Friday 15 March 2019

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


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

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.


Anonymous said...

Is the teflon beginning to chip and fall away. I hope the councillors now read and digest and ask questions, and keep asking questions, Sians comment on your post in April 2018 is worth another read! Councillors should learn a lesson from this - but will they.

Anonymous said...

Attributes of Hubris, infallibility, omnipotence, phsycosis, throw in a physcophantic Leader and Monitoring Officer and 74 silent councillors. Then add into the mix Ministers who turn a blind eye. They are all to blame for allowing a despotic control freak to run amok. Not surprising there are other offences to surface. Well done Jacqui for exposing a scandal that should never have been if everyone had carried out due diligence - and read your blog! Mark James should be kicked out now along with his fan club of two!

Cneifiwr said...

This will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the saga of the City Deal and the Wellness Village, but it is hair-raising nevertheless. The key difference between the SBCD, into which the Wellness Village was shoe-horned, and other James-led regeneration projects carried out in Carmarthenshire is that for the first time in his near 20 year tenure, the chief executive has found himself dealing with partners he does not control and cannot bully and gag.
The official line from County Hall is that the Wellness Village will go ahead despite everything. Where the money will come from and which private sector investors are willing to plough money into it remain a mystery.
James's imminent departure will give the council an opportunity to go back to the drawing board.
There are some very serious implications for Carmarthenshire. First, without the Wellness Village, the question needs to be asked what benefit exactly does Carmarthenshire stand to gain from the SBCD. The answer would seem to be practically nothing, and I suspect that NPT and Pembrokeshire have similar feelings about the deal in its current form.
Second, the council's emerging new Local Development Plan, in reality a blueprint for the local economy for the next 15+ years, is very heavily dependent on the Wellness Village (plus a belief that the future of the local economy lies in lots more retail space with the odd Premier Inn thrown in).
It is fitting that James's final act as chief executive has been to lead the council into a toxic bog in Delta Lakes. We can only hope that these damning reports will be the wake-up call councillors need, and that the leadership quickly comes to the conclusion that they need to press the reset button.

Anonymous said...

It seems that the whole regeneration unit is fully involved in these matters and the Head of Regeneration
This team seems to demand a complete route and branch review of its function and performance

You have reported for many years the list of white elephants of regeneration projects in Carmarthenshire and their poor grant management of grants in particular EU schemes

But this review seems to put them on an even higher level of incompetence

The whole unit needs reviewing and replacements a bit like what has happened in the regeneration unit of Pembrokeshire

Anonymous said...

Unless the Plaid leadership in Cardiff instil some moral backbone into the leader of Carmarthen Council and his fellow councillors ,they will lose ANY credibility that they had at one time. It never fails to amaze that so many grown men and women allow themselves to fall under the spell of one little man. They are elected to represent their constituents,NOT to follow like lemmings over the cliff. The people of Carmarthen deserve better and they certainly do not deserve to be in debt for many years on account of supporting,without question, the dreams of an autocrat. As Jacqui knows to her cost ,any criticism of M.V.James is met with threats of litigation. It is a situation that has been allowed to continue unopposed by even The Welsh Government, who have shown a complete disregard to get involved. WHY? That is the question that MUST be asked.

Anonymous said...

It is quite obvious that Adam Price has gone into hiding until this mess is sorted. "All mouth, no do" ' is his motto.
The entire Plaid gang have gone completely against the needs and decisions of their constituents.
The sooner they go the better.

Anonymous said...

Where is the BBC or ITV for that matter reporting on this scandal? Very strange considering it's such a huge story!

Patricia B said...

As Cneifiwr has said, these findings come as no surprise to those of us who have followed this saga, and also to those of us who have had the nightmare of experiencing first hand the deceitful and nefarious conduct of this CEO. This man is a thoroughly dishonest individual who will at the drop of a hat sue anyone who threatens to expose his lies. He cares not for the damage his deceit causes to others as I can verify. There are three examples of his dishonesty in the 2012 Ombudsman's report and he continues to coverup for officers who have 'perverted the course of justice '. This conduct should be deeply troubling to councillors and even more troubling is that he is allowed to continue in this post of CEO. So no, no surprise at these revelations. The Leader and Monitoring Officer who should be objective and are there to call him to account have completely lost their way and should also be considering their positions.

caebrwyn said...

The reviews into the Wellness scandal are being discussed at two committee meetings this week; the Policy and Resources Scrutiny Committee (yesterday) and the Audit Committee (tomorrow).

Do the agendas include the WG/UK and the Internal Governance reports I hear you ask? Of course not. The only reports on the agenda are the two page gloss from the Wales Audit Office and the sham report from Mark James' very own personal solicitors, Acuity Legal

Redhead said...

Sadly, I doubt more than 5% of voters in Carmarthen have any idea what is going on and half of those don't care. That's how these criminals (for that is what they are) get away with it.

Anonymous said...

Redhead is absolutely correct. Apathy and ignorance from the public is what Mark James and his ilk rely upon, but worse still is the silent 74 councillors who are not ignorant and choose to be apathetic. They are the root cause of the deceitful and shady culture that infests this now infamous council. They should be ashamed of themselves. I had high hopes when Plaid came into power. Now they will always be remembered as the party whose Leader became a Judas.

Blodwen said...

Anon @ 9.53 - you have taken the words out of my mouth. Good article by Jon Coles in the Herald today (not saying any more than you have Jacqui but at least it's giving the scurrilous goings-on more publicity).

caebrwyn said...


Yes, excellent coverage of these damning reports by the Carmarthenshire/Llanelli Herald, and also an excellent 'Cadno' opinion piece, well worth buying a copy.