Wednesday 29 August 2012

Wales Blog Awards 2012 Shortlist

I am very pleased to say that this blog has made it to the Wales Blog Awards shortlist for the third year running. As winner of best political blog 2011, it is in the same category again for 2012. Thank you to whoever nominated me.

I'm in very fine company with fellow Carmarthenshire blogger, Y Cneifiwr and Bridgend based Oggy Bloggy Ogwr also in the running.

Very best of luck to everyone.

There is a People's Choice award too, click here to cast your vote. closing date is the 14th Spetember.

PS I've thoroughly enjoyed my prize of a year's subscription to Private Eye, which has had the added bonus of featuring Carmarthenshire Council several times.

Me - 2011 best political blog

Blood from a stone - more from the council accounts

Prompted by our recent trip to view the council accounts, (see Council accounts - and the value of FoI) one of our intrepid number, after being refused the information at the time, sent in a FoI request asking how much the council had spent with various companies, per year, over the last five years. I believe there is more information to follow but here's a starter, with some interesting figures.

First up are Atkins and Arup who have been gainfully employed by the council to produce various land use studies, design briefs and suchlike to encourage us all to believe in the financial viability of the various regeneration 'visions' emanating from County Hall. Atkins, earning £2.8m from the council over the last five years, were responsible for the site selection process for the new superschool (£511k plus £33k for a 'cost plan', yes a cost-plan, to Faithful Gould Ltd, a subsidiary to Atkins) to replace Pantycelyn, there was consternation at the time that this had been commissioned with no written brief from the council whatsoever. Arup Ltd (£2.06m over five years) were paid £6230 for a Travel Impact Assessment for the school site, which presumably drew the conclusion that it was perfectly reasonable for a pupil to spend over two hours on the bus every day. Figures for other favourite council consultancies such as Nathaniel Lichfield Partnership who specialise in retail assessments, have yet to be revealed.

Cwm Environmental Ltd is that recycling company 'wholly owned' by the council. It has had several mentions on this blog. I presume the payments, totalling £30m, are for recycling services but the relationship remains unclear. Hard to detect in this years council accounts, they were the subject of a significant 'administration error' in last year's books. The requirement that an elected member from the council sits on the Board of Directors to represent the interests of the taxpayer was dropped a year or so ago but apparently this is 'within the legal requirements' of an 'arms length company'. There we are then.

As ever, more questions are raised by the figures, why a private company Ffos Las Ltd had £20,000 in 2010 and why Ffos Las Racecourse Ltd (clearly related to the former) has had £44,917 over the past three years is a bit of a mystery (perhaps this is why they're having to review their Gambling Policy?..I'm joking of course).
As for law firms, I imagine the overall totals are substantial. So far we have the figures for one firm, Geldards LLP who, according to their website, specialise in commercial/property law; last year they were paid £984,057 by the council. The five year total, which includes that figure, amounts to £2.74m. The council lists 17 separate law firms and 18 law chambers on their books - this was the result of a FoI request made back in December 2010, the total spend on solicitors and barristers in 2009-10 was £711,832, this must have gone up a fair bit by now, especially as this one firm has had nearly a million in the last year alone.

Perhaps it's just me but I find all these figures quite alarming, particularly given the 'cash-strapped' status and necessary cuts to frontline services, as claimed by our local authority. With the introductionof tendering frameworks, companies providing various services are retained over several years, supposedly to avoid the necessity and associated costs of separate tendering exercises.
Unfortunately, given these figures, this might not be the most cost efficient method and given the difficulty of extracting the information (blood from a stone) it may not be the most transparent way either.

Of general interest, a recent Guardian article on the dangers to councils of outsourcing to the big boys;

Football - it's just not rugby....

Recent local news has reported on the financial plight of Llanelli AFC (the Reds). For various reasons the club is facing mounting debts including a winding-up order from the taxman for £70,000 (unconfirmed amount). Of course this is football and not rugby. Had it been the local rugby team, with a debt running to £9m, one could expect Carmarthenshire Council to leap in and save the day with a big wedge of taxpayers money, despite conflicting advice, at the time, from the accountants. I am referring, of course to the Parc Y Scarlets stadium saga.

I wish all local teams sporting success of course whether it's rugby or football, but, as I have mentioned numerous times one can't help notice the special place that rugby has in the hearts of our local authority. They almost branched out into the world of Olympic hurdling as the press office wiled away the early summer months by hiding a cardboard cutout of Dai Greene around Llanelli. However, it appears that Mr Greene has  been dropped like a stone since the big event without even a 'well done anyway' on the council website.

Robbie Savage has replaced him now as the latest council celebrity, fortunately for him, his career has developed away from football to that of telly dancing stardom and straight into the heart of the Exec Member for Regeneration and Planning, Meryl Gravell.

Meryl adopting the same hair colour as Robbie Savage

Even celebrities have to toe the line though when it comes to positive propaganda - Prince Charles, naturally, couldn't go wrong - even by acquiring two new homes at Llwynwermod (in 'open countryside'), he failed to raise more than an eyebrow apart from those eyebrows belonging to local residents who hadn't been so, er, fortunate (and an early appearance for the Council in Private Eye).
A few years back I remember one celeb, Neil Morrisey (out of Men Behaving Badly/Bob the Builder) who failed to follow the PR rules. He blasted the Planning Department as 'shambolic' in a press release concerning planning row over a hotel in Laugharne. The following week, what appeared to be almost a legal apology and correction appeared in the Carmarthen Journal from Bob himself.

Anyway, I have completely digressed from my original point which was about the Council's enthusiasm for all things rugby and, as this Llanelli Star letter writer and football fan has put so succinctly, the precedent which has now been set....   .

"The Reds can now enjoy the support of Carmarthenshire Council and expect the following:

1. Be able to sell their existing ground for profit even though they do not actually own it.

2. Get the council to provide a pocket of land, free of charge, and have a new purpose-built stadium erected at taxpayers' expense.

3. As a further benefit, be allowed to charge third party users of the ground for profit, even though they do not own the stadium or indeed the land it is built on.

4. Get a £2.4million bridging loan from the council at almost interest free rates, and start paying it back when it is convenient. Maybe never?

5. Get the council to commit to pay for a member of staff in order to 'develop the business' for the future. This appointment will be over an indefinite time period and will help with future creative accountancy problems.

6. Be provided with a brand new retail outlet in the East Gate development even though the club has not paid a penny back on the £2.4 million bridging loan.

7. As a safety net for future difficulties it will also be possible to sell a part of the new gifted land adjacent to the new gifted stadium to a brewery company wishing to build a hotel — again for profit.

After all the precedent has been set.

R L Rees


Update 3rd September;
Local press are reporting that the legal action by the taxman has been withdrawn as club bosses have managed to settle most of the debts.

Monday 27 August 2012

Bank Holiday bulletin

Still all quiet at the Carmarthenshire Kremlin by way of meetings, important decisions on policy etc since, more or less, the beginning of March, and still the special responsibility/executive allowances roll in, as reported by Cneifiwr.
After all the thrills and spills and prolonged propaganda campaign surrounding Kev's Day Out in Ammanford you would think that September would be the month to settle down to business; disappointingly, the Executive Board meeting scheduled for the 2nd September now has that familiar word 'Cancelled' alongside.  Or perhaps the transformation is complete and elected councillors are now completely surplus to requirements....

The Wales Audit Office have gone all quiet, it remains to be seen whether they will 'question' the  accounts. They still appear to be having trouble with their own and have had problems in the recent past with their own accounting 'black holes'.

The county council have also picked a quiet time to 'ask for people's views' on flooding issues in the county. Usually, people's views on flooding issues (or anything else for that matter), are completely ignored but they now have a duty under the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 to prepare a 'strategy', and as is usual with 'strategies', that will be ignored too. Take for example the Stradey homes development, or even the new development in Machynys Llanelli for 35 homes and an 'Eco Park' (whatever one of those might be), where 25,000 cubic metres of soil will have to be brought in to raise the level by 7.1 metres to avoid washing the whole thing away.

The site selected by the council for the new school in Ffairfach is another case in point. planning has yet to be submitted as the final decision is still in Leighton Andrews in-tray, but out of a possible 14 sites, it was the wettest one which was the 'preferred option'. Lying in the bottom levels of the very fertile Towy Valley the frequent flooding of the Towy basin yields a healthy crop of silage and fat lambs every year, hopefully the new school will also produce similarly healthy fat lambs. Must be part of the site 'criteria'.

 'artists impression' of new superschool in Ffairfach with flood mitigation measures...
Incidentally, consultants costs, as of 2nd March 2011 (and there have been lots more 'artists impressions' etc in the 18 months since then) for the whole Modernising Education Programme in Dinefwr was £996,458.47, that was at the time when Pantycelyn school was struggling to reduce it's deficit of around £150,000, one of the reasons cited by the council for it's closure.

Betws Community Council sounded a little miffed in the South Wales Guardian as the details of their objections to an application for 11 homes were completely ignored at the last meeting of the planning committee. It seems that although the county council knew there was a 'comment', the actual details and the fact that it constituted an objection, were 'not known'. The Chair of Betws Community Council sounded fairly resigned to it all and said, "it's amazing what gets lost at County Hall". Quite so.

A little more on the partial response to my last Freedom of Information request (see FoI in meltdown?) . The figures which were supplied show a steady increase in the number of FoI/EIR (Environmental Information Requests) requests since 2009.  Roughly a third more were submitted this year than in 2009. The number of refusals, however, has almost doubled, as have the number of requests for internal reviews. I have yet to have an original decision overturned during the 'internal appeal' stage and by looking at the figures, only a handful ever have, and none last year. However it is difficult to analyse the numbers without the little details such as reasons for refusal etc, and I hear another request has gone in which may provide some flesh on the bare bones.
Anyway, in case you didn't click on the link last time, here's the figures;

1. Number of requests;
2009/10 – 80 EIR, 609 FOIA
2010/11 – 59 EIR, 803 FOIA
2011/12 – 31 EIR, 900 FOIA

2. How many FoI and EIR requests have been refused in each of these years;

2009/10 – 120
2010/11 – 195
2011/12 – 220

(We have defined ‘refused’ as cases where information held has been
refused in whole or part by the application of an FOIA exemption/EIR

3. How many of those refused, subsequently went to an internal appeal, per

2009/10 – 11
2010/11 – 10
2011/12 – 23

4.. How many of those internal appeals were either upheld or dismissed, per

2009/10 – 1 upheld, 1 upheld in part and 1 request revised at appeal with
information then disclosed under the Data Protection Act.  8 appeals not
2010/11 – No appeals upheld. 10 appeals not upheld/dismissed.
2011/12 – 3 appeals upheld, 3 upheld in part. 17 appeals not

How many people actually go on to complain to the Information Commissioner is not known, I imagine that precious few can be bothered to plough through the lengthy procedure. However, a local authority will only learn by it's mistakes so I would urge anyone with the grounds for doing so, to contact the ICO and complain, particularly if your response is a) unsatisfactory, b) unlikely and c) considerably over the 20 day limit. I have recently taken the plunge with the recently refused request for correspondence between the council and the Towy Community Church.

Thursday 23 August 2012

Eric Pickles - Unlocking the doors?

New laws come into effect in September in an attempt to open up local government and provide a legal basis for greater transparency and the rights of members of the public to report and record meetings. I'm not sure how much will apply to Wales, the Welsh Government seems to be able to pick and choose which UK legislation it's obliged to follow, or not. As I have said, all of these issues of transparency and openness should be cross-party - something I trust our equivalent Welsh Minister, Carl Sargeant would agree with me on.

I doubt very much whether anything Mr Pickles says, or anyone else for that matter would make much difference to the way things are done in Carmarthenshire - or would improve the dire levels of debate, unnecessarily closed meetings and locked doors.....

The full statement can be read here, with a few snippets below;

Ministers have put new regulations before Parliament that would come into force next month to extend the rights of people to attend all meetings of a council's executive, its committees and subcommittees.New law changes to introduce greater openness and transparency in executive councils meetings will mean all decisions including those affecting budgets and local services will have to be taken in an open and public forum, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles announced today..... 
Chris Taggart, of, which has long championed the nedd to open council business up to public scrutiny, added; 
"In a world where hi-definition video cameras are under £100 and hyperlocal bloggers are doing some of the best council reporting in the country, it is crazy that councils are prohibiting members of the public from videoing, tweeting and live-blogging their meetings"...... 
Presumption in favour of openness: In the past councils could cite political advice as justification for closing a meeting to the public and press, or state that decisions being made were not 'key decisions'. The new regulations create a presumption that all meetings of the executive, its committees and subcommittees are to be held in public (regulation 3) unless a narrowly defined legal exception applies. A meeting will only be held in private if confidential information would be disclosed, or a resolution has been passed to exclude the public because exempt information is likely is be disclosed, or a lawful power is used to exclude the public in order to maintain orderly conduct at the meeting (regulation 4).
New legal rights for citizen reporters: Local authorities are now obliged to provide reasonable facilities for members of the public to report the proceedings as well as accredited newspapers (regulation 4). This will make it easier for new 'social media' reporting of council executive meetings thereby opening proceedings up to internet bloggers, tweeting and hyperlocal news forums. 
Holding private meetings: In the past council executives could hold meetings in private without giving public notice. Where a meeting is to be held in private, the executive or committee must provide 28 days notice during which the public may make representations about why the meeting should be held in public. Where the notice requirements for a private meeting and an agreement of the chairman of the relevant overview and scrutiny committee or chairman of the relevant local authority has been obtained, the decision-making body must publish a notice as soon as reasonably practicable explaining why the meeting is urgent and cannot be deferred (regulation 5).

The Local Government Information Unit blog has posed the question whether these measure will create greater interest in local government, (I've left a comment) 

Wednesday 22 August 2012

FoI in meltdown?

A belated response to my latest FoI arrived this morning. It concerned the costs associated with FoI/EIR requests and the Media Department. The full thread of correspondence and further details can be read, as usual, here.

Some information was provided but I was surprised that FoI costs, including internal reviews, were not, and in fact, were not held; I had asked for information already held, and given that the volume of requests had gone up by a third in two years you would think a costing system would have been formulated, there doesn't even appear to be an allowance in the council budget for this entire area, it's certainly not obvious from looking at this anyway.

It's even stranger when you consider the "exceeding the cost limit" refusals I have had, where very precise costing details are set out including, it seems, time and motion studies.

Anyway, it also appears that the FoI department, which is also responsible for ensuring the council complies with the increasingly sensitive areas of Data Protection, is somewhat under resourced with just two employees. Responses are now commonly late putting the council in breach of the law. Plaid's @cjharris85, researcher for the AM and MP mentioned on twitter that his latest request is 13 days late, the second consecutive delay.

As usual for our image conscious council there is an imbalance, the department of truth is far less important than the department of spin. The overactive press team (or 'SirgarPR' to give it it's rebranded title) can boast a core team of seven (eight if you include the current vacancy, for which I might apply), a burgeoning 'Communications' budget allowance (which includes the 'creative accounting' of the council rag) and an official photographer.

Job descriptions include an ability to improve the council's image and, for the Press Manager, who bore the brunt of the latest failed executive coup of the local free press;

"To manage a top quality press operation that will deliver improved relationships, with the press and media resulting in improved coverage for the council"

Oh dear, and I don't suppose 'coverage' includes regular appearances in Private Eye either.

(numerous previous FoI posts, including yesterday's FoI post and this one relating to costs)

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Correspondence withheld

A little while ago I asked for correspondence between Council and the Towy Community Church relating to the bowling alley project, the controversies have been covered by bloggers and press alike. The request was refused on 'cost' grounds.

Unsurprisingly, so was the subsequent 'internal review'.
The refusal notice can be downloaded from here. Legal services have gone into some detail and made an enormous mountain out of a molehill,  presumably with the intention of deterring the interest of the Information Commissioner. It's all a bit reminiscent of my failed request for a breakdown of officers' expenses; and a seemingly disorganised and scattered filing system.

This is the project (the church/bowling alley) to which the council has committed £1.4m of taxpayers money; fills six (yes, six) lever arch files in the regeneration department (and more in other departments, according to Legal department) yet fails to appear anywhere in the council ledgers.

It look like I'll be heading back to the Information Commissioner. This is the second time this excuse has been used by the council.

I have also asked how much the council spends on dealing with FoI requests. Although now nearly two weeks late, the query is, apparently, at an ‘advanced stage’ and will be answered this week. I have a feeling that no expense will be spared and any ‘cost limits’ will go out of the window, as it will be seen by County Hall as a golden opportunity to blame members of the public for stretching the budget with their pesky questions. Perhaps I'll be wrong and I'll get a refusal, either way, I'll let you know.

Thursday 16 August 2012

Chief Executive's complaints to the Ombudsman fail

I had heard about this some time ago but have only just got back online. The Western Mail has picked up on the story and I presume our local papers will report on it next week (will they?).

I have mentioned Cllr Sian Caiach many times on this blog as she is one of only a small handful of councillors who consistently and vocally challenge some of the more bizarre decisions taken by senior management and executive members. This has, as you will be aware brought her into conflict, on occasion, with the Chief Executive, Mark James. She is never the flavour of the month in the presidential suite.

Last year, as reported on this blog, Mr James took things a stage further and restricted her access to officers for "asking too many questions" (these are questions on behalf of constituents), he then made multiple complaints to the Ombudsman claiming that she had breached the councillors code of conduct.

None of the complaints were upheld, including the 'too many questions', and Cllr Caiach's restrictions were lifted. No actual figures were ever produced to back the claim up and Cllr Caiach believes it was the nature rather than the number of questions which were causing the, er, 'problem'.

Similarly, a complaint that she had asked the Head of Administration and Law for her legal qualifications (which was never answered) never made it to the investigation stage. Cllr Caiach was asked to make statements on other matters, none of which were regarded as code breaches. As a result the ombudsman has investigated several matters which Cllr Caiach was not even aware of and which could probably have been dealt with between the persons concerned.

For instance, the council press office claimed to have been told by a BBC reporter that Cllr Caiach had said "I don't believe a word Mark James says". The press office considered the remark to be possibly defamatory and referred it to the legal department and to Mr James.
The remark concerned allegations made by Mr James that funding for a local school may have been lost due to an objection made by Cllr Caiach. The objection was to the siting, the size and the policy of setting up very large Welsh language primary schools rather than Welsh language community schools. Cllr Caiach herself doubted whether her objection would have swayed the Welsh Government minister controlling the funding anyway, and the remark was specifically related to the funding issue. This led to Mr James making an abortive complaint to the ombudsman whereas a single call to Cllr Caiach asking for her clarification could have saved a great deal of money, effort and stress.

The Ombudsman has now written to Cllr Caiach to say that he has found no evidence whatsoever that they failed to comply with the code of conduct, referring to the recent judgement concerning the Pembrokeshire Councillor, (Calver v Adjudication Panel Wales) and article 10 of the Human Rights Act.

Another of the complaints was that Cllr Caiach had communicated to a journalist (who did not publish the comment) that she regarded former Leader, Meryl Gravell as the Chief Executive's 'cash cow'. Although Mr James made the complaint, Cllr Gravell made a statement about how upset she was and how offensive she found the term. Cllr Caiach explained her views on the matter in her own statement.
She was concerned (aren't we all) at the large salary increases Mr James and other senior managers had been awarded and the poor economic returns of several large and expensive council funded developments which Mr James had championed. As Cllr Gravell, as Leader, had secured the funding for these projects and the salary increases, she was, in Cllr Caiach's opinion, his 'cash cow'. The ombudsman concluded that this comment was not a breach of the code.

The complaints brought by Mr James clearly show how the code of conduct and complaint system can be open to abuse. Cllr Caiach believes that at it's worst, the code can be used to threaten councillors, stifle debate and restrict the freedom that councillors have to represent the interests of constituents.

Meanwhile, unlike the Chief Executive, some members of the public are having a little success with the ombudsman. One example being a long running saga concerning planning enforcement, the findings of the ombudsman were so severe that he has recommended the council consider amending it's constitution to enable the planning committee to determine issues of enforcement in certain cases. Currently, enforcement decisions are taken by officers under delegated powers - clearly the ombudsman has about as much faith in Carmarthenshire's Planning Department as the rest of us do...

The ombudsman should be there, essentially as a watchdog for the public when there are clear breaches concerning failure to declare business/financial/personal interests by officers and members alike. In my opinion, he still has some way to go on these matters, matters which determine the public perception of honesty and integrity within a council. He should also be there when a public body such as Carmarthenshire Council acts beyond it's powers and for when it is guilty of catastrophic failure to perform it's statutory duties, (including failure to adhere to it own whistleblowing policy) causing distress and anguish to those on the receiving end.
This is something which appear to be happening at an accelerating rate under this out-of-control and dysfunctional local authority.

Here's Martin Shipton's article from the Western Mail;

Ombudsman tells council boss that comments made were acceptable

Recent posts include; Ombudsman slams Carmarthenshire's complaint handling and Ombudsman warns councils over legal costs

....and Cneifiwr has an interesting post about the ombudsman here; Carmarthenshire; It's complaints galore!

Friday 10 August 2012

Snoring councillors and webcasting - Today's Western Mail

Today's Western Mail reports on a Caerphilly Councillor's call for all 22 local authorities to broadcast their meetings. As I have said, Carmarthenshire council have recently, and with extreme resentment, indicated they may trial webcasting for 12 months, this comes after over a year of thinking about it, and it's still a big 'if'. I suspect that they will have fingers crossed for low viewing figures, actively encourage accusations of 'wasting money', drop the pilot, and go back to sleep, missing the whole 'transparency' point altogether.

The Caerphilly councillor, Ms Blackman echoes my own views on the subject and of course there are other advantages such as the provision of a true record of what was said, and the chance to observe, not just elected members in the Chamber, but our extremely well paid senior officers too.

Lights, camera, action!
Members will have to ensure their  tallies with their signature on the attendance register and there will be no more signing in then popping down to Pembrokeshire to check your sheep (that particular councillor has now lost his seat). We've also had our own fair share of snoring councillors too.

Here's the article, by chief reporter, Martin Shipton;

Campaigner Calls for council meetings to be broadcast online;
All council meetings should be broadcast live on the internet, according to a councillor who has issued a challenge to all 22 unitary authorities in Wales. 
Cllr Anne Blackman, Caerphilly
Anne Blackman, an Independent member of Caerphilly council, said such a move would open up democracy and force councillors to engage with voters in a more accessible way.
She said: “A number of my constituents in Nelson have told me that while they wouldn’t consider travelling miles to attend a council meeting, they’d like the opportunity to be able to watch them live on their computer. 
“I think its a shame in this digital age of computers that few councils broadcast live webcasts of all their full council and committee meeting. In Caerphilly I know that the new council chamber in Tredomen is already wired up to deliver the service. 
“It’s been said that all politics is local politics. If the local public could see these proceedings for themselves, from they own homes, I wonder what they would think of their council and its councillors? I’m sure most of them would find the Budget debates most interesting, as they're the ones paying for it all.” 
Mrs Blackman said she had attended meetings where councillors had gone to sleep.
“If the meetings were broadcast, it might encourage some of the less attentive members to make sure they don’t have a nap. The other day one of them was snoring. 
“I also think people would be shocked to see some of the bullying behaviour that goes on at council meetings. In my opinion there’s no excuse for not opening up our proceedings as widely as possible in the interests of democracy. If we want more people to participate and take an interest, it has to be made as convenient as possible for them.” 
A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “The Minister has placed on record his support for the principle of recording and broadcasting council meetings. Modern technology enables this possibility without prohibitive expense. It should be seen as a means of increasing public engagement with their local government.” 
The biggest local authority in Wales already broadcasts some meetings.
A spokeswoman for Cardiff council said: “We have run live web casts of our full council meetings since September 2008.
“The average number of people accessing this service is between 700 and 800 per month with 100 of these watching the web cast live and the remainder accessing the footage from the archives available via the council website.” 
A spokesman for the Welsh Local Government Association said that while some councils were understood to be considering introducing web cams, he was only aware that Cardiff council had so far actually done so. 
In June last year planning campaigner and blogger Jacqui Thompson was arrested after filming a meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council on her mobile phone.
The council said filming meetings was not allowed and it called police as Mrs Thompson refused requests to stop. 
She was arrested at a full council meeting as a petition was presented to councillors over the closure of a day centre in Llandeilo.
Mrs Thompson started filming the meeting from the public gallery at County Hall in Carmarthen. The footage, which was subsequently posted on YouTube, shows Mrs Thompson being repeatedly asked to stop filming. 
She replies: “I'm not doing anything wrong and I'm not disrupting your meeting.”
She said at the time: “I was arrested as they said I was breaching the peace.”
She was held at Llanelli police station until mid afternoon and only released without charge after she agreed not to film a council meeting again. 
“It was very upsetting, very distressing. I think it was a dreadful over-reaction,” she said.
“I feel it is a public arena, they are there to represent the public, they are making decisions on behalf of their constituents. It's about accountability and transparency and I think they should be more open and can't understand why they should have problem.” 
Carmarthenshire council said at the time: “Mrs Thompson refused repeated requests to stop filming proceedings in the chamber which is not allowed. She then refused repeated requests to leave the public gallery.
“The chair was left with no other option than to call the police to remove her from the gallery so that county council business could proceed.” 

The unlawful Carmarthenshire undertaking (this is not part of the WM article)

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Carmarthenshire Council in Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs again!

Carmarthenshire Council have made it into Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs yet again for the 5th time (or 6th? could be more, I've lost count) since last June, this latest honour has been earned for their recent attempts to control the editorial content of the local paper and the creative accounting of the council rag;

Don't forget to buy your copy, generally available tomorrow!

Hope they've read the small print...

As the council continues to churn out it's never ending press releases, two have been published in one day, complete with photos, squeezing every last drop out of Kev's big day out in Ammanford (Cowboys) and the 'Forward Work Programme' (Carmarthenshire to pilot webcasting - through gritted teeth), the latter being almost entirely a continuation of the officer decisions rubber stamped by the previous administration. And it looks like the two party leaders are happy to sign up to the same arrangement for the next umpteen years;

One of the articles includes an interesting comment from the Chief Executive (pictured above right) about the tight budget and the council's statutory duties to provide services;

" The council has massive savings to find, social care services are going through the roof. Toilets, parks, playgrounds, we don't have to provide these, but we do have to provide schools, highways, social care, we have no choice"

This rather raises the question whether they also have to provide bowling alleys with attached churches, propaganda newspapers, civic limousines, staggering pay packets for the top brass, cut price loans to the local rugby club.... To name but a few. I don't suppose they have to film their meetings either, but then again, I'll to do that for free.

Anyway, after personally looking at the accounts, the council could pay anyone anything, and it would take a very determined forensic accountant to spot if there was anything amiss.....

Planning; Carmarthen West and Llandovery

Back in February 2011 I wrote about the West Carmarthen Development Brief which outlined proposals for 1200 homes and a 'relief road', mostly in the rolling countryside. It looks like the first planning application has gone in; this one is for 94 houses for Persimmon Homes. I mention it because, as is often the case, large controversial applications are popped in during the quiet days of summer when there is less chance of anyone noticing.

This one was validated on the 17th July and there is around 21 days to object (or support, of course). There is some doubt as to how the necessary large scale infrastructure will be funded, a 'roof tax' was mentioned but this would not be raised until houses were sold, but according to the application none of the 94 homes are affordable - so I suppose that requirement has been commuted towards 'infrastructure', who knows.

Concerns were raised last year as to whether there is any need or demand for such a colossal development of 1200 homes in the first place. In 2010 the council commissioned consultants Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners to produce the glossy Brief and Land Use Study to tell us there was a need, for which they were paid £26,000. I always find these supposedly independent appraisals perhaps lack objectivity, as often the various developers are also clients of the consultants. In this case it's no different as one of NLP's large portfolio of clients are....Persimmon Homes.

If you want to comment, and you can find your way through the planning section of the council website, the application number is W/26885

Things are also hotting up in Llandovery, to the north of the county, as large housing developments are planned. The first one has gone in for 76 homes. Accusations of bungs to town councillors have been hotly denied and Cllr Jackson has already caused a stir by stating that the 76 home application will be passed without a problem. A residents action group has been formed, mainly to make people aware of what's going on, (as the council are unlikely to), and make sure their concerns are heard in County Hall (the local Cllr Jackson, given his track record, is also unlikely to do that either).

As I have mentioned, the campaigners trying to save Pantycelyn secondary school from closure lost the final legal battle to obtain a Judicial Review at the end of July. One would imagine that the apparently burgeoning population of the town would remove the reasons for closure. Apparently not, and it was with the usual glee that the failed legal bid was announced by the council, with the Leader Kevin Madge describing it as 'excellent news' and the Director of Education using the supposedly politically impartial Media Section of the council website to blame the children, parents, staff, and townsfolk for 'causing distress' to the children by delaying the council plans and the onslaught of the school bulldozers. Charming.

Local people should also be aware that 'Independent' (what a joke) County Councillors Jackson and Theophilus (Theophilus represents the feeder area) both voted for the apparently delighted Cllr Madge to be Labour Leader of the Council. I have also heard rumours though that the folk of Llandovery town are feeling a bit betrayed by Cllr Jackson, so much so that he's given up walking his dog and is thinking of upping sticks and retreating to Abergavenny....

Update; Whilst on the subject of Carmarthenshire planning I see that the planned Sainsburys stores in both Llandeilo and the Cross Hands have been 'called-in' by the Welsh Government.

Thursday 2 August 2012


An early favourite for this year's Brown Nose Awards looks set to be County Cllr Colin Evans. Elected in May and rapidly elevated to the Executive Board. He was clearly carried away with the occasion on Monday when the Board ventured to Ammanford for one of it's meetings in a convoy of expensive cars. He likened Mr Madge, and the rest of the sharp suited gentlemen to the 'Magnificent Seven riding in to town'.....

(Link; South Wales Guardian - NB strong stomach required)

Carmarthenshire Councillor reported for offensive Tweets

The Western Mail reports that Independent Carmarthenshire County Councillor John Jenkins has been reported to the Ombudsman for posting offensive remarks on Twitter;

Swansea blog, Inside Out has provided some comment; Twitter and the stupidity gene

.....and the BBC has now caught up; Complaint over Councillor's prostitution Twitter 'banter'