The two centre pieces of Kevin Madge's administration in Carmarthenshire are an ambitious programme of upgrading council-owned homes and a plan to start building new council bungalows, which he recently boasted were the best money could buy.
Both involve very large outlays of money, and if history teaches us anything, it is that whenever the honey pots of public finance are opened for schemes like these, you will inevitably attract swarms of hungry insect life eager to make a quick buck.
It happens everywhere, and anyone looking back on past scandals will have noticed that the recipes for disaster always include many of the same ingredients. With the benefit of hindsight, or rather wisdom gained from lessons learned, it should be possible to spot the warning signs before it is too late.
Typically the ingredients include:
- Lack of transparency
- Lack of accountability
- Control by a small group who have known each other for years and work as a mutual protection society, appointing each other, rewarding each other and nominating each other for awards and honours such as MBEs, OBEs, CBEs, etc.
Chuck in a few relationships with "strategic business partners" or "persons known to the officers" and a colourful character or two, and bingo!
At this week's council meeting Cllr Winston Lemon (Plaid) referred to a jolly held in his ward to mark the beginning of a project to build new bungalows. The Housing Minister, Huw Lewis, had turned up with a ministerial posse, as had various other councillors and officials for a ceremony to mark the beginning of the project. The great and the good included Chief Executive, Mark James, Cllr Pam Palmer (Rural Affairs), Cllr Tegwen Devichand (Housing) and Kevin Madge (luxury car enthusiast).
The project, we are told, will deliver 39 2-bedroom bungalows for elderly tenants at a cost, the Council says, of £3.6 million (£92,000 per bungalow). Given the usual lack of transparency, there is no way of knowing how that cost is arrived at or even if it is the true cost.
Cllr Lemon's concerns are that Carmarthenshire capital projects tend to come with a very hefty price tag, with tenders invited from a select list of preferred contractors. Suspecting that council tax payers may not be getting a good deal, he asked to see the list of bids and the costs quoted. His request was naturally refused.
Not only were bids requested, but the winning contractor has already been chosen, and work will commence early next year.
On the same day that the first sod was cut, the party also called round to open a new tenant network HQ in nearby Pontyates. The building, formerly a day club for the elderly (since "streamlined"), is now a resource centre.
The minister and civic dignitaries were welcomed by the Chair of the Gwendraeth Tenant Network, Lady Dena Lloyd-Waterford, known previously as plain old Dena Lloyd.
|Lady Dena and distinguished guests|
Lady Dena Lloyd-Waterford was at the centre of a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission in 2007 when someone complained on behalf of an Irish peer that a story had appeared in the Llanelli Star referring to a councillor for Kidwelly and Mynyddgarreg as Lady Waterford. His Lordship wanted it to be known that there was only one Lady Waterford, and her first name was not Dena. As he had been married to the woman concerned for 50 years, he was probably in a good position to know.
Lady Dena claimed that she had inherited the title, and had been using it for four years.
The Carmarthenshire County Council press release marking the opening of the Tenant HQ had no qualms about accepting her aristocratic status, but oddly the South Wales Evening Post referred to her as both Lady Dena Lloyd-Waterford and Mrs Lloyd-Waterford in the same short piece, just to hedge its bets.
Her Ladyship is quite active in public life, it seems, and is involved in various activities including Help for Heroes. She also graciously agreed to address a Celebration Event held at Parc y Scarlets (where else?) a couple of years ago to celebrate the success of the Carmarthenshire Homes Standard Project, which is all about upgrading and refurbishing council-owned homes. Other distinguished attendees included Chief Executive Mark James and Queen Meryl.
Prior to this, Lady D got into a spot of bother in 2005 when she went on trial for bigamy and forgery, charges of which she was subsequently acquitted. You can read the BBC's account of the beginning of the trial here.
Something tells me that we will be reading a lot more about Kev's projects in the future.