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.

Wednesday 20 February 2019

The 'CRWG' Minutes - Let's sue everyone!!

As you can see at the end of this post, and after a lengthy FOI wrangle, we finally have the draft minutes of the 'CRWG' meeting, which discussed the issue of libel indemnities, and which was held behind closed doors last July.
Linda Rees Jones' report, referred to in the text is still being withheld under Legal Advice Privilege, and I have appealed to the ICO. Private Eye also questioned this unexplained secrecy, and the fall-out from the meeting, back in November...

I blogged about the meeting last year when it became clear, immediately after the event, that far from removing the unlawful libel clause completely, which had been Cllr Rob James intention by putting it on the agenda, the Plaid and Independent leadership decided it would be a good idea to reinstate the provision.
Worse still perhaps, they wanted to extend it to include councillors.
It's unbelievable.

It's difficult to know where to start with just how wrong all this is, I hope the farcical, and dangerous nonsense speaks for itself. There is plenty of background on this blog, of course.
On the upside, as far as I have been able to establish through FOIs, no letter has yet been written to the Wales Audit Office. Not surprising really, even Legal Linda knows exactly where they'll politely suggest she puts such a letter. I'm surprised she's not written to Acuity Legal instead....

Incidentally, and as I have mentioned before, Ms Rees Jones, who, on the direct instruction of Mr James, advises councillors on these matters, provided a witness statement for her boss in the libel trial. Her statement attempted to justify the unlawful funding of officers' libel claims, or counterclaims, and that it really wasn't a slush fund at all...no, not at all. She has a massive conflict of interest and shouldn't be 'advising' anyone.

So the clauses remain suspended. And they remain unlawful. Aside from the moral, financial and chilling effect of reinstating this ability to sue with taxpayers' money, the legislation below, passed in 2006 specifically prohibits it (my emphasis added);

The Local Authorities (Indemnities for Members and Officers) (Wales) Order 2006 
Restrictions on indemnities 
6.(3) No indemnity may be provided under this Order in relation to the making by a member or officer indemnified of any claim in relation to an alleged defamation of that member or officer but may be provided in relation to the defence by that member or officer of any allegation of defamation made against that member or officer.

There is, believe me, NO case law, guidance or any other loophole (or 'grey area') which circumvents this specific prohibition.
It would be laughed out of court.
However, as we know, Mark James, and indeed Linda Rees Jones, who should have both been sacked for gross misconduct in 2014, have a direct personal, professional and financial interest in attempting, dishonestly, to suggest otherwise.

This they continue to do, and have a helpful mouthpiece in the form of Rev Dole, who's elevation to 'power' and the position, (and £48k a year), as council 'leader' depended on a remarkable u-turn regarding his previously expressed opposition to unlawful libel indemnities.

Reading these minutes, and the potential cost to the taxpayer, is like entering a parallel universe where reality, and the concept of 'difficult budget decisions' go out of the window, let alone any sense of legality. 'Good industrial relations'? Has she, and Mark, completely lost the plot?

Carmarthenshire Council, thanks to the toxic, secretive and malign influence of Mr James, remains the only council in the UK with this outrageous provision in it's constitution, suspended or otherwise.
It's frightening.

Here are the draft minutes;



PRESENT: Councillor E. Dole [Chair]

D.M. Cundy, H.A.L. Evans, W.T. Evans, P. Hughes-Griffiths, J.D. James, R. James, D.M. Jenkins, L.M. Stephens and J. Tremlett,

The following Officers were in attendance:
Mr C. Moore - Director of Corporate Services
Ms L. Rees Jones - Head of Administration & Law
Mrs M. Evans Thomas - Principal Democratic Services Officer

Democratic Services Committee Room, County Hall, Carmarthen : 10.00 a.m. - 10.40 a.m.


There were no apologies for absence.


There were no declarations of personal interest.


The Chair reminded the Group that at the Extraordinary Meeting of Council held on 27th February, 2014, it was agreed to withdraw the provision in the Council’s Constitution which allowed for the granting of indemnities to members and officers to bring actions for defamation, until such time as the legal position was clarified.

A request had been received to place this item on the agenda for discussion as it was felt that, as some time has elapsed and the clause was withdrawn “until such time as the legal position is clarified”, a decision should now be made as to whether to remove the suspension or to withdraw the clause from the constitution.

The Head of Administration and Law’s report on the background to the libel indemnity provision, the relevant law and case law was considered by members.

Concern was expressed by some members over what would happen if the clause was withdrawn and then another case arose.

Members discussed the options of permanently removing the provision from the Constitution, maintaining the status quo or reinstating the provision.  Overall, the majority of members were inclined to opt for recommending that the provision be reinstated.

The question of indemnifying members arose and the Head of Administration & Law explained that this was slightly more of a grey area as the case law relating to officer libel indemnities had been based on the need to maintain good industrial relations and members are not employees of the Authority.  She agreed to research the issue and bring a report to a future meeting.

The Head of Administration & Law advised the Group that, if they were minded to recommend the reinstatement of the clause, then she proposed that she and the Director of Corporate Services should firstly write to the Auditor-General to ascertain his likely response and report back to the Working Group.


3.1    that the Auditor-General for Wales be consulted on the possibility of the indemnity clause being reinstated in the Council’s Constitution;

3.2 that the Head of Administration & Law prepare a report on the lawfulness or otherwise of member libel indemnities.


RESOLVED that the notes of the meeting held on 20th April, 2018 be confirmed, and in accordance with normal CRWG practice, a copy of the notes be circulated to all members.


Update 25th February: The Carmarthenshire Herald

The following article, by Herald reporter Jon Coles, features in the current edition of the newspaper;

A Freedom of Information Act request has uncovered that Carmarthenshire County Council’s Constitutional Reform Working Group (CRWG) voted in secret to retain an unlawful libel indemnity for officers. 
Jacqui Thompson, the blogger who was pursued through the courts by departing Council CEO Mark James with the benefit of the indemnity, received the minutes of the decision following her own FOIA request regarding the matter. 
 The indemnity given to Mr James, over which he gave a promise to his employers to repay upon which he later very publicly reneged, allowed the controversial CEO to engage in a legal action he had previously offered to settle. 
When the Wales Audit Office investigated the indemnity, the Council’s Head of Legal was questioned about Mr James’ promise to repay the Council. However, an email trail shows that she declined to address the issue or otherwise deflected the inquiry. 
The libel indemnity and its granting was the cause of considerable controversy, accompanied as it was by the revelation that Mr James and the Council’s Executive Board had also connived in a tax avoidance wheeze to allow its best paid employee to save tax on his seven-figure pension pot. 
The Council has never accepted either that the payments made were unlawful or that the libel indemnity is likewise unlawful. 
Embarrassingly for current Council Leader Emlyn Dole, he inveighed heavily against the probity of the arrangements in opposition but last year approved the indemnity’s retention in the Council’s constitution. Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards, who vigorously attacked the indemnity and the tax avoidance scheme, has been left high and dry by his party colleague’s volte face, which has also caused severe embarrassment for the less brass-necked Plaid Cymru councillors. 
Last year, when Labour leader Rob James called for the indemnity to be scrapped his proposal was booted to the Council’s Constitutional Review Working Group (known as CRWG). 
At a meeting of CRWG on July 27, a secret report prepared by Council Officers was discussed. Instead of scrapping the unlawful clause, a decision was made to refer it back the Wales Audit Office for reconsideration. 
Following Cllr James’ disclosure that the matter had been discussed – and although he didn’t disclose the confidential officers’ report or its conclusions – he was barred from seeing other confidential documents for a period of time at the Council Leader’s own direction. 
Councillor Dole had previously said that Carmarthenshire would be the most open and transparent Council in Wales. 
When we explored whether or not a letter had been sent to the WAO to establish whether or not its views had been sought, we did so on the basis that the Council had not made up its mind as was seeking entirely proper advice from the body which ruled the indemnity unlawful. 
The WAO told us that no correspondence had been received from the Council on the issue in the two months since the CRWG meeting. Jacqui Thompson’s own inquiries revealed that four months after the meeting the WAO had heard nothing. 
As far as we are aware no correspondence has ever been sent to the WAO asking for its opinion. 
And that is hardly surprising. 
Our preconception that advice was being sought as a sensible and precautionary step is shattered by the content of the CRWG minutes disclosed to Jacqui Thompson. 
The Head of Administration and Law’s report on the background to the libel indemnity provision, the relevant law and case law was considered by members’.
Pausing there: none of the CRWG members are practising lawyers or have a specialism in public law, so their personal opinions of the correct law would be necessarily ‘guided’.
‘Concern was expressed by some members over what would happen if the clause was withdrawn and then another case arose.’ 
At this point, it is worth observing that the indemnity has been ruled unlawful by the WAO and the Council has never tested that decision, bitch about it though some councillors have. Why councillors would consider continuing an unlawful policy is open to question, not least as – due its unlawfulness – there could be no expectation by officers of reliance upon it. 
‘Members discussed the options of permanently removing the provision from the Constitution, maintaining the status quo (ie that it remains on the books but is never used) or retaining the provision. 
‘Overall, the majority of members were inclined to opt for recommending the provision be reinstated.’ 
In other words, Plaid and Independent councillors were minded to reinstate what has been ruled an unlawful provision. 
But the minutes then go further: ‘The Head of Administration & Law advised the Group that, if they were minded to recommend the reinstatement of the clause, then she proposed that she and the Director of Corporate Services should firstly write to the Auditor-General to ascertain his likely response and report back to the Working Group’.
That has never happened. 
But the second point agreed is a significant expansion of the indemnity principle into new territory, as the CRWG majority approved ‘that the Head of Administration & Law prepare a report on the lawfulness or otherwise of MEMBER (emphasis added) libel indemnities.' 
The deadening hand of such a move on proper scrutiny could scarcely reflect well on such an open and transparent Council as Carmarthenshire. 
Quite what other members of the Plaid Cymru group, let alone Jonathan Edwards MP, would think of such a move is a matter of conjecture. 
You cannot, however, imagine they would be enthused by the prospect. 
(Carmarthenshire Herald 22nd February)
* * *

Private Eye - Llanelli to Kuwait, the scandal continues...

Good to see that Private Eye are following events in the wild west, and that Mark James CBE earns himself yet another well-deserved mention in the prestigious Rotten Boroughs column;

See also December's article 'Tender spot', and January's 'Down the pan'.
And let's hope Dai Knacker is beating a path to County Hall as we speak, the 'Shit of the Year 2016' has some explaining to do, preferably under caution.

Monday 18 February 2019

Unlawful payments - payback time?

The Wales Audit Office have confirmed that they will be reviewing any exit package agreed for the chief executive prior to his retirement in June.

That was the response I had when I asked the WAO if they would be instructing Mr James to repay the unlawful libel indemnity and the tax avoidance pension cash.

Whatever agreement is made with Mr James, whether it's a straightforward pension or something more, these illegal payments should be returned to the council. The WAO insisted on a similar instruction when the former chief executive Bryn Parry Jones left Pembrokeshire in 2014. The WAO sent me a link to the details.

I have also asked Jonathan Edwards MP and Adam Price AM to detail the steps they will be taking to ensure Mr James accepts liability and repays the cash before he retires.

I mentioned to them that in 2014 Mr Edwards was in the press stating that Mr James should be instructed to repay the money, and, presumably nothing has changed...? Well, apart from their colleague at the council, Emlyn Dole, now a loyal disciple of Mr James, and, remarkably, trying to reinstate the illegal clauses and also enable councillors to unawfully sue with public money.
Anyway, I emailed them on 3rd February but I've yet to receive a response. When I do, I'll post it here.

The illegal cash directly pocketed by Mr James is detailed in the two public interest reports and amounts to around £60,000, but is the tip of an iceberg. The council were charged £51,000 for the two reports, they spent £30,000 on a QC to defend him, and incalculable hours of officer time, meetings and external legal advice. This doesn't include his misuse of council facilities and resources to pursue his personal agenda and failed complaints to the police.

The scandals were indefensible, I'll not repeat it all again here, but in my view it was theft, and he should not be allowed to get away with it. A more junior employee certainly wouldn't have.
As for the illegal libel indemnity we now know that on top of the WAO's findings, he also made false statements to extort the cash.

Mr James once said to me (in writing) that he would use "all legal means possible" to get his 'damages' from me. Well, he's certainly tried. I'd like to say the same about his ill-gotten gains, or proceeds of crime, being returned to the council, but unfortunately I don't have an unlimited pot of taxpayers cash and the free use of a publicly funded legal department, complete with a complicit head of department, at my disposal to do so.

I'll certainly try though, retired or not, and so should those who have the clout, and the bottle, to force the issue.

* * *

My second query to the Wales Audit Office was a request for the detailed remit of the investigation they are carrying out into the Council's decision making relating to the Wellness Village.

This was refused on the grounds that disclosure of documents could interfere with the work of the Auditor General. For instance, the council would become even more reluctant to hand over information, and also that "political and media" interest could effect the impartiality of the process and 'weaken the mechanisms by which local authorities are held to account'.

So, we'll have to wait and see the final report.

As I have already mentioned, the outrageous use of the chief executive's own personal solicitors, Acuity Legal to carry out the council's own 'review' is not, for reasons which are obvious, worth the paper it's expensively written on. 

Incidentally, the WAO's detailed response did not suggest for one moment that they had been 'invited' by the council to carry out the review, as claimed by the chief executive to all 74 councillors.

As I have reported here, Mark of Arabia, Mr James has failed to register any interests apart from his directorship of Trinity Uni, and definitely not his exploits in Kuwait, or even Cardiff.

Register of officers' interests, FOI, February 5th 2019

And as I have mentioned here, the net is closing in, and there are now two police forces investigating the latest scandals involving Mark James CBE.

* * *

Update 20th February
Since publishing this post, and the FOI response for officers' interests above, I received a further response this morning. Apparently, and inexplicably, I was not sent the full list of interests on the 5th Feb. This 'omission' was blamed on a junior member of staff...despicable.

Anyway, for Mark James, we now have this;

There's still no mention of Kuwait, or Cardiff.
Nor, for that matter a financial interest in a certain resident's home...
And I wonder where the candidate site for the LDP is? It couldn't be the one for several acres of residential development adjoining his residence in Carmarthen could it? Well, that'd be one way of giving him a nice little nest egg I suppose....

(For the remaining officers, please follow this link.)

One consolation is that the pay for the new chief executive will be £145k, a drop of over £30k, this was announced at today's full council meeting.

Please use the searchbox on the right for background to the two issues discussed in this post

Tuesday 12 February 2019

The Wellness Scandal; No Confidence call against Emlyn Dole - updated

Update 13:42 - Police

WalesOnline have confirmed that the allegations being investigated by Swansea Uni, relating to the Wellness scandal, have now been referred as criminal complaints, to the police.

This is not before time; it must be thorough, timely, and must include Mark James, who, as I have detailed on this blog, is in it up to his neck.

Interestingly, it's not just South Wales Police, which covers Swansea, who are investigating, but also Dyfed Powys, which covers Carmarthenshire...

* * *

Labour opposition leader Cllr Rob James has announced his intention of tabling a Motion of No Confidence in Plaid council leader Emlyn Dole and has written to Cllr Dole outlining his reasons for doing so.

The letter is self-explanatory;

"Dear Cllr Dole, 
I am writing to you concerning the Swansea Bay City Deal and the proposed Llanelli Life Sciences and Well-Being Village. 
As you are aware, since becoming Leader of the Opposition in May 2018, I have sought to highlight my concerns about your administration’s handling of the £1.3 billion city deal and our worry that the on-going maladministration posed a significant risk to the future prosperity of the region. It should be noted that since making my concerns public in November, we have witnessed the suspension of four key members of staff from Swansea University – including its Vice Chancellor, Carmarthenshire Council unilaterally cancelling its agreement with Sterling Health and the launching of four reviews into the city deal. 
Local businesses and residents have since raised concerns that they fear your actions have damaged the reputation of this region, and the city deal rests on a knife edge.
As a responsible Opposition, we have sought to hold your administration to account in the attempt to improve decision-making, rather than oppose at every avenue. Carmarthenshire Council is unique in this region, in that it actively prevents backbench and opposition Councillors receiving information relating to the operation of Council. In Swansea, Neath Port Talbot and Pembrokeshire Councils, colleagues inform me that they are provided with copies of what we refer to as ‘exempt item reports’. This access to information allows Councillors from all parties to scrutinise the decision-making of the relevant authority. Despite raising concerns with the Monitoring Officer and with yourself, 64 Councillors are still in a position where we are being blocked from scrutinising your decision-making. 
Since May, under your Leadership, the Executive Board has used powers under the 1972 Act to exclude the public and backbench members from two-thirds of all of your meetings to discuss exempt items, including a report on the provision of the proposed Llanelli Well-Being Village, the ‘Yr Egin’ Business Case and that of the Well-Being Village. This action appears to illustrate a fundamental disdain for scrutiny, a strategy that prevents the all elected representatives being informed, and a premeditated effort to prevent the opposition holding you and the administration you lead to account. 
In an attempt to fulfil our scrutiny role and ensure that the proposed investment was sound, I took the unprecedented decision to voluntarily commit myself, as Leader of the Opposition, to making no public comment on the city deal in exchange for you guaranteeing access to all documents connected with the Life Sciences and Well-Being Village. This is the first time this has ever happened in Carmarthenshire Council; this clearly demonstrates our desire to see the city deal succeed. 
Last week, we took the difficult decision to withdraw from this agreement after an analysis of the information raised further questions surrounding the independence of the internal review and the promises made to us on the full publication of the internal review to the public was not forthcoming. We believe it is regrettable that this internal review has now been ‘leaked’ to the Western Mail before the other 62 Councillors of our Authority were able to read its content. 
We believe it is also highly regrettable Carmarthenshire Council, in an attempt to reassure the public on the procurement process surrounding Sterling Health, chose to use Acuity Legal to conduct its internal review. 
Members of the public will be aware that this firm was used by the Chief Executive to take legal action against Carmarthenshire blogger, Jacqui Thompson. I am also aware several of the partners of Acuity Legal have been active supporters of the city deal for some time. Jonathan Green, Acuity Legal’s real estate partner, has appeared on a panel with Pembrokeshire Council’s Steven Jones promoting the City Deal, with other partners, such as Clare Tregoning and Hugh Hitchcock, making public remarks of support for the city deal. 
I am of the firm view that Acuity Legal is not sufficiently independent in this case, and therefore was in no position to investigate the actions of officers and that of your administration. Instead, this action has further eroded public confidence in this Authority and all those connected to the city deal. 
It also appears from recent press reports, that the Chief Executive has also been involved with a £600m joint venture to create a private hospital and medical school in Kuwait. In a statement to the media, the Chief Executive is quoted as saying his involvement is in connection with the Swansea Bay City Deal and has been authorised by Council. It alleged this scheme forms part of the investigation into the senior academics suspended at Swansea University. To my knowledge, his involvement has not been sanctioned by Full Council, nor have I been able to identify the meeting in which the Executive Board authorised the Chief Executive to undertake this role on behalf of the Authority. As a result, I have sought guidance from the Monitoring Officer to identify who authorised this action and the legal basis for the decision-making. 
Due to the aforementioned restrictions on opposition members accessing information in connection to the operation of this authority, the Joint Working Agreement stating that it is the responsibility of local authorities to scrutinise their own local projects relating to the Swansea Bay City Deal, and on-going questions into the conduct of officers, I am writing to inform you that we have lost all confidence in your ability to deliver on the promises of the city deal. 
We can not sit idly by as you put this once in a generation opportunity, a £1.3 billion investment in the region with enormous potential to deliver jobs and prosperity to the thousands of local residents, at risk. Therefore, in the coming days we will seek to table a vote of no confidence in you as Leader of Carmarthenshire Council.
The people of Carmarthenshire deserve much better than this"
* * *

Emlyn Dole, rather than address the issues within the letter, has, unsurprisingly, accused Cllr James of  obstructing the Wellness Dream and the City Deal for political gain.
The reality is that Cllr James has highlighted the unfolding scandal which relates directly to the chief executive, the ongoing secretive culture, the defensiveness towards scrutiny, and the bias and incompetence of the Monitoring Officer and her internal legal squad.

As for the Acuity Legal report, I'm not sure which is the most laughable element, the fact that Mr James' own solicitors did it or that it was 'leaked' to the Western Mail. Who was responsible for the 'leak' of this little PR exercise is interesting, given that only a handful had seen it. But you can bet that it wouldn't have happened without the blessing and direct assistance of the chief executive.

And what was the point of this report? Other than to protect Mark James' back, it was to persuade the Wales Audit Office, or anyone else who might want to take a closer look at his dodgy dealings, to back off. Nothing to see here...move along.
What it may have cost is anyone's guess. I do know that Acuity Legal charged £22,500 for a straightforward Order for Sale hearing and £2500 for a one hour hearing to vary instalments. Maybe Mr James got mates' rates this time, or a discount on his legal bills.
To be honest, anything is possible.

The problem is that Emlyn 'two barns' Dole can't address any of the issues, he has consistently shown himself to be under the direct control of a dishonest, manipulative and vindictive chief executive. He has done what he was told to do and he has said what he was told to say. For that alone, aside from his complicity, he deserves to lose a vote of No Confidence, and the chief executive deserves to be frogmarched out of County Hall and locked up out of harm's way.

Maybe Cllr Dole will now realise that Mark James has no qualms whatsoever of hanging him out to dry.

See numerous previous posts, including Mark of Arabia

Friday 8 February 2019

Mark of Arabia

Update 26th March;
WalesOnline reports that Swansea Uni have washed its hands of the whole Kuwait project. The article also reveals that our friends, or should I say Mark and Marc's friends, from Kent Neurosciences/Sterling Health, Franz Dickmann and co, were heavily involved in this shady venture. No surprises there.
Mark James should be suspended immediately.

* * * 

Well, the plot thickens this morning with WalesOnline reporting another connection with the Swansea Uni suspensions and Carmarthenshire's own Mark James. Not only are the dodgy dealings over the Wellness scandal simmering under various investigations but a murky little exercise to expand into Kuwait is beginning to reveal itself. 

The Kuwait venture, called Project Shifaa, for a £600m private medical university and private hospital is now on hold whilst the Swansea investigation looks at allegations that suspended academics Marc Clement and Richard Davies, who led, and are on the Board of trustees for the project, never declared the necessary interests or gained the appropriate approvals from the University. Clement was lined-up to be vice chancellor of this new University, despite a well-publicised controversial background which includes questionable overseas college degrees.

Also named as a trustee on the Board is the equally controversial Mark James. With Clement and Davies now talking through their lawyers, maybe it's only a matter of time before Mr James follows suit. Perhaps he'll use his own solicitors, Acuity Legal, the very same firm which have carried out the internal review of the council's procedures over the wellness debacle...Anyway, let's hope the Wales Audit Office step lively and take a proper look.

However, as he is yet to be suspended Mr James, in cornered-rat mode, provided a statement to Wales Online saying it was all a wonderful idea and that he had cleared his appointment as a trustee with 'the Council' (ie himself) so there was no conflict of interest.

It's difficult to know where to start with this. Mr James' concept of conflicts of interest are decidedly different to anyone else's. He decided he didn't have to declare his own private business empire in Cardiff, where he runs a property management company, he's director of four companies, owns leaseholds on several flats and is also a registered landlord.

Nor did he declare a whiff of interest when being personally bankrolled for his illegal libel indemnity.

Using the same firm of solicitors for his private interests, and those of the council, is yet another curious decision... and Monitoring Officer Linda Rees Jones, who owes her position to Mark James, wouldn't know a conflict of interest if she tripped over it.

The only registered interest he has made, as of the 5th February 2019, is as a director of UWTSD.
Of course, it would be highly improper for Mr James to pursue his undeclared business interests, including the 'Kuwait connection', during his highly paid working hours....

His involvement, from day one, with Clement, Davies, Sterling and co over the Wellness Village, covered extensively by this blog, should be enough to warrant his immediate suspension, that's without today's news. His ridiculous appointment as the City Deal 'Accountable Officer' should have been terminated well before Christmas, the joke's over, and so is he.

As for the Wellness fiasco, he is showing all the signs of desperation and, with the rats having already deserted this particular sinking ship, appears to be prepared for the council to 'go it alone'. As this week's Carmarthenshire Herald reports, 'Members of Carmarthenshire County Council will be waiting with bated breath for the departing CEO's plans to lumber them and their successors with potentially massive future debt with the prospect of an uncertain return.'

By then, he'd be long retired, and sunning himself in Kuwait I suppose.

The Herald also reports that both Pembrokeshire and Neath Port Talbot Council are getting cold feet over a City Deal rocked by scandal, and the unknown and potentially crippling commitment of scarce public cash. Not so Mr James of course who has already ploughed £2m of your money into his own dodgy vanity project.

At the City Deal Scrutiny meeting last week Mr James claimed that he ended the 'Collaboration Agreement' (with Sterling and Swansea Uni) "to protect the Council's reputation", a remarkable statement from someone who has ensured that the council has graced the columns of Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs on more times than we'd care to mention, and earned the accolade of Shit of the Year 2016.

Worse still, that's not what he told Carmarthenshire councillors. He told them that the Agreement (barely six months old and due to last three years), had "run its course". He has also said that the Agreement was 'not legally binding' when its intention was clearly to create a legally binding partnership, and was drawn up, no doubt at considerable cost, by an external legal firm. It's even got wax seals for goodness sake.
Perhaps if he tried telling the truth once in a while he wouldn't get into such a tangle.

The fact that he's embroiled in another potential scandal is no surprise really. As the former police commissioner once said, 'Carmarthenshire County Council, Wales answer to a Sicilian cartel, it extracts vast amounts of money from residents which it showers on favourites, hordes property, bullies opponents, co-opts friends and answers to no one, least of all local councillors."
Never has truer words been said, and for 'it', read Mark James.

Mr James is implicated by design and association, and with allegations surfacing on a weekly basis, let alone his personal and lengthy rap sheet as council chief executive, he should be removed from his post immediately, preferably in the back of a police car, to ensure that the various investigations can function properly, and without his arrogant and malign interference.