Jacob Williams
Wednesday 23rd January, 2019

Questionable antics

Questionable antics

The depths to which some elements at County Hall will stoop to avoid admitting mistakes and culpability are well documented.

Many episodes have taken on legendary status, like the Pembroke Dock grant scheme fraud which, despite the determined whitewashing attempts of Pembrokeshire County Council’s finest, will soon mark an extraordinary milestone: five years in police hands – without any arrests or charges to date.

In the following post we get to see one of the best pictures yet – from inside the system – of PCC’s damage-limitation exercises.

Readers may recall the saga, previously covered on this blog, involving David Edwards – a citizen who had tabled a public question to PCC’s July 2018 full council meeting.

He was querying the fairness of the council’s rules requiring public questioners, like him, to attend the meeting or see their question binned.

He felt this disadvantaged those who were unable to get to County Hall.

The answer given to Mr. Edwards by council leader Cllr. David Simpson, drafted by the authority’s head of legal and committee services Claire Incledon, said Mr. Edwards’ question was wrong – because there was no such requirement.

As someone who had submitted more public questions than any other, Mr. Edwards knew this rule not only existed, but was enforced with military precision – as he would have to produce his driving license to identify himself at every meeting he had tabled a question to.

Following the meeting, when Mr. Edwards took up his dispute, Mrs. Incledon and co could have admitted they got it wrong.

They should have – but instead embarked on a spectacular exercise which included rejecting Mr. Edwards’ efforts to set the record straight and frustrating my attempts to scrutinise the topic.

The cover-up also included crafty changes made quietly behind the scenes to the council’s rules and guidance for the submission of public questions.

They made sure that the rules were modified, without any fanfare, to accord with the duff answer given to Mr. Edwards’ question at full council!

Thanks to my efforts this saga is on the agenda of tomorrow morning’s corporate overview and scrutiny committee meeting.

Even more fortunately, we are now in a position to see exactly what went on behind the scenes.

In early December I revealed how PCC’s legal chief called Mr. Edwards “a plonker” in a secret email to fellow officers including monitoring officer Claire Jones.

Mr. Edwards wanted to see what other emails might be lurking in the system, so he obtained them under FoI legislation and has shared them with JW.

I present the highlights, below, in chronological order. Many names were redacted by the council – but most refer to Mr. Edwards.

You’re not going to read this in five minutes. It’s an in-depth post spanning dozens of emails between July and November 2018.

Tomorrow morning’s meeting (24th January) of PCC’s corporate overview and scrutiny committee, where this topic is on the agenda, will be webcasted live from 10am and subsequently available for archive viewing at this link.

The meeting’s agenda also includes scrutiny of the debacle over the council’s decision to report Dyfed-Powys Police to the police watchdog for its inaction in the Pembroke Dock grant fraud investigation. At my insistence the committee resolved to legally require the presence of chief executive Ian Westley. He will surely be probed by councillors on the saga which saw five weeks of inaction before the formal complaint was sent, the response kept secret from councillors for such a long time that the appeal window had passed, and other interesting elements which reflect very badly on the running of PCC.

In the next few days or weeks I will post my thoughts on the December full council meeting’s overwhelming decision in support of my proposal to release the secret set of external legal advice on the Boswell affair, and the contents of the documents councillors voted to unveil.

Plonkergate: the back-story

We start on 27th July 2018, the date of the meeting at which Cllr. David Simpson reads the drafted answer – which stated that there was no requirement for public questioners to attend meetings so nobody was being disadvantaged.

To get up to speed with developments before this point, read my previous post.

Two days after the meeting Cllr. Simpson was challenged over this claim by Mr. Edwards, who said:

“I could not believe my ears at your reply!”

“…the information you were given was untrue, is at odds with 1) the guidance note on the Council’s website, 2) the instructions given in the acknowledgement emails sent to questioners and 3) the actions of Council Chairmen.”

He presented Cllr. Simpson irrefutable evidence of the attendance requirement being enforced against public questioners.

At this point Cllr. Simpson must have realised this was a problem. He forwards it to Mrs. Incledon, copying in chief executive Ian Westley.

He also reveals that, like Mr. Edwards, he had found Mrs. Incledon’s draft answer “confusing and difficult to comprehend,” ending his email with the fantastically ironic appeal: “Can I have an answer please?”

The chief ‘gets it’

Even though you may soon interpret evidence to the contrary, it is clear that Mr. Westley, at this point at least, admits to understanding the issue Mr. Edwards is complaining about.

That Mr. Edwards isn’t complaining about any disparity between what is set out in the council’s constitution and the written guidance – or whether either matched what councillors intended – but that Cllr. Simpson’s answer at full council did not reflect the truthful premise of Mr. Edwards’ question.

Mr. Westley then forwards Mrs. Incledon a copy of an email committee staff sent out to Mr. Edwards before the July meeting, which contains the unambiguous and immortal line:

“Please ensure you are present at the meeting and make yourself known to one of my team prior to the start of the meeting.”

Mr. Westley also succinctly points out to Mrs. Incledon the crux of Mr. Edwards’ complaint:

“He [David Edwards] is now pointing out to the Leader that this is in conflict with the answer given.”

Bingo!

Not budging or putting her hands up, Mrs. Incledon replies: “I can only repeat the advice I gave at pre-briefing” and that it is “important to refer back to the wording set out in the constitution” in which there is “nothing…requiring that members of the public turn up on the actual day of the Council meeting or remain in the Chamber for their question to be answered,” and her view that questioners are actually only required to “attend and confirm their identity prior to the meeting, and this can occur at any time prior to the meeting commencing.”

She ends:

“The confusion arises as the guidance on the web site and as set out by committee services in their emails gives a much narrower interpretation, and this needs to be revised.”

Engaging the content of the constitution is an early attempt to cloud the issue, wholly irrelevant to answering Mr. Edwards’ July question.

He was questioning the rules that applied and which were enforced, not what was contained in the constitution – a point, which I’ve previously noted, the chief executive had already grasped.

At this point Mr. Westley and/or Cllr. Simpson should have objected to any attempt to obfuscate the issue with all this constitution talk.

Unfortunately it would seem that nothing happened at all for months – which takes us to the next milestone event.

Leading question

Having got absolutely nowhere, Mr. Edwards decided he’d try to correct the public record himself by submitting a brand new question to the October council meeting.

His new question was:

“In answer to my question at the July Council meeting the Leader, relying on a brief provided by the Legal Department and confirmed by the Monitoring Officer, informed the meeting that as Questioners did not have to attend the meeting or produce identification on the day, but could do so when submitting their question, no one was at any disadvantage.

Will he now confirm that the information he was given by the Legal Department and the Monitoring Officer was wrong and that the Council website and the Committe Clerk’s confirmatory email to Questioners stating “You must attend the meeting and bring identification with you” is correct.

Therefore, will he revisit the question and in future when receiving advice from the Legal Department and/or the Monitoring Officer seek a second opinion? I believe that a Mr Goudie QC offers Pembrokeshire County Council favourable rates.”

The internal emails show that Mrs. Incledon reacted promptly to this submission, with her view that it “exceeded the maximum of two permitted questions” – having counted four!

Mr. Edwards was asked if he wanted to re-draft his submission to “a maximum of 2 questions.”

He did, and changed the end of his question to:

“Clearly, the information given by the Legal Department and confirmed by the Monitoring Officer was a load of old cobblers and should be ignored. Would he [the leader] consider that, in future, when provided with a brief from either of these two obviously unreliable sources he should seek a second opinion? I believe that a Mr J Goudie QC comes highly recommended.”

But it was to no avail.

It should be pointed out that the person PCC’s constitution entrusts to reject or accept councillors’ and public questions is its chairman, then as now, Cllr. Aden Brinn – but you’d never get that impression from the personal thoughts Mrs. Incledon noted down in this internal memo:

“I would like to reject this question using the ordinary meaning of defamatory (it is rather insulting) or even vexatious, albeit it would not meet the legal tests of defamatory and is probably outside our vexatious policy guidelines. However I think it probably safer to rely on the reasons that is substantially the same as a question that has been submitted in the past 6 months – can you dig out the previous question please ?”

There was, patently, no way Mrs. Incledon was inclined to ‘allow’ this question anywhere near a public agenda, so a brand new basis for rejection was called for.

This was the creative claim that it breached the rule designed to prevent the same question being resubmitted within six months – despite having not cited this ground days beforehand when rejecting Mr. Edwards’ earlier draft of practically the same question!

You’ve got to give them credit for thinking outside the box, at least.

Mr. Edwards didn’t!

He wrote back challenging the grounds, saying:

“I have looked at the constitution and I disagree with the logic behind the Chairman’s refusal to accept my question. My question in July was about the requirement of questioners to attend the meeting, my question this time is about the incompetence of the Legal Department and the Monitoring Officer in providing the Leader with an incorrect Briefing Note. Therefore, I do not believe that the six month rule invoked in the refusal is appropriate. Can you please convey my appeal to the Chairman for reconsideration.”

Mr. Edwards had an email back from committee services saying: “I have brought your email to the attention of the Chairman this morning” who “has considered your request and he has confirmed to me that he is content that his decision in this regard is correct.”

“He considers that the question is substantially the same as a question which was submitted at last Council, and he advises that he is not minded to put before Council offensive comments about chief officers.”

There appears to be no provision in the constitution for a chairman to refuse questions he doesn’t like – which is a ground Cllr. Brinn nonetheless cited.

Mr. Edwards requested correspondence between Mrs. Incledon and Cllr. Brinn, which he has been told exists but is being withheld due to ‘legal privilege.’

The scrutiny saga

I was kept abreast of these developments by Mr. Edwards, whose efforts to set the record straight – and to expose the craftiness that had gone on here – had made no progress.

It wasn’t only Mr. Edwards’ persistence I admired, but the knowledge that he was totally in the right in every aspect of this.

Furthermore he wasn’t trying to catch anybody out with his July question – it was a straight question which deserved a straight answer, not a clever clogs response.

And as the councillor who first proposed a public question time provision, I felt I would be doing him a disservice if I let them get away with it. So I took the matter up for him.

As a member of the authority’s corporate overview and scrutiny committee, I set out the timeline of events and requested that this topic – the provision of the duff answer drafted for Cllr. Simpson and the way Mr. Edwards had been rebuffed – be scrutinised at the committee.

I sent my request to Mrs. Incledon in her capacity as chief legal officer, and Cllr. Brian Hall, the committee’s chair.

I can now see among this haul of internal emails that Mrs. Incledon’s first action following my 31st October agenda item submission was to check with committee services: “did you make the amendments to the website/ correspondence as we discussed?”

These were the changes made to the public question rules on September 13th, to match the duff answer given to Mr. Edwards’ July question.

The reply, minutes later, was:

“Yes, Claire I did, here’s the link: https://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/councillors-and-committees/public-questions-at-full-council-guidance-notes”

This is where things ramp up.

I have previously recounted on my blog Mrs. Incledon’s ethically questionable involvement in Cllr. Hall’s consideration of my request to scrutinise this matter.

Minutes after the last email, Mrs. Incledon emailed the leader and chief executive.

This part of that email is gold:

“…in regard to cllr William’s [sic.] request I would suggest that presenting this matter as an item for scrutiny is not a good use of Committee time, and undermines the role and credibility of scrutiny, and I do question whether it falls within the functions of this Committee. Advice and answers to this issue have been provided, so it appears to me this is being used as another way of attacking legal advice/ my (and Legal’s) integrity.”

Not only is the use of a committee’s time, or a request by a councillor to use a committee’s time in a particular way no business of any officer, but this was a matter in which Mrs. Incledon had such a prejudicial interest she was by any reputable code of conduct, by any measure, incapable of approaching this matter in an impartial manner in the eyes of the man on the street.

Those are the standards expected of councillors, and it’s no different for officers.

Cllr. Simpson re-entered the fray, putting it quite succinctly to the council’s legal chief that “We have legal giving one version [of the public question rules] and Committee Services giving another” and that “It is very confusing to say the least. I remember the confusion at the pre Council meeting.”

Cllr. Simpson may have found the draft answer he was provided confusing, but he did nonetheless read it out at council and still has some explaining to do.

Not budging an inch, or prepared to accept that the answer she had drafted for Cllr. Simpson was for a different question to that which had been asked by Mr. Edwards, Mrs. Incledon’s reply to Mr. Westley and Simpson maintains:

“From my perspective clear advice was given, and necessary steps were taken to ensure the website guidance (& subsequent correspondence) reflected that advice causing no deleterious effect on the proper administration of Council meetings, or the ability of a member of the public to submit a question.

I now await instruction as to whether politically there is support for Cllr Williams’ request or whether a conversation at the right level would secure the withdrawal of this request. I remain content that the advice was clear, the guidance is appropriate, and that time would be better spent dealing with matters that do merit scrutiny.”

It can be dangerous to ‘think out loud’ at County Hall, even more so to commit an errant brainchild to a more permanent form like email.

I’ve come across some classics over the years, but openly contemplating the idea that I could be talked out of abandoning my quest for scrutiny is a hall of famer!

You will notice the balance, here, has also shifted away from Mr. Edwards and toward derailing me and my attempts to bring this for committee scrutiny.

Chief cook and bottle washer

Chief executive Ian Westley now re-enters the scene, with sleeves rolled up and filthy hands.

Having partaken in a bit of scheming himself, Mr. Westley posts the following update to Mrs. Incledon:

“Claire, I have spoken with the Leader in person this morning after my return to the office. I think it would be useful to arrange to meet with [name redacted – probably David Edwards] (I will attend with you should you wish to talk through the advice given and the subsequent amendment to the website. If acceptance from [name redacted – probably David Edwards] is achieved, then it would be worth a debate with [name redacted – don’t know who, possibly me or Cllr. Brian Hall]. Based on my discussion with the Leader, I don’t believe there is political support for this item to be a matter of business for Scrutiny. He would prefer to see an explanation delivered to [name redacted – probably David Edwards.]”

Since his appointment as chief executive Mr. Westley has openly struggled to convince some councillors and elements of the Pembrokeshire populace that he’s committed to due process and fair play.

Getting down and dirty in affairs that don’t concern him – as part of a saga which involves frustrating the public and councillors – will do little to convince the doubters that Mr. Westley is not just as controlling as his disgraced predecessor, Bryn Parry-Jones.

That this most senior officer of a public body with a near quarter-billion pound budget would personally engage in this sort of political dirty work is not an edifying spectacle – though he would never have dreamt that his efforts would be publicly revealed.

Having passed on the opportunity to say enough was enough earlier on, it might reasonably suggest that the CEO had made it his priority to play an active part in containing the storm that was brewing.

If I was the only councillor in Great Britain who wanted to scrutinise this matter, it’s got nothing to do with the chief executive or any other unelected bureaucrat beneath him.

Whatever his cosy chats revealed, whether he was pleased or displeased with what he heard, none of it has any bearing on whether it was a matter worthy of committee scrutiny.

And I thought even Mr. Westley had better judgment than to dream that I might bow to a lack of ‘political support’ and throw the towel in!

Mr. Westley’s revelation – that his little exercise (in which he failed to consult me!) had gauged little political support for my scrutiny referral – must have come as music to Mrs. Incledon’s ears.

She replies with:

“I am quite happy to arrange a meeting with [name redacted, probably David Edwards] but the immediate issue is whether the Chairman [Cllr. Brian Hall] is going to accept this matter onto the Corp O+S agenda. I have not had a conversation with cllr B Hall, if he agrees to refuse the matter Cllr J Williams has a right of appeal to you/ me. Has the Leader or yourself spoken with cllr B Hall?”

That Mrs. Incledon was seeking Cllr. Hall’s agreement to refuse this item on his committee’s agenda is hardly suggestive of her expected level of impartiality.

Late that evening Mr. Westley came back with:

“I’ve just spoken with Brian Hall and he’s meeting with Claire George [scrutiny committee support officer] to discuss this tomorrow. In any event, I think it would be a good idea to meet with [name redacted – probably David Edwards.]”

Following his meeting with Ms. George I learned of Cllr. Brian Hall’s decision – based on spurious grounds – to refuse my request to put it on his agenda.

In fact Bri even had Ms. George convey this decision to me!

Mr. Edwards requested all correspondence between Mrs. Incledon and Cllr. Hall on this matter, but nothing was provided.

Cllr. Hall is a self-proclaimed technophobe, his communication with officers takes place in person or over the telephone, those forms of communication well known for being untraceable and unrecorded.

However Cllr. Hall has confirmed to me that Mrs. Incledon did advise him in coming to his decision to refuse my request. We may never know what was said – but we can make a pretty good guess.

But Brian’s decision wasn’t the end of the matter – I got it onto his committee’s agenda in spite of his refusal.

On the agenda

When I proposed it at our last meeting in November there was no opposition and indeed cross-party support for my proposal to put it onto tomorrow morning’s agenda – a development which must have come as a bombshell to the barometer-in-chief of ‘political support,’ Ian Westley.

Tomorrow’s meeting report has been drafted by monitoring officer Claire Jones – but probably would have been by Mrs Incledon, had I not pointed out that even the chief executive agreed with me that this was a matter she should recuse herself from.

Readers will not be surprised that Ms. Jones’ report goes beyond echoing Mrs. Incledon’s stance, saying that: “the essence of Mr Edwards’ concern (a potential disadvantage to members of the public who were unable to attend Council on the day) did not exist in reality.”

It’s simply the stuff of fantasy.

This is not only an obviously factually incorrect claim, but the evidence – of the absolute ‘reality’ that every public questioner to that point in time had been required to attend the public gallery – has never been disputed, not even by Mrs. Incledon, whose ‘argument’ was that it wasn’t a constitutional requirement, which is a distinct and equally misguided excuse for municipal sloppiness.

It was in later emails that Mrs. Incledon called Mr. Edwards “a plonker,” when he persisted in questioning the council’s clandestine changes to its rules to reflect the duff answer that had been drafted to his July question.

In the same email she also said: “I do wonder if we provide a full response to this whether it will take the heat out of the Corp O+S referral from cllr JW.”

Although it was never intended for his consumption, this was accidentally sent to Mr. Edwards.

Festive spirits

What he can now see in the rest of the emails that were being fired around is that PCC’s monitoring officer, Claire Jones, wondered aloud if they may try to completely turn the tables on Mr. Edwards by suggesting that they welcomed his interest in this topic as it resulted in positive changes to the rules:

If we’re full of Christmas goodwill, we could credit him [David Edwards] with highlighting the fact that the Constitution was more user-friendly than we’d credited it for?!!

Claire Incledon admitted that she’d had similar thoughts of her own, but that she “decided not to go there!”

However she did say that she would be “happy to add something in if we think it would be received in the right way.”

There could be multiple interpretations of what “received in the right way” means, but the two obvious ones are: “we don’t want to make it look like we’re admitting that David Edwards was right” or perhaps it was “we don’t want to risk insulting this plonker any further.”

Whatever was meant, they obviously decided against conveying their festive thanks to Mr. Edwards.

There’s a hint which may explain this decision in an email dated 28th November, in which Mrs. Incledon shows signs of beginning to grasp Mr. Edwards’ point all along.

This is her email to Mr. Westley, in which she says:

“Ian, Behind the scenes [David Edwards] continues to correspond on the issue of members of the public attending pre-Council to identify themselves further to submitting a question to Council. I have had input in the latest response. In relation to the issues Cllr J Williams has raised at Corporate O+S this continued correspondence is of interest. I am assuming the point they wish to make is that at the time the Leader gave the answer the guidance (& Sue’s emails to the public) did not reflect this advice.”

The final emails in the bundle concern Mr. Edwards’ correspondence with committee services on how such big changes to the rules governing public participation were slipped in on the sly like this.

Mr. Edwards asks:

“This is a fundamental change in the rules. Why was no public announcement made about this?”

He was told by committee services:

This is not a fundamental change, it is a case that the Constitution was more user-friendly than we had initially interpreted following your highlighting of the matter.

Behind the scenes, Mrs. Incledon committed her opinions to email:

“He is just being facetious – I wonder if this will have any effect on cllr JW’s Corp O+S request !”

And in a separate email to Mr. Westley, she shares Mr. Edwards’ ongoing ‘facetious’ correspondence along with her own note:

Ian – FYI. More correspondence from [David Edwards.]

I do think this deals with the points that Cllr JW challenges us on. Happy to go through this prior to Corporate O+S next Jan. Claire

Ian’s full reply?

“That would be useful.”

Indeed I hope this meeting, if it was held, was useful – and I hope Mr. Westley went into it having wound back his clock to the time when he understood the issue at hand.

We should find out tomorrow which way they intend to play it.


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17 Comments...

  • Weasel Magoo

    Oops!
    Poor the Claires.
    Poor Ian Westley.
    Poor show!

  • Tomos

    Has the Chief Executive been given a Porsche as a company car yet?

    After all we do have a sense of déjà-vu (again and again with PCC).

  • Dave Edwards

    Jacob, this is a forensic, full, fair and factual account of the attempt by the legal department to avoid saying: “We got it wrong”.

    I will be at the meeting tomorrow, more in hope than in anger. Hoping, that is, that the Legal Department can convince me that they are, at last, willing to embrace the notion that serving the public is more important than some self serving smart legalistic head of a pin dancing.

  • Hayley

    Well written and well done Jacob!

  • Flashbang

    The taxpayers of the county are paying for these clowns yet have no way to get rid of them.

    Why haven’t the councillors of PCC booted them out of their jobs and on to the scrapheap, the clean up should have happened years ago.

  • David Williams

    Instead of admitting they got it wrong, apologising and putting right straight away it is now drawn out, wasting time of all involved for something that could have been dealt with immediately.

  • Wynne

    Just viewed webcast. Well done Jacob. Good example of an elected member’s role: to hold officers to account.

    We need to avoid returning to the bad old days when Bryn Parry-Jones was CEO when officers, not elected members, were in control. Keep up the good work.

  • Keanjo

    Will there be a CLEXIT?

  • Malcolm Calver

    You can only be commended for your questioning of Mr Westley at the meeting yesterday.

    Cllr Brian Hall, who is supposed to show neutrality in the debate did his very best to frustrate and undermine your effort.

    I can understand this from a councillor who was a fervent supporter of the previous CEO who he always addressed as “his chief”, I think perhaps it goes back to his childhood days playing cowboys and Indians.

    Cllr Hall seems to have the same “good working” better known as “cosy” relationship with Mr Westley which will be detrimental to residents of Pembrokeshire.

    I fail to understand the intervention of Cllr Michael Williams who seemed to undermine your questioning for some reason.

  • Michael Hart

    Jacob, Dave Edwards deserved to be treated with respect, it is appalling the way he was treated.

    Do senior officers actually read a code of conduct and realise it applies to them?

    Treatment of Information
    10. Openness in the dissemination of information and decision making should be the norm in relevant authorities.

    Relations with members, the public and other employees
    4. Mutual respect between qualifying employees and members is essential to good local government, and working relationships should be kept on a professional basis.

    5. Qualifying employees of relevant authorities should deal with the public, members and other employees sympathetically, efficiently, and without bias.

    They knew they had made a mistake yet they still continued to try and cover it up and mislead us whilst at the same time treating a member of the public with disrespect.

    Whilst I have to say this seems to have bypassed some officers, most committee chairs do have a good/reasonable grasp of the concept however it is difficult to see what the IPG had in mind when they appointed the chair to the Corporate O+S committee.

  • Dave Edwards

    Mike Hart, it would seem a simple matter for PCC to provide training for those councillors who are charged with chairing committees, but their performance leads me to believe otherwise.

    A number of people have commented on the palpable, overt antipathy that Cllr Hall, the chair of last week’s committee, showed during the item about my treatment by the legal department.

    That Cllr Hall and I have history is something that most people might have forgotten or not known. It concerns a company, Bridges Ltd of which I was a non-salaried chairman, that was declared insolvent on a petition by HMRC over VAT liabilities of £5,900.

    The company rented an office in Pembroke Dock from the council and at its dissolution owed PCC, an unsecured creditor, the quarterly rent of around £1,300.

    As I was at the time the opposition leader on the council, Cllr Hall, in his role as the IPG/Bryn’s rottweiler saw an opportunity to darken my name, and that of the Labour Party, as much as he could.

    Using his position as a director of EMF Services Ltd, certified bailiffs, he obtained my credit card details and offered them to journalists around the county – though why my buying petrol at a motorway services near Blackpool on my way home from a Labour Party conference would be of interest escapes me.

    Unfortunately for him, not all journos are happy to use illegal methods to obtain a story and a recording of his offer is available should he wish to deny it (see Old Grumpy 18 February 2003).

  • Pembs. Exile

    What an eye opener – into the management of Pembrokeshire County Council and indeed the Dyfed-Powys Police Force.

    The first thing that struck me was the seeming indifference of some of the members to the proceedings of the committee.

    First of all congratulations to both you and Old Grumpy for your part in bringing the two episodes into the public domain. Your detailed research into the background and your valiant attempts to keep the issues in clear focus were appreciated.

    It was perhaps disappointing that more members did not involve themselves in the debate in what needs to be done to avoid such unseemly episodes.

    The chief exec accepted responsibilities and apologised for the fact that it took five weeks to execute a resolution of the council and spoke of the shortcomings of departments and the need for work to be done in departmental co-operation and disseminating information.

    Knowing the complexity of the issue one would have anticipated that the chief exec would have taken the simple management protocol of appointing a ‘lead officer’ to co-ordinate and execute the wishes of the Council.

    It was, in the debate, accepted that there was a divergence of opinion on the connotation of the use of the word “cosy”.

    I would however have liked the chief executive, in the interest of open local government, to have clarified why on this occasion the letter was signed by the chairman rather than the chief executive of the council and to have made clear the circumstances which led to this decision being made.

    In which other circumstances in the past has such a decision been taken?

    Whilst a “good working relationship” with any outside organisation is always an asset I am not convinced that the “good working relationship” which exists in this instance has been of any value to the Pembrokeshire County Council in resolving this issue.

    I draw a distinction between the “working relationship” and the “professional relation” which must exist between organisations.

    In making a formal complaint the council, I believe, was correct in making a formal complaint in writing (the professional relationship approach) as opposed to following the offer that the chief executive use the protocol of the “good working relationship”.

    The fact that the letter of complaint to the Chief Constable was signed by the chairman rather than the chief executive is of no consequence, but, the subsequent events of that decision, I believe need further explanation/clarification:

    Who drafted/assisted the chairman in drafting the original?

    To whom was that letter eventually addressed?

    Was the letter when signed sent my postal service/email/text?

    Was the response addressed to the chairman?

    Was the response signed by the person to whom it was addressed?

    Who was it that received the response?

    Who handed the response to the chairman?

    Did any other persons know of the existence of this email prior to it being handed to the chairman?

    Did any officer proffer any comment/advice to the chairman on the contents before he placed it in his brief case?

    During the whole of the proceedings we were never told whose ‘inbox’ was the recipient of the email of the 10th May, we were left in the dark about who knew about the existence of the email and we were faced with the coincidence of the recipient of the email placing it in his/her inbox and then completely forgetting that it had been received (in the words of the chief executive an oversight).

    An oversight on the part of a junior officer could I feel be forgiven. I would however be more unforgiving if the oversight was by a more senior officer – I would regard that as incompetence/dereliction of duty.

    When such an important letter was placed in the hands of the chairman of the council I would have expected him to have received some advice as to what his next step should be. In most meetings of county councils there exist places for chairman’s announcements.

    The chief executive spoke on some three occasions as to how, in his view, simple protocol changes were needed to avoid any repetition of these events.

    He very clearly issued an invitation for the members of the council to be involved in discussions on future protocols.

    One wonders why these supposedly simple protocols were not already in place. The chief executive did not in his exposition portray an organisation which was at ease with itself:

    The failure of departments to adequately co-operate/communicate with each other.

    The failure to act in a timely manner.

    The need to improve protocols to make clear the expectations of the council.

    The failure to disseminate information to members.

    The chairman rushing around on the morning of full council having a vitally important letter pushed into his hand with, it appears, no professional advice being offered as to its contents or action needed.

    The very strange situation of the audit committee chairman then preparing or writing a letter when the administration were aware that a final response had been received.

    Will the council dare take up the chief exec’s personal view that in the ‘exceptional circumstances’ surrounding this case an appeal might still be possible?

    Applying the simple test: “If the boot was on the other foot would Pembs County Council entertain an appeal given the identifiable special circumstances of this case?”

    In referring the matter back to the audit committee I believe that the chairman was remiss in not reading in full the resolution of the committee.

    The chief executive had invited members to become involved in a review of the protocol in dealing with resolutions of the council, a management issue I know, but an offer for members input.

    An opportunity missed?

    I am left wondering what is the value of a scrutiny committee? Does it not have a brief to offer, after scrutiny, some positive suggestions?

    Listening to the debate on questions from the public I came to the conclusion that some of the members debating the issue were hearing and believing what it was that they wanted to hear and believe.

    The facts were: that on the day in question a member of the public was instructed by officers of the council in writing to attend in person at a particular time on the day of the meeting with ID so that his question could be asked.

    It was subsequently found that the notes of guidance were in conflict with the council’s constitution. I am surprised that the guardians of council practice needed a member of the public to make them aware of such an existing discrepancy between rules and the guidelines.

    How long has this situation prevailed? Had any investigation been instigated to make sure that no other discrepancies exist?

    A motion was moved seconded and carried that a member of the public present in the chamber be given the opportunity to address the members.

    I was not in doubt that the mover and seconder were looking for the member of the public to come forward when so invited.

    Why then did the chairman take it upon himself to interpret the motion as being an invitation to attend a future meeting?

    I expected the chairman to invite the person present in the chamber, to address, if he so wished, the committee.

    Comedy writers of the 60s could not have written a better comedy script for what followed. In the end common sense prevailed.

    I congratulate the member of the public for stating his case with such clarity. One of the most disturbing facts which emerged from his presentation was the fact that on a previous occasion he had accepted an invitation to meet with the monitoring officer, the chief executive and then found that the head of legal services also present taking notes of the proceedings.

    He stated that during the proceedings, presumably called to clear the air, a book containing comments which he had made, some of it on your site, was produced and he was asked “to explain what exactly he meant by all this?”

    I think the words that he used were “a forensic investigation of what I had said”.

    I would have hoped that in such circumstance and in the interest “fair play” having been seen to be done, the member outnumbered 3 to 1 should have been given the opportunity to have been accompanied by a friend.

    I hope that at the end of that particular day he was given a copy of the minutes taken by the “legal officer’.

    I was pleased to hear that he had received an apology from the officer concerned for the disparaging remarks which had gone public.

    Strange how clearing up one issue always seem to result in another issue appearing.

    Do all of us, who have the audacity to follow and comment on your site, have files in the “Kremlin” vault? If so is this a breach of the Data Protection Act?

    The chief executive was clear the administration must learn from mistakes of the past, look forwards not backwards.

    I suggest the council must do likewise, it must hold the administration to account.

    It should, if it has not done so, put in place a more robust form of appraisal by the council of all senior officers’ performance and must hold senior officers accountable for the appraisal of middle and junior management.

    I would suggest that long term contracts be replaced by performance appraisal, renewable short term contracts of perhaps ten years. Achievable targets would need to be set and reviewed.

    In any organisation respect must be earned. I am of the generation where senior officers respected members and members respected senior officers. I cringe when I hear senior officers in a public meeting address councillors by their Christian names. It does nothing to enhance public opinion. What occurs in private/in less formal circumstances is entirely different.

    Pembrokeshire County Council should say and “enough is enough: we the elected members are responsible to the public for the governance of this county”.

  • Keanjo

    For goodness sake, this involved a complaint from the County Council to the Chief Constable expressing concern that the police investigation into the Pembroke Dock grants scandal.

    It is clear to me and, I suspect, to many others that the letter should have been sent over the Chief Executive’s signature directly to the Chief Constable after consultation with the Leader of the Council and progress of such an important and sensitive matter should have been closely monitored by the Chief Executive.

    JW made his views clear on this but it did not seem to register with the Chief Executive.

    In future perhaps members should be more explicit in their instructions.

    On another subject, Dave Edwards should be congratulated on a very able and dignified speech after being insulted by a very senior officer of the authority.

  • Pembs. Exile

    Re your 1st para Keanjo, not so clear as you suggest:

    I believe I heard the chief exec, as a fact not an excuse, claim that part of the delay resulted from having to ascertain the correct person to whom the complaint should be addressed.

    The simple assumption, in your second paragraph, would appear to most people to have been the obvious answer, but not it appears, to those charged with the responsibility.

  • Bryn's Boy

    Pembs. Exile asks a number of pertinent questions which perhaps Jacob could answer. If those questions get answered, either on this website or in the chamber, it would go a long way to satisfying the curiosity, ultimately however we need to have an answer in the grants investigation.

    The longer it goes on the more ‘high profile officers’ will be closer to a golden handshake and likewise the CPS needs to have a review.

    Nearly a 23% increase in council tax between the police and council awaits, the paying public being hoodwinked in the grants investigation. It’s now more than a scandal and it’s about time the truth came out and those accountable were identified.

  • Michael Hart

    Jacob thank you for asking the questions many councillors seem afraid to ask.

    Let’s get this right then, the head of paid service has failed to organise his corporate functions effectively and they were unable send and receive two relatively simple letters to from the police and police watchdog.

    He “investigates” and decides he needs a protocol to help him make such decisions OK.

    Then suggests “lessons will be learnt”, “Recognise there are far fewer officers in every department and workload is increasing.”

    How on earth can you blame workload. It is either a total lack of control or you or someone close to you is controlling the situation for a different outcome.

    If a person cannot, without fear of repercussions, tell those in charge they have a problem and ask for guidance on priorities then the problem lies at the top. If those in the top layers organise matters so that issues where blame/reputation are at stake are buried then this is the result you can expect.

    In not dealing with such issues you end up with your workforce avoiding issues and taking forever to deal with them. Somewhere in that top layer some people are likely to have an alternative agenda. It should not take at least 9 months and still not know what really happened. Especially when £300,000 of tax payers money is at stake here.

    If it was an isolated incident you might find someone gullible enough to believe you. But then you only have to look to what happened to Dave Edwards. It should not take 6 months to deal with a very very simple question and an “accidentally” misleading answer.

    The original positive intent to provide a better service has been subverted. The fact a committee chairman was apparently pressed to avoid the matter being scrutinised and then tried to disrupt scrutiny of the matter only proves the point.

    The only reason I can see for spending time and money writing that enormous number of emails and having meetings with officers and chairman of committees would be to avoid reputational damage and blame.

    It would have taken ten seconds for officers to write “Sorry Mr Edwards you’re right. We have sorted it out now, thank you” and another 10 seconds to read it out at council.

    Cost 90p at chief of paid service rates.

    And apparently officer work loads are increasing, maybe this is why.

    The lesson to be learnt should be “In performing their duties, they must act with integrity, honesty, impartiality and objectivity” but I think I have offered that view before.

  • Welshman 23

    As usual you are attempting to bring fairness and accountability to PCC.

    When BPJ left with his bag of gold no one saw the next stage of the goings on at PCC, but it seems to be led by his apprentice.

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