Tuesday 23 December 2014

Y Gair Olaf - The Last Word

It is at this at this time of year that thoughts turn to those less fortunate, and with that in mind I am taking a few minutes out of my busy schedule to give you a privileged glimpse of our Christmas preparations here at the Hall, which is indeed decked with boughs of holly brought in from the grounds.

The Harrods van has just delivered a Duchy Original organic goose and several sides of Balmoral smoked salmon, and in the kitchen the cook is preparing for the great feast which will, as usual, feature a vast plum pudding with lashings of rum sauce.

Wafting through the house are the scents of Myddfai Yuletide Potpourri, a medley of organic native seed heads hand-picked by natives on the estate at Llwynywormwood, a generous gift from Charles and Camilla.

It is hard to imagine that not far away others are consigned to lives of penury and misery, and I would ask you to spare a thought for my old friend and neighbour Brynito who narrowly escaped being strung up from a lamppost by a howling mob of partisans led by someone Brynito once described as "the most evil bastard" in the land. In scenes reminiscent of the Bolshevik revolution, the First Family has even been stripped of its Porsche.

Fortunately we have been spared such shocking depravity, but things could easily have been so very different. At the beginning of this year a vile conspiracy of malcontents and political agitators combined to have me put under house arrest here at the Hall. I was touched by the many messages of support received during that difficult time, and Mrs Chippings told me that ordinary folk were openly weeping on the streets and distraught at the thought of the anarchy the nationalists were planning to unleash.

It was with some considerable satisfaction that the British justice system dismissed the tissue of lies and nonsense which had been cooked up by these professional troublemakers, and I was found not guilty on all 428 charges with not a spot or stain on my good character.

This was a triumph for Justice, and since my return to power I have dedicated myself to ensuring that never again can the rules be manipulated in such a way as to put our prosperity and progress in jeopardy.

We have therefore been able to end the year on something of a celebratory note, and it was my pleasure the other day to welcome the Board to the traditional Christmas buffet in the Staff Dining Hall.

In recognition of the difficult economic climate, the Board members each brought along a platter to share. Mr Minge donated some twiglets. It was either that or prawn cocktail crisps, he said, and he had been forced to "do a difficult decision" once again. Mrs Chippings came with a tupperware container packed with her famous rock cakes, while the dog woman in the brown trouser suit came with a pot of grey sludge which she said was a homemade dip. Meanwhile Mr Evans, who I am reliably informed is also a member of a Village People tribute band, brought along some rather curly tuna sandwiches which I suspect had been recycled.

Guest of honour was Mr Fudd who read a short prayer which turned out on closer inspection to be the fire evacuation procedures. How we all laughed!

Once the rest had gone and the silver had been counted, Mrs Chippings told me that she had had a word with the Lord Lieutenant to explain how much I deserved a knighthood. If I am so honoured, I will humbly accept on behalf of you all.

For many of you reading this, this could be the last time you receive the Christmas edition of our bilingual in-house magazine, and Mr Minge has warned that cuts of biblical proportions are heading your way. I am therefore pleased to announce that the Reverend Bonnett and Mrs Plummer will be on hand next year with a special Christmas Food Bank to help you out.

To show that we are all in it together and as an act of ultimate self-sacrifice, you may be aware that I myself have submitted an application to take part in the executive severance scheme, and the accountants and Linda are currently finalising a suitable package, provided there are sufficient funds left in the kitty.

This may therefore turn out to be the last time I pen a Christmas special edition of Y Gair Olaf/The Last Word, and it is with a tear in my eye that I wish you all a Merry Christmas.

Saturday 20 December 2014

Y blodyn dela 'rioed - the prettiest flower ever

Rhaid i fi gyfadde 'mod i'n dwlu ar gerdd dant. Mae gen i gasgliad o grynoddisgau cerdd dant yn y car, er mawr ddychryn i'r wraig a theithwyr eraill.

"O na, cerdd dant - y geiriau hudol 'na", meddai ffrind yn ddiweddar.

Does dim byd gwell, ond os nag y'ch chi'n ffan mawr o'r crefft, mi gewch chi eich siomi ar yr ochr orau gan berfformiad buddugol Cefin Roberts yn Stomp Eisteddod Sir Gâr 2014.

Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda i chi gyd.

The ancient and noble art of Cerdd Dant is probably a closed book to anyone who does not speak Welsh, and it is something of a minority pursuit even within the Welsh speaking community.

Here is a wonderful example from this year's National Eisteddfod in Llanelli. You don't need to be able to understand Welsh to appreciate the artistry, and I hope that it will whet a few more appetites to learn Welsh and find out what he is singing about.

Now there's a New Year's Resolution.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all readers.

Friday 19 December 2014

Mr and Mrs Wolffe advise the Three Little Pigs on Home Security

Caebrwyn has a scoop over on Carmarthenshire Planning Problems with a breakdown of the group set up to consider the WLGA peer group's recommendations on the constitution and governance.

There is considerable irony that a working group tasked with coming up with recommendations to make Carmarthenshire the "most open and transparent" local authority in Wales is meeting behind closed doors and is not routinely publishing minutes or any other documentation.

Its meetings are not advertised, membership of the group has been tantamount to a state secret, and there appears to be no input from anyone outside County Hall. Not even Sir David Lewis, the distinguished lawyer co-opted on to the Audit Committee, has been invited to the party, although he has more expertise in this field than the rest of County Hall put together.

The Council Diary for 9 December - no mention of the Working Group

The press office, which is currently busy telling us about Cllr Pam Palmer, the Independent leader, dishing out toys, Kevin Madge, the Labour leader of the council, pretending to be a postman and a royal visit to the fee-paying Llandovery College (none of the county's state schools being worthy), has not breathed a word about the working group.

Thanks to Jacqui Thompson's persistence, we now know that the membership of the group is as follows:


Emlyn Dole
Tyssul Evans
David Jenkins
Hazel Evans


Kevin Madge
Derek Cundy
Terry Davies


Pam Palmer
Mair Stephens
Hugh Richards

Cllr Hugh Richards, who appears to be on the guest list for just about everything these days despite being a backbencher, showed his commitment to the process by not turning up to the first meeting on 9 December, which was attended by five officers, including the Chief Executive, Mrs Linda Rees Jones, the acting Head of Law and Administration and Robert Edgecombe from the council's Legal Services department (motto "Cavalier at Best, Incompetent at Worst").

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this list is that it includes three members of the ruling Executive Board: Kevin Madge (Leader), Pam Palmer (Deputy Leader) and Mair Stephens, whose main responsibility is Human Resources.

Apart from Derek Cundy, it is fair to say that the commitment to change, openness and transparency of the other Labour and Independent members is lukewarm at best and downright hostile at worst. Pam Palmer in particular has a long track record of presiding over the subversion of the council's constitution, undermining an independent local press and rampant secrecy.

No democratic body which is remotely serious about reforming itself and giving opposition and backbench councillors a stronger voice would set up a group which is to all intents and purposes dominated by the Executive.

No wonder the council is so keen to keep the public in the dark.

Thursday 18 December 2014

The Tivyside Advertiser

Update 19.12.14

The decision to make the editor redundant and downgrade the newspaper was a hot topic in Cardigan this morning. The subject also came up on today's Taro'r Post where there was universal praise for Sue Lewis and the hard work she has put in for so long. As several people said, editing the 'Teifiseid' was more than just a job, with Sue Lewis playing a prominent role in other aspects of the town's life.

She will be a hard act to follow, especially from 30 miles down the road.


Sad news today that Sue Lewis is leaving the Tivyside and will not be replaced as editor. There were warm and well-deserved tributes to her at today's meeting of Ceredigion County Council from across the political spectrum.

Rather strangely the report announcing Sue's departure has been pulled from the newspaper's website, although there was nothing obviously contentious in it.

Not mentioned in the newspaper's own report but stated in the council meeting was that Sue has been made redundant. Two reporters will remain in the paper's offices in Cardigan, but the editor of the Western Telegraph will now run the weekly newspaper.

Local newspapers are a vital community asset and an essential part of local democracy. The Tivyside, in common with many other local newspapers, has been slowly stripped of resources in recent years and is now down to the bone.

Let's hope that this marks not the beginning of the end but just a lowpoint in the Tivyside's fortunes, and that the newspaper gets the full attention it deserves from Haverfordwest.

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Fifty Shades

Meryl Gravell was to be found in the restored splendours of Llanelly House last week signing copies of her book, Fifty Shades of Trimsaran WI. Yours for £10.

According to someone who has read this rather expensive little volume, 50 Shades of Trimsaran WI is hilarious, although it is not clear whether that was the author's intention.

Presumably any profits will be going to the WI or a good cause but not, it seems, to Llanelly House which owes Llanelli Town Council £81,000, with town councillors becoming impatient and threatening to start charging interest if the loan is not repaid soon.

Monday 15 December 2014

December's council meeting (III) - how high do you want us to jump?

The final leg of this month's meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council dealt with the Local Development Plan, a framework for planning and development in the county which will take us through to 2021.

The debate lasted roughly an hour - as much time as had been devoted to personal tributes and award ceremonies earlier on - and it was without doubt one of the worst set-piece debates this council has held in recent years, especially when you consider the huge impact it could have on just about everyone who lives in Carmarthenshire.

Calum Higgins (Lab) raised a technical point about whether the LDP would replace the previous UDP (yes). Anthony Jones (Lab), whose solution to everything is to defer and/or kick the ball into the long grass, wanted to defer a proposal made by Emlyn Dole, while Terry Davies (Lab) played Ex Lax to Anthony Jones's Imodium with a proposal to put an end to debate and vote the thing through.

Apart from that, and brief speeches from Meryl Gravell and Kevin Madge, Labour and Independent councillors had absolutely nothing to say about what is the most important policy document to come before them this year.

The debate was kicked off by Meryl Gravell, who when she had finished praising the wonderful job done by council officers, told councillors that they had better vote to adopt the plan, or the Welsh Government would probably impose it on them.

Very disappointingly, councillors failed to rise to that challenge. If the Welsh Government would impose it on the county anyway, why not let Carl Sergeant do the dirty work himself? And why not work with other councils in Wales to persuade them to make a similar stand?

As it was, only 5 councillors abstained in the final vote, with what looked like the rest voting to accept.

[Update - the technical term for what happened on the Plaid benches is a cock-up, with councillors voting three ways because some were not sure what they were voting on.]

Heading up the debate for Plaid, Emlyn Dole noted that the plan was not really a local plan at all, and he wondered who had appointed the Planning Inspector who had presided over the whole thing.

The LDP is in reality a set of targets handed down by civil servants in Cardiff, and the council's job was to wrap them up in lots of documentation. Wherever the council made a mild attempt to deviate from the path (for example with same very diluted proposals to protect the Welsh language), the Inspector had stamped down on it.

The Planning Inspectorate, it should be recalled, is not a devolved body but is responsible for England as well as Wales. To add insult to injury, Carmarthenshire's council tax payers were obliged to pay for the Inspector, just as in some countries the families of those executed by the state are made to pay for the bullets.

Kevin Madge (Lab) gave one of his most incoherent off-the-cuff rambles for a long time. Despite being a councillor for 37 years, he has never learned to prepare himself before speaking.

What we got was that the county has to make affordable housing available to help young people. A good thing, but someone should have asked Cllr Madge why the targets for affordable housing had been cut during the LDP process.

Next he said that "if we are going to work with Sir Terry Matthews, we need the land". This was a reference to the Swansea Bay City Region, which it seems would like to build lots of houses in Carmarthenshire.

He then turned his attention to the Welsh language and told us that Carl Sergeant was "going to send some people down" to talk about putting something about the language into the Planning Bill now working its way through the Assembly.

He noted with approval that Meirion Prys Jones, the former head of the now defunct Welsh Language Board, reckoned that large scale housing development and protecting the language were not necessarily incompatible. Kev was probably unaware that a study carried out by the Welsh Language Board on housing development in Conwy had come to the opposite conclusion.

That makes Kevin Madge's speech sound much more coherent than it was, because most of it was devoted to meaningless waffle about moving on, working hard and doing our best.

For Plaid, Cllr Linda Evans was very disappointed to see that the Inspector had removed a requirement for wind turbines to be located at least 1,500 metres from the nearest house, cutting the distance to 500 metres.

Cllr Gwyneth Thomas (Plaid) and David Jenkins (Plaid) suspected that Hywel Dda Health Board had not been fully involved in the LDP process. Given the huge housing developments that were being proposed, it was vital that there were health services there to meet the demand.

The Head of Planning, Eifion Bowen, gave a fairly unconvincing reply saying that the health board had been consulted.

A great deal of the debate was taken up by a technicality. In essence the issue was that anyone wishing to convert farm buildings for residential use had to first "market them continuously" for a whole year before a planning application could be considered. If nobody else wanted to use a cowshed for, say, cows, it could then be considered for humans.

This provision had been removed from the LDP itself, but for reasons which remained completely unclear had been put back into supplementary planning guidance (SPG) by the council's own planning officers.

SPGs are in reality the only really local bit of the LDP, and the result was that the council was in danger of being even more restrictive and unreasonable than national policy, which as Alun Lenny (Plaid) pointed out in a separate contribution is both daft and unreasonable.

Back and forth went the exchanges. Let's remove the offending paragraphs if they don't need to be there, said Emlyn Dole. Let's defer a decision, said Anthony Jones.

Eifion Bowen did a very convincing impression of Sir Humphrey Appleby from Yes Minister. His lips moved and he sounded as though he knew what he was talking about without making sense. Give that man an OBE.

Eventually Mark James intervened. He had had a quiet word with his boy and told him that the paragraphs could be deleted after all.

And so up popped Terry Davies (Lab), the Judge Jeffreys of planning, to call for the whole thing to be put to a vote.

Meryl got her developers charter in the end without a fight.

Sunday 14 December 2014

December's Council Meeting (II) - Slippery Eels

After a full forty minutes of municipal announcements and lengthy tributes, this month's meeting of the full council settled down to watch the latest group of corporate visitors deliver a Powerpoint presentation.

Companies sometimes find themselves being hauled up before committees in the Welsh Assembly and House of Commons where they are subjected to intense questioning, and corporate spin and PR are given short shrift.

The object of the exercise from the companies' point of view is to avoid admitting liability or blame for any of their actions, while experienced inquisitors, such as Paul Flynn (Lab), will ask themselves, as Jeremy Paxman used to, "Why are these lying bastards lying to me?"

The county council's corporate guest slots are a world away from this. Companies are invited by the chief executive as partners, and their job is to tell councillors what a wonderful job they are doing.

For anyone interested in getting to the truth, a slot at the monthly meeting of full council with a set of Powerpoint slides, is never going to deliver.

The Chief Operating Officer of Dŵr Cymru/Welsh Water set the scene, by painting his company as a cuddly not-for-profit organisation which has not ramped up charges to customers. A day or two later we learned that Ofwat had ordered Dŵr Cymru and other water companies to cut their charges.

The "not-for-profit" claim went unchallenged, but an investigation by Rebecca TV (a highly respected investigative journalism site) from earlier this year concluded that Dŵr Cymru had cheated customers of more than £250 million, and that the big beneficiaries of this corporate daylight robbery were top executives and board members.

Rebecca TV noted the difference between Labour-run Wales and the board of Dŵr Cymru, stuffed with Labour protegés, and the situation in Scotland where Alex Salmond had ensured that the top brass at the much larger Scottish Water made do with much less generous pay.

But back to the presentation.

The over-riding theme of Wednesday's session was a scheme called Rainscape. This attempts to decouple the disposal of rainwater from the sewage system, and it is to be welcomed. As one or two councillors pointed out, however, the system is unlikely to work on flood plains, where Carmarthenshire County Council has a long history of approving housing developments.

The point went unanswered.

A second controversial point was the release of raw sewage into the river system and coastal waters. Dŵr Cymru acknowledged that this had happened too often, but it denied that the practice had taken place when it had not rained. It rains a lot in Llanelli.

There were plans to reduce the number of releases of raw sewage to more "acceptable" levels, although one of the company executives claimed that the releases themselves were pretty harmless, with the sewage being heavily diluted.

Nobody asked him when he last went for a swim along the Llanelli coast, or if he would be happy for his children to paddle in the waters there.

A couple of days later, on Friday to be precise, the subject of how safe the beach at Llanelli really is came up on Taro'r Post, Radio Cymru's daily phone-in. Nia Griffith, the town's Labour MP, had taken to walking along the beach at busy times in the summer to point out to people that the beach was not a designated bathing beach.

The interesting question, of course, is why it is not considered to be suitable for bathing, but all Carmarthenshire County Council will say is that it is not designated as a bathing beach.

A local man who swims off the beach every day was on hand to say that he has never had a problem, and he claimed several times that he had been told by someone from the council that it is OK to swim there.

Anyone expecting to see Cllr Jim "Dog Muck" Jones (frighteningly, the man responsible for environmental protection) or Mark James don their bathing trunks and go for a dip is in for a disappointment, however.

Councillors were also told by the man from Dŵr Cymru that the problem of cockle deaths was "definitely" nothing to do with sewage pollution, and that had been borne out by a report produced in 2012 (by Hull University).

What he neglected to mention was that a committee of the Welsh Assembly decided that the Hull report was inconclusive (see previous piece here for more background).

By coincidence, a recent report from St Andrews University concluded that seal pups were contracting food poisoning, and that the most likely source was sewage and farm waste. Although the study was conducted in the sea off Edinburgh, a professor from Swansea University quoted here reckons that we could see the same problem off Welsh coasts. This disturbing news also failed to make it into Dŵr Cymru's Powerpoint slides.

But everything was set to get better thanks to a Memorandum of Understanding between the council and Dŵr Cymru, under which new houses would have to be built in such a way that twice as much surface water would be disposed of as sewage.

The more houses that were built, the less of a problem flooding and sewage pollution would become, and everyone could rejoice, including those other partners, the big housing developers.

Several councillors tried to pin down the company executives.

Cllr Siân Thomas (Plaid) wanted to know what Dŵr Cymru was doing further upstream from Llanelli and why the presentation had been delivered without a single word of Welsh when the council was supposed to be bilingual.

There were a number of projects underway in Cross Hands and other areas, came the reply, while Heulyn Davies, who is responsible for the company's language policy, said that Dŵr Cymru was completely bilingual. It was just that using the two languages in presentations like this could detract from the message. So being bilingual meant that English only was the preferred option.

Cllr Thomas wanted to know why the council had not reminded Dŵr Cymru of its policy on the use of the two languages.

The background to this was the report and recommendations of the Working Group on the Welsh language back in April, adopted in full by the councillors during Mr James's absence, and ignored by him ever since.

Dŵr Cymru had previously given the same presentation to the council's Executive Board, and they had enjoyed it so much that they wanted councillors to hear it as well.

As chief executive and the person responsible for putting together the agendas, Mark James would have invited Dŵr Cymru to both meetings and been aware of the lack of Welsh in the presentation he had previously sat through.

Cllr Thomas had to prompt the chair that her question had not been answered. Why had the council flouted its own language policy?

There ought to be a sign on Mr James's desk saying, "The buck stops lower down", because he pinned the blame for this unfortunate oversight on more junior officers, and he would be speaking to them about it.

Another eel had just made it past the sewage treatment plant.

The men from Dŵr Cymru may not have been told about the council's language policy, but they had clearly been warned about Cllr Siân Caiach.

Readers may recall that in the November council meeting Cllr Caiach had asked Jim Jones, the Executive Board Member for Environmental Protection, when he had first been made aware of the sewage pollution problems in Llanelli.

Jim replied that he was not feeling 100% and had suggested she ask Dŵr Cymru. So here was the same question to Dŵr Cymru. When had the company made the council aware of the problem?

Waffle, waffle, came the reply.

When? asked Cllr Caiach.

Waffle, waffle, waffle, came the second reply. They were not saying, and neither was Jim Jones who had nothing whatsoever to say in the debate which followed the presentation.

Cllr Hazel Evans (Plaid) did not fare any better. She wanted to know what Dŵr Cymru was doing about drainage problems in Newcastle Emlyn where waste water regularly comes up through manholes and in people's gardens.

The Chief Operating Officer was not aware of any specific plans, but he would get back to her.

Smoked eel was definitely not on the menu at the councillors' Christmas buffet.

A third piece dealing with the Local Development Plan to follow.

Friday 12 December 2014

December's council meeting (I) - Tributes, a tantrum and a fox in the hen house

Under Carmarthenshire County Council's constitution, the monthly meeting of full council is described as a "forum for the debate of matters of concern to the local community and the place at which councillors are able to hold the executive board and committee chairs to account".

As the late Frankie Howerd would have said, "Titter ye not".

A whole hour of this month's meeting was spent on personal tributes - as much time as was devoted to debating the entire, controversial Local Development Plan, a planning blueprint which will impact on just about everyone who lives in the county for years to come. The only surprise was that the LDP managed to get an hour because many other issues of huge importance to communities within the county - school closures, for example - can expect to get only a fraction of that time.

There was a long list of apologies for absence, but making a return this month were Cllr Meryl Gravell (not seen in the chamber since July) and Labour's Keri Thomas who managed, with obvious difficulty, to attend his first meeting of full council in more than a year. Previously he was off for a year before  May 2012, but was miraculously well enough to stand for election.

One of the first up was Cllr Wyn Evans (Independent) who had picked up an award for "best communication" for the management of the Dyfed Pension Fund at the annual Local Government Chronicle back-slapping fest

Cllr Evans was a member of the Executive Board when it approved the unlawful tax avoiding pension scheme for the chief executive back in November 2011, an arrangement which would have allowed high earners to opt out of the pension fund, thereby undermining it. The arrangement was kept secret by the Executive Board whose minutes merely noted certain changes to HMRC rules, and the pension fund trustees were not informed of what had been done.

Perhaps this was the Local Government Chronicle showing that it has a sense of humour.

The award will now be placed in the display cabinets in the entrance to County Hall alongside other trophies which include the skeletons of the former Public Services Ombudsman, the Wales Audit Office and the recent WLGA peer review group, all of whom had been sent west to meddle in the affairs of the Best Council in Wales.

Someone had had the temerity to suggest that the chief executive could be "overbearing" when the WLGA was preparing its report. This had clearly rankled Mr James, who for the second meeting in succession attempted to make a joke out of the criticism. The very idea! Say that again, and he might sue.

With the WLGA safely out of the way, Mr James went on to deliver a master class in how to be overbearing. Supremely un-self-aware, he proceeded to dominate proceedings, popping up here there and everywhere to give his view on just about everything, including the portfolios of all the various directors lined up in front of him.

The council could save a lot of money if it just got rid of all those directors and heads of service and kept Mr James instead. Eifion Bowen, the head of planning, managed to get a few words in, but he was the only one who did.

All through the meeting there were loud stage whispers to the befuddled and frankly hopeless Chair, Daff Davies. When a vote on something or other was being held, Mr James could clearly be heard telling the old boy what to do.

"For", hissed Mr James.

"Um, for!" said Elmer.

"Against!" whispered Mr James.

"Er, um, er, against", croaked Elmer.

"Abstentions" prompted Mr James.

"Ah, um, er, ah, erm, abstensions", gargled Elmer.

It might be easier to train a parrot.

When the Death by Powerpoint presentation delivered by Dŵr Cymru/Welsh Water came to an end, the camera panned onto the Chair. Or rather, the Chairman's empty chair. Embarrassed coughs could be heard. Elmer had evidently taken the opportunity of this lengthy presentation to leave the Chamber for reasons it is probably best not to think about.

With Elmer back on his upholstered perch, the Mark James roadshow could get underway again.

If anyone wanted to tot the numbers up, they would probably find that the chief executive spoke for longer in the four hour meeting than the entire Labour group put together.

But let nobody say that this is an officer-led council.

At one point the chief executive revealed that he was taking an active part in the newly formed cross-party working group set up to consider the WLGA peer group's recommendations on the changes needed to make the council more transparent, democratic and accountable.

This is the local government equivalent of putting a fox in charge of bio-security at a poultry farm, and it was clear from one particularly bad-tempered outburst from the podium that the chief executive has his eyes on getting rid of full council's right to review the minutes of all the various scrutiny and other committees.

The "receiving" of minutes has for years been the only effective way for councillors to ask questions and raise concerns, and Mr James has harboured an ambition to close down this loophole for some time, replacing unscripted and sometimes awkward questions with nice corporate Powerpoint presentations.

The explosion came when councillors were being asked to accept a report from the Education and Children's Services Scrutiny Committee. The committee chair pointed out that the minutes were inaccurate on a matter relating to Bryngwyn School, and did not reflect what members had agreed. The WLGA panel heard many similar complaints during their time in Carmarthen. He suggested that they should be amended.

Confusion then ensued, with the Chair several times asking all those in favour of accepting the report to raise their hands.

Several councillors wanted to know what it was they were being asked to agree to, including the unfailingly polite and calm Cllr Cefin Campbell.

The chief executive snapped that he had repeatedly made it clear that councillors could not amend or change minutes, and he "suggested" that the meeting move on to the next set of personal tributes - this time for former councillor David Thomas ("Dai Trelech").

What he perhaps should have done was remind councillors of a statement which he fairly recently had inserted into the order of business to try to put a stop to the tiresome business of asking questions. The statement, read out at the beginning of the meeting by the Chair, reads as follows:

"I should remind councillors that the minutes of the previous meetings before us today are for confirmation that the decisions made are a correct record. Other than any points made regarding their accuracy, there will be no debate on individual items contained within these minutes."

The logical corollary of that is that if meeting minutes are inaccurate as these manifestly were, councillors should be advised to vote against accepting them.

But that would open up a Pandora's box, and could give councillors all sorts of ideas about questioning what they are being asked to sign off - such as the famous November 2011 Executive Board minutes which unbeknown to everybody except those present gave Mr James his tax efficient pension opt-out.

With lunch looming, and having been told what to do, Elmer brought this part of the proceedings to an abrupt close.

Part II will follow in due course.

Plaid Cymru wins by a mile in Trelech

Congratulations to Jean Lewis who has romped home in Trelech. The results were as follows:

Jean Lewis (Plaid Cymru) 598

Hugh Phillips (Ind)  181

Selwyn Runnett (LibDem) 96

The Trelech by-election confirms the long-term decline of the Independents in Carmarthenshire, something which can only be welcomed by anyone who wants to see more open, accountable, honest and professional local government.

Thursday 11 December 2014

Leading from behind

"There go my people. I must find out where they are going so that I can lead them." (Alexandre Ledru-Rollin)

Earlier this week Carmarthenshire's county councillors met in a budget cuts seminar in Llanelli. As in previous years, the list of proposals was a long one and included a number of favourites which come up every year, including the closure of one of two respite care homes for disabled children to save £200,000.

The proposal has been the subject of an online petition which attracted nearly 2,000 signatures.

Cllr Siân Caiach intervened in the discussion and proposed a vote to remove the proposal from the list - permanently - and a majority of those present agreed with her.

The vote was not a binding one as the seminar is not a formally constituted council meeting, but Kevin Madge, the Labour leader of the council, has now sensed that he is on a losing wicket and has engaged the services of the press office to try to spin the defeat into an example of how he and the rest of the Executive Board listen to people.

The press office has duly obliged with a piece explaining how Kev will now ask the officers ever so nicely to remove the proposal. He added that his colleagues on the Executive Board had told him they could not support the measure either.

Unfortunately several things are missing from this piece of taxpayer funded "news" reporting:

1. There is no mention of Cllr Caiach's role in getting the proposal taken off the table.
2. Kev forgot to mention that he and the rest of the Executive Board approved the list of cuts handed to them by officers at their meeting on 17 November.
3. There is no mention of the petition.

A run-down of yesterday's meeting of the full council will follow later, but anyone who saw it will have been struck by how much of the meeting was taken up by personal tributes of one kind or another. The budget cuts seminar was not filmed or broadcast, but the uncomfortable truth for councillors is that the public is much more interested in matters such as the closure of respite centres than it is in watching lengthy speeches in praise of council officers and award ceremonies. 

Tuesday 9 December 2014

The Fashion Page

Excitement is mounting ahead of tomorrow's Christmas special meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council which can be viewed on the council's own broadcast channel (here). Most of the long-running sitcom's regulars will be there, including quite a few turkeys (best before 1972).

But will Meryl Gravell show up for the first time since July, and more importantly, will Chairman Daff Davies be sporting the natty purple tie he has recently been seen wearing?

What can it all mean, and is it the fault of all those Polish farm workers who were allegedly persuaded to turn out in such numbers to vote for Daff back in May 2012?

Monday 8 December 2014

Funding needed to fight Llansteffan wind turbine

The row over the "Dylan Thomas Memorial Wind Turbine" near Llansteffan continues to rumble on, and local objectors have been granted leave to seek judicial review of the decision in the New Year.

As anyone who has ever been involved in a planning campaign will know, the cards are stacked against the communities and people most affected in what are often David and Goliath battles, with big business nearly always getting its way.

The British justice system is also increasingly one in which money often speaks more loudly than, well, justice itself, and judicial reviews don't come cheap. Locals in the Llansteffan and Laugharne area have therefore launched a funding appeal, with details here.

What was unusual in this case was that a majority of councillors on the planning committee went against officers' recommendations to approve the turbine, with the charge being led by Cllr Daff Davies who happens to be (incredibly) both vice chair of the planning committee and Chair of Council.

One unfortunate consequence of this debacle is that members of the planning committee are likely to become much more risk averse in future and accept the recommendations of planning officers by default, even when there are compelling reasons to go against advice.

It is not unknown for councillors, especially Independents, to go against the wishes of the communities they represent, although the Llansteffan wind turbine was one of the most flagrant examples of a county councillor ignoring local opinion and the views of his community council, to support the interests of friends and business associates instead.

Defending his actions to his local community council back in June, Cllr Davies said he had supported the application because he did not see any grounds to refuse it. He also claimed that the professional and government bodies consulted had not objected.

We have to assume that as local member and vice chair of the planning committee Daff Davies actually took time to read the planning officers' report, which set out clear reasons for refusing the application, as well as stating that an objection had been received from the National Trust, the largest landowner in the area.

While he may have brought the community council into disrepute in Llansteffan and Llanybri, according to the community councillors themselves, Daff is still happily enjoying being chauffered around and tucking into the municipal buffet in Carmarthen.

Sunday 7 December 2014

Man of Straw

A feature of Carmarthenshire County Council's monthly meetings since September has been the appearance on the agenda of questions submitted in the main by opposition councillors querying aspects of council policy and business.

Another novelty which appeared for the first time in October was motions submitted by members of the ruling Labour group. First up was Kevin Madge himself calling for the uncontroversial banning of the sale and use of Chinese lanterns on council-owned property.

This was something which could easily have been decided using delegated powers without recourse to a formal motion and debate. After all, many much more contentious policies (e.g. levying exorbitant fees for the use of council owned sports facilities) were approved by the Executive Board without consulting councillors, and when that particular decision was questioned, Kevin Madge worked himself up into a lather and the acting Head of Law admonished the opposition for trying to micromanage board decisions.

Then in November Calum Higgins popped up with a motion in support of re-opening the Carmarthen to Aberystwyth railway line, and this week he has put down a motion calling on the council to support plans for a "national memorial woodland" to commemorate the First World War at Carwe, which happens to be on Meryl Gravell's doorstep and a stone's throw from her race course, the site of Robbie Savage's proposed hotel, and a huge development in open countryside of some nice new executive homes. The proposed name of the wood is Coed Ffos Las, and it will feature a poppy meadow and "interpretive panels".

Yes, there is an election looming, and we can expect more of Calum's motions in months to come, possibly culminating in "This Council believes that Motherhood and Apple Pie are to be applauded".

Nice, uncontroversial motions which everyone can agree on so that Calum can get into the local press and appear to be doing something, although whether anything more than a few words on a bit of paper will come out of this remains to be seen.  Probably not, but that's not the point. This is all about PR.

The National Memorial Woodland is projected to cost £1.2 million, and is the brainchild of the Woodland Trust which has identified a 120 acre site it would like to buy. Kevin Madge provided a quote for the official launch back in June, and a joint press release was issued in association with Sainsbury's.

Kevin and Sainsbury's, it will be remembered, have form when it comes to press releases.

Calum would like the council to render every assistance to the project, but the trouble is the council has blown what money it had on other schemes, including the ludicrous legal wranglings of the chief executive (supported by Calum and his colleagues). With the prospect of a national attraction in her backyard and limitless PR opportunities wrapped up in the Union Jack, Calum should nevertheless get enthusiastic backing from Meryl and a healthy crop of grants.

With four more years of World War One commemorations to go, the opportunities for climbing aboard the patriotic bandwagon are enormous, and everyone can join in.

It was recently revealed that no sooner had the crowds been ushered away from the poppy exhibition at the Tower of London than it was hired out for a very exclusive dinner of arms manufacturers, dealers and British military top brass.

The British Legion is also at it, according to this interesting piece (hat tip to Jac o' the North), securing sponsorship from those nice people at Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems and promoting poppy commemorations as a good place to do a bit of networking for those involved in the arms trade.

And if you thought that was about as cynical as it can get, how about this ad which brings together the First World War, Sainsbury's and the British Legion?

Unfortunately the Glorious Dead are too dead to make their views known.

Many other industries may be struggling, but these are boom times for the British war memorial industry, with barely a month passing without the unveiling of some new statue, arboretum, elaborate wrought iron gates, memorial garden, wall or memory facilitation installation. The likelihood is that quite a few of these will be found quietly rotting away a few years from now once the PR caravan has moved on, public interest has subsided and funds run out to keep the things maintained.

This blog has previously mentioned Heinrich Mann's superb satirical novel Der Untertan variously translated as "Man of Straw" and "The Loyal Subject". In it the main character uses his position of public influence to divert funds intended to support an orphanage into building a patriotic statue of the Emperor.

Back in Carmarthenshire, the council would very much like to close one of two respite care centres for disabled children to save £200,000.

It will be interesting to see how Calum and his seven seconders vote when this and other budget cuts come before them.

If you think that spending £200,000 on saving a respite home for disabled children is better than creating yet another war memorial, please sign this petition.

Saturday 6 December 2014

Tanks and an outside broadcast unit on the lawn

Nick Servini, BBC Wales' political correspondent, doesn't get out of Cardiff much. When Stephen Kinnock was parachuted into Aberafon, the Danish press made more of an effort to tell us what was going on there, but last night Nick could be found in a hotel in Port Talbot reporting on Ukip's first ever Welsh conference.

A handful of people could be seen mooching around in the background, including several very overweight men of a certain age and a woman or two. Unsurprisingly, Nathan Gill MEP was on hand for an interview.

Ukip owes a large part of its success to the wall-to-wall coverage it has received from the BBC over the last couple of years. Nigel Farage has appeared on Question Time more than any other politician by some margin, and if there is ever a report on something to do with the EU, you can be sure the BBC will ask Nigel for his take on the latest developments, even though the party had no MPs until recently and only 147 councillors across the UK. To put that into perspective, Plaid Cymru has more than 200, and the SNP has around 420.

The BBC, ITV, Sky News and Channel 4 have also invited Nigel Farage to take part in the third of three planned leaders debates in the general election next year. The SNP, Plaid, the Greens, Sinn Fein, SDLP and the DUP who will return many more MPs than Ukip come what may, have not been invited even though they may well end up holding the balance of power.

The main theme of Servini's report was that Ukip would be parking its tanks on Labour lawns in Wales, but which constituencies in particular would they be targeting, he wondered.

His question went unanswered, but a more pertinent question which could easily have been answered by Nick himself is how many candidates does Ukip have in place to contest the 40 Welsh constituencies?

The answer is just 10 out of 40.

A handful of seats are due to select candidates in January, including Llanelli where previous attempts have failed and ended in rows and recriminations.

By the time Ukip gets round to it, most of its candidates in Wales will have three short months or less in which to establish themselves and kick off a campaign.

According to reports in The Times earlier this week (no link because who wants to put more money into Murdoch's coffers) and the London Evening Standard (here), there is considerable friction between the rank and file and the party's headquarters (aka Nigel Farage) over what is considered to be meddling and high-handed interference from the centre which wants to parachute in favoured candidates - a bit like the Labour Party, in fact.

That was the really interesting story behind Ukip's Port Talbot conference, and Nick Servini funked it, leaving it to two of the creepiest politicians in Wales - Nathan Gill and Owen Smith for Labour - to deliver their soundbites.

The sad truth is that with media coverage like this, Ukip doesn't need to worry about getting its act together.

Friday 5 December 2014

Will he or won't he?

The Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council submitted an application to leave the council under its severance scheme back in September, and Kevin Madge subsequently announced that a decision on whether or not to approve the application for redundancy would be put before councillors before the end of the year.

The agenda for the next full meeting of the council on 10 December (the final scheduled meeting of the year) makes no mention of the application which has thus mysteriously disappeared from view.

A couple of weeks ago the Carmarthen rumour mill had it that Mr James, who is also very lucratively paid to act as Returning Officer for Carmarthenshire, had checked his diary and suddenly realised that there was a general election to be held in May 2015. With a heavy heart and purely out of a sense of public duty, he had decided to stay on to organise the election, nobody else in Carmarthenshire being up to the job.

That may yet be the official line put out by the Ministry of Spin, but a more likely explanation is that with the public up in arms at the prospect of a six-figure pay-off for Mr James, the Labour Party suddenly remembered that there was an election looming, and a decision was quietly put on hold.

Tribal gatherings

The red carpet was rolled out again in Llanelli this week for a flying visit from First Minister Carwyn Jones to inspect a planned new community centre called 'Y Lle'. The council helped the group behind the initiative to prepare a bid for £70,000 of funding from a capital grant fund of £1.25 million set up by the Welsh Government in September to develop new Welsh language centres across the country.

Not mentioned in the municipal PR sent out ahead of the visit was that the £1.25 million was money taken from the Welsh for Adults programme, which saw its budget slashed by 15% earlier in the year.

Officially then, this smoke and mirrors exercise was the Welsh Government stepping up to the plate to support the language, although the council's briefing paper to invited dignitaries hints that 'Y Lle' will be a general community centre serving a part of Llanelli which does not currently have one, and the £70,000 award is a mere drop in the ocean compared with the near £1.5 million the county council threw at Towy Community Church in Carmarthen.

The list of those invited to the event by the council was a select one, including the Council Chair, Elmer Daff Davies (Ind), Kevin Madge (Lab), Cllr Hugh Richards (Ind - yes, him again), Cllr Mair Stephens (Ind) and Cllr Mery Gravell (Ind). The only other councillor invited was John Jenkins, the maverick former Tory who represents the ward. No other Llanelli county councillors were asked to the party.

Accompanying the councillors was a gaggle of press office staff and various officers, including Mark James, whose commitment to the Welsh language is legendary.

Meryl Gravell did not turn up to greet the distinguished visitor from Cardiff, but the council's Press Office went to town with a whole gallery of snaps to record the historic occasion, including one of Kevin Madge greeting the Boss as he steps out of his limo:

 If Cllr John Jenkins did show up to the event, he has been airbrushed from history.

One of the main thrusts of the recently approved WLGA Peer Review of governance was that the council should become less tribal in its approach, talk to the opposition and use its PR machine in a less partisan way.

The leopard has clearly not changed its spots yet.

Thursday 4 December 2014

Llanelli facing "an end to prosperity"

Apologies to readers for subjecting you to yet more Meryl news, but the former council leader continues to exercise far more power and influence than you would expect for someone who was elected with the votes of just 323 residents of Trimsaran (483 others voted for somebody else) back in 2012.

Last week's deadline for councils to submit proposals for voluntary mergers saw Swansea and Neath Port Talbot send a message to Leighton Andrews that they would like to get together and create a new local authority which would take in a chunk of Carmarthenshire and much of the Swansea Valley. Under their plan, Llanelli and Pembrey would become part of the new council.

The Llanelli Star carries a report here, and it is already clear that the Labour Party is divided over the issue. Kevin Madge is against, while the Assembly Member Keith Davies (Lab) is very much in support of the plan.

Elsewhere in the Star (article not online), Meryl Gravell weighs in to the debate to warn Llanelli that a merger "would be an end for prosperity".

Becoming part of Swansea could "kill" Llanelli, she claims, adding that Carmarthenshire County Council has invested £60 million in the town, and that nowhere near that has been spent on Carmarthen where most of the development has been financed by the private sector.

If there is anything likely to create a popular mass movement in Llanelli in favour of breaking away from Carmarthenshire, it is the sight of Meryl wagging her finger, but if the town's residents think that joining Swansea would put and end to Meryl's meddling, they need to think again because Cllr Gravell is also Deputy Chair of Swansea Bay City Region Board (unelected).

Anyone interested can read a hagiography of Meryl on the board's website here, where a lot of emphasis is placed on the upgrading of her MBE to an OBE. Whether this sinecure carries a salary is not clear, but Cneifiwr will endeavour to find out.

It was perhaps in that capacity that she last week welcomed the board's chair, Sir Terry Matthews, to Cross Hands (warning: press office write up here). Speaking afterwards, Meryl gushed, "Sir Terry was inspirational and has a vision to take us forward".

So depending on which hat she is wearing, the Swansea Bay concept could either be the best thing since sliced bread for Llanelli, or it could kill the town.

In other Meryl news, the veteran councillor was also a guest of honour at the opening of the new Ysgol Ffwrnes in Llanelli earlier this week. The Llanelli Star pictures Meryl, Mark James, Kevin Madge, Keith Davies (the Labour councillor for Kidwelly) and Cllr Hugh Richards (Independent, Felinfoel) beaming while surrounded by some kiddies.

Riff raff and anyone not part of the ruling Labour/Independent clique were apparently not invited.

What the opening of the Welsh medium school has to do with Meryl Gravell (board member for regeneration and leisure) is not clear, and her appearance was even more remarkable given her views on the Welsh language and Welsh medium education.

Wednesday 3 December 2014

Another by-election

Sad news that Cllr George Edwards, Labour councillor for Hengoed ward which occupies the coastal strip between Llanelli and Burry Port, has died.

Hengoed is a two-member ward, the other councillor being Siân Caiach.

In the 2012 election, when Cllr Edwards was returned for the first time, the result was close with just 85 votes separating the first five candidates. Plaid Cymru took third and fourth place, with Martin Davies for Plaid just 23 votes behind George Edwards.

This will mean another by-election in the New Year, first up being the by-election in Trelech on 11 December where Labour's "Independent" coalition partners are defending a seat.

Prior to this, Labour and the Independents were on level pegging at 22 councillors each out of a total of 74. Compounding the coalition's difficulties is the long-term absence on health grounds of Cllr Keri Thomas (Lab) in Tyisha ward and the fragile health of several other elderly councillors.

With two and a half years to go before the next scheduled council elections, the electoral maths may become very tight indeed.

Monday 1 December 2014

Hanner can arlliw

O Dachwedd, y mis llwyd.
Hir a phygddu yw'r nos,
a'r niwl yn chwyrlïo'n llwyd dros y pentref bach,
dileuad, diseren, llwyted â gwiwer.
Fin nos fan hyn yn Nhrimsaran.

Ond wele! Yng nghanol llwydni'n dyddiau diflas
daw'r hen Feryl â llygedyn o heulwen i'n llonni.

Chwythed yr utgorn, caned Côr Merched y Fro!
Mi godwn ni Jerwsalem newydd sbon yno.
O fewn fframwaith y cynllun datblygu lleol
Ac yn unol â chanllawiau a pholisïau'r Awdurdod -
Adfywiwn yr hen Drimsaran.

Llifith jam mefus o bob polyn lamp
dan deyrnasiad ein Brenhines ddoeth,
ac ni fydd ei chleddyf yn gorffwys yn ei llaw
nes iddi godi gwesty crand a maes awyr
rhyngwladol ar dir yr hen byllau glo gerllaw.

'Co fe! Hanner Can Arlliw o WI Trimsaran,
llyfr newydd ein Harweinydd tragwyddol.

Llyfr y Flwyddyn, yn ôl y blyrb.
Ym marn pwy - ni wyddom.

Ai ffrogiau M&S neu wisg S&M yw testun y cyfarfod nesaf?
Pwy a ŵyr, ond dyma i chi chwip o lyfr.

gan Elgan Wynford Cocos

Sunday 30 November 2014

Stocking fillers

Cllr Meryl Gravell, who draws a senior salary of £28,780 in her capacity as member of the council's Executive Board, has been unable to attend meetings of the full council since July, but it is pleasing to report that she has been able to find time for other more important matters, including recent appearances with Welsh Government Minister Ken Skates at Newton House in Llandeilo where the pair was accompanied by someone dressed as a medieval knight, and a photo opportunity with Sir Terry Matthews, the billionaire chair of the Swansea Bay City Region Bay. Sir Terry had apparently popped in to gaze approvingly at all the grants Meryl has been dishing out to speculative ventures in Cross Hands.

Sir Terry Matthews with Carmarthenshire County Council executive board member for regeneration and leisure Cllr. Meryl Gravell. Pic Jeff Connell

The latest grant of £459,000 went to a newly formed company called Enzo's Lettings Limited, and the council is keen to let us know that the money was awarded after a due diligence check by the Welsh Government, whose track record in such matters (Awema) should put all our minds at rest.

While not attending to council PR work, Cllr Gravell has found time to write a book chronicling the history of Trimsaran WI.

The title, "50 Shades of Trimsaran WI", suggests that members do rather more than make jam and sing about England's green and pleasant land. Bearing that in mind, any bookshops and newsagents planning to sell it would probably be well advised to put it on the top shelf.

 Unfortunately, it is too late to nip along to Llanelli Library for the book launch where Meryl was signing copies in the company of veteran broadcaster Roy Noble, for whom this must have been a new career high.

Let's hope that no killjoy members of Cylch yr Iaith spoil the celebrations by complaining about the dodgy Welsh grammar used on the poster.

Meryl was less than flattering in her views about the standard of Welsh spoken by pupils of Ysgol y Strade at a council meeting earlier this year, but perhaps she should have consulted them about her mutations.

Saturday 29 November 2014

Keeping up with the Parry-Jones's

Twitter was buzzing last night after the BBC reported that the former chief executive of Pembrokeshire County Council, Bryn Parry-Jones, was given a £90,000 Porsche Panamera as his runabout.

It took 8 months for Aled Scourfield to get the council to disclose the information in response to his freedom of information requests, with the council blocking earlier attempts by arguing that the information was private and exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

The image the council would like to portray to the outside world is one of impartial council officers wanting to be open and transparent, carefully weighing up the legal pros and cons, but regretfully having to reject FOIs because they were hamstrung by the legislation.

A more likely explanation is that, just like neighbouring Carmarthenshire, freedom of information requests are handled by the chief executive's department in Haverfordwest, and it was Bryn Parry-Jones who got to decide what information could and could not be disclosed.

So congratulations to Aled for persisting with his investigation, although the existence of the Porsche has been known for quite a long time. The Pembrokeshire Herald reported earlier this year that the council was paying insurance on a Porsche Panamera which had been designated as a family car for the use of the Parry-Jones's.

There are as far as we know no Porsches on the books of Carmarthenshire County Council, but anyone going to County Hall in Carmarthen will have been struck by the row of gleaming Mercs, BMWs and other luxury cars parked in the VIP slots either side of the main entrance.

Any FOI requests asking impertinent questions about the chief executive's choice of vehicle are likely to suffer the same fate as the BBC's earlier attempts, but thanks to an FOI request from a member of the public a couple of years ago, we know that vehicles leased by the council at the time included several luxury cars - a Jaguar, a couple of Mercedes and some very nice (and expensive) Volkswagens among them.

The balance of probability is that these vehicles were not for the use of dinner ladies.

As Kevin Madge never fails to remind us, these are 'ard times, so perhaps it is time for another FOI on the council's car fleet to see if there has been any noticeable belt tightening.

A trip to County Hall would suggest that it is still very much business as usual.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Corporate vandalism

Times are a' changing on the high street. Household names which we all grew up with, such as Woolworths, are no more, and there is a growing likelihood that there will be a shakeout among the big four supermarkets which for so long have been accustomed to getting whatever they wanted, helped along by government and naive and fearful councils.

Sainsbury's recently announced in a roundabout sort of way that they would not be going ahead with plans for a new superstore in Cardigan, despite previous repeated assurances from their top men that everything was on track.

Now there are question marks over their plans for a new store in Cross Hands, as you can read in this week's sizzling South Wales Guardian.

Just as in Cardigan the store group has been saying that everything was fine, and just as in Cardigan the development includes a new health centre and petrol station. Now it seems that the store group is reviewing the project.

Kevin Madge, whose reverse Midas touch is becoming legendary, reckons it's a done deal, and he must be praying that it will go ahead because he invested a lot of political capital in this scheme, including the notorious Sainsbury's press release fiasco (see here for a potted history).

Sainsbury's legacy in Cardigan is nothing short of a scandal. The controversial scheme divided the town and caused massive disruption while the site was being prepared. A gigantic earthwork was constructed for the supermarket, a lot of trees were felled and an extensive new road system put in. The entire site is now abandoned and desolate, a monument to corporate greed and local government stupidity.

Less than a mile away stands the town's existing Tesco store which responded to Sainsbury's plans with its own ambitious expansion scheme. Nothing to do with the threatened opening of Sainsbury's of course, just a vote of confidence in this small west Wales market town.

Purely by coincidence, Tesco's expansion plans also appear to have been quietly shelved, the unofficial word being that the site suffers from stability problems - just like the proposed Sainsbury's site, in fact. Cynics might think that Sainsbury's no-show has more to do with it.

Either way, the two supermarket groups have behaved like rival bands of gangsters, battling for control over the town, dividing the community, wasting millions of pounds of somebody's money and then heading off back east, leaving what has to be one of the biggest cases of corporate vandalism ever seen in this part of the world.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Carmarthenshire in numbers

£28,000 - the amount spent by Carmarthenshire County Council on the services of Mr Tim Kerr QC defending the unlawful pensions and libel indemnity payments to chief executive Mark James.

On 8 October 2014 Kevin Madge said, "I am satisfied that the expenditure was both reasonable and necessary", although the council begrudgingly accepted the Wales Audit Office's findings.

£32,000 - the amount of grant to be cut to Women's Aid to help victims of domestic violence under budget proposals approved by Kevin Madge, Pam Palmer and other members of the council's Executive Board at a meeting on 17 November 2014.

24 November - Kevin Madge and Pam Palmer join a march through Carmarthen in support of the White Ribbon campaign to end violence to women.

Monday 24 November 2014

It's official - Swansea is crap

This coming Friday is the deadline for Welsh councils to agree voluntary mergers, and so far only four of the 22 have agreed in principle that they would like to get together (Conwy with Denbighshire and Bridgend with the Vale of Glamorgan).

Leighton Andrews, metaphorically wearing his leather jacket and tapping one hand with a baseball bat, has indicated that he might decide to go even further than the Williams Commission and cut the number down to just six.

Under the Williams proposals, Carmarthenshire could remain as a standalone authority, but it would then become one of the smallest Welsh councils. The other option would be for it to merge with Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion to create Dyfed Mark II, but as this blog noted recently, Swansea has been casting covetous eyes on the southern bit of Carmarthenshire, and would like to create a new, overwhelmingly urban authority taking in Swansea itself, Llanelli, Neath Port Talbot and the Swansea Valley.

Rump Carmarthenshire, i.e. the remaining bits, would then have no choice but to throw its lot in with Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire - no bad thing perhaps.

Not only would the expanded Swansea exist within what its councillors regard as the city's natural boundaries, but the new authority would to all intents and purposes put flesh and bones on the rather amorphous concept which is Swansea Bay City Region, that curious quango-like beast which is half planning committee and half chamber of commerce.

Swansea Bay City Region as it is currently set up also takes in the rest of Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire, although what the benefits are for most of that large rural hinterland is not at all clear.

After conferences and municipal shindigs galore, Swansea Bay City Region board finally settled down to its first meeting - in Port Talbot - last week.

The event was presided over by Sir Terry Matthews, Wales's answer to Alan Sugar (sorry, Lord Sugar), and by all accounts it was a very big affair with all sorts of representatives invited along to watch the show.

If anyone went along with the belief that Swansea Bay City Region was about west Wales, the meeting put matters straight. The clue has always been in the name, and the invitees were told it had been decided that all those lovely EU grants and other spare public dosh would in future flow to Swansea.

Carmarthen was said to be doing well enough not to need any more help, but Swansea was "crap" (the actual word used, it is said), and needed all the money.

Saturday 22 November 2014

Ed Miliband's White Van

One thing guaranteed to annoy voters is when politicians engage in pointless point scoring.

Calum Higgins, Labour's great hope for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, was wheeled out by Labour's spin doctors to front one such attack on Plaid this week.

Leanne Wood had said that Plaid Cymru would not prop up a minority Tory government after the next election.

Perhaps they might, said Calum. They haven't ruled it out, huffed Calum (or whoever was writing the script). They are totally discredited, puffed Calum. And much more of the same as he ranted for several paragraphs about nationalists.

In the middle of this, Calum did what Labour has been careful to avoid doing - he mentioned Ukip. Specifically, he suggested that Plaid Cymru needed to worry about Ukip.

A few days after Calum had conveyed the thoughts of Labour HQ to the Western Mail, Labour slumped to third place in the Rochester by election and saw its vote halved. Until the 2010 general election the seat had been held for Labour by Bob Marshall Andrews (on slightly different boundaries).

In his victory speech, Mark Reckless made it clear that he and Ukip would now be going after the Labour vote.

Back home, Calum will remember that in May of this year Labour came third in the poll for the European elections in Carmarthenshire, with Plaid in first place and Ukip in second.

Labour has been incredibly slow to wake up to Ukip, probably because it believed that this was just a turf war between two parties on the right and that Labour would benefit as a result. So Labour's response has been to keep quiet while joining in the arms war of proposals to crack down on foreigners.

Let's employ loads more border guards. Let's charge foreigners who want to come to Britain. Let's find ever dafter ways of targeting one-legged Bulgarians and Polish plumbers, even though all the evidence shows that European migrants contribute more in taxes and take out less in benefits than holders of UK passports.

There is a long history of this in Britain. A hundred years ago popular newspapers were reporting that Russians had been seen in central London with snow on their boots. There were anti-German pogroms in the First World War, with attacks on people who were suspected, often wrongly, of being German.

In one of the poshest parts of London German Street was renamed Jermyn Street. A change of spelling made everything all right.

In the 1950s and 1960s landlords would advertise rooms for rent, but "No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs". Last night a woman wearing a Ukip rosette in Rochester was interviewed for the main BBC evening news bulletin. "I am a Dutch Canadian", she proudly told viewers, before going on to warn of the dangers of immigration.

Two weeks ago I met a couple who had moved to Wales from a prosperous cathedral city in England. Mr J was originally from the Valleys, but decades of living in England had left him with only a faint trace of an accent. Judging from her accent, Mrs J was originally from London. They had moved to west Wales because they no longer felt comfortable in the city they had lived in for many years and had been subjected to abuse.

The area they had lived in had many Asian Muslim residents, Mrs J said, but they were friendly and had not been a problem.

Nasty, anonymous notes had been posted through their letter box, and Mr J had been openly abused by a white woman on the street who had yelled into his face, "You f***ing Welsh, coming here and taking our jobs".

"He's 83, he's not taking anybody's job", Mrs J said.

All of which brings us to Emily Thornberry, the now disgraced Labour MP who tweeted a "disrespectful" picture of a house festooned with England flags and the words "Image from #Rochester".

Ed Miliband was incandescent with rage, and Labour bigwigs queued up to apologise for the outrage. The owner of the flags was just being patriotic, they said, and he appeared, shaven headed, before the cameras with lots of Sun stickers plastered on his white van.

For all we know, this patriotic Rochester resident is into contemporary dance and going to Polish evening classes, but the flags, the shaven head and the Sun stickers would suggest otherwise.

We don't actually know what Emily Thornberry thought about all of this either because she posted the picture without comment, although we can probably assume that she was pointing out the rise of nasty, xenophobic right-wing nationalism in England.

But the official Labour line is that this is no such thing. It is just patriotism, and anyone who says otherwise is "disrespecting" the voters. So wrap yourselves in the Union Jack or Cross of St George and bellow Land of Hope and Glory. That's fine.
Celebrating a 'No' victory in Glasgow

But for Calum and the Labour establishment, the sort of people who vote for the progressive, left of centre Plaid Cymru and the SNP are rabid nationalists of the worst kind, to which anything, even Ukip, would be preferable.

Don't try this at home