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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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Paul Davies MS quits as Leader of the Conservatives in the Senedd

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PAUL DAIVES MS quit as Leader of the Conservatives in the Senedd this morning.

The Conservatives’ Chief Whip also quit his frontbench role.

The dramatic move comes only 24 hours after Mr Davies got the Conservative Senedd Group’s unanimous backing.

However, later yesterday (Friday, Jan 21) – as criticism poured in – the Welsh Conservatives’ Executive met. In that meeting, Constituency Chairs reported widespread disbelief and anger among the Party’s members. Conservative Party Chair, Lord Davies of Gower, received particular criticism for a lack of leadership. Simon Hart, Secretary of State for Wales, also attended the meeting and was left in no doubt of the strength of feeling within the Party.

In a statement issued via the Conservative Senedd media office, Mr Davies said: “I am truly sorry for my actions on the 8th and 9th December. They have damaged the trust and respect that I have built up over 14 years in the Welsh Parliament with my colleagues and the wider Conservative Party but more importantly with the people of Wales.
“Whilst using the Senedd facilities at all times my colleagues and I maintained social distancing. There was no drunk or disorderly behaviour. We did not have to be escorted out of the building as some reports have suggested. What we did was to have some alcohol with a meal we heated up in a microwave, which was a couple of glasses of wine on Tuesday and a beer on Wednesday.
I broke no actual Covid-19 regulations.

“For the last 10 months of the pandemic, I have followed the Covid-19 regulations to the letter. As with everyone across Wales, I have not seen family members or friends, I’ve not eaten at my favourite restaurants and, like you, we enjoyed a subdued Christmas compared to other years. I will continue to follow the Welsh Government’s Covid-19 Regulations and I would urge everyone to play their part in defeating this virus so that we can all return to normality.

“My priority as Leader of the Welsh Conservative Group in the Welsh Parliament has always been to bring the Conservatives into government in Wales. Our main focus as the Welsh Conservatives must always be on challenging and removing a failing Labour government.

“I am grateful for the support of colleagues in the Welsh Conservative Party for their support in this difficult time, and especially to my wife Julie and my Senedd colleagues who have offered empathy, trust and advice. They have treated me with the same courtesy and decency I hope I have always extended to others.

“Over the last couple of days, I have been speaking with colleagues in the Senedd and the wider Conservative Party. Whilst they have confirmed they do not wish to see me step down, I believe that my actions are becoming a distraction from holding this failing Welsh Labour-led Government to account, not just on their rollout of the Covid-19 vaccines but from more than 20 years of their dither, delay and failure. Yesterday I indicated to the Conservative group in the Welsh Parliament that I wished to resign, but they urged me to reflect further, and we agreed to meet again on Monday. However, for the sake of my party, my health and my own conscience, I simply cannot continue in post.

“Therefore, I am stepping down as Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Welsh Parliament with immediate effect.”

“It is for the group to decide how best to choose a new leader, but I hope that process will be seamless and speedy, and I pledge my support to whoever becomes leader.”

Darren Millar blamed ‘wildly inaccurate and unfair reports’ and said:

“There was a member of catering staff present in the tea room for a short time after my arrival on the 8th December but she did not serve me a drink, nor did I request one. In fact, I encouraged the member of staff to go home and close up the counter as it had been a long day for her. No members of catering staff were present on the 9th December and the counter was closed for the whole evening.

“While I am advised that I did not breach coronavirus regulations I am very sorry for my actions, especially given the impact of the tough restrictions that people and businesses are enduring.

“For this reason, and given that Paul Davies has resigned as Welsh Conservative Group Leader in the Senedd, I have decided to step down from my front bench role in the Welsh Parliament.

“I am cooperating fully with ongoing investigations and will continue to do so.”
Whoever replaces Paul Davies, the role is likely to an interim appointment ahead of a vote of the Party membership after the Senedd election.

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Conservatives in disarray over alleged Christmas party lockdown breach

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

Lockdown restrictions prohibit mixing with people outside your own household.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those involved stressed they did not host a Christmas Party.

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

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

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

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

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

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Family tribute to Carole Patricia Fowler

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Carole was a teacher for 30 years at St Mary’s Catholic Primary School, Llanelli. She loved children and they loved her. 

As one of her past colleagues said: “I know she made such a difference to every child she taught.” She was very popular with staff and well respected and loved by parents. She was dedicated and conscientious, always 100% for the children. She led the music there and was always popular with her guitar accompaniments for services and concerts. 

Likewise, she was a valued member of the choir at Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church, Gendros, Swansea, where she would often accompany hymns with her guitar and gave guitar lessons to the children in the church’s Saturday Music Club. She was also a keen member of Côr Persain, Ammanford. 

She was talented, loved and in demand. A convicted and devout Catholic all her life, through good and bad.

Carole was an avid and very gifted crocheter and was always crocheting or knitting something for someone. She had been spending her time recently, during the Covid crisis, crocheting NHS teddies in scrubs and rainbows, with many given to practising nurses. Carole had recently started learning to make bobbin lace. She was also capable of some very decent sewing, too. 

She was also learning Welsh, doing ‘pilates’ and was considering taking up yoga lessons as well.

She was a busy lady! As one of her work colleagues said of her: “She was wise, strong, beautiful, generous, devout and feisty. And I loved her for all those qualities.”

Above all, she was an immeasurably loved Mam, daughter, sister and a doting Mamgu and so much loved by her fiancé. Having been together for 14 years, they would have been married last July 20th had covid allowed! 

Her premature passing at 61 is tragic and she is already sorely, painfully missed. She leaves behind a huge chasm in so many hearts that cannot be filled.

“Eternal rest grant unto her, o Lord, may perpetual light shine about her, may she rest in peace.”

If anyone witnessed the collision or may have been travelling on the M4 at the relevant time, please contact the Serious Collision Unit quoting police reference DPP-20210113-317

Police can be contacted either online at: bit.ly/DPPContactOnline, by emailing 101@dyfed-powys.pnn.police.uk, or by calling 101. If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908.

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