Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Nowhere to Run - tomorrow's meeting

Further to my update on yesterday's post and in case you missed last night's excellent Y Byd ar Bedwar programme investigating the council libel indemnity and pension scandals, it is available to view here, with subtitles, for a few weeks. It is well worth watching.

This week's South Wales Guardian again takes the local lead with extensive coverage of the 'unseemly mess', including another opinion piece;

"The eyes not just of Carmarthenshire but also the whole of Wales will be fixed on County Hall tomorrow (Thursday) when councillors meet to discuss the findings of the independent reports by the Wales Audit Office into "unlawful" payments made for the benefit of Chief Executive Mark James. 
Whatever transpires we fervently hope that the chaotic scenes witnessed at a recent meeting of Pembrokeshire council – when a London-based QC told several members they were unable to vote on a no confidence motion over unlawful payments having previously revealed their intentions to the press – will not be repeated. 
Leader Kevin Madge and two other senior figures are the subjects of a Plaid no confidence motion. Rather than blindly obeying party lines it is vitally important that each and every member coolly weighs up all the evidence put before them before deciding where to cast their vote. 
This is a matter for individual consciences – and all 74 members should remember that, ultimately, they will be judged by a watching public on their actions tomorrow. 
To put it starkly, there is nowhere to run – nowhere to hide. 
But far from wilting in the face of this heavy burden of responsibility, members should view tomorrow's meeting as a heaven-sent opportunity. 
For this forum will truly give them the opportunity to draw a line under this whole unseemly mess and claw back public confidence in County Hall which – in the light of recent events – is currently at an all-time low". (SW Guardian)

Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards has also spoken out again;

“This has been a dark cloud over Carmarthenshire Council for far too long, with a ruling cabal of senior officers and executive board who are clearly completely out of control.  The tactics they have deployed against political opponents and journalists who challenge their decisions border on the totalitarian and have no place in a democracy.

“It has taken the intervention of the Wales Audit Office to get to where we are.  But even now, in the aftermath of two damning independent reports, the tactic of Labour and Independent Councillors has been to undermine the integrity of the Audit Office and launch personal attacks on opposition politicians.

“Following the reports’ publication we should have seen immediate resignations by the implicated senior officers and three Councillors who now face a no confidence motion.  In refusing to act honourably I felt that it was my elected duty as a Member of Parliament to ask the Police to investigate the matter.

“With Carmarthenshire Council’s ruling cabal in complete denial about the seriousness of matter, I call on backbench Councillors of all groups to vote with their conscience on Thursday.  It is their elected duty to stand up for the people of the County and restore public confidence in County Hall.

“I am sure the people of Carmarthenshire will, like me, be watching events closely. There will be no hiding place for those Councillors that vote to ignore public sentiment and keep the old regime in place" (From Jonathan Edwards' website and also reported in the SW Guardian; 'Future of Council leader hangs in the balance')
 I shall be attending tomorrow's council meeting and observing from the public gallery. As I said in an earlier post, I do not believe that the council have any other option than to accept the recommendations within the auditor's reports. With regards to the libel indemnity, the recommendation is that, "The council should rescind the decision and withdraw the indemnity granted to the Chief Executive". The agenda is here.

I understand that the Motions of No Confidence have triggered several intensive 'strategy' meetings to try and save the careers of Cllrs Madge, Gravell and Palmer. It will be interesting to hear the list of apologies read out at the start of the meeting. Whether or not there will be a sudden flu epidemic amongst the Labour group, we'll have to see.

The Plaid group have asked for the no confidence votes to be recorded and I expect the votes on the WAO reports will be as well.

Amongst the questions which will be asked, it would be interesting to know the exact date when the libel 'indemnity' stopped....and perhaps we will all be enlightened as to the terms and conditions of Mr James' 'stand down'. Whether there will be any calls for his official suspension and that of Linda Rees Jones at tomorrow's meeting, again, we'll have to see. Presumably the police are continuing with their enquiries.

The acting Head of Law, Linda Rees Jones will not be there, whether this relates to her total involvement in all things deemed unlawful or some sort of declarable interest, we don't know. Or perhaps she's having her hair done. I understand that senior solicitor Robert Edgecombe will take over as monitoring officer for the day.

Mr Kerr QC will also be in attendance at the request of Kevin Madge, to defend the council's position, estimated cost £6000 - £8000. Quite whether his role will be as controversial as the Pembrokeshire fiasco we'll have to see. I imagine lessons will have been learned all round after that meeting.

As long as there are no 'technical hitches', the meeting will be webcast here

As a brief anecdote, you will recall that at the January 23rd 2012 Executive Board meeting when the indemnity was granted, the Members, including leader of the Independent group Pam Palmer, apparently decided that they knew *all about* demon blogger Jacqui Thompson.

Around 12 weeks later, on May 4th to be exact, with the libel case continuing,  the said blogger was at the count for the Carmarthenshire Council local elections as I had stood for election.

It was impossible, even with Pam Palmer's trained eye, to predict who was going to win the Cilycwm seat by looking at the little piles of ballot papers. To my utter astonishment, just before they were counted, Cllr Palmer sidled up to the demon blogger and quietly suggested that if I won, I might like to consider joining her 'Independent Group'...not that I needed to mention this little conversation on 'blogs or anything'. Scarred for life after the brief encounter, I duly returned home and mentioned it on my blog. Of course. Quite an exceptional circumstance.

Deputy leader Cllr Pam Palmer

Council Leader Cllr Kevin Madge

Former leader Cllr Meryl Gravell
The No Confidence Motion;“That Carmarthenshire County Council declares it has no confidence in Council Leader Cllr Kevin Madge, Deputy Leader Cllr Pam Palmer and former Leader Cllr Meryl Gravell as they were members of the Executive Board which made the decisions deemed to be ‘unlawful’ by the Wales Audit Office in its Report, and remain members of the present Executive Board.”

Monday, 24 February 2014

Updated; Council scandals - Y Byd ar Bedwar investigates

Update - After the programme;

Well done to Y Byd ar Bedwar for a excellent programme. Also well done to Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM and Plaid Cllrs Darren Price and Sian Thomas.

Cllr Thomas was the previous Chair of the Council and recounted how her position was continually compromised by remarks and comments from Mark James sitting by her side during meetings. It was obvious to observers that this went on but I'm glad she's spoken out.

Rhodri Glyn Thomas brought up the Returning Officer fees 'advance payment' issue, which is yet another scandal.

I believe several more scandals will be fully exposed before this is all over with.

Cllr Price identified Mr James as the 'root cause' of the problems since he (Cllr Price) had become a councillor in 2012. He said Mr James should resign.

Both Mr James and Kevin Madge refused to be interviewed for the programme and when approached by Gwyn Loader, the reporter, scuttled off saying all will be revealed on Thursday...

The Auditor, Anthony Barrett was interviewed and stood by his findings; he is clearly in no doubt that the pension and libel payments were unlawful.

Great contribution from Cneifiwr of course, who has now abandoned his anonymity. Well done Mr Vale.
I was on the programme as well.

I will be back in the Public Gallery on Thursday, 10am.


If you can, tune in to S4C tomorrow (Tuesday) night, 9.30pm, for Y Byd ar Bedwar, the Welsh current affairs programme which has been investigating the current scandals in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire. There will be English subtitles.

The unlawful payments are due to be discussed in County Hall, Carmarthen on Thursday, starting at 10am. My previous post links to the Agenda and I have provided some comment and opinion of my own.

Chief Executive Mark James (pictured below) has now 'stepped aside' from his post and Gloucestershire Police are investigating the findings of the Wales Audit Office reports concerning the libel indemnity and the pension arrangements.

Pic; Y Byd ar Bedwar; Mr James doorstepped at County Hall

"Y Byd ar Bedwar investigates the scandal that has shaken two councils in West Wales.

According to the Wales Audit Office, tens of thousands of pounds from the public purse has been spent illegally.

We will be in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire researching these claims and challenging those avoiding Y Byd ar Bedwar’s questions."

(Programme preview here)

(Pic; Y Byd ar Bedwar - County Hall)

Friday, 21 February 2014

Extraordinary Meeting - Unlawful payments - My Comment

The Agenda for the Extraordinary Council meeting on Thursday 27th February to consider the Wales Audit Office Public Interest Reports has been published and can be found here.
Reports and documents have also been attached to the agenda.

The council will decide whether or not to accept the two unlawful findings of the auditor, Mr Anthony Barrett; the indemnity for the libel counterclaim and the senior officer pension arrangements. Both relate to Mr Mark James who has currently 'stepped aside' from his post as Chief Executive pending an investigation by Gloucestershire Police.

It also includes a Notice of Motion for a vote of no confidence in Councillors Kevin Madge (leader), former leader Meryl Gravell and deputy leader Pam Palmer. All members of the Executive Board when the payments were approved.


My comment

With regards to the item on the libel indemnity, the legal advice provided to the Wales Audit Office has been published on the agenda (Appendix 2) and it is compelling. I have in fact been looking at this issue and raising my concerns for over six years. To be honest I'm just glad that someone in a position to officially challenge the principle has actually done so.

Back in 2008, when the constitution was changed for Carmarthenshire Council officers to do this (based on the Goudie QC advice, which, basically, advised that it was not a very good idea) a Western Mail editorial highlighted the danger. It was met with a complaint from County Hall and the newspaper agreed to publish a 'correction' letter from Mr Lyn Thomas, the former head of law.

As readers of this blog will know, there have been several attempts to influence editorial control of the local press by County Hall, some more successful than others.

Then, in 2010 local Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards and AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas again raised the alarm about the unique power Carmarthenshire Council had granted itself.  Again County Hall just dismissed the criticism.

All that though is quite separate from the fact that the indemnity and the counterclaim involve myself. In that respect I feel somewhat vindicated, many of the issues I have raised over the past few years related to the 'libel cost amendment' which featured in the trial last February.

The judgement, so concisely summarised in the report prepared for next Thursday's meeting, is something I have to live with but as I have said before, I'll never accept nor agree with the findings. It was a gross miscarriage of justice, nothing less.

Anyway, when the indemnity was granted, it was over a year before the trial, let alone the judgement. The legalities, or, more accurately, the illegalities are one thing, but it is the motive behind the counterclaim which is important to me and the consequential effect on the claim itself.

The legal advice to the WAO stated; "Our view is that the Council did not have the power to fund the proceedings that comprised the bringing of a defamation claim by its Chief Executive".

As soon as the counterclaim was brought, it's immediate effect was to make any early resolution very difficult and highly complex. Another effect was how the counterclaim may or may not have impacted on the views of the judge. The unlawfulness of the funding means the counterclaim should not have happened. The actual impact of this unlawful action on the claim, the trial and the judge, will never be known.

The motive behind the counterclaim was, as I have said, entirely tactical and the only exceptional circumstance (not that the 2006 Order mentions 'exceptional circumstances' of course) were that the council and Mr James were defending the claim itself.

It was brought as a means of defence, and as a means to put pressure on me to either withdraw my claim or settle on terms favourable to Mr James and the council.

It is very significant that the only fresh legal advice obtained relating to this specific decision to provide the indemnity came directly from Counsel representing Mr James and the council in the case itself.

It was not brought because Mr James had suddenly become offended by something I said several months previously.

Cllr Caiach summed it up in a comment she left on a Pembrokeshire blog last week; "..the executive board had told us it was a perfectly legal loophole way of allowing our council to counter-sue bloggers using an officer as a proxy. It was explained to us as a legitimate way of putting pressure on the blogger to withdraw her original legal action..." 

The report to the meeting next Thursday states that the indemnity has now stopped and Mr James must fund the remaining appeal on the counterclaim himself. Take from that what you will.. I wonder whether he would have brought the counterclaim in 2012 if he had had to pay for it himself.

The report also sums up the staggering costs which I have been ordered to pay. As I have said in my previous paragraph, there is an appeal still outstanding and due to be heard at the end of April which relates to the counterclaim. Currently the cost order against me for the counterclaim is £40,875 along with £25,000 damages to Mr James personally. As for the claim, the council are now looking to enforce the cost order against me of £190,390.

If next Thursday the council votes to accept the auditor's findings then this will avoid a protracted and expensive legal battle between the WAO and the council but it will also mean that Jacqui Thompson will have won a small victory, even if it's only a moral one. I believe there are some within this council who couldn't bear that, on a personal level and who would be prepared to spend an infinite amount of taxpayers money to prevent it.

If council rejects the auditor's findings then I'm not sure what will happen. The auditor has the option to take the council to court. As I said, it will be long and expensive but will be considering an important point of law.

The question is whether or not the council feels it has the stomach to prioritize and commit scarce resources on behalf of the one recipient of the indemnity.

Of course, there is not just one unlawful finding, there is also the pension payment which the council must vote on as well. The Executive Board has already withdrawn the 'pay supplement policy' but refused to accept it was 'intrinsically unlawful'.

The legal advice provided by Mr Tim Kerr QC, which was jointly commissioned by Pembrokeshire Council, is interesting as it states that, on balance, a court would be quite likely to agree with the auditor.

This was the advice which officers at Pembrokeshire Council refused to disclose to its councillors when they voted on the WAO report during the infamous meeting of the 14th February. Not surprising really.

As a footnote, several Pembrokeshire Councillors have put forward Motions on Notice for their next meeting on the 6th March to suspend both the Chief Executive, Bryn Parry-Jones and the Monitoring officer, Lawrence Harding, of 'white envelope' fame.

Anyway, back to Carmarthenshire and both of the reports written for the meeting contain the same sentence 'It should be noted that no allegation of misconduct by any Member or Officer is referred to in the PIR.'

This statement is correct of course, and, in fact there was no mention of misconduct in the Caerphilly PIR either. Last week the Caerphilly Council Chief Executive and deputy were charged with misconduct in public office.

The remit of the auditor is not to allege criminal activity, his remit is to protect the public purse. Whether or not there has been criminal activity and misconduct in public office is entirely a matter for the investigating police force.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Carmarthenshire Council - Budget Day

As a brief diversion from the continuing implosion of Carmarthenshire Council the budget meeting was held today and all went fairly smoothly, the big black cloud conveniently ignored, (almost), for the duration. Smoothly, that is, for the ruling administration as £30m of proposed 'savings' and a 4.77% rise in Council Tax went though.

There were a few punches thrown and couple of references to the black cloud, most notably from Plaid Cllr Ken Howell who reminded Cllr Meryl Gravell of her fondness of quotes, her favourite being in defence of senior pay...'paying peanuts and getting monkeys'. He left that one hanging in the air...

Anyway , it kicked off with the Exec Board Member, Cllr Jeff Edmunds outlining the dire financial situation and difficult decisions ahead. You may remember, Cllr Edmunds was the one who spilled the beans at the end of last year over unequal division of spoils concerning the Marston's car park sale and the £280,000 'allowable expenses' to pay off a third party loan for Scarlets Regional Ltd. I am currently waiting for a Freedom Of Information response on the subject.

Incidentally, I was asked to 'clarify' my request one day before the 20 day time limit was up.

Recent weeks, as I have said, have seen a few u-turns over the more unpopular proposals, or at least their postponement. Much was made today by the ruling administration that they were 'listening' to the people.

The reality, as we know, was that it was a matter of spin and desperation, and these u-turns happened to coincide with the release of the auditor's reports. An extra sweetener had also been devised as one of the care homes in Ammanford won a temporary reprieve from closure.

I shall not go into all the details here as it will all soon be available on the webcast archive and the agenda, with all the proposals, summaries and documents can be found here..

Cllr Caiach was the first to ask questions and commented on the 'carefully controlled topics' which formed part of the public consultation. You may remember the consultation began last October with the stage-managed 'by invitation only' Seminar in the Furness Theatre (see here and here), and as predicted, aside from the recent PR-panic-u-turns, most of the 52 "They're only proposals" went through today.

Cllr Caiach mentioned the plans for St Pauls and the proposed £7m Extra Care Scheme, a proposal which was announced in the Llanelli Star several weeks ago. Cllr Caiach has previously expressed her concerns over the whole public/private 'Extra Care' model, (see 'The Care homes - the £7m mystery'). £4.5m of that figure was to be in the form of a loan, serviced by funds from the closure of St Paul's Care Home, Llanelli. £2.5m was to come from council reserves.

This was always going to be contentious and the responses to Cllr Caiach's enquiries today referred to 'reconfiguration' instead of closure. There were some financially vague, unquantified mentions of turning it into warden controlled flats. Maybe that will be the case but surely it would then fail to provide the funds to service the new loan? And how much would it cost? Perhaps the pensioners were going to be given some wood, nails and pots of paint so they could do it didn't sound as though this one had been quite thought through..

Plaid had produced their own alternative budget which, for some unknown reason, had not been included as a 'consultation response' at all. Not sure what happened there. You may recall that the Carmarthen Journal provided a 'point by point' rejection of each proposal a few weeks ago, seemingly written by the Chief Executive, Mr James, it even carried a picture of him and a quote, see 'Who runs the council?'

When Kevin Madge was asked by Plaid Cllr Cefin Campbell about this strange way of conducting democratic debate, he denied that Mr James had written it but couldn't say who had, and blamed the whole thing on the Carmarthen Journal.
Neither Cllr Campbell nor anyone else believed him and the Cllr observed that 'It's very dangerous for any chief executive to step into the political arena - they do so at their peril'. Yes indeed.

The distinctly un-Labour-like proposal, (proposed by Labour), to cut Trade Union time and representation was challenged as it would leave many council employees with even less representation than they had already. They, said Plaid, weren't able to import QCs from London, unlike some...

Another issue which came up was the proposal to axe the Appeal Committee which deals almost exclusively with school transport appeals. It is one of the last remaining arenas where members of the public can make direct representations to council. The reason for the axe appears to be that most appeals are successful. The council doesn't like successful appeals of any sort of course.

As a means to dilute the proposal the Exec Board recommended that the school transport policy should be reviewed as it is clearly flawed. It will be carried out by officers and councillors and so there will be no need for the committee. At all. Ever again.

The proposals from Plaid included recouping some of the profits from Cwm Environmental Ltd, the waste company wholly owned by the council. According to the Director of Resources, this was impossible. The Council couldn't, by law, demand a dividend and the directors of Cwm couldn't do anything which might be detrimental to other shareholders.
I didn't quite follow this as I thought Carmarthenshire Council was the only shareholder...a couple of years ago a decision was taken to remove elected councillors from the Board of Directors altogether, it wasn't necessary apparently, even for an arms-length company in receipt of public funds.....

Another Plaid proposal was to use some of the 'reserves'. You would be doing this at your peril, warned the Director. Strange then, that only a few short weeks ago it was perfectly ok to take £2.5m from the 'reserves' for the Extra Care Scheme and it's fanfare in the Llanelli Star.

Plaid leader Peter Hughes Griffiths had placed their proposals as an amendment to the budget. "I wasn't looking forward to this bit" said  acting Chief Executive Dave Gilbert,  and clearly prompted by Linda Rees Jones, the monitoring officer, said the amendment couldn't be considered as it negated the budget motion itself, apparently.
However, with some careful wording the Plaid amendment was put forward. It was outvoted by the Labour/Independent groups of course, and the original budget report was then passed.

For any readers local to Caebrwyn, you might like to know that Cllrs Ivor Jackson, Tom Theophilus and Andrew James said not one word during the budget debate to defend the interests of their constituents.

The decision on the council budget is normally the pivotal meeting of the municipal year, but things are far from normal in Carmarthenshire and it is next Thursday's gathering to chew over the Auditor's reports which is pivotal to the future of this Authority.

Still on full pay?

As reported in my previous post the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire Council, Mark James CBE, has 'stepped aside' from his various roles within the Welsh Government, including his position as Non-Executive Director, pending the police investigation. Those roles include;

• Member of the Public Service Leadership Group as regional lead for the Mid and West Wales collaborative service area. 

• Member of the 21st Century Schools Programme Board as representative of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives

• Chair of the Monmouthshire Education Recovery Board and

• Chair of the Welsh Government’s Central Services Corporate Governance Committee

Mr James 'standing down' as Chief Executive was, we understand, entirely voluntary, whether the same applies to the Welsh government roles we do not know. Mr James remuneration for these positions has never been made entirely clear although for the last role as Non-Exec Director of the CGC he's entitled to £347 per day plus expenses. In the two years ending March 2012 he received £5601.50

Still Mr James remains, according to local news reports, on full pay from Carmarthenshire County Council despite choosing 'not to undertake his duties'. Had he been suspended of course, he would have been entitled to full pay pending the outcome of the police investigation.  Efforts are currently being made to determine the exact Terms and Conditions of Mr James 'leave'.

I'm sure that if other employees of the council, or anywhere else for that matter, decided not to undertake their duties, maybe for several months, they would not get paid.

The Terms and Condition are also significant as many wonder whether he will still be pulling the strings from his potting shed. Jonathan Edwards MP has asked Cllr Madge to confirm that Mr James will now have no contact with elected members or employees and no access to any of the council's computer and telephone systems whilst the police investigate.
It remains unknown whether he's had to hand over his corporate mobile phone.

There will be considerable chaos within County Hall in the lead up to next week's Extraordinary meeting and there may be determined efforts to reject the Auditor's findings, as well as resistance against the Plaid group's calls for no confidence in Executive Board Members. Let's hope there is no undue influence brought to bear from inside the castle walls, or from any potting sheds either.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Caerphilly Chief Exec charged with Misconduct in Public Office -updated


...and the latest from Carmarthenshire: Mark James has 'stood down/stepped aside' from his roles in the Welsh Government, see update below.


This blog has been following developments in Caerphilly with considerable interest after its Chief Executive and his deputy were suspended after the Wales Audit Office published reports early in 2013 concerning unlawful payments. They were both arrested in July and have been on bail pending further investigations.
They have now been charged. The Monitoring Officer has also been reported to the police.

The WAO report, by auditor Anthony Barrett, found that pay rises for senior staff including the Chief Executive were unlawful as the meeting had not been advertised and the recipients remained in the meeting. The Chief Executive also contributed to the written report.
The auditor and Avon and Somerset Police found additional discrepancies whilst the investigations were ongoing.
More later.

Here's today's article from the Western Mail;

The top two officers of Caerphilly council are to face charges of misconduct in public office.

A third will be reported for the same offence.

Chief executive Michael Anthony O'Sullivan and his deputy, Nigel Barnett, will appear in Bristol Magistrates Court court on April 22.

Also reported for the same offence will be Daniel Perkins, the authority's former monitoring officer.

A statement issued by Avon and Somerset Police said: "Having reviewed the police file, Nicola Haywood, head of the Crown Prosecution Service’s South West Complex Casework Unit, felt there was sufficient evidence and it was in the public interest to charge Michael Anthony O’Sullivan, aged 54, of Merthyr Tydfil; Nigel Barnett, aged 51, of Bargoed in Mid-Glamorgan; and report for summons Daniel Perkins, aged 48, of Brynmawr, Gwent.

All three are due to appear at Bristol Magistrates court on April 22 2014."
(Western Mail


Update 18.35;
Plaid AM Simon Thomas (Mid and West Wales) has asked the Welsh Minister for Local Government, Lesley Griffiths whether Mark James has stood down from his various roles in the Welsh Government: 

What work does the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, Mark James, do for the Welsh Government – working groups, panels, committees, advice etc?

Lesley Griffiths: Mark James will be stepping aside from the various roles he performs for the Welsh Government. These include:

Member of the Public Service Leadership Group as regional lead for the Mid and West Wales collaborative service area. 

Member of the 21st Century Schools Programme Board as representative of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives

Chair of the Monmouthshire Education Recovery Board and 

Chair of the Welsh Government’s Central Services Corporate Governance Committee.


Meanwhile, back in Carmarthenshire, the Plaid Cymru group have released this statement announcing the Motions of No Confidence in Kevin Madge, Meryl Gravell (former leader) and Pam Palmer (deputy leader). The motions will be presented to council at the Extraordinary meeting on the 27th February;
At next week’s Extraordinary Meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council (Thurs. 27 Feb) to discuss a damning Wales Audit Office report, the Plaid Cymru opposition group will present a motion of no confidence in three senior councillors. 
The issue is already the subject of a police inquiry and the council’s Chief Executive has agreed to ‘stand aside’ pending its outcome. 
Following a meeting last night of the 28-strong Plaid group on the county council, their leader Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, made this statement. 
"It’s unbelievable that Chief Executive Mark James was not immediately suspended once the police inquiry was announced. Council Leader Kevin Madge dithered and dallied until the situation became totally untenable. Even then, we only had a ‘compromise’ agreement.  
We still don’t know the conditions relating to Mr James’ ‘standing aside’.  The press have been told by the council that Mr James remains on full pay, although they’ve told us – as elected members - nothing.That said, the important thing is that the Chief Executive is out of the frame until this issue is resolved. 
Plaid Cymru will fiercely resist any attempt at interference in a democratic debate and vote on this most important issue at next week’s extraordinary meeting to discuss the Wales Audit Office report.  
We will not be dictated to by London QC Timothy Kerr, who, when he appeared in Pembrokeshire council chamber last week, acted as monitoring officer for the Executive Board by naming councillors he believed should not take part in the debate due to having made allegedly prejudicial comments in the press.  
We maintain it is Mr Kerr who should not be allowed to participate in any debate. Indeed, he need not come to Carmarthen at all. Although we’ve not been given the actual sum, it’s believed that Mr Kerr will be paid at least £6,000 for attending the meeting on the 27th to give advice.  
Plaid believes this is an irresponsible and unnecessary waste of taxpayers’ money. The Executive Board are throwing good money after bad in their stubborn defence of the indefensible, being the Welsh Auditor’s ruling that they acted unlawfully in two matters. 
Their arrogant attitude compounds the original ‘offence’ and shows why council Leader Kevin Madge should stand down.  
At the council meeting on the 27th Plaid will present a Notice of Motion of no confidence in Cllr Madge, past Leader Cllr Meryl Gravell and present deputy Leader Cllr. Pam Palmer on the grounds that all three were members of the Executive Board that made the decisions deemed ‘unlawful’ by the WAO."

Monday, 17 February 2014

Carmarthenshire...and Derbyshire

Whilst we wait for further details to emerge regarding the actual terms and conditions of the Chief Executive's current position having 'stood down' temporarily, it appears that it is only the full council which can force a 'suspension'. As far as I am aware, the Plaid group are putting forward a Motion for the meeting on the 27th to call for exactly that, as well as the removal of Kevin Madge, Meryl Gravell and Pam Palmer.

Throughout recent posts I have mentioned the circumstances around the counterclaim and the tactical purpose behind it rather than any 'exceptional circumstance'. Relative to that, a comment on Cllr Jacob Williams' blog ( a detailed account of Friday's Pembrokeshire fiasco) from Carmarthenshire Councillor Sian Caiach is very interesting indeed.

Remember, under the 'Derbyshire' rule, councils cannot sue, nor counter sue for libel and neither can they use an officer to bring the action to avoid breaking that rule. If they do, then the counterclaim is not just unlawful due to the public funding, but an abuse of power, and the action an Abuse of Process. I have underlined that particular section of Cllr Caiach's comment;

Sian Caiach says: 
Sunday 16th February, 2014 at 11:38 PM 
In Carmarthenshire, where I have the privilege of being a really independent Councillor, [People First, Bell's principles etc] our keen press office has already made several official press releases as to what the opinions of “Councillors and officers” and various leading members are on the two unlawful payment issues on our patch. When I objected to being included in the blanket statement it was altered to still suggest a majority of Councillors were in support of our CEO and Executive Board decisions. 
In response to a Plaid Cymru motion of no confidence in our chief exec and leader, former leader and one of our deputy leaders, Mr Kerr might find more evidence of predetermination on the ruling group side than the opposition. 
Our monitoring officer has mentioned to me that given my willingness to give evidence in the libel trial against the chief exec, arguing that his action was against free speech, I could be infringing our code of conduct, [I didn't actually give evidence in court as there were no questions from CCC who accepted my written evidence] but at the time I’m afraid I believed that, although the legal action was unfair, the decision to fund the CEO’s counter-suit was lawful as the executive board had told us it was a perfectly legal loophole way of allowing our council to counter-sue bloggers using an officer as a proxy. It was explained to us as a legitimate way of putting pressure on the blogger to withdraw her original legal action. 
I don’t think the white envelope trick is likely but if it is played, considering the alleged goings on in Labour and Indy recent group meetings, might Plaid Cymru have an impressive majority as the only major group relatively untainted by predetermination? 
Mr Kerr may point out that the uncanny way groups vote together is enough to show more than predisposition, but in that case we would be inquorate and could all go home before the vote of confidence! I’m sure we will be asking for a lot of information before we start

The fall out from the bizarre meeting in Pembrokeshire continues with speculation over declarations of interest which may or may not be deployed to manipulate votes in Carmarthenshire on the 27th. As Cllr Caiach says, the ruling group might want to look carefully at that tactic as it could easily backfire.

And if they're going down that particular road, Head of legal and Monitoring Officer, Linda Rees Jones not only co-wrote the report to the Executive Board on the 23rd Jan 2012, along with the Director of Resources and input from Mr James, but was a witness for Mr James during the trial.

The relevant section of the Localism Act, which aimed to allow Councillors to speak and vote on issues they had previously campaigned or spoke out on, actually applies to Wales and the explanatory note to the Welsh Assembly Consent Motion reads;
'Predetermination occurs where someone has a closed mind, with the effect that they are unable to apply their judgment fully and properly to an issue requiring a decision. Decisions made by councillors later judged to have predetermined views have been quashed. The clause makes it clear that if a councillor has given a view on an issue, this does not show that the councillor has a closed mind on that issue, so that if a councillor has campaigned on an issue or made public statements about their approach to an item of council business, he or she will be able to participate in discussion of that issue in the council and to vote on it if it arises in an item of council business requiring a decision.'

If you haven't done so already, please sign Rhodri Glyn Thomas' petition here;
"We do not believe Carmarthenshire County Council should spend any more of taxpayers’ money to challenge the findings of the Wales Audit Office through the courts.
We, the undersigned, do not have confidence in the leadership of the County Council."

Update 21:29 The now infamous Pembrokeshire meeting from Friday is now available on archive and definitely worth watching to see just how utterly bizarre local government has become in west Wales.

..and Mrs Angry, of Broken Barnet fame has again provided us with her observations; excellent as ever.


The Budget
With all the goings-on going on in County Hall over the past week or two it's easy to overlook the fact that the budget debate is coming up on Wednesday. For the first time, and hopefully not the last, it will be webcast for all to see.

The press office, in conjunction with the Executive Board has been busy over recent weeks trying to push forward some badly needed positive spin, unfortunately their efforts continue to be overshadowed by current events.

A couple of week ago Kevin Madge announced, in what sounded like a magnanimous gesture (and to cover the Labour group's failure to support calls for a Living Wage) that the lowest paid workers would have a pay rise. In fact, by removing the lowest point of the wage scale this was merely bringing the authority in line with the Chancellor's call for the minimum wage to be increased to £7 per hour to bring it in line with inflation. So although this is no doubt welcome, it has nothing to do with Kev's generosity.

I would also imagine that the lowest paid council workers are looking at recent developments concerning the CEO's remuneration with astonishment.

Several unpopular proposals have also been very recently removed....around the same time as the auditor's reports came out. As for the rest of it, we'll have to see what happens on Wednesday, the full list of documents are on the agenda here.
If the council are determined not to accept the auditor's findings on the 27th the matter is likely to go to court, not something I imagine, which has been budgeted for...

Friday, 14 February 2014

Mark James to 'stand aside' whilst police investigate unlawful payments

Update; Jonathan Edwards MP, who has also called for council leader Kevin Madge to stand down, spoke to the press today asking Cllr Madge to make Mr James' position clear;

"He needs to publish a statement regarding the full terms and conditions of the chief executive's departure.

"County residents need assurance that the chief executive is to have no contact with elected members or employees whilst the police investigation is ongoing, or to have access to any of the council's computer and telephone systems."


Fifteen days after the auditor issued his two reports, on the pension payments and the libel indemnity, and two days after the police announced their investigation, the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire Council, Mark James has finally 'stood aside', a 'voluntary suspension' I assume, whilst the investigation is carried out. Kevin Madge has issued the statement which can be found at the end of this post.

Presumably this also includes Mr James' various roles in the Welsh Government and also the Local Service Board.

Coincidentally, this is a year to the day that I was being cross-examined by Mr James' barrister during the libel trial.

Given the speculation over Mr James' refusal to stand down yesterday; Kevin Madge's failure to secure his suspension and Meryl's determination to stand by her man, this is slightly unexpected; the "mutual agreement" Cllr Madge refers to in the statement did not seem probable a few hours ago. Perhaps there was enormous pressure from Cardiff.

The statement is not short on spin and states that the auditor did not refer the reports to the police. No he didn't 'refer' the reports but he, or the WAO as a body, made Dyfed Powys Police aware of them the day they were published.

It remains to be seen what will happen to the rest of those involved, the row will not go away. As per my previous post, Plaid AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas has launched a petition to bring those involved to account, it can be signed here.

Given the astonishing events today in Pembrokeshire Council involving an 'envelope' (brief summary in previous post) where the unlawful pension payment was discussed, the meeting in Carmarthenshire on the two unlawful findings on the 27th February will be one to watch.

Here's the statement from Carmarthenshire council's website;

Statement by Cllr Kevin Madge, Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council:

“By mutual agreement the Chief Executive Mr Mark James will no longer undertake his duties as Chief Executive from now until Police enquiries concerning the two Wales Audit Office Public Interest Reports have been concluded.

“I welcome the police investigation which will give the public the assurance they deserve.

“The Auditor has not referred his reports to the police nor has he made any suggestions of any criminal wrongdoing, and I hope that the investigation can be concluded as quickly as possible in order for us as a council to move forward.

During the absence of the Chief Executive his role will be performed by the current Deputy Chief Executive Mr Dave Gilbert.”

Mr James added that he was absolutely certain that neither he nor any of his officers had done anything wrong but that it was only right and proper that  he should not be in the office whilst the police concluded their enquiries.   This would avoid any perception of undue influence being brought to bear.

Mr James hoped that the police enquiry could be conducted as quickly as possible as this was in everyone’s best interest.

Cllr Madge concluded:  “I have nothing further to say on this matter, there will be a full, frank and public debate on the reports at the Council meeting of February 27.”

Plaid petition; No Confidence in Carmarthenshire Council's Leadership

Following yesterday evening's urgent Executive Board meeting there has been total silence from County Hall. It is not even clear what the purpose of this 'informal' meeting was. According to Kevin Madge it was to update Members on his meeting with the police the previous day, others insist it was to determine whether the Chief Executive should be immediately suspended.

Rumours are circulating that Kevin Madge is under pressure from Cardiff Labour HQ to suspend the Chief Exec, the Chief Exec, apparently, has flatly refused to go. Further rumours suggest that Meryl Gravell and the independent members on the Board are going to defend his position no matter what.

If this position remains, presumably the police investigation will commence with all involved remaining in situ, surely a completely nonsensical situation.

Plaid Cymru AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas has issued the following press release, and set up a petition. Please sign, whatever your political persuasion;

Council’s leadership faces community petition of no confidence

Following the astonishing events in County Hall, and the failure of the council leader to suspend the authority’s Chief Executive when the police announced a criminal investigation, Assembly Member Rhodri Glyn Thomas has today launched an online petition for members of the public to express their lack of confidence in the Council leadership.

On Monday, the Plaid Cymru opposition councillors will be submitting motions of no confidence in 3 members of the Council’s executive board.  They will also be submitting a motion to suspend the chief executive.

AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas said the petition he has established is for all residents of Carmarthenshire, irrespective of political persuasion, to send a strong message to county hall before those motions of no confidence are discussed.

Carmarthen East and Dinefwr Assembly Member, Rhodri Glyn Thomas said:

“It’s been over two weeks since the damning Wales Audit Office reports were published.  Over two weeks and not a scrap of leadership has been forthcoming from the council leader, Kevin Madge.

“His and his executive board colleague’s unwavering defiance of the Auditor’s findings, and their attempts to defend the indefensible has seen the First Minister of Wales dragged into the mess.

“Plaid Cymru, and more importantly, the public recognised the seriousness of the situation fifteen days ago but the council leadership has done next to nothing.

“It is crystal clear that Carmarthenshire is bereft of leadership.  It is also clear that only Plaid Cymru’s motions of no confidence can bring any sense of authority back to the council.

“I see this as a petition for all residents of Carmarthenshire irrespective of political persuasion.   I want residents to sign our petition and send a strong message to the leadership of county hall that their actions are dragging the good name of Carmarthenshire through the mud.

“Our petition can be signed by visiting my website”  

Having just watched Pembrokeshire Council webcast meeting with regards to the pension scandal I suggest readers watch the archive. It was astounding. 

When it came to the vote to suspend the Chief Executive it transpired that the monitoring officer of the council had given Tim Kerr QC a brown envelope (in the car) containing press cuttings from those who had expressed an opinion in the press that the CEO should be suspended or resign. 

It didn't contain names of those who had expressed an alternative view. 

Just before the vote, Mr Kerr QC warned that those Cllrs may have to withdraw over prejudicial interest, he didn't mention the envelope until pushed on the issue. At first he insisted that the envelope had been given to him anonymously.

Disgusted opposition councillors finally walked out. The Leader then tried to have the vote anyway but fortunately the proposer of the motion withdrew it before he could get away with that one.

I leave the rest of the farce for now, I'm sure our Pembrokeshire bloggers will update us with all the details.

Let's hope there are no similar 'envelope' incidents in Carmarthenshire....

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Kevin Madge fails to suspend Mark James - and a statement from Plaid MP - updated

Update 14.04; According to press reports there will be an emergency meeting of the Executive Board at 5pm today, it will naturally be held in private, obviously no need to break the habit of a lifetime now.

Update; Mrs Angry's written a post; Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break ... #daftarrest, a year on: Mark James and a police investigation 


With the police having announced an official investigation into possible criminal activity concerning the pension payments and libel indemnity paid to Carmarthenshire's Chief Executive, Mark James CBE the situation remains, for now at least, quite astonishing. Unlike in any other walk of life, those being investigated and facing possible arrest, currently remain in office, surrounded by, and in control of, the very evidence being investigated.

According to the Western Mail, Council leader Kevin Madge asked Mr James to 'step down voluntarily' yesterday evening, that doesn't seem to have happened. Cllr Madge's ridiculous statement, issued by the Labour Party press office, rather than the council, avoided all mention of 'suspensions'. Obviously someone wouldn't let him use the council press office.

In a call for Kevin Madge to resign over his failure to suspend the Chief Executive and further to the press release issued yesterday, Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards has just released the statement below.

Inaction of Carmarthenshire Labour Leader undermines First Minister of Wales

The decision by the Labour leader of Carmarthenshire Council, Kevin Madge, to keep the Chief Executive in post whilst a criminal investigation takes place has undermined the authority of the First Minister.  That was the message from Member of Parliament Jonathan Edwards today after the failure of Kevin Madge to suspend the council Chief Executive, Mark James, from his role.

The Plaid Cymru MP has said Councillor Kevin Madge had diminished the role of council leader and exposed Carmarthenshire residents to further financial risks in challenging the Wales Audit Office reports.

Member of Parliament Jonathan Edwards said:

“The Leader of the council has had at least three opportunities to recognise the seriousness of the Wales Audit Office reports – the latest of which was an announcement that a criminal investigation is being conducted by the police – but he has failed.

“His failure to suspend the chief executive and failure to accept the findings of the audit reports demonstrates a complete dereliction of duty to the taxpayers’ of Carmarthenshire.  He will expose residents to further financial risks should the council challenge the audit reports in court.

“The First Minister has publicly called on Carmarthenshire to consider the law and to deal with the situation.  By allowing the chief executive to remain in post, and to dismiss the findings of the audit report, Kevin Madge is ignoring the First Minister and has entirely undermined his authority.

“The Welsh government has been aware of Carmarthenshire Council’s intention to pay the chief executive’s legal costs since 2010 but it has failed to act.  It has allowed the council to ignore and bypass legislation from Wales’s own national government.  The residents I represent have therefore been let down by both the Welsh government and the labour and independent executive of this council.

“Kevin Madge needs to go.  His inaction has diminished the role of Leader he is clearly incapable of fulfilling the job required of him.  Before he resigns, he should show just one iota of courage and suspend the chief executive.”


Yesterday's meeting has now been archived here and you can watch it in full. However, as before, the auditor's reports were not for discussion, not until the 27th February when those involved will be represented by their QC....

It was left to Cllr Sian Caiach to give voice to what everyone was uppermost in everyone's mind and she showed brave determination against the culture of bullying and intimidation.

It was the minutes of the Executive Board from the 6th January (see Libel case - Executive Board meeting), relevant to the auditor's report, which were up for approval, and you can see Cllr Caiach's two attempts to raise her concerns over the libel indemnity by clicking on 00:06:12 and 01:48:00 on the webcast. She also said that she hoped that once and for all, this scandal would stop other councils from suing individuals by proxy.

County Hall, Jail Hill

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Gloucestershire Police to investigate Carmarthenshire Council - updated

The South Wales Guardian has just confirmed that the police will be investigating Carmarthenshire council with regards to possible criminal activity over the WAO reports concerning the pension payments and the libel indemnity relating to the Chief Executive.
Dyfed Powys Police have issued this statement;

"We have now fully considered the three Public Interest Reports published on 30th January 2014 by Wales Audit Office, into matters relating to Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire County Councils. 
"As a result, the Force has decided that it is a matter which should be investigated in the public interest by the Police, to ascertain whether or not any criminal offences have taken place. 
"Due to the close working relationships and partnership arrangements that exist between Dyfed-Powys Police and both local authorities, it is not appropriate for the Force to carry out the enquiry. 
"As such the matter has been referred to Gloucestershire Constabulary who will undertake the investigation. 
"Dyfed-Powys Police would like to make it absolutely clear that this decision has been taken by the Police alone, and has in no way been influenced by political commentary or media reporting on this issue." (SW Guardian
Western Mail now reporting; Police launch investigation into 'unlawful' payments made to council chief executives

...and BBC Wales here

More soon.

Update 19:00;
In an unbelievable statement Council leader Kevin Madge seems to have missed the point completely. Incredibly he seems to have put all this down to "political point scoring".

There is no mention of any suspensions just that he's asked the Welsh Local Government Association, of which, I believe, he is a deputy chairman, to undertake a review of the council's corporate governance procedures.

Dear oh dear.

The statement was not issued by the council but by the Labour Party press office in Cardiff.

(South Wales Guardian)

Update 19:35
Plaid Cymru Carmarthenshire have just released this statement:

Plaid Cymru reiterates calls for chief executive suspension following confirmation of Police investigation
‘Carmarthenshire Council bereft of leadership’

Plaid Cymru Member of Parliament Jonathan Edwards and County Councillor Peter Hughes Griffiths have responded to the announcement made by Dyfed Powys Police Force this afternoon which confirmed the Gloucestershire police will be investigating whether any criminal activity has taken place in relation to the Wales Audit Office reports which concluded two matters decided by Carmarthenshire Council were ‘unlawful’.

Member of Parliament Jonathan Edwards said:

“The public, media, county residents and all observers immediately recognised the seriousness of the audit reports when they were published two weeks ago.   I welcome the action of the police today as this situation clearly merits investigation.

“The Labour leader of Carmarthenshire Council, Kevin Madge, has been dragged kicking and screaming into showing just an ounce of leadership but he has failed.  He has failed again today with his response to the police investigation.  For the past thirteen days Kevin Madge has been more interested in issuing personal attacks on anyone who dared to question his extremely poor judgement.

“Now that we have a police investigation underway, the Chief Executive should be immediately suspended from his post.  It beggars belief that the Chief Executive is in office whilst the police are investigating whether any criminal activity has taken place.  Carmarthenshire Council, with the Labour and Independent parties at the helm, is bereft of leadership.

“The inaction of the council leader and his astonishing attempts to undermine the integrity of the independent auditor has seen the First Minister of Wales and the Labour party head office dragged in to try and sort out the mess Kevin Madge has created.

“Labour-run Caerphilly Council suspended its Chief Executive within two days of their audit office reports.  Pembrokeshire Labour party has called for the immediate suspension of its Chief Executive.  But what we’re seeing in Carmarthenshire, however, is that the Labour party is in meltdown and has absolutely no authority in the council it is supposed to lead.

“At every level of government civil servants advise and elected politicians decide - the same applies to Carmarthenshire Council.  The Executive Board is responsible for the unlawful decisions they have taken.

“The elected leaders of the council should therefore apologise to the taxpayers’ of Carmarthenshire for their unlawful actions and resign.  It is the bare minimum they should do as a result of the damaging audit reports, and for their subsequent actions in treating Carmarthenshire residents with contempt.

“Kevin Madge’s defiance, dithering and delay has seen the good name of Carmarthenshire dragged through the mud.  His disgraceful behaviour in approving a tax avoidance scheme should alone make him hang his head in shame.”

Leader of the Plaid Cymru opposition group on Carmarthenshire Council, Councillor Peter Hughes Griffiths added:

“The announcement of the police investigation confirms the seriousness of the situation the council finds itself in, and fully justifies the concerns we’ve raised for the last two weeks.
“The response of the Labour council leader is totally unbelievable. How can he justify not immediately suspending the council's Chief Executive? His suggestion of an external inquiry by the WLGA is quite pathetic.

“Cllr Madge seems to have lost his grasp on the situation entirely. As Leader, he failed to take decisive action when the reports were published and he has failed to take decisive action today. How can he remain in his post?  The public will think it disgraceful that the council leader has ducked the political decisions required in his role.

“With a police investigation confirmed, the public will now rightly expect every Labour and Independent councillor to accept these reports and the serious conclusions they have reached.

“We want to restore democracy to the council and restore the good name of Carmarthenshire.  We are ready and open to talk to all councillors who are prepared to lift the county out of the mess created by the Labour and Independent executive board.”

The Unlawful Payments - Day 12

It looks like, finally, there may be some pressure from Cardiff Bay for Carmarthenshire council to act on the auditors reports. Sooner rather than later. In response to very well presented questions from Janet Finch Saunders (Con) and Rhodri Glyn Thomas (Plaid), the First Minister, Carwyn Jones (Lab) said;

"It's important for any local authority to consider any report that comes from the auditor and not just think that it's something that can be put to one side, and I don't think that any local authority should be in that situation.
"It's very important that Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire deal with this situation and then act on it,"
(BBC Wales)

Hopefully this was more than a subtle subliminal message to Kevin Madge (Lab), who is now ignoring pressure within his own party to call for the immediate suspension of the Chief Executive.

There have also been calls for Cllr Madge himself to step down immediately over his own involvement as Exec Board Member when both the payments were approved, along with 'independent' Cllrs Meryl Gravell and Pam Palmer.

We know already that the Minister for Local Government, Lesley Griffiths (Lab) is in discussions with the Auditor General.

We also know, of course that Kevin Madge has been invited to discuss the matters with the Deputy Chief Constable of Dyfed Powys Police, one can only hope that this meeting today (Wed 12th) takes place over a tape recorder rather than tea and biscuits.

As Rhodri Glyn Thomas pointed out the other day, the Chief Executive of Caerphilly Council was suspended two days after the Auditor published his report. In Carmarthenshire, we are now on Day Twelve.

The council have issued another swathe of documents to all councillors, accompanied with another email from Linda Rees Jones who again reminds Members that she has been reported to the police. She also suggests, patronisingly, that this early release of information may help as "we fully appreciate that some members will find the documentation complex"...

Those aware of the practices within County Hall over the release of documents will recognise this new founded openness as a sign of desperation, not transparency.Presumably the Exempt Report on 'public toilet transfers to community councils' remains safely under lock and key...

Anyway, one thing which has finally appeared attached to Ms Rees Jones' email is the report to the Executive Board on the 23rd January 2012 recommending the libel indemnity. This report has been kept very close to their chests and disclosure refused on at least one occasion. This was the report which misrepresented the 2008 legal advice.

As readers may be aware, the libel litigation has not been concluded yet, there is an outstanding Appeal relating to Mr James' counterclaim. Therefore I am unable to give my full views on this matter yet but I am writing as an observer, and it's worth mentioning that in amongst the various risks the Members chose to take on your behalf was the potential for a costly Judicial Review and a potential loss of £100,000.

The report will appear in its entirety at some point, probably when the agenda for the special council meeting on the 27th is published. To give an example, you would think that sentences such as 'The Authority's insurance policy doesn't extend to counterclaims' may have raised a concern or two as to why exactly it didn't...... As observers have noted, a propensity for asking challenging questions is not a criteria for becoming a Executive Board Member in Carmarthenshire. In fact, quite the reverse....

Also disclosed to councillors is the Auditor's response to the Consideration documents, it is clear that nothing any of those involved said in their response to the Auditor changed his initial view that the indemnity was unlawful. His response forms the basis of the Public Interest Report.

As Mr Tim Kerr QC has been booked for Pembrokeshire's special Valentine's meeting on Friday to defend the pension scandal, you can bet your bottom dollar he'll be joining our friends in County Hall Carmarthen on the 27th to defend not one, but two unlawful payments. On the opposing bench will be the Auditor.

Clearly those responsible for these unlawful payments including the Chief Executive who received them will not have to justify their actions, nor defend themselves, to their fellow councillors, the public and the press -  they will have a QC there to do it for them.

Meanwhile, I'm sure there will be a few curious viewers watching tomorrow's (Wed) 'ordinary' full council meeting - if County Hall bosses manage to stop this overwhelming scandal being mentioned, I'll be very surprised. That's if they turn up...

Webcast starts at 10am and can be viewed here, or later on archive.

Update 7.13;
The South Wales Guardian reports that if a police investigation is launched then Mr James will be suspended.

They have also enquired about the legal advice given by barrister Adam Speker who has represented Mr James throughout the libel case, advice which the council claim was 'independent'.

The council have said that this advice was given verbally at the meeting on the 23rd January 2012, but the advice from Tim Kerr QC, (written 22 months after the decision) refers to Mr Speker's written 'Note of Advice dated 17th January 2012'

 A council spokesman said: “The report which went before the executive board regarding the indemnity, which included advice given by Mr Adam Speker, will be published shortly. As there is ongoing litigation regarding [the libel case] we need to check that we are able to publish it in its entirety at this time.”
(South Wales Guardian)

This is the report I referred to in my main post above which has been sent to all councillors. It refers to Mr Speker's advice but does not include the separate 'Note of Advice'.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Police to meet with Carmarthenshire Council leader

It has now been ten days since the auditor published his two reports; one concerning the unlawful libel indemnity here, and the second relating to the unlawful pension payments here. County Hall remains in complete denial and spent last week using the council website to issue hostile statements towards anyone who might be agreeing with the auditor, including the Auditor.

The special council meeting to 'discuss' the reports has been arranged for the 27th February (nearly two weeks after Pembrokeshire council which managed to arrange theirs for the 14th) and the Auditor has confirmed he will attend. It remains unclear at the moment whether Mr Kerr QC, Counsel for the council, will travel down from London for the occasion. I shall of course be travelling down from Llanwrda.

In a development this afternoon the Carmarthen Journal reported that the Deputy Chief Constable of Dyfed Powys Police has asked to meet council leader Kevin Madge later this week:

'The deputy chief constable of Dyfed-Powys Police Gary Pritchard has asked to meet with Carmarthenshire Council leader Kevin Madge following a call to the police by MP Jonathan Edwards over Wales Audit findings into ‘unlawful’ payments.
Carmarthenshire Council confirmed Mr Madge would attend a meeting later this week to discuss the issues with Mr Pritchard. 
Dyfed-Powys Police told the Journal: “Dyfed-Powys Police can confirm that they are liaising with both the Crown Prosecution Service and an external force in relation to the report issued by the Wales Audit Office last week.” 
Carmarthenshire East and Dinefwr MP Jonathan Edwards outlining his reasons for contacting the police, said: “The reports are extremely damaging. In my mind the findings justify dismissal of senior council officers and should make the council’s elected leadership stand down from their roles."    (Carmarthen Journal
Before the 'emergency meeting' on the 27th there are two other full council meetings, one on Wednesday (12th), the agenda is here, and one on the 19th which is the 'budget' special. Wednesday's meeting will receive the report of the Executive Board meeting on the 6th January, where the libel case and myself came up for discussion. The meeting resulted in Kevin Madge's outburst that no one is allowed to criticise the council and, according to Kevin, it was 'we' the council who countersued Mrs Thompson....
All three meetings, it is promised, will be webcast.

It is quite astonishing that despite the auditor's findings and the public outcry, those involved in the scandals can continue to preside over council business, especially the budget. Plaid made calls last week for it to be postponed but to no avail.

As for the political row, last Friday Labour AM Keith Davies called for the immediate suspension of Mark James pending investigations, this opened the way for Carmarthenshire's Labour leader Kevin Madge to follow suit, he didn't.

Plaid Cymru AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas issued this statement today;

“The Labour leader of Caerphilly Council suspended its chief executive just two days after the Wales Audit Office reports were published.  In Pembrokeshire council, the Labour opposition group leader called for the immediate suspension of the council’s chief executive the very day the report was published. 
“In Carmarthenshire, however, eleven days have now passed since the Audit Office published its damaging reports and the Labour leader of the council, on behalf of his 21 fellow Labour councillors, has done nothing but pledge his full support for the council’s senior officers despite the Auditor stating unlawful processes have taken place. 
“Instead of taking decisive action and triggering a full investigation, the Labour council leader has instead issued personal attacks on his political opponents and has tried to undermine the integrity of the Auditor by publishing selective information.  It seems the party is more interested in preserving its supposed control of the council, than it is doing the right thing for county taxpayers. 
“My constituents are rightly angry by what has gone on in County Hall.  Labour supporters throughout Carmarthenshire – and indeed throughout Wales – will be appalled that their party leader enabled one of the county’s top earners to avoid tax.  The Labour party in Carmarthenshire has lost its moral compass. 
“As a result of gross incompetence, the Carmarthenshire Labour party has become isolated from reality, and is in the equivalent of ‘special measures’ now that the party’s Cardiff headquarters is involved and running the show. 
“Plaid Cymru representatives have said for the best part of two weeks – if we had sanctioned unlawful payments worth over £55,000 with public money, we would suspend the officers involved and do the honourable thing and stand down.  
“With the Carmarthenshire Labour party in crisis and now being controlled from Cardiff, Plaid Cymru hopes county residents will start to see some decisive action instead of this defiance, dithering and delay they’ve put up with for almost two weeks.”

Owen Donovan has written an excellent post over on his Oggy Bloggy Blog. In addition to Owen's analysis of the current situation, he also noticed an interesting discussion from the Welsh Assembly Petitions Committee concerning the Stradey site in Llanelli, once again illustrating the contempt which County Hall holds towards anyone that interferes......just have a read;


The agenda for Pembrokeshire's emergency meeting on Friday (14th) has been published here (pdf) it includes detailed documents relating to the pension scandal and a Notice on Motion to suspend the Chief Executive, Mr Parry Jones with immediate effect. (Via @jacobjwilliams)

Friday, 7 February 2014

Labour AM calls for immediate suspension of Mark James - updated

The South Wales Guardian reports that Labour AM Keith Davies has called for the immediate suspension of Chief Executive Mark James over the auditor's reports.

This is a significant development as this is the first Labour politician to speak out and it now remains to be seen whether any of his Labour colleagues within the ruling coalition on Carmarthenshire Council will follow his lead, particularly council leader Kevin Madge....

South Wales Guardian

The BBC are now reporting this story; Suspend Council Chief now, says AM

Update 15.02
Plaid Cymru have now responded to Keith Davies' comments and have issued the following press release which notes that, so far, Mr Davies' has not commented on the libel indemnity, only the pension scandal;

Plaid Cymru responds to Labour AM’s call for Chief Executive suspension

'Carmarthenshire Assembly Member Rhodri Glyn Thomas has responded to the comments made by Labour AM Keith Davies who has today called for the suspension of Carmarthenshire Council’s Chief Executive, Mark James.

Assembly Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Rhodri Glyn Thomas, said:

“Plaid Cymru welcomes the comments of Llanelli Assembly Member, Keith Davies.  We are pleased at least somebody in the Labour party – eight days after the damning reports were published – has finally recognised the severity of the reports’ conclusions.  We note, however, that Keith Davies has nothing to say on his Labour colleagues’ unlawful decision to approve the use of public money to fund the Chief Executive’s legal costs.

 “Council Leader Kevin Madge and the rest of the Executive Board are extremely isolated now as they continue to pledge their full support to the council officers.

“Officers must be held to account, but it is too simplistic for Keith Davies to say officers misled elected members.  The elected leadership is weak and incompetent, and have proved themselves incapable of carrying out their jobs properly.  They must take political responsibility for the unlawful decisions they took.

“As the splits in the Labour party start to widen, what is clear in Carmarthenshire is that only Plaid Cymru is prepared to uphold the integrity of the Wales Audit Office for the good of the county.

“By disputing the independent reports, Kevin Madge and the Labour party are willing to sign a blank cheque to use more taxpayers’ money in court.  Plaid Cymru will continue to stand up for Carmarthenshire ratepayers and continues to believe, as we have from day one, that officers should go and executive board members should resign.”


Update 18.16

Following Cllr Caiach's letter to the press office yesterday, and maybe other complaints, the council has altered it's most recent blast against the auditor.
It used to start "Councillors and officials at Carmarthenshire County Council say they are bitterly disappointed......".

It now reads "Many Councillors and officials....."

Soon perhaps it will read "Some Councillors...."

....and before long, the plural may have gone altogether.....

Selective publication...

The BBC reports on the latest defence strategy by Carmarthenshire council over the libel indemnity. After publishing the two pieces of legal advice the council then issued a hysterical outburst attacking the auditor, and have published correspondence between themselves and the WAO from 2012.

As we know, the auditor has already seen the council's evidence, or selected evidence anyway.

It is quite alarming that this council, or more precisely, a couple of senior officials in a desperate exercise in self-preservation, can continue to believe they are unaccountable to everyone; aside from the long suffering residents of this county, this attitude has been prevalent for years towards the Ombudsman, the Welsh Government and now the Appointed Auditor. The present situation in County Hall is beginning to resemble a very public spectacle of a crumbling dictatorship.

The BBC confirms that the auditor is standing by his reports and said that the matter should be resolved  "in the council chamber or the courts", adding the significant remark that "the council has not made available all the correspondence between us".

Oh dear, selective publication.

It is clear that officers from the WAO were assured by the council in 2012 that they, (the council) had taken specific independent legal advice over the indemnity, when in fact they hadn't. The advice from solicitors and counsel representing Mr James could not be considered independent.

Recent days have seen the council attempting to justify the indemnity on various grounds, one of those is 'duty of care' to an employee.

The council claim that they had some justification to indemnify Mr James under 'duty of care'. For a start, I know many Carmarthenshire council employees and they've never come across any duty of care from the top brass in any shape or form, let alone something of this magnitude.

The obligations and responsibilities associated with duty of care as I understand it, covers matters such as safeguarding health and safety, dealing promptly with grievances, taking reasonable care, and acting in good faith. It would not, I'm sure, breach any employment contract if the funding of a libel claim was refused.

I was threatened with the counterclaim in November 2011 if I did not settle on the council's terms, whether the Exec Board were aware of this, or even the auditors, I don't know. Further negotiations leading up to Christmas 2011 led to an agreement to settle the case on agreed mutual terms. However, this agreement failed to materialise after the council refused to respond.

Then we come to these "exceptional circumstances". By the time the Executive Board met in January 23rd 2012 the only circumstance which was directly relevant to that particular meeting was to approve the counterclaim. I believe the counterclaim was  purely retaliatory, as well as a tactical step to persuade me to withdraw my claim or settle on the council's terms.

It was ironic that the main part of Mr James' claim related to the unique power of this council to instigate and fund libel claims.

Council Crisis - Statement from Cllr Caiach and further far

Cllr Caiach has responded to recent events and to the series of aggressive 'council' press releases by issuing the following statement to the press office. She has also asked the Chief Constable for a full investigation:

"Dear Press Office,

Your press release yesterday beginning "Councillors and officials...say they are bitterly disappointed and frustrated at misinformation being circulated.." etc which goes on to imply that the Councillors are all supportive of your view that the Wales Audit Office are possibly misinformed, incompetent and completely wrong about the illegal payments judged to have been made to our Chief Executive.

Yes, we are instructed to discuss the reports within 28 days but you insist on representing this meeting as merely an opportunity to show that the Wales Audit Office are mistaken about these matters by persuading the majority of 74 councillors that our officers are right and the Government's auditors are wrong.

Our officers have already had the opportunity to make their case against the draft report, and the Wales Audit Office has confirmed their initial opinion.

I presume you are instructed by the Council leader, Kevin Madge, and in future I ask that councillors are not mentioned in general, but by name.

I read the reports and the supplemental documents circulated to all Councillors. My conclusion was different to the council leader.

The issues are not just related to the payments but also to the fact that the majority of councillors were either not informed at all as in the case of the pension payments, or misinformed as in the libel indemnity case.

This case is also critical and important as it appears to be an attempt by our council to bypass the law of defamation by using an officer as a proxy to issue a libel counterclaim, something a council cannot do. If this were legal any council with a compliant officer could sue any member of the public in this way, using public funds. Clearly, in my view, an affront to democracy.

I have decided, taking into account the prevailing view of my constituents and using my own knowledge and judgement, to request the Chief Constable to initiate an investigation based on the Wales Audit Office findings, into whether or not there has been Misconduct in Public Office. The elected councillors are ultimately responsible for the proper conduct of the Authority.

As an elected councillor I believe the proper course of action is for an investigation into how and why these situations occurred.

I am, therefore, not "bitterly disappointed and frustrated at the misinformation being circulated around the recent Public Interest Report issued by the Wales Audit Office".
I believe the Wales Audit Office have issued this report after a careful examination of the facts and, I am not likely to be disappointed by "misinformation" you have not shared with me.

Any Councillors and Officers endorsing press releases should be named.

Please do not make reference to "Councillors" in generality again without contacting us.

Cllr Sian Caiach


In further developments a number of Carmarthenshire resident have written to the Welsh Minister for Local Government, Lesley Griffiths wondering whether the time has finally come for the Welsh Government to sit up and take notice and put the in 'Special Measures'. 

The Minister has, typically, been non-committal and responded to say that such action has to be on the instruction of the Auditor General. She confirms that she will be monitoring the situation closely and discussing with the Auditor General whether further action needs to be taken in relation to Carmarthenshire Council's entire governance and decision making processes.

Update 7th Feb; Following the Minister's quick response to residents' concerns yesterday, further representations have now been made to her pointing out that the emergency meeting arranged for the 27th February hardly shows any sense of urgency. The possibility that Mr Tim Kerr QC will invited down from London to attending the meeting has also been brought to her attention as this will incur a substantial cost.


Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM has tabled an urgent question to the First Minister for Tuesday's Plenary in the Senedd concerning the situation in Carmarthenshire.


All councillors were sent copies of the council's correspondence with the WAO, which now appears on the council website, along with the legal advice. Linda Rees Jones, Head of Law,  included this message in her accompanying email;

"Members will already be aware that a complaint has apparently been made to the police alleging misconduct in public office by myself in relation to this matter, although I only know what I have read in the press. I have had no formal notification of that fact myself.

I feel the need to remind members of that fact in case it affects the weight which you wish to attach to this email trail. However the contents of this email have been endorsed for release by the Director of Resources/S151 Officer who is copied in to this email."


....and finally, for now, rumours are circulating that the rapid developments seen this in the past few days could accelerate next week. It is also rumoured that Mr Tim Kerr QC will attend the 'emergency meeting' on the 27th February to put the council's case forward over the libel indemnity.
I'm still waiting for my invitation.