Wednesday, 23 December 2015

New Year and new look for People First

Up until this point People First / Gwerin Gyntaf has been a very informal organisation without official party members other than the minimum of three officers required by the electoral commission to register as a Welsh Political Party. However, now we are a growing movement and things have to change. We have too many supporters to easily keep track of without keeping lists and contact details and we need some membership fees to produce the modest funds required to run the organisation properly, promote our ideas and stand in elections.

Unlike the larger parties and groups, we have no large backers or millionaire members to fund our campaigns. We are retirees, small business owners and working people, many of whom like myself support growing families. So far everything we have done and every election we have run in has been out of our own pockets and whatever donations people are kind enough to give. In order to grow, to put more people out there and to be able to devote more time and resources to working for you, we need to start doing things a little more professionally, and with the Assembly elections approaching in 2016, I think it's time we stepped up.

We spend very little on our politics compared with the major parties. We use no public funds, have no financial sponsors and rely on  contributions from the public. A black-and-white good quality A4 leaflet for a council ward costs £50-70, a colour one £120-190. A deposit for an Assembly or General Election seat costs £500, a regional list £1,500. The money for deposits will be returned only if we get 5% or more of the vote but does give you the opportunity for a free mail drop of your leaflet. A modest colour leaflet costs around £1000 per constituency, £3000 per region. Obviously we would like to sponsor as many candidates as possible. As such, all the money we receive goes into the party account, not the private accounts of myself or any of the other members, and it will only be used to fund People First. You can see how every little amount we get helps.We have set membership at £10 per person per year and supporter status at £5.

I'll take some time to address what this changes, and what will stay the same. Obviously we will not lose our ideals and will still follow Bell's Principles, allow free thought and action and consult ordinary people as often as possible. For the first time all our candidates will be official members, and likewise members will be involved in choosing candidates, selecting local campaigns to support and formulating general policies. We will also begin producing a monthly newsletter which will keep everyone up to date on news and campaigns. We will also be able to efficiently put members in touch with others in their locality or sharing their campaign interests

We have been fortunate to have a growing number of small donations in the past year and so we are offering also a supporter status, where there is no need to commit to membership but a small donation will allow you to subscribe to the newsletter for a year and keep in touch with our campaigns.

To join up you can use the PayPal button on the right; simply choose "member" or "supporter" from the drop-down list, enter your email, click the button and follow the instructions. PayPal is well-renowned and secure, but if you prefer good old-fashioned paper you can send a cheque made payable to People First Wales or Gwerin Gyntaf Cymru or both to our treasurer:

Clem Thomas
People First /Gwerin Gyntaf
16 Tir Capel
SA14 8SW

Please remember to include your address and contact details if you wish to join as a member or supporter.

We want your help, and we want your ideas. We are a new radical party and very different to the conventional options currently available. You are very welcome to join, contribute to our policies and organisation and help us change Welsh politics to a system that represents the ordinary voter rather than the financial and political interests of the elites.

Honestly, they are doing very well for themselves and control much of our lives already. It really is time to change!

Monday, 7 December 2015

Government of the People

Outlining a political strategy is no easy matter in these days. Not only is the world apparently in a degree of ecological, financial and political crisis but the true facts are difficult to ascertain. This is due to spin; plain lies and subterfuge we are fed constantly. We must deal not only with a rapidly changing picture but often with information which may be patchy or misleading or just totally untrue.

Even at local government level the culture of spin is king - hiding bad news, praising the mundane and announcing repeatedly future exciting projects which may or not materialise on time, on budget, or at all. Being elected apparently means you are not only the most popular (or least worst) of the choices on offer, but also the best person to decide what your voters now want. If something was in your manifesto you can at least assume they liked that policy.

But a bunch of policies are not necessarily all popular or even desired in any way. Maybe they just liked your party's image or your personality. Few will have read the small print and no-one has given you permission for unilateral action on the many issues which arise unexpectedly in the future

People First member and Carmarthenshire County councillor Siân Caiach engages in the arcane method of actually asking people stuff.

For example, the news that both a doorstep and an online survey on the local government reorganisation by People First before the 2015 General Election gave the result that most people thought that a merger with the Swansea Bay area was the best idea for Llanelli, went down like a lead balloon with my County Council comrades. All the political parties in Carmarthenshire County Council  wanted to keep Carmarthenshire as is, and knew, presumably instinctively rather than by the third-rate method of actually asking, that was what their voters wanted too, thus there was no need to discuss the issue at all. We have, it was said, one of the best councils in Wales, so why change it? Asking real people their opinions is clearly a waste of time when their elected representatives know exactly what their voters want without asking them.

Most people are not interested in politics, at least most of the time. Only when there are large and well-publicised elections or a political decision effects you personally does politics touch your life. In our many-tiered government few members of the public can confidently list the various responsibilities of Westminster Government, Welsh Assembly and County or Community Councils. Too often it is only when things go wrong that the public take any notice of the bodies who act for us, and through our votes, with our authority.

On Wednesday December 9th, the Plaid Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council will propose a motion that the council not only supports the UK remaining in the European Union in the forthcoming 2017 referendum on the subject but will make every effort to persuade our citizens to vote for staying in. Even the UK government's negotiations are unfinished and the exact date and conditions of the vote unknown. As the two largest groups in the council, Plaid Cymru and the Labour party are officially in favour of EU membership the vote will doubtless be won but the real opinions of ordinary people do not factor at all in the process.

Why the CCC needs to do this, spending time and resources when the UK government and others will doubtless be generously funding a YES campaign, is beyond me, but the bottom line is that once again the opinions of our constituents are meaningless. Carmarthenshire County Council does as it wants, and if you don't like it: tough.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Declarations of lack of interest

On November 11th 2015 a farcical performance played out over the consideration of two motions. Both were very similar condemning the UK Government for its new legislation on Trade Unions. Both ended by urging the County Council to write to the Westminster Government asking for the proposed legislation to be dropped.

A little late, however. Parliament had actually considered the matter and voted in favour of it the day before Carmarthenshire County Council debated the issue. So we had two motions. both of which were pointless, one of which was proposed by Plaid and the other by Labour (presumably because God forbid the two parties been seen agreeing even on an issue they completely agreed on), ostensibly asking the British government to not do something they had already done. To be fair, when you consider the antiquated wage gap issues and broadband access problems the county is rife with even as 2016 is almost upon us, this was pretty damn speedy for CCC.

To add the circus, the declarations of interest removed a large number of Councillors from the show. Now, declarations of interest are very critical in the quasi-judicial fields of council such as the planning and licencing committees where Councillors might be influenced by their own interests or those of close friends or family to the detriment of fair play. A prejudicial interest where the Councillor is not going to hear the evidence and make a fair judgement must be avoided.

However, the chair seems to have interpreted the discussion on the Trade Union Act as one which, although again completely pointless, demanded only that members of trades unions left the room. This included even retired honorary members of trades unions who were no longer workers.

No employers, the actual beneficiaries of the planned changes, were asked to declare an interest and leave.

In an attempt to not let us look like real idiots (a doomed enterprise from the start, I admit) I suggested that both proposers accept an amendment asking the County Council to write to the First Minister, not David Cameron, as Carwyn Jones had hinted that Welsh Government could probably mitigate the effects of this Bill by local Welsh legislation.

The chair, remembering that I had declared myself a member of Unison and was thus Tainted, ruled that I had to leave immediately and should not have dared to speak on the issue. I suggested that perhaps the two groups proposing the motion could amend them as they wished and left. Watching the webcast, an attempt was made to do so but the chair ruled it out of order. Yet another hour of farce at County Hall, where common sense goes to die.

There is a more serious point. Councillors not only waste time declaring non-prejudicial interests but also forget that if they chose to leave the meeting their electorate is not represented in that discussion or decision. If a Councillor has a daughter who is a nurse in his local hospital and that hospital is earmarked for closure, should he absent himself from the discussion even if there was overwhelming support from his own constituents for the hospital to be saved? In so many cases we all have some form of "interest," after all. How many of us use NHS hospitals, public transport, have kids that go to state schools, are employers or employees and thus intrinsically have a stake in decisions involving these matters?

It is absurd that some Councillors who swore to fight for their voters will walk out of their responsibility at the drop of a hat. Did you vote for your representative because they were, say, a teacher, and as a teacher yourself you wanted someone who would understand your needs and work to make them a reality? Too bad, while the debates are happening they'll be out in the hall.

Siân Caiach

Monday, 30 November 2015

"Some Sort Of Labour People"

I usually spend a few hours in Llanelli town centre every Monday sorting out my personal business. This is often a pleasant affair since it is when I also meet friends and family.

The Monday of the 5th. October started out no different from previous Mondays, and I was enjoying my day out - until that is, I took my customary stroll around the market. After being there for a few minutes I noticed groups of well dressed people walking about in large and small clusters and looking very self-important. I asked several people who they were but no one seemed to know exactly. The closest I got to an explanation were one or two comments to the effect that they were "Some sort of Labour people."

Not a full explanation but a clue nevertheless because it was then that I noticed several Labour Councillors in these groups. And then I turned into one of aisles between the  market stalls only to be confronted by a walkway-wide phalanx of these visitors. They filled the space, sort of wall to wall, glaring about them. Maybe they thought they looked intimidating. Anyway, it is not and never has been my habit to retreat in the face of such an advance so I squeezed myself as tight as I could against the side of the nearest stall so that they could pass.

I have lived in places where some political differences have been settled with machetes or bullets - so, intimidated by them? Don't make me laugh! But I was shocked when one of them, when drawing level to me actually pushed me aside (I couldn't go far) without a word and marched onwards with her gang. It was not really much of a push but it was an arrogant 'get out of my way' gesture all the same. By the time I had dug out my Provox speaking aid from my pocket her group had turned a corner and moved on.

A little while later I found out that these groups were part of a crowd of Labour hobnobs accompanying First Minister Carwyn Jones on his visit to Llanelli. What for? Was this supposed to endear him to voters like myself? Did they think such arrogant behaviour was the best way to gain votes? Llanelli people are not daft nor are they doormats, but I do know they have long memories - and so do I.

Roll on May 2016!

Clem Thomas

Carwyn visits Llanelli Marketplace and attempts to buy bananas in full formal wear just like us lesser beings do. Not pictured: the three little old ladies and two wheelchair-users shoved out of the way to get this shot. [photo credit: Llanelli Star]

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Vote Stephen Bowen, People First Candidate for Kidwelly!

Stephen Bowen
Following the death of the standing councillor last summer, elections will be held on November 19th for a new representative for Kidwelly. Stephen Bowen will be representing us, and we'd like to briefly explain why he would be the best choice. As a local small business owner and community activist he wants change at our county council.

Stephen is a single parent and self-employed business-owner running taxis and minibuses all over the county. He has decades of experience volunteering for charitable organisations such as the St John's Ambulance and Lifeboat Service. He understands the needs of those struggling with their own families, their own employment, as well as the larger problems affecting South Wales as we prepare for yet another year of punishing social cuts marketed as "austerity." Unlike other politicians protected from the consequences of their bad decisions behind a barrier of financial security and social class, resolving these issues in a fair and practical way is his problem as much as it is yours.

His policies include developing apprenticeship opportunities to support the growing numbers of unemployed youth, following his own successful time as an apprentice in his youth.

Raised locally, he knows the value of small, community schools and readily-available medical care, and will fight to keep local services funded, and to claw back what has been steadily outsourced to other areas.

Stephen campaigning for hospital services
Knowing the CCCs extensive history with poor planning decisions, he wants to campaign only for sustainable development and only where needed, and is particularly interested in re-using existing buildings and sites that have been left empty and neglected.

Rather than wait for minor issues to evolve into full-blown problems, he has the potentially revolutionary idea of keeping in regular contact both with the citizens of the ward and with the staff of key services such as the Fire Department and Ambulances.

Of course, as a member of People First, Stephen believes in openness in government rather than constant evasion and decisions made behind closed doors. Some would call this standard policy, in Carmarthenshire County Council it is the height of heresy.

If you would like to support Stephen's campaign, you can contact Stephen on (01554) 40 10 31.

Or for more information or to support People First directly, call Siân Caiach on (01554) 74 14 61.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Here Comes the New Boss

Clem Thomas
Well done Jeremy Corbyn. At last socialism has returned to the faux Tory Party that for too long has been masquerading as Labour, Welsh Labour (doesn't exist!) and New Labour. I wish him well, but I fear for him since he will have to deal with one of the most fickle electorates in the world: the shallow, cliché driven people of Middle England.

Two things about this recent Labour election are worrying though. One is that according to all the media reports the Labour Party only just managed to pull off a relatively simple internal election. It nearly foundered several times before Corbyn was elected and this does not inspire confidence in a party that wants to govern the UK. Big party in a brewery comes to mind!

Two, for some time I have been concerned about Labour's interpretation of Democracy. I learned first hand when a community councillor that once a majority of Labour voters pass something they then feel totally justified in imposing this decision on the majority at large -- because Labour's majority, not the majority of people, has voted for it. And as I know too well that action can be brutal and cynical.
Labour's Welsh division are only allocated the "fun-sized"
megaphones, lest they start getting ideas about speaking up

But now to Wales. To be realistic there is no point at all in wondering what Corbyn's new 'line up' means for us. If Nia Griffith's example is anything to go by we can expect more of what we are used to: loud and busy campaigning locally, ever so all for the people, but only until there is a vote in Parliament when all Labour MP's from Wales will do exactly as they are told by their slave masters in Labour's London HQ.

Most annoying though is the fact that we in Wales only ever get fifty percent of a voice. That is, Labour gets very hot and bothered, chest beating and all, when there is a Tory Government in London. Hard to find anyone more self righteous. But just wait until there is a Labour Government in Westminster and the whip is cracked. It is then good bye to a voice for Wales as all the Labour MP's from Wales put on a truly dazzling display of forelock knuckling in order to appease their English masters.

For goodness sake, Welsh people, wake up will you and stop voting for a party that puts Party before People. We had a very sinister example of that thinking somewhere around seventy years ago!

Monday, 5 October 2015

Why does Wales still build on flood plains?

In 2006 Carwyn Jones, Welsh Assembly Minister, issued instructions to the Environment Agency (now Natural Resources Wales) telling them not to object to planning permission allowing building on dangerous floodplains. The evidence obtained by Freedom of Information requests suggests that the decision was probably motivated by pressure to facilitate a financial deal to support the Scarlets, a regional rugby team. A deal which has cost Carmarthenshire County Council (and, by extension, every person living in the area) millions of pounds which we could do with now. It may also have cost the safety of many homes here and throughout Wales.

This is the instruction issued by Carwyn Jones in 2006:

The meat is in the fifth paragraph. The minister states "Therefore EAW may object, not "will" object ...." Basically I believe this phrase means that the environment officers will only object with the express permission of the minister and the normal default position will be to advise means to mitigate flood plain developments by raising land, building dykes etc rather than advise that the building be done somewhere less dangerous to everyone involved.

Why would a minister do this? Why has the advice never been withdrawn? Perhaps this letter to Carwyn earlier that year from the Secretary of State, Peter Hain, explains:

You can see that Peter is concerned that the Scarlets' financial future plans depend on planning permission he believes should be granted to build a large housing development at the site of their current stadium and pitches, which are on a flood plain. Carwyn originally had decided to play by the rules (planning Policy Wales Technical advice note 15).The flood plain is a C2 classification which under TAN 15 should not be built on. But why simply follow the law, when you can re-write it? There was no plan B to finance the Scarlets and in 2006 Peter Hain clearly outranks Carwyn Jones. Planning permission was then given on this site as objections from the Environment Agency were withdrawn, A new stadium was built for the Scarlets with mainly public funds from Carmarthenshire County Council. In Stradey and other sites throughout Wales homes have and are being built on land liable to flood under instruction from our own Welsh Government, which pretends to have a policy preventing building on flood plains right up until developers actually want to build on them.

The Scarlets did not pay off all their debts as planned and are currently still as insolvent as they were before selling their land for development with Carwyn's help. The people of Carmarthenshire have generously funded a private rugby club and new estates of homes have been constructed in questionable areas as a result of the policy adopted by this weak minister.

This man now is our First Minister. How can we trust him? He was prepared to sacrifice the environment of Wales for a "cheap" option to finance a Rugby Club championed by the Secretary of State for Wales. Peter Hain also shows his colours as a callous UK Minister without a thought for the people of Stradey  who I now represent as their Councillor. The flood plain at Stradey, did not go away, in fact it is now more extensive. My voters are even more likely to suffer floods as the new homes are raised above ground level, sometimes directly behind theirs. This is not only a party issue, it is one of courage. Carwyn, you failed the people of Wales once, hundreds of homes in my area  and maybe thousands of homes throughout Wales may have been built on flood plains because you didn't have the guts to stand up to Peter Hain. Have you got the guts to stop this madness now?

Siân Caiach        

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

A Matter of Trust

When I read the sub-heading given to a published letter in the Western Mail from Cllr. Kirby of Pontllanfraith: "Labour clearly the party to be trusted" I nearly fell off my chair laughing -- and at 79 years old that can be very dangerous for me. Perhaps I should request that in future the paper's editorial staff issue health warnings when they decide to publish certain sub-headings? 

In the end we just didn't buy it, but why?
As usual now that another party, especially the Tories, is in power in London the Labour Party here in Wales is once more brave and noisy. Hooray! Now, they shout out about all the cuts being implemented and about all the things that should be done, completely forgetting that Labour was in power for years and did nothing except run up the biggest national debt in the history of the UK.

And cuts! Are so many people blissfully unaware of the fact that Labour has executed the biggest cut that we in Wales have ever seen? Never, ever forget, that in just two or three generations the Labour Party managed to castrate nearly a whole nation. In just the short space of time since the days of our grand parents and great grand parents Labour has, with its built in anti-Welsh prejudice, turned the descendants of fearless fighters into fumbling fawning fops. What a betrayal! That has been the biggest cut of all from the "party to be trusted." No wonder so many Welshmen now sing with suspiciously high tenor voices.

If Welsh people have even a tiny drop of that old heroic blood in their veins they should promptly ditch all the London based parties and stop being slaves to those colonial exploiters. Stand up!

Clem Thomas

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Economy with the Truth Carmarthenshire Style - Councillor weirdly reveals less than everyone already knows.

Elected representatives of the people usually have or at least endorse ambitions to help people and govern openly and well. However, it doesn't always work out that way, especially in Councils where senior Councillors and/or council civil servants  have got into the habit of tightly running the show.

On Septmber 9th , at  Carmarthenshire Council's full council meeting, New Plaid Executive Board Member Cllr David Jenkins read out a misleading statement in response to our first question from a member of the public. He chose to be very economical with the truth, there actually was more information on the transaction in the question than the answer,

The question was asked as to why part of the lease for Park y Scarlets [one of their car parks] was sold for £850,000 and the council, the owner of the plot, only got £200,000 of it. No mystery says Cllr Jenkins, the district valuer said that an equal amount of the net proceeds of the sale would go to the 2 interested parties, the Scarlets Rugby Club [tennants] and Carmarthenshire County Council, they got £200,000 each. No mystery at all. apparently.

Here's where the economy of truth comes in. The district valuer had said that after the usual disbursements (legal fees, agents fees etc) a 50/50 split was fair. Here we have a lease sale where the disbursements apparently add up to more than the after sales profit. £450,000 is a lot for costs, even allowing for the huge legal and agency fees local Authorities often pay.

The previous Labour Exec member for finance, the man who made the decision Cllr Jeff Edmunds, was kind enough to meet with me after the sale and actually explain the low figure. The £450k cut contained not only the usual fees and costs of a sale but also £280,000 to pay off HDD, the then owners of the Llanelli Eastgate buildings. The sum was to pay for debts run up by the Scarlets in a shop unit rented by them there. Jeff  had been persuaded to do this, he said, by Chief Executive Mark James, allegedly in the interests of encouraging public footfall at the Eastgate,by  keeping the Scarlets' shop open. As this money was now labelled a disbursement,  it did not have to be divided as the district valuer suggested. This was unusual, in my opinion immoral, but apparently not out and out illegal.

The Sessile Oak pub and new hotel site

Since then the Scarlets' shop has closed, Marstons have built a pub and work has started on the land earmarked for their hotel at the same site. The big mystery is why Cllr David Jenkins decided to mislead the public by a statement which was, at best, a half truth? His predecessor has had  the guts to tell the truth about the "missing"  money, the sale is on the Land Registry, the £200,000 is in our published accounts ,and information about the sale has been published in the press,  Why omit the information that CCC, apparently legally, gave £280,000 to the Scarlets to clear a private debt and to keep their shop open  in Llanelli?

Its very generous for Cllr Jenkins to spare the blushes of his predecessor and Labour political opponent Jeff Edmunds or is he protecting the chief executive, who seems to have been instrumental in the whole deal? Either way, not open, not transparent and definitely no accountability.

Siân Caiach,


Monday, 21 September 2015

On Speaking Properly

Isn't it embarrassing how you can live your whole life immersed in your culture, only to one day be told that you were doing it wrong the whole time? Truly mortifying! Thank God for those charitable outsiders who never miss an opportunity to enlighten us mere natives.

Clem Thomas: not your standard parochial nationalist
It is hard to believe that here I am in Llanelli in Wales in 2015 and people will actually try to tell me how to speak and write my own language in my own country. Unfortunately these sentiments are all too common particularly amongst a certain type of English person; they feel they can go anywhere in the world and tell anybody what their cultures are and how they should behave.

Here are two anecdotes to illustrate what I mean: I was once trapped in a formal dinner next to an Englishman who spent the best part of an hour telling me where in Wales the best Welsh was spoken. He did not speak a word of Welsh but had worked for about two years in Bangor. I was so glad to meet a world authority on my native culture. Then, while working in the West Indies I heard on at least two occasions, English people telling Indians from India what constituted a 'proper' curry! Amazing arrogance.

It is a funny old world where to stand up for one's own country and culture is considered parochial nationalism but where it is OK to invade and destroy other countries and cultures thereby bringing them Hope and Glory under the tender wing of the 'Mother of the Free'. Don't make me laugh.

Is this post anti-English? No it is not! It is pro truth and common sense, that's all.

Clem Thomas

Clem lives in Dafen, Llanelli. A former Llanelli Rural Councillor, school teacher and factory manager. He returned to Wales with his wife and family from Trinidad after spending much of his working life in the Caribbean. One of the founder members of People First, he writes novels, does most of our welsh translation, and still finds time to be our treasurer.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

The five Year Rule - build and never be damned ??

In these difficult times, the "5 year rule" which all levels of government tend to adhere to becomes especially important. This is the rule that decrees that as most electoral cycles are around 5 years, if you think can get away with something for  at least 5 years, it will not seriously affect your reputation or political prospects of re-election. It gives time for civil servants and others involved in a dodgy plan or decision  to cover their tracks or retire gracefully out of reach of any embarrassing fall out.

Following on my last post, this gives the great sell off strategy of my local authority magnificent impetus as those involved may well feel that the repercussions will never catch up with them.

For instance, large plots of land around our out of town retail parks are now planned to be sold off  for whatever money we can get .No strategic environmental or economic plans relating to the area have been released. Expressions of interest have been requested, how widely and with what information I don't know.The local town traders in Llanelli are concerned that more out of town retail will affect their already precarious business trading. Perhaps the Plaid leadership of the  Council will listen to that argument and think instead of housing or a business park, not any more sensible as  the housing market slows and falls and existing local business parks are not fully used.

All of the council's senior officers and all of the Councillors know that Llanelli is in great part a low lying town with horrendous sewage and drainage problems. The town escapes twice daily flooding from the sea by the automatic closure of tide locks, mechanical flap valves which cover the mouths of all rivers and streams flowing into the sea. They also know that we have a sewage system which overflows and dumps untreated sewage into the sea hundreds of times a year. This is due to massive volumes of rainwater which fall on the town, 3 times that of nearby Swansea. Followers of earlier 5 year rules  allowed much of the ground water drainage to run directly into the sewage system knowing they would never be fingered for it. Huge tracks of land were drained and reclaimed from the sea with no idea of the environmental changes to come in the future.

Welsh Water/Dwr Cymru, our local water company, continually try to improve the situation only to find that the Council Planning Committee, devotees of short termism, ignore their efforts and give planning permission for more and more homes to overwhelm any improvements to the sewage system. By the time the sewage floods your garden or gives you hepatitis as you swim in the sea, the culprits will be long gone. All of this land proposed for sale around Parc Trostre is probably needed just to soak up groundwater. WWDC ask our planners to stop urban creep, stop concreting off areas around the town and repeatedly state that their planned improvements are not to facilitate new development.

The planning committee, however, realise that by the time permission is given, stuff is built and the consequences obvious, they will have escaped blame, as our current council leader, Emlyn Dole once said to me as I begged him and the Plaid planning committee members to not allow building in my ward on a flood plain which the hydrology report showed would worsen flooding to surrounding existing homes, "I am insulted, Sian, that you suggest that I am in any way liable". And he was visibly angry that I suggested such a thing.

The members of the planning committee also know that there is an issue called global warming and that the local sea level is likely to rise by at least a metre and probably more in next 50 years. Under the 5 year rule, new builds can be put on islands of raised land and by the time the surrounding areas are flooded the decision makers will have moved on.

The existing retail parks were built without regard to all these problems, the neighboring areas have flooding , sewage even back flows up shop toilets [especially the ladies in Tesco's - that's why its sometimes closed, sisters, and we are asked to use the disabled loo].

You see now that the Plaid/Independent Executive Members can sell off this land with a "clear" conscience, No-one, perhaps, will have mentioned the flooding and drainage problems in the area. The environmental impact assessments and hydrology reports will not likely be done before sale. The developers will produce them for the planning department, perhaps  months later. By then its too late, the land has been sold as development land and all the planning officers can do is ask the new owners to mitigate the damage that they possibly had no idea about. Well over 5 years before any "come back" on the elected politicians, and that retribution also depends on someone being able to front up the money to actually sue the planning committee, not likely in impoverished Llanelli..

So we are left with the only real sanction, the political fall out when the electorate realise what their representatives have done. but will the voters still be there to vote for them.? The scenario in southern Llanelli and Burry Port is that the sea will rise, the tide locks will continue to do their work until one or even both of the following scenarios changes the planning outlook:

A. Sudden Catastrophe.

In 1896 a hurricane produced a 3 metre tidal surge which, hit Llanelli , like a Tsunami, washed away the railway embankment and breached the flood defenses at Machynys and Pwll., flooding the ground floor of over 500 houses to a depth of 5 feet. There are over 4 times the number of homes in this area now, and other buildings too, many of them new builds of recent decades, some even bungalows for the elderly. The town was flooded up  to the steps of the Thomas Arms in 1896, a huge area including the whole town centre.

The incident occurred in daylight but before people had set out for work and most people were able to get up to their upper floors and wait for boats to rescue them.  When I first brought up this incident as an argument for not building on the reclaimed land of south Llanelli I  was told that it had a one in a thousand year probability and could be ignored as highly unlikely, more recently I've been told its more likely to be one in 100 years. The planing committee  clearly believe that it won't be in the next 5 years.

B. Planned retreat.

Currently the coastal plan for low lying areas of Llanelli and Burry Port is "Hold the Line" i.e. keep the flood defenses and tide locks as is. However, all the environmental experts agree that at some point the rivers will be "locked" in for too long and start to back flood frequently. This will create the need to re-engineer the defenses and actively pump out each of the rivers and streams over the sea walls to prevent flooding, expensive and requiring frequent checks and maintenance.

 The consensus is that this will not be "economic" and most or all of the areas currently protected by tide locks will eventually be abandoned. Ironically, every bit of urban creep or new development reduces natural water storage in this area speeds up the process and brings closer the day when the retreat will be forced on Llanelli. Again, covered by the 5 year rule and the belief that no one will bother to sue the Councillors who made the decisions. Even if they do the Council will  use public money to defend their actions  so they feel protected. Maybe they think the area is "doomed" anyway and accelerating matters is neither here nor there as it will take more than 5 years to deteriorate enough for action to be considered.

My question is this. Even if the Councillors on the planning committee who make these decisions are confident that they are untouchable as regards personal consequences, are they really content to risk the premature sacrifice of the comfort and safety of thousands of local people by recklessly approving development in these areas?

 Siân Caiach,

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Selling off Public Property - the plan to impoverish us all.

Selling off the family silver is generally thought of as the last desperate and irrevocable financial gambit of a once prosperous enterprise. Now, I suspect, many of the Local Authorities in Wales, without consultation or explanation, are selling off as much public land, buildings and other assets as they can get away with. Easy money with a probable disturbing political motive.

In right-wing policy councils such as Carmarthenshire, there is doubtless a sinister motive. The Tory ambition is one of "Smaller Government", i.e. strip public services that do not benefit the wealthy as thoroughly as possible and sell it to the " public" as a necessary step.

The definition of Public here is not what you may think,
Is it the first to respond to advertising which does not seem to be very public, or the highest "public bidder in a secret auction that few are invited to. The ambitiously most open and transparent council in Wales is often unclear on the issue on how buyers are found,who decides on what to sell and may not mention the prices under commercial sensitivity.

 The damage will be permanent this time, as no chance will be left to rebuild and expand local government and services when assets are sold off a rock bottom prices to become private property that future councils will most likely be largely unable to buy back. If the economy is recovering, why no caution in selling off assets which could be used to good effect in future, more prosperous times?

A privatisation which seems to be permanent, political and swings the balance of control in the future. Our Councillors are selling off public assets, property of the people, in order to destroy any options for rebuilding services and using these public assets for the public good.

"How Sad!" they cry, "that we must sell off our land and buildings for so little!" But these sales are often sweetened with promises of facilitating grants and planning permission, so the public loses even more. "There is no money and we must strip every asset in order to fund our plans" they weep. But look carefully at who benefits from these sales and those tears begin to take on a very crocodilian appearance.

If we are in a long depression economically, should we be selling off our family silver as a first and not last desperate action? Should we sell it off at all? Should not what is disposed of be discussed seriously, with full information and in public rather than secretly, shadily? And how about sales to questionable organisations and individuals? Surely the only advantage of secret negotiations and sales is that the senior Councillors can, in effect, chose the buyers and vet them. Recent press stories suggests the vetting, if any, is far from strictly  in the public interest.

Times of economic unrest call for careful deliberation, caution, and defensive decisions. Yet time and time again Carmarthenshire County Council not only puts all their eggs in one basket, they proceed to hurl the basket down sheer cliff faces of nonsensical fiscal planning, each time hoping that at the base of the cliff they will magically find a basket of golden goose eggs and not what we are usually left with: a broken, sloppy mess.

We are seeing a "Fire Sale" of public assets. Often the details are obscured under a "commercial confidentiality" excuse or that if the buyers were aware of the prices paid they would pay even less. When their mistakes lead to public services being eviscerated, there is no excuse for this kind of cowardly backroom dealing. Some are obscured by being just hidden and only forensic examination of accounts can find their shadows. By the time the public or even backbench councillors like myself hear about it, the deal is often done, We rely on leaks and tip-offs rather than our own Public Authority to find out what is actually going on, which is increasingly difficult when those who dare to speak out of turn suddenly find that their work environment has turned incredibly hostile in what our legal advisers would like us to assure you is a total coincidence.*

Carmarthenshire has the declared ambition to be the most open and transparent council in Wales. A wonderful ambition but currently a sick joke. Unless, of course, the other Welsh Councils are even worse!

Councillor Sian Caiach

*I cannot stress enough on this blog that the CCC have never and would never unjustly persecute any whistle blowers, detractors or critics of their work. Carmerthenshire County Council has never done anything wrong, even and perhaps especially in those cases where third party government investigators have found that they have done something wrong. The Council Leaders, both Executive Councillors and Chief Officer, are lovely, professional people who treat their colleagues in only the most polite manner at all times, are not at all petty or cliquish, and would never stalk the blogs of their critics looking for the tiniest hint of insult in order to make overblown legal cases in an attempt to silence  the irritating citizen journalists,


Saturday, 11 July 2015

The dragons are yellow !

Y Ddraig Goch is a lovely flag, the red dragon against white and green background. Refreshingly different from the many stripes and crosses of other national flags, unforgetable and one to be proud of . In Llanelli the only hint that Llanelli Labour are a Welsh outfit is a couple of welsh flags in their office bay windows.

Clearly the staff are distracted by something as usually a major and unfortunate change in the national flag would be noted and dealt with.
Time and sun have done their worst and the dragons have over the past few weeks gradually faded to YELLOW.
They have not yet been replaced.

Possibly a portent of political change, the poor dragons realising that the colour of socialism is no longer appropriate in this particular office window? Will they fade so much that finally they resemble the wierd bird on the Lib Dem Logo? who knows?

Personally, I feel the urge to move labour to the right will not help, even if the liberal democrats have generously faded even more than these dragons, that vaguely centre right niche is not a safe one, and the problems of the Labour Party seem more seriously organic, and not by any means entirely due to ideology. Although not under a single threat as in Scotland, former Labour voters are showing their unhappiness by gifting their votes to other parties.  I envisage that a  UKIP dragon could also as yellow, showing up well on the union jack ??

 GREAT NEWS! As of 20/07/2015 the red dragons are back, So someone in the office finally noticed and found a retirement home for the poorfaded  yellow ones...Could it be in preparation for a Jeremy Corbyn support meeting ? No Corbyn posters in the window yet but I'll keep an eye out for them.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

public service and private profit

When I was an NHS consultant a colleague continually and perfectly legally took extra public money by the following means.

From time to time the number of people waiting for operations built up and the local hospital was given extra money to process surplus cases and bring the numbers down. As I was working flat out I couldn't help out, but my senior colleague who regularly took a half day off on Friday afternoons always volunteered. The senior doctors [consultants] involved were paid private practice rates, at that time £500 per half day. The junior staff and nurses were paid  normal rates and often no extra salary as their participation was included at no cost to the hospital as they were the "cover" team standing by for emergencies or ward calls.

Naturally, like most surgeons, my colleague himself did a lot of private practice in his spare time. Acutely aware that in a poor area he needed to keep the waiting lists long to get people to fork out for private ops, he needed to arrange matters so that no more patients than usual got NHS treatment despite the NHS paying him and his anaesthetist for extra work. He also wanted to reclaim his "sacrificed" half day back.

Doctors are generally clever people. For him it was simple. He would operate on a Friday afternoon, his usual half day off. He would keep a number of patients in over the weekend with strict instructions that only he could discharge them. On Monday, he normally had a full list of patients for an all day theatre. There would regularly be a bed crisis on the ward due to five day working, with many discharges going on while patients waited, with their suitcases, for a bed. Just before theatre started he would appear to personally discharge his Friday patients. He would assess the situation, and if enough beds were available he could prolong the stay of any patient by eg. sending them for another xray that he needed to review at lunchtime "just in case" or get another test, etc.. Several patients would then be sent home due to lack of beds. His whole day list would only last the morning and he would take Monday off instead of Friday, as would his anaesthetist as the afternoon list would be cancelled.

Hence the Welsh Government paid for the treatment of "extra" patients when in fact no more patients were treated than usual and the only real change was that a senior surgeon took his half day off on a different afternoon and got paid 500 pound extra per week for the duration of the project.. I recall the same doctor giving a presentation to other doctors on how one third of his patients had their operations cancelled because of bed shortages. Shocking!

According to official figures, of course, more patients were being treated and I presume the health minister was led to believe that the waiting lists, if they did not diminish, were suffering extra demand.

The hospital management was well aware of all that was going on but happy to tick the boxes.

To my shame, I finally complained about this greedy doctor only when he started discharging my NHS patients to admit his private ones. Looking into the matter I found he wasn't even declaring these clients as private patients and using NHS facilities, hip replacements etc. for nothing. I was outraged, but  the management perfectly happy to allow the situation to continue. I complained to the Audit Commission and suddenly I was the problem. They found in my favour and I've not worked in a hospital since.

I am cynical about public sector "improvement" plans and the facts and figures we are charmed by. It is easy for senior management in the public sector to hide incompetency, inefficiency and plain corruption. Someone has to recognise that it going on, and the career prospects for whistle blowers are not attractive. It is so easy to manipulate the system to pocket some extra cash, it is even easier to remain quiet about it, and silence any murmur of disquiet..

Most public servants, I believe, try their best to provide services to the public. However, in too many areas there is a more dangerous culture. It is easyer to spin the figures rather than provide real improvement. It is safer to turn a blind eye to public employees defrauding the public purse than to speak out. Eventually, as in the Betsi Cadwaladwr case the standards of patient care and staff morality are so awful that the truth finally becomes public, often not because of staff disclosure but the complaints of patients and relatives.  Surely our public services deserve better. If a low paid employee in public service steals a tiny amount of money or goods, they are sacked. If senior public servants steal hundreds or thousands of pounds from their employer, in my experience, they are protected rather than criticised, and rarely asked to pay anything back, Informants are punished and the bad behavoiur probably continues unabated to this day..

Time, I think, for a big culture change.

Sian Caiach, 

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Different Perceptions of Austerity - a tale of two marches

It is interesting that two people can look at the same picture and see radically different things. Our perceptions are not static, our backgrounds are diverse and morally we are grounded in different soils.

I went on a demonstration in Swansea against Austerity/Public Sector Cuts recently. [June 13th] In torrential rain 7 hundred people walked to Castle Square. Although everyone was against "the cuts" there was little agreement in regard of what exactly to do about them, or possible realistic solutions.

We are one of the richest countries in the world on paper, but also one of the most indebted. Much of the picture is distorted both by politics and fantastical interpretations of economics. Yes, much money is wasted on ridiculous vanity projects and plain basic mistakes in budgeting and procurement. When times were good we were reckless and although the circumstances have changed, our attitude to spending hasn't (on the national scale, at least.)

The National UK Government, Welsh Government, Health Serice and Local Governments have clearly failed somewhere in basic financial management. The mistakes seem to be generally unrecognised, but what may have started as simple mistakes have become much more toxic. Those mistakes have been covered up and repeated. The public rightly suspect that we are not addressing the problems, both economically and in management. The financial crisis is no excuse to not become efficient. The problem is that the "cuts culture" is now so ingrained that the term "efficiency savings" actually has become a euphemism for cuts, not a way of avoiding them.

A week later [June 20th] we were on a much larger march in London on the same theme. Thankfully, very little rain compared to the downpour in Swansea. A quarter of a million people walking through the city of London to Parliament Square. Unfortunately the square wasn't big enough to take the numbers and I along with many others had to make do with a big screen and a terrible sound system to hear the end of march speeches.

Again, no-one liked what was going on in the country but still a serious lack of consensus on what to do about it. A variety of speakers said how bad things are and/or will worsen under the Tories and how we had to stand together and show our rage at the unjust situation. If we shouted loud enough the Conservative government might rethink thier policies, presumably. Could the Labour party do anything about it? Could some sort of popular uprising be the answer? Again, no consensus, only the desperate insistence that we must do something.

I honestly cannot blame the protesters for this, you understand. Our education system does not exactly train people for government restructuring. What is frustrating is that all that energy and passion and need should go to waste. Our political system is so remote and unresponsive to the people that I despair. A UK government is elected for 5 years and there is no way to change their opinions or even to effectively influence your own local representatives on the issues that arise.

In a system such as this, electing a new figurehead or even an entirely new party will not be enough. They are a part of the system themselves, and though Labour or the Lib Dems may well be the lesser of several evils, I would gently suggest that we deserve better than that. The thing we must change is how we are governed, not just by whom.

Siân Caiach,

Monday, 8 June 2015

Grillo Site - The Once and Future Flood Plain

Some years ago I had the experience of trying to oppose a development at Stradey Park. It was on a C2 flood plain (the worst sort, for those not fluent in environmental classifications). Suddenly the Environment Agency reclassified the flood plain as a C1 (the still bad but slightly less bad kind) and Carmarthenshire County Council Planning Committee decided to pass the application, provided the flooding could be prevented by raising the site. Then, suddenly, the flood plain returned to a C2 again, actually now bigger and more hazardous than originally. These sort of things happen when a huge amounts of money is involved, a sort of special governmental magic.

Today I find myself looking over the Grillo Site in Burry Port with a sense of deja vu. It was partially covered by a C2 flood plain, Then it wasn't. In fact it's now newly classified as a grade A - highly unlikely to flood. But still the land around on and aound the Grillo site has to be built up to prevent flooding. What is going on with the Welsh environment these days?

Wading through the documentation you will find that although the site isn't a flood plain now, it is going to be one sometime soon. Houses are supposed to last 100 years and although the chances of the old chemical factory site flooding tomorrow are apparently zilch, the chances of it flooding sometime in the next 100 years are very high. Why?

Because the sea level is rising and in 100 years time is conservatively predicted to be over a metre higher in the estuary than it is now. If global warming continues to cause massive ice melts and extreme weather events and the area still has its heavy rainfall, the new houses will have to be over 7 metres above sea level to be guaranteed to stay dry at all times in the next 100 years. I suspect that part will not be covered by the estate agents.

So there isn't a flood plain now, but there will definitely be one later, and a particularly bad one at that. When exactly this will occur depends on the speed of global warming. The sites will all be built up and the reports admit that this is likely to cause some flooding in other neighbouring areas as water is displaced away from the new buildings, much like the way a bathtub will be at the perfect level of fullness but will overflow once someone climbs in. Interestingly, the decontamination plans for the Grillo Chemical factory site do not appear to take the future flooding and raising of the land into consideration.

I'm Councillor for the Llanelli Ward of Hengoed, immediately to the east of this development site. All of the lower lying land in my area was reclaimed from the sea many years ago in Victorian times. All of our streams and rivers are already "tide locked" to prevent flooding. When the tide comes in a huge flap valve closes over the mouth of every watercourse to prevent the sea coming in and stop the river flowing out. If the tide is high, the flap stays closed longer and we occasionally get back flooding from the rivers, especially after heavy rain, producing a high water table. In some areas the water is just perculating upwards from the soil, in other places streams and rivers are flooding over their banks and/or drains are just unable to cope as the watercourses are effectively blocked twice daily by the tide.

The general policy from Welsh Government is "hold the line" and probably there won't be either the will or money to actively preserve the low land in Llanelli by installing a massive active pumping system to pump the rivers out over significantly higher sea defences. Already some unpopulated areas upstream are deliberately being returned to tidal marshes to try to mitigate floods - an option not available for a town built to the water's edge.

Llanelli has thousands of homes on the low lying flat areas already below sea level. Some are new ones being constructed as I write this. The proposed elevated homes on the Grillo site are safe for a hundred years, we are told, but then considering the age of your average councillor, perhaps they're simply not thinking that far ahead anyway. They certainly don't seem to be thinking that if the sea is going to rise over a metre at Burry Port, its probably going to rise just as much off neighbouring Llanelli.

Cllr Sian Caiach

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Betting with Public Money.

I am grateful to our local rugby team the Scarlets for two things. The first is the entertainment I have enjoyed for years watching them play, although only on TV since they moved to their new stadium, Parc Y Scarlets, built largely from public funds. Also secondly, for drawing me into politics. Not a function of the team but due to the local disruption to my area caused by the sale of the ground and surrounding green areas and the deep anger of local people, enraged by the huge amounts of their money spent by the County Council to support this chronically insolvent club.

Carmarthenshire County Council is well known for never having a "plan B" and resorted to throwing good money after bad in a vain attempt to turn around the fortunes of this ailing pet project. However, the saga has now caused Labour to lose control of Carmartheshire Council. Honesty, transparency and openness cannot be tolerated. The new Labour leader, Jeff Edmunds, had exposed the details of a deal on of one of the Scarlets Car Parks. The lease was given to the club for free and they never paid any rent on it. Instead of a promised 50/50 split in the proceeds of over £800,000, the council took only £200,000 and the Scarlets most of the rest, allowing them to  pay off a huge £280,000 debt from proceeds which should have gone to the public purse, Labour's former partners the Affiliated Independents rejected the Labour Groups' choice of leader when their democratic vote chose Jeff Edmunds, a clearly unreliable choice with his history of telling the truth to the public. Incidentally, the car park was created for them by the council, but never needed as the club has the same average attendances at the new Park y Scarlets as it did at the much smaller, more economical and historically significant Stradey Park.

The Affiliated independents' immediate choice of Plaid as their new coalition partners begs the question as it whether their new bedfellows are more "trustworthy." On paper Plaid are dedicated to openness, honesty and accountability. One paper however, we haven't seen, is the actual coalition agreement.

Plaid were the only party in 2007 to vote unanimously for the financial deal for the Scarlets but that was probably on misleading information, especially the amazingly overconfident forecasts from the club management. The sensible information was in a boring documrent few councillors probably bothered reading. or perhaps the  Deloittes report was lost in translation, "Extremely challenging" means "don't touch it with a barge pole" in English financial speak but probably something completely different in both plain english and welsh.

 To be fair,  members of the other two political groups voted in large numbers for the agreement with only 5 of 74 councillors voting against and a number staying way completely or failing to come back from lunch for the vote. According to the Club, the worst possible scenario was a "break even" situation and perhaps they were believed rather than a specialist accountancy firm.

The current Scarlet's accounts show that the debt, which was never cleared as promised, still remains and that there was a substantial trading loss last year. We are still in recession in all practicality in West Wales and the financial challenge for the club is still extreme.

One almost begins to suspect that the people who stand to benefit from a  dodgy deal are not the ones most suited to speak on its likely financial results, but that is high-level economic knowledge that simple councillors cannot be expected to understand. Neither should those with grandiose plans to expand Carmarthen town with no compelling economic or demographic argument be believed without critical assessment, especialy when public money may be spent in very large amounts.

 Yes, we may have a dreadful shortage of affordable one bedroomed flats in llanelli  and small modest homes for our youngsters to buy or rent at low cost accross the county, But do we need hundreds of larger homes that our own residents are not likely to afford far away from shops and other facilities and too expensive for most people to buy, even if they are supposedly "starter homes" at a fractional  discount?

In the coming week [Tuesday 9th June 2015] the County Council will decide whether or not to fund a very expensive piece of road in Carmarthen  leading to the proposed mega housing project.  Public money, some perhaps to be borrowed, may be used to facilitate massive private house building [up to 1200 units] with a huge potential impact of thousands of incomers to the town if it's successful.  It is proposed to be an exempt item, to be discussed in private and the decision made without public scrutiny. however, the general plans are well known and have been publicised already. CCC just doesn't want to discuss it publically in real time, under public scrutiny.

This proposal does not, as I see it, have issues so private that the details should not be make public prior to discussion, or that the deliberation should not be open and filmed. The Scarlets' funding was at least discussed in a  public meeting. This project is in theory as "challenging" as the Scarlets new stadium and any benefits could take a long time to materialise, if ever, in the present economic situation, The exempt item status, which prevents release of the documentation to the public also prevents detailed and meaningful consultation by councillors with our electorates,

 The Welsh Local Government Association review criticised CCC for over use of the "exempt item" gambit and Plaid should discuss this major public investment openly, though I will not be holding my breath. If they really want to change their minds about discussing the road in secret  they should also delay the item so that the public can grasp the issues and we can all appreciate the real mood of the County.

  2007 is a long way past, but it seems that convincing the CCC councillors that housing developments are not magical money-generating golden geese may take a few more years yet !

Sian Caiach

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Comment Moderation

Up to this point we have always sought to ensure an open forum on this site, and though we moderate comments, we have only done so to remove spam or other automated "bot" comments containing links to scams or malicious software, something fairly common on any comment-enabled site.

Unfortunately, this must now change.

Recently I received an email threatening libel action against me, due to the comments on one of my posts that was not favourable towards the author of the email. The comment was not anonymous. I consulted with other bloggers, and considered the position. The person threatening me was associated with Carmarthenshire County Council, who have taken out libel actions against a blogger in the past, Although this action was subsequently ruled unlawful by the Wales Audit Office and has been suspended from our council constitution, a wealthy individual would not be covered by this precedent if they sued us as an individual. I have four children who rely on me financially and would not benefit from my being bankrupted. I don't own a house and have no funds to defend a legal action. People First is not a large, wealthy party. I feel I have little choice but to delete the comment in question.

I cannot promise that I will not be forced to do this again, though I would prefer it not happen at all. The use of libel cases and the threat of such is an increasing problem, with Jacqui Thompson of Carmarthenshire Planning Problems and More losing her case leaving the smell of blood (and money) in the water.

So long as I do not personally have absolute proof that a comment is not only accurate, but also would stand up in court against the finest barristers in the land, I cannot promise to keep every comment on the blog. However, I am prepared to give as much lee way as possible. When I receive threatening emails asking me to remove "whistleblower" comments, I will  inform the author of the nature and source of the complaint and my reasons for removing the comment if it is decided to do so.

However, as someone who lost their career due to whistleblowing  against greedy and self interested colleagues in the medical profession I have a big soft spot for whistleblowers. There are many ways of skinning a cat. If you have any information of this nature you would like to share I ask you to contact me with the details personally and confidentially at

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose?

Carmarthenshire County Council has a new look. Plaid Cymru has replaced Labour as the leading coalition party with the Affiliated Independents. Their mission statement is to bring CCC up to a high standard of openness and transparency; take that with as many grains of salt as you deem fit.

Carmarthenshire County council is run on the Executive Board System, much like the Westminster and Assembly governments. A small group of elected members make all of the general management and financial decisions. They do submit big things, the budget being the biggest one, for general approval by all the councillors, but a lot can be hidden in detail. Some things are just plain hidden.

The two unlawful payments in Carmarthenshire found by the Wales Audit Office were approved by the Executive board.

The Council Executive wanted to get around the fact that any arm of government, councils included, cannot use libel actions against their critics. This is obviously to preserve free speech. The Executive board at CCC were persuaded that a legal loophole existed, so they backed the chief executive to sue one critical blogger as their proxy to shut her up (and, presumably, to make an example of her).

The first one was presented to the Council, not hidden, but misrepresented. I suspect that the Executive Board had a moment of collective madness. Either because they were lazy and overwhelmed by their hatred of bloggers criticising their actions, or because they trusted the chief executive so overwhelmingly they did not read the legal report by independent legal expert Mr Goudie, blindly accepting the officer's claim that it gave the green light to their actions.

Had they actually read the report they would have realised that it did not endorse this action, in fact it gave the opinion that this tactic was never likely to be justified. However, the Chief executive and the executive board presented this as a legal and reasonable course of action and like sheep they all followed, trusting that they could not have been told barefaced lies by their most senior officers and leading councillors. I do wonder how much they can be blamed, after all, I am a former shepherd myself, and I know exactly what happens to sheep who don't docilely comply with their masters.

In the second case, it was a secret pay rise for the Chief Executive. In this case the executive members appear to have been aware that they were doing something rather naughty. The decision to give Mr James an extra payment on top of his salary was completely hidden despite the fact that to push it through all of the executive must have been complicit.

Cllr Meryl Gravell, was the leader of the Council at the time of the decisions and the chair of these meetings. Meryl knew that she had secretly given Mr James a pay rise of public money around 30k. It is impossible, given her position and authority, that she could not notice. She was therefore primarily responsible for both the unlawful payments.

Plaid has agreed to give the independents half of the Executive board seats even though their own group membership is much bigger than the Affiliated Independents. They have also agreed to accept all of the AI's sitting exec members, including the formidable Mrs Gravell. Plus ça change?

The new Plaid leader, Emlyn Dole, has made a lot of his policy to promote honesty, openness and accountability. So obviously we won't be expecting to be having any more unlawful payments as long as he is kept in the loop. I'm hoping that the Plaid executive members will be less open to being fooled and manipulated than their Labour counterparts and that they can keep the AI in check. Good luck to them!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Power and Responsibility

All democratically elected people, MP's,AM's ,MEP's and Councillors should be representatives of the people. The people vote for them and then they theoretically at least, use their power as elected members for those people they represent. Too often they wield the power for someone else and sometimes someone else is running the show for them.
Part of the problem is the civil service, from the humble Parish council Clerk to the cabinet office in Westminster, Civil servants can support or obstruct elected representatives, often a bit of both. If you want to do something that does not threaten their power and their status that's fine. If  you have the gall to try to change something or accomplish something contrary to their own interests or views, you might be in trouble.

Civil servants of course should be just that. Advising elected members in order to facilitiate their work for their electorate. Many are humble and helpful people taking great pride in their efficiency, courtesy and their important jobs serving the citizens of this country.

Others are not so benign. Representatives can be manipulated, intimidated and steered away from what they originally wanted. Public officials can be bullied themselves into going along with the flow by their superiors. Underlings who whistle blow generally lose their careers by being persecuted in various ways, their disclosures usually being lost in a sea of disciplinary procedures, counter accusations and even suggestions of mental illness ,selfish and even criminal motivation. I've experienced it myself in the NHS and seen it happen in my own Carmarthenshire County Council.

One of the nastiest features of this corruption of public service is the practice of using spin, threats and many evil arts to prevent mistakes being found out and their perpetrators brought to account.

The most awful case I've been personally involved in was the case of a young woman the welsh public services ombudsman refers to as H in his report. Its a public document, I will be happy to send it to anyone who wishes to request a copy from me [].

The story has recently been mentioned in the Carmartheshire Herald [May 15th 2015]. 5 years ago a young woman with autism, severe learning difficulties, cerebral palsy and unable to speak, was taken into council care after accusations by her carers that she had indicated to them on a letter board that she had been sexually abused and prostituted by her parents. Despite for some years having been  formally assessed as having the communication and social skills of a small child, social services officers accpted the complaint at face value. They failed to be concerned that someone with severe learning difficulteies suddenly could communicate as an articulate adult. They did not check that the communication between H and her carers was real.

H's mother had just told the carers that she did not want them to continue with H. Money has gone missing from H's purse without explanation and the carers were reluctant to take her to the local college she had previously attended. They had only been H's carers for a few weeks and had no tuition in communicating with her.

H was using facilitied communication [FC]at home, on a letter board, a technique not allowed as evidence in law. This is because the user's hand can be easily manipulated rather than assisted. There have been many cases of it being used to make false allegations, especially in the USA. After a police investigatoin found no evidence the parents were still kept on police bail, apparently at the request of  social services as the Council confidently continued to  investigate and hopefully prove their case sufficently to keep H in care. Finally an expert in autism and communication was engaged, and assessed H with her carers. Although H could communicate with Professor Howlin at the level of a young child, it was found she not communicate at all with her carers. She could not have made any complaint to the carers.

Unable to accept this, the council officers, I am told, asked the London based expert to come up to Carmarthen to explain it all to them. In the meantime arrangements were being made to give H a foster placement out of county where it would be difficult for her parents to trace her.

Early in this case the Executive Board member for Health and Social Care the elected councillor responsible for social services, called me in to her office, She had been advised by her officers to tell me to stop supporting the family and asking quaestions. When I asked her if she knew anything about the details of the case ,she did not. However, she had been told that the case was horrendous and clearly given the impression the parents were guilty. Another Counicllor was also similarly warned off. Neither of us took the advice but I'm sure many would have.

 The Council paid a psychiatrist, Dr Rowan Wilson, with no knowledge of FC or autism to assess H. He declared her to have adult capacity on the basis of her carer's assisted communication.She could now chose where she lived. H was said to have indicated that she did not want to see her parents and was happy to stay in her care home, Ty Hendy. H therefore stayed in a care home and her parents were not allowed to see her. He was subsequently reported to the GMC by H's parents . They found him guilty of misconduct. I believe he may be the only person to date to face any disciplinary action in this case.
Almost 6 months after H had been taken a care worker at her care home warned her parents that her foster placement was imminent. The Social Workers still insisted that she indicated she did not wish to see her father but said H was inclined to see her mother, A contact visit was arranged.

Myself and the 2 other county councillors who had supported the family over the months did not trust our own Authority to do the right thing and return H home. As H was still regarded by CCC as having adult capacity we had a window to rescue H. At the meeting in a cafe ,2 of us happened to be present and witnessed H responding to her mother by spelling out that she wanted to go home. Invited to do so, she got up and followed her mother out, into the family car and went home. I gently reminded the social workers present that she had, in our opinion, adult capacity and was simply going home with her mum. Soon after the Social work department decided that she really didn't have the capacity to make decisions and asked repeatedly to be admitted to the family home so that an assessment of  H could be done to decide her future placement..

 Naturally, the family had lost all trust in the local social work department and aranged for a senior independent social worker from aoutside the area to visit. He  found the standard of care given to H by her parents was excellent.. H has been at home since and has become a much happier person, in contrast with the stressed and fearful young woman she was when she first returned.

I really believed and still do, that my Council's Social Work Department were so concerned about saving themselves  the embarassment of admitting a mistake and making an appology that they were prepared to break up a family permanently. I do wonder how many other families have not been so lucky.? H's retired parents had a professional background, some savings to pay lawyers with, good knowledge about FC and were fortunate to find 3 County Councillors who would support them against their own Authority.

H's parents suffered apallingly, constantly anxious, and under terrible stress. For almost 6 months they were not sure as to whether they would see their child again. It pains me to recall how evident their distress was. This is an extreme case as to how far people in authority will go to hide their own shortcomings, It should never have happened.

 4 years on, my council has still not settled the case for damages to H's parents although instructed to do so by a judge.I'm told that documentation needed to close the case is yet to be released by the council and is still awaited by H's parents' lawyers.  After a settlement H's parents will be free to speak about their experience. Do they have to wait for every employee involved to retire or move on, to spare their blushes ?

I have been asking for a long time for the  County Council Health and Social Care Scrutiny Committee to discuss the Ombudsman's report on this case and check that the reccomendations have been implemented. The Council's Head of Law claims we are not allowed to do this. The committee chair feels that it is unecessary to do so. Granted, we don't actually scrutinise much and officially none of us have been informed of this case.

Yesterday I spoke again to theH&SC committee chair who siad she could not see what we would achieve by discussing this case. The Ombudsman had said it all, and she was confident that our officers would not make the same mistake twice.I reminded her that the only reason she knew about the case is because I'd sent her the report. Once more she promised to look into whether or not we are allowed to discuss it.

 I think we could do with some urgent openness and accountability here. It is not just one catalogue of errors that concerns me but the whole culture of reacting to bad news by secrecy and denial. Hiding the truth only perpetuates the injustice and may invite a repeat performance.

Sian Caiach