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.


Anonymous said...

Most people should reasonably expect that Public servants whose salaries are paid by by the public would conduct themselves in an appropriate manner. Sadly more often than not,this is not the case.It must be remembered that many of the present incumbents in senior positions are indebted to the ex CEO M.Vincent James for their posts.Is his spirit still floating around the corridors of power?Re: the problems
under investigation by the Audit Office one has to ask how many lives have been seriously 6impacted by the actions/inactions of those in the planning department over by years?

Some have passed away as they continued to fight for their rites.Strange that money seems to be the least of of their concerns when it comes to throwing money at pet projects like the monstrosity erected on the A40.Were the paying public of Carmarthen asked for any input about the money being spent? Whenever the final report is submitted we can be sure that it will be dismissed by those in charge who will put their own "spin" on it! They have form in this,so no surprises there. Accountability is just a throwaway comment but it is actions not words Mr.Dole that separate the wheat from the chaff. Practice what you preach would be a move in the right direction.

Anonymous said...

This is not the first poor audit report suffered by this Council
These are basic processes and financial regulations to follow

What I find difficult to understand is that the Council have senior officers paid very well to oversee these activities

But then again perhaps they were awarded their jobs not on merit but for other dubious reasons !

The saying goes people are promoted to their level of incompetance

caebrwyn said...

With regards to the planning department, some may recall that around 2010 the Wales Audit Office (now Audit Wales) intended to carry out a thorough investigation of the department, they appealed to members of the public to come forward with serious issues they had experienced, and experiences of alleged corruption. Mark James was having none of it and insisted that the WAO drop the investigation.
It must have come as a surprise to him a few years later when they flatly refused to back down over his unlawful libel indemnity and tax avoidance scam.

Anonymous said...

For years there has controversary in planning from years ago the Iori roof protests to brown envelopes allegedary to the then CEO to whispers of dodgy deals and exchange of whiskey bottles and out right scandals re stories raised in your own blog over the years

A same number of individuals were in charge over this time - it would be good to know why the current head has left was it a push or an escape

Anonymous said...

Anon 17:51

You are absolutely correct about the incompetence of CCC officers.
From my own personal experience the "Heads of Departments" appear to have been employed by pals and most certainly not on their capabilities.
I would suggest anyone having an ignored problem with CCC to stick to their guns and not give in - it took me two years but I won.
Any group taking part in any CCC led scheme (home improvements, environmental issues) should employ an independant person to scrutinise the work carried out. It may cost the a few pounds but save a heck of a lot of problems later.

caebrwyn said...

See update 19th July - It would appear that there are two critical reports, one from Audit Wales and another from external consultants

Anonymous said...

CCC is a public body and these reports should be available for public view/scrutiny.
An Emlyn Dole version would simply be a CCC version that he has been vaccinated with.

Anonymous said...

how many critical reports will it take to make the Council act

20 and more

Anonymous said...

Senior officers were/are(?) appointed by who they knew/know rather than what they know - or their competence.

Anonymous said...

the carms team Dole / Walters were in charge in the latest city deal meeting with the swansea contingent away busy telling those in Mayhill how the areana will stop future riots

Walters even made an appearance on screen ! Loved the glasses

The discussions were a bit sereal in that the tranport people on show were debating if the city deal was the right means to report transport matters and whether any extension of the metro / trains could go to the west and Pembrokeshire

As always with trains it seems easier to close them down than restart them

Anyhow Dole / Walters must have reveled in being front and centre just like the old days !

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be a bit off topic.
Hywel Dda Health Board are referring patients to Delta Wellbeing.
The word "Delta" in the title rang a bell.
Is this "wellbeing" centre NHS or private.
Google does not know.

caebrwyn said...

Anon 13:21
Off-topic is no problem. Delta Wellbeing is essentially a private, profit making company but wholly owned by Carmarthenshire Council, it's a social care call centre.

Anon 12:18
Ah, the City Deal. It's lumbering along, producing a lot of hot air and little else...apart from Swansea's Golden Bridge...and the 'Pentre Awel' Wellness Village, fresh from the bribery scandal, still in the pipe dreams of Emlyn and Wendy.

Still managing to spend a fortune though, including half a million on wages for the Portfolio office, including £100k a year for the Director, Jonathan Burnes.

£123k was spent last year on 'professional fees', which probably translates to 'lawyers'.

One disastrous problem is that since the Deal was signed in 2017 only £16m of private sector funding out of a requirement of over £600m has, to date, been 'formally committed'.
Some private investors have already pulled out, including contributors to the 'box village' (now known as the 'Innovation Matrix'... yes really), part of the Swansea Waterfront 'Digital District'.

There is no contingency plan in place so, without a massive formal commitment, and contracts, from private funders, the whole Deal will be very shortlived indeed.

caebrwyn said...

I'm going off topic myself now but this brief, recent report from the Ombudsman is worth a mention.
The report is anonymised and I don't know any details. However, the Ombudsman obviously does and it is telling. It's a scathing attack levelled at the council's failure to deliver transparency, fairness and impartiality.
Some things just never change.

"Mr J complained about the actions of Carmarthenshire County Council (“the Council”) in its handling of his complaint about the Governing Body of a School in its locality. Despite Mr J raising concerns about the impartiality of the Council’s appointed Independent Investigator, the Council took the decision to proceed with its investigation.

"The Ombudsman found that Mr J repeatedly expressed valid concerns about the impartiality of the Independent Investigator which were not addressed by the Council.

"He noted that Council’s ability to investigate complaints with transparency and fairness is vital to ensuring public confidence in its complaints process. The subject of impartiality is arguably as important as the actual investigation itself for maintaining such.

"The Ombudsman contacted the Council and it agreed to:

within 30 working days:

"Appoint an independent and impartial investigator to conduct a full investigation into Mr J’s complaint about the Governing Body. If questions are raised by Mr J about the impartiality of the appointed investigator, the Council should be prepared to fully justify its decision and provide
reassurance to Mr J about his concerns in this respect.
The Ombudsman was satisfied that this would provide a resolution to the issues considered in this complaint."

Anonymous said...

29 July 2021 at 15.55

it seems the city deal is very beauratic in that the portfolio office as you state is costing a fortune / each separate project has its own project team - each Council has its own economic development / regeneration directorate with a director on at least 80,000 to 100,000 plus all for a few projects that rely on the funding from mainly one source the Govt

seems to be a bit of a dog's dinner to me

caebrwyn said...

Anon 08:52
It is bureaucratic, cumbersome and expensive. Since it's inception in 2017 millions of pounds of taxpayers' cash has been squandered with negligible progress. Lawyers, marketing experts and consultants have done very well out of it, thank you very much.
Mark James' appalling and dishonest 'leadership' of the Deal brought it to near collapse.
The fact that both he, and other key players were acting with criminal intent, accepting bribes and lining their own pockets, hasn't exactly helped inspire confidence from potential investors. Mud sticks.
As for Emlyn Dole, he is a dishonest and weak individual, one can only speculate how much he and Wendy Walters knew about Mark James and his fraudulent deals.

Anonymous said...

Until there is a big clear out of the top people in the Council they will forever be tainted by the immediate pasdt and James' influence

Possibly the Council elections could be a chance although due to apathy I doubt it

Anonymous said...

Yes anonymous, 3rd August, you get the representation you deserve when you don't vote.
Plus ca change plus reste la meme chose


caebrwyn said...

I still can't find a copy of the Audit Wales report but it should appear soon. One interesting snippet is that the council have a backlog of 847 planning applications and 761 enforcement cases.
There have, it is reported, been "significant and long-standing performance issues in the planning service" and these failings have remained unchecked and unchallenged, for years, by councillors and those who are supposed to keep an eye on things. It would seem that the head of planning's position has become untenable due to this report, but, as I said above, she has left for 'personal reasons'...

One can, of course, read between the lines and 'performance issues' can cover many sins, and clearly go back many years.

caebrwyn said...

Anon 10:54
Agreed. First to go should be head of legal and monitoring officer Linda Rees Jones. She has lied to the courts and the council, repeatedly, to cover Mark James' back, and her own. Mark James is a criminal, and she's spent years behaving as if she was his personal defence lawyer.
I'll not let matters drop. As they should both well know.

Anonymous said...

I suspect the call of the pension pot will make Rees Jones to go

Will the elections next year make Dole go ?

For the CEO unfortunatley it looks like many more years of service to endure unless there is a pending scandal to unearth ?

caebrwyn said...

Anon 09:53
No doubt retirement is on the cards before long for Rees Jones, it will be no escape from justice though, one way or another.

As for the bribery scandal, one wonders when Dole, Rees Jones and Wendy Walters realised that something was seriously amiss - James' rigged tender for Sterling Health should have been a massive clue...still, perhaps they were in on it, who knows.

Anonymous said...

I am sure the 151 officer will have all details of the goings on in County Hall.

caebrwyn said...

Anon 23:17
Ah yes, the section 151 officer, Chris Moore. With regards to the bribery scandal, I meant to add his name to the list in my previous comment (19:27). I'm sure he knows what's been going on, or at least where the nearest shredding machine is.

He was, and is, a strong supporter of the Mark James slush fund (the unlawful libel indemnity clause) and co-signatory with Rees-Jones on the begging letters to the Auditor General when they were trying to reinstate it last year - potentially, and illegally, putting the council and taxpayer at enormous risk. A fine way for a 151 officer to behave. He should also be sacked on that basis alone.

As with all senior officers, his appointment in 2015 was dependent on the personal approval of Mark James, yet another cosy arrangement.