Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Review of the Year - Part Two: The Ombudsman Calls

Part Two of our depressing round-up in which the council returns to business as usual, and the deckchairs are rearranged.


As the rain continued in what was to become the wettest summer on record, Carmarthenshire County Council under its new dynamic leader, Kevin Madge, showed its determination to get to grips with the challenges of local government by taking a record three month holiday.

For others there was no holiday, including the Ombudsman for Public Services who delivered a report rejecting a whole string of complaints made by the chief executive, Mark James, against Councillor Siân Caiach. Complaints included describing Meryl Gravell as a cash cow, saying she did not believe a word the chief executive said about the funding of a new school and "asking too many questions". See the Western Mail for more.


Fresh back from his holidays, Kevin Madge took delivery of a new Mercedes for his use as council leader. This meant he no longer had to share a limo with the Chair of Council or suffer the humiliation of using the council's official people carrier.

The council published a huge, glossy document entitled "Annual Report 2011-12 and Improvement Plan 2012-13". Among all of the pictures of smiling children and happy pensioners, the council told us that "Carmarthenshire has a stronger and more prosperous economy" thanks to its efforts, while 82% of residents were satisfied or very satisfied with the council.

Dave Gilbert, the Director of Regeneration (total remuneration of £147,000 in 2011-12), was awarded an OBE in the Jubilee Honours List and went off to Windsor Castle..

The council met for the first time since June, and things got off to a negative start with a discussion of the Ombudsman for Public Services' report on the case of Mr M, a disabled man who had battled with the council for years to have a wheelchair ramp installed at his home. Councillors lined up with stories of their own which cast doubt on claims that this sort of thing was all in the past.

The chief executive eventually snapped and wished Mr M and family had been left homeless; as for all those yarns, they were ward matters and should not be raised in a meeting of the full council.

The council's press office published a press release ostensibly written by Kevin Madge accusing MP Jonathan Edwards and Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM of deliberately sabotaging two planning applications submitted by Sainsbury's which had been called in by the Welsh Government. Evidence quickly emerged that Kevin Madge's accusations were false.


In the ensuing row over the press release, Plaid councillors submitted a notice of motion for the October council meeting. The chief executive ruled that it was invalid because it was not dated, although according to standing orders, he is supposed to record the date and time each notice is submitted.

At the council meeting Plaid councillors tried to raise the matter as an emergency motion. In the fracas which followed, the Monitoring Officer ruled that this was not valid but seemed unable to pinpoint where the standing orders backed up her argument. The Chair eventually said she had been told to close the meeting.

The Ombudsman was landed with another investigation as a result.

Kevin Madge reported back from a trip that he and a posse of other council worthies had made to Llanelli to mark the building of some old people's bungalows. The knees-up was graced by the presence of Lady Dena Lloyd-Waterford, who has also been known under several other names.

Yet another BBC documentary, this time under the Week In Week Out banner, had Carmarthenshire residents glued horrified to their screens as we heard the truly appalling tale of the council's treatment of Mrs Trisha Breckman and her partner.

The programme led to calls for a public inquiry into the council's planning service, a debate on the report in the council chamber and the long delayed distribution of copies of the report to councillors. None of these things happened.

Carmarthenshire County Council once again won the Chartered Institute for Public Relations' annual award for "Outstanding In-House PR". The council's submission to this august body said it employed 20 people in its PR operations.

A council scrutiny committee agreed in a cross-party vote to recommend that members of the public should be allowed to record council meetings.

Two members of the public who were taking part in a phone-in programme on BBC Radio Wales to discuss the county council's restrictions on people observing council meetings, were shocked to hear a statement from County Hall read out live on air saying that they were spreading untruths against the council and had "an agenda". The Ombudsman has been asked to investigate.


The Ombudsman was back again, this time with a report on a case in which an young woman with autism was wrongly taken away from her parents for six months in the most distressing circumstances imaginable. The case itself is understood to be subject to legal proceedings.

The Welsh Government issued a stopper notice on the controversial Stradey Park site. It is currently considering whether to call in this proposed housing development for the third time.

The council's award-winning PR department sent a notorious conman an invitation to come and stay in Carmarthenshire together with a hamper full of cheese after he wrote a scathing review of the county's delights in Oldie magazine. As a result, the council picked up Private Eye's "PR Plonkers of the Year" award.

The new East Gate development in Llanelli opened to a mixed reception. The county council said it would empty some of its offices and move the staff into rented office accommodation in the new development under a deal struck with the developer. This will cost the taxpayer £5 million.

Visitors to the new Odeon cinema which forms part of the East Gate "shoppertainment" complex were surprised to see a plaque thanking the county council for chipping in £20,000 towards the cost of a 3D system. Odeon is owned by Terra Firma, a global private equity group with billions of pounds worth of assets on its books.

Sainsbury's withdrew its planning application for a supermarket at Llandeilo.

The chief executive was given a two page spread in the Carmarthen Journal to warn that the council was running out of money. The article was described by the paper as an "interview", although it did not feature any questions.


The South Wales Guardian announced that it had been blacklisted by the council after it ran a piece criticising the authority over its handling of the Sainsbury's press release scandal. The paper had received virtually no advertising from the council for three months. The council issued a press release attacking the paper, and claiming that this was a purely commercial decision. A flock of pigs flew past County Hall.

At the final meeting of the full council in 2012, a cross-party recommendation to allow recording of council meetings by the public was thrown out in a whipped vote. The meeting saw more manipulation of the council's constitution and standing orders by the Executive. One Labour councillor said he was voting against recording in the interests of openness and transparency, and Independent leader Pam Palmer was worried that members of the public might fall from the balcony while filming.

Not discussed at the meeting because it was not on the chief executive's agenda, was the extremely depressing news that Carmarthenshire showed the largest decline in numbers able to speak Welsh of any of the 22 local authorities in Wales according to the census.

The Welsh Government's Data Unit had more depressing news for the people of Carmarthenshire. Only 25% of the county's schools were deemed fit for purpose despite the much publicised Modernising Education Programme. Half of the county's secondary schools were placed in the Government's bottom two bands. The county was third from bottom for road maintenance, second from bottom for reviewing care plans and third from bottom for adult carer assessment. The council was also permanently blocked from accessing the DVLA database for improper or negligent use.

During the December council meeting the Chair rebuked Meryl Gravell for scurrying round the chamber and holding what appeared to be a rival meeting. It turned out that she had slipped out of the council meeting to tell listeners of Radio Wales that Carmarthenshire was the best run council in Wales, and had come back to update her pals on her success in putting the record straight.



FedUpToTheBackTeeth said...

is 2013 going to be any better? shan't hold the breath. but there is more to life in carmarthenshire than the council, and when the rest if it isn't up to much good standards, there isn't much else to say. we all try to live a decent life without having to argue or chaos and putting up with bad goings on. is carmarthenshire cursed?

Cibwr said...

I am wondering if a change of control in the council would make much difference? I suspect you would need a wholesale reorganisation of the officers and portfolios before any meaningful control can be exercised.

Patricia B. said...

Brilliant summary of the catastrophe which is our local authority. All employees wages paid for by the much disgruntled taxpayer. How much more embarrassing for us can these executives become?

Well done Cneifiwr, and a Very Happy New Year to you, and long may you continue to be one of the much needed critics in this county.

Anonymous said...

I believe that 2013 is going to be the crunch year. This farce can't go on for much longer. Watch this space!

Jac o' the North, said...

We can only hope that Anon 12:38 is right. But why no mention of the PE award? After all, the council is big on awards and 'honours'.

Cneifiwr said...

Jac, there is a veiled reference to the PE award tucked away in November - the conman and the hamper of cheese.

Cneifiwr said...

And now a not so veiled reference. Thanks for spotting that.

Anonymous said...

Diolch yn fawr Cneifiwr am blog hynod o ddifyr a dadlennol, rwyt yn gweithio yn galed i grisialu gweithgareddau ffol y cyngor, mae'n ddigon i ddanto dyn ond o leia ti'n neud inni chwerthin! Blwyddyn newydd Dda a gobithio daw chwyldro yn 2013 ond rywsut... dwi'n amau.

Anonymous said...

Paid ag amau. Mae'n rhaid iddo ddod.

Cneifiwr said...

@anon 20.10 Diolch o galon am eich sylwadau caredig. Blwyddyn newydd dda i chi.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you check out your facts re Rhodri Glyn & Jon Edwards calling in the Sainsburys application . I think you will find that they are a bit em brassed about their decision to lose jobs !!!
Freedom of Information Request open government ?

Anonymous said...

The Ombudsman might as well take up permanent residency in Carmarthenshire considering the amount of investigating he has to do within Carmarthenshire County Council, although his criticism doesn't seem to make any difference in the end.

Cneifiwr said...

Anon @12.13 on 30 December - apologies for not replying sooner. Can I suggest that you read this:

As for fact checking, I do my best, but will leave that now to the Ombudsman for Public Services who is investigating the whole affair.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you back Cneifiwr. Thought you might have gone on holiday, although everyone deserves a break especially around xmas. Season's greetings.

Anonymous said...

Anon 30 December 12.13

Is that you Kev?

Anonymous said...

Loose jobs by no shop to attract people and loose massive amounts of money for Llndeilo itself and its shop owners.

Stand on a street in Llandeilo and coconut the wheelchairs and walking sticks. you wont see them but in in Carmarthen , Trostre and Ammanford and you will get a few hits.
Just who is against the proposal to make Llandilo accessible to the people with bottomless pockets ?

Anonymous said...