Jacob Williams
Sunday 14th November, 2021

‘Settlement Agreement’ decision deferred

‘Settlement Agreement’ decision deferred

Monday’s extraordinary meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council (November 8th) was convened to consider a secret report titled “Settlement Agreement.”

This seven-page document was presented only to councillors. The public are prevented from seeing any part of it – even a summary.

Councillors having voted by a clear majority to exclude the public and press for the consideration of this confidential ‘Settlement Agreement,’ it remains under wraps.

Viewers of the meeting’s webcast are only able to see the 49-minute debate on whether to exclude the public and press, before the plug is pulled.

This all makes it difficult for the public to know what councillors were being told, were being asked to do, debated, and ultimately decided.

That position also remains – although I anticipate that the outcome will be published in the meeting’s minutes, whenever that may be.

At the very least, elected representation must involve the electors’ ready knowledge of what’s been enacted – or failures to act – in their names.

A consensus emerged during the behind-closed-doors meeting, which wasn’t seriously challenged by anybody present, elected or otherwise.

By a strong margin of 44 votes to 9, after almost two hours of debate councillors voted in support of a proposal I tabled, in the following terms:

That council’s consideration of a settlement agreement with the chief officer is deferred until after Audit Wales has published, publicly, the findings of its investigation concerning the 2020 settlement agreement between the authority and its then chief executive.

If and when council considers any version of a settlement agreement with the chief officer, councillors must first be in receipt of a full copy of all proposed terms of the agreement, including any proposed “confidentiality provisions” and the “provision in respect of nonderogatory statements,” as well as a copy of the proposed “form of reference.”

The 5/5 split in the Conservative group members’ vote is interesting – especially their leader Cllr. Rob Summons voting against.

Only four weeks to the day beforehand, Cllr. Summons successfully tabled an uncannily similar proposal of his own.

At the authority’s October 11th extraordinary meeting, Cllr. Summons was saying how important it was that the council could only “decide on the way forward once in possession of all the facts.”

Members on that occasion were considering the way forward in the saga of the unlawful pay-off given in 2020 to the council’s former chief executive, Ian Westley.

We resoundingly supported the Tory leader’s sensible move to “defer any decision on this matter until the Audit Wales report and the internal review report is published and made available to all members.”

Cllr. Summons seems to have had a change of mind on the virtues of reserving one’s position – but we may never know what inspired his u-turn, since he spoke not during Monday’s meeting.

And his isn’t the only group leader’s vote which remains open to a degree of interpretation.

Labour supremo Cllr. Paul Miller voted against my proposal, whilst all of his party colleagues present voted for.

Cllr. Miller is one of three cabinet members among the nine councillors who voted against – alongside Cris Tomos (Plaid Cymru’s lone vote) and Neil Prior, the unaffiliated member who was the debate’s only speaker to vote against.

See how your councillor voted on the aforementioned proposal, below:


Independent Political Group
Jamie Adams
Lyndon Frayling
Huw George
Brian Hall
Mike James
Michael John
Peter Morgan
Elwyn Morse
Reg Owens
Myles Pepper
David Pugh

Not affiliated to any political group
Steve Alderman
Phil Baker
John Cole
Pat Davies
Kevin Doolin
Paul Dowson
Mike Evans
Tim Evans
Simon Hancock
Paul Harries
Jon Harvey
Tessa Hodgson
Stephen Joseph
Phil Kidney
Bob Kilmister
David Lloyd
Mike Stoddart
Vivien Stoddart
Jacob Williams

Plaid Cymru
Rod Bowen
Jonathan Preston
Paul Rapi
Michael Williams

Conservative
David Bryan
Aaron Carey
Mark Carter
David Howlett
Steve Yelland

Labour
Vic Dennis
Alison Tudor
Tom Tudor
Tony Wilcox
Guy Woodham

44

Conservative
Tony Baron
Aden Brinn
Di Clements
Stan Hudson
Rob Summons

Not affiliated to any political group
Pearl Llewellyn
Neil Prior

Labour
Paul Miller

Plaid Cymru
Cris Tomos

9

*The number of abstentions and identities of abstainers is not clear. The meeting was advised that there were three, but no councillors’ names appeared in the ‘abstain’ voting column, shown at the end of the electronic vote.

*



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8 Comments...

  • Malcolm Calver

    Just as interesting would be the disclosure of the names of those who voted to go into private session.

  • Mark

    Things are just going from bad to worse. Clearly a lot hinges on this Audit Wales report!

  • John Hudson

    It would seem that the whole underlying matter involves claims of unelected officers misleading or misdirecting elected councillors.

    I can point to an issue where officers, both operational and legal, set up a cabinet member to promote increasing cremation charges in order to generate additional income for specific direct use on non related public protection purposes.

    At council the cabinet member recognised that the matter of relevant legal powers had not been considered in the original cabinet report, and requested that these be included in the approved public consultation.

    This request was ignored, and the consultation took place without the public being fully and properly informed.

    Post-consultation reports, one to cabinet and one to the policy pre-decision overview and scrutiny committee stated that external legal advice had been sought, but of course this was subject to secret legal privilege.

    To get the ducks in line, officers had three opportunities to finesse the approval of their original charge increase proposals, which were considered unreasonable by elected councillors who recommended a smaller increase and surplus in cremation charge income to cabinet, which would, it was confirmed, be charged as a surplus to the council’s general council fund.

    While the Wales Audit Office and the Competitions Market Authority both concluded that local authority-run cremation service charges were restricted to cost recovery only, our members on officers’ advice, saw no reason why the council should not generate a profit from its dead.

  • Pembs. Exile

    It would be interesting to learn: who commissioned and who wrote the “secret report”?

  • The report was in the name of the chief executive.

  • Malcolm Calver

    Where does Pembrokeshire County Council keep finding these stooges?

  • Pembs. Exile

    With other issues in relation to this particular episode which have been hinted at, I can perhaps understand the reason for the secrecy.

    Perhaps the publication of the Audit Wales report, hopefully, in the near future, will bring closure or provide the next episode to this particular ‘soap’.

  • John Hudson

    We may be forgiven for imagining that the council had just been awaiting the external auditor’s report on the former CEO’s departure settlement agreement and payment to drop heavily on the County Hall doormat.

    At next week’s corporate Governance and Audit Committee the following update is reported:

    Departure of Former Chief Executive
    Since the departure of the former Chief Executive from the Authority Audit Wales has been investigating the decision making in relation to a Settlement Agreement between the Authority and the former Chief Executive and an associated “ex gratia” payment. In addition, and an Independent Review has been commissioned by the Authority to identify relevant matters of concern arising from the decision making processes subject to the Audit Wales investigation. The Independent Review will make recommendations to the Authority on any action it should take as a result of these concerns, and any changes to processes and procedures to avoid such problems in the future. Similarly should Audit Wales make recommendations to the Authority appropriate action will be taken in response. The report of Audit Wales and the Independent Review have not yet been received by the Authority.

    Leading Counsel’s advice has been sought in relation to the decision making process undertaken and a combined section 5, Housing and Local Government Act 1989 and s114 Local Government Finance Act 1988 report from the Monitoring Officer and Section 151 Officer was considered by Council on 11 October 2021 and will be further considered following receipt of the report and review.

    This is the first time, in public, that the questionable payment has been described as ex-gratia – “not obligatory, done, paid or given etc. as a favour” – my dictionary definition.

    I wonder how much additional money all of this external impartial legal advice has cost us and who authorised it?

    Of course, councillors know all about this from their secret council meetings. We already it seem have paid for the corporate council’s defence.

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