Wednesday 8 September 2021

Full council next week - and that damning report into Planning Services - Updated

Update 15th September 2021
Following a heated debate this morning the Labour motion outlined below was defeated by the Plaid/Independent administration.

What stood out amongst the criticism was the total lack of transparency from the Plaid administration over all this, and of course from the corporate management.

It is quite remarkable that Plaid Cymru have refused to acknowledge that the catastrophic failure of the planning department has happened under their watch, and their refusal to accept the reasonable steps within the Motion is simply playing political games, to the detriment of the residents of the county.
Shame on them.

Update 10th September 2021
I've had a response to the FOI request detailed in the post below.

The council have been offloading planning applications to private company called Prospero Planning Ltd, and paid them the handsome sum of £114,609 from September 2020 to date. Blimey.

The company which carried out the council commissioned review was Solace in Business - the business arm of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives. They were paid £17,587

* * * * * *

Just a brief heads up about next week's (15th September) full council meeting. The damning Audit Wales report into Carmarthenshire's Planning Services hasn't gone away, or found the long grass just yet.
The Labour opposition group have tabled the following motion;

We propose that Carmarthenshire Council agrees:

In order to prevent the serious backlog of both planning applications and planning enforcements accruing in the future and to make the Planning Service fit for purpose and to prevent the acknowledged risk to our Regeneration plans that we:

1.    Strengthen our Scrutiny and Risk Management Processes, Procedures and Reporting by fully implementing the recommendations from the reports from the Welsh Audit Office “Review of Risk Management Arrangements – Carmarthenshire County Council – July 2019” and “Review of Planning Services – Carmarthenshire County Council – July 2021”.

2.    That the Internal report into the Planning Department, ‘Strategic Review of the Planning Service’ be made available for scrutiny by all Councillors and prior to the Audit Committee meeting of the 24th of September.

3.    That a Plan to resolve the current backlog of the many hundreds of applications and even more hundreds of enforcements as well as making the Planning Department Service fit for purpose to allow us to meet our Regeneration targets in a timely manner, is presented to this Chamber at our next County Council meeting by the Interim Head of Planning.

4.    That the practice of using private companies to clear the backlog of planning applications ceases and is brought in house.

5.    That an adequate budget is set to provide for any change required to provide for an effective and sustainable service provision of the Planning Department.

6.    Calls on the Chair of the Planning Committee to publish a monthly report indicating the current state of awaiting applications and enforcements.

All seems very reasonable but no doubt the Plaid majority ruling group will present some sort of nit-picking amendment, we'll wait and see. Let's hope the Labour group doesn't allow Plaid to get away with the usual whitewash response.

Just to hedge their bets, Plaid have planted their own question later in the agenda with Plaid stalwart Cllr Dai Thomas asking his mate Emlyn Dole to outline how wonderful everything now is in the Planning division.

You note that the Labour Motion also calls for the earlier council commissioned report to be shared with all councillors before it appears on the Audit Committee agenda later this month. This report made no less than fifty recommendations, and has been kept in a locked drawer ever since.

Historically, Carmarthenshire's planning department, and the planning committee has had notoriety for much more than systematic failure.... 

As for point 4, a response to my Freedom of Information request (below) is now overdue;

"Audit Wales published it's Review of the council's Planning Services yesterday. The report refers to a private sector company which has been handling planning applications, apparently to reduce the backlog.
Could you please tell me the name of the private sector company, and the cost of this so far.
Could you also provide the name of the external company/consultants which carried out the council commissioned review of Planning Services completed in December 2019, and the cost."

I'll let you know if I get a response (see update above).

This long-term failure in the planning service is the fault of the corporate management, primarily under the rule of Mark James. However, politically, it was all under the watch of Emlyn Dole and his Plaid and Independent buddies, and they will go out of their way to avoid all accountability.
Sadly this is common practice, in many areas, in both corporate and political circles. As I know full well. 

Incidentally my FOI request to the council for correspondence and documents held by the council relating to the Llanelli Wellness Village bribery investigation is now two weeks late. 
More on all that, and the former CEO, the bribe-taking liar, thief, and all-round crook Mark James CBE, and friends, in due course.

The council-owned waste company Cwm Environmental Ltd (mentioned above) also pops up on next week's agenda and it seems they are nowhere near settling the insurance claim for the massive fire six months ago. You may recall that the large shed and it's contents of blue recycling bags was razed to the ground. 
In fact, searching questions are currently being asked by the insurers, so Cwm are not even in a position to make the claim yet.

The council are now providing Cwm, their own company, with the convenience of a million pound, 12 month short-term loan to tide them over until the insurance cash comes in, unless of course they are found to have been negligent...
The council must be awash with cash.

Finally, I have noticed that the 'Executive Board' is no more...well actually it's still there, it's just been renamed as the 'Cabinet', sounds more stately perhaps, pity they're such a dim-witted, twisted bunch.

Update 14th September 2021
The council have come up with a novel way of dealing with the backlog of over 700 planning enforcement cases, seems they're going to simply erase most of them from history.
A new protocol will be approved by a single executive board member on Friday detailing the type of cases which will be binned.


Anonymous said...

Totally agree the past CEO is to blame but when a new one is installed you would have expected a review of current operations and would address any issues even if it was to cover your own backside

To carry on and ignore the problem just makes you accountable also

The past is the past and tomorrow is the future and your responsibility

Anonymous said...

with trouble in pembrokeshire over their departed ceo and carmarthenshire's problems with their past and present ceo - west wales does not seem to be able to attract the right calibre of people to run these councils

perhaps an alternative method of management is needed not a top down approach but possibly a community or team approach were better more inclusive decision making process is used

Keanjo said...

The problem lies with the introduction of the Chief Executive which has reduced Member involvement and control .The old system whereby each Director reported to a Committee headed by a Member Chairman , all answerable to full Council ensured better Member control.Scrap the Chief Executive post and sanity might be restored.

caebrwyn said...

One problem in Carmarthenshire is that the appointment of the 'new' chief executive was, basically, a promotion engineered by the previous one, Mark James. The appointment process was a sham.
Ms Walters is not going to ensure her previous boss is brought to account, not one bit.
Yet again the corporate management avoid accountability. The Head of Planning left after the report emerged...for 'personal reasons', but the Director of Environment remains, unscathed.

Anonymous said...

these ceo's now earn private sector type salaries and surround themselves with yes people

in the private sector however the ceo must deliver and perform marked by profit or share price capitalisation and failure is swift with replacements with possibly the whole team being swept away

coucils however just seemsd to tolerate ceo for years and years and residents don't seem to have much say - 5 year cycle of elections is not accountable enough there needs to be a better system of accountability to force ceo to improve or ship out

Anonymous said...

its seems both west wales councils show the same level of incompetance in how they have appointed their current ceo's

Carmarnthenshire council as you mention in 12.46

Now pembrokeshire have chosen from a selection of one a Nato general to run the council with no previous local authority experience - it beggars belief

A Major General Will Bramble CBE -

caebrwyn said...

The agenda for the Audit Committee on Friday (24th Sept) includes the damning Audit Wales report but not the one the Council commissioned. That one was completed in December 2019 which made 50 recommendations, and remains hidden from view...

caebrwyn said...

Re my comment 20th September: A summary of this elusive report has been released to the press via a FOI request. Not the whole thing of course...
Apparently Sustainable Works Ltd carried out the 'review', not the same name the council gave me through my FOI request.
Anyway it basically blames senior management for failing to properly manage the department and a lack of expert knowledge, particularly over the various regeneration projects. This goes way back, at least to 2014. Under the rule of Mark James, Director of Environment Ruth Mullen, and not forgetting Wendy Walters as Director of Regeneration and Policy...
Councillors were slammed for 'inappropriate behaviour' being 'readily available' to consultants and 'happy to discuss individual cases', with the potential for bribery and corruption....

The fact that this was allowed to happen and no action taken for a number of years is shocking. Its only now that attempts are being made to rectify this disaster. One can only wonder at the number of dodgy planning decisions which have been made, or the number of brown envelopes which have changed hands. Though perhaps it's not surprising with Mark James at the helm, he not averse to a bribe or two.

Anonymous said...

Bit off subject but too good to miss.

My first thought was that Ceredigion councillors seem to take the same "do as you are told" attitude that takes place in Carmarthenshire.

Plaid, you can only be described as disgusting.