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 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.

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.

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

Monday, 7 January 2019

The Wellness planning application - updated

Update 18th January

In an interesting twist to the Wellness scandal allegations have been made by the suspended vice chancellor of Swansea Uni that Franz Dickmann offered equity in Sterling, a discounted house and a job to a now resigned senior official at the Uni. This begs the question as to why Mark James and co were so keen to ensure that Mr Dickmann and his company secured the exclusive right to develop the project. Not just once, as Kent Neurosciences in 2016, but again in 2018 as Sterling. They were, curiously, the only bidder.
Incidentally, Mr James' 'retirement' cuts short his tenure as Accountable Officer and Chair of the Project Board for the City Deal by three months. Interesting.
Something stinks and it's coming from County Hall. I hope the Wales Audit Office dig deep, with no fear nor favour. Better still, the police should step in now.
WalesOnline report here.

Update 10th January

I ventured down to the council chamber today to hear the planning committee decide on the Wellness Village. Sian Caiach and I had objected and Sian read out her objection. As the news about the chief executive's retirement had already filtered through, to my phone, Sian took the opportunity to wish the 'arrogant control freak' her warmest can see it here.
(15th Jan; Sian has written a blog post here)

Of course the planning committee couldn't actually decide anything as the Welsh Government may well call it in and decide it for themselves, and so they should. They did, however, approve it 'in principle', but after two years hard sell and a two hour planning officers report, complete with yet another fly-through video, it was a very predictable, disappointing, and thoughtless outcome. There was even a man from Arup expensively brought in to respond to the objectors (me and Sian). It was farcical. You can watch the whole thing on the webcast if you wish.

What couldn't be 'considered' however was the fact that there are numerous investigations ongoing, the business case was flawed, (and currently invisible), the City Deal is sinking into the swamp along with the Wellness dream, and Mark James is in the frame.
You might have thought that all that was a vital component of any discussion. But no, not in Carmarthenshire.

We'll have to wait and see what happens next, but, meanwhile, I think there's a blogpost to write about our retiring chief executive....

* * *

The wellness swamp planning application is due to be decided by the council's planning committee on Thursday (10th Jan). With Mark James and Sidekick Emlyn maintaining their public denial that the wellness dream is sinking fast, the business case is flawed, and the partners have evaporated into the delta lakes mist, the charade looks set to continue.

The council is the applicant and Arup is the agent. There are currently 57 documents attached to the application with numerous technical reports extending to thousands of pages. Arup's bill must be astronomical.
Half of the statutory consultees are various departments of the council itself, such as highways and public protection and the report to the committee is itself 93 pages, and reads more like an estate agents blurb than an objective report. Two years worth of Wellness village spin and lies will ensure that the minds of the committee are completely closed to anything other than blind approval and they will be told that anything other than material planning considerations are irrelevant.

Let's just hope that the recent revelations haven't passed them by.

Basically, if you throw enough taxpayers' money at it you can build on contaminated land, and partial flood plains with inadequate sewage facilities. You can pile on several metres of topsoil and hope that the pilings and foundations don't disturb the toxic pollutants lurking below, and you just pray that nothing unpleasant seeps into the designated protected waters through the rickety sluice gate. Or when they do, it'll be someone else's problem by then.
There are, quite possibly, even more sordid secrets buried under the delta lakes swamp than the carpets of the Presidential Suite.
You can also commission an expensive environmental Appropriate Assessment recording potential significant effects, only to be told by NRW that the wording is wrong and should conclude, (if that is the case), that there is 'no adverse effect'. Quite a 'significant' difference.

You can also enter a state of complete denial that there are investigations ongoing into the City Deal, the wellness village itself and the council's own decision making capabilities. Rumour also has it that the police are taking a cursory glance at the whole farcical scandal.

Mr James will also hope that the dutiful members of the planning committee, as they nod through his multi million pound luxury spa, will also forget that in three week's time they will be voting through £28m frontline cuts for the next three years. They may also forget that the authority is currently forking out £18m a year in interest payments on what they've already borrowed.

Committee members, on the other hand, could recall what Mr James told them a few weeks ago at full council, quite simply a pack of lies, and remember not to trust a word he says. It's a con. They could, in the face of accusations of scuppering the future of Carmarthenshire, be brave and bear in mind that it's the future size of Mr James' wallet that's really at stake...

The council can argue that planning permission will increase the value of the land, but this is a very specific, let alone expensive, development so the value is tempered by demand, and at this point in time, there is no demand, no investors, let alone necessity. If the council use it as collateral, it will plunge the county into untold debt, and risk, for generations to come.

The planning issues are one thing, the shambolic and scandalous way in which this project has been promoted is quite another. If you take everything else away; from the track record of the unstoppable tyrant Mr James to the sycophantic parroting from dour Mr Dole; from the fanciful job projections to the siphoning off of public funds, the process and Mr James' appointment of Sterling alone should be enough to raise an eyebrow of even the most loyal committee members....
Before the committee vote this through, without even a glance at the still unpublished flawed business plan, and before the Wales Audit Office get into gear, the Welsh Government should call it in.

And if this deeply bizarre project goes ahead? Well, when you're driving over worsening potholes, or your kids haven't got enough textbooks, or teachers, or you're waiting twelve hours in A & E to have a splinter removed from your eye, just remember that Mr James will be right behind you, in his Wellness Healing Pod, surrounded by Wellness crystals, gently warmed by the blood, sweat and tears of the taxpayers of Carmarthenshire...

Update 8th Jan;
I have asked the Welsh Government to 'call-in' the application and have also submitted an objection to the council on similar grounds.
Here's my call-in request;

To; Julie James AM, Cabinet Member for Housing and Local Government
Dear Minister, 
I would like to request that planning application S/36948 for a Wellness and Life Science Village at Delta Lakes, Llanelli is called-in and determined by Welsh Ministers. 
The applicant is Carmarthenshire County Council and the application is due to be decided by the council's Planning Committee on Thursday, 10th January.
I believe that the proposal conflicts with national planning policy and raises issues of wider significance. 
1. The proposal is partly on a flood plain, as are the access roads to the site. This conflicts with TAN 15. 
2. The proposed site is adjacent to protected designated waters and insufficient evidence has been submitted to show how pollutants and effluent from the site will be prevented from entering this sensitive marine environment. 
3. The Appropriate Assessment and concerns about otter, vole and bird habitats have not been resolved or agreed with Natural Resources Wales. This is in conflict with TAN 5. The correspondence is ongoing and should the planning committee decide to approve the application it will be on unknown and untested conditions. 
4. The levels of contamination at the site, and the subsequent effects of piling and foundation work are unknown. Whilst desktop exercises have been carried out for the construction phase, the long term effects have not been examined nor mitigated in sufficient detail for the committee to make an informed decision. 
5. This is a project which forms part of the Swansea Bay City Deal. The City Deal is currently under review by the UK and Welsh Governments and leading decision makers in the City Deal are currently under investigation.
Carmarthenshire Council itself is also being investigated by the Wales Audit Office for its decision making processes in relation to this project.
It is therefore highly inappropriate for Carmarthenshire Council to make a decision on this planning application.
There should be no further decision making, nor expenditure, on this project until all investigations are satisfactorily concluded. 
If you require further clarification with regards to this call-in request, please email me.
I would be grateful for an acknowledgement of this call-in request.
Yours sincerely
Jacqui Thompson
Update 9th Jan;

This is the latest from the Welsh Government, dated yesterday, and addressed to the case officer for the application;

Please click to enlarge
In addition to those mentioned in my comment below, Nia Griffith MP and Joyce Watson AM have also made call-in requests.

Please search this blog for numerous previous posts.

Friday, 21 December 2018

Private Eye (again), contradictions, conflicts, and the Wellness scandal

Yet another appearance in Private Eye for chief executive Mark James, once again doing his bit to establish Carmarthenshire County Council's reputation as a very Rotten Borough....He also featured in the last edition, on a different issue, here.

This post follows on from posts written earlier this month including; The Wellness Village - The end? and Full Council - Wellness Village, and the Emperor's New Clothes and this week's Carmarthenshire Herald features a detailed article about these recent events as the Wellness dream sinks slowly and painfully into the Delta Lakes swamp.

I mentioned Mr James' misleading statement to full council in my previous post and as the terms of the Collaboration Agreement between the council, Swansea University and Sterling became known (I have now read it in full). The word 'misleading' became an understatement as it appeared that the terms and conditions to dissolve the Agreement had not been met. Despite the Herald asking the council for an explanation, they have not responded.

As I have also said, Mr James, in his address to council on the 12th December, failed to mention the fractious meeting with Swansea University he'd attended, along with sidekick Emlyn, on the 10th December.
In fact, he knew full well that, despite his efforts to, erm, persuade the Uni to carry on, they were having none of it. To have inferred to full council that the Uni were still involved in any way was quite simply a lie.

Even more remarkable was Mr James statement that the Wales Audit Office had been 'invited', in some sort of informal arrangement, to provide 'reassurance' that all was well.

The Herald asked the Wales Audit Office to confirm the date that either the council or the City Deal Board contacted the WAO to seek this assurance, and the date that the WAO contacted the council with regards to any checks it proposed to carry out.

The WAO sent the following reply;

"We are not yet aware of having received any correspondence relating to this matter from Carmarthenshire County Council.

"However, I can confirm that as part of our audit of the Council, the Auditor General has decided to undertake a review of the decision making relating to the Wellness Village project. The terms of reference for this review will be issued to the Council in the New Year."

The council, however, are sticking to their story.
Whatever the case, Mr James' version of the WAO involvement was profoundly and deliberately misleading. Quite clearly the Auditor General is not only investigating the council's decision making related to the Wellness Village, but he has not even issued the terms of reference yet, and as far as he is concerned, there has been no 'invitation'.

Further mysterious contradictions have also emerged over the statement given by the leader of Neath Port Talbot, Cllr Rob Jones, to a full meeting of his council. I wrote about this in my previous post.

The statement, which can be read in full here is refreshingly realistic, unlike the lies and spin peddled by Mark James and Emlyn Dole, and states that "The Joint Committee [of the City Deal Project] resolved to withdraw – at least temporarily - the earlier approval for the Delta Lakes project"
Emlyn Dole disagrees, claiming they merely agreed he would come back to them with 'reassurance' and has demanded that he correct his statement.

What Emlyn doesn't seem to realise yet is that no one wants to touch this vanity project with a barge pole. I don't blame them either.

In breaking news, well, as I'm writing this post, WalesOnline reports on some of the details of the suspensions at Swansea University which are now beginning to leak out.

It seems that a £2.5m Welsh Government grant to Swansea Uni was going to be passed on to a 'not-for-profit private company, Respiratory Innovation Wales Ltd (RIW Ltd).

The company, and the management of the grant are now part of the University's investigation. Although Swansea Uni confirms, in a statement, that the company was set up to receive the grant, they say they are no longer involved in the Respiratory Innovation project.
The grant was to part fund a centre for RIW Ltd at the Delta Lakes swamp.

Professor Marc Clement was a director of the company, which had only been set up in September, until he resigned on December 3rd, a week after his suspension was announced by the university. He has denied any wrongdoing.
One of the other suspensions is reported to be a senior project manager for the Wellness Village 'team' managed by the council.

After the Uni raised concerns earlier this year, the Welsh Government agreed not to pay the grant.

Another director of RIW Ltd, appointed on September 19th is Kevin Smith, who had resigned a week earlier as a director of Sterling Health Security Holdings, the company (which won a bidding war of one) now ditched as development partners for the Wellness Village.
Kevin Smith is also a director of another Dickmann enterprise, Heart2Heart Telemedicine Ltd which, according to documents enclosed with the Collaboration Agreement was set to deliver the digital needs of the Wellness village. In fact, Sterling intended to set up even more sister companies once its foot was in the door.

As I have said, Marc Clement had previously been a director of Kent Neurosciences, resigning shortly before they entered the 'exclusivity agreement' with Mark James and Co. Kent Neurosciences was the now dissolved forerunner to Sterling Health, featuring the Dickmann clan, Clement, Kevin Smith, and Meryl Gravell. The latter being the former leader, and regeneration portfolio holder at Carms council, otherwise known as Mark James' cash-cow and voting proxy.

Wales Online also confirms that the Auditor General for Wales, Adrian Crompton is to hold his own investigation into Carmarthenshire Council’s decision making process into the project, as reported by the Herald above.

As some of us have been mentioning for a few years now, the complex web of personal directorships, private companies, and public money have given rise, at best, to potential conflicts of interest and at worst, the possible siphoning off of public cash. Today's news is, therefore, not surprising.
The tangled web remains difficult to unravel and I suspect that the details emerging from Swansea are the tip of a murky iceberg.

With assorted investigations underway, and the nebulous Wellness Dream on hold, this blog is particularly interested in the investigation at the council by the Wales Audit Office.

To even suggest that Mark James, with his close association with Marc Clement, Meryl Gravell and the Sterling gang, was unaware of this tangled and conflicting web is inconceivable. And let's not forget that Mr James has his own private property and business interests which he chose not to declare to his employers.

To form a collaboration agreement with a company with no proven track record and liabilities of £137k was astonishing, let alone having appointed the same company, under another name, two years previously. To the casual observer, this Agreement, led by the council, appeared to be the start of an arrangement to benefit a handful of investors through untraceable and unaccountable shell companies.

Even if we discount, for a moment, Mark James' track record in dishonesty and flagrant misuse of public money, his denials, and evasiveness over the last couple of weeks says a great deal. We also know he is skilled operator in the art of misleading councillors, very prevalent at the moment, and also a vindictive bully when his authority is challenged. Neither does he have any qualms about breaching a written undertaking to his employers. The breakdown in trust started years ago.
Whilst there is division at the University over culpability and blame, there is no such ambiguity at County Hall.

We can only hope that the WAO make this a very thorough investigation. When it comes to decision making and governance this officer-led council has been found wanting many times before, the toxic culture remains.

And they should also remember that they themselves found that Mr James had deliberately avoided paying tax, and unlawfully pocketed public cash. That particular issue still continues with secretive nonsense and the protection of the chief executive a top priority.

As I have said before the police should act urgently and knock on his door. Unless the WAO send in a team of senior investigators, they will, I fear, be left in the waiting room thumbing through heavily redacted copies of Private Eye, listening to the muffled sound of the shredding machine in overdrive. 

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Full Council - Wellness Village, and the Emperor's New Clothes - with updates, and the latest 'Cadno'

Previous post; The Wellness Village - The end? and Sterling ditched

(Updates at the end of this post)

Rather than provide endless updates on my previous post I thought I'd better write a new one. Especially as both the chief executive, Mark James, and council leader Emlyn Dole plumbed new depths in backpeddling, dishonesty, and a mutual state of denial at yesterday's meeting.

Further to November's meeting, Labour opposition leader Cllr Rob James had again placed several questions on the agenda related to the Wellness Village. As questions have to be submitted seven days in advance, they pre-date the most recent events.

Given these recent events, ie the total collapse of the project, Mark James decided to give a statement during the Chair's Announcements. With his Wellness vision drifting into oblivion, and in it up to his neck, this was simply a personal damage-limitation, blame-deflecting exercise.

Chief executive, and monitoring officer, Linda Rees Jones
He appears to have entered a twilight world were everything is fine, the signed and sealed contract between the council, Swanea Uni and Sterling wasn't really a contract, nothing had been agreed, the health boards were still excited, as was Trinity St David's Uni, the council had only spent a bit of money on ground prep and reports (and, it seems, three years worth of external legal advice)....the council were going to go it alone...etc etc, there was nothing to see here, move along...
He also mentioned that the Wales Audit Office were now involved, though not because they though anything was wrong, oh no, but because they'd been 'invited'. Really.

Naturally, no one is allowed to question the chief executive.
Think 'Emperor's New Clothes', King Cnut, or even our old friend Pinocchio.

Incidentally the council expenditure up until August 2017 was £564,427. As it is now December 2018, I have made a FOI request for the up-to-date figures. The health boards have already refused to commit funds.

Later in the meeting Cllr Rob James ask Emlyn Dole his questions on the Wellness village. Cllr James said that at a City Deal business launch event last week Emlyn Dole denied a claim from a local business that Vinci Plc, based in France, had already been chosen as a constructor for the project, this denial was despite Vinci Plc being named in several documents. Cllr Dole again denied the claim.  Amid gasps from the chamber Cllr James called him a liar, and subsequently, and rightly so, refused to retract the accusation. He also called for Dole's resignation.

Cllr Rob James
As I said in my previous post, Vinci Plc feature in the Contract Award Notice for the 'Collaboration Agreement' on the Sell2Wales website, the Collaboration Agreement itself, and also features on the Sterling Health website as part of the consortium which were to deliver the project. I have made a further FOI request for a copy of the now defunct Collaboration Agreement.
It wasn't just Vinci which the council had lined up via Sterling, but everything from the architects to the creche. None of them were local businesses. It was a stitch-up.

The Dickmanns, as Kent Neurosciences, with Vinci Plc, at the private hospital site in Kent
Cllr Rob James also asked about the decision to end the collaboration, was any notice given? Was it a unilateral decision by the council? (see update below) The 'Chair' hastily intervened (no doubt after a nudge from Mark James) and wouldn't allow him to ask this as it wasn't the question he'd submitted. Pity, you'd think that Cllr Dole would have chosen to answer it anyway....though clearly it wasn't in the script he'd been given.

Cllr Dole also chose not to elaborate as to why the whole thing has collapsed, why the UK government had stepped in, and why Swansea Uni had jumped ship. In fact he failed to explain anything at all other than ramble on about the project from a script obviously cobbled together by the chief executive. In a classic attempt to avoid scrutiny he accused Cllr James of sniping. In another classic attempt to avoid giving honest and open responses, he resorted to sniping at Cllr James.

Cllr Dole
The exchanges can be seen on the archived webcast.

To seasoned observers the actions of the chief executive, and Emlyn Dole, yesterday were nothing out of the ordinary. Evasiveness, dishonesty, denial and attack are as predictable as night follows day. What appeared to be a total collapse of a very expensive three year project was no such thing... The chief executive's total compliance and involvement in some very dodgy dealings never happened... The Wales Audit Office were only there for tea and biscuits...

In fact, since the pension and libel indemnity scandals the WAO, particularly the local team, have kept remarkably quiet, despite numerous breaches of trust, to the taxpayers and his employers, perhaps they're reluctant to bite the hand that feeds. Mr James has clearly regained control over their remit, and their access to county hall secrets.

In my opinion, there needs to be a thorough police investigation. All electronic communications and phone records between Mark James, Marc Clement and Sterling should be seized for a start and a full forensic audit, to a criminal standard carried out, starting in his county hall office.  Questioning him under oath is a waste of time, he wouldn't tell the truth no matter how high the stack of bibles. Mark James is, if nothing else, an expert in cover-up, and in manipulating those around him, through threats, promises, untruths, or whatever it takes.

As for Emlyn Dole, this was probably a good time to have been honest and realistic about the situation, instead of being defensive and arrogant, and repeating what the chief executive had said parrot-fashion. As for him being irritated by Cllr James for asking difficult questions, this is something that Plaid might remember doing once...when they were in opposition.

Ironically, in between the chief executive's plan to waste further millions and plunge the county into an abyss of unmanageable debt for generations to come, and the leader's obsequious agreement, a separate agenda item saw secondary school pupils give constructive, well argued, excellent presentations of their views on the assorted budget cuts to frontline services being proposed for next year.

But, after all, who needs learning disability services, mental health services, or school counsellors for vulnerable children, when you can have this.....

Wellness Village, artists impression (Arup)

Update 14th December;

A report in today's Carmarthenshire Herald suggests that Mark James' misleading statement to councillors on Wednesday was even worse than it first appeared.
He implied that the council had ended the agreement as it had run its course. Not only was this quite clearly nonsense, in fact, the Collaboration Agreement, signed in July, states that it will last for three years and stipulates the conditions which would trigger it's early termination. None of which appear to have been met.

The council is a Party to the agreement and the University and Sterling are both 'Development Parties"

The Council can only terminate the agreement if one of the 'Development Parties', after being given notice of a breach of the terms and conditions, or 'an insolvency event', fails to remedy the breach within twenty days.

Those terms and conditions include meeting financial tests, obtaining project finance, the appointment of Vinci PLC as the contractor to carry out works at Delta Lakes, and demonstration of the project’s financial sustainability.

As I mentioned above, local contractors were a couple of weeks ago that Vinci were not the project's builders.

Obviously Sterling were ditched very quickly and as for the University, a spokesperson told the Herald "The University was given notice immediately before the termination"
Clearly Mr James assumed, somewhat arrogantly it seems, that the University would happily remain on board and enter into some other Mark James-style agreement. It seems not.

Mark James and Emlyn Dole had a surprise when they attended an urgent meeting with the Uni on Monday 10th December.

The Uni told them they had reservations about continuing their involvement at Delta Lakes. Mark James was not pleased and claimed that as the Uni had signed the three year Agreement it was bound (one way or another) to continue with the development. Funny how the Collaboration Agreement is now somehow 'binding', when it suits Mr James.

The University said that as the council had unilaterally ended the Agreement, it was now up to the Council to present fresh plans for it to consider before it made any further commitment to Delta Lakes.

It's perhaps worth reiterating the point that this was not the first time Mark James and Co had appointed Sterling as development partners, they had already done so in May 2016 in a 12 month 'exclusivity agreement' when they were known as Kent Neurosciences, a company with a 'proven track record'. A track record which, at that point, was a company with net liabilities of -£128k and developers of a private hospital which required a £20m bail out.

In less surprising news, and as I said on the 26th November, it has been confirmed this afternoon that the suspensions at Swansea Uni are related to the Wellness Village. The project is now on stop pending the outcome of an internal review and the UK/Welsh Government 'rapid review'.

* * * * *
Update 18th December;

The latest 'Cadno' opinion piece from this week's Carmarthenshire Herald......

Cadno visits the bog

Hello readers.
We live in interesting times. Or at least mildly diverting ones. 
It’s been a good while since Cadno considered anything other than the Llanelli’s Great Pit of Wellness. Events have moved on in connection with the Swamp Thing. We have reached a point where reality has far outstripped Cadno’s ability to lampoon it. 
Over the past fortnight, Cadno received a number of interesting envelopes from parts eastward. The missives contained many photocopied documents and intimations of shenanigans regarding Delta Lake.  
Cadno's poor furry brain ended up quite befuddled by all the very large numbers bombing around the drafts of this, the updates of that, and business cases in varying stages of preparation. 
Being a diligent sort of fox, Cadno took pains to check information. He tried to tie together the varying bits of information. As a result, he can now share with the results of his reading and research. 
Cadno now concludes that there are vast quantities of mind-altering hallucinogens being used by a large number of middle-aged men.  
He had not suspected those in positions of financial, political and executive responsibility were smoking hookah pipes and listening to Jefferson Airplane and Traffic. Still less did he imagine they did so while dreaming up ever larger figures with even more noughts on them than Mark James’ pay cheque. His preconceptions were set straight by his studies. 
Wow, readers! Just ‘wow!’ 
Some of the projections for the economic benefits of the projects are so wildly out of kilter with probability that they can only be the product of entire weekends spent rocked out of your box on old-school absinthe and magic mushrooms. ‘Fanciful’ is not strong enough a description. ‘Frankly crackers’ is possibly a tad too far. The only valid comparator Cadno can think of to illustrate the quandary of describing the business case for the Llanelli Bog Beast is to pose you, readers, a hypothetical question. 
Imagine you are stranded on a desert island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. You have a gun with a single bullet. The only other survivor is Jacob Rees Mogg. How long are the odds that you won’t end up shooting him? 
When you get into the hundreds of millions to one, you are in the same area as the chance of the Wellness Village delivering anything like what the Business case claims.
Wow, readers! Just ‘wow!’ 
It is worth pointing out, as Cadno has recently, the concepts underpinning many of these projects and their projected returns and economic value take absolutely no account of the potential adverse impact of leaving the EU. In the event the UK leaves without a deal, the economy WILL shrink in at least the short to medium term. Some way short of no deal’s worst-case scenario, the economy will tank in a way similar to the way it did ten years ago but with a pile more debt in the system and a weakened economic base for recovery. 
In the best case, we all get a little poorer and money gets tighter. 
Let’s suppose you are a large institution, for example, Swansea University. Let’s imagine you are faced with increasing costs, a shrinking student population due to demographics, reduced numbers of overseas students and access to overseas markets and expansion opportunities, you have already taken on a massive redevelopment and are committed to several other substantial projects. Then you are faced with having to source the thick end of £127.5m in funding in collaboration with a company whose balance sheet is yet to be published but whose directors’ recent record on healthcare projects is patchy. 
You might be inclined to scratch your head and wonder quite how you have ended up in such an exposed position. You might want to look again at the amount of money you are due to either funnel from your own backers to the Wellness Bog and whether you could use it better elsewhere. Perhaps without being exposed to so much financial risk.
Oh dear! You have a collaboration agreement with the Council. A legally binding one from which it would be most difficult to escape. 
Help is at hand in the unlikely shape of Mark James CeeBeebies. 
With no notice whatsoever he cancels the Collaboration Agreement and tells you the Council is dumping it shortly before he announces the Council is ending it in a press release. 
At that point, on a Friday, why should you spoil the moment by saying you were having second thoughts? 
No, readers, you let him publish a press release saying you are still beloved partners and tight in with him and his buddy Emlyn in your commitment to the Swamp Thing. 
You let him have the weekend. Then first thing Monday morning, you have a meeting with the smug little berk and give him the bad news. 
He is aghast. It was all your idea, he loudly claims. You came to the Council with the plan. You introduced the clan Dickmann and their 57 varieties of company to the show. At least that’s what he says now. When he was rolling in the glory of the Wellness Bog’s announcement, you remember he said it was all down to the Council’s skill and genius.
Oh dear. How sad. Never mind. 
You can then stand back comfortably while history is re-written in the most self-exculpatory and Stalinist way, safe in the knowledge that your £127.5m, or any part thereof, will not end up being spent on land reclamation costs and having to sort out enormous problems with road and transport infrastructure around the site.
In the meantime, while white elephants may safely graze they won’t be doing so on your coin. 
Of course, you can always reconsider your position. But the onus is now on Mark James CeeBeebies to come up with a Plan B that spreads the risk around. A new plan that does not depend so much on you levering your own investment partners into supporting a third party project. A new plan which is – perhaps – somewhat less the product of magical thinking about costs, benefits, outcomes and returns. 
Magical thinking is all very well, readers. There’s nothing wrong with staring into a blue sky for inspiration. But real blue sky thought can only take place when you have your paws, or feet, firmly on solid ground and not sinking in a marsh
* * * * *

Update 19th December;

The leader of Neath Port Talbot Council gave a statement this afternoon to a NPT full council meeting. He confirms that multiple 'reviews' are underway into the City Deal and the Wellness Village, particularly over matters of governance. He also confirms that the Joint Committee "resolved to withdraw – at least temporarily - the earlier approval for the Delta Lakes project."

"...all along we have been clear that we will not compromise on good governance and properly managing the financial implications for this authority. That will not change regardless of the outcome of the Governments review or anything else."

As for the UK Government 'rapid review', the chief executive of NPT has insisted that the final report is published "in full, with no redactions", and that the review "identifies specific recommendations –
not general or abstract principles – for remedying any identified defects in the governance arrangements."

NPT also confirm that they have only spent £20k so far on one of their projects. Carmarthenhire, on the other hand, had already spent £564k on the rapidly sinking Wellness vision, and that was by August 2017. That's without all those little hidden extras...

The tone of the statement contrasts sharply with the misleading nonsense peddled by Mark James and Emlyn Dole to Carmarthenshire councillors, and observers, last week (see main post). As I've said elsewhere, the police must to carry out a criminal investigation, and without a doubt, their first port of call needs to be the office of the City Deal 'Accountable Officer', Mark James.

The full text of the statement is here
I blogged about NPT's previous misgivings here.

For further background, please search this blog

Thursday, 6 December 2018

The Wellness Village - The end? - Updated - Sterling ditched

Later post, 13th December; Full council - Wellness Village and the Emperor's New Clothes, with updates

Update 12th December;
The Wales Audit Office are now carrying out a 'review' (investigation) of the council's role in all this.

Update 11th December;
The Llanelli Herald reports that Swansea University are no longer working on the Wellness Village. With Sterling now ditched, the contract (see pic below) signed between the council, Sterling and the University is now dissolved. Hywel Dda health board has also confirmed, again, that they have made no financial commitment to the scheme.
Mark James' 'key partners' are dropping like flies... As I said in April, a scandal in the making.
Report here.

Update 7th December; 
Sterling Health have now been ditched. Wales Online has a report here.
Both Emlyn Dole and Mark James are now talking utter b******s to try and stave off an investigation;

Dole; "The collaboration agreement [with Sterling Health] was simply an agreement to work together to develop the various aspects of the Delta Lakes project and draw up a development agreement for its delivery."That development agreement has not been agreed and the county council has concluded that the project can be better delivered in another way.“No public funding has been committed to the partners, no companies have been established, no shares allocated and no directors appointed."There is no liability on the county council whatsoever at this point.” 
The council wouldn't say how much it has spent on the Wellbeing Village to date. 
Its chief executive Mark James, added: “The council and its partners remain fully committed to develop the Life Science and Wellbeing Village."The council will now finalise the business plan to develop the Village with key partners including the Hywel Dda Health Board and the two universities [Swansea and Trinity St David]".

What an utter mess. These statements (issued at 5.03pm on a Friday, of course) beggar belief. Sterling's website, the council, and numerous press releases all confirm the 'landmark deal' had been signed and sealed. The council even 'partnered' with them in their previous incarnation as Kent Neurosciences.

Laughing all the way to the bank....

As I said, the council have already wasted millions on the project. A FOI back in August 2017 put the figure at over £2m between the Welsh Government and the council, 18 months of further expenditure has passed since then, and as we know, the project required £127m of private sector funding. The two health boards have no money to invest, and have in fact refused to fund it, and Swansea Uni and Trinity St David's (of which Mark James happens to be a director) are equally shaky. Let alone the matter of the current suspensions.

Financial institutions won't touch this with a bargepole.

Sterling's appointment was a corker to say the least; a company with a £137k deficit and zero income, and, as I have pointed out before, the family members were all set to cash in with their own little enterprises in this project, James Dickmann with Medparc and Phyllis Holt-Dickmann with the private creche. (for more, please see below or search this blog).

The responsibility for Sterling's appointment (the one bidder) was, as I said below, ultimately down to Mark James.

Everything that has happened, with Meryl, Clement, Sterling etc has been with his full knowledge and on his instruction.

And his sidekick Emlyn Dole? Mark James has led him like a lamb to the slaughter. What an idiot.

I could see there was something seriously wrong with all this over two years ago, it was a con and millions have already been siphoned off, and I've written and warned about it ever since. I'm just a blogger, so why on earth has it gone this far?

The two governments must start the 'rapid investigation' without delay, and in fact, what really needs to happen now, before the shredders get going, is a criminal investigation, starting in Mark James' office at County Hall, Carmarthen.

If he gets away with this one, after everything else, there's no bloody hope.

* * *

Update 6th December; The UK and Welsh Governments have announced a 'rapid independent review' of the City Deal, covering 'due diligence and governance'. About time too. The UK and Welsh Governments were expected to announce the release of City Deal cash in early December. It seems like they've had second thoughts. Good.
Maybe they've finally got round to reading this blog...

BBC report here and The Carmarthenshire Herald report here.

* * * 

Last Monday, the 26th November, I was the first to suggest there was a connection between the four suspensions at Swansea University and the proposed private health care 'Wellness Village' at Delta Lakes, Llanelli.
It now seems I was was right. Although, aside from the Daily Mail article the details are still not clear.

Following the Executive Board meeting on Monday (3rd December) where the Wellness village business case was up for approval, in private session, the council published a press release late yesterday afternoon.

They have approved it 'in principle' but, given the 'events' in Swansea, put in on hold. In fact they've had a couple of days to spin the blame entirely on those 'events in Swansea'. This might have been the catalyst, and the allegations are clearly serious, but not the whole story.

Buried within the council spin, there are a few key points.
The project has been put on hold, indefinitely it seems, whilst 'reassurances' are sought that due legal process has been followed and public funds properly protected.

This suggests, of course, that both of these elements have already been gravely compromised.

Council officers have also been asked to look for 'alternative' sources of funding, if this refers to both public and private funding it suggests that the City Deal money is now unlikely, as is anything from Swansea Uni, and that the appointment of Sterling as the 'private' sector partners could well be reversed.

Presumably the 'alternative' would be to rummage down the back of a sofa.

According to the press release, an independent assessment will be undertaken to iron out all these nasty little creases. I would suggest that the whole project is dead in the water, or in this case, the swamp. Llanelli will now be lucky if it even gets the new leisure centre.

Recent posts on this blog have detailed the tangled web of companies, directors, boards, ex-councillors, chief officer, missing tenders and potential conflicts of interest but at the heart of all this are the three main drivers, Mark James, Marc Clement and Meryl Gravell.

They go back a long way. Meryl was heavily involved with Clement with the failed Technium projects and more recently with the ARCH project. ARCH, 'A Regional Collaboration for Health', was a partner organisation for the Wellness Village, heavily influenced by the American based Global Wellness Institute, but were refused Welsh Government funding early in 2017.
ARCH is still significant although the project delivery team is now managed and hosted by the council.
Meryl then appeared as a director of Sterling only to suddenly resign from one of the companies in November.
As we know, Marc Clement was a director of Kent Neurosciences, which then became Sterling. He resigned from another company, Vardiola Ltd on the weekend of his suspension.

Then we have Mark James. Meryl Gravell was, always has been, and still is, directly under his instruction, rather like poor Emlyn. The relationship between Clement and Mark James, (the latter now the lead chief executive and the accountable officer for the whole city deal), is also close, both have been the key players from the start in this whole, decidedly un-transparent saga.

The strange tender process and appointment of Sterling was also down to Mark James, and Clement.

Millions have already been spent on this project without a brick being laid, not even an exciting Wellness brick.

As I said, this is a tangled web, all of which has been covered in past posts going back a few years, and no doubt more will emerge in due course but failures in governance, legal process and protecting the public purse have all the hallmarks of Mark James and the toxic culture of County Hall. And this is the lead authority for the City Deal...

The BBC reports that the Labour leader of the opposition, Cllr Rob James has called for the Wales Audit Office to step in and investigate, "Considering the strong working relationship between officers at Carmarthenshire council and those in Swansea University, I will be writing to the Wales Audit Office to ask for their participation in investigating the paper trail for the last few years". 
Cllr James has also submitted more questions for next week's full council meeting.

The suspensions at Swansea are only the start. Mark James, when not making his regular appearances in Private Eye, has a track record of failed vanity projects; a rap sheet of dipping his hand into the public purse, not protecting it, he has misled and lied to his employers and the courts, and failed to declare business and financial interests.
He, and Meryl, are in it up to their necks, but Meryl can be quietly put out to grass. And Emlyn? He has been negligent and weak to say the least.

I am sure more revelations will emerge, including the 'events in Swansea', but I look forward to the immediate suspension of Mr James and an urgent independent investigation into his role in the Wellness scam. If anything is to be saved from this sorry mess, his removal is crucial.

Please search this blog for further background and comment.