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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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£121k watersports funding announced for Llanelli beauty spot

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• Welsh Water, Natural Resources Wales, Llanelli Rural Council & Canoe Wales has secured ‘Access to Water’ funding.

• Visitors will be able to enjoy paddlesports (canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding), windsurfing and angling.

• Site expected to attract 90k+ visitors a year.

The recent announcement of the development of the Swiss Valley reservoirs in Carmarthenshire has been given a boost with the confirmation of an ‘Access to Water’ grant from Welsh Government, worth £121k, that will enable visitor access to the Lower Lleidi reservoir for paddle sports and angling.

The funding will realise plans to bring back a range of paddlesports to the reservoir, including stand-up paddle boarding, canoeing and kayaking.  It will also enable bank angling through the creation of recreational zones.  A range of improvements to the surrounding infrastructure are also planned to include a boat wash for biosecurity and the creation of paths and a pontoon that allows easy access to water for people of all abilities, and the refurbishment of toilet facilities.

Developing the Swiss Valley Reservoirs is expected to attract 90k+ visitors a year to the site, in line with Covid19 regulations. The ‘Access to Water’ funding is an important milestone in achieving shared ambitions for the site, and to support the funding application, a survey of local canoe clubs, outdoor activity providers and anglers was conducted which found a strong demand for access to the water for their activities. The feedback was that this is likely to generate a huge amount of interest from clubs and providers given it’s ideal geographical location. The community adoption scheme means that local people are offering to invest their own time to help look after this jewel of a community asset, and care for it into the future.

The project is well placed to support the delivery of The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (Wales) 2015, which requires public bodies in Wales to think about the long-term impact of their decisions, to work better with people, communities and each other, and to prevent persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change. Whilst Welsh Water is not a public body, it is committed to working in partnership with Llanelli Rural Council, Natural Resources Wales and Canoe Wales in the spirit of the legislation.

Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, said: “This is an excellent example of a scheme which increases opportunities for outdoor recreation and provides safe access to water for people of all abilities.  The development of these reservoirs will enable local people and visitors to gain more enjoyment from this beauty spot in line with covid19 guidelines and help to support a green recovery in Wales.  I hope the success of this project will encourage development of many more similar opportunities over the coming years.”

Welsh Water Chief Executive Peter Perry said, “Access to blue space is proven to be positively associated with health and wellbeing. Swiss Valley is an important asset for the local community and visitors alike. This funding is a major milestone in our efforts to bring this cherished community asset back to its former glory and make it more accessible, for the health and wellbeing of everyone.”

Jen Browning, Chief Executive of Canoe Wales, the national governing body for paddlesport in Wales, added, “Over the past eight months, we have seen an unprecedented amount of demand for canoeing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding, but the limited number of venues in Wales suitable for new paddlers has always been a major obstacle. This funding will ensure that Swiss Valley can play an enormously important role in making it possible for people of all abilities to enjoy the water, and for many to discover a passion for paddlesport and develop a deep connection with the outdoors.”

Dave MacCallum, Specialist Advisor for Water Access & Recreation at Natural Resources Wales and Chairman of NAFW Access to Water Sub-Group said: “We are delighted to have been a part of this important collaboration which will open up these new waters for responsible, inclusive recreation in South West Wales. NRW is committed to doing all we can to enable more people to enjoy Wales’ countryside more easily and responsibly – to take advantage of the many health and wellbeing benefits that getting outside can bring. Benefitting from bespoke disabled paddle-sport access facilities and a Biosecurity station promoting and enabling the Check Clean Dry initiative, the Swiss Valley reservoir project paves the way for future access to Welsh still waters so that current and future generations can continue to enjoy their visits to some of Wales’ most spectacular landscapes”

Llanelli Rural Council Leader, Cllr Tegwen Devichand said “the funding is marvellous news for the community and will enable the council to develop its plans for the reservoir in earnest. Much of the preliminary work associated with the first phase of infrastructure improvements can now get underway, in fact some work has commenced already. The physical adaptations to refurbish the toilet block, visitor car park and access to the water to facilitate paddle sports and the angling fraternity is scheduled to be completed by March 2021, but work won’t stop there. Moreover, the community response to our plans for the reservoir has been overwhelming; the council has received a great deal of local and regional support and a number of interest groups and individuals have come forward to help us deliver our plans as well as to offer their services. This is greatly appreciated and bodes well for the future.”

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Llanelli Yodel colleague celebrates 30-year anniversary

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Beverley Smith, a valued member of the Llanelli depot’s team, is celebrating her 30-year anniversary with UK independent parcel carrier, Yodel.

Beverley joined Yodel in 1990, when it was originally known as Home Shopping Network, as an Inbound Sorter and then moved onto a Customer Service Support role over 28 years ago. Beverly supports the Llanelli Management Team, provides customer service to clients and customers alike and is always on hand to answer any driver queries.

To celebrate her anniversary, Kay Dodd, Service Centre Manager, presented Beverley with £750 of Very vouchers and ordered in a cooked breakfast to celebrate.

Customer Service Support Advisor, Beverley Smith commented: “My time with Yodel has been very fulfilling – constantly challenging – keeping me on my toes. I’ve been with the company so long that I remember having to write with a pen and paper and have to fax documents to the head office daily – I can’t say I miss those days!

“I have made many close friends during the 30 years at the business and I truly have enjoyed the hard working and happy atmosphere at Llanelli every day.”

Kay Dodd, Depot Manager, added: “Bev is a valued member of my team here at Llanelli, she provides excellent customer service to customers, clients and colleagues. She has a courteous and caring attitude and goes beyond her duties to ensure everyone has a positive experience at Yodel Llanelli. Thank you for everything Bev!”

To join Beverley and the team at Yodel’s Llanelli depot, or to find out more about working for Yodel, and the roles and training available, visit www.yodelopportunities.co.uk or text ‘Deliver’ to 84433. 

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Preparatory works to start at key Stepney Street Building

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Preparatory works are due to start on a key building in Llanelli Town Centre ahead of formal planning approval.

Number 49 Stepney Street is being redeveloped as part of a significant investment in the town centre to transform, regenerate and connect its key retails and leisure areas.

Carmarthenshire County Council has submitted plans which could see the former YMCA building retain much of its character whilst providing high quality living space and commercial units

The works would include the restoration of the front façade of the building, along with the retention of the perimeter wall, main internal structural walls and bringing back many original features such as the ornate staircase.

Subject to planning approval the rest of the building would be redeveloped to include two floors of commercial space on the ground and first floors, with eight two-bedroomed living spaces on the upper floors.

There will also be residents parking spaces on the ground floor.

The works currently underway will prepare the building for redevelopment and include stripping and clearance of old materials.

Carmarthenshire County Council leader Cllr Emlyn Dole said: “Many generations of people from Llanelli will have special memories of using this fantastic building over the years and it is such a shame to see it lay empty and falling into disrepair – we’re proud to be leading on this scheme to breathe new life into it once again.”

The council has already spent £4.5million buying empty shop units from private ownership, renovating and bringing them back in to use at affordable rental levels – all of them currently occupied by independent businesses

A Local Development Order has been put in place to simplify the planning process for property owners and potential investors

This project is being procured via the South West Wales Regional Contractors Framework. Carmarthenshire County Council has appointed a regional contractor who will develop the project alongside local supply chains.

For further information on this framework, email TSSWWRCF@carmarthenshire.gov.uk

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