Tuesday 1 September 2020

Flying the flag

Monday's Executive Board agenda (7th Sept) is resplendent with a new flag flying policy, the snappily titled 'Equality Promotion Calendar and Flag & Illumination Protocol'. Not perhaps the greatest of priorities at the moment but it is in fact a culmination of council wrangling and nonsense over the flying of flags which has gone on for several years, a controversy stemming from the former chief executive's flat refusal to fly the Rainbow Flag. 

The new protocol, whilst welcome, does no more than bring County Hall into the present day and in line with other public organisations who have happily flown flags as a gesture of support towards diversity, inclusiveness and other causes and groups, with minimal regulation and no problems.

The saga began early in 2015 with requests to the council to fly the Rainbow Flag. The requests were refused as apparently it breached protocol. Some concluded it was nothing to do with 'protocol' but more to do with Mr James' evangelical Christian beliefs. And given his generosity with £1.5m public money to fund an evangelical bowling alley, but not fly a flag, it's a reasonable assumption that his real problem was with what the rainbow flag represented...  
Of course, senior officials must always be careful not to conflate personal prejudices with the formulation of public policy... 
Meanwhile flags continued to be flown for the birthday of Prince Andrew etc. Presumably in honour of the chief executive's CBE... 

In fact, there wasn't even a protocol in place. That particular policy wasn't 'adopted' (by Emlyn and Mark in a cupboard somewhere) until July 2015, shortly after Mark James anointed him 'Leader'. Apparently it became necessary to formulate the policy after a 'deluge' of, it turned out, just two formal requests. 

The saga drifted on for several years. More refusals in 2016. Further calls, by the Labour group to amend the policy late in 2017 were referred by the Rev Emlyn Dole to CRWG, the notorious constitutional review group where Plaid and the independents have a majority vote and with the then CEO and Legal Linda invigilating. 
The result of that time consuming episode was that there was to be no change to the policy, still no rainbow flags, or any other flags.
The fact that they were open to legal challenge under the Equality Act 2010 seemed to have passed them by.

In the end social media pressure and a growing media image of Carmarthenshire being the 'most homophobic council in Wales' ensured that the Rainbow Flag was forcibly removed from the chief executive's clutches and enjoyed the occasional flutter.

One might confidently conclude that it was the eventual and long awaited departure of the, erm, devout Mark James which has led to the new policy and annual programme of flag flying. 
Incidentally, unlike Mark and Emlyn's 2015 policy, it gives preference (by height etc) to the Welsh Flag over the Union flag, and not the other way round.

I'm considering requesting a flag flying date to commemorate the honour bestowed to the former chief executive by Private Eye as Shit of the Year 2016. I guess a pirate flag will do.


On the subject of CRWG the global pandemic has provided, unintentionally of course, a means to block further discussion of the Auditor General Wales' communications concerning the illegal libel indemnity clause. Unlike the flag business, this saga is far from over.

To recap, in July 2018 Emlyn and Co, aka Mark James and Linda Rees Jones, resolved that the clause should be reinstated, and, remarkably, Emlyn also wanted the indemnity extended to himself and other senior councillors. They decided, however, that they'd better write to the Auditor General to ensure he had changed his view from 2014, and would now be in complete support of using public cash to sue critics of the regime. 

I need not remind you that Mark James had availed himself of the public purse to do just that in 2012. He has never repaid the money. Nor, for that matter, the tax avoidance cash he also pocketed.

Unfortunately for the dynamic duo the Auditor General hadn't changed his mind at all and even threatened judicial challenge should the council try this again.

Mark and Linda meanwhile were having none of it and pestered the AG again, and, with the timely retirement of Mr James in June 2019, let alone having his house raided by the police the following month, Ms Rees Jones continues to carry on protecting his back and defending his illegal behaviour. 
I suspect, without the blessing of the AG, she'll have to advise that's the clause is kept in perpetual suspended animation, as a lasting memorial to the chief executive's idiotic hubris.

The AG's response was to be discussed by CRWG in April but was obviously shelved, I've asked Ms Rees Jones if a new date has been set but no reply has been forthcoming yet. 
The ongoing issue of libel indemnities has seen a growth of long grass which must be a world record for any local authority, even this one.

I have also mentioned that with the severe financial pressures due to Covid looming, surely the time has come to remove this chilling and potentially bank-busting clause and finally admit that both she, and her former boss have been deliberately misleading councillors, and lying to the high court, and anyone else who might enquire about the CEO's unique slush fund, for the past eight years.

1 comment:

caebrwyn said...

Off topic I know, but Thursday’s meeting of the Swansea Bay City Deal Joint Committee is worth a mention. Yet another ‘review’ of this creaking and expensive structure of corporate buzzwords, and little else, reveals that each body involved; governments, councils, etc have failed to convey, nor understand, the difference between the terms portfolio, programme and project, causing confusion, muddled business cases and delay. It seems that the Swansea Bay City Rollers have become constipated by their own jargon.
There also seems to be room for improvement in the whole minefield of declaring conflicts of interest.

Another agenda item reveals that Ed Tomp, MD of Valero Oil jumped ship as Chair of the Economic Strategy Board back in July. His decision was due, he says, to ‘work commitments’, and threw the ESB, the business arm of the Bay City Dealers, into further disarray. His appointment to the role, amid much exciting publicity in 2018, required unanimous approval from every level of the City Deal ladder. His departure was not publicised at all. The remaining members of the committee decided to grant him ‘six months sabbatical’ in the hope they can pull a rabbit out of a hat by then.
As for paid roles, the City Deal accounts show a pay scale for the new Programme Director Jonathan Burnes of £85k - £89k. The job was advertised with a salary of £10k less.