Jacob Williams
Tuesday 31st August, 2021

First move in Westley pay-off saga

First move in Westley pay-off saga

Members of Pembrokeshire County Council are on notice of an extraordinary meeting – the opening salvo in what’s expected to be a long season of fallout from last year’s controversial £95k departure of the authority’s chief executive, Ian Westley.

The memo – which tells us councillors that an “agenda and supporting papers will be forwarded to you in due course” – briefly summarises what’s up for discussion at the September 13th meeting:

The purpose of the meeting will be to consider the following items of business:

· Draft Statutory Officer Disciplinary Procedure

· Update on the Settlement Agreement with the former Chief Executive

· Monitoring Officer – interim arrangements

To the uninitiated, these may appear slim pickings, but this cryptic crib sheet provides plenty enough to go on.

Councillors returning from the summer recess will, for the first time in about eighteen months, soon be able to attend in-person meetings at the Kremlin on Cleddau.

They may have a lot on their plate…

So, what’s on the menu?

‘Draft Statutory Officer Disciplinary Procedure’

As starters go, it’s the inoffensive and unexciting option. Think vegetable soup, the most dependable of all entrées.

This first item of business will see councillors recommended to adopt a new protocol specifically to deal with complaints of capacity or misconduct against only the most senior council officials.

The effort to get a new statutory officer disciplinary protocol on the books began last month – and it’s been suggested among readers’ comments that this blog remains the only outlet to have covered the telling development.

This complex policy is quite dry stuff, but it tightens up the current provisions – and chiefly provides a route of appeal to a scolded senior civil servant in the case of an adverse outcome.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that this move to tinker with the high-level disciplinary procedure hasn’t come out of thin air.

At the very least, it’s suggestive of the pending need to consider allegations against the conduct of senior officers.

As my last blogpost pointed out:

“…at PCC the protocol could only apply to holders of the following statutory posts:

– The Head of Paid Service (the Chief Executive)
– The Monitoring Officer
– The Section 151 Officer (the Director of Resources)
– The Head of Democratic Services (the Head of Legal and Democratic Services)

The respective incumbents, at the time of typing, are: Richard Brown (interim,) Claire Jones, Jonathan Haswell and Claire Incledon.”

‘Update on the Settlement Agreement with the former Chief Executive’

It’s fitting that this, the main course, comes in the middle of the agenda.

What a feast we could be in for. Lobster thermidor, rack of lamb, duck à l’orange, filet mignon. Fill yer boots!

Mr. Westley’s unexpected paid exit last summer, in circumstances which remain cloudy, has been under investigation by the statutory auditor since the beginning of this year.

I have it on good authority that Audit Wales won’t be publishing their report until at least late September – but their findings are expected to make for some very uncomfortable reading.

The behind-closed-doors departure deal, which included a gagging clause and £95k pay-off to Mr. Westley, seems to have been approved by the council’s leader, Cllr. David Simpson.

I’ve previously mooted the possibility – and, given the time they’ve been taking, I now anticipate – that Audit Wales’ eagerly-awaited publication will be in the form of a public interest report (PIR.)

A PIR is a very formal process which must be discussed by a full council meeting, and would mean that the Westley pay-off is deemed to be of dubious legality by the Cardiff-based bean-counters – who also have a very powerful role in overseeing proper governance arrangements at public authorities.

Their problem with the pay-off may have something to do with the need for UK council chief executives’ departures in such circumstances to be approved by or on behalf of full council, the sovereign body.

Cllr. Simpson as leader signing-off Mr. Westley’s deal alone, means it only ever received approval of the council’s executive.

Here, the timing is interesting. Since Audit Wales will be publishing their bad news after this extraordinary council meeting, even the tamest conspiracy theorist can’t help but wonder which business, if any, will be placed before councillors under this heading.

Some might wonder if an unrepentant administration would try to use this September 13th forum as an opportunity to ‘get the council’s retaliation in first.’

This seems unlikely.

Perhaps the more credible theory on what we’ll see, here, is an attempt by a chastened leadership to right the wrongs of the Westley deal.

If councillors are being asked to give their retrospective rubber stamp to an already controversial behind-closed-doors deal – within eight months of the next election – then such a fait accompli could render this meeting extraordinary in more than the nominal sense.

‘Monitoring Officer – interim arrangements’

No feast would be complete without a dessert – or should that be desert?!

The sweet dish, finishing off the day’s proceedings, is the unexpected development that PCC’s monitoring officer, Claire Jones, is resigning.

As she holds a statutory post, Ms. Jones would be one of the authority’s few top dogs to whom the aforementioned disciplinary procedure applies.

Just like I said of Mr. Westley’s departure this time last year, Ms. Jones’ decampment is: “not in accordance with the normal course of events.”

The extraordinary meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council begins at 10am on Monday, 13th September, and will be live-streamed (and subsequently archived) at this link.


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17 Comments...

  • Martin Lewis

    Different chief executive, different council leader, different ruling group but still the same antics going on.

  • Mark

    Sounds like the Bryn Parry-Jones saga all over again!

  • James Reid

    That’s an interesting assembly of circumstances, isn’t it?

    Suppose the council leader got advice that he could sign off on the deal without it going to a meeting of all councillors. Who would’ve given that advice? PCC’s own legal department and whoever runs HR must’ve been involved or consulted at some point.

    I don’t buy this same old, same old narrative. There must be other factors involved in this mess.

    Because the monitoring officer is leaving ahead of the report’s publication, the suggestion can’t be discounted that their advice was at least incorrect.

  • John Hudson

    The duties of the council’s statutory monitoring officer are:

    to report on matters he or she believes are, or are likely to illegal or amount to maladministration

    to be responsible for matters relating to the conduct of of councillors and officers, and members and

    to be responsible for the council’s constitution

    These duties are personal but are required to be carried out in consultation with other senior officers.

    Not an easy task, if others have conflicting interests and the monitoring officer has the right to report directly to council.

    It might be worth looking at how the council arranged for the monitoring officer to carry out her statutory duties.

    Under BP-J, the previous monitoring officer’s role was carried out amidst some controversy and disquiet.

  • Tomos

    When I resigned from a job all I got was an adjustment for holiday pay – just saying!

    Never got a lottery win in MY final “pay packet”, why should they?

    PS non-disclosure agreements should be made illegal.

  • John Hudson

    In the version of the council’s constitution online there are no set legislative “rules” for the duties of the Statutory Monitoring Officer.

    There are for the other two statutory officers, the head of paid service (CEO) and the section 151 (finance) officer.

    Council appointed (on the recommendation of the Senior Staff Committee) the departed Monitoring Officer on 14 May 2015 on a part time 3 day a week basis.

    You have to wonder on whose advice the council approved the appointment of an officer to this crucial post on a part time basis, involving as it does oversight of the legality of all decisions by officers, committees and council.

    Was this done just to save money, or were there other reasons? Yet again our councillors were compliant, for whatever reason.

  • Flashbang

    Can councillors vote for decision 2 to be deferred until after the Audit Office’s report hits the council?

    It would looks very shady if full council was stampeded into approving it. That’s how I’m seeing it, an action replay of the BPJ three card trick.

  • Malcolm Calver

    Surely Cllr Simpson as leader of the council and its county councillors was able to judge for himself if the advice that he was given was in his opinion correct.

    I see the hand of some councillors whose spendthrift ways were being curtailed in this decision.

  • John Hudson

    I found this explanation of the monitoring officer’s statutory duties in the council’s 2019/2020 Annual Governance Statement:

    Monitoring Officer
    The role of MO first appeared in the Local Government and Housing Act 1989. This followed the recommendations of the UK Government Report: The Conduct of Local Authority Business. Section 5 of the 1989 Act stated that LA’s were required to designate an Monitoring Officer and that the Monitoring Officer had a duty to report to the authority if it appeared to the Monitoring Officer that the authority was acting, or likely to act, illegally, contrary to any rule of law or code or in a way that constituted a maladministration according to the Ombudsman’s finding. The Monitoring Officer was one of the trinity of officers designated in order to promote and secure probity within its governance; the others being the Head of Paid Service and the Chief Finance Officer. This “whistleblowing duty” is at the heart of the Monitoring Officer concept.
    By virtue of the Local Government Act 2000, the Monitoring Officer holds the statutory role and responsibility for the ethical standards regime within the authority. The Monitoring Officer advises Members in relation to their interests and propriety on a day-to-day basis, maintains statutory registers, promotes, trains and monitors adherence to the Code of Conduct of Members (both to the County Councils and 77 Town and Community Councils), advises the Standards Committee, attends the Adjudication Panel for Wales as and when required and implements sanctions as appropriate. The Monitoring Officer is required to be the “guardian of the Constitution”, being responsible for reviewing and bringing forward changes to keep it up to date.

    Not a bad list of duties for a part time job approved by Council.

  • Oliver Cromwell

    Due process is right and proper. Taking more than two or three months to reach a conclusion is not. After that the point has been lost, and those responsible are never dealt with.

    It is all too easy to be magnanimous with other people’s money – as we have seen all too often over the years with PCC.

    With the greatest respect it is time for someone with integrity and common sense to take the lead in the council.

  • Martin Lewis

    “Ethical standards regime” and PCC mentioned in the same document 😄

  • John Hudson

    When I last looked, if you think that you have suffered an injustice by a council, you can write to the ombudsman an ask for an investigation.

    This is only in respect of a perceived personal wrong. You have to appeal to the council first and only then approach the ombudsman if necessary.

    Reading the rules above, in the case of a council decision which is considered questionable by the monitoring officer, it would appear that the MO, as a personal responsibility, has to ask the ombudsman to investigate matters, after consultation with other statutory officers.

    It would appear that the dice are loaded in favour of the council, (or rather its chief officers) which is under an obligation to provide the MO with the resources the MO considers necessary to carry out his/her statutory duties.

    I wonder if the part time MO ever sought additional resources? From budget reduction exercises it is apparent that the council sought to reduce the MO’s Budget.

    If an MO felt unable to carry out the statutory duties considered necessary due to resource restrictions imposed by the council, could this be regarded as grounds for potential constructive dismissal?

    Lift the covers and so much can be open for questioning.

  • Mayday

    Surprised that the conspiracy theorists haven’t noted that the Head of HR slipped quietly away to ERW shortly after the CEO’s departure was agreed.

  • Mark

    That’s an interesting observation Mayday.

    Google turns up these minutes of an ERW meeting held on November 13 last year which say:

    6.3. CONSORTIUM DEVELOPMENT UPDATE

    The Joint Committee received an update on the ERW Consortium Development and noted the recommended decisions as detailed in the report. It was advised that, following the decisions made under Agenda Items 3, 6.1 and 6.2, the report proposed further decisions regarding additional support.

    Members were advised that, in order to secure additional HR capacity to support the change process, an additional full-time officer at a senior level was required. Notification had been received that an experienced officer from Pembrokeshire was available and that the associated costs could be managed from within the current budget due to vacancies. Agreement in regard to this proposal had been received from each constituent Authority on the 8th of October 2020 but confirmation from the Joint Committee would be required to finalise the agreement. The report further proposed that the Senior HR Officer set up a Working Party with HR representatives from each constituent authority to deliver the agreed changes, that he provide advice on the contents of the current employees’ contracts in respect to redundancy, and calculate the potential cost in order that the Joint Committee could make informed decisions.

    The Joint Committee was further advised that, in light of the complexity of the HR and financial processes and the impact of COVID-19 on the capacity of key officers, it was proposed that the implementation date for a new partnership model be deferred from 1st April 2021 to 1st September 2021. This would require all partners who had issued notice of withdrawal to agree to defer this action until the end of August 2021.

    RESOLVED that

    6.3.1. The secondment of Ceri Davies to ERW to provide additional capacity to deal with the ERW closure and set up of new partnership arrangements, as agreed via e-mail response to Chair’s request sent on 8th October 2020, be confirmed;

    Secondment implies an expected return to PCC, does it not?

  • Keanjo

    Bureaucracy gone mad.

  • John Hudson

    Please, are we allowed to know who the Deputy Monitoring Officer is?

  • Hi John, I would imagine this public information is somewhere on the council’s website, but it’s Rhian Young.

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