Jacob Williams
Sunday 16th February, 2014

Suspension of disbelief: a political ambush

Suspension of disbelief: a political ambush

It’s been just two days since Friday’s extraordinary council meeting and the disgusted reaction from the public and media has been monumental.

The events that unfolded at County Hall, witnessed by so many, have drawn criticism from national political heavyweights to senior figures in the Welsh media.

It’s quite pleasing to know that, for a change, every person in Pembrokeshire and their dog seems to be aware of what went on, and that’s owed to the absolutely brilliant new live-webcasting facility, which, given the subject matter, was a must-watch episode.

One of the comments on my previous post queries my delay in posting the JW low-down of the meeting, asking if it was so traumatic that I’ve been unable to cope!

If I feel sorry for anything, it’s not for myself or my constituents but for the death of democracy in Pembrokeshire, and, of course, for the constituents of those councillors who allow such behaviour to continue in their names.

Twitter and Facebook have been red hot on the topic. Lee Day, the Western Telegraph’s news editor tweeted: “Farcical, shambolic, embarrassing – take your pick.”

Whilst he’ll probably agree these words tend to be over-used, he is absolutely right because Friday’s extraordinary council meeting was all three of them – to an extraordinary degree.

The meeting was arranged primarily to consider the damning public interest report issued on January 30th by the Wales Audit Office, which the statutory framework required to be held within a month of its publication.

It was unrelated to the ongoing police investigation into the report’s findings, which is being conducted by Gloucestershire Constabulary, and had no bearing on it either.

In his report, Mr. Anthony Barrett, assistant auditor general for Wales, found that the decision made in September 2011 by six senior councillors of the authority’s senior staff committee to allow the highest paid officers the option to exit their pension scheme and receive cash sums in lieu of their pension contributions, was unlawful for a number of reasons.

Anthony Barrett presents his public interest report

Anthony Barrett presents his public interest report

The meeting started at 10am, opening with Mr. Barrett’s brief presentation of his report, an outline of his four recommendations, and what was required of the council at the meeting.

Because of the nature of the report and the fact that Mr. Barrett recommended the tax-dodge scheme be scrapped, the chamber was purposely and unusually devoid of any senior officers, apart from Mr. Laurence Harding, the monitoring officer, the only senior officer ineligible to take up the scheme as he is on semi-retirement.

Cllr. Tom Richards, vice chairman, Cllr. Arwyn Williams, chairman, and Mr. Laurence Harding, monitoring officer

Cllr. Tom Richards, vice chairman, Cllr. Arwyn Williams, chairman, and Mr. Laurence Harding, monitoring officer

There might not have been any other senior officers on the scene, but to make up for the chief executive and his directors’ absence the council’s top external barrister was parachuted in from London.

Mr. Tim Kerr QC, an expert of UK renown in local government matters, among others, was drafted by ‘the council’ to defend the scheme as soon as the auditor started making noises last year. Using his legal advice, the council was unsuccessful in convincing Mr. Barrett that there was nothing serious for him report on.

The very inclusion of Mr. Kerr – whose name rhymes with car – and his legitimacy at such a meeting was challenged right at the start by Cllr. Mike Evans. Mr. Harding responded that Mr. Kerr’s role was to advise the council on issues relating to the public interest report and also to advise on ‘possible disciplinary action’ in relation to the subsequent motion on the agenda to suspend the chief executive – more on that later.

As he was instructed by senior officers of the council to defend the scheme enshrined in their contracts, council-watchers will have been forgiven for expecting Mr. Kerr to come out with an all-guns-blazing approach to debunk Mr. Barrett’s report, line-by-line, in an attempt to persuade councillors to go against his recommendations.

What he actually said, in calm and rather hushed tones, was that the Wales Audit Office and the council “had a very different understanding of the law,” but it was his advice that the council accepted Mr. Barrett’s four recommendations.

They were: 1) to scrap the scheme and cease future payments, 2) to address ‘procedural weaknesses’ if an attempt is made to reintroduce the scheme in future, 3) to make sure any potential future payments are in accordance with the decision being made that no additional cost accrues to the authority, and 4) to make an appropriate disclosure in the council’s financial accounts before re-approving them.

Mr. Kerr said the council should vote to accept these four recommendations:

…not because it is intrinsically unlawful for a local authority to adopt a pay policy which allows a senior officer to opt out of the local government pension scheme and receive the equivalent of the employer’s contributions as part of salary instead, not because there was any wrongdoing on behalf of the council members of the senior staff committee, and not because it was wrong for any senior officer to attend that meeting.”

However he did accept that there were procedural issues outstanding, and the council failed to conduct an equalities impact assessment, which would be required if such an avenue was pursued again in future, before concluding that the council “was not bound to sue its chief executive for the monies paid as he would be likely to have a defence of ‘change of position,'” before citing an early 1990s legal case to ward off any members who’d dare to think of clawing back the chief executive’s and another unnamed officer’s unlawful payments.

Mr. Kerr went on to explain why he disagreed with Mr. Barrett, line-by-line, but this was not in a particularly adversarial style, and seemed rather a moot point, given his advice to accept the four recommendations as-is. As Cllr. Mike Stoddart put it: “we haven’t done anything wrong, but we won’t do it again.”

What readers may not be aware of is that Cllr. Stoddart and I had partaken in a long-running chain of emails to the council’s legal department and monitoring officer in the days leading up to the meeting, challenging the decision that had been made to actively deny councillors their rights to see Mr. Kerr’s full written advice which we thought had been provided last autumn.

All sixty councillors were copied into the emails, in which the unmovable official line – or ‘sheer bloody-minded resistance’ as Mike puts it – held that councillors did have a ‘need-to-know’ the written legal advice, but that it “has been designated as Legally privileged as it contains information relating to another council and information that relates to possible formal legal action,” and “The right to legal privilege has not been waived.”

Our need to know the information, we were told, would be satisfied by Mr. Kerr’s presence at the meeting, where “all Members will be able to ask counsel for clarification of advice received,” as well as a nine-page letter (included in the agenda report) sent to the WAO by the council, which was based on the QC’s ‘privileged’ full written advice.

This, clearly, wasn’t good enough, so the emails continued – and despite numerous attempts to point out our rights were being trampled over, and requests for the decision to be revisited, we were cast aside and provided with nothing more.

It wasn’t until Friday’s meeting when asked by Cllr. Michael Williams did we realise that Mr. Kerr had actually provided two sets of written advice/opinion, in September and November 2013. These were both provided to Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire County Council after they had sought joint advice into the legality of their identical schemes, to keep costs down.

How thoughtful!

Cllr. Williams continued his line of inquiry, and there were gasps when our QC – paid for by you – revealed that, between them, these two sets of advice amounted to over 40 pages.

Following these revelations, members were on a roll.

I asked the chairman if he would agree to a vote to allow members access to the advice, and he agreed – though obviously our rights to see the legal advice existed regardless of whether the vote had succeeded or failed.

In the event, no vote was taken, or necessary, because Mr. Kerr quite helpfully confirmed what right-thinking councillors and the public had thought all along.

He, as the provider of the written advice, was the one who could claim ‘legal privilege’ to deny access to it by any person other than his instructing client, as he was bound by client confidentiality; but that the advice, once in the possession of the council, his client, was the council’s to do with what it liked.

Mr. Kerr said: “it is not unknown for elected members to be shown confidential, privileged legal advice, provided by someone such as myself, in writing, under strict conditions of confidentiality,” and that was just what we wanted – and expected – to hear.

It might not come as a surprise that, in this case, the legal view of a top QC easily outweighed those of lowly councillors, but I would be doing a disservice to the public purse-string holders if I didn’t point out that I haven’t invoiced the authority for a single one of my numerous emails.

I can’t comment on Cllr. Stoddart because he holds, among others, a law degree.

Mr. Harding agreed during the meeting – confirmed numerous times on camera – to allow councillors access to Mr. Kerr’s written advice, but as it was jointly sought and contains information relating to another authority, the bits relating to our Towy-side counterparts would need to be redacted beforehand.

There is still some element of dispute over this arrangement, and that we weren’t allowed it before the meeting as requested, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction, albeit costly and long overdue.

After that was out of the way, ‘debate’ commenced over Mr. Barrett’s report, and the way members had wilfully been kept in the dark by officers over the written legal advice. There were a number of excellent contributions, particularly from Cllrs. Bob Kilmister and Mike Evans, which I shan’t go over in this already lengthy post, but you can view them all, at your leisure, on the webcast.

If you do, might I also recommend the scripted contribution from Cllr. Brian Hall at the three hours and 8 minutes mark, which sought to attribute the public furore over the pension payments scandal to the future political ambitions of the council’s second-youngest upstart, Cllr. Paul Miller – the leader of the authority’s Labour group and the party’s parliamentary candidate for next year’s general election.

Irony doesn’t come much funnier than Cllr. Hall’s claim that others had shown “cowardly and bullying” behaviour, either!

Cllr. Brian Hall with Cllr. John Cwmbetws Davies

Cllr. Brian Hall claimed the scandal had been exploited by Cllr. Paul Miller

After council voted to accept the auditor’s four recommendations, Mr. Barrett and his team left.

You might have expected our learnéd QC to follow them out the door, but he stuck to his brief, and his seat, for the discussion of the next and final item on the agenda.

This was the vote tabled by Cllr. Paul Miller, signed by nine councillors, me included, that the chief executive should be suspended on full pay pending an investigation.

Immediately as the chairman moved on to this item, up stepped Crymych councillor and ruling party devotee, Keith Lewis, to introduce the dirtiest trick the council chamber has probably seen to date.

It had all the classic hallmarks of a cooked-up ploy, though what Cllr. Lewis lacks in subtlety, he more than makes up in enthusiastic loyalty to his ‘independent’ party’s cause.

Cllr. Lewis told the chamber that he was very concerned that, prior to the meeting, he had been approached – as had all councillors – by two of the county’s newspapers who were canvassing councillors’ views on whether or not they supported calls for the council’s chief executive, Bryn Parry-Jones, to resign.

Cllr. Lewis said he’d indicated his support for Mr. Parry-Jones not to resign, and he now regretted these comments as he feared they constituted a predetermination of the issue.

He said because he was a good boy, he didn’t want to risk breaching the code of conduct by staying in the room and voting, because the code requires councillors to have an open mind before a vote, so he was going to declare a prejudicial interest, and leave the meeting.

As he exited stage left, minus crocheted collars and frilly cuffs, this prearranged stunt had all the flourish you might expect of a west Wales touring production of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Mr. Kerr was wheeled in to assist at this point, just as if he was a councillor or an officer of the authority, to say that on the previous day, he had been “shown some photocopies of press cuttings” in which comments from some councillors, he felt, may have prejudged the matter by indicating their support for the growing calls for the chief executive to resign.

Mr. Kerr might not be aware of JW’s two golden rules for success, which are: 1 – Never reveal everything you know.

All I can say is that QC Kerr must be entirely forthright, because a curious Cllr. Tessa Hodgson pointed out that ‘being shown’ these cuttings meant that somebody must have shown them to him.

Mr. Kerr corrected himself. The day before the meeting he had been picked up by the chairman’s limousine from Port Talbot railway station. He said it was there, in the back seat of his chauffeured charabanc, that he found an envelope with his name on, waiting for him.

Mr. Kerr’s envelope – which he said was white, and not brown as some might like you to believe – was stuffed with documents including the agenda for the council meeting and the cuttings of press articles in which it had been suggested to him a number of councillors’ comments had indicated a predetermination.

After further prodding from Cllr. Mike Evans, sitting to my left in the chamber, it was revealed that the envelope and its contents had been prepared for Mr. Kerr by Mr. Harding, the authority’s monitoring officer, a statutory position of utmost neutrality, which: “has the specific duty to ensure that the Council, its Officers, and its Elected Councillors, maintain the highest standards of conduct in all they do.”

Cllr. Evans said this arrangement seemed very much a case of “here you are guv, you might want to have a look at this,” and at different times Mr. Harding said that he had read the articles himself and that they had been brought to his attention by someone else.

When asked, he was unwilling to give their name because that was confidential.

It was apparent that the stage-management of this shameless spectacle was going somewhat awry soon after Cllr. Lewis took his cue, but the plot-twist took a trenchant turn when it was revealed that Mr. Kerr – if he was tasked to do so or not – had some pre-prepared work on the topic up his sleeve, ready to be shared with the sitting ducks.

Whether this prior-preparation was his own idea, or that of somebody else’s, we don’t know, but, having sifted through the newspaper cuttings, he said he had come up with a list of ten councillors whose remarks, he felt, indicated a closed mind and predetermination which stymied their participation in the meeting.

Oh, and, of course, it was entirely up to councillors to chose for themselves to declare an interest and leave the meeting, or stay on and take the risk.

In clear view of the webcam, brandishing a photocopy of the newspaper cuttings during this performance was none other than cabinet member and deputy leader, Cllr. Rob Lewis.

Readers unfamiliar with the Martletwy mastermind will recall that he was the ‘brains’ behind the ruling independent party’s election strategy going into both the 2008 and 2012 polls, and the serial author of his so-called ‘independent’ colleagues’ election literature, using council equipment, in clear breach of the councillors’ code of conduct.

The massive efforts and resources put into his ‘independent’ party’s slick campaign was all revealed in my Partygate series, and Cllr. Lewis is soon to appear before the council’s standards committee which will decide his fate off the back of the Ombudsman’s investigation into the matter.

Ever curious, the council took a unanimous vote allowing Mr. Kerr to read out the names of the ten councillors on his list, which were: Mike Stoddart, Viv Stoddart, Rod Bowen, Myles Pepper, Tessa Hodgson, me, Michael Williams, Rhys Sinnett, Guy Woodham and Paul Miller.

What was more the remarkable about the list was that it contained only the names of councillors who had indicated support for the chief executive to resign, and not those who had said he shouldn’t resign, who, using the same logic, would surely have been equally as guilty of predetermining the issue at hand.

The author of that other website has rather humorously recounted the part played by Cllr. Keith Lewis in this stunt, whose speech and exit from the chamber, it appears obvious to me at least, was designed to mount pressure on those councillors who’d spoken out on behalf of their constituents in support of the chief executive’s resignation, to recuse themselves from the vote. All of whom, apart from Cllr. Myles Pepper, were members from the opposition benches.

The second part of the theory being that if all those opposition members had left the chamber to join Cllr. Lewis in the corridor because of predetermination, the ruling party would have more than enough votes in the bag to overcome any rebels from among their own, and the vote to suspend the chief executive would fail.

If that was the theory, it didn’t work as planned, because following Cllr. Lewis’ principled departure, the opposition benches remained put.

Some time later, Cllr. Lewis came sheepishly back, where he found a much livelier chamber than the one he had left, with riled opposition councillors asking questions of the QC and the monitoring officer, decrying the filthy tricks that had been engaged, before deciding whether they should leave the room themselves, or stay and risk a brush with the Ombudsman.

Cllr. Lewis’ buttocks had hardly re-imprinted themselves on his still-warm leatherette swivel chair, before he got back onto his feet and reeled off almost the exact same speech he’d given minutes earlier, though this time when he left the chamber, he was ultimately followed by all but seven opposition members – regardless of whether their names had been singled out – in disgust at the calculated and politically-motivated ambush that had ensued.

In the photo below, you can see the deserted opposition benches in the council chamber, with, from right: Cllrs. Phil Kidney, Owen James, Phil Baker and Mike Evans, all unaffiliated independents, with Cllr. Bob Kilmister of the Pembrokeshire Alliance on the lower level, and out of shot are two Tories, Cllrs. Stan Hudson and David Howlett.

Deserted opposition benches in the council chamber

The meeting came to an abrupt end as Cllr. Baker – a co-signatory to the agenda item for the chief executive to be suspended – withdrew the motion, but not before he and Cllr. Evans spoke out against the dirty tricks, which Cllr. Evans described as ‘reprehensible,’ for many reasons including the apparent compromise of officers’ neutrality that had been evident in the events that had unfolded.

This stunt has raised all sorts of questions that aren’t going to go away easily.

BBC Wales cameras and reporters remained throughout, and when watching their Friday evening bulletin I noticed the council leader, Cllr. Jamie Adams, was recorded following the meeting explaining that a number of councillors had “naïvely” predetermined the issue and left the chamber, so there was no vote on the suspension of the chief executive.

Whilst this ambush might have stopped us from representing our constituents’ views, it has certainly not changed them – indeed, it will only serve to strengthen them, and raise greater awareness of the disgusting antics of Pembrokeshire County Council, and the filthy politics espoused by some at the Kremlin on Cleddau.

As Cllr. Tony Brinsden said before retiring from the chamber: “I made comments to the press, I stand by them 100%.”


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48 Comments...

  • Jon Coles

    I have seen on the Western Telegraph website the unfounded slur that somehow poor innocent Councillors were tricked into revealing their hand by underhand newspapers conspiring with the IPPG. There is one word to describe that idea Welshman 23, whoever you are: “Bollocks!”

    There is only one person who should be blamed for the fiasco, the lickspittle IPPG lackey who arranged for the envelope to be left waiting for Tim Kerr to read on the back seat of the Chairman’s limo the day before.

    I thought I had seen every underhand, dirty and cynical trick the IPPG could pull: but in the words of Bugs Bunny, “You realise, of course, this means war!”

  • Ianto

    It was a bit like the cavalry returning to the fort, in sight of safety they are ambushed in the pass by Indians, armed by their own side with no conscience, and provided with intelligence by a trusted official. Could make a good film.

  • Sian Caiach

    In Carmarthenshire, where I have the privilege of being a really independent Councillor, [People First, Bell’s principles etc] our keen press office has already made several official press releases as to what the opinions of “Councillors and officers” and various leading members are on the two unlawful payment issues on our patch.

    When I objected to being included in the blanket statement it was altered to still suggest a majority of Councillors were in support of our CEO and Executive Board decisions.

    In response to a Plaid Cymru motion of no confidence in our chief exec and leader, former leader and one of our deputy leaders, Mr Kerr might find more evidence of predetermination on the ruling group side than the opposition.

    Our monitoring officer has mentioned to me that given my willingness to give evidence in the libel trial against the chief exec, arguing that his action was against free speech, I could be infringing our code of conduct, [I didn’t actually give evidence in court as there were no questions from CCC who accepted my written evidence] but at the time I’m afraid I believed that, although the legal action was unfair, the decision to fund the CEO’s counter-suit was lawful as the executive board had told us it was a perfectly legal loophole way of allowing our council to counter-sue bloggers using an officer as a proxy. It was explained to us as a legitimate way of putting pressure on the blogger to withdraw her original legal action.

    I don’t think the envelope trick is likely but if it is played, considering the alleged goings on in Labour and Indy recent group meetings, might Plaid Cymru have an impressive majority as the only major group relatively untainted by predetermination?

    Mr Kerr may point out that the uncanny way groups vote together is enough to show more than predisposition, but in that case we would be inquorate and could all go home before the vote of confidence! I’m sure we will be asking for a lot of information before we start!

  • Shafted

    Monday morning memo from Jamie Adams to all non-executive IPPG members:

    “I hope you’ve all remembered to take your morning after pills…”

  • King Kerr

    I watched some of this and it is so thoroughly depressing. Is this what we deserve?

    Please keep kicking JW.

  • Kendl

    I watched the broadcast and I just didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I was disgusted by the antics of my local representative Cllr. Keith Lewis and ashamed to have given him my vote. Never again!!

  • Keanjo

    The Monitor and Kerr show, undirected by the Chairman, lyrics by Jamie Adams, was compulsive Friday morning viewing which gave the taxpayers full value for their cheaper than chips council tax.

    Unfortunately, Mr Barrett, the hero of this traumatic…sorry dramatic…documentary, left before the master stroke forced the cavalry to retreat, but I am sure they will regroup and come back fighting.

    I can’t wait for the next episode and I have it on good authority that another series is being planned with the same cast except for Messrs Barrett and Kerr, entitled The Missing Wall Of Pembroke Dock, an exciting thriller with dramatic roof top scenes which has already been granted top billing by the critics.

  • Vincent

    Jacob, is there likely to be a motion of no confidence in the Monitoring Officer, Mr. Harding, given his flagrant breach of his statutory position of utmost neutrality?

  • A brown envelope conveys a more accurate picture of events than a white one. That being so, I thought I was entitled to a little bit of artistic licence.

    The expression on Cllr John Davies’ face is worth a thousand words. Difficult to believe that Cllr Davies once thought that Cllr Hall was a fit and proper person to serve in his Cabinet.

  • Malcolm Calver

    It’s a shame Cllr Baker withdrew the motion. If you had allowed it to go ahead we would have at least known each councillor’s position. The Independent Party may have had some members not prepared to toe the party line, we will never know now. We do not even know the position of all of the opposition independents.

  • PreseliView

    I can imagine an old lady saying that to have one police enquiry may be regarded as a misfortune, but to have two looks like carelessness.

    When are Fleet Street going to send down their sleuths?

  • Martin Lewis

    I watched the meeting online from home in Neyland and I could smell the stench of bullish!t from 6 miles away.

    I’ve spoken to both of the town’s county councillors recently, Paul Miller and Simon Hancock, regarding the recent ongoing issues relating to CEO pay and grants in Pembroke Dock.

    Simon Hancock is my local councillor and a man I have always held in high regard until his Judas like actions after the last election when he let down very badly the people of Neyland who had voted for him in my opinion.

    No matter what the ins and outs of it all, the facts are that he was elected as a Labour councillor, he jumped ship to Jamie Adams’ “Independent Plus Group” (which was renamed so that he didn’t have to break his promise of never joining the “Independent Political Group”) and was promoted immediately to a cabinet post with the accompanying Special Responsibility Allowance of circa £15,000 I believe.

    This was a post that he most certainly would NOT have been given had he remained a member of the Labour group, or indeed a non-affiliated dictionary definition Independent, which, in my opinion he should have done if he felt compelled to resign from the Labour group.

    This is the type of person that Jamie Adams has recruited. Yes men who sit alongside him on the benches and allow disgraceful scenes such as those we all witnessed on Friday.

    There are too many apathetic people in the county who have no interest in local politics and do not challenge their representatives on an ongoing basis once elected. I certainly did and I will continue to do so.

    The Adams Family may think they did really well on Friday but never before have we been able to witness first hand the personalities of these people in debate without taking the effort to trek down to County Hall. Ultimately their actions on Friday will only serve to make people more determined to put an end to their shady goings on.

    People in Pembrokeshire have long memories. The sooner the stranglehold on power held by the independent group is broken the better. Then perhaps we can have proper democracy.

    I will personally make sure as many people as possible watch last Friday’s broadcast and see the actions of the people associated with the IPG for what they are. It was the most disgusting show of sheer weakness ultimately, disguised as a cunning plan which, as Jacob has detailed in this blog, certainly did not go according to plan even if the Adams Family were ultimately happy with the day’s outcome.

    Brian “I’ve only got 4 lines left” Hall continues to be a laughing stock, having the gall to accuse people of bullying tactics LOL. Honestly, he has always had a very high opinion of himself yet the only times he’s stood up and spoken in the chamber he’s always had to read word for word from notes.

    The actions of the supposedly impartial Monitoring Officer was reprehensible and I hope his actions can be properly scrutinised in relation to the remit of his actual role.

    Sue Perkins…how can anyone possibly take her seriously? Another Judas who took the IPG silver. Likewise Ken Rowlands!

    And John Allen-Mirehouse. Just because he speaks with a plum in his gob he likes to think he comes across as some sort of barrister on the benches when his greatest local government achievement is ensuring that his constituents have a disproportionate amount of luncheon clubs in their constituency.

    I for one am very grateful for the efforts of all opposition councillors but in particular, Jacob, Mike Stoddart, Paul Miller, Mike Evans and Bob Kilmister.

    Without the efforts of these men and others, the IPG with their turncoats, yes-men and Judas Iscariots would run riot and get away with even more than they currently do.

    I’m ashamed to have voted for Simon Hancock and I know from talking to people around Neyland that many others feel the same. He was always regarded very highly but not since taking the thirty pieces of silver to join the IPG and I hope Labour will field a candidate to stand against him in the next local elections.

    £40k per year from the taxpayer’s purse and he’s sat shoulder to shoulder on the benches as part of the Adams Family – shameful.

  • Sandboy

    Last week’s webcast was compulsive viewing, like something out of a soap opera and leaves the whole ‘democracy in Pembrokeshire’ open to ridicule and farce. However on a glimmer of hope, the likes of Evans, Williams, Kilmister and Miller did themselves proud, they were articulate, with intelligent reasoned arguments which reflected the true views of local residents.

    The Mr Kerr/Carr who spoke of ‘you lot’ seemed from his grins, smiles and almost bemusement, to be lacking the gravitas which such an occasion required. I am sure there will be more smiles when the pay cheque arrives (in the brown envelope) next month.

    Ultimately this is a simple matter, the ruling junta ‘defending’ the CX, using council tax money to defend the argument on the back of so called policy and recruitment issues.

    Until the senior membership of the junta realise that the CX is one man who is a paid employee of the Council and shouldn’t require special treatment, then nothing will change. At least the CX of Carmarthenshire had the ‘decency’ to stand aside while all the investigations proceed, says more about the man than the position!

    Regarding the infamous meeting of the Senior Staff Committee, why nobody has made an FOI request for a copy of the Committee Clerk’s notebook/shorthand records is beyond me, this should tell exactly who said what.

  • Steve

    Pre-judging a vote – what BS! This again is bullyboy tactics from JA and his cronies. An assault on free speech.

    Surely councillors are entitled to have a view on anything, the point being that having discussed the matter at council they could, if swayed by the matter being discussed, change their mind and vote the other way if desired.

    Does this mean that every time in the future JA gets to give an interview and he discusses his views on a subject he must then declare an interest and leave the chambers if that subject comes up? I doubt he would!

    As said by many others – shameless and diabolical.

    “To view the opposition as dangerous is to misunderstand the basic concepts of democracy. To oppress the opposition is to assault the very foundation of democracy.” ― Aung San Suu Kyi, Letters from Burma.

  • Malcolm Calver

    The question the Labour Party needs to answer is: “why have they allowed Cllr Hancock to remain a member of the Labour Party?”

  • Phil Baker

    Malcolm, the only reason I withdrew the Notice of Motion was based on the understanding that it could not possibly have been won following the predetermination ruling. I considered it would be better to withdraw and allow a further attempt in the very near future rather than debating it, losing, and then not being able to return to it for six months.

    I apologise if this was the wrong tactic, but with only four non-affiliated, one Pembrokeshire Alliance and I think two Conservatives left in the Council Chamber it was a vote that could never have been won.

    I know that many IPG Plus councillors are now very concerned at the manner in which their leaders operate.

  • Powertothepeople

    Just finished watching the video…well I really don’t know what to say (and that is a first).

    The words ‘sucking butt’ enter my head though.

  • Quill

    In response to Powertothepeople,

    Like you I’ve also watched the webcast and come up with two words to describe the despicable antics…

    …funnily enough, my first word rhymes exactly with yours, and the second word sounds quite similar too!

  • Gareth Jones

    BBC Wales News tonight: BPJ staying put unlike the Carmarthen CEO. Anyone surprised?

  • Malcolm Calver

    I understand your reason Phil, but Independent Party members when challenged by their electorate, can intimate they would have supported your motion if it had come to a vote.

    Let us hope this comes up for further debate ASAP, I would not bank on Independent Party members being concerned about how their leaders operate.

  • Weasel

    Perhaps the most telling comment in the whole farcical debate were the words of the Chairman Cllr Arwyn Williams which can be picked up at the very end of the webcast…

    “That’s the end of it… well done…good game!”

    No predetermination there then!

  • William Rees

    I spent nearly thirty years in council chambers in Pembrokeshire; town, district and county. I am a past chairman of South Pembs District Council. I was in the public gallery on Friday. I have never witnessed such cesspit tactics, and left with the feeling of ‘how can these people behave in such a way.’

    There is some good opposition that is speaking up for democracy but they need support.

    I have started circulating a petition:

    ‘We the undersigned, residents of Pembrokeshire, request the Welsh Assembly Government to intervene in the local governance of Pembrokeshire.’

    Three columns underneath for Name, Address, Signature.

    You can prepare your own and start petitioning. Anyone who wishes can return completed petitions to me and I will arrange for presentation to the Assembly.

    Let’s do something; this is our county!!!

    William Rees, Ty Ardd, Llanreath, Pembroke Dock, SA72 6TL.

  • Kate Becton

    Looking at the appalled reaction the tactics of the IPPG have received across the board, the conspiracy theorist in me wonders if this farce was actually planned by the opposition – after all, the IPPG have received far more bad publicity than they would have received if the vote had gone ahead!

  • Cllr Alun Lenny

    I’m a member of the 28-strong Plaid Cymru opposition group on Carmarthenshire County Council.

    I was previously a journalist for 35 years (back to the days of Tom Parry, Dougie Grey etc). Rarely, if ever, have I seen such a debacle.

    We watched events unfolding in the Pembrokeshire council chamber with great interest. So, evidently, did our council’s Lab-Ind Executive Board who, within the hour, had agreed with our Chief Executive that he should ‘step aside’.

    We avidly look forward to our WAO Report meeting on the 27th. Forewarned is forearmed.

  • Tim

    Like many others, I can’t find words to describe how I feel watching that on Friday. What can we, the electorate, actually do? These people are supposed to represent us but we are just being shafted by them.

    There must be something we can do? It feels like we are in a desperate situation.

  • Antony Glynn

    Reading the responses in the press of county councillors who were canvassed for their views on whether BPJ should be suspended, it occurred to me to wonder how many of them had actually read the Auditor’s report. My clear impression was that very few had or, if they had, had not been able to understand it.

    Given this situation it is inevitable that they wait upon their Pembrokeshire Independent Group masters to make up their minds for them.

    William Rees – What is the time-scale for presentation of your petition to the assembly?

  • Morgi

    When the envelope stunt was pulled, I thought that IPPG tactics couldn’t get any lower – I was wrong, because that kindly looking old character Lewis of Crymych dramatically left the arena. They couldn’t get any lower could they?

    Yes they could, ‘cos he came back and repeated the stunt, and unfortunately this time with an impassioned defence of his ‘honourable’ disclosure, left the chamber again which started the ball rolling.

    If ever we needed the likes of Mike Stoddart, Paul Miller, Michael Williams, Mike Evans, Bob Kilmister and of course you Jacob, it’s now!

    If John ‘Cwmbetws’ Davies was largely the architect of what has become the IPPG, this resultant debacle and display of antidemocracy was probably the reason for his apparent less than happy demeanour.

  • Malcolm Calver

    So William Rees wants a petition presented to the Welsh Assembly calling for it to intervene in the ‘local governance of Pembrokeshire’.

    Surely William you must realise that the Welsh Assembly was formed on a minority vote and still has very little support in Wales. You only have to look at the failure of education in Wales, mostly due to Welsh Assembly policies.

    Like it or not we have a majority of democratically elected councillors on Pembrokeshire County Council.

  • Paul Absalom

    I am amazed at the dirty tricks the IPPG used. As the views of Pembrokeshire people have not been addressed, and their money used recklessly, does that mean we don’t have to pay our council tax next year?

    I for one object to paying for QC Kerr so an over paid civil servant can bypass pensions taxes.

  • Goldingsboy

    We are, as Tim says, in a desperate situation.

    In truth, it is no exaggeration to say that the governance of Pembrokeshire is chronically diseased and in need of urgent surgery.

    One reason that the cancer has developed so dangerously is the unhealthy and unmistakable political collusion between the IPG and senior officials of the council.

    Added to that is the abuse of the Special Responsibility Allowances. It is a system of financial patronage that has badly damaged our local political structures in a way that was not foreseen by central government.

    Wickedly, SRAs have been used here to attract elected representatives away from any sense they may have had of a civic duty (or party allegiance) to that of monetary reward. Until that situation changes, the only hope we have of restoring local democracy is to mount a much greater, perhaps selective, challenge to the IPG at the next poll.

    Incidentally, Jacob, I have learned from OG that the IPG hold secret meetings ahead of full council meetings. They do so, he says, in order to agree a common line to take. Has anyone raised this with the Monitoring Officer as being tantamount to a breach of the very code that caused such mayhem last Friday?

  • A voice from Fishguard

    I think I understand the legal arguments behind the lawful yet immoral change to the Chief Executive’s pension payments but there is something I am still unclear about – who exactly arranged for the item regarding these pension changes to be placed on the agenda?

    Was it the then Leader, who, at the time, may have been worried that BPJ would leave and the Council would then be placed at a disadvantage through losing the prop he continually leant on?

    Or was it BPJ himself, who may have been of the opinion that the new tax regime did not allow him to be paid what he thinks he is worth?

    Or did BPJ whisper in Cwmbetws’ ear for him to place it on the agenda, saying that it may be advantageous for the Council to show the people that Pembrokeshire are concerned that their officers need to have their income protected since they are so good at what they do and if they leave you will be disadvantaged.

    With this known we all could then be sure which person’s instinct of what is morally correct needs correcting.

    I for one do not want to be governed by people who are willing to allow morally wrong decisions to be condoned and that goes for all the councillors who are willing to sit on their hands until they are instructed when to raise them and consequently are not prepared to stand up for what is right. It is time for a black and white, right or wrong decision not a fuzzy grey political decision made to allow face to be saved, incompetence to be hidden and the status quo extended.

    Remember that this is the Council with an education department that has led our schools into the lower leagues, that have a social services department that has not hit the headlines for exemplary performance, whose ability to meet the dates promised for regeneration projects is abysmal and I have an inkling that the planning process may not be meeting their statutory targets and add to all that the Pembroke Dock grants debacle and I am sure there are many more examples of the same ilk.

    Anywhere else this level of performance would have resulted in whoever the boss was being shown the door.

    So one last plea to the electorate out there, speak to your county councillor and tell them how you really feel and remind them that they should always be trying to reflect the opinions of their constituents. If they are independents they should have independent minds and act according to their conscience, if they don’t why did you vote for them?

  • Mike Cook

    Who is the real leader of the IPPG? Is it Jamie, or Bryn?

  • John Hudson

    Section 25 of the Localism Act 2011, introduced in England and Wales, clarifies the common law concept of predetermination, i.e. where someone has a closed mind when involved in decision making.

    The section makes it clear that that if a councillor has given a public view on an issue, this does not necessarily show that the councillor has a closed mind. He/she is still able to participate in discussion and vote on an item of council business requiring a decision.

    At the decision making meeting councillors should carefully consider all the evidence put before them and must be prepared to modify or change their initial view in the light of arguments and evidence presented.

    I do not think this was properly explained at the meeting, where the QC was asked to rule on the current state of councillors’ minds at the meeting from old press cuttings.

  • Forsheda

    This attack on democracy by the IPPG was obviously preplanned. I find it a bit rich when we have the likes of Sue Perkins lecturing councillors on behaviour and etiquette.

    The same woman who has taken her thirty pieces of silver and didn’t realise that agreeing to BPJ’s pay supplement was morally repugnant especially to Council staff who had just taken huge pay cuts and a pay freeze.

    As for Brian Hall accusing anyone of being a bully, words fail me. Does he live on a parallel universe?

    I hope the despicable antics of the IPPG will be the beginning of the end for Jamie Adams and his odious companions. The likes of Sue Perkins and Simon Hancock will answer for their sins at the ballot box and join Ann Hughes in a long retirement.

  • Sealight

    I watched last Friday’s Council meeting live on my TV screen, streamed from the laptop. Recruitment of top level management was repeatedly cited as the reason for the need for the “pensions arrangement”. A number of Councillors pointed out that PCC already pay these persons a salary in excess of the rest of Wales, and in some cases greater than the UK’s PM. That did not prevent repetition of the mantra.

    “A voice from Fishguard” lists a number of areas of failing within Pembrokeshire. Namely education, social services, regeneration and the looming grants scandal. These are the reasons why top level management will not come to Pembrokeshire and throwing money at them will only entice the avaricious and weak players.

    During a TV interview broadcast last weekend, a Devon businessman talking about the economic consequences of the recent weather said that the spring school half-term holidays were worth £30 million to the Devon economy and that this was threatened.

    What is this holiday period worth to Pembrokeshire? What has our Council done to compete with Devon?

  • Martin Lewis

    The Caerphilly chief exec has been charged with misconduct in public office.

  • Gareth Jones

    Interesting developments in the Caerphilly senior officer cases.

  • William Rees

    Malcolm – I just feel so helpless watching from the outside and not able to do anything. A feeling I am sure you share with me. You make valid points, but I think this is doing something and will allow people to show their distaste.

    It is beyond the capacity of one person to run a county-wide petition, but if numerous people print their own and distribute them who knows where we will get to. We will be doing something.

  • Weasel

    Jacob,

    Having viewed the webcast and read the many comments on your blog and others, I am of the firm opinion that Council was deliberately misled by both the Monitoring Officer and the QC representing the Chief Executive.

    I say representing the Chief Executive as during the debate it became only too clear that he did not consider the corporate body to be his client and he was not there to give legal advice to oppose the Auditor’s report, because Jamie Adams’ pre-prepared speech eventually made it clear that the Auditor’s recommendations were to be agreed in full, albeit with a caveat relating to ‘contractual obligations’. No surprise there!

    No, the QC was purely there to defend the call for the Chief Executive to be suspended pending a full inquiry.

    As for the misleading…

    As I understand it, the Auditor’s report was made public on 30th January. As confirmed by Tony Wilcox in a comment on your blog, the WT and the Herald did their canvassing of councillors on or before Monday 3rd February. However the Notice of Motion was not submitted until the afternoon of 4th February, and the meeting agenda not published until the afternoon of 10th February.

    Unless members are time travellers therefore, when canvassed for their opinions, they CANNOT have been aware of the agenda for the yet announced EGM, and could only reasonably have anticipated there would at some stage have been a Full Council meeting to “consider” the Auditor’s report.

    This was most certainly NOT the impression given by the QC at the meeting, backed up by comments from the Monitoring Officer, Cllr Adams and Cllr Perkins who all implied that members were fully aware of the items for debate at the time they gave their opinions to the press and were therefore guilty of predetermination of the issue.

    I would argue that you CANNOT predetermine an issue that does NOT exist at that time!

    I am not sure who engineered this misrepresentation, but surely the Monitoring Officer and the QC were misleading and should be called to account for their actions.

  • Harfod Boy

    A little County Hall bird tells me Mr. Kerr (sounds like car) has been/will be paid £20k for all of his services in this whole debacle.

  • AAD

    Jacob, all these shenanigans have given me the idea to set the whole scenario to the tune of The Ipcress File. However, I am at a loss as to who should play Harry Palmer with his NHS Spectacles, Colonel Ross and Colonel “English” Stok. Any ideas?

  • John Hudson

    Might I suggest for the avoidance of all doubt that, in future, members formally declare at meetings that, despite what views they may have said to anyone, what may have been reported in the local newspapers etc., that they will fully take account of ALL relevant considerations, discount irrelevant considerations and approach matters for decision with an open mind.

    Such a statement could then be produced as formal evidence of their state of mind at the time of the meeting, if required. As long as the Council minutes are a true record that is.

    Will the minutes record the list and reasons why each member left the Council meeting?

    Leader Adams has made his support for the CEO clear in the WT. One less vote to worry about! How many other pro commentators were there?

  • Valleyman

    I suggest that an appropriate theme tune for this debacle and Mr Bryn Parry-Jones in particular is ‘Go Now’ by The Moody Blues, which is something that certain councillors involved must be feeling at the moment as they see the waves of media and public opinion mounting against them.

    It is only a matter of time before some of those at the epicentre are going to start fighting among themselves like polecats in a bag in an effort to preserve their individual status and positions not only as members of the council in Pembrokeshire but also with various other public bodies to which they have been appointed.

  • Robin Wilson

    I think that the residents/voters of our great County should now be in no doubt that we are not being best served by the IPPG group, and unfortunately, some others.

    It surely is time for those (IPPG) Councillors with a conscience to act, and restore some respectability to PCC.

  • Morgi

    Just like the trenches in WW1 – if you don’t want your head blown off, don’t stick it up in the open. BPJ has stoically remained silent throughout. There are plenty of others predetermined to raise their heads above the parapet in order to preserve this antidemocracy.

    If the Chief Exec was this silent in establishing his wage packet and the unlawful pension changes i.e. had no part other than to bank his obscenely huge pay package, I can appreciate how difficult it would be to legally remove him.

    Morally and ethically deficient is my predetermined verdict, especially when those at the bottom of his ladder have suffered – my opinion is subject to change in the event of persuasion by BPJ himself.

    At the moment, the only way I can see is for the electorate to be reminded at every voting opportunity that the common bonding thread of the IPPG is greed and is avaricious to its core.

    The only way to lance this boil is to vote them out. I’m sure the returning officer won’t return any more!

  • Antony Glynn

    Robin Wilson, you are being naive; IPPG councillors, almost by definition, do not have consciences. If they did have consciences then this situation and the climate of moral turpitude that allowed it to occur could not have come about.

  • Malcolm Calver

    For anyone to form an opinion on their county councillor, they have to be aware of their councillor’s view on any subject. I have not heard any comment from my county councillor Phillip Kidney on this subject. I did note from your photograph Jacob he was at the meeting, perhaps if anyone is aware if he passed an opinion at or after the meeting I would appreciate being informed, maybe through your website.

  • Lizzie-Tish

    I note AAD mentioned a film in his comment, since I watched the meeting online I’ve been racking my brain as it reminded me of a film too.

    Then last night it came to me in a dream: the Zapruder film of when Kennedy was assassinated. Conspiracy theories still abound that period of history. What will future generations think of ‘Envelopegate’? George Clooney should be informed.

    Now what x 8 = 24?

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