Jacob Williams
Tuesday 22nd July, 2014

Police probe new dimension in pension contention

Police probe new dimension in pension contention

When the lawfulness of the county council’s pension scheme opt-out payments was laid bare in the Wales Audit Office’s public interest report earlier this year, a reader humorously commented on this blog: “Wow!!! This is the worst scandal to rock PCC since…last week!!!”

True it is that Pembrokeshire County Council has been through scandals more numerous than the last umpteen Westminster governments combined – it isn’t called a rotten borough for nothing, you know.

Those good at recognising patterns wouldn’t fail to notice that in the wake of certain scandals, carefully selected sacrificial lambs have averted mass bloodshed, while others who are arguably more culpable have come out the other end with noses held high.

In the two years I’ve been on the council, the authority has stumbled from one scandal to the next. It’s been twenty-six months since the 2012 intake were elected and I don’t think we’d be too hard pushed to come up with a list of twenty-six scandals that have rocked the council during that time. Not just on a parochial level, but on issues of importance on a national scale too.

The council’s antics have provided lead-article fodder for Private Eye’s Rotten Boroughs column, it’s kept the discerning duo Martin Shipton and Rachael Misstear at the Western Mail busy, and as far as TV and radio news is concerned, BBC Wales has practically set up an embassy in County Hall.

Then there’s the local rags. In the digital age where the printed medium is supposed to be in decline, Pembrokeshire’s print news distribution seems to be doing pretty well out of the council, barely a week goes by where the authority hasn’t made the front page of one or both of the county-wide papers – for all the wrong reasons.

The historically less critical newspaper which has widely been seen as the council’s mouthpiece, the Western Telegraph, has upped its game somewhat since last year, when the Pembrokeshire Herald came on the scene, proving competition is healthy.

At the moment the three biggest clouds hanging over County Hall are the well-documented Pembroke Dock grant scheme fraud allegations, the fallout from the council’s failure to adequately pursue concerns lodged about paedophile youth worker Mik Smith, and there’s also the unlawful pension scheme and the payments made under the policy which was unlawfully introduced in September 2011.

You’ll realise that all of these relate to actions and decisions made (or not made) in the past, and are not ‘fresh’ scandals, even though they may have been exposed relatively recently – there is a difference, and there are common threads among all of these scandals and others.

I sense, from the little I know about it, that the paedophile story and the negligence shown by council staff in handling concerns raised about youth worker Mik Smith is going to get much worse in the weeks to come, as more information comes out and the Children’s Commissioner for Wales launches his investigation.

However, back to last Thursday, where councillors discussed, for the second time, the matter of reclaiming the unlawful pension payments to two officers which was a matter originally laid down by Labour group leader, Cllr. Paul Miller, at the May 1st extraordinary council meeting. On that occasion Cllr. Miller asked that the council investigated the legal options for reclaiming the money.

There was no surprise that the report to the Mayday meeting simply reiterated the advice that had already been given to councillors by leading QC Tim Kerr (rhymes with car) at the disastrous envelope ambush meeting in February. (See here also.)

The top barrister told councillors at February’s meeting many things, though the main bit relevant for present purposes was that it was only the Wales Audit Office’s opinion that the cash payments were unlawful, and that the unlawfulness – or otherwise – could only be established by a court of law, and not the auditor courtesy of a public interest report.

In the event, that didn’t matter because no court action was necessary to prove if it was unlawful as the council accepted the auditor’s report in full and abolished the pension opt-out payment scheme. However Mr. Kerr also used his soapbox to tell us that, even if it went to court and the court agreed with the auditor that the chief executive and another unnamed officer had received unlawful payments, they could likely still rely on a defence of ‘change of position’ if they were ever pursued by the council for the return of the cash.

So, with this advice freshly repeated in the agenda to the May 1st extraordinary meeting, I successfully proposed that the council should write to the two officers asking them if they would repay the sums voluntarily, and that both of their responses should be presented to the July full council meeting, where the matter could be reconsidered by councillors in the light of their responses, which is what happened on Thursday.

The anonymous officer, whose identity is still being vehemently protected by the council’s top brass, failed to respond to his or her letter. As Cllr. Mike Stoddart told the meeting on Thursday, the failure to respond is extremely discourteous, even if the officer is no longer an employee of the council.

As for the chief executive, he also failed to respond to his letter personally, however a response was provided by a ‘consultant acting for the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives.’ (I didn’t know such an organisation existed either – and it struck me that those pollsters who propagate the idea that estate agents and used car salesmen are the least respected professions have probably failed to consider the existence of unions for local authority chief executives.)

The letter from the chief executive’s union is privileged information – it was provided to councillors on the condition of confidentiality – so I am unable to divulge its contents, however this in itself provided an interesting sub-plot to Thursday’s meeting, which can be seen on the webcast.

Prior to the debate on the reclamation of the pension payments, the leader, Cllr. Jamie Adams, proposed that it should be held in private following the exclusion of the public and press.

The leader also expressed his strong disapproval that the private and confidential letter sent by the chief executive’s trade union to the council had been leaked to the Western Telegraph, who reported on its contents.

Some took this opportunity to deny any involvement with the leak, and some to try and rat out the offender(s).

Cllr. Rob Lewis could be heard at one point saying “they’ll be outed,” and at another, Cllr. Reg Owens asked if any of the councillors present had “got the bottle to put their hand up” and identify themselves as the person who leaked the confidential letter.

It has to be said that the monitoring officer, who has been tasked with identifying the leaker, faces an uphill struggle. His task was made even more difficult when Cllr. Tom Tudor raised the prospect that it needn’t necessarily have been a councillor, when he asked the monitoring officer if his investigation would take into account that it could have been a council officer who leaked it from the inside.

Most people with an ounce of curiosity are desperate to find out who it was. For the record, it wasn’t me – and in response to Cllr. Tudor, the monitoring officer responded that he believed it was a councillor from what he had read in the Western Telegraph, however from the coverage I’ve read, as you might expect, no indication is given by the Western Telegraph as to the source of the leak, whether officer or councillor.

After some exchanges of opinion about the merits on either side of the argument, a vote was taken to decide if the debate over the pension payments should be held in secret or out in the open. This part of the meeting is all visible on the webcast. A recorded vote was taken in which the ruling independent party’s block vote, joined by Cllrs. Owen James and Phil Kidney (both unaffiliated) and Cllrs. Stan Hudson (Conservative) ensured that it was held in private session.

Voting against excluding the press and public were all the rest of the opposition councillors, joined by Cllr. Lyn Jenkins from the ruling party, with an abstention from her party colleague, Cllr. Reg Owens.

Click here to see the way your councillor voted on excluding the public...

Having taken the vote, in which the majority of councillors disagreed that the the public interest was more important than secrecy, the webcam was unplugged and Cllr. Tom Richards kindly turfed the press and public out of the gallery – something I’m sure his gaffe-prone predecessor wishes he could have done each and every time he donned the municipal chains.

Far be it from me to suggest party-political favouritism was shown by Cllr. Richards during his very first full council meeting as chairman, but it was to his party’s leader, Cllr. Jamie Adams, that he gave first dibs in the secret debate, despite the fact that it was Cllr. Paul Miller’s notice of motion which Cllr. Adams had absolutely no hand in whatsoever.

I put up a post on my Facebook page following the meeting stating how unfortunate it is that the public will never know exactly what went on behind the closed doors of the council chamber during the debate. I also said that it would be fair to say there was widespread agreement among councillors that the money should have been repaid by the two officers, if not legally, certainly morally.

This has made it difficult for some to understand how the officers have been allowed to “get away” with the money. It should be made clear, for the avoidance of any doubt – and I am aware there has been since the meeting – that, during the debate, no councillors suggested or attempted to propose a vote that legal action should be taken by the council to reclaim the sums of money, so there was no opportunity for councillors to vote upon taking the matter to court.

The only proposals that were tabled – both of which were voted on – came from Cllr. Michael Williams and Cllr. Jamie Adams.

Cllr. Williams worded his so that the council would not take the matter to court, but registered its disapproval that the chief executive and the other unnamed officer failed to repay the sums voluntarily on a moral basis.

Cllr. Adams simply tabled that no further action be taken.

Cllr. Williams’ proposal was voted on first, and it failed 23-34, largely due to no support from Labour Party councillors.

Click to see how your councillor voted on Cllr. Michael Williams' proposal...

Having failed, we then voted on Cllr. Jamie Adams’ proposal. That succeeded 33-19 with 5 abstentions, and also received no support from Labour councillors.

Click to see how your councillor voted on Cllr. Jamie Adams' proposal...

There was no attempt on Thursday by any councillors to table a vote to the effect that the council pursues the officers for the return of the money, however there was plenty of opportunity for this to have been put forward, despite what some might wish to claim.

Many people are understandably up in arms that the officers will get to keep these unlawful payments – it’s not fair, and the failure to repay the unlawful payments voluntarily after being requested by council is discourteous, but it doesn’t guarantee a court would agree the sums have to be repaid.

If the council had resolved to pursue the officers for the money, court action would end up costing tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of pounds, and with nowhere near any guarantee of success.

I said to the meeting what I said at the May 1st meeting, and that is that the council would be throwing good money after bad if we pursued the officers for the money. I voted to support Cllr. Michael Williams’ proposal, but against the watered-down version from Cllr. Jamie Adams.

And to anybody who thinks that means I believe the money shouldn’t be paid back – I only need to refer them to my record on this matter, and the fact that it was my proposal that we wrote to the officers to pay it back in the first place. Unfortunately, one responded courtesy of his trade union telling us to take a hike, while the other officer, for all we know, may even have taken a hike himself/herself.

And yet, despite all of the above, the scandal hasn’t necessarily reached its conclusion.

I understand that Cllr. Paul Miller has referred new information to the police, which, if true, is sure to reignite the smouldering scandal to red raw temperatures.

The Western Telegraph reports that a brand new police investigation has been confirmed since Thursday’s meeting, after somebody from the council came forward to Cllr. Miller with a fresh allegation.

According to the Western Telegraph’s article, an ‘anonymous whistleblower’ came to Cllr. Miller with information on June 9th, well over a month before Thursday’s meeting. Cllr. Miller passed it onto the police, Gloucestershire constabulary, which has confirmed it is investigating.

The allegation made by Cllr. Miller is extremely serious. In the absence of any substantive evidence to confirm its veracity, I wish to make clear to my readers that I won’t allow it to be repeated on this website or discussed in the comments section.


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59 Comments...

  • Lobsterman

    I remain hopeful but not certain that we are reaching the end of BPJ’s reign.

  • Martin Lewis

    Why can’t it be repeated here Jacob? It’s in the press as being reported as an investigation, with details of what the police are investigating. That happens daily in the press, it’s called free speech!!!

    Not to allow free discussion on the subject on your wonderful blog draws me to the conclusion that the culture of fear at PCC and its description as a dangerous place to work has finally got to you. Surely the WT and PH have checked the legalities with their lawyers before going to print.

  • Les

    One interesting aspect of this for me is the position of the police.

    It has been reported that Gloucestershire Constabulary conducted their previous investigation without speaking to anybody or writing to anybody.

    Without reference to this specific new allegation, if potentially important information did come forward at this stage, it would hardly come as a surprise to anybody because it could have been uncovered had a proper and competent investigation taken place in the first place.

    It seems to me – although I fully accept that I may not be in possession of the full facts, that Gloucestershire Constabulary should be considering a self referral to the IPCC.

  • Lizzie-Tish

    While the sun shines down on the Shire, PCC keeps on rotting away like a compost heap.

  • With the BBC and the Pembrokeshire Herald now joining the Western Telegraph reporting the decision by the police to investigate, it seems to me that the Monitoring Officer ought to call a halt to his investigation into who leaked the chief executive’s letter.

    If the reports are correct and there is a whistleblower, having a council officer blundering around trying to identify what could be the same individual while there is a police investigation in process could be dangerous and foolish.

  • Jonathan Nutting

    Obviously the pundits have looked at the latest chapter in the decline and fall of the PCC empire and realised that the red bead has at last picked a vulnerable and hopefully fatal spot on the bloated zombie corpse that is the IPPG.

    I notice that even Jacob here has stopped short of saying too much so as to not deflect the missile by even the slightest millimetre. I agree with this, we need to keep our powder dry for a while.

    I only write here to point out that there are now two petitions up and running. One by Cllr. Paul Miller and the other on a website called ’38 degrees’ which is starting to gain momentum on Facebook. I suggest you all have a look.

  • Malcolm Calver

    Those councillors that voted to exclude the press on such an important issue as this should be ashamed of themselves, do they not realise that the ratepayers of Pembrokeshire have a right to know what is happening within the council?

    The Independent Party members have always been fully supportive of the Chief Officer affectionately known to them as “the chief” (I think that is the term they use).

    For the likes of Cllrs Hudson, James and Kidney to vote for the exclusion of the press and public is a disgrace.

    I believe Cllrs Hudson and James are both Conservatives so it would be interesting to know what influenced their decision.

    I am unaware of any position held by Cllr Kidney, who stood as an independent, so I wonder what argument he put forward at the meeting to support his decision, perhaps someone who was at the meeting could inform me through this website.

  • Keanjo

    Our good friend BPJ could have saved himself a lot of hassle if he had agreed to pay the money back.

    The invitation from the County Council was a very neat little trap set by our Machiavellian webmaster in the form of a cunningly phrased amendment.

    Did JW spring the trap deliberately? Only he can tell us. Watch this space!

  • Hi Martin,

    I think I’ve done enough on this website in two years to establish that spilling the beans isn’t something that gives me concern!

    Where I do show concern though is in facts, publishing only that which I can prove.

    Other sources may have published more than I have on this latest development, but that doesn’t have any bearing on the truth.

    Unless they hold evidence backing up the substance of the alleged whistleblower’s claim, then they are taking a clear risk in reporting the contents of Cllr. Miller’s police referral as they would be responsible for repeating a seriously defamatory allegation, which, if untrue, is libellous.

    That is not free speech!

  • Tony Wilcox

    With regard to the paedophile youth worker, I don’t believe any child would have been abused if concerns raised by the whistleblower and others had not been so arrogantly dismissed. The so called inquiry was completed within a week!

  • Welshman 23

    Please all be very careful what you say on any blog, I am sure every site is being watched and I would not like to see fellow commenters being investigated or reported for any comments raised.

    Do not mention anything that may open you up to trouble. The poor lady in Carmarthenshire was sued for libel by the county council’s CEO using council money to fund his legal claim.

    Paul Miller, Jacob, Old Grumpy and all the people that have campaigned tirelessly over the years to sort out the Kremlin, congratulations.

    If the pensions fiasco (and other scandals) do end up being swept under the carpet then you have all tried very hard, but do not give up.

  • Martin Lewis

    Didn’t mean to appear critical Jacob. It’s your blog after all.

    If Paul didn’t have anything to substantiate the claim via the whistleblower he would have taken a big risk.

  • Hi Martin, I took your comment in good humour, but as you say, other sources have repeated the allegation (including, I noticed, both of the Carmarthenshire-based political blogs, one of which has since made an edit to remove the allegation) and that is a risk entirely up to them.

  • John Hudson

    Going back to basics, do we know who or what “it” was that suggested this wheeze that so impressed the Director of Finance and Head of Human Resources that they prepared the report to introduce the pension opt-out payment scheme?

  • Goldingsboy

    Does anybody know has any officer of PCC received (or are any receiving) any external legal advice funded by the council concerning their individual pension arrangements?

  • Lobsterman

    Estyn announced today that Tasker Milward school continues to fail and is now going into ‘special measures’. This is no surprise as the standards have been falling for a long period causing me to remove my daughter from there.

    The shocking thing is the lack of effort to improve matters before it has come to this. PCC, the governing body and staff should take a long, hard look at themselves…

  • John,

    You pose a very interesting question, and that is exactly what I have been pressing to find out ever since the beginning, when the Wales Audit Office raised its concerns in September last year.

    I haven’t received a convincing response to date.

    As far back as the October 2013 meeting of council, I submitted the following question:

    Could the Leader let us know whose idea it was for the Council to introduce the “Pension Arrangements” scheme which enables the highest paid officers to receive their pension contributions as a cash sum, thereby avoiding tax liabilities?

    In answer, the minutes record that:

    The Leader responded that the implications and potential solutions to the problem created by taxation changes were evident from information supplied by HMRC, the Pensions Authority, professional bodies and relevant business and financial media. In particular, HMRC had made clear their expectation that in relation to those limited individuals affected by tax reliefs being converted into tax penalties, employers could implement alternative payment structures for the equivalent of their pension contributions which would be immediately taxable.

    So, they would have us believe that “implications” to tax changes “became evident” (but doesn’t say who it “became evident” to) and that HMRC encouraged the introduction of the scheme.

    If you believe this, you’ll believe anything.

    Nobody has managed to explain to me the process whereby HMRC has the automated ability to place schemes onto the agendas of council meetings without any initiation or at the very least, encouragement, from officers.

    Confounding any explanation would also be the added coincidence that, of twenty-two local authorities in Wales, HMRC’s so-called encouragement resulted in only two of them introducing such a scheme, which were neighbouring councils at that, and, even more coincidentally, who ended up sharing the same top lawyer to try and bail themselves out of the smelly stuff.

    Cllr. John Davies who was the council leader at the time of this policy being introduced in September 2011 has gone on record – at a meeting on webcam – as categorically denying any involvement with bringing forward the introduction of this policy to the senior staff committee, and I quite believe him.

    Ever since then, Cllr. Davies has gone very quiet on the topic. He sent his apologies to the May 1st extraordinary meeting at which the retrieval of the pension payments was debated, and also gave his apologies to last Thursday’s meeting where it was discussed again.

  • John Hudson

    So Jacob, so far an audit investigation, “open and transparent” reports about this affair by Council officers and a police investigation have all been carried out, yet nobody has been formally held to account.

    Do I recall that Councillor George referred to HMRC advising favourably about this? Has the HMRC advice turned up yet?

  • Casual Observer

    I may have missed a comment on why pension payments were transferred to a pay packet.

    Is it because there is a maximum pension/cap based on 40 years+ where you still pay in more but get nothing back? So better to have that excess in a pay packet?

  • John,

    Cllr. George refers to a lot of things, remember this priceless gem?

    “The tax man gains in each and every way!”

    And no, I haven’t seen any HMRC correspondence in which it’s been claimed this scheme was recommended.

    In answer to Casual Observer, I believe you are correct that the scheme allowed those whose pension pots were at saturation to continue receiving the benefit of their employer’s contributions, in the form of what the Wales Audit Office calls ‘pay supplements.’ However it isn’t recorded quite that way in the minutes of the meeting, which can be accessed here (the text of which I have copied below):

    6. Pensions Arrangements

    Having convened in private session under the terms of Paragraph 12 of Part 4 of Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972, the Committee considered a report regarding the effects upon pension contribution arrangements of recent changes in taxation provisions affecting higher earners and which had imposed limitations and penalties on the levels of annual contributions and the taking of benefits. As a consequence, at certain points in their careers, staying as active contributing members of the pension scheme would create substantial tax liability for individuals (including on promotion), thereby reducing incentives for recruitment.

    In order to aid recruitment and retention, it was suggested that individuals in this position should be given the option of receiving the equivalent of the employer’s contribution so that they make their own alternative arrangements for saving for retirement. This would be on the basis that there would be no additional cost in relation to the Authority’s existing contractual obligations to those individuals.

    RESOLVED:

    That the option set out above be made available to senior staff on the basis that no additional cost accrues to the Council.

  • Welshman 23

    What is the latest news Jacob, there must be an emergency meeting to discuss the latest fiasco?

    I heard from a reliable source there was a gathering of councillors last Thursday at the Kremlin.

  • No news to report, and I’m not aware of any emergency meetings, I had heard similar rumours though.

  • John Hudson

    If all is quiet, has anybody got an idea of why the Council bought Cherry Grove (the old tax office) for £600,000?

    Even more to the point, why it is spending £1.3m doing it up?

    Who is going to be relocated? Where are the staff going to park now that the Cabinet has agreed to sell off Scotchwell’s cheap day rate car parking?

    I thought this was available as a County Hall overspill?

    County Hall must be bursting with staff after “vacancy management” said to save £1.0m and it is not as if Haverfordwest has an abundance of public car parks.

    Still they will be able to walk along the enhanced Bridge Street and take advantage of the £388,763 refurbishment.

    Just how much do our councillors know and how much are they told?

  • Quill

    John, in answer to your question “how much do our councillors know”, it’s clear that many of them know the square root of p*** all!

    Especially the leading lights in the ruling cabal.

    In fact, given the mathematical prowess he’s been displaying over recent months, I’m given to understand Cllr Huw George literally does know the square root of p*** all.

    Some claim this complex equation is the one which allows the taxman to gain in each and every way.

  • Welshman 23

    Unison are planning a demonstration shortly, would it be appropriate for the councillors to support the union? If enough attend I am sure Freemans Way would be gridlocked.

  • Keanjo

    The situation is becoming absolutely farcical. You can be sure the demo will be well covered by the media. County Hall has the appearance of a medieval castle and Baron Parry-Jones and his 33 trusted knights besieged by the howling mob outside could make a great cartoon.

  • Concerned

    I have no doubt it will all be watched very closely from the bunker. Closely enough, I suspect, to frighten a lot of staff off.

  • Goldingsboy

    It would help if someone could provide a date and time for Unison’s demo. Furthermore, what is its stated purpose?

  • Casual Observer

    Voting them out? The power is in the hands of PCC employees…

    Assume 6,000 staff (excludes the odd person or two of course).
    Assume 6,000 partners/spouses (Some will have more!! Others none).
    Assume 6,000 voting offspring etc.
    That’s 18,000 votes.

    Assume 40% always vote (probably less) and that leaves 10,800 votes yet to be used.

    60 seats = on average 180 votes per seat. Those 180 votes will be enough to unseat all of the IPPG.

    Let’s all vote.

  • Welshman 23

    Well said Casual Observer.

  • Welshman 23

    I wrote to the First Minister regarding the goings on at the Kremlin, this is the response:

    (In a nutshell ‘could not care less’ – why do we need a Welsh Assembly?)

    “Thank you for your email of 13 July to Carwyn Jones AM, First Minister of Wales on Pembrokeshire County Council. I have been asked to reply.

    The corporate governance arrangements of all Welsh local authorities, including Pembrokeshire, are subject of annual reports issued by the Auditor General for Wales, and occasionally via special reports by the Wales Audit Office. Very occasionally, the Auditor General will issue statutory recommendations under the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2009, alerting the Welsh Ministers to a corporate failure at a local authority.

    This is not the case at Pembrokeshire, as we have not received any recommendations from Auditor General for Wales, neither has anything similar been suggested during our regular meetings with the WAO and other regulatory bodies. It would be highly unusual for Welsh Ministers to intervene in the running of a local authority without a recommendation from the Auditor General for Wales to do so.

    While I understand your frustration and concerns with events at Pembrokeshire County Council the Welsh Government currently has no plans to intervene in the running of that authority. However, I can assure you that the First Minister, and the Minister for Local Government and Government Business, take seriously the concerns you, and others, have expressed about Pembrokeshire County Council and they will continue to monitor the situation closely.”

  • Malcolm Calver

    I would suggest to “Casual Observer” that most of the people employed by Pembrokeshire County Council are better paid than those in the private sector, so why would they go on strike?

    Most would not get a job anywhere else, especially with the perks they have at PCC.

  • Anoldman

    Malcolm Calver, why the red herring? I refer to your last post. For the life of me I cannot see any reference to strike action by council employees?

  • Nev Andrews

    I find the comments by Welshman regarding Welsh Ministers ‘not caring less’ rather odd. Pembrokeshire is a ‘hot bed’ of quasi ‘independent’ thinking, is it not, and is populated by many who believe that anyone from outside its borders has neither the intellect or the birth right to comment or influence how the good burgers of Pembs should be governed…but now, as the County is unable to extricate itself from this debacle of a regime, it wants the Welsh Government to intervene.

    Now, I might be as surprised as anyone that some sort of intervention has not yet happened but it is rather disingenuous to suggest that this is because the Assembly doesn’t care. History would rather suggest that the influence of any central government has been met with outrage by Pembrokeshire in the recent and more distant past…and now you are whinging where are the Assembly.

    Hypocritical and stark, staring bonkers, never mind the fact the law only allows certain such intervention to happen in order to safeguard the very LOCAL democracy many of you seem to so jealously guard and champion, irrespective of its ineptitude and questionable moral standards. There are many proverbs here…

  • Casual Observer

    Thank you Anoldman – as you note I did not refer to strike action. I came from the direction that one group of people, in this case PCC employees, could, if acting together vote them out. It would, I believe, take only some 45 votes to kick most out, way below my theoretical 180 available votes.

    Of course if the majority of PCC employees accept the current situation then it will never happen. I doubt that they do accept it.

    For quick referencing and reminding someone with time on their hands needs to produce a spreadsheet as a “ready reckoner” to make what has been happening in the council easily available.

  • Nev,

    You say “the influence of any central government has been met with outrage by Pembrokeshire in the recent and more distant past…”

    Do you care to give some examples, firstly of where central government has intervened (or tried to intervene) in Pembrokeshire, and secondly, of examples where Pembrokeshire residents have met such intervention ‘with outrage’? (Without harking back to the Local Government Act 1972 reorganisation.)

    I would probably agree with your sentiments if you said Pembrokeshire County Council meets any form of intervention or criticism from Cardiff Bay with outrage, but the elected council and the county’s residents are not one and the same, and the former clearly doesn’t always represent the views of the latter, though I think we’d both agree it should!

    I would guess from Welshman 23’s tone that this disconnect, along with the results it constantly reaps in the authority, concerned him enough to write to the First Minister, though I agree it is unlikely the Welsh Government would be inclined (or indeed able) to intervene.


    Casual Observer and Anoldman, Malcolm mentions council workers’ pay and perks in his comment. Today it was announced that this autumn local government workers’ unions’ (Unison, Unite and GMB) will hold a national strike over pay, on 14th October. He may have been referring to that.

  • John Hudson

    Welshman 23, can I use your letter from the Welsh First Minister to request that the Auditor General undertakes a Public Interest Report into the Corporate Governance arrangements of PCC?

  • Keanjo

    Nev, no one approves of a Welsh Assembly takeover of the County and the very fact that many people are in favour of such action merely demonstrates the depths to which the present Administration has sunk.

    I think that if such action is possible the Assembly should merely rule that new elections take place which would hand the solution to the voters.

  • Concerned Employee

    I would like to know what perks Malcolm Calver thinks PCC employees get? How dare he say they wouldn’t get jobs elsewhere, and to those who have had pay cuts, his comments are most offensive.

  • John Hudson

    When Malcolm was a County Councillor, he along with all the other 59 councillors had the opportunity to forgo some or all of his councillor allowance/salary, (£13,473 p.a. in 2010/11 for a part-time job) plus travel and subsistence expenses which were also subject to payment only on submission of a claim for reimbursement.

    While some councillors do not claim T&S, I do not think that any forgo their basic salary allowance or reduce it to a level, equitable to a salary for part time staff.

    In 2011/12 the Independent Remuneration Panel “fixed” the basic councillor salary at three fifths of the median gross earnings of all full time employees resident in Wales.

    For 2014/15 a Pembrokeshire County Council member’s basic salary is £13,300 plus £500 IT communications and office support allowance.

    On 19 May, Cabinet “noted” a workforce planning report. The Head of Human Resources advised Cabinet that the Wales Audit Office had concluded that the Council’s workforce planning arrangements were effective in meeting the future needs of the Council, omitting the mention of bits about audit suggestions for areas of improvement and how management proposed to effect changes to meet these.

    On 7 July, Cabinet again “noted” the Strategic Equality Plan annual Report 2012/13 which provides an insight into the Council’s workforce “broken down” by sex, grades, pay rates, employment contract types and full/part timers.

  • Malcolm Calver

    Sorry to have to correct you John but at the meeting, I believe it was 2010, I argued against the proposed increase in salary for county councillors hoping I would shame the other councillors into a similar position, but without success.

    The leader at the time, farmer John Davies of agricultural bungalow fame, suggested that I could refuse the extra allowance and leave it in the council coffers. I believe the council do not provide value for the taxpayers of Pembrokeshire and informed the meeting, which was attended by Mark Lewis, Director of Finance, that my increase was to be forwarded to a local hospice.

    I doubt if this is recorded in minutes of the meeting, as we all know they contain very little information but I can assure you John that instruction was carried out for the rest of the time I was a county councillor.

    I would suggest to “Concerned Employee” that all staff have the option of seeking alternative employment if they feel hard done by in any way.

    We are now in the situation that we have 6,000 people on the payroll of Pembrokeshire County Council and what they all find to do amazes me.

  • Timetraveller

    There seems to be little inclination from Dyfed-Powys’s finest to investigate the Pembroke Dock grants scheme. Thanks to Welshman 23 we have clear guidance from the minister how the process should work, through the auditor. Besides lacking the will, I have always thought the police also lack the expertise for this work.

    Even the auditor will find the subterfuge applied difficult to see through. They will certainly need sharp forensic skills. The most effective action may be to bring the Ministerial Board back to look at administration.

    No matter how well drafted legislation is, it depends on some degree of goodwill from the parties involved. Goodwill and scruples are in short supply in the administration of this authority.

  • Nev Andrews

    Jacob, before I reply, what is the Local Government Act 1972 reorganisation exactly? I doubt I would ‘hark back to it,’ as I was not as precocious as your good self and had yet to sit my ‘O’ levels at that time…

  • It abolished Pembrokeshire as a county council and created a merged Dyfed.

  • John Hudson

    Malcolm, I do apologise.

    Yet again the Council’s records, well known for their completeness and accuracy, do not tell the full picture. The published lists of Members’ Allowances and Expenses paid, for 2010/11, 2011/12, 2012/13 (available on the Council’s website) all show that the salary was paid to you. There is no footnote explaining that it went elsewhere. I cannot recall any footnote in the annual accounts either. So even the accounts are suspect now.

    Perhaps it would have embarrassed the “establishment” to include a footnote for one councillor, particularly one who they may not have wanted to show in a good light.

    Just a horrible thought, if you did not receive these salaries, are you sure it got to where you intended it to end up, and that it did just bolster the Council’s coffers?

    Again my most sincere apologies.

  • Keanjo

    Jacob, Pembrokeshire was never abolished as a geographical county, not in the minds of the residents anyway and we still had a South Pembrokeshire District Council who provided a very good service as I remember.

    Dyfed took over the larger services such as Education and major highways and again they were provided efficiently. The combined council tax cost us less than a third of the amount we pay to PCC, far in excess of inflation and the service I receive now is substantially inferior.

  • John, I took what Malcolm was saying to mean that he received the additional money as per all other councillors, but that he paid it to charity himself, rather than asking the council to make such payments on his behalf, where there would be no need for any note attached to be to the accounts.

    Keanjo, of course it’s not literally true that what we knew and know as Pembrokeshire ceased to exist geographically with the introduction of Dyfed – reorganisation didn’t go as far as implementing bulldozers or dynamite!

    Nev, maybe now you’d be able to give us some of those examples you were referring to?

  • Michael Williams

    Re Dyfed, I did ask Jamie Adams at the last full Council what meetings had taken place with our neighbouring authorities relating to possible cooperating or sharing of responsibilities, the answer was “None.”

    It is clear that the present twenty two authorities in Wales are unsustainable, with many, including Pembrokeshire, failing their taxpayers.

    Unless the existing Counties get together and show that they can cooperate, share services, and reduce costs, the Labour Government in Cardiff Bay will impose reorganisation. There can be little doubt that Adams and his cronies have done more than anyone to ensure the return of Dyfed.

    Looking at the present mess, would that be such a bad thing? My experience as a member is that I had a far better service from Dyfed County Council than I currently receive from Brynshire! But of course that might very well be because I’m not and never have been a member of the IPG/IPPG.

  • Malcolm Calver

    John and Jacob,

    I have put some further thought into the subject of the salary increase for county councillors to which I objected and I believe it was just after the 2008 election. The money was deducted by the council from the salary I received and I presume it was then forwarded to the hospice.

    As we are all aware, the council minutes contain very little information on the discussions that take place at the meetings and are probably scanned by we know who for his approval, before being presented to councillors.

    I note Michael Williams comments on the poor service he says he receives from Brynshire (Pembrokeshire County Council) compared with that when we had Dyfed County Council. I am sure the readers of this website would appreciate him informing us of which service provision he feels was better from Dyfed.

  • Keanjo

    Malcolm, many services were provided very efficiently by SPDC – planning, waste collection, minor highways to name a few and at a fraction of the cost charged by PCC. Michael Williams was a member of the DC and I am sure he can elaborate.

  • Welshman 23

    John Hudson, yes you can use the letter I received from the First Minister if it helps to remove the cancer in PCC.

  • Michael Williams

    For Malcolm Calver’s enlightenment, not an easy task, but possibly the most important was education, which has been consistently failed by Brynshire. One must not forget social services which for years was in a state of almost total collapse, due to lack of proper funding.

    With what PCC pays its CEO and its senior officers, we should be assured of excellence. I note that Ceredigion is the only authority in Wales to have its education service ranked as excellent, and it pays its CEO half of what Bryn is paid.

    We have always been told that to get the best officers and service delivery we must accept these obscene salaries. Ceredigion shows that this need not be the case.

    Could Malcolm Calver also inform us what the “perks” are he said that staff receive? When most have had their pay cut or frozen for a considerable time? Just get out there and follow the street cleaners in Tenby in the early mornings. I’m not aware that they receive much in the way of “perks.” That was a typically cheap shot which has not been backed up by any evidence.

  • Nev Andrews

    Thanks Jacob…I will not hark back to that then and a quick look at Wiki suggests that Dyfed historically was actually an area of Wales aka Pembrokeshire ironically…however, you only have to look at anything to do with local health services to find many examples of the tub thumping that goes on.

    In the case of the last reorganisation, 1996, the raison d’etre for the resurrection of Pembrokeshire as an administrative unit was simply because it was alleged that the local people knew what was best in terms of providing local services and the tirade launched in both the direction of Carmarthen and Cardiff as part of the process was, at times, vitriolic in my opinion.

    Stock et al…there was never any cogent case for the reconstruction of local government at the time into 22 unitary authorities with it simply being based on sophisticated gerrymandering by some politicians looking to curry populist favour.

    I would obviously agree with one thing you said regarding the council not always representing the views of the residents, in fact I think you could say ‘rarely.’

    Finally, from what I know, there was never a significant cost or service issue with the two tier structure which existed pre 1996 and we in effect ended up with three slightly smaller ‘Dyfeds’ but the resultant diluted capacity in the 3 executives, and who knows, possibly elected members…

  • John Hudson

    If the basic “salary” of a councillor was £13,175 in 2013/14 as set by the Independent Remuneration Panel, with reference to a point of actual earnings in Wales and this “salary” is based on three fifths, then the full time salary would be £21,958.

    PCC councillors also get paid an allowance of £500 a year for IT, communication and office expenses. In addition expenses for travel to and from work can be claimed.

    No formal qualifications are required.

    I see from the 2012/13 strategic equality plan report “noted” by the Council, that the lowest employees are remunerated at spinal point 5 of the NJC scale, and that the average pay of chief officers to the average pay of employees who are not chief officers is 3.3:1.

    The ratio of pay of the highest paid employee to the median average pay across the organisation is approximately 10:1.

    As of 31 March 2014 the Council employed 7,050 individuals in 9,589 jobs. Of the 7,050, 5,084 are female and 1,986 male. 48% of the total are full-timers (over 30 hours per week).

    17% (1,198) of staff earn below £6.62 per hour. 31% (2,185) earn £6.62-£9.36, 21% (1,480) earn £9.37-£15.20, 31% (2,185) earn above £15.21 per hour.

    £6.62 x 30 hrs = £198 per week = £10,327 p.a.

    £15.21 x 30 hrs = £456 per week = £23,712 p.a.

    So it seems, in approximation, that our councillors enjoy a salary (£21,958) broadly equivalent to the average enjoyed by 31% of the highest paid staff (£23,712). 69% of staff would therefore seem to earn less than the full time equivalent Councillor’s salary.

    Who are overpaid?

  • John Hudson

    Jacob, I observed the “open or secret” debate from a lofty perch in the council chamber’s public gallery, before getting ejected.

    I heard much about the right of confidentiality for individual members of staff, but not much advice or consideration for debate in public “in the wider public interest”.

    To me, this seemed to be so biased and one sided that I have asked under FoI to see the decision and considerations as to why the need to maintain confidentiality overrode the wider public interest test.

    In July 2014, the Wales Audit Office issued its Annual Improvement Report on PCC. This report included (para 62) recommendation for review: “the reasons why reports may need to be exempt from the public” and “ensuring that all relevant factors and options are considered in decision making”.

    These points were reiterated in the accompanying published letter addressed to the Leader.

  • Malcolm Calver

    Michael, I am sure with your vast experience in local politics you have the ability to enlighten me.

    The first issue you raised was the education of children and I would have to agree it also concerns me. The problem with you and your party Michael (Plaid Cymru) is that you fail to see that most of the problems are caused by the failure of parents in the early years to devote enough time to their children.

    A wise old teacher once told me that she could assess how successful a child was going to be in life within one month of the child attending school for the first time. She told me this was based on the attitude of the parent and the ability of the child.

    I am sure Michael you are aware children of different parents could attend the same school but some are more successful than others in life. I am afraid schools, mainly due to the interference of politicians, have become full time nurseries.

    One of the perks that employees have at County Hall is a secure job, which is more than the majority of the working population in Pembrokeshire have.

    I would agree with you that the refuse collectors are very efficient and provide an excellent service, but you must also be aware that this is the only service used by the majority of Pembrokeshire residents. I would therefore suggest you look at all the hangers on at County Hall which are surplus to requirements.

    The sad thing is that there is never going to be work again for many and with the topic of immigration being highlighted perhaps we are sending too many children to mickey mouse universities and colleges doing mickey mouse degrees.

  • Nev Andrews

    Please don’t dumb this down Mr Calver…they are actually ‘Disney Degrees’…

  • Are we any closer to knowing who the ‘other’ senior official is that received unlawful payments? FOI not appropriate – why?

  • Bob

    I work full time and still have an employer final salary pension. I can ‘opt out’ of this pension if I so desire, but I will then have to make my own arrangements for my pension requirements out of my salary.

    As my employer has a pension scheme in place, if I choose not to be a member of it they will not make any employer contributions to my personal pension arrangements. As BPJ chose not to be a member of the Local Government Pension Scheme (probably because his pension pot is at the maximum amount allowed), it would perhaps seem the council do not have a legal duty to provide him with the employer’s contributions he would have received if he were to remain a member of the LGPS.

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