Jacob Williams
Tuesday 24th September, 2013

Pension contention

Pension contention

A rarity nowadays, but a perfunctory visit to that other website this morning paid off as Old Grumpy had uploaded a ‘stop press’ addressing a couple of topics, one of which was the audit of Pembrokeshire County Council’s 2012/13 accounts. It’s also a matter I’ve been keeping an eye on myself, since the auditor’s report was published earlier this month.

As Old Grumpy points out, the auditor appointed by the Wales Audit Office to sign-off the council’s 2012/13 accounts has hit a stumbling block.

What is the stumbling block, you ask? Well, there’s no better way of explaining than quoting from the report itself:

Status of the audit

6 We received the draft financial statements for the year ended 31 March 2013 on 27 June 2013, and have now completed the majority of the audit work. We will discuss any additional matters identified between drafting this report and completion of the audit work with the Audit and Corporate Governance Committees when we present this report.

7 However, one matter will remain outstanding by the time the Corporate Governance Committee is required to approve the financial statements. This relates to a difference of opinion between the Council and us about a decision the Council has made. This decision was to allow senior staff to receive the equivalent of the employer’s pension contribution if they opt out of the Local Government Pension Scheme. As a result of the decision, payments have been made and are disclosed in this year’s financial statements for the first time.

8 Given the different legal views, we need to obtain clarification of the position. This is a complicated area and is likely to affect many other public sector bodies in Wales. Therefore, we are unable to finalise the audit and provide an opinion on the financial statements at this stage.

The auditor appointed to this case is Anthony Barrett. Mr. Barrett is the assistant auditor general for Wales who came to prominence in the Welsh media earlier this yea as the man who uncovered ‘unlawful’ decision-making over senior officers’ pay levels in Caerphilly County Borough Council.

The WAO’s audit report on PCC’s 2012/13 accounts – which contains a caveat over the outstanding legality dispute of the pension arrangements – will be presented on Monday morning to members of the authority’s corporate governance committee, of which Old Grumpy and I are both members.

The same audit report was also presented to the council’s audit committee yesterday morning, where I understand that, apart from some queries from Cllr. Michael Williams, the matter went through smoothly.


HMR-SEE

Although it shames me to admit it, I also noticed Old Grumpy referred in the same ‘stop press’ to the council’s convenient invocation of the ‘Data Protection Act’ in withholding requested information.

In response to any of my quests for information I have not yet been denied, nor has the DPA been used, though I have been met with some other hindrances which have been variously recounted on this website.

However, whilst the council is quick to invoke the Data Protection Act to scupper certain requests, he says it doesn’t always appear to be on the right side of the act in protecting what is, in no doubt, personal and sensitive information.

He evidences this claim with his discovery, during the public inspection of the council’s accounts, of “several documents bearing [a] grant applicant’s bank details.”

I also went along to the annual inspection of the council’s accounts at Thornton in July, where I was surprised to discover a document containing the personal and financial information of a county councillor.

Among a bundle of other documents was a ‘coding notice’ from HMRC, submitted by the councillor, presumably, to corroborate their financial and tax particulars.

I brought it to the council’s attention – as well as the councillor’s – and, in response, was recently told: “Staff have been advised to be more diligent in preparing files ready for Public Inspection,” in addition the authority says: “We will also introduce further checks into our processes for 2013/14 to ensure that we remove all confidential and personal data from files.”

HMRC


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

3 Comments...

  • Keanjo

    The Chief Executive is free to see all the documents relevant to the running of the Council with the proviso obviously that he does not disclose any personal or commercially sensitive information to the public and I find it difficult to understand why our elected representatives should not be accorded the same privilege with the same duty not to disclose sensitive information.

    Is it perhaps that our elected representatives are not considered sufficiently trustworthy by the powers that be?

  • Concerned

    I see from BBC news that Carmarthenshire is being criticised by the Auditor for a financial arrangement regarding their CEO. I am glad that councils are now coming under proper scrutiny. Not before time.

  • John Hudson

    Leaving aside the question of legality, is it right that publicly funded bodies should allow councillors dispensation on the time limit on expense claims on the grounds of poor book keeping? Is it right that they put senior officers in the position of certifying such claims?

    Senior highly paid council officers have been given the option, approved by the Senior Staff Committee in September 2011 (made up of Senior Councillors), to receive the equivalent of their employer’s superannuation contributions direct and the public was excluded.

    Apparently “it” was suggested that this council approve the scheme in order to aid the retention of staff and recruitment, following UK Government changes to pension/tax rules on contributions and benefits which could be detrimental to these staff. We have not been allowed to see the report presented to the Committee.

    I think these two examples of council decisions demonstrate the priorities and character of the IPG “officer’s party” as it has been called.

    Are we going to have to fund the legal costs in defending the Council’s pension decision if it comes to it?

  • Have your say...