With the Swansea Bay City Deal Joint Committee meeting for the first time today (Friday) the Llanelli Herald has marked the occasion, perhaps, with a steely look at the state of play of the Wellness Shed planned for the Delta Lakes swamp. More precisely it looks at the company appointed by the council as their 'private partners', Sterling Health.
Much of the information was covered on this blog (with several interesting comments) last month - see Wellness Village 'private partners' - something oddly familiar? - but, given that our Mr James is due to be made King of the City Deal (lead CEO, Principle Adviser, Chair of the Project Board and yes, really, the 'Accountable Officer') it's worth taking another look.
Following a sprinkling of council press statements during the week the Herald reports that no less than two management consultancies have been appointed by the council, Faithful & Gould and Medparc Ltd.
F & G are clearly a massive multinational company with a track record of success, (apart from a no-blame hiccup over the abandoned InterCity West Coast franchise competition), in project management.
Medparc, as I mentioned in my last post, has no such track record, has minor assets and was dormant until 2016. The connection however is the director of Medparc, James Dickmann. Mr Dickmann, along with Franz and Phyllis Dickmann, and bizarrely Meryl Gravell form Sterling Health Security Holdings Ltd, the council's 'private partners', recording, as I said, a £137K deficit last year and zero income.
Another Dickmann enterprise is the 'Little Learners' Academy' which, according to Sterling's website, are planning to provide 'Wellness' creche facilities. As this company was only formed in August 2017 there are no accounts nor track record.
Sterling, and it's directors, grew out of Kent Neurosciences (KNS), the council's original development partners, when it dissolved earlier this year with a deficit of £128k. KNS had developed a private hospital in Maidstone, Kent until insolvency beckoned and a bail out was required.
The Herald continues;
"That hospital, built in Maidstone, is the Kent Institute of Medicine and Surgery and ultimate control of the entities concerned in it is based in the British Virgin Islands – no doubt ‘the city connections’ the Council is so proud to trumpet. And those ‘city connections’ all link to a string of other companies similarly vested in overseas tax havens.
No allegation is made regarding the tax status or practices of those companies.
Although it is something which, no doubt, the Council’s crack legal and compliance team took into consideration when choosing its partners."
Presumably the council's 'due diligence' process will have noted the track record of the Kent hospital and the involvement of the Dickmann clan who left before the bailout by investors began. It is on public record that as at April 2017 the three year old hospital's net liabilities were £33.5m. Projected success had not materialised and the crisis was a result of an 'overly optimistic' business plan in the first place.
The Herald concludes; "With two key partners’ heady track record of delivery and links to shady offshore tax havens, there is little doubt that the Wellness Village – when built - will be everything people expect it to be and more."
All this should be comfortably familiar to Mr James and perhaps why the "robust procurement exercise", Carmarthenshire style, always leaves more questions than answers. In his previous incarnation as chief executive, Mr James had been the originator of the Princess Royal stadium in Boston and by the time the auditors had been called in to figure out why the projected financial success story was nowhere to be found, he had moved on to build another taxpayer draining stadium in Carmarthenshire.
So, let's hope that the new term at County Hall sees our councillors asking some very pertinent questions, such as, for example, just what exactly is the criteria required for a company to become 'development partners', is a track record of financial success actually necessary? And how many millions will the council have to borrow, and just who exactly is going to benefit from the Wellness Village? Who knows, with Mr James' private property investment partners and his management empire in Cardiff, it might just be him...
More to the point, some searching questions right now would be better than an external forensic audit investigation further down the line, when everyone involved at the outset has long since buggered off.
As for the Council, the Herald's cutting columnist Cadno makes a few observations and suggests a few questions in this week's paper, well worth a read;
Here's an extract of a previous Cadno piece (apparently Boris the Brexit Fox stood in for Cadno this time) which dealt with the various impending political leadership elections here in Wales. It suggests, in fact, that Mr James already has all the fine accoutrements we would expect from an all-powerful Welsh Leader...;
"So we must rally to the flag of strong and decisive leadership and intolerance of rebellious voices so as to mould the Welsh nation anew.
The flag of Mark James.
Nobody in their right mind could claim that sinking millions of pounds on easy terms into a succession of failed projects was not adequate preparation for taking over the whole country.
Equally, nobody could say – at least not twice, unless it’s the Ombudsman – that the glorious leader is a vindictive petty bureaucrat who ought to grow a thicker skin if he’s going to interfere in the political process and eavesdrop on councillor’s emails.
Who else but Mark James could fulfil the onerous role of being involved in a property management company, chief executive of a County Council, lead chief executive for the City Deal, and all-seeing eye at the centre of Mordor?
One more finger in another pie and the set would be complete.
It is for that reason, not to mention Mark James’ ability to perform in the traditions of Welsh local government (mot ‘si scalpere dorsum, et digitis tuis’) that marks him out as a man apart. The sort of man who should be leading Wales instead of the current band of lollygagging ne’er do wells who populate Cardiff Bay.
Imagine for a moment, my friends, the sort of country we would have under the benign and ever-watchful Great Flaming Eye that is Mark James.
There would a bowling alley on every corner, a Wellness Centre in every village, and a bloody big stadium to host the Olympic Games – possibly at Cross Hands East.
It’s a compelling vision, isn’t it my friends. The sort of firm leadership for which Wales is crying out. And seated at his right hand will be Meryl Gravell and her representative on earth Emlyn Dole.
To those of you voting in various leadership elections this summer, the choice is clear. Write in Mark Vincent James’ name on your ballot papers.
Let him do for Wales what he has done for Carmarthenshire.
And then pull the chain."
* * *
Carmarthenshire Council makes no less than three appearances in the latest Ombudsman's quarterly casebook with all the findings dealt with under the 'Early Resolution' scheme.
This scheme avoids the need for a protracted investigation and is used where the Ombudsman and the council can agree to a quick turnaround for things to be put right. In an ideal world, a satisfactory and quick result is of course preferable for the complainant, cheaper for the Ombudsman and less in the way of 'reputational damage' for the council.
With these three findings against the council unlikely to appear any time soon on the corporate website it's worth noting that, aside from the specific failings, the theme across all three is the council's reluctance and inability to deal properly with complaints, or even recognise and log them as such. It presents a snapshot of a wider problem; as many of us who have tried to bring the council to account will know;
Carmarthenshire County Council – Children in care/ taken into care/ ‘at risk’ register/ child abuse/ custody of children
Case Number: 201706555 – Report issued in April 2018
Ms A complained about the Social Services Team at Carmarthenshire County Council (“the Council”) and, in particular, a lack of care towards her daughter’s safety when using social media. Ms A also raised concerns over a lack of communication and the fact that she had not received a formal response to her concerns.
The Ombudsman found that although Ms A has not been through the Council’s complaint procedure, the Council should have noted her dissatisfaction from her correspondence and dealt with Ms A’s concerns as a formal complaint.
The Council agreed to undertake the following actions, in settlement of the complaint:
a) Within 28 days from the date of the Ombudsman’s decision, arrange a meeting between Ms A, her daughter and the Social Services Team.
b) Within one month from the date of the meeting, issue a Stage 1 written response to the complaint.
Carmarthenshire County Council – Special Educational Needs (SEN)
Case Number: 201706608 – Report issued in April 2018
Ms X complained that Carmarthenshire County Council (“the Council”) had continuously failed to provide a Physics tutor for her 15-year-old daughter. Her concerns were as a result of her daughter’s school mishandling her education which led to a breakdown and several suicide attempts. Ms X’s daughter has been diagnosed as having Atypical Autism.
Although the Council had taken steps to resolve this complaint, since the Ombudsman’s involvement, it had failed to formally acknowledge and deal with the complaint under its complaints procedure despite Ms X clearly indicating that she was raising a formal complaint. The Council agreed to write to Ms X with its apologies.
Carmarthenshire County Council – Social care assessment
Case number: 201700171 – Report issued in June 2018
Mr A’s complained about Carmarthenshire County Council’s (“the Council”) response to his Stage 2 complaint investigation. This included the Council not detailing the measures it had put in place to address the identified failings around assessments, statutory and non-statutory services and eligibility.
The Council acknowledged shortcomings in its complaint handling and agreed to take the following actions:
a) apologise to Mr A for the failings identified and pay him the sum of £250 for the time and trouble caused to him in pursing his complaint.
b) revise its Complaint Process flowchart so it meets the requirement of the Welsh Government’s guidance on complaint handling and representations by local authority social services (2014).
c) provide evidence of the training programme it has drawn up in relation to complaint handling.
d) provide an explanation of the Eligibility Criteria for the Transition Team and update the details displayed on its website accordingly.
e) provide the Ombudsman with copies of the revised policies, accompanied by an action plan, which should include appropriate timescales for ensuring implementation and monitoring of compliance.
An added bonus for County Hall is their possibly erroneous assumption that the shorter Early Resolution scheme must leave the Ombudsman with plenty of cash and time on his hands with which to spend sifting through the self-obsessed, deranged ramblings of our chief executive for 18 months. But as we already know, Mr James clearly considers himself a far more important and deserving recipient of scarce public resources than vulnerable children, worried mothers and their irritating complaints...
Tax avoidance and the CBE
Interesting news out today that the Honours system takes a dim view of nominees involved in tax avoidance schemes and takes advice from HMRC.
You may recall that around the same time as chief executive Mark James was given a CBE he was also involved in a tax avoidance scheme.
For two years he took a secret pay rise (totalling nearly £30k) in lieu of his pension contribution for the purpose of avoiding tax, a matter deemed unlawful by the Wales Audit Office in their 2014 Public Interest Report (there were two reports, the other being the unlawful libel indemnity).
Mr James' honour from Private Eye was richly deserved, and his own concept of honour, dignity and integrity has been called into question before.
As for the CBE, the Honours committee states; "poor tax behaviour is not consistent with the award of an honour".