Wednesday 27 April 2016

Senior councillors' pay cut "banged on the head"

There is nothing quite so nauseating to the general public as watching a small bunch of overpaid, executive councillors, filled with a ridiculous and deeply mistaken sense of their own importance, bemoaning the fact that they're not paid enough money. Aided and abetted by a chief executive, with, some say, equally charming attributes.

This was the item at Monday's executive board meeting which took longer to mumble through than anything else on the agenda. After some self-congratulatory nonsense, mainly from Meryl over the decision to locate the new archives at the back of Carmarthen library, and a hasty trip through the overspends in the budget monitoring reports, the conversation then turned to the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales' (IRPW) recommendations over senior councillors' pay.

But back briefly to the archives and, whilst the plan is to be welcomed, it must be remembered that the sudden necessity to spend £2m (and £600,000 removing the mould) on the new archives whilst, with the other hand, cutting over £3.6m from this year's school budgets and offloading parks and playgrounds, has been a result of 15 years of neglect and lack of investment by County Hall itself. Had various campaigners, bloggers, and Friends of the Archives not dragged the matter up from it's mouldering grave then that's exactly where the irreplaceable history of Carmarthenshire would have stayed.

Having said that it was interesting to note that apparently the new archive was to become officially Accredited as a repository by 2017 which doesn't leave much time to build the thing. There was no hint of a time frame and the future management and the additional funding which will be required was still something of a mystery. But, according to Meryl, the priceless documents were all 'safe in their hands'....hopefully safer than other 'jewels in the crown'.

Anyway, as I've mentioned previously, the IRPW recommended a two tier system for senior councillors' pay with those with a lesser workload taking a 10% cut. However, the Panel left the final decision whether or not to implement this up to local authorities. In Carmarthenshire, the Democratic Services Committee decided not to bother.

Pam Palmer (Ind) was first up with the comments and was delighted to recommend that this silly idea be "banged on the head". It would have been 'divisive' she said and 'would have caused problems' (that's my arm-wrestling contest idea out the window then). The public just don't realise how hard they work..

Meryl (Ind) was up next questioning the independence of the Panel given that it was in receipt of a letter from ministers. Well, Meryl I guess it's probably as independent as the legal advice you were fed when rubber-stamping unlawful blank cheques to Mr James...though that didn't seem to bother anyone at the time. Why, she wondered, should AMs and MPs have pay rises and they didn't? Executive Board members had enormous responsibilities and did very important could they encourage 'quality' people once the current batch (of 'quality' people, I imagine she meant..humility not being one of Meryl's strong points) retired?

At this point the chief executive chipped in, agreeing with Meryl's lament and also questioning the independence of the Panel...a panel which also has a say in his generous salary.
How odd, there's us, the general public having to trust the 'independence' of regulatory bodies when there's a whitewash report, yet when a modest pay cut for senior elected members is on the cards the panel is suddenly in the pocket of Welsh Government.

Pam was further moved to comment and said that sometimes she had phone calls in the middle of the night, presumably when a natural disaster hit Abergwili, she didn't charge...but if your washing machine broke down you were charged a call out fee! It was all outrageous and so unfair!

Cllr Pam Palmer

So, as a reminder as to just how hard done by the executive board really are, Emlyn Dole is on £48,000, Pam Palmer and Dai Jenkins are on £31,250 apiece and the seven remaining members, including Meryl trouser £29,000 each. Plus expenses. Not, most of us would think, figures to be sniffed at, but sniffing they were.

However, I'm not arguing against the basic allowance and without a doubt the body of councillors needs to be more diverse. Younger people need to be encouraged to stand, but throwing more money into the pot is not the answer - one option, considered last year, to change meeting times to suit working people, also received a swift 'bang on the head'...

As for the executive board, once these coveted, well-paid positions are based on ability instead of the current criteria of brown-nosing Mr James, we might actually be getting something approaching 'quality'. We're all accustomed to this behaviour from Meryl and Pam, and indeed the previous Labour leadership, but for the Plaid executive to turn it into an art form was disappointing to say the least.

Sunday 24 April 2016

This week's Cadno, from The Carmarthenshire Herald

As I have said here, Caebrwyn under fire, the chief executive of Carmarthenshire council, Mark James CBE seems currently preoccupied with having me locked up through both the criminal and civil courts. This is in conjunction with the pursuit of damages and costs.

Fellow blogger, Cneifiwr, made observations on the matter earlier here; Time bombs

The Cadno opinion piece, republished in full below, in this week's Carmarthenshire Herald, also makes some interesting observations;

Cadno's lance 
Astrology, readers, Cadno has no truck with it. 
In Cadno’s view, the fault lies in ourselves, not in our stars. We are all responsible for our conscious actions, whether they be words or deeds. 
Cadno is very big on personal responsibility. Unless there is some sort of medical or psychiatric explanation that negates personal fault, he is very much of the opinion that individuals shoulder the consequences of their actions. 
Of course, in Council Chief Executive Mark James’s case that means getting someone else to shoulder the burden. 
Cadno has noted with a mixture of bemusement and dismay as Carmarthenshire County Council, in the interests of the public purse, is hell bent on pursuing money it knows it will never get out of impecunious blogger Jacqui Thompson. That, of course, is the County Council’s right but the fact it has the right does not make it right to exercise it. 
The Council provided Mr James with what was ruled an unlawful indemnity for his costs. The key word here is ‘unlawful’. Mrs Thompson has claimed that the indemnity was not offered until after Mr James had offered to settle a libel action brought against him by Mrs Thompson. 
The question arises, therefore, as to whether Mr James would have pursued his own counterclaim against Mrs Thompson without the assurance that win lose or draw his costs would be met. 
It appears from what Mrs Thompson has reported on the timing of events that he would not. In such circumstances, if Mrs Thompson’s account is correct, it was the height of folly for the Council – even under the previous supine administration – to agree to the indemnity. 
The outside observer might reasonably concluded that it was no wonder Carmarthenshire long had a reputation of being an officer-led council: and led by the nose, too. 
An interesting point now arises as to whether the Council can spend further public money in pursuit of an object ruled unlawful by the Wales Audit Office. This is not a straightforward question. 
The costs were awarded lawfully by the Court, but the costs themselves were incurred unlawfully. There is a clear issue here with two wrongs not making a right. What would the Wales Audit Office think, for example, of the prospect of the Council spending potentially thousands of pounds of Council Tax payers’ money to recoup sums paid under an unlawful indemnity? 
In addition, Mr James has now rattled his sabre at Jacqui Thompson, with his solicitors alleging breaches of undertakings given in relation to a Court Order granted at the conclusion of the libel action between the Reverend James and her. 
Cadno does not know to what Mr James is sabre rattling, but it surely cannot be his economy with the truth regarding the existence of offers (plural) made by Mrs Thompson to pay off his claim against her post-judgement. 
That would be nonsense, since it was Mr James who opened the door to revealing their existence after he commented that offers to pay had not been made. In such a case, Mr James would be seeking to benefit from his own misstatement of the truth: due no doubt to the passage of time and the vagaries of memory. 
In addition, it would surely be a matter of public interest that Mr James was granted an indemnity by his employer only after he had decided that the game was not worth the candle if he was coughing up his legal bills from his own resources. 
That issue alone gives Cadno pause to wonder whether or not councillors were made aware of the existence of an alleged offer being made to settle by Mr James before granting the indemnity. 
If they were not informed of such an offer, it is at least arguable that the indemnity was offered on a false prospectus. That, too, is a matter of legitimate public interest. 
Unless Mrs Thompson gave an undertaking not to refer to the existence of an offer of settlement, it is difficult to see to what Mr James has taken umbrage. It is safer not to speculate, or posit a view on hypotheticals. 
However, if Mr James did make an offer to settle before the indemnity was granted that is clearly a matter of compelling public interest into the circumstances in which the Council went on to write him a blank cheque for almost £200,000 in costs. 
So, Cadno will not dip his paws further into the hypothetical waters save to observe that he is disappointed that a Plaid Cymru administration, whose members were united in opposition in criticising the previous Labour-led administration for giving Mr James an indemnity, are now seeking to pursue the matter further against someone unable to pay. 
There is no practical justification for taking that step. It is an appalling political misjudgement. It is, equally, a demonstration of the existence of Stockholm syndrome among some Plaid members of the Executive Board. 
Of course, the Labour opposition has been unremarkably silent on the matter. It was to their enduring shame and disgrace that they not only endorsed the decision to offer and indemnity but spent tens of thousands of pounds of public money seeking to defend it from being ruled unlawful by the Wales Audit Office. 
And for whose benefit, readers? 
Yours? Cadno’s? Who benefited from that decision? 
Counting in officer hours expended and the costs of administration, we can assess that it is well over three hundred grand of Council Tax payer money and resources that have now been washed down the Towy while the Council defends intolerable waste. 
It has made Carmarthenshire County Council a byword for being a haven for the sort of smug, insular and unaccountable misadministration and mal-administration that gave Cardiff Bay all the excuses the pathetic failures at the heart of the last Welsh Government wanted to rip apart local government in Wales. 
Cadno recalls writing a column filled with withering scorn for the proposition keenly, if incoherently, espoused by former leader Kevin Adequate and other members of the then Executive Board that Carmarthen was a council the rest of Wales looked up to. 
But even Kevin Adequate acknowledged that the saga of the indemnity and the battle with the WAO had harmed the Council’s reputation. 
Has no one at County Hall yet learned that the longer the issue endures, the longer the agony will be? 
It’s time for Carmarthen to be relieved: it’s time to lance the boil, readers.
All it takes is a little prick...
(Republished with permission) 

Friday 22 April 2016

21,800 postal ballot papers scrapped...and other news - updated

Update 26th April;
The postal voter who contacted me (see earlier update) has been told that there is indeed another mistake, this time over the colours. She has been told to ignore the advice about colours and make sure that she votes with the regional ballot paper with the correct wording.
With 21,800 ballot papers affected this is a serious mess and they will need to be very carefully counted.
There are now 43,600 postal ballot papers floating around mid and west Wales, all shades of grey.
As a reminder, the Returning Officer, Mark James, is appointed under the Representation of the People act 1983 and is legally responsible for the "preparation of all ballot papers". He will also be entitled to fees in the region of £30,000.
I understand complaints have been made.

Update 25th April;
The instructions given by the Returning Officer was to bin the 'grey' postal ballot papers and use the newly issued 'tan' ballot papers when they arrived. Votes already cast on the old 'grey' papers will not be counted.
I've been contacted by a postal voter, a pensioner, who has said that the old ballot papers were in fact pale green, not grey, and the new papers are not tan, but grey.
Presumably therefore if they send back the new ballot paper which is not tan, but grey, the election office will think it's the old grey, but actually green, ballot paper and it will be null and void.

And given this total chaos, I wouldn't be surprised if the regional election was also declared null and void.
If I was a candidate I'd be fuming.

*  *  *  * .

As the Herald reports, the potential for electoral chaos is on the cards with over 20,000 postal ballot papers for the Regional Assembly election being scrapped, at unknown cost, after an error was discovered. The ballot papers cover three counties and the error, in the instructions of how to vote, was not detected until they'd been sent out. Ceredigion, Preseli Pembrokeshire, and Carmarthen West and South Pembs being the areas affected, Carms East and Dinefwr, Llanelli, are not.

The Electoral Commission declared that the error was misleading for voters and despite the Returning Officer Mark James, legally responsible for the smooth running of the regional vote, seeking advice from 'the leading QC in the country' the papers had to be reprinted.

The Returning Officer, who can receive a fee of up to £4,730 for each constituency, blamed the mess on a 'most unfortunate error by the printers' which is interesting as it could be assumed perhaps that the printers would print the template given to them, not be responsible for the actual content.

Anyway, the problem now is that many of those who received a postal vote ballot paper may have already voted. Their vote will not count and they will have to vote again when the new papers, and new prepaid envelopes, arrive. Many who vote by post are elderly or vulnerable people and this mess could cause confusion and, at the very least, a reluctance to trek out to the postbox to recast their vote.

As an aside, I recall that during the local elections in 2012 some sitting councillors, not a million miles from Caebrwyn were so kind and helpful they personally assisted the elderly folk with their postal votes and even offered to pop them in the post box for them...allegedly.

However, this is not the first hiccup in this year's election. At the end of March, due to a brief 'technical issue' with Carmarthenshire Council printers, some requests for postal votes disappeared into the ether and alerts had to be sent out for anyone who had requested an application during the timeframe to re-apply.

The Returning Officer, Mark James, is no stranger to controversy of course and it was only a couple of years ago that Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards called for 'ministerial intervention', questioning whether Mr James should preside over the European election whilst on gardening leave during the criminal investigation following the unlawful payments scandal.

Earlier, in 2012, there was controversy over an 'advance payment' of £20,000 to Mr James for the local elections, a payment made before the number of contested seats were known, and in the previous financial year.

I would imagine that the regional parties and candidates are not best pleased with this latest cock-up.

*  *  *  *

I notice that the cost of democracy has been tallied up for the municipal year. Back in February the council's budget costed in a reduction in travel expenses for councillors over the next couple of years, based on 'previous years' claims'. In fact they've gone up, from £46,027 in 2014/5 to £47,592 in 2015/6. It may be only £1500 but that's a fair few fills of the tank when petrol prices have actually gone down.

Also of interest is the total paid in councillor allowances, with very little evidence of civic belt tightening, the figure has gone from £1,267,556 in 2014/5, to £1,286,416 in 2015/6, an increase of £18,860...

*  *  *  *

After the recent flurry of secretive activity, it appears that Carmarthenshire Council's efforts to merge with the troubled Tai Cantref housing association has failed. With thanks to Jac o' the North's blog we learn that Cantref has instead plumped for Wales and West Housing based in Cardiff. 
Clearly Carmarthenshire Council was a basket case too far, even for Cantref.

Friday 15 April 2016

Caebrwyn under fire

(Later post, 13th May; Caebrwyn under fire - some updates)

I have received a letter from solicitors representing the chief executive of Carmarthenshire Council Mark James. The letter alleges that I have breached undertakings relating to Mr James' counterclaim for libel, made further to the trial in 2013, on this blog.

As I do not agree, the letter makes clear that the chief executive intends to return to the High Court and commence proceedings against me for contempt of court.

The letter also informs me that the chief executive has referred matters to the police and asked them to conduct an investigation with a view to considering criminal prosecution for harassment, relating to the blog. A matter I will also defend if necessary.

In addition, I've had a letter from the council asking me to accept that I owe £190,390 to the council, confirm that I am willing to pay, and set out how I propose to do so, within 14 days....

I have nothing further to add at the moment. 

Wednesday 13 April 2016

April shower...and the long grass

Unfortunately Meryl wasn't present at today's full council meeting to answer those awkward questions over Parc Howard from Cllrs Bill Thomas and Jan Williams. She was, we learned from Pam Palmer, resting following a surgical procedure on Monday. She wanted her deepest regret for not being there to answer those questions to be passed on to the councillors concerned...

What usually happens under these circumstances is that the question is not read out and the questioners will receive a written response at some distant point in the future, if they're lucky.

Fortunately, it seems that Cllrs Thomas and Williams had the foresight to withdraw the questions as soon as they had wind of Meryl's absence, to save them for a full council meeting when they are certain she will be present to give a straight answer, well, an answer anyway. 

Next up was a Motion from Labour to reconstitute, like powdered egg, the School Transport Appeals Panel, something they'd got rid of themselves in 2014 to save £30,000. What happens now is that applications to appeal for transport to schools outside the catchment area are processed by officers with most of them being turned down under strict criteria.

The Labour group admitted that they felt they'd made a mistake and local, democratic involvement, and an element of discretion, was important. It should, like the Housing Appeal Review Panel, be member, not officer, led. As a vehicle for public appeals, it should also be a politically balanced committee.

The Plaid amendment proposed that the arrangements should be changed but limited the Panel to two Executive Board Members and the local member for the relevant ward, with officers advising.

The chief executive, with his preference for all things officer-led, became involved and clearly wasn't keen on the Motion, nor, it has to be said, the Plaid amendment, but limiting a committee to two members of his dutiful Executive Board was probably the better of two evils. 

He accused the Labour proposer of merely trying to ensure that as many appeals as possible would be passed, shaking his head during the councillor's address and laughing at the ridiculousness of the idea.
Carmarthenshire, he said, would be the only authority in Wales with a member-led panel (and so would look foolish?) and to top it all, such a school transport 'free for all' would 'undermine rural schools'.

With the Mark James Council having closed forty-odd village schools over the past ten years I don't think a member-led transport appeal panel would make a lot of difference, to be honest.

Anyway, the Plaid amendment was duly carried, so, there will be no politically balanced committee to determine your school transport appeals.

Next was a Motion for a free parking pilot in Ammanford, another town centre in terminal decline. A similar pilot, for a couple of hours a day, had been approved for Llanelli last year but six months after the trial, the results are still a mystery.

Plaid put forward an amendment for council to refuse this motion as parking was still being considered by a Task and Finish group. Labour Cllr Terry Davies pointed out that this wasn't an amendment, it was a response, negating the Motion, and neither was it dated....he was surprised that our experienced chief executive had allowed it... 
Clearly Mr James approved of this amendment...

Agreed, there are many issues aside from free parking which affect town centre trade, and, as Plaid pointed out, the Welsh Government's decision to remove rate relief for small retail premises hasn't helped. Neither, I suppose, has online shopping, nor the whacking great Tesco, well away from the town centre with its massive free car park.

Anyway Cllr Edmunds, Labour leader, reminded councillors that they did have the power to implement this, it might help in the short term, and it was only a trial after all.

However, with the Plaid and Independent ranks in tightly whipped form today, their amendment was carried, so no free parking trial for Ammanford for the forseeable future.

Following that was Labour Cllr Ryan Thomas' Motion on the damning internal Audit Report on Pembrey Country Park and the Millenium Coastal Park. It was proposed that the full report be circulated and the findings checked over by the police and the Wales Audit Office.

Cllr Bill Thomas seconded the Motion and confirm that he, along with others (including me) had been hearing horror stories for a year or two.

Cllr Dole's response was deeply patronising. He was surprised to see this motion, the young councillor was clearly naive of the intricacies of Carmarthenshire council procedures, unlike Professor 'two barns' Dole I suppose... 
This was a 'Function of Audit', he said, and the Audit Committee had resolved to form an action plan, to be regularly spoon-fed monitored as officers sorted out the mess 'historic issues', full council was not the time nor the place... 
Mr James would have been proud,..

If there were any irregularities then councillors must put their trust in the chief executive and Linda Rees Jones to report them to the relevant external authorities.... Oh dear.

It doesn't seem so long ago that Plaid Cymru, in opposition, were clamouring for openness and transparency, and indeed blood, over those Wales Audit Office public interest things change. 

Cllr Edmunds spoke in support of the Motion and pointed out that the airing of serious internal issues in a public arena was what being 'open and transparent' was all about.

Later in the meeting Cllr Ryan Thomas asked again about the full report and apparently it hasn't been completed yet, which is strange given the specific and numerous serious breaches which appear to have taken place. When it was complete, senior officers, Chair of Audit etc would be given a copy. Whether all councillors would receive it, with acceptable redactions, remained to be seen. 

So, with more whipping, the whole business was successfully kicked into touch, No publicly available report, no reference to the police, and no reference to the Wales Audit Office.
Business as usual.

(15th April; Cadno's observations regarding this unsavoury business are this week's Carmarthenshire Herald, and it's well worth a read) 

Finally the curtains were drawn, the press, public and webcast viewers kicked out as the exempt item on Tai Cantref Housing Association came under discussion. Whether or not it was resolved to try and merge with a problem-riddled organisation, with almost its entire housing stock situated in another county, we'll have to wait and see..

Update 14th April; In the least surprising news of the week Carmarthenshire council have confirmed they're interested in forming a 'partnership' with Tai Cantref 

Webcast here

An indemnity...or not an indemnity?

As I have already mentioned, the Council's Executive Board have 'unanimously' decided to pursue me for £190,390 legal costs. At the same meeting, they decided to defer a decision on the £41,000 counterclaim costs - this is a messy business for County Hall, due to the unlawful indemnity, and would have come under a legal spotlight.

To add to the mess, the question has now arisen whether this was an 'indemnity' at all.

The indemnity, as we know, was declared unlawful by the Wales Audit Office and by virtually everyone else, including the Welsh Government, apart from Mr James and now, surprisingly, Plaid's Emlyn Dole, despite the offending 'libel costs clause' in the council's Constitution being suspended indefinitely in February 2014.

However, as several readers have pointed out, an indemnity is protection against future losses and should have only kicked-in if Mr James had lost his counterclaim. If had lost then the council would have coughed up public funds. If he won, which he did, then the costs were recoverable from the other side, in other words, me.

In fact the counterclaim costs were paid by the council as the case carried on and as the invoices rolled in, regardless of the outcome of Mr James' action. When the 'indemnity' was approved, the potential risk to the council on the counterclaim costs was estimated at £100,000, and it was "unclear" whether I would be able to pay if I lost.

So this wasn't any sort of 'protection against future losses', it was simply a blank cheque to launch a legal attack funded directly by the council.
With the 'indemnity' already flouting Welsh Government legislation, and the Derbyshire rule which prevents councils from suing for libel - the reality of the situation makes their position, legally and ethically, a damn sight worse. 

Vote for Sian Caiach and People First on May 5th!

Good luck to Sian Caiach and People First for the Llanelli constituency Assembly election, and the regional list, on May 5th. 
Sian is on Facebook and Twitter and her website is here.

Thursday 7 April 2016

April Agenda - and Country Park questions

Later post 13th April, after the meeting; April shower...and the long grass 

* * *

Next Wednesday's (13th April) full council agenda has been published and whilst there are no questions from the public, there are a handful of questions and Motions from councillors. None, I note, relating to the extraordinary business over the exempt report from the last Executive Board meeting.

One issue which has been raised is the damning internal audit report into the facilities at Pembrey Country Park and the Millennium Coast. I mentioned this here, following the Audit Committee meeting a couple of weeks ago. The findings ranged from accounting improprieties to procurement issues and a general failure to follow procedure, quite a mess in fact.

This whole debacle was presented to the Audit Committee in the form of a brief two page summary, without the full report, which presumably detailed what had happened to arrive at these findings.
As I also said in my previous post, I have been hearing horror stories about these facilities for a couple of years and this report raises the question of how long senior management have been involved or at least aware of the 'historic issues'.
As we know, the council has plans to offload the whole leisure department, along with the parks, into a trust..or sell them off, either will do...

The Labour opposition group have tabled a Motion for the full report be made publicly available, for it to be referred to the police to see if there's been criminal wrongdoing, and to the Wales Audit Office to check for financial irregularities.
The Exec Board member, Cllr Dai Jenkins will also be asked whether or not he's actually seen the full report and how much public money is at risk and/or missing.

I suspect there will be a considerable amount of internal legal advice imparted over all this, of the 'incompetent and cavalier' variety to which we are so accustomed. I strongly suggest that the Plaid leadership put away the whitewash for once, join in the call for full transparency and support this motion.

The second issue sees Labour members Bill Thomas and Jan Williams demand evidence from Cllr Meryl Gravell (Ind) to back up her allegations that local residents and local politicians 'scuppered' a 2012 bid for Lottery funding. They claim to hold evidence to the contrary. They also want to know why Meryl failed to submit a second bid for funding in 2014.

Despite this cropping up at the previous two meetings, along with Meryl's 'That is what I was told and I stand by it' comment, nothing has appeared in the minutes. Now at least it will be on the record. She will be asked who told her and when, and whether she was given any documentary evidence to back it up. Hopefully they'll be ready with a supplementary question.

Also on the agenda is a mysterious reference to Tai Cantref Housing Association. This is an 'exempt' report so the webcast will be switched off. It also features (also exempt) on the agenda for Monday's Executive Board meeting, in fact it's the only item. There is nothing to indicate what is being decided. (See update below)

The housing association supplies social housing in Ceredigion and north Carmarthenshire and has over 1400 properties, mostly in Ceredigion with only 170 in Carms. However, the Welsh Government stepped in last summer and commissioned a full report following allegations from whistleblowers relating to mismanagement, procurement issues and the treatment of staff.
Despite the WG taking this unusually serious step, they subcontracted the intervention to a private company

That report has never, to my knowledge, been made publicly available and its release refused by the Welsh Government on the grounds that it could  “destabilise the association” and “prejudice its commercial interests”, but after the report was completed in December last year, the chief officer of the Association was placed on 'leave' whilst the findings were considered.

At the beginning of March the chief officer left and the Chairman of the board stepped down, a couple of weeks later the Association announced it was 'seeking a merger' and would be 'engaging with potential partners'.

At the end of March urgent calls were then being made, from Plaid AM Elin Jones, and the tenants, were for a public consultation prior to any merger

All of which suggests that things are far from healthy at Cantref. One can only guess at what our Exec Board and Council will decide. Presumably, in light of a possible take-over, the sizeable amount of public cash it receives as a social landlord, as well as the still-unseen Welsh Government report, it will be reviewing the Council's current arrangements with the Association.

Hopefully it won't be a decision to take over Cantref and thereby have one basket case absorbed by another.

Incidentally, the interim director brought in to run Cantref for the time being is the current CEO of Carmarthen-based Bro Myrddin Housing Association, who is also the sister of Exec Board Member Hazel Evans (Plaid). Although Cllr H Evans declares an interest, fortunately her portfolio is not housing. The housing portfolio is held by Exec Board Cllr Linda Evans, who happens to be Cllr Dole's sister-in-law. It's a small world here in Carmarthenshire.

As the end of another municipal year draws to a close, the meeting will also see the quaint Carmarthenshire tradition of 'nominating the Chair of Council'. This doesn't involve anything democratic, and doesn't even require any ability. The only criteria for the reward is years of loyalty to the regime.

Labour, Plaid and Pam's Independent Party take it in turns each year to be Chair, (£21,500 plus expenses), so the current Labour Vice Chair will replace Plaid's Peter Hughes Griffiths as Chair, and the new Vice Chair will be selected from the Independent ranks, if any are awake. You can look forward to the full blown ceremony at next month's AGM.
Can't wait.

Update 12th April - As suggested in the comments section it appears that the council are considering a merger with Tai Cantref, there is more over on Jac o the North's blog. Whatever the Executive Board recommended will be discussed at tomorrow's council meeting as an exempt item.
There is some speculation as to whether a merger with a council is legal, and financially the council will be saddled with trying to turn round a failing housing association with the majority if its homes in another county.
It also seems that Carmarthenshire Council is not the only bidder.

Friday 1 April 2016

"Council leader under fire over leak to local press" - The Carmarthenshire Herald

Update 13th April; The full article in the Carmarthenshire and Llanelli Herald is now online; Blogger 'in dark' over meeting

* * * * *

Update 6th April; For a neat, considered and excellent piece on the libel case and subsequent events, please click on the link to Cneifiwr's blog;

Y Cneifiwr - A Tangled Web

* * * * *

Further to my previous post, 'Carmarthenshire Council to pursue me for £190,390 libel costs', and as I ponder just what their 'opening dialogue' with me could possibly be, the Carmarthenshire Herald has dug deeper into the curious manner in which I learned of the decision.

Pic source; Carmarthenshire Herald on Facebook

As I mentioned, I didn't discover what had been decided at the closed session meeting until a reporter from the Carmarthen Journal phoned me for a comment a week later. The minutes were not published until the following afternoon.

Not only was the paper furnished with a statement from Plaid Cymru Council leader Emlyn Dole but also published specific information which could only have come from a copy of the 'exempt' report. An exempt report is rather like a classified document, not for the eyes of the press and public;

"The councillors on the board were asked whether they wished to pursue Mrs Thompson for the costs awarded against her in the council's favour, and if so, whether for the first £127,625 or for the full £190,390 awarded by the court.

It is owed £127,625 — an insurance excess payment — the balance of £62,765 would be paid to the council's insurers.

Council leader Emlyn Dole has confirmed the council will be going after the full costs awarded at the High Court." 
(Carmarthen Journal)

Despite being a party to the case, I had been patiently waiting for the verdict since the meeting on the 21st March having been told, by the head of legal, that I would only be notified once all 74 councillors had been informed.

The Herald asked a couple of councillors, namely Anthony Jones (Lab) and People First's Sian Caiach if they had indeed been 'informed' prior to Cllr Dole's tete a tete with the newspaper. Unsurprisingly, they hadn't heard a thing. Oh dear.

The Herald posed a series of straightforward questions to the council;
Could they have a copy the Leader's statement, and the head of legal's assessment of the prospects for recovery of the money?
Did the council think it appropriate for a member or officer to make a public statement without informing the other party to the litigation of its substance?
Could the council to confirm if, when and how all councillors were notified of the decision before Cllr Dole's leak of confidential information?
When, and how, did the legal department inform Mrs Thompson?

All questions were completely ignored, aside from the request for Cllr Dole's one line statement which had appeared in the Journal, adding "No further information will be provided".

Of course it seems like only yesterday (actually it was last June) that Plaid members took the outraged moral high ground to publicly denounce another 'leak'. Perhaps Cllr Dole has a short memory...

Some of us can also recall extensive Plaid criticism of the Labour administration for misusing the council press office and further outrage over the chief executive's long-running efforts to control the local press.

How things change.
As I mentioned here (towards the end of the post) I made a complaint to the council concerning the chief executive's statement to the Western Mail a few weeks ago. I was concerned that Mr James' use of council facilities to channel untruthful allegations about members of the public was unbecoming for a CBE-holder and impending Returning Officer, and possibly breached the Officers' Code of Conduct.

My complaint was, naturally, dismissed by the ever-loyal head of legal, Linda Rees Jones as a 'private matter' between Mr James and myself but as I'd also raised the query of compliance, or otherwise, with the Council's Press and Media Protocol, she would let the Corporate Complaints department deal with that issue.

I was rather surprised therefore to receive an email yesterday, not from 'Complaints', but from Council leader Emlyn Dole;

Dear Mrs Thompson,

I refer to your email of 14th March, 2016 in which you seek to make a complaint against the Chief Executive.

I have given this matter careful consideration and I concur with the comments made by the Head of Legal Services regarding the substantive issue raised in your email. I am firmly of the view that this is indeed a private matter between yourself and Mr James.

Furthermore, having considered the facts in this case, I am not persuaded that there has been a breach of the Council’s Press and Media Protocol and have no further comments to make on this particular matter.

Yours sincerely

Councillor Emlyn Dole – Leader of the Council

I thanked Cllr Dole for his disappointing but predictable response and asked him to pass on my thanks to whoever wrote the email...

The aim to become the 'most open and transparent council in Wales' continues to fail dismally and the steady transformation of Leader Dole into the Organ Grinder's monkey appears to be complete.