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.


Anonymous said...

There is something deeply disturbing about Wales. Where are our politicians? Where are our Ministers? There must be more than enough to have Mark James suspended. Is the corruption so entrenched. Is it that everyone has something to hide. Is it that everyone is impotent to take action for fear of reprisal. What is the sickness in Wales? Whatever it is it must be addressed.

Blodwen said...

I have just re-read your "Boston Diaries - Leopards and Spots" post to remind myself of just what sort of man Mr James is. I cannot believe that he is still getting away with the sort of behaviour that is being constantly reported. Words fail me. If this man is a Christian then I'm more than ever glad to be an atheist.

Anonymous said...

There must be questions to be asked of our Welsh Government. To constantly turn a blind eye to Mark James's nefarious activities, his intimidation and bullying of anyone who dares to ask a question, his notorious contempt for regulations and procedures, his threats of legal action to those who make justified complaints......need I say more. It is deeply disturbing. Why have a Welsh Government if you cannot rely upon it to step in when CEOs become despotic and out of control! Wales per say needs to be examined.

Redhead said...

Perhaps if the Welsh Government was totally transparent there would be no Welsh Government because no-one would escape a jail sentance!

Anonymous said...

Do we have a shadow government in Wales - Christopher Salmon's words come to mind. Does Wales have it's own home grown cartel that does nothing to protect it's citizens against corruption but does serve and benefit those in power? Looking very much like that!

Anonymous said...

@redhead ..?That is most certainly how it looksfrom the outside. An AM once told me 'Wales has a serious problem and one that must be addressed.It is a small country where those in positions of power know each other or know someone who knows someone. That makes it difficult to make challenges against those you know'.

This is what is happening in Wales and needs stamping on. It explains a lot, especially where Mark James is concerned. Friends within! It couldn't be more obvious when looking at it objectively which is why we have so much corruption that is swept under the carpet.. This culture not only encourages corruption but helps it plofirate. When you know you are not going to be questioned - help yourself to the till! It also explains why those who do have integrity are afraid to open up the can of worms as they could end up being isolated.

Redhead said...

An environmental lawyer once said to me: The further you get from London the more like the Wild West it gets, and Wales is the worst!

Martin Milan said...

You really have it in for that nice Mr. James, don't you Jacqui?

Personally, I think we should boost his pension by a share of the prosperity this project will surely bring to the local economy...

Of course, if it turns out to be a desiccated dog turd of a project, we should expect a contribution from his pension in the other direction in recompense... I'm sure Mr. James will leap at the deal, so sure is he in the masterplan...

caebrwyn said...

@Martin Great idea...and such a sound investment!

Though, before he does, I would hope he'll remember to pay back that cash he illegally pocketed from the taxpayer...if there's a problem, (and in this case it's unlikely to be due to a lack of money), the council could take him to court, send in the bailiffs, put charges on his home, or even try and sell it...and they could even contact the police, just to add a little 'pressure'.... In fact they could use "all legal means possible", couldn't they Mr James?
And then they could tell him it would be stuffed in the gutter.

caebrwyn said...

This week's Carmarthenshire Herald features a forensic analysis of the Acuity report, and a very good 'Cadno'opinion piece...not online, but well worth buying a copy.

Anonymous said...

Have just been listening to the webcast on th Executive Board meeting. According to all of them at the meeting - all is well in the garden of make-believe and fairies.

caebrwyn said...

Anon 11:09
Indeed, I watched it too. A major concern appeared to be 'negativity' in the press, and that 'questions' are being asked. How inconvenient. They could always have another word with Mark and Linda about their unique approach to silencing such impertinence.

Anonymous said...

Seems like the BBC has swallowed the line from CCC hook line and sinker


So much for investigative journalism although I agree with Councillor Campbell that it is time to look ahead...to the arrests that are inevitably going to be made as a result of this debacle.

Anonymous said...

Sharp End discussed the City Deal/Wellness village last night with Owain Phillips saying no money as yet has been spent. What are we all missing here as we know a lot of money HAS already been spent if only on consultations!

Anonymous said...

It appears that cllr Dole was giving his own edited version of the facts when at the council meeting on 12th December he stated, in answer to cllr Rob James’ question, that Vinci had not been agreed as the contractor for the Delta swamp project. In Aquity Legal’s ‘Appendix: Review of Delta Lakes Procurement’ at 2.6.2 it states “During the competitive dialogue procedure, further details of the structure of the consortium and specifically the role of the consortium members, became clearer. In particular, the Council was told that Vinci would only be willing to take equity in the Sterling consortium when the Project reached the development stage (i.e. when construction would commence and other funders are approved and full financial business plans are in place).“

caebrwyn said...

Anon 15:24
Yes, as far as local businesses were concerned, or anything remotely resembling a fair tender process, it was a stitch-up from the start.
This was all about lining the pockets of the few, including Mark James, aided by his patsy Emlyn Dole. To then bring in his own solicitors, Acuity Legal to declare that all was well was, along with everything else, nothing short of criminal.