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Controversial council boss to step down

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THE CONTROVERSIAL Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, Mark James, is to retire.

Mr James, who has served the council for 17 years, will retire later this year when he turns 60.

He has spent over 40 years in local government, taking up post in Carmarthenshire in March 2002 and previously serving as Chief Executive at Boston Borough Council. He has also worked in Westminster and Barnet in London.
He received the CBE in the Queen’s 2012 New Year Honours.

Carmarthenshire County Council will now begin the process to recruit a new Chief Executive before Mr James leaves in June.

“It has been an honour and privilege to lead a great team of officers at Carmarthenshire over the last 17 years,” he said.

“The Council has delivered so much over that time including the development and regeneration of Carmarthen Town Centre, Eastgate and Y Ffwrnes Theatre in Llanelli town centre, Machynys, Parc y Scarlets, Pemberton, Burry Port Harbour and Xcel Bowl.

“We have delivered new care homes, £250m of new schools all over the county including Bro Dinefwr and QE High, a new leisure centre in Carmarthen, business and retail parks in Cross Hands, invested £220m modernising our 9000 homes and became the first in Wales to build new council homes since the 1980s, and so much more.
“I have been delighted to be part of this exciting regeneration of our County. I want to pay tribute to the many Councillors who have helped to shape this programme of development and to thank them for their support and confidence.”

He added: “Having been a Chief Executive for over 23 years, it is now time to hand over the reins. Whilst it is a rewarding and satisfying job, it is also highly demanding and all-consuming. I wish my successor all the very best and know that the fantastic team of officers at the Council will continue to deliver first class services and developments for Carmarthenshire.”

Cllr Emlyn Dole, Leader of the Council, said: “Mark has been a great leader and ambassador for Carmarthenshire. He has delivered so much in his time as Chief Executive and we will miss him enormously.

“I thank him for his tireless dedication to the County and for his unstinting and selfless work to regenerate Carmarthenshire. We owe him a huge thanks and gratitude for all he has done over the past 17 years.”

Cllr Mair Stephens, Deputy Leader of the Council, added: “Mark has truly been Mr Carmarthenshire. Over the years he has shown how much he cares for Carmarthenshire – whether that be just recently personally visiting and supporting residents and businesses in the communities affected by floods, or working tirelessly to secure millions of pounds to transform our schools and towns and create employment for local people.

“His guidance and dedication is something we have come to rely on. He will be a hard act to follow, but we wish him all the very best. He leaves with our enormous thanks for a job very well done.”

While Mr James’ tenure and achievements have been praised by the Council’s leadership and by himself, his time as CEO has been dogged by controversy, particularly over his apparent penchant for large building projects.

Parc y Scarlets has offered no return to the Council on its eight-figure investment while the value of the asset secured by its investment has declined to the point where any capital receipt would be less than the sum advanced by the Council. Many other developments launched with hugely optimistic predictions of their economic worth have imploded or failed to achieve anything like the economic impact predicted.

The Beacon Centre is almost wholly occupied by council-backed entities instead of acting as an incubator for new business; the Eastgate Centre has proved an unattractive centre for retail business; it is only after denuding Llanelli Town Centre by approving out of town developments in the past that the current administration is taking belated steps to rectify the massive misjudgement which left west Wales’ largest town centre a business and retail desert.

The development of part of the retail park at Cross Hands was highlighted as a questionable use of huge sums of public money, while funding which should have been directed to an independent social services project was misused to support the Council’s own social services budget.

Even schools which have been built were left with difficulties arising from entirely foreseeable problems with drainage and traffic.

The Xcel bowl, or as it has become known ‘God’s Bowling Alley’ is operated by a controversial evangelical group and has required repeated propping up by the local authority. In one budget, in which support for learning disabled students was cut, the Xcel Bowl received a massive discretionary grant.

A tax avoidance scheme entered into by Mr James with the connivance of a supine Executive Board was ruled unlawful by the Wales Audit Office.

Ever since that point, and the events related below, the Council has treated the Wales Audit Office with disdain and attempted to rubbish its findings where they embarrass the authority.

However, Mr James’ tenure has been most marked by the County Council’s support of him in a libel action against local blogger Jacqui Thompson. Mr James was on the point of settling a case for libel brought against him by Ms Thompson before the then County Council proceeded to offer him an unlawful indemnity in relation to his costs.

At that point, Mr James promised to reimburse the Council if he was successful and withdrew his settlement offer.
His victory in the proceedings, widely criticised in the national press, was followed by an apparently determined personal campaign against Jacqui Thompson coordinated from County Hall.

At a hearing in 2017, in which it was pointed out Mr James had undertaken to repay the Council for its indemnity, he recanted and said, through his lawyer, that he could throw the money in the gutter if he wanted.

Mr James’ vigorous promotion of the City Deal and the Delta Lakes project has led him into difficult waters in which his sure-footedness appears to have deserted him.

Whether the Delta Lakes project goes ahead or not, Carmarthenshire will be counting the cost of Mark James CBE for years to come.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. M Griffiths

    January 17, 2019 at 7:57 pm

    Good riddance, he destroyed Llanelli town centre and Carmarthen is going the same way with To Let signs everywhere. As shown by the article there’s been numerous controversial projects and erosion of democratic decision making with the Council becoming a law unto themselves under his watch.

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Cold temperatures likely to lead to icy conditions

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A YELLOW weather warning is in place over Wales from 10pm tonight (Jan 16) and 11am tomorrow morning (Jan 17).

As temperatures drop, there is a strong chance of ice patches causing dangerous conditions for motorists.

Icy patches developing with wintry showers also affecting some areas.

What to expect

  • Some injuries from slips and falls on icy surfaces
  • Probably some ice on some untreated roads, pavements and cycle paths
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Next stage of works to clear Cwmduad landslide

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PHASE two of the works to stabilise a landslide in Cwmduad has begun following the recovery of a lorry from the river below.

Carmarthenshire County Council is leading the operation to clear the site and re-open the A484 for traffic travelling between Carmarthen and Newcastle Emlyn, following the landslide in October.

Phase one, which commenced before Christmas, created a safe zone for the recovery of a lorry that was swept in to the river during the storm.

That recovery took place earlier today (Monday, January 14, 2019).

Phase two, to permanently stabilise the embankment, involves complex drainage and geotechnical works.

The highway structure will then be assessed before any indication can be given as to when the road will re-open.

The council has thanked the community, and affected commuters, for their patience whilst site assessments and works have been underway.

Ruth Mullen, Director of Environment for Carmarthenshire County Council, said: “We are now making progress in what has been a highly complex operation and legal process between the council, partner agencies and the landowner.

“We fully appreciate the impact this has had on the community, and we wish to reiterate that we have worked without delay to undertake site investigations in the immediate aftermath of the landslide, along with clearance and construction works to make the area safe.

“We are working as quickly as we can to re-open the road as soon as possible, and would like to thank those affected most sincerely for their patience.”

Until the road is re-opened, traffic will continue to be diverted along the B4333 Carmarthen – Newcastle Emlyn.

Additional bus services remain in place:

  • A shuttle service currently runs from Cwmduad to Tycoch to catch the 460 service at 7.25am, 9.35am and 10.55am. Return journeys are at 2.25pm and 4.45pm.
  • The 460 service is currently operating on a diversion route
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Three seriously injured in A40 crash

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DYFED-POWYS POLICE is appealing for information about a collision which resulted in serious injuries.

The collision which happened on Sunday afternoon (Jan 13) involved a silver Ford Fiesta and a Silver BMW 120 and at approximately 4pm on the A40 between Pont-y-fenny and Whitland roundabout.

The Silver Fiesta was travelling towards Whitland and the BMW was travelling towards Carmarthen.

A 67-year-old woman has been taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries.

A 71-year-old man and a 68-year-old woman were also taken to hospital suffering serious injuries.

Anyone who witnessed the collision, or was driving along the road around the time or with dash cam footage, is asked to contact the Serious Collision Investigation Unit by calling 101.

If you are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired, please text 07811311908. Please quote reference DP-20190113-199.

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