Jacob Williams
Thursday, 7th October, 2021

Westley pay-off deemed unlawful

Westley pay-off deemed unlawful

Last year’s £95k pay-off to Pembrokeshire County Council’s chief executive, Ian Westley, has been deemed unlawful in the first formal reports into the scandal.

The claim is set out in papers published for the authority’s hotly-anticipated October 11th extraordinary full council meeting.

Monday morning’s meeting – which was previously postponed – brings three main items of business before councillors.

Firstly we’re recommended to approve the appointment of deputy monitoring officer, Rhian Young, as interim monitoring officer for up to twelve months until recruitment to the permanent post is conducted.

The vacancy arose on the swift and surprise resignation of Claire Jones, who councillors are being told: “recently left the Council to undertake alternative employment.”

Also on the table is a new disciplinary policy for handling potential accusations against the competence or capacity of the most senior statutory council officers.

But Monday’s main business is titled: “Report of the Deputy Monitoring Officer to Council – Settlement Agreement and Payment to the Former Chief Executive.”

Rather unusually, this is the title of both agenda item 4 – whose papers are all public, and agenda item 6 – whose secret papers have only been issued to councillors.

“Exclusion of the Public” sandwiched in-between at agenda item 5, is self-explanatory.

The keenest Kremlinologists will have noticed, from close reference to the printed page numbers on the documents available on the council’s website, that councillors have access to an additional two documents – seven sheets’ worth from pages 9-15 inclusive, and one of fourteen pages from 16-29 inclusive.

The grounds cited for withholding them from public consumption – and holding the debate on agenda item 6 in private – are: “By virtue of paragraph(s) 12, 14, 15, 16 of Part 4 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972.”

Its title makes no reference to the fact, but agenda item 4 clearly constitutes what’s known as a monitoring officer’s formal ‘section 5’ report.

We’re told that such a report, under the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, must be issued by an authority’s monitoring officer “if it at any time appears to them that any proposal, decision or omission by the Authority has given rise to a contravention by the Authority of any enactment or rule of law.”

It’s the first s.5 report in Pembrokeshire County Council’s history.

But it’s not the only PCC first.

Although no public reference is made to it, councillors are also being presented what’s known as a ‘section 114’ report – issued under the auspices of the Local Government Finance Act 1988.

According to this statute: “the chief finance officer of a relevant authority shall make a report under this section if it appears to him” that the council, committee, joint committee or “a person holding any office or employment under the authority” has made, or is about to make “a decision which involves or would involve the authority incurring expenditure which is unlawful.”

Other grounds for a s.114 report are if there appears to be: “a course of action which, if pursued to its conclusion, would be unlawful and likely to cause a loss or deficiency on the part of the authority” or if a council “is about to enter an item of account the entry of which is unlawful.”

Reports issued under s.5 and s.114 must be considered by councillors at a meeting within 21 days.

So why have these statutory reports been issued?

It’s because last year’s £95k departure deal of chief executive Ian Westley appears to the relevant officers to be unlawful.

The public report of the deputy monitoring officer sets out how a “process of externally facilitated negotiation with the former Chief Executive was undertaken, primarily during the summer of 2020,” and culminated in a “Settlement Agreement.”

No circumstances or reasons for the secret departure discussions have ever been revealed.

Famously, a gagging clause is among the stipulations of the settlement agreement, which was signed on 27th August 2020 by the council’s leader, Cllr. David Simpson.

PCC’s erstwhile chief exec, Mr. Ian Westley, and its leader, Cllr. David Simpson, signed the settlement agreement

Accordingly, within the agreement he and Mr. Westley signed, Cllr. Simpson is “described as being duly authorised to sign for and on behalf of the Authority.”

In public meetings to date, Cllr. Simpson has always maintained that, prior to signing anything, he sought specific legal advice on whether he had the authority, and was advised that he did.

Concluding the deal, a few days later finance chief Jon Haswell issued a decision notice paying £95,000 to Mr. Westley – who went on to depart the council on 30th November, 2020.

Interestingly, a distinction is drawn between the departure deal’s written contract – the settlement agreement – and the directly-associated £95k pay-off.

Although Mr. Haswell’s role in signing off the payment isn’t referred to by name or job title, we’re told that each of these acts “gave rise to a contravention of an enactment,” according to the deputy MO.

Her frank discussion of “The legal issue,” which cites the breached laws, is summed up with:

“For these reasons, it is considered that under the relevant legislation the decision to enter into the Settlement Agreement with the former Chief Executive (and to make the associated Payment) was not one which could properly be taken by the Leader or any other individual councillor, and was one which needed to be taken by Full Council. Since this did not occur, there was no proper authority at the relevant time, either for the Settlement Agreement to be entered into on behalf of the Authority, or for the Payment to be made to the former Chief Executive.”

That’s pretty much all the public at this stage is told – other than that:

“The Authority must now consider what steps it deems appropriate to take in respect of the Settlement Agreement at this point. This will require further consideration both of the nature of the Settlement Agreement, and of the legal advice received by the Authority, and more detailed information about these matters is set out in the confidential report.”

And that’s where the private papers take over, potentially to be discussed behind closed doors.

Whilst I’m not at liberty to disclose what’s in the secret report to councillors, the public papers offer hints with statements like: “…it will not be sensibly possible to separate discussion of privileged legal advice from the remainder of the discussion…”

Meanwhile, extracts like the following strongly suggest that councillors are shown some or all of the contentious settlement agreement:

“Although certain key features of the Settlement Agreement (as mentioned above) are already in the public domain, other provisions are not. Whilst (as Members will be able to see from the documents attached to the confidential report) these other provisions are not especially sensitive in nature, it is also apparent that public understanding of the situation will not be much increased by seeing them.”

Next week’s debate of these two statutory reports may or may not be held in secret.

That’s something councillors will have to decide, it isn’t automatic.

As part of this decision, councillors must also consider if secrecy considerations are outweighed by the public interest in open discussion.

And even on this aspect, there’s an interesting twist – very possibly an infinite loop!

Councillors are not only recommended to turf out the public and press for agenda item 6, but in what’s sure to tickle many a local government-watcher, we’re told:

“Should Members consider that any debate is required before deciding whether to go into private session for the substantive consideration of this item, it is recommended that Members should in any case resolve to hold that preliminary debate in private session, so that relevant information is not prematurely disclosed.”

JW is prepared to be persuaded, but this suggestion of a potentially never-ending cycle of votes – where the public wouldn’t even be allowed to see or hear their councillors argue about slamming the council chamber doors in their face – doesn’t seem right, not to mention, practical.

And Monday’s meeting is only a preliminary round in the Westley pay-off saga.

The main event is expected when the statutory auditors’ long-awaited report into the affair is published – nobody seems to know when.

That, too, will be considered at a meeting of all sixty councillors.

Unconfirmed reports are reaching Chez W that the author of that other website, Cllr. Mike Stoddart, has been seen and heard stirring from his long slumber.

October 14th will mark a full two years since Pembrokeshire’s first blogging councillor last posted a column on his OldGrumpy.co.uk website.

Once a regular columnist, writing weekly without fail, the question is: will the old duffer post before Thursday’s morose milestone is reached?

He can hardly claim there’s nothing to write about…

The extraordinary council meeting starts at 10am on Monday, 11th October, and will be live-streamed (and subsequently archived) at this link.

The meeting’s paperwork can be found at this link.


  • Martin Lewis

    David Simpson MUST go. He was supposed to be cleaning up this council after the departure of BPJ and Jamie Adams as leader. His position is absolutely untenable.

  • Cllr Paul Dowson

    Martin I agree 100%. I had a lot of respect for him until he not only avoided the use of the word “protests”, but pretended it never existed on the council press release at the time County Hall was lit up purple which I objected to. The same press release where BLM protests really means BLM movement.

    An honourable man would admit to the error in the wording. Probably more entertaining seeing it develop into relentless abuse and bullying against me.

    Untruths, lack of honour, misleading the public, trying to cover up mistakes. Not someone I’m prepared to support.

    Private session! As far as I’m concerned that’s not right regardless of subject matter.

  • Faux Espoir

    Council Leader David Simpson should be suspended with immediate effect and subject to a vigorous investigation.

    If any other cabinet colleague had an involvement they should also be subject to the same.

    All councillors should have access to the advice provided by the council legal department and decisions made accordingly with how that advice was actioned.

    With council elections now six months away the voting people of Pembrokeshire need to hear the voices of their elected member on the matter, with some sincerity.

  • Malcolm Calver

    Council taxpayer funded Pembrokeshire County Council should not only be the guardians of free speech in Pembrokeshire but also that of transparency in all its dealings.

    I note that David Edwards, a member of the council’s Standards Committee, commenting on the Western Telegraph website urges county councillors to have the “guts” not to go into closed session. We can only live in hope!

  • John Hudson

    The Leader, Councillor David Simpson JP, was incorrectly “advised” by chief professional Officers that he had “plenary” powers to agree the settlement.

    Following his invalid “ultra vires” approval of the agreement, the chief finance officer (director of resources Jon Haswell) authorised the payment of £95,000.

    The CEO, (then Mr Westley) could not or should not have been involved in the council’s decision due to his personal and pecuniary interest.

    The chief finance officer Mr Jon Haswell, and monitoring officer (then Ms Jones now resigned) are all under specific statutory obligations to ensure that decisions and procedures of the council are lawful.

    All officers (including the head of legal services) and councillors have a general responsibility for doing so.

    The strict legality of procedures and decision making by council, cabinet, committees and individual councillors under powers delegated to them by the council is our only protection against abuses of authority and misuse of public funds.

    All 60 elected councillors will now be involved and responsible for ensuring that the terms of the agreement and amount of the settlement is lawful and reasonable in all relevant circumstances. That still leaves the open question of why and how this all happened, and who was driving it.

    Whether council officers fulfilled relevant standards and codes set by their professional bodies is also a matter that councillors may wish to consider.

    How many other decisions taken on advice from officers can or may be considered contentious and questionable?

    I have my own little list, starting with:

    1) The £60m + accumulative Toll income Cleddau Bridge deficit, when in fact the external auditor found it was in an accumulative surplus.

    2) The Haverfordwest High Street unusable car park, which the council built on at at total Grant aided cost of £850,000 (£350k of PCC money.) A management agreement was said to be in place allowing use, but still isn’t.

    3) The Pembroke Dock grant scandal, still the subject of a stalled audit committee inquiry.

    4a) Surplus making cremation charges at Parc Gwyn, the only cremation service locally available to PCC residents, as approved by Cabinet on officer’s advice to ensure charges are in line with the market, preventing any localised or regional distortion.

    4b) Above inflation charges for PCC burials, not approved by cabinet.

    5) A question over all and every discretionary service charge, and whether income generated from charges for a service taken one year with another results in a surplus or deficit. This was a test said to be required from 2016, by the head of legal legal services no less and approved by cabinet, but apparently ignored. There do not appear to have been reports on this when the standard annual inflation uplift has been applied, or when increases in charges above inflation have been approved. i.e. off street car parking charges.

  • Jon Lowndes

    I completely agree with John Hudson’s list, indeed I could have written it myself.

    Also the very idea that something so obviously concerning the public purse and the misuse of it by people that, should or do know better, be discussed with the public excluded is a huge step backwards for this council.

    If nothing wrong has been done then there is nothing to lose by being public, if something wrong has occurred then we, the public, should be allowed to listen to the evidence.

    Secrecy is never a good idea for people in positions of power and we need to know how this “unlawful” payment happened.

  • Phil Gwyther

    Surely the CEO Ian Westley, as the most senior officer, should have known as soon as he was aware of this golden handshake, that it should have gone before full council.

    He should not have accepted it until that happened. Let’s not be naive, he would have known of the amount well before it was signed off unlawfully by the chief financial officer.

    I expect they thought that, as it was considerably less than the disgusting amount Bryn Parry-Jones trousered, no-one would complain too much. Well after that we were promised an open and accountable council. But promises are cheap aren’t they – unlike pay-offs for senior officers.

  • Keanjo

    If IW was paid £95,000 to keep his mouth shut what did he know?

  • Phil, you pose an interesting reminder that this unlawful deal took place under Mr. Westley’s tenure as chief executive, where it’s fair to say, he had a general duty to see that the council did things by the book.

    He obviously wasn’t expected to know all the finer rules of local authority employment matters, which I think leads to a fair assumption that he would have been advised, at least to some extent, by his own (and not the council’s) professionals.

    If that’s the case, it would seem that like the council and its internal or external professionals, they overlooked what increasingly seems to be regarded as an elementary oversight, that full council approval was required for both the settlement agreement and pay-off.

    Keanjo, one thing that I think is emerging (and Audit Wales may comment on) is that nobody seems to know why Mr. Westley was paid the £95k, i.e. not only what basis was there to justify it in law, but even in the tactical sense, what was it for?

    I think both men in the photo above, had their own (and possibly inconsistent) reasons in their own minds at the time of signing the dotted line, I don’t think any were recorded anywhere, and they remain a mystery.

  • Malcolm Calver

    Perish the thought but there may have been a motive to see the back of Ian Westley if he was trying to restrain the wasteful spending of Cllr Simpson and Cllr Miller’s administration on so called “prestigious” projects throughout the county.

  • John Hudson

    With the BPJ settlement, I think that leading councillors then argued that the settlement (including an unlawful element as subsequently identified by the External Auditor) was financially advantageous to the council.

    Financial certainty rather than run the risk of incurring unknown costs and the outcome of any potential likely court proceedings.

    At full council all councillors will now have the opportunity to consider all relevant considerations and determine the terms of Mr Westley’s settlement agreement and the cost to be awarded by way of financial settlement, only if properly and reasonably due.

    I do hope that as much as possible of their deliberations will be held in public. This will be dependent on councillors.

  • Mark

    Why is this happening now before Audit Wales issue their report, surely it could only help inform the debate on Monday which is now necessary to get out of this mess?

    The public also deserves to know what options to resolve this are being given to councillors, it’s a scandal that we can’t know, this could be done by keeping back certain details if felt absolutely necessary.

    With the public banned from knowing what options are available and councillors prevented from sharing this information, how can these councillors possibly know if they are acting in or against the interest of the people they were supposed to be elected to represent?

    The settlement agreement and the way it was conducted sounds like the stuff from rotten boroughs and so does the way Monday’s meeting is shaping up.

    The reason the council is in this mess is because of backroom dealings, the best way forward has to be openness.

  • Mayday

    When it comes to local authority employment matters surely the head of human resources would have been the go-to officer.

    I guess he will re-appear from his sabbatical at ERW once the storm has blown over.

    Will the corporation take responsibility for failures of proper process or will the knives all fall on one person?

  • Martin Lewis

    John Hudson has a knack of hitting the nail on the head. And does it again in this instance by referring to “who was driving it”.

    Let’s be under no illusion, OFFICERS run this council, they tell the legal team to find some legal speak to justify the decisions and outcomes that THEY want and then put the recommendations to council, with the pre-determined legal advice included, so that MOST councillors will just accept that the recommendations must be right because the clever old boys at the top say so and the council’s own legal team back them up.

    Even in things such as going into private session, they use the same old scare tactics and the threat of councillors having personal liability on matters such as “commercially sensitive information” being discussed etc. to make sure their dirty deeds are not for public consumption. Councillors should have that liability removed so that they can then vote in the true interests of the people they represent.

    The OFFICERS are driving EVERYTHING, and using the totally malleable processes of our laws and legal system and our councillors to scare the people that are being reduced to nothing much more than a thin veneer of local democracy. It stinks!

  • Michael Hart

    Jacob very succinctly put. I was surprised that you were the only member to make that argument.

    Officers are always using cloaks of confidentiality to hide errors and indiscretions but in this case officers, the former chief executive and a senior statutory officer are all going to extraordinary lengths to avoid transparency and disclosure.

    If a person has a ‘valid’ grievance and has a settlement ‘agreed’ I cannot see a reason why they would seek to avoid disclosure of their case.

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