Wednesday 25 October 2017

Hazardous chemicals and a history lesson

An interesting planning application caught my attention the other day, not just because it was seeking consent to store highly toxic chemicals (Arsine and Phosphine, six tons and one ton of each respectively, with regular lorry movements) at the former MOD site, now Stradey Business Park, in the middle of Llangennech, Llanelli but also because the applicant, R & A Properties rang a bell.

Back in 2008/9 the MOD wanted to sell off the 37 acre site, a well established military depot with buildings and infrastructure. Negotiations with the council came to an unexplained abrupt end and the MOD decided to sell at auction. Immediately prior to the auction, the council bought the site and sold it straight away to R & A Properties for, it was reported, around £845,000.

The proposal went to full council where councillors' doubts (eg why didn't R & A buy it directly from the MOD, and who were the investors behind R & A) were soothed by the chief executive who told them not to worry as the investors were "known to some officers", ie him and possibly a couple of others. How reassuring...

It certainly seemed to be a bargain for the investors, after all only a couple of years later the council's 'independent' valuers reckoned an undeveloped 1.1 acre site at Parc Y Scarlets could be sold to Marstons for roughly the same price.

Cneifiwr's post from April 2014, here, gives a far more detailed account of the dealings around the Llangennech site and more, and is well worth a read. At the time, the council claimed it was being entrepreneurial, if by that they meant making pots of money for those 'known' to them, rather than the taxpayer, then they certainly were. Incidentally, in 2011 the council gave R & A a £281k grant to  'refurbish' a couple of buildings.

Later in 2009 R & A Properties, who were "known to officers", revealed themselves as David Pickering, who, at the time, was Chairman of Welsh Rugby Union, and his business partner, Nigel Lovering. All this was reported in the press at the time.

Although no one is suggesting that there was anything untoward in the deal, one can only wonder whether the council would have brokered a similar arrangement for anyone who wasn't fortunate enough to be "known to officers".

Cneifiwr's post mentions some interesting 'gatherings' and photo opportunities between senior council officials and R & A and associated companies, and my efforts over the years to extract information regarding hospitality showed, for instance, that the chief executive accepted an invitation from the Chair of WRU, Mr Pickering, to attend an international rugby match a couple of weeks after the deal was sealed. Entirely coincidental I'm sure.

I can only assume, and I could be wrong (as R & A are a partnership not a limited company so does not have to reveal its information on Companies House) that R & A are still the same gentlemen who were "known to officers" back in 2009. This makes the current planning application interesting and illustrates the importance of maintaining and publishing a senior officers register of declared interests, gifts, hospitality.
No one is suggesting that anything is wrong but public perception is everything, and it's best for a public body, in the interests of transparency to at least try and remove all doubt.

I happened, for an entirely unrelated reason, to be surveying the declared interests of some Welsh MPs, and one entry for Stephen Crabb, Tory MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire was for four tickets to an Autumn International rugby match, with hospitality late last year, worth £833.36. The invite was from Hydro Industries Ltd based at Stradey Business Park, Llangennech. The Directors of Hydro Industries Ltd include the same two gentlemen who make up the partnership of R & A Properties.

No one wines and dines MPs or council chief executives for the simple pleasure of their thrilling company...well, it's remarkably unlikely. And, more to the point, these gifts and invitations are not accepted naively, but in the full knowledge of the implications.

As for Carmarthenshire Council and its senior officials, this behaviour has traditionally revolved around the world of rugby and its hospitality boxes, it has involved exposing the taxpayer to unquantifiable risk, and behaving, in the words of ex-police commissioner Christopher Salmon, like a Sicilian cartel.


Teifion said...

I do wonder why I bothered teaching my kids to be honest,upstanding citizens, work hard,keep your nose clean and treat ppl the way you'd like to be treated. :(

Anonymous said...

Quite right, Teifion. Perhaps we'd all have been better turning ourselves and our children into "born again" Christians or being part of the rugby tafia, both of which seem to be very helfpul in Carmarthenshire.

Keanjo said...
Public Servants seem to have forgotten the Poulsen scandal.

Unknown said...

Couldn't find anything from link above just return to the comment so searched for Poulsen scandal and found this and much more . I would think when the CEO tells Cllrs someone is known to officers then extra questions need to be asked as this smells of a definite conflict of interest. This is a very interesting piece by Jacky and needs to be read by all Carmarthenshire County Councillors. The CEO and certain Officers and maybe some Executive Board members in Carmarthenshire CC have become too willing to ignore the need to look into matters where conflicts of interests arise and they have been and are allowing Public money to be syphoned off in support of people "known to officers" instead of it being used for the public good. Planning decisions also seem to be made not necessarily for the public good but because the people involved are "known to officers" this also can involve officers turning a blind eye when certain members of the public "known to officers" ignore planning rules and regulation to the detriment of neighbours (here I am thinking of the awful way Trisha Breckman and partner were treated by, not only, their neighbour but by Carmarthenshire County Council and its partner the Dyfed Powys Police too). It is time the Carmarthenshire people, who have fallen foul of the wrongful acts by CCC, were listened too and action taken to hold the wrongdoers and their protectors to account. The Welsh Assembly Government can do so but, it seems, won't. The Public Service Ombudsman for Wales (PSOW) has also shirked his responsibility where it matters on many occasions. All these bodies are in place to look after the Public Interest and are being well paid from the Public Purse to do so yet they fail to either because of cronyism, conflicts of interests, fear of speaking out because of losing their position/advancement and so give in to coercion. As a whistleblower I have seen evidence where certain matters were going to be looked into but it did not happen because of the way certain officers used their seniority to control what investigating officers did or did not look into or reveal; coercion abounded which went to the top of CCC. I personally contacted the CEO with information as to my dissatisfaction with how my whistleblowing concern was handled (abuse in a care home). I never had a reply back though the CCC's whistleblowing policy suggest he be contacted in that situation. He just passed the matter on to a Complaints Officer who does not deal with Social Care Complaints yet I have seen involved herself in the handling of my disciplinary investigation as did a number of others with an interest in my removal from my employment with the CCC. to cont.

Unknown said...

Cont. After seeing emails regarding actions taking place to silence me I understood how my Disciplinary Investigating Officer was being controlled despite on occasions doing her best to find out the truth. She was being hogtied by HR and senior officers who should not have involved themselves during the investigation as they had been involved in either the original investigation of the abuses or our (whistleblowers) complaint that the concerns had not been investigated properly or both. No way was she able to complete an unbiased investigation plus information she found out which should have been given to me in the Disciplinary File to be used in my defence at the disciplinary hearing was withheld. No wonder she was not at my Employment Tribunal as a witness for the CCC; instead my ex employer chose the HR officer who had been partnered her during the disciplinary investigation. I honestly believe she had been unhappy with what had taken place but had been put into such a precarious position that if she wanted to continue in her new appointment as an assistant manager to the officer who chaired my disciplinary hearing she had to put the wishes of the officers involved first. I have a feeling her employer would not have been able to rely on her not to speak the truth when under oath at the ET. Only strong minded, honest officers and members can change the toxic cover up culture within the CCC.