Friday 29 March 2013

Où sont les Gitanes d'antan?

A ban on letting children on school exchange trips stay with host families abroad because of fears about their safety has been backed by councillors in Ceredigion. (BBC)

Back in the early 1970s Cneifiwr went on a school exchange trip to France. The UK had only just joined what we then called the EEC, and exchange controls were still in place. That meant that you had to take your passport along to the bank when you were buying your Francs, and a bank clerk duly recorded in the back of the passport that I had exchanged £20 and possibly undermined the British economy.

The fact that the Bank of England was interested in Cneifiwr's birthday money and meagre savings made the whole enterprise of travelling abroad seem all the more exciting and fraught with danger.

The exchange trip to France was with a school in a northern mining town. The host family's  toilet was an old-fashioned shed at the bottom of the garden, and like most French families in those days, they did not have a telephone.

Remarkably Cneifiwr was twinned with Laurence, a girl of about the same age, because there were not enough French boys interested in taking part.

The family were very warm and welcoming and took me to a nearby seaside resort in Belgium as a treat. There we were entertained by some elaborate fountains which danced and changed colour to organ music.

It was the first time I had been forced to use my limited French for real, as my exchange pal's parents did not speak English, nor did any of her many younger brothers and sisters. We carried on writing for a few more years, and Laurence went on to study medicine.

A couple of years later, aged 16, Cneifiwr and Tina, a girl from the same French class, won a bursary to go to France, ostensibly to study the chateaux of the Loire. Tina was a bit of a ladette, and we became great friends, united in our efforts to subvert what we considered to be the fascist authoritarian state as embodied by our secondary school.

Tina's parents were called in by the Headmaster who was a little nervous about allowing two teenagers of the opposite sex to travel unchaperoned to France.

They clearly raised no objections because we set off for France with our rucksacks early in the summer of 1975. Both of us had been lectured about the perils of hitch hiking, but the parents' concerns were undermined by the fact that they had let us go with only about £50 between us to survive for two weeks of youth hostelling along the Loire Valley.

We quickly did our sums and realised that we would have to dispense with luxuries such as food and railway tickets if we were to be able to afford the basics of life: Gauloises and wine. France back then still smelled of Gauloises and Gitanes, and smoking French fags was essential back home whenever we sat around the record player listening to Leonard Cohen.

Our survival rations were a big bag of "Alpen" muesli and a tub of milk powder which we mixed up with water to form a kind of gruel. We supplemented that with baguettes and vegetables which we stole from the fields. All washed down with luke warm white wine.

At one point a young woman took pity, and insisted on giving us 100 francs (about £10, I think) to go and buy ourselves a decent meal. We spent it on wine instead.

Hitch hiking was by and large fine, although we did get stuck one very hot day on a road which had very little traffic. In desperation Cneifiwr stood in the middle of the road and flagged down a passing Algerian who took pity on us when I said that Tina had terrible stomach pains and had to get to hospital. She sat in the back of the car and groaned unconvincingly for the half hour ride.

Our last night was spent at what must have been one of the most primitive youth hostels in France. The toilets stank indescribably and were buzzing with flies; it was obvious that desperate hostellers had taken to using the showers as a public toilet.

During the night a cat kept jumping onto Cneifiwr's bunk, and after a couple of hours of chucking the cat off, I gave up and slept. In the morning it turned out that she had settled down on my blanket and given birth to kittens.

Cneifiwr knocked on the door of the concierge's flat and explained to the woman that "votre chat a eu des petites chats sur mon lit". Unfortunately the past participle of naître escaped me, but Madame still understood. She muttered something and appeared minutes later in the dorm with a bucket of water to drown the kittens.

Sad to think that CRB checks and the grandly titled Head of Educational Wellbeing in Ceredigion have put a stop to all that.

One final thought. Imagine how good it would be if teenagers in Wales learning Welsh as a second language could spend 10 days with a Welsh-speaking family, swapping the dull and artificial Welsh of the classroom for a dose of the real thing. But thanks to our risk averse, cotton wool culture of wellbeing, that won't happen either.

Noson Adloniant Y Cadeirydd

Daw blwyddyn y Cyng. Siân Thomas fel Cadeirydd Cyngor Sir Caerfyrddin i ben ym mis Mai.

Swydd ddigon heriol yw Cadeirydd y Cyngor, ac fel chwa o awyr iach yn y siambr roedd Siân gyda'i gwên a thinc o hiwmor yn ei llais. Trwy godi proffil y Gymraeg, mae hi wedi gosod esiampl i'r Cyngor cyfan.

Gobeithio felly y bydd cymaint o bobl ag y bo modd yn mynd i'w Noson o Adloniant i godi arian ar gyfer ei helusennau dewisedig.

Elusennau Siân yw offer arbenigol i Ysbyty Glanaman; y cartref pwrpasol i ddioddefwyr dementia yn Nyffryn Aman; a Chymdeithas Clefyd Siwgr Cwm Gwendraeth.

Cynhelir y Noson o Adloniant yn y Thomas Arms, Llanelli, ddydd Iau Ebrill 18 am 7pm.

Mae’r tocynnau, sy’n costio £12, ar gael oddi wrth Eira Evans, Cyngor Sir Caerfyrddin, drwy ffonio 01267 224060 neu drwy anfon neges e-bost at: 


Uchelgais ambell un yw ennill cadair
eisteddfod, swyddogol neu genedlaethol,
awch arall cael eisteddian mewn cadair
un siglo, nid sigledig, ar derfyn dydd
a hynny ger tanllwyth o ymddiddan,
ambell gadair sy'n urddasol foethus
fel Cadair Cadeirydd y Cyngor,
yn solet, suddog, os nad esmwyth
bob tro, a beth am gadair Barnwr
un rymus ar y naw
uwch lol daearolion?

Yn iau, ar ôl symud i'r wlad
clywais am olchi 'cadeiriau'!
methu deall y byd amaethu a'r dull
o esmwytháu da, ar eu penliniau.

Ond ddoe, penderfynodd geneth
a fu fel myfi yn darbwyllo'r byd
bod rhagor i ferch na bod yn brennaidd,

ei bod AM fod yn gadair,

a beth ellwch chi ei wneud
gyda sylw mor wirion, ond
eistedd arni.

(Menna Elfyn)

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Council Leader breached Code of Conduct

The Public Services Ombudsman has ruled that Cllr Kevin Madge breached the Councillors' Code of Conduct when he used council resources to issue the now infamous Sainsbury's press release accusing MP Jonathan Edwards and Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM of "deliberately trying to sabotage" the development of a doctor’s surgery, health centre and care home in Cross Hands and school improvements to Ysgol Maes yr Yrfa.

Having undertaken a formal investigation into the complaint against the Labour Council Leader, the Ombudsman stated the press release contained both inaccurate and misleading statements; that authority resources should not have been used; and that the council leader has “walked a very fine line”.

In the view of the Ombudsman, Councillor Madge used, or authorised others to use, the resources of the authority improperly for political purposes, although he is not recommending that any further action be taken.

Bearing in mind how libel has been at the top of the council's news agenda recently, it is ironic to say the least that Cllr Madge's press release was about as close to the textbook definition of defamation as you can get. He can count himself lucky that neither of the two Plaid politicians is likely to take the matter to court, although if they did the council leader would at least have the comfort of knowing that his court costs would be picked up by the council tax payer.

A spokesman for Mr Thomas and Mr Edwards said they welcomed the findings of the Ombudsman’s investigation into Councillor Madge’s comments and his improper use of public resources to carry out a politicised attack on them, and called for Councillor Madge to issue a full public apology.

The spokesman for Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM and Jonathan Edwards MP said:

“Nobody goes into politics expecting not to receive a couple of low blows from your opponents, especially when your main rival is the Labour party. However, at the heart of any democratic system there has to be political integrity – especially from a leader of a public authority. 

“Mr Thomas and Mr Edwards therefore welcome the findings of the Ombudsman and believe his comments vindicate entirely their complaint against the Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council.

“Given the conclusions of the Ombudsman, Councillor Madge would do well to consider whether he is surrounding himself with the right advisors. 

“In the meantime, however, he should issue a full public apology for the misuse of public resources and for his inaccurate and misleading statements.”


Ever obliging, Cneifiwr is happy to respond to a request for a picture from Anon. Somehow, I don't think he got this tan in Garnant, do you readers?

Planning matters: enforcement Carmarthenshire style

Mrs Trisha Breckman and her partner may have thought that Carmarthenshire County Council's belated and very grudging acceptance of the report by the Public Services Ombudsman on their treatment at the hands of the council in the planning dispute with their neighbouring farmer/road haulier and sometime scrap dealer had brought the whole sorry saga to an end.

Readers will recall that it took the council 7 months to get round to discussing the ombudsman's report, albeit behind closed doors at a meeting of the planning committee. The full council never got an opportunity to discuss the way in which the matter had been handled because the relevant report was tacked on at the end of the annual budget meeting, and it was voted through along with a truckload of other reports without discussion.

Having observed the way in which the council downplayed the matter, dragged its feet and made it obvious that it was not at all happy with the Ombudsman's findings, Mrs Breckman's neighbour appears to have concluded that he had no need to worry about any comeback from that quarter.

A large wooden "privacy" board which had been put up by Mr Thomas was removed just within the 3 month deadline imposed by the Ombudsman. This meant that the council did not have to pay Mrs Breckman and her partner £1,000 in compensation for failing to enforce planning regulations. Subsequently the old removals van which had been parked where the trailer now stands was taken away in early November. All seemed well.

Then on 1st March this year a huge trailer belonging to an articulated lorry was brought in to replace the board and removals van. This is now the view from Mrs Breckman's window:

A second view taken from a public road may help to put things into perspective. Of all the places that the trailer could have been parked, apparently there was only room for it outside Mrs Breckman's cottage:

Unsurprisingly, Mrs Breckman has been back in touch with the council, who have replied that they can do nothing about it because the trailer is not a fixed structure and is being used for agricultural purposes (it contains a couple of bales of hay).

Previously the field and the removals van was home to two pigs. Judging from the height of the articulated trailer, any pigs now in the field will have to be able to fly.

Tuesday 26 March 2013

A Victory Parade

The Local Authorities (Indemnities for Members and Officers) Order 2006 and the Welsh Government's accompanying guidelines are clear that Welsh councils may not use public funds to enable council officers and councillors to pursue libel claims through the courts, and there is a long-standing convention that councils themselves may not bring actions for defamation.

So when the chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council brought a counter-claim against blogger Jacqui Thompson and won punitive damages of £25,000 against her on the back of it, the question arises of whether he was doing this in a personal capacity or as an arm of the council.

While the trial was in progress, anyone up and about in Carmarthen in the early hours may have seen two shiny black Mercedes belonging to the council heading east. Comfortably ensconced in the black leather interior were the chief executive himself, his wife and various council functionaries, including the authority's Head of Law and, bizarrely, the manager of the council's press office.

The limos purred along the M4 to Swansea, where the worthies boarded a train with first class return tickets for London.

The press office was quick to issue a press release welcoming the judge's verdict on 15 March, and the chief executive gave interviews to local newspapers.

Clearly that was not enough. It is understood that some councillors are now being fed with extracts from the court transcript, although for what purpose it is not clear, and yesterday, 10 days after the verdict, an article appeared as the centrepiece on the council's web site giving links to the text of the judgement.

All of this is in stark contrast to the council's extreme reluctance to tell its councillors and the public whenever the Ombudsman for Public Services issues reports which show the authority in a less than flattering light.

It may be a coincidence, but Mr James told the Carmarthen Journal in his interview that county councillors would all be given training in defamation law to prepare them for the broadcasting of council meetings.

The training will no doubt emphasise the dire consequences that may await all those who speak out of turn, and Jacqui Thompson will almost certainly be held up as a warning.

This will not be a problem for those councillors who rarely if ever speak in council meetings, but it may well be enough to convince others that the best policy is to keep quiet as well and leave all the talking to Mr James.

Who knows, perhaps Mr James may next decide that to drive his message home, a parade of open topped buses around Carmarthen and Llanelli is appropriate. He can be sure of a warm welcome from council tax payers, that's for sure.

Sunday 24 March 2013

Grillo - Poisoned Waters

Somewhat to the surprise and certainly to the disappointment of some of our council's top brass, the Welsh Government has overturned the planning inspector's decision to approve a mixed housing and retail development on the heavily contaminated former Grillo zinc oxide works site at Burry Port.

Despite being on a C2 flood plain, Carmarthenshire County Council and the planning inspector felt that the benefits of regeneration and decontamination of the site outweighed the niggling nuisance of flood risk.

Decontamination of the site was expected to cost over £1 million, and the council was hoping that a private developer would foot the bill.

The Grillo site was to have accommodated up to 230 homes and up to 465 square metres of retail space.

Residents of Llanelli concerned about the Stradey Park development and all those worried about the council's plans for a new secondary school on a C2 flood plain at Ffairfach close to Llandeilo will no doubt be noting this decision with interest.

Difaterwch ac atgasedd

Wrth annerch y dorf ddaeth i Neuadd y Sir yng Nghaerfyrddin ddydd Sadwrn diwethaf i gyflwyno deiseb "Dw i eisiau byw yn Gymraeg", tynnodd Cadeirydd y Cyngor Sir, Siân Thomas, sylw at ddifaterwch ac atgasedd cynifer o gynghorwyr a swyddogion uwch yr awdurdod tuag at yr iaith Gymraeg. Arhosodd y prifweithredwr, arweinydd y Cyngor a'i ddwy ddirprwy arweinydd gartref gan brofi ei phwynt.

Ychydig o ddyddiau wedyn sefydlodd y Cyngor weithgor newydd i "ymchwilio i'r ffactorau sydd wedi effeithio ar y gostyngiad yn nifer y siaradwyr Cymraeg yn Sir Gaerfyrddin". Ceir disgrifiad o gylch gwaith y grŵp yma (dogfen uniaith Saesneg wrth gwrs).

A barnu'n ôl geiriau Kevin Madge (Llafur) wrth gyflwyno'r grŵp newydd, mae ei ddiffyg uchelgais llwyr yn amlwg:

"Mae'r ffigyrau hyn yn destun pryder ond nid taflu arian at hyn yw'r ateb. Gobeithio y gallwn wneud gwahaniaeth erbyn y Cyfrifiad nesaf a gwrthdroi rhai o'r tueddiadau hyn.”

Mewn geiriau eraill, wedi gwastraffu miliynau ar Eglwys Gymunedol Tywi (gwefan uniaith Saesneg er ei bod yn cael cymaint o arian cyhoeddus, gyda llaw), Parc y Scarlets, ceir moethus, "Newyddion Sir Gâr", ac yn y blaen, does yr un ddimai goch ar ôl i'r Gymraeg.

Heb newid agweddau'n sylfaenol, ac heb adnoddau newydd bydd gobaith Kevin Madge o wneud gwahaniaeth cystal â gobaith caneri.

Mae 'na sawl rheswm dros gefnogi syniad Adam Price o greu un cyngor i'r Fro Gymraeg, ac mae hanes Cyngor Sir Caerfyrddin yn ystod y degawd diwethaf yn un ohonynt.

Saturday 23 March 2013

What's On at the Odeon This Week

Dracula Returns

After attacks on his castle by a mob of peasants wielding torches and pitchforks, the Count is declared an innocent victim in the Gothic splendours of the Transylvanian High Court.

The film reaches a sickening climax as the Count tells assembled journalists that it had never been his intention to stifle the freedom of the press to report goings on at the castle, and reports to the contrary were all lies and spin.

"My reputation has been restored, and suggestions that I have sunk my fangs into the virginal flesh of the local press are baseless."

The Count added that he was considering donating his winnings to a worthwhile cause, such as bat conservation or a blood bank.

In the final scene the Count reminds the press and public that garlic and crucifixes are banned from the castle chamber before he heads off to the crypt for a well-deserved rest after what he said had been "a most stressful" time.

Dracula Returns will be showing at the Odeon until further notice. Probably for ever.

The Count gives an interview to a local hack

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Hate crime, whistleblowers and jargon

Talking recently to a local man with a daughter who is also severely autistic, it was shocking to hear how his family had been treated by the neighbourhood bullies. Nasty whispers at school gates and name calling at work. One of the women involved had made allegations of serious abuse against another family with a disabled child, and that had sparked a protracted investigation by police and social services before she eventually admitted that her allegations were lies.

We all know it goes on, just as we know that the old and frail, the weak and the vulnerable are sometimes abused or neglected in hospitals, homes and day centres. We've all heard about Winterbourne View and Mid Staffs NHS Trust, and there are others. That's the real world, sadly.

In the parallel universe occupied by Carmarthenshire County Council, things are very different. Recently councillors were presented with the annual report of the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales. The report begins by praising the council for "its strong corporate vision and innovation", "good engagement with partners and users" and several more lorryloads of overarching commissioning frameworks, fully integrated services, partnerships, embedding, integration and positive outcomes.

The CSSIW report eventually gets round to admitting that it came to all these conclusions without carrying out a single service inspection during the year. But everything must be fine because that's what the Inspectorate was told by the people running the show.

Of course, there is no doubt much that is good in the county's services for the elderly and vulnerable, but buried away deep in the social services management jargon are a few less positive findings. The list below is by no means exhaustive:

  • In plain language, there is little support available for people caring for relatives at home. This increases the risk that carers will find themselves unable to cope, and the council will have to take find room for more people in its homes.
  • The rate of annual care reviews for older people "remains lower than most other councils".
  • In the case of children, the CSSIW notes that a high number of referrals (to social services) do not even receive an initial assessment.
  • There is also a hint of criticism that members of the public reporting suspected abuse of vulnerable adults have to contend with a confused and complex referral process.
  • More timely annual reviews of foster carers
  • Improvement is needed in producing education plans for children in care.
The CSSIW's excuse for the blizzard of jargon and sometimes extremely opaque language in the report (it is not at all clear, for example, what the evidence was for the report's conclusions) is probably that it was written for professionals rather than the public, but of course it need not be like that.

Ideally Carmarthenshire would follow the example set by some other councils and present reports such as this in a public forum where relatives and other interested parties are allowed to ask questions. It would be no bad thing to see agencies such as the CSSIW and Estyn put under real pressure to justify themselves, but then a short and carefully managed presentation makes life a lot easier for the inspectors and those being inspected.

But back to the real world.

This blog has been following the Delyth Jenkins story for some time, and the whole subject of whistleblowers and the lack of protection afforded to them is becoming an increasingly hot topic.

To anyone reading up on Delyth's case, it is very hard not to conclude that the bulk of the council's efforts went into trying to ensure that the whole affair was swept under the carpet as quickly as possible in order to limit negative publicity. As is so often the case with public bodies, Delyth's claims were settled out of court not to save money, but to put a lid on the tawdry facts.

The upshot of that is that the full facts have never been made public, and bearing in mind that there were no prosecutions, although abuse definitely took place, and that just about all of those involved are still working for the council, the cover-up is something which should be a cause for serious concern.

One of the things to emerge from the ombudsman's report on the Delyth case is that managers in the council's social services department, including senior managers, were aware of allegations of bullying and abuse before Delyth blew the whistle. They knew, for example, that the individual named in the report as Officer G had been using others to bully for him, while offering them protection.

The response when Delyth went to see the senior managers was that her complaint was "very untimely".

Officer G still works for the council, although it is understood that he has been on sick leave for some time now.

In the case of Officer B, who was directly involved in the physical abuse, Delyth asked at a meeting with the council's chief executive why the senior investigating manager (Officer M in the report) had not included all of the allegations against Officer B when he presided over her disciplinary. Delyth went on to ask whether the chief executive thought that Officer M's appointment to this senior role had been appropriate, especially since he had been strongly criticised by the Ombudsman in two previous draft reports produced before his promotion.

The chief executive replied that he had not appointed Officer M, the councillors had. What is true is that the councillors rubber-stamped a recommendation to appoint Officer M presented by, err, the chief executive, who for good measure had also been involved in the interview process.

Somehow it seems unlikely that councillors would have been made aware of the two draft reports criticising M when they were asked to approve his appointment. They were only draft reports, after all.

In the process of trying to make the council's leaders aware of what had been going on in the day centre for which they were responsible, Delyth wrote to the then leader of the council, Meryl Gravell. Mrs Gravell declined to meet her.

As far as the council was concerned, the whole sordid story came to an end when Cllr Meryl Gravell was reported as saying the following at a meeting of the council's Executive Board in November 2009:

 This particular lady [Sally, the young woman at the centre of the case] still enjoys herself at the centre, and I hope that this is the end of the matter. It is sad it happened, but we can now move on.

Just over three years on, and those words still sound hollow and shocking.

What really is sad is that by treating the whole thing as an exercise in PR management, the council failed to bring about lasting changes in the culture of parts of its social care services, and that new reports are  circulating of abuse and punishment of whistleblowers.

One such involves Mr John Davies, who tells his story here. Mr Davies took his concerns about abuse of vulnerable adults in the council's care to management in 2010. The investigation, which was carried out behind closed doors, took a year, and concluded that no action was to be taken. A couple of months later, Mr Davies found himself being called in at no notice to be told that complaints had been made against him, and he was suspended pending an investigation.

It turned out that the complaint was that Mr Davies had allegedly sworn. The investigation went on for almost another year, with Mr Davies left unaware of the substance of the allegations and who had made them until four days before his hearing. He was dismissed.

He lodged an internal appeal, but two appeals were cancelled, a third was aborted having only just got underway, and the fourth, which took place 18 months after the suspension, upheld his dismissal. Mr Davies noted to his dismay that the chair of the appeal panel yawned throughout the proceedings.

Mr Davies then found that he was out of time to take his case to an Employment Tribunal.

That is a summary of Mr Davies's account of events, and there are doubtless different versions.

What remains shocking is the extreme delays in resolving these cases, and the fact that whistleblowing, whether by Delyth Jenkins, John Davies or others (and there are other cases), seems inevitably to be followed by accusations made against the whistleblower. Delyth was accused of breach of confidentiality and "conspiracy", while John Davies was accused of swearing.

For some reason the persistent rumblings of abuse and victimisation of whistleblowers never seem to find their way on to the CSSIW's radar.

Sunday 17 March 2013

Some reflections on the James v Thompson libel trial

We've now had a couple of days to reflect on the judgement handed down in the case involving blogger Jacqui Thompson and the chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, Mark James.

Cneifiwr is not a lawyer and does not propose dissecting the findings of Mr Justice Tugendhat, but one thing that emerges from the judgement is how much emphasis was placed on the history of the planning dispute which pre-dated Jacqui's blog.

The narrative presented by Mr James's team was that this led to a campaign of personal revenge against the council and some of its senior officers, and the judge accepted this interpretation of Jacqui's motives. The rest of the case and the judge's findings then inevitably flowed from that interpretation.

A number of witnesses made themselves available to give testimony on Jacqui's behalf, but the judge ruled that most of their written evidence was inadmissible because it constituted opinion, and he said, he was not prepared to conduct an opinion poll. In the event only one witness for Jacqui gave vidence, and that revolved around the events which led to the publication of Mr James's letter to the madaxeman blog.

The problem with that was that the whole question of Jacqui's motives was a question of opinion and interpretation, and in the end only Mr James's opinion counted.

For all those of us who have had the pleasure of meeting Jacqui and  getting to know her, the idea that Jacqui's blog was one prolonged exercise of revenge is false.

The judge noted in his verdict that Jacqui and her husband have only a very modest income, so his decision to award damages of £25,000 against her has to be seen as punitive. How justice or the public interest are served by ruining a hard working family and rewarding a senior local government official backed by public funds (in a way which remains legally highly questionable) is not clear.

For the press and the rest of us, the judgement is fraught with dangers. A key part of the judgement found that Jacqui Thompson was guilty of harassment through her blog. Where is the line to be drawn between harassment and legitimate comment and criticism of an arm of government?

The local press in Carmarthenshire knows from bitter experience that the council is extremely intolerant of criticism, and there was a timely wake-up call this week to the Llanelli Star and its sister papers:

Llanelli Star@LlanelliStar
Llanelli Star trainee reporter @Chad_Welch ejected from council meeting and has notes seized. Full story here

The effect of the judgement will be to strengthen the chief executive's conviction that he is beyond reproach and beyond criticism. The rest of us had better watch out.

The last word goes to Lord Justice Cocklecarrot and his famous summing up of the Jeremy Thorpe case.

Saturday 16 March 2013

Dw i eisiau byw yn Gymraeg - Safiad Sir Gaerfyrddin

Cyflwynodd Cymdeithas yr Iaith restr o 1,500 o enwau pobl leol sy eisiau byw yn Gymraeg i gynrychiolwyr y Cyngor Sir yng Nghaerfyrddin y bore yma. Daeth rhyw 50 o bobl i weld y seremoni fer, gan gynnwys Heledd Cynwal, yr actor Andrew Teilo a nifer o gynghorwyr.

Ar ôl ei hannerch swyddogol tynnodd Cadeirydd y Cyngor, Siân Thomas, ei bling a rhoi araith angerddol. Roedd rhaid gweithredu mewn argyfwng yn hytrach na sefydlu pwyllgorau newydd, meddai, gan ychwanegu ei bod hi'n bwrw ei phen yn erbyn "difaterwch ac hyd yn oed atgasedd" tuag at yr iaith yn Neuadd y Sir ers blynyddoedd mawr.

Fel arall, roedd ymateb y Cyngor Sir i'r digwyddiad yn hynod o siomedig. Roedd Arweinydd y Cyngor, Kevin Madge, i fod i siarad ond newidiodd ei feddwl. Fe ddaeth y Cynghorydd Keith Davies, aelod o'r Bwrdd Gweithredol â chyfrifoldeb dros yr iaith, yn ei le. Ddywedodd Mr Davies yr un gair.

Y peth pwysicaf i'r Cyngor Sir, mae'n ymddangos, oedd cuddio'r Mercs swyddogol rhag aelodau o'r Gymdeithas ar ôl i limo Leighton Andrews gael ei feddiannu gan brotestwyr yn Nhŷ Croes.

Thursday 14 March 2013

James v Thompson Libel Trial - updated

Update 16 March

Discussions are underway to set up an appeal fund, the aim being that any money raised should be ring-fenced by the council for a good cause, such as respite care. If anyone has any experience of running a public appeal, please could they get in touch via the e-mail address on the blog. The hope is that we can  make something good come out of this.

Thanks also to all of those who have sent messages. Normally this blog tries to publish all comments, even those which may be considered offensive. Of the messages so far received, only two have been hostile, and the people concerned are welcome to write to the Carmarthen Journal which will no doubt be happy to publish such things. Cneifiwr's normal open door policy will be resumed when we move on to other subjects.


As everyone will have heard by now, the judgment went against Jacqui Thompson, and the chief executive was awarded £25,000 in damages.

The text of the judgement can be found here and here, and a BBC report on the outcome can be found here.

David Allen Greene, who writes for the New Statesman on legal matters tweeted his first reaction thus:

"shockingly illiberal and a genuine deterrent to public participation in local government."

And that sums it up.

Jacqui and her legal team are considering whether to appeal a judgement which will have devastating financial consequences for her and her family. For the rest of us, this is a very black day for accountable, open and transparent local government in Carmarthenshire, and it poses a serious threat to free speech.

There is talk of an appeal to raise funds to help her, and I hope to be able to report more on that in the coming days.

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Week In Week Out - Fat Cats and the WAO

The latest edition of Week In Week Out (available on iPlayer for another week here) took a fairly jaunty look at the pay of public sector bosses in Wales, and it will have had a lot of people gnashing their teeth in fury. Not one of the people featured was prepared to go in front of the camera to justify their exorbitant salaries and pay packages, although a Cardiff City councillor took the Meryl Gravell slot to argue that council chief executives and others are such a rare and precious resource that competition for them is forcing salaries up. If we want the best, we have to pay top dollar.

Somehow, that argument doesn't ring true when you remember that a good many of our top council officers have been in post for years and are cruising towards a gold-plated retirement, while swathes of the pond life in their charge are made redundant or have to claim benefits to try to make ends meet.

The way the programme was structured, picking out one name from each of the 10 sectors under review (NHS trust bosses, Quango bosses, council bosses, etc.) meant that viewers in Carmarthenshire were spared from hearing that our own chief executive easily makes it into the top 10 earners because his salary and benefits package is slightly less than that of the boss of Cardiff.

The programme came about because of the scandal at Caerphilly, where the council chief executive effectively awarded himself a massive pay rise. Had it not been for complaints from opposition councillors in the Labour-run authority and members of staff, it is unlikely that the Wales Audit Office would have had its slumbers disturbed.

The fact that the WAO did intervene probably owed as much to nervousness in the executive suites of our Welsh Winter Palaces at the sight of a spontaneous walk-out by Caerphilly council staff. With the peasants in revolt, the chief executive, Anthony Sullivan become suddenly expendable, and the WAO was dispatched with a blue flashing light.

The WAO's report found that

  • The meeting at which the salary rise was approved had not been publicised, and so members of the public did not have an opportunity to go along. In reality, of course, the council would have slapped a public interest exemption on the report and excluded the press and public from the meeting, but the WAO appeared to feel very cross that the matter had not appeared on a published agenda.
  • Equally shocking, the WAO found, was that Mr Sullivan failed to declare an interest and participated in the meeting.
Of course, this sort of thing could never happen in Carmarthenshire, although a spookily similar meeting of the council's Executive Board took place on 23 January 2012. The were various items on the published agenda, but they did not include a report and recommendation that the chief executive should be given public money to fight his libel action against Jacqui Thompson.

Nevertheless, the meeting approved the report and recommendation, and Mr James was handed a blank cheque.

It emerged in court recently that Mr James did not declare an interest, and that he participated in the meeting.

It remains to be seen what that indemnity was worth, but we can be sure that it will make Anthony Sullivan's pay rise look like loose change from the back of the sofa..

The indemnity was introduced as an "emergency item" according to the minutes of the meeting, something which will probably induce hollow laughter from various councillors who have tried to introduce emergency items in meetings of the full council during the last year, only to be blocked by the chief executive. Indeed, recently the chief executive took the precaution of removing "Any Other Business" from meeting agendas to prevent this from happening.

Bearing in mind that Mrs Thompson's writ was served to Mr James on 14 November 2011 and that three meetings of the Executive Board were held before the "emergency" on 23 January, you have to wonder why the indemnity proposal could not have been placed on an agenda in the usual way. But then, guess who is responsible for drawing up meeting agendas.

Mr Sullivan may well feel that he has been the victim of rough justice if the WAO does not now head west to Carmarthen.

Monday 11 March 2013

Unison writes open letter to Kevin Madge

When he's not zooming around Carmarthenshire in the new Mercedes, chauffeur-driven or otherwise, provided courtesy of the county's tax payers last year, Kevin Madge likes to pose as a man of the people. Sometimes he comes over all misty eyed when Cardiff Bay awards a slice of funding to Carmarthenshire and says things like, "Carwyn has not forgotten his roots", implying that the county is being singled out for special favours, when of course it isn't.

For years now he has sat at the top table of an administration which has lavished money on pet prestige projects and sacred cows, such as the council's bloated PR machine, while pushing through cuts to bread and butter public services.

He fought the last council elections in 2012 not on a platform about what he would do for Carmarthenshire, but on the basis that a vote for Labour would send a message to Cameron and Clegg, although it is unlikely that either of them could identify Carmarthenshire on a map.

Unison has now had enough, and has written an open letter to Cllr Madge pointing out that this particular Labour leader doesn't appear to have any time to talk to the unions on which the Labour Party is so reliant for funding, and querying the council's spending priorities.

With more than four years to go before the next council elections, Kev's circle of friends now seems to be confined to the likes of Meryl and Pam Palmer. And with friends like those, he can scarcely afford to alienate Unison.

Thursday 7 March 2013

Council boss: Tony Blair to the rescue

It's hard to think of many people these days who would quote Tony Blair approvingly on any topic, and even harder to think of anyone who would quote the globe trotting, born again multi-millionaire former Labour leader approvingly on the subject of money, but that is precisely what the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, Mark James, did at yesterday's meeting of the full council (see Caebrwyn's excellent report here).

Blair's point was about senior public figures being paid 20 times the earnings of the lowest paid people in the organisations they run, and Mr James would have councillors and the public believe that his salary, at 13 times the pay of the lowest paid council worker, was a modest affair.

That would be bad enough, but Mr James was once again being rather economical with his version of how things are. As we know, council chief executives enjoy a very lucrative sideline as returning officers in elections, a perk which goes with the job. We recently learned how Mr James paid himself £20,000 as an advance on his fees as returning officer in the 2012 council elections before anyone knew how many wards were going to be contested.

Returning officer fees for council elections are paid by the council itself, but fees for other elections including the Welsh Assembly, Westminster, the European Parliament and referenda come out of different pots, and are not disclosed by the council as part of his earnings. Whatever the ratio is, it isn't 13:1.

If it was bizarrely fitting that Mr James should quote Blair in his own defence, it came as no surprise at all to see that Meryl Gravell dusted off her old quote about monkeys and peanuts to justify the unjustifiable.

In a nice touch, all this came on the day when it was announced that the police were being called in to investigate the circumstances surrounding a pay deal for the chief executive of Labour-run Caerphilly Council, Anthony Sullivan (who is still waiting for his CBE). This followed a damning report from the Wales Audit Office.

Jonathan Edwards MP and Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM have called for a WAO investigation of how Mr James paid himself £20,000 out of council funds without apparently needing any approval from elected councillors, and why the council said it had no record of when the money was paid.

There have been many calls in the past for the WAO to investigate goings-on in Carmarthenshire, and all have been dismissed. If the auditor does pull his finger out this time, he may also like to investigate the circumstances surrounding the chief executive's libel indemnity.

One of the things the WAO didn't like about Caerphilly was that the chief executive of the council not only produced a report recommending himself for a big pay rise, but also participated in the meeting which approved it, even though he had a direct financial interest in the outcome.

The WAO might like to ask what part Mr James played in the drawing up of a recommendation that he should be given an indemnity to defend and counter-sue in a libel action, and why he participated in the meeting which signed it off.

And not a declaration of interest in sight.

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Shops 'queuing up' to open or close says paper

Readers of the Carmarthen Journal may be feeling a little confused this week after reading a report on the closure of yet more shops in the town centre, as well as digesting the news that the town's main post office is set to close. On top of that comes an announcement that Dreams, the bed store, has gone into administration.

Only two weeks ago the paper ran a piece which almost certainly originated from the county council's press office claiming that stores were queuing up to get into the retail heaven of Carmarthen.

The paper also carries a vox pop this week in which almost all of those interviewed lament the loss of so many independent shops.

It is not clear whether the paper has the memory span of a goldfish or whether it thinks its readers do, but County Hall is unlikely to forget this in a hurry.

Operatives in the Ministry of Truth will also have choked on their hobnobs this morning as they read a piece buried deep in the bowels of the paper quoting blogger Jacqui Thompson on the council's decision to begin filming council meetings as a one year pilot.

To cap it all, the newspaper carries a subversive reference to Delyth Jenkins, although she is not named, in a very short piece reporting calls by Angela Burns AM for whistleblowers to be given proper protection.

Cneifiwr has decided to set aside £1.30 to see whether this was the first stirrings of a Carmarthen spring, or if it was just a case of the cat taking a winter break.

Monday 4 March 2013

Llu o bobl am ffoi rhag y Gymraeg

Diweddariad 4 Mawrth

Yn ôl y sôn cawn ni erthygl arall eto yn y Journal yr wythnos hon. Mae grŵp o wrthwynebwyr yn honni nad yw Cwmni Sbectrwm sy'n arwain y cyfarfod ar 7 Mawrth yn annibynnol, ac maent wedi datgladdu astudiaeth o Ganada sy'n dod i'r casgliad bod dwyieithrwydd yn niweidiol.

Mae yna astudiaethau ar gael hefyd sy'n dweud bod yfed potelaid o wisgi a smoco pecyn o ffags bob dydd yn llesol, hyd y gwn i.


Er na fu'r un gair am sgandal treuliau Prif Weithredwr Cyngor Sir Caerfyrddin i'w weld yn nhudalennau'r Carmarthen Journal yn ddiweddar, cafodd darllenwyr y papur ffrwd o erthyglau am benderfyniad llywodraethwyr Ysgol y Ddwylan yng Nghastell Newydd Emlyn i droi'r ysgol yn un Gymraeg.

Y gwir amdani yw nad oes fawr o ddim wedi digwydd ers i'r llywodraethwyr gyhoeddi eu penderfyniad ym mis Ionawr. Y ffeithiau yw bod yr ysgol am gael gwared ar y ffrwd Saesneg dros gyfnod o bum mlynedd ar ôl ymgynghoriad eleni. Dyna i gyd.

Er gwaethaf diffyg llwyr o newyddion am y peth, mae'r papur yn gwneud ei orau glas i godi twrw ac arllwys petrol ar y tân. Yn y rhifyn diwethaf dyfynnir rhywun di-enw yn rhagweld y bydd llu o bobl yn symud o'r ardal os na fydd ffrwd Saesneg ar gael mwyach. Gallai hyn fod â goblygiadau dirfawr, meddai Mr neu Mrs Anhysbys.

A fydd rhaid i'r ymsefydlwyr gwynion harneisio eu ceirt a ffoi'n ôl i Fognor, Bolton a Birmingham rhag y brodorion cyntefig a'u hiaith chwerthinllyd? Wir?

Am ryw reswm neu'i gilydd, doedd dim lle yn y papur hyd yn hyn i rieni sy'n cefnogi'r cynllun.

Mae'r ysgol ei hun wedi trefnu cyfarfod agored gydag arbenigwyr mewn addysg ddwyieithog yr wythnos hon. Doedd dim sôn am hynny yn y Journal, wrth gwrs. Tybed a fydd Mr a Mrs Anhysbys yno?