Sunday 28 April 2013

Because he's worth it

Cneifiwr's lawn needed urgent attention on Friday, but thanks to feedback from several loyal readers (Sid and Eirlys Bonkers of Llanelli), this blog is pleased to provide a summary of the interview with the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council which went out on Radio Carmarthenshire on 26 April.

Six questions were fielded by the awestruck presenter during the course of the hour long, pre-recorded programme which was interspersed with endless ads and dire music. Alan Partridge is alive and well and broadcasting in Carmarthenshire, it seems.

We began with a recital of the immensity of the chief executive's role. The 9,500 staff, the 4,000 elderly people looked after by the council, and so on, before being given a brief glimpse of his private life, which features walking and swimming.

Up first was a question about the council's decision to introduce car parking charges on Sundays. The question went unanswered, and what we got instead was a song of praise to the St Catherine's Walk shopping precinct and its wonderful multi-story parking facilities. Carmarthen had ample parking (if you can pay for it), and the rates were competitive when compared with other, lesser councils.

The background to this is that the mainstream Christian denominations in Carmarthen and traders outside the council's favoured St Catherine's Walk development were upset by the introduction of Sunday parking charges. The council has argued that it is important to create a level playing field for St Catherine's Walk which has always charged for parking on Sundays.

The fringe evangelical churches so beloved by the council's top brass continue to benefit from free parking at venues such as Trinity College and Queen Elizabeth High School, and so they have remained strangely quiet about the council's support for Mammon.

Someone in Llanelli wondered about the boundless generosity of the county council to the Scarlets in a week when Llanelli AFC was wound up in the High Court. This gave Mr James a chance to wax lyrical about Parc y Scarlets.

The council's investment in Parc y Scarlets was fairly safe, Mr James began, before quickly correcting himself to say that it was very safe. The council had given the Reds £40,000 some years back for a new stand, but it was important to remember that it was Llanelli Town Council which owned the ground, not the county council.

The county council had not been approached about the team's problems, Mr James said, claiming that the first they had heard of it was news reports of the court hearing. Nevertheless, the doors at County Hall remained open.

 Listeners were left to ponder how little the council appears to know about what is going on in its own back yard during a rendition of Money's Too Tight To Mention by Simply Red.

The subject of filthy lucre came up again with the next question from someone who wanted to know if it is true that Mr James earns more than the Prime Minister.

It is, but Mr James was not about to admit it. Out came the violin as he told listeners how his pay had been frozen for four years. He claimed that the Prime Minister gets a lot more but chooses to take home only £140,000 or so. Unlike the Prime Minister, the chief executive doesn't get all the perks, we were told (first class rail travel and use of limos etc. are presumably not perks). And anyway, he could be earning four times as much in the private sector (merchant banking, perhaps).

So there we are. We are extremely lucky to have him. Whether his pay is justified was not for him to say, Mr James purred, having done his level best to justify it. It was all a matter for councillors.

As it happens, the BBC published a rich list of Welsh council chief executives last week showing that, just like Manchester United, Carmarthenshire can celebrate being top of the league. Third world councils such as Ceredigion have been left in the dust.

A question about filming came up next. The chief executive was pleased to confirm that webcasting would begin soon. As for filming by the public, there had been only one case of this by someone (not named) who had been doing it as part of a campaign because she could not get planning permission. Oh really?

Business rate relief was nothing to do with the council, but it did everything it could to help small businesses, we were told. Including, presumably, ramping up car parking charges and introducing parking charges on Sundays.

Finally we got round to the libel case. The interviewer, who appears to live on a different planet, claimed he knew nothing about it and wondered what it was all about. Paxman can sleep easy.

This enabled Mr James to give listeners a synopsis of the case and the judgement. It was a lesson to all, he opined (all being anyone in Carmarthenshire foolish enough to criticise the council). Jacqui Thompson was not referred to by name, but simply as "an individual" in what can only be described as snarled tones.

The kindly old judge, Mr Tugendhat, had ruled that Mr James was perfectly entitled to dip into council coffers to pay for his court action, and anyway, he was waiting for an Order for Costs and would get it all back. It wouldn't cost taxpayers a penny, he assured the people of Carmarthenshire.

"It won't cost us a penny" is one of Mr James's favourite phrases, and it has been used to describe all sorts of visionary schemes down the years. The first recorded instance was in Boston where, more than ten years on, the Princess Royal Arena is still a drain on council finances.

And on that ticking time bombshell, the programme had to make way for more urgent messages from B&Q and other sponsors.


Anonymous said...

It would appear that Mr James and Judge Tugendhat make the most bizarre statements.

a2 said...

it won't cost us a penny...

unless there really is a magic money tree, i find that very hard to believe as somehow that money or 'reimbursment' is generated from somewhere.. maybe not the carmarthenshire council tax payers directly, but maybe some of the carmarthenshire tax payers in general or collectively in some proportion from the tax payers in wales and the rest of the uk.

30m tax payers chipping in ten pence each can't go wrong ;-)

whichever way he chose to paint the picture, the tax payer footed the bill....end of

by the way, the carmarthen park and ride...m.james admitted it's not well advertised. yes, he can say that again, never knew it existed until he mentioned it on the radio. so how is he expected for the public and tourists to know about this? mind readers, tut

Anonymous said...

If he can earn more in the private sector, we would happily let him GO!!!

Pleeeeeaaaaaasssssseeee Mark apply for any job in the private sector and allow us and yourself to start afresh! You say walking is a hobby, feel free to wander into the private sector and their world! The sharks would love you!

Ooooppppssss..... Open mouth syndrome!!

Are we allowed to say this?? Never mind it's done now :-)

Anonymous said...

I fail to understand how dear Mark can say it's not going to cost the folks of Carmarthenshire a penny. In all court cases as far as I know, even if you win a case you can only expect pay back of around 80% of costs. According to my reckoning that leaves an outstanding balance of a 20% shortfall. Obviously as Mark is saying publicly that it wont cost the people of Carmarthenshire a penny, he must be coughing up the shortfall out of his own pocket. When the F.O.I. answers come in as to the costings of this debacle, hopefully we will all be very pleased to see this is so. It would be a sorry state of affairs if he is telling porkies!

Tessa said...