Tuesday 28 June 2016

Downward spiral

Private Eye recently picked up on Trinity Mirror's decision not to fill four staff vacancies at the Carmarthen Journal and its sister paper, the Llanelli Star. Their websites would be scrapped, and staff had been told to buy their own notepads and even soap for the office toilets.

The truth is even grimmer, and needless to say you won't be reading about it in the pages of either newspaper.

The once mighty Carmarthen Journal is now down to just five staff, and that includes advertising and the receptionist. That's just three left in editorial, and Trinity is axing its sales and customer service centre in Swansea.

In the last 10 years the Journal has had five different editors and three different owners.

After 206 years of recording local events, including the revival of the National Eisteddfod, the Rebecca Riots and the victory of Gwynfor Evans, Trinity Mirror seems to be set on giving the old lady a quiet funeral.

Monday 20 June 2016

Victorian values on Queen Victoria Road

Update 26 June

Following the withdrawal of the bedsit application, Mr Rees has now told the press that he is seeking to negotiate a lower sale price for the former YWCA hostel with the mainly elderly trustees who are said to be desperate to offload the building.

Rather than bedsits, the two adjoining buildings would be converted into six or seven self-contained flats. Concerned local residents, of whom there are a lot, question the feasibility of packing so much accommodation into such a limited space, and are suggesting four or a maximum of five units of a decent specification.

Mr Rees has rejected that idea, telling objectors that the finance for such a development is not available.

This one is set to run.

Update 21 June

As Anon notes below, the application has now been withdrawn. Residents will now have to wait to find out what comes next.


More development news from Llanelli where, following recent coverage of Meryl's latest grandiose plans for an out-of-town wellness village to benefit the private healthcare industry, residents are contemplating proposals to turn the former YWCA building on Queen Victoria Road into bedsit accommodation.

There have already been a number of objections to application S/33622, and a week ago concerned locals were invited to take a look at the building and to have the plans explained to them. They were somewhat taken aback to be told that tenants would be charged £275 a month, with up to 29 people sharing four bathrooms and a single kitchen.

Queen Victoria Road was once the sort of residential street people aspired to move to, and the creation of yet more bedsits in the town centre while expensive new builds spring up along the coast and the flood plain sit uncomfortably with the county council's claims that it is regenerating the town centre.

Ghettoisation is the word that springs to mind.

The application was submitted by an agent acting for a Mr and Mrs Rees of Bridgend, and it turns out that Mr Rees is none other than Tony Rees who made a memorable appearance at a meeting of the Parc Howard Association last year.

You can read an account of that event here, where Mr Rees said that he was representing a company called Loca Ventures which wanted to turn the mansion gifted to the people of Llanelli into a luxury hotel. Part of his charm offensive included threats of legal armageddon against the press and Cllr Bill Thomas.

What followed was a swirling mist of accusations and counter-claims, with Loca Ventures claiming that it had held extensive talks with senior county council figures. Cllr Thomas had obtained a big, fat document bearing the county council's logo which appeared to confirm Mr Rees's claims. Meryl's old Ukip chum, Ken Rees, had held secret talks, and needless to say, the Duchess of Trimsaran popped up here, there and everywhere in the storm, including an accusation that residents had scuppered a bid for funding with the Lottery.

At one point there were even suggestions that failure to turn Parc Howard into a swanky hotel would put the kybosh on Robbie Savage's long delayed plans to build a hotel at Ffos Las, a project strongly backed by that unlikely WAG, Meryl.

Strangely, press reports mentioning the golden haired pundit have disappeared from newspaper websites - at the instigation of Messrs Sue, Grabbit and Runne, it is alleged.

But all that twinkle-toed showbiz glitz and glamour is a million miles away from the vision for Queen Victoria Road.

Residents will no doubt have been hugely relieved to hear that bedsit tenants will all be vetted by an estate agent.

Saturday 18 June 2016

The Greasy Poll and other thoughts

Mike Parker's account of the election campaign in Ceredigion last year has been out for a few weeks now, and last Tuesday the Parker post-launch roadshow came to Cardigan for what turned out to be a fairly lively discussion at the Grosvenor.

The Greasy Poll is written in diary form and takes us through the two and a bit years Mike spent campaigning to win the Westminster seat for Plaid. He lost, of course, but that was not for want of trying, and we follow the journey of a political innocent who is slowly and remorselessly put through the political wringer and then spat out on the other side.

The campaign came at enormous personal, emotional and financial cost to Mike. Ceredigion is the complete antithesis of the vast swathes of safe Tory and Labour seats which the first-past-the-post system produces. There the biggest and only real battle most would-be MPs face is manoeuvring through the party machinery to get their names on the ballot paper, which for most of them then becomes a meal ticket for life.

In Ceredigion and other constituencies outside the Labour and Tory heartlands you have to fight every inch of the way and sacrifice a year or two of your life, surviving on your life savings and fresh air. You will have to learn to fight on several fronts, learning to cope with your own party machinery which will set out to emasculate you and turn you into an on-message automaton. You will have to learn to deal with your political rivals, the voters themselves and the media.

It was Mike's misfortune to fight a patch where the only media show in town was the Cambrian News, by some margin the nastiest and most dishonest local newspaper in this part of the world.

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with quite a few of the characters who have walk-on parts in the book. There goes Gethin James, Aberporth's UKIP councillor, dragging his knuckles along the ground. There goes Henrietta Hensher, the Tory candidate who shows what she thinks of voters by failing to turn up to most of the hustings. There goes Labour careerist, the slick and very ambitious Huw Thomas who will forever be associated with Tippex. There goes Mark Williams, the LibDem MP.

Williams is probably the most interesting character in the book. In many of his press photos he is a startling and deathly shade of white, with a chameleon-like knack of passing himself off as whatever you want him to be. The LibDem self-proclaimed rebel MP who voted with the Tories 97% of the time between 2010 and 2015. A man who can vote for, against and abstain on the bedroom tax: truly a politician for all seasons.

Image result for mark williams mp

What emerges from the book is a man who keeps his hands as white as the rest of his ghostly complexion, leaving the dirty tricks to his camp followers, such as the disturbed and rather creepy figure of "Joe" and the bad tempered and graceless Elizabeth "I may vomit on you" Evans.

But this book is by no means a one-sided rant. There are some candid portraits and cameos of a number of Plaid politicians past and present, including the ever-green Cynog Dafis who is a fan of fracking and would like to see wind turbines all over the slopes of Pumlumon. Elin Jones features prominently, as you would expect in a Ceredigion election. Elin knows her constituency like the back of her hand; she is tough and yet surprisingly weak when it comes to dealing with the Cambrian News.

Mike is an old and close friend of Leanne Wood, and yet he is surprisingly kind to her nemesis, the baroque loose cannon that is Dafydd Êl (Dafydd Elis Thomas).

In a review in Golwg, Ifan Morgan Jones described the book as being a bit like the maiden voyage of the Titanic. We all know what happens at the end, but the interesting stuff is the journey up to the iceberg.

Perhaps, but Mike's account of the meltdown that followed the Cambrian News "Nazigate" episode does not disappoint. With just two weeks to go before polling day, the newspaper smeared him in what looked for all the world like an attempt to throw the election. The actions of the editor, Beverly Thomas, and the paper's politics reporter, Chris Betteley, could and should have been pursued through IPSO and the courts.

Despite that, Mike thinks that there were other factors at play which cost him the election, chief of which were middle-England fears, stoked by the Tory media, of a Labour government beholden to the SNP.

Mike's most depressing message last Tuesday was that playing the race card always wins in politics, and that one of the biggest changes he has seen in the last 30 years is that it has now become acceptable once again to air prejudices and hatreds of "them" - "them" being minorities and anyone who is palpably not one of "us".

Mike gives us several examples of what he and fellow canvassers encountered on doorsteps. In Aberporth, a Londoner talks of being "forced out" of the city by "them". He escaped to the country to live in Noethamptonshire, only to find that "they" were turning up in droves there too. So he and the missus decided to come to Wales.

Then there is the woman who refuses to accept a leaflet because it is written in English and Welsh, and she does not want "that language" touching her skin. Cymraeg can be very infectious.

While Mike was meeting these charmers in Ceredigion, things were not always much better on the other bank of the Teifi.

Just down the road from Y Cneifiwr live Mr and Mrs M, also blow-ins from London. Mrs M has strong views about "them" and the Welsh. The Welsh are dirty, she says, and they stick together like a gang of thieves. Mr M briefly took on a job as a driver after they settled here, but gave that up because he could not get on with all those stupid place names.

Not that Mr M needed the work because the couple are very well off.

Now this lovely couple are both retired, and they drive off most mornings in their shiny monster £30,000 estate with their snarly Shih tzus to exercise in "Senaaff", or as the road signs stubbornly have it, "Cenarth".

Come election time, a Plaid canvasser called round, only to be sent away with a flea in his ear. "We won't be voting for you because you are a bunch of racists", bellowed Mr M.

Mrs M later told Mrs Cneifiwr that they had voted Tory because the Tories looked after pensioners, and she had stuffed quite a bit of money into George Osborne's "granny bonds".

People like that are nothing new, but perhaps Mike Parker is right. Whereas they used to keep their nasty prejudices behind the net curtains, we now live in a Britain where it is OK to bellow them at anyone who will listen.

On Radio 4's Today Programme earlier this week, the BBC was down in Dover talking to workers in a factory owned by an Italian which depends for its existence on trade with the EU. The factory, which makes gift boxes for champagne and other luxury goods, employs seasonal workers in the summer, including Poles and Latvians.

The Poles and Latvians were decent people, said one local worker, but she would be voting "Leave", presumably dimly aware that Brexit would most likely put her employer out of business, not because of them, but because of "them", the others.

"Them" being that nebulous swarm of foreigners, and foreigners as we know from the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Express, Star and the rest are rapists, criminals and benefit scroungers who come here to take away jobs from ordinary people, wiping bottoms in old people's homes, picking fruit, cleaning and staffing the NHS. The bastards.

These images and all those EU myths have been the staple fare of most of our newspapers for decades, but what has changed is that they have now been joined by Farage and his little helpers fanning the flames, a veneer of respectability being given to the enterprise by the likes of Boris Johnson and even Gisela Stuart (Labour).

Whereas Enoch Powell became political poison after his rivers of blood speech, Boris Johnson's career has gone from strength to strength since he talked about "picaninnies and their watermelon smiles", and Farage can talk repeatedly about violence and warn of foreign rapists. Even Gisela Stuart, who should know better, can get away with claiming on the BBC that the EU is forcing the NHS to employ doctors who can't speak English.

No it isn't. If the NHS employs people who cannot communicate adequately in English, that is down to poor recruitment practices by the NHS. Try getting a job as a doctor in Germany without being able to speak German, and see how far you get.

Any lingering doubts as to whether it is socially acceptable to mouth off like this can be set aside because even the Royals are at it. The Duke of Edinburgh has been doing it for years, of course, as he travels the world talking about "slitty eyes" and the rest, but even the Queen, gawd bless her, has had her moments.

In the grovelathon of the 90th birthday celebrations, BBC viewers were treated to a hilarious anecdote by the actor Sir David Jason. Her Majesty had once met a black African ambassador and nearly mistaken him for a gorilla. How the studio guests and presenter laughed at that example of the monarch's legendary wit, except for will.i.am, the black American singer who looked very uncomfortable.

All very unfortunate, and the press were quick to rally round to explain that Jason had got it wrong. Mrs W had in fact been referring to the ambassador's body proportions. So that was all right. For one terrible moment we had all been left thinking that the Queen thought a black man looked like a gorilla, whereas she had merely thought that he looked like a gorilla.

The Grosvenor meeting was on Tuesday evening, and I was still thinking about the book and its message on Thursday on the drive back, via Cardigan, from Fishguard. In all of those 30 miles, there was not a single Leave or Remain poster or billboard to be seen.

Everyone is as fed up with this sickening, hate-filled referendum campaign as I am, I thought, as someone who normally enjoys politics and campaigning.

And then the news came through on the car radio of the brutal murder of Jo Cox MP.

Let's give the last word to Alex Massie writing for The Spectator:

When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say, ‘Mate, you weren’t supposed to take it so seriously. It’s just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.’

When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks. When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn’t make them do it, no, but you didn’t do much to stop it either.

Sunday 12 June 2016

Merylmania and the Return of the Undead

Update 25 June

A lot has happened in the short time since this post was published, and we have a great deal more to worry about than whether Meryl’s wellness village gets built or not.

The narrow vote in favour of leaving the EU means that a lot of schemes, some good, some ill-conceived, will now be shelved, probably for good.

Unless Meryl can grab whatever is left of the last pot of EU funds for her project, there will be no more money from Europe, and neither Carmarthenshire County Council nor the two NHS health boards have a spare £20 million or so down the back of the sofa. Given the reports from Kent, it would seem that the council’s exclusive private sector buddies will struggle to find the money as well.

As ducks go, the wellness village seems to heading for a quiet burial, and to extend the poultry metaphor a little further, recent reports in the Herald, West Wales News Review and this blog that Meryl's new pet quacker was not looking well appear to have ruffled some feathers in Trimsaran.

True to form, Meryl used the most recent meeting of the council’s Executive Board to compare herself to Jo Cox MP, stabbed, shot and murdered for her political beliefs. Lots of councillors had to put up with a lot of nonsense from the press and blogs which were peddling lies, she declared, displaying her monstrous ego, lack of sensitivity and warped sense of self-worth.

It was left to council leader, Emlyn Dole, to pick up the pieces and pay a sincere and moving tribute.

Quite apart from being in extremely bad taste, Meryl’s outburst shows that the culture which she and Mark James together developed over many years is alive and well. In their view, the role of the press is simply to reprint council press releases, and even the mildest criticism, such as the South Wales Guardian’s niggle about roadworks in Ammanford a couple of years back, is an outrageous assault on the council, by which they mean themselves.

Before Meryl went on the rampage, a spokesperson for ARCH got in touch to take issue with some of the critical statements made in the piece below, and they did so in a perfectly reasonable and polite way.

For the record, and in the interests of accuracy and fairness, this is the substance of what ARCH had to say:

Until last month apart from two of us – everyone else involved in getting the collaboration off the ground has being doing it pro bono…….. We now have a very modest team dedicated to ARCH – none of us are “highly-paid” – we are a small team of people who are working extremely hard to start delivering on the ARCH aims.

We have had to hold engagement on the ARCH vision (hence the presentations, events and meetings) to ensure key stakeholders agree with our direction of travel and are helping to shape the plan moving forward.

Until this point, ARCH has been in the design phase – we are now working to submit our Portfolio Delivery Plan to Welsh Government which will detail our deliverables and tangible milestones.

The spokesperson goes on to argue that the council and the two health boards “have governance in place to ensure accountability”, although at least in the case of the county council, that governance would appear to take the form of Meryl and Mark James operating behind closed doors, and well away from backbench councillors.

Despite being in its start-up phase, ARCH says that it has delivered several projects already, including:

  • The new Fujitsu DigiLab will open in October with a pilot of the Talent Bank education course starting.

The spokesperson added that there were a few other [unspecified Ed.] major projects being delivered this year.”

Update 14 June

Waleseye is reporting that Swansea University is planning to demolish its Digital Technium building which cost almost £10 million when it went up just 13 years ago. The same piece includes a synopsis of the career of Professor Marc Clement who played a leading role in the disastrous Technium project and is now beating the drum for Meryl's "wellness village" on the outskirts of Llanelli.

More to come.....


For something which modestly claims that it will deliver a "world-class and visionary health and wellbeing ecosystem to improve the health, wealth and wellbeing of the people of the South West Wales region", the founders of ARCH seem to have been singularly lacking in imagination and linguistic awareness when it came to finding a name for this new body. ARCH stands for the rather pedestrian "A Regional Collaboration for Health" in English, while in Welsh it means coffin.

"Coffin" might seem inappropriate for something which is setting out to transform healthcare, but perhaps the name fits rather well.  Firstly, because it sets out to use public assets - in this case a leisure centre - to create "footfall" for private sector healthcare, thereby consigning the ideals of the NHS to the grave. And secondly because the careers of quite a few of the leading players would anywhere else in the western world be quietly mouldering six feet down with a stake through the heart.

In Wales you can notch up a record of serial failure and more than the occasional brush with scandal and still stalk the land, sitting on countless boards and committees while collecting gongs for public service and dispensing vast amounts of public dosh which somehow always seems to end up improving the wealth and wellbeing of a very select few.

ARCH brings together the University of Swansea, Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board (ABMU) and Hywel Dda Health Board, and the board is comprised of various members of the great and good from those three distinguished bodies. In addition, there are various partner bodies, including Swansea Bay City Region (joint vice chair: Meryl Gravell) and Carmarthenshire County Council (Executive Board member for Regeneration: Meryl Gravell).

ARCH came into being in early 2015, and so has now been in business for 18 months. It has a team of no doubt very well-paid staff, but so far it seems to have produced nothing except a small mountain of buzzword-laden press releases, snazzy videos, Powerpoint presentations and numerous conferences and meetings.

Alert readers may already have spotted that one thing missing from this heady mix is anything resembling public accountability. The closest we get to that is, as we shall see, an ARCH subgroup where the interests of voters and taxpayers are represented by Meryl Gravell OBE as chair, with our old friend Mark James CBE lurking in the shadows just offstage.

Now doesn't that feel reassuring?

What is ARCH?

ARCH has its very own website (Cymraeg - coming soon!), and much of the material on it is devoted to answering the question "What is ARCH?". You could spend a lot of time wading through the acres of verbiage and playing bullshit bingo and still end up asking yourself, "so what is ARCH?"

It is innovative, revolutionary, visionary, sustainable, state-of-the art, transformational, collaborative. It will create "a global platform"  using both radical thinking and a radical approach to develop centres of excellence and embed a culture of personal ownership in a wellbeing ecosystem.

So now you know.

ARCH may not have produced anything very tangible so far, but the first shoots of a real project are pushing their way up through the soil at Delta Lakes on the outskirts of Llanelli. This project is an offshoot of ARCH and has been described as a "wellbeing village". Chairing this exciting new venture is none other than Meryl Gravell.

Diagnosing problems in a modern sort of way

Now that we have cleared up any lingering uncertainty about "What is ARCH?", you may be left wondering what exactly is a wellbeing village. If so, you would be in good company because when Jane Tremlett (Ind.), Meryl's old friend and Carmarthenshire's Executive Board member for Social Care and Health was asked in a council meeting back in February, she said she wasn't an expert, but thought it was about "looking at how we diagnose problems, very much in a modern way".

Zombie apocalypse in Carmarthenshire

Rather better informed at the time was the council's chief executive, Mark James, who told councillors that the wellness centre would provide "university research, treatment and medical facilities at a very, very high standard. It would be unique in Wales."

He couldn't "say much more for now", but added that the project involved Swansea University, the two health boards and the Welsh Government, as well, of course, as Carmarthenshire County Council.

No mention of any specific private sector involvement, although the site earmarked for the new wellbeing village had been designated for development as "private healthcare" in the council's Local Development Plan.

As readers will be aware, Local Development Plans are the product of years and years of interminable deliberation, statutory "consultations" and stultifying paper shuffling in which property developers and other business interests (many of the bigger ones domiciled offshore) and civil servants carve up local communities, while applying a fake veneer of local democracy to the finished product.

To designate a chunk of land for private healthcare in an LDP is highly unusual, and even more so in one of the poorest parts of the UK. Someone, somewhere, not a million miles from Mark and Meryl, clearly knew something long before Cllr Tremlett was put on the spot.

But back in February, the whole thing was, if we are to believe Mr James, just about a collaboration between the NHS, the council and the Welsh Government, part of which would involve building a new leisure centre for Llanelli. As for that mysterious reference in the LDP, there was merely "potential private sector interest".

Marvellous Meryl 

While Mark James was delivering his Ladybird Book explanation to councillors, Meryl was basking in the afterglow of what must surely rank as one of the most self-congratulatory press releases ever to see the light of day in Carmarthenshire. And that is saying something.

Although written in the third person, we can almost hear the Duchess of Trimsaran dictating the words to be sent off for publication by a grateful local press.

Meryl Gravell, who is chair of the ARCH Wellness and Wellbeing working group, has been a driving force in not only developing the idea for the wellness village, but in making sure it is delivered. And her innovation and commitment to the project is (sic) now bearing fruit as the partners look to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to continue the project.

The press release continues in this vein for several more paragraphs, with Meryl giving rein to her famously Victorian values:

Prevention and personal responsibility for wellness and wellbeing is (sic) vital for our communities.

In other words, if you are poor and cannot afford the range of private therapies and specialists to be housed in Meryl's village, it's all your fault if you fall ill, fatty.

If you're not sure how to take personal responsibility for wellbeing, the press release has some self-help guidance for you:

There are five ways to wellness: connecting with others, being physically active, ongoing learning, mindfulness and giving.

Now that you are have taken up the lotus position and are breathing in the fug of a hundred joss sticks, the press release naturally gives the last word to Meryl who tells us that while the value of the scheme was estimated to be £60 million just a few short months ago, it has now likely to be in excess of £100 million!

"This looks like a good place to bury £100 million!"

The village could create "many highly paid jobs", she added, without putting a figure on that claim.

Jobs, jobs, jobs!

As it turns out, we did not have to wait very long for private investors to pop out of the woodwork because  the council's Executive Board meeting held on 23 May considered an exempt item (i.e. a report to be discussed behind closed doors) recommending that a company called Kent Neuro Science Ltd (KNS), "a company with a proven track record for similar developments within the health, medicine and wellness sector", be awarded an exclusivity agreement "to enable negotiations and a full business case to be further developed".

No tedious tendering processes then, just a slamdunk secret agreement which means that the council will not enter into any discussion with anyone else.

According to the minutes of the meeting:

The project derived from an idea within the work undertaken by a regional partnership between two University Health Boards [Abertawe Bro Morgannwg and Hywel Dda] and Swansea University. The Partnership, collectively known as ARCH [A Regional Collaboration for Health] had approached Carmarthenshire County Council in mid 2015 with the opportunity to develop the ‘Wellness’ project and the concept had since grown with rapid momentum and captured national interest. 

The kind of national interest the scheme has attracted can be seen in this little gem which tells us that the NHS really has had its day.

The minutes confirm Meryl's prediction with knobs on. The project has "the potential to transform the Carmarthenshire economy with an investment of over £100m and the creation of over 1000 jobs."

So far, the PR campaign has run true to form. All of the "exciting" projects backed by Mark and Meryl always start with an initial estimate of investment (or what cynics might call "cost") which then grows explosively within the space of a few months, delivering "jobs, jobs, jobs" and in this case, "transforming the economy" of the entire county.

Any councillors who harbour concerns that the emperor is once again parading through the streets and exposing himself, and that this latest new suit may not be all that it is cracked up to be, will keep schtum because they know that if they so much as squeak they will be accused of undermining a golden opportunity to create jobs (see the saga of Sainsbury's in Cross Hands for a textbook example of how this works).

A proven track record

Hardly had the ink on the exclusivity agreement dried than it emerged that KNS's track record might be about as convincing as the emperor's new outfit. Here is a report from the Kent Messenger on the Kent Institute of Medicine and Surgery in Maidstone, revealing that the hospital ran up a huge loss of £15.2m and had to seek a £20m bailout after its first year of operation.

This was put down to much lower than expected patient customer numbers, which begs the question: if a very prosperous place like Maidstone can't support a private hospital, what hope is there for exclusive private healthcare facilities in Llanelli?

For more on this and the relationship between KNS and a group of related companies trading under the KIMS name, see West Wales News Review.

West Wales News Review also reveals that the ultimate parent of at least some of the KIMS companies involved is domiciled in the British Virgin Islands, the well-known tax haven, and that we know this thanks to the recent Panama Papers leak.

Oh dear.

There was more bad news for the Maidstone private hospital and its patients in April of this year when the Care Quality Commission delivered a report warning that some of its services, including chemotherapy, were unsafe and that there was a lack of robust governance.

Oh dear.

But as Meryl has always insisted, Carmarthenshire is "open for business", and we should not let these minor quibbles rain on the parade. As she told councillors last week, we are "most fortunate" to have the private sector involved.

Interesting to note too that Meryl did not think it would be "quite the right thing" at the moment to treat councillors to the presentation that ARCH and KNS had delivered to the Executive Board back in May. This echoed sentiments previously expressed by Mark James who told the press that he did not think it would be necessary to get approval for the scheme from mere councillors.

Ghosts of Christmas turkeys past

It is not just KNS's track record which might give some of our less gullible councillors pause for thought because another character in this rapidly thickening plot is Professor Marc Clement whose colourful and often controversial career will have brought him into contact with Meryl on a number of occasions over the years.

Professor Clement's biography on the ARCH website (remember, Cymraeg coming soon!) describes him as "an attempted entrepreneur having founded several businesses and is the named inventor of many patents in the field of medical devices". For some reason, this hagiography neglects to mention that Prof. Clement was also a director of KNS until August 2015.

His career highlights include being President of the University of Wales before that august body came close to collapse in the wake of scandals involving a scheme called the Prince of Wales Innovation Scholarships. Despite the name, the scheme was funded by the EU until various "serious irregularities" were identified by auditors, and the EU switched off the money tap.

For those with an hour or two to spare, much, much more about the professor's ups and downs can be found on WalesEye. Try here, here, here and here for starters.

Before all of that, Clement was one of the leading lights in the Technium science park and business incubator fiasco which is reckoned to have gobbled up £111 million of EU and other taxpayer cash, and it was probably back in that rip roaring golden age of easy money that he would have come to know Meryl and her old buddy, Cllr Pam Palmer, who were responsible for a string of Technium disasters in Carmarthenshire. In some cases, Meryl's wonderful investors disappeared with huge amounts of money which was never seen again.

This week's Carmarthenshire Herald notes that a consultancy group later calculated that each job created by the Technium scheme had cost the taxpayer £190,000.

If you fancy a trip down memory lane, head for this blogpost.

Give us your wallet

It is by no means clear where the £100 million plus will come from that Mark and Meryl reckon will be needed for their wellness village. Match funding, private investors and EU grants was the rather vague answer given to rank and file councillors last week.

Based on their past experiences with Professor Clement, Mark James and Meryl Gravell, EU mandarins could be forgiven for feeling a little nervous at the prospect of yet more money being poured into visionary schemes in West Wales.

Meryl to the rescue

Readers who took the time to read the Executive Board minutes for 23 June may also have noticed that Cllr Gravell is not just busy with her wellness village. In yet another exempt item, we are told that Ken Skates, while he was still just a deputy minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, wrote asking if Auntie Meryl would mind chairing a task and finish working group to come up with ideas for the ailing National Botanic Garden of Wales.

Either Ken's civil servants don't know how to use Google, or the Welsh Government decided that putting Meryl in charge would be the most effective way of finally finishing the garden off and washing its hands of the money-pit.

Anyway, when Meryl pops over to Llanarthne to meet the staff, perhaps she will find time to revisit the wonderful former Bio Technium in the grounds, built at enormous cost to house exciting biotech start-ups which sadly never showed up.

The garden's managers may want to take the opportunity to ask Meryl if she will teach them how to walk away from the wreckage of a failed project, career intact.


And so for the time being there we must leave Delta Lakes. Nye Bevan must be spinning in his grave at the sight of all those NHS bigwigs, most of whom will have very lucrative private practices, pushing a scheme which amounts to a backdoor privatisation of the Welsh NHS. What he would say about Professor Marc Clement's ventures and all those secretive companies squirrelling money away offshore could not be printed on a blog read in respectable homes.

How many ordinary families in Llanelli or the rest of Carmarthenshire would really benefit from this innovative, state of the art blend of hotel and conference facilities set in an ecosystem of therapy suites, business incubators and an out-of-town leisure centre is another question to ponder.

But then this was never really about their "wealth, welfare or wellbeing".


If you thought all this committee work would keep even Wonder Woman Meryl tied down, she proved us wrong a few weeks back when she popped up on the evening news to announce that she had just saved the county archives for posterity.

The reason they needed to be rescued was years of damp, mould and neglect during her record breaking reign as council leader. 

Sunday 5 June 2016

Legal lows

Update 10 June

Anyone expecting to see a return to the good old days of campaigning, investigative journalism at the Carmarthen Journal or its sister, the Llanelli Star, is likely to be in for a very long wait indeed: