Jacob Williams
Sunday 4th May, 2014

Payback time?

Payback time?

Thursday’s extraordinary council meeting was the first of three instalments that will mark the end of the 2013/14 ratings war.

If you enjoy watching the webcasts streamed live or from the archive facility afterwards, there will be two more steaming dollops of council chamber action to grace your monitors in the week ahead, courtesy of the PCC network’s spring series lineup.

Thursday sees the May full council meeting – which will be Cllr. Arwyn Williams’ last in the chair – followed on Friday with the authority’s AGM, where Cllr. Tom Richards finally gets his hands on the chairman’s chain and gavel, and will be succeeded by either Cllr. Phil Baker or Wynne Evans, one of whom will be voted in by councillors to serve as the 2014/15 vice chairman.

Back to last week’s extraordinary meeting, and the star attraction was Cllr. Paul Miller’s bid to get the council to ‘approve action’ to investigate the recovery of the unlawful opt-out payments made to the council’s chief executive in lieu of his employer’s pension contributions after he opted out of his Local Government Pension Scheme.

Cllr. John Allen-Mirehouse gave chapter and verse justifying the introduction of the scheme which allowed senior officers the choice of a pay rise in lieu of the council’s pension contributions if they opted-out of the LGPS. This, completely overlooking the fact that in February, the council voted unanimously to accept the Wales Audit Office report in full, in which the appointed auditor said payments resulting from the scheme were ‘contrary to law.’

The report presented to Thursday’s extraordinary meeting, written by the authority’s head of legal and committee services, trotted out a similar argument to the one advanced by the leader when this matter very first came to light, before the WAO even decided to publish its report.

It also appears to have shaped the early views on the topic expressed by his deputy, Cllr. Rob Lewis (see here also.)

This was that, even though the auditor and council have agreed the payments were unlawful, there is no legal basis to reclaim money paid out under the scheme because it’s not unlawful unless proven so in a court of law.

Such a process would undoubtedly be messy and expensive, and the mere suggestion could have derailed the attempt. I decided long before the meeting that if the debate on Cllr. Miller’s proposal followed this needlessly litigious line of throwing good money after bad, the argument – over reclaiming the unlawful payments – would be lost before it even began.

I put my signature weeks ago to Cllr. Miller’s proposal requisitioning the extraordinary meeting for the debate, during which I tabled an amendment to it, setting out what I feel is the most appropriate initial step in the process of recovering the money – that the council should first write to the chief executive to see if he is willing to voluntarily return it.

Cllr. Michael Williams made a fair point – becoming a rarity nowadays – that Cllr. Miller’s original proposal failed to take account of the fact that two officers received unlawful payments under the scheme, not just the chief executive. As the debate continued, the anonymous officer was duly incorporated into the amendment, so, too, were the words ‘net of tax and National Insurance contributions.’

Council leader Cllr. Jamie Adams was aghast at the idea that the council – as the employer – should put any member of staff in the “invidious position that is being suggested” by asking them to return sums they were paid and received “in good faith,” and that this was “a step too far.

With a straight face, Cllr. Adams even garnished one of his contributions with the words “hindsight is a wonderful thing.” He managed to get support in the form of votes from a large chunk of his party loyalists, however eight of them were prepared to publicly show disagreement with their leader that it was ‘inappropriate’ to seek the voluntary return of the unlawful payments, and all credit to them.

With a united opposition and no abstentions, the result was 32-21 in favour of the amendment, which was worded:

The Chief Executive and other unnamed officer are invited (in writing) to voluntarily return the unlawful pay supplements net of tax and National Insurance contributions they received in lieu of employer pension contributions;

and

The Chief Executive’s and other unnamed officer’s response will be presented in full to the ordinary council meeting scheduled for July 2014 (or in the event that no response is received, a notification of this in its place) where members will consider the matter as an agenda item under the terms of Cllr. Paul Miller’s originating motion.

The recorded vote appears below:

Unaffiliated
Phil Baker
Tony Brinsden
Mike Evans
Tessa Hodgson
Owen James
Phil Kidney
David Lloyd
Mike Stoddart
Vivien Stoddart
Jacob Williams

Plaid Cymru
Rod Bowen
Michael Williams

Conseravtive
David Bryan
David Howlett
Stan Hudson

Labour
Pat Davies
Alison Lee
Paul Miller
Gwilym Price
Tony Wilcox
Guy Woodham

IPG
Mark Edwards
Lyn Jenkins
Michael John
Stephen Joseph
Pearl Llewellyn
Peter Morgan
Myles Pepper
Rob Summons

Pembrokeshire Alliance
Bob Kilmister
Jonathan Nutting
Peter Stock

32

IPG
Jamie Adams
John Allen-Mirehouse
Daphne Bush
Wynne Evans
Lyndon Frayling
Huw George
Brian Hall
Paul Harries
Umelda Havard
Mike James
Keith Lewis
Rob Lewis
Elwyn Morse
David Neale
Sue Perkins
David Pugh
David Rees
Tom Richards
Ken Rowlands
Arwyn Williams
Steve Yelland

21

No abstentions.

0



Coming soon to jacobwilliams.com:

Did Cllr. Huw George mislead councillors during a full council debate?


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21 Comments...

  • Disillusioned

    I have just watched with some incredulity the webcast of the last extraordinary meeting.

    I was shocked to hear Jamie Adams insist that it would be wrong to ask Bryn Parry-Jones to return the money paid to him unlawfully and that the Council would be wrong to consider asking any staff member if they had been overpaid through the council’s error to return the money whether they be senior staff or indeed any employee.

    I can assure Jamie Adams that the council have indeed done it in the past as I’m sure he is well aware. The council managed to get the back pay very wrong during its pay and grading review, incorrectly paying at least 70 people in leisure alone, and this was handled very badly in my experience which I will share with you.

    After years taken preparing the new pay and grading structure it was finally unveiled in 2013. My manager was asked to supply rotas so that they might calculate ACCURATELY my entitlement to weekend and unsocial hours allowances and at what rate, which was duly done.

    In January 2013 I was sent a Statement of Personal Information covering how the new pay structure would affect me. I was given my job family and the percentage allowances I would be entitled to based on the information they had been given (which was accurate rotas).

    I was given a deadline of 1 month to sign to accept or I would run the risk of losing my back pay. I duly signed the forms as the offer was reasonable and I assumed correct, based on the fact they had been supplied with accurate information.

    On March 25th I received the back pay they had calculated and my new rate of pay was due to start at the beginning of April.

    On April 9th I received what in effect was a letter telling me there had been an administrative error which had resulted in a gross overpayment of £1476.24 and a demand for payment, which they stated they would deduct from my April pay.

    I e-mailed the address they supplied in the event I had any queries and offered to pay a set amount every month as I didn’t feel it was appropriate for them to take all of it out of my April pay – it was after all their mistake and I had accepted the money in good faith. I ALSO HAD NO HAND AT ALL IN THE DECISION MAKING PROCESS UNLIKE BRYN PARRY-JONES. What I received back was an e-mail refusing the payments and in effect accusing me of knowing that I was not entitled to the percentage allowances that they had paid me despite them being given the correct information.

    I was disgusted that effectively she was calling into question my integrity and told her so and also said that I wished to make the full payment immediately, and not wait for it to be taken out of my wages. She told me she’d have to check if this was alright then came back and said I could pay some of it.

    I asked her to give me the net figure I owed as obviously tax and National Insurance had been paid on this and I wasn’t going to repay that. Apparently no-one in the HR or payroll department was capable of making this calculation so I got someone else to make it for them, told them exactly what I owed, and said I wished to pay it over the counter at County Hall.

    They effectively refused to take it this way citing that it would be too late to stop the deduction. I had to admit defeat, as because of the time it had taken getting any sense it probably was, but not without one last e-mail telling them how appalling I felt their handling of this situation had been which resulted in a totally unprofessional e-mail from an officer telling me to cut her some slack and referring to some incident that up until this point I had been totally unaware of.

    This is just one person’s experience of the council clawing back money I’m sure the other 70 odd will have similar tales. They may not wish to share them if they are still employed by the council though. I am in the fortunate position of having found employment in another field but am saddened to have left leisure after over 30 years, luckily just a few of which were with the council.

    So if it was ok for my back pay to be demanded back and it was not an unlawful payment, then it is only fair that the unlawful pension payments are demanded back from Bryn Parry-Jones and the other officer.

    I wonder if the same officer I dealt with will be as keen to send unprofessional e-mails To BPJ.

  • Morgi

    I hope someone stands against Mr Adams at the next election and the electorate remember his cavalier attitude dealing with our money – and not, as Mr Summons thinks, that this is money owned by the council!

  • Keanjo

    Well done Jacob, your amendment was well judged and places the ball right in BPJ’s court.

    One thing I picked up on was Allen-Mirehouse referring to the amounts paid to BPJ and A N Other as ‘relatively insignificant sums.’

    In the same meeting, webcasting was turned down because it wasn’t budgeted. What a tangled web they weave.

  • John Hudson

    I understand that councils now have a “local discretion” to appoint Civic and deputy Civic Heads (to carry out the civic functions of the Chairman and deputy Chairman as now, with allowances) and a new position of Presiding Officer just to chair meetings of the Council, without an allowance.

    Why hasn’t the Council been asked what it wants? Presumably this does not meet with the approval of the Council’s leadership.

    Is part of the Chairman’s current role to attend pre-cabinet meetings and also IPG Group pre-Council meetings? I would not have thought that these activities, if they occur, are compatible with the impartial chairing of Council meetings.

  • Welshman 23

    Disillusioned,

    Sorry to hear of your issue, it’s disgusting the way you have been treated and I applaud you for bringing this to our attention.

    If you are a council employee you need to be careful when replying to any blogs, I do not work for the council but received an e mail from the editor of the WT a couple of weeks ago saying that someone had complained about a comment I made on their website. This person wanted to know my address. I responded by saying that I wanted to know who had complained. To date I haven’t heard.

    Are you a member of a trade union? If so, what help or advice did they give you?

    Have you brought this situation to the attention of your local councillor?

  • Concerned

    Quite a few members were conveniently absent, I see. Any excuses made?

  • Dave Edwards

    Of the original Senior Staff Committee members who voted the unlawful payment through, only Stan Hudson thought that BPJ ought to pay the unlawful payment back.

    Somehow, John Cwmbetws (dairy farmer with no milking cows) managed to be absent!

  • Welshman 23

    Dave, what did you expect? You don’t vote against the hand that feeds you.

    What excuses for the people who did not attend? They are paid by us so they should attend all meetings.

  • Miss Marple

    Lovely scenery of north Pembrokeshire on the homepage, can’t see any wind turbines!!!

  • Les

    I really do sympathise with the correspondent who discussed having to return excessive back pay mistakenly paid to them by the council.

    However there is a big difference. The money paid to him/her was a mistake and would always have had to be repaid. True the council should have been more sensitive in how it was repaid.

    The money paid to the CE was not a mistake. He was awarded the extra money as part of his salary. He must have thought all of his Christmases came at once. It remains to be seen if he will act with honour and re-fund the council.

    The people to blame are the councillors who allowed this to happen. If there was a scintilla of honour they would resign – only then can the council move on.

  • Tony Wilcox

    Payback time?

    Rearrange the following words: hell when over freezes!

  • Paul Absalom

    Hi Morgi, I think I know just the person to stand against Jamie Adams. I will have to have a chat with him.

    As for John Allen-Mirehouse saying this was a relatively insignificant sum, HA, that’s alright for someone born with a silver spoon in his mouth. £25,000 is more than most people in Pembrokeshire earn in a year.

  • Mayday

    BPJ and A. N. Other are council employees. They don’t need asking. The payments were ‘contrary to law’ not just an ‘administration error’ as with the story told in an earlier comment by ‘Disillusioned.’

    Whilst there is the outstanding issue that the case is not proven in court, that same court would be seeking a reasonable resolution to re-balance the effect of asking for repayment of pension contributions received ‘in good faith’.

    A possible solution is to make arrangements for the original payment scheduled to the LGPS to be reinstated and the direct payments to be recovered from their future salary payments. There is no large pot of money returning to the council coffers.

  • Dave Edwards

    As I have pointed out previously, the obvious solution is to do it all through the payroll over say two years so that the tax, NI and Dyfed Pension Scheme contributions will all be up to date at the end of it. No one will have lost out but no one will gain any advantage either.

  • Dave Edwards

    John Allen-Mirehouse, the man who thinks £25,000 is a relatively small amount of money, was smiling throughout and exemplifying the old adage that “ignorance is bliss”.

    Students of English Literature will no doubt recognise the comment as coming from the poem “Ode on a distant prospect of Eton College”. The same school which JA-M attended and seemingly learned precious little.

    Ah, sweet ignorance.

  • Ianto

    JA-M didn’t seem to think it was such an inconsequential sum when he persuaded PCNP to stump up his legal costs after his appearance before the Adjudication Panel.

  • Jon Coles

    If ignorance is truly bliss, Johnny Allen-Mirehouse must be the happiest man in Pembrokeshire.

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    John Allen-Mirehouse – the JAM is starting to spread more thinly on the crumbs from the top table. The lemmings have woken up and smelt the coffee. At last they stand for Pembrokeshire. Farmer Adams has limited time left at the top of his silage pit. Hope remains…please…

  • John Hudson

    I have just been looking at the Council minutes for the interim PCC held in 1995. The minutes for 25 September include those for the Staffing Committee held a week before, on the 18th.

    These list 8 officers “in attendance”, and the Councillors “present”.

    Who decided that it was not longer a requirement or necessary for officers in attendance to be minuted, and when?

  • Keanjo

    JAM said that the £50,000 or so paid to BPJ and A N Other was a relatively small amount and I suppose he has a point when you compare it with the £1.75 million spent on Bluestone and the hundreds of thousands wasted on legal fees trying to defend the indefensible over the years.

  • John Hudson

    Now that the Police investigation has been concluded, isn’t it about time that the Council required a full internal investigation into this whole affair?

    This should cover:-

    – The initial report and the “he/she/it” that suggested the wheeze.

    – The former Leader’s advice given to the Committee.

    – The position on the perceived need for retention and recruitment of officers, with evidence that all that was required was to shovel money at the problem. Was this the only problem, what about an adequate health service and education service? Perhaps in the world of highly paid staff these are not of concern.

    – The role of those senior officers that have responsibility for safeguarding the legality and probity of reports and decisions and to ensure that decisions are taken in the light of all reasonable considerations.

    – The steps involved in changing the conditions of service that allowed officers to take the favourable option and the HMRC advice.

    – The decision to contest the Auditor’s views and engage legal counsel and other experts to bolster the Council’s position.

    – It should also provide an agreed way out of this mess.

    We the paying public deserve this at least and it may re-establish a little confidence in the Council’s senior staff and political Leadership if we could see how the Council came to be in this mess and more to the point, how it intends to get out of it.

    At the moment Leadership is just not evident.

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