. There is plenty.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

No call-in for the Wellness planning application


After six months the Welsh government have decided not to call in the Wellness planning application but to let the council determine it themselves. As one of the people who requested the call-in, and attended the planning committee meeting in January, I received the decision letter yesterday. The WG have decided that it doesn't raise issues of wider importance and, presumably, the very belated contamination testing, from fridges to arsenic, going on at the site (and beyond) tick some of NRW's concerns. Apparently the water table is also much higher than previously thought.
However, the growing of vegetables at the site, even Wellness vegetables, might not be such a good idea....

The letter makes clear that the WG is making no comment on the merits of the application; "the decision not to call in the application should not in any way be taken as a reflection on the planning merits of the development".
There were, of course, other issues raised aside from the environmental impact which has put a stop to the project, namely the scandal with Sterling (now dissolved), the Uni and a certain ex-senior officer, and the small matter of a police investigation, which seems to have escalated. But these are not material planning considerations.

Incidentally, Plaid Cllr Alun Lenny has put forward a Motion for tomorrow's full council to boost TAN 20 planning guidance and ensure that Welsh language impact reports are designated material planning considerations and required for developments over a certain size. I find it odd that the Wellness application, heartily endorsed by Cllr Lenny and Co contains no more than a nod to the language, let alone a report under TAN 20.

Anyway, back to the swamp, and I would imagine that the timing of the WG decision was entirely coincidental to the recent retirement of Mr James...and the slightly scaled back 'new designs' trumpeted by Cllr Dole last week. Interestingly, this appeared to be the planned 'rebranding' tactic to lessen the reputational damage that the scandal ridden project has enjoyed. Putting lipstick on a pig.

And would Ministers really want to get involved and tainted with the ongoing scandals? They may also be hoping that the new CEO has a better working and planning ethic than the previous one. Just 'ethics' would be a start.

The 'new designs' also suggest that a new planning application should be put forward, or at least an amended version of the original. I doubt this will happen though and I'm sure the rubber stamp will be wielded post haste.

Unless the council decide to 'go it alone' (despite being already £413m in debt), or just stick to the leisure centre and care home, an amended business case will also be resubmitted to the City Deal joint committee. There is currently no clue where the £127m of private money will come from, Swansea Uni is out of the picture and Trinity St David is shedding jobs to break even. Whatever happens, this time the whole process must be transparent and the business case made public, as recommended by the internal governance review.

It's been a shambles from the start thanks to the dire governance under Mark James and former City Deal monitoring officer Linda Rees Jones. And, as for the other issues, I trust the police are closing in. The council have one more chance to start from scratch and get this right and ensure that this doesn't become another disastrous legacy courtesy of Mr James.
I also suspect he's still pulling the strings.

I have written extensively about this project and, unless everything is now above board and open to scrutiny, and will benefit the many, not a handful of conmen, then I expect I'll still be writing about it in five years time, accompanied, likely as not, by the usual damning audit report.

***

On the subject of transparency, the FOI department appear to have gone into shutdown mode, towards me anyhow. Maybe their resources have been redirected to the press office again, the two are very intertwined. I have recently made a few requests which are now over the time limit, including one about the letter from the health board Chair concerning the inability of our former CEO to abide by any of the Nolan Principles...
There was nothing terribly complex in my requests and I don't expect information which is not available. This painful and slow process is so often the only way to extract information from the council, it's a shambles.

I will be writing, in due course, to the new chief executive about that suspended, unlawful libel clause. I will be interested to find out whether she approves of her new found potential power to illegally sue critics with public money, or if she finds it all a bit iffy. This is yet another appalling legacy from Mark James for which, amongst other things, I am determined he will be held to account.

The clause is suspended at the moment but the Mark James Fan club, ie Emlyn 'two barns' Dole and Linda Rees Jones are very keen to reinstate the provision and extend it to cover councillors. It can't remain suspended forever (can it??) so I will be curious to hear Ms Walters' views on the matter, and the complete removal from the Constitution. Though, as a long term deputy of Mr James, who was allowed to scarper with his ill-gotten gains, I'd be surprised if her view was any different.

We'll see.


For background to all of the above, please search this blog

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Council to blow another £600,000 on the Wellness Shed


At the last Executive Board meeting (June 3rd) attended by former CEO Mark James the final item on the agenda was that old chestnut, the Wellness Village. Naturally, despite the scandals and the screaming calls for transparency, it was discussed behind closed doors. The secrecy was hardly surprising given that they nodded through the 'officer recommendation' to take the project to the next stage (and there are more stages..) and blow another £600,000 on 'design development' for the Sauna-by-the-swamp.

The rest of the discussion was, in smoke and mirrors councilspeak, "to acknowledge the process milestones and commissioning requirements for the alternative scenarios and the impact on completion dates" which roughly translates as cash still had to be found from somewhere (apparently this includes an unsuspecting Scottish university, firmly in their sights, and a new shedload of borrowing) and the whole thing will be mightily delayed and may miss out on the first round of City Deal funding anyway.

Whether ARUP plc will have the pleasure of this £600,000 commission isn't known, or maybe Ffynnon Consultancy or Building and Estate Solutions will get a little look-in somewhere...who knows. Whatever the case, half a million has already been spent on design development and well over £300,000 on the planning application, currently the subject of a Welsh government stop notice, although, with recent activity on the site, this may be about to be lifted. Over £200,000 has been spent on legal costs, including the notorious Acuity Law report. That's just from last year. In the previous financial year over a million was spent on design, development, and of course the inevitable 'Masterplanning'...

Thanks to the toxic conduct of Mr James, Carmarthenshire Council is firmly, and permanently in the Governance dog-house, the 'partners' have scarpered (and so has Mr James), the councils are at loggerheads, and the whole project remains mired in scandal, and under police investigation. And given his involvement, I hope Mr James' peaceful retirement is soon disturbed by a knock on the door from plod. However, to scrap it now would be to lose face, so, no matter what the final cost, or whether they have to 'go it alone', it will continue. For now.

In my view, the best outcome for everyone, including the rest of the county, crying out for investment, would be for the council to count its losses and go back to its original intention to build a leisure centre and a care home for Llanelli; not a private luxury spa, lining a handful of pockets, providing a few menial local jobs, and too expensive for anyone other than retired chief executives to use, commuting from Kuwait...with their pockets duly lined.

It is, of course a matter of priorities. Here are a couple of examples. At Wednesday's full council meeting a Labour councillor tried to raise the serious financial problems and lack of resources faced by his, and other, local primary schools, he was silenced as this dose of reality was spoiling the cosy feel-good presentation of the 'visionary' Corporate Plan.
All schools are struggling.

And at a scrutiny meeting on Monday the subject of public toilets arose. After 'offloading' as many facilities it could in 2013 (also in ridiculous secrecy) due to 'financial pressures', recent consultations attracted over 700 responses, including a plea for more Changing Places Facilities for profoundly disabled children and adults, and their carers. It turns out that there are only two in the whole county and both are privately run.

In general, the lack of public toilets is, arguably, a far more important issue to the 185,000 residents and the couple of million tourists than pouring cash into a failing, scandal-ridden vanity project, however, the councillors were told that there was absolutely no money in the budget to build more toilets, so 'creative solutions' had to be found...

As toilet provision, giving independence and dignity, is non-statutory, the council are fond of repeating that they are not obliged to provide facilities.

As it happens, they're not obliged to provide a luxury spa and private health care vanity project either, but they've just found another £600,000 in the budget for that!

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

City Deal - Carmarthenshire Council stripped of governance and audit role


Following the scathing UK government and Pembrokeshire-led internal governance reports on the City Deal, Carmarthenshire Council has now been stripped of the entire democratic governance and audit function.
These functions will be taken over by Swansea and Pembrokeshire Councils respectively.
This is a damning indictment of Mark James' role as 'principal advisor' and 'responsible officer' and the end of Linda Rees Jones' role as City Deal Monitoring Officer. The toxic culture of governance and democracy, Mark James-style has been, predictably, rejected and, short of his arrest, it's a fitting end to his seventeen year regime.

This week's Carmarthenshire Herald has a good write up of last week's Joint Committee meeting of the Swansea City Deal. Following those damning governance reports, of which Mark James was the prime suspect, Carmarthenshire is being squeezed out of the game. Apparently a bid was made to move the Regional Office from Carmarthen to Swansea Council but it seems Emlyn Dole threatened to pull Carmarthenshire out of the entire Deal if that went ahead.

The Herald surmises that the Rev 'two barns' Dole was emboldened by Mr James' recent instructions that the council could build the Wellness Village themselves, and burden the taxpayer for future generations, without all that pesky scrutiny of course.... Incidentally, the Wellness Village was discussed at Monday's Exec Board, behind closed doors, despite the wider calls for urgent transparency, and the catalogue of scandal. A plan B perhaps? It would be a foolhardy investor indeed who put their cash into a scandal-ridden project with no planning permission and a police investigation hanging over it. Or maybe they've bought some magic beans and are hoping for the best...

There was no mention at the Exec Board meeting of the £109,000 overspend on legal bills for the Wellness dream, a tidy sum which might have helped one or two of those struggling primary schools they were talking about, but anyway, no doubt Mr James' personal solicitors Acuity Law have done quite nicely out of it thank you.
Acuity Legal (now Acuity Law), who threatened to sue elected members
Anyway, last week's Joint Committee decided, in the end, that the Regional Office will be centred at the Beacon, Llanelli but with pop-up offices in the other counties.

However, as I said above, thanks to Mr James, the 'responsible officer' for governance, Carmarthenshire has been stripped of its responsibility for governance and audit.

The Herald, in it's inimitable way, mentions that Mark James has been absent from the last couple of City Deal meetings, (chickened out and hid, in fact) and last week, he missed, sadly, the 'ringing endorsement' of the shocking governance reports by the chair of ABMU health board (now Swansea Bay UHB) Andrew Davies. With Mr James own attack on one of the partners a couple of weeks ago and the legal spat between him and Andrew Davies (see here, and my update in the comment section), to say he's unpopular with other partners would be an understatement.

As the Herald says, "It's no secret that a number of other City Deal partners have had little time for the departing Carmarthenshire CEO".



With the axing of his role of Lead Chief Executive, if Mr James wasn't conveniently retiring, he'd have been sacked. And he knew it.
Mind you, as Jac o'the North points out today, rather than take up some innocent retirement pastime like counting his money or evicting bloggers, he has a fully-conditioned Emlyn Dole, and protegé Wendy Walters waiting in the wings....and, with his newly formed consultancy company all ready and waiting, one wonders if Mr James malign influence is far from over and will continue for many years to come...

Putting aside Mr James' arrogance, dishonesty and general poor character for a moment, its worth remembering how we got to where we are. I say we because the City Deal is supposed to benefit the entire region. The disastrous Wellness scandal did have one silver lining, and that was to force something of a rethink of funding such pocket-lining vanity projects. There is now talk of an improved transport network, which is perhaps, a start. Once the current mess has been untangled.

The scandals and allegations over the past few months (all on this blog) are all related to the Wellness project and Franz Dickmann of Sterling Health in one way or another. Added to that we have the Kuwait venture. All involve Mark James. All linked, and all suggesting self-interest (share offers, job roles, discounted houses, etc) rather than public good. The Swansea Uni allegations are hotly denied, although grievance letters from Prof Marc Clement and Vice Chancellor Richard Davies have recently been thrown out by, it is understood, the independent QC brought in to investigate the allegations.
Furthermore, both South Wales and Dyfed Powys Police forces have been investigating since March.


The scandals surrounding the Wellness Village, Sterling etc continues with yet another suspension at Swansea Uni last week. Reported by the Western Mail, though not online, Dr Gerry Ronan, a former director of the commercial spin-off company Swansea Innovations Ltd has, it is understood, been suspended over allegations relating to the Wellness project and email correspondence to former Economy Minister and AM Edwina Hart and the Wales EU funding office, and for revealing information to others, no further details are available yet.

As I have mentioned many times, in my opinion Mark James' involvement goes a lot deeper than a few casual lies to the council and the City Deal board. His priority, as we have seen over the years, is, well, none other than Mark James, a keen advocate of self-promotion, personal enrichment and tax avoidance, and as for 'democratic governance', the warning signs have been there all along.

There is only one reason why Mr James was so insistent that Dickmann's companies, Kent Neurosciences and then Sterling Health were signed up by the council to develop the project, even with bail outs, company dissolutions, debts and no proven track record....I don't need to spell it out surely? He was even plugging the virtues of Sterling when his own officers were having serious doubts about the outfit. Eventually, they were ditched.



To cap it all, Sterling, Mr James and the suspended Uni employees were all involved in the shady Kuwaiti venture, something Mr James didn't bother to declare as a registered interest despite this private enterprise potentially exposing Carmarthenshire Council to financial risk. He has also omitted to declare his own long-running private business interests.



I am of the view, and I'm not alone, that Mr James' behaviour in relation to the City Deal has been dishonest, arrogant, manipulative and secretive; reflecting his management of the council. I am also of the view that he should be criminally investigated.
And, as I have made clear in previous posts, that investigation should not just be confined to his role in the Wellness scandal.




For further background, please search this blog

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

A message to Mark James


Mark James chose the momentous occasion of his own self-congratulatory 'farewell' extravaganza at the council AGM last Wednesday to launch an extraordinary attack on the press and 'anonymous bloggers'. Emlyn Dole also took a swipe.
The consensus of opinion, from those who have been in touch, was that the pointed reference to 'bloggers' included myself.
In response, I've sent my comments, which can be read in full below, directly to Mr James. 




To; Mr M James, chief executive
cc Emlyn Dole, council leader.
Friday 17th May 16:04

Dear Mr James,

Your remarks about bloggers at Wednesday's AGM require this brief response, which will also be published on my blog.

As there are not many bloggers, or "keyboard warriors" about, and, as you have actually met me, albeit in a courtroom, the consensus of opinion is that you were including me in your comment. As was Emlyn Dole.

I am not anonymous, far from it as you are well aware, and neither do I hide away in dark corners, and I'm quite capable of speaking my name. There is nothing I have said on my blog which I wouldn't say directly to you, or anyone else, in an instant. If you wish to try and argue over anything I've said, then do get in touch.
It was me who called you out and went through a public trial; you hid behind the taxpayer to make your attack, also calling on them to fund your first class travel and upmarket hotels.

You didn't even have the bottle to attend Carmarthen County Court and face me while you attempted to take my home, you hid, and you may have well used taxpayers money to pay for your legal teams. Who knows. The taxpayer had already funded your legal costs once, and your unlawful tax avoidance scam. I wouldn't put anything past you. I represented myself and was quite capable of saying a lot more than my name.
It is you who have hid Mr James, behind your puppet councillors, your legal department, your money, and your junior staff.

Urging councillors, or anyone, to ignore the press and public opinion is appalling, but has been a trademark of your regime, and councillors who have toed the line have been rewarded. Those who have not have been bullied and treated with contempt.
You have withdrawn support for local newspapers for publishing negative stories and enabled, unlawfully, for the council to sue. And more. As the chief executive of a democratically elected council you are truly beneath contempt.

You do not ignore the press or blogs as you claim, you just get someone else to read it all for you, at public expense. If it was all so unimportant then why did you refer to it all in your farewell speech?

You are a thief, a liar, a malicious bully and a coward. Everything I have said on my blog is the truth. I do not have time on my hands, we work hard to ensure we can live and that you get your monthly 'gutter' money so that you do not take our home. The time I do have I spend unearthing the facts and the truth which you are so reluctant to impart. And as I said, I will continue to hold you to account for your actions at this council, retired or not. You have not heard the last from this particular 'anonymous' blogger.

You will certainly be remembered Mr James, not as a man of vision, nor even one with a ridiculous Honour, but as the man who trashed the reputation of Carmarthenshire County Council, and the Rotten Boroughs Shit of the Year.

Yours sincerely

Jacqui Thompson
Blogger


(Video clip source; BBC's @aledscourfield, for the full version of Mr James' tribute to himself, see the archived webcast)


Carmarthenshire Herald 24th May

Monday, 20 May 2019

Cadno's farewell to Mark James - The Carmarthenshire Herald


As last week's AGM was the last council meeting which chief executive would, er, Chair, Mark James took the opportunity to say farewell to the captive audience. A brief and modest thank you all round and a nod of good luck in the direction of Wendy Walters would, of course, have sufficed.

But no, this is Mark James. First up was leader of the council, Emlyn Dole with his oozing, loving tribute. It was cringeworthy, embarrassingly so, and, had she still been a councillor, would have even outshone Meryl. Dear loyal Emlyn had even made a book full of photos of Mr James to present as an offering, which he did, almost on bended knee. There may have also been tears.
Emlyn also took a swipe at 'anonymous bloggers'.

It didn't stop there, oh no. That was just the warm-up, the main event was Mr James' own tribute to himself; a half-hour Power Point presentation, made all by himself, about himself. It was an unedifying spectacle of arrogance and misplaced self-praise, heaped upon himself without a shred of grace nor humility, a snapshot into the warped world according to Mark James. Need I say more.

However, it was his comments about the press and bloggers which summed up the supreme arrogance of the man and which also deserve a response, one I have sent directly to Mr James and will publish on this blog in due course.

Meanwhile, here's The Herald's excellent 'Cadno' with his observations and farewell message;


Cadno sings a goodbye song

OH WHAT a circus! Oh what a show!
All of those tears shed for the old CEO!” 
Maybe those aren’t the Tim Rice lyrics warbled so fetchingly by David Essex, but the rest of the song neatly captures the hysteria that followed the death of Eva Peron, whose husband was one of South America’s more determined dictators. 
Somehow the above sprung to Cadno’s mind as he watched the parade of hand-wringing tributes to Mark James CeeBeebies. 
First up was Emlyn Dole. 
There is no polite way of putting this: where Emlyn did not suck, he blew.
Cadno was reminded of an incident years ago when he was a young outdoors clerk for a firm of solicitors.
He had to take some documents to Court for his employer. While he was waiting, Cadno sat behind a much older solicitor who was in earnest conversation with his client. The old solicitor was one of those who still turned up to Court with a waistcoat and watch chain and Cadno remembers he had a reputation for persuading Courts to see slightest glimmer of hope in even the most hopeless of cases.
We’ll call him Hywel. 
Hywel was deep in conversation with his client, a well-known thug who – charming while sober – turned into a violent maniac when one over the eight. 
On this occasion, the thug had punched someone’s lights outside a pub and been collared by the officers in a passing panda car (giving you some idea how long ago this was). 
Cadno earwigged, hoping to catch tips.
Hywel leaned in towards his client.
What was his plan? 
“Right, boy, I’m going to tell ‘em you’re very sorry. I’ll tell ‘em you were provoked. Then I’ll tell ‘em your missus is pregnant. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll get the onion out.” 
And so back to Emlyn Dole’s gushing tribute to Mark James. 
Emlyn did not get out a single onion. The greengrocers of Carmarthen must have had a bumper time of it. 
But wasn’t he so miffed about what people he never reads say about his precious mucker. There was no sycophantic praise from Emlyn… he gave credit where it was due. That must have been true, because Emlyn said so. 
He made Mark James sound like a combination of Sherlock Holmes and Yoda.
Which must be true if Emlyn thinks it. 
There was no doubting Cllr Dole’s deep sincerity and attachment to Mr James. Which rather illustrates the importance of the separation of the political executive and the administration. The lines between both have become uncomfortably blurred in Carmarthenshire – and they did in Pembrokeshire before it defenestrated its former long-serving CEO.  
At least Mr James departed on his own terms.
And then he gave his own speech. 
And what a charmingly graceless humble-bragging performance it was. 
“Humble-bragging?” Cadno hears you ask, readers.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Cadno will elucidate. 
Humble-bragging is making an ostensibly modest or self-deprecating statement whose actual purpose is to draw attention to something of which one is proud.  
Wow, readers! Does Mark James not half like the old humblebrag?! 
Inviting councillors to join him on a trip through all of his yesterdays, he began by relating that he was not keen on the Carmarthenshire job when first approached. Indeed, readers, rather like Saint Peter, he denied it three times before putting his name forward. He was sure, however, to self-deprecatingly mention what a go-getter the agent who touted him for the job thought old CeeBeebies was. 
Cough.
Humblebrag 
He related how, all those years ago, he did no preparation for the final phase of the interview process.
Cough.
Humblebrag. 
Instead he wandered around the town of Carmarthen and found inspiration in the site of the empty mart and thought of what a waste of space it was in a prime development location. 
Pointing out those accomplices… councillors … who were still on the Council from those days, he was pleased that his vision for ‘getting something done’ was one that had got him the job and – lo! – for seventeen years kept him in it. 
Cough.
Humblebrag. 
Now, readers, whatever his faults as a person, Mark James’ speech gave a very good idea of just what kept him in control at Carmarthenshire for such a long period of time and how he was able to bend administrations to his will. 
He praised councillors by name and by group for their vision and determination in agreeing with his determination and vision. 
The old oil can was liberally deployed and no opportunity was spared to lard on praise in a way which – ever so humbly – reflected back on himself. 
Cough.
Humblebrag. 
And then, the beneficiary of an unlawful libel indemnity who has not hesitated to splash around nebulous suggestions that fair comment is potentially defamatory said that he did not read newspapers and denigrated those who had dared to criticise him as barely able to speak their own name when dragged out into the light. Presumably through the benefit of that same unlawful funding. 
As graceless performances go, Mark James’ took some topping. He doesn’t read his critics, he just sues them on the backs of Council Tax payers. 
No wonder Rob James observed that when people thought of the reputation of the local authority (opaque, over-sensitive to criticism, reluctant to accept scrutiny), they thought of Mark James. A little tin god in a bully pulpit who was ready to settle the libel claim against him by Jacqui Thompson until the Executive stumped up the money for him and who lied to the press when he said no offers had been made to settle the judgement debt he secured as a result of Council Tax payers’ unwitting largesse. 
That’s the problem when you spend seventeen years in one job, readers. Eventually the skeletons come tumbling out of the closet and the real you becomes apparent.  
The tax avoidance scheme on a seven-figure pension pot. 
The fact that, as far as Mark James is concerned, he can throw the £35,000 he promised to hand over to his employers and then to charity into the gutter if he chooses. 
That’s a measure of his character and the inheritance he leaves for his successor. 
A wise owl reminded Cadno this week that it was entirely possible that nothing would become Mark James’ career more than his departure from it. 
Nothing underlined Mark James’ character than his reaction to a small still voice in the crowd singing: “The king is in the altogether, the altogether, the altogether/He’s altogether as naked as the day that he was born.”

Saturday, 11 May 2019

City Deal; The 'potentially defamatory' letter...the row continues


Please see previous post; Health Board Chair slams Mark James over City Deal for background


Back in March, as above, I blogged about an explosive letter from the Chair of ABMU health board Andrew Davies to the Joint Committee of the City Deal questioning the truth of statements made by Mark James in this whole sorry saga and the scandals surrounding the Wellness Village.

The letter included reference to the Nolan principles, or rather the lack of them. In fact it cites all seven principles of public life; selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and promoting these principles through leadership.
In particular, the letter focussed on integrity, and all breaches related directly to Mark James.
The letter was leaked to the press.

True to form, Carmarthenshire Council started threatening legal action claiming it was seeking legal advice as the contents of the letter was 'potentially defamatory'. As it was, according to the council, 'potentially defamatory' of Mark James, it wasn't clear just who was going to sue, nor who was going to fund it.
Whether this was just noisy legal posturing isn't clear, but Plaid council leader Emlyn Dole, ie Mark James, has penned a bitter response to the Chair, and leaked it to BBC Wales.

Cllr Dole has accused Andrew Davies, who was previously a Labour minister in the Welsh Government, of trying to cause "as much trouble as possible" rather than ensuring that plans for the Wellness village progress, he dismisses his claims and describes his comments as "a remarkable attack on the Chief Executive of our County Council".

Councillor Dole, or rather, Mark James, was also outraged that the Chair's letter had been released to the press, (...and duly leaked Cllr Dole's response to it to BBC Wales...)

Plaid Cymru AM Helen Mary Jones has even joined in the row and said that Andrew Davies'  intervention could be interpreted as a political act and questions why he did not raise concerns directly with Carmarthenshire County Council. (Really?!)

Mr Davies told BBC Wales that his letter was not politically motivated, and his only concern was highlighting the transparency (or lack of) of the City Deal and making sure "things are done right ". adding that the recent damning internal and external governance reviews had supported his concerns. Too right they did. He made it clear he was chair of an impartial Health Board, which, as a City Deal partner, sought to raise concerns about governance.

In my view, the letter from Mr Davies was spot on, and refreshingly forthright and honest.

As I have pointed out throughout recent months, and indeed years, Mark James is a compulsive liar, he has not only misled the City Deal Board, but his own council.
And not just, of course, over the Wellness village and the City Deal, he's spent seventeen years cultivating his toxic power trip which started, allegedly, in Boston.

There was no political motivation for the letter, this is a typical accusation used against anyone who says anything untoward about Mr James, or his current 'ruling' cabal, in County Hall, it doesn't wash in the wider world where, to be honest, neither Mr Davies, nor Labour, would have anything to gain. Nor would he have anything to gain from causing 'trouble' for the sake of it.

Cllr Dole's outrage that the letter was leaked to the press is equally remarkable, hilarious even, given that the notorious sham report prepared by Mark James' personal solicitors, Acuity Law, was also leaked to the press.

That leak, in my opinion, could have only come from Mark James himself.

Clearly Emlyn 'two barns' Dole is happy to take the bullet, again, for Mark James. His unwavering defence of the tin-pot dictator, and willingness to act as a paid mouthpiece, suggest again that he owes his position as leader to Mr James, in return for his astonishing u-turn over those illegal payments and his support to reinstate the unlawful clauses...and goodness knows what else.

In what capacity he has responded to Mr Davies is unclear, as a spokesman for the entire council, or leader of the Plaid group, or Mr James' bodyguard? If the accusations were against Mr James, why didn't he respond? Then again, I suppose Emlyn has his uses...just like Meryl. The next stage of the defence will come on Monday when the Exec Board PR machine, complete with a report blaming everyone else apart from Mark James, 'considers' the governance reports.

As for a 'remarkable attack on the chief executive', let's have a look at Mr James' recent rap sheet.

He's been involved and implicated in the Wellness fiasco from day one. He was behind the scandalous appointment of Kent Neurosciences aka Sterling, even claiming that Sterling were up to the job when other officers of the council were having serious doubts, and his close association with the suspended academics at Swansea University goes way back to the inception of the project leading up to his equally scandalous, and undeclared venture in Kuwait.
The appointment of his solicitors, Acuity Law to provide nothing less than a publicly funded personal defence, was the pinnacle of self-serving arrogance.

Furthermore, the police are now involved.

The recent governance reports, the ones not under the control of Mark James, give a damning indictment of the governance of the Deal, and conclude, in so many words, that neither he, nor Legal Linda and co are fit for purpose.
This catastrophic failure was one I predicted over a year ago, they gave the job to the wrong man, and the wrong council and this has irreparably damaged not only trust, but the progress of the Deal. Neath Port Talbot's recent threat to pull out of the Deal is a case in point.
Hopefully the convenient retirement of the wrong man, and a major shake up of the Deal will ease the long and expensive path to repair.
Just as long as they don't use Ffynnon Consulting Ltd as their management consultants...

The threat of legal action by 'the council', whether they were bluffing or not, is, of course, very interesting and deeply concerning. I asked Linda Rees Jones to elaborate on the matter, and also whether this legal advice was being sought from Acuity Law, which would be very concerning, on so many levels.
I reminded her that a council cannot sue, and neither can they fund Mr James to sue either.
She was predictably cagey, insisting that they could quite happily fund Mr James if they so desired but "As regards the ABMU Chair’s letter I have no instructions in the matter". 
I should think not. Though it would be useful to Mr James if they could kindly cough up the cash just before he retires though wouldn't it...

At the risk of repeating myself, Mr James should have been suspended months ago, he is in it up to his neck. He should be investigated by the police whether he's at the council or not. Likewise, he should not be allowed to retire without repaying the illegal tax avoidance and libel indemnity payments, these amount to nothing less than fraud and theft. He is a thoroughly dishonest and untrustworthy individual and should have been sacked when those scandals emerged. Mr James' priority is personal enrichment, nothing else.
It is a disgraceful indictment of the law, Welsh Government and his employers that he has been allowed to get away with so much and for so long.
However, as I have said, I will pursue him to ensure he is held to account, retirement or not.
And, unlike Mr James, I keep my promises.

Monday, 22 April 2019

Private Eye again...and a Brown Nose Award, First Class, with updates


Update 1st May;

The Council's Director of Regeneration and Policy, Wendy Walters has been promoted and appointed as the new chief executive. No surprise there.
Ms Walters was formerly one of two £100k pa Assistant Chief Executives, when one of the posts was axed in a restructuring exercise in 2017, Mr James decided to create a new Directorship, Regeneration and Policy. The £120k job was advertised as it had to be by law, but the ad disappeared a couple of days later and Ms Walters was appointed to the post.
Regime change? I think not.


Update 28th April;

And from this week's Carmarthenshire Herald.....:-)


Click to read. Link to Companies House here.

*   *   *   *   *

The Rotten Boroughs column in the current issue of Private Eye features Mark James of Carmarthenshire Council fame yet again. It follows an oozing 'tribute' to the departing Mr James, penned by his former press officer and which featured recently in a local publication. 
It clearly amused the Eye:-)

The 'tribute' was, as the Eye website explains, "...so cloying it will make Eye readers reach for the sick bucket".

Here's the Rotten Boroughs piece;



With the forthcoming retirement, I thought a brief summary of some previous mentions in the esteemed Rotten Boroughs column would be appropriate, and to serve as a reminder of just how thoroughly Mark James has, in the words of the Eye, "trashed Carmarthenshire Council's reputation". 

All recorded for posterity on this blog;

After featuring the '#daftarrest' incident in Rotten Boroughs in June 2011, the council's notoriety was beginning to grow and by December they were awarded the runner up prize for Legal Bullies of the Year. In January 2012 the Eye covered, with some amusement, the CBE awarded to Mark James. 

In 2011, with 'Devil's Work' and again in 2012 with 'Let us Pray' the council had again caught the attention of the Eye with their generosity towards some local evangelicals with some dodgy connections. In August 2012, the shocking blackmail of a local paper saw the council back in the column and in October the council press office again featured in the Eye after failing to carry out a simple check on google. 

This all led to more Rotten Borough honours at the end of the year, with the PR Plonkers and the Hellfire Awards, no less, and with our own chief executive apparently a devout evangelical christian himself, the latter must have been especially touching. 

The Wales Audit Office and the unlawful payments were closely followed by the Eye and naturally made the Rotten Borough columns in 2013 and 2014 with the libel indemnity and the pension tax avoidance. The latter was the scam our devout Mr James also shared with the former CEO of Pembs. 

The highest accolade came in 2016 with Mark James scooping the coveted Rotten Borough's Shit of the Year Award, closely followed in March 2017, after the order for sale court hearing, with the equally memorable 'In the Gutter' piece.

Emlyn Dole made his first appearance in March 2017 with his barns and was back, as second fiddle to Mr James, in 'Shit storm', over the secretive nonsense over the libel indemnity CRWG meeting held last July.

The Wellness scandal and Mr James' retirement hasn't been missed by the Eye either, featuring in the Rotten Boroughs column in December, 'Tender spot', January 'Down the pan'  and 'Shit happens' in February.

And, as above, in April.

Whilst searching google for the purposes of this post, I landed on this parliamentary record from Hansard from March 2014. It was a scathing and indeed, a truthful attack by Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards on the "ruling cabal of senior officials" and their "political wing", the then Labour/Ind Executive Board. 

He also says, "Given the number of mentions that Carmarthenshire has had in the Private Eye “Rotten Boroughs” column, one might think that the executive board members would have got the message."

Unfortunately, the Plaid 'run' Exec Board, hasn't got the message either. 

As this blog has reported, Emlyn Dole has made sure that he and the Board have remained the chief executive's dutiful rubber stamp. And as I have said, Mr James will leave a toxic legacy when he retires, one which will be difficult to break, particularly if the next incumbent is a carefully prepared clone....

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

City Deal; Neath Port Talbot threaten to pull out...and Cadno on the Carmarthenshire 'debate'.


Neath Port Talbot council's cabinet will meet tomorrow (Wed) to discuss the latest developments in the Swansea Bay City Deal. The report, for those of us used to observing Carmarthenshire council, is remarkable for two reasons.

Firstly, it is an honest, realistic and sensible appraisal, paving the way for constructive debate at cabinet and, next week, at full council level. Whilst I'm sure not everything in the NPT garden is rosy, the report, and it's not the first, is a stark contrast to the farce in Carmarthenshire, who's councillors, and public, have been drip fed misinformation, lies, secrecy, shady deals, sham reports, legal threats and car crash debates. And not just over the City Deal and wellness scandal of course.

Secondly, but perhaps in the grand scheme of things, more importantly, it states that NPT are amending their projects and are on the verge of pulling out of the whole shebang.

The report, in full here, agrees with and endorses the findings and significance of the two reports which were not controlled by Carmarthenshire, or Mr James' own lawyers, ie the UK/WG review and the Pembs-led governance report, both of which I have covered here.

"Under the JWA, the Councils agreed that they shall conduct their relationship in accordance with the following principles and others: Being open and trusting in their dealings with each other; embracing a commitment to transparency; complying with statutory access provisions; paying the utmost respect of the standing and reputation of one another; making all decisions reasonably and in good faith; and procuring that Elected Members and officers act in the best interests of the City Deal.

Recent events and both reviews raise concerns whether these principles have been adhered to..."

This, incidentally, reflects the comments made by the Chair of the ABM Health board, who Mark James is now threatening with legal action for defamation, with your money.

The report goes on to point out that despite the Deal being trumpeted as a £1.3bn opportunity, in actual fact it boils down to £16m per year, divided between four councils, roughly £4m apiece. Not insignificant but, with some tweaking of their own projects, an affordable, manageable sum available in their own capital budget. They could do it themselves without the scandals and without having to subsidise Mark James' vanity project in the Delta Lakes swamp.

The report requests permission to give the twelve month notice required to exit from the Deal if things don't progress, very rapidly, over the next couple of months, and underlines (literally underlines) that  There is a clear basis for doing so in our opinion."

Given that the Joint Working Agreement between the four councils took eighteen months and dozens of drafts to complete, with several elements still subject to disagreement, and now needs to be rejigged to accommodate the recommendations on the governance reports, it's likely to take ages and more legal bills.
Aside from that, the Wellness project is sunk, or at least back to square one, and the Swansea Uni investigations, now involving the police, could take months, or years.

"As a Council, if we cannot see a return in the short term (say, a further six months) and in the form of business case approvals then exiting these arrangements may be the only logical course of action. For the avoidance of doubt, “approvals” means precisely that. It does not mean “in principle”; subject to “further review” or other caveats or conditionality which in reality would represent many more months of inconclusive dialogue. In these circumstances, what would be gained by continuing?"

It will also be interesting to see what Pembrokeshire Council do next given that they have just one project, tied in with the Port Authority, and are also subsidising the soon to be disappearing Mark James and his scandal-riddled Wellness dream.

Which brings me back to the first point.

Compare and contrast the recent farcical 'debate' at Carmarthenshire full council last week, with the NPT report and its honesty and clarity towards elected members.
It's a tale of two councils.

As I pointed out in my last post, The death of democracy, the seventeen year dictatorship of Mark James has reduced most councillors, apart from a hardy few, most notably at the moment, Cllr Rob James, to a ridiculous collection of inward looking idiots, terrified of upsetting Mr James. As this week's excellent Cadno piece from the Carmarthenshire Herald (see below) points out, they couldn't even 'endorse' the reports, for fear of being critical of the golden goose.

It's worse than that though, as they believe the nonsense themselves. This has nothing to do with politics, but has everything to do with failing to recognising that even the basic tenets of the Nolan principles have been trashed, by their own chief executive, and failing to recognise a scandal-ridden project when it's presented to them on a plate.

Prize pillock of the week had to be Cllr Giles Morgan (Ind) who's rambling, self-absorbed attack on Rob James also included an accusation that Pembrokeshire Council acted 'unprofessionally' for the unbelievable crime of releasing the damning internal governance report to its own councillors. Rob James hit back wondering what on earth was wrong with that and at least Pembrokeshire Council had respect for its councillors. He also said that the culture in Carmarthenshire Council was sometimes "absolutely disgusting".

That would never happen in Carms, the report would have either been buried (literally perhaps), or, eventually been released months later accompanied by spin and an 'officer's report' explaining why it was all completely wrong.

Public and government confidence in the City Deal has taken a hit - not because of questions from the press, or Rob James, or anyone else, but because of the behaviour and arrogance of Mark James, and his associates, and he should be held to account. Preferably by the police.

Incidentally, another quirk of Mark James' seventeen year chairmanship of full council meetings was not to allow discussion on items 'not on the agenda', or speeches which didn't address the Motion under debate.

Unless, of course, it suited him.

This was the case on Wednesday, all engineered to attack Rob James the current fly in the chief executive's ointment. The 'debate' was a car crash led by Emlyn Dole, and overseen with silent, smug approval by Mark James.
Mission complete.

Over to Cadno:

Cadno and the old swimming hole

Cadno, being a beast himself, is all at ease with nature red in tooth and claw. Even the dumbest beast of the field is, however, able to distinguish between certain propositions.
Rabbits have it easiest of all. Eat. Go. Doe. Sow. 
If you’re a predator, things are a bit more complex. There’s the whole prey identification, stalking, patience, concealment, waiting for the right opportunity, pursuit, capture and ripping the throat out thing to deal with before concealing the food from other greedy sods who want to cash in on your hard work. 
All of that, to Cadno, appears a considerably more complex proposition that asking councillors to endorse a report which has already been endorsed by the Joint City Deal Board six days before. Such a proposition appears to be beyond members of Carmarthenshire County Council. 
We only have to look back at the loud hosannas which greeted the Acuity Legal report prepared by the CEO’s personal solicitors and the WAO report. These were triumphs for the Council. They vindicated the whole – umm - procurement process. We could rejoice that box-tickers had ticked the right boxes and that the box-tickers appointed to check how well the box-tickers had ticked those boxes had themselves ticked the right box for the Council. 
Of course, now we know that the WAO review trumpeted by the Council was no more than an outline review the WAO had planned for some time, the gilt has come a little off that gingerbread. Whereas the clean bill of health given by Acuity Legal provided valuable insight into the way Carmarthenshire County Council’s officers went about not telling other City Deal partners about their concerns regarding the Council’s private sector partners in the Wellness Village. Carmarthenshire County Council even presented its business case to the Joint City Deal Board for approval weeks after it had concluded Sterling Health were in a position to deliver jack shit. 
As Cadno observed when Acuity Legal’s report was published, its content was notable because of what it inadvertently revealed about the Council’s internal processes and the lengths its officers were prepared to go to reveal less than the whole truth to the Council’s valued partners in the City Deal. 
The Council was sure to sing its own praises loud and clear. 
It is not so keen, however, to discuss those reports published after those two reports which dealt only with how well officers followed the procurement rules. 
The UK and Welsh Government pointed out with some force that the governance of the City Deal was a mess. It said there was a lack of transparency and lack of trust. It noted that some business cases were poor. The Pembrokeshire report was less restrained. 
So, readers, when St Giles of Swiss Valley pings one at the Welsh Government and its UK counterpart for not divvying up the dosh tout-de-bloody-suite – as he did on Wednesday – it suggests that he has failed one of the key tests for any councillor expressing an opinion on a complex topic. Namely, try reading stuff first. He might then conclude that with tens of millions of pounds of public money at stake abject failures in governance, scrutiny, and planning might give any public body pause. Similarly, if Carmarthenshire’s officers rescued the City Deal – as Giles Morgan claimed – given what has been revealed about the Deal’s governance, it might be time to reflect that throwing a drowning man a life preserver made of concrete is not really progress. But let’s pass by Giles’ outrage at everything and everyone he wants to score a cheap point against. 
Let’s go back to the beginning. The motion asked councillors to endorse the reports prepared on behalf of the City Deal Board by consultants that were not appointed by Carmarthenshire County Council and by Pembrokeshire County Council working with officers of all the other local authorities involved. That included officers from Carmarthenshire. 
What those reports say is not important for the purposes of this article. Besides, what they say has been reported previously in this newspaper and many others. 
Here is what is important: the Council was being asked to endorse them.
‘Endorse (verb with an object). To declare one's public approval or support of [object]’ – at least according to the OED. 
So, the Council was being asked to publicly approve the reports and their call for a revision of governance structures and the webcasting of meetings. 
This was surely uncontroversial stuff. 
Well, not quite. You see, criticism of the governance structures would impliedly be a criticism of the Sacred Cow that has become the leadership of Mark James CeeBeebies. 
And, loyally, semantically, obnoxiously, Emlyn Dole was having none of it. It was not the Council’s place to publicly approve the reports. It was a matter for the Board. Webcasting was the responsibility of Neath Port Talbot Council. Nothing was Carmarthenshire’s responsibility. Giving every impression of a man who cannot see a belt without hitting below it, Emlyn swung a few predictable low blows at the Labour leader. 
This is what it has come to, readers. If you accept the logic underpinning Emlyn Dole’s words, the Council is unable to express its opinion on anything if anyone else is involved. 
Unless it’s the Health Board. Or the Welsh Government. Or the UK Government. Or any subject the Great Deflector thinks won’t bounce back on him. However, Emlyn Dole did no more than reflect the complete self-absorption of councillors with the Wellness scheme and very little else outside it – a view expressed trenchantly some months ago by the leader of Neath Port Talbot Council, Rob Jones. 
They were not being asked to consider the Wellness Project, but the City Deal. However, what Chair Mansel Davies allowed them to discuss was none of that malarkey.
It was ‘Chew on Rob James Day’ and Mansel wasn’t going to let anybody who wanted a go on the ride to miss out. 
It was entertaining for all the wrong reasons. This was car crash council: members were unable to debate the real issues and focused on personal abuse and score-settling. Andre McPherson's observation that councillors were not in the schoolyard would have been unnecessary if the Chair was controlling the debate adequately. Or at all.
In a debate in which councillors could have simply said: ‘Well, yes, we agree mistakes have been made but let’s look forward and not back’, they collectively jumped into a shallow pool of wet bullshit and went for a paddle. Giles Morgan practised his butterfly. 
There was a massive £1.4bn pound elephant in the Council Chamber. Sadly, too many councillors were intent on protecting the Golden Calf in the CEO’s seat.