Jacob Williams
Tuesday 18th March, 2014

Partygate: the verdict

Partygate: the verdict

Pembrokeshire County Council’s Standards Committee met today to consider a report issued by the Public Service Ombudsman following a lengthy investigation into cabinet member and deputy leader Cllr. Rob Lewis. It was to do with Cllr. Lewis’ part in the ‘Partygate’ scandal which uncovered election leaflets and political strategy documents had been created by cabinet members using council computers, all of which was exclusively revealed in a serialised publication on this website during autumn 2012.

In determining that all of the documents in the Ombudsman’s evidence were political in nature, the committee found Cllr. Lewis guilty of all of the counts levelled against him, that he breached the council’s policies and the statutory code of conduct relating to improper use of council resources, and has been suspended from office for two weeks.

Only two of the committee’s small membership of six are county councillors, both of which – Cllrs. Tom Richards and Stan Hudson – declared prejudicial interests and withdrew from the meeting. Cllr. Richards because he was one of the election candidates Cllr. Lewis had created literature for, and Cllr. Hudson because he had a personal friendship with the complainant, Cllr. David Bryan. Cllr. Bryan had reported the matter to the Ombudsman after he became aware that the leaked Partygate files showed that the ruling group – of which he was then a long-standing member – had conspired to stand a candidate against him in the 2012 election, whose election literature was among those created using cabinet room computers.

The behind-closed-door deliberations of today’s hearing took well over three times as long as the bits of the meeting which were held in public. The committee was advised by the authority’s Monitoring Officer, Laurence Harding, who, prior to the start of business brought up two matters. Firstly he sought the Ombudsman’s two representatives’ views on whether the case could continue or should be adjourned in the light of a matter which had arisen ‘since the agenda was published.’ Mr. Harding said he had been sent an email ‘with regards to a witness who appears in the Ombudsman’s report.’ No further details were given, before the Ombudsman’s representative responded that the matter had ‘no bearing’ on the case and it could go ahead.

The second matter was an announcement from the Monitoring Officer that the member of committee staff who normally clerks meetings of the Standards Committee was unavailable. Because of this, he said to the four members: “when you are in deliberations, normally I’m only brought in to give you legal advice, on this occasion I will be coming in with you to undertake the clerking duties, if, however, legal advice is requested, I will then identify to the committee what that legal advice is.” This meant that, instead of the normal situation where the Monitoring Officer is brought in by the clerk to provide advice if and when needed, he would be there sitting in on the whole of the committee’s deliberations, undertaking the role normally undertaken by a committee clerk.

As Cllr. Lewis had previously admitted sixteen of the twenty-one Ombudsman’s charges against him (that he had used the council’s computer equipment for purely party-political purposes in creating electioneering material) the committee’s discussions related solely to the matters in dispute. These were the five exhibits (G17-G21) which Cllr. Lewis admitted he created on council equipment, but denied were for improper political use.

The Ombudsman’s representative, Eirwyn Pritchard, laid out his case, going through each of the five documents all of which he said related to the ‘political system of the council.’ The exhibits were lists drawn up by Cllr. Lewis of candidates who stood in the 2012 elections, lists of those candidates who won, and invitations to the independent group’s inaugural meeting which he printed and handed out to successful ‘independent’ candidates at the election count on May 4th 2012. Mr. Pritchard said that these various items were for ‘electioneering purposes only,’ that they ‘did not relate to council business,’ and the documents were ‘purely party-political in nature.’ He concluded that there were some provisions made available for councillors to use the council’s resources, such as a councillor or party of councillors booking a room at a council property to hold meetings for use in connection with their council role; however the rules did not extend to ‘printing lists for political purposes’ and the creation of leaflets which were ‘political and for electoral purposes.’

It was then the turn of Cllr. Rob Lewis, who represented himself, to advance his case that the five documents he created were not not improper use of the authority’s resources for political purposes. He started by wishing to “set the scene.” He has been the secretary of the ruling Independent Political Group since 2004, which formed following the council’s Labour party members’ decision to form themselves as a political group. As Cllr. Lewis put it, those councillors elected as ‘independent’ also then formed themselves into a group “to fall into line.” His role as secretary was to ‘give direction’ to his party colleagues within the Independent Political Group, particularly newer councillors and advising which members of staff to approach to best deal with council duties and ward issues.

Those expecting Cllr. Lewis to use his opportunity to explain why he thought these documents were legitimate use of council resources were in for a disappointment when he revealed what he hoped to get out of the hearing: “I was hoping I would seek clarification on what is and what is not appropriate usage [of council resources] when running the authority in its political form.

Cllr. Lewis said that in his position as the secretary of the ‘lead group’ he was asked to prepare a speculative list of successful candidates for a ‘very limited circulation’ including the then leader. He said that “in hindsight, if I had used my own laptop rather than my council computer, we wouldn’t be here today,” before uttering the sort of line you’d only expect from a man who knew he was advocating a doomed defence: “I look to you to give guidance.”

Quite what guidance Cllr. Lewis expected a regulatory body like Standards Committee to offer him, or why, is unclear. What more guidance could he possibly wish for than the council’s policies, in black and white, the councillors’ code of conduct, in black and white, along with the Ombudsman’s report and clear conclusions that his actions amounted to improper usage for political purposes, in black and white. All of which were published in the committee report and appendices.

Cllr. Lewis attempted to make a distinction within the five disputed documents between those created pre-election, which he said “could be deemed as inappropriate,” and those created post-election, which he said were “to do with the formation of the council and for the transaction of business of the council.” Presumably the difference in Cllr. Lewis’ mind was that those created post-election were legitimate use of council resources because all the votes were in and the new councillors were known, but the political affiliations of the new independent members weren’t, and it was beneficial to the running of the council if those undecided independents could be persuaded to join the ruling group rather than remaining properly independent – or ‘Uglies’ and ‘idiots’ as he calls us!

Before questions were put by committee members, Cllr. Lewis was asked if he had anything further to add. He said the Partygate files “were all files which were stored within the council’s system, they were all taken without my permission…and were used…against me in this respect” at which point the chairman intervened to say that was irrelevant to the committee’s considerations. Then our member for Martletwy turned to justifying his actions by saying there was a ‘grey area’ over use of council facilities and resources. He said it was ‘not unusual,’ say, for councillors to connect to the County Hall WiFi network on their own devices for use unrelated to council business, before singling one instance where the council’s internet supply had been used by members for “parliamentary election use.” The final matter Cllr. Lewis wished to get off his chest was the ‘press coverage.’ He referred to what he called “the stolen files,” saying they had “appeared on websites on the world wide web with lots of people commenting on them” and in the press, and he expressed his concern over how ‘appropriate’ this was given the previous advice given to him by the Ombudsman – that matters under investigation should not have been discussed until the conclusion of the case. We’ll never know which websites Cllr. Lewis was referring to because this line was met with a distinct lack of interest by the chairman, who opened to committee members.

The distinction Cllr. Lewis drew between the two types of documents among the five in dispute (pre and post-election) didn’t go unnoticed by the committee’s vice-chairman, who asked Cllr. Lewis if he would explain, one-by-one, which documents he would put into each category. As Cllr. Lewis had raised this tentative distinction it came as a somewhat of a surprise that he hadn’t done any homework to sort the documents into the two categories. After much page-flicking and umming and ahhing it was loosely suggested that evidence appendices G17, G18 and G19 might be considered ‘pre’ documents, whilst G20 and G21 could be ‘post’ election.

Following some further questioning the committee adjourned at 10.45 into private session, for what was expected to be half an hour or so, to decide if these five documents constituted breaches. It wasn’t until just before midday that a decision was reached and announced – in public session – that Cllr. Lewis had been found in breach of the code:

“We find Cllr. Lewis in breach of Paragraph 7 (b) v and vi in relation to appendices G17-G21 by virtue of the fact the use of IT equipment for political purposes is prohibited unless specific authority is given.

We were referred to page twenty-one of the Ombudsman’s guidance which states that in the absence of specific authority you may not use the resources of the authority. Paragraph 11 of the IT policy of Pembrokeshire County Council gives a measure of authority by stating any IT facility for members should not be used for political purposes, save for communication between members of the same political group in the council relating to the transaction of council business.

We do not consider that the documentation amounts to council business in relation to items G17-G21, and that is the conclusion of the committee.”

After revealing the verdict the committee members immediately retired back to the jury room, this time to consider the appropriate sanction. After a further hour behind-closed-doors in deliberation the committee reconvened in public session and the chairman announced the sentence:

“The decision of the committee is as follows: Cllr. Lewis will be suspended for two weeks.

Cllr. Lewis has been very forthright in his responses, and he’s a senior member of the council, and should have ensured he fully understood the rules. The period of the suspension takes into account his forthrightness, and also the length of time it has taken to bring this matter to this hearing. He was interviewed in March 2013 and the issue was brought to the Ombudsman’s attention in late 2012.

The whole subject of the use of council IT resources needs to be completely reviewed in the light of the issues raised at this hearing.

Members must be provided with clear rules governing the use of IT resources and facilities. This review should include contributions from IT and legal officers, with consultation with members having regard to current working practices in the immediate and longer term.”

It would appear that the committee members were somehow persuaded during the open committee – or during their private deliberations – that, instead of determining the seemingly straightforward breaches before them, they should also dare to venture into the propriety of the guidance relating to the misuse of the authority’s resources for patently political matters.

It should be borne in mind that this sentence was not just for the five breaches Cllr. Lewis disputed and was found guilty over, but for all of the 21 breaches which included the creation of election leaflets for several of his party chums. Only in Pembrokeshire County Council could a committee determining such a serious case of a cabinet member’s repeated misuse of the authority’s resources decide it was appropriate to suggest that the guidelines relating to political misuse of the authority’s resources by all councillors should be clarified to make it clearer that the creation of election literature on council computers was improper behaviour.

Had these breaches been committed by a Westminster or Cardiff Bay politician then their careers would be shot. Upon his return from his fortnight’s suspension it should be inconceivable that Cllr. Lewis’ future has anything further than the backbenches in store, either by doing the right thing and resigning, or having been sacked by the council leader as his position as both a cabinet member and deputy leader, not to mention his personal credibility, are all irreparably damaged.

Council leader Cllr. Jamie Adams has rather a shallow pool of talent to dip into, though it has to be said, looking across his eight-member cabinet clique that Rob Lewis was certainly among those paddling out of their depth – requiring armbands, so to speak. Most of his party chums – including the ones he created election leaflets for – now have an additional qualification over Cllr. Lewis in that their CVs aren’t stained with a damaging brush with the Ombudsman. That’s most, but not all of them.

The important matter concluded by today’s ruling – whatever views may be expressed over the lenient sentence – should be enough to end any politician’s ability to reach great heights, if not their political careers outright. Whether it’s the Prime Minister or the cabinet member of a tinpot council, a crooked stunt by any person in a position of power who abuses that position and power to interfere with the system of fair and free elections using public resources for political ends en masse is unforgivable. At least it should be.

As recent events have shown, taking responsibility doesn’t come naturally to the crème de la Kremlin.


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

56 Comments...

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    One wonders now which way Cllr. Farmer Adams will turn as the farmyard seems to be in disarray:

    Cllr. Putrid Pugh remains in his cow shed albeit after a reshuffle (remembering the vote of no confidence in him following his false accusations against Stodds in December was vetoed by the IPPG block vote via a pre meeting of a non political group).

    Cllr. Huw George has been led to another sty after the safeguarding rumblings, although he has the audacity to front the education department’s school restructure briefings ahead of education portfolio holder Cllr. Ken The Headteacher Rowlands because he is “Deputy Leader” of the Council (how many Hail Marys did that take?)

    Now Cllr. Rob ‘Suspended’ Lewis, Council Deputy Leader who quotes ‘people come before politics’ and ‘I sit as an independent member, politics should play no part at County Council level’ has been brought to the forefront of the headlines.

    How many IPPG members can be happy with the leadership of Farmer Adams and his choice of Cabinet? Is there no lorry in line to transport such animals to the slaughter house? Farmer Adams has moved his manure heap around the farm yard a number of times since he inherited the tractor from Cllr. John Davies. There can’t be many stables left for him to re-appoint his animals to. Surely the backbenchers must revolt against his leadership or is there a whiff of gravy aroma emanating from the top table after this episode?

    I can’t imagine those Labour-leaving current Cabinet members, Cllr. Sue ‘was red, now blue’ Perkins or Cllr. Simon ‘absent when it matters’ Hancock attracting the support of enough IPPG backbenchers to oust Farmer Adams. So who can?

    Farmer Adams bleated for a united Chamber of Horrors after the last full council meeting but this can do little to help him. I can’t see him falling on his pitchfork myself or go out to graze; just how can the people of Pembrokeshire be heard Jacob? Is there a formal route to get the WG involved asap or do we have to remain in the cow sheds until 2017?

    Unfortunately for Cllr. Rob ‘Suspended’ Lewis, party politics is needed in Pembrokeshire, if only to prevent the continuum of scandals from our council being the talk of the UK.

  • Martin Lewis

    So after the two councillors departed the meeting, who/what did the committee consist of?

  • John Hudson

    It is interesting to read the alleged comments and views of our impartial Monitoring Officer on OG’s article about this meeting.

    Do these early alleged views amount to a pre-determination or pre-disposition of any investigation?

    Should he have excluded himself from being in the room when this matter was being considered, as apparently on Counsel’s advice, councillors would have been?

    I see that the MO was present as the secretary and as legal adviser to the Committee when it met to consider the evidence and its verdict, and then when it retired again to consider any sanction.

    It also seems that the length of time taken to investigate and bring this matter to the hearing is a relevant factor in any decision on sanctions.

    Presumably if matters take too long, bonuses could be awarded in recompense.

    Where are the electorate in all of this? Our pockets have been dipped into, and we have been duped at the ballot box by a discrete election machine.

  • My dear old grandmother always warned us children against the dangers of becoming consumed by jealousy.

    However, I’m sure she would have understood why I am green-eyed with envy over “crème de la Kremlin”.

    Brilliant!

  • Steve

    JW – be serious!! 🙂

    Do you honestly expect Jamie to sack him, or for Cllr. Lewis to resign?! This is after all the IPG we are talking about.

    No doubt there will be an interview with one or both of them in the future where they will state that they are positively delighted that the ombudsman has now highlighted the need for reform of the guidelines relating to political misuse of the authority’s resources, this being something that the IPG have discussed (in secret) many times over the years.

  • Tessa Hodgson

    Sharp eyed readers of the letters page in last week’s Tenby Observer will note that Cllr Lewis has a much better grasp of parking rules than he seems to have on the code of conduct.

  • Quill

    TWO WEEKS?!

    Is that all? That’s a holiday!

    A fortnight’s respite in Butlins in exchange for serial abuses of position and serious breaches of the code of conduct…can this be added to the list of perks that come with being an IPG member?!

  • Bob Kilmister

    Jacob, I think your readers should be aware that Cllr Lewis’ suspension has not started yet, as he has to be formally notified in writing of the decision and then he is allowed 21 days within which he can appeal.

    He was at PCNPA today and certainly gave the impression that he was minded to appeal.

    Apologies, resignation or doing the honourable thing are obviously words that are not in the IPG dictionary. We now have three cabinet members namely, Huw George, David Pugh and Rob Lewis who should all have resigned in my view. The fact that none have nor has their leader taken any action shows that their moral compass is either not working or has been deliberately shut down.

  • It is interesting that, as part of its findings, the standards committee stated: “The whole subject of the use of council IT resources needs to be completely reviewed in the light of the issues raised at this hearing. Members must be provided with clear rules governing the use of IT resources and facilities.”

    This is on all fours with the usual practice of blaming the system rather than the individual.

    The Ombudsman’s guidance on this subject reads: “You must make sure you use the authority’s resources for proper purposes only. It is not appropriate to use, or authorise others to use, the resources for political purposes, including party political purposes.”

    And “You should never use council resources for purely political purposes, including designing and distributing party political material produced for publicity purposes.”

    And “Members should also have regard to the fact that periods leading up to local government elections are particularly sensitive in this regard.”

    It would have been helpful if the standards committee had explained which part of this guidance they thought Cllr Lewis might find difficult to understand.

  • D. Pleconcerned

    Will that be two weeks’ holiday with or without pay?

  • Suspension is without pay, which for two weeks is unlikely to cause any problems, especially for a councillor trousering a cabinet member/deputy leader’s salary on top of the basic allowance.

    In answer to a previous comment, the membership of the standards committee is outlined at the following link on the council’s website:

    http://mgenglish.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/mgCommitteeMailingList.aspx?ID=304&LLL=0

  • John Hudson

    One wonders why the distinction between political and non-political cannot be understood by a deputy leader of the council. Surely this is a matter of common sense to most other people. What does this say about the Leader’s judgement? Oh sorry I forgot about expenses.

    Now that the guidance is to be redrawn to encompass this difficult subject, can we look forward to a much, much more detailed new Constitution covering ALL aspects of council activity in great detail?

    I thought it was the job of a Council’s Monitoring Officer to advise councillors on questions of conduct and ethics, including training on the members’ code of conduct which is based on the Ombudsman’s guide.

  • Kate Becton

    A question for OG – ‘It is not appropriate to use, or authorise others to use, the resources (of the Council) for political purposes, including party political purposes’.

    Does this mean that the Councillors who, presumably, authorised Cllr. Lewis to produce their election material could be vulnerable to complaints to the Ombudsman?

    There certainly does not seem to be any ambiguity in the advice already available – do any of the IPPG ever read the Code of Conduct – unless, of course there might be the possibility of undermining democracy.

    It might be best if Cllr. Lewis shut up, did the suspension – I agree with all of you that this is all it will be, one never knows the suspension might be deemed too lenient – does anyone know to whom he would appeal?

  • Jonathan Nutting

    Other than David Simpson is there any other cabinet member that should not have resigned by now? One and a bit years into this sorry administration. What will be the next faux pas (Pembroke Dock not included)? Over three years to go!

    How some can carry on supporting the IPPG star chamber is beyond me! Come on, jump!! The water is warm and the people of Pembrokeshire want change. Can you really see this group of no hopers in charge for another THREE YEARS!!! The good ship Pembrokeshire is already badly holed.

    Do you think some of our cabinet members are part of a Cardiff Bay fifth column?

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    It didn’t take long for the Pembrokeshire Alliance vultures to start circling to pick off the scraps from the bones. Cllr. Nutting, can you see an IPPG member throwing their cards behind Splinters Stock as a saviour? I think not.

    I keep saying it: nail your political colours to a mast and let’s end this debacle of the Independents gravy train which is derailing Pembrokeshire. If the Alliance secured enough for the Politburo to be set up would they do the decent thing and ask Stodds and Jacob to join the administration even though they stay true to the dictionary definition of independent?

    If you want to lead our council do so through an up-front political group.

  • Welshman 23

    Poor old councillor, suspended for 2 weeks. In my world this would be seen as gross misconduct and the person would have been sacked.

  • Hi Kate, I think appeals of decisions made by standards committees are heard by the Adjudication Panel for Wales.

  • Jonathan Nutting

    Jon, time you read what we have written in our manifesto. It’s embarrassing, when you make comments that are not based on facts or knowledge.

    You keep spouting on about the need for national party politics to sort out County Hall. What have our AMs and MPs done throughout this sorry saga? Splinters in bums I think. Your panacea is not in that direction.

    When Angela Burns came out what notice was taken? If you watched the webcast I think you will agree with me the Tories did not come away from the meeting smelling of roses. One for, one against and one on the fence. Bit of a blow for your strong party politics 🙂

    You knew I was a prop. Which position did you play? 🙂

  • Paul Absalom

    Does this mean the others (Captain Ken, Lyndon Frayling, Umelda Harvard etc. etc.) that he produced election material for may also be hauled up in front of the ombudsman as well?

  • Kate Becton

    Thank you Jacob – do you know if they have the power to increase the suspension?

    Paul – you make the same point that I do – I really cannot imagine that the Councillors who availed themselves of Cllr. Lewis’s help did not know that he was producing their election material for them.

    On various websites there is always the call that something should be done – perhaps this provides the opportunity for action. Perhaps a complaint should be made to the Ombudsman about the other Councillors – it would require an individual or group with access to the paperwork – from experience I know that the Ombudsman will only act on the abuse of process – is there a group of us who could get together and do this?

  • Richie S.

    Hey ho – what a surprise! After all the meetings, votes etc. of the last few weeks the scum is still floating on the top of the pond!

    It would be nice to think that the police investigation into the grants fiasco would topple some of these people, but I don’t think I’ll be holding my breath!!

  • Jon Coles

    This is from the FAQ section of the Adjudication Panel for Wales’ website.

    Q. What sanctions can a tribunal impose?

    A. In cases referred direct by the Ombudsman, there is a range of sanctions available to the tribunal, including a warning as to future conduct, suspension or partial suspension of a member from office for up to 1 year, or disqualification for up to 5 years. In appeal cases, the tribunal will decide whether to uphold or overturn the determination of a Standards Committee that there has been a breach of the code of conduct. In appeal cases, the tribunal will decide whether to uphold or overturn the determination of a Standards Committee that there has been a breach of the code of conduct. Where it upholds the decision of the Standards Committee, it will either endorse the sanction imposed or refer the matter back to the Committee with a recommendation that a different sanction be imposed, up to a maximum suspension of 6 months.

    So, if Rob appeals the sanction could be worse!

    Go on, Rob: spin the wheel!

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    Cllr. Nutting, your commentary requires some substance. What exactly have I got to clarify? That Splinters Stock hasn’t got splinters? You are a party of independent councillors formed to create a party to challenge the other independent councillors who formed a party.

    In the words of Max Boyce, “…up and under here we go, it’s the song of ‘the Alliance’ front row”. Not quite the same imposing rings as ‘the Viet Gwent’ but the same claptrap as the IPPG.

    I hear Putrid Pugh is backing the assets stripping hedge fund interested in buying Murco whilst Stodds looks behind it all with a sceptical eye. The KNS Alliance has a lot to learn if it wants to get a stronghold in Pembrokeshire.

  • Kate Becton

    Jon – thank you for that information; as a betting woman I would not, under any circumstances, take a punt on an appeal – I would consider myself very lucky to have ‘got away with it’.

    However looking at the past responses to any suggestion that members might be in the wrong, I look forward to this appeal in the certain knowledge that the penalty will be increased! Bring it on.

  • Timetraveller

    What is obvious right across huge tracts of the public sector is that regulation isn’t working. Some officials are grossly overpaid, unaccountable and basically untouchable.

    If the Ombudsman couldn’t dole out the punishment, it is hardly likely the council are going to. In such circumstances the Ombudsman is a waste of time, possibly even a hindrance, as now the matter has been dealt with.

    At the very least the Pembroke Dock grants matter involves negligence on the part of officials. It would have to be a very determined copper to see anyone charged, especially as individuals concerned morph into the “authority”, and then simply claim mistakes were made.

    Unless we have regulators with adequate knowledge of the system and real teeth, maladministration will continue to flourish.

    So take two weeks off that man, yes August will be fine, and don’t do it again!

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    £1.4 million investment in Tenby Leisure Centre. Well overdue and of benefit to the town and Pembrokeshire. However it could put into context Cllr. Mike Evans’ abstention in the vote of no confidence in Putrid Pugh at the last Chamber of Horrors full Council meeting.

    Don’t want to be rocking a boat so close to its landing berth methinks. Talk about packing down with the enemy Mike!

  • Michael Williams

    Following the decision of the Standards Committee earlier this week to suspend Councillor Lewis for two weeks, it was interesting to see that the following day he turned up to a planning committee of the National Park, where he is vice chair of the planning committee, as large as life acting as if nothing had happened. I honestly don’t believe that he was acting, such is the contempt for proper process within the independent political party.

    Any individual with a shred of decency would have stood aside with an apology to the people of the county. He and his band of unprincipled fellow independent party members should also apologise to other members of PCC who, whilst they might have widely varying political views, are there for the benefit of their constituents, and are being brought into disrepute by the actions of Lewis and others.

    What a sentence. These serial misbehavers will be quaking in their boots no doubt. Lewis used facilities which are put in place to serve the taxpayers of Pembrokeshire for his and his party’s own political ends, which is a serious breach of process. The independent political party, for that is what it is, is a political party whose unpublished manifesto is the accrual of pecuniary benefits to its acolytes, and the abuse of power for their benefit.

    The core problem is the cabinet system which has done irreparable damage to democracy. The system allows these people to act in this manner without any effective accountability, and makes it almost impossible to scrutinise and hold to account. Following the intervention of the ministerial board led by a retired judge, things did improve for a very short time, but within a few weeks of their departure these serial abusers of authority reverted to their usual practices.

    The answer? Elections in three years’ time. We can’t wait that long. The leader, Adams and his discredited acolytes should resign immediately. Of course there is no chance of that. Our hopes in these dark days are pinned on those who struggle under huge difficulties to keep the fading democratic flame alight. Putin must be looking enviously at this cabal.

    Experience teaches me to offer only one piece of advice. If you attempt to hold to account and scrutinise, be aware, be very aware. I don’t exaggerate when I say there are very dark forces operating in County Hall, which are capable of inflicting huge personal pain on those who do so, and their families.

  • Weasel

    My small pleasure at hearing the news of the suspension of the IPPG Deputy Leader, albeit in the full knowledge that the sentence was no more than a gentle slap on the wrist, all but evaporated today.

    My trusted sources within the Kremlin tell me that far from feeling chastised Cllr Rob Lewis has since the hearing been at his desk with a smug look on his face boasting about how he will be taking his two week holiday over the Easter break.

    Apparently he has three weeks to decide if he wishes to appeal, and whilst he has decided not to, he is delaying the decision, such that he can serve his nominal suspension over the holiday period.

    PCC staff I am told are universally disgusted by this. As one put it to me “it’s like Rooney being red carded and banned for two weeks in March and then choosing to serve his ban in the off season so he doesn’t miss any games, Man U fans may love it but the rest of the country would be outraged”.

    Anyone with a conscience would surely have kept their head down and quietly served their suspension but, as we know, morals are severely lacking within the IPPG ranks.

    I am also reliably informed that while even IPPG members are openly admitting that Cllr Rob Lewis is seen as the weakest and most inept of the current crop of Cabinet stooges, Farmer Adams will not drop him from his role as Deputy Leader as he feels that would be a sign of weakness, plus of course he is the only one who can work the photocopier.

  • Keanjo

    Glad to see that Michael Williams says the cabinet system is the root of the problem in the Kremlin. How do we get rid?

  • Nev Andrews

    What on earth is KNS? And could Messrs Jovi and Nutting take it to the playground please?

  • Kilmister, Nutting and Stock.

    Think Stock, Aitken and Waterman without the hairspray or glitter. Or synthesizers. They have no synthesizers. The comparison ends there really.

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    Nev, get a life! Cllr. Nutting has his drivers for a new political map in Pembrokeshire which I don’t concur with. Up until the last 18 months I never considered the idea of a political-led administration/Cabinet but after the current crop under Farmer Adams I dread to think what the KNS, new website, manifesto or training schedule included will offer that can improve Pembrokeshire.

    There may be more common sense on the school playgrounds in Pembrokeshire than what’s coming from the Kremlin.

  • Jon Coles

    I like your generosity in describing Jamie Adams as having a “shallow pool of talent to dip into”. I am reluctant to correct you, but it is a shallow muddy puddle.

  • John Hudson

    In my view this is the fundamental debate, how and who we elect to represent us.

    We have had, or rather more correctly, only a few of us have had, candidates said to represent national political parties. Look what that has produced, even this is no guarantee of united voting.

    Most of us have had the opportunity to vote for no-name or independent candidates, some of whom have had their election material produced by a carpet bagging clandestine group with the intent of taking control of the council. Most of these, post election, accepted an invitation to join the Group without any mandate from their electorate, and unless I am mistaken, any collective policies. The resulting ruling majority group have no mandate from the electorate to control the council, or rather do the officers’ bidding.

    It does seem that the Pembrokeshire electorate does prefer to elect “independent” “non-political” candidates or perhaps that is just the outcome of the choice we have.

    So where does that leave the County (that’s us I think) in identifying and promoting collective policies or views for the future prospects that we mere mortal electors can agree with, or not, and vote for or not at the ballot box?

    Can somebody please explain how 60 independent councillors can come together and direct officers to run this strategic Council which is more than the sum of its 60 parts, and which the majority of us will have voted for.

    Can I add that I have no wish to become a councillor, but as I pay I have a view. If I wanted to be a councillor I would wish to work with others who shared my aims for the county, preferably before the election, so I could be up front with the electorate.

    Perhaps our unaffiliated host can start to enlighten us.

  • Kate Becton

    Mike – having read your latest post, I am reluctantly accepting the fact that all the members who had their election material produced by Cllr. Lewis have to say is that they had no idea it was being produced on PCC computers.

    It truly beggars belief that, at some stage, they were not sitting in the Cabinet room at Cllr. Lewis’s shoulder whilst he produced the material.

    It is very depressing to realise that, in reality, there is nothing to be done, and, whilst I realise that there are a lot of people who contribute posts to the various websites I still fear it is not enough and the ‘good old boy’ syndrome will prevail.

  • Nev Andrews

    “Get a Life”…Jon Boy?

    Strange reaction I have to say, just because I fail to appreciate the (I presume) intended humour on your posts which resemble, character wise, extracts from the Beano.

    You may make some valid points, then again…it’s difficult to be sure…and I don’t believe the answer to the local political failings are to substitute another version of a discredited system. Or is that question too difficult if we consider it in Bash Street terms?

  • Nev Andrews

    You raise a very good question in my opinion Mr Hudson about how sixty independent councillors can come together and administer the council. However, would it actually be any better if there were 60 Labour, Tories, monster raving loonies (!) in reality?

  • John

    Michael Williams makes a very concerning and serious comment above that those that question or ‘scrutinise’ and even more worryingly, their families, can be subjected to the dark forces that are at work at County Hall.

    Surely Cllr Williams if such things are going on, you have a duty to give full details to the people of Pembrokeshire?

    Have people and their families had huge pain inflicted upon them? If so, who are they? And what has happened to them?

    Also have any Councillors declined to ‘scrutinise’ or ‘hold to account’ any wrongdoing, or even any justifiable decisions, for fear of reprisals against themselves or their families?

    All these things should be brought out into the open.

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    Nev raises a point. My view is that at least the voters would know what they are voting for up-front and can make a choice. Then as per general election a change of administration can be made at the polls.

    Currently the people vote for independents who form a rugby loving Masonic group to run the council with no guidance/without being overseen by anyone. The officers are rubbing their hands whilst farmer Adams manipulates the manure. Is the KNS Alliance offering anything different?

  • John Hudson

    In my view Nev, it would be a very bad thing if all 60 councillors were of the same group. It would however be an improvement if the majority group was at least elected on a platform that the majority of us had voted for.

    A strong opposition, of whatever hue or hues, is required to scrutinise and offer challenge.

    The council’s external auditor has had cause to comment that “in the absence of robust information, members require a high degree of motivation to challenge reports and require officers to provide then with sufficient and reliable information that allows them to evaluate service provision and challenge way of working”.

    In his stated view, few members demonstrate the motivation and capacity to do so.

    If anyone has endured an Overview and Scrutiny committee meeting they may well come to the same conclusion, especially of IPG members. I have not witnessed the same improvement that the Leader has seen, at least in Older Persons’ O&S. Why are our councillors (apart from a handful of trouble makers) not pressing for more information or at least asking questions?

    There was some pretty robust questioning when the Health Board appeared before them, so maybe the cosy officer/member relationship has not changed, and the majority of members are not yet in the habit of questioning/challenging their officers.

    In setting up the council’s constitution, as advised by officers, the council agreed that the Leader could nominate and appoint his cabinet. It is within the council’s power to change this to a system whereby the council considers nominations for cabinet positions and also determine whether they should have executive powers for which they could be held individually accountable, rather then the shared “collective” responsibility they enjoy now.

    This effectively reduces them to mouthpieces and fronts for photo ops. Cabinet meetings are dire, and consist of members promoting and reading from the officers’ reports merely regurgitating what is in the reports to a largely non-existent audience!

    Cabinet post salaries are based on the assumption that they have individual full-time responsibility; the salaries are the same.

    As a start It would be interesting to know whether any formal political parties would accept these more radical ways of working.

    I do hope that the Alliance gets some traction, at the moment this appears to be the only hope for change on offer.

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    Nev,

    The main characters in the Bash Street Kids are: Danny, ‘Erbert, Fatty, Plug, Sidney, Smiffy, Spotty, Toots, Wilfred, Cuthbert.

    Can you update the readers on who you consider to be who within the Chamber of Horrors?

    If you do read my posts it’s only in the last 18 months I’ve started advocating a political administration, purely on the basis that no-one can control the independents; two of the councillors who seem to have the respect on Joe Public are Jacob and Mike Stoddart. Why don’t they throw their hat into an independent group IPPG/KNS Alliance I wonder?

    It seems the definition of independent in Pembrokeshire is linked intrinsically to self gain. The morals of Farmer Adams is obvious as he is oblivious to public perception and opinion of his current (mal) administration.

    The Cabinet is non functioning with no respect or substance despite the reshuffles. Jobs for the boys and if you don’t play rugby or attend the masonic temple you don’t get in.

    This is the main strand of my posts for a political led administration in the County. Independent doesn’t work! If you wish to stand as as an independent (like Jacob and Stodds) you do so in the knowledge you won’t be included in the inner sanctum of public office. It’s also the drift I have followed in questioning the KNS Alliance – do they honestly feel as if they can offer the vision and more importantly deliver on their vision?

  • Michael Williams

    Re: John,

    I say “Be aware, be very aware” from painful personal experience, the details of which can be found on the more cerebral site, http://www.oldgrumpy.co.uk.

    Just look up “Dai in a spin” published on 1st July 2003. Dr Michael Ryan is the recipient of the advice.

    I had the audacity to ask questions about Dr Ryan’s activities when he was employed by PCC as an economic consultant despite having no traceable track record in Ireland.

    Mike Stoddart and I were obviously getting a bit too close to the truth for comfort because a senior member of the then Chief Officers Management Board advised Dr Ryan that he thought my comments on the topic were not only offensive but libellous.

    We then suffered eighteen months of extreme pressure with threatening letters arriving from high powered city solicitors, informing me that I should immediately pay them large sums in settlement, or face libel action through the courts. The effect of this was to cause considerable worry as my family were concerned that such were the level of financial demands, and/or the prospect of protracted legal action, we would end up losing the family home.

    Interesting that a senior employee of PCC, who should have been supporting me as an elected member to carry out my role (or at the very least should have maintained professional impartiality) should advise an outside consultant that my remarks – which history has shown were fully supported by the facts – were libellous.

    This, together with the well-recorded threats of violence from one of the more thuggish elements of the Independent Political Party, tends to concentrate minds. This has, I believe, restricted the investigative instincts of some members. Can you blame them?

    Hence “Be aware, be very aware”.

    Thankfully there are more members now who try to scrutinise and hold this dreadful administration to account. It was, in the early days, a trifle lonely!

  • Kate Becton

    I can tell that the ability to question the Council has become easier (through better communication and a far better understanding from certain Councillors of how the system works).

    I recall from my days on PCC the first ‘call in’ of a Cabinet decision; I don’t recall the exact details, but it was to do with land at Withybush Airport. At that time this involved dashing from place to place to get the required number of signatures in the required time. All the signatures had to be on the same piece of paper – members could not individually notify their support for a call-in – I hope that this has changed.

    In order to read the files on this particular case one had to attend the office of the then Director when we were told that we could not have copies of the paperwork and could not take the file anywhere outside the office. I look back and think ‘how naive was I’.

    I also recall that opposition to Planning Applications that were approved by certain Councillors and officers elicited a very subtle form of bullying – there was the ‘you don’t understand the Planning Laws – we do and what’s more we have no intention of discussing this with you’ to the well worn chestnut ‘this will be appealed and they will win – you will cost the people of Pembrokeshire a lot of money’ (though probably not as much as Mr. Kerr).

    The problem is that it requires a very good grasp of the process (I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to process) a well developed cynicism – something I’m not very good at being, frankly, far too trusting. The idea that people will ‘do the right thing’ is clearly totally misguided – but, I still ask myself, do people really think they are doing the right thing – am I deluded or are they?

    What do you think?

  • John

    Michael,

    Thanks for the reply, I do remember both the incidents you refer to being reported but will read the blog to refresh my memory of the Dr Ryan incident.

    The actions of the Council Officer in not being impartial is not acceptable, and also I’m sorry that you had to endure the legal threats etc. that you did for doing your job.

    I don’t wish in any way to be dismissive of the above, which were clearly unacceptable but they were some ten plus years ago, and I wonder if such things are still going on in so much as personal threats to people? I wonder for example if Jacob has endured any personal unpleasantness for exposing Partygate amongst other things on this website?

    Or is there the potential to lose out in investments or projects in the Wards of shall we call them the ‘Councillors that are troublesome’ to the ruling group? Is this the way that reprisal is gained these days?

  • John Hudson

    Kate, perhaps that is why the current and former Leader pronounce that they prefer to concentrate on outcomes than process.

    They and their cabinet friends do not appear to realise that local government is run by the due process of law, Statutory and Non-Statutory Regulations, Official Guidance and Codes of Conduct and Practice.

    Transgress and you can end up in court at the wrong end of judicial reviews; at the wrong end of external inspections and the subject to adverse Ombudsman’s reports, not to mention external Audit Reports. Are there any more this council has to endure? I have not mentioned being put into Special Measures.

    You have to wonder at the quality of advice given by senior professional officers and their interpretation of the law and Regulations. These rules and regulations are our protection in the ways the Council can work and aim to prevent abuses of power.

  • Michael Williams

    Hi John,

    They are more subtle these days, since the likes of Hall had his wings slightly clipped, but some of us not in the controlling regime find it hard to understand how Huw George can achieve such vast expenditure in his ward on tarmac when some of us struggle to get the most simple job done.

  • I well remember the incident Cllr Michael Williams refers to.

    The following account comes from a post I published on my website at the time:

    Back in December 2003, Ryan did threaten to sue Cllr Michael Williams and myself.

    The letters from MLM solicitors; posted on 19 December, demanded that, to avoid “vigorous litigation”, we must both provide Ryan with an apology, a retraction and a written undertaking not to repeat our libellous allegations.

    On top of that we were each to “reimburse our client, via us, his legal costs to date in the sum of £3295.57 (Vat excl), together with additional expenses to be confirmed by our client shortly”

    Should we fail to comply within 14 days, the solicitors threatened, “we will be issuing the Claim Form immediately”.

    Of course, the 14 days covered the Christmas period when it was difficult, if not impossible, to obtain legal advice.

    Not that it mattered because I simply sent his solicitor a copy of his “alleged” fax to Cllr Hall, and the guns fell silent.

    [This was the fax in which Ryan set out his and Hall’s detailed plans to trade in Pembrokeshire in direct contravention of his promise not to do so]

    This despite the fact that, according to a letter Ryan sent to the county council in December 2004, he had run up a legal bill of £14,500 defending himself against my “false allegations”. (Freedom come).

    With such a large hole in his pocket, you might think that, if he had even half a leg to stand on, he might by now have carried out his threats to sue.

    My post ‘Hall – Ryan. The full story’ can be read here and an account of the subsequent whitewash can be found here.

    Deja vu all over again.

  • Martin Lewis

    I searched YouTube the other day to show someone who knows Huw and Jamie the now infamous Tarmac election video but it seems to have disappeared.

    Good job I ripped a copy from YouTube before it was removed, although the more recent music video that the Scientific Rev appears in using the medium of Cymraeg and wearing sunglasses makes him look like an even bigger fool, if that’s at all possible?!

  • Hi Martin, it hasn’t disappeared! Check it out:

  • Bob Kilmister

    Kate Becton mentions the call in procedure. It is still the same. In October 2011 several Councillors including Kate signed a Notice of Motion to change the process. That NoM has still not been debated, nearly three years on! At the last Council meeting I submitted another NoM that the original NoM be debated.

    It is hard to believe this can happen especially as I have raised it on about three separate occasions since. I have accused Jamie Adams of putting it into the long grass but on reflection I think jungle is more appropriate.

    The original NoM is copied below:

    The call in procedures for cabinet decisions should be altered so that any six members of the Council can request a call in by writing or emailing Committee Services within 5 working days of the decision.

    Councillors: R P Kilmister, R G Bowen, O W James, J A Brinsden, Kate Becton, M Williams, R M Stoddart, Moira Lewis, Mrs V M Stoddart, A Wilcox, P R Baker, D R Sinnett, M Calver, D K Howlett.

  • Malcolm Calver

    What, no retraining?!

    If Cllr Lewis is unaware of the procedure regarding making an appeal against the Standards Committee decision, if he really believes he has been hard done by, the route is the Adjudication Panel for Wales and then the High Court.

    I always thought farmers had guts, but there, two weeks is nothing.

  • Robert

    If I was Cllr George, I wouldn’t advertise the fact that someone in the council can’t spell “Llwybyr” (3 min 20 sec into the video).

    The Welsh word for path is Llwybr.

  • Timetraveller

    Looking at Cllr George’s video, there is a mission. Wasn’t it “Putting the community (ward?) before the council.”

    As Pembrokeshire’s road spend has been more or less the same as the estimated need, as stated in the WAG’s block grant, then all that tarmac was due anyway, unless of course it is preferentially spent in certain wards?

    The authority to date has not achieved its renowned “efficiencies” on the roads, nor does it lavish any more on them than most authorities. Perhaps his video should have looked at social services, but then there aren’t too many votes there.

  • Timetraveller,

    You make an interesting point.

    When I queried the large amount of cash (£300,000) spent on tarmac in Cllr George’s ward in the year before the election, I was told it was “routine maintenance”. So it was a bit naughty of him to suggest it was something to do with his “positive politics”.

    Also, it is noticeable that there is not a word about his membership of the IPG in either the video, or his election address (of which I have a copy).

    Nor is there any mention of the fact that he was, at the time, Cabinet member for education and children’s services.

    Perhaps this last omission is not surprising considering that, nine months earlier, both Estyn and CSSIW had given the council’s education and child safeguarding regimes some serious black marks. So serious in fact that the Welsh Government put the council in special measures.

    Eventually, Cllr Adams had no alternative but to relieve Cllr George of the education portfolio, but he remained as deputy leader and was given a comfortable billet as Cabinet member for the environment – a direct portfolio swap with Cllr Ken Rowlands.

  • Timetraveller

    A £300,000 spend in each of the 60 county wards would amount to £18 million, or in other terms, nearly twice the total annual roads spend, which includes a lot more than just resurfacing.

    Cllr George’s ward sure seems to have done very well out of positive politics!

    I believe the average time between re-surfacing on many rural roads is as long as 40 years, so presumably the people of Maenclochog have been deprived for some time and may have some time to wait in the future. Unless of course positive politics and putting the “community” (Maenclochog) before the rest of the authority means they don’t.

    Perhaps the Director concerned could elaborate on his department’s “routines”. Perhaps we are not only looking at the use of council computers and printers, but also their rollers, tar trucks and all the rest for electoral promotion!

  • John Hudson

    Some years ago now, the Council increased investment in local roads, but this was the result of an adverse external audit report that recommended investment. Nothing at all to do with our councillors.

    PS Do videos count as an election expense?

  • Have your say...

    Please complete this simple verification sum by typing the answer to the sum in the box below, then press Submit:

    E.g. If 6 + 3 appears below, type 9 then press Submit
    Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box