Wednesday 30 March 2016

Carmarthenshire Council to pursue me for libel costs

I have learned, from today's Carmarthen Journal that the Executive Board, at it's secret meeting on the 21st March, resolved to join the queue and pursue me for the costs of the libel case from 2013, well, £190,000 of the costs.

I did not hear a thing from the council until 1pm today (30th) but had been told, on the 21st March by the head of legal, that I would be informed once all members had been notified of the decision. Whether they have been or not is not clear, but the Journal certainly has been notified, and appears, from the details within the article, to have information from the exempt reports.

However, executive leakage etc is rather by-the-by at the moment for Caebrwyn.

The email I received today at 1pm, from head of legal Linda Rees Jones merely provided me with a helpful link to the just-published minutes of the meeting and to announce that, in regards to the £190,000, they will be 'opening a dialogue' with me shortly.

As regards to the costs of the publicly funded illegal counterclaim, the Minutes state;
"That consideration of pursuing the costs awarded in the counter claim be deferred"
With the £41,000 counterclaim costs excluded, then this is not only a deliberate move to avoid a court challenge but a recognition of illegality, rendering Mr James' damages null and void. They can defer it all they like. It's been paid, it was public money and it was illegal - it's a mess.

It is not clear exactly how the council will try and enforce payment of the £190,000 cost order. They're not going to get it and are now going to spend even more good money going after zero. I'm as curious as I'm sure they are as to how they're going to do that. Perhaps they're going to bankrupt me themselves, saving Mr James the expense? The threats from his bailiffs continue. Not that that route would be productive, perhaps they'll demand blood instead.
Perhaps I should resort to fervent prayer like the Rev Dole, Mark James CBE and the rest.

I do not know what the report to the Executive Board stated or whether it was accurate. However what I do know was that in December 2011, around three months after my claim both  I and my solicitors were given to understand that a settlement had been reached which was agreeable to all sides.

Mr James had agreed to  retract his remarks and undertake not to repeat them, and he and the council had agreed to a contribution towards costs and nominal damages. I had also agreed, reluctantly, for the settlement to be confidential which was insisted upon, and which was of of paramount importance, to Mr James

For reasons which remain unknown, and to the consternation of both sets of solicitors, neither the council, nor Mr James followed through with this and shortly afterwards brought forward the counterclaim.

In my opinion, as soon as the whiff of an indemnity was in the air, the hotels and first class travel was booked and the civic limo was wheel spinning out of County Hall.

The result, for the taxpayer, was that the litigation and the costs escalated and cost hundreds of thousands pounds more than it might have done.

Mr James knew he would be indemnified - the defence and counterclaim, a complex and lengthy piece of work, was served two days after the original exec board meeting where he was given the blank cheque.

However, Plaid Cllr Dole's statement about the "interests of the public purse" don't seem to extend to Mark James' illegal counterclaim. Rather like they didn't extend to the £280,000 bung to the Scarlets to cover a debt.

Anyway, I'll let you know when I hear more.

The fight, clearly, goes on.

Recent post, March 18th; The matter of costs

Update 31st March, BBC Wales; Blogger Jacqui Thompson faces £190,000 court costs

Update 15th April; Chief executive threatens further legal action in the High Court and has reported me to the police, see Caebrwyn Under fire 

Friday 25 March 2016

Pembrey and Millenium Country Parks - A fine mess...

Update 15th July; latest post - Pembrey Park scandal - where does the buck stop?

Update 23rd May; Senior officers covered up scandal in Pembrey - Carmarthenshire Herald

See also later post 7th April; April agenda - country park questions 

*  *  *

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that a worrying internal report on the leisure facilities at Pembrey Country Park and the Millennium Coastal Park was due to be considered by the Council's Audit Committee. The committee met last Tuesday and thanks to the Carmarthenshire Herald and reporter Alan Evans we have some idea how things panned out, I'll link to the Herald article when it goes online. (Now online here)

The report, or, as the council likes to call these things, the 'Review', was requested by the Director of Communities, having taken over the responsibility for leisure following the departure of the previous Director, Dave Gilbert OBE (now an advisor to the Swansea Bay City Region board). 'Historic issues', whatever they were, were to be looked at.

Anyway, the 'Review', which also included Burry Port Harbour and the Ski Centre at Pembrey Country Park, found there were 'fundamental weaknesses' and a "general non-compliance with the Authorities established procedures", in other words, 'an almighty mess', action was considered to be 'urgent'. The specifics were listed thus;

Non compliance with Financial Procedure Rules (including contract and
quotation procedure rules and Transport & Engineering Unit Policy)
1. Authority’s procurement arrangements have not been fully complied with 
2. Procedures for collecting and accounting for income need to be improved to minimise
the risk of monies being misappropriated 
3. Procedures for accounting for assets need to be improved to minimise the risk of
assets being stolen or misused, and to ensure that maintenance programmes are
adhered to 
4. The management and administration of agreements / leases for private enterprises
need to be improved / tightened to clarify responsibilities and maximise income 
5. Procedures for the use of facilities by third parties need to be improved 
Risk Management and Business Continuity Strategy
1. Health & safety issues have been identified that may present a risk for the Authority
and its employees; 
Employee issues: 
1. Staff working hours including TOIL [Time Off In Lieu] arrangements are not always being recorded and are not being managed at an appropriate level 
2. Employee Declaration of Interests were not being completed appropriately.
The big question which arose at the meeting, mainly from Cllr Bill Thomas (Lab), was how on earth had these findings been arrived at, where was the full report? Had there been fraud? What actually instigated the 'review'? How long had senior officers been aware of these 'historic issues'? He also suggested that an independent third party be brought in to investigate.

Even this scant two page brief makes for grave reading and the failure and reluctance to present the full findings suggested that the detail was in fact, damning.

I have been contacted over the past couple of years by anonymous sources alleging 'procedural improrieties' and even criminal activity at the parks and facilities, and so has the Herald. When the paper raised the issues with the council last year, all were denied.
Along with the rest of us, the Herald wonders just what has been swept under the "already lumpy carpets" at County Hall. As we know, blowing the whistle at Carmarthenshire Council is not easy, particularly if you value both your job and indeed your sanity.

The officers present at the meeting, Head of Leisure, Ian Jones and Head of Audit, Phil Sexton denied that fraud had been found. They talked about 'issues', 'challenges' and 'weaknesses', and areas which needed to be 'strengthened and improved' without identifying what exactly was wrong. No surprises there.

With the Plaid deputy leader Dai Jenkins vowing to leave no stone unturned, the reality was that the Committee, in their impotence, could do no more than formulate an Action Plan to monitor 'improvement', spoon-fed for the next eighteen months or so, by officers. As Cllr Thomas said, the 'Review' should be the start of a full investigation, not the end.

Let's hope for better this time, particularly as the Plaid led administration are fully behind the decision to offload the whole leisure department to a 'trust', which will, of course result in even less democratic oversight than already exists. Presumably they're also fully behind the long-running Mark and Meryl Masterplan to sell-off chunks of the Pembrey peninsular to their preferred bidders.

Personally, I'm expecting more lumpy carpets.

Also on the agenda was further evidence that the council's grant management procedures are still floundering with one report (a set of minutes from the Grants Panel) listing no less than six projects, including the Strategic Regeneration Areas at Cross Hands and Kidwelly, being subject to 'Qualification letters' from the Wales Audit Office. The minutes states that the issues with the WAO are 'being resolved' and provides no more detail than that. As per ususal.

*   *   *

For those wondering about the outcome of last Monday's exempt report entitled 'Enforcement of Costs', well, so am I.
I blogged about it prior to the meeting here; The Matter of Costs
Whatever the Executive Board decided, or didn't decide behind closed doors, rest assured I will, in due course, have plenty to say about it.
As for the Chief Executive's bailiffs, they continue to phone and I continue to tell them there's nothing doing, the cupboards are bare. Their threats appear to be escalating and, in direct proportion, so is my resolve.

Friday 18 March 2016

The Matter of Costs

After dealing with bailiffs, instructed by Mr James to recover his damages (now £35,000 plus daily interest) for the past few weeks, Monday's (21st March) Executive Board agenda includes an exempt item titled 'Enforcement of Costs Order'. These costs are around £230,000.

As I am the party affected by the Exec Board decision on Monday I asked the Head of Law, Linda Rees Jones for sight of the report and questioned why, as all this information is in the public domain, and was a result of action in an open court, the discussion was being held in secret.

She refused to let me see the report as it contains 'Information relating to the financial affairs of any particular person' blah blah. That person being me.
Despite the title of the item, Ms Rees Jones explains that they are not looking at options for recovery but rather the principle of recovery. Ah, so that's alright then....

Aside from the fact (which I presume they are all aware) that I haven't got £230,000, this all raises several interesting points.

Should the council decide to take action for recovery, a proportion of these costs, around £41,000, relates to Mr James' counterclaim. This makes for very muddy waters for the council - this was the unlawful payment and would make for an interesting public law challenge.

It would also be interesting to see the Plaid leadership actively pursuing the effects of something they once opposed so publicly in those far off days in opposition - even if Cllr Dole is now so deeply enamoured by the Mark and Meryl Empire that he's erased all that unpleasantness from his memory.....

Mr James, concerned primarily with his own pocket rather than the taxpayer's, has already got in there first with his enforcement actions, and by trying to secure his personal damages, attempted to ensure that there was nothing left for the council. As it happens, there is nothing for him either, as I have made clear.

In my view, given the reality of my situation, the Exec Board have no option other than to waive the costs as irrecoverable, unless they're going to join with Mr James, stick the knife in and maybe make me bankrupt, a pointless and expensive exercise but one which would ensure that, as a bankrupt, I'd be unable to stand for the County Council, or even Community Council elections next year.

If I were a devotee of conspiracy theories I might even suspect that Mr James could instruct the Exec Board to waive the costs in the misguided belief that in bankruptcy, the council would be eliminated as creditors, leaving more cash for his own wallet. He'd be very disappointed.

There is an old saying that if you owe the bank a couple of hundred pounds then you worry, if you owe the bank a million, they worry. The other old saying is that you can't get blood from a stone.

My advice to the Exec Board, and the council as a whole, is to waive goodbye to these costs on Monday and, at the same time, wave goodbye to the chief executive.

* * *

By way of an update to a recent untruthful statement given by Mr James to the Western Mail a few weeks ago, I decided to make a complaint to the council. After all, the public perception of the integrity of our chief executive and Returning Officer combined, is surely very important.

In response, Ms Rees Jones, with her Monitoring Officer hat on, has decided, after three years of involving herself in every aspect of this whole saga, sitting at the chief executive's elbow for six days in court, and smoothing out his unlawful activities at every turn, that this is a private matter so she will not be involving herself in investigating anything.

This is an interesting response given that Mr James freely used the publicly funded council press office to issue his statement not to mention the very public illegal funding of the counterclaim which gave rise to the damages. 'Private' doesn't come into it.

However, as my complaint suggested a breach of the Press and Media Protocol by Mr James, apparently that aspect will, apparently, be looked at by the Corporate Complaints team...based in the chief executive's department.... I trust they will be shocked and appalled that their boss has used council facilities to defame a member of the public..again.

Tuesday 15 March 2016

Less important Executive Board Members forced to take 'pay' cut? And other news

Back in November the council's Democratic Services committee rejected a proposal from the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales to cut some Executive Board Members' 'salaries' by around 10%.
The draft proposal was somewhat cancelled out by a recommended increase in the deputy leaders' allowances from £31,250 to £33,000 (we have no less than two deputy leaders, currently Cllrs Pam Palmer (Ind) and Plaid's Dai Jenkins), and the Leader's £48,000 was to stay the same. Those proposals were not rejected of course. Expenses would not be affected.

Unfortunately for our senior councillors, the IRPW, in its final report published last month, chose to stick with its original proposals. This means that Executive Board members, apart from Pam, Dai and Emlyn, will now have to decide who remains on £29,000 per year, and who will drop to £26,100.

The IRPW has also stipulated that allowances to Committee Chairs will also be on two levels depending on their level of self-importance, some will stay at £22,000 but some will drop to a mere £20,000.

The Democratic Services Committee will now have to make recommendations to full council, but whether it will cause upset amongst our senior councillors, who all consider themselves to be very, very important, remains to be seen.

Personally, as Executive Board meetings are now webcast, I think an arm-wrestling contest would be a far more appropriate method of resolving this tricky situation.  But please, definitely not mud wrestling.


Some of the recommendations from the recent Wales Audit Office Assessment are also coming up for attention, and possible rejection, over the next couple of weeks and a few are worth noting.

For matters of governance, the WAO have recommended, amongst other things, that a register of all Delegated Officer Decisions should be published, what a good idea and, it turns out, already a requirement over the Severn Bridge. As is public filming and the publication of spending details. Not so in Wales where every year council budgets go out to consultation without anyone knowing what exactly is being spent, on what, and to whom.

At least with the advance of technology we now have a record of what's said in full council rather than the selective minutes. At the last meeting Councillor Jan Williams mentioned the fact that there was not one mention in the minutes of her demand for evidence, from Meryl Gravell, that local people had scuppered a lottery bid for Parc Howard when she, and Cllr Cill Thomas held evidence to the contrary.

The Chief Executive helpfully intervened to say that as it had not been an official question, they didn't record everything that was said. Not even, it seems, a direct challenge to the truthfulness of statements issued by an Executive Board portfolio holder. Fancy that. Not that the chief executive concerns himself with the truthfulness of his own statements of course.

The WAO also suggest that the council supplies the Audit Committee with all regulatory reports and that it oversees the Corporate Risk register, in fact it's whole remit should be reviewed.
The WAO continue to be concerned about the council's management of grants and have also suggested that it might be a good idea to hold, for the purposes of scrutiny, central registers of tenders and contracts - the scandals over the Supporting People and Coastal grants are testimony to that being a very good idea indeed.

As for the Council's Constitutional Review Working Group set up, you may recall, to mangle the WLGA's 39 Governance recommendations, I have been told that they may meet if any tweaks to the constitution are required in the near future. I have also asked if their agenda will include the final removal of the 'suspended' unlawful libel indemnity clause, but this has not been confirmed...and remains something of a delicate matter for the chief executive I'm sure.

In brief
At the last council meeting, in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment was the brief mention that a new tier, and pay grade of senior management was being introduced. I failed to detect any cost assessment or impact on future budgets, or even a mention in the current budget.

At another recent meeting a £100,000 overspend on primary school transport was mentioned, though the news it's unlikely to reach the press office. This, said the relevant officer, was due to the closure of many small schools, "This was an example of a small change having a huge financial impact" A small change? Not for all those local communities, and the financial implications seem to have come as a bit of a shock.

Sunday 13 March 2016

Caebrwyn's blog - seven years old

I feel I should mention, in passing, that this blog is seven years old today. It has had its ups and downs, to say the least, and some of it has sadly passed to the great blog burial ground in the sky. However it has stayed the course, seen others come and go, and plodded on, sometimes against the odds and currently behind the barricades.

Over the years I've been contacted by countless folk, and many council staff, who have blown whistles, or found themselves at the receiving end of that special treatment reserved for those who rock the boat. Many have been too fearful of repercussions to publicise their issues, and those that have, have had their cards marked. Long standing issues remain unresolved and the carpets in County Hall conceal many an Ombudsman report and shredded email.

After seven years of writing, and aside from an imperceptible change in political colour, the council remains under the complete control of our chief executive and his side-kick Meryl, all aided and abetted by the agreeable legal department, as it has done for far too long.

To suggest that things have improved is a standing joke, take the foray into public questions as an example. This has been patchy to say the least, starting with the Plaid deputy leader defending a bung to the Scarlets as being 'in the best interests of the residents of Carmarthenshire' to the total breakdown of the Official Script with the questions over asset transfers. It's an intrepid person indeed who embarks on the process and there haven't been many.

Councillor questions are equally unwelcome and few and far between with some rejected for no good reason and those that get through followed by a regular warning from the Chair that councillors should really think twice before raising anything at all in the Chamber...on camera. Anything.

Compare that to the latest agenda for Pembrokeshire County Council where Councillors have put forward no less than sixteen Notices of Motion and ten Councillor Questions.

This is only partly the fault of councillors though, the real blame lies with the toxic culture which has been allowed to fester and flourish since Mr James arrived from Boston fourteen years ago.

The question is, has this blog made any real difference? I think it has, it might be business as usual in our dysfunctional County Hall but at least we are all a little more aware of it. I also hope I've engendered some interest in our local authority and provided a platform for discussion.

I've shone a spotlight here and there - public exposure is the only real route to accountability - and in respect of the court case and subsequent events, I will continue to fight my corner, despite the colossal amount of money spent on trying to silence me.
And for the record, I would have no hesitation in publishing every word again, slush funds and all.

I've have no intention of calling it a day, and I look forward to the next seven years....
Thanks to all for visiting this blog. and the input.

Friday 4 March 2016

News Round-up - Schools, Scrutiny, Salaries...and today's Herald

Schools, scrutiny, questions and filming

(Update 9th March; Given the inconsistencies in the figures supplied by the education department, the Scrutiny Committee have decided visit Llanedi School before making a recommendation to the Exec Board regarding its closure. They will also visit Bancffosfelen)

Next week's Education Scrutiny Committee (9th March) has the usual list of the latest schools up for closure, or 'reorganisation' as our council prefers. Nothing unusual in that of course as this has been a long running programme to 'remove surplus places'. Once the numbers drop to around 50% capacity the death warrant is duly signed, well, in most cases anyway.

The drop in numbers, and rural decline, has been achieved by the council itself, having started the rumours, in regular bursts, over the past ten years. The natural, and understandable, progression being for parents to then send their children to schools further away which are not up for imminent closure.

One of the schools, Bancffosfelen Primary has put forward a detailed submission to keep the school open as a community venture, and the Friends of Llanedi School have ventured into the world of 'public questions' with several direct appeals to save their school and challenging the basis for closure. This can all be read on the agenda here and I wish them well.


How far they'll get is anyone's guess and the appearance of the dreaded public questions will be an unwelcome hiccup in the Masterplan - with a net loss of 31 schools in the past ten years the rollercoaster has continued pretty much unabated. Some will recall the comments from Meryl Gravell a few years ago warning councillors not to show 'weakness' by listening to local campaigners...

As we have discovered with public questions at full council, unless you are there in person your question will not be read out and will be answered in writing, which challenges the whole concept of 'public engagement'.

Whether this applies to scrutiny committees is not clear but I rather suspect it will. If this is the case, and the questioners are not present, then the only record of what was said in response will be the appearance of the sanitized minutes a few weeks down the line.

This brings me on to the Standards Committee meeting listed for next Friday. Tucked away in the agenda is a reference to the Draft Local Government (Wales) Bill and specifically the role of the Standards Committee. It turns out, from the draft Bill, that this committee is actually supposed to investigate matters when 'Standards' slip, an entirely new concept for Carmarthenshire.

However, the other issue, for the committee to 'note' relates to Section 76 of the draft bill where the Welsh Government will require councils to broadcast all their open meetings, including the Standards Committee, and, of course, Scrutiny, Audit and all other meetings.

So far Carmarthenshire, after much memorable kicking and screaming now webcasts full council, Executive Board and Planning meetings, so there's some way to go yet. We'll have to wait for the minutes to know if the committee did anything more than 'note' the item.

Not mentioned in this document is section 77 of the draft bill, and the 'Explanatory Memorandum' is worth repeating in full;

"section 77 provides that by regulations, the Welsh Ministers may make provision for the filming and recording of Council meetings by the public. The prohibition of such activities puts councils at loggerheads with the norms of public life and militates against an open and transparent approach. The making of regulations under this section should reduce bureaucracy and administration for the County Council and requires the Council to think about public involvement in all its activities, leading to more joined up and effective involvement."

As we know, Carmarthenshire have had issues over public filming and, after even more kicking and screaming only agreed, in the usual blaze of control freakery, to allow the filming of meetings which are currently being webcast.

We were all able to view the webcast a couple of weeks ago when the Annual Mark James Budget slashed £16m from schools over the next three years but there's no such facility for school campaigners at next Wednesday's Scrutiny meeting who are barred from making recordings of a discussion directly affecting the heart of their community.

This is a situation which can't continue. They might not want to make recordings or film, but they should be able to if they want, as I've said just a few times before, it is the principle that matters.

Full council next week

You will, of course, be able to watch next Thursday's full council meeting which will see your council tax increased by 3.85%. (Don't forget, they've got 'Wellness centres' to fund).
Also on the agenda is the annual Pay Policy Statement which details, amongst other things, the salary ranges for the top brass.
You'll be relieved to know that the Chief Executive has had a modest pay increase, along with everyone else. I don't know how he's managed up to now. This equates to an extra £1700 for Mr James bringing his salary to a few quid under £170,000. This doesn't include expenses, perks or Returning Officer fees which should prove lucrative this year with two elections on the horizon.

You may recall that the £20,000 fees for the local elections in 2012 were paid 'in advance' of the election, before the number of contested seats were known and in the previous financial year. When the payment was queried the response was that 'the funds were available'...Ah. Following that, his pay then was inflated for a couple of years with those unlawful payments. So the actual figure presented in the Pay Policy has always been a bit of a moot point.

Also on the agenda is a question from leader of the Labour group, Cllr Jeff Edmunds, to council leader Emlyn Dole (Plaid). Cllr Edmunds seems miffed that his members, within two seat wards, have been deliberately sidelined and not informed about the latest photo opportunity or ribbon cutting session in their patch, only the Plaid members appear to have been informed.

I can understand that he's politically miffed but I'm not sure that it's really a matter of 'openness and transparency' in the public interest stakes. I would have thought a far more relevant question would be to ask Cllr Dole whether he considered it entirely appropriate for the Chief Executive (and soon-to-be Returning Officer) to lie to the national press, surely far more relevant to 'openness and transparency' and of course, integrity.

Happy Birthday Herald

Lastly for now, I must wish the Carmarthenshire and Llanelli Herald a happy first birthday. Today's edition includes a story about a mysterious case of fly-tipping on council land in Pontyberem. Interest was sparked when it became apparent that the refuse had been tipped on land immediately adjacent to farm land owned by family Dole.

The Herald makes it very clear that they are not suggesting for one moment that Cllr Dole is responsible, nor that it has anything to do with the demolished barns and clarifies that some of it appears to have been there for some time.

In that respect they asked Cllr Dole if he had noticed anyone trespassing on his land to dump the rubbish. Cllr Dole replied that the refuse was 'historic', he was 'unaware' of recent tipping and the council were now clearing it up.

The council makes much of it's determination to pursue, name, shame and prosecute fly-tippers and litter droppers and with the undoubtedly considerable cost of clearing this site, which also appears to contain asbestos, I assume they will leave no stone unturned.

Pic source; The Llanelli Herald

Finally, as the 'Wellness Centre' PR nonsense reached something of a crescendo last week, this week we are treated to a cracking Cadno opinion piece, below, which features a Reading from the 'Book of St Mark (James), CBE version';

Source; Carmarthenshire Herald (Right click on a pics, select 'Open link in new tab' to zoom and read - or if on mobile device just tap pics)

Tuesday 1 March 2016

The 'Wellness Centre', and other news.

The new proposed super-dooper 'Wellness centre' for Delta Lakes, Llanelli has been getting quite a bit of press coverage recently, that's all it's had mind you, a lot of aspirational twaddle and no substance. Feel free to google. Led by Carmarthenshire Council, with numerous 'partners' in tow, glib press releases are likely to be the norm, until a few years down the line when the auditors are finally called in to try and find out where all the money went.

As the last council meeting revealed, the only people in Carmarthenshire Council who know anything about it are Mark and Meryl. If that in itself doesn't ring massive alarm bells then it's about time it did.

No matter how much this multi-million pound project is dressed up, one document, a council planning brief for Delta Lakes reveals the true intention. Planning briefs, or 'Supplementary Planning Guidance' tend to outline possible uses for an area of land, maybe residential or industrial use and may even incorporate a school or a health centre. However the Delta Lakes brief contains, unusually, a very specific use - Private Health Care.

To add to the mix, the ARCH project, a cross-border organisation of health boards also involved in the delivery of this 'Wellness Centre' (along with the equally opaque Swansea Bay City Region) aims to "break free from an outdated healthcare system designed over 50 years ago", that 'outdated system' being our NHS I assume.

So far, the Plaid Cymru administration in Carmarthenshire seem to have fallen hook, line and sinker for this project. There is nothing wrong with private healthcare as long as it is funded privately, not with public money. But Plaid, whilst critical of Welsh Labour's track record with the Welsh NHS, are in danger of committing an unknown and therefore unlimited amount of public money, (including the land itself) to private health care right here on their doorstep. Or the Plaid councillors in Carmarthenshire are anyway.

Perhaps it's time for them to step back from the clutches of Meryl and Mark and demand some detail. The Labour opposition, under the leadership of Jeff Edmunds is a lost cause, with Cllr Edmunds prefacing any challenge, about anything, with the statement "although I wholeheartedly agree with everything you say and do...."
They really need to step up to the plate - scrutiny is everything and they should never work on the assumption that they are being told the truth.

At best this project will be an unaffordable drain on the council's and the NHS budget in an area where most of us have trouble affording a bottle of aspirin, let alone waiting twelve hours in A & E to have something removed from your eye. 

At worst this vanity project will merely be jobs for the boys, lining the pockets of faceless investors and unknown entities with public money, be it in the form of EU grants or whatever, all of whom will be long gone when the inevitable poop hits the fan.

I am reminded of the tales from Boston when the taxpayer-draining PRSA stadium was conceived, the promised funding from investors never materialised and management contracts agreed with no reference to councillors, the latter leading to a multi-million pound lawsuit. All courtesy of Mr Mark James CBE of course, who then transferred his talents to lucky old Carmarthenshire and that other notorious stadium project. 
Consulting with councillors, apart from Meryl, has never been his forte, as I mentioned in another example here.

At the last council meeting Mr James, in his short speech about the wonders of the 'Wellness' project, deigned to provide a report to the Executive Board at some point in the future. Good of him to throw them a crumb. He also mentioned that none of the decisions had to go to full council. Ah.

Unless councillors (apart from the hardy handful, we know who they are) now demand detail and transparency (for I guarantee there'll be none), instead of acting like sheep and swallowing the spin, then this could well turn out to be Mr James' final disastrous legacy to local government to end all disastrous legacies.

On the subject of transparency, or lack thereof, I recently requested, through FOI, the most recent register of interests, gift, hospitality etc for senior officers of Carmarthenshire Council. The request was essentially an update to the same request I made several years ago, when I received a lengthy list of (mostly mundane, day-to-day) invitations, mostly to the chief executive and the former Director of Regneration.

This earlier request found, sprinkled amongst the school concerts and local events, most of which weren't attended, a fair few champagne lunches and international rugby fixtures which were attended as named companies and businessmen courted favour with County Hall top brass.

In total, and including the mundane, there were over 700 invitations from 2005 until 2011 for the chief executive alone, and the Director of Regeneration didn't do so badly either.
As you may imagine, I blogged about it at the time, see 'Just the Ticket'.

Things are clearly a little different nowadays and the latest response no longer names the companies or businessmen behind the invitations. In fact, in the past three years the invitations seem to have dwindled with the chief executive logging just four, none of which were attended.

There are several possible reasons for this; perhaps they're not being logged, or perhaps our most senior officer has just become deeply unpopular. Billy-no-mates. Surely not.
 Or maybe courting favour is now a little more subtle - slap-up lunches with various developers in assorted hospitality boxes don't look particularly good when they pop up in a FOI response. 

The current lack of detail can, of course, have unintended consequences, and only one gift stands out really, declared, accepted and no doubt enjoyed by the (now retired) Director of Resources;

"Received, one traditional Swiss tart"

......perks of the job eh?