Jacob Williams
Thursday 24th December, 2020

Tweeting turkeys

Tweeting turkeys

When Bryn Parry-Jones hastily departed Pembrokeshire County Council as chief executive in 2014, he not only bypassed gross misconduct proceedings but scarpered through the back door with a barrowload of nearly £300k.

Not a peep has been heard from him since.

The circumstances surrounding Ian Westley’s 2020 departure from the same role are cloudy.

He faced no misconduct proceedings – nor any suggestion that he should have – and leaves with a third of Bryn’s bung in his back pocket in a deal he readily agreed to, unofficially referred to by some as a ‘retirement.’

Private Eye magazine reported how BP-J’s infamous exit deal allowed him to “eff off into the night without having to account for his greed.”

It seems that Mr. Westley isn’t leaving so quietly.

There’s been much pondering over who, if anyone, takes the credit or blame for the unexpected decampment.

It all cements the 2014 Georgian theorem that there are ‘two sides to every pancake.’

What we know for certain is that Mr. Westley – whether pushed or jumped – was agreeable to depart.

That doesn’t mean he remains or was ever ‘happy,’ or that he doesn’t have regrets.

He was ‘agreeable’ in the legal sense – we know so because he entered into a contract with ‘the council,’ which formalised his exit and associated £95k settlement.

At the full council meeting earlier this month, councillors Jamie Adams and Stephen Joseph tabled an array of questions on this to PCC’s leader, Cllr. David Simpson.

Some may have wondered if, among Cllr. Adams’ background papers was a copy of the said legal agreement between the council and Mr. Westley, as his rambling follow-up questions were probing Cllr. Simpson on whether the council was failing to uphold its end of the bargain.

We can be reasonably sure that, despite appearances, former council leader and Westley-backer Adams wasn’t entirely stabbing in the dark.

Talk in the members’ virtual tearoom suggests that Cllr. Adams was acting in the knowledge of some sort of complaint from Mr. Westley.

It would seem that the departure contract clause Jamie wonders has been breached is the one where the council and Mr. Westley agreed not to badmouth each other.

Cllr. Adams pinpoints a particular incident – a meeting of the council’s senior staff committee, on 2nd October.

At this meeting, councillors Michael Williams and Paul Miller offered their view that Mr. Westley had failed to fulfil the key task expected of him on his 2015 appointment: a staffing review.

It’s a claim Mr. Westley strongly denies.

Unable to rebut the claim due to his recusal from this meeting – as it was considering the process of replacing him – Mr. Westley is said to feel most strongly that the very suggestion he failed to carry out this priority tarnishes his reputation.

It’s all suggestive of some ongoing bitterness.

Speaking of which, JW has been tipped off to Mr. Westley’s public Twitter profile, where he tweets under the bio: “Former Local Government Officer interested in improving lives for all.”

It would seem that Mr. Westley watched the full council meeting at which Cllrs. Adams and Joseph quizzed Cllr. Simpson.

Now it could of course be a coincidence, but the very next day Mr. Westley put out the following:

You're never too old to learn and this week I've learnt not to expect loyalty from those who can't even deliver honesty. Looking forward like many to 2021! - Ian Westley

What is perhaps less of a coincidence is how one of the many responses to this tweet came from Cllr. Joseph’s wife, quoting Proverbs 10:9: “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.”

“Very apt!” replies Ian.

Indeed the great and the good came out in support of the cryptic tweet.

Numerous of Mr. Westley’s council colleagues ‘liked’ it, as did Milford Haven Town Council’s account.

They were joined by a veritable who’s who of local bigwigs and third sector affiliates, including Pembrokeshire College’s deputy principal.

Mr. Westley’s chums in the local police were also well represented – a ‘like’ from the verified Twitter profile of Dyfed-Powys force’s chief constable, Mark Collins – whose retirement has also just been announced.

“Keep your head held high…” says the same force’s police and crime commissioner, Dafydd Llywelyn (Plaid Cymru) thanking him for his work in the county.

Even Gwent police force was represented. “Never a truer statement…” from their chief of special constables.

What must be half a dozen accounts linked to Hywel Dda, the local health board, expressed appreciation.

Chief health board luminary was Bernardine Rees OBE, former Pembrokeshire Local Health Board chief executive and board chair of its successor, Hywel Dda.

“Hope your ok x” says Bernie, her beguiling illiteracy on full public display.

Giving his dirty linen an even rougher scrub in the open, bitter Ian explains that he was “just venting some frustration and disappointment.”

Mrs. Rees soon redeems herself, offering arguably the best advice of all correspondents – that Ian ought to just ‘let it go’:

Certainly puts that OBE into perspective.

Special mention goes to Kate Evan-Hughes – PCC’s former education director, appointed during Westley’s tenure – who upped-sticks and now serves in the same capacity in Cornwall.

Reaching out to Ian, Kate offers some advice of an avian theme.

It’s difficult to argue against her claim that Ian is ‘surrounded by turkeys’ – but don’t turkeys gobble, not tweet?

Ian offers to follow-up with a phone call, which she enthusiastically accepts:

Imagine how many tickets they could have sold to earwig that conversation!

Lenin be!

John Lenin

We end with a Christmas Eve treat, courtesy of some bonus social media activity.

Among the tweets on the former council chief’s Twitter timeline is one marking the 40th anniversary of John Lennon’s assassination in New York.

Sharing what seems to be one of the slain Beatle’s quotes, introspective Ian’s fingers seem to have slipped on his iPhone, producing an unfortunate spelling mistake:

Of course, Mr. Westley could be making a reference to a Russian relative of the Liverpudlian crooner.

Or possibly the lesser-known scouse sibling of the Soviet revolutionary.

In this, the season of goodwill to all men, Ian’s Twitter account emerges as the unexpected bringer of Vlad tidings!

I would like to wish all readers a very merry Christmas, and best wishes for 2021.

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  • William Bruce

    Let’s hope a thorough examination of ALL the circumstances takes place, including the role of the Heads of HR and Legal and the scrutiny of all of the email correspondence between any council employees relating to the former Chief Exec’s departure.

    The sort of scrutiny Councillor Jamie Adams called for requires nothing less than a very thorough process to air out all the dirty laundry.

    Councillor Adams will need to very sure that his probe is transparent, open, fair and reveals all the facts and documents.

    In the circumstances, it will certainly need an independent external advisor for the HR and legal element.

  • It’s interesting to consider how the existence of a gagging clause – binding both parties – could hinder that sort of public scrutiny…

  • William Bruce

    I’m not sure that a gagging clause could extend to internal emails sent between officers whose contracts oblige them to act in good faith on their employer’s behalf.

    The public interest test should trump any behind the scenes nonsense. If any took place. Let’s hope the Wales Audit Office gets involved and go through things. If they do, councillors might want to consider anything they find before going fishing with Jamie.

  • Keanjo

    Gagging clauses could be redefined as bribery using public money. Have a good Christmas everyone.

  • William, it’s possible that councillors could somehow gain confidential access to that sort of material – I don’t know – but it’s difficult to see how public scrutiny you refer to could take place whilst the gagging clause is in place.

    It’s something of a Catch-22 situation – and even more bizarrely, the truth is trumped by the contract: if the council spills its guts, even if entirely truthfully, Mr. Westley could sue for breach of contract, and vice versa.

    I suspect Cllr. Adams’ investigation – if it is resolved that one is to be undertaken – will not lead to what he is hoping.

    However, 2021 could see the topic come under extreme scrutiny entirely independently of Cllr. Adams’ proposed investigation – we will have to wait and see.

  • Interesting that the top guns from the public sector have sprung to Mr Westley’s defence.

    Even the police commissioner seems to have felt the need to get involved, though what any of this has to do with running an efficient police force is anyone’s guess.

    As the late Jim McBrearty used to say: all peeing in the same pot.

  • Flashbang

    Jamie Adams investigates dodgy payment???

    I’d like to see the rationale for a lot of the payments made under his regime explained please, just to show there’s no bias.

  • John Hudson

    The unlawful element of the BP-J settlement, some £20-30k, as identified by the council’s external auditor was paid by us.

    There is no mechanism whereby we can be reimbursed. Gone are the days when councillors who agreed unlawful payments from council (our) resources could be personally penalised by a surcharge.

    We are now only protected from such abuses by councillors receiving correct strict legal and financial advice from officers. Such advice and decision making is subject to a test of procedural reasonableness, which still will not get money reimbursed.

  • Malcolm Calver

    It is a sad state of affairs that Pembrokeshire County Council has come to this, especially during the Coronavirus period which has been a disaster for what is the basis of our society “family life”, plus the economic catastrophe that has taken place and be in no doubt will see worse to come.

    Many of the older generation look back to the glory days of old when we all lived simpler lives with fewer public bodies and therefore less interference in our lives.

  • Mark

    Mike, I had a look at the tweet and saw some other names I recognised which as you say were of the same ilk. The pot is overflowing!

    Malcolm, yes this situation is unbecoming but I think those are rose tinted spectacles you have there!

    A lot more very obvious local council corruption went on back in those days, long before social media and webcasting and other technological advents made scrutiny that much easier for us normal citizens.

  • John Hudson

    Mark, I agree that in the good old days scrutiny was much more difficult, but today’s environment for improved public scrutiny relies on open, transparent and unbiased advice from officers.

    It also relies on councillors being prepared to challenge and scrutinise such advice, rather than accept it at face value, as happened when the £68m accumulated notional Cleddau Bridge deficit was meekly accepted without question.

    Who knows what goes on behind closed doors at officer/member private un-minuted briefings?

  • Malcolm Calver

    John, in the good old days scrutiny as you say might have been more difficult but for the average family there was no need for them to scrutinise what the local bodies were up to as they did not interfere in their lives unlike today.

    Take for example education, I cannot remember my parents and for that matter myself or my wife getting involved with the schools my children attended. As for apprentices the employer led and colleges were in the background but for several years now colleges have taken the lead and are really just interested in bums on seats.

  • Alan Brooks

    As an ordinary citizen and retired company director, I don’t want to “have a say” but to ask a simple question of all the above who have used the words “scrutiny” and “corruption”.

    Ultimately, if corruption goes to the very top of a public body like our county council, then who has the responsibility and authority to scrutinise and most importantly ensure justice is achieved?

  • John Hudson

    An interesting point has been raised about the level of scrutiny applied to councils, and in my view it is exemplified by the Competitions and Market Authority’s investigation into the UK’s funeral market.

    The CMA had concern over high prices of funerals and in relation to cremation services it found in 2019 that the largest private operators have implemented average price rises of between 6% and 8% each year for the past 8 years and some local authorities have also implemented large increases in fees.

    The CMA suggested a remedy with regard to a recommendation to local authorities on their legal cost recovery limitation obligations – some parties were of the view that this obligation was sufficient to restrict price increases for these operators.

    Other parties were of the view that local authorities were not currently acting upon this obligation and therefore any further guidance would not be effective.

    The CMA considers that further detailed consideration and engagement with third parties would be needed in order to reach a view on the scope of any price control.

    We are in the position that both Audit Wales and the CMA have concluded that PCC’s crematorium service is restricted to cost recovery. Despite its cost recovery conclusion, Audit Wales have allowed PCC to generate surplus income from its crem charges.

    PCC’s cabinet members and scrutiny councillors have, as advised by its operational, financial and legal officers, approved cremation charges in excess of what it costs the council to operate the service.

    It is clear that in the case of PCC, a much stronger remedy than mere “guidance” is required to meet its lawful obligations in this matter.

    We have a right to question the council, cabinet members and raise matters with scrutiny committee. In my experience over this one matter of cremation charges, this is of little or no value, and comes up against officers’ advice which councillors are programmed to accept and obey.

  • Malcolm Calver

    If you cannot get her majesty’s constabulary to investigate and prosecute in obvious cases such as the Pembroke Dock grants scandal there is very little hope of them investigating anything else.

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