The Wales Audit Office, in a two page letter from their ‘Engagement Director’, appear to have carried out little more than a drive-by glance at County Hall… An ex-employee of the WAO has been in touch wondering if they used one of their pointless checklists, focusing on processes – e.g was the investing partnership’s record properly reviewed? Answer “yes”, even if the result was found to be laughable.
Acuity Legal, as I’ve mentioned, are also Mark James’ personal solicitors, I can certainly vouch for that. Not something Mr James chose to mention. For that reason, in my view, the report is not worth the paper it’s written on. However, it certainly contains some interesting, if absurd, excuses for such a catalogue of scandal.For instance, we start with KNS and the ‘exclusivity agreement’ with the council to develop the Village, back in spring of 2016. Acuity Legal claim that as this wasn’t really a ‘contract’ as such, (more a cosy arrangement then?), there was, apparently, no need for the council to go out to tender, nor to make those irritating little due diligence checks.
Presumably though they must have been aware of the Kent private hospital fiasco, and the fact that Marc Clement of Swansea University had been a director of KNS. Despite this, the agreement with KNS and it’s relationship with Swansea Uni, according to Acuity, had ‘no adverse effect’ on the procurement process, and the appointment of Sterling (previously known as KNS…)
Significantly, given the tangled web of directorships and companies, outlined in this blog, no potential ‘conflicts of interest’ were declared until November 2017, nearly two years later when it ‘became’ apparent (it was already very apparent) that individuals at the Uni (and certainly at the council too) were supporting the Sterling/KNS bid.
Sterling’s (or was it KNS?) expression of interest in March 2017 included a submission which, even then included reference to the ARCH project, of which former council leader Meryl Gravell was Chair, and Swansea Uni.
This, according to Acuity, had no implications for the integrity of the procurement process.
The report goes on to claim how robust (very robust, in fact) the competitive dialogue process was, and how every box was ticked, the ‘acid tests’ passed, and how impressed the council were with Sterling/KNS, culminating in the infamous signing of the Collaboration Agreement last year.
This was despite Sterling having no proven track record and net liabilities of £137,000.
Elsewhere in the report, it ’emerged’ that Sterling were not living up to their promises.
Why this was not detected in the previous three years of ‘very robust’ dealings with KNS/Sterling is unbelievable, literally unbelievable.
The report states that despite the council’s engagement with both KNS and Sterling being through a common representative, (I believe this to be Marc Clement but happy to be corrected), the council were aware of the Uni’s involvement but, ‘there is no evidence’ that this link was ‘strong’ or longstanding’.
Presumably they’d shredded the evidence and forgotten that Mr Clement was, until late 2015, a director of KNS.
“Further, KNS (and by association Sterling) received no advantage because of the existence of the lockout agreement, nor by being involved in the preliminary market consultation”.
Of course they did, it was the same people, same council officers, etc.
By November 2017 the council were advising Sterling what to put in their submissions but, according to Acuity, this was fine, and all part of the process…
The first ‘conflict of interest’ from ‘person A’ was declared in the same month, closely followed by persons B, C and D. Acuity claim that despite the involvement of ‘person D’ in the competitive dialogue, the council were ‘entitled to reach the decision’ that the integrity of the procurement process had not been compromised. Really?
Furthermore, the fact that the council had dialogue with Sterling outside the proper procurement portal was, Acuity says, ‘reasonable and proportionate’.
So what was this off-the-record dialogue then? Share offers? Job offers? Cheap houses?
Quite where the undeclared Kuwaiti connections came into the equation is unknown.
This report from Acuity was, predictably, a waste of time and money and seems to have the sole intention of protecting their private client, the conveniently soon-to-be-retiring Mr James.
Far from providing ‘independent reassurance’ the use of Acuity provides the exact opposite.
The stark reality of this whole saga is that is has culminated in suspensions, criminal investigations and allegations of personal enrichment. The involvement of Mr James and his rap sheet, with Clement, Dickmann, Gravell, etc, from the very start, and his curious determination to appoint Sterling, let alone his friends at Acuity, says it all.
He has already shown himself capable of pocketing tens of thousands in public cash which he shouldn’t have; he puts himself first, not the council.
The council are still determined to ‘go it alone’, desperately touting the Sauna-by-the-Swamp to anyone who might listen and have already arranged the City Deal advanced borrowing of £40m. However, the financial implications in the council’s own report state, worryingly, that “this may need to be updated based upon the preferred new structure for delivery of the Village”.
Blimey, £250m? More? Mr James is going to be leaving one hell of a legacy.
Let’s hope the police now turn their attention to Mark James, and, if they need some proper information and background, they should search and read this blog.