Sunday 24 February 2019

Wellness Business Plan -finally leaked..and much revealed


The lack of a business plan suitable to be shared with either the public or Carmarthenshire County backbench councillors has prompted rumours that the plan was seriously flawed. An article by Jon Coles, editor of the Llanell Herald who has been able to acquire the complete business case was published on February 22nd. This document has hundreds of pages and was submitted to the City Deal Board in November 2018, a rather curious fact as the project was supposedly practically up and running at this point.

The business case confirms that the project requires considerable private funding which must match or exceed the public funding for the scheme. Curious then that Council Leader Emlyn Dole appears to be considering "going it alone" and is said to have already borrowed over £200 million on behalf of the people of Carmarthenshire to fund this legacy project. Us locals are already paying the interest on this loan and there are plans to borrow much more to finance the entire build of the Deal. If it goes ahead, construction will take several years and the local population will be liable to pay back the whole of the costs if the project does not make a profit, This could mean cuts in Council Services and increases in council tax just to pay off this multi million debt.


Where is the private investment to match fund this public borrowing? The Sterling Health Company which became the official "Private Partner" clearly had very little in the way of funds itself and although there was a suggestion that they would broker private finance to match fund the project, this may have just been more borrowing from private banks dressed up as "private business funding". It is not clear exactly why Sterling Health and Carmarthenshire County Council parted company last December. The firm had no staff, only directors , little in the way of assets, some debt and no sign of ready money to invest . So the mystery of how it came to be the Private Sector funding partner is another issue to put to the senior officers and councillors who decided to take them on. Any one can see they are a tiddler of a company, by looking at Company House records open to the public.

Perhaps it was just a pretence to allow the "City Deal" to go ahead and CCC were hoping that this company would not be "found out" as a partner with no money. However not having money did not seem to stop them from offering incentives to Swansea University employees based on the profits they were expecting in Llanelli.

The Delta Lakes area, owned by the public, was said to be worth a maximum of £400,000. When the project was announced the Magic Money Tree department  of the council claimed they had obtained a valuation of £35 million on the same land. All this depends on the planning permission, currently on hold, going ahead and developers being found for the scheme.


 Don't forget the case of the new Eastgate Town Centre development in Llanelli. The County Council generously gave ownership of the whole site over to the developers, Henry Davidson Developments, (HDD), a private company  who built the buildings and then sold the buildings on to Standard Life for £12 million, thus pocketing the value of considerable public funds and grants had been spent on site preparation and compulsory purchase by the Council. Standard Life then merged with Aberdeen Asset Management  to form Standard Life Aberdeen .
 Since this merger in 2007 the company, which merged with a valuation of £11bn, has lost £6.8bn, in asset value and is currently suffering something of a sell off and dip in share values. Our taxes used to support a developer and then our town centre sold for that developer's profit to a FTSE company whose board probably have little idea where Llanelli really is? If the Wellness Centre is built could this happen again?
Empty shop- Eastgate.

The Eastgate is still not fully let. An ugly building with empty units and rents well above the local commercial shop rents elsewhere. The County Council agreed to rent the first floor office space for £250,000 per year for at least 20 years. A large grant was given to the Scarlets  Rugby Club to keep open their shop in the Eastgate -£270,000,  but it still folded. It just is not a good commercial area as originally advertised. Too expensive to rent and not near enough to the old shopping centre to get good footfall.

In their business plan for the Wellness Project , thier plan claims the Council "will have to accept "charges"over the assets to encourage private investment". 

This sounds suspiciously like the deal which led to our town centre being sold off, with the buildings being given away without even a ground lease retained by the Council. HDD were not even a public company, a private leasing concern based in Nottingham. Similarly to Sterling Health the private partner seemed simply to be a friend of friends, just like Sterling Health, selected from a short list of one company. The perverse habit of using our money to subsidise  "favourite" private companies has to stop.
LLanelli Eastgate  -Statue representing tin workers.


To qualify for a City Deal one needs a County Council, a University or Universities and one or more serious businesses willing to invest their own money. Inconveniently Carmarthenshire has not only lost the support of the "private partner" Sterling Health, but also Swansea University. There are now grave concerns over several  senior Swansea academics, and their links with the Wellness Project and Shifa'a in Kuwait. A desperate search to find either a new university and/or a new business partner for Carmarthenshire was not successful.  Hence the adoption of "going it alone" by Emlyn Dole.

CCC was to use the links of Swansea University to businesses such as Pfizer, Fujitsu, GSK, Microsoft,etc to recruit them to use various wellness project buildings and research, and any use or training of their medical staff or students at the Wellness project would need university approval. It's a big loss to the project but were the plans anything other than something to fill 40 acres of coastal land by a council desperate for jobs but a little too trusting of those who may have put greed before the welfare of local people?


More questions than answers. Where were the jobs? Where were the figures showing that private Wellness tourism would fill the hotel. With sea water levels rising should any more domestic housing be built on the coast?  How popular is shifting the new leisure centre out of town? Should a care home be built in an area which may be lost to the sea within decades?. The actual site has not been physically tested or fully geologically surveyed. It is frightening that the council seems keen to proceed with building without full information, The whole project is supposed to be finished by 2021 and I would be surprised if it makes it.

Only recently, north of the site, a new aquifer was discovered in the path of the Dwr Cymru Welsh Water Rain Scape tunnel under construction on its way to Delta Lakes. It will take months to pump out the water and engineer a way for drilling to proceed. WWDC are aware that is has to be done carefully to prevent any damage to surrounding roads and property from ground settlement. This is close to the Railway station and apparently was previously a totally unknown underground waterway.


As Mr Cole remarks, the new business Case planned for the "go it alone" project needs a massive re-write.

Much of the present business plan was to provide buildings for  Swansea University to use and an NHS hub for Hywel Dda. Recently as a councillor I listened to a presentation by Hywel Dda where they were clearly not informed that the University had withdrawn and were still  keen to use a promised Wellness building to offload GP services in some way. There is confusion as to what these NHS hubs should deliver and Hywel Dda plans to consult in the various localities as to what the public want. In the business plan Hywel Dda seem to promise financial contributions for 15 years. This is presumably some sort of rental agreement after their hub is built using the money borrowed by the County Council.

In the new plan, Councillor Emlyn Dole needs to firm up the returns from these buildings. The extra money needed to satisfy the environmental protection of wildlife and to keep floods away etc will have to be factored in when the Welsh Government Ministers report on the planning permission they have "called in ", a move which prevents building until the issues have been addressed.

As Emlyn Dole. the Council Leader, promises to fund the Council's borrowing from the rent and business rates of the properties to be built by Carmarthenshire, this can surely be calculated and published for all of us to see how the millions borrowed in our name will be used and payed back?

The original Swansea City Deal, inspired by Sir Terry Mathews, was that of an "internet coast" driven by high tech innovation and IT start ups, Somehow this original plan was dumped,, along with Sir Terry to encourage a project more suitable to Sterling Health, a company which under another name, Kent Neurosciences, had built a private hospital in Kent which had not made profits as promised and had to be sold on.

It is unlikely that the Wellness Project can or should be delivered as originally planned. The absence of real private investment is not a surprise when the whole business case does not have a clear and persuasive promise of commercial returns. Private investment needs a good chance of a decent profit, especially when hundreds of millions are involved. This was a project which should have never have been presented as a "City Deal" to attract UK and Welsh Government funds with no proper private business backing. It is, perhaps, fortunate, that the suspension of 4 members of Swansea University Staff ,on matters which the university investigated related to their involvement in the Wellness Village, alerted the public to the possible problems.

There are now numerous investigations by Police, the Wales audit Office and Auditor General, and the Welsh government and UK Government  who will withhold the City Deal funding until the facts are confirmed. Obviously no further funding other than further planned borrowing by Carmarthenshire County Council is likely until the allegations of wrongdoing are confirmed or disproved.

Carmartheshire  County Council should not proceed with spending more money under these circumstances The planning and business issues must be properly addressed. The use of pubic money, our taxes, is not to prop up "Dream" projects in  the face of allegations of wrongdoing, especially when they include financial impropriety,The site will still be there when the investigations have concluded and an informed decision can be made with a new and public business case for all of us to see and even finally be properly informed as to what is going on!?


The "Wellness City Deal" was a rehash of a previous scheme rejected by Welsh Government.. The Council supported it without proper scrutiny as the councillors were not made aware of the business case, risks and possible outcomes. The whole premise of the suitability of the "out of town" coastal site scheme and the theme of Commercial Neurosciences was never properly considered or explained. It could have been an extra campus for Swansea University but they were well over budget on their Bay Campus and  leading Swansea academics were flirting with Kuwait, rather than Llanelli, to bankroll the Universities' future and support the Wellness Deal.

The universities' Vice Chancellor, the Academic Boss of the university, Professor Richard Davies commanding a salary of more than £250,000, was suspended after an investigation. Vice Chancellors are rarely suspended and we can assume the reasons were unlikely to be trivial.

The full details of the unprofessional behaviour which precipitated the suspensions of staff and withdrawal of Swansea University from the City Deal are not yet released. They seem to include accepting promises of shares, discounted properties and other incentives provided via Sterling Health.

Since the revelations last November, Carmarthenshire County Council's chief executive Mark James has announced his retirement, leaving next June when he is 60 and can claim his pension.

 Professor Davies has announced he will leave Swansea later this year. The Stirling Health  companies have applied to be wound up and removed from the Company's  House Register and Stirling Health's agreement with Carmarthenshire County Council was terminated.  We now await the findings of the various investigating bodies. The planning permission is on hold until Welsh Government Ministers decide on environmental objections to developing parts of the site.

The Plaid/Independent Coalition who run the Council seem committed to a "go it alone" plan where the local authority continue to borrow £ millions and finance some or all of the project if the planning is approved. This also has yet to be discussed and shared by the Council as a whole, which the original plan definitely was not!

 Siân Caiach,

Monday 18 February 2019

The Shifting Sands of Shifa'a


Shifa'a is an Arabic word meaning Health and a general reference to the Islamic religious text al Shifa, a book which promises advice to restore health simply by being read to or by the sick.
The Shifa'a project in Kuwait is allegedly a £600 million project, a new  private hospital and private university medical school. Swansea University, or at least some of its employees, have been involved. Even Carmarthenshire Council's Chief Executive Mark James was due to have a position as trustee on the Kuwaiti University's Academic board, along with now suspended Swansea Academics Professor Marc Clement  and Vice Chancellor Professor Richard Davies.. The plan may well  have been to offer Kuwait based students UK medical degrees from Swansea's own Postgraduate School of Medicine.



 The new Llanelli Wellness project is mentioned as a base for these students, although it is not clear what  branches of medicine they would actually be studying there as there is no clarity as to whether the Hywel Dda "Hub" the Health board is planning to occupy after it is built for them, would be suitable for medical students to assist or observe there.The University research building itself is on hold and may never be built.

The Shifa'a university is  entirely private and hopes to recruit 5,000 students to be trained in the private hospital adjacent. It is clear that Swansea University planned to award Swansea degrees to theses students to give them UK accredited qualifications. The Swansea University would own 10% of the  Kuwaiti medical school. The Shifa'a was expected to have a turnover of £450 million within 5 years. However, other UK Universities have found returns on similar projects far less than promised and some have had to close overseas campuses.

Professor Clement has form on dubious overseas degrees. He was involved in a scandal about validation of external degrees some time ago, some given to colleges abroad and other to UK based institutions not thought to be of the proper standard..

 The University of Wales  tried to award external degrees and had sufficient difficulties to wind up the scheme  In 2011 their validation was withdrawn from schemes for the 11,675 degree courses offered externally.under the auspices of the University of Wales. There were degrees issued by a wide variety of institutions including bible colleges in Russia, Chinese medicine taught in Barcelona and other subjects in small UK colleges whose staff did not appear properly qualified. There had been few checks on the quality of the product endorsed. Validation procedures were exposed as inadequate and there was suspicion of corrupt practice. The scam was exposed by journalists, bloggers and eventually Private Eye.


Now what is this all about? Money for Swansea University? Difficult to say.
KPMG claim that the project was originally fully approved by the university, but Swansea has now withdrawn its support. Their medical school has around 100 doctor training places per year for postgraduate students only.  The UK course length is 4 years and these students will have already completed a 3 year degree previously. Were the Kuwaitis to be postgraduates too? I doubt it.

Problems have apparently been identified with the arrangements  but the actual reasons for the University's withdrawal from both the Kuwaiti Shifa'a project and also the Llanelli Wellness project are not yet clear.

 The private Wellness investor, Sterling Health, has also withdrawn from the Wellness project. No university has yet been found by Carmarthenshire County Council to replace Swansea and allow City Deal Funding for the Wellness Centre, Neither has a bona fide private backer been recruited .which was also needed to qualify for UK and Welsh Government funds .

The County Council is likely to "go it alone " and borrow all the funds to build the large Neurosciences themed business park when the planning problems raised by NRW have been clarified and addressed.The council  taxpayers of Carmarthenshire may bear the brunt eventually with higher taxation and even cuts in services.. At least £250 million has probably been borrowed already and at least £2 million spent. The final bill if the project goes ahead could be well over £300 million ,

There is still no sign of the Wellness project business plan which was drawn up by Professor Marc Clement but not deemed suitable to be released to the public after appraisal by the County Council's Executive Board. With 2000 new jobs to be provided at £150,000 per head you would think the plan has to be credible? Apparently not.

Wales has a considerable deficit in medical education and does not train the number of medical practitioners or nurses needed for our country. What the hell are Swansea Academics and a Senior Local Government Civil servant doing by planning to sell medical science degrees to middle eastern students? Its a kick in the teeth for our own youngsters who cannot even get into a medical or nursing school due to shortage of places. Were the "proceeds" ever likely to be used to expand our own medical and nursing schools or to line the pockets of others? Was there ever a likelihood of profit anyway?

This a recurring Welsh Government  and Welsh Local Government Theme of grandiose plans , landmark buildings and legacy projects with vague prospects of delivering real economic growth or improvements to infrastructure. The Circuit of Wales is another example of a grand plan which did not work out. Maybe the Llanelli Wellness Centre can turn £300 million or more of public money into 2,000 jobs and a scientific wellness centre which will turn around the prospects of South Carmarthenshire, but in the absence of the background research and expressions of interest by firms who allegedly wanted to rent the buildings, us ordinary members of the public are in the dark and there is no convincing evidence. I have questioned the man who is borrowing the millions required, no doubt inspired by the secret business case. He is Cllr David Jenkins, but no answer as yet from him.

David Jenkins, Plaid Councillor and Executive Board Member for Finance
Carmarthenshire County Council

If we want to be a decent country we should not allow ourselves to be victimised and robbed by the "get your area rich quick" schemes so often sold to our Government and Local Authorities. We do not need majestic palaces built on large areas of barren (cheap) land, often in inconvenient and unsuitable places. We need to raise the standards of the whole nation. Its not the pretty shiny fantasy images we need, but the basic improvements in our own communities to fulfil the needs and aspirations of ordinary people.

Siân Caiach

Monday 11 February 2019

County Council's Mysterious Generosity to Rich Man

Our governments at all levels are trusted to spend the public's money in the public’s interest. Of course MPs. AMs and councillors are all human and mistakes are made. But what happens when our elected leaders get deliberately involved with secretly and unlawfully gifting away our money to the wealthy, which is very questionable? Who polices public spending?

This also begs the question “Who is in charge?” How much of Wales is run by unelected public servants rather than elected representatives?

The Wales Audit Office is the official protector of the public purse and will investigate public bodies if a complaint is made. However even if a public body is found to have misused public money unlawfully, in Wales very little may be done about it.
Carmarthenshire County Hall
Take Carmarthenshire County Council. Should Carmarthenshire County Executive Board Councillors have bankrolled their CEO Mark James with a “secret pay rise” and his legal fees for a libel action against a local blogger. {total of both “grants” I believe to be around £80,000}. These decisions were made in private meetings in the presence of Mark James, although he was the beneficiary. There is a statement that he is a wealthy man and would not need to keep any libel damages he might be awarded, they would go to the council. When damages were given, he changed his mind and has been paid £250 per month by Mrs Thompson, who will be in debt to him for years to come and will lose her house if she doesn’t pay. 
Mr Mark James- due to retire in June

None of the councillors who gave Mark James the money have been disciplined. They are protected by the CCC Legal Officer, Linda Rees Jones, who despite the Wales Audit Office ruling that these payments were unlawful, states that she holds the firm opinion that the WAO are wrong.

In a similar case in Pembrokeshire the CEO was obliged to return a secret salary raise similar to the Carms scheme from his retirement package. He had to retire when his Councillors had a vote of no confidence in him over the pension scam. To date, the CCC Head of Legal has not produced her legal argument as to why she has come to the opinion that the Wales Audit Office was wrong, but dismissed the idea of Mr James repaying anything.

Mark James is due to retire in June and may well take his ill gotten gains with him unless the Wales Audit Office takes action. Why wealthy people like Mr James, working in the public sector, with pay packages bigger than our First Minister, want to milk the public purse for even more is mysterious. Mr James also has other sources of private income. This is not theft as it was all approved by elected Executive Board Councillors, even if they did it secretly and concealed their decisions from the rest of the councillors.

Eventually the unlawful payments were exposed. Council leadership changed to Plaid Cymru, the only party group not involved in the initial scams. However, even though Plaid had been rightly critical in opposition, they decided not to take any action or even publicly discuss the problem. Whether it was fear of Mr James or love of their new salary grades, or both, is not clear.

What is clear is the inability of Welsh Government to stop gross this abuse of the public purse.

Now, if the behaviour of a welsh local council is found to threaten the well being of individual residents or groups, the Welsh Government can put that Council in “special measures”, where the councillors are all only paid basic salary and the problem “turned around” after thorough assessment and independent advice. This can happen for example in cases of Education departments failing or poor standards in Social Services where individuals may be in danger of suffering harm from the poor performance of a council. Giving away money to senior officers does not make the grade. Carmarthenshire have taken advantage of the Welsh Government’s seemingly relaxed position on money management.

Do we have a weak, national government which tolerates unlawful use of money in major public authorities? Neither the beneficiary of the improperly allocated funds. in this case, Chief Executive Mark James, nor the Executive Board Councillors who used their authority to give him the money, got into trouble for it. Carmarthenshire County Council have subsequently used their own legal department to dispute the opinion of the WAO.

Allowing senior local government civil servants to convince their councillors to unlawfully pay them even more than their already generous salaries is ridiculous. If Assembly Members awarded Senior Assembly Civil Servants secret pay rises and financed their libel court cases for them, would they get away with it too?

 Siân Caiach, 

Thursday 7 February 2019

Sosban Closes - The Ghost Plaza lonelier than ever

On February 3rd 2019 the sophisticated Llanelli Restaurant Sosban closed its doors permanently. The Restaurant had been set up with support from Carmarthenshire County Council, and with funding from other sources including EU grants.Personally, I never had a meal there. I never got further than reading the Menu Prices at the door, which were a little out of my league.

I have blogged on the original origin of the restaurant, as heavily public funded project. See:-

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

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

The old pump house was converted into a fine dining restaurant by a company called Bendigo 9-10 which was fronted by 2 former professional rugby players The company has, according to Companies House a net worth of £669.8 k and assets worth £1.1 million  and debts of £ 1.1 million. Some of this debt appears to be to the Welsh Government and some to HSBC, for various borrowings. It was particularly popular on Sunday lunchtimes where a more reasonably priced meal was available. I gather that those who dined last Sunday had no inkling of the impending closure.

I am not surprised, these currently uncertain times and falling standards of living , that fine dining may have been, in an out of town former industrial site, difficult to keep going. Perhaps more information may be revealed on the specific reasons for the folding of the business in future press reports. 

It now adds to the ghostly atmosphere of the adjacent Pump House Plaza, which no-one ever seemed to use.

Personally I suspect it may just have been a high end Restaurant in a less than ideal location on the outskirts of an economically depressed, post industrial town. As living standards slowly drop, the luxuries are first to go.

This project was to feed a fine dining niche market. Whether there was ever much evidence of the demand for this service is not clear. A few locals were regular customers, but the majority of the local population just could not afford it. A posh restaurant was not what Llanelli needed most  but someone had the bright idea to give it a go. The financial problems are yet to be revealed. It survived for a few years but how much of that was just due to public funding and mortgaging the building?

 This company folding may show that there just are not enough wealthy diners locally to sustain production of excellent luxury food, especially at a less than ideal out of town location.

The mystery of exactly why the Plaza was built there remains, but it seems it did not help the restaurant survive.

 Siân Caiach
Sosban Restaurant Llanelli., viewed from the Pump House Plaza.