Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Carmarthenshire County Council- The Honey Trap. the threats, the lies.

"THERE IS NOTHING THE POLITICAL ESTABLISHMENT WILL NOT DO, NO LIE THEY WILL NOT TELL,TO HOLD THEIR PRESTIGE AND POWER AND YOUR EXPENSE."

You may recognise this quote from Donald Trump's presidential campaign .Its strength is that it resonates with people who believe they have no power, that their governments are corrupted .They believe they are being fed constant misinformation, their political leaders are out for themselves, and their own interests and basic needs ignored.

In Carmarthenshire you could delete the word "political" from the quote above. Once your County Councillors are elected, generally politics flies out the window. It is refreshing to see the present Labour Group Leader, Rob James, challenging the actions of the County Council where the motives and likely results are extremely questionable, Even barefaced lies used to be accepted without question to keep the status quo. Perhaps the little extras "good" councillors could collect, the titles and extra money that went with them, were an incentive?

"MEN ARE SO SIMPLE OF MIND , AND SO MUCH DOMINATED BY THEIR IMMEDIATE NEEDS, THAT A DECEITFUL MAN WILL ALWAYS FIND PLENTY WHO ARE READY TO BE DECEIVED"       Machiavelli

Carmarthenshire County Council, I believe, has been run for the best part of 2 decades by senior Council Officers without proper control and input from the elected members. People like myself who stood up and pointed out the obvious flaws in the proposed vanity schemes and dubious projects were attacked not only by the local government civil servants whose ideas they were, but dozens of other councillors who did not want to rock the boat. Whether this was due to ambition or fear or both, the officers were, technically, supported by almost all elected members who voted for their daft schemes which often seem to end up largely paid for by the public and profits and benefits went to the favoured few.

 How did the "Scam" work

People usually stand for councils at the request of political parties or independent groups.They are selected for loyalty to the party.They need some finance for leaflets and posters and the main political parties provide this, making the successful councillors indebted to the parties for their help and financial support. Particularly well behaved are usually those who crave office and position. Many AM's and MP's were previously councillors.

The parties organise their members into a group and they are expected to act as a team and all vote the same way, sometimes irrespective of the interests of their own voters. As council matters are not reported widely in the local press people are generally ignorant of how their councillors vote. You can usually vote for your party and against the interests of your ward, town or village and still not effect your chances of re-election.

Add to this "councillor training sessions" led by council officers rather than experienced councillors.Of course the council officers should be there to provide any extra information or updates, but in my experience there is little practical advice and examples related to helping the people we represent. The general message is "this is the way things are done" and if you follow the rules, no harm will come to you.

The Leader of the Pack?

The top elected councillor, the Council Leader, is actually where the buck stops.If the pack leader is eating out the CEO's hand, democratic control has disappeared. It is not difficult for senior government civil servants to, in reality, have a free hand. In Carmarthenshire, officers can use the weakness of committee chairs to total control the council committee agendas. As the leader is responsible, in theory, for everything the Council does, a Chief Executive who has powerful influence over the Leader who has in theory, full power and the CEO no accountability, as"in theory, the elected Leader makes the decisions and carries the can.

 Councillors often are given chair positions as "sweeties" eg. to reward years of party loyalty and may know little about the administration and the subject of their committee. It comes with a considerable salary increase. Not a problem in Carmarthenshire where the Agendas are packed with presentations of how well the council is doing, community projects not particularly relevant and the approval of policies not even mentioned before being put on the agenda. You could be on a committee for years and learn very little about what is actually going on behind the comic book presentations and cheery statements.

You might sit on a committee s and know little about the management of that department.   If you upset the officers, for instance asking too many probing questions, your party may be requested to remove you from that committee. {I only attended  2 planning meetings before Plaid , on request of a senior officer, took me off }

I was on the Health and Social Care Committee of Carmarthenshire Council for 9 years. I never got to put any item on the agenda and was always told that the "officers wrote the agenda", Chairs were just there to keep order in the meetings. There was a fair amount of pressure to go along with whatever was suggested, and it was extremely difficult  for councillors to make any significant changes to proposals, I don't recall any.


The seductive steps of Carmarthenshire County Hall



Leadership and the Chief Executive.

How is the Leader controlled? In Carmarthenshire the Leaders  are seemingly chosen by Mark James. He "helps" the groups to form the administration. Currently the Plaid Cymru group leader is the Leader of Council. He is Cllr Emlyn Dole. It was said that the Plaid Cymru Group, were advised by Mr Mark James, that in order to get his support for Plaid Council leadership they had to  replace their former leader, Peter Hughes Griffiths with Emlyn Dole, Mark James' choice. Peter is a man with a lot of political experience and probably, in my opinion, a lot more more integrity than Emlyn. Definitely not so easily led. Perhaps he had to go, but was compensated with a year as Council Chair with a salary increase and use of a chauffeured car for official visits.

 Subsequently, as Leader, Emlyn was embroiled in a planning scandal where historic barns on his wife's farm were demolished in violation of their planning application. They then had to apply for a change in the planning or face rebuilding the barns as they had been. In support of the  application for retrospective planning it looks like a forged  signature on a document was presented, claiming the barns were dangerously unstable. The man concerned did not hold the view expressed in it, and says he did not sign it. A forged document submitted to support a planning application its usually pretty serious . Not in Carmarthenshire where the officers have apparently decided to let the matter lie. The County Councillors backed the application by a very small margin, with even the local Plaid Councillor for the ares not supporting him.

 Emlyn, famously,  promised a more open and democratic council, and clearly did not deliver. I don't know what has locked him into decisions which looked dodgy to me from the start,such as  vicious persecution of the blogger Jacqui Thompson  to pay for legal costs incurred through court action approved and paid for by a previous administration. Now he is insisting that the flawed City Deal Delta Lakes Project should go ahead, as it becomes exposed more and more as a project promising much but likely to deliver little and not standing up well to analytical scrutiny . Maybe the 2 barns scandal was an elephant trap set to keep him on side?

Who can stop the Rot?

Most experienced Carmarthenshire councillors have been serving under the regime described above and are used to the coercion and lack of clarity and truth. They may never have even noticed that anything was wrong. Maybe they suspended disbelief ? Maybe they though all councils were run this way? Maybe they are personally implicated in this or that and feeling a bit uncomfortable. Maybe they lack courage. Who knows?

 Cllr Rob James is serving his first term on this County Councillor but does have experience of being a County Councillor in Neath Port Talbot , where things I suspect, are run differently. He has the guts to stand up to the establishment. In my last term on Carmarthenshire Council I was rather alone in bringing up issues, I felt like it was only me in opposition. I'm not politically a Labour Party supporter but I'm glad to see the leader of the opposition actually doing his job.

I think the only sensible action to be taken now is for the Welsh Government to take a close interest in the workings of Carmarthenshire County Council. Other Councils have seemingly been put into special measures for less. The elected councillors will not face the voters until 2021. Are the majority of them competent enough to be allowed to carry on? The Welsh Government are the only body with power to decide this issue, and act before an election date..

 Wales suffers from poor governance at many levels and much time and money seems to be spent on cover ups rather than the real job, getting the best deal possible for our people. Its about time there were consequences for failure because the real losers are the people. Even Carmarthenshire Councillors cannot fool all of the people, all of the time. Especially if they act like fools themselves.

 Siân Caiach

9 comments:

  1. The instances of widespread corruption are evident in your article. I have witnessed the goings on in this county and astonishment that it continues apace unceasingly. It is an understatement to say Heddu are implicated since more than once they have by their actions supported the CEO in his activities. Shame on the police.

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    1. It is a fact councils work very closely with the police. Remember the former Police Commissioners words - they were damning of a system where corruption flourishes. It's very simple. All friends together - don't ask - don't challenge - ignore all complainants - kick everything into the long grass - say the right things but do nothing. It ensures all those who work within the establishment who choose to get their hands dirty or get their hands dirty by misfortune, are safe from any awkward questions and are above the law! It is shocking but works just as Mr Salmon said 'like a Sicilian cartel'. I am under threat of losing my home now due to this culture. Jacquie Thompson lost hers - how many others?

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  2. One wonders if Emlyn sleeps well , does he really think he's serving the community ?

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  3. Well put. Most people have no idea how our councils operate let alone what the role of their councillor actually is. It is most certainly the case that ethical standards have reached an all time low within this council where blatant lying is accepted by councillors as normal practice. Their Code of Conduct is ignored along with the seven Nolan Principles. Particulary alarming is that having sent indisputable evidence of 'gross misconduct in public office' to the entire Executive Board, not one of them, other than my own councillor, has responded, to their shame! The evidence they hold is damning of the CEO and the Leader Cllr Dole. However, the Executive Board is totally controlled by Mr James with the Leader Emlyn Dole personally selecting those who he wishes to be on the Executive Board. Hey presto. All under Mark James's control then? No-one is going to upset Emlyn as they hold their positions thanks to him, and no-one is going to question Mr James as this would upset Emlyn as Emlyn is his 'best friend'. The whole system works for those within it, not for the taxpayer who pay for them. The utter disgrace of this is the damage to people like me (there are others) who have been lied to, and about, for over a decade. Why, because we got caught up in nefarious practices of very senior officers (proven) and were forced into exposing corruption in an attempt to save our home. Our lives were then sacrificed by those same individuals to keep hidden their shameful conduct. There is no shortage of evidence! It is inexcusable and unforgivable that with evidence in abundance, these two individuals remain in post but they can thank the councillors for continuing to 'turn a blind eye'. It is even more shocking that the Plaid Leader and the Executive Board who hold damning evidence against Mr James refuse to acknowledge it, which in law makes them complicit, although I'm not sue if they actually understand that! In the real world this would have been a police matter long ago with both the Leader and the CEO suspended and the Executive Board under question, as it is very serious. However, here in Carmarthenshire we have a council under total control. This authority is in dire need of intervention by the Welsh Government and in my opinion, also by the police.



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  4. I have read this piece with interest. I know when I whistleblew about the abuse that was taking place in a CCC run Care Home I thought the Health and Social Care Committee would have been made aware of problems regarding management and the way the Protection of Vulnerable Adults from Abuse (POVA) failed to carry out it's duty of protecting service users. Delyth Jenkins had previously whistleblown regarding abuse and POVA had failed to protect a service user. The Ombudsman had finally been involved who found the service user had been failed as had the whistleblower herself. CCC promised they would learn from their mistakes (how much of this was put before the H&SSC I do not know) but I can tell you POVA and the Officers involved investigating the abuse and managing the whistleblowing policy had not changed their ways. Only this time the Ombudsman did not want to know contrary to the WB policy and the Listening & Learning Complaints Guidance at the time of my complaint against the handling of my and three other members of staff's concerns. Finally late 2012 supported CCC by stating a whistleblower cannot make a complaint thus excusing the Ombudsman from looking into not only the handling of the abuse concerns but the CCC's handling of the Official Complaint we whistleblowers made. I was even told by the then Ombudsman it had been a mistake for them to have investigated Delyth's complaint against CCC handling of her concerns. Back in 2010-11 the Complaints Department had been advised by Linda Rees Jones they would need to investigate our complaint against POVA and how we whistleblowers had suffered detriment because of the concerns we raised. I have a copy of the email which contains this advice. As Sian explains only the Welsh Government can look into the wrongful actions of the CCC as the Ombudsman is failing to hold them to account. He is a toothless watchdog as is the Welsh Government it appears. How can the CCC ignore the Audit Office and it's findings with such impunity? All I can say is I was so disappointed Sian lost her seat on the Council as she did not shirk her responsibilities as a public servant whose duty is not to protect the good name of the CCC at the expense of the public interest. I hope the leader of the Labour Councillors keeps biting at the CCC's heels as when in power the Labour councillors were very lack luster in questioning what were very questionable actions taken by some Officers and Members in the CCC. Keep up the good work Sian.

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  5. It is quite evident that The Welsh Government is totally disinclined to get itself involved in ANY way with the CEO led Carmarthen Council. "We do not have the finance or the manpower to police what Councils do" What a totally feeble "cop out". Is it any wonder that M.V. James acts with impunity and looks upon that Council as his own private serfdom? Other Councils have been put into special measures for far less unacceptable reasons. 2019 must surely be the year that the reign of M.V.James is brought to a swift conclusion and the Phrase of "The most democratic and Transparent Council in the Country" can truly become a reality and not just the sugary pronouncement of a Council Leader in awe of his Dictatorial CEO to whom he owes so much?

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  6. With Emlyn Dole (Plaid)as the Leader and Plaid in control (well supposed to be)why is the Leader of the Plaid Cymru political party Adam Price not suspending Emlyn as in the real world what Emlyn dole has been embroiled in would be classed as criminal! He has already brought the party into disrepute and continuing to do so. Plaid have proved themselves to be totally ineffectual without ethics. Emlyn has become a lackey and has succumbed to the dictator. First time in power and it will most certainly be the only time unless they show they have principles. They should begin with suspending Emlyn Dole and Mark James and gain some respect back.

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  7. The respect I once had for Ms Caiach has evaporated. The danger of Labour political positioning under Rob James (a pound shop Anne Robinson) is not a course to promote. Dear oh dear.

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    1. Rob James was selected as leader of the Labour Group by the Labour group. I'm not a Labour supporter but it is refreshing to see a prominent councillor facing up to the bullying of Mr James. Plaid still have most of the political power due to their numbers in the Council. What danger do you see?

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