Monday, 9 January 2017

The Scarlets - How a County Council Funded a Rugby Region - part 2

In the first part I described the beginings of the plan to build a new stadium at Pemberton, Llanelli, moving the home of the Lanelli RFC / Scarlets to an out of town site and use the proceeds of the sale of the site of the club's existing stadium and surrounding grounds for a suitable developer to build a huge and profitable housing estate.

 Much of the site was, according to the Welsh Government Development Advice Maps issued to planning authorities by Welsh Government was at the time of these plans, a C2 flood plain. C2 is an undefended flood plain and should only be used for vital infrastructure eg. a sewage pumping station . It should not, according to Planning Policy Wales. be used for vulnerable developments such as housing as people, their homes and safety would be at risk. Within a few years the entire site was C2 as sea levels rose.

 However it may have been expected that fellow officers in the Planning department and their compliant elected councillors would overlook any planning guidance. A good price for the land to the Scarlets will take them out of debt and in personal correspondence between the Council's Chief executive and The Scarlet's major benefactor Huw Evans, it is confirmed that a generous 106 payment - usually used for local infrastructure related to the area of the  development itself,- will be invested instead in the stadium

The County Council senior officers seek to fund the project by developing an old landfill site for a retail park and by selling part of this look to fund the stadium. This site is also on a flood plain, needs considerable preparation and has a large number of mine shafts running underneath it.

 What could possibly go wrong?

Unfortunately, Planning Policy Wales, the rules laid down by the Welsh Government can be appealed by anyone asking the WG planning office to call in a planning application which is being recommended for approval but clearly breaches government guidelines. So the application was called in and initially the WAG minister complied and did so.

Help was needed to stop Welsh Government from preventing an estate being build on a dangerous flood plain. It materialised in the person of Peter Hain MP, the Right Honourable Secretary of State for Wales. He decided to write to the Welsh Assembly Minister for Environment,planning and Countryside pointing out how important this planning permission was for the Scarlets in no uncertain terms and is basically asking him to bend the rules in this case.  The letter is below, .

After reading this plea from a politician who clearly outranks him, Carwyn  obviously wanted to comply. He probably realised that it would look odd, even corrupt, if he just relaxed building regulations on just one flood plain for the convenience of a favoured rugby club. So he relaxed the regulations for the whole of Wales. Any planning authority could now use his letter of instruction to justify building on flood plains and the Environment Agency [now NRW] was told that they no longer had a duty to object to developments an flood plains. Instead they could mitigate the potential flood problems, even if the usual "mitigation" involved raising the land and took no  consideration of where the flood water would be displaced to. In order to protect the future of a severely financially challenged rugby club and suck up to the Secretary of state for Wales, Carwyn Jones allowed any planning authority in Wales to build on any old flood plain. Technical advice note 15 can be disregarded as his letter to every local authority in Wales below shows.

 The message is that he doesn't care about the environment or the safety of the existing local residents in these areas. The underhand actions of the political elites depend on escaping scrutiny and evading publicity. No wonder  Tony Blair said that he regretted the Freedom of Information Act.

However, it takes time to find the right documents and a degree of expertise and understanding to put the story together. Many of these underhand actions probably remain hidden from the public.

How can we be happy to be citizens of a country where the rules are suddenly changed quietly without public consultation or any sort of vote by an elected representative under pressure from a more senior politician who acts as a representative of a private sporting club? How we trust Carwyn Jones now with this record of him as a minister changing the  rules designed to protect the environment and assure the safety of the people of wales, I presume his motivation was to only to further his career but he has harmed his country without a thought to the protection of  people and the environment he was supposed to defend. Selflessness,openness and honesty were obviously not on his personal list of Nolan Principles.

This policy change was only made public to a group of civil servants, tame Associations and industry organisations. Nor even individual  AM.s or County Councillors. including elected members of Planning committees, are specifically informed. The copy list includes civil servants and private enterprise professional associations who can now harvest a development bonanza by building on all that cheap flat land next to rivers and the coast which was not previously thought safe to build on..  As far as I know this ministerial letter of instruction has never been rescinded.

Carwyn would of course, get his desired  promotion to the post of First Minister.

Part 3 soon!

 Siân Caiach,

Thursday, 5 January 2017

The Scarlets - how a County Council funded a Rugby Region - Part one

A lot of Carmarthenshire's County Councillors probably enter the chamber completely ignorant of any prior dubious dealings or failings of the Authority. I was lucky,  before my election as a County Councillor I was a local community councillor in the Hengoed Ward {which includes the Stradey area}.I was aware of some of the financial shenanigans and double dealing rife in the issue of the Scarlet's new stadium project.I watched in horror as our County Councillors were persuaded to give millions to the Scarlets Rugby club, ignoring independent financial advice and to the obvious detriment of my area and voters and impoverishing the council as a whole. And the fairy tale is more Brothers Grimm than Jackanory.

In 2002 an ambitious new Chief Executive Officer, Mark James, was appointed to Carmarthenshire County Council.  The Council then was controlled by a coalition between Plaid and the Affiliated Independents I was told that part of his interview pitch was the promise to build a new shiny stadium in Llanelli, just like a project he had started in Boston, Lincs, his previous post. Meryl Gravel the Council Leader and her executive board were all for it, apparently. And it wasn't going to cost the people of Carmarthenshire a penny, it was said. True,as it turned out, it was going to cost the local taxpayers millions.

The main aim of the plan was to bail out a seriously indebted club and put it back in the black. It was money ,primarily, which was the issue, not value for money. The guardians of the public purse were ready to act to "save" the Scarlets, by which they meant  not the team or its players but the financial fortunes of a group of business men who had lost millions in supporting the team.

Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act and the Sterling work of  local community activists, the background picture has gradually emerged and shows total control of the project by Council Officers and Llanelli RFC.

 Llanelli Rugby Club, as was, had acquired the ground occupied by the stadium and surrounding area very cheaply. It had been donated by the local Mansel Lewis family in the 1950'sfor the recreation of local people and was originally managed by the Athletics Association. The original stadium was built  largely from donations of materials and labour and many could still remember their older relatives helping with construction. The final capacity was 10,800 or so, Average gates were closer to 7,500.

A boggy area lying at the base of an artesian escarpment with many springs, it was deemed suitable for rugby pitches and was well used by the local community, not just for Rugby  The practise pitch area, outside the stadium was used locally as parkland, although when the club players or juniors were using a pitch it was vacated and often attracted a touchline audience . Children played, dogs were walked and the local Carnival utilised it too.

The original Stradey Park Stadium, now demolished

Naturally, in the elitist tradition of Carmarthenshire local government, it was not thought important enough an issue to consult local people or the town as a whole . There was no objection to renovating or upgrading the stadium site but to demolish it and build a stadium elsewhere had little support. It was not until the motivation became clear, the desire to sell the ground for housing to fund the new stadium and enrich the Scarlets financial backers, that anger grew. The land was clearly unsuitable for housing, was on a C2 flood plain and the build would also change the neighbourhood for the worse, increasing flood risk to the homes nearby, especially if the land was raised. The 450 houses originally planned were described as" a suburban slum".

Now the fairy stories emerged. The general line was that the Scarlets needed a state of the art stadium and there was no way of doing it other than to move it out of town, The Chief executive, Mark James and Director of Finance, Roger Jones sold the scheme to the Council political groups but were very economical with the truth.

From the documents I have been able to obtain the plans were made by discussion between Council Civil Servants and the club's management without councillors being involved. On 9th February 2004 Mark James attended a meeting with Llanelli RFC who confirmed their plans to form a public limited company. MJ confirmed that the "political groups" (the inverted commas are in the minutes, not mine) within CCC had been briefed on the proposals and unanimously supported the scheme. The commercial development of the out of town retail park at Pemberton was to fund the scheme. A project board was set up . Membership as follows:

For Carms County Council
Mark James,  Chief Executive
Roger Jones   Director of Resources /finance
Dave Gilbert   Director of Regeneration
Cyril Davies   Head of Corporate Property
Council officers John Tillman  [executive assistant] and Debbie William [press manager] also attended all later meetings I have records of.

For the Rugby Club:
Huigh Evans   Chairman LLanelli RFC
Stuart Gallagher, Chief Executive Llanelli RFC
Mike Bishop      Finance Directorate Llanelli RFC

Noticeably there is no involvement by Councillors. The reports back to them were probably not complete In the initial February meeting the cost of the stadium was estimated at £8-10 million.
 CCC had appointed a firm to assess the real costs of preparing the site and the build and start preliminary works etc and by June 2004 the costs had risen to £27m There was a £7m shortfall.

Rather than come clean with the representatives of the people MJ and RJ decided to prepare a report to convince the elected members that the club had the £7m covered, To quote from the minutes of the 29th June.

"MJ/RJ that is was essential that they be able to report to the elected members of the County Council that the shortfall could be covered by other sources of income, in order for members to have confidence to commit further sums of money to enable preliminary works to proceed.
A report was a requirement for progressing the project beyond the preliminary work already undertaken and would be made in September 2004. It would not be possible to seek the approval of Council for a proposal with a funding gap of £7 million."

"Huw Evans stated that the Scarlets wished to maximise return from the development of Stradey Park and that a contribution of £7m from this return would be difficult for the club."

"A discussion took place on this issue  as well as the position of the Chairman and Scarlet's shareholders. The division of the income from the proposed development of Stradey was looked at. RJ emphasised that CCC would seek to maximise grant funding and CD stressed that it may be possible to reduce some of the costs specified for the development, whilst also increasing income.IT was emphasised that any income from sponsorship, branding of the stadium etc had not been taken into account to cover development costs.

The conclusion was:-

Agreed that there was a basis to move forward, dependent on £7m being available from the Stradey re-development for residential use, to underwrite known costs at this stage.

 There follows a large block of redacted text under the heading  "Strradey Park",Too sensitive for FOIA, I presume.

wet conditions during the development at Stradey Park
It is not always clear from the minutes who is paying for what but CCC officers seem in control. The meeting ends with a statement  that the short list of planning consultants is 3 candiates, the news that CCC would be ready to enter into a legally binding contract in September and the submission of planning permission for the Stradey Park site is to discussed with the Head of Planning, Eifion Bowen. Inaccurate information had  by a third party. been provided to the press. DW was to put out an immediate press release regarding the Pemberton Site.

The pattern is now set, CCC officers are in control and trying to support the Llanelli RFC with as much help and money they can. Information released for both the public and the Councillors is to be carefully controlled.

"Success" now depends on selling Stradey Park, building houses on a flood plain with enough money left over to fill the £7 million pound black hole in the stadium budget and to pay off the club's debts.
Democracy, openness, public consultation and honesty have already flown the nest.

More to follow:

. Siân Caiach, 

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Throwing Stones

“You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks”

Winston Churchill

Such is the current disarray at Carmarthenshire County Council that if there ever was a planned policy, "a destination", for the area, no-one is clear what it was. Much of the energy and focus of the political leaders and senior local government civil servants seems to be taken up by the stone throwing. The consequences of historical actions seemingly motivated by thin skins and the desire to rewrite the record after the facts after failure, have stacked up.

Although most dogs retire hurt after a few stones, others will keep barking. 

These citizens have taken the hits from many stones but fail to tolerate injustice and are still prepared to bear witness to what has actually happened,
The elites who run the council continue to use propaganda and publicity services, legal action and quiet threats to keep the lid on a boiling pot of discontent.

I've been criticised in the past by Mr Mark James, the Council's chief executive, for asking too many questions but certainly I cannot complain about having too many answers. I used to get a lot of evasive answers and still get a few of those, but the number of "no shows" with no explanation of the lack of reply is growing

If I, as an elected Councillor, can't get answers to questions relating to the County Council and its actions,what chance is there of the public having its voice heard?. The idea of basic democracy is being ignored by those who think they know best. The public should, perhaps, not be troubled by things they do not need to know, especially if the truth will upset them!  

Over 150 years ago Abraham Lincoln described democracy as "government of the people,by the people, for the people".

The people in charge here are not accountable to the people they serve. Perhaps feel they are superior, qualified to dictate, rather than respond to the needs of others. Even elected members here usually have more loyalty to their political parties than their voters.

The general system relies on 2 premises:

a) That senior local government officers continue to control elected councillors by a combination of threats and flattery, tolerated by those elected councillors.

b) That the local electorate does not significantly change its voting patterns, thereby returning to "power" many of the current crew, well trained in the local system of control, rewards and retribution

Politics is a long game, but change will surely come. 

Siân Caiach 

Friday, 16 December 2016


Robin Burn argues that commercial steel is still viable in Wales

In a recent article, The Llanelli Herald, published November 11th, Assembly Member for Llanelli, Lee Waters, analyses the prospects for the steel industry in South Wales. The thrust of his argument discusses the role of the Government in Wales and the United Kingdom, and how Governments can influence policy decisions of the steel making industry in respect of support interventions. Similar comments were voiced by the Member of Parliament for Llanelli, Nia Griffith published in the Llanelli Star Wednesday 14th December issue.

As the Assembly Member contemplates the role of Government from a political viewpoint, more importantly the actions of the steel making companies themselves , in safeguarding their own futures, play an equal part.

History tells us Government intervention, however well intentioned, has never been the solution to industrial strategy, and long term survival, as Governments’ change their intervention strategy, depending on the nature of the political decision making, of the party in power.

The steel industry in the United Kingdom has been serving the economic welfare of the United Kingdom and its industrial base, longer than some political parties have been in existence. Its ability to change, meeting the demands of the engineering sector, has been the basis of its survival strategy.

The argument, proffered by the Assembly Member for Llanelli, Lee Waters, government intervention as a sole solution is misguided in as much as, it ignores the role played by the steel industry itself , by its engineers and scientists, developing the techniques and industrial practise to ensure its long term survival. Government has a role to play in ensuring the industry has a stable platform on which it can develop to survive, not give it an artificial prop as a short term solution.  Government with its policy may not always be favoured by future regimes.

The engineering industry in the United Kingdom, is one of the provision of  products of increasing sophistication, to meet the needs of advanced technology, of high integrity engineering. The United Kingdom is in the forefront of increasingly advanced engineering, in aerospace, defence and power generation, all of which have the requirement of advanced, special high specification steel, it all of  its producable forms both cast and wrought.

The need for mass produced, high volume wrought long product of a reduced quality, and by nature lower value, has to be scaled back as no longer viable, replaced by the higher specification steels required by the advanced engineering industries.

The steel making industry is a global one, according to a report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) the worlds installed steelmaking capacity, is projected to increase to2.36 billion tons by 2017. One third more steel than the world actually needs.

It was argued in an earlier discussion document,(A different Nuclear Solution; People First website, ; 6th August 2016) that the replacement nuclear power station at Hinkley Point could be a solution provided by the building in the United Kingdom utilising existing technology used in building small nuclear generators used in nuclear submarines. The special steel cast and wrought steel product used in the building of such nuclear reactors exist made in United Kingdom steel production plants.

The home based steel production plants can, and are being contemplated in, replacing their production techniques and equipment to make the very high steel product required for  advanced engineering needs.

On October,13th , the annual event Bessemer Day, held jointly by IOM3 and the Iron and Steel Society, was held in collaboration with the South Wales Materials Association (SWMA), at the new Bay Campus at Swansea University.
The culmination of the day was the presentation by Professor Alan Cramb, President of thee Illinois Institute of Technology, winner of the 2016 Bessemer Gold Medal, of the Bessemer Lecture.
Cramb, born in Scotland, studied metallurgy in Scotland, has worked for many years in the American Steel Industry, and a worldwide teacher of steel technology in steel plants.
His presentation, Steel Processing Technology: Potential Futures, a review now published in Materials World Vol.24 No.12 December 2016, reviewed steels past, then looked forward to the future posing the question- what is the future for steel processing?

His progressive thinking suggested, the capability to produce liquid cast iron in volumes less than 500,000 tonnes per year, to carbon-less low temperature reduction of iron oxide to controlled size iron powder for 3D laser splintering to form steel products.

Cramb made three future suggestions for the steel Industry, some options already being practised in other dominant steel making countries.

Firstly, the use of recycled steel scrap, electric arc furnace re-melting is the preferred industry route. In America, 65% of steel tonnage comes from scrap metal. 
 As an example of steel making practise being contemplated to improve efficiency, one steel making plant in South Wales, is replacing its steel melting practise, to the use of re-melting graded scrap in electric furnaces.
However, continuous recycling practise has a detrimental effect on the quality of the end product due to build up impurities of copper and tin, both of which are responsible for reduction in quality, in terms of mechanical properties.
Current practise is to blend; with blast furnace produced pig iron free from copper and tin to offset the reduction of quality. The news of the retention of the two blast furnaces in Port Talbot is welcomed to supply impurity free iron product to steel melting practise.   

Other countries’ steel making plants are utilising municipal waste , to convert into energy, for their internal needs, as a cost reducing measure, which eases the burden on the Local Authority’s for its waste disposal management. The announced building of an electricity generating power station in a TATA plant in South Wales possibly fuelled by recycled biomass and other municipal wastes would be following established practise.

Robin Burn at Tata Steel. Llanelli

The engineers and scientists employed in the steel industry, via their various Chartered Institutions of Engineering, Metal and Material production, are working together collectively; to provide the engineering and scientific solutions needs of today’s high quality engineering. 
Seminars and conferences pertaining to developments in steel making practise are planned.
Since the development and utilisation of the converter by Sir Henry Bessemer in 1856,to the use of strip casting of carbon steels in 2000, the industry itself has progressed continuously with production innovation , as well as development of new steel types, most notably the development of stainless steel alloys by Brearley, and Krupp in 1914.

Robin Burn I Eng. FIMMM

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Carmarthenshire Council Chair refuses Plaid motion on libel and legal costs.

The Chair of Carmarthenshire Council is a pleasant elderly gentleman called Eryl Morgan. A local grammar school boy who went to Oxford and became a social worker. Whenever we meet he asks me to join the Labour party in a friendly manner and I politely decline. He's told me he knows none of the detail of the libel actions which were commenced when he was not a County Councillor. Unfortunately the rejection of a motion trying to resolve the present situation by a debate in Council on Wednesday 14th December 2016 is issued in his name.

 He is now the puppet being used to smother democratic debate on the fall out of Carmarthenshire County Council's decision to allow its Chief Executive to formally comment on a blog using a carefully prepared and scripted statement composed with the assistance of the Council's press office and the advice of our legal department.  Lets look at the history of this sad saga.

 The purpose of the "statement" on the Madaxeman blog was to discredit the local blogger Jacqui Thompson who was campaigning hard to get County Council public meetings freely filmed and available on line.We had just had the woman arrested and detained by the police for some hours and forced to sign a form promising not to be naughty and never film the council ever again. There was no evidence that she would not honour the agreement but someone felt the need to justify our hostility to her personally and to filming council meetings by posting a statement on this blog.
Silent Councillor Meryl Gravell, 

.Whose bright idea this was is not completely clear  The Leader of Council at the time was Meryl Gravell and she must have been at the very least informed, and compliant. Her silence on this whole matter which she probably initiated, I believe, shows that she's not proud of her actions.Perhaps too afraid to admit any regret or accept any responsibility? She's retiring as a councillor next May, possibly to take up a full time position with the Swansea City Bay Region. All skeletons to be left locked in the cupboard deep in the cellars of County Hall?

All County Councillors were soon informed that the chief executive, had, on behalf of the council, made the statement on an unnamed blog. The statement was sent to all of them. I doubt many complained. I did and the documentation of the tracking of my rather negative reply was later released to Jacqui's lawyers with most information on it redacted. As I had already been warned that my emails were being monitored I was not surprised to see this. There were distinctive features which gave away exactly which email this was, despite names,text and dates being wholly or partially redacted.

Despite the CCC advice that the tirade of character assassination was not libellous, Mrs Thompson got a legal opinion that it was. She started a libel action against the Council and Mr James,An initial plan to settle out of court for a modest sum accepted by Mrs Thompson,
was ditched
 The executive board in January 2012 was persuaded not only to pay for Mr James' libel defence as an officer of the council but also a specialist libel  lawyer advised a counter claim based on Jacqui;s Blog comments about Mr James, The libel was defended and the counter claim won with Mr James awarded damages. It cost the Council well over £200k .The £25,000 damages Mr James had promised the Executive board to return to the council were now apparently, according to a press statement by himself, to be given to charity. I have asked Mr James whether this is correct and have not received a reply.

 In that 2012 meeting Mr James claims that he is not interested in the money if damages were awarded and will return them to CCC to offset their legal costs.The man subsequently has not explained whether or why the money is to be used by him personally in some fashion  The current Council Leader, Emlyn Dole, is unable to tell me the actual position either and therefore he has not authorised a change in this original agreement, but another Leader may have. All very mysterious.

It does not matter to Mrs Thompson materially as to whether or not the sale of her home, to obtain the costs or damages from her half share, benefits the Council or Mr James' favourite charities but it does say something of who is in control  when our most senior civil servant may apparently play "pick and mix" with executive board decisions. Perhaps he thought that a strategy planned in secret would never be available for scrutiny by the public. It is only the investigation by the Wales Audit Office which found the funding for Mr James unlawful, which has brought the previously "exempt" document to light. Most other critical exempt executive documents are never seen by ordinary councillors or the public.

I am sure that the majority of current councillors, in a free vote, would not wish to enforce the sale of Mrs Thompson's home. Much of the legal costs are insured and the whole affair was a plan to stop the Filming of Council meetings, which now happens routinely and without harm to our local democratic processes, This has become a farce, I cannot even find out whether Mr James has changed his mind about the damages because its a personal matter which he wishes to keep secret from me. So I do not know whether:
a)He is maintaining the agreement to return any damages to the Council [and we councillors could ask him to not do so or us by forcing the sale of Jacqui's home on our behalf].
b) He has taken a personal decision not to return any monies recovered as per a press report offering to give the money to charity[and we councillors could ask him why? He did promise to return the damages to us in January 2012, I gather he did not sign an agreement. A verbal statement only was minuted, which he could challenge as not binding.The bottom line here is trust, CCC paid £40,000 for his legal fees].

 Plaid Councillors Lenny and Campbell have been informed by the Chair that their motion [suggesting that negotiation to allow Mrs Thompson to keep her family home are commenced] is unacceptable to the  chair. The council legal advice seems to be is that if damages or legal costs in this case were waived or affordable instalment payments accepted,this may leave the Council open to the charge of contempt of court. No case law is quoted and I doubt this explanation is valid.
Carmarthenshire Council Chairman  Eryl Morgan

Eryl Morgan enjoys an extra £9,000 p.a., lots of free lunches and public functions, a big gold necklace and a car and driver as County Chair. In  our Council it's a post not primarily of authority but mainly of ceremony. A little treat for seniority and loyalty. The 3 major parties take it in turns to hold the post and only one candidate is put forward. The downside is that the chair is supposed to be in charge of our monthly full council meetings but in fact the decisions seem to be made elsewhere,

 I suppose its to Eryl's credit that he is not trusted to send the recent emails informing Councillors that their submissions cannot be discussed, The Head of Administration and Law does that, claiming to be acting on the chair's instructions. I met the chair just before the last council meeting in November. He could not give me an explanation, face to face, as to why he had rejected my question to the Leader for that meeting despite having allegedly instructed the Head of Law to contact me rejecting the question only days before.

The real tragedy is that Councillors cannot protect the quality of people's lives, livelihoods, services environment and monitor the use of the public's money entrusted to the Council when the democratic process in the Council just does not work. The reputation of Carmarthenshire County Council was not "saved" by using a large amount of public money on a High Court Libel defence and counter claim, but trashed instead. If the Libel case decision had not been made in secret by a small clique it would probably never have been made at all.

. Siân Caiach,     Carmarthenshire County Councillor for Hengoed Ward, Llanelli

Update December 12th 2016
I have this morning sent an urgent request to Linda Rees Jones, Head of Legal at CCC to ask for the case law and precedents informing the Chair's decision not to allow the Plaid Councillors' notice of motion to be debated in our Carmarthenshire Full Council meeting on the 14th

Update December 13th 2016
Although in his email to all councillors of the text of the statement put on the Madaxeman blog in 2011, Mr James states " Members have asked that a response be sent to Mrs Thompson." 
He does not explain why the response had to be via the Madaxeman's blog or mention which members requested it.
 In the libel court case, I have just discovered, Mr James says in his evidence statement that no formal instruction was given to him by any councillor. I may therefore be mistaken in my assumption that the Council Leader, Mrs Gravell, had anything to do with a formal order to post the statement on that blog.
 Email records released to the court show that a member of the press office and 2 other council officers were involved advising Mr James in the composition of the statement but no councillor seems to have reviewed the document prior to publication. So Mrs Gravell may have had nothing to do with it, or perhaps an "informal" role.

Siân Caiach,.

Friday, 18 November 2016

A Request to Councillor Emlyn Dole

 In my 8 years as a Carmarthenshire County Councillor some senior officers and senior councillors who rule the roost here, appear very thin skinned and intolerant of  criticism. Even simply pointing out that something isn't working as it should be. Intimidation and bullying are often successful in silencing the critics as far as the council is concerned, One critic, Jacqui Thompson, is currently in danger of losing her home due to losing a libel action  and having to pay damages awarded against her in a libel counter claim funded by this Council brought by our most senior officer.

Carmarthenshire County Council Chief Executive Mark James wishes to claim his libel damages from Mrs Thompson. The record of the  Executive Board Meeting which granted him the funding to make a libel counter claim against Mrs Thompson makes it clear that any damages collected by him would be returned to the Council. So the Councillors agreed to fund him on that basis, Apart from one press report where Mr James apparently claims he will give the money to charity. it seems clear that all others concerned including the Wales Audit Office, believed that any monies recovered would be returned to the Council.

The question is will the Council support Mr James in  forcing the sale of Mrs Thompson's house to obtain this money for them? The home is jointly owned by her husband and 3 of her 4 adult children still use the home as their permanent address. Are these people also to be punished? It seems unlikely that the Council would force the sale to recover the total legal costs. The original decision to fund Mr James also makes it clear that it was dubious that the Council could recover that sort of money.

 I have written to Councillor Emlyn Dole, leader of Carmarthenshire Council who replied with  a statement that Mr James is free to act as he wishes to recover his damages . He says "it is purely his [Mark James'] decision" and that his Council is adamant in its desire to recover the whole £190,000 legal costs of the case "because the taxpayers of the County should not have to bear these costs".

The Thompson's bungalow is a self built home with an agricultural tie and an outstanding mortgage which the couple are struggling to pay as it is. Jacqui's half of the house minus the mortgage debt would pay Mr James' damages but  little would then be left for Cllr Dole's recovery of the 190k legal fees which I believe have been already paid.

It does look rather excessive where a Council Chief Executive is trying to force the sale of a family home only part owned by the person who libelled  him, especially when he had already agreed to give any damages back to the Council. The record shows that decision clearly at the meeting where he was given the funding by the executive board to fight the case. The Council leader and Executive Board, of course, may be fully behind this severe action in order to send a message to anyone who criticises senior officers and the Council as a whole. What they have failed to do is silence this blogger, I believe the real reason or this whole affair is the thin skins of our senior councillors who were happy to use Mr James as a proxy in this case.

Councillor Dole clearly does not appear to agree  that the Wales Audit Office decision that the funding of Mr James' claim was unlawful. The WAO is an arm of the Welsh Government so as a Plaid  Councillor this may be a political pot shot rather than a serious statement. He says that the unlawful status "has not been tested in the Courts" although the Council has taken the clause out of their constitution allowing the funding of senior officers in libel cases.

Councillor Dole is right to say that the damages were awarded to Mr James and he is free to obtain them in any way he wishes. However, the Council funded  his legal case which resulted in the damages being awarded on the understanding that any damages would be returned to Council funds. It seems Mr James is free to use the money as he wishes. as apparently he did not actually sign any document confirming the statements made by the Head of Administration and Law, supposedly on his behalf, at the executive board meeting.

Below, is the text of that 23/1/2012 meeting originally kept secret from us ordinary Councillors and the public. I believe that any Councillors present at that meeting would have made the assumption that any damages would be returned to the Authority by the Chief Executive. I believe also that most current Carmarthenshire County Councillors have no wish to bring the Council into disrepute by forcing the Thompson family to sell up and become homeless in order to promptly recover libel damages originally planned to be paid back to the Authority.

 Mr James has declined to accept affordable instalment payments from Mrs Thompson and instead asks for a full lump sum, only available if the family home is sold. This is his right under law but morally,I think it is wrong. The damages were promised by Mr James in the document below to the Authority. We should not, I believe, insist on making the family homeless to produce these damages in full immediately. As the damages were promised to the Council we should have a say in how they are paid to us. Councillor Dole, please discuss this matter before full council !

 If Mr James insists. as he may, that he now wishes to change his mind and have the damages for himself alone, perhaps we can come to a compensatory arrangement with him? I am sure we can, as a Council, accept instalment payments from Mrs Thompson and give Mr James all the money if he has changed his mind and wishes to not remit the damages to us as agreed. We got ourselves. and Mr James,into this mess by approving the actions in the document below and we can surely extract ourselves from this embarrassing situation??

Siân Caiach,

That consideration be given to granting an indemnity to the Head of Paid Service in legal proceedings before the High Court
    (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.
Scrutiny Committee recommendations / comments:
Not applicable
Exec Board Decision Required YES
Council Decision Required NO
Name of Head of Service:
Linda Rees Jones
Report Author
Linda Rees Jones
Chief Executives
Acting Head of Administration & Law
Acting Head of Administration & Law
Tel Nos.
01267 224012
E Mail Addresses:
1. A local resident has issued defamation proceedings against (1) the Head of Paid Service and (2) the Authority in relation to comments made in an open letter sent by the Head of Paid Service on the Authority’s behalf to a website (in response to an invitation to do so), and subsequently copied to all members. Any costs associated with the Authority and the Head of Paid Service defending those proceedings will be met (subject to any policy excess) by the Authority’s insurers.
2. The Head of Paid Service, in turn, considers that he himself has been defamed by the local resident in various statements made about him in her internet blog. In view of the potential damage to his integrity and reputation he wishes, in conjunction with defending the proceedings brought by the local resident, to issue a counterclaim in respect of those defamatory statements and seeks an indemnity from the Authority in relation to the costs associated with his bringing such an action.
3. The Authority’s insurance policy does not extend to counterclaims / the bringing of defamation proceedings so the Board needs to consider whether it will use its own powers to indemnify him. Counsel advises that because the Authority and the Head of Paid Service are having to defend defamation proceedings, the costs of the Head of Service bringing his own defamation proceedings will not greatly increase the overall cost. However, it has to be said that in the event of that action being unsuccessful the Defendant’s costs would have to be met.
4. The Local Authorities (Indemnities for Members and Officers) (Wales) (Order) 2006 only authorises the granting of indemnities in relation to the defending a claim for defamation (which as mentioned in 1 above is covered by an insurance policy) and an indemnity cannot be granted under the terms of the 2010 Order for the issue of a counterclaim.
5. However, Section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972 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’.
6. In the case of R v Bedford Borough Council , Ex Parte Comninos (2003) the High Court held that s. 111 in principle enables an Authority to indemnify an officer to bring defamation proceedings.
7. Although the 2006 Order does not extend to indemnifying the bringing of defamation proceedings Welsh Government Guidance issued in conjunction with the 2006 Order states that any powers to grant an indemnity under the 1972 Act (ie. the s. 111 power) are not removed by the 2006 Order.
8. The Authority sought advice from Leading Counsel in 2008 on the s. 111 power and he confirmed that the giving of an indemnity for an officer to bring defamation proceedings was potentially reasonable and lawful under s. 111, although he advised that it should only be exercised in “exceptional circumstances”. Accordingly, the power to indemnify officers in the bringing of defamation proceedings ostensibly exists.
9. Determination of applications for such an indemnity is an executive function.
10. The granting of an indemnity essentially means that the libel proceedings would be paid for from public funds and any decision to grant an indemnity to the Head of Paid Service to bring these proceedings are susceptible to challenge by means of Judicial Review. Indeed, the Comninos case involved a challenge brought by District Audit to Bedford Borough Council’s decision to indemnify its Head of Paid Service, the Borough Solicitor / Monitoring Officer and a Barrister in the Legal Department in the bringing of defamation proceedings. District Audit’s application for Judicial Review in the Comninos case was dismissed on the facts of that particular case.
11. Officers are consulting with the Wales Audit Office and seeking their view on whether they have any concerns about the granting of an indemnity under s. 111 in this case.
12. In deciding whether to grant an indemnity, the Board will need to consider the following matters:
    (a) An Authority cannot itself bring defamation proceedings and the Board will need to satisfy itself that indemnifying the Head of Service in the bringing of proceedings is necessary to protect his own personal integrity and reputation as opposed to the integrity and reputation of the Authority.
    (b) An indemnity should only be granted “in exceptional circumstances”. The Board must therefore consider whether the circumstances in this particular case are “exceptional”. There is no definition of “exceptional” and it will very much turn on its facts.
    (c) The Authority owes a duty of care towards its employees. The Judge in the Comninos case said that “it is difficult to see why giving an officer an indemnity in respect of defamation proceedings brought by him is incapable, as a matter of principle, of being conducive or incidental to a local authority’s employment function”.
    (d) As regards proportionality, the Board is not being asked to indemnify a junior member of staff in the bringing of defamation proceedings, but its most senior officer. Integrity and reputation are essential in order for him to command respect, be able to lead and undertake his duties.
    (e) The counterclaim is to be kept within sensible and proportionate bounds and will focus only on allegations which have been particularly serious or concerning to the Head of Paid Service and which are demonstrably false.
    (f) Specialist libel Counsel advises that the comments chosen are “seriously defamatory” of the Head of Paid Service.
    (g) At the time the ‘Comninos’ case was decided, alternative forms of funding for defamation litigants were not available. This is no longer the case and it might be possible for the Head of Paid Service to retain legal representation on a Conditional Fee Arrangement”. However, the Head of Paid Service’s proposed defamation action is a counterclaim to defamation proceedings brought against him and the Authority and it therefore seems sensible, consistent and more cost efficient to retain the same legal representation, especially as Counsel has advised that the cost of the counterclaim in that context will not greatly increase the overall costs.
    (h) The merits of the particular counterclaim, including the chances of not just obtaining judgement, but also of actually recovering any legal costs and damages if successful. Counsel has indicated that there are two actionable grounds upon which a counterclaim would be based. It is unclear whether the other party has the financial means to meet any order for damages and/or costs that may be made.
    (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.
(Should normally be contained within one page)
(Delete as applicable)
I confirm that other than those implications which have been agreed with the appropriate Directors / Heads of Service and are referred to in detail below, there are no other implications associated with this report :
Signed: Head of Administration & Law
Policy, Crime & Disorder and EqualitiesLegalFinanceICTRisk Management IssuesStaffing ImplicationsPhysical Assets
(Delete as applicable)
(Delete as applicable)
(Delete as applicable)
(Delete as applicable)
(Delete as applicable)
(Delete as applicable)
(Delete as applicable)
1. Legal
Section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972 potentially allows an indemnity to be granted in relation to the bringing of defamation proceedings by an officer. However any decision to grant the requested indemnity can be legally challenged by way of judicial review.
Although the exemption under paragraph 16 of part 4 of Schedule 12 (A) to the Local Government Act 1972 as amended is an absolute exemption it is still necessary to consider whether it is in the public interest to engage that exemption. The nature of the legal proceedings and the extent to which disclosure of the legal advice contained in it would assist the other party to the litigation and undermine the position of the Council and the Head of Paid Service in the proceedings should be weighed against the public interest in disclosing the information upon which a decision to spend public money is based. On balance it is considered that the public interest rests in favour of maintaining the exemption and ensuring the provision of legal advice within the same degree of confidentiality as enjoyed by the other party to the proceedings.
    2. Finance
The granting of an indemnity will leave the council liable to potentially meet not only the legal costs of the Head of Paid Service in relation to the counterclaim, but also those of the other party to the proceedings should the counterclaim fail.
It is impossible to estimate what those costs could ultimately be, but in the event the counterclaim fails, there is a risk that the total costs related to the counterclaim could be in the region of £100K.

I confirm that the appropriate consultations have taken in place and the outcomes are as detailed below
Signed: Head of Administration and Law
(Please specify the outcomes of consultations undertaken where they arise against the following headings)
1. Scrutiny Committee
Not applicable
2.Local Member(s)
Not applicable
3.Community / Town Council
Not applicable
4.Relevant Partners
Not applicable
5.Staff Side Representatives and other Organisations
Not applicable

Tomorrow Mrs Thompson goes to a hearing to deal with a request from Carmarthenshire County Council for £190,000. I've specifically written to Councillor Dole to clarify how much of this money for legal costs is actually covered by the legal insurance noted at point one above, No reply as yet.
As the Councillors seem to want nothing but their pound of flesh I and some friends intend to deliver one to County Hall tomorrow.(December 2nd}

Friday, 4 November 2016

The Bizarre Government of Carmarthenshire County Council

Local Government matters very little to most people unless they are directly affected by its decisions. If your rubbish is not collected, your local school is threatened with closure or a large development planned next to your back garden you may take notice, lobby your councillors and even find out how to formally object. Otherwise, most people don't even vote in local elections. When your local council is a body renowned for bullying, control freaks  and strange decisions, you may not even rush to complain or object.

Carmarthenshire County Council describes itself as one of the best Councils in Wales.We certainly have cupboards full of impressive awards for various aspects of local government, usually requiring formal applications and awarded by local government organisations or periodicals. The important trophies are not visible in County Hall. The Authority's no less outstanding achievements are in the fields of gross injustice, deceit and heroic efforts to hide any embarrassing mistakes, favouritism or incompetence.

When Christopher Salmon, the Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Commissioner was defeated in the May 2016 elections. He has overseen the police force in all Mid and West Wales counties but one stood out, and he felt it should be mentioned.

"Carmarthenshire County Council. Wales’ answer to a Sicilian cartel. It’s everywhere you look (thankfully only in Carmarthenshire – so far as I can tell). It extracts vast amounts of money from residents which it showers on favourites, hoards property, bullies opponents, co-opts friends and answers to no one, least of all local councillors."

No comment from the County Council who presumably had no reason to dispute it, Neither, as a Carmarthenshire County Councillor, have I. The Council is a large organisation and provides many good services to the community but there is a sinister undertone. I am convinced that the elected members are not running the show. I am a member of only one scrutiny committee which I have sat on since 2008. Successive chairpersons chairpersons have explained to me that I am not allowed to suggest items for the Agenda as the officers do all that. Councillors have little or no real input or control .Austerity cuts in Carmarthenshire include cutting back democracy. My committee only meets bimonthly now instead of monthly to "save money." This limits our opportunity for discussion, however futile, and also leads to overloaded agendas and late reports, limiting the quality of the scrutiny of those matters we are allowed to look at..,,

One of my greatest frustrations as a Councillor is being unable to help people who seem genuinely harshly treated by the local authority. I am often approached by local voters, some from other wards desperate to get help for a variety of issues. Sometimes I can help, Many times I can't and hit the agonising barriers of denial, delayed or absent responses to queries, strange and sometimes varying explanations and too often a character assassination of the complainant whose lack of insight, inaction or over sensitivity have, it is suggested, caused the whole problem.

It can be hard representing the people among those with more pressing agendas. My unfortunate habit of putting forward motions to council highlighting our problems was blocked by all the political groups agreeing that motions required a proposer and 7 seconders instead of one. They correctly realised that my finding 7 other councillors from the 74 willing to show any dissent in public was impossible.Numerous complaints have been made about me to the Ombudsman by the chief executive, none upheld. Snubs and nasty remarks by fellow councillors fail to penetrate my now very thick skin. In an atmosphere of bullying and questionable decisions I can't blame other councillors for keeping their heads down and their eyes shut.

I rarely use my council email account since I discovered proof that it was being monitored and read. I have had no written explanation of why this has happened. A verbal comment from the monitoring officer suggested a legal reason but she has been unable to say what it was. It is an issue with me, not only for my own privacy but more so to protect my voters from having their emails to me read and monitored. In the area of a council which funded its Chief Executive to successfully sue a blogger for libel for calling him Pinocchio, I do not wish complaints sent to me confidentially to be routinely viewed by others.

armarthenshire was assessed by the Welsh Local Government Association and advised in future to be more open and transparent. The 7 seconder rule was dropped, some meetings are routinely filmed and the public can ask questions to specific meetings, but only in person. The ethos of the Council has not changed, unortunately.
Our recycling record is one thing our council can truly be proud of.

If the dictatorship had truly transformed the County and improved the lives and prospects of the majority of residents it would still be morally tainted but have at least given the area something tangible in return.

However, giving out sweeties to developers, friends of friends and hiding the disasters without delivery of public benefit is the worst of all worlds.Since all the bad things are, according to CCC and if they are noticed, someone else's fault [varying from Mrs Jones at no 52 to the UK Prime Minister] the misgovernment and injustice will continue. In fact the moaning public are regarded as the problem and more brain washing is the preferred solution.

One major criticism of the major political parties in Wales is the primary quest for "Power" even when "holding power" is not often accompanied by the demonstrable wielding of power for the public good.The current Carmarthenshire Council Leader, Plaid's Emlyn Dole, is fond of quotes.

There is a good old fashioned Winston Churchill quote which probably describes best the elected members in Carmarthenshire County Council, (although of course women are included these days.)

“Some men change their party for the sake of their principles; others their principles for the sake of their party.”

Unfortunately for our residents most Councillors appear to be in the later group. As long as the majority of Carmarthenshire Council's elected members can be manipulated to shelve the common good for party and/or personal advantage, the farce will continue.

 Siân Caiach