Saturday, 11 May 2019

City Deal; The 'potentially defamatory' letter...the row continues


Please see previous post; Health Board Chair slams Mark James over City Deal for background


Back in March, as above, I blogged about an explosive letter from the Chair of ABMU health board Andrew Davies to the Joint Committee of the City Deal questioning the truth of statements made by Mark James in this whole sorry saga and the scandals surrounding the Wellness Village.

The letter included reference to the Nolan principles, or rather the lack of them. In fact it cites all seven principles of public life; selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and promoting these principles through leadership.
In particular, the letter focussed on integrity, and all breaches related directly to Mark James.
The letter was leaked to the press.

True to form, Carmarthenshire Council started threatening legal action claiming it was seeking legal advice as the contents of the letter was 'potentially defamatory'. As it was, according to the council, 'potentially defamatory' of Mark James, it wasn't clear just who was going to sue, nor who was going to fund it.
Whether this was just noisy legal posturing isn't clear but BBC Wales has now had sight of a bitter response to the Chair's letter from Plaid council leader Emlyn Dole.

Cllr Dole has accused Andrew Davies, who was previously a Labour minister in the Welsh Government, of trying to cause "as much trouble as possible" rather than ensuring that plans for the Wellness village progress, he dismisses his claims and describes his comments as "a remarkable attack on the Chief Executive of our County Council".

Councillor Dole, or rather, Mark James, was also outraged that the letter had been released to the press.

Plaid Cymru AM Helen Mary Jones has even joined in the row and said that Andrew Davies'  intervention could be interpreted as a political act and questions why he did not raise concerns directly with Carmarthenshire County Council. (Really?!)

Mr Davies told BBC Wales that his letter was not politically motivated, and his only concern was highlighting the transparency (or lack of) of the City Deal and making sure "things are done right ". adding that the recent damning internal and external governance reviews had supported his concerns. Too right they did. He made it clear he was chair of an impartial Health Board, which, as a City Deal partner, sought to raise concerns about governance.

In my view, the letter from Mr Davies was spot on, and refreshingly forthright and honest.

As I have pointed out throughout recent months, and indeed years, Mark James is a compulsive liar, he has not only misled the City Deal Board, but his own council.
And not just, of course, over the Wellness village and the City Deal, he's spent seventeen years cultivating his toxic power trip which started, allegedly, in Boston.

There was no political motivation for the letter, this is a typical accusation used against anyone who says anything untoward about Mr James, or his current 'ruling' cabal, in County Hall, it doesn't wash in the wider world where, to be honest, neither Mr Davies, nor Labour, would have anything to gain. Nor would he have anything to gain from causing 'trouble' for the sake of it.

Cllr Dole's outrage that the letter was leaked to the press is equally remarkable, hilarious even, given that the notorious sham report prepared by Mark James' personal solicitors, Acuity Law, was also leaked to the press.

That leak, in my opinion, could have only come from Mark James himself.

Clearly Emlyn 'two barns' Dole is happy to take the bullet, again, for Mark James. His unwavering defence of the tin-pot dictator, and willingness to act as a paid mouthpiece, suggest again that he owes his position as leader to Mr James, in return for his astonishing u-turn over those illegal payments and his support to reinstate the unlawful clauses...and goodness knows what else.

In what capacity he has responded to Mr Davies is unclear, as a spokesman for the entire council, or leader of the Plaid group, or Mr James' bodyguard? If the accusations were against Mr James, why didn't he respond? Then again, I suppose Emlyn has his uses...just like Meryl. The next stage of the defence will come on Monday when the Exec Board PR machine, complete with a report blaming everyone else apart from Mark James, 'considers' the governance reports.

As for a 'remarkable attack on the chief executive', let's have a look at Mr James' recent rap sheet.

He's been involved and implicated in the Wellness fiasco from day one. He was behind the scandalous appointment of Kent Neurosciences aka Sterling, even claiming that Sterling were up to the job when other officers of the council were having serious doubts, and his close association with the suspended academics at Swansea University goes way back to the inception of the project leading up to his equally scandalous, and undeclared venture in Kuwait.
The appointment of his solicitors, Acuity Law to provide nothing less than a publicly funded personal defence, was the pinnacle of self-serving arrogance.

Furthermore, the police are now involved.

The recent governance reports, the ones not under the control of Mark James, give a damning indictment of the governance of the Deal, and conclude, in so many words, that neither he, nor Legal Linda and co are fit for purpose.
This catastrophic failure was one I predicted over a year ago, they gave the job to the wrong man, and the wrong council and this has irreparably damaged not only trust, but the progress of the Deal. Neath Port Talbot's recent threat to pull out of the Deal is a case in point.
Hopefully the convenient retirement of the wrong man, and a major shake up of the Deal will ease the long and expensive path to repair.
Just as long as they don't use Ffynnon Consulting Ltd as their management consultants...

The threat of legal action by 'the council', whether they were bluffing or not, is, of course, very interesting and deeply concerning. I asked Linda Rees Jones to elaborate on the matter, and also whether this legal advice was being sought from Acuity Law, which would be very concerning, on so many levels.
I reminded her that a council cannot sue, and neither can they fund Mr James to sue either.
She was predictably cagey, insisting that they could quite happily fund Mr James if they so desired but "As regards the ABMU Chair’s letter I have no instructions in the matter". 
I should think not. Though it would be useful to Mr James if they could kindly cough up the cash just before he retires though wouldn't it...

At the risk of repeating myself, Mr James should have been suspended months ago, he is in it up to his neck. He should be investigated by the police whether he's at the council or not. Likewise, he should not be allowed to retire without repaying the illegal tax avoidance and libel indemnity payments, these amount to nothing less than fraud and theft. He is a thoroughly dishonest and untrustworthy individual and should have been sacked when those scandals emerged. Mr James' priority is personal enrichment, nothing else.
It is a disgraceful indictment of the law, Welsh Government and his employers that he has been allowed to get away with so much and for so long.
However, as I have said, I will pursue him to ensure he is held to account, retirement or not.
And, unlike Mr James, I keep my promises.

Monday, 22 April 2019

Private Eye again...and a Brown Nose Award, First Class, with updates


Update 1st May;

The Council's Director of Regeneration and Policy, Wendy Walters has been promoted and appointed as the new chief executive. No surprise there.
Ms Walters was formerly one of two £100k pa Assistant Chief Executives, when one of the posts was axed in a restructuring exercise in 2017, Mr James decided to create a new Directorship, Regeneration and Policy. The £120k job was advertised as it had to be by law, but the ad disappeared a couple of days later and Ms Walters was appointed to the post.
Regime change? I think not.


Update 28th April;

And from this week's Carmarthenshire Herald.....:-)


Click to read. Link to Companies House here.

*   *   *   *   *

The Rotten Boroughs column in the current issue of Private Eye features Mark James of Carmarthenshire Council fame yet again. It follows an oozing 'tribute' to the departing Mr James, penned by his former press officer and which featured recently in a local publication. 
It clearly amused the Eye:-)

The 'tribute' was, as the Eye website explains, "...so cloying it will make Eye readers reach for the sick bucket".

Here's the Rotten Boroughs piece;



With the forthcoming retirement, I thought a brief summary of some previous mentions in the esteemed Rotten Boroughs column would be appropriate, and to serve as a reminder of just how thoroughly Mark James has, in the words of the Eye, "trashed Carmarthenshire Council's reputation". 

All recorded for posterity on this blog;

After featuring the '#daftarrest' incident in Rotten Boroughs in June 2011, the council's notoriety was beginning to grow and by December they were awarded the runner up prize for Legal Bullies of the Year. In January 2012 the Eye covered, with some amusement, the CBE awarded to Mark James. 

In 2011, with 'Devil's Work' and again in 2012 with 'Let us Pray' the council had again caught the attention of the Eye with their generosity towards some local evangelicals with some dodgy connections. In August 2012, the shocking blackmail of a local paper saw the council back in the column and in October the council press office again featured in the Eye after failing to carry out a simple check on google. 

This all led to more Rotten Borough honours at the end of the year, with the PR Plonkers and the Hellfire Awards, no less, and with our own chief executive apparently a devout evangelical christian himself, the latter must have been especially touching. 

The Wales Audit Office and the unlawful payments were closely followed by the Eye and naturally made the Rotten Borough columns in 2013 and 2014 with the libel indemnity and the pension tax avoidance. The latter was the scam our devout Mr James also shared with the former CEO of Pembs. 

The highest accolade came in 2016 with Mark James scooping the coveted Rotten Borough's Shit of the Year Award, closely followed in March 2017, after the order for sale court hearing, with the equally memorable 'In the Gutter' piece.

Emlyn Dole made his first appearance in March 2017 with his barns and was back, as second fiddle to Mr James, in 'Shit storm', over the secretive nonsense over the libel indemnity CRWG meeting held last July.

The Wellness scandal and Mr James' retirement hasn't been missed by the Eye either, featuring in the Rotten Boroughs column in December, 'Tender spot', January 'Down the pan'  and 'Shit happens' in February.

And, as above, in April.

Whilst searching google for the purposes of this post, I landed on this parliamentary record from Hansard from March 2014. It was a scathing and indeed, a truthful attack by Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards on the "ruling cabal of senior officials" and their "political wing", the then Labour/Ind Executive Board. 

He also says, "Given the number of mentions that Carmarthenshire has had in the Private Eye “Rotten Boroughs” column, one might think that the executive board members would have got the message."

Unfortunately, the Plaid 'run' Exec Board, hasn't got the message either. 

As this blog has reported, Emlyn Dole has made sure that he and the Board have remained the chief executive's dutiful rubber stamp. And as I have said, Mr James will leave a toxic legacy when he retires, one which will be difficult to break, particularly if the next incumbent is a carefully prepared clone....

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

City Deal; Neath Port Talbot threaten to pull out...and Cadno on the Carmarthenshire 'debate'.


Neath Port Talbot council's cabinet will meet tomorrow (Wed) to discuss the latest developments in the Swansea Bay City Deal. The report, for those of us used to observing Carmarthenshire council, is remarkable for two reasons.

Firstly, it is an honest, realistic and sensible appraisal, paving the way for constructive debate at cabinet and, next week, at full council level. Whilst I'm sure not everything in the NPT garden is rosy, the report, and it's not the first, is a stark contrast to the farce in Carmarthenshire, who's councillors, and public, have been drip fed misinformation, lies, secrecy, shady deals, sham reports, legal threats and car crash debates. And not just over the City Deal and wellness scandal of course.

Secondly, but perhaps in the grand scheme of things, more importantly, it states that NPT are amending their projects and are on the verge of pulling out of the whole shebang.

The report, in full here, agrees with and endorses the findings and significance of the two reports which were not controlled by Carmarthenshire, or Mr James' own lawyers, ie the UK/WG review and the Pembs-led governance report, both of which I have covered here.

"Under the JWA, the Councils agreed that they shall conduct their relationship in accordance with the following principles and others: Being open and trusting in their dealings with each other; embracing a commitment to transparency; complying with statutory access provisions; paying the utmost respect of the standing and reputation of one another; making all decisions reasonably and in good faith; and procuring that Elected Members and officers act in the best interests of the City Deal.

Recent events and both reviews raise concerns whether these principles have been adhered to..."

This, incidentally, reflects the comments made by the Chair of the ABM Health board, who Mark James is now threatening with legal action for defamation, with your money.

The report goes on to point out that despite the Deal being trumpeted as a £1.3bn opportunity, in actual fact it boils down to £16m per year, divided between four councils, roughly £4m apiece. Not insignificant but, with some tweaking of their own projects, an affordable, manageable sum available in their own capital budget. They could do it themselves without the scandals and without having to subsidise Mark James' vanity project in the Delta Lakes swamp.

The report requests permission to give the twelve month notice required to exit from the Deal if things don't progress, very rapidly, over the next couple of months, and underlines (literally underlines) that  There is a clear basis for doing so in our opinion."

Given that the Joint Working Agreement between the four councils took eighteen months and dozens of drafts to complete, with several elements still subject to disagreement, and now needs to be rejigged to accommodate the recommendations on the governance reports, it's likely to take ages and more legal bills.
Aside from that, the Wellness project is sunk, or at least back to square one, and the Swansea Uni investigations, now involving the police, could take months, or years.

"As a Council, if we cannot see a return in the short term (say, a further six months) and in the form of business case approvals then exiting these arrangements may be the only logical course of action. For the avoidance of doubt, “approvals” means precisely that. It does not mean “in principle”; subject to “further review” or other caveats or conditionality which in reality would represent many more months of inconclusive dialogue. In these circumstances, what would be gained by continuing?"

It will also be interesting to see what Pembrokeshire Council do next given that they have just one project, tied in with the Port Authority, and are also subsidising the soon to be disappearing Mark James and his scandal-riddled Wellness dream.

Which brings me back to the first point.

Compare and contrast the recent farcical 'debate' at Carmarthenshire full council last week, with the NPT report and its honesty and clarity towards elected members.
It's a tale of two councils.

As I pointed out in my last post, The death of democracy, the seventeen year dictatorship of Mark James has reduced most councillors, apart from a hardy few, most notably at the moment, Cllr Rob James, to a ridiculous collection of inward looking idiots, terrified of upsetting Mr James. As this week's excellent Cadno piece from the Carmarthenshire Herald (see below) points out, they couldn't even 'endorse' the reports, for fear of being critical of the golden goose.

It's worse than that though, as they believe the nonsense themselves. This has nothing to do with politics, but has everything to do with failing to recognising that even the basic tenets of the Nolan principles have been trashed, by their own chief executive, and failing to recognise a scandal-ridden project when it's presented to them on a plate.

Prize pillock of the week had to be Cllr Giles Morgan (Ind) who's rambling, self-absorbed attack on Rob James also included an accusation that Pembrokeshire Council acted 'unprofessionally' for the unbelievable crime of releasing the damning internal governance report to its own councillors. Rob James hit back wondering what on earth was wrong with that and at least Pembrokeshire Council had respect for its councillors. He also said that the culture in Carmarthenshire Council was sometimes "absolutely disgusting".

That would never happen in Carms, the report would have either been buried (literally perhaps), or, eventually been released months later accompanied by spin and an 'officer's report' explaining why it was all completely wrong.

Public and government confidence in the City Deal has taken a hit - not because of questions from the press, or Rob James, or anyone else, but because of the behaviour and arrogance of Mark James, and his associates, and he should be held to account. Preferably by the police.

Incidentally, another quirk of Mark James' seventeen year chairmanship of full council meetings was not to allow discussion on items 'not on the agenda', or speeches which didn't address the Motion under debate.

Unless, of course, it suited him.

This was the case on Wednesday, all engineered to attack Rob James the current fly in the chief executive's ointment. The 'debate' was a car crash led by Emlyn Dole, and overseen with silent, smug approval by Mark James.
Mission complete.

Over to Cadno:

Cadno and the old swimming hole

Cadno, being a beast himself, is all at ease with nature red in tooth and claw. Even the dumbest beast of the field is, however, able to distinguish between certain propositions.
Rabbits have it easiest of all. Eat. Go. Doe. Sow. 
If you’re a predator, things are a bit more complex. There’s the whole prey identification, stalking, patience, concealment, waiting for the right opportunity, pursuit, capture and ripping the throat out thing to deal with before concealing the food from other greedy sods who want to cash in on your hard work. 
All of that, to Cadno, appears a considerably more complex proposition that asking councillors to endorse a report which has already been endorsed by the Joint City Deal Board six days before. Such a proposition appears to be beyond members of Carmarthenshire County Council. 
We only have to look back at the loud hosannas which greeted the Acuity Legal report prepared by the CEO’s personal solicitors and the WAO report. These were triumphs for the Council. They vindicated the whole – umm - procurement process. We could rejoice that box-tickers had ticked the right boxes and that the box-tickers appointed to check how well the box-tickers had ticked those boxes had themselves ticked the right box for the Council. 
Of course, now we know that the WAO review trumpeted by the Council was no more than an outline review the WAO had planned for some time, the gilt has come a little off that gingerbread. Whereas the clean bill of health given by Acuity Legal provided valuable insight into the way Carmarthenshire County Council’s officers went about not telling other City Deal partners about their concerns regarding the Council’s private sector partners in the Wellness Village. Carmarthenshire County Council even presented its business case to the Joint City Deal Board for approval weeks after it had concluded Sterling Health were in a position to deliver jack shit. 
As Cadno observed when Acuity Legal’s report was published, its content was notable because of what it inadvertently revealed about the Council’s internal processes and the lengths its officers were prepared to go to reveal less than the whole truth to the Council’s valued partners in the City Deal. 
The Council was sure to sing its own praises loud and clear. 
It is not so keen, however, to discuss those reports published after those two reports which dealt only with how well officers followed the procurement rules. 
The UK and Welsh Government pointed out with some force that the governance of the City Deal was a mess. It said there was a lack of transparency and lack of trust. It noted that some business cases were poor. The Pembrokeshire report was less restrained. 
So, readers, when St Giles of Swiss Valley pings one at the Welsh Government and its UK counterpart for not divvying up the dosh tout-de-bloody-suite – as he did on Wednesday – it suggests that he has failed one of the key tests for any councillor expressing an opinion on a complex topic. Namely, try reading stuff first. He might then conclude that with tens of millions of pounds of public money at stake abject failures in governance, scrutiny, and planning might give any public body pause. Similarly, if Carmarthenshire’s officers rescued the City Deal – as Giles Morgan claimed – given what has been revealed about the Deal’s governance, it might be time to reflect that throwing a drowning man a life preserver made of concrete is not really progress. But let’s pass by Giles’ outrage at everything and everyone he wants to score a cheap point against. 
Let’s go back to the beginning. The motion asked councillors to endorse the reports prepared on behalf of the City Deal Board by consultants that were not appointed by Carmarthenshire County Council and by Pembrokeshire County Council working with officers of all the other local authorities involved. That included officers from Carmarthenshire. 
What those reports say is not important for the purposes of this article. Besides, what they say has been reported previously in this newspaper and many others. 
Here is what is important: the Council was being asked to endorse them.
‘Endorse (verb with an object). To declare one's public approval or support of [object]’ – at least according to the OED. 
So, the Council was being asked to publicly approve the reports and their call for a revision of governance structures and the webcasting of meetings. 
This was surely uncontroversial stuff. 
Well, not quite. You see, criticism of the governance structures would impliedly be a criticism of the Sacred Cow that has become the leadership of Mark James CeeBeebies. 
And, loyally, semantically, obnoxiously, Emlyn Dole was having none of it. It was not the Council’s place to publicly approve the reports. It was a matter for the Board. Webcasting was the responsibility of Neath Port Talbot Council. Nothing was Carmarthenshire’s responsibility. Giving every impression of a man who cannot see a belt without hitting below it, Emlyn swung a few predictable low blows at the Labour leader. 
This is what it has come to, readers. If you accept the logic underpinning Emlyn Dole’s words, the Council is unable to express its opinion on anything if anyone else is involved. 
Unless it’s the Health Board. Or the Welsh Government. Or the UK Government. Or any subject the Great Deflector thinks won’t bounce back on him. However, Emlyn Dole did no more than reflect the complete self-absorption of councillors with the Wellness scheme and very little else outside it – a view expressed trenchantly some months ago by the leader of Neath Port Talbot Council, Rob Jones. 
They were not being asked to consider the Wellness Project, but the City Deal. However, what Chair Mansel Davies allowed them to discuss was none of that malarkey.
It was ‘Chew on Rob James Day’ and Mansel wasn’t going to let anybody who wanted a go on the ride to miss out. 
It was entertaining for all the wrong reasons. This was car crash council: members were unable to debate the real issues and focused on personal abuse and score-settling. Andre McPherson's observation that councillors were not in the schoolyard would have been unnecessary if the Chair was controlling the debate adequately. Or at all.
In a debate in which councillors could have simply said: ‘Well, yes, we agree mistakes have been made but let’s look forward and not back’, they collectively jumped into a shallow pool of wet bullshit and went for a paddle. Giles Morgan practised his butterfly. 
There was a massive £1.4bn pound elephant in the Council Chamber. Sadly, too many councillors were intent on protecting the Golden Calf in the CEO’s seat.

Friday, 12 April 2019

The death of democracy; the legacy of Mark James


This blog has concentrated, in recent months, on the chief executive's most recent achievements in the boggy field of regeneration, namely his shady deals surrounding the Wellness Village and his almost single-handed destruction of the £1.3bn City Deal. Let's hope the police are closing in. We hope, also, that something can be salvaged from his poisoned legacy, and that the private healthcare facilities and the holistic therapy pods don't join the growing herd of white elephants scattered across the high plains of Carmarthenshire.

However, no tribute to the retiring Mark James would be complete without a brief synopsis, and a few examples, of his attempts to destroy all traces of democracy in Carmarthenshire, an equally astounding feat.

For any self-respecting control freak, the first step to dictatorship is to ensure that those wielding the rubber stamp of democracy are securely in your pocket. For Mr James this couldn't have got off to a better start than with his appointment by former council leader Meryl Gravell, seventeen years ago. Meryl, of course, was a woman after his own heart, and blinded to the fact that he'd left behind a disastrous stadium venture and serious criminal allegations in far away Boston, Lincolnshire.

He couldn't have asked for a better buddy than the equally poisonous Meryl; she who poured public scorn on councillors who exhibited 'weakness' by listening to parents' concerns over school closures; she who called campaigners against hospital closures 'rabble'; she who blamed 'her and Mark's' problems at the council on the laziness of 9000 council staff. Lovely woman.

It seems that Mr James exerted almost complete control over a largely benign set of councillors from the start. This control was exerted through a combination of bullying, threats, promises of 'power', and naturally, extra cash. The latter in the form of lucrative Executive Board places, Chairs of committees, leaderships etc, achieved through the form of Mad Meryl and her merry band of Independents always holding the 'balance' of power. In truth, the balance of power went no further than the Presidential Suite.
Even Emlyn Dole fell for it.

Gullible and largely spineless councillors are also easy prey for misleading advice, and downright lies, articulated without a shred of conscience by Mr James and his legal squad. A particularly good example of this, though there have been many, including the nonsense spun over the Wellness scandal, was the misleading report, and great big whopping lie to the executive board about handing libel damages over to the council.
The promise couldn't have been further from Mr James' mind as he headed for his lawyers clutching his illegal blank cheque. He even co-authored the report and stayed in the exec board meeting just to make sure they did his bidding. No matter how you dress it up in corporate jargon, this was fraud, pure and simple. And theft.

Similarly, his tax avoidance wheeze was decided behind closed doors with a profoundly misleading Minute as the only record that the seedy and unlawful arrangement had been made.

Mr James has not repaid the £55,176 in stolen cash, the sum identified in the public interest reports, back to the council. That's without the rest of it he's blown. Is he going to be allowed to walk, and get away with daylight robbery, or are the police going to be gatecrashing his retirement do and charging him with theft, like they would anyone else? Perhaps I should ask them...

The next step in the road to local government tin-pot dictatorship is the elimination of opposition, be it political, or the people, whistleblowers or the forces of regulation, media and law, engendering a toxic culture of fear and secrecy. And with each subsequent Monitoring Officer/Head of Legal, director, or Chief Constable securely in his pocket, and a tightly controlled, over-resourced press office at his disposal, he could get away with anything.

I have been reliably informed, over the years that Mr James gave clear instructions to news editors that things would be done his way, he also courted new arrivals with the aim to control editorial output, partly under the threat of withdrawal of council advertising. This form of blackmail culminated in the threat being carried out against one local paper.
It was not just this method though, he made complaints about editors' 'negative' press coverage to the owners of those newspapers and insisted, by phone calls to editors, that nosy reporters withdraw requests for information on expenses and associated public expenditure.
He has also lied to the press, and, for that matter, the courts.
An attempt by Plaid, at the time, to bring their concerns about 'Freedom of the Press' up for debate was blocked by the chief executive himself and delegated instead to a secret meeting between the then manager of the press office, and Cllr Pam Palmer, Meryl's partner in crime.

His introduction of the unlawful libel indemnity clause in 2008 was a deeply sinister, direct threat to anyone investigating the nether regions of local government. He'd set up, what appeared to be, his own slush fund.

Occasionally, the pliant band of councillors would be joined by one or two who refused to 'assume the position' that Mr James demanded. One such councillor was Sian Caiach who had the temerity to start asking some awkward question over the direction this council was taking. The immediate response was for Mr James to restrict her right to information, then report her to the Ombudsman. This failed miserably, as did his later complaint last year. His control (shin-kicking, it has been said) over the Chair of council meant that any 'outspoken' councillors were swiftly silenced during the phoney debates.
This control has also extended to threatening all elected members with action for contempt of court for trying to table a motion relating to his unlawfully funded libel claim.

Some councillors, including Sian, tried to bring the more controversial aspects of his control freakery, such as the filming ban, to the council chamber on the form of Motions on notice. Mr James' response to this was to change the number of signatories to a Motion from the usual two, to a whopping seven. It was not until the damning 'toxic culture' governance report from the WLGA, and its thirty-nine recommendations, that this was put back to the normal levels. The report also triggered the reappearance of 'public questions', something Mr James thought he's nipped in the bud back in 2005.

The WLGA were greeted by Mr James with barely concealed contempt "to show them how things are done in Carmarthenshire...". Their final report was thrown into the long grass for several months, and a new committee (CRWG) formed to mangle the recommendations into something acceptable to Mr James. Plaid's promise of a new era of transparency fell at the first hurdle.

It was not just political debate which became skewed and ignored by Mr James but the advice of his own senior officers. One notorious example was the sale of a car park at Parc Y Scarlets, where the proper division of spoils to the benefit of the long suffering taxpayer, as advised by the Finance Director, was rubbished by Mr James who decided to ensure that this private company received this bung to clear a few debts. It was remarkable.

Eventually, the witchcraft of the interweb, the growth of social media and those irritating 'blogsites' began to expose the Victorian parlour council chamber, and its peculiar workings, for what it was. And FOI requests were on the increase. The secrecy by default now had to be actively defended. The unwelcome appearance of members of the public in the gallery with mobile phones, (well, me) was dealt with by calls to the police, arrests, the locking of fire doors and the signing of quasi-legal undertakings. The eventual compromise of webcasting still restricts the recording of meetings to those few already webcast by the council.

As other voices joined the growing band of 'malcontents' and 'scurrilous' bloggers, most notably Private Eye, the Herald, and a politician or two, Mr James attempted to resort to the military wing of his regime, namely the police. His complaint of harassment against me, which, in the event, failed miserably, included such gems as the Shit of the Year Award 2016 from Private Eye. Not that he got in touch with Private Eye of course, they've got a bigger team of lawyers than him. I recall my growing incredulity as the various 'allegations' unfolded as the police interview progressed. Even the interviewing copper looked bemused, shall we say.

Another of Mr James' habits, apart from illegally pocketing tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money, was to use council resources and staff for his own private purposes. Eight members of staff were disciplined for using council computers for their own private use, but not Mr James. In pursuing his own private vendettas, including preparing material for the police, which would have cost anyone else a stiff bill from a solicitor, he has treated County Hall, and its staff, most notably his legal squad, as one big freebie.

Whether he has used council facilities to further his own private business interests in Cardiff Bay, or even his role in the Kuwait project, we don't know. What we do know is that he didn't bother entering these extra-curricular activities in the register of interests, and head of law/monitoring officer Linda Rees Jones was complicit in these omissions. In fact, she's been complicit in all of it since 2011 but as she owes her £100k position to Mr James, rather than the proper democratic channel, I guess it's hardly surprising...

The latest nonsense, with the appointment of his own lawyers, Acuity Law to provide himself with nothing short of a publicly funded defence over the Wellness scandal, is a prime example of his total arrogance. Eyebrows have indeed been raised but appear to have been shot down in legal flames.

As I have said, in seventeen years Mr James has created and sustained a toxic culture, anyone who has dared raise an eyebrow has been castigated as a 'troublemaker', had their emails tracked, been subjected to legal or financial threats, temper tantrums, or risked their position, for which they must of course be grateful to Mr James. Regulators such as the audit office and the Ombudsman have been treated with contempt, as has anyone who has lodged a serious complaint.

The majority of councillors, whilst being generally kept in the dark, have been complicit by allowing this situation to continue. Many will be glad to see him go, councillors and staff, but it's a pity they waited all this time and sat back while he slowly but surely destroyed democracy, made the lives of many a living misery, and trashed the reputation of Carmarthenshire Council. A council being officer-led is bad enough, but one dominated by a psychopath is a whole lot worse. The next chief executive, who is due to be appointed at the beginning of May will have his or her work cut out to end the ingrained toxic culture once and for all. Let's hope it's a turning point.

The council should also consider changing from the currently dysfunctional Executive Board system to the Committee style of decision making, the former, led by an arrogant and bullying chief executive, has rendered the majority of councillors superfluous to requirements.

In a few weeks, after his recent flurry of council funded legal threats, Mark James CBE, a liar, a thief, and a thoroughly vindictive individual, will walk off scot free with his pension, along with, I have to say, his monthly 'gutter' money and the keys to my home. But whether he treads the usual path to lucrative consultancy, or joins a Bible group in the Outer Hebrides, Caebrwyn has unfinished business and justice to seek, and will be right there behind him. Figuratively speaking of course...
That's a promise.
And I don't think I'll be the only one.



For background, please search the blog.

Friday, 29 March 2019

Health Board Chair slams Mark James over City Deal - Updated


Later post 12th May; City Deal; The 'potentially defamatory' letter...the row continues


Update April 10th;
BBC Cymru are reporting that the council have issued the following statement in response to the letter from ABM Chair, Andrew Davies;

 "We are considering the contents of the letter and will be issuing a robust response in due course. We will also take legal advice as we consider that the statements made are potentially defamatory"

This statement raises some very worrying questions.
As a governing body ('we' in the statement), the council cannot sue for defamation, the legal advice and the potential for legal action must have been commissioned and instigated on behalf of Mark James, the subject of the letter.

Whether it's a bluff, or a serious threat from Mr James, it would be interesting to know if any councillors were involved in sanctioning such 'advice' and why on earth, after everything that's happened, the taxpayers should still be footing his bill, unlawfully.
If I was Mr Davies, I know exactly what I'd tell Mr James....

-------------------------------------------------------------

A source close to Swansea City Council has revealed that an explosive letter has been sent from the Chair of the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg (ABM) health board to the City Deal Joint Committee, through it's Chair, Swansea council leader Rob Stewart. The Chair of AMB is former AM and Welsh Government minister, Andrew Davies.

The letter condemns the statements given by Mark James to the City Deal Board, and in fact, all Carmarthenshire councillors, as being detached from reality, in plain speaking, a pack of lies.



City Deal partner.
From the claim that Carmarthenshire Council 'invited' the Wales Audit Office to 'provide reassurance' over their Wellness decisions, which the WAO deny, and indeed the first sentence of their report confirms this, to the claim that Swansea University were still on board with the project. Which they are not. Also, a senior Welsh Government source has confirmed that the Wellness business case had been put on hold after serious ethical concerns emerged over the project.
Mark James had claimed, in writing, that there were no issues at all.

The letter, which should be published eventually, goes further and cites all seven Nolan Principles of public life; selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and promoting these principles through leadership.

In particular, the letter focuses on integrity, and all breaches relate directly to Mark James. Clearly, someone's had enough.

To anyone who has observed Mr James' course of conduct with his own council, in fact his whole career in local government, this comes as no surprise, he works on his own principles; arrogance, selfishness, bullying, secrecy, dishonesty and greed. He wouldn't know a Nolan principle if it smacked him on the head.  Now that he's spread his malign influence to a wider region, it seems that not everyone is going to keep quiet. The Pembrokeshire led internal governance report is a case in point. Mark James has jeopardised the whole Deal. Don't say I didn't warn you.


This is not just about the revelation, regionally, that Mark James is a compulsive liar. It's also about his involvement with the shady deals which have jeopardised everything and which led to all the investigations, from Sterling Health to Kuwait. Neither can I possibly be the only one who thought that appointing his own solicitors, Acuity Law, for the council's internal review broke most of those seven Nolan principles all by itself. Actually, I know I'm not the only one.

The Joint Committee accepted all the recommendations in the various reports at a meeting held yesterday. A professional team will now run the Deal led by a Managing Director. If Mark James wasn't conveniently retiring he'd have been sacked as Accountable Officer. In effect, he has been.

Whilst the City Deal PR machine churns relentlessly on with its fly through videos and good news puffery, the reality is that Carmarthenshire Council as the lead authority and Mark James as the lead CEO have royally cocked-up the whole thing. Rows are now brewing over the extra admin costs which will have to be borne by the other councils as a direct result of the gross mismanagement.

According to sources Mark James didn't attend yesterday's Joint Committee meeting to face the music, the excuse was that he was scouring the country pleading with some other poor sap to empty another public purse into his sauna-by-the-swamp, or perhaps he'd just crawled back under a rock and hid.
This explosive letter will have done little to ease his indigestion...


Monday, 25 March 2019

Email from my MP....and Acuity Law threaten to sue 'elected members'


Last month I asked my MP, Jonathan Edwards (Plaid) a few questions. Essentially they concerned the repayment, by Mr James, of the unlawful payments; the farcical CRWG meeting last July including the Monitoring Officer's conflict of interest, and last but not least, whether it was appropriate for Acuity Legal, (now rebranded as Acuity Law) who also represent Mr James personally, to produce a report on the council and the Wellness scandal.

The passage of time, and, more to the point, the passage of Plaid from opposition to power in Carmarthenshire appears to have had a diluting effect on the once rigorously expressed criticism, prevalent from Plaid politicians. Fancy that.

The response got off to a bad start as Mr Edwards' appears to have misunderstood my question concerning repayment of the unlawful payments. I'd made it quite clear I was referring to the Wales Audit Office public interest reports and reminded Mr Edwards of his call for repayment back in 2014.

However, and I suppose there may have been some confusion, he referred instead, (and I paraphrase), to the chief executive's failure to honour the undertaking to his employers to hand over the libel damages to the council. A slightly different thing. He also said there was nothing that could be done about it.
What they could have done, following the revelation in 2017 that he had lied about handing over the damages, was to call for his dismissal for gross misconduct. But never mind.
As for repaying the unlawful payments before he retires, damn right he should.

Anyway, moving on, I also asked about the minutes of the CRWG meeting, namely the Plaid led majority decision to reinstate the unlawful indemnity clause, and the (still non-existent I think) letter to the WAO.

Whilst I am still fairly certain that Mr Edwards personally believes the clause, and the whole indemnity thing to be wrong, and unlawful, Plaid council leader Emlyn Dole has now dutifully changed his view to that of his benefactor, Mr James, so Mr Edwards' response to me was a fudge.

The group were, according to Mr Edwards, seeking 'clarity' on the 'rights of indemnity', which is not quite what the minutes reveal. Neither do the minutes reveal, as he asserts, a lack of appetite amongst the Plaid group for reinstatement.
In actual fact, they even wanted to extend the unlawful provision to councillors.

I have, as it happens, already sent the minutes to the WAO and asked their opinion on the resolution made at the CRWG meeting. I await their response.
(Update 17:25; Received a response from the WAO's Anthony Barrett, the then Appointed Auditor who issued the 2014 report. He has confirmed that further to the minutes of the CRWG meeting no correspondence has been received by the WAO and 'In the absence of any other information being brought to our attention my current view is unchanged from that documented in the report.' ie, it was unlawful)

As for Ms Rees Jones dispensing her 'independent' advice to councillors on the 'lawfulness' of libel indemnities, given her central role in defending Mr James during the libel trial and beyond, he said; "It would not be appropriate for me as an elected member of another body to question whether it is right or not that an employee discharges their duty.  However, it is open to all elected members and the public to question the advice given."
So, er, that was that, although he certainly has a point about questioning the Ms Rees Jones' legal advice, this is something elected members should have been doing long ago. They should have sacked her.

And then we come to Acuity Law, the chief executive and the conflict of interest.

To be clear on this point, I had asked;

"I would be grateful for your comment regarding the appointment of Acuity Legal to produce a report on the council's actions and processes concerning the Wellness Village, as the company also act in a personal capacity for Mr James. This was far from irrelevant, and was in fact highly improper and undoubtedly brings into question the independence and objectivity of the report.
This is all the more relevant given Mr James' involvement with the developers [Sterling] and the currently suspended University staff from the inception of the project. As you are aware, matters have now been referred to the police." (Emphasis added)

Mr Edwards did not give a view, but reveals, within his response, that

"...I understand that the firm in question have challenged those elected members who have made the same accusations as yourself in your letter to justify their insinuations/accusations or face action" 

So, in plain language, Acuity Law have threatened to sue elected members for defamation and have, I understand, issued a letter, or letters, before action. Letters before action usually demand the removal of the alleged defamatory statement(s), a promise not to repeat, and the payments of costs and damages to date.

Very interesting.

I have, as you may imagine, plenty to say about this disappointing legal posturing from Acuity, but it will have to wait for now until matters progress one way or another...

'Cadno and the experiment' - from The Carmarthenshire Herald

Continuing the theme of my previous blogpost, and more, here's this week's 'Cadno' opinion piece from the Carmarthenshire and Llanelli Heralds. Well worth a read;


Cadno and the experiment
          Today we have naming of parts.
That’s the start of a famous poem by Henry Reed, in which the writer reflects on the tedium of military training. The poet’s skill lies in mixing two voices: the instructor’s and that of a day-dreaming recruit. He contrasts the mechanical nature of warfare with reflections on nature. 
It is highly likely that, if you have been compelled to learn about 'War Poetry' in school, Henry Reed's is one of the poems that will have been placed before you. If your experience of poetry education was like Cadno's, it materialised shortly before you got round to Rupert-bloody-Brooke and his corner of a foreign field that is - forever - England. 
As it was when Cadno was in school, so it shall be forever after. Repeat the same old over and over again, then one bright day a pupil will find a rhyme for the word ‘orange’ and become Poet Laureate. 
Einstein observed that repeating the same experiment over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. 
So it is, with a sense of inevitability, we come to Mark James and the City Deal. 
Jacqui Thompson, the writer of the online blog Carmarthenshire Planning Problems and More, concisely explains what was said in the reports prepared on behalf of the UK and Welsh Governments and the City Deal Board. Cadno recommends you read her. 
The issues the reports set out are familiar to those who have followed Carmarthenshire County Council for many years. There is a lack of transparency, poor internal communication, secretiveness, distrust, and a failure to declare interests. 
When it comes to individual projects, the reports identify that they are long on windy rhetoric and aspirations. They are equally devoid of the nuts and bolts to hold them together. 
The recent revelation of Sterling Health's involvement in a further project involving members of Swansea University’s staff gives a reasonable person pause for thought. That pause is longer when we note the same staff were involved in the Wellness Swamp. We can, therefore, be sure that old CeeBeebies was totally unaware of any involvement by Sterling in a proposal to create a private medical school at Swansea University’s Bay Campus. Had he been aware of such a relationship, as the Responsible Officer and CEO of the City Deal Board, he would have reported it.  
In fact, there is no possible way that Mr James – as a responsible public servant – would not have notified the City Deal Board of any involvement – however tangential – that he and others involved in the City Deal’s governance had with one another in other projects outside the Deal. 
It is an innocent coincidence that Mark James CeeBeebies is involved with some of the same members of the University staff, this time in Kuwait.
Coincidence, as this newspaper’s Deputy Editor wrote a few weeks back, is no correlation. 
In short, shit happens. 
Now Mr James approaches the end of a glorious tenure, Cadno notes there is not a single other instance in the whole of Mark James’ his public career in which any project with which he has been concerned has ever been criticised for lack of transparency, poor communication, or secretiveness.  
Similarly, under Mr James' benign hand, Carmarthenshire County Council has never been the subject of any reports or complaints alleging lack of transparency, poor communication, secretiveness, or distrust. 
In relation to the Council’s funding of his libel indemnity, it was never the case Mr James said he did not seek to benefit financially and would reimburse the Council for the costs incurred as a result of its kindness to him. It was never the case that in a subsequent Court appearance a barrister instructed by him said that CeeBeebies’ opinion was that he could do whatever he wanted with the indemnity money, including throwing it in the gutter. 
Never has the CEO intervened in a row over the Council’s annual budget by giving an interview to the media in which he criticised the then opposition’s proposals. At least, not since that opposition became part of the governing group. 
Never has Mark James attempted to avoid tax on his seven-figure pension pot by means of a wizard wheeze nodded through by a supine and ineffective Executive Board. 
Never has Mark James CeeBeebies delivered a statement to the Council or provided a version of events in a press release which have been flatly contradicted by an email he sent to others revealing the real position. 
Never has it been the case that major capital projects supported by the Council have been the subject of some extraordinarily dodgy decisions, or that any of them have over-promised and under-delivered. It could never be said that under Mark James, Carmarthenshire’s handling of landmark projects have been long on windy rhetoric and aspirations and devoid of the nuts and bolts to hold them together. 
Never could it be said that under Mr James’ control the Council has been found to be secretive. 
Never could it be said that under Mr James’ control the Council has been criticised for a lack of transparency. 
Never could it be said that there has been any perception at any stage that Carmarthenshire County Council has been economical with the truth or sparing with the actualité. 
If at any stage, any and/or all of the above had been the case, the reaction to the two most recent reports into the City Deal would not have been one of horrified surprise - or surprise of any sort. 
There would have been some reflection on Einstein’s comments about the definition of insanity. 
For example, readers: if you drop the same amount of sugar into the same amount of nitric acid one hundred times, there will be a slow eruption of hideous ooze over the side of the beaker on one hundred occasions, accompanied by a rather unpleasant smell.  
Nothing like the way the City Deal has turned out to date. 
Nothing at all.

Reproduced with permission

Friday, 15 March 2019

City Deal reviews - Mark James and the council - not fit for purpose - Updated


Update:

Joint Committee's Internal Review of Governance Arrangements - City Deal

I now have a copy of the above review, led by Pembrokeshire Council. I can't find it online and I understand that Carmarthenshire Council, who have gone all quiet, were, prior to today, attempting to block its release. Not surprising really, it's a shocker. So, until it appears online, if anyone wants a copy please use the blogger contact form or email me. (18th March; The council have finally put it online)

The report is scathing towards the way Carmarthenshire Council, and the chief executive, have run the show. There is a complete breakdown of trust between them and the other local authorities. As I have said, it's been a disaster from beginning to end and this report is no whitewash, unlike those from Acuity and the WAO.

The contents of this report also demonstrate that the 'reassurances' which Mark James and Emlyn Dole have been giving to Carmarthenshire councillors (and blaming the press), are absolute nonsense. They've been lying.

Here are a few key points, with my emphasis throughout;

1. The unfolding Wellness scandal, and the involvement of the police, is creating even more mistrust (than there already is) between the partners. The tipping point was probably the Kuwait revelations.

"Media attention over the staff suspensions at Swansea University and the links with Llanelli Life Science & Wellbeing Village project have identified a number of issues that the Joint Committee should have been aware of as they impact on the SBCD as a whole, including:

a. The links between Kent Neurosciences Limited and Sterling Health Security Holdings Ltd;

b. The role of Sterling Health Security Holdings Ltd and clarity that the company was not directly providing the private sector investment;

c. Links between the Llanelli Life Science Wellness Village project with other worldwide projects such as Kuwait;

d. UK & WG concerns that had not been resolved;

e. Declarations of interest and wider roles that current or former Officers and Members
would have with this company and planned projects."

This is bloody unbelievable.
They should have been following my blog.

2. There is an imbalance of power with Carmarthenshire Council senior officers taking all the key and advisory roles, mainly the chief executive, plus his personal legal aide Linda Rees Jones. This in itself has created division and deep mistrust.

As the Government Review has already made clear, the Regional Office, managed by Mark James is not fit for purpose and this internal review agrees. And wonders why it's costing the authorities £400,000 a year.

There's a breakdown in communication;

"Feedback from the Regional Office and Members of the Joint Committee do not accord with the feedback from UK & WG, so there is clearly a communication breakdown between parties"

As the Regional Office is staffed by employees of Carmarthenshire Council, Mark James, as Head of Paid Service for the council and City Deal lead chief executive, should not be managing the Regional Office. The roles should be separated to provide objectivity and independence.
In other words, there is currently no objectivity or independence, and they want him out.

He also Chairs the Programme Board and the review found that;

"there is no detailed review of the written business case or compliance with processes and procedures"

3.  The Joint Committee has no standard set of governance principles, such as due diligence, bribery and corruption checks, or ensuring all decisions, procurement and spending are ethically sound and within the law.

"there was no evidence of declarations of interest from all Local Authority Officers and Members. Other than holding and recording the declarations of interest, there was no evidence that there had been any verification or consideration of appropriateness by the Joint Committee."

"It was evident through meetings with stakeholders that there is insufficient trust within the
Partnership."

This is down to the imbalance of power, the lack of standard principles (as above) and lack of transparency and openness.

The Joint Committee meetings were described as, well, pitiful; inaccurate updates, correspondence between the Regional Office (Carms Council) and government not shared, unnecessarily 'exempt' reports, secretive pre-meetings and;

"Suspicion that some Members know more information than others"

The review suggests that the meetings should be webcast - what a good idea...

4. There is no 'plan B' if the City Deal cash is withdrawn. A contingency plan was recommended by Welsh government in November 2017

5. There is no confidence between the partners as to where funding is coming from. As for local authority borrowing;

"no clarity over the borrowing requirements (values) and how this will be delivered by the Lead Authorities. There is a risk that Local Authorities will not support the proposed borrowing requirements (although the principal is included within the JCA) which could result in abortive work and wasted resource in developing these projects"

6. The WG/UKG have not approved the Implementation Plan. This is due to the absence of a "credible" Programme risk register, financial plan and prioritisation of projects.

7. Incomplete business cases are being submitted, failing to include sufficient economic, commercial and financial plans;

"Business cases are presented to UK & WG prematurely resulting in UK & WG undertaking due diligence checks they would expect the Regional Office to have undertaken", and, they "appear more as marketing material than as an evaluation of the critical success factors of projects".

The internal processes to approve the business cases are not being followed and;
"cannot be relied upon".

The Regional Office are submitting business cases with insufficient detail, unnecessary information (glossy pics), "incomplete sections" and "Lack of clarity around economic, commercial and financial cases."

Three business cases were submitted to the Joint Committee for approval in November, but they shouldn't have been. Evidence was obtained by the review team that the day before the meeting the UK/WG had said they were incomplete and told representatives what was required before they could be approved. The Wellness Village business case is on 'hold'.

Last October the UK/WG asked specific questions regarding due diligence over the Wellness Village draft business case, which remained unresolved. The WG said that there were numerous informal phone calls/offline discussions, but the review found no email evidence to support this.
What a farce.

8. "The appointments process of the Economic Strategy Board (private sector representatives) is unclear. UK & WG along with the Internal Review team have been unable to gain clarity over the shortlisting of applications and who determined the recommended ESB appointments to the Joint Committee in August 2018. The lack of openness and transparency over the process in respect of these appointments has undermined the trust of UK & WG.

The ESB had also expressed concerns over Phase 2 of Yr Egin project and;
"queried where the private sector investment was coming from for the Llanelli Life Sciences & Wellbeing Village project but did not receive answers"

The appointment of the ESB seems to have been the result of a closed door arrangement, who was the driving force behind that? I'll give you three guesses.

The document repeats certain things again and again and there are several extended references to ethics, including these citations:

"A. Behaving with integrity, demonstrating strong commitment to ethical values, and respecting the rule of law;
B. Ensuring openness and comprehensive stakeholder engagement.

Establishing the ethical values and framework; Counter fraud, corruption & bribery procedures; Due diligence and anti-money laundering arrangements; Programme/project management methodology; and Overarching record of declarations of interest and offers of gifts and hospitality by all Officers and Members".

The document is a devastating indictment of the roles Mark James and Linda Rees Jones have played and outlines what has long been suspected, Carmarthenshire Council, aka Mark James has run this shit-show with secrecy, hostility (they all now appear to hate each other), arrogance, incompetence and without a shred of principle you would expect from public office.

There is also a total absence of accountability.

No surprises there. From Boston to Carmarthenshire it's always been the same. Add to that Mr James' priority for personal enrichment via the public purse, by any means, and this was always a recipe for disaster, and scandal.

Whilst Mark James is undoubtedly apoplectic over such an honest and diligent report, Emlyn Dole, as his frontman, must be squirming, and perhaps it's time to table that vote of no confidence.

The theme underlying both reports is that it is fortunate that Mark James is retiring, if he wasn't, he'd be sacked. He should, however, be suspended immediately, along with Ms Rees Jones.

Personally, given that Mr James is in it up to his neck, I hope the police hurry up and cart him off for questioning.




------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Welsh/UK Governments 'rapid review' of the Swansea City Deal has been published today. The publication of the internal Joint Committee report, led by Pembrokeshire Council is understood to be imminent.

The Government report, by Actica Consulting provides, in the usual polite and non-specific terms, a damning list of failure and incompetence and lays the blame on the lead authority, Carmarthenshire Council (responsible for the Regional Office) and the lead chief executive, Mark James. It's been a shambles. The aim of the report was to try and salvage confidence in the City Deal through recommendations for improvement.

The report, which can be read in full here, makes several recommendations, but first and foremost;

"The most important is that the Regional Office be reconfigured as a Project, Programme and Portfolio Management Team with a strong and independent leadership"

This means that Carmarthenshire Council will be stripped of it's current position as the lead authority of the City Deal.

The forthcoming retirement of the current 'leadership', Mark James is noted, and the inference is clearly made that if he wasn't retiring, he would be sacked as lead officer.

 "The projects should have been challenged by the Regional Office but they were not. This is we think a window to the source of the real problem - namely the nature of the Regional Office."

The Council led Regional Office, the report continues, lacks professionalism, independence and the authority, experience and expertise to broker a professional relationship with the government departments.
Key information was missing from the business cases, including the financial implications, delivery, long term benefits and risk assurance. These business cases were then submitted for approval to the Regional Office with key elements missing, and no one seemed to notice, or perhaps care. Due diligence was also sadly, but unsurprisingly, lacking.

The report goes on to say that the 'project' led approach has led to stagnation and difficulties as each authority deals with it's own projects, via the incompetent Regional Office, this infers nothing less than poor governance. It suggests that the City Deal should be reprofiled as a 'Portfolio', ie a regional approach with the ability to drop or add projects as circumstances dictate.

The report, reading between the lines, suggests a failure in governance, and a breakdown of trust between the local authorities, a lack of transparency and a failure to communicate. All of which leads to a complete absence of accountability.

These are all the attributes of anything 'led' by Mark James, (including the county council itself), who has now been found not to be fit for purpose, and neither has his Regional Office.

Furthermore, and not in the report, is his shady involvement with the key players and dodgy deals of the Wellness Village, let alone the recent revelations concerning his (undeclared) ventures, with the suspended University staff, in Kuwait. The report does mention, however, that the farce surrounding the Wellness Village, now referred to the police, is further undermining confidence in the whole Deal.

He is a complete liability, and it is interesting to note the difference in this report, to the report from Acuity Legal, Mr James own solicitors, brought in, (an unbelievable conflict of interest) for the council's own review. Despite the difference in remit, the former is objective and independent, the latter is far from independent and reads like a pre-empted defence to criminal allegations.

Last year I suggested that Carmarthenshire Council were unsuitable as the lead authority, and that the appointment of Mark James, as 'Accountable Officer' was nothing short of a joke. Seems I had a point.



For numerous posts on the City Deal and the Wellness Village scandal, please search the blog.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

The blog - ten years old today


As ten years is quite a long time to have been writing a blog, I couldn't let the moment pass without a brief comment.

Whether the blog has achieved anything in the way of improving transparency, encouraging democratic engagement or just exposed a dodgy deal or two is for the reader to decide. I think it has, in one way or another. I have also experienced the grim and disturbing view of the interior of a police cell and accumulated court orders of around a quarter of a million quid. C'est la vie.

The council itself, despite, several changes in administration, remains seamlessly under the control of one man, until June of course when we hope for a fresh start and not a clone cultivated in the County Hall laboratory. Whoever takes the poisoned chalice, he or she can't be any worse. There was some hope when Plaid 'took over' in 2015 given their vocal opposition to all that was bad, but, alas, Emlyn slipped easily into Meryl's shoes and, well, er, 'assumed the position'....

The blog has never been critical of the army of council workers, nor the majority of officials who manage services, and not all policies or projects are bad, far from it. And in many respects, Carmarthenshire is no different to any other local authority, trying to provide a good service with a shrinking budget.

The one big difference in Carmarthenshire is that for seventeen years it has been saddled with a psychotic chief executive, who must have thought he'd hit the jackpot when he breezed in from Boston. The thought that, likely as not, he'll breeze back out again with a gold clock rather than the  criminal record he deserves should be on the conscience of councillors, regulators and government alike. It's shameful.

If an ordinary (I loathe to use the word, but you know what I mean) council worker were to have been found to have lied to his employers, and the courts; engaged in secretive extra-curricular activities to the cost and detriment of the organisation; to have committed fraud and stolen cash meant for public services; to have used publicly owned facilities, and information, for his private vendettas; to have had his hands in the till for the benefit of his 'friends', and threatened and bullied anyone who challenged his self-importance, they would have been out on their ear long ago, possibly even locked up.
And god help the 'benefit cheats', named and shamed on the council website for claiming a few grand they shouldn't have. They're unlikely to be awarded a CBE for their actions.

One problem, as we've seen only too well with the ongoing farce in Caerphilly, is the system. The protections given to chief officers make it nigh on impossible to get shot of a bad egg, especially one as adept at scamming the system, stamping out democracy, and deflecting liability as the arrogant Mr James. It needs to change.

I will not be the only one who will be glad to see him go, and hopefully his publicly funded personal defence lawyer/Monitoring Officer, Linda Rees Jones will not be far behind. Unfortunately he has a vested interest in my home, and his monthly 'gutter money' so, for Caebrwyn, his 'retirement' has little significance. There is, as far as I'm concerned, unfinished business, and I will continue to seek justice wherever he ends up.

This blog has tried to track the less salubrious episodes of this council and continues to this day with the unfolding mess that is the Wellness Village and the City Deal. This is yet another scandal which involves the shady Mr James, along with his diabolical use of his own solicitors in the 'review'. The ongoing nonsense over the unlawful libel indemnity clause is another long running case in point, there's no expense spared to defend the indefensible actions of the chief executive.

I hope this blog, whatever your views, has occasionally provided information and shone a light into the dark corners of County Hall and I intend to continue for the foreseeable future. It's taken a lot of time, blood, sweat and tears, and a hefty number of long-winded freedom of information requests.

And as I have also said in previous 'anniversary' posts, I have no hesitation in repeating every word of this blog, from slush funds to Pinocchio and everything in between, it's been the truth, every bloody word.



Tuesday, 26 February 2019

The Wellness scandal - Acuity Legal report


March 25th; Acuity Law threaten to sue 'elected members' for defamation.

March 15th; The reports not controlled by Mr James and his solicitors, namely the UK/WG review and the Pembrokeshire-led Internal Governance report, tell quite a different story;
Mark James and the council - not fit for purpose

* * *

The news that a fifth member of staff at Swansea Uni has been suspended over the Wellness scandal must have gone down like a lead balloon at County Hall, especially as Monday's Exec Board features an elaborate nothing-to-see-here 'update' on the Wellness Village, with the Acuity Legal, and the Wales Audit Office reports all now online, along with the obligatory council press release.

The way I read both reports, particularly the one from Mark James' personal solicitors Acuity, was that this whole process was an absolute dog's dinner, riddled with conflicts of interest, dodgy dealings and failed due diligence checks, but, remarkably, despite all this, everything was fine and dandy.

The Wales Audit Office, in a two page letter from their 'Engagement Director', appear to have carried out little more than a drive-by glance at County Hall... An ex-employee of the WAO has been in touch wondering if they used one of their pointless checklists, focusing on processes - e.g was the investing partnership's record properly reviewed? Answer "yes", even if the result was found to be laughable.

Acuity Legal, as I've mentioned, are also Mark James' personal solicitors, I can certainly vouch for that. Not something Mr James chose to mention.



For that reason, in my view, the report is not worth the paper it's written on. However, it certainly contains some interesting, if absurd, excuses for such a catalogue of scandal.

For instance, we start with Kent Neurosciences (KNS) and the 'exclusivity agreement' with the council to develop the Village, back in spring of 2016. Acuity Legal claim that as this wasn't really a 'contract' as such, (more a cosy arrangement then?), there was, apparently, no need for the council to go out to tender, nor to make those irritating little due diligence checks.

Presumably though they must have been aware of KNS and the Kent private hospital fiasco, and the fact that Marc Clement of Swansea University had been a director of KNS. Despite this, the agreement with KNS and it's relationship with Swansea Uni, had, according to Acuity, 'no adverse effect' on the procurement process, and the appointment of Sterling (previously known as KNS...)

Significantly, given the tangled web of directorships and companies, outlined in this blog, no potential 'conflicts of interest' were declared until November 2017, nearly two years later when it 'became' apparent (it was already very apparent) that individuals at the Uni (and certainly at the council too) were supporting the Sterling/KNS bid.

Sterling's (or was it KNS?) expression of interest in March 2017 included a submission which, even then included reference to the ARCH project, of which former council leader Meryl Gravell was Chair, and Swansea Uni.
This, according to Acuity, had no implications for the integrity of the procurement process.

The report goes on to claim how robust (very robust, in fact) the competitive dialogue process was, and how every box was ticked, the 'acid tests' passed, and how impressed the council were with Sterling/KNS, culminating in the infamous signing of the Collaboration Agreement last year.

This was despite Sterling having no proven track record and net liabilities of £137,000.

Elsewhere in the report, it 'emerged' that Sterling were not living up to their promises.

Why this was not detected in the previous three years of 'very robust' dealings with KNS/Sterling is unbelievable, literally unbelievable.

The report states that despite the council's engagement with both KNS and Sterling being through a common representative, (I believe this to be Marc Clement but happy to be corrected), the council were aware of the Uni's involvement but, 'there is no evidence' that this link was 'strong' or longstanding'.

Presumably they'd shredded the evidence and forgotten that Mr Clement was, until late 2015, a director of KNS.

"Further, KNS (and by association Sterling) received no advantage because of the existence of the lockout agreement, nor by being involved in the preliminary market consultation".
Of course they did, it was the same people, same council officers, etc.

By November 2017 the council were advising Sterling what to put in their submissions  but, according to Acuity, this was fine, and all part of the process...

The first 'conflict of interest' from 'person A' was declared in the same month, closely followed by persons B, C and D. Acuity claim that despite the involvement of 'person D' in the competitive dialogue, the council were 'entitled to reach the decision' that the integrity of the procurement process had not been compromised. Really?
Furthermore, the fact that the council had dialogue with Sterling outside the proper procurement portal was, Acuity says, 'reasonable and proportionate'.
So what was this off-the-record dialogue then? Share offers? Job offers? Cheap houses?

Quite where the undeclared Kuwaiti connections came into the equation is unknown.

This report from Acuity was, predictably, a waste of time and money and seems to have the sole intention of protecting their private client, the conveniently soon-to-be-retiring Mr James.
Far from providing 'independent reassurance' the use of Acuity provides the exact opposite.



James v Thompson. Acuity Legal have represented Mr James since January 2017. Incidentally, Mr Hitchcock was quoted as saying, in 2016, "With a £1.3 billion City Deal in the pipeline which is expected to boost the local economy by an estimated £3.3 billion, the expert services we offer are going to be in high demand.”
They certainly are, thanks to their private client Mr James.

The stark reality of this whole saga is that is has culminated in suspensions, criminal investigations and allegations of personal enrichment. The close involvement of Mr James and his rap sheet, with Clement, Dickmann, Gravell, etc, from the very start, and his curious determination to appoint Sterling, let alone his friends at Acuity, says it all.
If he's capable of pocketing tens of thousands in public cash which he shouldn't have, lying to his employers, the press and the courts, he's capable of anything. He puts himself first, not the council.

The council are still determined to 'go it alone', desperately touting the Sauna-by-the-Swamp to anyone who might listen and have already arranged the City Deal advanced borrowing of £40m. However, the financial implications in the council's own report state, worryingly, that "this may need to be updated based upon the preferred new structure for delivery of the Village". 
Blimey, £250m? More? Mr James is going to be leaving one hell of a legacy.

Let's hope the police now turn their attention to Mark James, and, if they need some proper information and background, they should search and read this blog.