Jacob Williams
Saturday 19th April, 2014

A rotten borough

A rotten borough

Earlier this week the Westminster government’s cabinet member for local government, Eric Pickles MP, spoke out in criticism of councils running their own newspapers and the chilling effect this has on the free press and the democratic process.

The porky parliamentarian slammed local authorities’ in-house ‘news’ publications, saying such “propaganda” was driving local newspapers “out of business.”

“Localism needs robust and independent scrutiny by the press and public, and municipal state-produced newspapers suppress that. Town Hall Pravdas not only waste taxpayers’ money unnecessarily, they undermine free speech,” he said.

Pembrokeshire County Council doesn’t have its own newspaper or newsletter, and it could never be claimed to be driving newspapers out of business. Quite the opposite, in fact. The high number and outrageous nature of scandals over recent years at PCC alone could have sustained any ailing news publication, providing it didn’t turn a blind eye.

Pembrokeshire County Council’s antics are also no stranger to the UK’s local government hall of shame, Private Eye’s ‘Rotten Boroughs’ column.

Last November the well-known allegations of fraud in the Pembroke Dock grant schemes which went on under the council’s watch – or not as the case may be – received the Rotten Boroughs treatment.

Skip forward to the immediate past edition of Private Eye and its Rotten Boroughs lead article has been given over to the county council yet again.

This time it’s an update on the grants shambles, the ongoing police investigation into the authority’s chief executive over the illegal pension payment scandal, and the recent suspension of deputy leader Cllr. Rob Lewis for political misuse of council computers.

Dai knackered


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45 Comments...

  • Tasso

    I thought the Council did have its own newsletter: it’s called the Western Telegraph and comes out every week.

  • John Hudson

    Interesting timing on the news release to the WT re the late expenses. Were councillors informed as well?

  • John, the WAO report into the leader’s extremely late expenses claim (and payment) is published in full within the agenda for the audit committee meeting coming up on Thursday.

    The matter was also discussed when the audit committee last met – on 6th February – where, having dug my heels in, the committee resolved to ask the WAO to prepare a report for the next meeting.

  • Harfat Girl

    Hi Jacob,

    Re: Rob ‘Suspenders’ Lewis and the forms and paperwork submitted outlining election expenses for various IPG candidates after the last local elections.

    Of the ones I’ve seen published on your website I can’t help but think that these candidates had the same handwriting teacher at school.

    It also looks as if they shared the same pen!

  • John Hudson

    Thanks Jacob, so this outfit, full to the brim with legal officers, cannot even run its own rules of operation, its Constitution.

    The letter of the law would seem to be a bit confused, so officers would have to interpret the “spirit”. This appears to be beyond them.

    The regulations allow Councils to specify a time limit and allow for payment on proper claims submitted outside this period of grace.

    Why would this have been written into the legislation? To allow all late payments to be made without question, or, to provide a bit of discretion where there were special circumstances whereby a member was unable to complete expense claims in time?

    Was it a reasonable decision for our money to be spent in this way due to “poor book-keeping”? I have asked for the decision record of why this was allowed, I am still waiting.

    How did the Director of Finance come to assume the delegated authority to specify the time limit (which was changed from two to three months) and why allow the payment of properly certified late claims?

    It appears that the Council’s Constitution, which the Council’s Corporate Management Committee have been reviewing for about a year now, is not worth the paper it is written on. Yet another stain on this Council’s corporate governance arrangements.

    I bet that the new constitution, based on the draft model, will not review any of the delegations currently passed down from Council through to the executive Cabinet down to officers. It is best if this is left vague to allow for interpretation and justification as circumstances need explaining.

    What a foul stinking Council this is. From Leading Members to Chief Officers, nobody is accountable. The Auditor has again stepped back and said put your own house in order. I do not think that they are capable.

  • Keanjo

    The Fuhrer and the Finance Director must have good memories.

  • Quill

    Very good piece from Rotten Boroughs, thanks for sharing it. Are the officers and councillors that supposedly oversaw the grant schemes still trying to pull off a whitewash, or are they cooperating now?

  • John Hudson

    Although the Statutory regulations place the fixing of rates of basic and senior salaries firmly with the Independent Review Panel, am I the only one to draw the conclusion that while rates are independently fixed each year, this is not incompatible with the statutory requirement for Councils to approve their scheme of Members’ allowances?

    This step makes each council accountable for its own scheme and provides a formal detailed public record in the Council Minutes of its approval.

    I would suggest that the Council also requires any requests for late payments outside the 3 month time limit to be subject of a report and specific full Council approval. This would avoid putting an officer in the invidious position of having to approve or deny such payments.

    Has anyone else noticed that Councillor Adams is congratulated on stating that he will not submit any further late claims. Well done indeed!

    It is a good job that the Committee is to have an oral report from the Council’s ethics officer. Why can’t his advice to the committee be in writing?

  • Kate Becton

    Have just returned from holiday – where, much to my surprise, I was able to follow the goings on in Pembrokeshire from the hotel – admittedly with help from a delightful ten year old Maltese who could speak Malti – no mean feat as it is a mixture of Arabic/Latin/original local language – Italian and English – all fluent, her name was Grace. Thank you Grace. Spotted in the local newspaper was an advert for a Pizza delivery person – ‘must be fluent in English and Italian’ – the mind boggles.

    There is so much going on, but I wonder can anyone tell me where we are in terms of what is being investigated by whom? I find myself somewhat confused; though this may be down to two somewhat bruising encounters with Ryanair.

  • Goldingsboy

    John, I imagine it may pay dividends to check the Council’s constitution/and or the Monitoring Officer’s job description regarding the giving of evidence to one of its formal committees.

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    Like Kate, I return from an Easter break. To respond to some crititiscsm directed at me:

    1. No affiliation to Clive James. He’s been the target and left out to dry by the IPPG. That’s been my beef that it’s the councillors we need to look at not the business unless it occurred during his council employment time, of which there is no evidence or suggestion.

    2. I’m seen as negative but tell me where the positives are? At present, like Kate’s comment, we await direction from the police on matters yet there seems to be no leadership/ownership/control of our county council members or officers. When and how will we get to know, as if it’s something of concern it then gets held in private session.

    3. I hear nothing now from the Pembrokeshire Alliance. I question, a party of substance or hot air? From the time I commented on this site it was to push for our council to be led through a political guise; independent led groups do not do the best for our county.

  • Blod

    Caerphilly CEO and Deputy and Head of Legal were charged in Bristol Magistrates’ Court and have been ordered to appear in Crown Court in May. Doesn’t look a million miles different from what went on in Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire to me.

  • Kate Becton

    Jon Boy Jovi – I have just put a comment under the ‘Self publishers’ article in which I have said that I have no problem with putting in a complaint – but will need assistance to do so in the form of evidence – also perhaps in putting the file together.

    If you check the comment you will see that I have said that we have got to the point of having to ‘put up or shut up’ – it would seem that there is no possibility of any of the other political groups doing anything – if they were going to they would have done so by now.

    So, is it not beyond the bounds of possibility that a group of us can get together to do so?

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    Then I feel Jacob needs to call a meeting via inbox with everyone. Bit like the IPPG under a KNS assault and we can have a Mason outside the door keeping guard!

  • John Hudson

    I see that there is to be another “secret” meeting of the Senior Staff Committee. Who is the un-named officer recommending that in his/her view the only item to be discussed concerning restructuring (of what?) needs to have the public excluded?

    Will the committee agree that the need to keep this matter behind closed doors is not outweighed by the wider public interest?

  • John Hudson

    I also see that the Council’s 2012/13 accounts are being put to bed, finally, at the Corporate Governance Committee on Monday. This Committee, with a membership of 7 IPGers and 6 others is a construct of the Council and is not a Committee required by statute. It has responsibility for signing off the accounts on behalf of the Council, which are not required to be formally reported to the Council.

    I understand that the accounts as such are circulated to all members, however there is no formal council meeting at which all members are presented with them, either pre or post Audit, where they have the opportunity to ask questions.

    In effect the 7 IPG councillors, including the Leader, have the majority to sign off the Council’s draft and final accounts. The other 53 councillors have no responsibility for the finances of the Council. There is nothing in the regulations that requires a Council to do so, but there is also nothing that prevents a Council from doing so.

    Is it right that this Council, all 60 members, have not taken responsibility and are not accountable for its annual accounts? It’s almost as if all councillors have no role in the finances of the Council. Given the extent of financial delegation given to officers, perhaps this is the intention.

  • Keanjo

    Presumably the system was devised by the CE.

  • John Hudson

    In 2012/13 there was a change in the regulations. Previously the draft annual accounts had to be presented to and approved by a Committee of a Council, in our case the Corporate Governance Committee, so that the Chairman of the committee could sign them off on behalf of the Council. As a Committee document this was available for us to see.

    For the 2012/13 accounts, it was only necessary for the Director of Finance to sign off the draft accounts for audit, no committee/councillor involvement being required by the regulations.

    Imagine my surprise on turning up at the public inspection of the accounts to find no accounts. Had they been presented to a committee as in previous years, they would have been available in advance as a public document.

    This example of secrecy is the new spirit of openness and transparency that is now said to be embedded in the ethos of the Council. There is nothing that stops the drafts accounts from continuing to be presented to the committee, only officers’ strict interpretation of the new regulations.

  • Galf

    Jon Coles should name the senior officer of PCC involved in amending official minutes of a meeting as it is in the public interest to know which public official carried out such corrupt actions. Altering or amending (corrupting) documents in public service should result in a visit from the police. I suppose at the disciplinary meeting the officer was told to “not get CAUGHT doing it again”.

  • Welshman 23

    http://pembrokeshire-herald.com/4429/officer-fiddles-council-minutes/

    Thank god for the Pembrokeshire Herald, ‘OFFICER FIDDLES COUNCIL MINUTES’ is the headline from today’s newspaper. Who is the officer? We should be told, and who told them to do this. Enough is enough. Another embarrassing situation. What the hell is the council going to do next.

  • Weasel

    Jacob,

    Very pleased to see you have put your name to the upcoming motion at the upcoming extraordinary meeting regarding the recovery of the unlawful “Pay Supplement,” but I was rather flabbergasted to read the officer’s report which is clear in its intent to scare Members off.

    How did he come to the conclusion that it would require immediate and expensive EXTERNAL legal advice, and a complex and lengthy court process?

    Surely the logical first step would be an attempt to recover the payment voluntarily. Is he already aware that both the Chief Executive and the unnamed other officer would refuse? If so that should have been stated in the report. Bear in mind that they too would then need expensive legal advice, and face the equally real prospect of losing in court.

    If they were to take this route then the first implication would be that the unnamed officer would have to reveal their identity to the world at large, and may well choose to come to a voluntary settlement in order to avoid this. Equally, for the Chief Executive to be seen in a costly legal fight with his own Council would look so bad he also may choose to settle out of court.

    I urge you to remind the members when this is argued out in the EGM that all you have asked is that Council “approve action to INVESTIGATE the recovery of any monies paid”, and that this should not have to mean the first step is obtaining external legal advice. The council’s own internal legal department can surely investigate what options may be available, including as a first step trying to come to a voluntary settlement, and can report back on the outcome before any further money is thrown at the likes of Mr Kerr.

  • Keanjo

    Weasel, you will have noticed that the Head of Legal Services has reported on the repayment issue. Does the County Council expect an objective report from one of the CEx’s own senior staff? Surely an independent view is needed and I suggest it should have come from the Wales Audit Office.

  • Lobsterman

    Weasel, you make some excellent points but I disagree with one of your predictions. That being BPJ will baulk at a legal fight with his own Council, I don’t think so.

    If only his ability to run services in the Council was half as efficient as his ability to make a handsome living from the public purse, then as a Local Authority, Pembrokeshire would be a gold standard exemplar.

  • John Hudson

    I was idly flicking through my copy of the Council’s financial regulations provided to me on 21 June 2012 following a Freedom of Information request. My version states Revised July 2007. Regulation 79 concerns officers’ and members’ travelling allowances. Sub-section (v) states:-

    Payments to members of the Council or its Committees who are entitled to claim travelling or other allowances will be made by the Chief Financial Officer upon receipt of the prescribed form duly completed and certified by members.

    Claims shall be made within two months of the date on which the duty was carried out except in respect of the end of the financial year where claims shall be submitted within one month of 31st March.

    The prescribed claim form for April 2012 to March 2013 specifies a three month time limit for the submission of claims.

    The Council’s external auditor in his introduction to the report for the Audit Committee – Council Leader’s expenses Section 4 refers to the Director of Finance and Leisure’s “functional portfolio delegation”. Does anyone know what this means? Surely it can’t mean that the rules are as they are interpreted at any time by any Director with a functional portfolio delegated to them by the Council?

    Without reference to an established set of published approved rules it is no wonder this wretched Council is in such a mess on many fronts. Still we are on the road of improvement we have been on since PCC was established with a new Constitution under the IPG’s care.

  • Dave Edwards

    BPJ is well used to using legal action as a weapon in his armoury.

    I remember a threat being made to Cllr Tom Tudor that he, BPJ, would take action against him if he divulged the contents of a proposed pay increase that that the Council was considering.

    This increase, on the recommendation of SOLACE (BPJ’s trade union), was the first of the council’s insane Chief Exec’s pay policies.

  • Keanjo

    Watch out Dave – insane Chief Exec’s pay policy could be misinterpreted.

  • Welshman 23

    When the Burton by-election election count took place last year at Houghton, a candidate raised a point at the count about a disputed ballot paper. BPJ reacted quite rudely to the challenge and when he was pressed further by the candidate his response was basically ‘well if you don’t like it, you can take the matter to court.’

    The whole council beggars belief from someone amending minutes, to the pension scandal, the grant scheme fraud, two ongoing police investigations etcetera, and nobody at the top is even suspended pending inquiries. It all makes me so angry, and I intend to stand as a candidate in the next council elections.

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    To all and sundry I (like Welshman) have raised these concerns also coupling the roughshod treatment of educational establishments in Pembrokeshire.

    I’ve raised about 2017 being a long way off yet the Kremlin functions without an overseer. I can’t fathom out why the sheep aren’t revolting nor why the established political groups are not causing an undercurrent (with the knowledge of a general election imminent they are obviously holding court). As for the KNS Pembrokeshire Alliance they have no reason to sit quietly unless they hope to gain from an IPPG fallout.

    It’s been pointed out I’m negative but I ask again to see the positives to shout about.

  • Gogledd

    I keep twanging at the WG to do something…but they won’t as I believe they are as bad as each other – all busy looking after themselves.

    On a personal rant the WG is now to Wales in its remoteness as Westminster is to England. Wales now has its own home counties and PCC is merely an annoyance to them as are we.

  • Quill

    Jon Boy Jovi,

    The other night the Pembrokeshire Alliance held a public meeting and incorporated itself as a political party, and is registering with the Electoral Commission. It intends to contest council seats in the future as an open party, and is currently recruiting members (members of the public, not just potential candidates) to join up.

    Wasn’t it your obsessive wish that PCC was governed by party politics?

    Although it isn’t a national party, it looks like the PA could be just the vehicle to be able to carry out your desires.

    What’s that I hear you say? You wouldn’t touch the Pembrokeshire Alliance with a barge pole?

    To me it shows your attitude to ‘party politics’ is really naïve. You can have good party politicians, bad party politicians, good independent (unaffiliated) politicians, and bad independent (IPG) politicians.

    Clearly it’s the person and what they choose to do after the election when they are safely in office, and not their party or banner, that makes them good representatives. (Think Rowlands, Hancock, Perkins et alia.)

    Ha! Doesn’t your position look a bit misguided now? (Rhetorical question but I just know you’re going to explain yourself and dig further into that hole!)

  • Jon Harvey

    Welshman 23, thanks for recalling the Burton by-election spoilt ballot paper issue.

    As you rightly point out, when both myself and Paul Miller made our views known, other than “take it to court then” there was nothing that could be done. In an arrogant manner he then shook his head as if to suggest how dare his authority be questioned. Two days after polling day I was sacked for standing in the by-election by my quasi-public sector employer.

    There are many of us who intend to stand at the next election and every success to you Welshman.

  • Roy McGurn

    I have previously asked how Dyfed-Powys Police can “investigate” irregularities at the Pembroke Dock grants scheme, given their own admitted disqualification from investigating the pensions scandal.

    Now we have a “senior officer” altering minutes directly related to the very case under investigation.

    Perhaps we should not ask who, but why? The officer concerned couldn’t realistically have made some sort of casual mistake, so there has to be intent, or motive for the police to investigate.

    It’s very easy to think greedy businessmen are out to make money, but the council’s persistent denials, certainly their attempts to conceal, restrict information and cover up etc. right up to the highest levels, including cabinet is notable and must not be overlooked.

    If cabinet have been misled or misinformed by officers, they certainly need to call them to account and very publicly as a matter of some urgency.

    Meanwhile, Inspector Dai Knacker needs to add this issue to his investigation to at least retain any credibility that it is an investigation that gets to the root of the problem.

  • Mike Cook

    I too was at the Burton by election. I felt the attitude of Mr Parry-Jones over the issue with the spoilt ballot paper was appalling. As a public servant and highly paid returning officer, he should have more tolerance and respect for the candidates that stand. It’s no wonder Pembrokeshire County Council is such a rotten borough. The people of Pembrokeshire deserve a lot better, from the highest paid CEO in Wales.

  • Welshman 23

    Jon, are you serious you lost your job?

  • Goldingsboy

    I’m intrigued over the issue concerning the spoilt ballot paper that was so brutally dismissed by BPJ.

    During the height of the Thatcher years I stood in a by-election in one of the English shires, against a very right-wing candidate, even for those times.

    The returning officer, towards the conclusion of the count, went through all the ballot papers that had failed acceptance by individual polling clerks.

    We, the two candidates, then had to jointly agree whether the intention of the voter was clear or not. If we failed to agree then, and only then, the RO made the decision for us, as to whether the ballot paper was to be included in the final total.

    I remember it so very well, as one voter had made his mark with a swastika next to my opponent’s name.

    I have to confess that I could not resist saying to my Tory adversary, that the voter’s intention was more than clear, and was very well deserved.

  • Jon Harvey

    Welshman – I sure did.

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    Quill: then the KNS Alliance must front it up; experience tells me this will be difficult but if I must eat humble pie in 2017 then it will be for the benefit of Pembrokeshire.

    I’ve led my drive to have a properly accountable Council who are properly scrutinised who do the best for us all. It will be interesting to see the candidates standing under their banner and who the politburo offer in key constituencies. To be fair this may well leave the Kremlin with no clear mandate and some buy offs between groups required. Back to square 1 again.

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    The Hansard Society propose People’s Question Time twice a year for our MPs to improve public involvement. I’ve been pushing for that in Pembrokeshire but I’ve not heard of one County Councillor offering it. Food for thought?

  • Dave Edwards

    At a public meeting in the college around 2001 the then Leader, Maurice Hughes, promised on air to the BBC’s Vincent Kane that PCC leadership would hold annual meetings with the public.

    From memory, only two were held, since when it has quietly disappeared.

  • Jon Boy Jovi, last year I proposed the introduction of ‘Public Question Time’ where members of the public could submit questions (and be allowed follow-ups) to full council meetings.

    It was all set to receive unanimous support – even the report from officers recommended its approval – however council leader, Cllr. Jamie Adams was uncomfortable and convinced his flock to vote to bat it off to a working group to incorporate it into the ‘new constitution’ as he didn’t like the ‘piecemeal’ approach of introducing new elements to the council’s existing constitution.

    The ruling party voting to reject officers’ recommendations is almost as rare an occurrence as yesterday’s royal visit!

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    Jacob, commendable but this again highlights my concerns, which are ongoing with Independent groups running a Council. It would be beneficial for each County Councillor to hold open forum meetings in their wards: even at their own expense in hiring a facility!

    I’ve read the latest updates from the Pembrokeshire’s newest political party and I don’t see their ideals making much of a difference to the County. Again I’m willing to eat humble pie in 2017 (a long way off) but it’s the interim 3 years which worry me.

  • Nev Andrews

    Mr Jovi, do any of the existing “parties” require such public fora of their affiliates and if not, could you enlighten us as to why? I know how to get hold of my local councillor should I need so to do, so what’s the benefit of such a suggestion then? Just asking…

  • John Hudson

    10. Questions for the Public.

    This text illustrates a process for public question time at council meetings. Current experience suggests that half an hour is an appropriate length of time. Councils may wish to limit the time available.

    10.1 General – Members of the public may ask questions of members of the executive at ordinary meetings of the Council.

    The above is an extract from the Modular Constitution issued in 2001, suggested for Councils following the introduction of the Cabinet system of Government. It goes on to suggest rules of procedure which could have been included in the Council’s Constitution from the outset.

    There were a number of other so called “local options” that the council could have adopted, but officers of the council never thought them worth putting to the council for consideration. I am not aware that council members were even consulted, at least not in any recorded public forum.

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    Dear Nev,

    Re: Getting hold of your local Councillor for public accountability and justification of their actions.

    My local Councillor voted en bloc with his cronies over the recent debates, even after I’d approached the Councillor expressing my views. When challenged about it the original discussion was denied. Representation of your constituents, I think not.

    If this is the route of Farmer Adams with his IPPG and the KNS led PA Politburo, then we have problems. I’ll stand up and fight for Pembrokeshire alongside the Alliance, but let’s face facts – the WG are going down a route of amalgamation of administrations.

    Pembrokeshire has shown its true colours as an independent led Council: I’m sure if we jump into bed with Ceredigion we’re heading up a Plaid Cymru/Labour coalition. As I’ve stated, at least then we would have the council overseen by a national body with experience: as a voter I would know who and therefore more importantly what route our Council will take over its term of office.

    The current crop of farmers or the next potential crop of ex teachers/publicans leave a lot to be desired.

    Auf Wiedersehen Neville. Brenda is calling pet!

  • Kate Becton

    In principle the idea of public forums for local councillors is a good one. During my time on PCC I started holding them – hiring a venue – which I also hired for ‘surgeries’.

    After the first two, I found that the participation came down to one man and his dog, the problem with the surgeries was that there were a very small number of people who became quite aggressive – particularly over the issue of parking – and I felt that I was not going to risk a black eye or worse over the issue of people actually parking on a public road outside houses.

    I did speak to people on the telephone, but always followed this up with a letter or e-mail so that the risk of misunderstandings was minimised. Also confirmed what action I had taken and with whom. This was made very much easier because I employed someone to do my administration.

    I felt that it was important to be as professional as possible – I was and am – still constantly amazed by the attitude that existed i.e. ‘Don’t worry dear, I’m great friends with so-and-so, I’m sure that he/she will sort this out for us without any problem (or, seemingly any regard for the rules and regulations).’

    My relationship with officers of the Council was professional and respectful – and I found that this was returned. However, I still think that some of the members of the Ward (I didn’t represent a Constituency – and therefore did not have Constituents) – OK I know it sounds pedantic, but it seems terribly pretentious – anyway some members of the Ward were extremely disappointed that I couldn’t/wouldn’t pick up the phone and get my good friend in the Traffic Department to organise a dedicated space outside someone’s house – just like that!

    I suspect that the culture has changed somewhat, but it does still exist, especially, possibly exclusively on the IPPG seats.

    I do not believe that Pembrokeshire CC will survive as an independent CC – nor does it deserve to do so.

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