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 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|
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 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.
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
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
Now that it has been "confirmed" that there was no contractual relationship, emails between the parties to the non-contract should (in theory, of course) be available to anyone who asks for them via FoI and EIA. There might be a redaction of figures (why?) but it should be possible. There will be an attempt to say it willcost too much to "locate" the information but that should be resisted and appealed.
It's rather worrying, in the light of costly vanity fiascos such as the Princess Royal sports arena and Parc y Scarlets, that in his presentation Mark James described the project as “essential”.
Also it’s rather strange that CCC should drop their partners in the project like a hot potato only now that the proverbial has hit the fan. As far back as June 2016 the blog ‘West Wales News Review’ thoroughly detailed the dubious business links and potential conflicts of interest surrounding the project (https://westwalesnewsreview.wordpress.com/2016/06/10/loss-making-private-hospital-link-to-llanellis-planned-wellness-centre/)
The article ends by saying:
”Even so, and allowing for Professor Clement’s recent involvement with Kent Neurosciences, is this company – full of medical expertise but light on proven business success in the ‘wellness’ arena – the most appropriate partner for Carmarthenshire County Council in the Wellness Centre project? And, perish the thought, could the Wellness Centre be a conduit for public money to flow through networks of companies into far-away entities registered in the British Virgin Islands and other tax havens?”
I can’t see how CCC and especially Mark James could deny knowledge of this article as Pat Ratcher’s blog has a direct link from your (caebrwyn’s) blog and Mark James has regularly trawled your blog for material to use against you in court proceedings and complaints to the police.
Anon 14:20 I'm sure Mark James is well aware of the history behind Sterling and has been from the beginning. Multiple companies, questionable track record in business and finance, potential tax issues etc, just his kinda outfit really...
Can't the little git be sacked yet? For gross misconduct? Complete breakdown of the relationship of trust between employee and employer?
This is the problem in Carmarthenshire. Any council can easily rid themselves of a chief executive on the grounds of loss of trust and confidence. But the leading elected members have to be brave enough to reach that conclusion and push it through,deal with the claims , pay up and move on.
But this requires strong and determined leadership from councillors taking legal and HR advice from elsewhere.
Over many years now local papers (some blackmailed into silence) and bloggers have written endless articles citing countless examples of what is wrong with our council. It couldn't be clearer that we have a totally dysfunctional council in Carmarthen. Councillors are supposed to be in control. In fact, they have zero power as Mark James has led them by their noses and taken away all power they ever had. It is officer led - actually CEO led! It is undemocratic and a dictatorship. When members and the Executive Board itself completely ignore evidence of criminal conduct, including fraud, refuse to take any interest or take any action whatsoever, or even ask a single question, it should be enough for some form of intervention, by the police or the Welsh Government, as this council and it's members do not serve the taxpayers of Carmarthenshire. In my view, due to the total control this CEO has, over members and especially the Executive Board, it's time calls should be made for it to be put into 'special measures'.
The audio quality of the last council meeting is completely useless.
Not a word can be understood.
I WONDER WHY ????????????????????
It can be done - and the sooner the better. We the taxpayers have no voice within this despotic council with members, officers, his own Monitoring officer all under his control.
Perhaps the WAO should ask forMr James's tax returns ..... andb ank statements .....
Anon 06:53 How many more tales about this totally dysfunctional /undemocratic/ non-transparent CEO led Council have to come to light before this Council is put into special measures? The Executive board and ALL the elected Councillors are there to represent their individual constituencies. Failure to do so is not only unacceptable but is a dereliction of public duty. In Carmarthen, we have a Council that is run as a personal fiefdom of the CEO M.V.James. This is a situation that has been unchallenged for far too long. Even the leader of the Council has fallen under the spell. This is the same councillor who vociferously opposed the funding of public money being used by the CEO in his court case vs. Jacqui Thompson. He now for reason best known to himself to have a change of mind. Should the Police be involved in order to carry out a FULL investigation to see if there are questions of criminality amongst certain members of Carmarthen Council,past and present? The Wales Audit office have had their competance to do the job questioned in the past by this CEO. Perhaps his authority to carry out his job properly should called into question?
Red Head @13:48 He will probably take a leaf out of the Trump Book of Non-Disclosure!!!
This awful dishonest man needs to go, along with Cllr Dole and Linda ReesJones. Let in a fresh clean breeze of honesty, accountability and transparency with the seven Nolan Principles made a statutory requirement to be abided by, by officers and members alike.
Here's a CCC document well worth a read - https://www.carmarthenshire.gov.wales/media/3225/part-47-contract-procedure-rules-updated-march-17.pdf
Redhead @13:48 Mr James is not averse to a little tax avoidance, as the WAO discovered in 2014....nor, for that matter, does he have any qualms about illegally pocketing tens of £thousands of public cash, misusing council resources, breaching an undertaking to his employers, or lying to the press, the police and the courts. He protects his position through a toxic culture of fear, manipulating those around him, and total control of the democratic process.
If you thought Sterling's track record left a bit to be desired, or the suspensions at Swansea University were bad enough, take a look at the rap sheet of Mr James.
As for 'exciting projects', the warning signs have been there all along. Even if we go way back to Boston and the beginnings of the PRSA stadium, Mark James was responsible for 'grossly inaccurate' financial predictions (there were huge losses), and as for his appointment of consultants, the auditors could find ,'no trace' of agreement from elected members. The handpicked consultants then failed to bring the promised funds and projections. All discussions around the project were held in secret on the pretext of 'commercial sensitivity' and councillors were misled as to the full extent of the financial risk to the council. Sound familiar?
That was all before he'd even got his mitts on Carmarthenshire...
Firstly a big thank you to Jacqui for all the work she has put in to pulling together so many disparate sources and reports on this long-running saga.
Councillors and administrations come and go, but the one constant for what is now almost 20 years has been the partnership between the autocratic chief executive and Meryl Gravell who until 18 months ago was both a councillor and member of the Executive Board with responsibility for regeneration - a portfolio which of course included the Wellness Village. Mrs Gravell's relationship with Professor Marc Clement goes back even further to the Technium scandals where huge amounts of public money were wasted in a blaze of vanity projects featuring incompetence and fraud. Nobody was ever held to account.
The Wellness Village is the biggest crisis to hit Carmarthenshire County Council since the WAO tried (and failed) to hold the chief executive to account over the libel indemnity and pension scandals.
As so often during Mr James's very long tenure, the council is now once again hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons, something which has always been ironic given his obsession with PR and protecting what he believes to be his unvarnished reputation.
We are told that the business case for the Wellness Village is "robust", and those with long memories will recall that the same was said about Eastgate and Parc y Scarlets. No doubt that's what councillors in Boston were also told about what is now the Princess Royal Arena.
Mr James's famous Teflon coating has held him in good stead throughout all those and numerous other scandals, but things may just be different this time.
The Wellness Village was not originally part of the Swansea Bay City Region deal, but along with Yr Egin it was shoe-horned in fairly late in the day. Unlike Eastgate and Parc y Scarlets which were Carmarthenshire-only ventures, the Wellness Village is dependent on a lot of government money and the goodwill and cooperation of neighbouring local authorities and other public bodies. Sweeping everything under the carpet may prove to be more difficult this time round because Mr James has much less control over events and his partners.
The recent NPT statement is worth reading carefully, not only for what it says about the Wellness Village but also for what it says about the much-delayed City Region Deal. Clearly, all is not well, and as other commentators have speculated in the past, Mark James's handling of the deal could well end up with him as the scapegoat.
There are many reasons to be sceptical about the Wellness Village scheme, featuring as it does so many characters associated with past disasters and troubling questions about the ethics of allowing public figures to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds, potentially enriching themselves from schemes involving publicly funded schemes in which they were key decision makers.
The various reviews and investigations now getting underway and the massive uncertainty facing the economy as we lurch towards an unknown and unpredictable Brexit finale are reasons enough for the County Council to suspend the Wellness Village project.
Whatever happens, councillors need to reflect that Mr James will be long gone - voluntarily into retirement or otherwise - before we find out the true cost.
It really is time that all members are gathered together and given a lecture/reminder on what exactly their role is when elected as a representative for the taxpayer. Firstly they are required to abide by the Nolan Principles of which there are SEVEN. Then we come onto their Code of Conduct. When presented with firm evidence of criminality and fraud they MUST take action. Failure to do so makes them complicit in that act for which they themselves can be investigated. They were never elected to stay silent/turn a blind eye to Mark James's nefarious conduct, nor the Leaders. Time they were brought into the real world, not the world Mark James has led them into!
Why are Hywel Dda Health Board involved in this shambles.
Where would the Wellness Village get it's medical staff from - The NHS of course, who are already struggling with shortages.
I think this to be another fatcat plan to fill pockets.
Anon 11.10.......Interesting document but yet another pointless set of rules and regulations where Mr Teflon is involved as he treats all procedures, codes of conduct with utter contempt. Those who suffer 'hubris' do not believe such petty policies relate to themselves. Perhaps it's time for his Monitoring Officer to explain a few things to him!
Or for a job centre worker to explain a few things to her...
One of the many questions surrounding this project which should have been asked long ago. Hywel Dda's huge deficit is due in large part to having to bring in expensive agency staff because it cannot fill vacancies. The decision to downgrade Glangwili and Withybush is a direct consequence of the staffing crisis. How on earth would a slew of private medical businesses in the swamp help Hywel Dda? More likely the Wellness Village would exacerbate the problem by luring NHS staff. Not that that would be a problem to Hywel Dda top brass with lucrative private practises.
Was it ever meant to exist or was it just a vehicle to cream off money in expenses, "consultancy fees", viability reports paid for out of funding to members of the group, etc? And, by the way, where IS Mrs Gravell these days? Still an active director of two companies (though it apoears one - Trimsaran - is about to be struck off - but stillas of today including a Sterling company, I see: https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/officers/geppb03Zs2J2FsjO-OIPsqfBOJ4/appointments
The statement from the Leader of Neath Port Talbot Council 19/12/18– Link in this blog, is well worth a read. This wellness project was always a weak one with no business case published or even viewed by CCC councillors before they were asked to approve the deal. It was sold as the only chance to turn around the fortunes of Llanelli , the one and only fairy tale opportunity for jobs.
The site is polluted, very difficult to develop due to environmental and practical problems of drainage and pipes crossing the site. Welsh water have pointed out extra costs in the millions for them to move their sewage pumping station as requested and Natural Resources Wales are far from happy. The tidal nature of the lake and the site’s proximity to the sea promise to provide extra costs as sea level rises. From 2020 the lake will also take the entire drainage of the DCWW Rainscape scheme involving removal of all possible surface water from South Llanelli to offload the sewage works and hopefully allow all of the town’s sewage to be treated and the cockles to return. In the meantime raw sewage continues to be “spilled” into the estuary and doubtless some flows back into the lake with the tides.
In the meeting of December 19th Cllr Rob Jones, leader of NPT affirmed:
“the Delta Lakes project has been a project led by Carmarthenshire County Council – as opposed to a regional City Deal project. The latest position was reported to a meeting of that authority’s full Council last week, 12 December and was discussed at a meeting of the City Deal Joint Committee on 14 December. But it is a matter for Carmarthenshire to determine how this project will now be taken forward with a different delivery model. They have also invited the Wales Audit Office to conduct a review of the project.”
This suggests that the City Deal funding is unlikely to materialise. I understand that the £200million or so has already been borrowed and this has been confirmed by a FOIA request. In theory then, the project, in skinny form, could go ahead on CCC income and CCC borrowings only. It may leave reduced capital to actually run the council and interest payments for decades. Hopefully someone has the “stop” button?
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