Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Silly season

Some might say that it's always Silly Season at Carmarthenshire's Press Office, but every so often they surpass themselves. The latest gem is a breathless report on the appointment of a temporary "camping concierge" at Pembrey County Park.

Pictured sitting in the tent alongside the successful applicant, Kieran, is none other than Cllr Meryl Gravell wearing what looks like a pair of retro sofa covers converted into one of those "cozee" all-in-ones you see advertised in the back pages of Sunday colour supplements.

Perhaps readers with more knowledge of the fashion scene can enlighten us. Also, is it my imagination, or is Meryl sending a two-fingered message to the rabble public?

Cllr Meryl Gravell gets a taste of canvass life with Carmarthenshire tourism officer Rhys Anthony in the course of looking for a camping concierge. Pic: Ron Cant
Happy Campers

Meryl is always keen to ensure that jobs go to the best possible candidates, so obviously no local people were up to scratch, and Kieran had to be shipped in from Hereford on the other side of Offa's Dyke.

Perhaps he could be the next Director of Social Care, Health and Housing, because the Appointments Committee - Directors is due to try to choose one tomorrow (post advertised in the Sunday Times), or even the new Director of Technical Services after the last abortive attempt to appoint one was derailed at the last minute in highly unusual circumstances.

As we brace ourselves for the next round of cuts, it's good to know that the Press Office is still there to keep our spirits up with some good news stories.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Pembrokeshire: Inspector Knacker calls again - Updated

Update 23 July 10am

The BBC and the Pembrokeshire Herald are now also reporting the latest developments in Haverfordwest. The Herald carries a copy of Cllr Paul Miller's letter to council leader Jamie Adams calling for the suspension of Bryn Parry-Jones.

In his account of last week's council meeting, Cllr Jacob Williams makes some interesting points about the local press which has burst back to life since the Herald entered the fray.

Meanwhile, the South Wales Argus reports that Chris Burns, Assistant Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, has been appointed interim CEO of troubled Caerphilly.

Llongyfarchiadau mawr Chris!

End of an era


______________

Following the Western Telegraph's recent scoop with the Bryn Parry-Jones letter revealing that he had transferred the loot paid unlawfully in lieu of his employer pension contributions to Mrs P-J, the paper has now come up with another exclusive that it says will rock what must by now be the very shaky foundations of County Hall in Haverfordwest.

Gloucestershire Constabulary are once more back on the case after a whistleblower emerged, and serious allegations have been made.

Paul Miller, the leader of the Labour group on the council, has called for Mr Parry-Jones to be suspended. Rather oddly, though, Cllr Miller and his Labour group apparently abstained from a vote registering the council's disapproval of Mr Parry-Jones's failure to repay the unlawful supplement (see Jacob Williams).

Over in Carmarthenshire, it will be recalled, the Labour leader, Kevin Madge has defended the unlawful payments for all he is worth.

In this month's meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council Kev put on his very cross voice when the subject of unlawful libel indemnity to the Chief Executive came up. It was time to move on, he said.

No doubt something very similar was said at the more recent meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council, only the part of the meeting dealing with the unlawful pension supplement was held behind closed doors.

And in any case, if Kev hopes it will all go away let's not forget that Mark James told council staff in his recent sermon in Y Gair that the pension scheme in question had been withdrawn "for now".

But before we get too concerned for the structural integrity of County Hall in Haverfordwest, let's not forget that the boys in blue from Gloucestershire took three months to complete their last "investigation" and managed to do it without interviewing anyone involved or entering into correspondence with the council.


Farewell to Bruce and Blade, hello to Stephen Crabb

As readers may have noticed, there was not exactly spontaneous national mourning at the news that the dour and deeply uncharismatic David Jones MP had been sacked as Secretary of State for Wales. His most remarkable achievement seems to have been that he managed to upset just about everybody, including his own side.

Working under David Jones in Gwydyr House, the London home of the Welsh Office, does not seem to have been much fun either according to this BBC report, and one of the few things which seemed to get the old misery really excited was the chance to fawn over William and Kate.

Almost exactly a year ago, here he was tweeting in ecstasy at the birth of little George:

As a North Walian, I'm massively pleased by the interest the whole world is showing in the birth of a baby to an Anglesey couple.

Kate had already long moved out of the couple's temporary home in Angelsey by then because of fears that the Welsh NHS might not be up to the job of delivering a baby.Not long after that Wills himself headed back to the less wild and dangerous environs of Kensington Palace.

Strangely David Jones, who is apparently a bit of a dog lover, did not consider it worthwhile tweeting what happened to the royal couple's redundant guard dogs which were put down a couple of days later, and sadly Rolf Harris was not on hand to look misty-eyed into the camera as Bruce and Blade were sent off to the great kennel in the sky.

Fortunately, then, David Cameron opted for a more humane way of getting rid of his Secretary of State for Wales.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that, with the possible exception of Rolf Harris, just about anyone who took over from David Jones would have been welcomed with open arms, and not being David Jones is a huge asset to Stephen Crabb, the bearded wonder from Haverfordwest as he embarks on his new job.

Stephen is still only 41, but he comes with a surprising amount of baggage for one so young. The Western Mail recently reminded us that not so long ago he thought devolution had "the potential to cause huge and permanent damage to our country" (our country being the UK), and he thought the post of Secretary of State for Wales was "emptied and somewhat meaningless". But not meaningless enough to reject a promotion and increase in salary, obviously.

Yesterday the pinko-lefty Daily Telegraph weighed in with other reminders of Stephen Crabb's pre-bearded existence, pointing out that his online biography has airbrushed his connections with the fundamentalist and rather creepy Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) from the historical record, even though he began his parliamentary career as a CARE-paid intern in Westminster, along with around 20 other mainly Tory and Labour MPs.

The Torygraph notes that "the member for Preseli Pembrokeshire has never spoken publicly about the charity, and does not refer to it anywhere on his website", which is not only ungrateful but also rather strange since Stephen and CARE share many of the same opinions on matters such as gay marriage (wrong) and making it more difficult for women to have abortions (right).

In what must have been a dull news period at the end of 2011, Cneifiwr did a bit more digging into Stephen Crabb's past, and you can find out more about his views on Israel (very good), Palestinians (misguided at best), the Welsh language (waste of money) and some of his more exotic friends here.






Monday, 21 July 2014

Alice in Wonderland's Local Development Plan

Carmarthenshire's Local Development Plan continues to grind its slow, bureaucratic and remorseless way towards the finishing post with yet another round of consultations, this time on "Matters Arising during Hearing Sessions of the Examination".

It would be hard to imagine a more mind-bogglingly complex system of putting together a plan than the one laid down by civil servants for Welsh local authorities' development plans, and yet the plans will affect all of us and determine the future shape and character of the towns and villages we live in.

In the case of Carmarthenshire there are now scores of reports and heavyweight documents scattered across the council's website, all referring to each other and often without links which would help readers move from one to another. The effect is a sort of bureaucratic maze from hell:


"In this respect, reference should be had to the Housing Clarification Paper (Examination Paper H2P) April 2014 which sought to consider the projected reduction outlined within the 2011 projections against the strategic context of the Plan and its objectives."

This comes up in a very important section dealing with population and projections of housing need. There is no link to the Housing Clarification Paper, but you can track it down by entering H2P as a search term on the council website. Click on that, and you will receive a stark message:

Access Denied

Little wonder that almost the only people turning up to the public examinations are not members of the public, but representatives of the big house building companies, their agents and consultants. It is they and the County Hall visionaries who want to see massive new housing estates springing up across the county who are calling the shots.

One of the main building blocks for the Local Development Plans now winding their way through the bureaucratic machinery of Welsh councils was a set of population projections handed down in 2006 by the Welsh Government on behalf of the Department for Communities and Local Government in London (see Jac o' the North for how this works).

The main assumption of these projections was that inward migration from England would continue and even accelerate in years to come, resulting in massive additional housing requirements.

In 2008 the expectations were revised slightly downward, but only ever so slightly.

In 2009 actual inward migration slumped to its lowest level in years, but the LDP mandarins carried on regardless.

The Census in 2011 provided the statisticians with some hard facts rather than the speculative projections churned out by the consultancy industry, and in February 2014 the Welsh Government released a new set of projections covering the period of Carmarthenshire's Local Development Plan which is due to run until 2021.

In 2006 Carmarthenshire was told that it would need to provide 1,193 new homes each year in order to meet population growth and growth in the number of households.

In 2014 the Welsh Government handed down a revised set of numbers which concluded that the county would need only 5,500 new homes in the period 2011-2021, or 550 per year.

You don't need to be a mathematician to see that expectations of housing need have halved, so what has been the response of Carmarthenshire County Council's "Forward Planning" department to this news?

Well, they have given the new statistics careful consideration and decided that what we need is a higher target for new housing.

Whereas the previous incarnation of the plan reckoned that the county would need 15,197 new homes by 2021, the revised plan now up for consultation opts for a target of 15,727, or almost three times more than the Welsh Government's revised projections.

The Council's planners say that this target will give them flexibility and allows for uncertainty over the future direction of the economy and population growth.

While the planners hope that towns like Carmarthen will still get the thousands of new houses they would like to see built, they have decided to revise the target for affordable homes down from 2,915 to 2,121.

Housebuilders and developers don't like affordable homes, you see.

And when councillors approved a package of new measures to promote and safeguard the Welsh language back in April, planning was an important part of their considerations. They will therefore be surprised to see the latest incarnation of the Local Development Plan which has dramatically moved the goal posts.

Whereas the plan previously defined almost all of the county as linguistically sensitive, with at least 25% of Welsh speakers, and provided for some very flimsy "mitigation" measures to protect Welsh-speaking communities from over-development, such as bilingual signs and phasing of development, the revised plan sweeps all this away.

Under the new plan only communities with at least 60% of Welsh speakers will be afforded any kind of protection in the form of phasing development, and there are only 5 communities where this applies: Llannon, Pencarreg, Quarter Bach, Gorslas and Pontyberem.

That's consultation Carmarthenshire style for you.







Thursday, 17 July 2014

Blessed are the Council Chief Executives

Update 13.04

Pembrokeshire County Council went into closed session at its meeting today to discuss the chief executive's pension arrangements. All we know so far is that they voted not to pursue repayment of the money paid out unlawfully.

Aled Scourfield from the BBC was tweeting from the chamber prior to being asked to leave along with the rest of the press and the public. He reported that the council leader, Jamie Adams, told councillors that one member had broken the code of conduct by leaking the letter, and he apologised to the Chief Executive and his wife.

The Monitoring Officer will be asked to conduct an investigation.

It will be interesting to see what Old Grumpy and Jacob Williams make of this.

________________

Carmarthenshire County Council has already begun its long summer nap, but down in Haverfordwest the final meeting of the full council before the summer recess promises to be a very long and rather fractious affair.

One point which will be of interest to Carmarthenshire residents is the saga of the chief executive's pension payments, although it seems this sensitive matter will be dealt with behind closed doors.

Unlike Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire's county councillors voted to ask the chief executive ever so nicely if he wouldn't mind paying back the payments which the Wales Audit Office deemed had been paid unlawfully in lieu of pension contributions.

Thanks to the Western Telegraph and what must be a very disgruntled council insider, we now know that Mr Bryn Parry Jones has no intention of paying the money back, and that he has taken the precaution of transferring the loot to his wife.

In a letter from that most exclusive of trade unions, the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives, written on behalf of Mr Parry-Jones, there is even a hint that the council could find itself in court for its appalling treatment of Wales's highest paid chief executive (yes, Bryn earns slightly more than Mark James, although these matters are relative).

You can read the story for yourselves here, but it is worth reminding ourselves that Bryn Parry-Jones and Mark James were brothers in arms when it came to fighting off the Wales Audit Office earlier this year.

Although the arrangements were not supposed to cost the county councils a penny, they engaged the services of expensive consultants and the even more costly services of Mr Timothy Kerr-ching Kerr QC to defend payments which the WAO had decided were unlawful.

Carmarthenshire County Council remains adamant that the pension payments were lawful, and Mr James reminded staff recently in his latest sermon in Y Gair that the payments were made "on condition it did not cost the Council any money.  Many employers make similar arrangements and whilst of itself not intrinsically unlawful, there were some procedural deficiencies in how the decision was taken and the Council decided to withdraw this scheme for now." (my underlining).

Interestingly, the leaked letter says that Mr Parry-Jones has suffered "significant detriment" since he opted out of the local government pension scheme because he is no longer receiving employer pension contributions "as contractually required".

We do not know whether Mr Parry-Jones was given the option of re-joining the local authority pension fund and refused, or whether his opt-out was final and irreversible.

This raises the question of what has happened in the case of Mark James. Has he re-joined the pension scheme?  Has he been invited to re-join?

Also, when will the scheme be re-activated, as hinted in Mr James's Sermon on the Mount Jail Hill?

There is no likelihood that he will be asked to repay the unlawful payments because the logic of the line pursued by Labour's Kevin Madge is that the payments were not unlawful in the first place.

Amazing to think that Kev has ended up defending tax avoidance schemes for top earners, isn't it? 

As a footnote to this, readers who are not on Twitter or regular readers of the Pembrokeshire Herald may be surprised to learn that Pembrokeshire County Council is apparently paying the insurance on a Porsche Panamera sports saloon driven by Mr Parry-Jones's son but designated for use as a family vehicle.

Have your say

The WLGA review of governance in Carmarthenshire County Council, or as the Council's own website neatly puts it, "how the Council works and takes decisions", has finally got underway.

Members of the public and other interested bodies, including town and community councils, were initially given until 23 July to respond, with Carmarthenshire County Council not getting round to publicising the consultation until earlier this week. Following representations, the deadline has now been extended to 20th August.

The panel has already received some submissions from the public, and it is currently interviewing councillors and other "stakeholders", including local Assembly Members and MPs, newspaper editors, Estyn, the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales and the Wales Audit Office.

Early feedback suggests that the four members of the panel have been given some very contrasting views of the council, with loyalists saying how wonderful the local authority is and pointing to the array of trophies and cut glass vases adorning the lobby of County Hall, while others have been spilling the beans about some of the less glorious chapters in the council's recent history.

One area which it seems is of particular interest to the panel is the extent to which the public is encouraged to participate in the democratic process.

Cue film clip of howling wind and tumbleweed rolling down abandoned streets.

If you haven't made your views known, please spend a few minutes doing so. You can send in your views and concerns to:

carmarthenshirereview@wlga.gov.uk


Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Now wash your hands


Once a month the European Commission produces what is known as an infringements package. The subjects cover the environment, taxation, consumer rights, transport, energy, agriculture and other areas in which the member states have signed up to EU rules. As the title suggests, the infringements package deals with all the various ways in which member governments and institutions in member states have flouted or circumvented the rules.


The July package is of special interest to those of us who live in the south-west of Wales, dealing as it does with pollution from the gas-fired power station in Pembroke and sewage pollution in the Burry Inlet.

The text of the announcements can be found below, but in the case of the Burry Inlet, the Commission has given the UK Government two months to respond to its concerns. If the Commission is not satisfied that action will be taken, it may take the matter to the European Court of Justice.

This is by no means a new problem, but one which goes back to at least 2002. In July 2003 the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, then as now Mark James, was snapped by the BBC (report here) haranging local cockle pickers angry about the immense damage which was being done to their livelihoods.

Mark James
Setting the record straight


To be fair to Carmarthenshire County Council, it is only one of a number of bodies which bear responsibility, the others including Swansea City Council, Environment Agency Wales (now rebranded Natural Resources Wales) and Dŵr Cymru.

In 2006 representatives of the cockle pickers and local people submitted their case to the European Commission.

The crisis continued in the years that followed. "Mystery bug killing cockle beds" said the BBC in 2008. Soon afterwards the Environment Agency announced "urgent action" to save the cockle beds by thinning them.

In 2011 the courts fined Dŵr Cymru £20,000 for discharging sewage into the Inlet. The problem of cockle deaths was getting worse, but no compensation was paid to the cocklers because the agencies insisted that there was no proven link to pollution.

The problem refused to go away, and in 2012 the BBC reported that a study produced by Hull University had concluded that sewage pollution was not the problem. The Environment Agency announced that it would be drawing up yet another action plan, and the Environment Minister at the time, John Griffiths (Lab), said it was an emotive issue.

Understandably, the cocklers were sceptical.

In July 2012 the Petitions Committee of the Welsh Assembly produced its own findings. The Hull University report was inconclusive, it found. Despite all the promises and claims of major investment in infrastructure in preceding years, the Committee found that there was a need for short and long-term improvements to the sewage and drainage systems in the Llanelli and Burry Port areas.

The Committee noted that a formal complaint had been made to the European Commission.

Dŵr Cymru delivered a rather evasive response to the Committee. It knew what needed to be done, the company said, but the work might drive up customer bills considerably. The company also admitted that there had been problems with its network models, and that there had been more sewage spillages than expected.

Reading the Committee's report now shows how easily Assembly Members were fobbed off by the agencies. Dŵr Cymru said it was up the Welsh Government and the Environment Agency to determine the priorities, and the Environment Agency dismissed concerns about the impact of plans for 16,000 new homes in the area, saying that it had a memorandum of understanding which required developers to "provide betterment of the situation".


The problem with that is that a memorandum of understanding is not a legally binding document. Swansea City Council is understood to have withdrawn from the agreement, but has restrained development in the north Gower area. Carmarthenshire County Council, on the other hand, has been determined to push on with largescale housing developments on its side of the Loughor estuary.

At a recent meeting with Dŵr Cymru, members of the Llanelli Flood Forum were told that Dŵr Cymru had been allowed to discharge sewage into the estuary by the Environment Agency with the knowledge and approval of the Welsh Government. The Dŵr Cymru spokesman refused to acknowledge that there had been any infringements, and he indicated that the company would be seeking permission from the EU to vary the spillage of raw sewage by a hugely increased margin while it tackles drainage problems. It was also clear that the company will need to seek relaxations of the habitat regulations in order to do so.

Back in 2012 the Assembly Petitions Committee asked all of the agencies and bodies involved to work together and to continue their studies into the causes of cockle deaths. Carmarthenshire County Council was asked to publish the results of water quality tests.

It is by no means clear whether any of the bodies which went before the Committee have subsequently acted on any of the recommendations, with Carmarthenshire County Council putting up signs warning visitors to some of the beaches that "during and after periods of heavy rainfall the water quality at this beach may be reduced - it would be advisable to wash your hands after using the beach".

What is clear from the European Commission's latest news release is that excessive spills of waste water are occurring even during normal weather conditions.

If anyone who has watched broadcasts of Carmarthenshire County Council's monthly meetings has ever wondered why two councillors, Siân Caiach and Bill Thomas, regularly stand up to declare an interest on the grounds of their opposition to developments on the Carmarthenshire side of the estuary before the sewage problems are addressed, now you know..

You may now also understand why the council's top brass has been so determined not to allow either of them to speak on the subject. Indeed, at one meeting last year Cllr Thomas was visibly very angry and upset, alleging that the council had been carrying out surveillance on him.

As we know, the council was also caught red-handed monitoring Cllr Caiach's e-mails.
____________________

Text of EU Commission's announcements on Pembrokeshire and the Loughor Estuary.

Today the Commission sent the United Kingdom three reasoned opinions on environmental matters. The first concerns Pembroke Power station, the largest gas-fired power station in Europe, where the power plant's cooling system has a damaging impact on the surrounding ecosystem, which is a Marine Special Area of Conservation (SAC) protected under EU law. Under the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive and the Habitats Directive, development consent should only be given after all the potential environmental impacts have been assessed. This does not appear to have been the case with the Pembrokeshire plant, where development and construction consents as well as a water abstraction licence and a permit for the dredging of the cooling system intake and outflow were granted before the full environmental assessments were completed. As a result, warm water with a heavy biocide load is currently being returned to the protected Milford Haven waterway. Many smaller fish, their eggs and other smaller organisms are affected by the cooling system, which passes large quantities of water from one end of the SAC through the plant and out the other side. The Commission letter also raises concerns about the application of the IPPC Directive on the final permits issued, in particular accepting this cooling system as Best Available Technology in this sensitive location and allowing an Environmental Quality Standard to be breached as a result.

The second letter concerns urban waste water treatment. Reports from the UK show a number of agglomerations still in breach of EU standards. Today's reasoned opinion, which follows letters of formal notice sent in June 2009 and June 2013, covers excessive spills of wastewater in Llanelli and Gowerton, Wales, into the sensitive waters of Burry Inlet, which are happening even during normal weather conditions (i.e. as opposed to during heavy rains); failures to provide secondary treatment for waste water in 9 agglomerations including Gibraltar; and failures to provide more stringent treatment for waste water in 24 agglomerations classified as sensitive areas. The UK has two months to respond.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Crunch time

One of the things which is said to put people off politics is bickering, posturing and backstabbing, but if you want to see real anger, Machiavellian manoeuvrings, treachery and bile the place to go is Welsh rugby where the long simmering dispute between Regional Rugby Wales and the Welsh Rugby Union has reached fever pitch.

At the end of last week the RRW issued a very strongly worded statement accusing the WRU in effect of acting in bad faith and seeking to wreck negotiations between the two bodies. The WRU responded with a PR operative's wet dream of a statement claiming it was surprised and disappointed by the line taken by RRW.

While that was going on, the BBC was fed a leaked letter from the RRW to the WRU which was mangled and spun to give the impression that the RRW had asked the WRU to step in and take over the running of the regions.

The full text of that letter setting out RRW's proposals and demands was then published in full in the Rugby Paper (click here).

This was followed yesterday by a report in the South Wales Argus saying that the regions had given the WRU an ultimatum demanding a response to their proposals for a new rugby services agreement by 4pm on 14 July, with a final agreement to be signed by 18 July. If no progress is made, they will terminate all further discussions with the WRU, the Argus was informed.

Whether RRW received a response by 4pm yesterday is not yet known, but what is clear is that the next few days will be decisive for regional rugby, with the Scarlets in particular facing a very grim future if there is no last minute compromise.

One of the strangest aspects of this story is its treatment in what can only loosely be called the Welsh media, where there has been only very patchy coverage. When you consider that this is a highly dramatic dispute about the future of the national game, the fitful and at times rather skewed nature of the reporting is something which should be ringing alarm bells well beyond the world of rugby boardrooms.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Cymraeg i Oedolion - gwerthu'r fuwch i brynu tarw

Diweddariad 14 Gorffennaf

Gweler erthygl gan Heini Gruffudd sydd o'r un farn.

____________

Mae rhaglen Cymraeg i Oedolion "yn bwysig yng nghyd-destun Strategaeth y Gymraeg y Llywodraeth, Iaith Fyw:Iaith Byw, yn enwedig yn sgil canlyniadau Cyfrifiad 2011", dywedodd y Prif Weinidog, Carwyn Jones, ym mis Rhagfyr 2013 cyn cyhoeddi ar waelod yr un datganiad y gallai'r rhaglen ddisgwyl toriad "dangosol" o 8% i'r gyllideb ar gyfer y flwyddyn academaidd 2014-15.

Ar sail y toriad, mae'r gwahanol sefydliadau sy'n darparu cyrsiau Cymraeg i Oedolion wedi llunio eu rhaglenni ar gyfer y flwyddyn nesaf. Roedd hi'n amlwg y byddai toriad o 8% yn golygu llai o gyrsiau a llai o ddysgwyr, ac mae nifer o bobl wedi cael eu diswyddo fel canlyniad.

Yr wythnos diwethaf cyhoeddodd y Llywodraeth y bydd yn cwtogi cyllideb Cymraeg i Oedolion ymhellach o 7%. Toriad o 15%, felly, ac roedd y toriad diweddaraf llai na thri mis cyn dechrau'r flwyddyn academaidd newydd yn hollol annisgwyl. Bydd rhywfaint o'r yr arian sy'n cael ei dorri o gyllideb Cymraeg i Oedolion yn mynd at y mentrau iaith.

Fe fydd llai fyth o gyrsiau a dysgwyr fel canlyniad, a bydd mwy o bobl yn colli gwaith. Mae'r rhan fwyaf o'r tiwtoriaid (rhyw 600 o bobl ledled Cymru) yn ennill rhwng £5,000 a £10,000 yn flynyddol, gyda llaw.

Ar ben hynny i gyd, mae'r maes yn cael ei ailwampio'n sylfaenol yn ystod y flwyddyn nesaf. Rhaid cyfaddef nad yw'r system bresennol yn berffaith o bell ffordd, ond ansicrwydd parlysol fydd y canlyniad o hacio cyllid y gwasanaeth a'i ad-drefnu ar yr un pryd.

Tasg Cymraeg i Oedolion yw cynhyrchu siaradwyr newydd, ac mae'n ddigon naturiol bod y targedau'n seiliedig ar y niferoedd sy'n mynychu'r dosbarthiadau. Bydd y darparwyr - y prifysgolion, cynghorau sir ac eraill - yn gorfod canolbwyntio eu hadnoddau prin ar ardaloedd trefol a dosbarthiadau yn y dydd.

Sgîl-effaith anfwriadol y toriadau fydd llai fyth o ddysgwyr o dan 60 oed. Os mai pensiynwr wyt ti, mi fydd digon o gyfleoedd i gymdeithasu â phensiynwyr eraill a dysgu ychydig o Gymraeg am ddwy awr yr wythnos.

Pob lwc os wyt ti'n gweithio, yn magu plant ac yn byw mewn ardal wledig. Prin iawn y bydd y ddarpariaeth yn dy filltir sgwâr di, er mai hwn yw'r demograffig pwysicaf i ddyfodol yr iaith.


Friday, 11 July 2014

Brace yourselves

Update

The collapse of talks between the WRU and the four regions means that each of the regions is facing a shortfall of around £1.6 million next season, while money from the new European competitions will not begin to flow until October.

The BBC offers a very confused take on the latest developments here, while the Guardian provides a more straight forward account here.

Judging from comments on Scarlet Fever, the Scarlets supporters' forum, Roger Lewis and Dai Pickering, chief executive and chairman of the WRU respectively, would be well advised to stay away from Llanelli for the foreseeable future.

_____________

The Scarlets were supposed to have filed their accounts for the year ending 30 June 2013 by the end of March. They still have not done so.

The Western Mail is not alone in wondering what is going on. Back in April the paper was told that the accounts would be filed after the May board meeting. That came and went.

Then a couple of days ago it was told:

“The accounts have not been filed because it was agreed at the Scarlets board meeting in May that we should not file accounts until we could confirm WRU agreement and therefore the forward revenue of the business with auditors.

“At this point, there is still no formal agreement with the WRU in place to date despite ongoing meetings and discussions. Without a formal agreement with the WRU there is still uncertainty on the levels of funding within professional regional rugby in Wales.”

This afternoon Regional Rugby Wales issued a statement announcing that no agreement had been reached with the WRU despite "an incredibly tortuous process", and that the four regions would now have to give urgent consideration to a business model that does not include any form of agreement with the WRU.

Whatever happens next, don't expect good news.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Planning News and two Falls from Grace

Time for some updates for a couple of the stories this blog has been following.

Pwll y Trap, Adpar (Newcastle Emlyn)

Ceredigion County Council yesterday rejected an application by a local developer to build 17 homes on a greenfield site in Adpar after local residents put up a strong fight. The development would most likely have been the first part of a larger development on the land, and the developer has indicated that he may appeal.

Llansteffan

Anyone watching yesterday's meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council will have seen another side to the normally bluff, bumbling and jovial Council Chair, Daff Davies, as he stamped down and refused to allow Cllr Siân Caiach to speak when she tried to reply to a tirade from Chief Executive, Mark James. Her action was contrary to Rule No.1 of the council's constitution, which is that the Chief Executive must always have the last word.

Fortunately for Cllr Davies, voters in Wales have no right of recall; otherwise he would now certainly be facing a by-election in the local government equivalent of the recent fixture between Brazil and Germany.

Cllr Davies scraped to victory by the narrowest of margins in the 2012 council elections, but has become a pariah for many of his constituents after supporting the controversial Mwche Farm wind turbine application.

There was very strong opposition locally to the plan, which Daff dismissed as the rantings of "newcomers and malcontents". This did not go down at all well with the 422 objectors, 70% of whom were from Carmarthenshire, and nearly all of those from Llansteffan, Llanybri and Laugharne. Judging from the correspondence Cneifiwr has received, some of these newcomers and malcontents have very Welsh names and can write perfect, idiomatic Welsh.

Several formal complaints about the Councillor's conduct have now been sent to the Ombudsman by members of the public, as well as another from Llansteffan and Llanybri Community Council where Daff lost a vote of no confidence. If that were not enough, two separate applications for judicial review are understood to be in the offing.

Newcastle Emlyn

A decision on the controversial Cawdor supermarket planning application was recently deferred for the second time. Although the application was approved by councillors back in 2011, the developer has been unable to comply with the requirements of the Section 106 Agreement which was a condition. It is said to be extremely unusual for a council to allow a Section 106 Agreement to go unsigned for this long (almost three years), and the site owner has been trying to buy his way out.

It is understood that his first offer of a one-off payment of £10,000 was subsequently upped to £15,000, although that is believed to be rather less than half of cost of the works involved in the S106 commitment.

Kidwelly

Away from the Alice in Wonderland world of planning to Kidwelly where Labour's baby-faced rising star Ryan Thomas has suffered what may be terminal setback to his political ambitions.

According to the Llanelli Star, Ryan Thomas resigned abruptly from the town council and has been suspended by the Labour Party pending investigations by parties including the Public Services Ombudsman.

Cneifiwr understands that the complaints relate to an unfortunate incident at the recent mayor making ceremony.

Ryan used to write a blog, which now seems to have vanished, but someone with the same name who seems to live in Kidwelly has begun a new creative exercise. The latest offering includes the following quote which apparently comes from Marilyn Monroe:

Imperfection is beauty,
madness is genius,
and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.



Wednesday, 9 July 2014

A test of Kevin Madge's leadership - Updated

Update 10 July

The archived version of yesterday's meeting is now online, and it is clear from watching that Emlyn Dole's amendment was as follows:

"That the Council resolves to support the view of Welsh Government as outlined within Paragraph 17 of Welsh Government guidance 'Providing indemnities to Members and officers of relevant authorities 2006', [which] prohibits the funding of Members and officers at public expense to bring about defamation proceedings against third parties".

This produced a mild attack of panic in the acting Head of Law who wanted to know if this resolution was forward-looking or retrospective.

The Council cannot legislate retrospectively, as Emlyn recognised, but if it could the amendment if successful would have opened up the possibility of Mr James having to pay back the indemnity along with possible career-terminating implications for Mrs Rees Jones.

As it was the amendment was lost.

One other interesting snippet from the archive came rather earlier when councillors were paying tribute to Roger Jones, who is retiring as Director of Resources. The WLGA observers may have spotted that the Chair, Daff Davies, turns to the Chief Executive to warn him that Cllr Siân Caiach wishes to speak, presumably to seek guidance as to whether this should be allowed.

We cannot see Mr James's response, but presumably it was a nod of assent. Later on when the Chief Executive had finished his rant about Jacqui Thompson, and Cllr Caiach was seeking to raise a point of information, the advice coming from the left of the Chair appears to have been rather less indulgent.

There in a nutshell is governance as we have come to know it.

Update 12.30 

Kevin Madge's leadership was tested, and it will come as no surprise that it was found wanting. After reading badly from a pre-prepared script, he put on an angry voice and said that everybody had had enough of this and it was time to move on. Despite Carwyn Jones's unequivocal condemnation of the stance taken by the council yesterday, Kevin Madge proposed accepting the report put together by senior officers rejecting the WAO's findings.

There followed a very confused to-ing and fro-ing across the chamber, with various different motions being put forward. Eventually the combined forces of the Independents and Labour voted in favour of a fudge proposed by Cllr Calum Higgins to "note" the letter from Lesley Griffiths and the officers' views as set out in the accompanying report. A separate motion put forward by Cllr Emlyn Dole (Plaid) calling for the council to accept the WAO findings was rejected by the same coalition.

The upshot of this is that the council ended up in no-man's land, and the only way the matter could ever be resolved is if it went to court. That is unlikely ever to happen, and the infamous libel indemnity clause will remain suspended indefinitely (but not abolished).

All of this was observed by members of the WLGA governance panel, who must have noticed that councillors failed to tackle the ticking time bomb of senior officers who have once again got away with sticking two fingers up to the Wales Audit Office.

Just how hostile Mr James and his allies are to interference from the WAO (or any other external body) was made apparent a little earlier when he and other officers left the chamber while councillors dealt with a highly technical report on pensions, saying that if he did not leave, the council might well be landed with another bill from the WAO.

This is not quite the final word on this sorry saga because still to come is a response from the Local Government Minister, Lesley Griffiths, to a request from Rhodri Glyn Thomas (Plaid) that she clarifies the Welsh Government's position in the light of Carmarthenshire's novel interpretation of her letter.

Kevin Madge had an opportunity here to cut the council's over-mighty officers and Meryl Gravell down to size, knowing that he had the support of Carwyn Jones. He funked it, and was left looking weak by the most junior Labour councillor, Calum Higgins, who came up with the fudge that got the officers off the hook.

____________________


Yesterday was one of the most dramatic days in the history of the Welsh Assembly, with the sacking of Alun Davies from the post of Minister of the Environment after he was caught red-handed trying to smear political opponents, something which Welsh Labour is very good at.

But the drama did not stop there. Later in the day the Minister for Local Government, Lesley Griffiths, replied timidly to a question from Rhodri Glyn Thomas (Plaid) about Carmarthenshire County Council's attempts to reject the findings of the Wales Audit Office. Her officials were looking into it, she said.

Shortly afterwards her boss, Carwyn Jones, faced a similar question from Rhodri Glyn and was rather less inclined to beat about the bush. You can see the exchange (in Welsh) here, starting at 38 minutes 40 seconds.

Rhodri Glyn asked the First Minister if he agreed that it was extremely important that local authorities accept the findings of the Wales Audit Office, and would he join him in condemning Carmarthenshire County Council's attempts to justify the libel indemnity, and make it very clear that challenging the findings of the WAO is completely unacceptable.

Here is a translation of the First Minister's response:

"Scrutiny is extremely important, of course. This is something which was said in the Williams report, namely that there is too often a feeling that public bodies facing criticism try to say that they are not at fault. Williams says that it is extremely important that public bodies accept criticism made by the Auditor and don't say that it is some kind of misunderstanding and that they are not to blame. This is an important part of setting out the way ahead.

"As far as the situation in Carmarthenshire is concerned, I think that I am right to say that we, as a Government, have said that it is not right to give any kind of indemnity for what happened in Carmarthenshire. At the end of the day, this is something for Carmarthenshire County Council, and it is extremely important that councils make sure that they do not put officers in a situation where they receive indemnities of this kind in connection with court cases. I think that this has been said before."

In a few hours time Carmarthenshire County Council is due to meet to discuss a report put together by the acting Head of Law, Mrs Rees Jones, and the Director of Resources, Roger Jones, which argues that the council was right all the way along to pursue the course it did, that the Wales Audit Office is wrong, and that the Welsh Government supports this view.

Shortly before that report was published, the Chief Executive himself weighed in with a message to council staff saying the same thing only in even more exaggerated and misleading terms.

We will see how they attempt to wriggle out of the latest mess of their own making, but surely the point has now finally been reached where serious questions have to be asked about the judgement, competence and motivation of some of the most senior officers.

Carwyn Jones's comments leave Mrs Linda Rees Jones looking very exposed indeed, but councillors are not off the hook either.

Carwyn Jones is a seasoned lawyer who chooses his words carefully. When he says that "officers should not be put in a position where they receive indemnities of this kind", he is clearly referring to a decision made by councillors on the Executive Board, led at the time by Cllr Meryl Gravell, with Labour's Kevin Madge as her deputy.

Cllr Gravell continues to exercise enormous and often very damaging influence behind the scenes, so this criticism leaves the Labour Party in Carmarthenshire is a very awkward place.

It is said that Kevin Madge feels "trapped" as council leader between the conflicting demands of the Independents, Welsh Labour and his own supporters in the council. How he responds to Carwyn Jones's blunt criticism will be one of the biggest tests of leadership he has so far faced.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Clarifying the clarification - Updated

Update

Within seconds of this post going out, news has come in that the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, has given Carmarthenshire County Council a very public ticking off for its refusal to accept criticism, saying that it should accept the Wales Audit Office reports and that the Welsh Government did not agree with the indemnity.

Carwyn has had a pretty bad day, what with one thing and another, and he was already doing a pretty good impression of a bear with a sore head, so the timing of some pertinent questions from Rhodri Glyn Thomas about the Labour-run Best Council in Wales won't have improved his temper.

More to follow.

__________

The Western Mail today picked up on Carmarthenshire County Council's latest attempt to wriggle out of the unlawful libel indemnity mess by getting councillors to give their blessing to an agenda item at tomorrow's meeting of the full council, in which senior officers put a bizarre interpretation on a letter from Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Local Government, with Mr James telling his troops that the letter backs up his claim that he was right all along.

The Minister has now confirmed that she has asked her officials to take a look at what the Council has done with her letter.

Let's hope that it does not take them two months, which is how long it took them to write back to Dave Gilbert, Carmarthenshire's Deputy Chief Executive, when he asked for clarification back in March.

An interesting aspect of tomorrow's meeting will be whether Labour and Independent councillors are daft enough to give the Chief Executive's innovative legal manoeuvrings their seal of approval, especially since the WLGA panel set up to review governance in the local authority will apparently be watching proceedings from the public gallery.

Although their presence is likely to ensure that everyone is on their best behaviour, there are hours of archived film footage of council meetings from the last year for them to peruse with lots and lots of interesting examples of governance Carmarthenshire style.



 



Friday, 4 July 2014

Dear Dave....


Update 7 July

Readers will have noticed the rather exasperated tone of Lesley Griffiths' letter below, and that it took her two months to reply to Dave Gilbert's question.

She will probably not be best pleased that more letters are now winging their way to Cardiff asking her to confirm Carmarthenshire County Council's view that she has given them a thumbs up in the matter of the libel indemnity.

Elsewhere there is growing anger that senior council officers seem to have decided to ignore the near-unanimous support given by councillors back in April to the Census Working Group's recommendations on the Welsh language.

Expect a lively meeting of the full council on Wednesday.

______________

If Carmarthenshire County Council's free newspaper is popularly known as Pravda, the internal staff newsletter Y Gair ('The Word') would be more accurately called The Pyongyang Times. As we saw a couple of days ago, the most recent edition came with a message to the toiling masses from the Dear Leader who took a whole page to deal with what he called the "minor matters" of the pension payment and libel indemnity scandals.

On the subject of the libel indemnity, Mr James wrote:

The Council has refused to accept the Wales Audit Office report and has subsequently confirmed with Welsh Government that the Council does have the powers to grant such indemnities.  

That seems pretty clear, doesn't it?

Fortunately we have not had to wait very long to find out what the Welsh Government actually said.
In a letter dated 6 May from Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Local Government, to Deputy Chief Executive Dave Gilbert,  the minister wrote:

________________

"Dear Dave

"Thank you for your letter of 4 March requesting I clarify the law in relation to the granting of an indemnity for meeting the cost of a defamation counterclaim.

"I am unable to comment on a decision taken by Carmarthenshire County Council about which I do not have all the facts. I am also unsighted in respect of the reports which went to Members. In any event, this is not a matter in which you should expect me to provide legal advice when the issue of statutory interpretation is clearly a matter for the courts.

"Nevertheless I have asked my officials to review the Local Authorities (Indemnities for Members and Officers) (Wales) Order 2006 and the accompanying Welsh Government guidance, Providing indemnities to members and officers of relevant authorities (2006). The guidance makes reference to the provisions which enable Local Authorities to issue indemnities to their officers and Members. Paragraphs 17 to 19 of the guidance explain the Welsh Ministers' view in relation to the provision of indemnities for defamation proceedings. The guidance notes the risk of offering such indemnities by relying on section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972.

"I have nothing to add to this guidance and neither do I think the guidance nor the secondary legislation requires any amendment or clarification. It is for the Council to satisfy itself and others it has acted within the powers available."

_________________

Hands up all those who think that Ms Griffiths was giving Carmarthenshire County Council the all clear.

No, I thought not.

But the Chief Executive and the acting Head of Law and Administration reckon that this is a ringing endorsement of their actions.
 
In a report which will go before full council next week, they have another pop at the Appointed Auditor and the Wales Audit Office:

It is surprising that the Appointed Auditor states that it is not the role of Welsh Government to provide a definitive statement of the law when in fact Welsh Government is a law-maker. 

Hang on a minute, didn't the Minister say that interpretation was a matter for the courts as well?

As for the Auditor's view that Welsh Ministers clearly intended to prohibit indemnities to bring actions for defamation, Mrs Rees Jones says this is stuff and nonsense:

The Minister’s confirmation that Welsh Government’s intention is as set out in its 2006 Guidance means that the 2006 Order was introduced as additional powers for local authorities as opposed to being an Order to remove the s. 111 (1) Local Government Act 1972 powers which already existed.

So there we are then. The Welsh Government has given Carmarthenshire County Council the thumbs up, the unlawful pension payment was perfectly lawful because Mr James and other senior officers were forced out of the Dyfed pension fund, and the whole thing never cost us a penny.

As Caebrwyn pointed out the other day, this makes for a very promising start to the much trumpeted review of governance in County Hall.

Carmarthenshire residents have not seen this much scorn and derision heaped on an external public body since the Council tore a strip off the Ombudsman for Public Services.