Jacob Williams
Monday 1st November, 2021

New meeting in pay-off saga

Pembrokeshire’s county councillors have this afternoon been put on notice of a second extraordinary council meeting in relation to the former chief exec’s £95k pay-off saga.

We’re told that: “The purpose of the meeting will be to consider a report relating to a Chief Officer Settlement Agreement.”

It’s to be held at 2pm on Monday, 8th November.

Such short notice suggests the statutory auditor’s highly-anticipated final report into the affair is imminent.

Audit Wales have been “examining the circumstances that led to” the the departure of former chief executive, Ian Westley, and “the circumstances surrounding him receiving a payment of £95,000 under the terms of a Settlement Agreement” since the start of this year.

Councillors are told to expect the “agenda and supporting papers” for the meeting tomorrow.

UPDATE Tuesday 2nd, 6.10pm: The meeting’s agenda and supporting papers have just been published, on private papers.

SECOND UPDATE
Wednesday 3rd, 6pm:

No detail of what’s up for discussion at next week’s extraordinary meeting is available to anyone accessing the published paperwork.

This is because it’s only been published privately, to councillors.

We are also recommended to exclude the public and press for the meeting, and told that: “…the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.”

All Joe Public has to go on at this stage is the title of the meeting’s sole item of business – “Settlement Agreement” – and that this topic is set out in a seven-page report.

Readers might be forgiven for making the same assumption as JW on learning of this new extraordinary meeting.

This is that the “Settlement Agreement” before council is the “Settlement Agreement” issued in questionable circumstances last year to Ian Westley, PCC’s erstwhile chief executive.

Well, it isn’t!


Share this...
Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

23 Comments...

  • Malcolm Calver

    There should be no “private papers” as far as payment of taxpayers money is concerned. If taxpayers money has been paid out inappropriately it should be returned to the council coffers.
    Too much of council proceedings are held in secrecy to the detriment of taxpayers

  • John Hudson

    Tied up in all of this are the formal 2020-2021 council accounts as at 31 March 2021, and the question of whether the £95,000 legally contentious agreement and payment was lawful.

    It may be that the amount paid was, and is, lawful. But that the process employed by the council in agreeing the Settlement and authorising the payment was not.

    I understand that council’s accounts have to be formally audited by 30 September, and that this is, or should be, a public report, and not just for the council.

    It is not yet available on Audit Wales’ web site.

    Does anyone know what has happened to our final audited accounts for 2020-21?

    They are after all meant to be owned and approved by the council on our behalf.

  • John Hudson

    The final date for the audit of accounts has by regulation, been moved from end of September to end of November, due to Covid.

    As at 31 March 2021, this payment would have been both agreed and paid.

  • Keanjo

    Why is the report not open to the public?

  • John Hudson

    One “advantage” of officers suggesting that “…the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information” is that ALL papers can be kept secret until, or unless, councillors meet and determine otherwise.

    They might determine that for some reports the public interest in publishing them outweighs the considerations for keeping them secret and that keeping them all secret would result in detriment to the council’s reputation for openness and transparency.

    At least secrecy could be maintained until the meeting, and members of the public would not be able to lobby their councillor on the basis of released published reports.

  • Malcolm Calver

    The way forward to get to the bottom of this would be for a meeting to be arranged so that the ex chief executive Mr Westley could attend giving his side of the story as to why he wanted to leave Pembrokeshire County Council.

    I am sure it would be interesting and an embarrassment to several councillors.

  • Keanjo

    MC, I am not sure he wanted to resign – more likely I think he felt his position was made untenable.

    The extraordinary meeting this afternoon lived up to its title. It was a complete farce. The main objective was achieved – the public were excluded from the asylum. When will some semblance of sanity be established?

  • John Hudson

    If Keanjo is correct, it behooves the council, by that I mean the councillors, as corporate employers, to understand why things have gone wrong and put matters right.

    For whatever reason, of the three senior officers then in post with statutory responsibility to ensuring the legality of council procedures and decisions, two have left, the former CEO and Monitoring Officer, only one, the finance officer remains.

    The head of legal and democratic services has, we are told, been on long term sick leave, and we have an interim monitoring officer/head of legal services in post from existing council staff, approved by council with advice, if required, from an independent external MO “consultant”.

    Our new, inexperienced, CEO has walked into this council’s administrative/legal quagmire.

    Is it fair to ask what if anything are our councillors doing to try and understand the root cause of this alleged catastrophic disquiet and put it right, before they have to advertise for the new vacant permanent statutory officer posts?

    I suggest that when the external auditor’s report is finally published and made public, our councillors undertake an open investigation perhaps with an independent QC as adviser to end this matter and ensure that an untainted future corporate management system can commence. One in which taxpayers may have confidence.

  • John, I think the main obstacle to your last two paragraphs is the existence of the gagging clause which formed a key part of the former chief executive’s settlement agreement.

    If it has a powerful chilling effect on councillors as well as Mr. Westley, it’s only doing exactly what it was designed to.

  • John Hudson

    These confidentiality clauses should not hinder the public consideration of what went wrong with the council’s internal corporate management and the fiduciary duty owed by officers and councillors to the ratepayers. It seem that officers hold all the cards in keeping this out of the public domain.

    We on the outside need some assurance that steps are being taken to hold people to account, if they were at fault in providing incorrect advice and/or acting incorrectly, and also in rewriting the rules or constitution, if necessary. (I note the inclusion of the new disciplinary rules).

    I must say that whether the leader had plenary power as advised, can only be clarified by looking at the constitution. It does state that this matter is retained for full council determination. There is no such power delegated to the leader by the council.

    Therefore one can only deduce that the leader does not have the authority to sign the settlement agreement as advised by someone, unless full council so authorises. Similarly, it follows that the payment for the settlement of the agreement could be questionable.

    Was there specific money in the council’s approved budget for this expenditure? If not, council approval to additional expenditure would appear to be required. This question of authority to incur additional unbudgeted expenditure does not appear to been covered anywhere. Maybe the long-awaited external audit report will shed light.

  • Malcolm Calver

    Jacob, if a gagging order was granted/agreed by a person without the authority to do so, as it is alleged in this case, it is surely null and void.

  • John Hudson

    I have just received an FOI response (11825) purporting to be from the Finance and Business Services division of the Resources Directorate.

    On 2 October 2019, the former CEO recommended the cessation of this civision, which cabinet approved.

    Does anyone know what is going on in this council, or are there two:- a public one as approved by councillors and an underground one run by officers?

    Clearly staff do not know that their division had been abolished in 2019, following a proposed restructuring by the former CEO as approved by cabinet.

    Could this be an example of dissent, discontent and dissatisfaction leading to the former CEO leaving?

  • John Hudson

    We paymasters on the outside can only speculate on the dribs and drabs that percolate to the public surface.

    We know that the council’s Head of Legal and Democratic Services has been on sick leave for some time.

    From the formal public record of minutes of meetings, it is apparent that cabinet has met from 28 June 2021 without formal professional legal officer support or presence, and the audit committee from 14 July 2021, as was the prior usual practice.

    This absence has not prevented a standard assurance being given to councillors in reports, purporting to come from the Head of Legal and Democratic Services, that ‘there are no legal issues arising from this report.’

    1. Why was cabinet and the audit committee allowed to meet without any formal legal professional officer attendance to safeguard the legality of decisions if required?

    2. Who provided the legal assurance in reports and what was their status? Did they have any professional legal experience or qualification?

    3. Was this standard legal assurance just applied to reports as an expediency?

    (It is only recently that interim legal officer and monitoring officer arrangements have been formalised by the council.)

    In my view there is much councillors can do and must do to rectify this dysfunctional council, without compromising confidentiality, if they have the mindset and are willing to do so. That is if they are allowed by officers.

  • Michael Hart

    Jacob I’m a bit confused about who is responsible for initiating a settlement agreement for statutory senior officers.

    The interim monitoring officer report to council 11th October states “Responsibility for the appointment and dismissal of the Authority’s staff is expressly made a non-executive function and, as concluding an agreed termination of employment is considered to be a matter incidental to appointment/dismissal, entering into such an agreement is a matter for Council (or a committee or officer exercising powers delegated by it) to decide upon.”

    On the basis of the interim monitoring officer’s report I would have expected as soon the possibility of any discussion about considering a possible settlement agreement was raised, the matter should have been referred to council for permission to proceed and allow the council to set parameters and boundaries if it so wished.

    I have looked at the minutes of senior staff and council meetings and I cannot find a record that shows council delegated the task of ENTERING into a settlement agreement to an officer. However a lawyer seems to have been retained with a brief to do exactly that. Fait accompli?

  • Keanjo

    All this conjecture about the illegality of the pay off is very interesting but I would like to know why the leader and his henchmen felt it necessary to gag IW .What are they hiding from the public?

  • Michael, I actually commented on this during the meeting – as you suggest, costs will already have racked up, and actions taken, which didn’t receive full council approval.

    Keanjo, the gagging clause was entered into by both parties and works both ways, equally – how do you know which party, if any, stipulated it?

    The question you might be asking is: “What are both parties hiding from the public?”

  • Keanjo

    Jacob, the reason I phrased it that way was to because the money was paid to IW, not the other way around.

    I have a feeling that you and other members are aware of the answer to the question but are prevented from making it public!

  • None of us know anything either formally or informally – the best we have to go on is speculation, like you! The first I heard that a deal was even on the cards, was after it was completed and announced to the world.

    The longer this has gone on, I have had more reason to suspect the appetite for the ‘departure’ was closer to being evenly divided, rather than one-sided – but that isn’t based on anything firm.

    I do however think that there is quite strong evidence from Mr. Westley that suggests he regretted leaving – from quite an early stage, too, but I don’t think that contradicts the idea that he wanted to leave, it could be a simple case of ‘seller’s remorse’ on his part.

    As long as the gagging clause persists, I think we will be prevented from learning anything that led up to his settlement agreement. The clearest picture we will probably ever gain, may come courtesy of the Audit Wales report.

  • Keanjo

    Jacob, thank you for your full and honest reply. This administration surely is completely unfit for purpose and needs to be taken into special measures immediately before they have chance to squander any more public money. How can this be best achieved?

  • Pembs. Exile

    I thought this “soap” had ended, obviously I was mistaken – same old storyline with a new cast.

    How much will be spent on legal advice this time?

    Eagerly await the next episode!

  • John Hudson

    Michael Hart’s view above, about where the legal responsibility for the settlement agreement and the subsequent authority for the actual payment rested, would seem to be in accordance with the council’s constitution at that time, i.e. remaining with the council and not as advised and implemented.

    Hopefully the Audit Wales report will clarify.

    I have just received clarification about the authorship of the FOI response from the defunct Business Services Division: “These responses are authorised by a senior manager/chief officer/head of service from the service in which the foi request relates to”.

    In the case of charges for services which customers pay in addition to council tax, it would seem from an attached organisational structure “map” that the annual fees and charges booklet submitted to cabinet for approval is compiled by the Transformation, Exchequer and Compliance Finance division.

    Cabinet on 12 June 2017 required that the differential between service cost and income be provided in future reports on fees and charges (no doubt to keep an eye on the deficit/surplus/cost recovery situation for each charge.)

    I have been informed that the council do not hold this information in the format that allows an FOI response. It is not available from the annual fees and charge reports submitted to cabinet, as cabinet requested.

    So we may assume that the council does not know whether it makes a surplus or loss on its charged-for full cost recovery services.

  • Barrie Smith

    It’s beyond belief that PCC are in the news yet again awaiting for the auditor report to be published. If it’s found out that an illegal payment was made will the people involved in making and approving the payment be investigated and disciplinary action taken against the individuals?

  • Malcolm Calver

    Tell us it is a joke Jacob.

    The latest from Cllr Simpson is that he is running some sort of education/training sessions encouraging the public to stand in next year’s elections to join a democratic and transparent organisation known locally as “Pembrokeshire County Council”.

  • Have your say...