“Dear Cllr Dole,
I am writing to you concerning the Swansea Bay City Deal and the proposed Llanelli Life Sciences and Well-Being Village.
As you are aware, since becoming Leader of the Opposition in May 2018, I have sought to highlight my concerns about your administration’s handling of the £1.3 billion city deal and our worry that the on-going maladministration posed a significant risk to the future prosperity of the region. It should be noted that since making my concerns public in November, we have witnessed the suspension of four key members of staff from Swansea University – including its Vice Chancellor, Carmarthenshire Council unilaterally cancelling its agreement with Sterling Health and the launching of four reviews into the city deal.
Local businesses and residents have since raised concerns that they fear your actions have damaged the reputation of this region, and the city deal rests on a knife edge.
As a responsible Opposition, we have sought to hold your administration to account in the attempt to improve decision-making, rather than oppose at every avenue. Carmarthenshire Council is unique in this region, in that it actively prevents backbench and opposition Councillors receiving information relating to the operation of Council. In Swansea, Neath Port Talbot and Pembrokeshire Councils, colleagues inform me that they are provided with copies of what we refer to as ‘exempt item reports’. This access to information allows Councillors from all parties to scrutinise the decision-making of the relevant authority. Despite raising concerns with the Monitoring Officer and with yourself, 64 Councillors are still in a position where we are being blocked from scrutinising your decision-making.
Since May, under your Leadership, the Executive Board has used powers under the 1972 Act to exclude the public and backbench members from two-thirds of all of your meetings to discuss exempt items, including a report on the provision of the proposed Llanelli Well-Being Village, the ‘Yr Egin’ Business Case and that of the Well-Being Village. This action appears to illustrate a fundamental disdain for scrutiny, a strategy that prevents the all elected representatives being informed, and a premeditated effort to prevent the opposition holding you and the administration you lead to account.
In an attempt to fulfil our scrutiny role and ensure that the proposed investment was sound, I took the unprecedented decision to voluntarily commit myself, as Leader of the Opposition, to making no public comment on the city deal in exchange for you guaranteeing access to all documents connected with the Life Sciences and Well-Being Village. This is the first time this has ever happened in Carmarthenshire Council; this clearly demonstrates our desire to see the city deal succeed.
Last week, we took the difficult decision to withdraw from this agreement after an analysis of the information raised further questions surrounding the independence of the internal review and the promises made to us on the full publication of the internal review to the public was not forthcoming. We believe it is regrettable that this internal review has now been ‘leaked’ to the Western Mail before the other 62 Councillors of our Authority were able to read its content.
We believe it is also highly regrettable Carmarthenshire Council, in an attempt to reassure the public on the procurement process surrounding Sterling Health, chose to use Acuity Legal to conduct its internal review.
Members of the public will be aware that this firm was used by the Chief Executive to take legal action against Carmarthenshire blogger, Jacqui Thompson. I am also aware several of the partners of Acuity Legal have been active supporters of the city deal for some time. Jonathan Green, Acuity Legal’s real estate partner, has appeared on a panel with Pembrokeshire Council’s Steven Jones promoting the City Deal, with other partners, such as Clare Tregoning and Hugh Hitchcock, making public remarks of support for the city deal.
I am of the firm view that Acuity Legal is not sufficiently independent in this case, and therefore was in no position to investigate the actions of officers and that of your administration. Instead, this action has further eroded public confidence in this Authority and all those connected to the city deal.
It also appears from recent press reports, that the Chief Executive has also been involved with a £600m joint venture to create a private hospital and medical school in Kuwait. In a statement to the media, the Chief Executive is quoted as saying his involvement is in connection with the Swansea Bay City Deal and has been authorised by Council. It alleged this scheme forms part of the investigation into the senior academics suspended at Swansea University. To my knowledge, his involvement has not been sanctioned by Full Council, nor have I been able to identify the meeting in which the Executive Board authorised the Chief Executive to undertake this role on behalf of the Authority. As a result, I have sought guidance from the Monitoring Officer to identify who authorised this action and the legal basis for the decision-making.
Due to the aforementioned restrictions on opposition members accessing information in connection to the operation of this authority, the Joint Working Agreement stating that it is the responsibility of local authorities to scrutinise their own local projects relating to the Swansea Bay City Deal, and on-going questions into the conduct of officers, I am writing to inform you that we have lost all confidence in your ability to deliver on the promises of the city deal.
We can not sit idly by as you put this once in a generation opportunity, a £1.3 billion investment in the region with enormous potential to deliver jobs and prosperity to the thousands of local residents, at risk. Therefore, in the coming days we will seek to table a vote of no confidence in you as Leader of Carmarthenshire Council.
The people of Carmarthenshire deserve much better than this”
Emlyn Dole, rather than address the issues within the letter, has, unsurprisingly, accused Cllr James of obstructing the Wellness Dream and the City Deal for political gain.
The reality is that Cllr James has highlighted the unfolding scandal which relates directly to the chief executive, the ongoing secretive culture, the defensiveness towards scrutiny, and the bias and incompetence of the Monitoring Officer and her internal legal squad.As for the Acuity Legal report, I’m not sure which is the most laughable element, the fact that Mr James’ own solicitors did it or that it was ‘leaked’ to the Western Mail. Who was responsible for the ‘leak’ of this little PR exercise is interesting, given that only a handful had seen it. But you can bet that it wouldn’t have happened without the blessing and direct assistance of the chief executive.
And what was the point of this report? Other than to protect Mark James’ back, it was to persuade the Wales Audit Office, or anyone else who might want to take a closer look at his dodgy dealings, to back off. Nothing to see here…move along.
What it may have cost is anyone’s guess. I do know that Acuity Legal charged £22,500 for a straightforward Order for Sale hearing and £2500 for a one hour hearing to vary instalments. Maybe Mr James got mates’ rates this time, or a discount on his legal bills.
To be honest, anything is possible.
The problem is that Emlyn ‘two barns’ Dole can’t address any of the issues, he has consistently shown himself to be under the direct control of a dishonest, manipulative and vindictive chief executive. He has done what he was told to do and he has said what he was told to say. He deserves to lose a vote of No Confidence, and the chief executive deserves to be frogmarched out of County Hall and locked up out of harm’s way.
Maybe Cllr Dole will now realise that Mark James has no qualms whatsoever of hanging him out to dry.
See numerous previous posts, including Mark of Arabia