Thursday, 4 June 2015

The End

This blog has been going for four years, and as just about any blogger will tell you, it wasn't meant to last this long.

For most of those four years, blogging has been a source of endless fascination, but I have felt for some time that it is time to move on, and earlier this year I set the general election as a target. That and the surprise change of administration on Carmarthenshire County Council seem to be as good a time as any to bring the blog to a close.

Whether the blog made any difference, I don't know, but I have tried to highlight some injustices and the dire state of local democracy in Carmarthenshire.

Earlier this year a large group of people gathered for the unveiling of a plaque in Llangennech recalling the life and work of Eileen Beasley. Eileen took on local government stupidity and obstinacy and eventually won, and it is perhaps no coincidence that this blog has regularly featured several other Carmarthenshire women, each very different, who have paid a high price for their bravery and determination.

Delyth Jenkins and the other whistleblowers deserve our support because any of us could one day end up being victims of the abuse that they have been fighting to expose.

A very different case has been that of Trisha Breckman and her partner. Trisha is a formidable fighter, and she has been subjected to harassment, humiliation and injustice on a frightening scale. Her fight is still going on, but there is hope that at last a corner may be about to be turned. In the final analysis her campaign is about making sure that we live by the rule of law, and that the law has to be applied without fear or favour.

Someone else who is hardly flavour of the month in County Hall is Cllr Siân Caiach, a full fledged member of the Awkward Squad if ever there was. Whether you agree with her or not, she is always worth listening to.

And finally, there is Jacqui Thompson. Jacqui was the victim of a miscarriage of justice, and perhaps one day the truth will come out about how this case was manipulated. The real Jacqui Thompson is about as far from the mythical beast created by County Hall as you can get.

Another frequent theme of this blog has been press freedom. The arrival on the scene of the Carmarthenshire Herald and its sister paper in Llanelli is a very positive development, and although the additional competition may feel painful to existing local titles, it will result in a much livelier local press and perhaps turn the tide of declining readership of local papers.

Welsh blogging has suffered some notable losses in the last few years, but there are plenty of first class writers out there covering all sorts of different subjects. In English the gold standards are Carmarthenshire Planning Problems and More, Old Grumpy, Jacob Williams, Jac o' the North, Oggy Bloggy Ogwr and Borthlas, who always has some eminently sensible observations to make on politics. John Dixon is a real loss to Welsh politics, and I hope he can be persuaded to take the plunge again.

Even more encouraging is the range and standard of blogs in Welsh, with some truly brilliant writing.  BlogMenai, Yr Hogyn o Rachub and Glyn Adda are particular favourites, and Cai Larsen's reporting and analysis of Irish politics is a uniquely valuable contribution.

Bloggers are often regarded as the poor cousins of "real" journalism, but these three, all very different, are often at least as good as any of the highly paid Fleet Street columnists.

But it's not all politics, and other favourites include Lowri Cooke Haf on film, television and the arts, while for anyone interested in gardening there is the beautiful and often lyrical Ar Asgwrn y Graig.

So a new chapter is about to begin, and it's time to tackle another project which has been simmering away on the backburner for too long.

Many thanks to all you readers and contributors, even the hostile ones.

Diolch yn fawr i bob un ohonoch chi.

Monday, 1 June 2015

How to avoid negative PR

At the end of the day after doing all those difficult decisions, and when the ostriches came home to roost, Kevin Madge did for words what Roundup does to vegetation, and so one of the great ironies of his stint as leader of Carmarthenshire County Council was that he was a very accomplished user of the council's spin and PR machine.

Shortly after becoming leader, he spent two whole days closeted with the manager of the press office, and what we got was a marriage made in heaven.

Of course, it did not all start with Kevin Madge because Mark and Meryl had spent years building up the council's spin machine and bullying the local press, but all that work bore fruit in the reign of King Kev, including:
  • Blacklisting the South Wales Guardian for a mildly critical piece about roadworks.
  • An unprecedented series of attacks on the Wales Audit Office of which the North Korean Ministry of Information would have been proud.
  • An anonymous attack on opposition budget proposals in the pages of the Carmarthen Journal.
  • The infamous Sainsbury's press release claiming that Jonathan Edwards MP and Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM had sabotaged a planned supermarket development. That one earned Kev a ticking off by the Ombudsman for Public Services.
  • Claims that it would cost more to produce an annual A4 council information sheet than it does to produce the council's all-colour 40-odd page propaganda sheet six times a year (now scaled back to just 4 editions).
  • Endless press releases and photo opportunities featuring Kev and others wearing hard hats under banner headlines announcing that £x millions of pounds had been invested in this or that.
Meryl Gravell has never missed an opportunity for self-promotion either, and recently popped up at Glangwili Mansion, a luxury 5-star bed and breakfast establishment which she had given £10,000 to build a barbecue hut, so that guests would not have to leave the grounds in the evening and spend money on meals in other local establishments.

The old-fashioned idea that tourism should benefit the wider local economy is obviously, well, old-fashioned.

Glangwili Mansion sets out to cater for a better class of visitor, and so the closest most locals will get to it is the website, featuring Southfork-style photographs of the glamorous owners and a helicopter on the lawn. And all written in breathless, superlative English with not a word about the Welsh language or any suggestion that Wales is anything other than a slightly more hilly version of Hertfordshire.

As for Mark James, no other council chief executive in Wales ever had anything like the cultivated media exposure he has enjoyed - not even Bryn Parry-Jones who was a shy and retiring wallflower by comparison.

The Plaid group on the council has frequently been critical of the way in which the press office operated and the huge waste involved, and the press office has been noticeably quieter of late.

Carmarthenshire nevertheless maintains one of the largest press and PR operations in Wales, and is far better resourced than any of the local papers, and yet its output is tiny by comparison with what a single hack on a local rag is expected to churn out.

For the most part, its daily quota recently has been a handful of stories announcing that someone has been fined for dog fouling, while someone else has been fined for dropping a fag end, with a couple of local interest stories about local businesses thrown in, including one on Caws Teifi Cheese, which the press office helpfully tells us is based in Ceredigion, Wales - as opposed to Ceredigion in Sussex, presumably.

Just about all of these stories will appear as space fillers in local papers, so why we need a council "Newsroom" with its own online presence and a printed "newspaper" is a question which needs to be addressed by the new administration.

Carmarthenshire News is now produced in collaboration with other public sector bodies, such as Hywel Dda Health Board, Coleg Sir Gâr and Trinity St. Davids, all of which are under serious financial pressure. How Coleg Sir Gâr can justify spending money on this publication while having to cut staff and courses is something they might like to explain to students and staff.

But back to PR. Labour-led Kirklees Council in Yorkshire (that's in England, press office readers) recently found itself making headlines in the national press for firing 30 park keepers while maintaining a 40-strong PR department.

That's the sort of PR that PR staff are employed to prevent hitting the headlines.

Here is one council service the public would happily see cut.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Grillo: "Let's get on with it"

Nobody wants to see the former Grillo site in Burry Port left the way it is - an abandoned post-industrial wasteland - but the devil is in the detail as usual, and there are serious concerns about how decontamination will be carried out, flood risk and the impact the large development would have on the already seriously overloaded sewerage system with resulting further pollution of the Loughor and Carmarthen Bay. Network Rail has also expressed serious misgivings about the safety implications for a level crossing, with council officers appearing to dismiss the idea that a lot of new houses and other facilities would generate significant additional traffic.

In other words, enough to give anyone who does not have a vested financial interest in the development pause for thought.

Not so Cllr Pat Jones, the local Labour councillor who represented Carmarthenshire County Council in court when the council brought and lost a judicial review against the Welsh Government's veto on development a few years ago.

Cllr Jones has been a county councillor for a long time and is a substitute member of the planning committee for Labour. Given that one or two permanent Labour members of the committee are rare visitors to council meetings*, there is a pretty good chance that Cllr Jones would have been asked to take part in next week's meeting of the planning committee and make a decision.

Not any more, if her appearance in the South Wales Evening Post is taken into consideration.

(Click on image to enlarge)

As any councillor with even a nodding acquaintance of planning rules should know, even a whiff of a suggestion that planning committee members had made up their minds before determination of an application in committee could end up landing the council with some very large legal bills.

As far as we know, the six inter-linked applications are still currently being considered by civil servants in Cardiff who have to decide whether or not to call the applications in for determination, so even more intriguing than Pat Jones's call "to get this done" is who fed the SWEP with this story in the first place.

Indeed, the article itself is probably enough to trigger a call-in and have the decision taken out of the planning committee's hands; alternatively, it could form the basis for challenge and complaints of maladministration if next week's meeting does steam ahead full throttle.

* It seems that Keri Thomas has finally been taken off the planning committee, although thanks to the council's revamp of its website, membership of several key committees appears to have vanished from public view.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

In the red

The Scarlets have published their accounts for the year to 30 June 2014, reporting a pre-tax loss of £1.75 million, compared with a loss of £700,000 the year before. Turnover was stable at £8 million, although match attendances have been poor and are worsening.

The story has so far been covered by the BBC (here) and Running Rugby (here).

The board blames the deterioration partly on a £200,000 increase in legal and professional costs incurred in the regions' dispute with the WRU last year, however there was a 6% increase in the wages and salaries bill, and the number of employees on the books rose sharply from 162 to 210. The region said that it had invested an additional £500,000 in its "rugby playing budget and backroom coaching group".

Long-term liabilities, loans and overdrafts rose by 28% to more than £12 million. Debts include £2.6 million owed to Carmarthenshire County Council.

Running Rugby reports that former chief executive Mark Davies, who left to become CEO of Regional Rugby Wales (RRW) back in September, said that the financial situation for 2014-15 would be “significantly improved” as a result of the changes made to European competition and the new agreement struck with the WRU, and the Scarlets will be hoping that will be borne out in next year’s accounts.

There is no doubt that 2013-14 was a particularly difficult time for Welsh regional rugby because of the protracted dispute with the WRU, but unfortunately the deterioration in performance stands in stark contrast to results announced by the Blues and the Ospreys which have both reported a reduction in losses. The Blues made a loss of £238,000 (£259,000), while the Ospreys reported a net loss of £123,000, a remarkable turnaround from the record loss of £1.86 million reported for 2011-12.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Yet more planning effluent (updated)


See "Emotional Intelligence" below for an important correction to the Maesybont story. A further post with an interesting new development will follow shortly.


Planning stories seem to be like London buses at the moment. Here are updates on three long-running sagas.


Six interlinked applications to redevelop this heavily contaminated site and surrounding areas with a mix of housing, retail and leisure facilities and a school were put on hold in April after an intervention by the Welsh Government, much to the surprise and annoyance of the council and the developer, a hugely rich Tory peer.

Why they should have been surprised is anyone's guess because the council and the developer had previously fought a government veto on developing the site in the courts and lost, and because a large chunk of the site is outside the county's shiny new Local Development Plan, and would have had to go to Cardiff for final approval anyway.

As far as is known, the Section 18 stop order is still in place, and it seems the council has not applied to have it lifted. Nevertheless, members of the planning committee are due to go down to Burry Port to inspect the site, and the applications have been re-submitted for their approval consideration on 2 June.

The reports accompanying the six applications are vast and repetitive, with numerous references to the Welsh Government's Wales Spatial Plan which envisaged the redevelopment of the coastal area stretching from Port Talbot to Llanelli. This is presumably there to reassure planning committee members that this 2002 (updated in 2008) mood music from Cardiff trumps any detailed planning niggles.

A site visit is curious as is not likely to change the environmental designation of the estuary under TAN 5  - Nature Conservation and Planning (2009) which seeks to ensure that protected species, habitats and designated sites are both protected and conserved by the planning system. Neither will the planning committee be able to overturn the continuing prosecution of the UK in the European Court under the Urban Waste Water Directive, conceded as an infringement by the UK government. Nor will planning committee members be able to turn the clock back and address the council's failure to inform the Government as to deliberation of a site of more than 150 homes outside the LDP, or the use of a report not suitable for 3rd party use, on which the planning committee was to rely to approve a major decontamination of the site.

The scheme is also supported by Burry Port Town Council which will have been disappointed to learn that promises made back in 2008 of generous contributions from the developers to local schemes have now been drastically scaled back, with the halving of a £700,000 contribution to Burry Port and the scrapping of a £200,000 contribution towards the upkeep of the Memorial Park, as you can read in the Llanelli Herald here.

One of the major concerns of opponents of the scheme is the impact that building large numbers of new houses will have on the already creaking sewerage system, likely to lead to more discharges of raw effluent, industrial waste and other nasties into the Loughor estuary and the seas off our coast.

This week's Carmarthenshire Herald contains an excellent two page explanation of this issue, beginning with a warning that Carmarthenshire County Council could be facing fines of up to £1 million per day for failing to tackle the problem.

Cllr Bill Thomas (Lab) is quoted at some length, and he is particularly scornful of the refusal of chief executive, Mark James, to acknowledge that there is anything wrong. According to Cllr Thomas, Mr James apparently believes that clean water kills cockles.

As usual, worth 50p of anyone's money.

One of the abiding mysteries of this scheme is the extent of the council's own interest in the re-development of the core site, which was sold off to Castletown Estates Ltd, and why the council has been so keen to help the developer fight its legal battles against the Welsh Government.

Aldi in Newcastle Emlyn

As previously reported, litigation is now pending in this long-standing development.

It will be recalled that two supermarket schemes were approved for this small town. Unusually, the Castle Cars (now Aldi) scheme attracted many more letters of support than it did objections. Down the road at the nearby Cawdor Cars site, proposals attracted a huge number of objections from the public and only a trickle of letters of support.

But unlike Tory peers living in Ireland and operating through tax havens, the views of locals were swept aside by planning officers and a Labour/Independent majority on the planning committee, with accusations subsequently made (and denied) that Pam Palmer, the Independent leader, had instructed her troops to support the Cawdor plan.

In the event, both applications were approved, although many locals noted how the Castle Cars development was made to jump through many more planning hoops than the rival scheme. One of the most glaring examples of the difference in treatment was monitoring traffic flows. Although the Cawdor site is close to an extremely busy junction, the measurement of traffic flows was carried out at odd times and in such a way that it seemed calculated to underestimate traffic volumes using the surrounding roads.

Subsequently, the council has leaned over backwards to accommodate the owner of the Cawdor site, including the scrapping of a Section 106 commitment.

A report in the Tivyside Advertiser this week notes that a legal challenge against the Castle Cars site has now been mounted by an unnamed third party - almost certainly the owner of the Cawdor site. A spokesperson for Aldi is quoted as saying that "regrettably", the council has decided not to contest the challenge which essentially questions the integrity of the council's own decision making process.

So we have the very odd sight of a council prepared to take the Welsh Government to court, but unwilling to go to court to defend its own decisions. Perhaps things would be different if Aldi came up with a sponsorship deal for the Scarlets.

Emotional intelligence

And finally, it's back to Maesybont where the indefatigable Mrs Trisha Breckman has been in correspondence with the chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council over implementing one of the recommendations of the Public Services Ombudsman to pay £1,000 in compensation for the council's failure to enforce the removal of "privacy boards" erected just feet away from her cottage windows.

Like so many planning nightmares in Carmarthenshire, this story goes back a very long way, and Mrs Breckman's neighbour deposited the trailer body next to her cottage in February 2005 in what can only be interpreted as a deliberately provocative act - there were many other places along the boundary between the two properties where it could have gone without blighting the cottage.

Incredibly, the council decided that the trailer and its siting were in order because Mr Thomas needed it for "agricultural storage", even though a very large shed had just been built on Mr Thomas's land a stone's throw away for the purposes of agricultural storage.

Both that shed and a subsequent large agricultural shed next to it were vetoed by the council's planning committee on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence of agricultural activity at Blaenpant Farm. The first rejection was subsequently overturned on appeal, while the head of planning used delegated powers to overturn the second rejection.

In September 2005 Mr Thomas took further steps to block daylight from Mrs Breckman's windows by erecting what the council termed "privacy boards" between the lorry trailer and the cottage.

Mrs Breckman naturally complained, but the council sat on its hands, saying that enforcement was not in the public interest. After four years the boards became "immune" to enforcement.

The Ombudsman subsequently asked the council to use its influence to persuade Mr Thomas to remove the boards, or failing that the council was to pay Mrs Breckman £1,000 in compensation.



This section replaces the previous version which incorrectly stated that only the privacy boards were removed.

The boards and the trailer were eventually removed, and for a brief period of four months after the council had accepted the Ombudsman's findings, Mrs Breckman could see out of her windows.

This brief respite came to an end when Mr Thomas put in a much larger lorry body next to the cottage, blocking out both light and views across the paddock.

The result is a situation even worse than what went before.

Mrs Breckman points out that her neighbour did not need to remove the privacy boards because they were immune to enforcement, and she suspects, quite plausibly, that there was an arrangement between council officers and Mr Thomas which allowed the council to be seen to be complying with the Ombudsman's recommendations so that the £1,000 payment could be avoided.


As far as Mr James is concerned, the removal of the boards meant that the council did not owe Mrs Breckman a penny, and that was that.

Undeterred, Mrs Breckman wrote back pointing out the extraordinary reluctance by the council to act and protect local residents from a series of flagrant abuses of the planning system.

Mr James duly replied as follows:

Having re-read your e mail, I am not aware that it invites any response.  You have not asked anything further. You have simply stated that you disagree with my previous response.

I have nothing to add to that response. The Council complied with the actions agreed with the Ombudsman. There is therefore no basis on which to pay out monies to you.

I fully appreciate that you disagree and that the neighbour dispute between you and your neighbour Mr Thomas continues.

How much thought went into this can probably be gauged from the poor English, and both this and the previous curt rejection demonstrate an extraordinary lack of what might be termed emotional intelligence, broadly the sort of skills you would normally expect someone in a leadership role to exhibit, such as an ability to empathize and an understanding of the effect you have on those around you.

But the most striking aspect of this rather bad tempered reply is Mr James's insistence on describing the situation in Maesybont as a dispute between neighbours. This was the line he took when trying to dissuade the Assembly's Petitions Committee from getting involved, and he is sticking to it.

It will be interesting to see how this attempt at trivialising and personalising the problems goes down when he explains the council's inaction over the destruction of part of the Cernydd Carmel SAC to Natural Resources Wales and other interested parties. 

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Calum's EdStone

When historians look back at the 2015 general election in years to come, we can be sure that they will recall the infamous "EdStone", a list of vague statements and meaningless "promises" which Ed Miliband hoped to erect in the garden of 10 Downing Street.

The list was headed by Promise No. One: "a strong economic foundation".

The six "commitments" on the EdStone were closely paralleled by the words on pledge cards handed out at the launch of Labour's Welsh campaign in Ammanford. There were five pledges, headed by "a strong economic foundation", with "invest in our Welsh NHS" in third place.

The Welsh NHS is, of course, devolved and run by the Labour administration in Cardiff, so its inclusion on the list was particularly cynical and empty.

As we saw, so vague and meaningless were the pledges that quite a few of Labour's top brass who turned up in Ammanford struggled to remember any of them.

In the run-up to this non-event, Labour's candidate for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Calum Higgins, launched a petition calling for an expansion of services at Amman Valley Hospital. The petition was launched on 17 March and it closes tomorrow on 29 May.

The importance of this issue to Calum and the Labour Party, and the extent to which they campaigned on it can be seen from the results here.

In 73 days they managed to collect just one signature, and that came from a young woman living in Gloucester.

But that did not matter because this exercise was all about PR rather than actually achieving a result, and the South Wales Guardian duly rewarded Calum with a headline on 18 March.

The election is over, the dogs have barked and the caravan has moved on, leaving a bit of crumpled virtual paper on the verge. Amman Valley Hospital is nowhere nearer to getting additional resources, and this one-day campaign is just another footnote in electoral history.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

More strange tales from the planning department

Carmarthenshire County Council has been advertising for a new head of planning as Eifion Bowen, the current incumbent, prepares to step down and head off into retirement. Although the job is being advertised, the smart money is on the appointment going to an internal applicant, Julian Edwards.

Eifion Bowen is a personable and approachable man, and he must be feverishly counting down the days left in the hot seat. Of all the top jobs in County Hall, the role of head of planning is probably the toughest. The planning system itself is a Kafka-esque nightmare, and is subject to frequent legislative and policy changes, while the seas around those shifting sands are filled with large numbers of predatory sharks assisted by consultants and lawyers who are far better resourced than local authority planning departments. Then there are the lesser fry who include a fair number of cranks and obsessives.

If that was not difficult enough, the head of planning has also had to accommodate interference from above, as the "dream team" seeks to impose its own particular vision and pet projects on the county, often in collaboration with greedy big money interests and the funny handshake lobby.

No wonder that Eifion Bowen has had such a rough ride in the job, and no wonder that there have been so many questionable and strange cases.

Red sky at night

One long-running saga was back in the news again last week when the local press reported that a proposed Aldi store in Newcastle Emlyn was subject to a legal challenge by an unnamed third party.

The development was approved some years ago, and the new store was meant to have opened its doors this year, but the scheme has been dogged by opposition from a rival developer just up the road who would dearly like to build a much larger supermarket on his own land, for which there is also extant planning permission.

Incredibly, planning officers concluded that this small market town could support three supermarkets, the third being an existing CK's "superstore". Neither of the two additional stores has so far materialised, and as the supermarket chains themselves retrench, the prospect of a large new store on the Cawdor site looks ever more unlikely.

The Aldi development is now heading off for judicial review, despite the council's planning department having shown itself to be very accommodating towards the aggrieved developer on numerous other occasions, including the granting of retrospective planning for a large car showroom and enormous neon signs which bathe part of the town in a red glow at night. More recently it supported a bid by the developer to extricate himself from a Section 106 agreement to improve pedestrian access to the site - something which was presented as a key requirement of the original planning application.

Planning is a funny old business.

Rocky road

Meanwhile in Maesybont, Natural Resources Wales has begun looking into the destruction of part of the Cernydd Carmel SSSI and SAC conservation area. Despite its clear designation under both UK and European law, the council has so far acknowledged only that it has "potential" conservation value.

Mrs Trisha Breckman has provided NRW with extensive video and photographic evidence of the work carried out by her wholesale scrap and waste dealer neighbour, only to be asked why she had not raised her concerns with the agency when the work first started.

Somewhat taken aback by this, Mrs Breckman replied that she had informed Carmarthenshire County Council at the time, as the local planning authority, on the assumption that it would inform NRW as the statutory body with responsibility for the protection of designated SSSIs and SACs.

When presented with the same photographs and video evidence of the quarrying work, the council told Mrs Breckman that it was seeking legal advice internally to determine whether this material could be used as evidence. A "no" from the legal eagles in County Hall would, of course, enable the council to claim that it has seen no evidence, an excuse which could be very useful in due course.

There have been two major quarrying episodes on the land - the first last autumn and a second round earlier this year. In addition, the site owner has created a road, part of which has a tarmac surface, across the site. This was carried out without planning permission, although a retrospective application has now gone in. Furthermore, the owner has begun depositing scrap on part of the site again - a previous episode ended in a public inquiry - with the council once again considering what to do about it.

It would seem to be the case that the council did not trouble NRW with the bad news about what was taking place at Cernydd Carmel, and instead issued Enforcement Notices requiring the site owner to put back some topsoil and reseed the area with grass.

Interestingly, the council could have issued Stop Notices compelling the owner, Mr Thomas, to cease quarrying of the land forthwith, but instead opted for the softer option of Enforcement Notices which enabled Mr Thomas to go on quarrying for several more weeks on both occasions. The first Enforcement Notice was preceded by an "advisory letter" asking him to stop work, and that was duly ignored.

The planning authority bent so far backwards in its dealings with Mr Thomas that it was practically horizontal. When Mr Thomas resumed quarrying in February of this year and the council issued a second Enforcement Notice, Mrs Breckman asked why it had not resorted to issuing a Stop Notice after its experiences the previous autumn. A planning officer wrote to Mrs Breckman to explain:

Stop Notices were considered but it was not considered appropriate in either case as the unauthorised activity ceased and Mr Thomas has sought to comply with the requirements set out in the Enforcement Notices.

As a Natural Resources Wales officer repeatedly told Mrs Breckman, it was "a pity" nobody had told them about all of this sooner.

Perhaps the council's letter was lost in the post.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Snog, marry, avoid

Normally the Annual General Meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council is best avoided unless you are the sort of person who has an obsessive interest in fashion trends among women aged 60+, bouquets and endless rounds of applause. Is that pink number Debenhams, Marks and Sparks or, my goodness, Ededa J?

What will Meryl be wearing this year? Aubergine chiffon with orange chinchilla?

On that point at least we were disappointed this year as Meryl had to attend a board meeting of Swansea Bay City Region because the chair of the board had flown over specially from his home in Canada to be there. Yes, Swansea is such a great place that Sir Terry Matthews would prefer to live several thousand miles away from it.

The 2015 AGM was, uniquely, actually quite interesting, and for that we have the Labour Party to thank.

First up was the "election" of a new chair. Unlike Pembrokeshire County Council where there was a real election this year with a surprise outcome, Carmarthenshire chooses its Chair using the principle of Buggins' Turn. This year it was Plaid's turn; next year it will be Labour, and the year after that it will be an Independent, assuming that Pam Palmer can find one with a pulse.

The result of this system is a bit like hereditary monarchy. If you are very lucky you might get one with an IQ which runs into three figures, but you are more likely to get a non-entity, a buffoon or a simpleton.

This year saw both ends of the spectrum as Elmer Fudd (Daff Davies) handed over the reins to Peter Hughes Griffiths.

PHG was born to be chair, in the same way that Lionel Sachs was born to chair The Good Old Days, whereas Daff, a retired farmer, probably had sheep with a better grasp of procedure.

The consensus of those paying tribute to Elmer was that he was "a character". This is a euphemism used to describe people you would not want to spend more than about five minutes with.

Referring to Daff's farming days, Mark James showed that his understanding of agriculture was on a par with his in-depth knowledge of the cockle industry. When he set out on his career in local government, one of his first jobs had involved meeting a lot of farmers. They were jolly types who liked their food, the chief executive declared. All that was missing from this description were the rosy cheeks, the smock, and slap and tickle with a buxom milk maid.

If Welsh farmers were all like Daff, agriculture in this country would be doomed.

The main piece of business, however, was the annual report of the previous Leader of Council, Kevin Madge. This ran on for a staggering 32 minutes, with Kev reminding us that he was first elected as a councillor 36 years ago in 1979, at the same time as Margaret Thatcher moved into 10 Downing Street.

He had two things in common with Mrs T, Kev told us, one of which was the date of his election. The other thing they shared would have to wait until he was off-camera at the municipal buffet.

Unless Kev likes dressing up in blue frocks and wielding a handbag when he goes to the Ammanford Miners Welfare Club, Cneifiwr's money is on the shared experience of being stabbed in the back by an ungrateful party which had finally realised that allowing its leader to go "on and on" would mean electoral suicide.

Kev duly went on and on as he listed all his achievements, including roundabout improvement schemes (in Llanelli) and his grand council house building programme. Only a carping blogger would point out that no new council houses were completed in the year covered by the report, and that prior to that he notched up just 11 two bedroom old people's bungalows (in Llanelli and massively over-budget).

Yes, Llanelli had had money poured all over it, and this was the way the ungrateful bastards had repaid him.

Rather unkindly, none of Kev's fellow Labour councillors had chosen to sit next to him, but viewers of the webcast can enjoy the sight of three or four of them sat behind him, desperately trying to look interested. Derek Cundy wore earphones throughout, although almost all of Kev's parting speech was in English. Perhaps Derek was tuned into Classic FM.

If a rambling monologue could be said to reach a crescendo, we finally reached one at about 30 minutes as Kev thanked just about everybody (except most of his Labour colleagues) and sat down choking back the tears.

Somewhat later in the meeting, councillors turned their thoughts briefly to job specifications for senior officers.

What would a job specification for a political representative look like, Cneifiwr mused. And what were the minimum requirements?

As regular views of Carmarthenshire County Council webcasts can see for themselves, there clearly are no minimum requirements or essential skillsets.

If pushed, most people would probably say that strong communication skills were a must for anyone going into politics, but most of the backbench Labour and Independent councillors rarely if ever speak in council meetings. As they climb the greasy municipal pole, not saying anything becomes a bit more tricky, but as Cllr Jim Dog Muck Jones has shown us, you can land a job on the Executive Board and a nice salary and still manage to get by without opening your mouth.

On the one occasion Jim was pushed into a corner by Cllr Siân Caiach and asked searching questions about pollution of the Burry Inlet, Jim showed his mastery of his brief by telling her to ask Dŵr Cymru instead.

Kev's misfortune was to land the one job in the council where effective communication skills really are important. Kevin Madge was, in short, living proof of the infallibility of the Peter Principle, where people rise to the level of their own incompetence.

A decent man and a good ward councillor do not necessarily make for a good council leader.

This being the AGM, nobody was about to be so churlish as to point out that Kevin Madge had been a disaster as council leader.

The only sour note was introduced by Cllr Giles Morgan (Ind) who stole Cneifiwr's copyright by describing himself as "the youth wing of the Independent Party".

Wearing his trademark white linen jacket, Giles Morgan ("Martin Bell minus the ethics" it was once memorably said) recalled that Kevin Madge had said that his career at the top had begun with a kiss from Meryl Gravell. Giles noted unkindly that there was unlikely to be a queue of people forming to kiss Cllr Jeff Edmunds, Labour's lugubrious new leader, either now or in the future.

Kevin Madge had been treated "shabbily", he opined.

It is not often that Cneifiwr finds himself coming to the defence of the Labour Party, but Giles should perhaps spend more time reading the history books. Louis XVI was guillotined; the Romanovs were shot, hacked to pieces and thrown down a mine shaft; Mussolini was shot and strung up feet first from a lamp post, and Edward II apparently had a red hot poker inserted into a place where the sun does not shine.

Compared with those political departures, being voted out in a democratic ballot looks very much like a soft option.

As usual, Giles had missed the point. It would have been kinder if Labour had not elected Kevin Madge leader in the first place, but having made their mistake and lived with the consequences for three years, they were right to retire him.

But, as Peter Hughes Griffiths said, let's end this review of the AGM on a lighter note and take up Giles Morgan's game of municipal snog, marry, avoid.

Actually, PHG did not propose a round of snog, marry, avoid, but wouldn't it have been fun if he had, readers?

Here is Cneifiwr's contribution:

Snog: Cllr Linda Evans - phoo-arr!!!
Marry: Cllr Siân Thomas - unfortunately already snapped up by a debonair Sean Connery lookalike.
Avoid: We are spoiled for choice, and it would be ungentlemanly to name names, Tegwen.

But what about you, dear reader?

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Hoe fach - short break

This blog will be taking a short break, but will return next week with an update on new developments in the Trisha Breckman case, a look at the new administration in County Hall and tourism.

Friday, 15 May 2015

A wake-up call

This week's Carmarthenshire Herald carries a two page exposé of one of the most shocking cases to involve social services in the county in recent years. It has been covered in some detail on this blog and by Caebrwyn before, but the Herald has managed to explain this highly complex and long-running case clearly and succinctly, and it has taken the time to go beyond the dry official reports and speak to some of those involved.

The result is that for the first time the human cost of the case is clear for all to see.

In summary, a couple living in Carmarthenshire had their severely disabled daughter taken away from them without warning after accusations were made by an agency care worker that she was being sold into prostitution.

This extremely malicious accusation triggered a course of events which turned the family's life into a nightmare, and years later the council is still dragging its feet on implementing a settlement which was agreed out of court.

From reading the reports, it is clear that the parents accepted and understood that the council had to act and respond to the accusations, but what followed was a catalogue of blunders and inexplicable delays in returning the young woman to her home even after the police had concluded that the accusations were without foundation.

Why social services managers acted in the way they did and why they prolonged the agony has never been satisfactorily explained. Neither is it known whether anyone faced disciplinary proceedings or any form of sanction for the harm inflicted.

It is also not clear whether the care workers who triggered this horror story are still employed in that capacity.

There are clearly important lessons to be learned from this, and an investigation is needed. It will come as no surprise to learn that the usual suspects have so far managed to block scrutiny and discussion of the case by councillors.

Some senior councillors, particularly Cllr Jane Tremlett who holds the social services portfolio on the Executive Board, should have been aware of what happened and also that the council has so far taken four years to implement the settlement.

Why has she not intervened? If she was not aware, why not?

Let us hope that the new administration acts swiftly in this case and sends a clear signal that cover-ups, denials and complete indifference to the suffering of real people are no longer acceptable.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Changing the guard

A week ago people were trooping off to the polls in an election the outcome of which nobody predicted. Although it looked likely that Kevin Madge would be given the order of the boot in Carmarthenshire after the election, nobody would have put money on Plaid Cymru taking over leadership of the council in coalition with the Independents within the same week.

Both Labour and the Independents have been in power for far too long in County Hall, and the choice before Plaid was far from ideal. But politics in a democratic society is all about compromise, and Emlyn Dole has shown that he is not an exponent of tribal politics.

As Anon commenting on the previous post pointed out, Emlyn is his own man, and the Plaid group on the council has always guarded its independence. The idea that he had to seek permission from Leanne Wood or anybody else can safely be ruled out.

How much freedom of manoeuvre Plaid will have now that it is leading the council is another matter.

With the fate of the Liberal Democrats fresh in everybody's minds, Emlyn and his colleagues would do well to remember that being perceived, fairly or otherwise, to have compromised your principles too far can produce very harsh results at the ballot box.

A coalition with Labour would have been better for two reasons, but it is interesting to note Cllr Lenny's comment on the previous post. Labour broght nothing to the negotiation, it seems.

First, apart from Meryl Gravell and to a lesser extent Pam Palmer, the Independent benches are a talent-free zone, and Meryl and Pam are the sort of talent Carmarthenshire could do without. The Labour group does have some capable players who could have helped raise the level of the game, but that was not to be.

Second, there was much more likelihood that Plaid in coalition with Labour would have been in a position to deal with the problem of an over mighty chief executive.

The Independents have retained their five seats on the Executive Board, even though four would have been a better reflection of their actual numbers in the council. They clearly demanded and received a high price for their support, and keeping Mark James may well be part of the package. Time will tell.

In the longer term the best thing for local government in Carmarthenshire would be a heavy defeat at the polls for the Independents. Whether that would be more likely to happen with the Independents out of power is anybody's guess, but Carmarthenshire's Independents are in reality not much more than a vehicle for ensuring that Meryl Gravell and Pam Palmer keep their hands on the levers of power. Without seats on the Executive Board and the patronage which goes with it, Pam and Meryl would have lost their raison d'être.

For Labour this is an opportunity to recharge the batteries and decide what sort of party they want to be. Let's hope for their sake that Plaid insists on rolling back the undemocratic and authoritarian changes to the constitution implemented by Labour in coalition with the Independents which make it so hard for any opposition to make its voice heard and hold the Executive to account.

We will find out in due course what the new coalition will look like and what its priorities are, but it will have to deal with huge spending cuts, and the likelihood that there is much worse to come.

That's the bad stuff, but what sort of things might we see from a Plaid-led council?

In no particular order, here is a shopping list.

  • Securing the earliest possible departure of Mark James without a massive pay-off.
  • Start actually building social housing rather than just talking about it.
  • Go for a big increase in the numbers of affordable homes being built and insist that developers stick to the quotas they sign up to as well as the terms of Section 106 agreements. If that means fewer housing developments for which there is no local need, so much the better.
  • Tackle the festering sore of planning. Fresh blood is needed, and action is needed to root out one or two rotten apples who are much too close to some of the developers.
  • Crucially, the council needs to restore the independence and integrity of the planning department and stop treating it like an arm of the executive to push through pet projects. 
  • The press office needs to be cut down to size, and the awful Carmarthenshire News scrapped, along with the 'Newsroom' which is not only p*** poor, but also a shocking waste of money.
  • Later this month, the council will finally publish the results of its review of the WLGA governance peer review. All the indications are that the result will be a very watered down version of the WLGA recommendations. This must not be the final word on making the council more open and accountable, and much more work needs to be done to encourage public questions and participation.
  • The council is notoriously averse to criticism and defensive. This has led to several serious failures to protect whistleblowers doing their civic duty to bring abuses to light. One way of doing this might be to create a whstleblowers' champion who reports not to the chief executive or other senior officers but to an independent lay member.
  • Just as with the WLGA recommendations, the council has been dragging its feet and watering down the recommendations made last year on the Welsh language. The council has a hugely important part to play here, and the policy must be pursued with new vigour. Start by making Cefin Campbell chair of the cross-party advisory panel and get to work on making Welsh the working language of successively more parts of the administration to create career opportunities for young Welsh speakers.
  • Insist that all new appointments have to be bilingual. The argument that you can only recruit the best if you import monoglot English speakers is nonsense - just look at what that policy has brought us.
  • There is growing evidence that the council's Modernising Education Programme has concentrated on bricks and mortar at the expense of what goes on in schools. Carmarthenshire has for some time performed significantly less well than most neighbouring authorities. This decline must be reversed.
  • And finally, the council has a key role to play in protecting employment rights. There is growing pressure on all councils to outsource social care, and all too often the result is substandard care and exploitation of low paid care workers. The council needs to establish effective monitoring to ensure that all of its "partners", in social care and other fields, sign up to and adhere to the council's own policies on pay, equality and the language.
That's quite a list, and some of these will take much longer than two years to implement.

Emlyn Dole is a highly intelligent and thoughtful man, and will certainly be a refreshing change from what has gone before. He made it clear in his interview with the BBC yesterday that he wants to make a difference, and he deserves to be given a chance.

Chwarae teg a phob lwc iddo fe. Fair play and good luck to him.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Mating season

It's all kicking off in County Hall. As predicted, Labour's choice of Jeff Edmunds does not appear to have gone down well with the Independents. There is no love lost between the WI cabal on one side of the fence, and the Weird Sisters of Llanelli Labour on the other. According to the latest reports, the Plaid group is now meeting to consider offers of a coalition from both Labour and the Independents.

For Plaid this is like being asked to choose between a caravan holiday at Chernobyl and a camping trip to Fukushima.

Choices, choices, but let's hope Emlyn Dole can resist a flash of leg from Pam and Meryl.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Is anybody there?

A brief postscript to the previous post about the coup d'état in County Hall.

Jeff Edmunds was first elected to the County Council for Bigyn ward (Llanelli) in 2012 and is therefore unusual in being able to measure his career at the top in County Hall in years rather than decades.

Since becoming a councillor, Jeff has been a member of the Executive Board with responsibility for resources (that's money to you and me), and his style could not have been more different to that of Kevin Madge. Where Kevin waffled incoherently, Jeff Edmunds is known for giving clear, crisp and generally straight answers to questions.

His most striking contribution to date was when he spilled the beans on the terms of the controversial Marstons land deal, when it is alleged that Mark James intervened in the negotiation to award the Scarlets the bulk of the proceeds against the wishes of other senior officers.

It is understood that Jeff Edmunds released details of the extraordinary arrangement against the wishes of the chief executive who very much wanted to keep them under wraps.

His apparent willingness to stand up to Mr James may be part of the explanation for his victory yesterday, but to survive as leader of the council he will have to depend on the support of Mr James's political wing (Meryl, Pam & Co), so holding the coalition together while putting clear red water between Labour and Mr James will be difficult to put it mildly.

Jeff is sometimes known as the "Prince of Darkness". Whether this reflects his somewhat lugubrious style, mastery of the dark Machiavellian political arts or his enthusiasm for spiritualism is not known, but to anyone wishing to contact the dear departed in Llanelli, Jeff is a well-known operator of the ouija board.

Image result for aleister crowley

His victory will not go down well with all of his allies in the coalition, including the WI faction on the Independent benches and key players in the Ammanford Labour group. He may find it easier to communicate with the deceased than some of his colleagues and "friends".

Monday, 11 May 2015

Kevin Madge loses leadership of Carmarthenshire Labour Group

As predicted, Kevin Madge has been booted out after three years as Labour leader on the County Council in what was described as a very emotional meeting, and replaced by Cllr Jeff Edmunds.

The full council will be asked to elect a new leader when it meets on 20 May, and it is not clear whether Cllr Edmunds will face a challenge from Labour's coalition partners, the Independents.

Rumour has it that Meryl Gravell, in reality the de facto leader of the Independents, is far from happy at the prospect of working with Cllr Edmunds who enjoys the support of Tegwen Devichand and the Llanelli Labour faction.

On a personal note, this blog has long been critical of Kevin Madge's leadership of the council, but those who know him, friend and foe alike, agree that he is a fundamentally decent man, and the loss of office will come as a bitter blow to him.

Whether it was his handling of the various crises and scandals which have rocked the council in the last couple of years that caused his downfall, only Labour insiders will know, but in a report on Newyddion 9 this evening, the BBC noted that with just two years to go before the next council elections, the prospect of going down with Captain Madge at the helm may have had something to do with it.

It's worth noting that Labour in Carmarthenshire is not alone in the bloodletting. With Mandelson, the Milibands and dozens of others slogging it out in Westminster, Labour in Cardiff has booted out its leader, Phil Bale, just a couple of months after backing him in a vote of confidence.

Whatever the truth, we could be in for an interesting couple of weeks on Jail Hill.

Saturday, 9 May 2015


The departure of Chirstina Harrhy after just three months in post as Director of Environment at Carmarthenshire County Council has been picked up by the Carmarthenshire Herald, and it is significant for two reasons.

Neither the council nor Ms Harrhy has commented on the reasons for her resignation, but it is understood that she realised too late that she was expected merely to act as a figurehead, with all the decisions being taken by the old boys club which actually runs things.

Anyone considering applying for the well-paid post when it is readvertised would do well to bear that in mind, but if you are willing to accept a big salary in return for asking "how high?" when told to jump, this could be the job for you.

The second point to note is the course of events which led up to Ms Harrhy's appointment. Back at the end of 2013 the council went through the lengthy and expensive process of trying to find a successor to Richard Workman, who was Director of Technical Services (now rebranded Director of Environment).

The cross-party appointments committee met to consider two candidates and was a whisker away from appointing one of them when, it is alleged, the chief executive decided that the councillors were about to make the wrong choice, and Cllr Meryl Gravell obliged by derailing the process.

The result was that the meeting failed to appoint anybody and Richard Workman was asked to postpone his departure, with the appointment of a successor put back for another year.

Peter Hughes Griffiths, who was then leading the Plaid group, was furious and made his feelings known in a meeting of the full council. In all his years as a councillor, this was one of the most disgraceful scenes he had ever witnessed, he said, and he pointed out the enormous waste of money involved.

In response, Mr James smiled sweetly and blamed the fiasco on political disagreements between the councillors.

A year and a half further on, and the council is gearing up for a third attempt to find someone who ticks the right boxes, with costs continuing to mount.

Perhaps Mr James should take advice from the College of Cardinals which regularly manages to select God's Representative on Earth with much less fuss and in much less time than it takes our council to appoint a senior director.


Mystery also surrounds the post of Head of Administration and Law where Mrs Linda Rees Jones clocked up what must have been a Wales all-comers record as "acting" head since the retirement of Lyn Thomas in 2011. By installing Mrs Rees Jones as acting head, Mr James avoided the messy business of having to get the appointment approved by councillors, and so matters remained until recently when Linda Legal suddenly began signing herself off as Head of Administration and Law, no longer just acting.

It will be recalled that the eminent lawyer and co-opted member of the council's Audit Committee, Sir David Lewis, described the quality of legal advice put out by Mrs Rees Jones's department as "cavalier at best and incompetent at worst".

Strangely this transformation appears to have happened without the involvement of an appointments committee.

Perhaps there is a legal loophole somewhere, or perhaps Mrs Rees Jones was canonised by the Almighty himself without the involvement of mere mortal councillors.

Friday, 8 May 2015


As the dust settles on the election, here are one or two snippets which may be of interest.


Elections can be rough justice, and commiserations go to Vaughan Williams who worked incredibly hard. He ran a positive campaign while Labour fought dirty. At one hustings a gaggle of trolls shouted down anyone who was not Nia Griffith, and there were some extremely nasty attempts at smearing opponents - tactics which are routine for Labour in Llanelli.

Anyone who stayed up for the count last night would have seen Mark James reading out the result in very halting Welsh (he's only had 14 years to learn), a task for which he is very handsomely paid as Returning Officer.

Shortly afterwards a line formed of people hoping to speak to Nia, including a reporter from the Llanelli/Carmarthenshire Herald. Before the poor dab could say anything, the Returning Officer allegedly intervened to advise the victorious Labour MP that she should not speak to him because "he's from the Herald".

Let's be generous and assume that this was just an example of Mr James's famous sense of humour, although it's a safe bet that the Heralds are not part of his favourite bedtime reading.

Indeed, reports are reaching Cneifiwr that the council is resorting to the time honoured tradition of blacklisting newspapers which upset it, with orders going out to "partner" organisations to withdraw advertising from the new titles.


How long ago it now seems since Labour launched its national campaign in Wales in Ammanford. The party had high hopes back then of taking the seat from Plaid, and Ammanford received wave after wave of visits from Labour's top brass, including Ed Balls (remember him?), several of them beating a path to a very excited South Wales Guardian. 

A week before polling day, Labour realised the game was up, and Ed Miliband told a senior press source in an off the record briefing that campaign resources were being switched to Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire where it was felt that prospects were better. Labour failed there as well.

Jonathan Edwards has become the first Plaid Cymru MP in the history of Carmarthenshire to hold the constituency in an election when the Tories have been in power, and he also increased his majority from 3,481 to 5,599. Labour's share of the vote fell by 2.3%.

Calum Higgins deserves praise for running a generally positive campaign and for putting more work into it than any of his recent predecessors, and yet Labour concentrated almost all its efforts on the urbanised parts of the Amman and Gwendraeth valleys, as Lisa Childs notes here in a very well written piece about the election in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr.

Calum's two biggest problems were being shackled to a dull and uninspiring national Labour campaign fronted by Owen Smith, that dull and inspiring man in a grey suit, and the track record of the Labour-run County Council of which he is currently a member. The main messages boiled down to  "vote for us to stop the other lot getting in", and saying NHS a lot.

Ahead of polling day, Owen Smith boasted to the press that he had "never seen a campaign fought with such passion".

That is surely the first time the words "Owen Smith" and "passion" have every appeared in the same sentence.

It was not only that Labour offered no hope and no vision, but even its core message did not ring true with the voters it was hoping to win over.

The problem with saying that the NHS is the best health service in the world and rejecting all criticism of it, as Smith did, is that very large numbers of people in Wales know that it is not always as good as 'Welsh' Labour likes to claim. It can be excellent, it can be quite good, it can be mediocre and it can be truly appalling, with operations being repeatedly cancelled, growing waiting lists, sometimes very poor care, too many serious clinical errors and food you would not serve your pet cat.

The truth is that what you experience from the NHS in Wales is becoming more and more of a lottery.

One person, one vote

As the long-winded battle gets underway to anoint a successor to Ed Miliband, it seems that a rather speedier change of personnel may be about to take place in Carmarthenshire, where Kevin Madge is said to be facing a challenge from Anthony Jones and Jeff Edmunds.

Miliband's successor will be chosen by a combination of Labour's parliamentarians, rank and file members and union bigwigs.

If things were not already bad enough for Labour in Carmarthenshire, someone should gently break it to rank and file members in the county that their next leader will in reality be chosen by Meryl Gravell, the de facto leader of their Independent coalition partners.

It is understood that Meryl will not entertain Llanelli Labour's choice at any price.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Why I voted Plaid today

When this blog began almost five years ago, I was not a member of any political party, but observing meetings of Carmarthenshire County Council and a conversation with Adam Price, who was then MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, convinced me that Plaid Cymru most closely represented what I believe in.

What also stood out were Plaid's closeness to the grassroots and the party's extraordinary ability to attract talent. Unlike Labour or the Tories, there are no safe seats, there is no patronage and there are no passports to a risk-free career in politics, and yet Plaid in Carmarthenshire has produced Adam Price, Jonathan Edwards and Rhodri Glyn Thomas - three first-rate politicians who would have risen to the top in any political party in any country.

Adam Price is one of the most outstanding politicians of his generation, something which has been widely recognised across the political spectrum, and when he decided to step down as MP, he was a very tough act to follow.

Jonathan Edwards is very different to Adam, but he quickly put his own stamp on his new role after being elected. His brief in Parliament includes Treasury matters, business, innovation and skills, transport and local government, and his grasp of complex issues is really impressive. His work on the Housing Revenue Account, HS2 and the Barnett Formula has benefited the whole of Wales, and not just Carmarthenshire.

It has been my pleasure to spend quite a lot of time with Jonathan over the last year or so, and Jonathan in private is no different to the Jonathan you see in public. He is every bit as passionate, and sincere.

In Llanelli and in Ceredigion Vaughan Williams and Mike Parker have worked as hard as any candidates anywhere, and both would make excellent MPs. Let's hope they are given a chance to serve.

Wherever you live in Wales, put a cross against the Plaid candidate and give Wales a voice in Westminster.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015


The general election campaign has certainly been long, and much of what we have been subjected to by Labour and the Tories has been fake, stage-managed and carefully controlled PR events, but there have been occasional rays of sunlight as well.

Here are Cneifiwr's top three highlights:

1. Comedy

S4C's "Y Ras i 10 Downing Street" with Rod Richards plodding round the Labour campaign trail in Carmarthenshire. Five minutes of pure comedy featuring the dire Owen Smith, the lacklustre Carwyn Jones and a very nervous looking Calum Higgins.

2. Interviews

Nick Robinson has in the past attracted a lot of flak for supposedly being too close to the Tories, but in a relatively brief interview last week he skewered David Cameron quietly and devastatingly. Cameron, it is clear, is pinning his hopes on a future renegotiation of EU treaties with very little prospect of success. He is then committed to submitting the unknown results of those negotiations to a referendum with an entirely unpredictable outcome.

He is prepared to bet the farm on a leap in the dark which could have catastrophic consequences for Wales and the rest of Britain, and as Robinson established, Cameron has no Plan B.

3. Quote of the campaign

Leanne Wood in the final Welsh leaders debate who in one short line summed up what this election is all about for Wales: "Time is up on taking people for granted, Owen Smith".

Image result for leanne wood

But how was it for you?

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Council of Despair - Restless Natives

After another extended stay in the Beti George Clinic, Sali Malu-Cachu is back!


The distinguished group sat around the gigantic walnut table in the oak panelled billiard room, each with a neat pile of papers before them.

The silver normally on display had been carefully removed out of temptation's way, and coffee had been served in polystyrene cups tastefully decorated with a sticker emblazoned with the authority's coat of arms.

In pride of place over the massive fire place hung a newly commissioned portrait of Muriel and the Chief displaying their collection of medals against a backdrop of shopping centres, info-tainment complexes and a huge empty sports stadium, with Muriel holding up a parchment from Windsor Castle. Clearly discernible were the words,

To my loyal and faithful servants for services rendered to property development and for dealing with the natives. E II R

The Chief was in good spirits. "Well, ladies and gentlemen, this has indeed been a most productive meeting of our new Constitutional Review Working Committee, or CRWC for short. Our work is almost at an end, but I have one small additional item which unfortunately came too late for the published agenda."

The Chief produced a small piece of paper.

"After extensive consultation between myself and Linda, I think you will agree that this small clause should rightfully be given a place at the end of our new, improved constitution."

He cleared his throat and began to read.

Whereas and notwithstanding the provisions set out in the paragraphs above and all ancillary schedules, codicils and subsidiary parts thereof and in accordance with the powers invested under the Fiefdoms and Rotten Boroughs Act (Wales) 1862, the Head of Paid Service may without reference to any lesser personages change or cause to be interpreted any part of this Constitution at any time or at the drop of a hat, whichsoever shall be the lesser of these two eventualities, in circumstances extraordinary or otherwise in any manner deemed appropriate, and his word shall be final in all matters pertaining thereto.

"It only remains for this to be run through Google Translate, and our work is done," he concluded.

A man at the far end of the table fidgeted uncomfortably and raised his hand. The chief couldn't help noticing that despite the torrential rain and the very gloomy skies outside, this guest had a pair of sunglasses propped on top of his head.

"Yes, what is it, Emyr?"

"Um, it's Emlyn, Sir. I just couldn't help thinking that this new clause sounded a little, well, sweeping. Would it be possible to see a copy and vote on it?"

The Chief looked like thunder.

"How many times have I told you all that we must cut down on paper? It will be provided to you electronically along with the minutes in due course. And as for voting, may I remind you that you have been invited, albeit temporarily, to witness the workings of the highest levels of this organisation. We do not vote, but agree unanimously. On everything."

Emlyn decided to have one more go.

"But Sir, I am not happy that some of the changes you have proposed have already been implemented, such as the new rule banning the use of the past tense in meetings."

"Now look, Gandalf, the minutes stated quite clearly that there was unanimous agreement on this. We must look forward and not back. Did you not read the minutes?"

"I did, Sir, and I wonder if the minutes were, well, strictly accurate on that point."

"May I remind you that you just agreed along with all your colleagues that the minutes produced by my staff compare most favourably with anything produced by any lesser authority. Now if that is all, I have urgent business to attend to."

With that the Chief swept from the room, leaving the visitors to shuffle out through the tradesmen's entrance.


The Chief entered the drawing room and settled into his favourite Louis Quinze damask chair.

"Time for some me time", he sighed, picking up the remote control to activate the giant 72" screen and relax watching his favourite film, Zulu.

And what a thrilling film it was, full of patriotic scenes acted out under the Union Flag with plucky Welshmen such as Michael Caine proudly wearing their smart red British uniforms and knocking seven bells out of a lot of fuzzy-wuzzies. And all for Queen and Country.

But how this once great country had gone to the dogs. If Zulu were re-made today, the Chief mused, it would have to be set somewhat closer to home, with wave after wave of wild Nationalists assaulting a bastion defended only by himself, Muriel, the dog woman, the Reverend Bonnett and Mr Mudge waffling indecisively in the background.

He could picture that awful woman from the Rhondda urging them on; the wild looking bard from the barren mountain slopes of Cwmpengraig hurling penillion at the defenders and that dreadful man Lenny Henry brandishing his asegai and asking a lot of impertinent questions.

Things were not much better down south, with reports coming in of hand-to hand fighting in a town he had showered with every conceivable benefit of British civilisation: Shakespeare, Superstars of Wrestling, Jim Davidson...what more did these ingrates want? And yet people were flocking to the banner of rebellion raised by a mild-mannered young school teacher. Even that fierce woman in the beehive was looking rattled. What was her name? Patsy? Myfanwy?

Image result for angry old woman

The Chief's reveries came to an abrupt end at the sound of a polite cough.

It was Walters, the new butler dressed in a smart page-boy uniform and closely cropped hair.

"What is it, Bob?" the Chief asked.

"Bad news from the Servants Hall, I am afraid, Sir. Fudd the gamekeeper is out of action again."

"What has he done this time?" the Chief snapped.

"I regret that he has shot himself in the foot. Again. And there is more. Miss Harpic, the woman you recently appointed to manage the grounds and the drive has walked out, saying this place is a shambles."

"What?" yelled the Chief. "I knew no good would ever come of appointing a woman, Bob. Well she won't be getting a reference from me!"

"She won't be needing one, Sir," Walters replied. "I am afraid she has been poached by Smithers, your old butler."

At that moment a large black cloud blotted out the sun, and the Chief snapped the remote control clean in two.

Monday, 4 May 2015

The Breckman case - an update

After a great deal of prompting from Mrs Breckman and others, Natural Resources Wales has finally confirmed that it is investigating the destruction of part of the Cernydd Carmel Special Area of Conservation near Maesybont.

As a reminder, this involved felling trees, stripping off vegetation and topsoil, quarrying, the construction of a road across the site and the storage of scrap metal, all done in the name of agriculture.

Apart from the landowner, the other party closely involved in all of this is Carmarthenshire County Council which has told Mrs Breckman that it has received a planning application from Mr Thomas for the retention of the road. In other words, this is a retrospective application.

In correspondence with Mrs Breckman, the planning officer sticks to the now official line that only a small section of the road may require planning permission because the bulk of it follows an old track which showed up on an Ordnance Survey map in 1881 but which disappeared from the records sometime between 1881 and 1901.

As Mrs Breckman has shown, the old track and the course of the new road are at right angles to each other.

The planning officer notes in a reply to Mrs Breckman that any application(s) submitted could be determined by planning officers rather than the planning committee, and goes on to say:

I note your comments on the question of agricultural justification, and the reference to sites with potential conservation value,  and these are areas that will be considered as part of the determination of any planning application, with the relevant weight being attached to all material factors, including consultation with the relevant external agencies where appropriate.

It would seem that in the council's view, the fact that a site has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation gives it only "potential conservation value".

Let's hope Natural Resources Wales is taking note.


In a separate development, Mrs Breckman decided to write to the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council on 8 April this year to remind him that the council had agreed (albeit very belatedly) with the findings of the Public Services Ombudsman back in July 2012.

Bearing in mind that the Ombudsman found that this was one of the worst cases he had ever dealt with and that at the time of the report in 2012 it had already been eight years in the making, he asked the council to pay compensation to Mrs Breckman and her partner in recognition of the distress and huge costs involved.

The Ombudsman has few teeth, and the extent of any financial compensation is never more than a token.

One aspect of the case which attracted the Ombudsman's attention was the erection of what were described as "privacy boards" by Mr Thomas directly alongside Mrs Breckman's cottage, blocking not only her view but also natural light.

A glance at the map shows that Mrs Breckman's view from her windows was of a small paddock and the two enormous sheds built by Mr Thomas for agricultural use, even though nothing resembling agriculture is carried out on the site. It will be remembered that the council's planning committee rejected both applications, with the second decision being overturned by the head of planning using delegated powers.

Mrs Breckman could not see Mr Thomas's house from her cottage, and so Mr Thomas's motives for erecting the boards would not seem to have anything to do with privacy.

Because the council failed to act, the planning boards eventually became "immune to enforcement", and the Ombudsman asked the council to use its best endeavours to have the boards removed. Failing that, it should pay Mrs Breckman the modest sum of £1,000.

The council may have been extremely slow to respond to Mrs Breckman's complaints in the past, but this time Mr James wasted no time in replying to her request for payment on 20 April. After a brief preamble, he concludes:

The Council did use its best endeavours to persuade your neighbour to remove the board and he did.  There was therefore no additional payment due to you.

As Mr James knows, what actually happened was that Mr Thomas removed the boards only to replace them with this:

This remains the view from Mrs Breckman's windows, although Mr Thomas has now painted over the Owens logo. And here, as a reminder, is a view of the paddock, the sheds and Mrs Breckman's cottage from the main road: