Sunday, 29 December 2013

Madaxeman writes to Eric Pickles MP

Madaxeman, a blogger who is familiar with events in Carmarthenshire, has written an open letter to Eric Pickles MP;

Professional Auditors, Armchair Auditors, or No Bloody Auditors – Come Clean Mr. Pickles…

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Carmarthenshire Council: Review of 2013

It's that time of year for reflection over the past twelve months and although Caebrwyn has had a difficult year, it hasn't been a particularly auspicious one for County Hall either. The tail end of 2012 saw a mention in Private Eye for their treatment of the South Wales Guardian and their enthusiasm for all things evangelical. My request for correspondence between the council and the Towy Community Church was in it's infancy, barely six months old.

2012 also ended with a decision to ban the public from filming council meetings.

Anyway, here are just a few extracts from the archives of 2013:


The aftermath of the SWGuardian 'leaked email' scandal led opposition councillors to call for a debate on press freedom in Carmarthenshire. The motion was blocked and the Chief Executive accused of 'gagging debate' as he felt it was a matter for Cllr Pam Palmer and the press manager, Debbie Williams to discuss in private.

One outcome of the council boycott of the paper was that the planning application for a new, and controversial 'superschool' was not advertised in the newspaper local to affected residents.

Around this time, 'Any other business' was quietly dropped from the full council agendas in a bid to prevent discussion on controversial topics which might embarrass the senior hierarchy of the council.

Controversies over the council, the rugby team and the stadium continued with concerns raised over the EU State Aid rules. The council funding of Scarlets Regional Ltd has rumbled on all year. More later.

The month ended with the revelation that the Chief Executive, in his role as returning officer for the 2012 local elections, had been paid £20,000 in advance; weeks before the election and before the number of contested seats was known. The explanation from the council was that 'the funds were there'.

At a pre-trial review in London on the 31st January, a couple of weeks before the trial began, I was denied a jury. For the previous 14 months that had been the expected mode of trial.


This month kicked off with a FOI refusal to release that top secret and internationally sensitive report on the transfer of public toilets to Town and Community Councils. I've nothing to add to that...

Also in February both I and a number of individuals from County Hall decamped to London for the six day trial. It was covered, on a daily basis, by Barnet blogger Mrs Angry, and Carmarthenshire's Cneifiwr. Their blogposts are still there if you wish to refresh your memory and of course Mrs Angry was there throughout the trial. There were numerous press reports including the Leader in The Times
I published a message of thanks after the trial had concluded.

And, after two years of chewing over it, a decision was made to webcast full council meetings for a 12 month pilot, having run out of excuses not to after the Welsh Government made a grant available. I would say it's been a resounding success and I'm sure County Hall would agree with me wholeheartedly....


Plaid report the Returning Officer fees 'advance payment' to the Wales Audit Office. In 2012 they had made a complaint to the WAO over 'creative accounting' regarding the funding of the council rag, the Carmarthenshire News.

News breaks from Caerphilly over the suspension of its CEO over unlawful payments, after a WAO report. He and his deputy were then arrested in July.

The Council's PR machine went a bit awry over the horsemeat scandal with council leader Kevin Madge assuring the public through a press release that there was "no question of any contamination.". A week or so later it was announced that "a sample of minced meat...had tested positive for horse DNA.". The press release was hastily withdrawn.

We were told that the webcasting pilot would begin in May and "that members of the public would not be allowed to film meetings until the pilot on broadcasting meetings has taken place and been evaluated". (I am just reminding everyone that the issue of public filming will soon be back on the cards). Kevin Madge looked forward to 'warts and all' webcasts. I'm sure regular viewers will agree we've certainly been treated to some warts...and of course those wonderfully eloquent speeches from Cllr Madge.

The judgement from the libel action was handed down on the 15th March, I put a statement on my blog.

Before March was out the Ombudsman found that the Labour leader of the council, Kevin Madge, had breached the code of conduct by using the council press office to make a political attack on Plaid politicians,
Jonathan Edwards MP and Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM. There was concern expressed that senior officers may have also been involved in the publication. We'll never know...

Eric Pickles MP spoke about the libel case and said he was "deeply unhappy" about the "tendency" for local authorities to use the "resources of the public" to initiate legal action.

Lastly, there was a development in the long running Towy Church/Council FOI request with the Information Commissioner upholding my complaint. The council were told to issue a fresh response as it was found the request did not exceed the 'cost limit', which was the exemption they had used.
Well, they did issue a fresh response and decided the request (and I) was vexatious. The saga continues and I await a second decision from the ICO.


In a last ditch attempt to save Llandovery's secondary school children from having to spend hours on buses attending the planned new 'superschool', residents of Llandovery hoped that the local county councillors might finally make a stand. The councillors had sat in silence whilst the town fought and lost a bitter battle to save the secondary school, Pantycelyn. At the planning committee meeting for the new school, Cllr Tom Theophilus (Ind) abstained and Cllr Ivor Jackson went on holiday.

After numerous press releases over 14 months announcing he was calling for a public inquiry over the Ammanford Police Station PFI fiasco, Kevin Madge was finally rumbled when the relevant bodies, in responses to FOI requests, said they'd never recieved any correspondence from Mr Madge, about anything.

And Cllr Ivor Jackson, council representative on the Parking and Traffic Regulations (Outside London) Adjudication Joint Committee....parks carelessly.

The BBC compiled a table of Chief Executive pay across all 22 local authorities, from highest to lowest, Carmarthenshire came in first. Eventually a new requirement that senior officers pay should be determined by an independent panel rather than an elite group of councillors was incorporated the Local Democracy Bill, proposed by Carmarthenshire AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas.


Carmarthenshire Council again topped the fat-cattery charts with the publication of the Taxpayer's Alliance Town Hall Rich List. The accounts showed twelve employees on over £100,000, two more than the previous year. It included a mystery payment of £157,500 and, after a later FOI request for details, the council said it was an 'error in the accounts'. So there.

It was around this time that I noticed and extra £16,353 in the council accounts within the remuneration of the Chief Executive, I made some enquiries but drew a blank. Of course it was this which was found, by the appointed auditor, to be the 'unlawful' pension payment.

May also saw the first webcast of full council. With scripts prepared, councillor training complete, warnings given the AGM was the first thing to treat the viewers. Some thought they'd stumbled on a fancy dress parade. The incredulity of the watching nation began.....

Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM tried to add a clause to the Local Democracy Bill at the Assembly to allow the public to film/record council meetings, it was defeated. Things are different in Wales.

There was more council chart-topping later in the month as the Western Mail reported on the number of senior council officers across Wales on six-figure salaries. There were special mentions for the Chief Executives of Carmarthenshire, Cardiff and Pembrokeshire.

Given the usual rush to defend senior officer pay from the Welsh Local Government Association I asked for senior pay details of the WLGA itself. Although the organisation did provide me with the information they also revealed that they are not, despite being in receipt of £8m Welsh Government grants per year and £2m of subscriptions from public bodies, subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

The coalition between Labour's Kevin Madge and the 'Independents' Pam Palmer was sealed for the foreseeable future.


June started with another embarrassing revelation as Cllr Sian Caiach revealed that her emails had been tracked without her knowledge. That row still rumbles on with the senior council officers who authorised the 'snoop' still in denial that they did anything wrong. The scrutiny committee who requested a full report into the matter are, to date, still waiting.

I made a further statement in relation to my liability for the costs of the libel action and the decision by the insurance company to revoke my cover. The council also gave a statement.

June also saw the grand opening of the evangelical Xcel bowling alley, with the council approving a last minute liquor licence. The great and good of the council were there, joining their partners from the Towy Community Church for a night of photo opportunities and possibly prayers. This fundamentalist Christian group has been embraced by the council to ease the pressure on the social care budget...

The second council webcast saw the meticulous stage management and carefully crafted script ruined as Cllr Darren Price asked about the recent revelation over email snooping and whether this was common the background, steps were being taken to prevent unpredictable outbursts which may cause embarrassment to the assembled dignitaries by proposing changes to council agendas...

Eric Pickles MP took a swipe at the Welsh Government accusing the Labour administration of 'suppressing freedom of speech' by not allowing the public to film council meetings and on a more general point, suppressing proper transparency. Again giving Carmarthenshire a special mention. The Welsh Government was very cross.

Days later the political row escalated with Westminster responding to Welsh Government anger with;  "The Labour Administration in Wales is openly opposing the right for journalists and bloggers to tweet, film and report meetings. It is obscene that Welsh bloggers are being handcuffed and arrested in Wales for reporting meetings because they don't have the legal rights that English bloggers now have. No amount of bluster can disguise the fact that the Labour Party are the enemies of openness and on the side of town hall tyranny."


There were further developments from Caerphilly as the Chief Executive and his deputy were arrested on suspicion of fraud following the Wales Audit Office report into unlawful pay rises and an investigation by the neighbouring police force. (Gwent police, the local force, were considered 'too close'). They remain on bail.

The Wales Audit Office described Carmarthenshire council's grant management as 'weak'.  Amongst the critical findings were 'poor decision making and inappropriate expenditure' and 'Contracts not awarded in accordance with procurement procedures'.

The refurbishment of the Georgian Llanelly House as a tourist attraction was facing something of a cash flow crisis with Finance Wales reluctant to extend the terms of the loan. Carmarthenshire Council duly obliged with £250,000 to be repaid by December 2013. Whether it has or not is unknown.

Following the opening of the bowling alley, the proposal to set up a Mercy Ministry reappeared on the Towy Community Church website. I took the precaution of taking a screenshot.

When concerns were raised in 2012 that the council were giving £1.4m in land, grants and loans to an organisation with links to the Mercy Ministries, the original item was removed from the website. It's July 2013 reappearance was brief, and quickly disappeared yet again.

Despite the council statement that “It is important that the position of the council as a secular institution is preserved.” it also turns out that the Towy Church was/is an agency for the council social care initiative, the 'Team around the Family'.


A smattering of councillors' annual reports began to appear, aided by a template provided by the Democratic Services office. The suggested opening line was "...this report is to keep you informed of some of the issues I have dealt with on your behalf during 2012/13. Real progress has been made in respect of these and I hope that you will find this information of interest". My underlining...


With the spectre of budget cuts to frontline services on the horizon, and the Scarlets financial deal coming up for it's three year review, Cllr Sian Caiach continued with her efforts to find out the details of the split and 'allowable expenses' between the club and the council over the sale of the car park to Marston's.... as we now know, the beans were eventually spilled...

The September council meeting was the fourth to be webcast.....

Strange scenes at Llanelli Rural Council where County Cllr Tegwen Devichand (Lab), Deputy County Council leader and Executive Board Member for Equalities reacted to criticism that they'd received an 'all-male' invite to a rugby dinner with "I have no problem. It is the old boys' brigade and it is set in stone.". Aah...good old Teg, she knows her place...

Also, Cllr Pam Palmer rubber stamped a policy relating to covert surveillance of social media which enables local authorities to create undercover online identities to befriend 'subversives'.

The 25th September saw the scandal break over the appointed auditor's unlawful payment findings relating to the Chief Executive, Mark James. They concerned, as readers will know, the libel indemnity and the pension payment. The Audit Committee refused to put their name to the accounts sign-off and passed that responsibility onto the Executive Board. MP Jonathan Edwards issued a statement.
I commented further here and the row continues........


The unlawful payments scandal continued with the South Wales Guardian taking the lead in the local reporting stakes and the row earned the council yet another mention in Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs' column.

October's council meeting saw an attempt to bring up a discussion on the unlawful payments thwarted. Cllr Darren Price called for the Standing Orders to be suspended for an urgent debate. However, he was not allowed to say what the subject matter was before the vote was taken.
Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM, amongst others, had had enough. He called on the Welsh Government to put the council in 'Special Measures';
“In the almost fifteen years I have represented Carmarthenshire in the National Assembly I have never known public confidence in the County Council to be so low."

Against a backdrop on impending budget cuts of 'biblical proportions' on the horizon, Scarlets Regional Ltd were again on the agenda. The financial deal between the club and the council was up for a three year review. The Executive Board agreed to 'help them out' a bit more. The question later arose whether all members of the Executive Board were aware of the £600,000 cash windfall from the Marstons' car park sale when the review was agreed.

The infamous 'Budget cuts meeting' was held in October. A stage managed pretence at consultation on fifty-two budget proposals held at the Ffwrnes Theatre in Llanelli. Amongst the invited guests were several media organisations and it was claimed that attendance was conditional on participation rather than independent observation. Hotly denied by County Hall, it was significant however that several news outlets refused to attend...

Eric Pickles announced new legislation which required councils to allow filming and recording of meetings by the public and the press. It doesn't apply to Wales though...

Another appearance for County Hall in Private Eye along with the Chief Executive of Pembrokeshire Council, who is also under investigation by the Wales Audit Office over an unlawful pension payment...titled 'Naughty Boyos'.

In planning news, the Minister, Carl Sargeant finally called-in the Stradey homes development in Llanelli over flooding issues. And in the courts, Carmarthenshire council, jointly with developers Castletown Estates lost a bid to overturn Carl Sargeant's refusal to allow the development of the Grillo Zinc Oxide site in Burry Port.


The promised debate on the unlawful payments at this month's council meeting was jettisoned at the last minute. An email was sent to all councillors explaining that the senior officers and executive members involved had received strict orders from the Wales Audit Office not to say anything.

However, this didn't prevent the more determined councillors bringing the subject up at the meeting, in front of the cameras. Cllr Darren Price kicked off the row by asking whether or not the police had been in touch yet...

Also on the subject of avoiding debate on controversial issues, a Notice of Motion put forward for a full council debate concerning the Executive Board decision to increase charges for sports facilities, and the three year review of the Scarlets' deal was not allowed on the of the new proposals for 'modernising' agendas is that Executive Board decisions will no longer be scrutinised by full council...

A similar fate awaited the Plaid Motion for a no-eviction policy in relation to the 'bedroom tax', it was deemed unsuitable for full council and went straight to the Exec Board where it was duly rejected...

November went out with a bang as the details of the 'Marstons' split' emerged. The Executive Board member for finance, in a brave move, detailed the 'allowable expenses'. £280,000 had been deducted to enable Scarlets Regional Ltd to pay off a loan to another private company for the fixtures and fittings of their new shop and restaurant, the Red Room, at the Eastgate development. More complaints have gone to the Wales Audit Office...


In an effort to diffuse the unlawful payment scandal the Executive Board, in relation to the pension payment, backed down and agreed to reverse the policy. They did not, however, accept that the pension arrangement was unlawful. There has been no comment concerning the libel indemnity to date.

The December council meeting saw a corporate presentation from the Scarlets...followed by a heated row between Kevin Madge and Cllr Caiach over, essentially, the 'allowable expenses'...Cllr Caiach has called for Clllr Madge's resignation..

I was back in London at the Court of Appeal, I was denied permission on further grounds but I have already been given permission to appeal on one ground relating to the Chief Executive's counterclaim...

Back in Carmarthenshire and the BBC had been busy carrying out some investigations of its own concerning the council funding of Scarlets Regional Ltd, this time the question of whether strict EU State Aid Rules had been breached....complaints have gone in to the relevant bodies.

The council took to its Department of Propaganda to dissuade people from signing a petition to save two respite centres for disabled children, both up for 're-organisation' in the forthcoming budget....

And 2014?

Well, the Wales Audit Office looks set to issue a public report about the unlawful payments sometime in January...its taking an awfully long time...

The webcasting pilot will be up for 'evaluation' before long and decisions will be made whether to scrap it, keep it, or even extend it to other meetings. Personally I believe it has been an invaluable, if small, insight into the council.

The next couple of meetings will see the all important budget going through the 'democratic' process and discussions at full council will be there for all to see.

The next step is to bring Wales in line with England and legislate to protect the democratic rights of members of the public to film and record meetings.

Unlike the highly selective 'Minutes', the webcasts have provided a true record of what has been said. Minutes for December's meeting have just been published and an objection was made when the approval of November's minutes came up in that they were 'lacking in detail'. The objection was rejected of course.

When the minutes from a recent scrutiny meeting were up for approval, someone, fortunately, remembered this small but important request which had, mysteriously, been omitted entirely from the record;
"Reference was made to a request that had been made for information regarding legal fees incurred by the Council as a result of the two issues identified recently by the Wales Audit Office, which the Head of Financial Services agreed to follow up"

Well that's about it for 2013, there was plenty more of course but this blogpost is long enough. Not sure what 2014 has in store for Caebrwyn but I suspect like the past five years, the ivory towers of County Hall will continue to oblige and provide endless material for local bloggers....

With that, I'd like to thank everyone who has continued to support me and also the readers of this blog, and of course wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Unlawful payments - Auditor's report 'mid January'

The South Wales Guardian reports today that the long awaited Auditor's Public Interest Report concerning the two unlawful payments; the pension payment and the libel indemnity relating to Carmarthenshire council's Chief Executive, Mark James, will be published, it seems, in 'mid-January'. Which means of course there will be no debate at the January full council meeting. It could possibly be discussed at the council meeting on February 12th;

Auditor to report on Carmarthenshire county council transactions 'in mid-January'

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Caerphilly Council - Another damning report

The Wales Audit Office continue to take a tough stance with Caerphilly Borough Council and the Appointed Auditor, Anthony Barrett has issued a second report confirming that the Chief Executive, Anthony O'Sullivan did act unlawfully by authorising buy outs of car and extra holiday allowances for himself and senior colleagues. The BBC and the Western Mail both report on the story and the Public Interest Report itself is on the WAO website.

Both Mr O'Sullivan and his deputy, Nigel Barratt are suspended and currently on police bail following their arrest in July on suspicion of fraud, they are likely to find out in January whether criminal charges will arise. The arrests followed an earlier WAO report which found that they had acted unlawfully by awarding themselves and other senior officers pay rises.

Today's report is similar and involves unscheduled meetings, failure to declare personal and pecuniary interests and being closely involved in the decision making process.

A opposition councillor said; “It is clear from the damning report from the WAO that there was an attempt by some of the council’s most senior officers to thwart the democratic process by deliberately not making elected members aware of these payments. That is utterly unacceptable. The public will no doubt ask whether the people who were primarily responsible for this unlawful decision and breach of trust should ever again be allowed to hold public office."

In Carmarthenshire the wait goes on. The recent decision by the Executive Board to reverse the decision on the Chief Executive's pension payments whilst still maintaining that it was not unlawful, was the last we've heard about it all.

Whether or not this was sufficient to persuade the WAO not to issue the Public Interest Report we don't know as the second issue also found to be unlawful by the Appointed Auditor, Anthony Barrett, remains outstanding; the libel indemnity awarded to the Chief Executive in January 2012.

Also, individual complaints were made back in March of this year to the WAO concerning the circumstances surrounding the meeting where the indemnity was granted and presumably those will have to be answered.

Those complaints centred on the unscheduled agenda item, failure to declare interest and the degree of involvement in the report recommending the indemnity.

With pressure mounting for a full council debate on both of the auditor's findings, the leader of the council, Kevin Madge has promised that this will happen at the January meeting, a few short weeks away.

The councillors will of course need to be fully informed of the details of the legal advice relied on and all sides of the argument, to be able to have a meaningful debate and to hold those responsible properly to account.

For background see my post from October 'Unlawful payments - the story so far' and the BBC article of the 25th September Carmarthenshire blogger row: Council libel costs pledge 'unlawful.

I have also followed the Caerphilly scandals on this blog but for some reason the 'searchbox' on the right no longer works, hopefully Google will sort it out at some point. For now, readers who wish to use a search facility will have to use Google itself.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Petition panic

Carmarthenshire Council seems to have got itself into a bit of a lather over a 38 Degree petition to 'Save Carmarthenshire's Disabled Children's Respite Services' . The petition, which raised over 1000 signatures in twenty four hours urges the council not reduce respite care centres for children with profound needs.

The council, in panic mode, resorted to the propaganda department to counter this subversive direct action. Petitions are not welcome and must conjure up images of peasants and pitchforks in the minds of the County Hall junta. Apart from the glorious Leader's petition of course, which concerned the power cables from Brechfa wind farm, to which the council put a handy link.

Today's council press release doesn't provide a handy link but warns us that the proposal (to axe £200,000 from these services) is only a proposal, not a done deal. Fair enough, but it's on the cards and unfortunately the public are not quite so trusting as they once were and have developed something of a sceptical view of Carmarthenshire's consultations.

After all, it was only last month at an Executive Board Member meeting for Regeneration, (ie Meryl and several officers, public and press excluded) decided as per usual to spend tens of thousands in grant money on hot tubs, double glazing etc at various private properties to 'strengthen tourism'. Over £300k was also granted at the same meeting for redundant buildings and farm diversification applications.

What was disturbing was that an application from the Friends of Blaenau Children's Centre, (one of the two council owned respite centres which feature in the petition), for a grant from the council-administered Welsh Church Fund was "regrettably refused in light of current consultation on the future provision, in Carmarthenshire, of services such as that provided by the Centre"
It would seem that to ensure its survival, the Centre should probably rebrand itself as a tourist destination and consider installing a hot tub.

The council Twitter account also came under pressure today and had to veer from its usual bland content, eg driving tips (it's raining, be careful) to deal with tweeting residents shocked at the amount of money which has been channelled to County Hall's favourite rugby team, particularly after the BBC revelations.

Some were suggesting this was unfair on other struggling sports organisations and another suggested it would be better spent providing respite care for disabled children.

Undaunted, the press release mentioned above duly appeared on the council website to 'clarify' the situation over the respite centres and, as for the rocketing charges for non-Scarlets activities, these were 'unrelated to the Scarlets loan'.

Nonsense, of course it's all related, and the tweeting residents weren't just referring to the loan. We understand that there are different pots of money, alternative funding channels, capital and revenue expenditure and all that jazz, but in the end  it's all about prioritising and allocating a diminishing amount of resources to protect the vulnerable and maintain frontline services.

Carmarthenshire council, as ever, has a different world view and appears to have ring-fenced the Scarlets, the Department of Spin and of course the funding of its many and varied legal expenditures....

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Carmarthenshire Council, State Aid and the Scarlets - the BBC investigates

Update 18th Dec; The Western Mail reports today that Cllr Caiach has made a formal complaint to the European Commission that up to £20m allegedly channelled from Carmarthenshire Council to the rugby club in recent years amounts to unlawful state aid.
The council statement, which again attempts to completely gloss over the peculiar split over the car park proceeds, contains one of their most deluded sentence of the week, "We have not given the club any money". Words fail.


One long running argument concerning the Council's financial commitment to the Scarlets Regional Ltd, the rugby club, has been whether they have breached EU State Aid rules. The rules are complex but basically restrict and limit the use of public money to prevent private companies gaining an unfair advantage in the marketplace.

Followers of this blog will be aware that Cllr Sian Caiach has raised this issue numerous times (see for example 'State Aid and the Stadium') and the council have consistently relied on a legal opinion from 2007 which apparently said that they were exempt from State Aid Rules.

Cllr Caiach's requests to see this document have been consistently refused by the council.  

BBC Wales have now carried out their own investigation and have sought the opinion of a European funding expert. He believes that State Aid rules were 'likely to apply' and 'should have been followed'.

The article also mentions the sale of the car park to Marston's, recently the subject of concern over those peculiar 'Allowable expenses?' and the subsequent grant of further financial relief by the council's Executive Board in October. I understand that the 'Marston's deal' is now the subject of a complaint to the Wales Audit Office.

There is nothing wrong of course in a local authority supporting its favourite rugby team, but it is the degree and manner of subsidy which has created so much concern against a backdrop of severe cuts to frontline services

Interestingly, the funding expert also says that "If a breach is found to exist then the European Commission can force the awarding body, in this case Carmarthenshire council, to recover the amount that's in breach of state aid regulations from the recipient"  Surely that would be welcome news for cash-strapped County Hall...wouldn't it?

The BBC article can be read here; Llanelli Scarlets £20m aid by council concerns raised

Yesterday's court hearing - brief statement

Just in case anyone is unaware of what transpired yesterday in London at the Court of Appeal, I was refused permission on all further grounds of appeal. I was present along with my husband and of course my legal team. The legal team representing Mr James and the council also took part.

Aside from the one ground relating to Mr James' counterclaim, which remains ongoing, there is the matter of the costs and damages which have to be resolved. This currently stands at approximately £190,000 for the claim, £41,000 for the counterclaim and £25,000 damages.

I will now have to live with the trial judgement and deal with the consequences, financial and otherwise but I will never accept nor agree with the findings. Yesterday's hearing was yet another devastating blow.

My purpose and motivation for writing this blog has always been, and always will be a means to scrutinise the local authority and to share issues which I feel are important and which would otherwise perhaps remain unreported.

I have always acted with good faith and personal integrity and written this blog with the honest belief and opinion that everything I have said is true to my best knowledge. I have not made unwarranted personal attacks on individuals; my intention has been to highlight failings within a public body where I believe it is necessary and to try and bring some transparency and accountability to my local council for the benefit of residents and taxpayers.

As for the litigation itself, as I have said, some issues are yet to be resolved so it would be inappropriate to comment yet.

My heartfelt thanks, as ever, goes to my legal team, and of course to my family and friends, well wishers and supporters.

The future of the blog? Business as usual.


Mrs Angry, author of the Broken Barnet blog has written about yesterday's events and the wider picture; she needs no introduction, please go and have a read;
Daft arrest: the last word? Caebrwyn returns to the High Court

me after the hearing, from Mrs Angry's blog

Both the South Wales Guardian and the Carmarthen Journal have reported on the outcome. The latter includes a statement from Carmarthenshire Council and I would like to point out that the last paragraph of the statement is, I believe, potentially misleading as it does not take into account the possible outcome of a successful appeal had the specific grounds been accepted at the permission hearing.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Libel case - Permission to Appeal hearing

As I have previously stated, I have been granted permission to appeal on one ground relating to Chief Executive Mark James’ counterclaim.

My legal team filed a request with the Court of Appeal for an oral hearing at which I will renew my application for permission on other grounds relating to both my claim and the counterclaim.

This hearing will be at 10.30 on Monday, 16th December at the Court of Appeal, London.

Mr William McCormick QC will appear on my behalf.

Many thanks, as ever, to all those who have continued to support me.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The Christmas spirit - December Council meeting

(Cllr Caiach has issued a statement in response to Cllr Madge's press release published yesterday, 13th Dec - updates below)

Well the webcast didn't get off to a great start this morning and technical difficulties meant it didn't start working until the Scarlets had finished their presentation and the councillors had asked their questions, over an hour and a half into the meeting. Inexplicably, everyone was looking a bit cross and ruffled when the broadcast finally resumed.

Although it was a typical PR exercise I understand the mood was more subdued than usual with the representatives from Scarlets Regional Ltd being a little more realistic about the less-than-rosy financial prospects for the club.  Even some of the more staunch defenders of the council's involvement with the club were a little quiet. Perhaps there's something of a mood change.

According to tweets, Cllr Caiach managed to ask when the club would be repaying the £2.4m loan back to the council. Further tweets suggest that she didn't get an answer. Her request to see the mysteriously elusive legal opinion over the EU State Aid rules was met with the usual reprimand from Linda Rees Jones.

Also according to tweets from @SWGuardian, when the inevitable tributes to the Scarlets and the world of rugby did get going, they were cut short as there were 'events' happening that afternoon. The events turned out to be Christmas mince pies in the Chair's Parlour, but judging by the tone of the meeting this may have descended into a food fight.

There was much agreement, as I predicted over the Charter to end pay-day loans with lots of heartwarming claptrap from Cllrs Pam Palmer and Jane 'think of the children' Tremlett. Of course we all agree with the sentiment but comments that those in central government were 'out of touch' with the rest of us rang a bit hollow as it is quite clear that at least half those in the Chamber are too.

Interestingly Cllr Darren Price asked why the Plaid motion for a no-eviction policy over the bedroom tax had gone straight to the Executive Board (where it was rejected). As it was a matter of policy, surely he, or others proposing the motion should have at least been able to make representations in a politically balanced meeting.

Linda Rees Jones, acting Head of Law reassured the councillor that, procedurally, all was above board.... The Executive Board had responsibility for 'operational' policy, the rest of the councillors only had a say in 'strategic or overarching policy', and this motion referred to an 'operational' decision. Ah, that explains it. In fact the various interpretations of the constitution, as applied by the head of law and the Chief Executive's department are quite often brought into play....

There was not, unless we missed it, any reference to the unlawful payments, but there was reference to the Marston's car park deal and that very strange, peculiarly uneven 'split', between the council (£200k) and the Scarlets (£600k) and those 'Allowable expenses' which included £280,000 to fit out the Scarlets' Red Room restaurant in Eastgate.

Right at the end of the meeting the Leader Kevin Madge accused Cllr Caiach of making inaccurate comments to the press, in that he was responsible for the decision and calling for his resignation. No he wasn't responsible, he said, it was nowt to do with him! was the head of corporate property and Cllr Jeff Edmunds. Apparently the council's internal auditors were happy with it (well they would be wouldn't they?) He got very shirty and demanded that Cllr Caiach bring evidence to back up her claim.

Cllr Caiach was not daunted and reminded Cllr Madge, with passion, that with leadership comes responsibility and in this case, a duty to inform. Well said Sian.

It was left to the Director of Resources, Roger Jones to try and shift the blame elsewhere entirely and he said that it was the 'independent valuers' who had decided on the split, in fact he said that the Head of Corporate Property, who was delegated to finalise the lease details in consultation with Cllr Jeff Edmunds, the Exec Member for Finance, had disagreed with the valuation office. Who exactly these 'independent valuers' are and whether it is some sort of government office as Mr Jones appeared to suggest, we don't know.

What came over on the webcast was that the reaction of Kevin Madge and the Director of Resources suggested that indeed there was something very odd about this split, and no one was going to put their hand up to it. Exactly who pushed for the Scarlets to have such a large proportion of the proceeds remains to be seen.

(The webcast is now on archive, click on 01:53:39 to see this discussion)

One other spat was worth a mention if only for the reaction of Cllr Pam Palmer, leader of the Independent Group. Cllr Emlyn Dole (Plaid) accused the Independent Group of being nothing less than a full blown whipped up political party, something they deny of course. He added that everyone else was at a disadvantage because the group had no written manifesto or stated aims.

Cllr Pam Palmer was furious - "puerile tripe" she growled, they were independent and, (and this was a blinder) "we work together independently". She added that some of "her members" actually voted "other ways"; it has to be said that the only time she, or anyone else could remember this rare event was over the care home closures three years ago. "I'm not a closet tory" she spat, for good measure.

Cllr Caiach, a dictionary definition independent suggested that Pam and her 'political party' might like to peruse the Seven Principles of Public Life and let her know at the next meeting how many of them felt they could honestly sign up to it. Blood vessels on the independent benches were at bursting point.

Things had become very heated several times and tempers were flaring. The Chair had to remind everyone that the whole world was watching and the council was looking ridiculous......

The Deputy Chief Executive, D Gilbert who was sitting in for the absent Mr James looked mightily relieved when it was all over and, clearly forgetting his mike was still on shared his relief with the Chair..."it was all going so well, then...."
Aren't we lucky to have two Assistant Chiefs and a Deputy Chief to step into the breach if needed....

Anyway, the meeting, or part of it anyway, should be archived at some point so you can view and form your own opinions on the proceedings.

Mince pies and Christmas drinks in the Chair's Parlour, County Hall

Update 13th December;
Cllr Madge has issued a press release to the Carmarthen Journal, Llanelli Star and all councillors following the the Scarlets/Marstons 'allowable expenses' row seen in the Chamber on Wednesday. He launches an attack on Cllr Caiach who has called for his resignation over the matter.

Predictably the statement has all the polish and spin of the council press office but the mysterious identity of the 'independent valuers' is now resolved and we know it was the District Valuers office.

The question remains why the Executive Board Member for Finance felt it necessary to disclose the details of the split despite council officers' refusing to do so, and why the officer who was delegated to finalise the 'split', the Head of Corporate Property, felt it equally necessary to make representations disagreeing with the District Valuer's decision.

Update 14th December;
Cllr Sian Caiach has issued the following statement in response to Cllr Madge's press release (Please see link in 13th December update);

"I would like to first make it clear that I am asking Kevin Madge to resign as Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council because of his responsibility over the decision to sell an overflow car park, leased  to the Scarlets rent free,  providing considerable funds for the club. The Leader is expected, like all councillors, to always display openness and accountability. Although informed of the deal, he chose not to disclose the details. The sale of public assets to benefit a private company should surely be discussed openly?

I understand that the council, under EU regulations, is only allowed to give private companies, active in the EU, the equivalent of 200,000 Euros or £169,000 over every 3 years, and one off grant of 50% to build, for example a stadium like Parc Y Scarlets. So as I understand it, any informal grants, as the “allowable expense” may well be, or other financial help has to be less than this amount per three years.

We appear to have financed the Scarlets beyond the limits of this law. In this desperate economic situation we are reducing services and asking hundreds our own council staff to leave their jobs and, I believe, giving away too much money to the rugby club.

It is a matter of record that in July 2012 the council executive board, headed by Mr Madge, instructed  an officer, Jonathan Fearn to take sole charge of the sale and consult Cllr Jeff Edmunds, executive board member for finance.  Prior to that time it was planned that the car park would be an out of town shopping area, not a pub, but that deal fell through and the land lease was later sold on to Marstons.

The area was sold for £850,000 according to the land registry. The Council’s accounts showed they got £200,000 and the fate of the rest of the money was not disclosed to ordinary councillors like myself, and then refused under the Freedom Of Information Act.

Jonathan Fearn told me by email that following “normal negotiation and the agreement of allowable costs, the remaining proceeds were shared equally between the club and the council”.

Now Cllr Madge tells us that an independent District Valuer assessed the value of the land and advised  as to how the remaining proceeds of the sale could be divided.

Cllr Edmunds asked to see me when I had asked him for information, and told me that he wished to be open and transparent and give me the full facts about the sale. Indeed the costs of the sale were very high. The original deal involving a retail use, he told me, had been suggested by developers Henry Davidson Ltd, the owners of the Llanelli Eastgate Centre. They had asked the Scarlets to take up some units in Eastgate to set up their shop and café bar. The developers loaned them, I was told, £280,000 to fit up the shop units and start this new business venture.  As the Scarlets needed to pay this back, Cllr Edmunds and Mr Fearn were persuaded to call this £280,000 an “allowable expense” of the car park sale.

Other payments deducted from the £850,000 were around £50,000 for architects and agents fees, £70,000 for compensation to the club  for the car park lease, a £30,000 finder’s  fee to the Scarlets  for finding a buyer and in the end, I was told, more than half the “official “proceeds of £420,000. The Scarlets got £220,000, the council £200,000.

I have no objection to the sale of unused council land to provide money for the people of Carmarthenshire and council services.  However, as the Scarlets had not ever paid a penny of rent for this lease the split seems very generous. They have had around £600,000.

They may be entitled to compensation for the lease and a finder’s fee and a profit share but do they really qualify for over half the profit plus the cost of setting up their private shop and café bar??

Councillor Edmunds informed me that he had told the Leader of the result of the decision delegated by the executive, but was not aware that the information had been passed on. This means that the other executive board Councillors, who recently granted the club more financial support by reducing the interest on the Scarlet’s loan from the council, may not have known that a grant already given from the sale may have exceeded the whole 3 year quota under the EU rules.

I find it disturbing that the legal explanation of how we can give all this money to the Scarlets is never disclosed.  I suspect all may not be in order.

I thank Councillor Jeff Edmunds profoundly for being open and honest about where this particular sale money went and why.  I think he has acted bravely and with integrity.  He was under considerable pressure not to talk about this sale.

It is Councillor Madge as Council Leader who has ultimate responsibility for the County Council. If he or the Executive Board he leads, instructs an officer to take over the Councillors’ responsibility for a major financial matter he is still responsible for that decision.  Cllr Madge has not denied that he did not inform other councillors about the money from the sale and he has not made it clear why State Aid Law does not apply to the Scarlets.

Cllr Madge says he is “extremely proud” to be associated with what has happened and there is no need to consider resigning.  I disagree.

Cllr Sian Caiach
Hengoed Ward

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Unlawful pension u-turn - an 'Incredible situation' say Plaid

Update 11th Dec; The SW Guardian published an opinion piece today wondering if last Wednesday's reversal of the pension decision shows rising panic in County Hall,  and whether members of the Executive Board are 'dogged by the fear of something nasty lurking at the bottom of their Christmas stockings'.....

.....On the other hand, today's editions of the Carmarthen Journal and Llanelli Star report that the stand-off between the council and the Wales Audit Office over both unlawful payments has 'ended'....really? Either they are privy to information that neither the council nor the WAO have, or there's some wishful thinking going on....Update 12th Dec; The Carmarthen Journal has now corrected the online article to exclude the libel indemnity...the print version remains the same of course.


The unlawful payments row rages on and the South Wales Guardian reports (see below) that the Plaid Cymru opposition are demanding answers, and accountability, over the pension 'u-turn' last week, (a partial u-turn you may remember as it was not accepted that the pension payments were unlawful). By the way, kudos to the newspaper for regularly updating it's website as the story has unfolded over the past weeks, and for that matter, using the term 'tax avoidance'.

The Wales Audit Office is yet to publish a Public Interest Report into the two unlawful payments relating to the Chief Executive, the second issue being the libel indemnity of course. The council state below that they are still unable to comment as discussions with the Wales Audit Office are still 'ongoing'.

However the begrudging partial u-turn last week was cloaked in terms of a policy change and I would have thought that elected members would have every right to see the paperwork associated with such a decision. Legal or otherwise.

I can't imagine that discussions with the auditors will be 'ongoing' for very much longer; their investigations concluded back in August/September when the payments were deemed unlawful, and I understand that complaints regarding the circumstances surrounding the meeting when the libel indemnity was granted were made back in March.

Anyway, to see challenging questions being avoided and concerned councillors silenced, over these and other topics, don't forget to tune into tomorrow's full council meeting, starting at 10am here.

South Wales Guardian 10th December 2013 
Plaid demand answers over County Hall's pensions U-turn 
Searching questions are being asked of Carmarthenshire county council leader Kevin Madge after the authority's executive board backed down over a disputed £16,350 payment to chief executive Mark James in lieu of pension contributions, as a tax avoidance measure. 
The Plaid Cymru opposition group, at a meeting last night, demanded answers from the council leader. 
“This matter has been one of intense public interest since the Wales Audit Office declared the payment to be unlawful,” said Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, who leads the 28-strong Plaid group at County Hall. 
“The executive board, after insisting all along that the pay supplement policy to senior officers was perfectly lawful, has now done a U-turn by saying it will be 'withdrawn on procedural grounds'. I’m asking the leader to explain exactly what that means. 
“Despite being told by the Wales Audit Office that the payment to the chief executive was unlawful, the executive board insisted on taking their own legal opinion from a leading QC, in the hope of proving otherwise. 
"It’s obvious they've been advised to back down by the barrister, but they still deny that the arrangement is 'intrinsically unlawful'. 
“This is quite an incredible situation, which shows that the Labour-Independent regime which runs this council has made a shambles of the whole affair. 
"The taxpayers of Carmarthenshire have a right to know just how much this sorry affair has cost us to date. We, in Plaid Cymru, feel that those responsible should be called to account.” 
The council have told the Guardian they are unable to answer any questions. 
"The executive board has reconsidered the matter at its meeting of December 4," ran a statement. 
"As discussions are ongoing with the Wales Audit Office it would be inappropriate to discuss the matter further until those discussions are concluded." 
(Link to article here)

Monday, 9 December 2013

Committee rejects reduction in council meetings

At the end of last month I mentioned a report to be discussed by the Democratic Services committee. It related to how the Democratic Services office might be affected by the loss of 0.6 staff, which is currently a vacant post anyway.

The webcasting pilot was cited as an enormous strain on resources and, in so many words, suggests that this transparency nonsense should come to an end.

The minutes have now been published and the reference to webcasting is again is very negative. It does not record whether the committee made any comment or not.

The minutes also state that the continuation of the webcasting is something which will need to be discussed by councillors as there's nothing earmarked in the budget to carry on after the pilot, let alone widen it to other meetings.

I would suggest that the desire to discontinue the webcast has very little to do with finances.

After all, the council are considering replacing councillors' laptops with iPads at the moment which won't come cheap and the reductions proposed to the 'refreshment' budget, and the reduction of official cars from two to one (over three years) begs the question as to why Democratic Services has a refreshment budget in the first place..and two 'official' cars? Who knew?

And if the 'split' with the Scarlets over the Marstons' deal had been a little more equitable there'd have been enough to continue not only webcasting but keep us in lollipop ladies for the next ten years. Let's not forget either the cost of the ongoing legal advice over the two 'unlawful' payments.

As I have said there are proposals being put forward to change the format of full council meetings; committee reports will not be on the agenda and instead of debate and discussion, the chamber will be subjected to corporate presentations of the kind seen last month from BT and this month's offering from Scarlets Regional Ltd.

According to the report, stamping out the last remnants of democracy will contribute to the 'efficiency agenda'. If that wasn't disingenuous enough, the minutes refer to the agenda change as a 'modernising' proposal.

There is no recorded comment from the committee with regards the new style agendas but at least the additional 'efficiency' proposal to reduce the number and frequency of council and committee meetings, was rejected by the committee;

UNANIMOUSLY RESOLVED TO RECOMMEND TO COUNCIL that there should be no reduction in the frequency of Council and Committee meetings.

Well, that's something I suppose.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Carmarthenshire Council backs down over 'unlawful' pension payments

The minutes of Wednesday's exempt Executive Board meeting have just been published and I have copied the relevant passage below.

You will see that essentially the findings of the appointed auditor in relation to the Chief Executive's pension payments have now been accepted, though unlawfulness is not admitted.

No details have been given about possible repayments and clearly many questions now need to be answered. Whether the publication of the Public Interest Report by the Wales Audit Office into the pension matter has been averted by this action remains to be seen.

The reluctant climbdown has been couched in terms of 'the pay supplement policy be withdrawn on procedural grounds'.

I will update this post when necessary.

Of course, the question of the 'unlawful' libel indemnity remains outstanding.

"Following the application of the public interest test it was UNANIMOUSLY RESOLVED, pursuant to the Act referred to in Minute Number 3 above, to consider this matter in private, with the public excluded from the meeting as it would involve the disclosure of exempt information in respect of which a claim to legal professional privilege could be maintained in legal proceedings. 
With reference to Minute 13 of the Executive Board meeting held on the 14th November 2011, and views subsequently expressed by the Wales Audit Office [WAO] which challenged the introduction of the Pay Supplement Policy for Senior Officers approved at that meeting, the Director of Resources, Assistant Chief Executive (People Management & Performance) and Head of Administration and Law presented a factual report on the background to the Policy. 
Appended to the report were documents detailing the conflicting legal advice received by both the Authority and Wales Audit Office arising from the decision to approve the policy. 
The aforementioned officers responded to questions from the Board and, following expressions of thanks from members for the diligent way in which they had prepared and presented the report, withdrew from the meeting. 
The Board proceeded to review the policy and considered, in detail, the legal opinions of both the WAO and the Council’s own legal advisors. 
Whilst the Board was not prepared, at this stage, to accept that the principle of the policy, aimed at encouraging recruitment and retention of senior officers, was intrinsically unlawful it did accept that there may have been shortcomings in the procedures by which it had been adopted. The Board, not wishing to incur further unnecessary expenditure in this matter, therefore 
4.1. without conceding that it is intrinsically unlawful, that the pay supplement policy be withdrawn on procedural grounds; 
4.2. that any employment issues arising as a consequence of 4.1 above be addressed by the Assistant Chief Executive (People Management & Performance)."
(Link to minutes here)

For background please see numerous recent posts and this BBC article from 27th September;  Carmarthenshire blogger row: Council libel costs pledge 'unlawful

Update 4pm;
The South Wales Guardian now has a report - County Hall in u-turn over Mark James pension payment - which includes a joint statement from Jonathan Edwards MP and AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas demanding a full inquiry into the whole affair, including the cost.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Next week's agenda; Another corporate presentation

(Update below)

Whilst we wait for other news, I see that the agenda for December's full council meeting has been published (10am next Wednesday) and as promised, and in the spirit of turning the democratic process into a powerpoint extravaganza, councillors will be treated to a corporate presentation from Scarlets Regional Ltd.

I assume it will be a similar exercise to the one given to the Executive Board back in October (just before the raft of budget cuts were announced) where the loyal Members, unanimously and back-slappingly approved the continued bail out of the club and the stadium. You may remember council leader Kevin Madge defending the company, and the council, at the last webcast meeting; 'We've helped them out a bit.'

The previous presentation outlined the ethos of the club and the alleged £££ it's brought to Llanelli. There is no doubt that everyone wishes the club well on the sporting field but let's hope we'll see councillors (who are far less confident about the figures and remain very concerned about the continuing burden on the taxpayer), able to ask a few topical questions.

Does the council now have sufficient security over the land leased to the club? If everything is so rosy, why didn't the Scarlets get a commercially competitive loan from elsewhere and settle the bill with the council? And what about that Marston's deal? - surely questions need to be asked about the 'allowable expenses' of £280,000? And what about the whole EU State Aid rules query, which remains unanswered? Is the council, by propping up the club, indirectly funding the cost of legal advice as the Scarlets and the other three regions consider court action against the WRU over the right to play English clubs? The questions go on.

Charges for other sports facilities are set to rise sharply over the next three years, pricing a lot of small clubs and organisations out of existence. For instance the use of a council owned cricket pitch will jump from £28 to £590. So much for promoting 'healthy living'. How can the council executive continue to subsidise this particular organisation, and in such a variety of ways; anyone would think it was because the stadium was a council led vanity project that mustn't fail at all costs.

Also on the agenda we have a 'Charter to stop pay day loans rip-off', which should give Kevin Madge the opportunity to make his own presentation as the Charter has been put forward by Labour MP Paul Blomfield. Although a very important matter and without a doubt a good idea, watch out for a good half an hour of waffle as everyone says how much they agree with it and want to help the poor and disadvantaged.

Pity this wasn't borne out by the Kev/Pam ruling administration when they rejected a no-eviction policy over the bedroom tax a couple of weeks ago; it would give out the 'wrong message' apparently. Still, it's a bit of a mystery as to who wears the trousers in the Carmarthenshire coalition, some say it's not Kev, and some say it's neither...

The agenda also features the annual report of the Standards Committee which will doubtless paint an equally rosy picture of our highly principled council. It is unlikely to refer to this paragraph from the Ombudsman's letter dated July of this year;

"In reference to your Council, whilst the number of complaints received by my office has decreased compared with 2011/12, they are still above the local authority average. The number of complaints taken into investigation has also more than doubled compared with 2011/12, whilst the number of ‘upheld’ reports is double the local authority average".

On the subject of agendas I happened upon the minutes of a Carmarthenshire Council meeting from April 2000, (it was in those heady far off days when 'Public Questions' still appeared on the itinerary).
I noticed this sentence included in a report about corporate IT strategy;

"Some authorities already broadcast Committee meetings over the Internet. Members will doubtless consider similar ventures"

Well, it's taken quite a while hasn't it?

Update 6th December

Pembrokeshire Council has published it's agenda for next Thursday (12th Dec 10am). Unlike Carmarthenshire, it includes several questions relating to it's very own 'unlawful' payments scandal. Whether they will be answered is another thing of course and perhaps the Wales Audit Office will publish its report by then.
Anyway here's a selection;

Could the Leader provide Members with a full update on the Wales Audit Office’s investigation into the decisions of the Senior Staff Committee meeting held on the 28th September 2011?

During which financial year did the Authority make its final Employer’s Contribution to the Dyfed Pension Scheme, in respect of the Chief Executive?

Could the Leader confirm that, given the Chief Executive’s total earnings of £208,000 in the 2011-12 financial year, the Chief Executive is now in the position of holding pension entitlements based on a final salary of £208,000 (some £40,000 higher than his basic salary)?

No doubt, the Leader and/or the Cabinet has discussed the prospect of either defending or submitting to any possible adverse findings from the Welsh Audit Office investigation into the Authority’s pension contribution ‘arrangement;’ so could the Leader let us know which course of action he is minded to follow?

Monday, 2 December 2013

Unlawful payments - Executive Board to discuss pension payments

Update 3rd Dec below; 'Carmarthenshire County Council's reputation 'damaged' says Kevin Madge'

Further update 5th December; I asked the council press office for a statement regarding the outcome of the Exec Board meeting. Here's the reply; 'The meeting was exempt, the outcome will be published in the minutes on our website. No press releases have been issued'. 

As there was only the one item on the agenda, and as whatever decisions were made would have been made in the pre-meeting meeting, the whole event would have lasted less than ten minutes. So we can expect the minutes to be published, say, tomorrow? Or after Christmas?


The South Wales Guardian reports today that the mysterious 'extra' Executive Board meeting on Wednesday will be discussing the Chief Executive's pension payments.

The payments, along with the libel indemnity have been deemed unlawful by the appointed auditor, Anthony Barrett.

The agenda contains only one item, the vaguely worded; 'REVIEW OF THE AUTHORITY’S PAY SUPPLEMENT POLICY TO SENIOR OFFICERS'. The meeting, subject to the public interest test, will be held behind closed doors. Despite the public interest, it is unlikely that the Executive Members and officers will break the habit of a lifetime and hold it in front of public and press.

Certain officers and Members were given until the 22nd November to confirm the facts within the auditor's 'consideration documents' referred to below. It will be interesting to see who is present at the meeting and whether those involved in the original decision, as well as the beneficiary of the payments remains during the discussion.

Executive board to review chief's pension payments
Members of Carmarthenshire county council's executive board will be summoned to a special meeting on Wednesday to review the pension arrangements of chief executive Mark James, the Guardian has learnt.
Although the press and public will be excluded from the discussion, the Guardian understands the issue under scrutiny is the sum of £16,353 paid to the chief executive in lieu of pension contributions. 
This transaction, plus the granting of a £23,217 indemnity to pay Mr James's costs in his libel case and counter claim against blogger Jacqui Thompson, have been deemed unlawful by the Wales Audit Office, although the council maintain they sought legal advice and have done nothing wrong. 
Anthony Barrett, the auditor heading the WAO's investigation, is expected to issue a public interest report sometime in the next fortnight but it is understood he will not make a final decision until having considered the responses to the consideration document. 
(South Wales Guardian report here

Update 3rd December;

Council leader Kevin Madge has spoken to the South Wales Guardian and acknowledges that the unlawful payments scandal involving the Chief Executive Mark James has damaged the reputation of Carmarthenshire Council.

Cllr Madge, who was involved in both unlawful payment decisions is, not surprisingly, certain that the council have done no wrong, and maintains "that there is no question of police becoming involved as a result of the claims". We'll see.

So it would seem that those involved are refusing to accept the auditors findings and are prepared to spend and do whatever it takes to prove them wrong. Cllr Madge ensures the public that they will be able to make their own minds up when the council is able to openly defend itself after the report is published, and promises a 'full debate' in January.

With regards to the libel indemnity, I will certainly be expressing my views and comment, publicly.

Given Cllr Madge's comments, it would seem that tomorrow's Exec Board 'discussion' will rubber stamp a decision to continue to defend the council's position.

I am certain that there will be considerable interest in this particular gathering of the executive, and, 'exempt' or not, I trust a full statement will be issued following the meeting. Actually, I expect it's already in draft form...

Town Hall Pravdas

If Carmarthenshire's County Hall wishes to expand its media empire further, it looks like there's an opening in the London borough of Greenwich. A former editor of Greenwich council's newspaper spills the beans on why he believes the phrase 'Town Hall Pravdas' is entirely accurate. The guest blog, on the online Press Gazette is definitely worth a read;
Newspeak, 'quotes' written by the PR team, faces airbrushed from history - what it was like to edit a town hall Pravda

Clearly Carmarthenshire council's press office, managed by the Chief Executive's department, would be ideal for the job. Our very own 'Carmarthenshire News', with it's 'creative accounting' has already expanded it's propaganda skills to encompass the police, the health board and local colleges. It's enthusiasm for the opening of the evangelical bowling alley suggests that soon we'll have a column devoted to fire and brimstone. Determined attempts by County Hall to take editorial control of the local press have had, as this blog has reported over the years, varying degrees of success.

On the subject of promotional material, at a recent meeting of the Community Scrutiny Committee serious concerns were raised over the recent logo rebranding (cost unknown) of the council's fitness and sporting initiatives to "Actif/Active".

'Actif', it was pointed out, was an inaccurate direct translation of 'Active' in the sense of keeping fit. The Welsh word being more suited, I understand, to the context of scientific experiments. Officers were quickly on hand to shift any blame as this logo was being used in several local authorities and had been endorsed by the Welsh Government and Sport Wales....

Of course, with charges for council run sports facilities rocketing over the next three years and parks and playing fields being 'transferred', the 'actif' initiative may become redundant.

With the budget priorities of the council executive firmly in a parallel universe one sporting venue will remain protected at all costs, and the only concession to critics of the Carmarthenshire Pravda is that it's annual output might be reduced from six editions to four.