Friday, 27 June 2014

The 'seven seconder' rule

One item on the 'wishlist' for the WLGA review panel to consider is the reversal of the excessive number of signatures required for a Notice of Motion, from seven back to two.

The increase from two to seven, in 2011 was designed specifically to prevent minority voices in the Chamber from bringing forward possibly controversial issues for open debate. The decision to cut scrutiny committees from seven to five was another measure which effectively decreased the ability of councillors to hold the executive to account.

If anyone was in any doubt that the 'seven seconder' rule was to silence criticism and prevent open debate, here's an extract from an email from the chief executive, Mark James, dated July 2011 following the presentation of;

"another Notice of Motion from the same source about another matter. It would appear that this will become a means of getting things on the agenda" .

Given that it is the chief executive who has the final say on the agenda anyway, it appears that the intention was to cover all bases.

It just so happens that this particular motion was concerned with allowing members of the public to film in the Council Chamber and was, to quote Lyn Thomas, former Head of Law,  "..criticising the council generally.." 

A further extract from the email thread (1st July 2011) concerning the increase from two to seven signatures, from Mark James to the Business Management Group ie the party leaders (unaffiliated Members are excluded) states;

"The intention is to roll this matter in with a number of other minor amendments to the Constitution and get them to council in September.

Emboldened by their success a couple of months ago, I suspect we will continue to receive multi Notices of Motion for each council meeting until the Constitution is amended. I can only deal with them in accordance with the current Standing Orders and will have to allow them onto the agenda, unless I consider they should not be included for legitimate reasons.

I have refused two for the July meeting so far. I suspect there may be others on their way."

A couple of points, firstly; "minor" amendments? This was hardly minor, neither was the removal of the right to present petitions to the Chair and for them to be sent directly to the chief executive instead.

Second point; "Emboldened"? This says it all, how dare councillors become so 'emboldened' to want public debate, don't they know their place? The previous 'success' had been in April 2011one Motion of No Confidence in the Exec Board Member for Social Care over the closure of the Llanelli care homes for the elderly.

Third point; "Legitimate"? In County Hall, 'legitimate', rather like the word 'unlawful', has a highly subjective meaning.

Despite this deeply undemocratic new 'rule', in 2013 the chief executive's office had to become quite creative when blocking a Plaid Motion, (which had the seven signatures as required) to discuss 'Press Freedom' after the scandal over the South Wales Guardian.
It resulted in this particular farce.

There is no doubt whatsoever that there is a pressing need for change.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Democracy 'wishlist' - Bloggers' letter in the South Wales Guardian

Further to yesterday's WLGA announcement, fellow blogger Cneifiwr and I have put together a 'wishlist' of some suggestions for the 'review panel' to consider. It is in the form of an open letter and has been published in today's South Wales Guardian. See below.

We hope you will be inspired to make your own contributions to this panel and remember, this is not any old 'annual' review; it's supposed to be a special, extraordinary, and very badly needed review of how this council is run. It was finally triggered by the unlawful actions and catastrophic failures documented in the Wales Audit Office Reports;

Let the light in

Dear Editor,

Carmarthenshire County Council  has announced that it will be beginning a review of its governance arrangements in the near future. On the face of it, this sounds like a very dry and technical subject, but it goes to the heart of what sort of local government we want.

Readers of the South Wales Guardian will know that Carmarthenshire County Council has been through a very turbulent year and has often made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. The Council Leader, Kevin Madge, has gone on record as saying that he would like a fresh start, and we think that the review which has just been announced is an opportunity for the council to do just that.

Although the review panel will be talking to councillors and officers, we feel strongly that they should also listen to the views of the public in Carmarthenshire, and we would like to encourage everyone who cares about local government and the services it provides to write in and give their views on what needs to change.

Local government directly affects all of us in our daily lives, often more so than what happens in the Welsh Assembly or Westminster. It is responsible for education, social services, the roads, waste and the environment, planning, public health and much else besides.

Only a minority of voters turns out to vote in council elections, and many councils are effectively run year in, year out by the same old faces. They are often less than welcoming when their actions and decisions are questioned by the press and public. That needs to change.

In Carmarthenshire a recent survey commissioned by the Welsh Government showed that more people than in any other part of Wales felt that they were unable to influence council decisions.

In recent years the constitution which governs the democratic functions of the council has been amended many times, and the cumulative effect of these changes has been to reduce the ability of ordinary councillors to scrutinise the actions of the governing board and senior officers.

Not long ago a request from opposition and backbench councillors to get the council to consult them on charges for sports facilities in the south of the county was rejected by a senior officer as an attempt at “micro-managing” executive decisions.

On another occasion a planning officer rejected a request for a report on traffic and road safety in connection with a planning application saying that it was the council’s policy only to publish what it was legally obliged to publish.

On several occasions in the last year the council executive has refused to allow debate or questions on a number of serious matters.

We believe that the default should be set to “open”, with the council withholding only what it is legal prevented from publishing.

Here are some of the changes we would like to see:

•Encouraging public participation, with time set aside for public questions and answers at monthly meetings and a much simplified procedure for submitting questions.

•Restoring urgent items to the agenda to enable councillors to raise pressing matters with the executive.

•Set aside a part of meetings of the full council with an open session of questions for the Leader and members of the Executive Board.

•Removing unreasonable restrictions on the numbers of signatures councillors need before they can submit a motion.

•Restoring recorded votes in committees so that members of the public can see how councillors voted on controversial matters.

•Extend filming to all committees, and the Planning Committee in particular. If this cannot be done for reasons of cost, the council should allow members of the public to record these public meetings.

•There should be fewer meetings held behind closed doors and independent opinion sought whenever the council applies the so-called “public interest test” before excluding press and public.

•The registers of interests for councillors and senior officers should be published online and updated.

•The Business Management Group which makes important decisions on council business should publish its minutes as a matter of course.

•Details of councillors’ attendance records should be published online.

•Carmarthenshire should follow the example set by Monmouthshire and publish details of council spending online.

•Groups bringing petitions to Council should be heard by the full council, and ordinary backbench councillors should be given an opportunity to speak on the petition.

A former US Supreme Court justice once said “sunshine is the best disinfectant” when it came to ensuring good government, and we believe it is time for Carmarthenshire County Council to pull back the curtains at County Hall and let the light in

Yours sincerely

Richard Vale (Newcastle Emlyn)
Jacqui Thompson (Llanwrda)

See also my post from Saturday; Ten years of damage - the Carmarthenshire 'review

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

WLGA announce Carmarthenshire Governance Review

Given that this is a matter of public interest, the Welsh Local Government Association have announced the governance review, and the panel, as a press release on their website. I have copied it in full below.

There are numerous posts on the subject on this blog, most recently here, Ten years of damage - the Carmarthenshire Review

Press Release;

WLGA Review of Governance, Carmarthenshire County Council

24 June 2014

Carmarthenshire County Council has commissioned the WLGA to undertake an independent peer review of its governance arrangements. The review remit was agreed by the Council’s Group Leaders and was approved, with additional amendments, by full Council on Thursday 12th June 2014.

The Review’s purpose is to help make Carmarthenshire become the most open and the most transparent council in Wales. The terms of reference are:

  • The conduct of council business, in particular:
  • The effectiveness or otherwise of current procedures or protocols such as notices of motion, urgent and exempt terms, scrutiny, declarations of interest and
  • Ensuring that reports fully set out legal, financial and equality implications of proposed policies and schemes/
  • Transparency and accountability to members, including the role of scrutiny and the availability of information for members, including the recording, dissemination and communication of council decisions;
  • The role of Full Council, including consideration of the new Modular Constitution; and
  • Member development and support and the role of Democratic Services function.

The review team comprises:

Byron Davies, Former Chief Executive of Cardiff Council

Rod Alcott, WLGA Associate (former Wales Audit Office)

Cllr Paul Griffiths, Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council (Labour)

Anna Nicholl, Former Ministerial Special Advisor (Plaid Cymru)

With team support provided by Daniel Hurford and Sarah Titcombe of the WLGA.

The team is currently undertaking preparatory research and is finalising the approach of the review, including identifying key interviewees, groups and stakeholders to engage with; the Peer Team will wish to seek the views of all members across the council chamber, as well of those of key partners and stakeholders. Further details will follow in due course.

The review team will be at the Council from the week beginning 30th June and it is anticipated that the team will meet at the Council for two days per week throughout July. At this stage, it is proposed that interim conclusions and recommendations will be reported towards the end of July in order to inform the Council's wider work of reviewing its constitution. Following the interim feedback at the end of July, a final report will be prepared for submission in September.

The review will not consider the specific issues of the WAO's recent Public Interest Reports, however those reports will form part of the evidence base for the team who will inevitably consider any potential areas for improvement as a result of those reports; the aim is very much to look forward and make any recommendations for improvement that will help the council achieve its objective of being the most open and transparent council in Wales.

For more information contact: Daniel Hurford

End of press release.

Link to WLGA here

It sounds all a bit local government-speak to me, and I'm not sure who they mean by 'key partners', 'groups' and that dreaded word 'stakeholders'. Hopefully they mean the public.

As for the reference to the WAO reports, and 'looking forward', if it were not for the findings of unlawful activity regarding the chief executive's pension payments and the libel indemnity, there would be no review.

As for the libel indemnity itself, and also the current suspension of the 'Libel cost amendment' from the Council's Constitution, there are still matters to be resolved. I have written to the acting Head of Law, Linda Rees Jones for further details. I await a reply.

(Update 17.31; I have received an email from the WLGA which states that the panel will be meeting this week and next to consider how it will go about seeking the views of interested 'stakeholders' (the public, I presume?), whether via web forms with key questions or an email address. I am told that further information and contact details will be available shortly)

Monday, 23 June 2014

Another Press Office failure

Kevin Madge and the council seem to have forgotten the telling off they had from the Ombudsman last year for using the council press office for political purposes. Today's offering from our Leader welcomes the news, direct from Welsh Labour's National Executive Committee, that our wonderful council will probably be spared from disappearing off the map in the proposed forthcoming council mergers.

He is delighted of course that the council will be able to carry on it's merry way untouched, and this removal of doubt is particularly welcome, he tells us, as several new, (and no doubt highly expensive) senior officials need to be appointed....

The mergers are based on the recommendations of the Williams Commission, and are far from set in stone. The plan, which Kev calls 'news' will, in fact, form part of the Welsh Labour manifesto for the 2016 Assembly elections...

The publicly funded press office should not be used for political purposes, of any colour. The 'press protocol' is now under review (yes another review), which clearly can't come soon enough.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Ten years of damage - the Carmarthenshire 'review'.

I'm all for independence when it comes to reviews, especially those as serious and important as the governance review taking place in Carmarthenshire Council in the next few weeks.

As you know, it follows the publication of the Wales Audit Office reports and will, we are told, address the democratic deficit and lack of openness within this local authority.

Whether this review, which is scheduled to last for around four short weeks will undo the damage created over the past ten years, remains to be seen.

When the review was discussed at the emergency meeting over the unlawful payments the opposition proposed it should be led by the council's own Audit Committee an idea rejected by Cllr Madge in favour of a panel led by the WLGA. Whether the Audit Committee which, if nothing else, knows where some of the bodies are buried would have been more effective, we'll never know.

On the other hand, one member of the audit committee thought that the unlawful presence of a very senior officer at a meeting in which he was benefitting financially was nothing more than a 'schoolboy error'. Hopefully the 'panel' will see things differently, part of its 'remit' is to review the matter of declarations of interest.

So far we only know the identity of the lead man, Byron Davies, who is of course, a former chief executive...

To try and determine exactly how transparent the review itself will be I asked the WLGA what form it would take. I was told that it would be 'fluid' and the panel would take a 'mixed approach', there would be 'focus groups' and 'workshops'. Hmm.

I was told though that councillors would be able to 'let off steam' in private interviews, but as for any public involvement in the process, the WLGA were still mulling over that one...

The problem within the council, specifically the ruling junta led by a couple of unelected officials, is that there is no recognition whatsoever that there's anything wrong, and there never has been. After every criticism has come denial and smear. The WAO findings were met with instant defensiveness.

The small concessions following the reports, such as the review itself, have been reluctant, ill-humoured and lacking any sort of genuine humility on the part of those responsible. Before you seek treatment, you have to admit you have a problem, and in this case there's a running sore...which will need a lot more than a sticking plaster.

They, (and they know who they are) believe that this 'nonsense' has been caused by a handful of troublesome backbench councillors (and 'that's where they'll stay'), outspoken MPs, interfering busybodies such as the WAO and the Ombudsman, and of course those meddling, pesky bloggers.

For several years power has gradually, and quietly been allowed to pass from those people you voted for to those you haven't. Your voice has been systematically silenced to the staggering extent where robust criticism of council decisions could be (and have been) met with a publicly funded lawsuit.
No one is ever accountable.

The relationship between County Hall and the local independent press is another case in point, how many of you can remember when the Carmarthen Journal was the source of objective criticism and a platform for open debate?

Attempts to financially ruin the South Wales Guardian were only thwarted by the paper itself, by exposing the diabolical actions of County Hall, and the public doesn't like bullies.

However this review is conducted, the message needs to be sent that this should be a turning point and a culture changing exercise. The devil will be, to a great extent, in the detail and specific actions need to be taken to reverse rules introduced to stifle debate.

One example is the way Motions on Notice are dealt with and a simple proposal put forward (and rejected) by the Plaid opposition last year was that debates on matters of public interest should be taken by full council, regardless whether it was an 'executive function'. Any decision whether or not to bat a controversial topic away from open debate should itself be determined by full council, not by the chief executive.

The only reason why the WAO reports were publicly debated was because for once, they wouldn't have got away with it. Public disgust was overwhelming. Even then the ruling junta ensured they were represented in the Chamber by a QC.

Aside from the devilish detail, those currently in charge need to be open to change and constructive suggestions. The past record of the regime is itself clear evidence that in certain quarters, this will definitely not be the case.

I, and others, will be putting forward constructive, practical and reasonable suggestions to the panel for improvement, as I doubt that murmurings of revolution will be acceptable to former chief executives and the like.

The gentleman I spoke to at the WLGA seemed to doubt the level of interest the public had in all this. Let's prove him wrong. I'm sure many of you are concerned with the way this council is currently run; this is not a party political issue, it's an urgent matter of restoring basic democratic rights for both the public and the representatives they've voted for.

I trust the WLGA will be providing contact details for the public to make their views and suggestions known. If not, then I will provide them on this blog and will make very sure those views and suggestions are seen and heard.

It's definitely worth a try.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Public filming of Council meetings....Chapter 83....

Back in 2012 the cross-party Policy and Resources Scrutiny committee recommended to the Exec Board that the public should be allowed to film council meetings. The ruling administration rejected the idea (naturally) and further discussion was deferred until after the webcast pilot.

The issue came up again last month at the May full council meeting where once again it was shuffled off in the vague direction of the executive board. Calls were also made to extend the webcasting to other meetings, including scrutiny, exec board and planning. Again, further discussion by the exec board was promised.

The minutes of this most recent scrutiny meeting, June 6th, show that some of the members at least recognise the significance of this important principle of democracy and transparency, and are not giving up the fight. The minutes state that the matter was discussed in detail. We can't see the detail of course because these meetings are not filmed.

However, some of the pros and cons were recorded in the minutes. The pros being nil cost; no legislative barriers; the Welsh Government were 'urging' councils to consider it (the should be requiring them to allow it, not 'urging consideration'); and it 'demonstrated openness' and would be 'viewed as democratic'.

The usual 'cons' came up which as predictably as ever related to fear of being shown in a bad light, the use of 'selective' clips and also 'a person's motive' for filming, given that full council meetings were now webcast. I doubt very much if anyone would want to film a meeting if it was being webcast, but they should be able to if they wanted to.

As for 'motive', if the member of the public were wielding a loaded shotgun rather than a smartphone then they'd then have good reason to worry about motive.

In the three years, (yes, three years), that the council have been chewing over this, legislation is now nearing completion in Westminster to protect the democratic rights of citizens in England to record meetings.

The committee suggested that this matter could be included in the (also long awaited and much needed) 'Press and Media Protocol' review but were advised that this would have to be considered at the first meeting of the Focus Group.

As for the webcasting, the committee learned that the exec board 'had agreed [when was this? Ed] to extend the filming of council meetings to some meetings of the Planning Committee, but because of the cost implications it was not possible to film every Planning Committee meeting'.

So, as some Members pointed out, the council would itself be "selective" in deciding which planning meetings to film.

In conclusion, the scrutiny committee made the following recommendations;

"the Executive Board provides a formal response to the Welsh Government’s suggestion that all Council’s should allow the public to film council meetings.


the filming of council meetings by members of the public be fully debated by Elected Members."

So...who knows...look out for chapter 84. Eventually.


The council keeps the archived meetings online for six months, after which time they are only available on request. As something of an afterthought, I thought it would be a good idea, for reference purposes, to pop them on to You Tube, unedited of course, before they all went offline (the 2013 archived meetings have already gone apart from last year's AGM).

So far, a few from 2014 have been uploaded to my You Tube channel (see the 'most recent'), including the Extraordinary meeting held on the 27th February.  For the most recent meetings go to the council archive.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Byron Davies to lead Carmarthenshire governance review panel

At last week's full council meeting it was confirmed that the members of the "independent and impartial" governance review panel, set up by the Welsh Local Government Association in the aftermath of the unlawful payments scandal, had been selected.

They weren't named but with the publication of the minutes today we learn that the panel will be led by Mr Byron Davies, former chief executive of Cardiff Council. According to google, Mr Davies took early retirement in 2009 to join the private sector and appears to be well acquainted with the ups and downs of local government life.

I understand that both the WLGA and the council will formally announce the rest of the panel in the next few days. I'll update this post when they do.

They've certainly got their work cut out.

Incidentally, the WLGA are holding their annual conference today where I'm sure there will be plenty of hot air over merging councils, or not merging councils, strategic strategies, the importance of scrutiny and suchlike.

As a 'warm up' to the conference, the Welsh Minister Lesley Griffiths announced yesterday on twitter that she was commissioning an evaluation of the current cabinet system in Welsh councils and whether, presumably, their decisions come under sufficient scrutiny.

It sounds to me like a  roundabout way of saying that the system in Wales is failing - as she is well aware, three councils, including Carmarthenshire, have now been investigated by the Wales Audit Office, and of course the police, for unlawful executive decision making.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

The June Council meeting

Despite the council press office failing to mention or promote it at all for this month, there was a webcast of today's full council meeting which will be archived later.The livestream got off to a shaky start but fortunately we didn't miss the prayers nor the list of fifteen apologies, at least four or five of whom were Thomases, perhaps there was a clan meeting somewhere.

As the new Chair, shooting expert Daff Davies struggled to get to grips with the script we are lucky that the Chief Executive was now back on hand to offer his expert advice on the control of meetings, something former Chair Cllr Sian Thomas (Plaid) commented on a while back.

Anyway, the first item up was the 'governance review'. This, and I'm sure you don't need reminding, was required after the publication of the WAO reports. The council were being asked to approve the range of topics to be included in the review. The range, it turned out, had been discussed between party leaders and the WLGA a couple of weeks ago. The report is here and I have mentioned it here.

Plaid Cllr Dai Jenkins kicked off the debate emphasising the enormous importance of the review in the restoration of public faith in the honesty and integrity of the council. He felt though that the remit failed to recognise that it was the Executive Board rather than full council which was to blame, given that it was their dire behaviour which had led to the current state of affairs.

He was disappointed that the remit was to review the 'effectiveness' of procedures etc, shouldn't that be 'ineffectiveness'? He proposed that the wording be changed to 'effectiveness, or otherwise'.

He was also concerned at the length of time it has taken for this Welsh Local government Association independent panel to be established, pointing out that several senior officials have now retired, or soon will be, and will therefore evade the scrutiny of the review.

Then it was the leader's turn. It was not true, said Kev, that the Exec Board was undemocratic, they'd made a few 'mistakes' but of course he welcomed the review. The denial continued for a while then as usual he resorted to his vast collection of cliches and insisted they needed to 'take this council forward' and 'move on'.

Cllr Caiach was up next and reminded Kev that the Constitution had been regularly tweaked in recent years to remove democratic accountability, including introducing a world record number of seconders required to support a motion and also the 'budget saving' reduction of Scrutiny meetings which left Councillors more 'in the dark' than ever before.

Cllr Caiach also added that had the full council been fully informed of the contents of the legal opinion used to grant the libel indemnity to the chief executive, (or had been fully and properly informed about any of it in fact), she was certain they would not have approved.

She said that given the public reaction, few of the members could possibly have justified the two payments to the chief executive to their constituents and would therefore not have approved it in the first place.

Plaid Cllr Darren Price then proposed that the remit should have a definite aim and that 'Carmarthenshire Council must be THE most open and THE most transparent Council in Wales and should be at the forefront of member and citizen involvement'.
Let's all hope that Cllr Price's aspirations are achieved....there's such a long way to go.

Cllr Pam Palmer then felt the need to defend herself over the unlawful libel indemnity and tried to alter history by claiming that full council were consulted. I don't think even the most imaginative persons present could remember that particular scenario. It was a dream Pam.

An attempt by Cllr Caiach to raise an additional point (inaudible) was hurriedly silenced by loud whispers from the chief executive to the Chair that 'she's already spoken once'. (The 'speaking once' rule is usually only invoked for Cllr Caiach who must always be stopped from saying something truthful and controversial...we can't have that).

Eventually the amendments (Cllr Jenkins' addition of 'or otherwise' and Cllr Price's aim to be the most open council in Wales) were voted on and carried. Which was something. The outcome of this 'urgent' review will appear sometime in the Autumn..

At some point budding Labour candidate for next year's Westminster election Cllr Calum Higgins felt the need to tweet (a completely unknown, and I hear prohibited activity for Carmarthenshire councillors in meetings) that he'd voted in favour of the two Plaid amendments....

Things moved swiftly on to another issue which lacked any sort of scrutiny, the Local Service Board (LSB). Concerns had been raised at a scrutiny meeting that the minutes for this Board, which comprises of senior management from the council, health board, police etc, hadn't been published for four years. Cllr Lenny (Plaid) said it was going 'under the radar'.

He also questioned the point and purpose of the organisation as decisions were being made, such as the relocation of the fire control centre from Carmarthen to Bridgend without even going to the LSB.

Similarly, he'd also heard that the Bobby Van scheme, run by the police was being stopped next month. This service provided free home security advice and practical assistance to older people, to prevent crime and deal with the aftermath of a burglary, by, for instance, changing locks.
It would, I have to add, be a shame to see it end.
Again, apparently neither the LSB, nor anyone else, was consulted.

Calls were made for the Police Commissioner, (who had recently offended County Hall officialdom by withdrawing the police funding of the council rag, the Carmarthenshire News) and the chief constable, to be brought before them to explain themselves.

One Executive Board member, veteran Cllr Jim Jones (Ind) said he'd written to the Police Commissioner about this but the only reply he'd had so far had been from a 'girl'. A 'girl'? how awful, poor man.

Cllr Jim Jones

As for the LSB itself, the chief executive Mr James, who is a member, explained that it didn't bother itself with making such 'low level' decisions, in fact it didn't make decisions at all, it was a 'high level strategic' organisation which only dealt with 'high level' strategy (you get the picture..), such insignificant minutiae as Bobby Vans would never be discussed.

Former Chair, Terry Davies (Lab) was up next concerned that the next set of minutes they were receiving hadn't been signed off by the relevant committee, as it wasn't meeting again until after full council.

This was irrelevant of course, what mattered was the report was there, at full council. The chief executive then took the opportunity to announce that this was why he didn't think minutes of any meetings, including scrutiny, should go to full council, there was 'no need', he said.
He added that when he'd suggested this splendid idea, he'd been 'shot down by the press'.

Mr James' proposal, you may remember, was for full council meetings to become largely 'good news' powerpoint presentations from the council and their various 'partners'. No debate about anything. Personally I prefer a bit of debate, however limited, than a two hour sermon from the Towy Community Church, for example.

The last point was the report on the effects and impact of Welfare Reform on Carmarthenshire residents and there was no disagreement that a close eye needed to be kept on the situation.

Kev mentioned that the poor were becoming squeezed out whilst those at the top were getting richer, a pattern which Kev and his executive colleagues have, on occasion, done their bit to promote....

The meeting drew to a close and the poverty stricken mortals of Carmarthenshire were swiftly forgotten as the Chair invited everyone to his Civic Service shindig on Sunday for 'fine weather, good hymns and good food'.....good god.

Chair of Council

13th June; Archived webcast available here

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Unlawful payments - The police FOI response

Update 18th June; I have now requested an internal review of the refusal to provide documents and the final report, the request can be found here.
Unfortunately, with regards to the curious fact that there was no communication between the council and the police during the three month investigation we can only wonder....or maybe they used carrier pigeons and powers of telepathy, neither of which I though to ask about in my FOI.


As you may remember, the investigation by Gloucestershire police into the pension and libel indemnity scandals in Carmarthenshire Council failed to find evidence of criminality and was concluded last month.

It remains the case that as far as the Wales Audit Office are concerned, the pension payment and the libel indemnity are both unlawful.

Following the conclusion of the police investigation I made a freedom of Information request to Gloucestershire police. The response came today and there is a link at the end of this post.

I asked for;

1. A list of any persons interviewed, and /or job titles, and whether any of these were 
interviewed under caution 
2. Correspondence between Gloucestershire Constabulary and Carmarthenshire County 
3. Whether or not the Crown Prosecution Service were involved and if so, any relevant correspondence. 

The responses were that;

....nobody was interviewed,

....there was no correspondence between the council and the police and

....the CPS weren't involved.

This was, you recall, a three month long criminal investigation....

I also asked for;

4. The final report following the conclusion of the investigation 
5. A list, or summary, of all documents in either paper or electronic form which formed part 
of the investigation.

These were refused under the Section 30 exemption in that the release of this information may jeopardise police tactics in the future...presumably they're expecting a flurry of similar local authority unlawfulness.

A thorough investigation? We'll have to take their word for it. I remain of the view that in both instances there was, amongst other matters, the deliberate prevention of proper scrutiny as documented in the two Wales Audit Office reports.

The full FOI response can be read here.

I am now considering whether to request an internal review of their response.


Update 16th June; As you will know, the police investigation also covered Pembrokeshire Council and their own pensions scandal relating to the chief executive and another unnamed officer.
Pembrokeshire Cllr Mike Stoddart (Old Grumpy) reflects on the issue and the conclusion of the investigation;
No questions asked
(and his garden looks great)

Council treasure troves...and irony in Powys

ITV Wales has been investigating the volume and value of artwork held by Welsh county councils. The full responses can be seen here, although several didn't respond at all. Of those that did, a surprising number didn't know the value of the collections. The known total across Wales amounted to nearly £50m.
The survey also discovered that around three quarters of the total hoard never saw the light of day and was kept in storage.
The figures for Carmarthenshire Council show it owns 2500 items but only around 129 pieces are on display at any time, with the total value remaining unknown. Hopefully the storage site isn't the archive strongrooms, currently suffering from a fungal contamination.
No one is suggesting that the council flogs off all the family silver to ease the budget and naturally the authority has a duty to protect and preserve works of art for future generations but surely there's quite a few relics which just aren't worth preserving?

The Executive Board

In other news the neighbouring council of Powys has fallen foul of the Wales Audit Office who have ordered an improvement...after 'failing to follow best practice when appointing consultants to advise on an improvement agenda'....
Full story in the Western Mail

Friday, 6 June 2014

News in Brief

Carmarthenshire Council's planning committee found its way into the national press (Independent) the other day as they approved a 45m wind turbine on farmland across the water from Dylan Thomas' boathouse.

Officers had recommended refusal as, basically, it would spoil the view, and in addition I hear that a certain Executive Board Member had been deploying her (usually) persuasive charms in plenty of time for the meeting. There were also numerous objections, but it was all to no avail and failed to sway the committee. The decision will come back to the committee after a couple of weeks 'cooling off period' for the reasons for approval to be ratified.

The planning committee's reasoning has yet to be made clear but I'm guessing there must be urgent concern for the health of the planet....what else could it possibly be?

Kevin Madge's Executive Board 'hit the road' again on Monday and trundled off to the Aberduar Chapel Vestry in Llanybydder. This is Kev's idea of democratic public engagement but unfortunately Cllr Madge himself couldn't actually make the 30-odd mile round trip, neither could two other Exec Members.

However, the lack of elected representatives was more than made up by the attendance of no less than fifteen senior officials, including the chief executive, the deputy chief executive and the two assistant chief executives for the 25 minute meeting.
Let's hope the people of Llanybydder felt suitably 'engaged'. If they didn't, then the attendance of the press manager will, in due course, tell them that they were.

I'm sure everyone's aware of the interesting revelations concerning Wales' new UKIP MEP Nathan Gill. The story has now gone viral but all credit must go to blogger Jac o'the North for his original investigations.