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

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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

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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.


Anonymous said...

Erm, hang on a moment...

The information leaked to the press constitutes personally identifiable information, and was of a confidential nature, and the council had both a moral and importantly a legal duty to protect it - see Data Protection Act.

If they want to argue that the information wasn't confidential, perhaps they would like to explain why the meeting was held behind closed doors, away even from Jacqui herself...

Jacqui, I would consider a complaint to the Information Commissioner if I were you.

Anonymous said...

Good advice madaxeman. The evidence is piling up to show how Leader Emlyn Dole is slowly turning into a clone of "Kev" How embarrassing for the party.

Taffy Sir Gar said...

Vote for Plaid never again - you must be joking! In local, assembly, national or EEC elections? How bitterly very many electors must be at this shallow, supine bunch of hypocrites!

Anonymous said...

Councillors will soon be ashamed to admit what they are. They are fast becoming a laughing stock. Similar to the police, once a post to be proud of, now very few people trust them at all. Councillors are seen as taking money, doing very little, turning up at a few meetings and then nod off.

Anonymous said...

Leaks - untruths - misinformation - lack of apologies - all par for the course for the most transparent council in Wales, and these recently from the Leader and the Chief Executive. Great! And we pay for it.
Oh, and weak malable councillors who are more than happy to turn the other cheek. And we pay for them too.

caebrwyn said...

Yes indeed, points noted..

Anonymous said...

A complaint to the Information Commissioner?

Good luck with that. They are about as useful as chocolate fire guard.

Ever wonder why this council behaves the way it does?

Anonymous said...

The system looks after the system not the general public and that's precisely why they all get away with it. These agencies all work together,they are not independent even though they will have you believe they are.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous at 1811 That's not strictly true about the ICO -a complaint has to be framed within their terms of reference. Breaches of the 1998 Data Protection Act are right up their street.

It is also helpful if an issue falls into their own window for self-promotion/budget-justification - such as the speed of reaction to the Met's tweet when they spotted Michael McIntyre in a picture taken from the force's helicopter, or the recent scandalous treatment of vulnerable persons by UK charities. Otherwise the wheels grind more slowly.

It was a complaint to the ICO against an unfulfilled FOI request, made via the public accountability site WhatDoTheyKnow, that forced the Council to change the way in which they try to hide embarrassing portions of the public planning process. CCC had already dismissed the request and upheld their own distorted view in an internal appeal. Plaid stealing the gramophone whilst Labour played musical chairs following their own political assassination of Garnant's answer to Gordon Brown may also have been timely.

Its also worth remembering that any public & private slaps from the ICO have to be reviewed by external auditors/agencies and makes it more difficult for them to prepare whitewashed reports. Without the trail of crumbs those auditors may never find a way out of the dark forest that is the Gaol on the Hill. In the case of DPA breaches, they may not be publicly visible but trigger serious alarm bells.

A complaint upheld against a Councillor would be first class evidence that they are not fit to hold office, an elected member could be subject to criminal sanctions (and may be disqualified from standing as a future candidate), the ICO can impose a fine of up to £500k etc. There are some useful training slides on the Local Government Association website (Data Protection: Guidance for Local
Authority Elected Members, Friday 10th October 2014, Legal Team) that summarise some of the issues.

We, the 184,000 residents, need to pick up the sentiment (often mis-attributed to Einstein) of "first learn the rules of the game, then play the game better" if we're to stand any chance of seeing the Council and our elected representatives properly discharge the duties we pay them for.

Unknown said...

I wish I could disagree with the last two comments but everyone I have approached who are paid from the public purse find reasons why they cannot get involved in looking into anything concerning this Council. But I must admit the Information Commissioner did contact them when they were a bit slow giving me the data I wanted but that is as far as he would have gone I think. These agencies, just as anyone paid by us, should follow—2 on which "People First" Bells Principles are based. We need to ask our AM candidates, as WAG is responsible for making sure Local Authorities act in our interest and hold them to account when their actions become this notorious, whether they would make an effort to persuade WAG to hold an inquiry. There appears to be plenty of evidence of their wrongdoing and cover ups. Party loyalty usually comes before public interest in these situations. But we will have to beware of empty promises!

Redhead said...

It will cost them more to pursue you than to drop it - and that is an option allowed to them. But common sense and justice will not prevail.

Anonymous said...

Redhead is right and it's obvious - which proves to all and sundry it is malicious. According to Leader Emlyn Dole it is being pursued in the interest of the public purse. Perhaps he'd like to explain how using ever more taxpayers money to pursue something that is unobtainable is in the interest of the public purse. It is ridiculous and makes him sound like someone has lost all sense of reason. Or someone under the control of another. Both equally laughable.

Anonymous said...

Anon @11:21 It would be laughable if it were not so serious.The man is devoid of everything that defines a person of integrity reason and humanity.I really want to say to all the councillors for goodness sake show some examples of good and honest governance and tackle all that is wrong with the way this despot operates.