Thursday 13 February 2014

Council Crisis: A stormy day (updated)


An emergency meeting of the Executive Board will be held at 5pm today, according to the South Wales Guardian and the Carmarthen Journal. The Journal carries a slightly longer and more detailed report (here).

As with Kevin Madge's statement last night, the latest press briefing comes not from the council, but Labour HQ in Cardiff which now seems to be running Carmarthenshire.

Labour holds 22 of the 74 seats on the council and polled about a quarter of the votes at the last elections in 2012.

Cneifiwr's prediction is a three-way split:

1. Keep him and fight. (Meryl, Pam and the rest of the Indies)
2. Suspend him now. (Llanelli Labour)
3. I want my mummy.

See the end of this post for some observations on yesterday's meeting of the full council.

Yesterday's announcement by Dyfed Powys Police of an investigation into possible criminal acts in Carmarthenshire County Council had been widely expected, but what nobody expected at the beginning of the day was that Kevin Madge, the council leader, would leave Mark James in post as chief executive.

Pressure on Kevin Madge to act had been growing from MPs and Assembly Members across the political spectrum, and several senior Labour figures are known to have been aghast at the events unfolding in Carmarthen, privately voicing concerns that the delays would allow time for anyone who might be subject to a police investigation to tamper with evidence.

After yesterday's bizarre council meeting at which discussion of the scandals was once again banned, Kevin Madge went off to see the deputy chief constable. What was said at that meeting is not known, but a Labour source began briefing the media ahead of the meeting that Kevin Madge would announce the suspension of the chief executive.

A few tentative press suggestions that a suspension was imminent were met with a furious reaction from County Hall. It is understood that journalists were warned of dire consequences if they continued down that line.

According to the Western Mail in a report out today (not yet available online), Kevin Madge is understood to have asked Mark James to step down voluntarily. If so, it is clear what the response was.

The damage to the county's reputation is immense, but even worse is the fallout for the Labour Party which sought to rescue something from the ashes last night when it put out a statement in Kevin Madge's name calling for an end to "political point scoring" and a review of the affair by the Welsh Local Government Association.

The statement reflects the line which Kevin Madge and other councillors, such as Anthony Jones (Llandybie, Lab) have taken, that the whole affair is a political vendetta by Plaid Cymru.

It was interesting to note that Dyfed Powys Police ended its statement yesterday by emphasising that its decision to investigate had not been influenced by political considerations.

Whether this strange state of affairs will be allowed to continue remains to be seen, and sections of the Labour Party in Llanelli are known to be very disturbed by what is happening. That poses a problem for Calum Higgins, the party's candidate for the Westminster constituency of Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, who is trying to perform a balancing act in order not to upset anybody.

Meanwhile, it is business as usual for the junta in Carmarthen, and a new round of intimidation and bullying of the press has begun over what the press office (a part of the chief executive's own department) sees as negative reporting.

To get an idea of what the council's idea of balanced news reporting means, have a look at the "Newsroom" on its website. Apparently nothing happened yesterday except that it was rather windy.

A theory which would explain what happened yesterday is doing the rounds, but unfortunately it is not printable.

Council Meeting

This blog normally writes up the monthly council meetings, but having gone through the archive, there does not seem to be much point this month apart from a couple of observations.

Firstly, councillors and the public were treated to yet another lengthy presentation which took up almost a third of the time available to the meeting. The subject this time was the Housing Revenue Account, and while it is an interesting subject and one which councillors should be informed, it would surely be better to arrange a separate seminar for things like this, rather than use up so much time on of one of the very few occasions when the public can see some of their concerns and issues being aired and attempts made to hold the Executive to account.

What we saw again at the end of the meeting was the Chair impatiently watching the clock and trying to close down discussion. In the end a huge swathe of reports were waived through with no questions or debate.

Once again we also saw numerous examples of poor chairmanship of the meeting. The impression Cllr Terry Davies gives is that his job is akin to that of a night club bouncer acting on behalf of the management, whereas what the constitution requires is someone who tries to ensure that the voice of backbench councillors and the public is heard.

Detailed questions were asked on things which matter to people in Carmarthenshire, and all too often Cllr Davies nods at the relevant member of the Executive Board and asks "ti moyn ateb?" ("Do you want to answer?"). If they shake their heads, that is the end of the matter. How about insisting on an answer?

For example, questions about what look like serious flaws in the consultation process as it affects cuts to the swimming pool in Newcastle Emlyn were not addressed. Cllr Davies allowed officers and the Executive Board to sidestep them.

At one point the acting Head of Law, Mrs Rees Jones, made a serious accusation against Cllr Siân Caiach about her few seconds in the witness box at the libel trial. The Chair refused the councillor a right of reply.


Anonymous said...

Dear God, what a mess they are in, they have shown themselves to be totally desperate and confirms everyone's suspicions that they are, as an executive, completely controlled by Mark James. Private Eye will have a field day!

Anonymous said...

Rubbish re Sian C - she got it wrong ! on the point she was trying to question It would help if she arrived promptly and settled down instead of making a point about avoiding prayers and not recognising the chair

Anonymous said...

The name "Newsroom" is a joke. Not only does the PR department fail to keep residents of the County informed about things vital to the government of the County, it is clear that it is willing to be wholly partisan in its reporting.

As a matter of interest, the National Union of Journalists has a Code of Conduct, which includes the following:

A journalist:

1. At all times upholds and defends the principle of media freedom, the right of freedom of expression and the right of the public to be informed.

2. Strives to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair.


8. Resists threats or any other inducements to influence, distort or suppress information ....

Perhaps no NUJ members in the "Newsroom" then?

Anonymous said...

“It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas and disguise.”
― Joseph Goebbels

Anonymous said...

I watched it, and yes good for Sian, she was very brave. Nice for her not to have to put up with any jeering & heckling yesterday, although the Chair got pretty cross and stood up. The whole meeting was surreal - lots and lots of talk (much of the talk being about visions and opinions and not actually any useful suggestions)about routine matters; no-one (other than Sian) acknowledging the "elephant in the room".

Anonymous said...

.....and another thing - haven't the press got a more up-to-date photo of Mark James? One where he looks less young, cheery and cocky? I can't believe he looks like this at the moment.........can he?

Anonymous said...

For God sake! Has Kevin Madge got no self respect or is he another one frightened of the CE?

Anonymous said...

@ anon 09:11 - This is not the behaviour of a person who has arrived late you imbecile!! This is the bodylanguage of a person who has been bullied to the point where she is fearful of making a stand because she knows it is not what the hierarchy at CCC and certain Cllrs want to hear but regardless of her fear she persists, as her conscience, morals, values and bravery are stronger and will not permit her to leave things unsaid or go unchallenged. I can empathise with Cllr Caiach as I, like many others in CCC have experienced that fear.

Thank you Cllr Caiach, you are an exceptional leader and an inspiration to employees and the public. Your efforts will be rewarded as justice will prevail, you'll see!

sian caiach said...

For the record, due to the appalling weather, I did actually arrive late, and was not just waiting to avoid prayers. Possibly running up the stairs at speed at my age after struggling to stay on my feet walking across the car park was not a good contribution to my composure either. As to the chair, I think you can see that I accepted his authority during the meeting and sat down several times at his behest, sometimes under protest.
Terry is a good technical chair but clearly under strict instruction on how meetings are to be run, obviously told to bat off all mention of the WAO findings by reminding us of the later meeting, to discuss it.
That should not effect the issue of whether Councillors compromised by previous decisions should approve further spending on the libel case, which was my point.
I think we could be getting ourselves into deeper water as Councillors by not acting properly. I had to read out the legal precedents to let the monitoring officer know exactly what I was talking about.

Yes, I could have done it better if I'd not been late;out of breath and recently attacked by a gale but there were no other volunteers!

Lesley Williams said...

Who is that gormless anonymous article attacking Sian Caiach? Why should anyone - councillor or otherwise - stand up for the gladiatorial entrance of chairman & chief clerk if they are not deserving of such respect? Similarly why should anyone who is not a Christian have to join in mumbo jumbo prayers? Sian Caiach is the best and bravest councillor we've got; look and learn!

Anonymous said...

it would be good to have a neespaper feature on "A Day in the Life Of" the Leader and/or the CEO. They have probably been spending more time together than an old married couple.

Perhaps tomorrow they can start their weekend with a Valentine's Day meal together; though who would be giving whom the red roses one can't be sure!

Anonymous said...

Sian is an outstanding councillor, deserving of the highest applause. She alone carries the flag for local democracy at Council meetings. Adderchog Sian!

Anonymous said...

Whilst a suspension (or two) may be deserved, what does it hold for the future? Will an Interim Chief Exec be brought in from outside, someone who can bring a fresh and more open way of running the Council, or will one of the many existing senior managers "hold the reins", i.e. business as useful?

Anonymous said...

Wish you luck with a "transparent" interim Chief Executive. Haven't met one yet.

Anonymous said...

I think a fresh approach is vital. I'm new to all this ' council watching' but it's easy to see that Mark James is not a fit chief executive and has run the council like a dictator surrounding himself with weak characters who will obey his every whim. He needs replacing with a decent leader who heads a democracy in which the whole council plays a vital and key role in decision making. Roll on that time when we feel our opinion as voters count!

Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

Bring in Bronwen Morgan as interim Chief Exec on secondment from Ceredigion. She would do an excellent job liaising with the councillors, staff and last but nor least the COMMISSIONERS which Cardiff must appoint NOW.

Anonymous said...

If only one thing is learnt from this awful situation, it is that a Chief Exec. of a local Authority must never again be allowed to dictate to Councillors and have so much power as to rule the roost. Councillors have brought a lot of this on themselves, by allowing the situation to get to this. That doesn't mean to say they are all to blame because some do stand up for what is right, but it is impossible to make a difference when they are a minority.

Anonymous said...

Deputy Chief is Dave Gilbert

Anonymous said...

Just watched the council webcast meeting,some of the
Phrases used had me in stitches,eg Kevin Madge,let's be
Honest,some words said in the prayers at the start as well,the chair standing up,we want answers now not at
The end of the month.Another excellent performance from
Sian Caiach,under pressure from the bullies.

Mrs Angry said...

I agree with the last comment: in fact the truth is in too many authorities that the senior officers have far too much influence on the direction of policy, but in most of these examples they do at least pay lipservice to the idea that the elected members are supposed to be in charge.

Mark James's fatal error, inevitably, has been to fail to realise the days of exercising such power unquestioned, and so overtly, are well and truly over.

The void created by impotent local press coverage has been filled by citizen audit: people like Jacqui and Cneifiwr, who exercise their right to scrutinise the actions of their local authority.

The daft arrest moment marked a watershed: it was the clash of the new with the old way of doing things. Things have to change, and that is why a new start is needed in the leadership and management of the council in Carmarthenshire, as it is here in Barnet, and in too many rotten boroughs around the UK.

Unknown said...

If transparency,accountability and security is NOT seen to be working at the Carmarthen County Council, in all probability, it AIN'T working.

All this recent Libel mess came about by the MISUSE of the GIA/3037/2011 Dransfield V Devon County Council which is currently before the Court of Appeal,hence, beggars the question why the CCC relied upon my case/????

Anonymous said...

Anon 21.35

Why the hell do we need a Deputy Chief Exec and two Assistant Chief Execs? Ludicrous. Total waste of money. Major overhaul of jobs at the top needed.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that this situation is being replicated across hundreds of local authorities but, in some of them, there is no local understanding of exactly what is going on.

If only more people understood that decisions being taken in their name are actually being taken in other people's interests.

Thank heaven for blogs. Most (though fortunately not all) local and regional newspapers seem to simply regurgitate "press office" nonesense which many believe represents reality when, in fact, it is mostly based in fantasy. We need a few brave souls to tell it as it is - but we see what happens to them when they do.

Still, we, the bloggers and commentators, are legion and we are many .....

Anonymous said...

The meting was held -apparently a v long one have you heard anything? your sources are good - butmethinks Labour are holding on to Kevin and Kev is afraid of upsetting Mark

Anonymous said...

Let us give Kevin the praise he deserves.
Kevin has done an excellent job of destroying Labour in Carmarthenshire.
Well done Kev

Unknown said...

The fact this meeting was behind closed doors indicates the TAS lights have been switched off??

Anonymous said...

"We need a few brave souls to tell it as it is - but we see what happens to them when they do." One brave soul won her case against CCC today. The judge threw the book at them! Much more to come in the near future.