Sunday, 12 August 2018

Motive and opportunity - How was the CEO of Carmarthenshire County Council allowed to embark on a private vendetta using public money?

Government at all levels can wield power by funding policies, changing laws and prosecuting opponents. Governments, even local Unitary Authorities can  essentially have bottomless pockets when it comes to legal matters. This was certainly the case in the libel action defence and counter claim fully funded by Carmarthenshire County Council against Mrs Jacqui Thompson.  Mrs Thompson had been  critical of Carmarthenshire County Council  Eventually the Chief Executive, Mr Mark James, inexplicably made an inaccurate and quite vicious comment on the Madaxeman Blog, "on behalf of the Authority" but not apparently approved  by the Leader of Council prior to the action.

Mrs Thompson decided to sue the Council and Mr James for libel. The County Council decided to defend both themselves and the CEO in court, All of the planning for this legal action was made by Senior Council Officers and Senior Elected Councillors, in Camera, in secret, so that the public and the ordinary councillors were not informed.

Eventually the Wales Audit Office ruled that financing the Counter Claim by Council Chief Executive Officer Mark James was unlawful. The exempt documents show that the council allegedly had contacted the WAO before their decision meeting to fund Mr James in January 2012. The Executive  Board Councillors were seemingly never given at reply from The WAO. Why not?

There was good reason for secrecy and subterfuge. Had the other county councillors and the public known the full  details then there may have been enough protest to stop the huge spend of public money the Executive were planning in order to maintain the reputation of the Chief Officer, Mr Mark James .

Also, the Senior Officers and Executive Councillors knew that the case would not  be a straightforward libel action and counterclaim. It was vital that Mrs Thompson and her legal team would not know that a completely different legal angle, a non violent harassment by blogging,  would be the essence of the case, This meant that Mrs Thompson's defence would only find this out in court, probably have insufficient time to prepare a full rebuttal on this new issue and the County Council would triumph in punishing an irritating local resident who would surely be destroyed not only in reputation but by severe financial sanction.

This reason for secrecy is explained under "Implications" on page 5 of the minutes of this Agenda Report Item. Did any of the Exec Board read this? It was common practice that Exempt Documents were carefully collected from the meetings as you left and given out as close to meeting dates as possible.When I was a Councillor I used to sneakily photocopy those presented to me in full council,  for my own protection, and hand in the originals, but did the Exec Board? I doubt it. No wonder they can't remember exactly what they agreed to.

 Mrs Thompson, if she lost, clearly would not be very  likely to afford to pay back the Council's Costs or the full damages to Mr James. The executive board minutes show that the need for absolute secrecy was important and the reputation of the chief officer was to be their primary concern

It would be an example to all residents of Carmarthenshire County Council and especially protect the chief executive, Mark James from further criticism. Bloggers would have to self-censor carefully or have the County Council on their backs!

A great plan, but there were several possible obstacles. Could the senior county councillors be persuaded that they could actually do this? Was the reputation of the County Council Chief Executive so important that they had to do this? Unfortunately the members of the executive board appear hand picked for compliancy and total trust in the clever senior officers. Subsequently several have told me privately that they realise now that they were manipulated and one present on that day has even admitted that they no longer have any regard for the CEO. Mr James attended the whole of the meeting which gave him the funds to fight his case. The Wales Audit Office condemns this as wholly improper,

The decision to spend over a quarter of a million pounds of public money on the libel cases was taken in this closed meeting on the 23rd of January 2012. Council officers significantly outnumbered the elected members.

The main mover appears to be Head of Legal and Administration Linda Rees Jones at that time CCC's"Acting Head of Law and Administration" and also "Acting Monitoring Officer". Her legal report explains the crisis the Executive Board must address and the way that she believes local government law can be interpreted to allow the legal actions to be funded totally by the  taxpayers of Carmarthenshire. Subsequently she had the good fortune to obtain the permanent position in those posts.

THE GRANTING OF AN INDEMNITY TO THE HEAD OF PAID SERVICE.

REASONS:
(1) If an indemnity is not granted the Head of Paid Service would be personally liable for legal costs associated with those court proceedings

(2) The Authority owes its employees a duty of care and an indemnity to the Head of Paid Service in the circumstances of this case is proportionate and reasonable.


So, the main reasons are that the CEO is not to be allowed to fight his own battles, despite perhaps recklessly commenting on a blog.  Linda Rees Jones advises that paying the fees in this case is actually part of the duty of care the senior Councillors owe to their Chief Officer, the head of paid service, Mark James. 

But oops! Mr James wants to make a libel counter claim and that isn't allowed, surely??

Linda goes on to explain that the County Council is only indemnified to fight a libel action themselves, not a counter claim by a senior officer. The solicitors for both Mrs Thompson and CCC were on the point of agreeing a modest settlement of the libel claim. However, if this was accepted it would imply that Mr Mark James was perhaps at fault , having made a possibly defamatory statement about the Thompson Family on the Madaxeman Blog.

Linda has discovered a "catch all" clause - section 111 of the Local Government Act of 1972 which allows Authorities to do "anything" (whether or not involving expenditure...) which is calculated to facilitate or is conducive or incidental to the discharge of any of its functions".

 She also states that CCC had been advised back in 2008 that giving an indemnity to an officer was potentially lawful, but that it should only be exercised in exceptional circumstances.

Integrity and Reputation, states Ms Rees Jones, are Essential for Mr James to command respect, enable him to lead and undertake his duties.  The Executive Board were asked to decide whether this was to be regarded as "exceptional circumstances" and they apparently agreed . Defending the good name of the Chief Officer was to be regarded as a vital function of the County Council

 The executive board members I have spoken to claim they were given the impression that the threat of the counter claim would make the whole embarrassing matter "go away" as Mrs Thompson would surely back down. If so, why the secrecy and the admission  that a leading libel lawyer had already planned a new tack to ensure success?

Did they really agree to this without even being able to retain their copies of  Ms. Rees Jones' report? Were they given these documents on the day only or were they really given time to read, digest and even get a second opinion? It seems not.

There are 2 other parts of the report which stand out.

(h) .....It is unclear whether the other party has the financial means to meet any order for damages and/or costs that may be made.

So there was clear doubt that Mrs Thompson could pay any legal costs awarded against her and the secrecy meant that she had no idea that the new tactic to use her blog as evidence of a harassment campaign which would probably invalidate the insurance she had taken out,

(i)  The Head of Paid Service has confirmed that he is not motivated by a wish to benefit financially and that accordingly should his action be successful any damages awarded to him will be paid over to the authority and will not be kept by him.

Subsequently Mr James decided to take all the damages for himself, declined to accept  regular  affordable repayments and tried to force the sale of the Thompson's family home so he could get all of the money at once and make the family "intentionally homeless". 
The WAO report shows an email between Mr James and MS Rees Jones confirming the statement above prior to the meeting Was the change of heart pure malice or had he not, in his mind, made this promise, or was Ms Rees Jones mistaken? Maybe his financial circumstances had changed and he really needed the money?

Had Mr James not decided to pursue Mrs Thompson for his damages and left the matter to the County Council there would have been no court cases to force the sale of her home to recover her half of the capital in the bungalow after paying off the mortgage, while making the whole family homeless. Yes, he was awarded the damages and he had, by the documents now available to the public, promised them to the Council. He has not given the instalments he has collected to the Council.

 How is the reputation of this man regarded now? The people of Carmarthenshire have paid out thousands,ostensibly to protect his integrity and reputation ,which the document says are "essential in order for him to command respect, be able to lead and undertake his duties". however, he has gone back on a promise to donate any damages back to the County Council who generously fully funded the case he took out to obtain them - at least £40,000.

 He was present during the entire meeting where this report to fund his libel counter claim was presented and discussed. He had the opportunity to challenge Ms Rees Jones as to this undertaking, and make clear to the Councillors that it was not a binding promise by him. Surely as he was there, apparently in agreement on the report, the Councillors must have been  convinced that he truly was  going to donate any damages directly to the Council ?

Subsequently he has used the issue to persecute Mrs Thompson and has greatly increased the amount she now owes him, perfectly legally. He has put maximum interest on her debt and has forced her to engage in extra expensive court appearances rather than negotiate repayments out of court, then add his lawyers fees to her debt.

Mr James claims he had to make the statement on the Madaxeman Blog as he was invited to do so. I invite Mr James to explain why this apparently inaccurate statement, paragraph (i), was presented to the executive board? Did you change your mind, Mark , or was Linda mistaken in her description of your position?

I am waiting for your response,

. Siân Caiach

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

The "Deep State" of Carmarthenshire -

The term "deep state" is used within political science to describe influential decision-making bodies believed to be within government who are relatively permanent and whose policies and long-term plans are unaffected by changing administrations. The term is often used in a critical sense vis-à-vis the general electorate to refer to the lack of influence popular democracy has on these institutions and the decisions they make as a shadow governmentsource : Wikipedia
Carmarthenshire County Hall  built on the original site of, and in the style of old Carmarthen Jail 

Carmarthenshire County Council is an elected body but widely thought to be "officer led" i.e, the civil servants  rather than the elected councillors seem to run the show. Although the political constitution of the council changes, the policy leadership seems to be firmly guided by senior officers.  Voters may chose the councillors but not the administration. Any effort to "rock the boat" and criticise the Council's policy can lead to resistance and even attack from this  very local " Deep State".
Councillors willing to collude are rewarded with positions which often enhance their salary. Councillors who interrogate the reasons for the often unusual council decisions and policies are dismissed as troublemakers.

There is little effort to disguise this process and as a County Councillor for 9 years prior to  May 2017, I was critical of this arrangement and over this period received nearly a 100 complaints against me personally, penned by the chief executive Mark Vincent James. and sent to the public services ombudsman. 

I've recently received a letter informing me that the Public Services Ombudsman has decided to take no action in respect of the matters investigated following the most recent complaints against me by Carmarthenshire County Council Chief Executive Mr Mark Vincent James C.B.E. on the basis of alleged numerous breaches of the "Councillors' Code". Mr James appears to have emphasised to  the press details of  the one issue, in his huge batch of complaints that the Ombudsman was critical of, even though he didn't wish to act on it. 

 This issue involved a junior officer sent down alone from the chief executives' office to the front desk of County Hall to deal with a symbolic "pound of flesh" demonstration. Although I was not the organiser or leader of the demonstration the Ombudman has a valid  point in that as I was present I should have asked the demonstrators to leave immediately when I saw the junior officer was very distressed, rather than asking the officer to decline the wrapped piece of meat so the group would leave. In a similar situation I would now certainly act differently and promptly.

The other 60 paragraphs of complaint with other issues brought up and the many sub clauses did not warrant any rebuke

The Complaint to the Ombudsman was made in January 2017, a few months before the Council Elections in that year. The same process was undertaken against me and my People First- Gwerin Gyntaf colleague Arthur Davies prior to the 2012 Council Elections with a couple of dozen complaints. Arthur was very badly affected by it and lost his seat in 2012. 

The ombudsman in his general annual report remarks that complaints against Councillors tend to peak before local government elections.
 This is presumably to discourage opponents from standing or blacken their reputations as the electorate can be told , quite honestly, by a rival team that Councillor X is "under investigation". I am aware of having some negative comments said about me on the doorstep implying improper conduct in 2017 and I narrowly lost my county councillor seat. 

Positively this has loss given me the time to fully take on other roles and after waiting 18/12 for a verdict the recent "no action" ruling by the Ombusdman has been a great relief. Any uncertainty can be stressful,  and facing complaints so numerous that I cannot even remember them all has been disconserting.


The vast majority of complaints under the Councillors' code of conduct are made by other Councillors, not civil servants or members of the public. It is Community Councillors rather than County Councillors which are the largest group complained about. 98% of complaints are adjudicated in less than 12 months. Both complaints to the Ombudsman concerning me took 18 months to be closed, both with no action needing to be taken. 3 years of my life under Ombudsman's investigation!.

Having a complaint made against you is stressful, even if the the majority of evidence submitted against you appears trivial or inaccurate. The Councillors Code of Conduct is open to interpretation.  Specialist legal advice is expensive and beyond my means. Lengthy complaints force you to spend a lot of time thinking about and preparing rebuttal evidence. In this case it took months even for the Ombudsman to decide which complaints to actually investigate. In the end, only 5 made the grade.

The Obudsman's advice to County Councillors is clear. Try to resolve the matter locally .
:
"If a County Councillor wishes to make a complaint about another County Councillor within their own authority, I expect them to first of all make their complaint to that authority’s Monitoring Officer, as it may be possible to resolve the matter locally without my involvement  "

This advice is not given to Council Officers who are complaining about a councillor.  In my case, my accuser, Mr Mark James, did not contact me to resolve these complaints. I suspect the Monitoring Officer was probably involved in drawing up the complaint which is likely to have been  prepared with advice from her County Council legal team. If you want to complain to the Ombudsman about a public service such as a school, you have to contact them, and go through the full  complaints procedure and still be not satisfied with the response before the Ombudsman even considers your complaint. A Councillor's Code of Conduct  complaint goes straight to the Ombudsman.

 A  County Council's Monitoring Officer is a paid officer with duties to the Ombudsman, usually the head of Administration and Law or equivalent and subordinate to the Chief Executive. In Carmarthenshire she is Linda Rees Jones 

 When I was a Carmarthenshire County Councillor she was instrumental, for example in dismissing my complaint  when I by chance discovered the instructions of the Chief Executive to the  IT department to covertly monitor and log  my emails. To her it was perfectly fine and legal. For the purposes of this action I would be regarded as an ordinary employee, presumably suspected of misuse of my Council Computer.. However the rules on monitoring emails of staff clearly state they should be informed.  She saw no reason to inform me of this surveillance and was clearly complicit in the whole matter.. How can you complain to the Monitoring Officer when as head of Administration she has already decided  that it is perfectly proper to monitor your email correspondence without informing you? How can you report her to herself?

I don't blame the monitoring officer, after all her job security, salary grade and career progression is largely in the hands of the Chief Executive. However, the Monitoring Officer should be independent as she represents, in theory, the Ombudsman. Where Officers superior to her, and/especially she herself is involved, she cannot be expected to be impartial.



If elections actually mattered, this man, the Plaid Cymru Group Leader , Councillor Emlyn Dole would actually be in charge. I don't think he is.

                                    Emlyn Dole "at work" in county Hall


The motivation behind the many complaints against me is,I think is clear and will examine in detail in my next blog together with more about Emlyn.


.                                                                                                           Siân Caiach

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Future Wales : The Begging Bowl Economy, lets stop wasting public money !

Our Welsh Government is producing a sad cycle of "failed projects" which have cost us dear in one way of another. Economic redemption apparently comes from supporting projects which look wonderful on the promos but eventually fall short. The authors of these projects seem to be groups of "businessmen" or "entrepreneurs" who specialise in these schemes which promise much but all need impressive levels of public "investment," often without any clear significant long term monetary return, often just promises of local employment. We are the poorest area of Western Europe. Apparently we should be grateful to be "ripped off" to finance questionable schemes. We're obviously too stupid and weak to bite the hand that robs us?

The narrative is that Wales is a poor, weak region which needs charity to fund economic development. The source of this "charity" in the UK government either directly to Welsh Government or indirectly via schemes like the City Deals and the EU administered funds .

 Charity begins at home. But should our own Welsh Government bodies have to give, or promise to give money and other support to private enterprises of questionable pedigree to get these plans to materialise? We live in a supposedly capitalist country where great commercial ideas should naturally attract private finance. Do these schemes frequently fail because  they are not attractive to private investment or because the rather restricted welsh public purse is not enough to sustain them? In reality are we just being ripped off by calculating "grant grabbers" ? An "investment opportunity" is no prospect at all if you can't properly fund it and time and time again we give money to support projects that no private investor would touch.

Not only is our Welsh Government involved but also our local government organisations. Plans for the projects such as the Circuit of Wales, the Swansea Tidal Lagoon, etc. which have failed to get funding to progress, still lap up the "seed money" for planning their development. Is this because they are the only projects on the table?

Governments at all levels are not, despite their protestations to the contrary, actually not very good at boosting national economies. They are excellent at taking the credit for economic growth but much of this is clearly not anything to do with their business competence. Yes, we should financially support the development and improvement of  public infrastructure and services. We don't even have enough money for that.  Unfortunately we have too many elected representatives and public servants who ignore our overall lack of funds and are easily persuaded to part with someone else's ,the public's money, without much thought and even less scrutiny.

Investigative bloggers such as Caebrwyn and Jac o'the North  have been exposing what looks like repetitive suspiciously dodgy dealing by various players across Wales who keep on surfacing to take advantage of our clearly desperate or simply clueless elected representatives. That is a charitable interpretation of course. In the queue for the till at Aldi's their motives for throwing away our money are usually given more sinister descriptions.

Links to the blogs mentioned are below. Well worth a read.

http://carmarthenplanning.blogspot.com/
https://jacothenorth.net/blog/weep-for-wales-5/

Delta lakes Wellness proposed site with Llanelli  town in the distance 

Artists impression of the completed project  which contains a privately staffed care home, scientific research buildings, a leisure centre, a wellness hotel., private health care and drug testing clinics , alternative therapies and  an incubation centre for business start ups, research and development -? not so much grow your own as hatch a scheme no-one understands..


The best thing that Governments can do for economies is improve infrastructure for everybody. Improving roads, rail links and getting us all decent broadband will do more than concentrating on the computer generated graphics of showy presentations by people who usually, and suspiciously, have never  delivered or been involved in a similar multi-million pound project, historic building refurbishment,mountain top race track etc before promoting their current brilliant schemes..

There is a compelling argument that governmental commercial support at all levels should be more in the form of loans than grants. Of course some will default but the lender keeps a handle on the money, which, if loaned wisely, in time becomes available again for similar projects. Charity to deserving causes is  one thing, giving public money away without any close examination of the likely outcomes and no strings attached looks like an invitation to  theft, especially if some of the people concerned have a history of poor business management  yet continue to find ways to milk the system.

What sustainable economic options do we have?  Agriculture, tourism and renewable energy are obvious options but too small, even if fully developed. to sustain a large enough prosperous workforce. The public sector is the major employer and we are unable to provide enough good quality and decently paid jobs for our young people, many of whom will probably leave in search of  better prospects. In fact the loss of their talents accentuates the problem,

We are not a little England. We cannot afford to build ourselves a country which is in the image of England. We do have pockets of decent manufacturing but we do not have the huge financial services industry to" boost the economy." as England does. Some may argue as to the true economic security of  a country dependant on finance, insurance and property, underwritten by massive debt. However, Wales is not poor because we are more stupid, or lazy than other parts of the UK. We are a different geographical area, we are neglected, even by our own elected government, and its time to change that.  We, ourselves have  have to find our own way to confidence and prosperity.



. Siân Caiach,   

Monday, 9 July 2018

MARGO AND PARTY SENSITIVITIES.


Political parties commonly spend some time with infighting over various policies.
Some parties are particularly sensitive to dissent and internal criticism.Smaller parties
often are more sensitive, and as minority pressure group, have the luxury of wasting
effort and ridding themselves of offending members without subtlety.


Margo MacDonald was an iconic Scottish Nationalist Politician whose career was
 notable  for her outspoken opinions and attempts by her own party to restrict her 
power and influence.

In the Scotsman, fellow nationalist and journalist George Kerevan described her
 popularity in her obituary in 2014. 


"During the 2010 Westminster election and the 2011 Holyrood election, I knocked
on thousands of doors in Edinburgh. I discovered there was one politician that
absolutely everyone knew and frequently mentioned. She was simply “Margo”.
Margo the Scottish nationalist. Margo who always said what she thought. Margo
 who spoke the language of ordinary voters and never down to them."
Margo was a socialist and critical of those who did not seem to share her views
 In 1979, as SNP senior vice chair, she criticised the party's 11 MPs who brought
 down the Callaghan Labour Government. When the left wing "79 Group" which
 she had joined. was expelled from the SNP in 1982, she resigned. She was troublesome
 but popular, and returned to the party, eventually to successfully become one of the
 first intake of  SNP MSPs in the 1999 Scottish Parliament Elections.

A CUNNING PLAN BACKFIRES

By 2003, after only one term, she had ruffled enough feathers to be demoted down
 the regional SNP candidate list to a place she could not win from. She resigned from
 the SNP and stood as an Independent candidate successfully, winning a further 3 times
 and remaining an MSP until her death. In 2007 the SNP minority government  had to
 bury the hatchet and negotiate her support. The attempt to silence Margo failed.
She never warmed to the centralist and business friendly economic policies that
Alex Salmond favoured in his administrations.

WASTED ENERGY IN  INTERNAL STRIFE

Perhaps Celtic separatist political parties often spend a great deal of time fighting
 people in their own camp who generally support their aims, but differ on some points?
An argument on policy or interpretation of general aims becomes a battle against the
 person, not the opinion. How dare they question or criticise? This leads to unpleasant
 hostility, attempts to deselect candidates and sometimes alienating whole groups of people.

 RADICAL CHANGES FOLLOWED  2014 REFERENDUM

The Independence Referendum has changed the SNP . It has the same aims but was
changed by the experience of the campaign and massive recruitment that followed.  .

The SNP  have been through a transformation since the Margo experience. In the
 Independence Referendum the SNP wisely did not try to closely control the YES
 campaign. It was disappointing to lose but there was elation as to how well it went.
 YES, given freedom of action,  became a diverse movement of  groups and individuals
 of all.backgrounds.
THE YES EFFECT

Firstly, the Yes campaigners, many of.whom were not  involved in mainstream politics, 
could see the absolute commitment and dedication of many SNP activists and working
 side by side in this common cause produced positive friendships and admiration
between people who would probably never otherwise have met each other. 

Secondly, the SNP activists worked collaboratively with a large number of YES volunteers
 who previously they would ever have thought of recruiting. They were people of many
 persuasions and driven primarily by the hope of a better, fairer country, irrespective of
 personal politics. This gave the SNP a different insight. In the very successful
2015 General Election the SNP was open to give  new members a chance, producing MPs
 originally from Women for Independence, Business for Scotland, and even
 from the Labour Party.

Thirdly, the campaign itself produced an atmosphere and momentum which I cannot 
explain but certainly experienced. In the final days, in the face of defeat. the mood was
 upbeat and the workers had a deep sense of achievement. In Contrast the 
BETTER TOGETHER workers acted like it couldn't end soon enough!
 No fun for them.. 

 In Alex Salmond's book " The Dream Shall Never Die", a description of the last 
100 days of the campaign, he sums up the atmosphere well in the Prologue.

" It was the best of times. It was the best of times.

For many people the Scottish referendum campaign was the best time of their lives,
 a far too brief period when suddenly everything seemed possible and the opportunity
 beckoned for the "Sma' folk" to make a big impact."

..."Once people have had a taste for power they are unlikely to give it up. 
The process of referendum has changed the country. Many people felt politically
 significant for the first time in their lives. 

It has made them a different people, a better people."

I know it sounds ridiculous, but believe me, it was something special and thousands
of activists just can't wait to do it again. 

The first action of the SNP after defeat was to recruit the from the YES campaign and so
  many joined that  they became the majority of party members. Today around half of party 
activists and many elected members and candidates are those who joined since
 September 2014.  The pro-independence Scottish Green Party has expanded too.

DIVERGENCE OF THE "SISTER" PARTIES

 The Independence Referendum has changed politics in Scotland.
 Here is Wales we have not yet seen the like and are stuck in the old ways. 

Plaid Cymru is the only Welsh Nationalist Party at the moment. It' s rhetoric is low
 on  Independence and high on Jobs and Culture but its political stance and attitude
 to internal dissent is off putting in the least. 
Plaid , I think, would be more popular if  it was less sympathetic to the Labour Party
 and less fearful of using the "I" word.
 In many things it apes the SNP and it is ironic that it is never tempted to ape the
 SNP by regularly discussing Independence. 
Small parties who crave total loyalty from their members, impose strict discipline
 and severely punish dissent are likely to become smaller and weaker.

 The SNP  today, have over 120,000 members, a similar number to the UK Conservatives.
Arguably They are the second largest party in the UK. Plaid membership is about 8,000.

 The SNP had always been an umbrella group for  nationalists. In the past open criticism
 of the party leadership has been punished in the way of smaller, incestuous political
parties of all colours.

 After  their experience with the '79 group, with Margo personally and others, where
"imposed unity" damaged the party and  the massive recruitment post referendum,
the SNP have become less sensitive. Success breeds confidence.
From "Tartan Tories", their initial nickname,to a "left of centre" openly separatist party. 
The Independence Referendum of 2014, which was lost, produced a much larger party 
which is still hungry for Independence. In fact the major arguments within the party
 seem to be those around the timing of a second referendum. The most difficult issue
 for the leadership is the unrelenting  pressure of many members to have Indyref 2.
SNP Conference 2017 at SEC , Glasgow  the only venue able to accommodate 15,000   

Plaid, in contrast, are not changing, and perhaps the coming leadership election  
will give the party members options for the direction of the party. 

During the 2014 Referendum Alex Salmond often asked the question 

"Are we too wee, too poor and too stupid to be independent ?" 

In Wales, I often feel the Plaid Leadership would, in the welsh context, 
agree with some or all of that statement. 


Siân Caiach

Sunday, 10 June 2018

BREXIT 2016 - Siân Caiach, -THE STORY OF MY EXPERIENCE IN LLANELLI

When is a democratic vote not democratic enough to accept ? - perhaps in the case of the EU Referendum? How dare the British electorate vote the "wrong way" in the face of sound advice from the majority of big business, establishment political parties, cuddly celebrities and most trades unions? The majority of voters clearly must have been mistaken or mislead or too stupid to understand the issue?

 Of course not, everyone who registers may have a vote but how they cast it is influenced by many things. This is too brief a post to mention everything I learned as a volunteer for Vote Leave but I hope gives some insight into the campaign where I live.

BREXIT  - A Result Not Expected? 

The overall UK end result was  52% leave 48% remain with some sharp local and national differences.

In Wales the overall result was 52.5% leave, 47.5% remain.

In defence of not accepting the result, some cite a case that people did not know what they were voting for. I think that probably works both ways. As someone who did quite a lot of canvassing and leafleting I would say that reasons volunteered for the choice of vote were quite varied and on occasion neither logical nor comprehensible on both sides.

The campaigns had pretty good UK media coverage, The Remain campaign was better resourced and establishment supported, and had in some areas good political party support..

The Leave campaign was less well resourced , and had far less support from the political establishment, although I was aware of shy leavers, in all the main political party members who didn't wish to speak openly what they thought, but probably voted leave against their own party's policy. UKIP were the only party to wholeheartedly support Brexit and  understandably were individually very committed..

It did seem to be a fair contest by UK standards. Usually the best organised, best publicised and biggest spending campaign wins elections. Across the UK in many areas, especially the more remote and rural , the only literature delivered to voters doors was likely  the government sponsored pro Remain  leaflet.Remain should have won and was expected to do so.

Why was Brexit triumphant?

These are the reasons I feel are important in what happened from my own experience. Personally, in my own bubble in Llanelli I was sure the constituency was voting Leave, I was hopeful the county would vote Leave and in the final days was informed by Vote Leave that  they felt we could well win Wales. How everyone else was doing  in the UK I knew as much as the average TV viewer. My impression was for most, if not all of the campaign, the remain camp were complacently confident and the Leave camp  was hopeful but not at all certain of victory.

The economic arguments were generally considered and most Leave voters, I believe, were willing to take a risk on  possibly precipitating an economic downturn  in the hope of a better economy in the long term. They certainly were not swayed enough by "project fear" to change their minds in large numbers, as hoped.

Perception of Benefits of EU funding



In Wales the Remain campaign was very much on the specific economic grounds, that generous "EU" funding was practically the mainstay of our economy and as a poor area, the nice EU would always be generous to us. Without their good offices, we were told, the begging bowl would remain empty for good.

I live in Carmarthenshire. In theory my area "benefits" from EU administered structural funds. money which the UK government would not apparently otherwise give to the needy poor regions. There is lots of agriculture so the Common Agricultural policy should be seen as a generous contribution to our well being. Several local "EU "funded projects are much appreciated. Some tourism also benefits from  EU administered funds. However, much is perceived to  be spent without much benefit to ordinary people and the local economy has by no means been significantly improved.

As this had hardly  been "game changing" to the local economy,  which continued to be poor and based on low wages, it did not influence many. Some, especially middle class pubic sector workers did tend to be worried  by the prospect of losing  EU grant money. 

 The area's most prominent and usually most active political parties were Labour and Plaid Cymru
who emphasised the financial benefits of the EU as the main reason to vote remain. The cruel UK government would surely forget to give Wales or our farmers any of this money. Many voices gave the impression that this was not UK money paid into the EU  returning to the UK but that it was some magical charitable gift from our noble,generous  friends across the water

.There was a single  embarrassing display of unity where clearly uncomfortable  prominent members of the 2 parties, Labour and Plaid, posed for a photo in Llanelli town to support the Remain cause. No further co-operation was noted.

The Leave campaign can also be criticised for not initially clearly showing where these gifts of grants and subsidies came from. It took the much criticised "Red Bus" to actually drive a narrative on how much  UK money did not come back from the E.U.  and that "EU funding" did not mean free money from the philanthropists of Europe, but UK money administered in the name of the EU..

Immigration

In Llanelli this was not a big specific issue on the doorstep  although a few did express hostility to the idea of Eastern European immigration and  believed that some people did come here just for the benefits and get council houses ahead of locals. The number of EU migrants is small.  No one volunteered much negative personal experience to me other than one family complaining that some Eastern European gentlemen neighbours regularly got  drunk in the alley behind their home and sometimes messed up their bin bags on collection days.

 The issue was more that of border and immigration control and the fear that free movement of people would, at some future time, allow mass migration from the EU into the area. In a poor area where local people can have difficulty getting even  reasonable minimum wage jobs, I suspect no community where jobs are lacking wants a threat of competition for jobs from outsiders.

The "Take back Control" narrative was very popular and frequently echoed. Activists, while canvassing you don't take  much time to interrogate people's interpretation of the slogans. One tends to thank them for their support and move on, rather than ask them why they are supporting you?

Disgust with the EU's treatment of our Prime Minister

Even those who are not Conservative supporters were shocked when David Cameron , our then Prime Minister, was offered little by the EU to help quell dissent on the European Project.

For those of you who wish to be reminded of the sad "thin gruel" David Cameron returned with from Brussels the BBC website has an excellent list of what he wanted and what little he got.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-35622105

It still makes chilling reading as one realises that it is not only a record of major political failure but also the contempt in which the UK was apparently held by the other EU members. While  marching on to the goal of a united states of Europe they were quite aware of British reluctance. Euro-scepticism has always been fuelled, on the right of the political spectrum, by the prospect of loss of British Sovereignty. This was seen as a huge "own goal" and gave the opportunity for Brexit.

 I have talked to a few European politicians since the referendum and they concede that Cameron's brush off treatment  was a gamble, but they had no expectation of anything other than a grudging acceptance of the generally unhelpful fudge . They realised that ever closer union will not, in time, have included all the current EU states but had been hopeful that the wealthy UK  would have stayed and funded them for longer than it looks like now. When the UK leaves, the Common Agricultural Policy will likely suffer in that many of the members, especially the newer, smaller accession countries rely on our donations to fund their CAP.

I found many Conservative supporters angry with both the EU for treating us with contempt and with David Cameron for being  so weak. The most common question asked from this source was "If Leave wins, will David Cameron Resign". I thought he would, and he did. That issue alone I think was adequate motivation to vote to leave the EU for them.


Plaid's support of EU as a friend to minority nationalities and languages

Plaid Cymru have always had a weird love affair with the EU, seeing it as a structure to help promote the small regions and nations and their cultures. It is true that the EU do formally list the European minority languages and nationalities and encourage representation, at an advisory level, for these groups. In theory they campaigned hard for Remain, in practice locally here they didn't, but I believe many of their voters did follow the party line.

Personally, I am not convinced that this "generous" EU policy is anything other than placating these groups.  I have witnessed, over the years, quite firm EU action to prevent unwanted regional autonomy and national  secession,  including an effective campaign against the Yes vote in the Scottish Referendum.

 The Scots were told that if they voted for independence they would be expelled from the EU and if they wished to rejoin they had to reapply, accept the Euro and it would take at least a decade. In the meantime they would have a hard land border with the EU in the form of England,  their economy would collapse and readmission would take over a decade. No seamless passage of goods for them!

Since the subsequent problems with Catalonia, Plaid Cymru has had quite a shock as the friendly, cuddly EU image they had imagined has been severely challenged by events. I was surprised that they did not have much of a campaign for Remain here.. In fact, when leafleting for Leave the only other similar activity. for almost all of the campaign, I noticed was promoting local fast food outlets. No canvassing by them noted, One Remain poster and some welsh language car stickers on a single car was all I saw travelling around Llanelli.

Some Plaid members have told me that in 2016 they already had some ambivalence to the issue and after the assembly election in May 2016  they were tired of campaigning and not convinced that there was a chance of a Leave vote anyway. Considering events, I believe the EU has since lost the shine it once had amongst Nationalist here and they may change their votes if there is a second referendum unless the Catalonia issue is resolved positively.

Radical Nationalists,in Wales generally took a position  like Jim Sillars in Scotland, and were of the "out and out" persuasion. The United States of Europe, the political result of "ever closer union" is obviously a mega-state which would heavily and forcefully resist any separatism.


Strategy: first exit EU, then exit UK


posters by Gethin ap Gruffydd

I agree with the logic of this, if you are a small country wanting independence, being part of a rigid European system which is concentrating power somewhere else is of no advantage whatsoever and a Threat to self determination, just as the Catalans have recently discovered.


Where were the Labour Party?

In Llanelli this was a bigger mystery than the absence of Plaid Cymru. They have more activists than
Plaid, are usually well organised and focused but the lack of a visible Labour Remain campaign on the streets until very late in the campaign was a mystery. A few Labour members were openly supportive of Leave and others, some quite prominent locally, covertly gave support under strict agreement of anonymity- asking for leaflets and posters to be delivered  to specific addresses/ streets for instance.

Labour, and Plaid,, had apparently not asked the question of whether or not people had come to an opinion on the referendum in May, when they were canvassing the area for the Welsh National Assembly Elections - allegedly to avoid confusion. I had asked the question at this time and noted the answers. Many people had already firmly decided, before the Brexit campaign had got fully underway.

This meant that Labour in Llanelli started real campaigning perhaps only when they realised that there was a danger of the local vote producing a Leave majority, I only saw them working in  the last 2 weeks of the campaign.. They were seemingly trying to play catch up while probably running blind. Large numbers of their supporters were already pledged to the Leave side and there was a lot less chance for them to make any difference so late in the day.

The local left wing radical socialists were generally saying they were supporting Leave , citing the "Capitalist Club"  reputation of the EU and pointing out that our UK workers rights were actually better than the EU minimum and had been achieved in the UK by unions' political campaigns, not  just EU regulation. They saw the Conservative government as a bigger threat to workers rights than leaving the EU.

The End Game

My only previous experience of a major contested referendum was of the 2014 Scottish Referendum.

From this I learned that when people have expressed a firm view they probably will keep it, so don't waste much time arguing with people who clearly don't support your view, and target the undecided in the final stages. My impression of Llanelli was there were not many truly undecided  people likely to vote.

Those who said they were voting for the first time, were not teenagers, but much older, some having registered to vote for the first time just for the referendum and they were generally voting Leave and for the first time in their lives felt their vote mattered.

The the last stage is to get out your vote.and not the opposition's. I believe Leave in Llanelli, despite having far from a comprehensive canvass record, had a much better idea of where their vote was than Remain.

At the Carmarthenshire Count,  the overall result was Leave 53.7% Remain  46.3%.

 There were no separate figures produced for the 3 parliamentary constituencies involved but the Llanelli polling station boxes did not disappoint and I suspect that "project fear" had some effect. on the final result. but too little to win the day.

Interestingly, for election nerds, the postal votes in Carmarthenshire did not reflect the final total vote,  as it often does. We scored them as 50/50 with a suspicion that they might actually be just slightly favouring Remain. It was a relief to see the polling station boxes opened!

The day before the referendum Nigel Farage made his final speech where he characterised the vote as the People versus the Establishment and said leave voters would crawl over broken glass to vote for Brexit. Hyperbole, but it does capture the mood of the campaign and that Leave voters were  probably far better motivated to make their point, and prepared to vote even though many thought they would probably lose, just to register their discontent.

As for Remain, it is difficult to make the status quo exciting and the approach of trying to scare people against change can backfire, In 2016 there was a majority of  UK voters yearning for change and willing to take the risk of  leaving the European Union. The Establishment thought they would win and didn't. Democracy delivered, and many MPs and AMs  and even the 1997 referendum on the Welsh Assembly have been won and lost by much smaller proportional margins without requiring a re-run.

 Many of  the losers accept the Brexit result but others are still very bitter and don't. I suspect this isn't just a loss of a vote but for them, but a challenge to their whole political outlook.

 I still meet people who assume that a nice middle aged, middle class , nationalist lady like myself must have supported Remain and who seem a bit shocked when I confess I didn't. 

After this experience I doubt any UK government will risk another  referendum on anything, anytime soon!

 Siân Caiach

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Future Wales NHS (3) Plans and shams - Consultation Time

        " OUR BIG NHS CHANGE"

In Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire  a "consultation" is in full swing as to the futures direction of the Hywel Dda University Health Board,which covers the 3 counties of Dyfed.

In the words of the Hywel Dda Executive:

We have an ambition for our local NHS and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with you to make it better for everyone. We want to provide the highest quality care, with excellent outcomes that improve your health and well-being and provide you with a good experience wherever you live and receive your care. We want to help you maintain your health, well-being and independence, recognising that good health is much more than living longer; it is living healthier lives, from before birth to older age"

There are 3 proposals:  A, B, and C

In all cases Bronglais in Aberystwyth remains as it is now, a General Hospital. In all cases Withybush hospital, near Haverfordwest, is downgraded to a community hospital. In 2 scenarios West Wales General Hospital also becomes a community hospital but in option C is a "planned care" hospital which sounds better. None of these hospital descriptions are clearly defined in the consultation questionaire.

Currently West Wales General Hospital on the outskirts of Carmarthen is a district general hopsital and provides basic emergency care via an Accident and Emergency department and has the best range of services in the board area. Hywel Dda "University" Health Board intend to downgrade this hospital to a "Community" hospital in options A and B or to a "planned care hospital" in option C in the consultation.

 In all options the A & E and urgent care at WWGH is replaced it with a brand new  "urgent care"hospital on the Carmarthenshire/Pembrokeshire border described as "somewhere between Narberth and St Clears". The build will take 5-10 year.

East Carmathenshire and Llanelli itself will need to be serviced for most urgent/emergency treatment by the nearer Morriston Hospital as the travel distance will be too far to the new emergency unit. Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board will be able to bill Hywel Dda for the cost of treatment of Carmarthenshire based people, so the money "follows the patient".  

Also included in all options are 10 "community hubs" across the region. 

They include the current community hospitals of Amman Valley, Llandovery, South Pembrokeshire and Tenby. Also there are 5 units currently in the planning stage at Cardigan, Cross Hands, Tregaron, Aberaeron and Delta Lakes Wellness Village. Llanelli. Aberystwyth Health Hub is just labelled as "New". The community hospital exist already but the building of the rest of the hubs is likely to take several years.


A view of Delta lakes site where the Llanelli Hub has not yet been started


These community hubs will deliver preventative medicine, community based care for those with chronic illnesses and early help and treatment to prevent hospital admission. They will work hard to prevent anyone getting too ill and having to go to hospital. They may contain local GP surgeries and be able to perform diagnostic tests currently available in hospitals. 

The "choices" are whether or not the 3 existing southern hospitals, Prince Philip Hospital, Llanelli, West Wales General hospital, Carmarthen,and Withybush Hospital, Haverfordwest, are designated as "General Hospitals" or "Community Hospitals". At the moment PPH and Withybush are designated "General" , a vague term not to be confused with the term "District General Hospital" which refers to a hospital with a wide variety of specialities which can treat most medical conditions. A "General" hospital seems to be one with limited emergency medical care, diagnostic and clinic faciities and day treatments with a minor injuries unit, such as PPH is now.

In all 3 scenarios WWGH is downgraded and presumably its major emergency functions transferred to its successor new hospital. 

The timescale of building the new facilities (5-10 years) means that the desired result of attracting and retaining medical staff to the new look Health Board and the newly built units is a long way off. In the current NHS staff market, jam tomorrow is unlikely to attract new staff until the units are not only completed but shown to be working well. Reputation is the strongest factor for recruitment in new systems and how long this one will need to be up and running to gain that is not clear.  The plans may even encourage workers to move to other areas from those likely to be downgraded.

So it is very simple. Select the least worst option. (Similar to voting for your MP)

If you live in Llanelli or Carmarthen East this is probably proposal C (although some in the extreme north of the County have pointed out that Prince Charles hospital in Merthyr could be quicker for them to get to than Morriston  where the real serious emergency stuff will be provided to this area)
If you live in Carmarthen town area you will want to keep the downgrade at WWGH Carmarthen to a minimum and accept proposal C as your local hospital downgrade will be to "planned care" rather than a "community" hospital, 

If you live in Pembrokeshire  all the proposals are equally poor in that your hospital is downgraded into a community hospital in all options. Only worth filling in the "consultation" if you go for your own personal 4th box of "another alternative".
The proposals are to be marked 1.2 and 3, with no 4th vote option so it obviously a wasted vote to use the 4th box as no-one knows what you are voting for - unless everyone in Pembrokeshire writes in the same thing and only votes for that choice? 

Its not a true consultation, just a manipulated endorsement of plans already made. It is not sensible to make plans about the Welsh health service in isolation and surely all the Health Boards should be involved and co-operating?

In  June 1970 the new box girder Cleddau Bridge collapsed killing 4 men, injuring others working on the bridge, and narrowly missing most of the village beneath. It was rebuilt, and the delay in the injured getting help drove the desire for a proper emergency hospital in the area. The replacement bridge may well last far longer than the district general hospital the local community fought to get built and more recently to keep.  
The Cleddau Bridge

  Siân Caiach


If you would like to contribute:
www.hywelddahb.nhs.uk/Hddchange

consultation ends 12th July

Monday, 7 May 2018

Wales 'Future NHS (2) - grow our own staff or depend for ever on other countries?

Wales was officially part of England during the early years of the NHS  and this is reflected in the organisation of the Welsh NHS ,more a regional sub branch than an integrated health service for Wales. Devolution could have produced more control of doctor and nurse training - a system reflecting the geography and needs of the people.  Instead our government took over the administration of health services but not the training and recruitment of doctors and nurses for Wales.
The other UK small nations have been more proactive and better resourced, helped by their political importance and greater historical investment in some of their facilities. As in other things devolution for Wales also devolved the chronic under investment in the Welsh Health Service. No catch up funding.

Scotland {pop. 5.4m}has 5 medical schools. Northern Ireland {pop 1.8m} opens its second medical school next year in Londonderry. Magee College, University of Ulster, already has a well regarded school of nursing and this new medical school will have a postgraduate entry and an annual intake of 120 students. The Republic of Ireland, a nearby EU country with a population of  4.7million, has 6 medical schools, 5 undergraduate (one of which specalises in foriegn students) and one postgraduate.

According to the GMC we only have one medical school in Wales {pop 3.06m,} which presumably means that the small postgraduate medical school at Swansea is listed under "Cardiff" The figures they give is total medical student numbers in Wales 12016/17 are undergraduate 1,521 students and postgraduate 61. the undergraduate courses are generally 6 years long and the postgraduate ones 4 years long. This suggests an annual "production" of  doctors in Wales of around 330 . The GMC breakdown shows ethnicity amongst other things and figures from the National Assembly which funds Welsh Students assembly suggest that the number of Welsh domiciled students entering the local medical schools is around 20% of the total. I've asked for figures of the number of Welsh Students studying in the rest of Britain but they have not been provided.

A legacy of the UK's imperial past is the widespread use of foreign doctors. In the past students were attracted here from the colonies as were young doctors in training.  In the early years of the NHS the idea was that they stayed here a few years then returned with  their knowledge to their own countries but the UK became ever more dependent on these foreign doctors. In more recent times doctors from the EEC have come, attracted in part by the higher salaries doctors enjoy here compared with continental Europe .

In recent years the conversion of nurse training to a university degree qualification and the inadequacy of local nurse training numbers has led to foreign recruitment of nurse on a large scale,. Countries such as the Philipines  encourage their nationals to train as nurses, in large part to work abroad and send money home to their families, boosting the economy of their country. Taking the gift of nurses from the developing world may fill the gap but leaves us open to future shortages if these countries improve their own economies and  health services, so needing their own nurses and being able to provide a good wage, or if political instability or conflict reduces the supply.

I have asked the Welsh Government for the numbers of doctors and nurses we in Wales need annually, No answer. I have been informed though, that only 20% of Cardiff medical students are officially Welsh domiciled. I could not find out how many welsh students are at medical school in the rest of the UK where the Welsh Government and the Welsh NHS will be subsidising them through grants and bursaries.

The UK has for decades relied on foreign staff and acts as if the supply will always be there, Training doctors and nurses is expensive here and restricted to applicants with high academic qualifications. In order to improve the UK supply you may need not only more places on courses but also more doctors and nurses involved in teaching and expansion of the university departments. These UK degree courses are already oversubscribed with lots of intelligent young people turned away every year.  The higher number of women doctors and the predominance of female nurses also means that "in house" creche facilities and  transport from childcare facilities to school and back are needed. Doctors and nurses from the developing world are more likely to leave their families at home.

Wales needs to decide whether to adopt self sufficiency in staffing the NHS or continue to rely on the generosity of the developing world. Some countries have always planned on self sufficiency.

                                                Icelandic medical students in training.

In Iceland, {pop. 380,000} the policy has always been to train their own doctors and nurses. They produce 48 doctors a year from their only medical school in Reykjavik.  Their infant mortality is the lowest in the world, their longevity  figures are impressive (highest life expectancy for men in the world, women's in the top 10} and they train doctors using the Australian model through the medium of Icelandic. There is no private practice although there is a fee system for GP visits.

Other countries have different systems. The irony of the shortage in Wales is that  some of the areas where staff are hardest to retain are the last strongholds of the welsh language. Although welsh speaking nurses are in evidence, welsh speaking doctors are not so much and the Welsh government policies are not helping . The " Gifted and Talented" program in Welsh Schools encourages the academically outstanding to make the most of themselves, go to  Russell Group universities and especially Oxford and Cambridge. The planned new acute hospital between Narberth and St Clears will bring a large influx of staff who are unlikely to be well speaking and because of its geographical isolation will be looking for homes in the area, or possibly not coming at all. The choice of a job is not just about filling a vacancy but about what is best for your partner and family. Cities are ideal as there is more chance of getting a job for your partner, more choice in childcare and education for your children and, especially if you are in training and will need to move on, more chance to find suitable accommodation. 

Most ambitious students may well end up going to "well known"medical schools of which there is a good choice in England if you make the grades. The financial support is the same whether or no you decide to study in /Wales,  in contrast to Scotland where only if you stay in your country to study medicine or nursing (or any other degree except those not offered in Scotland}will your fees be paid.

Many countries with remote rural areas struggle to get doctors to settle there and it may lead to adoption of more high tech diagnostics in the GP type units, efficient extraction of the very sick and injured to specialist hospitals, as happens in the highlands and islands of Scotland, and sometimes long journeys to get specialist operations like hip and knee replacements, as in Sweden, where the expert surgery is done away from home and the rehabilitation provided by the local hub.

What we need in Wales is not isolated organisation of GP and hospital services dictated by local authority boundaries but leadership from our government to shape a future for healthcare in Wales. 



Siân Caiach




Sources:
Student numbers :https://www.gmc-uk.org/-/.../201617-medical-school-annual-return-overall-student-n
www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-foyle-west-43595014
www.nursinginpractice.com/article/nurse-training-places-wales-will-increase-10-2018