Friday 27 March 2015

This week's Herald

Update 30th March - BBC Wales are reporting that the home care company, Mitie, referred to in the post below, has now agreed to pay it's staff their travel time. Hopefully the firm will thank the two whistleblowers, both former members of staff, who brought the matter to their attention....


I'm please to see that this week's Carmarthenshire Herald picks up on the critical report from the Wales Audit Office regarding child safeguarding which I mentioned earlier in the week. Featuring on the front page, it describes the report as 'hard-hitting' and the WAO's conclusion that members were "unfamiliar with risk management as a concept" as 'devastating', and rightly so.
Indeed, and it's perhaps a worrying fact that the council is trusted with the role of corporate parents for looked after children.
As usual, there was no comment from the council.

County Hall has been equally tight lipped over the home care pay scandal reported over the past week or two by BBC Wales and, in detail, over on Cneifiwr's blog. The story is given the front page headline in the Carmarthenshire Herald.

As I'm sure readers are now well aware, Village Home Care, or rather its parent company, Mitie, which is commissioned by the council to deliver home care to the elderly and vulnerable, is being investigated by HMRC for allegedly breaching minimum wage rules.

One of the issues is the ridiculously short time allowed to travel between appointments. Basically workers are not being paid adequately (an understatement) for travelling times, leading to 'clipping' which means that visits are cut short as the carers attempt to reach the next visit, maybe twenty miles away in the five minutes allowed.

The result of this is not only visits being cut short leading to poorer levels of care, but carers being actually paid well below the minimum wage.

The recent CCSIW report into Village Home Care itself noted the travelling time issue, lengthy hours and split shifts. It also found compliance failure regarding staff training, quality monitoring systems and annual quality of care reports.
The company was also informed it must not start care work without proper assessment and regular reviews.

This is nothing new. Locally, I am aware of several youngsters who were employed by Village Home Care. Once it became apparent that they were expected to work over 48 hours a week for what worked out to be about £3 an hour or less with little, if any training, they didn't last long. Those I knew were kind and caring but it is fairly obvious that many companies are prepared to take virtually anyone on.

One remarked to me as to how they were expected to arrive at a person's home at say 7.30am, stay there for the allotted hour then be half way across the county's rural roads to the next appointment by 8.35.

This was at least three years ago. Yesterday the council said it would be meeting with the company. 
Presumably to have a go at them for giving the council bad press. 
This is the council's idea of care in the community and it is inconceivable that they have been unaware of these problems. They have clearly chosen, until reported in the press, to turn a blind eye.

In addition, the council has just awarded four year contracts for home care services in the county and the 'Framework' agreement began on the 2nd March. Given that the issues identified above have been known for some time, and are possible not confined to just the company mentioned, it will be interesting to see who has been successful for the approved 'framework'.

Lastly, this week's observations from 'Cadno', who is rapidly turning into one of Caebrwyn's favourite columnists;

"Carmarthenshire has branded itself as ‘The Garden of Wales’ and certainly the rich green landscape that rolls across the landscape between Laugharne, Llanybydder, Llanelli, and Llandeilo suggests that there is something to that description. Criss-crossed by a few arterial roads and many small country byways and highways, the County’s charm is that wherever one is one is not too far from a rural idyll. 
The important thing about gardens, whether you are growing cabbages or carnations, is a plentiful supply of fertiliser. 
And so we come to County Hall, which produces more fertiliser than would be needed by a garden the size of the Sahara: to a depth of four feet and rising. 
So overflowing is County Hall with rubbish that it has even privatised its generation and recycling to its own pet company. 
Cwm Environmental is a purportedly private operator in which the sole shareholder is the local authority. In other words, and according to its own website, Cwm Environmental is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the County Council. 
As he who pays the fiddler calls the tune, you might wonder what advantages could accrue to the local authority by setting up a company in this way. 
Well, let’s look towards Llangadog. 
Sitting near Y Garn Goch, Llangadog is one of those rural communities that make up much of the patchwork of small settlements that are dotted around Carmarthenshire. A former centre for droving, its years of home-generated prosperity are past. It has fallen on increasingly hard times over recent years. 200 jobs were lost when the creamery closed in 2005.  
It follows that Llangadog is a community that cannot take the loss of any jobs, let alone the ten that will be lost there if Carmarthenshire County Council has its way. 
You see, readers, there is something unusual about the Llangadog site that suggests a conflict of interest between the Council in its role as a statutory authority and its interest as a shareholder in a private company where the profit motive rules the roost. 
Our Council claims that Llangadog is an unfortunate casualty of its drive to save money. So skint is Carmarthenshire County Council after outfitting the Almighty’s favourite bowling alley that it cannot afford to renew its contract with the site operator, AWS.
More to the point is that Llangadog is the only remaining site of its type in the County which is not operated by Cwm Environmental. 
That Llangadog is an efficient and well-performing site is shown by the fact that over 80% of rubbish brought to the AWS facility is recycled. That’s an awful lot of copies of the Council’s in-house propaganda sheet Carmarthenshire ‘News’. 
In the whole of Carmarthenshire, that is, readers, in every other site managed by the Council’s own notionally private enterprise, the average recycling rate is below 55%.
If Llangadog closes residents would need to travel to Ammanford. 25 miles away. How ‘green’ is that, readers? You force people to take an hour and a half to travel backwards and forwards to a site which recycles under two thirds as much as the facility far closer to hand. 
The County Council’s disturbing lack of familiarity with the geography of the county it is supposed to serve is alarming. 
Last week, this paper reported that the Council’s celebration of its ‘success’ in building a new school near Llandeilo, ignored the human cost of transporting 400 students every day from Llandovery and the small communities around it to the new shiny building, leading to imminent closure for Ysgol  Gyfun Pantycelyn.

There is more to ‘public service’ than husbanding public money readers. The ‘service’ element should count far higher than it does. Shuffling thousands, if not hundreds of thousands and millions into the pet projects of a coalition without an electoral mandate, while bowing the knee to over-mighty officers is a betrayal of Carmarthenshire.  
Our county really does deserve an awful lot better than the current collection of rancid misfits and halfwits who are allegedly running the show. 
In a local authority in which the governing group has condoned funding libel actions for its highest paid staff member and then gone on to stomach a scheme to permit the same Chief Executive to attempt to stave off a tax liability on his publicly funded pension, we can guess that pound signs are more important than providing service. 
The question on the latter point – as seems to have escaped Kevin ‘Adequate’ Madge and the legion of the dumbed and damned that follow his blustering lead – is not whether or not the decision was legally correct but whether it was morally and objectively defensible. It was certainly morally reprehensible and objectively flawed. 
The Council was compelled to end the scheme by the Wales Audit Office, which it did with the type of spectacular ill-grace one would expect from a ten year old with their hands caught in the cookie jar and not from a collection of old nags and knacker-man leavings who really should have known better in the first place. 
So, readers, the question the Council needs to ask itself when considering withdrawing a local service should not be a calculation made in pounds shillings and pence (although Cadno suspects that such is the quality of debate in Carmarthenshire that LSD is in play somewhere).  Leave the bean-counters and their like in charge and we would all be driving beige Trabants and living in ‘efficiency’ apartments.  
There are more important things for Councils to think about. The effect of cuts and closures on rural communities, for one thing; the human cost of decisions measured in lives affected and not in pennies saved for another. 
Carmarthenshire County Council is very quick to blow its own trumpet about the success of its waste management and recycling schemes. At the moment, there seems to be an initiative a week. 
Cadno suggests, however, that the Council’s blathering on about its small ‘achievements’, pushing out releases to be printed without query or criticism in publications over which it has an editorial influence, masks a vacuum at its centre where common-sense and compassion should sit. 
Common-sense says that if you are serious about recycling you do not close a plant which is delivering it better than other facilities. You aim to bring your facilities – or that of your wholly owned subsidiary – up to the mark. 
If you are serious about the environment, you would know that a long round trip to Ammanford or – worse – Nantycaws will lead to lower recycling rates and – potentially – increased fly-tipping.
Spending £75,000 to make Llangadog prettier, or to put in prettier speed bumps, as recently announced, is not going to replace ten jobs. 
So, readers: which of the Executive Board will exercise their common sense? Moreover, which of them actually have any?" 
Cadno, Carmarthenshire Herald.
Cadno, the fox.

Incidentally, and unfortunately for County Hall, the contract to deliver waste services for the next few years expires this month and must go out to full tender. This has caused some problems and I understand legal opinions have been they usually are. 

One cannot imagine any company other than Cwm being awarded this contract but according to scrutiny minutes from last November, "CWM Environmental would not be treated any differently to other potential tenderer". You will recall that Cwm has also been in the news recently over long hours and low pay.
It will be an interesting one to watch.

Inhabitants of County Hall settle down to read the latest edition of the Carmarthenshire Herald


Unknown said...

Another excellent blog post on the Alice in Wonderland antics of our so-called representatives! Rather than continuing to hand out wads of our cash to the legal fraternity to try to justify their dubious practices they would do better to issue each of the County Councillors with a copy of a good thesaurus. Perhaps followed by a training session where they could be encouraged to explore the meaning of words that so far have eluded them. Words such as: service,community,environment, democracy, representation and maybe even 'humility'. Such a programme could be properly certificated to encourage attendance. Some councillors might even reach NVQ Level 1.

Anonymous said...

Madam you do not have the correct facts on recycling. I am happy to forward a photograph showing the listed recycle rate at one centre I go to run by Cwm just over the border in Carmarthenshire.

caebrwyn said...

Anon 09:00

Sir, I suggest you take it up with the Herald