Friday, 22 August 2014

In disarray and not fit for purpose

The WLGA panel which is reviewing governance in Carmarthenshire has been busy hearing evidence and taking submissions, and is expected to present its conclusions in the autumn.

What they are hearing is tale of two very different local authorities. One is open, transparent, the winner of multiple awards and has a glorious track record of innovative regeneration projects. The problems which have beset the council over the last few years are a storm in a tea cup whipped up by nit pickers and malcontents; it is now time to move on.

The other is a secretive and undemocratic place, run by a tiny and self-perpetuating cabal which tramples over the rules, hates all forms of criticism and bulldozes its way through no matter what. It has developed a culture which is the enemy of good governance.

Culture is a word that the panel members have heard a lot in the last few weeks, and if their final report reflects what they have been told, it will make for very uncomfortable reading in County Hall.

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A copy of an e-mail has come in which was certainly not meant for your eyes or mine, and which was not forwarded by any of those it was addressed to. Publication is however very much in the public interest because of what it says about the way in which Carmarthenshire County Council is run, and it was written by someone the Chief Executive cannot dismiss as a scurrilous representative of a tiny minority of malcontents determined to run the council down or, Cneifiwr's all-time favourite, someone "who has a problem with local government".

The someone in question is Sir David Lewis, a co-opted voting member of the Council's Audit Committee, former Chairman and Senior Partner of a global law firm, former President of the City of London Law Society, alderman and councillor of the City of London and Lord Mayor of London 2007-8. As UK financial services ambassador with full cabinet rank he advised and reported to the Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary.

Sir David felt that he had a public duty to make his findings and experiences known to the WLGA Review Panel, and so he went along to the Chief Executive's secretary to ask for an appointment to be made with the panel. Whether the message was not relayed or the WLGA panel felt they had no need to speak to Sir David, he was somewhat surprised not to be taken up on his offer.

And so, just like members of the public, Caebrwyn and Cneifiwr, he put pen to paper, emphasising for good measure that he is not and never has been a member of a political party.

The letter runs to about two pages and is explosive.

There has been a breakdown in trust between the electorate and the Council, he says. "The governance of the Council is in disarray and not fit for purpose".

The values of any well governed Council include openness and transparency, honesty and integrity, tolerance and respect, and equality and fairness. "In recent years these values have evidently not been applied or followed".

Sir David believes that this is not the fault of the general body of councillors but that responsibility lies in the hands of the Executive Board and the Chief Executive. "There needs to be a change in culture".

It is not that the rules and procedures are inadequate, more a case that they are not applied in practice because of "the internal culture in County Hall".

Basic rules and values concerning conflicts of interest which should be obvious to all have not been applied by some members of the Executive Board and senior management. "They are not mere technicalities as some have suggested" (see Minor Matters).

Sir David does not name names, but for anyone who has followed this blog or Caebrwyn's you won't find it hard to put two and two together.

Recent events should not happen in a well-managed Council, he says, before adding that they "will not happen if there is a proper professional relationship between the Chief Executive, the Executive Board and the Council generally and if the Scrutiny Committees are given the full facts."

No amount of changing rules and constitutions will alter matters without a change in culture.

Sir David is scathing about the Council's notoriously short and uncommunicative minutes of meetings. Worse, "there is a culture of hiding difficult or troublesome items".

"It is unclear to me whether or not the committee clerks are instructed to adopt this unhelpful approach and if so by whom."

He is full of praise for the way in which financial statements are prepared, but speaking as a very senior and experienced lawyer he concludes that the quality of internal legal advice he has seen, and the advice given on the WAO reports in particular, was "cavalier at best and incompetent at worst". A much more senior person needs to be appointed urgently.

Ouch. She was only acting on orders, M'lud.

Sir David goes on to suggest that councillors should be given an opportunity to meet and question the Executive Board and Chief Executive at regular intervals, with full and complete answers given.

Hell will probably freeze over before that happens, and as most of the members of the Executive Board are spectacularly clueless, any such event with current personnel would rapidly turn into a one-man show featuring the Chief Executive giving answers which may be rather less than full and complete.

Sir David ends rather understatedly by saying that if the Executive Board and Chief Executive really want to make the Council "the most open and transparent council in Wales", there is a very major task ahead of them.

The culture which Sir David refers to has been nurtured and developed over a long period by a small number of key players at the top of the pecking order. He does not say it because it hardly needs to be said, but changing the culture of the council without changing the senior personnel is doomed to failure.

Let's hope someone is on hand to administer a stiff brandy and smelling salts in the Executive Suite as they digest this message. The press office may also need medical attention.

12 comments:

Blodwen said...

Wow! The ranks of the malcontents and troublemakers have now been augmented by someone who cannot be dismissed quite so easily as the rest of us mere mortals.

And as for you, Cneifiwr, are you sure that you're not in cahoots with Edward Snowden? If you carry on like this you're going to need to seek political asylum somewhere far from the Carmarthenshire Kremlin!

Cneifiwr said...

You mean I may have to seek asylum in Ceredigion?

Anonymous said...

Words (almost) fail me). Sir David is an experienced senior lawyer with extensive experience as a local government elected member in positions of great responsibility, and is an expert in financial matters. He has been directly involved in oversight of the financial matters of the Council. If the WLGA Review Panel declined to hear such an eminent and relevant witness in person, does it not undermine the credibility of the review?

Regardless of that, can the cabal possibly survive such an onslaught? Or will Council Members regain what is rightfully theirs?

Anonymous said...

I think the key to change lies with the Llanelli group of Labour councillors.

They really do need go grow a pair between them and force some change.

Compare the actions of Labour in Carms with that of Labour in Pembs who appear go be gaining a lot of plaudits for their attitude towards the unlawful pension payments.

Come on Llanelli Labour. Rediscover your roots and socialist principles and force some change. You will gain from this. As it stands, at the next election your voting records will be examined and I promise each of you will be asked why you supported the unlawful payments to one of the best paid Chief Executives in the country.

How much evidence do you want ??

Anonymous said...

Taxpayers of Carmarthenshire could also rise up and take positive action by demonstrating outside County Hall.

Sometimes direct action is needed to have any affect upon those who have no moral compass and care less.

Anonymous said...

There are eleven matters I read about which The Ombudsman For Wales is able to use as guidelines to decide' what might have been Maladministration. I have reported a case to him about the conduct of the Carmarthenshire Planning Service.
My complaint includes a belief that the behaviour of this planning service ticks every one of those eleven boxes. Don't you just hate folk who exaggerate?
Very soon I shall hear whether the case I have just complained of might be one of those selected for investigation. I would have to accept that if I'm incorrect it might turn out to be only about 90% of the eleven. Anything decision of ticked boxes less than that number would be a travesty of justice. Not a travesty of J------ as big as the one we have already suffered though.

Anonymous said...

Re: 19:01

There is apathy on a grand scale in Carmarthenshire, as I well know from a current case I am chasing.
Not CCC but Hywel Dda Health Board.

Anonymous said...

Tis true you will find apathy in abundance in Carmarthenshire - in my view it is due to knowledge that no-one but no-one is ever brought to account for anything untoward. The welsh government has a lot to do with it. The Ombudsman has no clout -there is no will in Wales to clean up. So apathy is just what the system wants and gets. Obvios really. Mark James is a clssic example - completely out of control but who stops him.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8.39

You say that the Ombudsman 'has no clout' but as an independent regulator the Ombudsman 'should have clout'.

During my complaint, the former Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, Peter Tyndall, sent me two draft reports before the final report was published in Sept. 2009. My complaint was completely vindicated by the Ombudsman. Some of the serious failures and criticism of certain Officers of the Council was included in my draft report, but was removed from the final report. These were included in the other report but that report was kept confidential. As an independent regulator, why did the Ombudsman do this, as had that other report been published then heads at senior level would have certainly rolled. Was it kept hidden to avoid holding senior officers to account? I would be very interested to know how many County Councillors saw that confidential report. That report should now be made public so that all officers who have failed are held to account, and are no longer able to hide and given a second chance. This is how situations like Rotherham develop.

Delyth Jenkins
Compassion In Care whistleblowing Co-ordinator For Wales

roger hood said...

The e-mail in question is an excellent summary of the state of CCC.
I do think however, that Sir David was overly generous in his comments on Councillors as against Executive Officers.
There is certainly at least one powerful Councillor who shows extreme bias( and that is putting it very mildly!) in his dealings on Planning issues. He has a track record of ignoring the masses, and his own Planning Officers, in favour of his mates.
Overall though, a superb letter which needs to be aired in the National Press.

Patricia Lester said...

We could almost imagine that we are way back in the time of Pepys when officials obtained favours for each other as a reciprocal arrangement rather than the elected officers carrying out the wishes of their constituents. So many rumours of malpractice and 'goings on' completely against all codes of conduct and official guidelines. Indeed I have experienced the 'disappearing' documents meant to be freely available to the public. And the minutes of meetings certainly do not reflect anything of the discussions which anyway seem to be superficial with most debate going on behind closed doors. Transparency - about as transparent as a bowl of porridge!

Ian Bayliss said...

The comments about asylum are not so silly as they seem. The corruption in Wales is complete right across the board. I have battling Betsi Cadwaladr UHB for a long time now. The lies and deceit are staggering from senior executives. Provably so with the documents. Like many institutions in Wales they have a policy of defying the Statute Laws of the United Kingdom in my case the Data Protection Act 1998. We have a corrupt and ineffective Ombudsman who is clearly in league with the publ;ic bodies to prevent dissent.

I asked for help from one of AMs in seeking asylum due to the threat of reprisals against us and he has confirmed in writing that we are not safe any longer in Wales.

NHSS Wales (in its hospitals) is slaughtering us at three times the rate that the NAZIs killed the German population in an equivalent 12 year period. NOTHING is done, our illustrious commissars in the Welsh Government continue to do nothing. Remember Stafford occurred on the same party watch as this slaughter is is going on.

It therefore has to be a covert policy of the Welsh Government.

regards