Sunday, 21 April 2019

Brexit Promises - who promised to do what and why , how no-one delivered , and the next tactics we can expect.



Most of you were probably sick of Brexit, but with all the MP’s on holiday it does give us a chance, now things are quiet, to look back at how the Circus came into being and the possible motivations. 2017 seems ages ago but its worth looking at what we were promised before that election.
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The main Political Parties in Wales with only one exception, said in 2017, prior to the General election of that year, that they accepted the Result of the Referendum to Leave the E.U. They would deliver the best form of Brexit. Then one did a sharp U turn to demand a second referendum and  campaign for Remain the others kept their policies but then  spent years wasting our time and destroying our economy by not sorting out Brexit.

I believe that most UK politicians genuinely originally believed in 2016 that the people of the UK would not vote Leave. Still reeling with the shock many made promises to deliver Brexit that they had no real intention of fulfilling. Follow that with a misguided 2017 general election which turned the Conservatives into a minority government dependent on the DUP, and the focus of many Remain MP’s switches to delaying and/or stopping Brexit. This is complicated by what becomes a clear policy by Labour to concentrate on undermining the Conservatives and forcing another General Election to put Labour into power on a UK basis.

On the other axis is a small group of more principled MP’s who actually want a proper Brexit where we do leave the EU and between these a large number of our leaders claim to want to fulfil the decision of the people but whose antics are totally ineffective. The E.U. negotiators have done their best to thwart Brexit, They need our money [which we now know from the wording of the Withdrawal Deal is nearer £390 million a week rather than the £350m on the bus] and the E.U. Beaurocrats want to make leaving the EU a long and difficult process. They need to discourage the Eurosceptics in other E.U. Countries from taking similar action as the UK and every delay is more money for them.

Lets look at the 2017 party manifesto for each major party standing in Wales, most promised in 2017 to deliver Brexit but haven’t quite made it yet. In fact, in practice, the M.P.s have appeared to deliberately deliberately obstruct leaving the E.U.

Few M.P.s declared how they had personally voted in the 2016 referendum on their election literature when they stood in the 2017 General Election. Their party policies were all the public generally had to go on, reflected in their election literature. The result was a House of Commons where around 75% of all M.P.s had previously supported and voted Remain. Although few could be described as young, they do, in the main, fit the rest of the demographic for remain voters. Many are graduates, all have a very comfortable income, most are homeowners, and many are of middle or upper class background. What they did not realise was that they were about to expose the UK political class as seriously unfit for purpose, and change our politics radically.



The Conservative and Unionist Party.

Their manifesto opens with Theresa May’s positive statement on Brexit:

This manifesto, Forward, Together: Our Plan for a Stronger Britain and a Prosperous Future will meet the great challenges of our time, beyond Brexit. With this plan and with a strong hand through Brexit, we will build a stronger, fairer, more prosperous Britain, for all of us.
No hint of the ultra Tory Brexiteers and the determined Tory Remainers who would in fact, deliberately block her Brexit Plans. Also the Conservatives totally underestimated the EU negotiation difficulties. as the EU had no interest in an early Brexit and is quite happy to receive the generous contributions from the UK for as long as possible.



The Labour Party

 "Let's build a fairer Britain where no one is held back. A country where everybody is able to get on in life, to have security at work and at home, to be decently paid for the work they do, and to live their lives with the dignity they deserve." Jeremy Corbin


Welsh Labour have a separate manifesto. “Standing up for Wales” 116 pages long. “This is not the Brexit Election”, it states. It calls for backing to elect Westminster members to form a UK Labour government to support the Welsh Labour Government and makes Welsh promises such as the end of Severn Bridge tolls and Support for Wylfa Newydd Nuclear power.

On Brexit:
They would “give a meaningful role to Parliament and the Welsh Government through the Brexit negotiations”.
Recently, in UK’s Labour Conference, an option of a “People’s Vote” has been added to the Brexit mix by Labour but is not yet definitely adopted as a rigid policy.


The Liberal Democrats

Manifesto title “Change Britain’s Future”

Tim Farron's leader’s foreword says: "I want the Liberal Democrats to be the party that holds Theresa May to account over spending on the National Health Service; our young people's education, skills and opportunities; the protection of our precious environment; and our future relationship with Europe."

The Lib Dems are the only major party who list a second referendum as a policy prior to the 2017 Election and paint a picture of doom for any form of Brexit from then onwards. Full marks for consistency but they didn’t do too well at the General Election.



Plaid Cymru

The 2017 manifesto is titled “Defending Wales” and reminds us several times that “Plaid Cymru is the hardest working party in Westminster”.

Plaid accept the result in Wales of a pro-Brexit vote and offer to deliver a Brexit favouring Wales:

“We will fight to get the best possible Brexit deal for Welsh Industry and Agriculture.”

“We will secure all the money promised by the Leave Campaign and not a penny less”.

At some point, presumably by some internal party process I can’t find, this has morphed into a policy of reversing Brexit and having a “peoples’ vote” on any Brexit decision.
It is thought that Plaid may have just changed policy, perhaps by executive decision, to the SNP’s policy, in the hope that a second referendum in the UK will set a precedent for a second Scottish Independence referendum. There is certainly an argument that supporting the SNP in order to hasten Scottish Independence may progress Plaid’s plans for our own Independence. However, there is this little problem in that the majority of people in Wales voted out. Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards, whose Carmarthen East Constituency voted out with a similar margin as neighbouring, Llanelli, is especially cynical in taking this view.

The other Plaid M.P.s can at least claim their voters voted remain, and now hold the view that a re-run is necessary. However, I doubt that many M.P.s of all colours have any real idea of what their voters actually think today. Some media claim all leavers have changed their minds significantly but the panic about EU elections suggest that the fear of Eurosceptic Parties’ by the mainstream ones. belies that belief



UKIP

Paul Nuttall was the UKIP leader in 2017 and he presented a manifesto called “Britain Together”

A "patriotic agenda for defending our country and our way of life."
Paul Nuttall's foreword says: "We are the country's insurance policy, the guard dogs of Brexit. We have fought for Brexit all our political lives and we want to ensure that the people get the kind of Brexit they voted for on 23rd June last year.
However, the party were not successful in getting any MPs elected so could not influence Brexit at all..
Recent polls suggest that if there is an EU parliamentary election the current trends are a drop in Conservative and Labour support and an impressive showing for the new Nigel Farage led Brexit Party:

Overall, Wales 2016 referendum result of 54% leave vs 46% remain is close to the UK result of 52% Leave vs 48% remain, with 2% more Leavers in Wales and 2% less Remain supporters.
Next steps politically…..
BACKDOOR SECOND REFERENDUM?
Its been suggested in the Guardian that the EU Parliamentary Elections could be used by Remain Campaigners as a second Brexit referendum. The individual Remain parties have all rejected electoral pacts but they could still replicate a second referendum and possibly even increase the turnout for EU elections, usually pretty low in the UK. So a campaign to encourage Remain voters to vote for the Stop Brexit policy parties, it is argued, could “win” overall in the EU parliament elections and show that the people of the UK have really changed their minds.
Any vote for the Remain favouring “Reverse Brexit Parties” - Plaid Cymru, Change UK, Greens, Liberal democrats and Scottish National Party – would count as a Remain vote, a request for staying in, and presumably any vote for UKIP, Brexit Party, Labour and Conservatives etc would count as a pro Leave vote. The trick is to get more theoretically Remain supporters out to vote than supposed pro Brexit ones on the day.
However, with the great public lack of confidence and trust in our politicians would anyone bother to play this game or accept the “result”? 

In any case the current polls suggest that this particular gambit looks rocky unless Labour , as advised by Deputy Leader Tom Watson, declares for a second referendum campaigning for Remain, thereby joining the "stop Brexit club",and,  on today's figures, getting a theoretical but narrow pro Remain vote of 51% . 

However the risk of losing Labour Leave voters for the next general election would be real. Is staying in the E.U. more important to than Labour than winning a UK general election? I think not, but we are about to find out if the elections go ahead.

 Yougov results 17.4.19 below

Published by YouGov  17.4.19 
The 2 main political parties may well now try a last effort to pass the only withdrawal agreement the EU will allow, despite its flaws, as their only way of avoiding a very embarrassing European Union Parliamentary election.

 Siân Caiach

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Wellness Project exposes quite a swamp - Senior Council Officers and Executive Councillors must have known!

What Happened to Wellness? The Swansea City Deal  revealed as an expensive sham. .
In Carmarthenshire a Plaid Cymru led Council is caught up in a mire of a public project which may never have been viable and threatens the whole Swansea Bay City Deal .

Many of us older folks recall the comedy programmes of "Yes Minister" and "Yes Prime Minister" where the civil service were portrayed as being completely contemptuous of the elected members of parliament, even the top elected post. Civil servants often have effectively a job for life and incompetence is more likely to result in a change of internal post or title rather than the more uncertain position of elected politicians who actually have to justify themselves to the electorate.

The 4 pillars of the civil service are allegedly the core values of honesty, objectivity, impartiality and integrity. They are as lacking in local government civil service as they are in Whitehall. Of course there are some decent people who are civil servants and who try very hard to work in the public interest. However, there are groups of civil servants who use their power and influence against the democratic representatives they claim to serve and instead clearly control the policy and direction of their organisations.

The details of the betrayal of the people of Carmarthenshire and the Swansea Bay City Region as a whole, by the less than noble proponents of the "Flagship" Wellness Neurosciences Village planned to create jobs and prosperity in Llanelli. The whole mess is not yet fully investigated but the theme of the reports to date is that the scheme was never properly planned or thought out and some of its leading proponents were clearly lacking in honesty, integrity, objectivity and impartiality.

 The beneficiaries were seemingly the few and not the many.  Academics from Swansea University seem to have meant to use the centre as a cover to sell UK medical degrees to middle eastern students. who would be enrolled at the Swansea Postgraduate medical school and likely accommodated at the Llanelli Wellness Village either to study and/or reside for some time to justify the Swansea degree.

False Hope for Llanelli?
The plans promised to transform Llanelli from a depressed post industrial town to a beacon of Wellness featuring Health Tourism, World leading research, producing 2000 jobs on site and much needed boosts to local business. I very much doubt that the original idea for the scheme came from elected members. It was certainly not local councillor led. The choice of the contaminated brownfield site seemed simply due to its availability as publicly owned "free" County Council land. The problems in developing this land were dealt with by not investigating the issues and a bizarre report by the Council's agents, which was patchy, flawed, and did not satisfy Natural Resources Wales.

Medical facilities for local people were included in the "Village",and a local authority care home to replace one closed in 2011, long promised but never delivered. The publicity shows a gleaming futuristic site with a computer animated "fly over", set in parkland and with attractive water features. It may well be that the "fly over" is the best production of the whole plan, as nothing pictured appears to have been properly planned or funded.

Several million pounds of public money have been spent already on various assessments and initial site preparation. Carmarthenshire County Council is said to have already borrowed £200 million and certainly have not denied this when I've stated this before. I'm told the interest is already being paid from our council tax..

Carry on regardless!
Having lost the UK City Deal funding Carmarthenshire County Council initially said that alternative funding was available, that the project could be financed in other ways, such as the eventual income rental and business rates from the neurosciences themed industrial units once they are built. In fact the project is on hold.

Fooling the Councillors, few,if any, of whom in Carmarthenshire will have experience of building large projects like this, was probably easy. However, Senior Officers must have been concerned unless they too were mislead or perhaps complicit?, The whole premise of the City Deal was that large amounts of private money needed to be pledged to match fund much of the City Deal borrowing and grants. C.C.C. officers must have known, from the start, that the Sterling Health Group was essentially a bunch of small companies without significant funds and possibly just there to get money, not give it? The information on them from Companies House, from which they have now applied to  remove their registrations, was freely available on line to all. Did nobody at CCC check?

Cllr David Jenkins,(Plaid Cymru, Glanaman) the Executive Board Member for Finance in CCC has not been able to reply to any of the questions I have put to him on the subject of the Wellness Project. I am sure that he must have somehow been initially persuaded that the money was available, the scheme viable and everything was fine. But surely he must have realised eventually that the whole thing was a farce and unlikely to reinvigorate the economy of Llanelli as promised? In fact, it could have quite the opposite effect and leave the County now with even more debt than it had previously.
Where was the return on any investment for private business?
Councillor David Jenkins, Carmarthenshire County Council 
 The Scam has been revealed not by insiders at Carmarthenshire County Council but by scepticism from concerned local residents who researched the participants and analysed the scheme. The  eventual exposure of Sterling Health, together with some of the the Swansea University participants in the Deal, by exhibiting some very unprofessional behaviour related to the proposed deal was shocking enough, The Council cancelled its arrangement with Sterling. This was followed with the surprise additional revelation of a closely related scheme, the new Private Shifa'a Hospital and University in Kuwait, apparently ready to import its students and claim UK medical degrees for them through the Wellness Project. The CEO of Carmarthenshire County Council, Mark James, was offered and accepted a position as a trustee of the new Kuwaiti Medical School but forgot to declare his interest in this plan.

In an article in the Llanelli Herald March 29th Jon Coles reveals that a Kuwaiti company, KIG, Kuwaiti Innovative Group, is now threatening to sue Swansea University. The academics are accused of leaking confidential information  to the Western Mail to the detriment of KIG and effectively scuppering their project entirely.

He reports:  "The Controversy turns on a leaked report prepared by KPMG. It said "The project, which would take 3 years to develop consists of a University, a teaching hospital, a physical and occupational therapy centre, and commercial developments, including a hotel, hostel,staff accommodation and rental outlets"

" All of which sounds awfully like the plans for Delta Lakes in Llanelli" says Mr Coles. KIG claims the leak "irreparably harmed the prospects for the Scheme's success".

 Swansea University denies the allegations and has suspended Professor Clement who in the past has arranged for thousands of overseas degree courses to be recognised as British degrees through the University of Wales. Evidence emerged that these degrees were not monitored adequately and the overseas scheme was stopped for good, it was thought. Now he has been exposed setting up a similar and probably more lucrative deal in medical degrees.

How on earth did a scheme to build a Neurosciences themed industrial park with health,leisure and tourist facilities end up linking to a project to build a private hospital and medical school in Kuwait. These foreign students would presumably be offered degrees by Swansea University Postgraduate Medical School and possibly accommodated and offered experience at the Wellness Centre in Llanelli. Were they to be the real source of funding all along? Was it always just a scam to sell medical degrees  to the Gulf?


Siân Caiach
siancaiach@eingwlad.cymru


Thursday, 21 March 2019

The Brexit End Game?


Robin Burn updates his views on Brexit as March 29th looms

Wise men, and many not so wise men, for decades, and in the case of Nostradamus tens of decades, have expended copious quantities of energy in postulation as to the demise of mankind, the world, the fate of nations, principally their demise.
We remain.
We only have to cast our minds back to the reams of documentation and discussion as to the fate of the world on the effect of the Millennium bug and the billions of pounds Euros and dollars spent on the totally unnecessary replacement of IT equipment . The marketing was brilliant.

The result of a leave decision of the 2016 referendum was prophesied by the remainers was to be a total collapse of the UK economy. The opposite was a result of the vote to leave.
Now we have the dedicated singled minded remainers prophesying the same result of a no deal brexit.

Theresa May who offers Deal or no Deal next Tuesday


The reality of the situation is, and always has been, that, the resilience of the nation overcomes whatever adversity comes their way.
For too long, the reaction of those individuals who find themselves on the wrong side of the argument and decisions made ,resort to the malicious use of fear scaremongering to present their arguments.

This nation, and I include those of Scotland and Wales, and that on the Northern side of the Border in Ireland, have served these islands with the ability to create wealth and prosperity. Firstly the wool trade, then came industrialisation, coal, fuelled the rest of the world, engineering gave mechanical power to produce commodities, advances in medicine served the populous, advances in science created modern technology, the list goes on.

We need to fear nothing, as a scientist and engineer, I am proud to be counted amongst my fellows who served and those serving this nation. Remember this country exported not only its goods but its ideas, to the benefit of Industrial nations around the world.
This nation survived two major debilitating world wars, and prospered after each.

Ingenuity and inventiveness served us well.
There may well be a short-term negative effect, however for the reasoning debated above,long term prosperity will resume.

It’s time that those who profess that they only serve the peoples’ interest, do so , grasp the opportunity presented to this nation and practise what they preach.

Update :March 19th 2019 ; Ten days to leaving day
With hindsight – a wonderful instinct to be blessed with for those have it , the majority of voters who mandated Parliament to leave the European Union, 17.4 million, would have recognised that this was going to be difficult.
From the onset the leaders and decision makers in the remaining 27 nations, made it quite clear that the payment and cost of leaving, would be high and the limit of our benefits receivable on leaving would be very limited.
There was to be no cherry picking of benefits, only acceptance of any benefits deemed acceptable to the European Union.
It is proving to be extremely difficult.
The question is why it is proving so.
The answers are quite clear.
The Ruling Party has no overall majority, the result of a failed attempt to find a good working majority, by calling a snap election.
Both parties, ruling and in opposition are deeply divided equally by leavers and remainers.
The parliament as a whole has a superior majority of Members whom are committed remainers.
The leave members are also divided between those wishing a clean break without any dealings with the Union and those wishing to leave with a good working relationship with the Union.
What is causing a concern to the nation who voted leave, 52% of the vote,is the fact that the democratic outcome is not being adhered to, that is the acceptance of the vote, by those members with remain tendencies.
This is an abuse of the democratic process, the will of the people is being usurped by the collective will of the members who do not wish to leave.
An insurmountable situation on paper, but resolvable by supreme effort with an uncertain outcome.
The only certain outcome today is that come what may, departure date is the 29th March 2019 by statute.

Robin Burn I Eng FIMMM

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Wellness Business Plan -finally leaked..and much revealed

THE SECRET BUSINESS CASE RISES FROM THE SWAMP.

The lack of a business plan suitable to be shared with either the public or Carmarthenshire County backbench councillors has prompted rumours that the plan was seriously flawed. An article by Jon Coles, editor of the Llanell Herald who has been able to acquire the complete business case was published on February 22nd. This document has hundreds of pages and was submitted to the City Deal Board in November 2018, a rather curious fact as the project was supposedly practically up and running at this point.

WHERE IS THE MONEY COMING FROM?
The business case confirms that the project requires considerable private funding which must match or exceed the public funding for the scheme. Curious then that Council Leader Emlyn Dole appears to be considering "going it alone" and is said to have already borrowed over £200 million on behalf of the people of Carmarthenshire to fund this legacy project. Us locals are already paying the interest on this loan and there are plans to borrow much more to finance the entire build of the Deal. If it goes ahead, construction will take several years and the local population will be liable to pay back the whole of the costs if the project does not make a profit, This could mean cuts in Council Services and increases in council tax just to pay off this multi million debt.

STERLING HEALTH  - POOR BUT AMBITIOUS.

Where is the private investment to match fund this public borrowing? The Sterling Health Company which became the official "Private Partner" clearly had very little in the way of funds itself and although there was a suggestion that they would broker private finance to match fund the project, this may have just been more borrowing from private banks dressed up as "private business funding". It is not clear exactly why Sterling Health and Carmarthenshire County Council parted company last December. The firm had no staff, only directors , little in the way of assets, some debt and no sign of ready money to invest . So the mystery of how it came to be the Private Sector funding partner is another issue to put to the senior officers and councillors who decided to take them on. Any one can see they are a tiddler of a company, by looking at Company House records open to the public.

Perhaps it was just a pretence to allow the "City Deal" to go ahead and CCC were hoping that this company would not be "found out" as a partner with no money. However not having money did not seem to stop them from offering incentives to Swansea University employees based on the profits they were expecting in Llanelli.

The Delta Lakes area, owned by the public, was said to be worth a maximum of £400,000. When the project was announced the Magic Money Tree department  of the council claimed they had obtained a valuation of £35 million on the same land. All this depends on the planning permission, currently on hold, going ahead and developers being found for the scheme.

CARMARTHENSHIRE HAS FORM FOR GIVING AWAY PUBLIC LAND AND BUILDINGS IN LLANELLI

 Don't forget the case of the new Eastgate Town Centre development in Llanelli. The County Council generously gave ownership of the whole site over to the developers, Henry Davidson Developments, (HDD), a private company  who built the buildings and then sold the buildings on to Standard Life for £12 million, thus pocketing the value of considerable public funds and grants had been spent on site preparation and compulsory purchase by the Council. Standard Life then merged with Aberdeen Asset Management  to form Standard Life Aberdeen .
 Since this merger in 2007 the company, which merged with a valuation of £11bn, has lost £6.8bn, in asset value and is currently suffering something of a sell off and dip in share values. Our taxes used to support a developer and then our town centre sold for that developer's profit to a FTSE company whose board probably have little idea where Llanelli really is? If the Wellness Centre is built could this happen again?
Empty shop- Eastgate.

The Eastgate is still not fully let. An ugly building with empty units and rents well above the local commercial shop rents elsewhere. The County Council agreed to rent the first floor office space for £250,000 per year for at least 20 years. A large grant was given to the Scarlets  Rugby Club to keep open their shop in the Eastgate -£270,000,  but it still folded. It just is not a good commercial area as originally advertised. Too expensive to rent and not near enough to the old shopping centre to get good footfall.

In their business plan for the Wellness Project , thier plan claims the Council "will have to accept "charges"over the assets to encourage private investment". 

This sounds suspiciously like the deal which led to our town centre being sold off, with the buildings being given away without even a ground lease retained by the Council. HDD were not even a public company, a private leasing concern based in Nottingham. Similarly to Sterling Health the private partner seemed simply to be a friend of friends, just like Sterling Health, selected from a short list of one company. The perverse habit of using our money to subsidise  "favourite" private companies has to stop.
LLanelli Eastgate  -Statue representing tin workers.

SWANSEA UNIVERSITY WAS THE KEY TO OTHER PARTNERS

To qualify for a City Deal one needs a County Council, a University or Universities and one or more serious businesses willing to invest their own money. Inconveniently Carmarthenshire has not only lost the support of the "private partner" Sterling Health, but also Swansea University. There are now grave concerns over several  senior Swansea academics, and their links with the Wellness Project and Shifa'a in Kuwait. A desperate search to find either a new university and/or a new business partner for Carmarthenshire was not successful.  Hence the adoption of "going it alone" by Emlyn Dole.

CCC was to use the links of Swansea University to businesses such as Pfizer, Fujitsu, GSK, Microsoft,etc to recruit them to use various wellness project buildings and research, and any use or training of their medical staff or students at the Wellness project would need university approval. It's a big loss to the project but were the plans anything other than something to fill 40 acres of coastal land by a council desperate for jobs but a little too trusting of those who may have put greed before the welfare of local people?

WHAT WAS THE RESULT SUPPOSED TO BE?

More questions than answers. Where were the jobs? Where were the figures showing that private Wellness tourism would fill the hotel. With sea water levels rising should any more domestic housing be built on the coast?  How popular is shifting the new leisure centre out of town? Should a care home be built in an area which may be lost to the sea within decades?. The actual site has not been physically tested or fully geologically surveyed. It is frightening that the council seems keen to proceed with building without full information, The whole project is supposed to be finished by 2021 and I would be surprised if it makes it.

Only recently, north of the site, a new aquifer was discovered in the path of the Dwr Cymru Welsh Water Rain Scape tunnel under construction on its way to Delta Lakes. It will take months to pump out the water and engineer a way for drilling to proceed. WWDC are aware that is has to be done carefully to prevent any damage to surrounding roads and property from ground settlement. This is close to the Railway station and apparently was previously a totally unknown underground waterway.


WHAT HAPPENS TO WELLNESS NOW? 

As Mr Cole remarks, the new business Case planned for the "go it alone" project needs a massive re-write.

Much of the present business plan was to provide buildings for  Swansea University to use and an NHS hub for Hywel Dda. Recently as a councillor I listened to a presentation by Hywel Dda where they were clearly not informed that the University had withdrawn and were still  keen to use a promised Wellness building to offload GP services in some way. There is confusion as to what these NHS hubs should deliver and Hywel Dda plans to consult in the various localities as to what the public want. In the business plan Hywel Dda seem to promise financial contributions for 15 years. This is presumably some sort of rental agreement after their hub is built using the money borrowed by the County Council.

In the new plan, Councillor Emlyn Dole needs to firm up the returns from these buildings. The extra money needed to satisfy the environmental protection of wildlife and to keep floods away etc will have to be factored in when the Welsh Government Ministers report on the planning permission they have "called in ", a move which prevents building until the issues have been addressed.

As Emlyn Dole. the Council Leader, promises to fund the Council's borrowing from the rent and business rates of the properties to be built by Carmarthenshire, this can surely be calculated and published for all of us to see how the millions borrowed in our name will be used and payed back?

The original Swansea City Deal, inspired by Sir Terry Mathews, was that of an "internet coast" driven by high tech innovation and IT start ups, Somehow this original plan was dumped,, along with Sir Terry to encourage a project more suitable to Sterling Health, a company which under another name, Kent Neurosciences, had built a private hospital in Kent which had not made profits as promised and had to be sold on.

It is unlikely that the Wellness Project can or should be delivered as originally planned. The absence of real private investment is not a surprise when the whole business case does not have a clear and persuasive promise of commercial returns. Private investment needs a good chance of a decent profit, especially when hundreds of millions are involved. This was a project which should have never have been presented as a "City Deal" to attract UK and Welsh Government funds with no proper private business backing. It is, perhaps, fortunate, that the suspension of 4 members of Swansea University Staff ,on matters which the university investigated related to their involvement in the Wellness Village, alerted the public to the possible problems.

There are now numerous investigations by Police, the Wales audit Office and Auditor General, and the Welsh government and UK Government  who will withhold the City Deal funding until the facts are confirmed. Obviously no further funding other than further planned borrowing by Carmarthenshire County Council is likely until the allegations of wrongdoing are confirmed or disproved.

Carmartheshire  County Council should not proceed with spending more money under these circumstances The planning and business issues must be properly addressed. The use of pubic money, our taxes, is not to prop up "Dream" projects in  the face of allegations of wrongdoing, especially when they include financial impropriety,The site will still be there when the investigations have concluded and an informed decision can be made with a new and public business case for all of us to see and even finally be properly informed as to what is going on!?

IN SUMMARY :

The "Wellness City Deal" was a rehash of a previous scheme rejected by Welsh Government.. The Council supported it without proper scrutiny as the councillors were not made aware of the business case, risks and possible outcomes. The whole premise of the suitability of the "out of town" coastal site scheme and the theme of Commercial Neurosciences was never properly considered or explained. It could have been an extra campus for Swansea University but they were well over budget on their Bay Campus and  leading Swansea academics were flirting with Kuwait, rather than Llanelli, to bankroll the Universities' future and support the Wellness Deal.

The universities' Vice Chancellor, the Academic Boss of the university, Professor Richard Davies commanding a salary of more than £250,000, was suspended after an investigation. Vice Chancellors are rarely suspended and we can assume the reasons were unlikely to be trivial.

The full details of the unprofessional behaviour which precipitated the suspensions of staff and withdrawal of Swansea University from the City Deal are not yet released. They seem to include accepting promises of shares, discounted properties and other incentives provided via Sterling Health.

Since the revelations last November, Carmarthenshire County Council's chief executive Mark James has announced his retirement, leaving next June when he is 60 and can claim his pension.

 Professor Davies has announced he will leave Swansea later this year. The Stirling Health  companies have applied to be wound up and removed from the Company's  House Register and Stirling Health's agreement with Carmarthenshire County Council was terminated.  We now await the findings of the various investigating bodies. The planning permission is on hold until Welsh Government Ministers decide on environmental objections to developing parts of the site.

The Plaid/Independent Coalition who run the Council seem committed to a "go it alone" plan where the local authority continue to borrow £ millions and finance some or all of the project if the planning is approved. This also has yet to be discussed and shared by the Council as a whole, which the original plan definitely was not!

 Siân Caiach,

Monday, 18 February 2019

The Shifting Sands of Shifa'a

WHAT WERE SWANSEA UNIVERSITY THINKING - PLANNING TO BUY INTO A MEDICAL SCHOOL IN KUWAIT, WHEN OUR OWN WELSH STUDENTS CAN'T GET PLACES TO TRAIN AS DOCTORS AND NURSES? 

Shifa'a is an Arabic word meaning Health and a general reference to the Islamic religious text al Shifa, a book which promises advice to restore health simply by being read to or by the sick.
The Shifa'a project in Kuwait is allegedly a £600 million project, a new  private hospital and private university medical school. Swansea University, or at least some of its employees, have been involved. Even Carmarthenshire Council's Chief Executive Mark James was due to have a position as trustee on the Kuwaiti University's Academic board, along with now suspended Swansea Academics Professor Marc Clement  and Vice Chancellor Professor Richard Davies.. The plan may well  have been to offer Kuwait based students UK medical degrees from Swansea's own Postgraduate School of Medicine.

Kuwait

WELLNESS AND LIFE SCIENCES IN LLANELLI

 The new Llanelli Wellness project is mentioned as a base for these students, although it is not clear what  branches of medicine they would actually be studying there as there is no clarity as to whether the Hywel Dda "Hub" the Health board is planning to occupy after it is built for them, would be suitable for medical students to assist or observe there.The University research building itself is on hold and may never be built.

The Shifa'a university is  entirely private and hopes to recruit 5,000 students to be trained in the private hospital adjacent. It is clear that Swansea University planned to award Swansea degrees to theses students to give them UK accredited qualifications. The Swansea University would own 10% of the  Kuwaiti medical school. The Shifa'a was expected to have a turnover of £450 million within 5 years. However, other UK Universities have found returns on similar projects far less than promised and some have had to close overseas campuses.

Professor Clement has form on dubious overseas degrees. He was involved in a scandal about validation of external degrees some time ago, some given to colleges abroad and other to UK based institutions not thought to be of the proper standard..

 The University of Wales  tried to award external degrees and had sufficient difficulties to wind up the scheme  In 2011 their validation was withdrawn from schemes for the 11,675 degree courses offered externally.under the auspices of the University of Wales. There were degrees issued by a wide variety of institutions including bible colleges in Russia, Chinese medicine taught in Barcelona and other subjects in small UK colleges whose staff did not appear properly qualified. There had been few checks on the quality of the product endorsed. Validation procedures were exposed as inadequate and there was suspicion of corrupt practice. The scam was exposed by journalists, bloggers and eventually Private Eye.

WHO ACTUALLY BENEFITS HERE?

Now what is this all about? Money for Swansea University? Difficult to say.
KPMG claim that the project was originally fully approved by the university, but Swansea has now withdrawn its support. Their medical school has around 100 doctor training places per year for postgraduate students only.  The UK course length is 4 years and these students will have already completed a 3 year degree previously. Were the Kuwaitis to be postgraduates too? I doubt it.

Problems have apparently been identified with the arrangements  but the actual reasons for the University's withdrawal from both the Kuwaiti Shifa'a project and also the Llanelli Wellness project are not yet clear.

 The private Wellness investor, Sterling Health, has also withdrawn from the Wellness project. No university has yet been found by Carmarthenshire County Council to replace Swansea and allow City Deal Funding for the Wellness Centre, Neither has a bona fide private backer been recruited .which was also needed to qualify for UK and Welsh Government funds .

The County Council is likely to "go it alone " and borrow all the funds to build the large Neurosciences themed business park when the planning problems raised by NRW have been clarified and addressed.The council  taxpayers of Carmarthenshire may bear the brunt eventually with higher taxation and even cuts in services.. At least £250 million has probably been borrowed already and at least £2 million spent. The final bill if the project goes ahead could be well over £300 million ,

There is still no sign of the Wellness project business plan which was drawn up by Professor Marc Clement but not deemed suitable to be released to the public after appraisal by the County Council's Executive Board. With 2000 new jobs to be provided at £150,000 per head you would think the plan has to be credible? Apparently not.

Wales has a considerable deficit in medical education and does not train the number of medical practitioners or nurses needed for our country. What the hell are Swansea Academics and a Senior Local Government Civil servant doing by planning to sell medical science degrees to middle eastern students? Its a kick in the teeth for our own youngsters who cannot even get into a medical or nursing school due to shortage of places. Were the "proceeds" ever likely to be used to expand our own medical and nursing schools or to line the pockets of others? Was there ever a likelihood of profit anyway?

This a recurring Welsh Government  and Welsh Local Government Theme of grandiose plans , landmark buildings and legacy projects with vague prospects of delivering real economic growth or improvements to infrastructure. The Circuit of Wales is another example of a grand plan which did not work out. Maybe the Llanelli Wellness Centre can turn £300 million or more of public money into 2,000 jobs and a scientific wellness centre which will turn around the prospects of South Carmarthenshire, but in the absence of the background research and expressions of interest by firms who allegedly wanted to rent the buildings, us ordinary members of the public are in the dark and there is no convincing evidence. I have questioned the man who is borrowing the millions required, no doubt inspired by the secret business case. He is Cllr David Jenkins, but no answer as yet from him.

David Jenkins, Plaid Councillor and Executive Board Member for Finance
Carmarthenshire County Council


If we want to be a decent country we should not allow ourselves to be victimised and robbed by the "get your area rich quick" schemes so often sold to our Government and Local Authorities. We do not need majestic palaces built on large areas of barren (cheap) land, often in inconvenient and unsuitable places. We need to raise the standards of the whole nation. Its not the pretty shiny fantasy images we need, but the basic improvements in our own communities to fulfil the needs and aspirations of ordinary people.


Siân Caiach

Monday, 11 February 2019

County Council's Mysterious Generosity to Rich Man



Our governments at all levels are trusted to spend the public's money in the public’s interest. Of course MPs. AMs and councillors are all human and mistakes are made. But what happens when our elected leaders get deliberately involved with secretly and unlawfully gifting away our money to the wealthy, which is very questionable? Who polices public spending?

This also begs the question “Who is in charge?” How much of Wales is run by unelected public servants rather than elected representatives?

The Wales Audit Office is the official protector of the public purse and will investigate public bodies if a complaint is made. However even if a public body is found to have misused public money unlawfully, in Wales very little may be done about it.
Carmarthenshire County Hall
Take Carmarthenshire County Council. Should Carmarthenshire County Executive Board Councillors have bankrolled their CEO Mark James with a “secret pay rise” and his legal fees for a libel action against a local blogger. {total of both “grants” I believe to be around £80,000}. These decisions were made in private meetings in the presence of Mark James, although he was the beneficiary. There is a statement that he is a wealthy man and would not need to keep any libel damages he might be awarded, they would go to the council. When damages were given, he changed his mind and has been paid £250 per month by Mrs Thompson, who will be in debt to him for years to come and will lose her house if she doesn’t pay. 
Mr Mark James- due to retire in June


None of the councillors who gave Mark James the money have been disciplined. They are protected by the CCC Legal Officer, Linda Rees Jones, who despite the Wales Audit Office ruling that these payments were unlawful, states that she holds the firm opinion that the WAO are wrong.

In a similar case in Pembrokeshire the CEO was obliged to return a secret salary raise similar to the Carms scheme from his retirement package. He had to retire when his Councillors had a vote of no confidence in him over the pension scam. To date, the CCC Head of Legal has not produced her legal argument as to why she has come to the opinion that the Wales Audit Office was wrong, but dismissed the idea of Mr James repaying anything.

Mark James is due to retire in June and may well take his ill gotten gains with him unless the Wales Audit Office takes action. Why wealthy people like Mr James, working in the public sector, with pay packages bigger than our First Minister, want to milk the public purse for even more is mysterious. Mr James also has other sources of private income. This is not theft as it was all approved by elected Executive Board Councillors, even if they did it secretly and concealed their decisions from the rest of the councillors.

Eventually the unlawful payments were exposed. Council leadership changed to Plaid Cymru, the only party group not involved in the initial scams. However, even though Plaid had been rightly critical in opposition, they decided not to take any action or even publicly discuss the problem. Whether it was fear of Mr James or love of their new salary grades, or both, is not clear.

What is clear is the inability of Welsh Government to stop gross this abuse of the public purse.

Now, if the behaviour of a welsh local council is found to threaten the well being of individual residents or groups, the Welsh Government can put that Council in “special measures”, where the councillors are all only paid basic salary and the problem “turned around” after thorough assessment and independent advice. This can happen for example in cases of Education departments failing or poor standards in Social Services where individuals may be in danger of suffering harm from the poor performance of a council. Giving away money to senior officers does not make the grade. Carmarthenshire have taken advantage of the Welsh Government’s seemingly relaxed position on money management.

Do we have a weak, national government which tolerates unlawful use of money in major public authorities? Neither the beneficiary of the improperly allocated funds. in this case, Chief Executive Mark James, nor the Executive Board Councillors who used their authority to give him the money, got into trouble for it. Carmarthenshire County Council have subsequently used their own legal department to dispute the opinion of the WAO.

Allowing senior local government civil servants to convince their councillors to unlawfully pay them even more than their already generous salaries is ridiculous. If Assembly Members awarded Senior Assembly Civil Servants secret pay rises and financed their libel court cases for them, would they get away with it too?

 Siân Caiach, 

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Sosban Closes - The Ghost Plaza lonelier than ever

On February 3rd 2019 the sophisticated Llanelli Restaurant Sosban closed its doors permanently. The Restaurant had been set up with support from Carmarthenshire County Council, and with funding from other sources including EU grants.Personally, I never had a meal there. I never got further than reading the Menu Prices at the door, which were a little out of my league.

I have blogged on the original origin of the restaurant, as heavily public funded project. See:-

Tuesday, 27 June 2017


The Pump House Ghost Plaza . Llanelli's unloved gift from the EU.


The old pump house was converted into a fine dining restaurant by a company called Bendigo 9-10 which was fronted by 2 former professional rugby players The company has, according to Companies House a net worth of £669.8 k and assets worth £1.1 million  and debts of £ 1.1 million. Some of this debt appears to be to the Welsh Government and some to HSBC, for various borrowings. It was particularly popular on Sunday lunchtimes where a more reasonably priced meal was available. I gather that those who dined last Sunday had no inkling of the impending closure.

I am not surprised, these currently uncertain times and falling standards of living , that fine dining may have been, in an out of town former industrial site, difficult to keep going. Perhaps more information may be revealed on the specific reasons for the folding of the business in future press reports. 

It now adds to the ghostly atmosphere of the adjacent Pump House Plaza, which no-one ever seemed to use.

Personally I suspect it may just have been a high end Restaurant in a less than ideal location on the outskirts of an economically depressed, post industrial town. As living standards slowly drop, the luxuries are first to go.

This project was to feed a fine dining niche market. Whether there was ever much evidence of the demand for this service is not clear. A few locals were regular customers, but the majority of the local population just could not afford it. A posh restaurant was not what Llanelli needed most  but someone had the bright idea to give it a go. The financial problems are yet to be revealed. It survived for a few years but how much of that was just due to public funding and mortgaging the building?

 This company folding may show that there just are not enough wealthy diners locally to sustain production of excellent luxury food, especially at a less than ideal out of town location.

The mystery of exactly why the Plaza was built there remains, but it seems it did not help the restaurant survive.


 Siân Caiach
Sosban Restaurant Llanelli., viewed from the Pump House Plaza.