Jacob Williams
Thursday 13th March, 2014

Ombudsman’s Partygate investigation: case hearing

Ombudsman’s Partygate investigation: case hearing

Back in 2012 on this website I ran a series of articles which became known as Partygate.

They laid bare the actions taken by those who were in the driving seat of the ruling group of Pembrokeshire County Council, the ‘Independent Political Group,’ and the lengths that were taken to skew the democratic process, all using taxpayer-funded resources.

The leaked files that I shared with the public showed damning evidence that party seniors Cllr. Rob Lewis (cabinet member and deputy leader) along with Cllr. David Wildman (cabinet member) had regularly and complacently used council computers to create a slew of election literature for umpteen of their independent group colleagues who were either successful or unsuccessful candidates going into the 2008 and 2012 council elections.

Such behaviour is in clear breach of the councillors’ mandatory code of conduct requirement that “resources of the authority should not be improperly used for political purposes.”

It also ended any speculation that the ‘Independent Political Group’ was ‘independent,’ and offered conclusive proof – if further was needed – that the ‘IPG’ was, and remains, a slick political party with no guiding morals or sense of direction other than to retain power at any cost.

As well as endless forms of election literature, the Partygate files also revealed political strategy documents had been created by Messrs. Lewis and Wildman to ensure the nefarious IPG kept its grubby mitts on the levers of power in County Hall.

Some months following the Partygate revelations, David Wildman unexpectedly stepped down from the council – and from public life – and moved away from the area. The Ombudsman’s investigation was in full flow at this point.

After Cllr. Wildman became an ex-councillor, the Ombudsman said there was evidence that “he may have breached the code of conduct,” as he “accepted at interview that he was recorded as being the author or the last person to have saved the files, and that he used Council computer systems to create the election material.”

The Ombudsman revealed that Wildman “was of the view that the rules concerning the use of Council computers should be changed.”

Earlier this year it became apparent that the Ombudsman had continued with the case, and that the branch of his investigation into Cllr. Lewis had come to a head. His report was presented – behind closed doors – to the county council’s Standards Committee at a meeting on 15th January. The committee considered the report and decided Cllr. Lewis has a case to answer, and resolved that a full hearing should be arranged to determine the matter, at which Cllr. Lewis could make representations.

The committee hearing – which is open to the public – is to take place at County Hall on Tuesday of next week, the 18th March, at 10am.

The agenda for the meeting has been published and includes a comprehensive set of supporting appendices, including copies of some of the Partygate files, statements, transcripts of an interview conducted with Cllr. Lewis, and the Ombudsman’s final report.

The Ombudsman’s conclusion is that there are twenty-one files within his evidence that Cllr. Lewis “…created or saved whilst using the Council’s computer systems,” and which “are political in nature.”

Cllr. Lewis accepts that he created or saved all of them, but accepts that only 16 of them were improper use of the authority’s resources for political purposes. All of the five files he disputes were not created or saved improperly are the strategy documents, and not election literature.

The Ombudsman’s report is accompanied by 35 files. They are all very interesting to read, and are freely published on the council’s website in PDF form at the following link:

http://mgenglish.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/mgAi.aspx?ID=20048#mgDocuments&LLL=0

The Ombudsman’s report is the fifth file down, titled FINAL S69 Report.
In the interests of natural justice I will not be providing commentary on any of the 35 documents which form part of the Ombudsman’s case until the case has been determined and the Standards Committee has pronounced its sentence.


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10 Comments...

  • Sealight

    In document G20 to the “Final S69 Report” the right hand column contains information against some Councillors’ names; some are annotated “yet to sign” and others have a tick. It is an assumption that a tick indicates that this Councillor has already signed, but a reasonable assumption.

    Why does a Councillor have to sign to become associated with the IPPG? We are told that the IPPG is not a party and does not act in a coordinated manner, so why the signature?

  • Hi Sealight,

    All members of groups that form on the council are required under the legislation to sign a notification and lodge it with the responsible officer of the authority.

    Old Grumpy covered this a decade ago here:

    http://oldgrumpy.co.uk/archived/november%2030%202004.html

    And here:

    http://oldgrumpy.co.uk/archived/Party%20Animals.html

    So you make a correct assumption about the reference to ‘signing’ and signatures.

    You can view these strategy documents on this website’s Partygate series. The relevant files for the 2008 elections can be found on this page, and the 2012 elections can be found here.

  • Sealight,

    They do have to sign up for membership of the political group – a copy of the form can be found on Pembrokeshire’s premier political website.

    http://oldgrumpy.co.uk/archived/Party%20Animals.html

  • Tony Wilcox

    Sorry Guv. Won’t do it again. (Get caught that is.) Ok then, off you go.

  • Jon Coles

    Rob Lewis’ behaviour is symptomatic of a broader culture within the IPPG: deny anything is wrong until handed brass-bound evidence that something is, or get caught with a metaphorical hand in the till; then try to blame someone else and hope that it distracts attention from your own shortcomings.

    I invite everyone to cast their minds back over the last few years. Think about the scandals and problems that have hit the Council and its ruling group. The pattern is striking and persistent.

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    At last someone else who is picking up on the common theme from the IPG/IPPG gravy train; maybe now the persons advocating the continuation of independent councillors in the county will revise their thought process. In a nutshell, it just don’t work guys!

  • John Hudson

    The only improvements to the council’s Corporate Governance arrangements have been as a result of external pressure to do something to correct the procedures of the council’s decision making processes, involving recording of meetings, improvements to scrutiny (where WAO has commented about a lack of motivation to question and challenge, and a lack of capacity) and more transparency about decisions taken by officers under delegated powers.

    After years of inaction, left to their own devices, the Head of Paid service and the Leader of the council responsible for corporate arrangements were unlikely to have implemented any changes.

    I have not seen any evidence of pressure to improve matters further coming from officers, cabinet members or IPG supporters. This has been left to opposition councillors, acting on their own or with support from others, through Notices of Motion which are then vetted by officers and cabinet approval/rejection before a council decision.

    As full council only meets 5 times a year any “improvement” takes an inordinate length of time. The council’s constitution has been under review behind closed doors by a working group of the Corporate Governance Committee for many months now.

  • Quill

    Rob Lewis’ denial over five of the documents seems a bit artificial and pointless to me when he’s held his hands up to everything else. If he’s found ‘not guilty’ on those five disputed charges you can bet he will make as much as he can of it by saying he has been ‘vindicated’ etc, yet if he’s not, what will he be able to use to claim the best from a bad situation?

    Maybe he will say that he is “glad” the Ombudsman concluded that he could have created his colleagues’ literature if he had done so on his own laptop?!

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    Is anyone attending today to update the situation? Also will there be a formal recommendation at the end or does it get batted back to the Chamber of Horrors for a vote?

  • I was there, along with several others. You can read all about it here.

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