Saturday, 25 October 2014

Whistleblowers and Edna's Law

The subject of whistleblowers has featured frequently on this blog, mainly in relation to Carmarthenshire County Council, but our county council is by no means unique in its victimisation of people who report abuses. Here is a selection of recent headlines:

Prison whistleblowers being threatened with dismissal (Guardian)

NHS Trust 'blackened' whistleblower doctor's name (BBC)

Met Police whistleblower PC James Patrick resigns (BBC)

Whistleblower treatment is often shocking, say MPs (BBC)

Kincora Scandal: Whistleblower claims MI5 [used] blackmail (Belfast Telegraph)

Fire service whistleblower - disciplinary hearing date (South Wales Evening Post)

Six headlines picked at random, and all but one reporting on the ordeals of people who reported abuses in the organisations they worked for. There are hundreds more where those came from.

Without exception every one of the public bodies and institutions involved proudly advertises a whistleblower policy on their websites, and encourages anyone who works for them to report abuses.

So common is the problem of victimisation of whistleblowers by employers that there are any number of learned sociological and legal treatises on the subject. To outsiders, however, the question of why councils, NHS Trusts and other bodies should respond to what are often simple reports of abuse by punishing the people reporting the abuse remains inexplicable.

It is obvious that junior staff responsible for abusing a patient will react to a complaint with fear, anger and hostility. It is sometimes understandable why their immediate line managers will be defensive or hostile - after all the abuse occurred on their watch, and they bear at least indirect responsibility. But friends and work colleagues protecting each other's backs does not explain why the whole food chain in an organisation should end up turning on whistleblowers.

To understand why people trying to protect the vulnerable or report abuses should become victims, you need to see the behaviour in the context of corporate culture.

Anyone who has worked for an organisation in the public or private sector will know that corporate culture is invariably determined at the top, no matter how large the organisation. If the big boss goes, you know that the culture of the organisation you work for will change for better or worse.

In the case of commercial operations, the fear will be that news of e.g. abuse of elderly or vulnerable patients in a care home could lead to loss of contracts and business. Far better hush things up and paint whistleblowers as liars and trouble makers.

In the case of public sector bodies the fear driving the behaviour of those at the top is negative publicity. PR is king, and criticism and bad headlines are to be avoided at all costs. And of course, this is especially true of PR-obsessed Carmarthenshire County Council and its chief executive for whom controlling the news and stifling dissent have been at the very heart of the James/Gravell regime since Day One.

Sir Robert Francis, the barrister who conducted the public inquiry into the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal, will report soon on the NHS Freedom To Speak Up Review, and campaigners for the rights of whistleblowers are asking everyone who cares about tackling abuse in the NHS, social care, the police, local government and other organisations to sign this petition calling on him to make two recommendations:

1.  A new piece of legislation known as Edna’s Law to replace the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) which has failed to protect the public, the victims or the whistleblowers.

2.  A public inquiry into whistleblowing because the “shoot the messenger and cover up” culture extends beyond the NHS into all sectors, eg social care, education, transport, police, banking.

This blog has outlined the main proposals for Edna's Law before, but it is worth explaining how it came to be given this name.

Edna was a defenceless elderly lady who died after terrible abuse and neglect in a BUPA care home even though the “BUPA Seven” had notified management.  The campaign is dedicated to Edna’s memory and to all those who have suffered or died because a whistleblower was ignored or too afraid to speak out.
The BUPA Seven were forced out of their jobs and became the first case to be tried under PIDA, but found it was ineffective because those responsible for the abuse and neglect, and those who had been notified, were not held to account.

This was despite the regulator upholding all the allegations, so it was no surprise when four years later, information was made public that vulnerable people had continued to suffer.  Edna’s Law would stop this happening again.

Edna’s Law is based on the evidence from 1500 whistleblowers, given to Compassion In Care  an independent charity founded by Eileen Chubb, one of the BUPA Seven.

On its website the campaign group Compassion in Care provides harrowing accounts of other cases under the title Breaking The Silence Parts. The reality for whistleblowers includes harassment, physical assault, suspension, false counter-allegations, dismissal, loss of income, unemployment, ill-health, high legal fees, months or years of stress and loss of homes.  Relatives of whistleblowers, even young children, have been targeted for indirect reprisals.   But often no action is taken on the wrongdoing or risks, which often continue, and are covered up by employers.

The employment tribunals, where whistleblowing cases are heard, have no jurisdiction to make sure problems are put right.

Would YOU report wrongdoing if you knew what the consequences might be for you and your family? And if you knew that the law would not protect you?

With an election now just seven months away, there is no likelihood that the Government will be legislating any time soon, but raising the matter with people who are asking for your vote is one way of ensuring that the message gets home.

And in Wales the Welsh Government and Assembly now have the power to legislate on matters which have been devolved, including health, social services and local government. A strong Welsh Edna's Law might be easier to bring about than one which depends on Westminster.

Please take a few seconds to sign the petition and badger your elected representatives. This is something which affects all of us.


Friday, 24 October 2014

Stand by for a stitch up


As the dust settles on the latest act of the farce in Pembrokeshire, events are beginning to take shape in Carmarthenshire which will provide local government watchers with another master class in rotten borough studies.


There are growing signs that Kevin Madge, the Labour leader of Carmarthenshire County Council, is preparing to cough up a massive pay-off for Mark James, the council's chief executive, in a move which is certain to receive the enthusiastic backing of Meryl Gravell, Pam Palmer and their "Independent" troops - not because they want to see the back of Mr James, but because they think he deserves to be paid as much money as the council can scrape together.

Unusually for Carmarthenshire County Council, the mechanism for bringing this about is relatively simple. Mr James was one of the architects of the council's severance programme and has also been responsible for carrying out a review of senior management.

The senior management review, which is not yet in the public domain, is believed to have recommended abolition of the post of chief executive. Purely by coincidence, Mr James has applied for a pay-out under the severance scheme he engineered on the assumption that his proposals to restructure senior management will be approved.

As Caebrwyn reports, Kevin Madge last week softened up readers of the South Wales Guardian by telling them that abolition of the post of chief executive was one of the options he was considering. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

And so the municipal slot machine has been programmed to come up with three cherries in a row and pay out a jackpot. All Kev needs to do is accept the recommendations and read from a pre-prepared statement saying that in this time of austerity and belt-tightening, the move will lead to a leaner administration and save truckloads of money.

Except, of course it won't, and the council will still need a head of paid service performing the same functions as Mr James, albeit on a slightly less inflated salary.

This won't go down at all well with the voters, of course, but as with the row over the unlawful pension and libel indemnity schemes, Kev is calculating that everyone will have forgotten all about it by the next council elections in May 2017. Let us draw another line in the sand and move on, he will say.

Expect all this to happen before Christmas, with Labour and Independent councillors voting to exclude press and public from the crunch meeting on legal advice (Mrs Rees Jones, possibly with the backing of a report drawn up at considerable additional expense by someone like Mr Tim Kerr QC) before they give Mark the best Christmas present ever and he heads off for new pastures, heaped with praise from Meryl, Kevin Madge, Uncle Tom Theophilus and the rest.

You don't need to be Mystic Meg to predict that Kev's hopes of drawing a line in the sand, with or without ostriches, will be quickly dashed as the Wales Audit Office announces that it will carry out an investigation following complaints.

And just as we saw with the pensions scandal (tucked away and in heavy disguise in minutes of an Executive Board meeting), there is every reason to believe that there are more time bombs ticking away in County Hall.

Like the Ancient Mariner and his albatross, Kevin Madge's support for Mark James will hang over the Labour Party in Carmarthenshire for years to come.


Monday, 20 October 2014

A deserving cause - Updated

Update 20 October, 1.20pm

Radio Cymru is reporting that the Wales Audit Office will be reviewing the severance package awarded to Bryn Parry-Jones before deciding whether to take any further steps. For its part, the council is none too pleased that Jacob has spilled the beans, and has put out a statement reminding councillors of their duties under the code of conduct.

______________

Following last week's £320,000 (correction - it was £332,000 - see Jacob Williams) whip-round for Bryn Parry-Jones at Pembrokeshire County Council, all eyes are now turning to neighbouring Carmarthenshire to see what happens to Mark James's application for a severance package.
Speaking for Llanddarog

Plaid Cymru has made it plain that it thinks that Mark James should not receive another penny, and there is a school of thought that he should be asked to repay the tens of thousands paid to him unlawfully. Labour has so far remained tight-lipped, but true to form the Independents appear to be taking a radically different view.

Wyn Evans, the veteran Independent councillor for Llanddarog and a close confidant of Meryl Gravell, has apparently been holding forth on the subject and explaining why he thinks Mark James deserves a bigger pay-off than Bryn Parry-Jones.



Sunday, 19 October 2014

Dead Cat Bounce

A cabinet stuffed full of old Etonians and other public schoolboys, Ed Miliband, the Scottish referendum, the rise of Ukip - that Labour and the Tories have lost all connection with people outside the parish of Westminster is obvious, but there are times when you really do have to pinch yourself to make sure that this is not all just a dream.

Nepotism is alive and well in the Labour Party (e.g. Stephen Kinnock in Aberafon, and Mary Wimbury - married to Tal Michael - in Aberconwy), and the Tories select candidates for Welsh constituencies who could all have stepped straight out of the pages of a PG Wodehouse novel. Their candidate for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr is Matthew Paul, a huntin', shootin' and fishin' London barrister, while down in Llanelli they have picked Ms Selaine Saxby, a woman who runs a sports bra retail business called LessBounce and who is eerily reminiscent of Wodehouse's Sir Roderick Spode, the leader of the Black Shorts who made his fortune flogging ladies' lingerie.

Ms Saxby is joining the ranks of Tory hopefuls at a time when the party is seeing an exodus of women MPs elected back in 2010, many of whom are disillusioned with the party's treatment of women in politics.

It is not clear what Ms Saxby's connection is with Llanelli, or even Wales come to that, other than the fact that she lives in Codford St Mary (or Llanfair Rhydypenfras), Wiltshire, which is closer to Wales than, say, Sussex. Her website, which seems to be the main vehicle for promoting her political campaign, devotes rather more space and energy to promoting her business, although it does feature a snap of Selaine and hubby walking the labs through the leafy lanes of Wiltshire.

Her latest appearance in Llanelli was at a political debate organised by pupils of Ysgol Coedcae. Asked for her views on the Welsh language, Ms Saxby said that if the language was a business, it would not be value for money. Unlike her bras, presumably.

Ms Saxby's candidacy has received the enthusiastic backing of our Tory Police and Crime Commissioner, Christopher Salmon who was on hand to help launch her campaign at a drinks party back in September.

Happily Ms Saxby stands no chance whatsoever of becoming the next MP for Llanelli, but her selection for the constituency speaks volumes about how the Conservative Party regards Wales.

Older readers may recall a playground chant which deserves to be brought up to date:

You'll never get to Parliament in a Saxby bra, 'cos a Saxby bra won't stretch that far.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Moving the goal posts

Three years after councillors narrowly voted to accept a planning application for a supermarket in Newcastle Emlyn, Carmarthenshire County Council's planning department has finally issued a certificate which will allow the controversial scheme to go ahead, assuming that there is a supermarket chain out there willing to take on the site.

It is highly unusual for a planning authority to allow matters to drag on as long as this, and the hold-up was the applicant's inability to meet the conditions of a Section 106 Agreement.

The S106 Agreement concerned improvements to a walkway from the proposed supermarket through into the main part of the town, a stretch of roughly 40 yards across land owned by a third party, but the owner of the main site and the owners of the strip connecting the site with the town were unable to agree terms.

Throughout the entire history of this long-running planning dispute, the planners in County Hall have bent over backwards to aid the developer, and they performed even more somersaults in the final phase of the battle.

The solution they have come up with involves the payment of £38,000 by the would-be developer to buy himself out of the S106 obligations, with the council declaring that it has unearthed a covenant allowing users of a council-owned car park to cross the disputed strip of land. By extension, it says, that would allow customers of the supermarket to use the same walkway.

However, the council does not have powers to force the owners of the disputed piece of land to agree to make the improvements which were a condition of planning back in September 2011.

Residents of Newcastle Emlyn may recall that when the application was up for approval, both the developer and planning officers argued at length that the greatest strength of this site was its proximity to the town centre, and that the walkway would enable customers to move seamlessly from the supermarket into the town. That in turn was supposed to be a guarantee that the proposed supermarket would not suck the life blood out of the town centre, but would instead ensure its vitality and viability.

Thanks to the payment of £38,000 in pieces of silver this is all now swept aside, with planners stating "it needs to be noted that the area no longer forms part of the application site".

There have long been dark mutterings about friends in high places and strings being pulled. When councillors voted to accept the original plan back in 2011 the leader of the Independent group on the council, Pam Palmer, denied instructing her troops to vote in favour of the application, although coincidentally they all raised their hands at the right time along with their Labour Party friends.

If the site is ever developed, Carmarthenshire County Council will be directly responsible for a scheme which would destroy local businesses and jobs, wrecking what is still an attractive and vibrant market town.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Furry Friends

There cannot be many councils in the British Isles which have faced angry demonstrations from outraged members of the public at the conduct of their chief executive, but as BBC Wales reminded us last night, earlier in the summer large numbers of people turned up at County Hall in Haverfordwest to demonstrate, and someone brought along a giant inflatable rat.

The response of the closet Tory administration led by Jamie Adams yesterday was to quash disciplinary proceedings against Bryn Parry-Jones, chuck out the public and press, and vote through a secret severance package said to be worth around £320,000 to get rid of him.

A few days before that Cllr Adams was telling anyone who would listen that his council faced a 25% budget cut over the next few years and things were looking desperate. The £320,000 pay-off was not budgeted for.

The inflatable rat was not the only rodent to make an appearance at County Hall, however, as quite a few Labour voters in the county could attest, having voted for Labour candidates who then defected to Jamie Adams' IPPG.

Cllr Paul Miller, the leader of the Labour group on the council, has had a good media year, and he popped up on last night's news bulletin to deplore the decision to give Bryn a truckload of cash.

Credit where credit is due, although it was a pity that the BBC did not find space for Cllr Mike Stoddart (Old Grumpy) or others who have been pointing out the council's failings for rather longer.


At the last council elections in 2012, Labour took 9 of the 60 seats. A year later Cllr Sue Perkins defected from the Labour group to the IPPG where she bagged a seat at the Cabinet table and a special responsibility allowance, having previously ranted and raved against other Labour defectors to the dark side (see Old Grumpy).

Labour voters who thought that Cllr Perkins had set something of a record for rodent-like behaviour had reckoned without Cllr Alison Lee, elected as Labour councillor for Pembroke Dock Central.

With scandal after scandal have broken in Haverfordwest, the integrity of the ruling Independent cabal in shreds and just days before the crunch council meeting to decide BPJ's fate, Cllr Lee defected from Labour to become Cabinet member with responsibility for Housing.

Along with Cllr Perkins and previous Labour defectors, she voted to exclude press and public from the meeting and then supported the motion to pay off the discredited chief executive.

With two and a half years to go before the next council elections, Labour in Pembrokeshire seems set to defy the laws of political gravity by which opposition parties normally grow in numbers between elections. At this rate the party will soon fit comfortably into a Smart car.

Cneifiwr stands to be corrected, but there are now at least 6 serving councillors in Pembrokeshire who were elected on a Labour ticket but who are now loyal supporters of Jamie Adams' rotten IPPG junta.

And yes, before anyone points it out, there is one Plaid defector in the form of Stephen Joseph, but at least he voted against the pay-off.


Christmas Shopping

This blog recently questioned Cllr Meryl Gravell's absence from meetings of the full council in September and October, as well as a meeting earlier this week of the Executive Board.

The piece attracted a great deal of criticism, with a couple of comments saying in no uncertain terms that it was in very poor taste to criticise someone who was nursing her husband who was gravely ill.

Under the circumstances, Cneifiwr felt it was better to delete the offending piece and make an apology for any offence caused.

It is therefore with considerable relief that we can report that things appear to have taken a turn for the better because no sooner had the apology been published than someone bearing an uncanny resemblance to Mrs G was spotted at Leekes in Cross Hands wreathed in smiles and pushing a trolley full of Christmas goodies.

The veteran councillor has also found time in the last week or so to provide the council's press office with quotes for some of their press releases, including this one here with a picture.


Thursday, 16 October 2014

Cashing in

The Llanelli Star has picked up on rumours that Mark James, the chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, has a plum new job lined up, but before he goes he would like a severance payment from the council.

In Pembrokeshire the chief executive, who is currently the subject of disciplinary procedures, is reported to be in line for a pay-off of more than £320,000. Based on length of service and salary, Mr James could be looking at something between £250,000 and £300,000.

Returning to the Llanelli Star for a moment, the paper says that there have been numerous suggestions that Mr James is planning to move to a new job in the west of England. Let's be more specific.

For about a year now there have been persistent whispers that Mr James is planning to move to Bath, and the word on the street is that he is set to take up a top job at Bath University. University vice chancellors and pro vice chancellors earn more than even the chief executives of Welsh councils.

The council's reaction to the rumours is interesting. If the Star has reported the response to its questions accurately, County Hall would say only that the suggestions were "speculative" while noting that an employee who accepts a severance deal is free to take up new employment. The council's spokesman did not say, it seems, that the rumours were untrue.

Over the last few weeks there have been a number of attempts by County Hall sources to give the impression that Mr James is just another employee offering to take redundancy, but there are some important differences.
  • Mr James was instrumental in setting up the scheme he now hopes to benefit from.
  • Unlike other staff, Mr James does not have a departmental boss to approve or reject his application. It will fall to the elected councillors to decide, probably with the Executive Board making a recommendation.
  • By making his application, Mr James is effectively calling on the council to abolish the post of chief executive. By law the council must have a Head of Paid Service, and invariably the Head of Paid Service is also the chief executive in Welsh councils. Abolishing the title may not make a scrap of difference.
  • If the proposal is somehow to save the council money, as has been suggested, how long would it take for Carmarthenshire to realise a saving of, say £250,000? Someone still has to be Head of Paid Service, and the Head of Paid Service would naturally expect to earn more than other senior officers. The truth is that it could take years for the council to achieve a saving, and it may never see any financial benefit if it goes down the severance route.
The council could share a chief executive with a neighbouring local authority, but just about all of the neighbouring councils are due to disappear in the shake-up of Welsh local government. The only realistic contender is Swansea where the council has restructured in such a way by thinning the ranks of senior officers that it would be very difficult for the current incumbent, Jack Straw, to take on additional responsibilities. And running Swansea is a very different proposition from providing services to the rural north of Carmarthenshire.

Whatever happens, Mark James's application for severance will be a political decision, and councillors will need to think very carefully about what is best for Carmarthenshire rather than what is best for Mr James.

In the final analysis, everything will come down to which way the Labour group on the council decides to jump. If it succumbs to temptation and gives Mark James a cheque to clear off, public opinion will not forgive it. Furthermore, there are already signs that the chief executive's legacy is beginning to unravel even before he leaves, and who knows what may come out of the woodwork once he is gone. Kevin Madge could face years of having to defend a payment as all sorts of time bombs go off around him.

A refusal to agree to a severance package will most likely not go down well with the leading lights of the Independent group, giving Kevin Madge yet more headaches. Worse still, a by election in a ward held by one of Labour's creaking doors could really upset the apple cart and cost Kev his job as council leader.

Events over the past year have lost Mark James much of the support he used to enjoy from councillors, and his application for a pay-off speaks volumes about his loyalty and commitment to the people of Carmarthenshire. He wants to go, and most people in County Hall would be glad to see the back of him.

If someone else wants him, presumably an employer who is not familiar with Google, let him go. But say no to a pay-off.

If you have not done so already, you may wish to sign this online petition.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Literary rubbish

Anyone who has observed meetings of Carmarthenshire County Council over the last couple of years will have noticed that declarations of interest have become a prominent and often baffling feature of council business. Last year the leader Kevin Madge (Lab) rose to declare an interest in a memorial to miners because one or more of his grandparents had worked in the mines.

It is unclear to what extent these rules apply outside the council chamber, as we can see from a recent press release dealing with the Dylan Thomas centenary celebrations in Laugharne which quotes the proprietor of  Corran's book shop, Mr George Tremlett, who says that the council's marketing activities have led to an increase in sales for his business.

Mrs Tremlett is the Independent councillor for Laugharne and a member of the council's governing Executive Board, although there is no mention of this connection in the press release which continues with a rather peculiar analysis of visitor numbers to the town.

Apparently repeat visitors spent £28 on meals per party, compared with £47 per party spent by first time visitors. We don't know what constitutes a party, but the repeat visitors would seem to be very tight fisted, lashing out not much than a fiver a head.

Coachloads of Cardis perhaps? It would seem not, because only 5% of visitors came from mid- and north Wales. 5% of what we are not told, because although the press release is liberally sprinkled with percentages and amounts allegedly spent on food, there is no indication of how many people actually went to Laugharne because of the centenary.

Dylan Thomas spent only part of the last five years of his life in Laugharne, and while it is true that some of his best known works were published during this period, the Ministry of Spin says that "he composed most of his greatest works in his Laugharne shed", thereby consigning the bulk of his poetry to the literary rubbish bin.

The "bespoke replica" of Dylan's writing shed was last seen trundling along behind a white van on its way to Ireland.








Mrs Meryl Gravell


An item questioning Cllr Gravell's absence from the last two monthly meetings of the full council, and a meeting of the Executive Board earlier this week while continuing to provide quotes to the council's press office has been removed because it is now understood that Mrs Gravell is nursing her husband who is seriously ill.

I wish to apologise for any offence caused and express my best wishes to Mr and Mrs Gravell.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

October's council meeting - Toxic Fumes

This month's meeting of the full council was a muted affair, with councillors treading water ahead of the unveiling next month of the WLGA's report on the way Carmarthenshire County Council runs itself.

Once again a number of councillors exercised their right to ask questions on a range of topics, and once again the chief executive and his legal team (motto: "Cavalier at best, incompetent at worst"), refused to allow supplementary questions on the grounds that because the constitution does not mention them, they are therefore banned.

Cllr Emlyn Dole, the Plaid leader, tried a different tack this time, proposing that as supplementary questions were not going to be allowed, the council could vote to suspend the rule for the duration of the meeting. A vote then took place, with Labour and what seemed to be most of their Independent allies voting down the proposal.

You have to wonder why backbench Labour and Independent councillors would vote to restrict their right to ask questions on behalf of the people they represent, but that is precisely what they did.

Ironically the first question up after this exercise in democratic transparency and accountability came from Edward Thomas (Ind., Llandeilo). [Correction] Judging from the webcast, most of Cllr Thomas's friends on the Independent benches had just voted not to allow him to ask a follow-up question.

The question concerned air pollution in Llandeilo, and Labour's Cllr Colin Evans was on his feet giving a long, scripted answer which boiled down to a statement that there was nothing that could be done about it, but to help matters along, he had set up a forum which would add a lot of hot air to the noxious gases and toxic fumes swirling around Rhosmaen Street.

Somewhat later in the meeting, Cllr Siân Thomas (Plaid) took an opportunity to ask how many children in Llandeilo were missing school because of asthma attacks and other health problems caused by the pollution in Llandeilo. She recalled that the subject of pollution in Llandeilo had been discussed at her first meeting as a councillor 15 years ago.

Colin Evans was fortunately not called upon to answer that point having had to leave the meeting, but Kevin Madge was unfortunately on hand to give his views, which were in essence that the people of Llandeilo themselves were to blame for the pollution because they had not been able to agree on a route for the bypass, but thanks to Colin Evans and his forum, everything was now much better.

Llandeilo still won't be getting a bypass any time soon, especially since Edwina Hart grabbed all the money for her new M4 system. And thanks to Kev, Labour's election prospects in Llandeilo now look even bleaker. But at least they've got a forum.

Cllr Keith Davies (Lab) responded in English to a question in Welsh on the Welsh Government's decision to scrap the school banding system. Cllr Davies, who was until last year the council's "Welsh language champion", haltingly read a long, turgid statement in English which appeared to have come straight from Labour Spin Central in Cardiff. The new system was going to be much better, in short.

Cllr Cefin Campbell wanted to know what evidence there was to support a claim made by a member of the Executive Board that the Welsh language could be an obstacle to investment by overseas investors. The identity of the Executive Board member remains a mystery, at least officially, but Cllr Campbell knows a thing or two about treigladau, and clearly thought that the remarks had been made by someone of the feminine gender.

Replying, Kevin Madge (Lab) defended the right of everyone to express their opinions.

Cllr Meryl Gravell was absent for the second successive monthly meeting of the full council. Let's hope she is given an opportunity to explain herself when she does eventually condescend to attend a council meeting.

Finally, Cllr Eirwyn Williams wanted to know if Kevin Madge thought that spending over £28,000 on the services of Mr Tim Kerr QC to defend the unlawful payments to Mark James was value for money.

Kev thought it was good value, and he was not going to say anything else.

Thanks to the ban on supplementary questions, that was the end of the matter.

After the usual shambolic performances by Labour's Kevin Madge and Keith Davies, the leading lights of the "Independent" group rallied round to show that they could be every bit as incompetent.

Cllr Linda Evans (Plaid) deplored the end of the Bobby Van service which had provided elderly and other vulnerable people with advice and help on home security. She was particularly surprised that Cllr Jim Jones (that's Dog Muck Jim to everyone else) had been unaware that the service had been terminated, even though public protection is his portfolio. Cllr Jim remained silent, but his boss Cllr Pam Palmer stepped into the breach with some waffle about partnership working. This seemed to involve getting firemen to advise on home security while they were visiting people in connection with smoke alarms.

Perhaps they will start selling double glazing and doing pensions advice as well.

A little later Pam gave another demonstration of the breathtaking scope of her knowledge of just about everything in response to concerns raised by Cllr Sharen Davies (Lab). Cllr Davies was worried that unqualified staff in centres receiving grants could be giving advice and support to people with drug and alcohol addiction problems.

She wasn't going to name names, but Cllr Peter Cooper (Lab) dropped a heavy hint to suggest that this might be happening at one of Meryl Gravell's favourite drop-in centres in Llanelli (and the scene of the infamous "rabble" incident).

Pam was on her feet once again to say that the council had no control over the people who received grants, and if it was a "Welsh Office grant", it had nothing to do with the council.

Devolution has obviously not yet come to Pam's attention, but more worryingly this was confirmation of what many people have long suspected: that the council is happy to dollop out grants with few if any questions asked.

Apart from that, the council unanimously approved a motion tabled by Kevin Madge to ban the sale of Chinese lanterns on council property.

It was odd that this had found its way on to the agenda when the Executive Board more than likely has powers to do this without going to full council. Even odder when we recall that much more contentious matters such as charges for sports facilities were kept away from councillors, with Mrs Linda Rees Jones telling Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths that his request to have the policy debated was nothing more than an attempt at micro-managing Executive Board decisions.

And we also heard from the chief executive that the current sponsorship deal with the Scarlets would soon becoming to an end, and that it was unlikely that councillors would be keen to renew it.

Perhaps councillors may wish to donate Mr James's serverance pay to the Scarlets instead.




October's council meeting - Toxic Fumes

This month's meeting of the full council was a muted affair, with councillors treading water ahead of the unveiling next month of the WLGA's report on the way Carmarthenshire County Council runs itself.

Once again a number of councillors exercised their right to ask questions on a range of topics, and once again the chief executive and his legal team (motto: "Cavalier at best, incompetent at worst"), refused to allow supplementary questions on the grounds that because the constitution does not mention them, they are therefore banned.

Cllr Emlyn Dole, the Plaid leader, tried a different tack this time, proposing that as supplementary questions were not going to be allowed, the council could vote to suspend the rule for the duration of the meeting. A vote then took place, with Labour and what seemed to be most of their Independent allies voting down the proposal.

You have to wonder why backbench Labour and Independent councillors would vote to restrict their right to ask questions on behalf of the people they represent, but that is precisely what they did.


Ironically the first question up after this exercise in democratic transparency and accountability came from Edward Thomas (Ind., Llandeilo). Judging from the webcast, Cllr Thomas had just joined his friends in voting not to allow himself to ask a supplementary question.

The question concerned air pollution in Llandeilo, and Labour's Cllr Colin Evans was on his feet giving a long, scripted answer which boiled down to a statement that there was nothing that could be done about it, but to help matters along, he had set up a forum which would add a lot of hot air to the noxious gases and toxic fumes swirling around Rhosmaen Street.

Somewhat later in the meeting, Cllr Siân Thomas (Plaid) took an opportunity to ask how many children in Llandeilo were missing school because of asthma attacks and other health problems caused by the pollution in Llandeilo. She recalled that the subject of Llandeilo had been discussed at her first meeting as a councillor 15 years ago.

Colin Evans was fortunately not called upon to answer that point having had to leave the meeting, but Kevin Madge was unfortunately on hand to give his views, which were in essence that the people of Llandeilo themselves were to blame for the pollution because they had not been able to agree on a route for the bypass, but thanks to Colin Evans and his forum, everything was now much better.

Llandeilo still won't be getting a bypass any time soon, especially since Edwina Hart grabbed all the money for her new M4 system. And thanks to Kev, Labour's election prospects in Llandeilo now look even bleaker. But at least they've got a forum.

Cllr Keith Davies (Lab) responded in English to a question in Welsh on the Welsh Government's decision to scrap the school banding system. Cllr Davies, who was until last year the council's "Welsh language champion", haltingly read a long, turgid statement in English which appeared to have come straight from Labour Spin Central in Cardiff. The new system was going to be much better, in short.

Cllr Cefin Campbell wanted to know what evidence there was to support a claim made by a member of the Executive Board that the Welsh language could be an obstacle to investment by overseas investors. The identity of the Executive Board member remains a mystery, at least officially, but Cllr Campbell knows a thing or two about treigladau, and clearly thought that the remarks had been made by someone of the feminine gender.

Replying, Kevin Madge (Lab) defended the right of everyone to express their opinions.

Cllr Meryl Gravell was absent for the second successive monthly meeting of the full council. Let's hope she is given an opportunity to explain herself when she does eventually condescend to attend a council meeting.

Finally, Cllr Eirwyn Williams wanted to know if Kevin Madge thought that spending over £28,000 on the services of Mr Tim Kerr QC to defend the unlawful payments to Mark James was value for money.

Kev thought it was good value, and he was not going to say anything else.

Thanks to the ban on supplementary questions, that was the end of the matter.

After the usual shambolic performances by Labour's Kevin Madge and Keith Davies, the leading lights of the "Independent" group rallied round to show that they could be every bit as incompetent.

Cllr Linda Evans (Plaid) deplored the end of the Bobby Van service which had provided elderly and other vulnerable people with advice and help on home security. She was particularly surprised that Cllr Jim Jones (that's Dog Muck Jim to everyone else) had been unaware that the service had been terminated, even though public protection is his portfolio. Cllr Jim remained silent, but his boss Cllr Pam Palmer stepped into the breach with some waffle about partnership working. This seemed to involve getting firemen to advise on home security while they were visiting people in connection with smoke alarms.

Perhaps they will start selling double glazing and doing pensions advice as well.

A little later Pam gave another demonstration of the breathtaking scope of her knowledge of just about everything in response to concerns raised by Cllr Sharen Davies (Lab). Cllr Davies was worried that unqualified staff in centres receiving grants could be giving advice and support to people with drug and alcohol addiction problems.

She wasn't going to name names, but Cllr Peter Cooper (Lab) dropped a heavy hint to suggest that this might be happening at one of Meryl Gravell's favourite drop-in centres in Llanelli (and the scene of the infamous "rabble" incident).

Pam was on her feet once again to say that the council had no control over the people who received grants, and if it was a "Welsh Office grant", it had nothing to do with the council.

Devolution has obviously not yet come to Pam's attention, but more worryingly this was confirmation of what many people have long suspected: that the council is happy to dollop out grants with few if any questions asked.

Apart from that, the council unanimously approved a motion tabled by Kevin Madge to ban the sale of Chinese lanterns on council property.

It was odd that this had found its way on to the agenda when the Executive Board more than likely has powers to do this without going to full council. Even odder when we recall that much more contentious matters such as charges for sports facilities were kept away from councillors, with Mrs Linda Rees Jones telling Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths that his request to have the policy debated was nothing more than an attempt at micro-managing Executive Board decisions.

And we also heard from the chief executive that the current sponsorship deal with the Scarlets would soon becoming to an end, and that it was unlikely that councillors would be keen to renew it.

Perhaps councillors may wish to donate Mr James's serverance pay to the Scarlets instead.




Friday, 10 October 2014

Ust! Panel Iaith ar waith

Yn Ebrill 2013, ryw ddwy flynedd ar ôl Cyfrifiad 2011, cynhaliwyd cyfarfod cyntaf "Gweithgor y Cyfrifiad", grŵp trawsbleidiol Cyngor Sir Caerfyrddin. Tasg y grŵp oedd edrych yn graff ar sefyllfa'r iaith Gymraeg yn y sir a llunio strategaeth iaith newydd.  Yna, yn Ebrill 2014 ar ôl blwyddyn arall o ymchwil a thrafodaethau,  derbyniodd y Cyngor llawn adroddiad terfynol y Gweithgor a 73 o argymhellion.

Penderfynodd y Cyngor hefyd y dylai'r gweithgor barhau ar ryw ffurf neu'i gilydd er mwyn cadw ffocws ar y gwaith o weithredu'r argymhellion. I'r diben hwn sefydlwyd "panel iaith ymgynghorol".

Cynhaliodd y grŵp newydd gyfarfod cyfansoddiadol ym mis Gorffennaf dan gadeiryddiaeth Mair Stephens. Heblaw am fod yn hen gyfaill i Meryl Gravell, byddai'n deg dweud nad yw cymwysterau na sgiliau'r Cyngh. Stephens yn amlwg yn y cyd-destun yma.


Peidiwch da chi ag ysgrifennu at Mrs S. yn Gymraeg, felly.

A thra'n bod ni'n sôn am Meryl Gravell, mi ddaeth hi'n amlwg yng nghyfarfod y Cyngor Sir yr wythnos hon mai hi yw'r unig berson sy'n gallu egluro pwy ddwedodd wrth y Bwrdd Gweithredol y gallai'r iaith Gymraeg fod yn rhwystr i ddenu buddsoddwyr tramor i'r Sir.

Symudwn ymlaen i fis Hydref 2014 a chyfarfod cyntaf (go iawn) y panel newydd.

Yn anffodus, does dim modd dweud beth ddigwyddodd yn y cyfarfod hwnnw, am fod y cyhoedd a'r wasg wedi cael eu cau allan. Ni fydd cofnodion yn cael eu cyhoeddi chwaith.

Pam hynny? Wel, er bod Kevin Madge wedi honni ei fod e am greu cyngor mwya' trylowy Cymru, mae'r panel/pwyllgor newydd yn un strategol yn hytrach nag un cyfansoddiadol, ac felly maen nhw'n gorfod cwrdd tu ôl i ddrysau caeedig yn ôl y Cyngor. Wir i chi.

Dylid gofyn beth fyddai'n digwydd petai'r panel yn wfftio'r rheolau chwerthinllyd hyn a chroesawu'r cyhoedd a'r wasg. Ymyrraeth Heddlu Dyfed Powys i atal cyfarfod agored? Terfysgoedd yn strydoedd Caerfyrddin? Diwedd y byd?

Yn ôl y sibrydion, yr economi oedd testun y cyfarfod diwetha'. Fel cyflogwr mwya' Sir Gâr, mae gan y Cyngor gyfrifoldeb arbennig i wneud yn siŵr bod yna sail economaidd gadarn i'r iaith. Y ffordd amlycaf o greu'r amodau angenrheidiol yw datblygu gweithlu dwyieithog, sicrhau bod yna gyfleoedd i siaradwyr y Gymraeg ddatblygu gyrfa yn y cyngor, a dechrau gweithredu'n fewnol drwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg.

Dyna oedd disgwyliad caredigion yr iaith, ac dyna oedd dehongliad y rhan fwyaf o'r bobl ddarllenodd yr adroddiad, gan gynnwys y BBC:

Roedd yr adroddiad hefyd yn argymell gwneud newidiadau i'r maes cynllunio a cheisio sicrhau bod y cyngor yn gweithredu drwy gyfrwng yr iaith.

Y gwir amdani yw bod gwrthwynebiad cryf i'r syniad ymhlith y swyddogion uwch a rhai o'r cynghorwyr ar y Bwrdd Gweithredol.

Er bod canran sylweddol o'r swyddogion uwch yn ymddeol, mae'r cyngor yn brysur penodi carfan newydd o swyddogion di-Gymraeg. Dim ond un o'r cyfarwyddwyr sy'n medru'r Gymraeg erbyn hyn, a hynny mewn sir lle mae rhyw 44% yn siarad Cymraeg.

Wedi galw am awdit sgiliau iaith yn y gweithlu ac argymell y dylai'r cyngor fabwysiadu Fframwaith ALTE i'w hasesu nhw, mae'r adroddiad yn awgrymu:

43. Unwaith bydd y Cyngor wedi gweithredu’r camau uchod i gefnogi datblygiad y gweithlu, cyflwyno mesurau pellach i alluogi’r Cyngor i weithredu’n ddwyieithog gan roi pwyslais ar y defnydd cynyddol o’r Gymraeg.

Nid oes amserlen na thargedi pendant, ac mae "gweithredu'n ddwyieithog gan roi pwyslais ar y defnydd cynyddol o'r Gymraeg" yn llawer mwy tila na "gweithredu drwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg".

Llusgo traed a busnes fel arfer amdani, felly. 

Ni fydd newidiadau i'r maes cynllunio chwaith. Un o argymhellion yr adroddiad oedd ysgrifennu at Carwyn Jones i'w berswadio y dylai'r iaith fod yn ystyriaeth faterol yn y Bil Cynllunio newydd, ond nid oes yr un cyferiad at yr iaith yn y ddeddf arfaethedig.

Dim ond ym maes addysg plant bydd newidiadau arwyddocaol fel canlyniad, ac un o'r gwersi pwysicaf ym myd cynllunio iaith yw bod canolbwyntio ar addysg yn unig yn gamgymeriad sylfaenol.