Saturday, 10 June 2017

Another election, and probably another one soon.

This May I lost my county council seat. Luckily I had realised I had probably lost at the verification of votes the night before, so had time to think things over. I still held my Llanelli  Rural Council Seat and will be seen joining the local chain gangs as vice chair of the that council this year and as chair the following year. The Rural Council selects its chairs on seniority and I've been a member since 2001. I was vice chair before but resigned when both the Clerk and some other councillors objected to my autistic child being my consort  after they started reading a book in a very boring WEA lecture. If there had been a spare book I would have taken it, I was asked me to change my consort but I decided to just pack it in. Now I've been around so long its my turn again. This time my mother is my consort and her right wing politics and embarrassing stories about my childhood will be far less likely to cause offence.

Losing my County Seat leaves me more time for other things, and completely free of any guilt from the actions of the assorted slime bags, ostriches,nice but dim, well meaning but ineffective and generally gutless former colleagues, most of whose company I honestly will not miss. Most importantly my ambition is to write up and finish researching a large pile of local issues which have been languishing around my home and computer. I hope to blog more frequently.

As to yesterday's election, after waiting up until the early hours of the morning to see results which were important to me in one way or another, I found the picture here from the post by my friend Gillian Anderson today in Aye Mac summed up my general viewpoint on the process also.


I'm getting older, and will be 60 later this year and recall my first political activity which was delivering election leaflets in the 2 elections of 1974, the first chapters in a slow, political car crash for Labour ending in the plague of 1979. I doubt this new government will live up to the "strong and stable" label.

I also cannot abolish the evil thought that Theresa May should grasp her only advantage in her probably short premiership and send in a brexit negotiating team containing at least half of her DUP new friends as I truly believe that after a few weeks of their company the EU would give us very favourable terms just to get rid of them!

I have always been a nationalist. During the 2014 Scottish Referendum I worked for Yes in Dundee where I used to live and work, and later spent some time in the neighboring  Perth and North Perthshire constituency where, unlike in Dundee, where the "Yes" vote was the largest percentage in Scotland, it clearly was not going so well .They had a 60% No vote in 2014. This SNP seat was clearly at risk in an election where INDYREF2 was the major issue and the Tories doing well. Shortly after 3.00 am and after 2 recounts and despite a 20% swing from the SNP to the Tories, the SNP's Pete Wishart, a man of notable courage and persistence, won the seat by 21 votes. I shall be playing nothing but my Runrig CD's in the car for weeks.
                                                                                 Siân Caiach,

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Mystery of the Car Park - the Scarlets needed money and thanks to the council they got it

From previous blogs you will recall the high level of financial support from Carmarthenshire County Council for their pet project - The Scarlets Rugby Club and their even more amazing generosity to Nottingham based Leasing Company Henry Davidsons' Developments to whom the council gave away the Eastgate Llanelli, our Town Center Development after throwing millions of public money into the project. Then, remarkably, they managed to support both of their pet money pits in one single project - the Parc Y Scarlets Overflow Car Park Sale.

Ongoing development in 2016 when a hotel was being added to the Sessile Oak Pub on the left. Parc Y Scarlets  in distance. . 
Such is the web of mutual support in Carmarthenshire County Council that one pet project just has to help out another. The Eastgate has struggled to let out all of its shop units, the prices being pretty steep for Llanelli and anecdotally the management of the complex seem to prefer "national" businesses to local enterprises. However, the Scarlets were clearly an exception, were offered and occupied 2 East Gate units, a shop and a cafe, to promote the club, encourage visitors to the town centre and of course to make them some money.

Somehow the Scarlets ran up a shop fitting bill of nearly £300k with Eastgate Developers and leasing agents Henry Davidson Developments. I'm waiting for former Council Leader Meryl Gravell's memoirs to find out how this fine English firm got its claws into her.

Anyway, in order to pay off this debt the Scarlets and Carmarthenshire Council decided to sell a car park lease and split the profits, Due to the unfortunate fact that the Scarlets' new stadium has not managed to pack in thousands of new fans into the increased seating area provided, the overflow carpark was no longer needed but more cash was. However, the scandal was that although the Scarlets had been given the lease to the Car park for free, they got the lion's share of the proceeds as it was sold to Marsten's to build the Sessile Oak pub. The pub chain wanted to put up a hotel too, but it was originally declined by CCC to protect the hotel at the Eastgate. Now a hotel has been built on the car park as well, an unexplained u turn in that planning decision..

The ordinary county councillors generally treated like mushrooms, {kept in the dark and fed on manure} were told that the Authority would share the sale profits after the "usual disbursements" . The land registry showed that the car park lease was sold for £850k and CCC accounts showed that CCC got £200k. It turned out that after fees, valuation and paying off the Scarlet's debt to HDD, only £400k was left to be split, The usual disbursements in Carmarthenshire as you can see, are not exactly what one may expect. Following this heroic bailout the whole Scarlets' shop and cafe project folded, Was it ever a commercial proposition?

One sad issue of the whole case is when I pressed the Council's Executive Board member for resources and finance for an explanation of how half of £850k became £200k he told me the truth about where the money had gone. When I walked into his office to hear the explanation he was actually on the phone to chief executive Mark James who, even at the last minute, was trying to talk him out of spilling the beans. The same Jeff Edmunds, as leader of the Labour Group was later rejected out of hand by the Independents as a suitable coalition partner, presumably as he wasn't trusted to cover their backs,suspected of an unfortunate tendency to tell the truth.

The Scarlets have been under public scrutiny because of resentment by local residents of the huge amounts of public money spent on them , Like the car park deal there are other examples of County Council Executive financial decisions without scrutiny or clear explanation. More recently Llanelli House has benefited from a sudden and unexpected handout from the public purse of over £300k to fill an unexplained gap in their budget. Many more questionable hand outs have probably slipped under the radar.

How does a firm or institution qualify for the gravy train in Carmarthenshire? There seems to be a process which firmly encourages blindly throwing more of our money at pet projects that fail to make money as predicted in their original fantasy business plans and then desperately ask for more.

Is it just simply that failure to bail out these lame ducks will expose the original detail of the decisions to support them as flawed?


How many public bodies have the general motto" Never admit mistakes, never say sorry and hope you never get found out"? Quite a lot, I suspect.



Siân Caiach

  

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Guest Post - Ray Jones - his take on the Scarlets' funding issues

Ray Jones is a longtime community activist and one of the original "Stradey 9" who formed the Strady Residents Action Group - SRAG to oppose the building of a large residential development on the C2 flood plain at Stradey Park.


Ray "Duncan" Jones

 Ray writes:

Carmarthenshire Council have admitted spending over £25 million on the Parc- y-Scarlets Stadium. This does not include a loan of £2,6 million at an initial interest rate of 7%, later reduced to 3.5% and interest only, with full repayment of the capital sum in 2023.

The Council also made a contribution of £5.16 million from its reserves, and also funded a supposed 106 payment [usually used to fund local infrastructure of a new development] of £5.56 million to act as the club's contribution to the stadium. This loan was paid back, often in arrears, by Taylor Wimpey. The sum was based on the original 450 homes planned and after protests this was reduced to 355 so the developers may have ended up paying over the odds.

The new Stadium site was council owned and part developed for retail, the rest for the Scarlets.
Grants were given for their new training barn, £700,000 and the athletic track at the new stadium was supported to the tune of £750,000. The 150 year stadium ground lease with no rental payment unless there is considerable profit on ticket sales {never has been} is worth an estimated £5 million. So essentially free and eventually part of it sold on to finance other projects.

Deliottes were commissioned in 2007 to assess the Scarlet's business plan at the cost of £200,000. Deloittes assessed that the business plan was unlikely to succeed but the council still proceeded. The Scarlets agreed to set up an annual  "sink fund" for repairs of £25,000 but were allowed to default on it.

Later the Scarlets sold the lease on one of their car parks to Marsden's who built a pub and a hotel on the site and plan a "drive through" food and drink sales unit for the future. The Sale was for over £800,000 but the council, originally promised half the money, only got £200,000. Did that deficit include the almost £300,000 used to refit the Scarlet's shop and Cafe at the Llanelli  Eastgate, now both closed down?

Carms County Council were said to be paying £20,000 p.a. to employ a liason officer for them to keep in touch with the Scarlets.

The Council argued that the Scarlet Brand would bring both Pemberton and Trostre Retail Parks loads of business, They play at home 16 times a year - 11 home games in the Pro 12 and 4 in Europe. What happens the rest of the year?

Morrison's Supermarket paid the council around £25 million for their site but CCC paid a lot, some millions, to stabilise that site. Sold commercially the stadium site may have been worth £14-16 million. The Councillors were told the project would not cost the public a penny as it would be funded by the sale of this council land for retail and the Scarlets would be able to use the profit from the sale of land at Stradey Park to pay off their debts. This was then a figure of £9 million. Now it is more despite the money spent on them by the Council and selling the Stradey Park site for well over £9 million.     


Parc y Strade development : 355 homes mainly on a flood plain and elevated above ground level and  so increasing the risk of local flooding
  How much revenue has been lost with the Scarlets being given free rent and earning hundreds of thousands of pounds as the Council pay for the use of their facilities over very many years and the rental charges paid by all who use those same facilities?

Finally consider the the fairness in Carmarthen Town FC getting a grant of over £165.000 over 10 years and now applying for more, £150,000 for an all weather surface and Llanelli FC, "the Reds" who only owed £23,000 in debt being left to the mercy of being bankrupted and given a massive relegation [down 4 divisions to Welsh league division 3]. It could have been 8 if the Welsh FA had not stepped in.They then had to pay for their own signage and other local clubs, cricket, Tennis and Squash clubs face the same scenario. 

Ray "Duncan" Jones

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

St Illtyd's Way - can Carmarthenshire County Council turn back the Sea?

We may all know the tale of  King Canute who failed to turn back the sea. Less well known is the Celtic Saint Illtyd who was quite a religious superstar in his day, he had the sea under control. He is commemorated in many place names and also in St Illtyd's Way, a 64 mile long footpath for hikers which incidentally passes my home. The Way travels from Pembrey Country Park through Rural East Carmarthenshire via Mynydd y Gwair to Margam Country Park in Neath Port Talbot.

St Illtyd's church, Pembrey. Carmarthenshire, originally on the coast but now surrounded by homes built on reclaimed land.
St Illtyd was very popular. Setting up his HQ religious commune and college at what is now known as in English as Llantwit Major- Llanilltud Fawr in Welsh. Not surprisingly, as he specialised in coastal settlements, the sea became a problem here. As the community's sea walls failed repeatedly God had the solution. He instructed Illtyd to wave his crozier at the naughty sea which was permanently frightened away. Things were simpler in the 5th Century. It was a miracle.

Now the Sea can really get in the way in Carmarthenshire's coastal city deal.

Grant grabbing and permission to borrow was seen by many local government civil servants and councillors as a fine way of increasing council incomes. The trouble was making up the projects to fit the applications tended to leave a few white elephants hanging around, some quite expensive both financially and politically ,Much of the spending seems to have little in the way of tangible results for the local populations. Hence the deaf ears in much of Wales to the argument of the vital need for EU funding to continue.

Now there's a different game in town,, the City Deals. Here in Carmarthenshire the Council is the lead body in the Wellness ARCH Project AKA Wellness and Wellbeing Neuro/Life Science village and a few other similar descriptions. Here is one official description from a press release:

What is a Wellness and Life Science Village?
This project is a first for the country and brings together health, science and enterprise to regenerate the area and also help people live healthier lives for longer.
The project concept was derived last year from work undertaken by under ARCH alongside Carmarthenshire Council. ARCH (A Regional Collaboration for Health) is a partnership between Swansea University and ABMU and Hywel Dda health boards. By coming together the three organisations are aiming to transform the way healthcare is delivered in South West Wales. ARCH brings together the health service and innovation and research to find a new way of meeting the challenges the NHS faces.
The village could see lifestyle and leisure facilities, primary and community-based healthcare and specialist residential care integrated with university research and education space. There will also be business facilities to encourage economic growth.
A feasibility study, funded by the Welsh Government, is currently being carried out for the scheme at Delta Lakes. The site, adjacent to the coastline, has been chosen as the perfect place to deliver the project, which is expected to create 1,000 jobs.

                                                               *********************
Llanelli is a low lying town where most of South Llanelli has been reclaimed from the sea over the past 2 centuries. With global temperatures expected to raise by at least 2-4 C by 2100  and tide lines to rise by 4-6 metres building on land already requiring tide locks to stop the sea coming in twice a day seems a little short sighted?  Delta lakes, looking at the research by Climate Central, may well be permanently under water  before the end of the century and at risk of tidal surges producing floods  prior to going under. It is clearly in a potential danger area. Why throw money at a site which may only last a few decades?
Speaking back in 2015 Professor Ian Hall, head of Earth and Oceanic Science at Cardiff University said:
"It is clear that as the rate and total amount of Sea level rise increases in the coming years the impact of this change will be increasingly felt".
"Our Coastlines and the communities living on them will become increasingly vulnerable. In Wales, adapting to future sea levels will require a combination of increased flood protection for certain high value coastal assets but an acceptance that abandonment and relocation is inevitable for some"
There is no sign on the plans I've seen of extensive flood protection being part of this construction.You can make almost any building flood proof to a certain level but it is expensive and the projected builds look rather open and decorative rather than a fortress against the sea. Why build in an area of risk knowing the possible consequences?
This is an aerial view https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8iNZH5r8Os  of the site as it is now prior to building and you will see that it is flat, very near the sea and even has standing water on areas which are not the actual lakes, It probably has not been built on historically since industrial times because its suitability was thought far from ideal. With global warming accelerating it may now be even less suitable. Could the County Council, financially liable for project delivery, end up with an expensive case of trench foot? Perhaps that Crozier is at hand somewhere?
As the press release says:

'Nothing of this scale has been tried in Wales before'

An Artist's Impression

                                                                                                         Siân Caiach


Saturday, 1 April 2017

A Better Future? - looking ahead to the Council Elections

Council elections are often seen as the poor relations of bigger political conflicts. Not as sexy as  UK general elections or even Assembly Elections and bereft of the binary force of a democratic yes/no referendum. They should be selections of suitable representative individuals but are complicated by party preferences and the often bizarre wranglings and eccentricities of the more local levels of politics.

In Carmarthenshire County Council the Councillors have limited but certainly some influence on the Council. Many functions are seemingly administered by the local government civil servants, the "officers", with little or no input from elected members. This is probably acceptable as long as the services provided are excellent and responsive to the needs of our population but the lack of habitual and real oversight by elected members could be a recipe for disaster.

One of the first cuts Carmarthenshire County Council made in the early days of austerity was to reduce the number of meeting of Scrutiny Committees where Councillors supposedly examine the working and efficiency of their departments. I have long been a member of the Health and Social Care Committee. I have never successfully put an item on the agenda despite asking the committee chairs. My committee  is seemingly run by officers without any real consultation of issues either among Councillors,service users or front line staff. If it happens, they hide it well.

 The delay in building a fully funded £7million care home in Llanelli agreed years ago, apparently is just to help fund a"Wellness" project at Delta Lakes, part of the Swansea City Deal. It shows a great willingness to sacrifice the well-being of ordinary people - specifically those stuck in hospital for want of a care home or convalescent bed to go to - in order to promote what may well become a vanity project which fails to deliver the massive private investment needed in the current financial outlook. The County Council is liable for returning funds if the project fails. I have asked the CCC finance director how much we are risking and will update this blog if when he replies to me. What worries me is that Social Care Senior Officers and the Plaid /Indy Council leadership must have known exactly why the Llanelli Care Home Project had been shelved and will surely now remain "on ice" while the new Wellness Project is developed,and hopefully not for the whole 15-20 years it may take.
[ To be even handed I should mention that it is quite possible that the Labour Group knew too but if they did they are damn good actors !]


 
The impressive entrance to  Carmarthenshire County Hall is surrounded  by relief sculptures  presumably depicting the functions of local government.This one, the lowest one on the right, is a cascade of money passing from hand to hand accumulating in the lowest palm. The symbolism surely depends on the true identity of the  last recipient of the loot!
The future of this Council, and all others, depends on the quality and talent of the elected members and the commitment of the whole organisation to deliver as much as will be possible for our communities under the economic and political  circumstances we all face. There is very little mention in the election literature I've seen of the actual problems we need to address. There is much more mention of the problems of the National Health Service [most of which, other than bed blocking is not related to Councils] for example, rather than the huge problems delivering social care and public housing [largely to do with County Councils]. Most people realise that councils cannot magically producean jobs and prosperity, but the do want a better environment and better services.

The Election on May 4th will be examined nationally as to how well the parties do, but in fact the real result depends on how well the Councillors deliver for their residents over the next 5 years. Chose well!

Siân Caiach

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Dumped in a ditch? A messy end and as yet no explanation.

The whole saga of Carmarthenshire County Council's cunning plan to indemnify senior officers so that they could sue local residents for libel at public expense is long and complicated. All levels of government in the UK  are forbidden to sue citizens for libel The motivation for the councillors, the Independent/Labour coalition who first put this rule into the council's Constitution, and then used it against a blogger, is unclear, I don't believe any of them  realised the probable consequences of using public funds to try to silence local critics, Although senior officers may be willing to act as a proxy for the Council,as in this case, it is unlikely to be taken up by other Councils at present. All that has been proved here is that you can spend a quarter of a million pounds of public money on lawyers and still not stop a person blogging. The lady in question still has access to a computer and internet. Our chief executive has reported her to the police for still blogging, It seems unlikely that she will be prosecuted for doing so, but has been contacted by the police and interviewed under caution.

All this started with a comment by our chief executive on the Madaxeman blog which in his email to all councillors Mr James claimed had been a statement posted at the request of several members i.e. Councillors. It certainly was posted after help with composition from the CCC press office and Legal Department. I replied to Mr James and every County Councillor pointing out that much of what he had said about the filming of Council meetings in Wales was factually untrue, other councils and public bodies already did do, others were planning trials etc. An unintended consequence of my email was that in disclosure to Mrs Thompson's lawyers before the libel trial was the evidence that my emails were being monitored and tracked. I did not find this out until much later when contacted by Mrs Thompson with a mystery document bearing my name and largely redacted. By the details of the email trail and the help of a friend I was able to find which email had been tracked and on what date. It was my reply to Mark James to his statement on the blog. I have no doubt that he had ordered the monitoring of my emails and also had no intention of ever telling me I was under surveillance. I suppose that if a Council is largely run by officers, with little scrutiny of them. it is only a matter of time before their contempt for the Councillors is so great that the privacy and human rights of the elected members becomes subservient to the general welfare of the ruling clique? No explanation has ever been given to me and no apology received.

A threat by Mark James in full council that I should expect a complaint against me from the IT officer who monitored my emails came to nothing but caused me a great deal of wonderment as to what on earth. as an IT security officer he could complain about me? Was he coerced to work on my case and blamed me for it?,Did the monotony of my ward problems and endless routine notifications cause him psychological harm? If he had gone "over the line" and snooping on Councillors really isn't his business and he shouldn't have done it - how is it my problem to have accidentally come across evidence this was going on? Unnecessary speculation, as the poor man never did complain.

Subsequently, in court, Mr James said that he had no formal instruction from Councillors to make the statement on the blog. He may never even have had informal instruction - a nod and a wink- to do so.  Was it really all just Mark's idea??

Although Mark James is a very able and persuasive man the people officially in charge of the Council are of course the Councillors, specifically the ruling executive board, The decision to fund the libel action by the chief executive was made in secret and the councillors present probably thought no-one would ever get access to the minutes of their discussion and that their part in all this would be secret forever. However, undoubtedly their actions or perhaps inaction brought about this whole affair. The full minutes of the meeting were released after the Welsh Government's Wales Audit Office investigated. The WAO  found the payments to Mr James were unlawful.

Our senior Councillors do not seem to have agreed with this judgement. Quite recently Cllr Emlyn Dole reminded me in writing that the WAO findings have never been "tested in court", implying that they may not be correct. He sang a different song as Plaid Cymru Leader of the Opposition. I gather that Mr James closely assists the major political groups in the negotiation of coalitions. I wonder if selective amnesia was in the mix for Plaid's leadership deal?

 Until the exempt document was released we were ignorant of the sentiments expressed in January 2012 that it would be a shame if Mr James had to pay for his own libel defence and that a leading barrister had already been engaged to suggest a cunning plan - a counter claim  by Mr James which could be financed under the Council's constitution. The reputation of the Chief Executive had to be defended. This, presumably is why a modest out of court settlement payment offer to Jacqui Thompson was made and then withdrawn.. It mentions that there may be little likelihood of recovering costs from someone with a low income in the meeting  and very definitely Mr James stated that any damages will be paid to the Council. No mention of the option to change his mind later, no negative consideration of the large amount of money it would likely cost, which is also mentioned. Clearly he was worth it.

Now, I accept the libel case award of Mr James Damages is legal,even if the funding was unlawful, and he had every right in law to pursue those damages he was awarded. The fact that the legal fees for  this case were paid for by public finds and that Mr James apparently first promised to return  the damages to the Council to help repay the legal bill and then decided to keep the money is probably also legal as he didn't sign anything. Promising he definitely would do so -is just a statement recorded in the minutes of that January 2012  meeting by the Head of our Legal Department and verified by the then Leader of Council, Meryl Gravell. Perhaps both ladies made a mistake in hearing exactly what he said?

I may never get an answer as to what really happened and what motivated all this. In the end filming and streaming of meetings has not led to disaster. Despite the case against Mrs Thompson the number of local bloggers has increased and many residents may have a deeper insight into the workings of our local government. I have asked Mr James to explain his change of  mind and perhaps he will. The damage to the Council's credibility is already done, and there have been a lot of other casualties along the way. If truth is the daughter of time I hope we don't have to wait too long?

Siân Caiach


New Zealand Wiltshire horn Sheep  - they remind me of some people I know.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

A Glitch for People First

Politics is a long game and marked with twists, turns and unexpected consequences. People First had a bit of a twist recently when the name of our party, People First, was accidentally removed from the official list of parties held by the electoral commission. The fault was ours, but not deliberate. Our treasurer had been seriously ill last year with several hospital admissions for treatments. During one of these admissions the routine request for the £25 annual party nomination fee was sent by email and missed, as similarly was the reminder. As a result the party name was de-registered and we only discovered it when a candidate submitted his nomination paper for checking.

People First, a small party with a small membership run on a shoestring by unpaid volunteers, has to deal with just as much bureaucracy as National Parties with paid staff is, one part of which is to maintain registration with the electoral commission. Its not been a problem up to now but we did not have a fail safe to allow for sudden illness and missing deadlines. It has been a good lesson, if a little embarrassing.

On contacting the Electoral commission and explaining matters they instructed us to reapply but they pointed out that the process takes 30 days which is too long to allow our members to stand under the party banner with nominations closing on the 4th of April.They advised us to stand as Independents and re-register promtly. By the election date of May 4th we should be back on the register and obviously will not let this happen again! The good news is that our treasurer has made a good recovery from a life threatening illness.

 It means that the name People First/ Gwerin Gyntaf  will not be used on the ballot paper. However. it can still be used on all the election literature and we can still use the name generally, but will have to be described as "Independent" on the actual polling forms

Of course we are all independents anyway, We chose to stand as People First / Gwerin Gyntaf  to distinguish ourselves from the Carmarthenshire "Affiliated Independent Party", which almost all people standing as "Independents" here join at County level, and to explain how truly independent we are. {check out Bell's Principles on pages of this website}

Since Carmarthenshire County Council was formed in 1999 the Affiliated Independent Party has constantly been in "power" either leading the Council or in coalition.They have the structure of standard political parties including imposing "whips" on votes. When in coalition with bigger parties they still get half the seats on the Executive Board as the "junior partner" which effectively means that they have had more power than they deserve and can block many of the ambitions of their coalition partners. The title "Independent" gave them a degree of immunity from blame as in the minds of the public they are still often regarded as being independent in thought and deed when largely they do not act as such. They are a political party in all but  official party name.

 We registered as a party properly with the Electoral Commission in 2012 and think we have acted  more independently than the affiliated Independents. Their triumphs include the Scarlet's generous funding, selling off Llanelli town centre, the Pembrey Country Park debacle and a string of uncomfortable planning issues.Their general policy of "Build it and they will Come" continues with support of the Swansea City Deal at Delta Lakes. Its not been too successful to date but they clearly have no other ideas.

Its ironic that just for this election we have to use the "Independent " label just in the polling booth. I would like to emphasise that despite our temporary label we have had nothing to do with the  Affiliated independents mentioned above.

 Our political opponents are already suggesting that we were de-registered for some unspecified wilful wrongdoing. I'm afraid the boring truth is that is was simply an accidental failure to pay a £25 annual registration fee

Siân Caiach