Friday 29 December 2017

Press Office news

Interesting rumours were circulating just before Christmas that changes are afoot within the council's notorious press office, a couple of senior staff, including press manager, Debbie Williams are apparently off to pastures new. Various social media postings suggest that the pastures may not be entirely new, and there has been further speculation over the deal which may, or may not, have been on offer. Who knows...maybe they're retiring and the press office is finally being cut down to size. Time will tell.

Incidentally, there has also been some council 'restructuring' and a new 'Media and Marketing' section set up. Restructuring is occasionally used to get rid of rebellious staff or, on the other hand, to provide an opportunity to reward the loyal with promotion, a revolving door or a sidestep elsewhere. Mr James has played this game since his days at Boston...allegedly...

Nothing is ever quite as it seems....

Like any self-respecting tin-pot dictator the chief executive has ensured that he not only has a pliant and obedient legal squad but also a loyal and well resourced propaganda machine. One that can churn out half truths, attack 'enemies of the state', gather 'intelligence' and feed it back to the Presidential Suite. He even added that unique, and illegal clause to the council's constitution to give himself the power to sue anyone, press included, who expressed robust criticism, or tried to take a closer look at County Hall.

As for press releases, anything more controversial than, for instance, changes to bin collections, or the named and shamed litter droppers and fly tippers requires the oversight of the Supreme Leader.

There have been countless (in fact, I've lost count) incidents over the years, reported on this blog, and Cneifiwr's blog, which illustrate how this has all played out, please search both blogs if you wish.

One of the first things on Mr James' 'to do' list on his arrival in 2002 was to accost local editors, unannounced, and explain exactly how 'things would be done'. Very chilling.

With his own Ministry of Truth established at County Hall he set about attacking both the Carmarthen Journal and the South Wales Guardian for publishing various articles critical of the regime. The tactic was to threaten to withdraw advertising, or threaten to complain to the newspapers' owners - both of which were actually carried out. Blackmail in other words.

In another development, back in 2006, an email which appeared to originate from the press office, urged an internet campaign against those opposing the Stradey development.

In 2012, an advert was pulled from the South Wales Guardian following a mildly critical article concerning some minor developments in Ammanford. All was revealed when an email from Debbie Williams to the council's marketing officer was leaked.
Another example was a phone call from County Hall to a local editor demanding that one of its reporters withdraw a FOI requesting details of senior officer pay.

The SWG incident, and a politically charged attack (another press office tactic) from the then Labour leader Kevin Madge towards Plaid politicians prompted calls, by Plaid, for a council debate on the freedom of the independent press. The Motion was blocked by the chief executive who left it in the capable hands of now retired Cllr Pam Palmer and press manager Debbie Williams to discuss between themselves, behind closed doors. Naturally, they didn't find anything amiss...

In another incident the press manager emailed Mr James after earwigging on a phone conversation between former councillor Sian Caiach to a reporter questioning whether it was wise to believe a word that Mr James said. This conversation, which was only half heard, formed part of a complaint to the ombudsman in 2012 and was duly thrown out.

Throughout this time the council were also expending valuable resources on its own propaganda rag, the Carmarthenshire News. This seems to have dwindled to a couple of copies a year and the cost burden now falls on other public bodies, ' the Public Service Board' as well as the council.

The former Police Commissioner Christopher Salmon, who described County Hall as a Sicilian cartel, withdrew their funding a few years back saying he'd rather support independent local media. It is not clear whether the new Commissioner has reinstated the payments.

Another sinister incident,in 2012, detailed by Cneifiwr here, concerned the Jason Mohammed BBC Radio programme which featured discussion about the ridiculous security measures imposed upon visitors to the public gallery - the measures were concocted by Mr James after the filming incident in 2011.

Somehow or other the council got wind of the names of the two residents being interviewed and the press office issued an astonishing, but typically paranoid statement, for broadcast, accusing the two pensioners of lying and having an 'agenda'.

The press office was used to the fore during the libel trial in 2013. Not, as you may think, to ensure balanced reporting, nor even to cushion the reputation of the council but simply for the benefit of Mr James.

Ms Williams kindly provided a witness statement for Mr James in which she expressed her distaste for my blog - it wasn't balanced and didn't report on anything positive. This was the pot calling the kettle black, if in reverse. I had also "totally rubbished" one of their in-house style PR awards. She was, she explained, a regular reader of my blog as it was her job to monitor what was said, and, it turned out, pass it on to Mr James. How comforting to know that taxpayer's money is being put to such good use...and still is.

Ms Williams was also involved in the chief executive's letter to the Madaxeman blog which led to the libel case, suggesting the removal of a couple of the more extreme expletives which Mr James had originally decided to include.
Mr James' suggestions that councillors were involved in approving the Madaxeman letter was a lie, he did it all by himself with a little help from his friends; his legal squad and media empire.

Despite the fact that Ms Williams' witness statement was withdrawn (the James' legal team in London decided it was far too risky to put her, or Cllr Ivor Jackson in the witness box) she was there for the duration of the trial, alongside legal Linda and the rest of the Circus from County Hall.

It was interesting to note that in London, away from their fiefdom, County Hall were unable to control press coverage to their usual satisfaction, and The Times leader on the last day of the trial was a corker.

The post-judgement Mark James Victory Parade went on for months with numerous press articles and even a couple of highly charged staff newsletters to all 9000 staff, very classy.. However, things began to deteriorate as it became clear that the Appointed Auditor was on the prowl and wasn't backing down, not even under Mr James' persuasive, erm, charms.

The press office was then used to attack the Auditor and the MP, even demanding that the former retract his 'opinions'.

Sadly the press office chose not to publish photos of Mr James scowling in his potting shed whilst under criminal investigation, if you could call it that, by Gloucestershire police.

During the furore of those libel and pension scandals, in January 2014, calls were made for a review of the Council's Press and Media protocol, it was deftly kicked into the long grass for over a year but during that time the WLGA Governance review included a revision of the press protocol in its recommendations. It said that the council 'will not seek to suppress or censor the activity of an independent press and media'. 

The 'revised' protocol eventually emerged, but as I pointed out here, leopards rarely change their spots and given the chief executive's utter contempt for the WLGA Review (it had been prompted by the scandals), the spots remained undisturbed and it was business as usual.

Early in 2016 whilst Mr James was sending in the bailiffs (remember, it was, according to him, a private matter) he made use of the council press office to call me a liar in a statement to the Western Mail. I had said I'd made offers to settle, he said I hadn't. I then sent the proof to the Herald who had picked up on the story. They asked the press office if they were sure the Western Mail statement was entirely accurate? They responded by sending an exact copy of the WM statement. Mr James had been deliberately untruthful, twice, via the publicly funded press office about something he claimed was a 'private matter'.

I could go on and on but rather like Sooty without Sweep, or even half a Krankie, what will Mr James do unless he has a suitable replacements?...or perhaps opportunities in the PR-heavy City Deal could be arranged...coincidentally a 'redeployment opportunity' for a City Deal press manager was recently advertised by the council... It needs a loyal disciple, as the Deal currently seems to be going pear shaped with our Mr James at the helm...

Anyway, let's hope that the chief executive remembers all those who helped him through his darkest hours of libel trials and audit reports....he personally gifted Linda Rees Jones her permanent job and another was promoted to Director a few months before he retired on a final salary pension, one hopes he doesn't forget the others....

I recognise, of course, that the press office has an important job to do and provides a service to inform residents, but there is an element which has been used to defend the indefensible, to threaten the local press and individuals, and has perpetuated, without question, the toxic culture of manipulation, threats, lies and lumpy carpets so favoured by the chief executive.

They may have played his game but he is the one who done the damage to the reputation of the press office and the council as a whole and it is he who has overstayed his welcome, by about 15 years.

Saturday 16 December 2017

2017 - A year on the blog


For the first couple of months of 2017 Caebrwyn's mind was pretty much preoccupied with hanging on to the family home. The council had acquired a charge of £190,000 in December and Mr James, one step ahead of them, and, after threatening everyone with contempt of court for having the temerity to try and bring about a resolution, was all set to take my home.

Meanwhile, the very very exiting Wellness Thing was underway with 3D visualisations of what, to the uninitiated, looked like a herd of white elephants around a watering hole. Luxury spas, private health care, massive debt....all awaited the good taxpayers of Carmarthenshire as, apparently, the NHS had had its day. With Meryl Gravell waffling vaguely about sea air and wellness, the scene was set and the City Deal on its way..

The first whiff of an arms length housing company appeared on an executive agenda. The opposition finally picked up on the wheeze eleven months later asking a few polite questions last week. Scrutiny never has been a strong point.

Towards the end of the month and thanks to Private Eye, our most respected chief executive had yet another honour to add to his CBE:

The Herald celebrated the honour by publishing a collage of Eye appearances over recent years.


With the May local elections now firmly on the horizon the council budget was the usual pre-election campaign, this time being the turn of the 'ruling' Plaid/Indie coalition. The budget was finally approved on the 23rd February

The Carmarthen West Link Road was back in the news as the council were wrangling with landowners, developers and compulsory purchase orders, and they're still wrangling today. One piece of land, around 20 acres, was bought by the council in 2016 for £570,000 which will be repaid from 'future S106 money', or, in plain English, 'when our ship comes in'.

The lumpy carpets of county hall were put to the test as the Pembrey Park scandal had a bit of an airing at a whistleblower's employment tribunal in Cardiff. The story has been covered on this blog over the past couple of years. There certainly appeared to be a County Hall cover-up by senior officials with one of them memorably recorded pleading 'for f***s sake don't go to the police'...

I also made my annual enquiries to Linda Rees Jones about removing the suspended libel clause from the constitution. (NOT a slush fund of course..).


Following a brief lull in police stuff, apart from the lingering harassment warning, a Sunday morning phone call from Dyfed Powys' thin blue line informed me that Mr James had made another complaint and if I didn't arrange to go 'Voluntarily' for an interview I'd be arrested at 'any given moment'. The interview was on the 17th, a week before Mr James was going to try and force sale of my home in the county court.

The hearing itself revealed the fact that Mr James had broken his promise to hand over any damages to the council and was, his barrister said, free to stuff it in the gutter if he wanted. This charming turn of phrase was immortalised in another edition of Private Eye. The upshot was that as long as I gave Mr James £250 a month for 15 years he'd let me keep the keys.

Also in March, Sian Caiach was informed that the Ombudsman was 'investigating' an assortment of complaints made against her by Mr James. To date, the process is still ongoing...
If there's any justice in the world then the outcome will be the same as followed Mr James' previous outburst back in 2012

The judgement for the Pembrey Employment Tribunal was issued this month, with whistleblower Eirian Morris stating that the council had 'put him through hell'. We can well imagine it Mr M.

The Swansea Bay City Deal was signed in March providing a photo opportunity for  the great and good of south west Wales, and Carwyn Jones, with Theresa May...


Local election fever was hitting a crescendo and the fallout from the court hearing revelations was in the Western Mail and the Herald and, as I've said, Private Eye. Local politicians also expressed their views and wondered whether Mr James would do the 'honourable thing'...

In other news, the council found £350,000 down the back of the corporate sofa to bail out Llanelly House. This was a few weeks before they went into a voluntary insolvency arrangement (Llanelly House that is, not the council, not just yet). A BBC report on the incident appeared six months later...

The last full council meeting before the election was held and a strong stomach was required to cope with Meryl's farewell speech...


A month of contrasts - it kicked off with Caebrwyn's attempt to live blog the Carmarthenshire local election results. It ended with a visit from the police to inform me, after some delay, that I was going to be charged with harassment.

Plaid won 36 seats but still needed the support of the somewhat depleted Indies. Meryl and Pam, now retired, had passed the baton to the steely grip of Mair Stephens, and they survived. Emlyn Dole announced that the deal had been done with the Indies whilst Labour were still undoing the safety pins on their rosettes. All this culminated at the AGM on May 20th.

I added my own thoughts here.

News also reached Caebrwyn that the chief executive's business interests weren't confined to wheeling and dealing with public money in Carmarthenshire but extended to property management in Cardiff Bay.


Blogger Jac o'the North took up the previously mentioned property interests and affairs, business affairs of course, of Mr James CBE. Some wondered how did he have the time? Had he made a declaration of interest about all this? Questions needed to be asked...

The general election came and went, rows over Parc Howard rumbled on and the Wellness Village/City Deal became even more very very exciting, if that was possible; behind the scenes however there were rumblings of discontent amongst the partners, and also rumours that a certain 'lead chief officer' was keeping them in the dark...

BBC Wales Online decided to highlight the fact that Mr James had failed to repay the unlawful monies taken from the council to fund his libel counterclaim, they even produced a short but amusing video. I eventually managed to upload the video to a later post, here.


The first couple of weeks was, for Caebrwyn, taken up with an forthcoming hearing at Llanelli Magistrates Court to answer to a charge of harassment, I intended to plead not guilty of course. A few days before the date I was told that the CPS had dropped the case. The 'insufficient evidence' later turned out to be a little more specific; the comments were not oppressive and in any event did not amount to a course of conduct. I did try telling the police that in the first place..

There was an excellent post on the decision, and Mr James' witness statement by Cneifiwr and an opinion piece by Cadno of the Herald.

It also transpired that Mr James had used, or had instructed others to use council computers to provide 'evidence' for the police for his private complaint to the police. I sent my evidence of hours of council hits on the blog to the Wales Audit Office to see what they thought about it. More on that later.

The council's accounts revealed a few figures on exit packages and generous senior pay. Soon after there was an attempt by opposition councillors to reduce the salary levels of two new Directors from £123k to £112k. The chief executive intervened in the debate to sway the vote and the motion was defeated by Plaid and the Independents.

One of the 'new' directors turned out to be assistant chief executive Wendy Walters who breezed rapidly into the 'Regeneration' post, with the resulting £20,000 pay rise, thanks to on the recommendation of the chief executive...More on this post written in August.

Internal audit reports revealed continuing problems with the council unable to follow its own contract procurement rules. Reassurance was given that all was now progressing well with the Supporting People Grant although I noticed, just the other day, that the council failed to spend a whopping £257,539 of the grant last year and it was clawed back by the Welsh Government. Same thing happened with £26k meant to help people facing eviction.


A Freedom of Information request revealed that the council had spent £32,000 on the 'Wellness Village' to date. This didn't seem quite right to me given the prepwork which was underway, let alone the hefty consultancy and legal bills and the whole business of planning permission (which has yet to be applied for).
I asked for an internal review and the 'revised' response came back at, erm, a slightly higher figure of £564,000.

The Western Mail picked up on the curious developments within Mr James' property management empire in Cardiff. Residents were complaining of rowdy stag parties and hen dos and overnight lets. Mr James' response was typically charming and diplomatic, calling the complaining residents a 'cancer'. Interestingly he also said he'd had consent from the council to embark on these extra curricular activities....a Freedom of Information request for details on senior officers' declarations and consents was submitted at the end of the month...


On the 1st September I had a meeting with the Police Commissioner where I raised various concerns over the police decision to charge me with harassment; I wanted the harassment warning removed and raised again the issue of their conflict of interest with the council. I also enquired if the police would consider investigating Mr James for wasting eighteen months of police time, and for misconduct in public office...these were passed on to the chief constable for his deliberation...

In council news there was controversy over a planned car park at Parc Howard, Llanelli and there was some City Deal rebellion in Pembrokeshire where doubts were expressed whether the whole thing was viable, or even a good idea. The burden on the council, and the taxpayer was becoming a real issue.

There was more on the budget, licensing news, Llanelly House, and a trip back in time covering County Hall's attempts to control the local press.

Another subject this blog has covered has been the council's refusal to fly the Rainbow Flag. something that other public bodies appear to do without a great deal of fuss. It's a rather convoluted story, which seem to involve the chief executive rather than the council leader, but I eventually asked for a copy of the council's 'flag policy', which can be seen here. The most recent development is that the policy will be 'reviewed' by the Constitutional Review Working Group (CRWG).
Nothing's simple in Carmarthenshire.


The chief executive of Neath Port Talbot council put the cat amongst the pigeons by issuing a damning report to his councillors on the progress, or lack thereof, of the City Deal to date. It was publicly available and revealed that, amongst other snags, the Carmarthenshire Council commissioned 'Joint Working Agreement' was useless and another one had to be drawn up. There seemed to be some disquiet amongst the partners over Mr James' plan to funnel extra funds into the Wellness vanity project.
Carmarthenshire Council have just (December) put out a tender for a PR company to plug the City Deal, it isn't clear who is funding that little exercise, nor how much it's worth...whatever the case, a little more transparency and scrutiny would be welcome rather than more PR drivel.

The Wales Audit Office got back to me to say that there was nothing wrong with Mr James using council computers for his private use, it was, apparently perfectly OK for senior officials to use your money and your resources to further their private interests....the story wasn't quite over yet though...

There was news of a planning application to store extremely toxic chemicals at a site in Llangennech...the site itself had a curious history...

There was more on CRWG and libel indemnities and a response from the Police Commissioner. The harassment warning had expired all by itself, however, the details about its issue remained on police records....I am currently challenging this with the Professional Standards Department of Dyfed Powys Police. (Dec 19th; I have now reported the police refusal to remove the data to the Information Commissioner)
Individuals have a right to not be treated as permanent suspects on the basis of unproven allegations.


The plight of the Burn family, Robin, Julia and their autistic daughter Carina have featured on this blog several times. Robin is still trying to get justice from the authorities who let the family down so catastrophically.

Another long standing scandal has been the treatment by the council of Patricia Breckman. She received a full apology from the former police commissioner for the actions of the police but no such apology, nor justice, has been forthcoming from Mr James and County Hall. Quite the opposite in fact and Mr James is taking his usual preferred action of issuing legal threats to the pensioner. I understand the threats are continuing.

A freedom of information request revealed that eight members of staff had been disciplined over the past few years for using council computers for personal use. The request was made after the Wales Audit Office soothed Mr James' brow and dismissed my complaint over his personal use of council computers. You couldn't make it up really could you?

Another surprising Freedom of Information response revealed that Mr James had not made any declarations of interest relating to his business and property interests in Cardiff. It's worth a read, as are the comments.

A news round up at the end of the month included a refusal from council leader Emlyn Dole to consider removing the suspended libel clause from the constitution. Confirmation, if we ever needed it, that he sings from the same hymn sheet as Mr James.


Apart from the possibility that Llanelli residents have been identified as an ideal source for clinical drug trials, or lab rats, at the Wellness Village, blogging has been light this month. So far anyway.

Interestingly it looks like at least three new build primary schools, Ammanford, Gwenllian and Hendy and possibly Llandeilo will be under a public/private arrangement, or a 'Mutual Investment Model' devised by the Welsh Government. Far from being 'innovative', it seems no different, other than in name, to PFI schemes...Ysgol Coca-cola and the like.

Investigations carry on though. I've emailed Democratic Services to enquire when Councillors' hospitality and gifts will be published as this information hasn't been published online since May. (18th Dec; Something of a result here - I've received an email to say that they were 'unaware of the issue' and as a result of my enquiry these have now been published as of today), I also asked when senior officers' interests will make their first appearance online.
They have told me my enquiry has been sent to the appropriate person to deal with. I daresay this is the legal/chief executive's office.

I've also enquired what 'FOI whistleblowing investigation - complete - no report issued' is all about in an internal audit report. I'm intrigued but again they've gone quiet and I expect it's been sent in the same direction (18th Dec - this information has been refused under data protection, I've requested an internal review)

I've also emailed Linda Rees Jones asking her, as a supposedly independent Monitoring Officer when she will be instigating a disciplinary investigation into Mr James, outlining much of the above. And more. I've saved her the bother of using the internal email service and sent a copy to Mr James.

If anything else happens before 2018 I will update this post, or even write another. If not then best wishes for Christmas and the new year to all, and thank you to those who have supported me throughout the year, and for all who continue to read this blog.


December 20th; Some Festive Thoughts from Y Mr James contemplating another blitzkrieg of festive litigation....? Well worth a read.

Sunday 3 December 2017

Drug trials at the Wellness Village?

Back in March one of the most powerful drug manufacturers in the world, Pfizer, based in the US  but with 'offshore' interests, announced it was collaborating with Swansea University to set up an 'innovation hub', all of which is connected with the City Deal and the ARCH Project (A Regional Collaboration of Health, which also may, or may not, still include Meryl Gravell on the 'Wellness' bit).
As with everything else associated with the ARCH Project there is little in the way of detail but plenty of 'exciting journeys' and assorted bland waffle. The 'Wellness Village' site has been earmarked for private healthcare by the council for at least three years...

Like most global drug companies, controversy follows in its wake and recently Pfizer surprised the NHS by raising the price of an anti-epilepsy drug by 2000%. As with other drug companies Pfizer carries out extensive paid clinical trials worldwide and over the years there have been the usual big successes, big failures and class action lawsuits, this example from Nigeria a few years ago was just one that caught my attention.

What, you may ask, has this got to do with Carmarthenshire. Well, at a recent 'confidential briefing' to councillors at County Hall, a very senior officer, and I understand it was the chief executive, gave the usual spiel about the wondrous Wellness Village and the City Deal, and as he listed the enthusiastic global companies who are, he claims, champing at the bit to throw their millions into the Delta Swamp Wellness Dream, the name Pfizer came up.

I understand, from a reliable source, that some councillors wondered why on earth a global drug manufacturer would want to set up an outpost at the Wellness Village; after all, despite an element of research and development, the place is being plugged as an oversized leisure centre, with 'assisted living', 'alternative therapies' and a luxury hotel, (the words 'private health care' are deliberately avoided)

In response, the chief executive apparently referred to Llanelli as having a 'stable' population and suggested, in so many words, that its residents would be an ideal source for clinical trials.
We must assume, of course, that the chief executive's response was showing a deep concern for the financial fortunes of Carmarthenshire's residents, rather than the the ramblings of a crazed mind...

So, along with the temporary construction jobs and numerous low paid cleaning jobs, impoverished locals will be able to submit themselves for paid drug trials for a few extra quid! This should do wonders to improve the economy of Carmarthenshire!

Incidentally, the chief executive addressed an Assembly meeting early this year and noted that the Wellness Village would be "right next door" to a Communities First area of deprivation, though it's not entirely clear now whether this was a reference to 'sharing the wealth', or to a steady queue of willing subjects. Indeed, further digging revealed a reference to 'Commercial Trials' and 'Trials Recruitment' in a Wellness Village briefing document for the NHS.

With the project already underway; prior to a full business case, a joint agreement, or even the usual good manners of planning permission, it seems to me that some proper open and transparent scrutiny is urgently required rather than confidential briefings. One can't imagine the incentives on offer to these companies, or what exactly the benefit will be to you and me.
And neither can we imagine the possible rewards for the key players who set up the 'Wellness' vision, Carmarthenshire style...a lifetime supply of Viagra maybe?

For further background posts, of which there are quite a few, please search this blog.