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Shooting the messengers with Sian Caiach of People First

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siancaiachTHE ACTING chair of Carmarthenshire County Council’s Standards Committee recently told a full council meeting that they should all take a pat on the back for being so good at being so good.

He was referring to the way in which the council responds to complaints and whistle blowers as well as commenting on how the ombudsman saw the County Council’s performance on such matters. All in all Mr Christopher Downward painted a very pretty picture, which rather than receiving rapturous applause, drew a stunned silence.

The Herald reported recently on how the council had dealt with attempts by whistle blowers in relation to the Coastal Care Programme and how the unions were adamant that members of staff had raised their concerns about financial irregularities and mismanagement but as Mark Evans of UNISON put it, had been subject of disciplinary action themselves.

The Herald spoke to one such public sector employee who offered to enlighten our readers as to what happens to observant and diligent members of staff who ‘blow the whistle’. People First AM candidate for Llanelli Sian Caiach began by saying:

“Bad news is rarely welcome. When public sector workers point out internal problems that need to be addressed they are unlikely to be praised for their diligence. More likely they will find themselves bullied, reviled and persecuted to the point that they are forced to leave their work. Careers and reputations are often destroyed and the problems identified may never actually be addressed.”

Sian was a successful orthopaedic consultant surgeon who chose to become a whistle blower. Here Sian sets out what happened when she spoke out. She says: “I lost my own career in medicine as an orthopaedic consultant surgeon in Llanelli after blowing the whistle on two issues. One was a private practice scam where surgeons operated for free on private patients in NHS theatres using NHS resources, displacing NHS waiting list patients who had waited in pain for months and charging private patients who had no idea that their surgery , tests and implants were paid for by the state. The other was a senior colleague of mine whose failing eyesight appeared to be affecting the quality of his patients’ care.”

Talking about how she was dealt with when she asked questions she told us: “My concerns were ignored and I was warned that if I continued making these allegations I would lose my job and never work again. That was indeed true. I was offered a £30,000 settlement provided I left Llanelli and agreed to sign a confidentiality agreement. I did not.

I was forced to leave after three years of suspension and becoming deskilled. I never worked again in the NHS and have had very little work as a doctor in the last decade. “Unfortunately a reputation as a “snitch” is a worse handicap than being a dangerously incompetent doctor who may have crippled or even killed several people.”

The repercussions for speaking out continued to affect Sian’s career. She told The Herald, “After leaving my job in 2005 I was banned, unlawfully as far as I can deduce, from entering any building in the Hywel Dda Trust except as a patient or accompanying a close relative “Former chief executive Mr Trevor Purt (who has departed a subsequent post in North Wales under a cloud) admitted to me that this was not legal, but his replacement Mr Steve Moore has reimposed the ban, barring me from medical meetings and using the medical libraries.

The ban was supposed to “protect the mental health of my former medical colleagues. Clearly some senior consultants still feel emotionally fragile at the prospect of setting eyes on me.” Sian Caiach turned her skills and energy towards another institution hoping to serve the people and community of Carmarthenshire in another way. She said: “I realise now that I won’t get back to being a practicing doctor and I’ve been an elected County Councillor in Carmarthenshire since 2008.

I didn’t expect to find the same culture of “shoot the messenger” in County Hall. After all, my old consultant colleagues who were in on the scamming were making a tidy personal profit on the deal and had a lot of motive to keep it going. Why would management in a local authority not wish service problems to be reported to them? Surely they had nothing personal at stake in such issues, and surely improving service to the public outweighs any embarrassment over an oversight or genuine mistake?”

Now C llr Caiach, Sian soon found herself meeting with other whistle blowers but this time within the County Council and she was shocked and dismayed that in fact they appeared to be getting the same or similar treatment to that, which she had encountered within the Health Service. Sian told The Herald: “Sadly this is not the case. Since I’ve been a councillor I’ve met several current and former members of Council staff who had become whistleblowers, then found themselves under attack after making their disclosures. Just like my experience in the NHS, they may be transferred to other posts, heavily criticised and reported for any minor incidents, have their views and wishes ignored and accused of being disloyal, bad coworkers, etc.

It’s bullying with menaces, reminiscent of incidents I have experienced myself, so I do have a lot of sympathy. “It’s always hard to prove that you have been victimised as an individual, but when a number of people are treated in a similar way it looks like a systemic response.”

Speaking about articles in this newspaper which have highlighted the fate of whistleblowers and the intimidation meted out to them, Sian Caiach said : “The Herald has recently exposed the Coastal project problem where workers were asked to alter time sheets , something which would allow European money to be used to support other clients who normally would be paid for out of the usual council budget. There is no doubt in my mind from the evidence I’ve seen that this happened and that the messengers were shot. The mystery, of course, is why it all happened; who decided to do it and why? The person who deserves reprimand is surely the one who had the bright idea to cook the books.

What we have ended up with is a situation where there has been a problem with a council project and the people who were uncomfortable with altering the records under orders are the ones who have paid the price.” Painting a bleak picture of the consequences of dealing with whistle blowers by aiding a cover up rather than addressing their concerns Sian Caiach said : “This matters, and not only because of the injustice and suffering caused to the whistleblowers. It is also a grave concern to taxpayers that managers of public services appear more concerned with covering up problems than solving them. How can we trust our public services to be open and transparent to the public if this is how they behave?

“Cllr Caiach concluded: “It may be human nature to disguise failure but when deception becomes almost institutional it is extremely worrying. If these actions are generated at middle management simply to hide their problems from the executive staff, the leaders of our public institutions are in the dark about what is really going on. If the senior management decides to aid the cover up it is the public and our Government who are being deceived. In either case, public sector workers are thoroughly discouraged from speaking out when things go wrong, and when that happens and we are all losers in the end.”

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Llanelli High Street shortlisted for prize

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LLANELLI HIGH STREET has been shortlisted in the Government’s Great British High Street Awards, in proud partnership with Visa, putting them in the running for up to £15,000.

After a rigorous selection process led by a panel of independent judges, the high street has been shortlisted for the Rising Star category, which celebrates high streets which are taking the lead to adapt and diversify.

The bid by Ymlaen Llanelli follows research commissioned by Visa in April 2019 demonstrating the positive impact that the local high street has on communities. The research found that nearly three quarters of consumers (71%) in Wales say that shopping locally makes them feel happy, with nearly half (45%) citing supporting local shops and knowing where their money is going as the main reason. Spending time with friends and family (25%) and offering a sense of community (18%) were other reasons cited for why high streets make people feel happier. The research also reveals that half of consumers (50%) feel that their high street gives them a sense of pride in their local community.

High Streets Minister Jake Berry MP said: “Congratulations to Llanelli for being shortlisted for the Rising Star Award for this year’s Great British High Street Awards.

“Llanelli high street is a hive of activity, with food festivals, childrens’ days and community get-togethers all part of the local calendar. A great example of how high streets can bring a renewed energy to communities.

“People are happier when they can see their hard-earned cash support local businesses. That is why we are celebrating those that go above and beyond to keep their high streets thriving for generations to come.”

Sundeep Kaur, Head of UK & Ireland Merchant Services at Visa, added: “We’ve seen some fantastic entries for this year’s Great British High Street Awards across both the Champion High Street and Rising Star categories. In particular, the desire to innovate stands out amongst this year’s entries, with high streets adapting to the challenges presented by a rapidly changing retail environment to find ways to thrive at a local level.

“As our research shows, high streets play a vital role at the heart of communities, so this is a great opportunity for those communities with shortlisted high streets to show their support by placing their votes on the Great British High Street website.”

Llanelli High Street is one of the 28 high streets that have been shortlisted for the Rising Star category, identifying high streets which are taking the lead to adapt and diversify. 12 high streets have been shortlisted in the Champion High Street category, which recognises the UK’s best high streets. All 40 high streets are now in the running to win a prize of up to £15,000 to be dedicated to a local high street initiative.

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Head Teacher at Primary school in Llanelli suspended

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THE HEAD TEACHER of a Welsh primary school has been suspended, it has been confirmed.

Catherine Lloyd-Jenkins, who is head at Ysgol Gymraeg Ffwrnes in Llanelli, has been suspended from her duties at the school with immediate effect.

Governors at the school have been unavailable for comment, but Carmarthenshire Council confirmed the news this morning.

It is understood that the chair of the governing body is currently out of the country, and the council would not comment further on the circumstances surrounding the suspension.

The council’s director of education, Gareth Morgans, said: “School staffing is a matter for the Governing Body, however, we can confirm the headteacher of Ysgol Ffwrnes has been suspended.

“It is not appropriate to comment further.”

Mrs Lloyd-Jenkins has worked at Ysgol Gymraeg Ffwrnes for 23 years, taking up a post at the school in 1996.

She has been the headteacher there for almost 20 years, taking over the role in 2000. She has also worked as a peer inspector at Estyn, the education and training inspectorate for Wales confirmed.

According to one local councillor, ‘serious concerns’ have been raised about the school in recent months.

“Local residents and parents have approached us raising serious concerns about the school in question,” said Carmarthenshire councillor Rob James.

“We are in dialogue with senior council officers to assert whether the allegations are credible and what action the council and governors have taken in response to these allegations.”

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Dyfed-Powys Police numbers at record low, say Labour

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POLICE officers based across the Dyfed-Powys area are now at their lowest levels in the last decade, with over 300 officers being lost across the region, claim Carmarthenshire Labour.

According to a freedom of information request by Carmarthenshire Labour, police officers based across Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion are down 42% and are at record lows in both Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion.

The figures published by Dyfed-Powys Police show that Carmarthenshire has lost 160 officers in the last ten years, Pembrokeshire is down 107 officers and Ceredigion has lost 56 bobbies on the beat.

These figures come off the back of a poor report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary that shows the force has gone backwards in the last year, with crime also on the increase.

HMIC’s recent PEEL (Police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy) report noted concerns about Dyfed-Powys Police’s performance in keeping people safe and reducing crime and specifically warned of failures to assess all incidents of domestic abuse.

Carmarthenshire Labour Leader Cllr Rob James claims that the figures show that the current Police and Crime Commissioner is now performing worse than their predecessor.

Rob James stated: “These figures that show a dramatic decrease in police numbers are extremely worrying and reinforce what communities are saying across Dyfed Powys – there are simply not enough police officers in our areas.

“The fact that we now have lower police numbers in the three counties compared to the end of the last Police and Crime Commissioner’s term with crime now on the rise illustrates that the Plaid Cymru Commissioner is failing in his duty to protect our communities.

“We need urgent action to make our communities safe once more, as there is a clear link between the loss of youth provision and cuts to officer numbers, and the rise of crime in our communities.

“There is little evidence that our Commissioner has grasped the nettle over the last three years in tackling this important issue.”

These claims however, have been slapped down by Police and Crime Comissioner, Dafydd Llewellyn. He said that said that Cllr James had misunderstood or misrepresented the information provided to him.
The Carmarthen data have a significant rider attached to them.

The explanatory note reads: ‘It should be noted that the figures for Carmarthenshire police division between 2008 and 2018 are not comparable as the structure of Carmarthenshire division in 2018 has altered to that of 2008 which has impacted upon the figures provided’.

That explanation is expanded upon concerning the Ceredigion data. Regarding them, an explanatory note warns that: ‘[T]he structures between 2008 and 2019 are not comparable as some sections that were recorded divisionally now come under the HQ remit, e.g. the Road Policing Unit, CID, etc.’.

Dafydd Llewelyn pointed out that note in his response to The Herald: “As outlined in the response to the Freedom of Information request, structures between 2008 and 2019 are not comparable as some sections that were recorded as divisionally based are now recorded under the HQ remit, for example, Roads Policing Unit, CID.”

Dafydd Llewelyn continued: “Since taking up my role as the elected person to represent the many communities across the four counties served by the force, I have increased the overall resource available by 4%. I have ploughed funding into dedicated teams to support front line officers and have invested in resources to support the most vulnerable in our communities.

“I have commissioned services specific to their needs – be that as victims of domestic abuse or young people choosing to leave their homes for reasons unknown to authorities. I will continue to do this. I will not be held to account by numbers on paper alone, but by the difference I can make to individuals’ quality of life.

“I will also use the opportunity I have to campaign for services appropriate to the very specific needs an area the size of Dyfed-Powys Police has and will work with the force to adapt according to those needs.”

He concluded by pointing out: “Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Powys remain the safest counties nationally and I’m proud to be driving a service that is willing and able to flex and respond, despite the financial challenges faced day-in-day-out.”

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