Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Carmarthenshire's Budget Seminar

As Emlyn Uwch Cych notes on a previous post (here), this week's Carmarthen Journal has published a 2-page souvenir guide to the cuts, which has been cut 'n' paste from a council press release. As canny Cardi readers know, you can easily save yourselves 65p these days by logging on to the council website to read what will be appearing in the James Journal. And no annoying adverts either!

A link to the document on which the press release was based can be found below.


The seminar held at the Ffwrnes Theatre in Llanelli on 21st October was not one of the council's greatest PR triumphs, with protests outside, "Independent" councillors trying to get the Plaid Cymru councillors who were there in an observing capacity ejected, and the chief executive asking the branch secretary of Unison, Mark Evans, to leave because his presence might put some councillors off their buffet lunch voting for mass redundancies.

Despite strenuous attempts by the council to prevent details of the proposals from leaking out to the public, Caebrwyn and Cneifiwr managed to get their hands on a fairly accurate breakdown of the cuts.

The Press Office, confirming its status as the Welsh equivalent of Zimbabwe's Ministry of Information, was adamant on Twitter that journalists had not been told that they could not report details of the proposals in reply to a tweet from Caebrwyn:

25 Oct
The invitation was to participate in the seminar, there was no restriction on reporting."

Funny that some of the more reputable members of the press corps seemed to have rather different recollections of what they were told, and funny that neither the BBC nor any of the local press reported on details of proposals which would normally be expected to be front page material.

Be that as it may, the Council has now published a document (here) which gives a breakdown of the proposed cuts which were discussed in the theatre.

The document sets the record straight on a number of points, and so it is only fair to report them:
  • The council says that 40 councillors participated, which means that 11 Labour and Independent councillors must have been absent.
  • In addition to the proposals aired at the seminar, the council is working on a package of "managerial" cuts worth £16 million over three years (i.e. internal cuts rather than cuts to frontline services).
  • The value of the cuts discussed in Llanelli is £14 million over three years.
  • Some councillors have submitted their own proposals, and those will be looked at internally and may go forward as part of more detailed proposals.
The proposals will eventually go to public consultation.

Anyone who looks at the document will notice that transparency only goes so far. Many of the proposals are given a very broad description, such as "Catering Services" (proposed saving of £1.2 million) with no indication of how the saving would be achieved.

Although a few of the votes were close, what is striking is how many proposals were waved through by a large majority. Proposals to slash spending on school transport encountered very little opposition from the Labour and Independent councillors who took part. And not one single councillor voted against the idea of a £50 "administration fee" for every child in secondary education using school buses.

Cllr Calum Higgins (Lab), who hopes to represent Carmarthen East and Dinefwr after the next general election, reckons that Plaid Cymru councillors were shirking their responsibilities when they decided not to participate in the PR farce at the Ffwrnes.

No doubt voters hit with higher council tax bills, huge new charges for school transport, higher car parking charges and cuts in a huge raft of other council services will show him how grateful they are in 2015.

Readers in Newcastle Emlyn and the surrounding area may be interested to hear that the town's leisure centre is singled out for cuts totalling £35,000, besides which pupils from the adjoining Ysgol Gyfun Emlyn school will no longer be able to use its facilities. Cneifiwr is considering getting up a petition to rename what's left as "Canolfan Calum Higgins" so that Calum's contribution to our welfare is not forgotten.

Canolfan Calum

Council to debate allegations of unlawful payments

Kevin Madge, Labour leader of Carmarthenshire County Council, has told the South Wales Guardian that councillors will be given an opportunity to discuss the row over the Wales Audit Office's findings that pension and libel indemnity payments to the chief executive, Mark James, were unlawful.

It seems that an item will appear on the agenda for the November meeting, and Cllr Madge has promised that "all the necessary" papers will be made available.

Anyone expecting Mr James to tell councillors and the people of Carmarthenshire that the payments were a terrible mistake, and that he should not have accepted them will be in for a disappointment. Backbench councillors on the Labour and Independent benches will have had their arms twisted and be whipped to within an inch of their lives to ensure that they stand by their man and support the council's view that there was nothing wrong with the payments.

The outcome of what will certainly be a carefully choreographed show is not in doubt, not least because Kevin Madge, Pam Palmer, Meryl Gravell and the rest of the council's leadership approved the payments in the first place, and they are not about to plead guilty to misusing taxpayer funds.

The promise to make all necessary papers available is an interesting one, and much will depend on what Kevin Madge, or rather Mark James, considers to be necessary. As we saw recently in Pembrokeshire, the council leader refused to disclose legal advice on the pensions tax dodge which was jointly commissioned by the two councils because only he had a need to see it.

But let's imagine for a moment that the council does decide to put all its cards on the table. Which papers might councillors need to see in order to form a reasoned and balanced judgement? The list is a long one and should include all of the following:

The Libel Indemnity

  • The report which went before the Executive Board in January 2012 recommending the award of the indemnity. This is subject to a public interest exemption and has never been published.
  • The legal advice given to the Council which concluded that Carmarthenshire could side-step Welsh Assembly rules prohibiting the use of taxpayer funds to bring actions for defamation.
  • All correspondence, records of discussions and meeting minutes which led up to the decision to award the indemnity. In particular, councillors need to know:
    • Who exactly initiated the suggestion that the chief executive should make a counter-claim
    • Who approved expenditure on obtaining external legal advice before the award was approved
    • Who, if anyone, approved the chief executive's letter to the Mad Axeman blog before it was sent
    • The terms of the agreement under which Mr James was awarded an indemnity. Is it, for example, open-ended? Does the chief executive need a second indemnity to cover the appeal scheduled for December? Is there any ceiling on how much may be spent?
  •  The Wales Audit Office's public interest report on the matter (currently not published).
 The Pension Arrangement

  • The external legal advice provided both before and after the arrangement was put in place. Given that Pembrokeshire has so far refused to make this public and given that the neighbouring authority apparently has to approve disclosure, it will be very interesting to see if this information is suddenly made available.
  • What is the cost to date of the legal and specialist advice obtained by the council?
  • Who approved that expenditure?
  • Who initiated the original decision to commission external legal advice? In order to see that everything was above board and the rules adhered to, councillors will need to see the correspondence and any meeting records involving senior officers and/or senior councillors.
  • As with the libel indemnity, councillors will need to see the Wales Audit Office's own report into the matter. Whether that will be published in time for the November meeting is not known.
It seems unlikely that councillors will be presented with even a fraction of the information they need to read and understand in order to form a reasonable view, and it remains to be seen whether the council will invite along representatives of the Wales Audit Office to ensure that councillors hear more than just the council's justification.

The reality is that in a meeting scheduled to last three hours with lots of other matters on the agenda, the debate on the unlawful payments will probably get just half an hour. Moreover a meeting of the council is not a court of law or committee taking evidence.

The suspicion has to be that the council's leaders have decided,

a) that refusing to allow any discussion of the scandal does not look good
b) it would be quite handy to get the full council to sign up to the decisions and approve the payments even though the horse bolted long ago.

Backbench Labour and Independent councillors who are being asked to give their backing to the chief executive's exotic remuneration schemes may want to think long and hard about whether they are prepared to put their names to actions which could well end up being investigated by the police (just look at Caerphilly) without having seen all the evidence. That could be a rash and very dangerous thing to do.

What councillors should do, but almost certainly won't be allowed, is to vote on a motion to suspend the chief executive and have a full and thorough independent investigation of the affair. If Mark James, Kevin Madge, Meryl Gravell, Pam Palmer and the rest have nothing to fear, they should welcome an opportunity to set the record straight.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Coasting to disaster

Coastal (Creating Opportunities And Skills Team Alliance) is a collaborative venture between six local authorities, from Bridgend in the east to Ceredigion in the west, set up to promote "vocational guidance, employment, skills training and lifelong learning" for people with disabilities, long-term physical or mental illness, young people moving from long-term care into adulthood and those with substance misuse problems.


The organisation's business plan (here) says it aims to "comprehensively identify need in the participant group and to link these with the needs of the local economy and labour market, in order to develop bespoke training and educational packages for participants, [which] will be of great benefit in addressing the needs of both groups, by providing individuals with the appropriate skills required to match the needs of the labour market."

The Business Plan, published in October 2008, was asking for £24.7 million from its local authorities and "delivery service agents", with a further £27 million coming from European Structural Funds. This funding would take it through an initial period of 4.5 years.

Almost all of the target client group will be surviving on benefits, and back in 2008 Coastal said that the average annual benefit (excluding Council Tax benefit and housing benefit) was £5,500.

The financial justification for the project was to reduce the benefits bill by getting people back into full-time paid employment:

"If the number of individuals projected to enter employment as a result of engagement with the project, i.e. 2,870, were to enter sustainable employment and remain so for more than 12 months, the annual saving on benefit cost to the Treasury would be @ £15,785,000. (N.B. This cost does not take into account additional cost elements such as Housing and Council Tax Benefits.) Such a saving would mean that the project could become cost neutral in two years."

That was a very big "if", as we shall see.

Overall, the Business Plan said that Coastal would aim to help "an estimated" 9,000 people, with 5,400 of those gaining a qualification.

Those were the targets in October 2008. The costs can be cut and diced in a variety of ways, but one measure is to work out the cost of getting 2,870 people into full-time employment through Coastal. Over 4.5 years, that initial target worked out at £17,770 per individual.

If we spread the costs over the estimated 9,000 people expected to receive help, the cost per person works out at £5,666 over 4.5 years, or slightly more than the cost of one year of benefit payments. The annual cost works out at £1,260 per person.


In October 2011 a firm of consultants, Wavehill, was engaged to evaluate the results to date (report here). The goalposts had shifted somewhat since 2008, with a significant reduction in proposed targets:

                                             2011                                          2008
Target group                      8,500                                         9,000
Sustainable employment     1,000                                         2,870
Gaining a qualification         6,500                                         5,400
"Positive outcomes"            8,100                                         8,570

Three years in, and the target which was the initial financial justification for the project had been reduced from 32% of participants gaining full-time employment to 11.8%. The ambition of becoming cost neutral had clearly been missed by a mile.

Getting people with serious long-term disabilities and mental health problems into full-time paid employment was always going to be very difficult, hence the shift of emphasis to the much easier targets of qualifications and positive outcomes.

No doubt Coastal has defined what constitutes qualifications and positive outcomes somewhere.

By the end of June 2011, Coastal had provided support to just 2,194 people. In other words, it was way off its original target of 9,000.

Even worse, the number of participants gaining full-time employment was just 37 (1.68%) or 31 (1.4% of those supported), depending on which bit of the Wavehill report you believe. Pointing out the obvious, consultants Wavehill noted,

"Clearly, at the current rate of progress, far fewer participants will achieve employment outcomes than anticipated when the COASTAL project was planned."

The number of participants gaining a qualification by June 2011 was just 114, or 2% of the target of 5,400, while those achieving "other positive outcomes" was just 23% of the original target (according to Wavehill, although the numbers do not add up).

Apparently things were going rather better in Carmarthenshire, where the first Coastal newsletter in July 2012 claimed that 89% of participants had achieved a positive outcome. Strangely, the Carmarthenshire team did not provide any numbers for people finding a job or gaining a qualification.

The problem with all this, Wavehill noted, was that the terms of the ESF contract (to get people into employment) were not being met, and there was a serious risk that European funding would be lost. One of the key recommendations was to consider whether a chunk of the participants unlikely ever to find a job should be taken out of the project and allocated to social care.

Bringing us up to date

The Wavehill report takes us up to June 2011, and the project's initial enthusiasm for publishing targets and reports has cooled somewhat since then. In fact, there is no published data to show us how Coastal has been doing in the last two years.

The Wavehill report shows that there were concerns about whether Coastal would be able to retain its ESF funding, but nobody seems to have been worried about whether the £24.7 million pledged by the councils was safe. Since Coastal is run by the local authorities, perhaps they were right to take that for granted.

What the Wavehill report does not tell us is how much of the £51.7 million had been spent by June 2011, which was 2.5 years into the 4.5 year initial project duration. If spending was anything like on target, the project represents spectacularly poor value for money, given the results. In fact, based on the results, Coastal did not need a single penny of the ESF money, and it should have been able to survive on a fraction of the local authority funding pledged.

Assuming that Coastal was fully funded during the period and managed to get through all of its annual budgets, the cost of placing those 31 or 37 people in employment was either £926,000 or £776,000 per person.

The only way we could hope to get near the truth is if Coastal were to publish an annual statement of accounts, which it does not. The complex delivery model and set-up involving multiple local authorities and delivery agencies also means that there is plenty of scope for creative accounting hidden in a thicket of cross-charges.

Another job for the Wales Audit Office, perhaps.

The Client Experience

The reports we have looked at are all written in the weird and opaque language of management consultants and local authority-ese. To get an idea of what Coastal actually means to participants, you could try looking at some of the projects listed on the Coastal website (here).

You could try, but many of the links are broken.

So here are a couple of real-life examples, with names and some details changed to help protect their identities.

Ray is 53 years old and lives in sheltered housing. He has mental health issues and a low IQ. He has had jobs in the past, but has never been able to hold them down for very long. His most recent job was in a charity shop, but he resigned because he felt that he should be managing it, and the charity thought otherwise.

Ray was born in Wolverhampton, and has no family locally. He survives - just - on benefits, and for three or four days each week he says he eats porridge. He cannot afford a telephone, and has no access to the Internet.

Coastal has sent Ray on lots of courses. Some of the courses were entirely unsuited to Ray's abilities, but he did his best. Some were actually quite a bit of fun, such as a one day course in how to use a fire extinguisher.

Attending the courses probably went down as "positive outcomes", while the fire extinguisher certificate may have counted towards the qualifications statistics.

Two years after becoming involved with Coastal, Ray is still hoping to get a job.

Joan is 55 and has severe learning difficulties along with other physical problems. She suffers from epilepsy, and is often unable to leave home for several days at a time because of her health problems.

Coastal has also been arranging courses for Joan, but just as with Ray, some of the courses required literacy and cognitive skills she simply does not possess.

Joan's health problems mean that she is rarely able to complete courses.

Remember the "bespoke training and educational packages" which Coastal said it would develop for its participants? The nasty sting in the tail for people like Ray and Joan and other Coastal clients who find themselves on inappropriate courses is that non-attendance or dropping out mean that they are likely to be sanctioned (i.e. lose benefits).

The Future

Despite its record, Coastal seems set to carry on. The fact that it is still with us suggests that the review of funding Wavehill was so worried about back in October 2011 somehow passed off without too much trouble.

The initial four and a half years of the project was up in the middle of this year, but it seems that someone concluded that it had been so successful that it was given a further lease of life.

In Carmarthenshire the council and the European Regional Development Fund together put £2 million into the redevelopment of the Coleshill "Centre of Economic Inclusion" which re-opened in spring 2012. Now the council is proposing to unload the centre, which is the flagship of its part of the Coastal project, onto an unnamed social enterprise.

The tragedy for Wales is that European funds meant to regenerate and develop the Welsh economy have been frittered away by Carmarthenshire and other local authorities in a way which is not much different to what happened in Greece.

Meanwhile the tried and tested Remploy model which did provide employment to many people with disabilities in Wales has been butchered by the UK government which believes that there are more effective ways of getting people into work. Let's hope it wasn't thinking of Coastal.

Monday, 28 October 2013

What can we learn from Llangyndeyrn?

Celebrations to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the "Battle of Llangyndeyrn" are coming to an end, but if you can, it is worth making the effort to watch a superb documentary broadcast last week on S4C before it disappears into the archives. It can be accessed here for a couple more weeks (English subtitles available).

There is also an excellent community website which tells us about the events of 1963 here.

For those not familiar with the story, it is simple enough. The village of Llangyndeyrn lies between Carmarthen and Pontyberem, and in the early 1960s Swansea Corporation decided that it wanted to create a reservoir covering a large part of the valley above the village. The plan would have led to the loss of a good many family farms and a lot of fertile farmland.

The first most people in Llangyndeyrn knew about it was when they read a report in the local newspaper, but the community came together, formed a committee and set about fighting the plan with ingenuity, humour, determination and a lot of hard work.

Against all the odds, they won, although officialdom then as now was never going to admit that it had lost. Swansea Corporation chose another site instead, and the people of Llangyndeyrn learned of their victory only when they read about the decision to build at what is now Llyn Brianne in the papers.

The S4C documentary was more than an exercise in nostalgia, because what emerged was a lesson in how communities can campaign and win which is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago.

Llangyndeyrn is a small village which united against an external threat. There are some press reports from the time which claimed that there were splits, but they seem not to have amounted to anything. In fact the villagers knew that their campaign of civil disobedience might mean that some of their number could end up in prison, and they even agreed among themselves who would go to jail if necessary in order to minimise disruption to family life and work.

As in any campaign, the villagers had some luck on their side. They were lucky that Swansea Corporation was ill-prepared, and that they had a "spy" working on the inside of the local authority who tipped the campaigners off and kept them one step ahead of the municipal juggernaut. The village was also lucky to have two natural leaders, Cllr William Thomas and the Rev WM Rees, but Cllr Thomas and the Rev Rees would no doubt have been the first to acknowledge that they could not have pulled it off without the active support of so many other members of the community.

To a very large extent, then, the village made its own luck and seized on opportunities as they presented themselves.

The villagers also decided early on not to make the campaign "political". Of course, everything about the campaign was political, but they wisely decided not to accept overt political support and so risk turning the campaign into a party political controversy. That surely has to be one of the most important lessons for any local campaign group. Keep your campaign local and do not allow it to become tied to any single political group or other pressure group, no matter who they are.

What also emerged from the documentary, and what is even clearer from the village's website, is how adapt the campaigners were at public relations, long before anyone had even heard of PR. This was David versus Goliath, and the defence committee played on that image for all it was worth.

Not only did the villagers have no PR training, they also lacked any expertise in civil engineering. Nevertheless, they identified an alternative site which turned out to be much better than what the experts and planners in Swansea had come up with.

In every way, the Davids of Llangyndeyrn outwitted and outflanked Swansea Corporation which initially appeared to hold all the cards in its hands.

Watching the S4C documentary and reading up on the campaign on the village website brought back memories of the two-year battle which was fought out in Newcastle Emlyn against plans to build what would have been a gigantic supermarket in the middle of town - gigantic in that it would have been bigger than all the other shops in town put together.

Opinion in town was not quite as united as it had been in Llangyndeyrn, but in a community of around 1,500 souls, we collected around 900 names on a petition.

Just as in Llangyndeyrn, the "experts" were demonstrably wrong. Two pensioners spent one Sunday morning out in the town with tape measures, measuring the road and pavement widths to prove that the figures given in the consultants' report were rubbish. And if Llangyndeyrn had its bell ringer to warn of the approach of the men from the Corporation, the planning committee was greeted in Newcastle Emlyn by a tractor and muck spreader, a coal merchant's lorry and a wagon load of fox hounds mysteriously passing up and down the main street several times to contribute to the usual traffic chaos.

The campaign ended two years ago with Carmarthenshire County Council approving the plans despite the evidence and despite the feelings of the community. But thanks to the campaign, planning approval came with a very long list of conditions attached, and two years on there is no sign of anyone wanting to take on the site.

But if anyone gets any bright ideas, a special screening of Brwydr Llangyndeyrn will be arranged to remind everyone what a community can achieve when it sets its mind to it, and the muckspreader and hounds are on standby.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Ceredigion starts filming council meetings

The first council meeting of Ceredigion County Council was broadcast on Thursday this week, and Pembrokeshire is expected to follow suit shortly.

In a statement to the press, Council Leader Ellen ap Gwynn said:

At a time when the Council will have to make tough decisions on behalf of the county’s residents, it is essential that the decision-making process is as open and transparent as possible, and broadcasting meetings online will enable people from all parts of Ceredigion, Wales and the world to view local democracy in action.

The decision by neighbouring authorities to begin filming will make it that little bit harder for die-hard opponents of filming in Carmarthenshire to pull the plugs when the council's pilot ends next year.

Watching the meeting broadcast from Aberaeron is a powerful reminder of how different the cultures of these two county councils are. The chief executive of Ceredigion certainly participates in the meetings, but to nothing like the same extent, and she does not run the show. The council's legal officer is also much less evident.

Councillors were not harangued, belittled or patronised at Thursday's meeting, and although combative politics are alive and well in Ceredigion, the poisoned atmosphere which characterises proceedings in Carmarthenshire was absent.

There were technical problems with the first broadcast. The camera sometimes failed to switch to whoever was speaking, and there are sound problems on the archived version from about 8 minutes in, but the meeting was nevertheless easier to follow and better structured than we are used to in Carmarthenshire.

For example, councillors are first asked if there are any inaccuracies in the minutes. Ellen ap Gwynn  pointed out an inconsistency between the Welsh and English minutes. That is unimaginable in Carmarthenshire for several reasons, not least because minutes in Carmarthenshire are invariably written from the point of view of those running the show, and often bare little relation to what happened in the meeting itself. Next councillors are asked for matters arising from the minutes, with no interference or attempts to stifle debate. Just imagine!

Ceredigion has its own fair share of problems, and it is having to grapple with an even tougher budgetary settlement than Carmarthenshire, but this county deserves to survive the reorganisation of local government that Carwyn Jones is hinting is on its way.

Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire have both spawned blogs which are exclusively or very largely devoted to reporting on their dysfunctional county councils. It surely says something about Ceredigion that there are none on the other side of the Teifi.

Anyone interested can access Ceredigion's archive here, or here if you wish to listen in English.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Business Management

Six months after making a freedom of information request, Caebrwyn has finally received copies of some of the minutes of a council body called the Business Management Group, or BMG.

The BMG is not officially an organ of the council. Its meetings are not public, and it does not publish records of its deliberations, and yet what it discusses and agrees is often relevant to all councillors and, by extension, to the public they are supposed to represent.

Unless the minutes provided to Caebrwyn have been cleaned up, which seems doubtful, there is nothing in them which is in any way sensitive or confidential. A lot of space in the minutes is taken up with boring housekeeping stuff about air conditioning systems, PA systems and the like, but there are snatches of information which are more interesting.

What emerges as you read through the documents is a culture of knee-jerk opposition to openness and transparency.

Should the council publish its register of members' interests on-line? No.

Should members of the public be allowed to film or record council meetings? No.

Should councillors' published profiles include records of how many meetings they have attended? No.

Sometimes - rarely - patently illiberal proposals put forward by officers are deferred or not pursued. Should site visits by members of the planning committee be restricted to a special sub-group which would have full powers to decide the applications concerned? Shelved for another day.

Sometimes highly illiberal measures are waved through unanimously, such as a change to the constitution preventing minorities from submitting motions for debate in council meetings.

When discussing a raft of changes to the council's constitution someone noticed that the officers had quietly removed references to public question time, even though they had previously agreed to retain them. As a result the public retains the right to ask questions, but in practice the rules make Indiana Jones's adventures look like a stroll in the park, and no member of the public has asked a question for years.

Royal and ceremonial flim-flam also merits quite a lot of attention. How should the council go about awarding someone the freedom of the county? Apparently only the Royal Welsh Regiment has been given that accolade.

Members of the BMG note that something called the Medal of the Order of the British Empire for Meritorious Service can once again be handed out. Anyone awarded that particular gong would have to make do with being handed it by the Lord Lieutenant rather than a member of the Windsor clan. In other words, this is officially a second class honour for second class people.

A request from the Chair of Council to defer the date of a council meeting in July 2012 is knocked back because the proposed date would fall in the middle of the Royal Welsh Show. As it turned out, that meeting was eventually scrapped in its entirety, so that there were no council meetings from June to September.

All decisions by the BMG are apparently always approved unanimously.

If the group is supposed to be an informal back channel to smooth the workings of the allegedly democratic machinery of the council, the language used in the minutes suggests that it is anything but informal. A single example will suffice:

"The Group thereupon considered a draft protocol for resolving low-level member on member breaches of the Code."

When questions have been asked before about who sits on the BMG, the answer has been "the party leaders". It turns out that it's the party leaders plus a deputy. All the meetings up to the council elections in 2012 were chaired by that well-known champion of democratic values and transparency, Pam Palmer, who was joined by two other party colleagues. Plaid Cymru and Labour made do with two each, even though Plaid at the time had three times as many councillors as Labour.

For reasons which are not apparent, Meryl Gravell, although council leader at the time, never took part.

The seven elected councillors were usually joined by an equal number of senior officers, normally including the chief executive and his acting head of administration and law alongside an assortment of others.

Council Leader Kevin Madge likes to claim that under his leadership the council has become more transparent and open. If that is so, it is surely time to put the BMG on a proper footing and make its deliberations public. It is costing the taxpayer money and it is making decisions which affect the working of the council. Nothing in the record which has been released is remotely confidential, although some of it is controversial.

For opposition councillors who have to make do with just 2 of the 7 seats, the other question which needs to be asked is what possible advantage they gain from being part of this secretive and undemocratic cabal. Or are they in fact just being used to give the group a veneer of democratic respectability and being made to accept responsibility for decisions which in reality they are powerless to prevent?

Friday, 25 October 2013

Budget Cuts - a hammer blow to the local economy


The reason for the radio silence in the media on the budget cuts seminar is now clear. A condition of attendance was that journalists were not allowed to take notes, but they were encouraged to participate in the discussions about where to wield the axe.

This runs completely counter to some of the most fundamental rules of journalistic ethics. Journalists are supposed to be objective observers, not participants, for a start. Several organisations which were invited decided to decline precisely because they were concerned that the set-up would compromise their integrity and leave them with very little to report at the end of it.

Needless to say, the council's favourite newspapers had no such qualms.


Set out below is a list of the cuts to council spending which the dream team of Mark James, Kevin Madge (Labour), Pam Palmer (Independent) and the rest are proposing. It is not complete, and the expected savings are missing for several important items. A full and more detailed breakdown should soon be available, but what we can already see is a litany of vindictive, warped and mean-spirited proposals which are typical of what we have come to expect from the powers that be in Carmarthenshire County Council.

Noticeably absent from the proposals was anything resembling belt tightening or pain for County Hall's fat cats. Jobs will be lost, but only at the bottom of the pecking order. The only specific post identified for the chop was for a development officer working on after school clubs (£33,000).

In true Carmarthenshire style, participants were not invited to submit their own ideas for cost cutting

The council's bloated press and PR outfit will carry on as before, but may have to sacrifice two of the six editions of Carmarthenshire News it churns out every year.

Other holy cows will also survive unscathed. The Scarlets has just benefited from yet another bailout, and departmental budgets will go on being plundered to ensure that hidden subsidies can continue by arranging conferences, meetings and other events in Parc y Scarlets, even though the council has no shortage of venues which could be used free.

Within County Hall, the council executive would like to reduce spending on scrutiny by elected councillors of their decisions, and there are also proposals to cut back on support services which enable our councillors to perform their jobs.

Although the media were invited to the event and some took part, almost no details apart from extracts from Kevin Madge's opening address have so far been published. Was there a gagging clause for those taking part?

It has also emerged that Mark Evans of Unison was asked to leave by the chief executive because it was felt that his presence might unnerve the councillors when it came to voting for job cuts and the wholesale transfer of low-paid council staff to private sector outsourcers.

In addition to some councillors and selected media organisations, the council also invited what it termed local businesses. There is a strong suspicion that some of the businesses taking part are already on "preferred partner" shortlists. That might explain the participation of a local catering wholesaler, because one of the proposals is to outsource school catering.

The economic recovery we hear about on the news has barely made itself felt in Wales, and in the West it is doubtful whether the recovery has even started. The budget cuts will come as a hammer blow to any hopes that we may be about to turn a corner. Families can expect to see council tax rising faster and significant new demands made on their modest incomes. You can expect to have to pay more for what is left of public transport; if your children have to travel to school by bus, you may have to fork out £50 a head for a new "administrative" charge for any child who goes to secondary school. If they stay on after 16, you can expect to have to find hundreds of pounds a year to pay for their school transport. You can also be expect to pay a lot more for your children's school dinners.

Your children can also expect to be told that their schools will no longer use the leisure centres which often sit on the same site.

If you are presented with a bill for school transport and feel that you have been unfairly treated, the council wants to remove your right to appeal to councillors.

If you own a car, you can expect car parking charges to rise even faster than the inflation-busting increases already planned. You will also find that you have to pay for parking in the evenings. If you are disabled, you will have to start to pay to park. If you work for the council, you will have to pay £10 a month to park outside council offices, regardless of whether you are on the minimum wage or a six figure salary.

Although the council provided figures for the savings associated with each proposal (some of them no doubt highly questionable), it does not appear to have worked out what the cost to ordinary families or the local economy will be.

What is clear is that a combination of higher council tax, charges for school transport, rises in charges for services such as school dinners, increased car parking charges, etc. will mean that many families will be hundreds of pounds a year worse off.

If you are a dinner lady or work in adult care, you face losing your job or being outsourced to the tender mercies of a private sector agency. Day care centres for the elderly will be closed or rationalised. Home care staff will be transferred to external outsourcers.

There has been a lot in the news recently about what can happen in private sector care homes, and the 15 minute care visits which have become a feature of the "care" provided to so many elderly people living at home in England.

Well, it looks as though that is what we can look forward to in Carmarthenshire as well.

There will be major cutbacks in statementing and services for people with complex needs

Services for people with learning disabilities will be cut or outsourced.

Readers of the blogs may remember that the only defeat the council executive has had to swallow in recent years was when councillors rebelled and voted against closure of two care homes in Llanelli. The council has never forgotten or forgiven, and it is now proposing to close three care homes.

Despite the disastrous census results and the council's claims about what it is doing for the Welsh language, it would like to cut what is left of its support for the Mentrau Iaith which play an important role in promoting social cohesion as well as the language.

Huge cutbacks are planned for highways maintenance, bridge and culvert maintenance, street lighting, flood defences and remedial earthworks.

Considering how fond Carmarthenshire County Council is of building on flood plains, these cutbacks are a recipe for trouble.

Oh, and if you are elderly and live in a remote rural area, you can wave goodbye to the council's mobile library service.


The projected council tax rises for the next three years are 4%, 4% and 3% with £1m being taken from reserves next year. With areas such as education and loan repayments fixed, an overall cut of 19% will be called on across other departments.
Public transport support – removal of discounts.....£11,000
Reduce rural bus subsidies.....£100,000
Remove subsidies to paid-for school transport.....£85,000
Stop councillor led school transport appeal committee.....£30,000
Cut all over 16 school/college transport (6th Form)                            
Transport to secondary schools, £50 administration charge           
Denominational schools to lose free transport
Increase fees for closing roads for utility work
Off street car parking – 20p increase everywhere....£105,000
Charging for disabled parking in car parks
Car park charging after 6.00pm
On street enforcement of evening parking 6-9pm....£16,000
Charge all council staff for workplace parking £10 per month.....£190,000
Nant y Ci park and ride , double fees to £2......£63,000
To stop paying school crossing patrols [schools to pay or service lost]
Cut business support functions.......£85,000
Cut trade union facilitation time with no full time posts supported 
Cut Welsh language support, mainly Mentrau Iaith........£60,000
Catering services in schools – Outsource or cut staff
                                              Reduce subsidies and/or increase prices
Democratic process – Reduce scrutiny, especially of Executive Board
Sustainable development , reduce budget.......£15,000
Community Safety - remove action group......£15,000
CCTV - reduce monitoring......£30,000
Communications – reduce Carmarthenshire News to quarterly
Reduce inclusion services and statementing.......£300,000
Cut part-time places at school for 3 yr olds.......£80,000
Reduce youth services for 11-25 yr olds especially part-time staff
Cut development officer for after school clubs.....£33,000
Reduce out of county placements for complex needs clients.......£250,000
Cut mobile libraries......£141,000
Cut leisure centre use by schools......£525,000
Reduce Trading Standards........£24,000
Cut welfare rights support........£97,000
Close St Paul's care home, also Glan Morlais and Tegfan.......£1,700,000           
Some savings to be made through ”provision of extra care”
Local Authority homecare – explore option of transferring all LA staff 
to private sector or “arms length” company 
Day centres for elderly, to close a third through 'rationalisation'
Coleshill -transfer to social enterprise or Local Authority trading company.......£100,000
Learning disabilities – services at Caemaen, Carmarthen,Ammanford and Maes Lliedi
privatised or to use third sector...........£178,000
Social services – to charge for all non residential services             
Highway maintenance – large reduction........£3,236,000
Highways lighting – reduce service levels...........£606,000
Flood defences and land drainage – reduce service........£123,000
Bridge and culvert maintenance – reduce service                               
(current backlog is £12,000,000 worth of work already)............£267,000
Remedial earthworks cutback...........£750,000
Stop some technical services e.g. scrim tests........£82,000
Reduce environmental enforcement a small amount eg dog fouling......£19,000

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Privileged information

Council leader Kevin Madge has told the South Wales Guardian that he sees no reason to suspend chief executive Mark James from his duties pending the outcome of investigations into the lawfulness of the pensions and libel indemnity payments. Kev is satisfied that the payments were lawful.

The first thing to say about that is that in reality there are no ongoing investigations; the auditor appointed by the Wales Audit Office reached the conclusion following his own investigations that the payments were unlawful, while the County Council unsurprisingly decided that it acted lawfully. Unless determined members of the council's Audit Committee are still ferreting away behind the scenes, investigations have for the time being come to an end.

Kev's confidence that the payments were lawful almost certainly derives from the expert legal advice which Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire County Councils jointly commissioned.

Old Grumpy picked up on this last week when he reported on an interview the somewhat more eloquent Pembrokeshire council leader, Jamie Adams, gave to the Western Telegraph:

All legal opinion provided to the authority is done so on the basis that those that see it have a need to know the information. At the moment, apart from myself as corporate leader, I would consider that the majority of members do not have a need to know. They may have a wish to or a desire to know, I understand that.

In Carmarthenshire we can be sure that the senior officers involved and the senior councillors who approved the disputed decisions have also come to the conclusion that nobody else has a need to know what advice they have been given.

In Pembrokeshire Cllr Jacob Williams reports that opposition councillors have decided to defer calling an Extraordinary Meeting of the council until after publication of the Wales Audit Office's public interest report. They say that they expect publication to happen in November.

It seems reasonable to expect that the WAO would publish its public interest report on the goings on in Carmarthenshire at the same time.

The idea is that publication would give the two councils an opportunity to reflect on the error of their ways and avoid going to court. It seems unlikely that the sinners will repent, and so the next stage would be for everyone to head off to court.

That would not happen until well into 2014, and so far the councils' strategy of playing for time is working.

In the meantime we can sit back and enjoy the spectacle of a Labour leader defending tax avoidance arrangements for a top earner who, uniquely, is also able to take his critics to court at public expense.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The Ffwrnes Farce

Carmarthenshire County Council held its budget cuts seminar at the Ffwrnes Theatre on Monday. There were several reports in the media on the day from the BBC, Golwg and other sources. All of them were obviously based on a County Hall press release, with identical quotes from Kevin Madge, the Labour Council Leader. Or more likely the words written for him by the department of spin.

The BBC carried a picture of members of Unison protesting outside the venue, but otherwise the stories were all filed before the event had taken place.

The Carmarthen Journal is now carrying a short piece which is mainly an extract of Kev's opening address including the line,

My message to councillors is that we are here to represent our electorate, we all need to do this.

None of these reports gives anything like an accurate account of the event itself, as readers may be able to tell from the picture below which was tweeted by Caebwryn.

Although like Cneifiwr she was not invited, perhaps Carmarthenshire's most famous film maker sneaked in as a cleaner.

Budget Bingo
Embedded image permalink

Excluding the bigwigs at the top table, there were about 50 people in the theatre, including representatives of the media and various selected local businesses. The Chief Executive was by all accounts not happy.

Plaid Cymru boycotted the event because of the partisan way in which the ruling Labour-Independent administration is going about this budget cutting exercise, and they rightly suspected that the seminar was little more than a pre-packaged PR stunt. The group did however send along 5 councillors as observers.

If we discount the 5 Plaid observers who did not participate in the exercise itself, only 22 councillors are understood to have taken part. Or to look at it another way, two thirds of councillors were absent, including half of all the Labour and Independent councillors.

It may be that there were a few Labour councillors who stayed away on principle, but in the case of the Independents and most of Kev's troops, the truth is that the majority couldn't be bothered. They know that all they have to do is turn up at County Hall on the appointed day and vote as instructed, without the need to read through all those boring reports and recommendations.

Cllr Alun Lenny (Plaid) has provided an account of what it was actually like to be down on the floor during the charade:

"It was very appropriate that such a farce was held at the Ffwrnes Theatre. Unfortunately, it was also a tragedy for democracy and for the people of Carmarthenshire.
I was met with open hostility by certain Labour and Independent councillors on my table. Meryl Gravell tried to get me ejected from the meeting for refusing to take part in the discussion. I told her I'd only be doing what most Independent members do in council meetings... 
During a heated exchange, advice was taken from the Monitoring Officer and Chris Burns. I told them I wouldn’t be dictated to, had a perfect right to be there and stayed in my seat. 
We'd been informed by the council that “As it is a seminar, it is of course not a decision making meeting.” Yet, during the next three hours the other councillors on my table voted, by show of hands, for all but one of the 52 proposed cut-backs to go out to public consultation. 
The same process happened on the other tables, with non-elected business people and members of the press also taking part. 
Never, in over 30 years in my previous career as a journalist, have I witnessed such a travesty of the democratic process. 
Quite apart from the nature of the meeting itself, councillors were presented with a massive tranche of cut-back proposals by council officers and given just three hours to discuss and vote on the proposals. Quite incredible and totally unacceptable. 
The people of Carmarthenshire have reason to be truly alarmed and angered that the process of cutting tens of millions of pounds from public spending should have started in such a cavalier manner."

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Battle of Stradey Park - Part II

Following on from the previous post, a local campaigner has written in with a summary of some of the twists and turns in this story which gives a much clearer picture of the degree of manipulation and planning jiggery pokery which has gone on in Stradey Park.

The Welsh Government publishes its so-called DAM maps showing areas liable to flooding every four years.

Here is a short mapping history....
2005 – DAM maps said Stradey was 60% C2 flood plain.
2007 – Planning Inquiry - Scarlets (Taylor Wimpey bought the site in 2008)
persuaded EAW that it was not a tidal flood plain except for bottom SE corner.
2009 - New DAM maps said Stradey was 64% C2 flood plain – fluvial (with bottom SE corner tidal).
The Welsh Government called in Reserved Matters. Taylor Wimpey exploited an apparent a loop hole in planning regulations to say that flood plain could not be considered as it had already been discussed.  
Environmental Impact Assessment regulations say that any new information should be considered,  but the county council showed a surprising turn of speed and approved the application the day the Welsh Government backed down and withdrew the call in.
2013 - DAM maps said Stradey was 70% – 80% C2 flood plain – fluvial (with bottom SE corner tidal)
Taylor Wimpey are now building and have raised the land by 8 feet opposite existing homes in Iscoed to take the new homes out of the flood plain.
Planning Policy Wales says that vulnerable developments (homes, schools, hospitals, etc) must not be built on a flood plain, and mitigating measures (eg raising the land) must not be used for such developments. The county council and Taylor Wimpey interpret the regulations differently.
With regard to the close involvement of the council's executive in the supposedly independent planning process, the following episode speaks volumes.
Two weeks before the planning inquiry in 2007 the county council sneaked this onto the end of the planning committee without even telling the local members and also excluding the public. The first anybody knew was at the inquiry.
In essence, the S106 agreement between chief executive Mark James and Huw Evans (then chairman of the Scarlets) in a Scarlets Project Board meeting in 2004 (two years before the planning app was submitted) over-rode the decision of the planning committee that the S106 monies should go to the Stradey area and not to build a stadium in Pemberton.


(NOTE: The following members of the committee, being present at the original meeting held on the 27th July 2006 which considered the above application were present during consideration of this item. All other members of the Committee were excluded from the meeting:

Councillors: Mrs S.M. Cooke, I.W. Davies, J.J.J. Davies, J.G. Edwards, D.C. Evans, W.T. Evans, S.R. James, T. Theophilus, K.P. Thomas and Mrs J. Williams.

The Committee was reminded that at its meeting held on the 27th July 2006 it, having noted that the Welsh Assembly Government had called in application S/12058, had RESOLVED to be minded to grant planning consent subject to a Section 106 Agreement being entered into which should include an element of affordable housing and community benefit for the Stradey Area.

The Committee was requested to note the proposed Heads of Terms agreed with the applicant, as detailed in the report, and resolve to authorise the Head of Planning to present the Draft Section 106 Agreement in those terms at the forthcoming Public Inquiry.

RESOLVED that the proposed Heads of Terms detailed in the report be noted and the Head of Planning be authorised to present the Draft Section 106 Agreement in those terms at the forthcoming Public Inquiry."
What that meant in plain terms was that the rump of the Planning Committee which was permitted to stay behind for this top secret part of the meeting was told to reverse what it had already decided in conformity with planning regulations on S106 agreements, and adopt the deal which had been put together by Mr James and Mr Evans. That agreement diverted the S106 monies across town to Parc y Scarlets.

Oh, and contrary to what Mr James has told the press from time to time, the Stradey site makes no provision whatsoever for affordable housing, in accordance with those Heads of Terms.

The Battle of Stradey Park - Checkmate?

Carl Sargeant, the Minister for Housing and Regeneration, has decided to call in an application submitted by Taylor Wimpey for Stradey Park in Llanelli where the developer would like to build 450 houses because, he fears, the development could be at odds with national planning policy.

The application (S/23311) would extend the time limit on another approved application (S/12058) by a further three years.

At issue here is whether new housing developments should be allowed on land liable to flooding.

Initially 50-60% was deemed to be liable to flooding, but at a public inquiry in 2007 Taylor Wimpey successfully challenged this, and the Environment Agency Wales decided that it agreed with the developer. Planning permission was eventually granted on the basis that there was negligible flood risk.

In March 2013 Natural Resources Wales (the successor to the Environment Agency) came along and updated its flood maps, concluding that 75-80% of the area was subject to flood risk, something which older residents knew all along to their own considerable cost following serious flooding in 1981.

A spate of serious floods in different parts of Wales in recent years means that the Welsh Government knows that it cannot sit on its hands and wave this development through because of how things would look when the inevitable happens. Hence the call-in.

The problem is that in this giant game of chess, Taylor Wimpey has started construction work, and Carmarthenshire County Council is adamant that all the necessary planning consents have been granted in order for this to happen.

The huge fly in the ointment is that the council has a direct financial interest in seeing the development go ahead because that is the only way it can hope to recoup the millions it pumped into Parc y Scarlets thanks to the byzantine funding scheme cooked up by the chief executive, Meryl Gravell and the usual suspects.

Despite having a duty of care to the people it is supposed to serve and the tireless opposition of local residents and some at least of their democratically elected representatives (most notably Cllr Siân Caiach), the council is siding with Taylor Wimpey and determined to see the scheme pushed through.

In theory the Welsh Government will now sit down to determine application S/23311, but Taylor Wimpey is expected to counter by withdrawing the application. Because it has now started building, the application to extend the time limit would seem to be academic.

While this game of chess is played out, local people can only hope that the rain holds off.

As for the rest of us who do not live in the Stradey Park area of Llanelli, this mess should serve as a wake-up call. The story is one of corporate greed, overweening arrogance and incompetence, and the victims are ordinary people.

The Welsh Government needs to change the rules to ensure that in future no local planning authority will be left to determine any planning application in which the local authority of which it is part has a direct financial interest.

Planning is meant to be a quasi judicial function exercised in strict conformity with planning policies and with regard to the merits of each application. What is evident in Carmarthenshire is that the executive and the supposedly independent quasi judicial functions of the planning department have been fused together to push through the scheme in which the council has invested a lot of political and financial capital.

Anyone who believes that the county's planning function is independent of the executive when it comes to major planning applications is likely to believe in the existence of the tooth fairy. A small lorry load of documentation has built up over the years showing just how closely involved senior officers and councillors with no direct responsibility for planning have been in the saga.


In a separate development two Labour councillors in Burry Port (Pat Jones and John James) are trying to get a Welsh Government refusal of planning permission overturned for the former Grillo zinc oxide works.

A planning application for 200 houses on the site was called in by the Welsh Government and refused because once again Carmarthenshire County Council saw nothing wrong with building on a site which is liable to flooding.

Cllrs Jones and James and their supporters are seeking a judicial review, and it is understandable that they should want to see the eyesore redeveloped and provide employment for a couple of years. Less understandable is that they want to see houses built and sold to families who face the trauma of flooding.

Cneifiwr has to confess that Cllr John James has so far completely failed to appear on the radar, so much so that a visit to the council website was needed to confirm that he actually exists. He sits on several committees, including the Audit Committee and the Democratic Services Committee, but appears to be one of those councillors who never has anything to say and no questions to ask, at least in the monthly public meetings of the council.

His biographical details on his council profile are blank. Presumably he knows when to raise his hand at the right time, and so should go far.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Lighting up Carmarthenshire

Hermon Chapel
Before the lamp posts

Update 21/10/13

Other locals have noted the hugely costly and very long-winded developments in Hermon in disbelief. The subject came up at a meeting last week of Newcastle Emlyn Town Council which has been begging Carmarthenshire County Council for a pavement in Aberarad to safeguard children walking to school.  Without success.

Apparently questions are also being asked in County Hall about the background to this unusual splurge of generosity by the council. No VIPs have yet turned up in Hermon, so suspicious minds are now starting to wonder whether we are looking at someone with family connections on Jail Hill.


The B4333 from Newcastle Emlyn climbs steadily from the valley for several miles until it reaches Moelfre, nearly 1,000 feet above sea level. From there it makes its way across country, through the small village of Hermon, before dropping down to Cynwyl Elfed.

On a clear day you can catch glimpses of the Carmarthen Fans, the western outliers of the Brecon Beacons, and there is a stark kind of beauty up there on those sheep pastures, interspersed with patches of woodland.

The village of Hermon numbers at a rough guess little more than 100 inhabitants, and almost all of the houses are modern. The ruins of a few traditional stone cottages can be seen by the roadside, but the only building of note is the chapel which stands more or less in the centre of the village.

There is no school, village shop or post office, and no pub. Just the chapel and a scattering of houses.

If you google "Hermon Carmarthenshire" the second entry asks "What is it really like to live in Hermon? See the anti-social behaviour hotspots from current police data." The closest you are likely to get to anti-social behaviour in Hermon is Mam-gu downing a swift, surreptitious glass of purely medicinal sherry before heading off to the Cwrdd on the Sabbath.

For well over a year now, and probably getting on for two, the village has been the scene of what must be some of the most leisurely and slow-paced road works in Western Europe, as the firm of GD Harries and Sons, contracting for Carmarthenshire County Council, has gone about putting in pavements either side of the quiet road and a stunning row of lamp posts.

For months at a time parts of the road have been reduced to a single lane with traffic lights. A couple of weeks ago work on the pavements and lamp posts finally appeared to come to an end, and the firm, which is based in Narberth, Pembrokeshire, has started resurfacing stretches of the road itself.

If progress is anything like the time taken to put in the footpaths and lamp posts, they may be finished some time in mid-2014.

True enough, the road is in desperate need of resurfacing, but it is hard to imagine that the smart new pavements will get much use because, let's face it, apart from the chapel, there is nowhere to go and hardly anyone to use them. Besides which most of the chapel's congregation drive there and park on the large tarmac'd area to the left of the picture.

Even more amazing is the line of new lamp posts. While waiting for the traffic lights to change one day, Cneifiwr decided to count them. There are 27, and along one stretch there is one approximately every 50 feet. And they are not just any old lamp posts, but extra high ones. In fact they look as though they should be lighting up some top secret and ultra secure military installation.

As yet they have not actually been fitted with lamps, and so that could add a further six months to the project.

When the whole thing is finally finished, you will probably be able to see Hermon from the moon, lit up on its lonely hill top.

One of the pleasures of living in this part of the world is the general lack of light pollution, but star gazing in Hermon will soon be a thing of the past. And with a county council which makes a lot of claims about its green credentials, you have to wonder which aspect of this project is environmentally friendly.

The cost of all this work which may very occasionally benefit one or two old ladies walking to chapel of an evening must be huge, at a time when many much busier roads in the county are falling to pieces. And the people of Hermon are in any case tough old nuts who have spent all their lives in howling winds, rain and snow.

The other remaining mystery is why this work was undertaken in the first place. Is there some hitherto unknown VIP living in Hermon?

If anyone has any information, get in touch.

And finally....

Speaking of VIPs, news reaches Cneifiwr that the kerb outside a house in Abergwili has been lowered so that a resident can park her car off road. The resident is the daughter of a certain senior council officer.

Mr M, who fought the council for years to get a ramp outside his council house so that he could access his home in his wheelchair, may wish to take note that there are easier ways to get things done. Unlike Mr M, the young woman did not need to take her concerns to the Public Services Ombudsman and thereby incur the wrath of the chief executive, who told councillors that he wished the council had left Mr M and his family in emergency bed and breakfast accommodation.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Council of Despair - That New Look Council Meeting

Thanks to some rather intimate contact with a member of staff in the Press Office after a night out in the Eagle, Sali Mali-Cachu has obtained a copy of the draft agenda for the November meeting of the full council.


4th NOVEMBER 2013  
Acting Democratic Officer:                                                   Mrs M. Mugabe

MERLIN'S MOTORS (MERTHYR) plc - 'reliable used cars'

"Supporting local business"


"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today for an exciting new meeting format packed with meaty matter, and to give thanks to our Chief Executive for his infallible and sure leadership which has raised this iconic Authority up to be a beacon for less fortunate parts of Wales, and indeed the rest of the world. We would like to take this opportunity to thank His Excellency for allowing us to meet here today, and all the officers for their hard work in putting together this agenda and its attendant Powerpoint reports. Deliver us from the Wales Audit Office forces of evil, and for what we are about to receive, may God help us."
4. CHAIR'S ANNOUNCEMENTS (mandatory half-hour statement on health and safety and the Law of Defamation).
5. GUEST SPEAKER: Mr Jeremy Clarkson - "Fuel efficiency and your vehicle"*
 * applies to top of the range Mercedes and Jaguar saloons only
6.  INVESTING IN THE FUTURE: Mr R Blazer from Scarlets Regional Ltd. ("a better return than any other commercial investment" - the Executive Board).
Mr Blazer will be explaining how a 4% return on your money is better than 7%, and why we should all put our life savings into the club as quickly as possible.
7. THE BIG DEBATE: "Motherhood and Apple Pie - the pros and cons"
Cllr J.C.B. Cashin (Independent) will tell us how a £1,950,000 grant for a hot tub and PVC window installation (with gazebo) at his caravan park led to the creation of jobs for two local Lithuanian lads.
 Mrs Saccalot from Personnel will be describing the exciting new opportunities which will shortly be opening up for hundreds of our lowest paid staff.
Cllr Muriel Gravel will be unveiling an innovative new toddler play scheme currently being piloted on the Pensarn Roundabout as an exciting alternative to wasteful bespoke kiddy playgrounds.
This last item has been cancelled By Order.

Members should note that this very full agenda means that there will be no time for questions.

Members are cordially invited for a sesh refreshments at the bar of the Glory-Be Evangelical Roller Blading Center Inc after the meeting.