Saturday 28 April 2018

City Deal - a scandal in the making, and the wrong man for the job?

Western Mail 27th April 2018. Click to enlarge.

At a Neath Port Talbot meeting last week the council leader Rob Jones stated publicly that, at the moment, they would not be signing the City Deal Joint Agreement between the four councils. The decision follows another critical report from NPT chief executive, Steve Phillips. An earlier report, which I blogged about last October, similarly urged caution.
As you can read from the article above, Cllr Jones said "I am not prepared to put this council financially at risk on a wing and a prayer"

This is unlike Carmarthenshire where not a word of criticism about the even bigger 'funding gap' has been voiced, or even murmured. Why is that I wonder. According to the article there have been 28 drafts of the Joint Working Agreement, I don't know if that's an exaggeration but whatever the case, there is something seriously wrong and the City Deal is a scandal in the making.

I voiced a few thoughts, and facts, in my previous post, here are a few more.
The City Deal has become, somehow or other, the latest baby of Carmarthenshire chief executive Mr Mark James. I suggest that the other three councils take a very hard look at his record and strongly consider whether he is the right man for the job.
NPT, and Pembrokeshire both express concern about financial risk, Mr James cares not one bit about 'protecting the public purse', nor his own council's budget, nor the reputation of his council. Can we expect Carmarthenshire's council leader Emlyn Dole to say anything critical? No. Forget about that option, he sold his soul for the Leadership and Mr James' hand is so deeply inserted that he can no longer think nor speak for himself.

To leave Mr James in charge of this ongoing fiasco is a risk in itself. Even if it all goes ahead, it will plunge all four councils into an abyss of debt for projects which no one in the real world actually wants, or needs.

Let's have a look at the rap sheet shall we? Firstly there was the Boston Stadium, a massive burden on the taxpayer which he said wouldn't cost them a 'penny'. Then there were the other allegations from Boston which suggested exactly what our Mr James was capable of.
Then we move to Carmarthenshire and the Parc Y Scarlets stadium. A well documented drain if ever there was one. This is a private company yet it has been allowed to occupy the stadium rent-free and not worry about paying back a £2.6m many other Carmarthenshire businesses have been given such accommodating treatment, the council even pays rent to Scarlets' Regional Ltd for 'office space'. I was told, in court that just because Mr James likes rugby, that was no reason to be critical...

Then there was the 'bung' over the Scarlets' car park where Mr James' last minute intervention went directly against the advice of his own director of finance and directly against the interests of the Carmarthenshire taxpayer.
There's the Eastgate development in Llanelli where yet again a large chunk of real estate was gifted to developers and now houses, you've guessed it, council offices.

Another strange arrangement was the enormous financial gift to the Towy Community Church and the 'evangelical bowling alley'. For some reason a Christian 'social enterprise' was considered to be a suitable prop for the council's own struggling social care department. The fact that Mr James has, apparently, deeply Christian beliefs involving the literal truth of the Bible, has nothing to do with it of course...

And let's not forget the pocketing of council cash, and liberal use of facilities, resources and staff, to pursue his own private legal battles. None of which he has paid back. And while we're on the subject, what about the pension scam which gave him a nice little earner? And which he has also failed to repay.

The City Deal 'Wellness Village' looks set to be the white elephant extraordinaire, a vanity project which will leave a legacy of debt for future generations of Carmarthenshire residents. Llanelli wanted a leisure centre and a care home, not private health care and holistic therapy pods. I find it deeply concerning that councillors are not speaking out and are swallowing the spin and nonsense spouted by Mr James..have they not learned any lessons by now?

I can speak from personal experience and say, quite categorically, that the only thing that concerns Mr James is his own wallet and his own reputation, not the council, nor its residents. And as for taxpayers' money, no doubt he'd be quite happy to stuff it in the gutter. Aside from the financial aspect, there's the toxic culture, still alive and well, and the years of insidious threats to those who disagree with his world view; councillors, politicians, regulatory bodies, the press and members of the public.

Let's remember, once again, the words of the former Police Commissioner, Mr Salmon, who spent four years 'liaising' with Carmarthenshire County Council and came to the correct and inescapable conclusion that is was "Wales’ answer to a Sicilian cartel. It’s everywhere you look (thankfully only in Carmarthenshire – so far as I can tell). 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".

My message to the other three councils is that I cannot think of a more unsuitable and untrustworthy person to be in charge of this City Deal. He has trashed Carmarthenshire, do you really want him to do the same to your neck of the woods?


Anonymous said...

When this deal plan started I stated that it appeared to be a planned deal that would make CCC bankrupt.
I am now, more than ever, convinced of that.

Now if this does not wake our councillors from their sleep then on their heads be it.

Cllr Sian Caiach said...

When this deal was proposed I was the only County Councillor that voted against it. All the the others present voted for it after a glitzy presentation and the message that it was the only option to revitalise the economy of Llanelli, Carmarthenshire's largest town.
My colleagues did not sleepwalk into this, they were led by their party group leaders who presumably were persuaded by Mr Mark James & co. that this was a wonderful scheme and a sure thing to get jobs for the area. All of the group leaders are councillors of some experience but have not learned much from their years on the county council. In the 9 years that I was on the council several large schemes funded by the council did not provide the promised jobs and boost to the economy and some required even more investment than planned, some of it, such as the profits from the sale of the Parc y Scarlets overflow car park, being donated covertly, without any formal disclosure to the councillors.
As veteran County Councillor Eryl Morgan once said to me "Sian, they treat us like mushrooms, kept in the dark and fed on sh**". The Carmarthenshire Councillors do know that they are not in charge and that they are frequently not consulted prior to decisions which they are then asked to rubber stamp under heavy pressure. They are afraid, not asleep.
The group leaders, with one eye on the illusion of the power of leading the Council, are fearful of upsetting the senior officers they see as the "kingmakers". Being leader certainly bumps up your salary and gives your party more press coverage but it is hollow as long as the officers are really running the show.
Representative democracy does fall down when the representatives are just not able to properly represent you. There is a culture in Carmarthenshire County Council which I found quite sinister and disturbing, even though I did not support the lunatic projects.
The good thing about losing my seat on the County last year is that I no longer feel the least bit responsible for the farcical goings on. I certainly sleep better now!It is a shame though, that this very questionable scheme is wasting time and public money.

Anonymous said...

Mark James acquired his lead role in the City Deal arrangements because Steve Phillips, Chief Exec NPT, fell out with Rob Stewart, Leader Swansea City Council. Mr Phillips being too pushy as far as Mr Stewart was concerned apparently, and so Mr James stepped in to put his arm around Mr Stewart. Steve Phillips has been as awkward as he can be ever since. It seems there are a lot of ego ridden little men in the Swansea Bay City Deal family!!

Anonymous said...

"They are afraid, not asleep. "

Maybe I was wrong when I stated the Councillors were asleep (28 April 15:56).

Now maybe someone can clarify what the Councillors are afraid of.

Are they all afraid of the same thing ? Why on earth do they vote en-bloc ?

Democratic they are definitely not !!

Until that is known then we cannot move forward.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Yes indeed - we need to know what exactly are they afraid of, as Sian Caiach said there is something sinister and disturbing at CEO level.

Keanjo said...

Excellent hard hitting post backed up with facts. I really can't understand why the WG does not intervene.

Anonymous said...

Following the presentation of the city deal to council by Mark James, I recall that Sian Caiach was met with a chorus of disdain from councillors followed by a petulant dressing down by Mr James. This was because she had dared to raise concerns about the interest costs on the loans required and the suitability of the site. It now appears that her concerns are shared by Natural Resources Wales as far as the site is concerned in their response to the planning application S/36948 –
“We have significant concerns with the proposed development as submitted. We recommend that you should only grant planning permission if the scheme can meet the following requirements and you attach the conditions listed in the attached appendices. Otherwise, we would object to this planning application.”

Also the choice of ‘exclusive partners’ for the project seems to be lacking sound judgement - see - but I’m sure Mr James will ensure that the rose tinted spectacles will remain firmly nailed to councillors’ wooden heads.

Anonymous said...

Addendum to comment @ 30 April 2018 at 07:56 – apologies for the incorrect link, it should read:
…..Also the choice of ‘exclusive partners’ for the project seems to be lacking sound judgement - see - but I’m sure Mr James will ensure that the rose tinted spectacles will remain firmly nailed to councillors’ wooden heads.

Anonymous said...

With so much evidence of highly questionable conduct against this controlling CEO it's astounding there hasn't been a vote of no confidence for bringing this council into disrepute. Of course, the Leader (the irreverent Dole) being just one of his disciples he feels safe - for now!

Tessa said...

Superb post summing up the high financial risk associated with this project. In fact "financial risk" probably underplays the situation - "looming financial disaster" feels more like it. I'd be less worried were it not for the CV of Mark James - his trail of waste of millions from the public purse(s), combined with his Svengali-like influence and control over a bunch of (mainly) decrepits who still have the scales over the eyes after all these years. It's a grim situation.

caebrwyn said...

Thank you for the comments.
Thanks for the insight Sian, your observations are spot on, as always. Sinister and disturbing just about sums it, or him, up.
I blogged about the City Deal 'presentation' to councillors here - a memorable exercise in hot air and buzzwords. As Anon 07:56 recalls, Sian's questions, which referred to the future financial risks and the suitability of the Delta Lakes site were met with ill-concealed anger and denial by Mr James. The financial risks are self-evident, and as for the site, I've also been following the planning submissions from NRW and they are not happy, not one bit.

An interesting comment from Anon 13:25... there has obviously been tension between the ego-ridden little men, and the latest report from the Neath Port Talbot CEO rather confirms this; "Our last report apparently caused quite a stir in certain quarters and we are well aware of the critical comments surrounding the “negative” position that this Council has taken over the past year or so. However, there is no room for ambiguity on such a long term financial commitment of this scale and clarity is required..." Unfortunately, this has all played into the manipulative hands of that ego-ridden little man from County Hall, Carmarthen.

Anonymous said...

Putting up Kevin Madge to be Chair of CCC, a man fully implicated in the unlawful payments which benefited the chief executive financially, shows the the Labour Party is more interested in crawling back into favour with the elites by rewarding Kevin for his despicable actions, rather than making choices as to the best and most appropriate person for the job. Integrity counts for nothing in the County Labour Group. Many of these councillors were elected on the coat tails of Jeremy Corbyn, a man who I suspect would certainly not have chosen Kevin.

Anonymous said...

Never seen any questions raised on the blog about the questionable purchase and sale of the former RN site in Llangennech by Carms CC. This was all processed on the same day. Bought from MOD for a peppercorn amount in the morning and sold the same day to 2 well known individual with links to the Scarlets and Welsh Rugby. I believe the amount involved was only £80k for a site worth a million.

caebrwyn said...

Anon 09:17
Hi, the dodgy MOD deal has been mentioned several times on this blog, most recently in October 2017 here
Earlier this year one of the companies run by the two well known individuals, Hydro Industries, formed a 'partnership' with Swansea Uni and in particular with one of the City Deal key players, Marc Clement, who has an interesting history himself. The 'partnership' looks set to capitalise on the public cash which will be funnelled into the City Deal.
As usual, these 'arrangements' never stray far from old boys network. It's all very cosy.