Jacob Williams
Tuesday 20th April, 2021

Bramble’s gamble?

Bramble’s gamble?

I was surprised to see that the final candidate in Pembrokeshire County Council’s chief executive recruitment process was openly identified in public papers, published before his appointment.

As this blog previously revealed, when a councillor let slip another applicant’s identity on the webcast of a meeting at an earlier stage, it was treated so seriously that it was hastily censored in comic fashion (see: Don’t tell him, Pike!)

And so it was that Will Bramble, CBE – the sole candidate recommended to full council last month – was confirmed by an overwhelming margin.

A two-star army officer, it will be Maj. Gen. Bramble’s first foray into local government.

Some consider it a gamble – preferring what they see as the known quantity of a tenured local government plodder.

Others – your author included – look on the lack of municipal contamination as a potentially distinct advantage, and one which perhaps even Mr. Bramble hasn’t fully appreciated.

His behind-closed-doors presentation to councillors, perhaps understandably, paid deference to those who might question his local government newbie status.

But the stronger claim could well be that it’s Mr. Bramble – who’ll be moving to Pembrokeshire from NATO secondment in Italy – who’s taking the leap of faith.

From 38 applicants, his lone survival of the cross-party senior staff committee’s interviewing and sifting process pointed to an appetite for a change in direction.

And full council’s 46-1 vote to confirm leaves little doubt.

As part of his presentation to councillors before the vote, Mr. Bramble referred to his vast and wide-ranging senior military experience, including “fighting the Taliban.”

This has of course given plenty of fodder for joking/not-joking comparisons with Pembrokeshire’s ‘rotten borough’ politics, and our county’s good burghers’ rich history of insurgency.

And the major-general’s revelation of his fight against “extraordinary corruption” in Afghanistan, and “tracking down war criminals” is sure to cause many a hind quarter to pucker at the Kremlin on Cleddau.

I wish him well!

Cardiff Bay beckons?

What could be a record number of Pembrokeshire’s county councillors will be seeking higher office, next month.

Among the nominees for the county’s two directly-elected seats in the Welsh Parliament is no fewer than four aspiring PCC members.

Interestingly, each of the awesome foursome is currently serving his first term – two of them cabinet appointees, don’t you know!

Up north in Preseli Pembrokeshire, the authority’s member for Crymych, and its environment and Welsh language portfolio holder, Cris Tomos, stands under Plaid Cymru’s banner.

Meanwhile down south, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire voters are spoilt.

What caught JW by surprise was Pembroke councillor and cabinet member for planning, Jon Harvey’s run as an independent.

Pembroke Dock’s Paul Dowson has made no secret of his candidacy for UKIP, having joined the party earlier this year whilst serving as an unaffiliated independent councillor.

The Tories are fielding freshman councillor for the Scleddau ward, Sam Kurtz in the race which will replace the party’s retiring three-term rep, Angela Burns.

If Kurtz’s Landsker Line landgrab raises some questions – since nobody likes a carpetbagger – the products of the Labour party’s selection process may well be raising eyebrows.

The official papers show Jackie Jones and Riaz Hassan hail from an “Address in the Cardiff Central Constituency” and an “Address in the Swansea West Constituency” respectively.

I see Mark Drakeford’s “stay local” mantra is really cutting through…

The 2021 general election to the Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament will be held on Thursday, 6th May.

In alphabetical order of surname, the candidates for Pembrokeshire’s two constituencies are listed below:

Preseli Pembrokeshire

Paul Davies – Welsh Conservatives
Alan Dennison – Reform UK
Jackie Jones – Welsh Labour
Tina Roberts – Welsh Liberal Democrats
Cris Tomos – Plaid Cymru

Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire

Alistair Cameron – Welsh Liberal Democrats
Cefin Campbell – Plaid Cymru
Paul Dowson – UKIP
Jon Harvey – Independent
Riaz Hassan – Welsh Labour
Sam Kurtz – Welsh Conservatives
Peter Prosser – Reform UK

Pay-off probe nears completion

Envelopes will soon be landing on the doormats of certain past and present County Hall officials, containing potentially laxative findings.

They’re being sent by Audit Wales (formerly the Wales Audit Office) as part of their now lengthy probe, which as this blog covered in January is:

“…currently examining the circumstances that led to the departure of Pembrokeshire County Council’s Chief Executive, Mr Ian Westley, and the circumstances surrounding him receiving a payment of £95,000 under the terms of a Settlement Agreement.”

Audit Wales is asking participants and contributors to their final report to run their eyes past things for accuracy.

An update to last week’s audit committee, written at least a week beforehand, says the probe was triggered when the statutory auditors were “unable to locate a recorded decision to enter into the settlement agreement which led to a termination payment being made” to Mr. Westley.

This, they say: “appeared unusual and therefore the audit team decided to undertake an early examination of the process that resulted in the payment being made.”

Their “audit fieldwork is substantially complete” but due to the “complex nature of some of the issues” they’ve sourced “some external legal advice” which they are “currently considering.”

Some persons of interest to the investigation are known to be bracing for a bumpy ride.

Whilst the council sought external professional and legal advice in connection with the departure, the probity of internal advice is also thought to be under close scrutiny.

In late February I was told that Audit Wales hadn’t at that time ruled out the possibility that their efforts would culminate in a PIR or ‘public interest report’ – a formal finding of fault which must be “brought to the public’s attention.”

The historians will recall that, among many other things, it was a PIR that did for disgraced former CEO Bryn Parry-Jones.

The bombshell 2014 report found that he had trousered illegal pay rises under a dodgy tax-dodge scheme whose unorthodox introduction he had presided over.

Depending on how strong this upcoming report is, it’s expected to be discussed at an extraordinary council meeting – and if it’s a PIR, that’s a legal requirement.

All eyes are now on Audit Wales. They say they’re “unable to respond to queries about our emerging findings” and “unable to provide a definitive timetable for reporting” – they may even hold off pulling the trigger until after the upcoming elections.

It could relegate Mr. Bramble’s CEO appointment into the authority’s second-biggest development of the year…


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6 Comments...

  • William Bruce

    Laxative qualities?

    My bet is that some senior officers will be evacuated through County Hall’s rear entrance.

  • Flashbang

    Shame there’s no Abolish the Assembly candidate.

    Also I doubt anything stronger than a slap on the wrist will come out of Audit Wales as AW appears to be a privatised set up to keep honest eyes off dodgy deals done in Wales using other people’s money.

    The language they use might be forceful and threatening for the miscreants but don’t forget this is Wales, land of forgive and forget.

    The Western Telegraph says “The fees for this audit work is not yet included in the latest reports and will be in addition to the £308,490 identified fees for other audit work.”

    I’d love to see a breakdown of charges on the invoices please.

  • Malcolm Calver

    Interesting article Jacob.

    Thirty eight applicants for the post just shows how widespread Pembrokeshire County Councils generosity for paying its staff has spread, or perhaps it is the payoffs.

    The latest Taxpayers’ Alliance report reveals that in 2019/2020 there were 11 employees earning over £100,000 per annum, whilst neighbouring Carmarthenshire had 5 and Ceredigion just 3. One wonders why.

    Sadly only 47 out of the 60 councillors could be bothered to turn up for this important position that hopefully will put to an end to departures with unjustified/excessive severance payments.

  • John Hudson

    I must admit to being a bit confused.

    The Senior Staff Committee approved the job description for its new chief executive officer in December 2019 with assistance from an external advisor.

    The Local Government and Election Act 2019 Section 54 relates to chief executives and their responsibility for keeping each of the matters specified in sub section 3 under review and if appropriate, reporting to full council.

    Section 54 would appear not to come into force until 5 May 2022 (SI 2021 No 231 (W57 (C6)).

    A silly question perhaps, but does the job description of December 2019 (and remuneration) accord with the new future Section 54 CEO requirements?

    Come May 2022, will there need to be a new recruitment process for a new job?

  • John Hudson

    Jacob, sorry my reference to The LG and Election Act 2019 should of course read 2021!

    The commencement of the various far reaching provisions of this Act are staged to take place over many months until May 2022. We are in for an interesting time.

  • Keanjo

    How can we have any confidence in a report which includes the phrase ‘him receiving’?

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