Friday 21 December 2018

Private Eye (again), contradictions, conflicts, and the Wellness scandal

Yet another appearance in Private Eye for chief executive Mark James, once again doing his bit to establish Carmarthenshire County Council's reputation as a very Rotten Borough....He also featured in the last edition, on a different issue, here.

This post follows on from posts written earlier this month including; The Wellness Village - The end? and Full Council - Wellness Village, and the Emperor's New Clothes and this week's Carmarthenshire Herald features a detailed article about these recent events as the Wellness dream sinks slowly and painfully into the Delta Lakes swamp.

I mentioned Mr James' misleading statement to full council in my previous post and as the terms of the Collaboration Agreement between the council, Swansea University and Sterling became known (I have now read it in full). The word 'misleading' became an understatement as it appeared that the terms and conditions to dissolve the Agreement had not been met. Despite the Herald asking the council for an explanation, they have not responded.

As I have also said, Mr James, in his address to council on the 12th December, failed to mention the fractious meeting with Swansea University he'd attended, along with sidekick Emlyn, on the 10th December.
In fact, he knew full well that, despite his efforts to, erm, persuade the Uni to carry on, they were having none of it. To have inferred to full council that the Uni were still involved in any way was quite simply a lie.

Even more remarkable was Mr James statement that the Wales Audit Office had been 'invited', in some sort of informal arrangement, to provide 'reassurance' that all was well.

The Herald asked the Wales Audit Office to confirm the date that either the council or the City Deal Board contacted the WAO to seek this assurance, and the date that the WAO contacted the council with regards to any checks it proposed to carry out.

The WAO sent the following reply;

"We are not yet aware of having received any correspondence relating to this matter from Carmarthenshire County Council.

"However, I can confirm that as part of our audit of the Council, the Auditor General has decided to undertake a review of the decision making relating to the Wellness Village project. The terms of reference for this review will be issued to the Council in the New Year."

The council, however, are sticking to their story.
Whatever the case, Mr James' version of the WAO involvement was profoundly and deliberately misleading. Quite clearly the Auditor General is not only investigating the council's decision making related to the Wellness Village, but he has not even issued the terms of reference yet, and as far as he is concerned, there has been no 'invitation'.

Further mysterious contradictions have also emerged over the statement given by the leader of Neath Port Talbot, Cllr Rob Jones, to a full meeting of his council. I wrote about this in my previous post.

The statement, which can be read in full here is refreshingly realistic, unlike the lies and spin peddled by Mark James and Emlyn Dole, and states that "The Joint Committee [of the City Deal Project] resolved to withdraw – at least temporarily - the earlier approval for the Delta Lakes project"
Emlyn Dole disagrees, claiming they merely agreed he would come back to them with 'reassurance' and has demanded that he correct his statement.

What Emlyn doesn't seem to realise yet is that no one wants to touch this vanity project with a barge pole. I don't blame them either.

In breaking news, well, as I'm writing this post, WalesOnline reports on some of the details of the suspensions at Swansea University which are now beginning to leak out.

It seems that a £2.5m Welsh Government grant to Swansea Uni was going to be passed on to a 'not-for-profit private company, Respiratory Innovation Wales Ltd (RIW Ltd).

The company, and the management of the grant are now part of the University's investigation. Although Swansea Uni confirms, in a statement, that the company was set up to receive the grant, they say they are no longer involved in the Respiratory Innovation project.
The grant was to part fund a centre for RIW Ltd at the Delta Lakes swamp.

Professor Marc Clement was a director of the company, which had only been set up in September, until he resigned on December 3rd, a week after his suspension was announced by the university. He has denied any wrongdoing.
One of the other suspensions is reported to be a senior project manager for the Wellness Village 'team' managed by the council.

After the Uni raised concerns earlier this year, the Welsh Government agreed not to pay the grant.

Another director of RIW Ltd, appointed on September 19th is Kevin Smith, who had resigned a week earlier as a director of Sterling Health Security Holdings, the company (which won a bidding war of one) now ditched as development partners for the Wellness Village.
Kevin Smith is also a director of another Dickmann enterprise, Heart2Heart Telemedicine Ltd which, according to documents enclosed with the Collaboration Agreement was set to deliver the digital needs of the Wellness village. In fact, Sterling intended to set up even more sister companies once its foot was in the door.

As I have said, Marc Clement had previously been a director of Kent Neurosciences, resigning shortly before they entered the 'exclusivity agreement' with Mark James and Co. Kent Neurosciences was the now dissolved forerunner to Sterling Health, featuring the Dickmann clan, Clement, Kevin Smith, and Meryl Gravell. The latter being the former leader, and regeneration portfolio holder at Carms council, otherwise known as Mark James' cash-cow and voting proxy.

Wales Online also confirms that the Auditor General for Wales, Adrian Crompton is to hold his own investigation into Carmarthenshire Council’s decision making process into the project, as reported by the Herald above.

As some of us have been mentioning for a few years now, the complex web of personal directorships, private companies, and public money have given rise, at best, to potential conflicts of interest and at worst, the possible siphoning off of public cash. Today's news is, therefore, not surprising.
The tangled web remains difficult to unravel and I suspect that the details emerging from Swansea are the tip of a murky iceberg.

With assorted investigations underway, and the nebulous Wellness Dream on hold, this blog is particularly interested in the investigation at the council by the Wales Audit Office.

To even suggest that Mark James, with his close association with Marc Clement, Meryl Gravell and the Sterling gang, was unaware of this tangled and conflicting web is inconceivable. And let's not forget that Mr James has his own private property and business interests which he chose not to declare to his employers.

To form a collaboration agreement with a company with no proven track record and liabilities of £137k was astonishing, let alone having appointed the same company, under another name, two years previously. To the casual observer, this Agreement, led by the council, appeared to be the start of an arrangement to benefit a handful of investors through untraceable and unaccountable shell companies.

Even if we discount, for a moment, Mark James' track record in dishonesty and flagrant misuse of public money, his denials, and evasiveness over the last couple of weeks says a great deal. We also know he is skilled operator in the art of misleading councillors, very prevalent at the moment, and also a vindictive bully when his authority is challenged. Neither does he have any qualms about breaching a written undertaking to his employers. The breakdown in trust started years ago.
Whilst there is division at the University over culpability and blame, there is no such ambiguity at County Hall.

We can only hope that the WAO make this a very thorough investigation. When it comes to decision making and governance this officer-led council has been found wanting many times before, the toxic culture remains.

And they should also remember that they themselves found that Mr James had deliberately avoided paying tax, and unlawfully pocketed public cash. That particular issue still continues with secretive nonsense and the protection of the chief executive a top priority.

As I have said before the police should act urgently and knock on his door. Unless the WAO send in a team of senior investigators, they will, I fear, be left in the waiting room thumbing through heavily redacted copies of Private Eye, listening to the muffled sound of the shredding machine in overdrive. 

Thursday 13 December 2018

Full Council - Wellness Village, and the Emperor's New Clothes - with updates, and the latest 'Cadno'

Previous post; The Wellness Village - The end? and Sterling ditched

(Updates at the end of this post)

Rather than provide endless updates on my previous post I thought I'd better write a new one. Especially as both the chief executive, Mark James, and council leader Emlyn Dole plumbed new depths in backpeddling, dishonesty, and a mutual state of denial at yesterday's meeting.

Further to November's meeting, Labour opposition leader Cllr Rob James had again placed several questions on the agenda related to the Wellness Village. As questions have to be submitted seven days in advance, they pre-date the most recent events.

Given these recent events, ie the total collapse of the project, Mark James decided to give a statement during the Chair's Announcements. With his Wellness vision drifting into oblivion, and in it up to his neck, this was simply a personal damage-limitation, blame-deflecting exercise.

Chief executive, and monitoring officer, Linda Rees Jones
He appears to have entered a twilight world were everything is fine, the signed and sealed contract between the council, Swanea Uni and Sterling wasn't really a contract, nothing had been agreed, the health boards were still excited, as was Trinity St David's Uni, the council had only spent a bit of money on ground prep and reports (and, it seems, three years worth of external legal advice)....the council were going to go it alone...etc etc, there was nothing to see here, move along...
He also mentioned that the Wales Audit Office were now involved, though not because they though anything was wrong, oh no, but because they'd been 'invited'. Really.

Naturally, no one is allowed to question the chief executive.
Think 'Emperor's New Clothes', King Cnut, or even our old friend Pinocchio.

Incidentally the council expenditure up until August 2017 was £564,427. As it is now December 2018, I have made a FOI request for the up-to-date figures. The health boards have already refused to commit funds.

Later in the meeting Cllr Rob James ask Emlyn Dole his questions on the Wellness village. Cllr James said that at a City Deal business launch event last week Emlyn Dole denied a claim from a local business that Vinci Plc, based in France, had already been chosen as a constructor for the project, this denial was despite Vinci Plc being named in several documents. Cllr Dole again denied the claim.  Amid gasps from the chamber Cllr James called him a liar, and subsequently, and rightly so, refused to retract the accusation. He also called for Dole's resignation.

Cllr Rob James
As I said in my previous post, Vinci Plc feature in the Contract Award Notice for the 'Collaboration Agreement' on the Sell2Wales website, the Collaboration Agreement itself, and also features on the Sterling Health website as part of the consortium which were to deliver the project. I have made a further FOI request for a copy of the now defunct Collaboration Agreement.
It wasn't just Vinci which the council had lined up via Sterling, but everything from the architects to the creche. None of them were local businesses. It was a stitch-up.

The Dickmanns, as Kent Neurosciences, with Vinci Plc, at the private hospital site in Kent
Cllr Rob James also asked about the decision to end the collaboration, was any notice given? Was it a unilateral decision by the council? (see update below) The 'Chair' hastily intervened (no doubt after a nudge from Mark James) and wouldn't allow him to ask this as it wasn't the question he'd submitted. Pity, you'd think that Cllr Dole would have chosen to answer it anyway....though clearly it wasn't in the script he'd been given.

Cllr Dole also chose not to elaborate as to why the whole thing has collapsed, why the UK government had stepped in, and why Swansea Uni had jumped ship. In fact he failed to explain anything at all other than ramble on about the project from a script obviously cobbled together by the chief executive. In a classic attempt to avoid scrutiny he accused Cllr James of sniping. In another classic attempt to avoid giving honest and open responses, he resorted to sniping at Cllr James.

Cllr Dole
The exchanges can be seen on the archived webcast.

To seasoned observers the actions of the chief executive, and Emlyn Dole, yesterday were nothing out of the ordinary. Evasiveness, dishonesty, denial and attack are as predictable as night follows day. What appeared to be a total collapse of a very expensive three year project was no such thing... The chief executive's total compliance and involvement in some very dodgy dealings never happened... The Wales Audit Office were only there for tea and biscuits...

In fact, since the pension and libel indemnity scandals the WAO, particularly the local team, have kept remarkably quiet, despite numerous breaches of trust, to the taxpayers and his employers, perhaps they're reluctant to bite the hand that feeds. Mr James has clearly regained control over their remit, and their access to county hall secrets.

In my opinion, there needs to be a thorough police investigation. All electronic communications and phone records between Mark James, Marc Clement and Sterling should be seized for a start and a full forensic audit, to a criminal standard carried out, starting in his county hall office.  Questioning him under oath is a waste of time, he wouldn't tell the truth no matter how high the stack of bibles. Mark James is, if nothing else, an expert in cover-up, and in manipulating those around him, through threats, promises, untruths, or whatever it takes.

As for Emlyn Dole, this was probably a good time to have been honest and realistic about the situation, instead of being defensive and arrogant, and repeating what the chief executive had said parrot-fashion. As for him being irritated by Cllr James for asking difficult questions, this is something that Plaid might remember doing once...when they were in opposition.

Ironically, in between the chief executive's plan to waste further millions and plunge the county into an abyss of unmanageable debt for generations to come, and the leader's obsequious agreement, a separate agenda item saw secondary school pupils give constructive, well argued, excellent presentations of their views on the assorted budget cuts to frontline services being proposed for next year.

But, after all, who needs learning disability services, mental health services, or school counsellors for vulnerable children, when you can have this.....

Wellness Village, artists impression (Arup)

Update 14th December;

A report in today's Carmarthenshire Herald suggests that Mark James' misleading statement to councillors on Wednesday was even worse than it first appeared.
He implied that the council had ended the agreement as it had run its course. Not only was this quite clearly nonsense, in fact, the Collaboration Agreement, signed in July, states that it will last for three years and stipulates the conditions which would trigger it's early termination. None of which appear to have been met.

The council is a Party to the agreement and the University and Sterling are both 'Development Parties"

The Council can only terminate the agreement if one of the 'Development Parties', after being given notice of a breach of the terms and conditions, or 'an insolvency event', fails to remedy the breach within twenty days.

Those terms and conditions include meeting financial tests, obtaining project finance, the appointment of Vinci PLC as the contractor to carry out works at Delta Lakes, and demonstration of the project’s financial sustainability.

As I mentioned above, local contractors were a couple of weeks ago that Vinci were not the project's builders.

Obviously Sterling were ditched very quickly and as for the University, a spokesperson told the Herald "The University was given notice immediately before the termination"
Clearly Mr James assumed, somewhat arrogantly it seems, that the University would happily remain on board and enter into some other Mark James-style agreement. It seems not.

Mark James and Emlyn Dole had a surprise when they attended an urgent meeting with the Uni on Monday 10th December.

The Uni told them they had reservations about continuing their involvement at Delta Lakes. Mark James was not pleased and claimed that as the Uni had signed the three year Agreement it was bound (one way or another) to continue with the development. Funny how the Collaboration Agreement is now somehow 'binding', when it suits Mr James.

The University said that as the council had unilaterally ended the Agreement, it was now up to the Council to present fresh plans for it to consider before it made any further commitment to Delta Lakes.

It's perhaps worth reiterating the point that this was not the first time Mark James and Co had appointed Sterling as development partners, they had already done so in May 2016 in a 12 month 'exclusivity agreement' when they were known as Kent Neurosciences, a company with a 'proven track record'. A track record which, at that point, was a company with net liabilities of -£128k and developers of a private hospital which required a £20m bail out.

In less surprising news, and as I said on the 26th November, it has been confirmed this afternoon that the suspensions at Swansea Uni are related to the Wellness Village. The project is now on stop pending the outcome of an internal review and the UK/Welsh Government 'rapid review'.

* * * * *
Update 18th December;

The latest 'Cadno' opinion piece from this week's Carmarthenshire Herald......

Cadno visits the bog

Hello readers.
We live in interesting times. Or at least mildly diverting ones. 
It’s been a good while since Cadno considered anything other than the Llanelli’s Great Pit of Wellness. Events have moved on in connection with the Swamp Thing. We have reached a point where reality has far outstripped Cadno’s ability to lampoon it. 
Over the past fortnight, Cadno received a number of interesting envelopes from parts eastward. The missives contained many photocopied documents and intimations of shenanigans regarding Delta Lake.  
Cadno's poor furry brain ended up quite befuddled by all the very large numbers bombing around the drafts of this, the updates of that, and business cases in varying stages of preparation. 
Being a diligent sort of fox, Cadno took pains to check information. He tried to tie together the varying bits of information. As a result, he can now share with the results of his reading and research. 
Cadno now concludes that there are vast quantities of mind-altering hallucinogens being used by a large number of middle-aged men.  
He had not suspected those in positions of financial, political and executive responsibility were smoking hookah pipes and listening to Jefferson Airplane and Traffic. Still less did he imagine they did so while dreaming up ever larger figures with even more noughts on them than Mark James’ pay cheque. His preconceptions were set straight by his studies. 
Wow, readers! Just ‘wow!’ 
Some of the projections for the economic benefits of the projects are so wildly out of kilter with probability that they can only be the product of entire weekends spent rocked out of your box on old-school absinthe and magic mushrooms. ‘Fanciful’ is not strong enough a description. ‘Frankly crackers’ is possibly a tad too far. The only valid comparator Cadno can think of to illustrate the quandary of describing the business case for the Llanelli Bog Beast is to pose you, readers, a hypothetical question. 
Imagine you are stranded on a desert island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. You have a gun with a single bullet. The only other survivor is Jacob Rees Mogg. How long are the odds that you won’t end up shooting him? 
When you get into the hundreds of millions to one, you are in the same area as the chance of the Wellness Village delivering anything like what the Business case claims.
Wow, readers! Just ‘wow!’ 
It is worth pointing out, as Cadno has recently, the concepts underpinning many of these projects and their projected returns and economic value take absolutely no account of the potential adverse impact of leaving the EU. In the event the UK leaves without a deal, the economy WILL shrink in at least the short to medium term. Some way short of no deal’s worst-case scenario, the economy will tank in a way similar to the way it did ten years ago but with a pile more debt in the system and a weakened economic base for recovery. 
In the best case, we all get a little poorer and money gets tighter. 
Let’s suppose you are a large institution, for example, Swansea University. Let’s imagine you are faced with increasing costs, a shrinking student population due to demographics, reduced numbers of overseas students and access to overseas markets and expansion opportunities, you have already taken on a massive redevelopment and are committed to several other substantial projects. Then you are faced with having to source the thick end of £127.5m in funding in collaboration with a company whose balance sheet is yet to be published but whose directors’ recent record on healthcare projects is patchy. 
You might be inclined to scratch your head and wonder quite how you have ended up in such an exposed position. You might want to look again at the amount of money you are due to either funnel from your own backers to the Wellness Bog and whether you could use it better elsewhere. Perhaps without being exposed to so much financial risk.
Oh dear! You have a collaboration agreement with the Council. A legally binding one from which it would be most difficult to escape. 
Help is at hand in the unlikely shape of Mark James CeeBeebies. 
With no notice whatsoever he cancels the Collaboration Agreement and tells you the Council is dumping it shortly before he announces the Council is ending it in a press release. 
At that point, on a Friday, why should you spoil the moment by saying you were having second thoughts? 
No, readers, you let him publish a press release saying you are still beloved partners and tight in with him and his buddy Emlyn in your commitment to the Swamp Thing. 
You let him have the weekend. Then first thing Monday morning, you have a meeting with the smug little berk and give him the bad news. 
He is aghast. It was all your idea, he loudly claims. You came to the Council with the plan. You introduced the clan Dickmann and their 57 varieties of company to the show. At least that’s what he says now. When he was rolling in the glory of the Wellness Bog’s announcement, you remember he said it was all down to the Council’s skill and genius.
Oh dear. How sad. Never mind. 
You can then stand back comfortably while history is re-written in the most self-exculpatory and Stalinist way, safe in the knowledge that your £127.5m, or any part thereof, will not end up being spent on land reclamation costs and having to sort out enormous problems with road and transport infrastructure around the site.
In the meantime, while white elephants may safely graze they won’t be doing so on your coin. 
Of course, you can always reconsider your position. But the onus is now on Mark James CeeBeebies to come up with a Plan B that spreads the risk around. A new plan that does not depend so much on you levering your own investment partners into supporting a third party project. A new plan which is – perhaps – somewhat less the product of magical thinking about costs, benefits, outcomes and returns. 
Magical thinking is all very well, readers. There’s nothing wrong with staring into a blue sky for inspiration. But real blue sky thought can only take place when you have your paws, or feet, firmly on solid ground and not sinking in a marsh
* * * * *

Update 19th December;

The leader of Neath Port Talbot Council gave a statement this afternoon to a NPT full council meeting. He confirms that multiple 'reviews' are underway into the City Deal and the Wellness Village, particularly over matters of governance. He also confirms that the Joint Committee "resolved to withdraw – at least temporarily - the earlier approval for the Delta Lakes project."

"...all along we have been clear that we will not compromise on good governance and properly managing the financial implications for this authority. That will not change regardless of the outcome of the Governments review or anything else."

As for the UK Government 'rapid review', the chief executive of NPT has insisted that the final report is published "in full, with no redactions", and that the review "identifies specific recommendations –
not general or abstract principles – for remedying any identified defects in the governance arrangements."

NPT also confirm that they have only spent £20k so far on one of their projects. Carmarthenhire, on the other hand, had already spent £564k on the rapidly sinking Wellness vision, and that was by August 2017. That's without all those little hidden extras...

The tone of the statement contrasts sharply with the misleading nonsense peddled by Mark James and Emlyn Dole to Carmarthenshire councillors, and observers, last week (see main post). As I've said elsewhere, the police must to carry out a criminal investigation, and without a doubt, their first port of call needs to be the office of the City Deal 'Accountable Officer', Mark James.

The full text of the statement is here
I blogged about NPT's previous misgivings here.

For further background, please search this blog

Thursday 6 December 2018

The Wellness Village - The end? - Updated - Sterling ditched

Later post, 13th December; Full council - Wellness Village and the Emperor's New Clothes, with updates

Update 12th December;
The Wales Audit Office are now carrying out a 'review' (investigation) of the council's role in all this.

Update 11th December;
The Llanelli Herald reports that Swansea University are no longer working on the Wellness Village. With Sterling now ditched, the contract (see pic below) signed between the council, Sterling and the University is now dissolved. Hywel Dda health board has also confirmed, again, that they have made no financial commitment to the scheme.
Mark James' 'key partners' are dropping like flies... As I said in April, a scandal in the making.
Report here.

Update 7th December; 
Sterling Health have now been ditched. Wales Online has a report here.
Both Emlyn Dole and Mark James are now talking utter b******s to try and stave off an investigation;

Dole; "The collaboration agreement [with Sterling Health] was simply an agreement to work together to develop the various aspects of the Delta Lakes project and draw up a development agreement for its delivery."That development agreement has not been agreed and the county council has concluded that the project can be better delivered in another way.“No public funding has been committed to the partners, no companies have been established, no shares allocated and no directors appointed."There is no liability on the county council whatsoever at this point.” 
The council wouldn't say how much it has spent on the Wellbeing Village to date. 
Its chief executive Mark James, added: “The council and its partners remain fully committed to develop the Life Science and Wellbeing Village."The council will now finalise the business plan to develop the Village with key partners including the Hywel Dda Health Board and the two universities [Swansea and Trinity St David]".

What an utter mess. These statements (issued at 5.03pm on a Friday, of course) beggar belief. Sterling's website, the council, and numerous press releases all confirm the 'landmark deal' had been signed and sealed. The council even 'partnered' with them in their previous incarnation as Kent Neurosciences.

Laughing all the way to the bank....

As I said, the council have already wasted millions on the project. A FOI back in August 2017 put the figure at over £2m between the Welsh Government and the council, 18 months of further expenditure has passed since then, and as we know, the project required £127m of private sector funding. The two health boards have no money to invest, and have in fact refused to fund it, and Swansea Uni and Trinity St David's (of which Mark James happens to be a director) are equally shaky. Let alone the matter of the current suspensions.

Financial institutions won't touch this with a bargepole.

Sterling's appointment was a corker to say the least; a company with a £137k deficit and zero income, and, as I have pointed out before, the family members were all set to cash in with their own little enterprises in this project, James Dickmann with Medparc and Phyllis Holt-Dickmann with the private creche. (for more, please see below or search this blog).

The responsibility for Sterling's appointment (the one bidder) was, as I said below, ultimately down to Mark James.

Everything that has happened, with Meryl, Clement, Sterling etc has been with his full knowledge and on his instruction.

And his sidekick Emlyn Dole? Mark James has led him like a lamb to the slaughter. What an idiot.

I could see there was something seriously wrong with all this over two years ago, it was a con and millions have already been siphoned off, and I've written and warned about it ever since. I'm just a blogger, so why on earth has it gone this far?

The two governments must start the 'rapid investigation' without delay, and in fact, what really needs to happen now, before the shredders get going, is a criminal investigation, starting in Mark James' office at County Hall, Carmarthen.

If he gets away with this one, after everything else, there's no bloody hope.

* * *

Update 6th December; The UK and Welsh Governments have announced a 'rapid independent review' of the City Deal, covering 'due diligence and governance'. About time too. The UK and Welsh Governments were expected to announce the release of City Deal cash in early December. It seems like they've had second thoughts. Good.
Maybe they've finally got round to reading this blog...

BBC report here and The Carmarthenshire Herald report here.

* * * 

Last Monday, the 26th November, I was the first to suggest there was a connection between the four suspensions at Swansea University and the proposed private health care 'Wellness Village' at Delta Lakes, Llanelli.
It now seems I was was right. Although, aside from the Daily Mail article the details are still not clear.

Following the Executive Board meeting on Monday (3rd December) where the Wellness village business case was up for approval, in private session, the council published a press release late yesterday afternoon.

They have approved it 'in principle' but, given the 'events' in Swansea, put in on hold. In fact they've had a couple of days to spin the blame entirely on those 'events in Swansea'. This might have been the catalyst, and the allegations are clearly serious, but not the whole story.

Buried within the council spin, there are a few key points.
The project has been put on hold, indefinitely it seems, whilst 'reassurances' are sought that due legal process has been followed and public funds properly protected.

This suggests, of course, that both of these elements have already been gravely compromised.

Council officers have also been asked to look for 'alternative' sources of funding, if this refers to both public and private funding it suggests that the City Deal money is now unlikely, as is anything from Swansea Uni, and that the appointment of Sterling as the 'private' sector partners could well be reversed.

Presumably the 'alternative' would be to rummage down the back of a sofa.

According to the press release, an independent assessment will be undertaken to iron out all these nasty little creases. I would suggest that the whole project is dead in the water, or in this case, the swamp. Llanelli will now be lucky if it even gets the new leisure centre.

Recent posts on this blog have detailed the tangled web of companies, directors, boards, ex-councillors, chief officer, missing tenders and potential conflicts of interest but at the heart of all this are the three main drivers, Mark James, Marc Clement and Meryl Gravell.

They go back a long way. Meryl was heavily involved with Clement with the failed Technium projects and more recently with the ARCH project. ARCH, 'A Regional Collaboration for Health', was a partner organisation for the Wellness Village, heavily influenced by the American based Global Wellness Institute, but were refused Welsh Government funding early in 2017.
ARCH is still significant although the project delivery team is now managed and hosted by the council.
Meryl then appeared as a director of Sterling only to suddenly resign from one of the companies in November.
As we know, Marc Clement was a director of Kent Neurosciences, which then became Sterling. He resigned from another company, Vardiola Ltd on the weekend of his suspension.

Then we have Mark James. Meryl Gravell was, always has been, and still is, directly under his instruction, rather like poor Emlyn. The relationship between Clement and Mark James, (the latter now the lead chief executive and the accountable officer for the whole city deal), is also close, both have been the key players from the start in this whole, decidedly un-transparent saga.

The strange tender process and appointment of Sterling was also down to Mark James, and Clement.

Millions have already been spent on this project without a brick being laid, not even an exciting Wellness brick.

As I said, this is a tangled web, all of which has been covered in past posts going back a few years, and no doubt more will emerge in due course but failures in governance, legal process and protecting the public purse have all the hallmarks of Mark James and the toxic culture of County Hall. And this is the lead authority for the City Deal...

The BBC reports that the Labour leader of the opposition, Cllr Rob James has called for the Wales Audit Office to step in and investigate, "Considering the strong working relationship between officers at Carmarthenshire council and those in Swansea University, I will be writing to the Wales Audit Office to ask for their participation in investigating the paper trail for the last few years". 
Cllr James has also submitted more questions for next week's full council meeting.

The suspensions at Swansea are only the start. Mark James, when not making his regular appearances in Private Eye, has a track record of failed vanity projects; a rap sheet of dipping his hand into the public purse, not protecting it, he has misled and lied to his employers and the courts, and failed to declare business and financial interests.
He, and Meryl, are in it up to their necks, but Meryl can be quietly put out to grass. And Emlyn? He has been negligent and weak to say the least.

I am sure more revelations will emerge, including the 'events in Swansea', but I look forward to the immediate suspension of Mr James and an urgent independent investigation into his role in the Wellness scam. If anything is to be saved from this sorry mess, his removal is crucial.

Please search this blog for further background and comment.

Monday 3 December 2018

Cadno and the light of truth - from The Carmarthenshire Herald

Here's this week's 'Cadno' opinion piece, from the Carmarthenshire Herald;

Cadno and the light of truth

They fly through the air. They are faster than a speeding bullet. Saving the world from aliens, supervillains and the undead, superheroes do a stand-up job for humanity. 
What of Carmarthenshire’s own superhero. 
By day, he’s an ever-so-humble Chief Executive but in his leisure hours out come the tights and embarrassing Lycra as Mark James becomes CeeBeeBees Man. Out and about on his bike (saddle an optional extra), Marky Mark pedals the highways and byways of Carmarthenshire on his wonder bike seeking out rights to wrong. Or something like that. 
His special power?  
Blowing huge sums of public money on white elephants and telling everyone they’re a success. 
So far, Cadno admits, this column has been knockabout raillery aimed at mocking the beloved Mark Vincent James’s high opinion of himself. He does not need to be placed on a pedestal. In his mind, he is already on one. 
More worryingly, there are increasing signs that Emlyn Dole is rapidly falling into the role of sidekick. On his roller skates, as CBeebies Man prowls the county looking for a project to pour a few million quid into, is Deflecting Dole. CBeebies Man’s human shield, who protects his master with his super sarcasm power. 
Carmarthenshire has long had a reputation for being a council in thrall to its Chief Executive. It is as though the political executive of the Council is an extension of its highest paid employee. The correct arrangement is the other way round, of course: the administration putting into action the political will of the Council. 
The current political executive does several things well. Cadno does not agree with it in all things, but on several big issues it has hit the nail head on.
Housing, in particular, could be a lasting monument to this current administration. Despite that and other solid achievements, Cadno agrees that services should be brought back in-house and not remain notionally outsourced to arm’s length companies. Cadno’s only exception would be house building for pretty obvious reasons connected with local government finance and borrowing rules. He does not know why Deflecting Dole is so wedded to the idea of outsourcing in the teeth of his own party’s policies against it. Perhaps it’s because Labour in Llanelli is prepared to stand for its self-interest against its party’s national policies that Emlyn Dole wants to match its contrariness and inconsistency with his own. 
What worries Cadno most of all about the Great Deflector is his point-blank refusal to deal with questions about the financial structure of the Great Swamp Thing at Delta Lakes. 
Not least the fact that, as things stand, the whole shebang is the ultimate out-sourcing project, representing the construction of a private healthcare facility for the benefit of private investors who will be shielded from risk by the public purse. If the private sector of the Wellness and Life Science Village is commercially viable, it should not need a leg up from the public sector to work. If it needs public sector money to seed it and prop it up, it is not commercially viable. Not now. Not ever. 
The Deflector is quite right to pour scorn on some of the outrage expressed by the opposition, especially by someone daft enough to reveal he’d prepared his follow-up questions in advance (Jesus wept!), however, he has to accept that there are some pretty big questions that remain unanswered about all things swampy. It is as though Cllr Dole is acting as a mouthpiece for the project and, perhaps, for the man who has backed the vanity project from the start. 
Here’s the big ask, though: ‘Show me the money!’
There is supposed to be a huge amount of private money coming into the Wellness Swamp.
Where the hell is it? 
It’s no use saying, negotiations are ongoing. It’s like Brexit. You’ve had years. Bloody Edwina Hart was still in Government when the whole thing started floating in the tide at Llanelli like a stray turd.
Where is the money? What guarantees or sureties does the Council have for its arrival and when will it get here? 
The above questions do not undermine the potential for the project – however unlikely it is – to deliver on its promises. They stand apart as proper scrutiny of what, at times, appears a process made deliberately opaque to thwart the exercise of proper control by councillors of major decisions. It’s pathetic, readers. 
Emlyn Dole, the Great Deflector, can roll his eyes like a bad Eisteddfod comedian all he wants. Straight questions deserve straight answers.  
The truth, Cadno strongly suspects, is that there is no private money. At least, not yet. Moreover, Cadno is dubious about the origins of such money as might arrive and the sort of strings to which it might come attached.
If there is no clarity on the provenance and amount of private investment, those sceptical of the project are entitled to remain sceptical. 
You have only to consider CeeBeeBees Man’s extraordinary track record on major capital projects to give enough cause for scepticism. Add that to the Maidstone misadventures of directors tied to the only firm that tendered for the project partner’s role. Tie that into an apparent ‘suck it and see’ approach to here, when and how much private money is actually devoted to being sunk into the swamp and there is more than enough reason to raise sensible questions. 
There is another, potentially more sinister, explanation for the Great Deflector’s wish to avoid tricky questions. 
Cadno has read enough superhero comics to know that it is entirely possible that CBeebies Man, far from being our Lycra-clad saviour, is a supervillain who has hypnotised the hapless Emlyn Dole into being his unwitting stooge. Inside, the real Emlyn is struggling to break out and tell the world the truth, but CBeebies Man’s just too powerful. 
In many ways, that possibility is more attractive than what Cadno suspects the reality is.
Poor Emlyn is simply blinded by the light shining from CBeebies Man’s spoke-shave end.
* * *

In a separate article the Herald reports that Cllr Rob James, the Labour leader of the opposition has written to Emlyn Dole to ask whether the recent news concerning the suspensions at Swansea University will have an impact on the Wellness project at Delta Lakes given that the Vice Chancellor, and Prof Marc Clement are both closely involved and have influential roles within the City Deal. As of the paper going to press last Thursday, there'd been no response.

In my view they should have been suspended from these roles immediately. When Mark James went on 'gardening leave' during the criminal investigation in 2014 he was also removed from his various roles within Welsh Government, of which there were four. 

As I've mentioned once or twice before, the powers that be should be taking a much closer look at Mark James himself, he is not to be trusted with a child's piggy bank, never mind £1.3bn.

Later post; The Wellness Village - the end?