Wednesday 28 December 2016

Cadno sets the Scene - The Carmarthenshire Herald

As a festive treat, here's another splendid offering from Herald columnist Cadno;

Cadno Sets the Scene

What is Christmas, if not a time of tradition? You know, readers: the rising of the sun. the running of the deer, holly, mistletoe, the warm glow of festive cheer. All of those things and Boxing Day: Revenge of the sprouts.
And panto,
Ah, panto, readers! 
When Cadno was a wee young cub, panto was very much part of the period around the Christmas festival. It always struck Cadno as very peculiar that Mr Hopkin, the village's lonely Anglican, who spent most of the year looking like he sucked lemons for a living, threw himself into womens' clothing with such abandon as soon as the stage was dressed in the village hall. Odder still that Cadno's grandmother, a woman of strict rectitude and devoutness, chortled mightily to all those double-entendres about farting, which Cadno was sure she should not get. 
There was something about pantomime that was both hearteningly old-fashioned and compellingly modern. The best pantos mocked the events and personalities which were in the news or - as we used to say  - 'on the telly', while remaining old-fashioned. And they haven't changed much, readers: at least, the best of them. 
But Cadno's favourite bit was the oldest remnant of staging a performance: the prologue that set the scene. These are, of course, fossils from very old comedies indeed - the concept would have been familiar to those who sat in the rickety temporary theatres of Rome in the centuries before what is now regarded as the first Christmas. Playgoers watching the Roman equivalent af a Carry On film penned by Plautus would understand the stock characters and elaborate smutty jokes. And so we come to Cadno's own effort to add to the ouevre.
The houselights are dimmed. And before the curtain goes up on Gaol Hill's stage on comes, well, readers, see if you can guess who it is...

I am neither fool nor knave
In fact, I think I am quite brave
Are you surprised I'm quite cranky?
Working with Trimsaran's Widow 

Believe me, I'm not the vengeful sort
Brandishing contempt of court
Around my head like a shroud
To keep you local heroes cowed.

Two thousand and seventeen, in May
That;s when there will be hell to pay
At ballot box, in public vote
And on this you can me quote

The Indies patiently their chance bide
All the blame they'll put on Plaid
While Labour hope you have forgot
That they achieved precisely squat

In fact they're pulling a confidence trick
Because they believe you're all quite thick
And will not begin to wonder how
Their policies they've abandoned now

High principles they now proclaim
In truth they should share the blame
With Meryl and her Indie gang
For bankrolling me without a pang

Too late, too late, now to repent
Once the public money's spent
With Meryl telling me I'm great
Labour gave me on a plate

The keys of Carmarthenshire
And now put all the blame on her
For not restraining my ambition
And leading the Council to perdition

With Labour's help Meryl indulged
My sense of self-worth 'til it bulged
And bursting out from every pore
Led me to the High Court's door

There the judge ruled in his decree
That there are no strings on me
A vile calumny, His Honour said
And poured opprobrium on the head..

On her who]swore upon the Bible
That she had not poor me libelled
Yes, her criticism I'll now douse
By sending bailiffs to her house

At this festive time of year
I'll see her out upon her ear
To fund my action I have spent
Council cash on a learned gent

To make sure I shall have my way
And Councillors shall have no say
Upon my scheme to make her homeless
With the aid of those quite boneless

And I will bend their will to mine
In lieu of them possessing spines
From criticism I shall be exempt
By threatening all with contempt

Of court for it is plain
That for all I have disdain
So long have I been their king
I've got them all for me to sing

From the hymn sheet of my choosing
While oleaginously oozing
Wise words of guidance as I sit near
The Council Chairman's very ear

Words which are told to me
By those who advise legally
Upon what it is I want to do
To make sure nothing can get through

Displeasing me to raise my hackles
By those from the tin tabernacles
Which sit upon the hillside green
Who want me to control my spleen

And show that surprising rarity
Acting with Christian charity
I'll take no lessons from their sort
With derision I shall snort

To add to my position sheen
I'll get advice from the team
Described as hopelessly 'cavalier'
For their arguments most queer

Of legal issues small and great
To make sure discussion shall abate
A biddable counsellor I'll seek
To give the council's rules a tweak

Bereft of independent thought
They'll do for me just as they ought
A panto horse, each end a sphincter,
My faithful steed, the Erylinda

And now, electors, on with our show
But do not worry, feel not low
Whatever happens at the next election
The council shall not change direction

Your new reps will all play along
As I plan to go on and on
For truly friends, is it not written
It is better to reign in hell...
than serve in heaven?

(The Carmarthenshire Herald 23rd December, reproduced with permission)

Monday 19 December 2016

Cadno's Complete Contempt - from this week's Carmarthenshire Herald

Here, to reach the parts that the printed version of the Carmarthenshire Herald doesn't, is this week's Cadno opinion piece;

Cadno’s Complete Contempt

In February 2002, Donald Rumsfeld, the then US Secretary of State for Defence, stated at a Defence Department briefing: ‘There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don't know.’
Poor Donald 
Rumsfeld rather had the mickey taken out of him for that little lot, but careful examination suggests that what he said has both logic and is a sound way of testing hypotheses. You insert a hypothesis in one end of Rumsfeld’s statement, and at the other end it emerges either intact or in pieces. 
Here’s a hypothesis to test, readers: never mind what councillors and the public think, Carmarthenshire County Council, as a corporate entity, has no interest in
attempting to extract itself from what has rightly been described as a ‘toxic’ situation with blogger Jacqui Thompson. Cadno is not chewing over what Mr Justice Tugenhadt said and whether he was right, wrong, or both. Neither is Cadno remotely interested in how the case ended up in court in the first place. You play the ball from where it lies, not where you want it to be. We are now at the sticky end of litigation, everything that has been said has been said; everything that has been done has been done. Now is the time to pay the piper for the dance. 
The Council has no interest in the public relations cost of its present situation and, if one accepts that Mr James’s action against Mrs Thompson for damages is entirely a private matter (and Cadno is proud to have kept a straight face writing that phrase), then it has no interest in how, when, or whether Mr James chooses to
extract his pound of flesh. 
Except it does. 
Mr James would not have defended Mrs Thompson’s claim against him – offers to settle had been made – and would not have launched a counterclaim without the Council writing their Chief Executive a blank cheque. 
Moreover, the complaint by Mrs Thompson would not have arisen had not someone at the Council authorised Mr James to write the comments about Mrs Thompson and her family that he put – in his own name but with his employer’s authorisation – on another blog. 
The Council will not say who gave Mr James that authorisation, but three scenarios present themselves:
(1)   A senior councillor, possibly on the Executive Board, gave him the nod;
(2)   Mr James used his delegated powers to grant himself the authority to do so;
(3)   Some unminuted meeting took place in which a combination of senior officers and councillors signed off on the deed. 
Now, we know – because it is minuted (and the minutes have not been challenged) – that Mr James was authorised ‘by the Council’. 
That rules out number one, because even a leader of the council could not authorise Mr James to do as he did; we can rule out number two, because that would be an unconscionable action for which Mr James would already have been disciplined, if not dismissed; that leaves number three. The presence of councillors – or at least one shy and retiring type – would also be essential for three to work, due to the problem of officers using ‘delegated powers’ to bind the council to a course of action that they would or should have realised on any assessment would have led to at least the threat of litigation. 
So, the Council is as bound up in Mr James’s legal travails as Mr James is. 
Last week, the Council – through the unlikely personage of Eryl Morgan (aka Linda Rees Jones) – claimed that Mr James’s action was wholly private in nature. 
Don’t make me laugh, readers.
That’s comedy gold on its own. 
What the Chair of the Council determined (hahaha) is that the Council should not discuss matters in which it has spent the money for the benefit of a private individual who just happens to be its most senior employee. 
But what got Cadno was the suggestion that somehow even bringing forward the matter for discussion could constitute contempt of court by Cllrs Alun Lenny and Cefin Campbell. 
Umm. You’re having a laugh, is Cadno’s response to that.
‘Publication made as or as part of a discussion in good faith of public affairs or other matters of general public interest is not to be treated as a contempt of court
under the strict liability rule if the risk of impediment or prejudice to particular legal proceedings is merely incidental to the discussion’. Contempt of Court Act 1981 s5. 
Obviously an aspect of statute law of which Cllr Eryl Morgan was unaware. Cadno suggests asking Cllr Morgan about it when you see him out and about. Your discussions of what is and is not contempt of court with Eryl Morgan should be refreshing and enlightening. 
Of course, Eryl Morgan might have had in mind the provisions Part 81.12 of the Civil Procedure Rules, expressly ‘interference with the due administration of justice
in connection with proceedings’. But that wouldn’t even come close to biting in the case of the councillors’ rejected motion. 
Thankfully, Cadno is prepared to help Eryl Morgan out. In 2012, Appendix F of the Law Commission’s report 209 provided a list of all the statutory and regulatory
provisions under which it is possible to commit contempt of court. 
The ‘Thou Shalt not Annoy Senior Council Officers Act’, or the ‘Sabre-Rattling (Causes) Act’ were not among them. 
With nigh on a quarter of a million pounds of public money spent on court costs in support of Mr James (including the counterclaim costs, which seem to have vanished), plus hundreds – if not thousands – of officer hours spent on the matter, the idea that there is no public interest in what happens next is bonkers. The idea that a public employee who could benefit to the tune of £35K in his own right as a result of that money being spent should not have his promise to remit the money to his employer (curse those unchallenged minutes!) discussed in public by the body which bankrolled him is similarly crackers. 
Any suggestion that contempt of court is even possible in these circumstances is not only nonsense but nonsense on stilts. Nonsense on stilts on stilts on top of scaffolding poles. 
The law of contempt, however carelessly waved around, is not a cloak behind which a body like the Council can try and hide things it does not want discussed. 
Now we look at those known unknowns, readers: how many councillors are prepared to do something about it?
(Reproduced with permission)

See also recent posts on this blog, including, The Vice-like grip and from Cneifiwr's blog, Contempt and Mr James's legal glacier


I'd also like to add the following - an observation, received from a correspondent, and included in a letter to a Member of Parliament;

"Whenever I think that this matter has reached rock bottom and can’t possibly sink any lower events disabuse me of this conclusion.  There is a sinister irony of Orwellian proportions when democratically elected representatives invoke the rule of law to undermine it.  These acts of abuse and, put in religious terms, desecration of the rule of law, are risible and reprehensible. This travesty applies to the denial of Sian Caiach’s question and the denial to allow the motion to be put by Cllrs Lenny and Campbell; a motion that was limp and pathetically inadequate and yet even this miserable offering roused the angst and paranoid thuggery that masquerades as democracy in County Hall.  
I am not privy to every aspect of the current chief executive’s behaviour, nor his performance in carrying out his public function, but from what I know of it, he seems to have a cavalier approach to compliance with the law and an unhealthy disrespect for democracy.  As such he should be dismissed for gross misconduct...."

An Oops from the Ombudsman

In non-council news I had some interesting, if rather odd correspondence with the Ombudsman's office. A couple of months ago I requested an ombudsman's report which partially upheld a complaint against Carmarthenshire council concerning an adult social services issue.

These anonymised reports are available on request and are usually sent within a couple of days, sometimes a summary is sent instead. They happily sent me the full report, anonymised but unredacted. However, I felt that it was of a particularly personal nature and, more to the point, the content of the report didn't really raise matters of wider public interest. So I left it at that.

Two weeks ago I received another email from the Ombudsman's office telling me that my Freedom Of Information request for this report had been refused. The refusal stated that;
"having taken into account the interests of the person aggrieved and the extent to which redactions could be made, we do not consider that it would be appropriate to disclose the report in question. Consequently, on the basis that disclosure would not be made in line with the provisions of section 21 of the PSOW Act, we therefore consider that the report is exempt from disclosure by virtue of section 44 of the FOI Act"
As they'd already sent it weeks ago, this appears to be something of a data protection hiccup, and I'd never made a FOI request anyway.

Tender troubles

One issue which has been troubling our council in recent years has been the problem of how to put the recycling service out to the required tender when, aside from a private operator in Llangadog, the service is run by its own arms-length company, Cwm Environmental.

The waste and recycling service five year contract expired a couple of years ago but with confusion and complications over conducting a fair tendering process, the contract with Cwm was extended 'informally' for three years. This was retrospectively approved by councillors and fortunately for them, wasn't challenged by potential bidders given that the three year extension was worth several million quid.

Further issues then arose with the conflicting role of the Director of Environment who would be overseeing the bidding process at the same time as having roles and responsibilities with the governance of Cwm. The Director's role had to be amended, temporarily, so as to be legally impartial in the bidding process. How this was achieved is not clear, perhaps the Directors responsibilities no longer involve Cwm. There is precious little scrutiny or democratic oversight of Cwm, and quite possibly even less now.

Moving forward, a soft marketing exercise was carried out to invite expressions of interest, cost, as usual, unknown.

Clearly, ensuring that no bidder gets an unfair advantage is one of the problems with arms-length companies, and the council is looking to do the same, or similar, with leisure, housing, and social care. Of course, they could just try and do it through the back door, but with the disastrous, illegal, and now abandoned catering tender for Pembrey Country Park, it's probably not the best option.

What exactly would happen if Cwm happened to be unsuccessful in bidding for the contract are not known, especially given that the company's considerable assets are technically owned by the public. Or that's how I understand it with a company wholly owned by the council.

However, the problem is not just causing a prolonged scratching of heads, it seems to be costing a small fortune as well.

A report to scrutiny last week provides some detail, though not the figures of course. A Project Board of senior management has been set up to oversee the process, and a dedicated project manager, along with external legal, financial and technical experts are all being appointed...cost, again, unknown.

The report also states that given the complexities associated with owning Cwm, which include employment issues, the external legal and financial advisors may well find that the current process needs to be 'reviewed' or, in simple terms..sent back to the drawing board. Oh dear.
Another shambles in the making.

Whilst I'm here don't forget that budget time is approaching and the council have an online consultation running until the 8th January. Out of £25m cuts over the next three years just under half the 'savings', £11.2m, are planned to be cut from education. A £3.4m cut this year is likely to equate to the loss of 60 teaching jobs.

The online consultation states that if this cut isn't made your council tax will go up by 14.6%. A scary figure designed to send most people reaching for the 'agree' button. In reality I would question the wisdom of the council putting so many efficiency eggs in one basket, a very risky move, let alone the potentially devastating effect on your child's education.

The budget will be decided in February, and by then the May local election campaigning will be well underway. So look out for those pre-election u-turns and planted red herrings which will creep back in once the 'new' administration settles in for the next term of office.

With the focus on cuts, Plaid blaming the Labour Welsh Government, and Labour blaming the Tories in Westminster, what the council is actually spending your money on remains something of a mystery as, unlike English councils, those itemised spending figures are not released. Clearly even the tendering process for recycling is straining the finances, let alone the drip-drip feed to the 'visionary' and 'trailblazing' Wellness Shed, or 'luxury spa' as it's otherwise known.... Armchair auditors out there need the tenacity of Sherlock Holmes. A disproportionately overstuffed legal department and press office might be a good place to start, along with our astonishingly overpaid chief executive....

Anyway, more on the budget, and other council matters, in due course.

Friday 9 December 2016

The vice-like grip

March 2017; Mr James' intentions became clear at the hearing, he has decided to pocket the money himself.

December 16th 2016; A further post from Cneifiwr; Mr James's Legal Glacier, well worth a read....


As I'm sure many of you are aware, the Motion put forward by Plaid Cllr Alun Lenny (see end of post) for the full council meeting on December 14th was rejected. As was, for the second month running, a question from Cllr Sian Caiach asking for clarity about Mr James' intentions should he ever succeed in getting the damages. It remains unclear whether he's going to give it to the council, charity, or pocket it himself.

It wasn't the Chair who rejected the Motion, he neither knows, nor wants to know, anything about all of this, this was Head of Law and Monitoring Officer, Linda Rees Jones acting on behalf of the person who gave her the job, the person with a vested interest. Impartiality doesn't come into it.

Let's not beat around the bush, as Cneifiwr puts it so well in his latest post, 'Contempt' ;

"The last 24 hours have brought a powerful reminder that for all the talk of reform and change in County Hall, and despite the WLGA-led review of governance, the chief executive retains a vice-like grip on the running of the council, with councillors reduced to being impotent onlookers.

The checks and balances which are supposed to prevent abuses and protect the interests of the wider public have been subverted and corrupted." 

As for Ms Rees Jones, she likes to remind Cllr Caiach, somewhat scathingly, that she, Cllr Caiach, was a 'witness for Mrs Thompson' in the libel trial. What she fails to mention, as she imparts her legal advice, is that she herself was a witness in the trial, for Mr James and the Council, her witness statement consisted of her attempt to justify the libel indemnity clause, a clause found to be unlawful, and now suspended.

As Cllr Caiach has been single-handedly raising questions concerning all this, or trying to, for years, , I felt that Cllr Lenny's Motion was a little late in the day. However, despite some misgivings, and clearly I do not agree with the second paragraph, I gave it a cautious, but sincere welcome. In fact, prior to the Motion appearing I had a letter from Adam Price AM (Plaid) explaining that he had spent a couple of weeks speaking to colleagues in County Hall, and had made representations to the leader of the council, all of which had led to this Motion.

Indeed, I hope Cllr Lenny can find a way forward. The threat that the Motion could be contempt of court is, in my honest view, nonsense. Courts will look favourably on efforts by the parties concerned to resolve matters prior to trials and hearings or during litigation, which was all this motion was suggesting.
Legal threats, of one kind or another, are used by the chief executive and his legal department, in a variety of scenarios, to persuade enquiring councillors to back-off. This is a perfect example of that behaviour.

Mr James has, basically, slapped them down, and not for the first time. A couple of years ago former Plaid AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas called for intervention in Carmarthenshire Council, and that was when Plaid were in opposition...

The chief executive's actions, aided by the legal rubber stamp of Ms Rees Jones, and a very pliant Chair, have totally undermined the democratic process. Something he has been doing since he first arrived in Carmarthen, he started by threatening and trying to control the local press. This is not just about me and the libel case, this is about the toxic culture created and led by Mr James for fourteen years.

This culture was recently described, by former Police Commissioner Christopher Salmon, as "Wales' answer to a Sicilian cartel....It extracts vast amounts of money from residents which it showers on favourites, hordes property, bullies opponents, co-opts friends and answers to no one, least of all local councillors."

If you're wondering where Plaid council leader Emlyn Dole stands on all this I received a letter from him this morning confirming that 'we now have a charge on your property'. He invites me to contact his office if I have 'constructive proposals' to repay £190,390.... He doesn't elaborate on what will happen next if I can't.
However, if Cllr Dole is prepared to remove the Charge, he's welcome to contact me.
So hopeless is the prospect of recovery that the judge didn't even make an order for costs for last week's hearing.

A few days ago, welcoming the Motion as a possible glimmer of hope, Cneifiwr wrote a blog post titled 'Common sense v Revenge'.
It is now clear to me, as if it wasn't already, that Mr James prefers revenge, and will let no one, no one at all, stand in his way.

Here's Cllr Lenny's response to the rejection;

"Cllr Cefin Campbell and I had submitted a Notice of Motion to next week’s full meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council urging the Executive Board and Chief Executive to seek means of settling the libel issue involving Jacqui Thompson in a way which would not result in her being forced to sell her home to pay damages and costs. The NoM was drawn up with the best of intentions, in an attempt to bring a conciliatory note to a toxic issue which has dragged on for several years. I’m sorry to say that the Chair has refused to place our NoM on the Agenda. The Chair was guided by the legal department, who e-mailed us in his name. Basically, it said we had no business to interfere in the Chief Executive’s “private and personal” affairs and legal rights. It warned that such action could constitute contempt of court. Cefin and I were also accused of showing “extreme discourtesy” to the Chair by making the Press aware of our Notice of Motion before he had time to consider it.  
For now, I will just say this.
Many would perceive that the Chief Executive’s action was hardly “private and personal” as his counter-libel action was publicly funded by the Council, an indemnity deemed unlawful by the Welsh Audit Office. As regards “extreme discourtesy” shown towards the Chair, that it utter nonsense. An elected member has the democratic right to make public an intended Notice of Motion at any time. Giving the public an opportunity to discuss such NoMs – or intended NoMs – is a key part of the democratic process. Cefin and I discussed seeking independent legal opinion, but came to the conclusion that enough money has been pocketed by lawyers and barristers in this matter already. We shall leave the court of public opinion to make its own judgement for now. But this is not the end of the matter…"

Here's the rejected Notice of Motion;
Carmarthenshire County Council expresses concern about the way in which its reputation has been tarnished in recent years by the court actions involving our Chief Executive and Mrs Jacqui Thompson. 
We fully accept that the previous council was obliged to defend its most senior officer in the High Court against a libel accusation. We also accept that it was the Chief Executive’s prerogative to launch a personal counter-libel action to protect his reputation. 
The judicial outcome clearly vindicates these actions. 
However, we are now concerned that the pursual of damages and costs is having the
perverse effect of causing damage to the reputation of this council and its Chief Executive. 
We urge the Chief Executive and the Executive Board to seek means of settling this matter in a way which will not result in Mrs Thompson losing her home. 
We believe that such a conciliatory approach would enhance the reputation of this council and its Chief Executive and help bring closure to this toxic issue.

The council acquired a final charging order for £190,390 last Friday and the chief executive is currently trying to force sale of my home for his damages. There has been no mention of the £41,000 unlawfully funded counterclaim costs.

There has been press coverage on BBC Wales and the Carmarthen Journal.
This week's Carmarthenshire Herald has again reported on these matters in detail, and includes full coverage of last week's delivery to County Hall of a pound of flesh.

13th December; A post from south Wales blogger Owen Donovan; FMQs: On Strike
Thanks Owen, aka @oggybloggyogwr

14th December; Carmarthen Journal; Motion to protect blogger Jacqui Thompson's home blocked over contempt of court concerns