Wednesday 14 July 2021

Planning Department under fire from Audit Wales, and other news - Updated

Update 19th July;

Labour leader Cllr Rob James has tabled this question to Emlyn Dole for Monday's (26th July) Executive Board meeting;


“Two reports have been conducted into the Authority’s Planning Department - one by Wales Audit and the second by external consultants. It is believed that the reports are highly critical of the performance of the Department. Can the Leader of Council outline when the findings of these reports will be published?”
So it seems that there have been two critical reports, including one by external consultants. Dole is coming under pressure to publish the findings but will no doubt adopt a 'nothing to see here' approach.

Update 26th July - At the meeting Emlyn Dole said that the Audit Wales report will be presented to the Audit Committee in the autumn but will be published on Audit Wales website in early August. 
The external consultants' report, which was apparently commissioned by the council in 2019 will presumably also surface at the Audit Committee later in the year.

Time for the press to ask a few questions?


News is beginning to filter out of County Hall that a less than complimentary Audit Wales report about the Council's Planning department is imminent. Details are sketchy as the report is still, it seems, in draft form.
This 'review', across 2019/20, was to determine, in the usual wordy fashion, if the planning service "is meeting its own objectives, and supporting the Council in the delivery of its overall objectives"
It appears that it's not.

The report found that the Planning service is in serious difficulties, it is 'lacking in leadership', which has led to a 'number of failings within the Division that is supported by data indicating continuing poor performance' and it also appears, coincidentally, that the Head of Planning, Llinos Quelch appointed in 2015, has recently left the Authority, 'for personal reasons'.

More details will emerge from this currently elusive report, no doubt, in due course.

On the agenda for Friday's Audit Committee is a worrying internal audit report relating to the council's tree services. Not something you may consider of great importance at the moment but provides a troubling snapshot of serious failings which will undoubtedly be reflected across other services.

The report, which audited the 2018 -2020 Arboriculture Framework found that invoices were being paid before the orders for the work had even been raised; some orders were verbal so there was no paper trail; there was little or no monitoring or checks that the works had been carried out, either effectively or at all, and invoices were not checked, just signed off as a 'matter of course'. 

A sample of fifteen invoices tested found that fourteen of them exceeded the given estimate for the price quoted and included added items such as plant and machinery which, via the framework contract, should have already been included in the cost.

Another example was an overpayment to a contractor of £11,850 which was only recovered when the Internal Audit asked whether it had ever turned up.

As for the Framework itself, contract monitoring was 'undefined and not formalised'. ie a shambles. Initial advice from Health and Safety not to put contractors who 100% sub-contracted the (often dangerous) work out, onto the framework, were ignored. The Council's Evaluation Panel awarded the supplier who would be 100% sub-contracting with a place on the framework as the highest ranked supplier.  

All in all, a sh*tshow from beginning to end.

The latest set of the council's 2020 - 2021 draft Statement of Accounts also makes an appearance at the Audit Committee on Friday. 
The accounts show that the number of employees whose remuneration was £60,000 or more has leaped from 120 in 2019/20 to 177 this year. This figure has always included several headteachers etc but despite that, the jump appears remarkable. 
The £95,000 - £99,999 bracket has gone from three to twelve in one year. 

Not included in the figures above are the Directors' pay. A big fuss and PR puffery was made when the chief executive's salary was reduced after the departure of the overpaid Mark James in 2019, from around £200k to £145k. Still, Wendy Walters hasn't done so badly, with Returning Officer fees and pension contributions added on, we're talking £180k this year. Director of Communities comes in at second place (with pension contributions) at around £170k this year.

No blog post is complete these days without the obligatory reminder about certain unfinished business. 

Former chief executive Mark James left the council two years ago, pocketing his illegal payments and leaving his seventeen year path of corruption without a backwards glance. The most recent addition to his rap sheet was accepting millions of pounds in bribes from a developer whilst in post. With head of legal Linda Rees Jones and Plaid leader Emlyn Dole turning their usual blind eye.

Unsurprisingly Mark James has maintained a low profile since then, preferring to transfer his experience in bullying, criminality and sharp practice to 'consultancy', and the management of Century Wharf in Cardiff. One does keep an eye on things and my post from last November, 'Tangled Webs' continues to be updated as the former bribery suspects, including Marc Clement continue to treat Companies House like chess board.

I recently asked Plaid councillor Cefin Campbell, in his position as a newly elected Senedd Regional member to push for a review of my whole case. He confirmed in correspondence that he, "along with other Plaid Councillors have made the case time and again that we felt that the counter-claim action against you by the former Chief Executive simply should not have been funded by the Council."
Damn right it shouldn't have been, but despite Plaid having been in 'power' since 2015, they've done sod all about it.
As for everything else, he couldn't possibly do anything, not in his remit to question decisions, nor in the remit of the Welsh Government. Nothing seems to be in anyone's remit.

The position remains that this dishonest and crooked individual, Mark James, has a £46k charge on my home and I'm only stopping him from actioning his order for sale by scratching together his monthly payments. I guess this is now in my remit to sort out, one way or another...and that's not a threat, it's a promise.