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