Jacob Williams
Saturday 1st February, 2014

Keeping their heads down

Keeping their heads down

For an understandable reason, my website received the highest number of visitors ever, on Thursday.

Over twice as many as the next busiest day in its history. The reason for such a large amount of traffic is the topic of my last article, breaking the news of the Wales Audit Office’s scathing public interest report into the pensions tax-dodge scandal.

Of the fifty reader comments posted on it so far, my favourite comes from ‘Quill,’ who says “WOW!!! This is the worst scandal to rock PCC since… last week!!!”

I’m not convinced there are many left in Pembrokeshire who believe their councillors are in the driving seat or are even so much as kept in the know when, as Quill might say, the scandals develop, one after another.

For those who think their councillors know everything as and when it happens, and refuse to let on all they know when they’ve probably got the inside track on all things council, the tax-dodge scandal is a good example to show this isn’t the case.

There have been better examples, admittedly, as this tax-dodge scandal has been such a big story for a long time now that it would’ve been pretty hard to suppress. But it has been an even better example of where the ruling clique, down in County Hall, attempt to seek the good bits, from among the bad.

The first time Pembrokeshire’s councillors officially received this week’s damning report was via an email sent to us at 9.03 am on Thursday morning, the day it was released to the general public. It was from the Wales Audit Office, completely independent of the council.

The first (and so far only) communication received by councillors on the topic directly from anybody at County Hall, was over six and a half hours afterwards.

It was an email, sent at 3.40 pm, titled COUNCIL RESPONDS TO ‘PUBLIC INTEREST REPORT’ – and that’s not my emphasis – it was underlined, capitalised and emboldened just as above.

I was on the phone when this email popped up on my screen. I hastily cut short the call as I thought my inbox had just been delivered something of note.

Given the amount of time that had elapsed, this would surely be a statement of substance, of regret, of sorrow, or, perhaps more likely, even in defence of the scheme. At the least it would be a teaser. Well, it was none of those really.

What followed the enticing headline was none other than an exact duplication of the entirely bizarre quote that had been given out to the press on the Wednesday from deputy leader Cllr. Rob Lewis, in the absence of our dear leader, Cllr. Jamie Adams, holidaying in South Africa.

Cllr. Lewis’ statement, rather than looking to justify or defend the vast number of harsh criticisms in the public interest report, takes the positives. Though there’s another more appropriate word beginning with ‘p’ that springs to mind.

In its entirety, the statement reads:

The Authority confirms receipt of the Auditor’s report which will be considered by the Council in due course.

Councillor Rob Lewis, the Authority’s Deputy Leader, said:

“This report deals with a number of complicated issues.

“While I note the Auditor’s views in relation to the decision taken, I am pleased he has concluded the Council could take a lawful decision once a number of procedural matters have been addressed.”

And that’s all we’ve received so far.

What followed from councillors in reply to the group email were sharp, snappy responses of bewilderment.

My original: “Is this statement for real?” was followed up with such replies as: “This smacks of the Council “spinning” its way into cloud cuckoo land,” and another member’s “I have not yet found anything to be pleased about but I will keep looking.”

“Does Rob Lewis inhabit the same planet as the rest of us? Anyone who can find something in this report to be “pleased” about probably has fairies at the bottom of their garden” wrote one grumpy councillor, whilst another said “This is unbelievable. Does Rob Lewis think that this is acceptable to the people of Pembrokeshire. Where is the apology!!!!”

I’m not aware that any of us has received a response, and we’ve heard nothing more in other emails, but I might know why – Cllr. Lewis has been busy.

Eagle-eyed reader of this website, John Hudson, spotted the chief executive on yesterday’s BBC Wales evening news alongside deputy council leader, Rob Lewis.

It was nothing to do with the pension payment scandal, they were in Cardiff attending a conference of Welsh council bigwigs.

In its television report, the Beeb said that leaders and chief officers had all met together, with the WLGA, as they wanted to call for “urgent talks” with the first minister, Carwyn Jones, “to put forward alternative proposals for council reorganisation.”

After five hours of talks “an agreement was reached on the way forward,” the bulletin said, and the councils “accept change will take place, but it will take place on their terms,” and the WLGA has a ‘compelling case for change.’

No doubt the Pembrokeshire contingent wished to make the case for retaining Pembrokeshire. Even without this week’s revelations, one can imagine just how tough a job this would have been, and to do so after, seems rather a waste of petrol.

It remains to be seen whether the ruling cabal will seek to defend the pensions scheme decision when they’ve had enough time to gather their thoughts, but it’s got no hope of succeeding.

It mustn’t be forgotten that we have two deputy leaders, the other being Cllr. Huw George – he hasn’t said anything either.

I think it’s most likely that Cllr. Lewis’ statement was a filler, a time-buying soundbyte, an embarrassing one, at that, but one which reveals nothing but pure ignorance.

The public interest report says that the council broke the law by offering pay rises, via ‘pay supplements,’ in the name of allowing officers the option to dodge the new pension tax.

The ‘positive’ Cllr Lewis tries to claim in his statement comes from the report’s conclusion that, whilst the tax-dodge scheme was completely unlawful, if the council did wish to increase its senior officers’ pay levels in future, then it was bound by law to do this via the proper route.

That is to say: make the case that a pay rise is justified, say it is a pay rise, and conduct the process of approving the pay rise lawfully, without any of the many unlawful bits which are criticised in the report, or, as Cllr. Lewis puts it “once a number of procedural matters have been addressed.”

Anybody who believes the auditor’s report says that it is ok for any public body to give pay rises to avoid pension tax, is certainly not fooling the public.

Depending on which way you look at it for leader Cllr. Adams, it could be the best time to be abroad, or the worst, but I don’t think heads can be buried in the sand for much longer.

Welsh councils meet to discuss mergers


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31 Comments...

  • Welshman 23

    Oh my god these people are in charge of the future. OMG!

  • Malcolm Calver

    How much does Cllr Rob Lewis get paid? It is obviously too much, but there I do not know if he has a doctorate.

  • Gareth Jones

    Any chance of the old bill doing something soon? If this was some poor bugger on the dole he would be before the court already.

  • Sian Caiach

    If you think your lot are nutcases I reckon we can trump that in Carmarthenshire.

    Our leaders have gone to ground apart from a press release telling the world that we are not going to bother discussing the Wales Audit Office report until March, and council leader Kevin Madge has decided to call the Plaid Cymru leader names rather than engage with the issue.

    Amazingly, this is the first time some of my councillor colleagues have noticed that our council may be not be doing things right.

    Our council is a major sponsor of a Welsh Rugby Region it can’t afford to keep. It has a nasty habit of building on flood plains. It denies that there has been massive sewage pollution from our largest town and tells us the cockles are dying not because they are drowning in human manure but because they are suicidal, parasite infected or victims of global warming.

    They spent a lot of money in grants and loans building an evangelical church with a bowling alley. Councillors like me, who show interest, have to use Freedom of Information requests to find out basic information on dodgy looking decisions, and the answer frequently is “we have a legal opinion that says it is fine but you can’t see it”!

    We have a Labour led council and a budget which could have been written by George Osborne. I think it’s obvious that the lunatics have been running the asylum for some time. Apparently not to some!

  • Cllr. Caiach, I have read about your personal trials and tribulations, as well as your council’s, courtesy of Carmarthenshire’s two resident bloggers.

    You could become Carmarthenshire’s first councillor-blogger.

    I don’t know if Pembrokeshire people realise just how lucky they are to have two of us at it, though that other website has been going downhill of late.

  • Hangerman

    So who leaked you the report? Does the Western Telegraph have a mole?

  • Hangerman, I retain many varieties of moles, too numerous to mention. They are all highly protected species.

  • Michael Williams

    One of your responders asked about the legal costs incurred so far by PCC. In my press statement I did point out that this was one chicken that has yet to come home to roost.

    In fact I asked months ago what the costs were and was told that they were being shared with Carmarthenshire County Council. Since then Carmarthenshire have ended their ‘scheme’ and pulled out. We still don’t know how much this is going to cost us, us alone!

    What an outfit. I am ashamed to be associated with this institutionally corrupt authority. The pity is that Welsh Government didn’t put in commissioners when the education scandal came out.

    I asked the Minister at the time to do so, but he was convinced that the installation of the Ministerial Board was enough. Frankly they did their best but had the wool pulled over their eyes by a combination of a Management Board which is out of control and a weak ineffective political leadership.

    One wonders who will be willing to take over the reins when Adams and his bunch go. Who would want to? The task of sorting out the administration will be massive. Such is the despair of many long serving excellent officers, just to repair their morale will be a major problem.

    Is it any wonder that the Williams Commission wants a drastic restructuring? The failure of Local Authorities such as Pembrokeshire is largely to blame.

    Many employees have had no increase in salary for three years, and a large number had their salaries cut. How do they view the greed of the leadership? Perhaps I needn’t even ask that question.

    Prepare, Jacob. Who will you and your deputy Mike Stoddart appoint to your cabinet?

  • Hi Michael, with your long experience as a Pembrokeshire councillor, you’d easily make the JW cabinet.

    I can see you as a great ambassador for the elderly, or whatever it is they call this cabinet portfolio these days.

    Stick to what you know best, isn’t that what they say?!

  • Goldingsboy

    Michael Williams, the idea that Old Grumpy would gracefully accept a position in a future Cabinet of the Kleddau on Kremlin headed by the “young upstart”, let alone that of Deputy Leader, is laughable.

    You may recall that Stalin and Trotsky briefly tried something similar, which resulted in the latter’s desperate flight into exile, and the sickening misuse of an ice pick by the former’s henchman.

  • Welshman 23

    Cllr Lewis doesn’t look too good in the picture, he should have a check up before it hots up in the Kremlin.

    Cllr Adams is in South Africa on holidays but the climate is a lot hotter in the Kremlin right now. I am sure his post card will read “having a great time, think I will ask for political asylum.”

  • Morgi

    Michael/Jacob – don’t sound too triumphant yet, remember the dangers when the threatened are backed into a corner.

    Reference the legal costs – don’t forget the costs borne by the ratepayer in the production of promotional literature enclosed with our annual rates demands, and the election promotional pamphlets for IPPG candidates designed on council computers as revealed by Partygate – Lord Haw Haw would have been proud of this propaganda.

  • Keanjo

    Welshman, Jamie has no need for political asylum in South Africa, he already has a Political Asylum in Haverfordwest.

  • Tony Wilcox

    Recognition from Tenby! You must be chuffed to bits. As for the costs for defending the indefensible, what chance of it being provided via an F.O.I request? They can redact the names.

  • Anoldman

    As far as I can see, whilst we have Local Government run by this system of cabinet led councils these problems will continue.

    The electorate vote, and expect to be represented by a councillor democratically chosen by them. Unfortunately with our present system democracy ends at the Polling Station.

  • Hi Tony, there would be no need to redact the name, Jamie Adams already revealed the lawyer jointly instructed by us and Carmarthenshire in an answer to one of your fellow Labour councillors’ questions at the October full council meeting, it’s Timothy Kerr QC.

  • John Hudson

    I do not think the cabinet system is at fault, rather it is the candidates standing for election who promptly post-election join up to form a gang who have no mandate, no policies and it would seem little integrity.

    Small wonder that officers are allowed to run the show without direction or question, but are supported without evidence of independent thought by the ruling group.

    Why was a Deputy Leader of our Council attending the meeting with the CEO? Perhaps they can’t be let out alone.

  • Keanjo

    I have to agree with Anoldman, the cabinet system is unsuitable for local government but if we have it, decisions must be taken to full County Coucil for ratification. All elected members must have an input in decision making.

  • Tony Wilcox

    Have today been contacted by both the Western Telegraph and the Herald canvassing opinions of all 60 Pembrokeshire County Councillors in relation to the Wales Audit Office report.

    Options were: should Chief Executive resign, or be suspended, or no comment. My prediction of vote is 28 in Favour of option 1, 29 no comment, and 3 incapable of making a decision.

  • Tim

    I see today the boys in blue are in contact with the CPS. This could get interesting.

  • Morgi

    Maybe the Telegraph or Herald should canvas the electorate instead of the councillors for the simple reason that there’s no doubt IPPG will vote very predictably as they always have.

    Reference those who represent us – if they want to change allegiance, they should be compelled to resign first and then put it to the electorate.

  • Steve

    Well it looks like someone is doing something. BBC news web pages now showing that the pension matter is being investigated by Dyfed-Powys police and CPS.

    In a brief statement on Monday, Dyfed-Powys Police said: “Dyfed-Powys Police can confirm that they are liaising with both the Crown Prosecution Service and an external force in relation to the report issued by the Wales Audit Office last week.”

  • John Rhys Davies

    Does police involvement mean that it cannot be discussed in Thursday evening’s television program Pawb a’i Farn??

  • Roy McGurn

    In normal authorities, honour and reputation would require the CEO and Leader to fall on their swords and resign. Without honour, the task falls on the elected members…

    This authority has been run on about £12 million a year less than govt assessed needs, or £275 on a band D house. Some of this May simply be not providing services. Social services have suffered the most, including some sensitive areas.

    The ruling group have little choice to try and tough it out, they have got away with it before. I hope Michael is right and that there are many competent and conscientious officers, but unfortunately many officers will be too compromised and need to also consider their positions.

  • Morgi

    Police involvement into the alleged ‘illegal’ alternative pension of BPJ is not in itself enough. You can bet that BPJ and his legal team are looking microscopically at the legal issues. If the legal argument against him is legally lost then you can bet it will be stuffed down our throats with interest.

    It may not be legally clear cut but it is absolutely morally abhorrent. The opposition benches have in their ranks at least one trusted lawyer – he was sat next to OG in that Oscar standard webcast! Ask him.

  • Keanjo

    Rob Lewis and BPJ look as if they’ve had a domestic.

  • Malcolm Calver

    Jacob I note your comment that Michael Williams would make “an excellent member of a JW cabinet due to his long experience as a Pembrokeshire councillor”.

    The last thing Pembrokeshire needs in its cabinet is Plaid Cymru members. I would agree that many of the present so called “independents” are just stooges of the establishment and what we really want is more independently minded independent councillors such as yourself and Mike Stoddart.

    We often hear Cllr Michael Williams talk about the failures of the education service in Pembrokeshire, but surely he should take some of the blame because he has been a school governor I believe for most of his career as a councillor.

  • John Hudson

    I suppose that we should be thankful that our Council’s Leadership is now “removed” from the Police Authority.

    I believe that the former Leader appointed himself as the Council’s representative.

    Does the Council have any formal connection/representation with the Police authority now?

  • Morgi

    Malcolm Calver has to realise that by definition an independent can have a point of view that is different to himself. I don’t agree with all the policies of Plaid Cymru, Tory, Labour (new or old) but I agree with some of them.

    The best thing for the IPPG is that even before the hint of their removal, those who should be their biggest threat are at each other’s throats.

    Most local issues probably don’t require a party line – unless of course you think like the IPPG.

  • I read the first paragraph and wondered: could you tell us if they were both relatives?

  • Jonathan Nutting

    🙂

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