Friday 26 February 2016

CEO's libel settlement claims untrue - Carmarthenshire Herald

Update 9th March; The Herald article I referred to below is now online; CEO's libel settlement claims untrue

Pic source; Carmarthenshire Herald Facebook page

The Carmarthenshire Herald (out today, Feb 26th) has investigated the remarks made by chief executive Mark James, to Wales Online, in that I was untruthful when I said I had made offers to pay.

He said;

"Regrettably, Jacqui Thompson is once again not telling the truth unfortunately.....
"Perhaps she will share with media written proof of her offer to pay in instalments? I would be most interested to see it."

As I clarified in my previous post, this was not true and I had the correspondence to his solicitors in front of me.

The Herald asked for copies of this correspondence and in the full article, which also covers the ongoing bailiff action against me, reporter Jon Coles goes into the detail of the letters and confirms that they are indeed offers to pay by instalments.

Further to this the Herald asked the council whether Mr James' comments had been reported accurately on Wales Online. The council, by return, sent a copy of Mr James statement to the Herald and it was exactly as Wales Online had reported.

The Herald concludes;

"As both the content of the letters to Mr James' solicitors are inconsistent with his account to Wales Online and repeated to us, Mr James' position of absolute certainty that offers to settle were never made is in tatters"

...and furthermore, this week's Herald opinion piece, as always penned by Cadno, includes the following observations;

"...Recently, Mark James arranged for High Court Enforcement Officers to attend on the home of Carmarthenshire blogger Jacqui Thompson in an attempt to secure payment of damages due to him from her in respect of a libel action he won. 
Wales Online covered the story and Mrs Thompson set out to its reporter that she was unable to pay the sum and had offered instalments. 
Mr James’s response bears repeating here: 
"Regrettably, Jacqui Thompson is once again not telling the truth unfortunately. 
"She has refused point blank to pay anything. She has responded to my solicitor in writing saying she will never pay any of the damages and costs that the High Court awarded against her. 
"Had she offered to pay in instalments, this action would not have been necessary. 
"Perhaps she will share with media written proof of her offer to pay in instalments? I would be most interested to see it." 
So Cadno asked Mrs Thompson to share the proof of her offer of instalments. 
And she has: both a letter from her solicitors to Mr James’s solicitors from three years ago and a further email from 2015. 
In both letters Mrs Thompson sets out her financial status, which Cadno does not repeat here, but which is suggestive of an inability to satisfy Mr James’s claim. In addition she makes offers – plural – to make payments by instalments. 
In other words, readers, Mr James has laid down a challenge which Mrs Thompson has answered. And since Mr James says Mrs Thompson is not telling the truth – when she plainly is in relation to the offers to pay by instalments – we can but conclude one of two things, either: 
Mr James is genuinely ignorant of correspondence sent to his own solicitors; or 
He is not telling the truth himself. 
Now, it is not for a humble fox to say that the smell of burning undergarments appears to be any more prevalent around Mr James than any other person who casually bandies around statements about who is telling the truth when they have been unlawfully bankrolled by public money to fight litigation; however, we have a real difficulty with Mr James’s unequivocal statement which is outright contradicted by the facts. 
The condescending tone of "Perhaps she will share with media written proof of her offer to pay in instalments?” is deserving of nothing but our collective and complete contempt, especially in light of the fact that Mrs Thompson can prove and has proven that offers to pay in instalments were made. 
It matters not one ounce whether Mrs Thompson subsequently withdrew or amended those offers; it doesn't matter what she has subsequently said on her website. Mr James’s claim is that offers to settle did not exist in any event. Note, readers, NOT that he rejected them, but that they were NEVER made. 
We have a word for people who tell deliberate untruths, but Cadno is prepared to be generous to Carmarthenshire’s beloved, acclaimed, and charismatic leader. After all, readers, how can a man as prominent and busy as James, CBE, be expected to keep a handle on anything so mundane as an offer made in respect of a large personal debt to him? 
How can he be expected to remember every scrap of correspondence that comes to his attention as part of his busy lifestyle polishing his bike helmet at weekends and remembering to carefully adjust his Chopper’s saddle? 
How can he be expected to remember the facts? 
Yes, readers, the image of the grenadier blown to smithereens by his own explosive is a compelling one.
Hoist by his own petard, indeed.

All credits to The Carmarthenshire Herald, on Facebook, Twitter and web 

Tuesday 23 February 2016

High Court Bailiffs - Article on WalesOnline

Further to my earlier post concerning the visit from High Court bailiffs, instructed by Mr Mark James on the 11th February, the Western Mail has published an article which is currently online here.

As I said, offers to pay by instalments were rejected by Mr James. He is quoted in the article as saying that no offers had been made, he goes on to say;

"Regrettably, Jacqui Thompson is once again not telling the truth unfortunately.....
"Perhaps she will share with media written proof of her offer to pay in instalments? I would be most interested to see it."

Indeed, it is interesting, as I have two pieces of correspondence in front of me, one from my solicitor, to his solicitor dated 22nd March 2013 making an offer of instalments and an email dated 22nd January 2015 from myself to his solicitor.
The 2015 email made a good faith offer of a token monthly payment and I also expressed my willingness to enter negotiations to try and resolve the matter.
Both pieces of correspondence outlined my financial situation.
Both offers were rejected on the instruction of Mr James.

I have shared this information with the 'media' but I assume, as I have now refreshed his memory, that there is now no need to share it with Mr James. He should check his files and tell the truth.

Budget Day in County Hall

The council's budget finally made it's tortuous way to the annual rubber stamp at today's gathering of our elected members.

As I have already mentioned (there are several blogposts since the proposals started simmering on the hob last November) a few concessions were made following the better-than-expected deal from Cardiff (£7.9m better) and today's offering was to save Citizens' Advice from cuts 'for the time being'.

Last year we remember Plaid's Dai Jenkins, in opposition, asking that a small amount of reserves be used to stop some of the frontline cuts, he was told, by officers, that it couldn't be done. This year it was the turn of the Labour opposition to put forward alternative proposals and to be told, by officers, that it couldn't be done. Hands always tied..

The whole thing can be seen on the webcast but perhaps the most significant decision today involved the cuts to the school budget. This amounts to over £15m over three years, having been eased slightly (by £2.1m) with some extra cash from the Welsh Government.

Labour's Jeff Edmunds proposed that this cut be deferred for a year so that the full effect could be assessed and quantified. It is an alarming amount after all. He said that many of his members were school governors and the news on the ground was that education was going to suffer. Plaid stated that many of them were also school governors and as far as they were concerned the schools were fine with it all.

Cllr Edmunds proposed 10p on the council tax and some movement from reserves to fund the education cut for this year. He also proposed that a cut of £200k from Special Educational Needs education be shelved and suggested that £200k be used to fund £10m borrowing to build 130 council homes.

Plaid responded by trotting out their recent headline strategy of creating 1000 'affordable' homes in the next five years. An admirable aim but one which is heavily reliant on private funding, as well as over-the-rate-of-inflation council rent increases for the next five years.

Disappointingly, Labour's Cllr Edmunds dallied around the question of privatisation of services, I would have expected him to be firmly opposed, even if just in principle. Instead he waffled on about the 'balance' and the council 'taking the lead'. Difficult though, I suppose, when Plaid are taking forward and embracing the privatisation agenda started by his own administration.

Anyway, the Director of Corporate Services and the chief executive were having none of it, the 'books wouldn't balance' they said, just like they said last year with Plaid's proposals. Luckily, Mr James was on hand to explain that the cut of £3.4m wasn't a cut at all, oh no, it was a 'standstill figure', the actual funding level would stay the same. Though of course, to the rest of humanity, and the schools, this is actually a cash cut in real terms. Next year it's £6m and the year after, another £6m of cuts, which aren't cuts...

Mr James warned councillors that if they voted to accept Cllr Edmunds amendments they would then be voting through an illegal budget, and he would have to instruct the Director of Corporate Services to stop them. Couldn't have an illegal budget could we? We can have illegal payments though...

The time then came to a recorded vote on Cllr Edmunds amendments which were all, to Cllr Caiach's consternation (abruptly dismissed by the Chair and chief exec)) collected together 'en bloc'. In the event the amendment was lost by 17 votes to 44 so we were denied the spectacle of Mr James dealing with illegal budget setting. The budget, as it originally stood, then went through. At least he didn't have to resort to the local press this year to dismiss the opposition budget.

The five year Capital budget was up next and, with, undoubtedly, forthcoming white elephants in mind, Cllr Caiach asked what exactly this 'Wellness centre', which they were committing themselves and lots of ££££ to, actually was.

The Executive Board Member for Social Care and Health (or dare I say 'Wellness'), Cllr Jane Tremlett duly responded and it turned out that she didn't know either...'diagnosing problems in a modern way' she mumbled.

Fortunately, again, the chief executive was there to give a little speech about this wonderful project. It was the biggest he'd ever been involved in, bigger even than Carmarthen Town centre...oddly he didn't mention the, er, Boston Stadium or the Parc y Scarlets Stadium... Anyway, not only was this the biggest project but it involved the University, Hywel Dda Health Board, Sir Terry Matthews, and of course Meryl. The plan, called the Arch project, would house research, treatment and medical facilities at a 'very very high level'

Although he couldn't say more at the moment (hush hush), a press release was already on it's way for tomorrow's papers, so he might as well say it anyhow (forget the hush hush). I'm not sure quite what the revelation was but I think it entailed funding for a scoping document backed by no less than three Ministers.

(update - the press release seemed to concentrate on the fact that this was, er, a big project, with pictures of Sir Terry and Meryl, accompanied with a video of Emlyn Dole rambling unintelligibly about internet coasts and digital power from a crib sheet)

I hope it all works out and the private funds flood in as it is clear from our ambulance queues, loss of A and E at Llanelli Hospital and our financially struggling health boards (Hywel Dda predicted to be £41m in the red this year) that 'Wellness' actually needs to start at the very very bottom.

Lastly, the decision to raise council rent by 2.97% needed to be approved. As some of this rise was to cover the Council's council house maintenance, the long running Council House Standards programme, Cllr Caiach wondered why, after so many years, some of her constituents still had cladding falling from their houses and why the cavity wall insulation was causing extensive damp problems.

This was too much for Mr James who demanded she produce a list for his officers, wondering, sarcastically, why she hadn't already done so. "It's not true" he said, 'don't bring this to council, it gives the wrong impression'. Implying, of course, and for the benefit of the webcam, that Cllr Caiach was lying.
Councillors mustn't forget the golden rule that 'impression' is everything, regardless of the truth.
We couldn't see Cllr Caiach's expression on hearing this outburst, but I'm guessing it was one of total bemusement.

Webcast here.  

Thursday 18 February 2016

In brief; Budgets, LATCs, and Meryl gets cornered

Well, moving on...

I was intending to write about last week's council meeting but became somewhat distracted after the unexpected knock at the door last Thursday, so apologies for that.

Next Tuesday (23rd) full council will meet to approve the budget. As I pointed out here, there has been some re-jigging of the figures to reflect the 'better-than-expected' share of cash from the Welsh Government, rather than reflecting any 'we've listened to you' nonsense.

Anyway, headline stuff aside, as you can see from the agenda, there are still a raft of cuts for approval, £35.4m over the next three years. By far the biggest cuts, £17.5m, are still due to be sliced off the three year school budget. I cannot see how, without a clear view of the possibly dire implications for educational standards, this can be nodded through.

We'll have to see what transpires on Tuesday, the meeting will be webcast from 10am.


Big 'savings' are hoped for in the Leisure department, with the formation of a 'trust' well underway and Social Care and Housing are destined for a similar 'arms-length' arrangement.

Much of this service is currently outsourced to private companies, including the replacement of council run care homes with the privately run 'extra care' apartments but the council wishes to make the transition complete.

With the recent appointment of a specialist consultancy, Care and Health Solutions Ltd, based in Wolverhampton, it seems that a Local Authority Trading Company is on the cards. The company have already been involved in setting up several LATCs elsewhere, including Essex, Barnet and Dorset.

The benefit of a trading company, wholly owned by the council is that it can trade on a commercial basis whilst supposedly still under the control and ownership of the council.

One imagines that councillors might be present on the Board and have oversight of such matters as governance and spending, unlike that other wholly owned company, Cwm Environmental which dropped councillor representation a few years ago as superfluous to requirements.

Whilst in opposition last year the Plaid group criticised the Labour leadership for their 'obsession' for 'essentially outsourcing services and reducing democratic oversight'. It seems that the obsession for back-door privatisation was highly contagious.

Anyway, with Care and Health Solutions Ltd, believing that "this is a way to respond to the personalisation agenda and re-engineer services to fit the new reality,”, if nothing else, our less than perceptive councillors will be impressed with such splendid jargon.

Although LATCs are currently popular but some have failed and the service brought back in-house and whether the drive for profit will affect the quality of care is another concern which has been raised.
As a commercial company it can also hide its wheeling and dealings behind the cloak of commercial confidentiality.

With the council bringing in an external consultant, at unknown cost, such as Care and Health Solutions, which also manages the LATC for the first six months or so suggests that the appraisals and feasibility studies will inevitably point to the formation of a LATC as the council's 'preferred option'.

The first social care LATC was established in 2009 in Essex. In 2011 profits of £3.2m were ploughed back into the council, in 2013 the profit had dropped to £1.5m. Last year the company made a worrying pre-tax loss of £828,000.

As a precursor to its mass outsourcing to Capita Plc (see Mrs Angry's blog, Broken Barnet), Barnet Council set up a LATC 'Your Choice Barnet' in 2012. It was predicted to make a profit of £500,000 by 2015 but has run into trouble, with staff salaries now slashed by 9.5% and a damning Care Quality Commission report over its supported living service.

These 'future alternative delivery' arrangements were discussed at the Executive Board on February 1st and officers claimed that it was 'early days' and a 'very broad brush', there was no mention of the commissioning of consultants, a commission which suggest that in fact, the brush is not quite so broad, nor the days quite so early.


One interesting matter which arose at the end of the full council meeting last week concerned the accuracy of the executive board minutes, or rather the truthfulness of Meryl Gravell.

Over the past year or two Executive Board Member Cllr Gravell has claimed that it was local opposition to the council's plans for a car park at Parc Howard which scuppered a bid for lottery money.

I've mentioned this once or twice before, most recently after the last Executive Board meeting where not only did she add that the locals went 'behind our backs' but Plaid deputy leader Dai Jenkins joined in the attack on the troublesome locals.

Last Wednesday, those minutes were up for approval by full council and things came to a head when Labour Councillors Bill Thomas, Jeff Edmunds and Jan Williams demanded, in light of an investigation by the Lottery exonerating local people, that Meryl provide evidence of her repeated claims and that the minutes be amended to reflect the truth.

Despite attempts by the Chair Peter Hughes Griffiths to silence the debate, Meryl was pushed into responding, backtracking on her previous certainty, ducking the actual question and the request for evidence, by using that old favourite 'that was the information I was given at the time'.

With the Chair getting increasingly anxious that something resembling a debate was evolving, Monitoring Officer Linda Rees Jones came to his, and Meryl's, assistance by stating that it was only the Executive Board itself which could amend it's minutes...

The Carmarthenshire Herald reported the episode in detail and suggest that council leader Emlyn Dole makes sure, in future, that when his Executive Board members make assertions, they are backed by something akin to actual evidence.

Cllr Gravell (Ind)

Friday 12 February 2016

High Court enforcement bailiffs

Later post 26th February; Chief executive's libel settlement claims untrue - the Carmarthenshire Herald

*   *   *

As I mentioned briefly on Twitter, I had a visit yesterday from High Court bailiffs with a writ to seize goods on behalf of council chief executive Mark James. This action is in relation to the damages, plus interest, arising from Mr James' unlawfully funded counterclaim.
Mr James also has a legal charge over my home.
All instalment offers have been rejected.

I am not certain what will happen next as the bailiffs' visit was not fruitful. I am currently seeking advice.

Further details, and my views, can be found in earlier posts, some of which are listed on the sidebar of the blog.

Saturday 6 February 2016

Signs, windows, and red tape

A local trader in Carmarthen seems to have fallen foul of Carmarthenshire council red tape. As the Carmarthen Journal reports Ms Bethan Rees opened a fancy dress shop in Guildhall Square last August (pictured below), surely at the delight of the council as it shows resource, enterprise and, more to the point, fills an empty shop. She has now been told to remove the sign, which is bilingual, above the window and replace it with a much smaller one in the gap just above the door.

She says that she was initially told the sign would be fine, but now it's not, and contravenes planning rules. Should she apply to keep the large sign, she has already been told that permission would be refused. It might be in a conservation area but as Ms Rees points out, there are other premises with much larger signs surrounding her.

The sign is bright, vibrant and attractive to shoppers and surely boosts 'footfall' and the economic vibrancy of the use the council's own language.

Pic source; Carmarthen Journal

Take for example the council's own efforts to fill empty shops. Following what must have been an IT brainstorming session, a national tender went out last November for a company to supply 3D virtual reality graphics to display in the windows of a number of empty shops in Carmarthen town centre. Conservation area or no conservation area.

The objectives were to;
'Reduce the negative visual impact currently being created by the vacant properties.
'To make the units more attractive to potential tenants.
'Increase the vibrancy and economic impact in the proposed “Cultural Quarter” of Carmarthen by driving footfall and activity to the area.'

The tender which went out must have incurred considerable costs with research undertaken to identify the list of sites and properties, and the appropriate documentation gathered together.
A couple of weeks later the tender was cancelled, due to an error in the insurance documents.

Almost immediately another one went out. It was exactly the same apart from a couple of variations in the list of premises.

A few of weeks later that one was also cancelled. This time it was apparently because the council couldn't sign up enough premises and a couple of them had been let out. In other words, the plan fell apart.

Whatever the reasons, the council's attempt to create the 'Montmartre of Carmarthenshire' was an expensive waste of time and money, and Bethan Rees, with her colourful sign, achieved far more.

One person who doesn't seem to have a problem with planning red tape is council leader Emlyn Dole. You may recall the #barngate affair late last year when a retrospective application (in Mr Dole's wife's name) was approved by the committee against the officer's recommendation to refuse.

The committee had to come up with reasons why, despite it being contrary to planning policy, it was all ok. Their attempt at justification included a planning condition that wooden window frames had to be be used, this was to complement the old stone which was now required to be used to face the building;

"Condition 4. All fenestration shall be of timber construction in order to reflect the traditional historic character of the barns"

Early last month Plaid Council leader Emlyn Dole (or rather, his wife), put forward an application change the condition from wooden window frames to plastic, the justification being that there were plastic windows in the nearby farmhouse. Surprisingly, this was considered a 'minor' amendment, and approved by the planning officer within one week.

Cllr Dole is fortunate that he's not in a conservation area, nor that the 'traditional historic character' of the 400 year old barn has been taken quite so seriously. It's also fortunate that Cllr Dole, unlike Bethan Rees, is something of an expert in planning 'red tape'.

Thursday 4 February 2016

February agenda - Badgers, sewers, and another missing question

The full council agenda for February has now been published and this month there are no public questions to sully the smooth running of important council business. Neither, it appears, are there any Councillor Questions, but more on that later.

There is one Notice of Motion, from Plaid Cymru councillor Gareth Thomas, to request that the council lobbies Welsh Government to implement a cull. This is not, disappointingly, a cull of the council top brass, but of badgers;
‘An increasing number of Cattle Farms in Carmarthenshire are under bTB restrictions due to an increase in bovine tuberculosis. In light of the complete breakdown of the present - inadequate and non-scientific vaccination programme, this Council calls on the Welsh Government to support and implement a badger cull in all regions where there is a significant increase in bovine bTB.’

This is nothing to do with council policy of course but it is an emotive subject and I suspect opinions will differ...there are a lot of farmer councillors..but there's also an Assembly election in May. It will be an interesting one to watch.

No full council agenda is complete these days without a powerpoint presentation and this time there's one from Welsh Water. They've been before with their sewage and effluent but this time it's about the Rainscape Project. The idea is to create a landscape to catch rainwater and filter it harmlessly away before it joins the overburdened sewers. A good idea of course and several projects are underway in the Llanelli area.
The problem is whether this initiative will actually reduce the strain on Llanelli's sewers and prevent the pollution of the surrounding coast. As before, I suspect the story will be upbeat and, also as before, have the intended purpose of feeding into the council's planning policy to continue to grant large developments in such a sensitive area.

Back to Councillor Questions, and there was one, but it was rejected by the chief executive. Cllr Sian Caiach wanted to enquire about the small number of council bungalows built in Kidwelly and Llanelli over the past couple of years. The project was much trumpeted by the then leader Kevin Madge who never failed to remind everyone, at any opportunity, about these bungalows. which eventually went massively over-budget.

The final overspend figures are not available, hence Cllr Caiach's question, but at one point, back in 2013, the figure was just over half a million quid.

She is also asking whether the council have plans to build any more;

"We have, in recent years, built a small number of council bungalows for the elderly and disabled in Llanelli and Kidwelly. Unfortunately the project came in well over budget. Can you please tell me the exact amount the project was over budget and precisely itemise the areas where this overspend happened ? Also, have you any plans to build any future council homes?" 

Unfortunately, despite Cllr Caiach offering to withdraw one of the questions, it was rejected as she can ask no more than one and technically it contained two. Technically.

This is the second question in as many months from Cllr Caiach which has been rejected from the agenda by the chief executive. The last one was to ask when, given the current financial restraints, were negotiations in place to recover the unlawful pension and libel indemnity payments from chief executive Mr James. That question was rejected by Mr James without any reason being given, see Unlawful payments - Dole's denial.

Of course the rejections couldn't possibly have been related to the content of the questions or any sense of deja vu from a couple of years back when the chief executive blocked controversial Motions on Notice from Cllr Caiach by introducing the 'seven seconder' rule, (enthusiastically supported by Plaid's Peter Hughes Griffiths and now consigned to the bin after the WLGA review). Or even formally restricting her access to ask officers questions, also a couple of years ago. Never mind silencing her (via the Chair) when she tries to raise a controversial topic, or snooping on her emails.

Anybody would think that the chief executive had a personal dislike of Cllr Caiach, or of anyone really that asks awkward questions, a dislike which seems to habitually spill over into his professional judgement.

Of course Plaid, when in opposition, had first hand experience of spurious reasons being given to reject open debate, see here and here, even demanding ministerial intervention at one point. They seem to have gone all quiet now...

But back to the agenda, and, as promised at the last executive board meeting, 'Jeremy' from the Wales Audit Office will be there to present the corporate assessment. These are the nice, professional auditors of course, unlike those unprofessional troublesome ones which, according to Meryl, gave poor Mark such a headache some time ago...

Tuesday 2 February 2016

Yesterday's Executive Board

Up for discussion at yesterday's Exec Board meeting was the recent Corporate Assessment report from the Wales Audit Office. Seen as a positive report this was an opportunity for some mutual back-slapping and grovelling gratitude expressed by the Plaid members to Meryl and Pam, and the chief executive, for steering them through this 'difficult' process...quite incredible how cosy they've all become.

What this report actually reflects is that Plaid have not taken the 'lead' but have become fully assimilated into the toxic culture at county hall. What they once opposed and fought against they are now supporting. Preferring to adopt the spin and nonsense of the notorious council press office than open all those cans of worms, which might just expose their own weakness under the previous administration. Very disturbing.
The price of power I guess. As well as an approaching election.

As I said in a comment on my previous post, I also find it quite disturbing really that the WAO were so easily convinced that there is now 'collective leadership', by which they must mean that after 13 years of damage, intimidation and control freakery Mark James has been put back in his box. If they believe that they'll believe anything. What a joke.

The significance of the report in light of the unlawful payments scandal didn't go unnoticed and Meryl couldn't resist a comment. She said that this audit team was one of the more professional she had encountered...compared to the way the poor chief executive was treated by those other auditors 'some time ago'. 

This was a direct slight on the Appointed Auditor Anthony Barratt who had been responsible for exposing the unlawful payments. Clearly quite an unprofessional chap according to all present, including Plaid, and clearly didn't have a clue what he was on about and has caused them no end of trouble with having to deal with the WLGA governance review and all that transparency malarkey.

Still, we can look forward to more trebles all round when 'Jeremy' (from the WAO audit team) present the report to full council. Good old Jeremy.

Also on the agenda was the upcoming council budget. Carmarthenshire ended up with a better than expected settlement of a 1% reduction rather than the 3.3% they forecasted. Around this time every year there is always bit of a PR opportunity for the current Exec Board to show gracious benevolence and drop some of the more controversial elements of the budget. The particular proposals are easily predicted and I identified one or two last November. Budget bingo I suppose.

This year was no exception and with the better than predicted deal from the Welsh Government Plaid had a small bonanza to help towards their Assembly campaign, including a council tax increase of 'only' 3.8% rather than 5%.
With half of Carmarthenshire under water over recent weeks it came as no surprise that the cuts to the flood defence budget were dropped, along with some highway maintenance and street cleaning cuts.

Two predictions materialised in that the decision to charge £250 for home to college transport was shelved for two years (this was also shelved last year, under the last lot) and the axe hanging over respite care and short breaks for disabled children was dropped. Very welcome of course but no surprise.

The £1 rise in the price of meals on wheels will now be phased in over three years, by which time the council should have managed to axe the service altogether, which was, and is, their original intention. Vulnerable pensioners now being charged for an array of care services which were previously free so this is nothing more than a token, paltry, gesture.

The Welsh Government has also stumped up some extra cash to help 'protect' education and social care, This means that instead of the whopping £18.2m three year cuts to schools, the figure will now be a marginally less whopping £17m. I'm already hearing that the shiny new school in Ffairfach is sourcing second-hand furniture and is devoid of lockers. We just hope it's got some teachers.

The rest of the budget, including the very, very exciting, visionary capital budget which will see a new herd of white elephants, with no money to actually run them, cropping up here and there, will be decided by full council later this month. This is Plaid's notion of an 'anti-austerity' package of regeneration, so far the only thing to be regenerated is Cllr Dole's beauty parlour.

On the subject of capital, Labour Councillor Derek Cundy asked, given Cllr Dole's promise that it would be kept in public ownership, whether some money would be put aside for the much needed maintenance of Parc Howard mansion and museum. A £1m was going to the Carmarthen museum so why not Llanelli?

After cutting through the leader's waffle it became evident that the answer was a definite no. To make matter worse, deputy leader Dai Jenkins parroted Meryl's remarks that it was the pesky people of Llanelli who had foiled a bid for lottery money a couple of years ago by having the brass neck to disagree with some of the council's plans for the Parc. Would they do it again? he demanded to know.

The council's grant to the Botanical Gardens was also discussed. The proviso that the garden improves it's use of the Welsh language seems to have been quietly forgotten although the offer to give Carmarthenshire residents a 5% reduction in membership was deemed acceptable. How many could actually afford an 'annual membership' is probably minimal. The Garden will have a decreasing grant over three years, starting at £70,000 and reducing to £30,000 by year three.

A few short months ago the Director, Dr Rosie Plummer gave a presentation to full council ahead of the deal. Now that Dr Plummer has thrown in the towel over the struggling garden it was interesting to see the executive board giving her the cold shoulder, inferring that there should be no more woolly scientific nonsense, the new director had to have a far more businesslike approach than dear Rosie with Cllr Dole wishing it could be more like Alton Towers.

There was also a brief discussion on the Council's foray's into the world of outsourcing with an item on 'alternative delivery models' for social care. The emphasis was on 'early days', 'very broad brush' and 'analysing options' but as we know the Leisure department is already well on it's way to becoming a trust.
As for social care and housing, the drive for arms length companies or trusts are also well on the way with consultants having been appointed to steer the authority through the choppy waters of back door privatisation.

(Full agenda here)

For those interested in the Police Commissioner elections, former council leader Labour's Kevin Madge is the latest to throw his hat in the Dyfed Powys ring. Current candidates are the incumbent Tory Christopher Salmon and former civilian support worker for the police, Dafydd Llewelyn, for Plaid Cymru.

One of the supposed requirements for the job is to hold chief officers to account, not something Kevin Madge excelled at at Carmarthenshire Council, quite the opposite in fact. If the requirement involves covering up corporate ineptitude and corruption, and being dangled on a string by the chief constable, then Kev's your man.