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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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Cold temperatures likely to lead to icy conditions

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

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

Icy patches developing with wintry showers also affecting some areas.

What to expect

  • Some injuries from slips and falls on icy surfaces
  • Probably some ice on some untreated roads, pavements and cycle paths
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Police target burglary suspects in dawn raids

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SIXTEEN addresses have been raided by police in an operation responding to a spate of high-value burglaries in the south Wales area.

Officers targeted locations in Fforest-Fach, Clase, Morrison, Brynhyfryd and Bonymaen following a year of thefts in the city and Neath Port Talbot.

Operation Timmia also saw locations in Swansea citry centre targeted by South Wales Police.

Six people have been arrested and remain in custody, The Llanelli Herald has been told.

The large scale operation used the police helicopter, forensics teams, financial investigators and cash-detecting dogs.

Police seized three caravans, a cannabis cultivation, large amounts of cash and jewellery, and a number of other items believed to be linked to crimes.

Detectives said those arrested are being held on suspicion of several offences, including conspiracy to commit burglary.

They have also issued an appeal to trace a further four suspects: Daniel Casey, 27; Terrence Casey, 19; Michael Casey, 18; and Patrick Joyce, 20.

All four men have links with the travelling community and are known to travel throughout the UK, said police.

“We know the recent spates of burglaries and car thefts across the division has been of real concern in our local communities and I hope the scale of this morning’s enforcement action reassures the public that we do take the matter seriously and that we are fully committed to bringing those responsible to justice,” said Det Insp Dave Peart.

“We now have a number of individuals in custody and enquiries are ongoing to locate a number of outstanding suspects.”

As part of the raids, officers searched an industrial unit in the Fforestfach area of the city, and nine caravans on Millstream Way traveller site.

The force said the investigation follow what has been described as a “high number of burglaries and aggravated burglaries in the past year”.

In some instances, homeowners were confronted by armed gangs who either threatened or inflicted violence.

Supt Cath Larkman added: “During some of the recent burglaries we’ve seen an increasing use of, or willingness to use, violence, so today’s action was absolutely proportionate and necessary to protect the public from further criminality and potential harm.”

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Band leader sexually assaulted 14-year-old cadet

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THE LEADER of an Army cadet band turned a kitchen into a sauna and sexually assaulted a naked teenage boy.

And Philip Pryor, now 65, used a British Legion computer to download child pornography.

Pryor, of Llys y Llyfgell, Burry Port, has been jailed for two and a half years.

Swansea Crown Court heard how Pryor had been the leader of an Army cadet band in Burry Port, which attracted members from across west Wales, as well as being a branch secretary for the British Legion.

Robin Rouch, prosecuting, said the Army had a hut in Burry Port which the band used for rehearsals and some cadets slept there, as did Pryor, before a concert.

A man who was a 14-year-old cadet at the time told police how Pryor would boil pans of water and place towels around doors and windows and turn the kitchen into a sauna.

Boys were encouraged to take off their clothes, as did Pryor.

On at least three occasions he touched the boy indecently, said Mr Rouch.

The victim did not complain until many years later after he had seen a television news item about young footballers being abused and confided in a friend about what had happened to him.

He later told police that at the time Pryor, who had played in a military band while serving in the Army, had told him that because of his standing in the community there was no point in complaining as no-one would believe him.

Mr Rouch said a police investigation began and officers removed a British Legion computer used by Pryor and found he had downloaded a small number of indecent images of schoolboys.

Pryor admitted three offences of indecent assault and one of possessing child pornography.

His barrister, Frank Phillips, said Pryor was now remorseful and ashamed and had lived as a recluse since his arrest.

Judge Geraint Walters told Pryor he had been in a position of trust.

“You targeted him and abused him more than once.

“The fact that he went to the police so many years later demonstrates the long lasting effect of what you did to him. It has never left him.

“It shows the wickedness of an adult taking advantage of a youngster.

“There was some grooming here in that you allowed him to have alcohol and cigarette.

“I accept you have led a blameless life since the offending but it is not possible for me to pass a sentence that could be suspended,” he added.

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