Thursday 31 March 2011

Stopped from Filming a Council Public Meeting

Again in the interests of transparency and so members of the public can see our wonderful planning department and committee in action I decided to film a snapshot of the proceedings.
As you will see from the video below (and on You Tube) I was stopped by the Council solicitor. Apparently it is not allowed (although I remember them allowing the BBC to film in the Chamber when Prince Charles' application went in front of the Committee a couple of years back - but I guess I am not Prince Charles..or the BBC am I?) Anyhow, like my previous attempts I believe I was acting in the public interest, at a public meeting, where elected councillors were doing their public duty. The Council officers are paid out of the public purse, therefore their actions should be transparent too. Surely they have nothing to hide?
I fail to understand their attitude and would have thought such actions would be welcomed as a means of direct accountability to the public. Obviously not. Perhaps it is the lack of control over the presentation of such footage which they object to.
I was also asked to give my name and address at the end of the meeting, I am not sure why, anyway I left before the end and didn't oblige. If they really want to know it will not be hard to find out.
I'll be back

31st March 2011
I have uploaded the video above onto You Tube and also a couple of others filmed briefly before I was noticed and stopped. I must add that there was no 'hidden camera' I was there for all to see. Apologies again for the quality.

and thanks to fellow blogger from Rhondda CT for the link; Candid With a Carmarthenshire Camera

Update 2nd April
A short appeal to anyone with a smartphone/recording device who happens to go to the public gallery in Carmarthenshire Council Chamber; (after you've got through the first barrier - THE DOOR TO THE PUBLIC GALLERY IS ALWAYS LOCKED and you have to trail around County Hall and several flights of stairs to get someone to open it)
Next time you are there, film/record the meeting - if enough people do this they might get the message.

Pantecelyn School - Judicial Review

I am publishing the following press release on behalf of the Save Pantecelyn Action Group (YPAG). Preliminary enquiries have been made regarding the possibility of launching a Judicial Review against the decision of Carmarthenshire County Council to close Pantecelyn Secondary school, Llandovery. Before taking this action it is necessary to ascertain the level of support such a move would have from all the interested parties;

"A core group of YPAG members have re-grouped and made enquiries about pro-bono representation in court to pursue a judicial review. This looks very possible but before going ahead with this the YPAG members would like to give a last opportunity for those who oppose the judicial review to have their say. We understand that support has fluctuated for a number of reasons but there are still very enthusiastic supporters of this action. The edict from Carmarthen Council has been that the decision about the school should be made on the educational advantages alone. There has been some argument that local tradesmen will suffer if the new school does not go ahead. Also there seems to be some idea that Pantycelyn will become a Welsh School which we would not wish to oppose. However the survey conducted among primary school parents concerning their preferences did not support welsh only secondary education in the Llandovery area. We have also made enquiries about this possibility but these have brought forward no evidence at all that this will be the case. The argument that more subjects are necessary (which is given as the driver of this reform) is not supported by all educationalists or politicians. Many understand quality not quantity is needed. Whilst the grant will make possible the very necessary rebuilding of a school to service the Llandeilo area, we feel that this money should be available without the proviso that Pantycelyn should be closed, and will continue to lobby AM’s on this. If you have strong views against this action being taken we need to hear from you. The democratic process needs people to speak up and air their views so please contact us by via email: or telephone. You can also write to YPAG , The Drovers, Market Square, Llandovery, SA20 0AB."

There are several posts on this blog concerning this matter which can be searched for in the searchbox on the right

The final consultation document is now on the council website along with the response form here; (under heading 'useful documents')
The final day to submit you concerns is June 17th 2011. The plan is to close Pantecelyn and Tregib by summer 2012 but use the buildings for temporary arrangements for the children until the new school opens in, maybe, 2015.

Wednesday 30 March 2011

The Council Works in Mysterious Ways...

I see that Carmarthenshire Council are planning to give £280,000 towards the funding of the proposed bowling alley and community facility on the old St Ivel site in Carmarthen for the Towy Community Church. This is on top of the land already donated last year to the value of £750,000. In fact I didn't realise the Council had so much spare cash - have I missed something? This decision should please all those campaigning to preserve the non-denominational day centres for the elderly, village schools, care homes, libraries etc obviously the budget predictions were entirely wrong and all will be saved. 
Naturally, I believe such ventures, religious or otherwise should be encouraged, I wouldn't want to put a dampener on such enthusiastic community spirit...In fact I am thinking of setting up my own 'Caebrwyn Community Fellowship' as I am sure the Council would give me some prime development land and a few quid to start my own church community facility...wouldn't they?
I think we need a little more clarity over this.

Later Post;

Tuesday 29 March 2011

County Hall Pravda Rebranded

One of my correspondents drew my attention to the fact that the council rag 'Community News' is coming to an end. However my celebrations were shortlived when I realised that it is to be 're-branded' as the 'Carmarthenshire News'. I then remembered this previous post from January  County Hall 'Pravda' Expands.. which explains how Council 'partners' eg the health board and FE colleges will now be contributing to this nonsense out of their meagre budgets. I hope the 'partners' are pleased with the contents of the current issue which has no less than six photos featuring Executive Board Member Cllr Scourfield, and feel this will bode well for the future...

(Please see further posts on the 'Community News' by searching this blog)

Police to Investigate Wales Audit Office?

 I see that the committee of AM's are now demanding a police investigation into Jeremy Colman's dealings whilst he was chief of the Wales Audit Office, particularly the circumstances surrounding the £750,000 retirement package paid to the ex-chief operating officer, Anthony Snow.  As you can imagine the current management of the WAO would rather not bother. To anyone who has followed this saga it is absolutely clear that something was very wrong;
The Committee chairman said  "It is with great regret that we have had to consider these matters and we believe they are largely due to the actions of one person who decided the high standards and expectation required for the position of auditor general did not apply to him......My committee colleagues and I believe that a question remains as to whether aspects of Mr Colman's conduct could be considered criminal and that this question will remain unanswered unless an appropriate authority reviews the evidence we've received"
AMs demand Wales Audit Office £750,000 pay-off inquiry  BBC News

Sunday 27 March 2011

Grants, Loans and an Inappropriate '!'

A forthcoming report to the Council's Audit Committee illustrates the ineffectiveness of the Wales Audit Office and failings within the Council Resources department. The WAO has been highlighted serious failings in the Council's grant procedures since 2008 (previous posts 'Council Grant Process Deteriorates' and 'Failing to Follow the Rules' have now been removed)  and it appears the same issues, for example, non-compliance with tendering procedures, errors in claim forms, ineligible expenditure being claimed and insufficient documentation are still areas of concern in a report dated March 2011. The number of grant claims that have had to be amended puts Carmarthenshire Council well below the Wales average - not something they're likely to trumpet from the pages of the 'Community News'.

A recent meeting of the Environment Scrutiny committee finally saw the report dealing with the relationship between Carmarthenshire Council and it's 'wholly owned' company, Cwm Environmental Ltd, which handles the Council's recycling programme. A few concerns were raised, one of which was the lack of representation from the Council on the Board of Directors, apparently it was deemed perfectly acceptable that the only representative on the Board is an ex-official of the that's ok then...?
I have previously mentioned two loans made by the Council to this company in 2008 totalling £650,000 to further expand the recycling facilities (according to the report they were unable to raise it from the bank), it would then appear that the location of the facility will be long term, and one wonders whether the £4 million held in 'reserve' for 'reinstatement purposes' couldn't have been at least partly used, as one Councillor suggested, to plug the hole in the council's budget deficit? I seem to remember, from the meeting he was told "there was no money there".

Lastly, back to planning and I wonder whether there is ever an appropriate use of an exclamation mark in a planning officers report? Whatever the merits or otherwise of a planning application, the associated costs of the application can be substantial, particularly when an agent is employed and no matter how the planning officer feels about the application, the applicant should be able to expect an objective appraisal. The use of an exclamation mark in a report which is going in front of next week's Planning Committee meeting, says an awful lot more than the words and sends a definite and intentional message of ridicule to anyone who cares to read it. Need I add, it's recommended for refusal.
Very unprofessional.


Thursday 24 March 2011

Wales Audit Office Whitewash

Well, as promised the ex-chief officer of the Wales Audit Office, Anthony Snow was brought before the Assembly Public Accounts Committee yesterday as part of the investigation into the financial peculiarities of the WAO.
If the exercise was about drawing a line under the alleged 'discrepancies' unearthed since the departure of Jeremy Coleman, it merely raised more questions, questions which will remain unanswered as it became apparent that nothing was ever written down. The relaxed Mr Snow clearly knew he would have nothing to fear and despite attempts by some AM's to prod, albeit mildly, a little deeper, into matters such as why expensive 'coaching sessions' were held regularly at a private London club, he deflected all with the skill of an experienced politician.
If the WAG Public Accounts Committee is the last resort for such investigations it is obvious that the public purse is no more protected by them than it is by the Wales Audit Office.

The Inside Out blog puts it rather well here

Tuesday 22 March 2011

School Spin and More..

I see the latest press release from Carmarthenshire Council announces that the funding for the new superschool on the flood plains of Ffairfach is now available. I do not doubt this is good news for some but as the council 'press on' with the programme, the closure of Llandovery's Pantecelyn secondary school, is, sadly, entirely presupposed. and therefore probably inevitable. Typically of this council, the little inconvenience of the official consultation, including the Community Impact Assessment (the effect on Llandovery and surrounding area) has yet to be even started. In fact the press release states that the proposals will now be shared with all the interested parties - it doesn't look like there is much choice in the matter really. I also wonder who will be doing the Impact independent body?

Needless to say the campaigners trying to save the school are astonished but not surprised by the council's bulldozer tactics. Underneath the spin, the school reorganisation programme is perhaps designed not to deliver better education but simply a cost-cutting exercise. You never know though, there may be another revolt as we saw over the care home closures..

Thursday 17 March 2011

Carmarthenshire Council's Fat Cats 2011

The Taxpayer's Alliance has, for our convenience, published it's annual Town Hall Rich List for 2009/2010, I should imagine there will be a few blogs up and down the country sporting similar images as the one on the right, and not without good reason, Council's are only required to name those with the highest salaries. For staff earning over £60,000 there is a head count, this rose from 116 in 2008/9 to 135 2009/10. In the higher end of this scale, (£90,000 to £119,000) despite the apparently dire financial climate and public services and low paid workers facing the axe, the number of senior managers rose from 23 to 27. So much for 'efficiency savings in senior management'.

The highest paid (including pensions);
Mark James, Chief Executive - £188,018 (includes expenses etc but not his fees as Returning Officer for elections, ie. announcing the result)
Dave Gilbert, Director of Regeneration & Leisure - £147,637
Richard Workman, Director of Technical Services - £135,451
Bruce McLernon, Director of Social Care, health and Housing - £135,189
Roger Jones, Director of Resources - £135,219 
Robert Sully, Director of Education and Children's Services - £135,333

These figures do not include other fees and expense allowances  which may or may not be registered somewhere in the dusty basements of County Hall, or maybe even in the 'nuclear bunker' (anyone remember that? built without planning permission in 1986 which then had to be granted 'retrospectively'...I digress)
Sadly, unlike with private companies, we do not have the option of taking our custom elsewhere.  

At the other end of the scale is Anne Dawson, the school cook from Llanelli, forced to retire early, and, after three years is still fighting a claim for equal pay...I can't see our fat cats having problems like that can you?

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Carmarthenshire Planning - Ignoring it's own Rules

This week's Llanelli Star reports that Carmarthenshire's Planning and Legal Departments are ignoring it's own rules;

The council in Carmarthenshire has been accused of riding roughshod over its own planning rules by allowing a developer to build new homes before addressing potential flooding risks.

Campaigner Delme Phillips is against putting the 137-home estate on around four hectares of land which consists of St Michael's school playing fields and open pasture land off Heol-y-Mynydd Road in Bryn.
The 62-year-old, who lives around 100 yards from the proposed site, said he and other residents feared sewage and drainage problems, as well as increased traffic if the scheme was given the go-ahead.
However the plans, submitted by Asbri Planning, on behalf of Barratt Homes, were approved by the council's planning committee last July, with a condition being that "a detailed scheme for the removal of highway surface water from the combined sewer is submitted, the implementation of which to be secured by a Grampian condition".
The imposing of such a condition means the development cannot start until works required off-site have been completed.
So Mr Phillips said he was angered to see contractors for Barratt Homes begin work on the site last month, apparently without the required drainage work being done.
On further investigation, he was shocked to discover the council had mysteriously changed tack.
In a letter to the Star, Mr Phillips explained: "I obtained a copy of the full planning permission issued to Barratt Homes and signed by EW Bowen, head of planning.

"The condition quoted above has been ignored, but, even more alarmingly, condition nine of the permission issued to Barratt Homes totally alters that condition's requirements. This is a condition that completely overturns the wishes of the planning committee.
"I have written to the chief executive of Carmarthenshire Council, the head of law and the head of planning due to the urgency of this issue and have pointed out that I believe that the changing/ignoring of the planning condition is illegal."

But Carmarthenshire Council senior solicitor Steven Murphy said the authority had acted within the law.
He said: "The head of planning has authority to amend and/or add conditions in relation to applications approved by the planning committee in these circumstances."

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Is Pantecelyn School Now Sustainable? - Part Two

Following on from this previous post, 'Is Pantecelyn School now Sustainable? I see that the Save Pantecelyn Action Group have written, as below, asking that very question. The contents are self explanatory;
To all AM’s, local newspapers (Carmarthen Journal & South Wales Guardian), Education Department Carmarthenshire County Council/FAO: Mr. Robert Sully;

In 2008 the process of reforming the Welsh Education system started and the Dinefwr area of Carmarthenshire going under the name Tri-Level Reform was set in motion. The reason for this was the fact that the Welsh Assembly made statutory regulations that schools had to offer 28-30 subjects and if they could not, they would be in breach of the regulations. The Tri-Level Reform set up a group of Head Teachers and C.C.C. Education officials in order to see how the current schools in the area could be reorganised to offer these subjects. Public Consultations followed, plans were submitted to the Welsh Assembly Government and consultants instructed. In short, millions of pounds were spent and a massive amount of time used to try and implement the WAG reforms.

In February 2011 Mr. Leighton Andrews/Education Minister announced that there are too many subjects being taught across Wales and they need to be “slashed” in order to bring the emphasis back on “quality” qualifications.

This makes a complete mockery of the last three years. Nobody now knows where they stand, be it schools, parents, pupils, teachers and the education departments.

What is the Government now going to do about this? In particular from our point of view , Ysgol Gyfun Pantycelyn in Llandovery is now a sustainable school. Is it not time that our 3 local county councillors, our own local AM and MP start fighting for our school in Llandovery? These changes throw a complete new light on the delivery of “21st century education”. The vast amount of public money wasted on the Tri-Level Reform should have been spent on improving the education of our pupils all along.

Save Ysgol Pantycelyn Action Group Committee.
and previous posts throughout this blog, please search.

Friday 4 March 2011

Pantecelyn - Letter in South Wales Guardian

In response to this article about Llandovery sorting office in the South Wales Guardian, 'Anger as Last Post Sounds in Llandovery' I had to drop the paper a line expressing my disbelief over County Councillor Ivor Jackson's comments and, more particularly, the lack of them, regarding the impending closure of Pantecelyn secondary school.
He says, astonishingly, of the sorting office (but not the school of course);
"It's a crying shame we're losing a facility which has been in Llandovery for so many years,"
Anyway here it is (and I include here the last sentence which had been edited out by the paper);
'Dear Editor,
I must comment on County Councillor Ivor Jackson's concerns about the nine postal staff in Llandovery in your article 'Last Post Sounds in Llandovery'. It goes without saying that these hard working people who are up early in all weathers, doing a great service, should be supported in every way possible. What I find hard to believe is why Cllr Jackson is not equally as vocal about the hundreds of schoolchildren who soon will have to do the same 24 mile journey, some of them much further, and in all weathers when Pantecelyn School finally closes it's doors.
As he says, it's a 'crying shame' that the last 'post' will be sounding in Llandovery but no one has seen him shedding any tears, or speaking out, over the last bell ringing at Pantecelyn.

Then again, perhaps it is easier for him to snap at the Post Office than to bite the hand that feeds him, Carmarthenshire County Council.
yours sincerely'

For your information here is the costs incurred so far, funded by the Welsh Assembly, for the Dinefwr School Reforms programme. I am not sure what 'Internal Management Fees' are but I daresay it's essential spending. Other consultants' costs are self explanatory.
I am quite clearly in the wrong business.