According to County Hall insiders one senior figure in the ruling administration reckons that it's all just headlines which will be forgotten in a few days. They could not be more wrong.
Councillors, the Plaid office in Ammanford, the blogs and the press have noticed a big change in the public mood. There is real anger and disgust at what has gone on, and things are no different in Pembrokeshire.
Perhaps this is part of a wider shift in public opinion across Wales. Yesterday saw a large demonstration against council cuts, particularly as they effect post-16 Welsh medium education, in Merthyr Tydfil. In Ceredigion a Cymdeithas yr Iaith protest against the Welsh Government's cuts and broken promises attracted around 50 people in Cardigan yesterday, including young families and pensioners, despite appalling weather conditions.
In Carmarthenshire events unfolded thick and fast on Thursday and Friday, and at times it was difficult to keep up. One of the things which is likely to turn out to be very significant is a statement put out by Mr Anthony Barrett in response to the council's extraordinary press release on the affair.
In its statement the council sought in classic Carmarthenshire fashion to insinuate that the Wales Audit Office was either incompetent or lacking in integrity because it had "appeared to change its mind" over the libel indemnity. That, it turns out, was utterly untrue.
In summary the auditor had advised the council to get legal opinion on the legality of the indemnity before going ahead.
That advice was either ignored or rejected, and the trial went ahead including Mr James's unlawful counterclaim. Kevin Madge's claims at an Executive Board meeting on 6 January that the council had tried to settle the case before it reached court now look very hollow.
When the auditor became aware that the council had ignored his recommendation, he obtained his own specialist advice and provided a copy to the council in September 2013.
Questions which need to be answered include:
- Who saw the auditor's advice in September 2013? Were Kevin Madge and other senior councillors made aware of it?
- Who was involved in the 30 January press release? Mark James, almost certainly, but what part did Kevin Madge have to play in it?
- It is also extremely likely that Kevin Madge and most likely other senior councillors saw the auditor's "consideration reports" back in early November. Those reports gave the council a chance to back down, but it did not. Given that Kevin Madge knew what the reports published on 30 January would say, why did he continue to defend the actions of the chief executive and others to the hilt?
All the indications are that the chief executive, Kevin Madge and the rest will try to ride out the storm. The most obvious tool will be delaying tactics.
The opposition will try to call an extraordinary meeting of the full council. The next full meeting of the council is scheduled to take place on 12 February, and as things stand that will be taken up with approving a draft budget for 2013/14. Opposition councillors have made it clear that consideration of the budget should be postponed because of the breach of trust which has occurred. The Plaid group has also been arguing strongly for a complete revision of the budget proposals put together by senior officers, proposals which are being backed as usual by Kevin Madge, Pam Palmer and the rest.
The constitution, which has been repeatedly tinkered with in recent years, says that councillors, the monitoring officer or the chair of council may ask the chief executive for an extraordinary meeting. There is nothing to say that he must agree to the request.
The monitoring officer just happens to be Linda Rees Jones, the acting Head of Law, who is also heavily implicated in the scandals, while the Chair of Council (Terry Davies, Lab) is no more likely to call an EGM than turkeys would vote for Christmas.
It is quite possible that opposition councillors will find that any request for an EGM is either rejected or put off for as long as possible, with Kevin Madge and the chief executive arguing that it is essential that the budget is dealt with first. There have already been suggestions that the auditor's reports should wait until the scheduled meeting of the full council on 7 March, which is also outside the one month time limit set by the auditor.
Kevin Madge: "Cuts of Biblical Proportions" as the gravy train rolls on
While all this is going on, evidence continues to emerge of the council's warped spending priorities.
A recent freedom of information request showed that the council spent £120,000 on rent, fees and hospitality at Parc y Scarlets in 2012-13. That is a backdoor subsidy, and also completely unnecessary because the council has plenty of venues of its own where corporate junkets could be held for a fraction of the cost.
The £120,000 comes on top of the refinancing package and the Marstons car park deal which gave the club the best part of £1 million in additional aid in 2012-13 alone.
Another report shows that the council spent a staggering £2.8 million on external consultants in 2012-13. A large chunk of this was for technical consultancy, but not all of it. One of the difficulties, the report notes, is deciding what actually constitutes consultancy. Not included, it seems, were modest fees paid to Rev Matt Bownds of Carmarthen's Living Word Church (notable members of the flock include Mr James) for providing soft skills training courses.
The list goes on and on, and includes other such essential items as Towy Community Church's bowling alley and the relocation of hundreds of council staff from council owned premises to rented office space in the Eastgate development.
Then there is the huge amount spent on legal fees. Much of it is incurred in child protection cases and the like, but significant sums have been spent on unnecessary legal advice and court actions (and not just against Jacqui Thompson).
For well over a year now Kevin Madge has been warning of massive cuts to spending coming down the track. You would think that the Labour-Independent coalition would have tried to rein in wasteful spending and ensure that every penny the council could get was clawed in from deals such as the Scarlets-Marstons car park sale.
When you look at the list of proposed spending cuts, many of them involve relatively small sums but will have devastating consequences. Quite a few of the 51 proposals included in the recent consultation would result in savings that are dwarfed by money being spent on consultants, lawyers, Parc y Scarlets, the proposed new outsourced "extra care facility" in Llanelli, the council's press and PR operations, etc., etc.
Closing a respite care home for disabled children would save £200,000 per year. Weigh that against the fees paid to external consultants. Cutting spending on the Mentrau Iaith and other language services still further would save just £60,000. The council spends more on fighting the chief executive's legal battles and posh cars.
Perhaps if less had been lavished on Parc y Scarlets, the future of playing fields, bowling greens and cricket pitches used by ordinary people would not now be in doubt.
No wonder the Auditor General for Wales recently issued another report which looks at the challenges facing local authorities. The introductory blurb reads as follows:
"[The report] explores the effectiveness of their financial planning, their approach to financial decision making and the actions they are taking to minimise the impact of significant budget cuts. It also considers the extent to which councils understand the impact of their actions".
The report highlights quite a few examples of what it considers to be good practice by councils around Wales. Carmarthenshire, which likes to boast that it is the best run local authority in the country, is nowhere to be seen.