For those of you who are not Freedom of Information geeks, there is a popular website called What Do They Know. Anyone who likes can submit a request through the website, with the result that anyone can see both the request and the response.
Someone with the imaginative name of Mr John Smith recently asked Carmarthenshire County Council for information on the council's spending on "workforce development products", or what most of us would call staff training. The request was in all likelihood a fishing expedition by someone hoping to sell their services to the council.
The council duly obliged with a long list of company names and the amounts spent. You can see for yourself here.
Quite a few of the courses are for staff in social services and care, including a session on "Vinyl Gloves and Polythene Aprons". Buried in among all that are quite a few legal training sessions, such as "Court Room Skills" and "Effective Witness Courtroom Skills". Needless to say, those carry quite a hefty price tag.
Some courses sound like the sort of management theory rubbish so beloved of big companies and public sector organisations ("Managing Change", "Motivating the Unmotivated", "Developing Yourself", etc.). Then there are team building days.
Cneifiwr was once thrown into a freezing pond in January by his team during a raft building exercise. Oh how they laughed, and the ex-army type running the session would only allow women to go back to the hotel to change into dry clothing. A huge bust-up later ensued with another team member who was a very bossy ex-police woman. She subsequently stormed out of the weekend when in another exercise someone hit on the bright idea of playing Meatloaf's "Bat out of Hell" track to a film of her playing rounders.
She also took several dips in the pond, and to her credit refused to go back to the hotel to change because that was for wimps. Cneifiwr protested to no avail that he was a wimp and proud to be a wimp.
As team building events go, it was not a huge success.
Another staple of the management bollocks genre is "Developing Your Team". That one was run by Matt Bownds (Communication Skills Intervention), cost £275. Also a bargain at just £275 was "Conducting Effective One to One Meetings".
When he is not being paid to train County Council staff, Mr Bownds can more usually be found communicating to his flock in the Living Word Church in Carmarthen which meets in Trinity College. The church also has quite an active social life on other days. Until recently prayer meetings were held at various venues including, should you have felt inclined to drop by, "Mark and Alison's", although it is unlikely that any critics of the County Hall regime would have been made welcome.
To be fair, the church makes no bones about its "traditionalist" (i.e. ultra conservative) interpretation of the Bible, which is "infallible and inerrant" and "completely true and trustworthy", including some of the more difficult passages such as a wife's duty to obey her husband and a slave's obligations to his master.* It also sees itself as different from what it calls "traditional Welsh chapels" with its contemporary approach to music and services, as well as a belief that the "gifts of the Spirit" are still alive in the church today.
You can make of that last statement what you will, but usual manifestations of these gifts as interpreted by churches of this kind include faith healing and "speaking in tongues" (but definitely not Welsh).
The church is a registered charity, and its most recent report and accounts (here) contain a hint that it has not all been sweetness and light. Two of the three original trustees and church elders resigned and left the fellowship during the year. The report explains that money was also somewhat tighter, and as a result it will be changing its charitable activities to concentrate more on targeted giving to missionary activities or causes highlighted by visiting missionaries.
Other than that, one of the key roles of the church as it sees things is to cater for the spiritual needs of students in Carmarthen.
Of course there is absolutely no suggestion in any of this that personal ties or religious affiliations have in any way coloured the council's use of the pastor's services. Mr Bownds is as free as anyone else to tender for council business, and in common with any such tender we can be sure a decision would be made purely on the basis of merit.
Carmarthen is a relatively small place, and this blog seeks merely to avoid any potentially embarrassing social situations.
* The subject of one of the on-line sermons on the church's website.