Wednesday 22 July 2020

Century Wharf, an invoice, and Mark James, again...

Good piece over on Jac o'the North's latest blog post on former Carmarthenshire chief executive and Private Eye's Shit of the Year 2016, Mark James, do have a read.

Jac provides a brief summary of some of the highlights of the dictator's reign at the council and, of course, his 'interests' elsewhere, none of which he bothered to declare when running the council.

You'll recall his failure to declare bugger all when being illegally bankrolled by the taxpayer for his legal fees, or his shadowy involvement in the now torpedoed Kuwait venture, or his companies in Cardiff, or his property portfolio, which I narrowly avoid joining every month by scratching together the 'gutter money' to put in his wallet...

Anyway, Jac focuses again on Mr James' property management dealings in Cardiff at the Century Wharf development. You may recall various posts from a couple of years ago. It seems that some residents are still taking a very close look at our Mr James, and so they should, and it's not an easy task as he abolished AGMs for the Right To Manage company he runs shortly after taking control. No surprises there.

They were, however, surprised to see that their phone services were provided by an unknown company in far-flung Llangennech called ETS Ltd. A brief look at Companies House shows us that, according to the last accounts, it was barely functioning, and, as Jac points out, there's a puzzling issue over the VAT registration number (see also the interesting comment from 'Brychan') All a bit odd until you see who runs ETS, it's one of Mr James' old friends, Mr Robert Lovering.
It's such a small world...

Going back a few years, around 2009, the MOD were selling their old site in Llangennech. Just before it went to auction Mr James decided to help out his friends Lovering and business partner and rugby bloke David Pickering by arranging for the council (never a problem for Mr James) to snap it up, and immediately selling it on to the businessmen.
Councillors were not told who was benefiting from this deal, only that they needn't worry as they were 'known to officers'. They certainly were.

He not only made sure they had a great bargain but then arranged a £281,000 grant to refurbish a couple of the buildings. My most recent post on the subject was in 2017 here. Cneifiwr's detailed piece from 2014 is here.

I guess if you wield power through intimidation and threats, and abolish all pretence at democracy, whether in business or public service, you can make these little arrangements, or, for that matter, destroy your critics.
Another word for it is corruption.

Lovering and Pickering, are also directors of Hydro Industries based in Llangennech, a water tech company. Expenses claim sheets show several unexplained trips made by Mr James to the Llangennech offices in late 2017 early 2018, a few weeks before both him and Marc Clement were publicly welcoming the company to the, erm, 'opportunities' presented by the City Deal and the Wellness Village...

The curious generosity shown by Mr James to another rugby entity, Scarlets Regional Ltd, is well documented on this blog.and one incident in particular is worth repeating as it shows just one example of what he was, and is, capable of if any of those Century Wharf residents happen to land on this blog. For the avoidance of doubt one could also add lying to the council, the court, the police and the press to his extensive portfolio.

To cut a long story short, with mounting debts, the rugby club wanted to sell a 'surplus' car park to Marstons Inns but Scarlets Regional Ltd were leaseholders, the council owned the land.

The recommendation, from the Council's former Director of Finance was, in no uncertain terms, for a 50/50 split of the £850,000 proceeds, possibly even erring in favour of the council.

Mr James was having none of it. His rugby business cronies had a third party debt that needed repaying and he was determined to help them out. At the last minute he made damn sure the company had an extra £200k out of the deal, shamelessly shortchanging the taxpayer.

Incidentally I finally got to the bottom of this crooked deal when Mr James was on 'gardening leave' during his previous encounter with plod in 2014. Possibly thinking that he wasn't coming back, the council released, under FOI, some very interesting emails which set out this sorry saga and the contempt James had for close colleagues, let alone the public.

Century Wharf residents, or even anyone thinking of using the services of Ffynnon Consultancy, might want to go even further back and read what he got up to in Boston... It might help explain his modus operandi.
He also quietly changed the council's Constitution to illegally use public money to sue for libel, establishing his very own slush fund, something the residents may want to watch out for...

The Century Wharf residents who complained a couple of years ago, and committed the gravest of sins by not only criticising him but contacting the press to boot, were described by the charming Mr James as a 'cancer'. Funnily enough, one of their concerns at the time, apart from the vomit in the corridors, was the bullying tactics of Mr James as Chair of the Board to silence dissent, and the suspicion he was creating his own companies, or through his acquaintances, to benefit from work at Century Wharf.

If anyone riddled Carmarthenshire Council with disease and corruption it was Mr James himself, and extended it to everything he touched, the legal department, recruitment and press office in particular spring to mind.
The City Deal, and particularity the Wellness scandal and the shady Kuwait deal were his parting shots. The sorry saga is documented throughout this blog, including using his own personal lawyers, Acuity Law, to 'clear' his and the council tracks.
He'd already trashed the reputation of the council with his illegal indemnity and tax avoidance scandals and this was the icing on the cake.

Left; Prof Marc Clement, sacked for gross misconduct, and Right; Mark James, raided by the police over the Wellness scandal
He nearly brought the Deal to its knees by attempting to extend his dictatorship, through plain old dishonesty and self-interest to a bigger, and possibly wiser audience who, in the end, were having none of it.
I have no doubt that the only pockets Mark James was interested in was his own, and those of his like-minded friends. As we know, thanks to the determination of Swansea University, and no thanks to the impotence of carmarthenshire council, the police became involved in the Wellness scandal, with raids last year on several homes, including that of Mr James. County Hall was also searched, for deleted data.
As far as I know, the criminal investigation continues.

Mr James managed to control Carmarthenshire Council through fear, dishonesty and manipulation, to the extent that they allowed this crook, and thoroughly nasty piece of work to trample on democracy, funnel away precious funds and bully, threaten and terrorise staff and Members for seventeen years.

Century Wharf residents, take note.


Anonymous said...

unfortunately he has moved on to unsuspecting victims elsewhere but has left a legacy of ex fawning officers in charge of Carmarthenshire that supporterd his tenure

until they move on or are expelled his influence will remain

the swansea city deal region now has a new director and joint committee but I did notice that the current Carmarthenshire CEO has been made a Senior Responsible Owner ensuring the Swansea Bay City Deal (SBCD) programme has appropriate governance in place - did they not learn !!

caebrwyn said...

Anon 14:25
Following the damning UK and internal reviews Carmarthenshire was stripped of its City Deal responsibility for audit and democracy (including the long overdue removal of Mr James' partner in crime Linda Rees Jones as SBCD Monitoring Officer) but it was allowed to keep the role of accountable body.
This was dependent on the accountable body actually becoming vaguely accountable; open to monitoring, challenge and scrutiny, particularly from the other three local authorities.
Another patently obvious requirement, was for serial liar and police suspect Mark James, responsible for the utter shambles, to get the boot. His fortuitous, hasty retirement 'coincided' with the deletion of his role of Lead Chief Executive, now replaced by the new Programme Director, Jonathan Burnes.
Worryingly, Carms Council also holds the City Deal purse strings, one can only hope that with the removal of Mark James and his mates at the Uni the cash will go where it's supposed to go. However, with Carms Finance Director Chris Moore, an enthusiastic signatory and supporter of the notorious libel clause, along with Mr James' proteges, CEO Wendy Walters and Emlyn Dole, you never know...

Anonymous said...

The adverts are out to fulfill the new swansea city deal delivery team

4 jobs - 2 senior mangers and two officers all based at the Beacon Dafen

Programme Management Office Manager £46,514 - £51,208 (Grade M)
Programme Development Manager £46,514 - £51,208 (Grade M)
Senior Programme Support Officer £27,905 - £32,029 (Grade H)
Programme Management Office Assistant £21,589 - £25,295 (Grade F)

With the governance and finance still then in the hands of carmsrthenshire what can go wrong ?

I hope the new Director is robust as the Carmarthenshire CEO is a hard nut to crack - he will need to be on his best game - battles to come

caebrwyn said...

Anon 08:38
The admin costs for the City Deal are £1.23m per year, and that's just an estimate. The salary costs alone for the Programme Management Office are over half a million a year. This is supposedly being funded from £50k from each local authority, every year, and a 1.5% 'top slice' of the City Deal cash which they haven't had yet.
Each official document, strategy and business case has had to be revised and redrafted countless times, then there's the financial impact of the urgent reviews, the arguments over the shared costs of administrating each project, the individual up-front borrowing requirements, the interest payable, the massive external legal costs, the 'rebranding' of the Wellness Thing because of the bribery investigation...and all that's without the catastrophic financial impact of Covid.
In the current climate, the prospect of getting the millions required from the private sector is also looking bleak. Though, for what it's worth, I'd strongly advise any private investors to avoid the Wellness Sauna-by-the-Swamp (to be re-branded as Pentre Awel) with a long barge pole (see numerous previous posts).
As for any shred scrutiny, the last meeting of the Joint Committee Scrutiny Committee was at the end of January.

Back in 2018 when the four local authorities eventually signed their agreement I did warn about putting Mr James and Carmarthenshire Council in charge... see City Deal - a scandal in the making, and the wrong man for the job? and Swansea Bay City Deal 'Agreement'...and Carmarthenshire's in charge, and, as we know, a few short months later it turned out I was right.
It's been an expensive sticking plaster exercise ever since.

Yes, the new Director certainly needs to be robust, and definitely not like the last one.

caebrwyn said...

Good post over on Gwlad website by former county councillor Sian Caiach. She takes a look at Llanelli's Eastgate centre and how the Council, or rather Mark and Meryl, gave away £millions in a very dubious deal with Henry Davidson Developments, who then sold it all on.

(This blog has also covered the Eastgate saga over the years, please use the searchbox for more background).

The Sad Tale of the Eastgate

Anonymous said...

From the swansea city region website had a look at the ongoing projects currently being funded
1.Swansea City and Waterfront Digital District project plans include a 3,500-seat digital indoor arena at the current LC car park site in the city centre that will accommodate music concerts, touring shows, exhibitions, conferences, gaming tournaments and other events. - this going up now - unless a vaccine for covid is found these type of venues are going to struggle

2.Digital village on Kingsway to support the growth of tech businesses - we all have got used to working from home - who is going to tramp into a city centre on a wet windy day in winter to sit at a desk and open a laptop - this can be done in the comfort of your home or a more local venue

3. The Steel Science project will create a new National Steel Innovation Centre in Neath Port Talbot, which will provide an open access facility for the steel and metal supply chain - this looks good in partnership with the Uni - but with the recent undentable rumours re Tata and the possible loss of 1000 jobs this looks like a smaller project

The project that would have transformed Swansea and the region would have been the tidal lagoon but as they say that is now dead in the water with a lapsed planning permission

There seems to be a lot of managerial effort with the city region for supporting some iffy projects

caebrwyn said...

Anon 17:33
Good points regarding the three projects mentioned. Covid will undoubtedly mean a change of approach particularly towards office blocks, arenas etc and therefore the appetite for private and public investment. Realistic risk and viability assessments across all eleven local and regional City Deal projects will have to be undertaken with regards to Covid.

I’m not so sure about the tidal lagoon project, whilst the concept may have been good, I believe the main cause for concern was the company behind it, its business projections and its director Mark Shorrock. Regular readers of Private Eye will be aware of those concerns.

The City Deal is supposed to deliver big benefits to the whole region and there have been a lot of big promises. It remains to be seen whether any of this will ever materialise...or whether we end up with a collection of useless vanity projects burdening the taxpayer for evermore, or worse, an elaborate con to line a few pockets, as we saw with the Wellness scandal.

Anonymous said... Worth reading

caebrwyn said...

The City Deal Pembrokeshire marine development as mentioned in Old Grumpy’s blog (previous comment) was approved at the end of June, under the useful distraction of Covid... Wave Hub Ltd, one of the partners involved in the project were also involved in an ‘innovative’ scheme off the coast of Cornwall in 2010, the project cost £40m of public money and had, by 2018, produced less electricity than one solar panel.
Cornwall council took the Wave Hub over and by March this year it was up for sale.
Sounds like a marine white elephant to me.

The wisdom of building post-Covid office blocks seems to have passed the Neath Port Talbot planners by. They approved a new three-storey Technology Centre for start-ups earlier this week, part funded, they hope, with City Deal money. Billed as ‘energy positive’ it will have all the latest energy efficient gizmos and wild flowers planted between the concrete....and an extended car park for an extra hundred cars...
This may remind you of the several Technium Centres constructed around Wales around ten years ago, again for tech start-ups, they were a total failure costing the taxpayer well over £100m. Funnily enough, the key figure behind the failed Technium project was Marc Clement.

Anonymous said...

To add insult to injury the swansea bay delivery team is housed in one of those failers - the original automotive technium in Dafen - Llanelli

It only houses public sector employees and is lit up like a beacon every night - hence its current name

Perhaps the electricity comes from a wave machine out in llanelli Bay !