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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. 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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Dead calves left rotting on Carmarthen farmer’s land

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A CARMARTHEN farmer has been ordered to pay over £2,000 after three dead calves were found rotting on his land.

Wyn Morgan, of Rhyddgoes Fawr, in Newcastle Emlyn, admitted delaying the disposal of the fallen stock despite being reminded by animal health officers on a number of occasions to do so.

The 48-year-old appeared before Llanelli magistrates in a case led by Carmarthenshire Council on Friday.

The court heard that following a complaint on rotting calves being dumped on land in April last year, Morgan was advised to remove the mixed breed carcasses which were along the boundary hedge and against the woodland. After removing just six he was given until May 7 to clear the remaining three.

On May 4, in a phone call between his solicitor and council officers, it was claimed that Morgan had been unable to locate the remaining three despite him having collected six from the same location earlier. The location was also marked with a red and white feed bag. The farmer then claimed he couldn’t move them until May 11 – some four weeks after the find – as he was short staffed. They were eventually removed on May 8.

In mitigation, Morgan maintained they weren’t his animals and that he had difficulty locating them, however, he did accept that as they were on his land he had the responsibility to remove them.

Morgan was given a 12-month conditional discharge and must pay £2196.70 costs and £20 victim surcharge. No separate penalty was imposed against his company, IW Morgan Farms Ltd.

The council’s executive board member for public protection, Cllr Philip Hughes said: “This has proved very costly for Mr Morgan who was aware it was his responsibility to dispose of any animal remains found on his land, safely and as quickly as possible. It was a very blatant act by him claiming, via his solicitor, that he didn’t know the location even though he’d been there previously and picked up six of the nine carcasses. Controls on animal by-products are there for a very good reason and protects against any potential risks to both human and animal health. Hopefully this will serve as a reminder to anyone who fails to remove fallen stock and we will continue to take action when necessary.”

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Reports damning for City Deal management

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THE PUBLICATION of two reports on Friday, March 15, has shone a light into corners of the Swansea Bay City Deal.

The first report released, prepared on behalf of the UK and Welsh governments, written by Actica

Consulting, suggests a combination of concerns over funding and of the “much-publicised concerns on the wellness village (Delta Lakes, Llanelli, the single largest project) could cause a loss of confidence within the region”

In the meantime and, The Herald understands, over the anguished objections of the Regional Office/Carmarthenshire County Council, the second report – an internal review – was circulated to county councillors in Pembrokeshire this morning.

The second report makes for grim reading.

The report lays bare the amount of distrust between the City Deal partners, particularly between Neath Port Talbot and Pembrokeshire councils on the one side, and Carmarthenshire County Council on the other.

Each report highlights deficiencies in the management of the Deal, which Carmarthenshire County Council and its controversial CEO Mark James are meant to lead.

Familiar to those who have kept a close watch on the activities of Carmarthenshire County Council are complaints of a lack of transparency and openness in the way the City Deal has been managed to date.

Particular criticism is made of two key aspects of the project: that under Mr James’ leadership the Deal has failed to consider the City Deal as a truly regional opportunity and focussed on building individual, local projects of limited regional value; the second major criticism is the failure of leadership given to the project and an abject lack of clear financial processes and accountability.

In spite of an attempt to spin the ‘success’ of two elements of the deal, Swansea Waterfront and Yr Egin, it is worth noting that Yr Egin was only tacked on to the City Deal when already underway because UWTSD revealed it couldn’t afford to complete the project on its own as it had promised.

Cllr Rob James, the Leader of the Labour Group on Carmarthenshire County Council told The Herald late on Friday afternoon: “I am pleased that this review has highlighted many of the concerns that we have raised on governance.

“Frankly, the report validated our actions to date.

“Trust has broken down between partners and public confidence in one of the projects, in particular, has taken a big hit.

“There are clear lessons that need to be learnt and this report highlights several of them. I now hope that the administration in Carmarthenshire consider the review in full and ensure that radical changes on governance are delivered immediately.”

Cllr Rob Stewart, Chairman of the Swansea Bay City Deal Joint Committee, said: “This review was carried out alongside the UK and Welsh Government’s independent review of the City Deal programme and sought to assure that it will deliver full economic benefits for the region.

“The findings and recommendations of the internal review will be formally considered by the SBCD Joint Committee at the next meeting.

“Looking to ensure governance is as robust as possible reflects that we’re still in the very early stages of a 15-year programme, but we’re ready to support any recommendations that would benefit the region’s economic prosperity in future by speeding up the City Deal’s delivery.”

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Review recommends immediate approval of two City Deal projects

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TWO major projects forming part of the £1.3 billion Swansea Bay City Deal should be immediately approved, an independent review has found.

The review – carried out by Actica Consulting for the UK Government and Welsh Government – says project business cases for ‘the Yr Egin’ creative digital cluster in Carmarthen and the City and Waterfront Digital District in Swansea are ‘fit for purpose’.

Senior UK Government, Welsh Government and local authority officials should now aim to bring these project approvals to a swift conclusion, the review says.

A 3,500-seat digital indoor arena and digital plaza at the LC car park site is among the features of the £168.2 million Swansea City and Waterfront Digital District. Other project features include a 100,000 square foot digital village for tech businesses on Kingsway, as well as a 28,000 square foot ‘box village’ and 64,000 square foot innovation precinct development for start-up companies at the new University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) campus in SA1.

Once the project’s business case is approved, a City Deal contribution of £50m from both governments will follow.

Already close to full occupation and with S4C’s newly-relocated headquarters at its heart, phase one of the 4,000 square metre ‘Canolfan S4C Yr Egin’ creative industry development at UWTSD’s Carmarthen campus was officially opened late last year.

A second phase of work is also planned, adding a further 4,250 square metres of commercial floor space for creative sector businesses.

City Deal funding worth £5 million would contribute to an overall £24.3 million project cost.

Cllr Rob Stewart, Chairman of the Swansea Bay City Deal Joint Committee, said: “We welcome the findings of the independent review and the continued support of both governments for the Swansea Bay City Deal.

“We will now look to agree and implement the review’s recommendations, which is evidence of our ongoing commitment to deliver an investment programme worth £1.8 billion and over 9,000 jobs to South West Wales.

“Work on the digital indoor arena and digital plaza elements of the Swansea City and Waterfront Digital District is due to start this summer, so we agree with the review’s finding that commitment of City Deal funds in the short-term is critical to ensure the financial exposure of local authorities remains manageable.

“We also welcome the call to imminently approve City Deal funding for the ‘Canolfan S4C Yr Egin’ project in Carmarthen. This development has been an outstanding success story since opening last autumn, but there’s much more to come thanks to a second phase of work that’s planned.

“We stand ready to meet with UK Government and Welsh Government officials as soon as possible to get these two exciting projects over the finish line.

“These approvals will be the first of many that will benefit residents and businesses in all Swansea Bay City Region communities.”

A further recommendation of the review says there should be flexibility in the City Deal programme to allow some projects to be potentially replaced by other new projects in future. The review says this recommendation would guard against the City Deal stagnating, while enabling the chance to explore new opportunities.

It’s also being recommended that an independent programme director is appointed to provide a dedicated additional resource to help speed up the City Deal’s delivery. This recommendation is echoed by an internal City Deal review.

Cllr Stewart said: “Although the City Deal was first signed in March 2017, the need for a detailed legal agreement to be drafted and approved by the UK Government, the Welsh Government and all four regional councils meant Joint Committee’s first formal meeting only take place at the end of August last year.

“So given the City Deal is still at an early stage, Joint Committee commissioned our own internal review to run in parallel with the independent review to ensure our governance is sufficiently robust.

“Both reviews are recommending the appointment of an independent City Deal programme director, which would provide an additional dedicated resource and support for partners to enable work on projects across the region to be progressed more quickly.

“We also welcome the recommendation for the City Deal programme to be more flexible. This aligns with our consistent request to bring new projects into the City Deal if they’re good for the region.

“Throughout these reviews, work on all City Deal projects has been ongoing. The City Deal hasn’t been on hold in any way, although we’re now in a position to make much more progress in coming months.”

The Swansea Bay City Deal is led by the four regional councils – Carmarthenshire, Neath Port Talbot, Pembrokeshire and Swansea – in partnership with the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Swansea University, Hywel Dda University Health Board and Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board.

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