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.
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