Thursday 29 April 2021

The Grillo site, Cwm Environmental, and a short rant

The old Grillo zinc oxide site in Burry Port came up again at Monday's Executive Board meeting. It was not, as you may think, to clear away the heavy metals and toxic chemicals which pervade the ground but to sell the plot to a developer to build around 320 homes. Being the current owners of the site, and the body which passed planning permission for itself, one may think they had a duty to clear it up.
The main purpose of the sale is not to create a vision of the French Riviera in Burry Port but to recoup the £1.5m they've blown on the toxic site.
Plaid Cllr Dai Jenkins, trotting out the officer's report in the usual parrot fashion, made no mention of the dangers lurking beneath the land, nor the cost of remediation, estimated between £5m and £10m, nor, for that matter, the predicted rising sea levels, and the surrounding protected waters.

One can only hope that all this pertinent information is somewhere in the small print.

The Grillo site has an interesting and rather controversial history since it's industrial days, and, in recent years featured a shell company, a lot of taxpayers' money, backroom deals a dodgy lord and, naturally, former CEO Mark James....see previous blog post from August 2020, Grillo site - the toxic saga 


Also in the news this week is the extensive fire at the council's recycling plant at Nantycaws, Carmarthen. Fortunately no one was hurt and an investigation as to the cause is underway. I say council, but as readers will recall it is managed by Cwm Environmental Ltd, an arms-length company wholly owned by the council. 

Cwm run all three main recycling plants in the county. One, in Llangadog, was privately owned and was closed a couple of years ago. Much to the distress of locals but, as it wasn't run by Cwm, it was of no interest to the council whatsoever.

Cwm Environmental has something of a chequered past itself. A search of this blog will show a reluctance to answer FOI requests, despite being 100% council owned, some massive loans to buy extra little bits of land (the most recent being £800k in February 2020), mismanagement and a propensity to employ people on less than favourable terms, exploiting labourers from eastern Europe.

The council changed the structure in 2018 to a Teckal company which means, basically that they are supposed to have more control over the management and indeed, several senior officers are on the board. 

For those with longer memories former deputy chief executive Dave 'for f***'s sake don't go to the police' Gilbert OBE is also a director, and a director of Cartrefi Croeso, the council's 'wholly owned' housing company. How cosy. 
Incidentally, Delta Wellbeing, the council's call centre company are running eight weeks late submitting their accounts to  Companies House.

However, another strange phenomenon has been Cwm Environmental's reluctance, ie the council's reluctance, to agree a Trade Union Recognition Agreement, for Unison, Unite and GMB at the plant. 
The Carmarthen branch of Unison has concluded that it is the council blocking the agreement, preferring to keep the status quo of poorer pay and conditions, significantly poorer pay and conditions than for those directly employed by the local authority.


Meanwhile, the great and good of Plaid Cymru and Labour are busying themselves, ahead of next week's election of course, attacking Westminster sleaze, dishonesty, corruption etc, and quite right too. Sadly they're choosing to ignore the dishonesty and corruption on their own doorstep. 

Putting the Wellness scandal aside for one moment, it's particularly galling, given that Plaid Cymru had the chance to put things right when they acquired a semblance of power in County Hall in 2015, then chose to jump into bed with Meryl and Mark instead. They even preserved Mark James' slush fund. 

Plaid MP Liz Savile-Roberts was questioning Boris Johnson's integrity in the Commons yesterday, quoting the Nolan Principles and asking what happens when a Prime Minister goes rogue, good questions but ones that should have been asked by her Plaid colleagues about the former chief executive of Carmarthenshire. The only one who did try was the former Chair of the Swansea Bay Health Board over James' dishonest and catastrophic 'leadership' of the City Deal.

What 'happened' in Carmarthenshire was that the taxpayers were robbed, democracy was trashed and peoples lives destroyed. Who is going to put that right? I'm still waiting. One can understand why, sometimes, people take the law into their own hands.

As for the Wellness scandal, if an inquiry can be called to investigate the Prime Minister and his refurbishments, let alone the 'dodgy contracts', then surely a council chief executive who accepted £mms in bribes from a developer, lying to his employers and the taxpayer in the process, (and not for the first time), warrants a very public inquiry. 
It would also be very interesting to know when exactly Emlyn Dole, Linda Rees Jones and Wendy Walters realise there was something seriously wrong? They're either idiots, liars or crooks. Or all three.

The truth will out.

Friday 9 April 2021

CPS decision - open email to Police Commissioner


After having had some time to digest the CPS response to the investigation I am finding it more an more incredulous that no charges were brought. And, for that matter, why our politicians aren't raising a stink.

The revised police statement was crucial. There was evidence that these people were due to pocket millions of pounds in bribes from a development funded by public money. What is there not to understand. If a benefit claimant pockets an extra £60 in housing benefit that they know they shouldn't have, they're hauled before the magistrates or at least named and shamed on a council website, who are, apparently, 'protecting the public purse'.

There's been precious little of that at County Hall.

For a serious crime such as large scale fraud, which this was, it should make no difference if one of them is unfit to stand trial, as long as the evidence is there to implicate the rest of them. Which it was. 

Including the former CEO of the council, Mark James.

However, I'm clearly in no position to influence the CPS, but senior politicians are, or are able, at the very least, to call for a public inquiry.

Mark James, whilst CEO, spent roughly three years arranging a personal deal to receive millions of pounds in bribes from a company he was appointing, directly, through an obviously rigged tender.

As I said, this crooked, criminal arrangement went on from 2016 and influenced every aspect of the development, and the City Deal until it broke down, and until James hurriedly left the council in June 2019. It was signed, sealed and just about to be delivered, and maybe some of it already had.

The 'arrangement' was for the loot to be funnelled into offshore blind trusts.

So, do we sweep all this under the carpet? Do we wait until Clement and co decide to go to employment tribunals and for the evidence to trickle out? Given that they're all doing very well thank you elsewhere, I don't think they'll bother, it would be damaging. We'll see. 

Of course, Mark James, who is currently conning the residents of Century Wharf, appears to have got off scot free. Again.

If we choose to believe that no one else in the council was aware of what was going on, and James certainly had a knack of silencing anyone who got a little curious, then now is the time to act. It's time he's finally exposed as the crook he is.

He has form. From Boston, to the curious case of the £5000 in the envelope, to his bung to a private company, to tax avoidance, pilfering the public purse, to silencing whistleblowers, to lying to the council and the courts, using council staff and resources for his own private use, failing to declare his interests etc etc. And that is just what we know about.

All this went on for seventeen years, but pales into insignificance to the con he had planned for the Wellness village and the City Deal. We also know what many of the other key City Deal figures thought about him.

Going back seventeen years is clearly impractical, but for the three or for years before he left the authority it would be a relatively simple matter. 

As has been set out on this blog, and from this criminal investigation the truth has again been revealed, James is a liar and a crook. But, without support from politicians and Welsh Government, those he has wronged, or conned, including the taxpayer, will be left with a very grim legacy.

I have emailed the councillors of Carmarthenshire to make sure they know exactly what went on.

I have also emailed the current police commissioner, Plaid Cymru's Dafydd Llywelyn, as reproduced in full below;

To; Police and Crime Commissioner, Dyfed Powys Police

Dear Mr Llywelyn

I am sure you are aware of the recent decision by the CPS not to charge several suspects following the Wellness village bribery investigation by Tarian, the regional organised crime unit.

You may also be aware that the police revised their own statement shortly afterwards which said that there had been evidence of potential criminal acts.

I am sure that it is in your remit, as the current PCC, to ask the CPS to review their decision and indeed charge the suspects, one of which is the former chief executive of Carmarthenshire Council, Mark James.

Whatever the reasoning behind the CPS decision it cannot be right that the individuals involved had accepted, and stood to personally gain bribes of millions of pounds in public cash and equity from the developers of the project. This was fraud, and had been years in the planning.

The tender for the project, the central issue in the investigation, was, to put it bluntly, rigged by Mark James. Not only did he stand to gain a substantial amount himself, he jeopardised the integrity of the council and the entire City Deal.

The fact that this is a Plaid run council and you are a Plaid Cymru PCC should, I trust, not be an issue.
I look forward to you early reply to this email, and details of how this matter can be taken forward with urgency by either yourself or your successor.

Your sincerely

Jacqui Thompson

It's perhaps worth remembering what the previous Police Commissioner, Christopher Salmon said about the County Hall regime in 2016. He didn't name names, but everyone knew who he was talking about.  
"Carmarthenshire County Council. Wales’ answer to a Sicilian cartel. It’s everywhere you look (thankfully only in Carmarthenshire – so far as I can tell). It extracts vast amounts of money from residents which it showers on favourites, hoards property, bullies opponents, co-opts friends and answers to no one, least of all local councillors."

2018 - The fraudulent deal is done. Mark James and Marc Clement laughing all the way to the bank.