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Police search home of former Carmarthenshire County Council boss Mark James

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POLICE OFFICERS have executed search warrants at properties in Carmarthenshire, Swansea, and Kent. Their actions are part of an investigation into allegations of corruption involving the
Wellness Village project at Delta Lakes, Llanelli.

On Thursday, Aug 8, The Herald received a tip-off which identified three properties in Carmarthenshire at which officers from Tarian, the Regional Organised Crime Unit, executed those warrants.

The tip-off was anonymous. As is usual with such tip-offs, we sought to verify it by reference to independent and reliable sources.

As a result of our further enquiries, we can confirm that Police executed a search warrant at the home of controversial former Carmarthenshire County Council CEO Mark James.

The use of a search warrant in such circumstances is not unusual. The use of one is not a sign of any criminality or dishonesty on Mr James’ part. It is possible the warrant was procured routinely to preserve material which might assist an ongoing investigation.

Police executed a further warrant at County Hall, Carmarthen.

Again, the use of a warrant is not a sign of any criminality. Police acted to obtain documentary evidence and computer material, including email trails, to help with their investigation.

It is entirely possible that Police learned a lesson from a separate probe of Pembrokeshire County Council. In that case, officers failed to secure evidence which was subsequently either
lost or destroyed.

A separate Council press release states the local authority is ready and willing to help the Police in any way they can and is already offering any assistance it can to investigators.

That statement points out that a review by the WAO and an internal probe by a firm of solicitors found no administrative or compliance issues affecting the tender processes for the Wellness Village.

The Herald has been given a further address at which a search warrant was executed. That third address has not been confirmed by all of our sources and, accordingly, we do not report it here.

As we went to press, Carmarthenshire County Council exclusively confirmed to us that a search warrant was executed at County Hall last week.

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Conservatives in disarray over alleged Christmas party lockdown breach

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THE CONSERVATIVE Party is investigating the attendance of senior Senedd members and staff at a Christmas party held during December’s lockdown.

Lockdown restrictions prohibit mixing with people outside your own household.

The Welsh restrictions barring such gatherings follow the basic outline of those imposed by the Conservative UK Government in December.

Those attending the drinks party included Paul Smith, the Conservative Chief of Staff at the Senedd, Darren Millar, the Party’s Chief Whip and campaign coordinator, and Preseli Pembrokeshire MS and Conservative Senedd Group Leader Paul Davies.

The Herald understands that a Labour Senedd Member who attended the Party has been suspended by the Labour Senedd Group pending its own investigation.

The Conservatives’ embarrassment at talking the talk but not walking the walk is intensified by Darren Millar’s presence at the shindig.

In May, Mr Millar led calls for Wales’ Health Minister Vaughan Gething to be sacked for eating a bag of chips in a park with one of his own children.

If the Conservative Party follows the logic of their previously stated positions, Mr Millar’s and Mr Davies’ futures look bleak indeed.

With a Senedd election only months away, the revelations have thrown the Conservatives into disarray.

If they do nothing, the Conservatives will – at the very least – face claims they are hypocrites.

If the Conservative Party acts decisively, it faces massive internal problems.

The Conservatives responded to our request for a response to our story.

Those involved stressed they did not host a Christmas Party.

The incident happened on December 8, when the above met in the members’ tea room to discuss legislation for possible inclusion in the Welsh Conservative manifesto with a Labour backbencher.

During the evening they did drink a glass or two of wine.

They stress that at no point were there more than four people in the room at any one time and that they maintained social distancing.

A joint statement from Paul Davies, Darren Millar, and Paul Smith said: “We are profoundly sorry for our actions.

“While we did not break the rules, we recognise that what was part of a day’s work would not be seen to be following the spirit of them, especially given the tough time the country has been going through.”

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Have your say on Carmarthenshire County Council’s budget

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PEOPLE are being encouraged to get involved in Carmarthenshire County Council’s annual budget setting process.

The council is inviting local residents, businesses, community and voluntary organisations to have their say on its draft budget so that councillors can consider public feedback before making a final decision in March.

The council has a legal responsibility to set a balanced budget every year, ensuring that income from sources such as Council Tax, revenue from paid-for services and grants is enough to cover its expenditure.

With Covid-19 having had a significant impact on services, this year councillors face the added pressure of funding extra costs incurred and ensuring future contingencies can be met.

Pressures are being particularly felt across social care services because of the pandemic, and across the environment department associated with school transport, flood and coastal defences, and enhanced resources to tackle cleansing and fly-tipping in targeted areas.

No new savings proposals are being put forward for consultation this year, however the council’s Executive Board has reiterated its commitment to delivering the three-year savings agreed in the 2020 budget.

Meeting earlier today (Monday, January 18, 2021), Executive Board members rejected a proposed 4.89 per cent Council Tax increase in favour of proposing a more modest 4.48 per cent increase in recognition of the pressures being faced by people because of the pandemic.

“The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked personal and financial havoc on our county, and the good people of Carmarthenshire have paid a huge price,” said Leader of the Council, Cllr Emlyn Dole. “Given the circumstances of Covid-19 and the way that people are currently affected, I propose reducing the proposed Council Tax increase to 4.48 per cent to give the people of Carmarthenshire the support that they so rightly deserve.”

The consultation has now opened allowing people to have their say on the proposed draft budget.

Cllr David Jenkins, Executive Board Member for Resources, said: “It’s so important that we are able to take people’s views into consideration when setting our budget. Although we haven’t put specific proposals forward this year, we have to plan for areas of spending and saving. Hearing from people about what matters to them allows us to understand public opinion and as such we encourage everyone to share their views with us before our final decisions are made.”

People can share their views online at www.carmarthenshire.gov.wales/consultation until 5pm on February 3, 2021.

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Education

School consultations underway

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CARMARTHENSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL is consulting on four different proposals for schools in the county.

The council has a legal responsibility to review the number and type of schools it has and to make the best use of resources and facilities to deliver the opportunities that children deserve.

As a result, a wide-ranging programme to improve school buildings and enhance opportunities for learning is underway across Carmarthenshire, and to date £295million has been spent on primary and secondary schools across the county providing state-of-the-art facilities and accommodation to give children the best possible education.

Now local communities are being asked for their views on four different proposals to:

  • review primary education provision in the Mynydd-y-Garreg and Gwenllian areas;
  • change the age range of Swiss Valley Primary School from 4-11 to 3-11;
  • review primary education provision in the Blaenau and Llandybie areas;
  • reconfigure and remodel behaviour support services at Ysgol Rhydygors to improve provision for children and young people.

The consultations are running for six weeks ending on February 11, and will give everyone in the local communities the opportunity to have their say, either via the consultation pages on the council website or by emailing or writing to the council if preferred.

Links to the consultation documents are being sent to all interested parties, and the Education department will be organising ‘virtual’ drop-in sessions so that communities can discuss the proposals and ask any questions they may have.

Some informal sessions have already been held with parents and governors to give them a chance to speak to officers and ask any questions on the proposals.

The information gathered from the consultations will form part of the consultation report which will be submitted to the Executive Board for consideration following the consultation period.

Executive Board Member for Education and Children’s Services Cllr Glynog Davies said: “The council has a statutory obligation to keep the number and type of school places under review and to deliver services to clear standards by the most economic and effective means.

“Our schools need to be able to provide a wide range of services to the communities they serve, and it is important that future provision reflects the changing patterns of population, with schools based in the right location with the accommodation and facilities that are fit to serve the needs of 21st century learners.

“It is important that local communities and interested parties give their views on these proposals for their schools. All the details for each of the proposals can be found on the council website, or please contact us if you need paper copies.

“If you have any questions, I would urge you to please attend one of the virtual drop-in sessions that are being organised, further information to follow as soon as possible, or if you are unable to attend, please get in touch to speak to our officers.”

For further information on the proposals and to take part in the online survey please visit the council website carmarthenshire.gov.uk/consultations

For all other enquiries please email DECMEP@carmarthenshire.gov.uk or call 01267 246426.

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