Saturday, 14 October 2017

Cities are the future, apparently. City Deal Wellness Developments in Small Towns yet to be validated

Cities are supposedly the driving force of the UK economy. So good are they at making money and improving the lot of their inhabitants that there are more and more new calls for devolution to these powerhouses of wealth generation. Cities know best, so let them get on with it is the mantra.

Cardiff, Wales' only "Core City"
But what if you are not in a city? Is there any hope?

Core Cities UK have this year produced a green paper on the City-led future of Britain. It is available on their website, www.corecities.com.

The message is that cities are the best thing that ever happened to the human race, the drivers of the economy and the true shape of the future.

Cardiff is one of the case studies you can look up on this site. Cardiff is a fair way from where I live in Carmarthenshire and I know little about its performance other than the impressive growth of our capital's city centre and its successes as the seat of government and home of many National institutions. Its Core City ambitions are clearly worthy.

There are impressive promises, the "Cardiff Commitment" seeking a coalition of change to prepare young people for the world of work. Major businesses and local public service leaders have signed an "employer pledge" committing them to working with schools and accessing skills, tuition. mentoring, apprenticeships and job opportunities for young people. It sounds wonderful, I don't know how feasible delivery is, but you can't argue with the ultimate goal of every young person in Cardiff getting a job or post education training "that allows them to be the best they can be".

The population of Wales is around 3.1 million. The three southern cities populations are roughly around 856,000 in total with Cardiff the largest with 361,000, Swansea has 246.000 and Newport 149,000. Official city dwellers on this estimate, make up 27.5% of our population, low by world estimates where over 50% of people are said to live in cities at present, set to rise to 70% by 2050.
I recently went to a presentation of this green paper in Glasgow and the enthusiasm of the core city leaders was impressive. However, at the end I could not resist asking some of the Council leaders the question which most Welsh People might ask "what is the future of areas which are not cities?"

After a meeting where all parties had criticised the UK Government for its centralisation and "one size fits all policies", the response I got was one emphasising the Cities as the new leaders in growth and economic development, and the need for everyone to work with them, preferably within them. Is that where we non- city dwellers fit in? Join them or condemn ourselves permanently to some second  rate economy, poor services and no tools to improve matters was what I understood by the responses.

The City lobby is powerful and the UK central government has responded with City Deals and the installation of elected mayors, and these policies will likely be extended to many other areas.  Will it all work out ?- I don't know. But I do know that the current trend to pretend that we, the rest of Wales are part of a city or a made up regional partnership area and will therefore share the great leadership, strength and skill claimed by the Core Cities may not be such a good idea.

The Core Cities have the begging bowl out already and are competing for UK government funds will well developed investment bids.  If a rural area funds a project as a"City Deal" will the illusion it is something to do with a city make it a success?

Delta Lakes - it certainly  has a lot of water, is a brownfield site, and belongs to the Council. When I asked why we were planning the "Wellness and Life Science Village there I was answered by Mr Mark James, the CEO of Carmarthenshire County Council "Where else would we find 40 acres of land?"Convenience clearly took precedence over careful site selection. 

Artists impression of the Wellness and life Science Village, Llanelli
Here is the description from the Carmarthenshire County Council Website:

Delta Lakes will provide a ‘world class’ Wellness and Life Science Village along the Llanelli coastline bringing together health, leisure, business and research.

The largest ever regeneration project in South West Wales, it aims to improve the health and wellbeing of people across the region, creating up to 2000 high quality, well paid jobs and boosting the economy by a staggering £467 million over 15 years.

The proposals include:

An Institute of Life Science with laboratory and clinic space and an incubation facility for business start-up, research and development
A Wellness Hub incorporating a new ‘state-of-the-art’ sports and leisure centre
A Community Health Hub offering a range of health and wellbeing services and facilities for education and training.
A Wellness Hotel
An Assisted Living Village, AKA £7m funds originally earmarked for a council care home.

Firm details are scarce. How many of these buildings will be built by the local authority to lease out to businesses, the university, the Health Board and the care home provider, for example? Businesses may be happy to rent units, lease hotels and laboratories etc but is anyone offering to really invest and build and own the units? If not, the cost of construction and landscaping may take up much of the loan money borrowed by the County Council. They rely on the business rates to cover the loan interest - possibly a poor position from which to negotiate the best rental deals.

Before the signing of the agreement, I never saw a proper business plan for the scheme. Neither was there any research report as to how many and where the tourists and service users would probably come from. The expressions of business interest were just that. Does the scheme stand or fall as a whole or are the proposed individual schemes viable in themselves?

How many of the "up to 2000 high quality, well paid jobs" will actually be recruited locally, where many are already stuck in entry level low paid jobs with little prospect?

Maybe pretending to be part of a city will be an advantage?  Personally, I believe our  rural areas, small towns and villages deserve the sort of economic stimuli  generally shown to help these sorts of  communities and the businesses and industries they sustain. Jumping on someone else's bandwagon may not the best strategy.

 Siân Caiach,  

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

The Councillor's lost Daughter part two

Carina Burn had been removed from her parent's care without them being informed. Carmarthenshire County Council Social Services, on the evidence of 2 carers who claimed to be able to communicate with Carina, that she was now a competent adult, having previously been regarded at regular assessments  as a person with severe learnng and communication difficulties. Eventually it was proved that the whole thing was a hoax and the carers only pretended communication with their client. How were they able to maintain the fraud for months? How were the police, the Council officers and a senior doctor, all professionals, completely fooled by carers with little experience or training?

The ombudsman has produced an analytical and critical report in response to a complaint against Carmarthenshire County Council by Mr and Mrs Burn. It was never revealed to or discussed with any elected councillors in CCC, to my knowledge. As a member of the Health and Social Care Scrutiny Committee at the time, the matter was never discussed and my personal inquiries as to the measures taken to  both prevent a recurrence and the concerns of the Burns about the carers involved still being employed locally,  were ignored. The ombudsman's report was available on request to every member of the public who knew the reference number, but not to those elected members supposedly overseeing the performance of the Council's Social Care department.

The only person concerned who stood before a disciplinary panel , was the doctor, psychiatrist  Rowan Wilson, who had been deceived into confirming Carina Burn's supposedly adult capacity and verifying her testimony. Why CCC chose an old age psychiatrist with no experience with autistic conditions to make this assessment has never been explained.

His General Medical Council hearing reveals evidence explaining how he was fooled, not only by the carers but also by a social worker.  GMC Fitness to Practice hearings have the standing of a civil court and are conducted in a similar way.

The hearing. GMC ref no: 3547955 was a public hearing conducted 12th-15th November 2012. Carina is referred to as CB in the records, which her parents have allowed me to access. There was press coverage at the time.
GMC Offices Manchester

The panel findings were that Dr. Wilson conducted an examination of CB on the 8th November 2010 at the request of  Carms CC, using facilitated communication ("FC") in circumstances where patient CB was diagnosed as autistic and when he had no prior experience or informed knowledge of  FC.

Furthermore when conducting and reporting the assessment Dr Wilson failed to establish CB's cognitive capacity, accepted FC as a reliable technique without enquiry and failed to consider the discrepancy between CB's diagnosis of autism and her apparent language competency using FC. He also failed to test the validity of CB's use of FC. He then produced a report concluding that CB had full adult mental capacity when he had insufficient information so to conclude.

Mr Climie, Dr Wilson's defence barrister did not dispute the serious clinical mistake which had led to CB being kept in Care and denied access to her family. He submitted that there was a very significant element of malice attached to the allegations and mentions the dispute between the parents and carers over the disappearance of money without receipts and CB not attending the activities agreed for her. He mentions that Dr Wilson was unaware of these details.

Dr Wilson was asked to undertake an assessment of CB. Her social worker informed him that "CB has made disclosures to the police about her parents. Her parents are in full denial of this and are disputing  that she has the capacity to make this disclosure, let alone use the communication that she has recently been using very efficiently. They also believe that she cannot make decisions on where she lives or that she has the right to choose if she sees her parents or not."

Dr Wilson's subsequent report is full of wonder that this clearly disabled, childlike young woman without speech is able to remember names, describe her care home and "speak" through FC with a clearly adult voice.He was informed by the social worker and carers that she had a "far greater mental capacity than is actually the case".Using that information he had written a report that CB had the full capacity to make her own welfare decisions. 

FC is a controversial technique and Dame Butler-Sloss, when president of the Family Division ,ruled that FC could not be relied upon in family proceeding where allegations of abuse are concerned. Through their solicitor the parents raised these concerns with CCC and pushed for a proper expert assessment of Carina which was eventually arranged in March 2011.As I have previously described Dyfed Powys Police seem to have kept the parents on police bail at the request of a social worker up to this point ,with no evidence ever found of abuse.

Professor Howlin, an expert in Autistic Spectrum Disorders and a practitioner of FC, examined  Carina on the 1st March 2011 and showed that she lacked capacity due to her autistic spectrum disability, but could use FC to make simple statements appropriate to a young child. She wanted to go home. The carers and social worker who had been "using" FC , had no communication with Carina whatsoever .Carina was 19 years old but Professor Howlin assessed her language communication  as between  2 and 4 years of age.

At the GMC hearing Dr Wilson admitted his errors. The panel affirm that he should have made an independent assessment rather than operating under a number of assumptions, that he should have been aware of the serious consequences which could flow from a mistake and that the actions amounted to serious misconduct.

Dr Wilson expressed remorse and this was considered genuine. He had also taken some training in assessing Autistic Spectrum Disorders and had changed his outlook to such assessments, Despite the serious misconduct finding, the GMC found that this had been one incident which was unlikely to be repeated and so no restriction was placed on his practice.

The panel considered that he "will always remember the distressing consequences of {his} assessment of CB" and also that it was a salutary lesson which he would not forget.

Dr Wilson accepted the opinion of international Expert Professor Patricia Howlin without question. Carmarthenshire County Council Social work department, unfortunately. did not. Carina's imprisonment continued with the same carers still "communicating" for her using FC.

How she was finally released is the next instalment.

Siân Caiach

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

The Councillor's lost Daughter Part one

County Councillors rarely feel they have to act against their own Local Authority but I did, and deliberately helped remove a vulnerable and helpless person from the care of Carmarthenshire County Council. This happened in 2011 but now that legal cases are completed I am free to talk about the appalling treatment of this young woman, then aged 19, by Carmarthenshire Social Services and carers provided by Perthyn, a private company paid by the council to provide "care" in this sad case.

Although Carmarthenshire County Council, Dyfed Powys Police and a psychiatrist have all accepted blame for this terrible mistaken and unlawful imprisonment of a young woman, Perthyn, whose carers made up false allegations and who appear to have given these staff, at best, poor training and supervision, have not been individually criticised. Carina has been awarded £30,000 in damages, the bulk of which comes from Carmarthenshire County Council and is held in trust for her.

 Ironically, if she had been wrongfully imprisoned by a miscarriage of justice due to false allegations about her, she would likely have been awarded more. However, the false allegations were against her parents and made by the 2 carers spelling out completely false allegations on a letter board while directing her finger to what they wanted her to "say".

For months Carmarthenshire County Council insisted that the disclosures were Carina's statements. Carina was a normal child until sudden illness caused brain damage giving her cerebral palsy and autism and robbing her of speech.  Her parents moved to Wales with her as Carmarthenshire was said to have excellent facilities for the education of such children. All of her social services assessments described her as a person with severe communication difficulties and she was assessed as having the comprehension of a young child, a person without adult capacity. At home she communicated with her mother using a letter board to express her basic needs, forming words and short sentences appropriate to the language of a young child. As her fine motor skills were limited, she needed  help to steady her wrist to move her finger between letters. This is called "facilitated communication" and has been misused to falsify communication in many cases. It is only recommended for home use and cannot be used as evidence in UK courts.

When Carina left school, it was suggested that carers take her to college and for other activities such as swimming. Two carers were allocated to her but there were problems. Money went missing . The carers claimed Carina had misbehaved and they changed her routine from the planned activities.

After 3 weeks of this. Carina's parents were not happy with the carers and her mother told them on a Friday that she would take Carina herself to college the following Monday in order to find out exactly what was going on.

 The 2 Carers then asked to take Carina swimming that day as planned,The Carers later claimed that Carina had immediately indicated to them that her parents were abusing her. In the changing rooms of the swimming pool and in the manner of an articulate adult she had disclosed that she was regularly beaten and raped by her father and, together with her mother, prostituted from their home and forced to have sex with number of strangers.

Carina's parents did not realise that the carers had found a laminated letter sheet used by Carina in her handbag and were now using it to accuse the couple of abusing their daughter and running a brothel. Carina did not come home. Social services told the parents to ask the police about why she was being kept away and it was some days before they found out about the allegations.

In the meantime Carmarthenshire Social Services had asked an Old Age Specialist Psychiatrist with no knowledge of learning difficulties or autism, Dr Rowan Williams,  to verify Carina's communication and status.

 It is a warning sign that FC is being misused when a subject suddenly becomes articulate and expressive at a level well above their assessed ability. Dr Rowan Wilson  believed what he was told by the social workers and supported the re classification of Carina as a competent adult having full legal capacity. This meant her parents now had no rights over her and she was kept in Ty Hendy care home, attended by the same carers who had made up the abuse story.

As the ombudsman later remarked, if social services had even googled "Facilitated Communication" they would have found that it has been discredited and should never have been relied on to take anyone into care or refer allegations to the police . However, the Council officers preferred to believe that they had a sensational case against her father, a local Plaid Cymru Councillor well known in the area.

Not a jot of evidence was found to support the abuse/brothel allegations despite a thorough look through the parental computers and a very detailed forensic search of the home. Carina was "interviewed" for hours by the police via her "carers" and even "retracted "the allegations several times. The police also did not seem to have any knowledge of the reputation of FC. However, finding no evidence they should have released the parents from police bail and dropped the threat of charges against them.  This social services log sheet below shows the request from Social Services to the police to keep the parents on bail to facilitate their Council's further investigations, in the hope that an expert, the renowned Professor Patricia Howlin, could finally prove that the carers were truly representing Carina's communication.





This telephone call [TC] logged by social worker Bethan Williams , first on the list above,  is an exchange between her superior, County Council Officer Anthony Maynard and police officer Detective Inspector Richard Jones.

"Anthony Maynard called DI Richard Jones to advise that the specialist assessments cannot be done until March. It will be impossible to extend the Burn's bail until that date.Therefore he will possibly shelf the case and once we get the evidence done in March, if it proves anything further and more evidence is obtained they can re-open the case.Richard Jones asked if I could find the emails Mr Burn has sent to us"

On 25th October, the couple had been informed by the police that there was no physical evidence of any wrongdoing after they had interviewed under caution, had their house searched and their computers examined. There was also evidence from the family doctor showing that there were other, medical  reasons the abuse could never have happened as claimed in the detail of the disclosures. After this the Burns were put on police bail to allow further investigation.

 Almost 3 months later the police were no further on and had no reason to keep the parents on police bail other than to facilitate the Social Services desperate attempts to prove that something had actually happened. At this point they all must have known, as the family's lawyers had informed them, on several occasions, that any evidence produced through FC (facilitated communication) would have been inadmissible anyway

.After this phone call the parents were kept on police bail which implied there was still ongoing police consideration of the case. They were prevented from visiting their daughter who allegedly communicated via her carers that she did not wish to see them. They suffered severe stress as their only information about Carina was second hand from relatives and visitors to other clients at Ty Hendy, who reported that Carina was distressed and causing difficulties at the residential  institution.

 In truth Carina was a person with learning difficulties and new, severe stress induced  behavioural problems due to being confined at Ty Hendy. She did not know where she was, why she was there,or  where her parents were? She was being prepared for a foster placement out of county where her "carers" who could "communicate" with her, would be employed to" support" her.

I would like to know why the police played this game of "shelving" the investigation but keeping the parents on police bail, in the hope that Social Services could find evidence the police could not and somehow overcome the judicial ruling on Facilitated Communication?  Why have the police assisted in a cover up to help social services? The parents were asking for a test of communication and would not have  objected to one if their daughter had been returned. They knew the allegations were untrue.

And who had any regard for the parents, or the young woman locked up and aware that she was being made to spell out things she did not understand or agree with, and was desperate to return to her family?
 
The communication test should surely have been done before any assessment of capacity, any police interviews and any decisions about Carina's future. Both parties, County Council and Dyfed Powys Police were made aware early on by the Burns and their lawyers of the dangers and limitations of facilitated communication. Perhaps the "scandalous goings on" described by the carers were more seductive than the public duty of care, common sense and proper procedure?

Siân Caiach,

Sunday, 30 July 2017

1911 - the history that should have never happened but did!

Why does Wales get a bad deal? Why is this country the poorest in the UK by far. The inference is that the Welsh deserve it. Even welsh born and raised politicians have rubbished the country's history and lack of talent. Wales need guidance and protection from the ambitions of its inhabitants. Those who live here don't deserve a fair share - if they had "real drive" they would surely have left and never come back ! Suppressing the "wrong" history is apparently a national pastime. Even recent events may be spun as something completely different.


Neil Kinnock is an example of a man who did reasonably well in the UK sphere but was not renowned for his support of Wales, the project. His views on Welsh History were not far off the sentiments my children learned at school in history lessons. Their teachers do not have had much to work with, the Romans, the Tudors and the Second World war with welsh involvement as footnotes.

Those of us old enough to have been supporting the miners in the Miners Strike of 1984-5 realised that it was primarily a successful attack by Margaret Thatcher on a troublesome are of the UK economy -a  unionised heavy industry. In Wales it was a  large part of  the economy and surely deserved preservation. There was not the environmental concern of today about fossil fuels and the destruction of the industry was political. Welsh Labour supporters through those long months were waiting for the Labour leader to support the strike, especially in his own country. A touching sentiment, but forlorn. Interesting quote above where he airs his views on what he sees as a distinct lack of history in Wales.

Remarkably a local Secondary School in Llanelli once did do a local history project on 1911 and I had not even heard of those events  before my eldest child brought it  home. Mysteriously none of  my 3 younger children who attended the same school subsequently studied the 1911 events - they must have misplaced the project documents.

You might think that history its something fixed in the past and interpretation may alter but not the facts.  You would be wrong. The events of 1911, uniquely played out in Llanelli, and the massive attempts to suppress the facts and distort the truth, chillingly shadows the modern day distortions and cover ups of government blunders we currently see all over the world. Such is the ignorance about Llanelli 1911 that after the Centenary we decided to carry on with a few events every year to keep the memory alive of what really happened.

I recently heard that a member of the public had gone to Llanelli Library to obtain some information on the subject of the 1911 Strike.  He was told that they had no books or information. The gentleman at the desk dealing with the query remarked that "We wish it had never happened".

I happened to have donated 30 books on the subject on behalf of the the 1911 committee to them 5 years ago! Where could they be? I suspect some of the hundreds of bilingual books we got printed with a Heritage Lottery Grant  and sent to every Carmarthenshire school may also have disappeared.

As someone who is no stranger to controversy I found the 1911 Centenary Commemoration strangely double edged. The first reaction against remembering 1911 I found ,was opposition on the grounds that the history was shameful and showed that the people of Llanelli were capable of rioting and looting. A less common but more deeply disturbing attitude is that a good welsh nationalist like myself should not be involved in working class history as it's an "English" subject.

The basic story is:
The first National Railway Strike was called in August 1911. Railwaymen were paid so little that they could not support their families despite 70 hour working weeks. The majority of other workers in Llanelli were significantly better off and there was a great deal of sympathy for the strikers. The UK government mobilised 57,000 troops to keep the railways and ports open.

The railway was the major transporter of  UK goods and the GWR line through Llanelli was transporting massive food imports coming in from Ireland .

Huge pickets blocked the station crossing gates despite the efforts and bayonets of police and troops. Llanelli was the  only place in Britain where the trains were completely halted. Liberal Home Secretary Winston Churchill sent in more troops. Railway still blocked. A local magistrate read the riot act and finally the troops shot onlookers, killing 2 of them. The crowds should have disbursed but instead ran at the troops who spent the rest of their trip to Llanelli barricaded in the station. Some of the townspeople took advantage of the situation  to attack property owned by the local magistrates and the Railway companies. Ironically, by this point the strike had been settled.

Grave in Llanelli's Box Cemetery of an English labourer shot in the back garden of his lodgings.
Local Historian John Edwards.who wrote the book "Remembrance of a Riot" , the first comprehensive account of the events, says the emphasis on the looting, rather than the shooting, was the political reaction from the start and the incident is still locally known as the "Llanelli riots"as if it was some random criminal event. We still have an uphill struggle.


This year's events :

August 17th  Free Entry to all at the annual 1911 Historian's Forum at Llanelli Rural Council 5 for 5.30pm  Speaker Robert Griffiths author of "Killing, no murder" book on 1911 events.

This is followed by Civic Reception for all guests by Chair of Council [Buffet and Drinks]. Venue: Llanelli Rural Council Offices, Vauxhall, Llanelli  SA15 3BD  tel. 01554 774103

August 19th  Commemorative March from Llanelli Station stopping at the site of the killings and on to the town centre.Gather 1.30pm for departure at 2.00pm. Speeches in Spring Gardens, Town Hall Square followed by wreath laying at Box Cemetery.

learn more at 1911llanellirailwaystrike.org.uk/
                                                                                                                   Siân Caiach

Thursday, 6 July 2017

The Sospan Restaurant - Carmarthenshire Econonmics

Wales is often seen as a begging bowl economy. Apparently unable to survive without hand outs and with insufficient power, resources and/or influence to help itself. The story of Llanelli's generously subsidised fine dining venue illustrates the strange and wonderful ways in which even our supposedly locally "controlled" Councils are encouraged to give away their land and source funding for selected
businesses. Exactly how these projects are formulated is mysterious, but they are often related to or associates of other organisations and projects who also bask in the sun of public funding. No surprise there. Those who know and experience these systems are also likely to use this knowledge for other projects.

The imposing Pump House at North Dock, Llanelli, built at the turn of the 20th century and a listed building, found itself in a Waterfront  Regeneration Project Area. A use needed to be found which would preserve the imposing listed building.

 Bids were taken for developing the building. 3 were considered. {source FOIA/3789 CCC]

Developer A
£254,788  offered for site
£400,000 grant funding required.
Net  contribution grant required of £145,212

Developer B
Nil value for purchase of land.
£575,000 grant required

Developer C
Nil value for purchase of land
Nil grant required

CCC stated in the FOIA reply "However, it should be borne in mind that the award of contract was also based on a Cost and Quality submission, therefore the financial details would not have been scored in isolation."

After the bidding, the contract was awarded to Bendigo 9-10. a firm fronted by Rugby International players Stephen Jones and Dwayne Peel. Planning permission was granted. A Plaza built to enhance the site as per my previous blog, but the use of the building was delayed for 2 years until 2010 to allow Welsh Water to try to upgrade the sewage drainage in the area.  The restaurant area itself has appeared odour free whenever I've visited the environs but not so the flats opposite on the other side of the dock so I suspect there are still residual problems in the area.

Of course I can't be sure which bid the Council accepted but I suspect the winners were Developer B.
A Cadw contribution and Business Development Grants and other subsidises were said to be in the region of £600,000 and further smaller grants were allocated  by CCC with £13,750 coming from the South West Wales local investment fund.[ FOIA/5249]

Recently a local resident noted that the car park for the Sospan was being extended onto public owned Council land and flagged this up with the council. The Bendigo 9-10 had paid around £30k for use of the original car park area. Originally CCC claimed there was no issue but later realised there was. This is the revised response

 "Carmarthenshire County Council officers were notified at the time of the recent works that the extension was in accordance with an agreed lease agreement. Since the time of our initial response on 19th April 2017 surveyors have checked the boundaries on site and we are now liaising directly with the owner as we believe there is additional land take. If additional land has actually been utilised the council will look to secure a sale at market value."

Such has been the success of the restaurant that a new venture subsequently opened at the Eastgate, the private owned but public funded Llanelli town centre development which was also briefly home to a business enterprise run by the Scarlets which ran up large debts. Robert Williams, Chair of WRW, local construction firm and member of CCC's constructors' framework, is described as a co-owner of both the Sospan and the newer B 9-10 . Close to the Sospan is the Dragon 24 new office complex, which has had difficulty in letting the floor space. WRW is occupying one of the units. 


B-9-10 was launched at East Gate Llanelli in December 2014 by the same rugby stars Dwayne Peel and Stephen Jones along with local entrepreneur Robert Williams. This set of units has also been difficult to fully let, and ask for very large rents compared with the other areas of the town. The high end Burger bar does not seem to have survived despite an enthusiastic launch...

The new town centre restaurant was described as rugby themed "as it provides a stylish yet informal surroundings to enjoy delicious Welsh food and craft beers and even catch the latest Scarlets game on the big screen! The owners previously launched the multi award winning Sosban in Llanelli, which was most recently crowned Wales best place to eat by the National Tourism Awards, following their title as Wales’ best restaurant with the Good Food Guide, and The AA Guide’s Best restaurant in Wales title."  
One of several empty  units at the Llanelli Eastgate  

No information is available from CCC as to the number of promising young chefs placed at the Sospan for training. The food is very good by all accounts but expensive.

So how is the company doing?

 BENDIGO 9-10 is trading and listed at Companies House. It was planned to provide up to 20 local full time jobs. The current  employment figures are not available.

2016 accounts show a cash balance of £82K, net worth of £596,680, total current assets of £263,244,and total current liabilities of £135,901 with debt held by HSBC and Welsh Government.
This pattern of helping along local enterprises with procuring grants and added extras is perfectly legal and above board. However, although this project has provided a use for an old historic landmark it has not regenerated anything more than the area it stands on and its public plaza has certainly not attracted the public. It should be attractive to tourists but is remote and secluded from the the nearest tourist "hot spot" of  Llanelli Beach. It is not close to hotels and tourist routes and a long walk and short drive from the town. It may be that as a high end fine dining restaurant that makes little difference to trade as those who wish to eat the finest food and have the money to pay for it, may always make the effort.

However, as a reproducible model for expanding the local economy it is not useful. In fact the impression that only a few elite projects succeed in obtaining substantial public funding and  easy planning consent appears to discourage young entrepreneurs. As in much of Wales, there is no economic plan A, never mind a plan B, just build more homes for retirees and commuters. At least this will increase the Council Tax take, but little else.

Like much of Rural Wales, Carmarthenshire's sustainable industries are surely Tourism, Food Production [farming, food processing and packaging], forrestry and energy production.  The Public Sector is the major employer through Health, Education, Local Government etc. There are still some Llanelli engineering jobs, mainly related to the automotive industry but there is little sign of expansion in this area and similarly little prospect of expansion in the residual steel and other heavy industries. If there is any prospect of economic expansion we at least need a plan...  
                                                                                                                    Siân Caiach
Sospan :New Car Park in Foreground, Restaurant on left and the white building in the distance is WRW offices 

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

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

Think Plaza, think public square or market place......but this is the mysterious Pump House Plaza, Llanelli. The most lonely and empty plaza I have ever come across. Built on Council land by Carmarthenshire County Council all is not explained in the public documentation

 Part of the 2008-2013 "Regeneration Master-plan", the 2012 update states:

● Phase 2 Carmarthenshire Dock (i.e. Pumphouse Plaza has been recently completed to complement the private sector led restaurant development within the Pumphouse building itself).

Here it is in the 2011 publicity photo by Rodger Associates Ltd, who claimed the design and project "Inception to completion" and they certainly delivered a "plaza"

The Pump House Plaza June 2017
                                       


Another view,  June 2017 -weeds in cracks in paving, no sign of human life, Sospan Restaurant overlooks.


A few years on this lonely, unused place looks just the same but only the weeds seem to be utilising it. Far from the bustling public area as planned, it is clearly not being used as such. It was funded by a European Grant  administered by Carms County Council ,usefully adjacent to a local pet project,the Sospan Restaurant , itself developed with generous public funding by 2 former Scarlets' Rugby players via their company Bendigo 9-10.

 The Ghost Plaza grant was apparently bankrolled from the EU Green Seas/ Green Beaches fund. The Plaza is next to the  Sospan  Restaurant and across the road from the grade II listed North Dock which contains fresh water. An overflow from the Dock goes into a river which runs into an estuary which eventually flows into the sea. High levels of nitrogen compounds, probably mainly from poorly treated sewage mean that this estuary is often green with algal blooms and the North Dock water is frequently visited by the less attractive algal scum. Nearby are notices warning not to touch the scum.

 Could the County Council have misinterpreted the Green Seas issue and felt a large public space was needed close to such algal abundance.? The EU's reward for actual greenness in our coastal waters?

The 2007 planning application for the Ghost Plaza was never put to the CCC planning committee and quietly approved by then head of Planning, Eifion Bowen through his delegated powers.

The area is not known for its pedestrian or any other traffic and currently a new restaurant car park extension is being built there for the Sospan. Double yellow lines prevent parking on the access roads to this area and the plaza is invisible to passing traffic on the coastal bypass and hard to see and too far away to be easily enjoyed by people visiting Llanelli beach on the other side of the dock. It is not signposted or advertised in anyway.

This land may not have been purchased by Sospan prior to build
The new car park extension

So why build a new and empty open space here at public expense? Could it be the old "grab a grant"
 culture - find a grant and invent a project to get the money?

Was it a serious artistic statement of the lonely desperation and emptiness of this neglected town?

 Maybe just some sort of joke? Or a test? Would anyone notice if a completely useless "public" area was quietly built on the margin of a depressed town?

Now, in contrast  the picture below is a real Plaza in Madrid. It has people, clearly a meeting place with good access and surrounded with hustle and bustle.It serves a civic purpose. But the Pump House plaza is a Public space without any public use and was the product of an environmental grant funded to improve the coastline without any obvious improvement to the coastal environment that I can see. This "gift" EU funding gives no obvious facility  to the locals but may have well funded the designer's and constructors who have built this curious area for Carmarthenshire County Council.

After all, it was part of a "Masterplan". Its just we don't know what the plan was really all about. This is the explanation provided in the report for the whole North Dock Project.  After reading it, I am none the wiser.............

2.12 Llanelli Waterside
    The activity within the Llanelli Waterside area is funded through the Joint Venture partnership between Welsh Government and Carmarthenshire County Council. The investment in infrastructure over this and previous Masterplan period has created attractive regeneration sites for development which have been taken up to date by both residential and commercial developers (e.g. Machynys West, Pumphouse Restaurant, Dragon 24 offices). Evidence suggests that creating a high quality environment can bring competitive advantage in the regional, national and global market place. The landscape quality influences an occupier’s perception of an area as a suitable location for their business and first impressions count, therefore, ensuring high-quality landscape treatments at gateways, entrances and along access roads are important investment for the long term as these help the potential occupier achieve a positive business image.

{As  to the Sospan Restaurant, the funding for that is another story which I'll post soon!}

A more conventional Plaza

Siân Caiach,

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Another election, and probably another one soon.

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

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

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


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

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

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

Saturday, 20 May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



Siân Caiach

  

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

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

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


Ray "Duncan" Jones

 Ray writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Ray "Duncan" Jones

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Artist's Impression

                                                                                                         Siân Caiach


Saturday, 1 April 2017

A Better Future? - looking ahead to the Council Elections

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

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

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

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


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

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

Siân Caiach

Sunday, 26 March 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Siân Caiach


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

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

A Glitch for People First

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Siân Caiach