Jacob Williams
Saturday 8th November, 2014

Minder

Minder

As the dust settles on the chief executive’s protracted departure, many questions remain. One is how the package Bryn Parry-Jones eventually fled the authority for was different to the one which 29 councillors pushed through the council chamber on 16th October, yet it involved no further intervention from councillors.

We’re told that, because the sum Mr. Parry-Jones accepted was less than the authority offered to get rid of him, there was no need to re-ratify the deal – so much for councillors being in charge!

Cllr. Jamie Adams is supposed to have been heading the negotiations which led to the original deal, though it appears he took a back seat and the Local Government Association’s Adam Barker played the key role on the authority’s side of the bargaining.

At the time of the meeting we were all told how Mr. Parry-Jones was a shrewd man who would be fully aware of everything he was entitled to, and that he was initially angling for over half a million, but Jamie beat him down to a mere £332,000 through tough negotiations.

Of course, we also found out that this sum was negotiated prior to the disciplinary investigation committee’s decision to refer the allegations of misconduct for a full independent investigation in the hands of a QC, and that this sum wasn’t revisited subsequent to this key referral.

This fact alone confirmed to me that Cllr. Adams was looking out for Mr. Parry-Jones’ best financial interests, and not the public purse’s. And the eventual outcome, following the Wales Audit Office’s intervention, solidifies my opinion. It gives the lie to what we were told from the leader’s perch at the behind-closed-doors meeting on 16th October about it being the lowest Mr. Parry-Jones would accept to go away.

Because far from being the best deal, Mr. Parry-Jones quickly accepted a more than £50,000 cut from his pay-off to leave behind several elements of cash originally included which the appointed auditor deemed unlawful in the formal notice he served on the council to put a stop to the deal.

Councillors are told that ‘the council’s’ legal opinion – whoever or whatever ‘the council’ is – disputes the auditor’s take on the unlawfulness of these sums. But, as Cllr. Vivien Stoddart commented in an email circulating among councillors earlier this week: “If the chief executive was satisfied that he was entitled to the pension supplements, he nevertheless agreed to a substantial £53,000 reduction.”

Enough said!

Last Saturday, Cllr. Bob Kilmister recounted on his blog that the erstwhile chief exec had been into County Hall to clear his office.

Nothing strange there, of course, however Mr. Parry-Jones is said to have embarked upon an out-of-hours mission to collect his belongings – with Cllr. Brian Hall in tow.

Much like their given names which are only differentiated by two letters, Bryn enjoys a closer bond with Brian than most other councillors.

It also transpires that the (then) chief executive had been given ‘permission’ to empty his office by the council leader, Cllr. Jamie Adams. It remains unknown what authority the leader had to grant such permission, or if it was given in writing and if a particular time was specified. What also puzzles many is why the visit was allowed to go ahead unaccompanied by council security or other officers.

According to Cllr. Kilmister, the leader claims he had no idea Cllr. Hall would be providing a supporting role, so it’s safe to assume the Pembroke Dock councillor’s attendance was, if not Mr. Parry-Jones’ own idea, at least with his blessing.

I’ve hypothesised in a comment on an earlier post that, perhaps, Cllr. Hall was seen as the safest pair of hands to help shift some valuable marble figurines from the chief’s roomy second floor office.

Cllr. Hall is well known for playing a dogsbody role in the authority, and was seen coming in and out of the chief executive’s office on a regular basis during the latter’s tenure.

Indeed, one of these tête-à-têtes cropped up during testimony given by the star witnesses at the recent disciplinary investigation committee into allegations of the CE’s misconduct.

On the ill-fated day Cllrs. Mark Edwards and Peter Morgan went up for the encounter during which they were subjected to an expletive-laden dressing-down by Mr. Parry-Jones, they told the committee how Cllr. Hall was just exiting the doorway of the chief executive’s office as they arrived.

Cllr. Hall is quite protective of Mr. Parry-Jones, and one example of him keeping a brotherly lookout for the top man occurred during Mr. Parry-Jones’ appearance at the behind-closed-doors disciplinary investigation committee meeting, held on October 6th.

This was intended to be the penultimate meeting of the committee probing allegations of the chief executive’s misconduct, however with the approval of the golden handshake, it turned out to be the last.

The disciplinary committee meetings – which were tasked with looking into the allegations before deciding to refer them for a full independent inquiry – were held in committee rooms, of which there are two at County Hall. It’s a long building with corridors running down its length, and the two committee rooms – which are much longer than they are wide – both face onto the Cleddau end to end, or side by side if you’re looking up from the river.

They are accessed off the same spinal corridor via double doors located next to each other. The left double doors enter committee room two, and the right, committee room one. A sliding wall allows them to be opened into one very long narrow space, if required.

For its third and final meeting – the one during which the chief executive made his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance – the committee was convened in committee room two. At the far end of this room (the opposite end to the double access doors) is a doorway leading onto a small rectangular private passageway.

If you go through the doorway into this area, look left and you’ll find a door back onto the spinal corridor, right and you’ll find a plant pot in the window overlooking the Cleddau, and facing you will be two doors.

Private corridor

The door closest to the window leads to the chairman’s suite located inside one of the iconic riverside turrets. The chairman’s suite is a seldom-used semi-circular lounge with tables and chairs and sofas for formal functions such as the Christmas do and the annual chairman-making reception in the springtime with the Lord Lieutenant. This room is always locked, by a key.

Next to the chairman’s suite is a solid wooden doorway to a private staircase. It’s marked with a bilingual “STAFF ONLY” poster. This is also locked, though not by a key, but an electronic key card system.

I happen to have one of these magnetic access cards – being a councillor and all that – and whenever I swipe it elsewhere in County Hall the consoles light up green and the doors unlock. I’ve attempted to have a gander inside this secret staircase on a previous occasion, however all that happened after swiping my card was the wall-mounted console lit up in an undignifying shade of red.

There’s also an illuminated sign above indicating it’s a fire exit – it leads downwards to a fire escape near the chairman’s limo garage and the canteen – but in case of emergency it’s limited to the select few, I fear.

It’s probably not surprising my key card hasn’t been awarded full access rights because I’m told the steps in the upwards direction lead to the chief executive’s office, directly above the chairman’s suite in the turret.

During most of the four-hour committee meeting at which he briefly appeared, Mr. Parry-Jones was shacked up with his trade union rep, Richard Penn of the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives, in the exclusive surroundings of the chairman’s suite. ALACE in blunderland, so to speak.

Before the meeting began I had a sniff round this area, accessing it from the door off the main thoroughfare, which isn’t locked. County Hall is carpeted throughout in a municipal grade of speckled navy. There’s a noticeably more luxuriant shag under foot in this private corridor than elsewhere in the building. I suspect that’s because it’s off-limits to the hoi-polloi and is subjected to hardly any footfall other than the chairman’s Hush Puppies and the Lord Lieutenant’s spurred boots.

The plusher pile isn’t all that sets this area off as a bit more upmarket because in pride of place hangs a portrait of Her Majesty and the Duke. As I straightened my back from taking a bow, my eye caught a beam of artificial light emanating from the chairman’s suite. I shuffled along and peered through a pane in the door, only to find Mr. Penn seated on the other side, staring me right in the face.

The meeting, as soon as it got underway, was conducted in private session with the exclusion of the public and press, however councillors were allowed to sit in from the back of the room as normal. I sat in all three times the committee met, many others came and went throughout too.

The biggest turnout was when the chief executive was top-billing. With a coffee machine and water fountain in the members’ room, and some small bladders among the county’s elected reps, there were quite a few entrances and exits throughout the roughly four hour meeting, each of which was heralded by the unmistakable rasp that only a fire door seal can make upon opening and closing.

As the meeting progressed and people came and went, huffing and puffing could be heard from the council’s legal officer, who, every time, had to pause the committee until the door had closed in case of prying eyes and ears. She then had to warn the entering councillor that the committee was in private session and remind them of their code of conduct obligations.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was Cllr. Pearl Llewellyn. To be fair to our Pearl, she came in as quiet as a mouse, held the self-closing fire door as it shut behind her so it wouldn’t slam, only to be welcomed by the council’s internal legal advisor who wasn’t best pleased with this in-out in-out shake it all about malarkey.

She uttered a curt warning – not necessarily directed at Pearl – asking councillors to refrain from coming in and out as they pleased during this important committee meeting.

Pearl the girl wasn’t too impressed with the reception and without missing a beat, retorted: “Well excuse me but I’ve only just arrived, madam!” For fear of a further telling off, we were all too scared to applaud.

You’re probably wondering at this point where Cllr. Brian Hall’s ‘minder’ role comes, in all of this.

He sat in on the day’s proceedings from beginning to end, at the back of the room. Following further departures and entrances, he decided enough was enough and got up and locked the double doors from the inside.

Unbeknown to Brian, the top and bottom flush bolts in the right hand door hadn’t been secured so all it took was for both doors to be pushed together from the corridor side, and they would open. And that’s exactly what happened, seconds later, when Cllr. Reg Owens gently pushed his wheelchair into the doors to come back in for another slice of the action.

Brian got up and held the doors open for Reg, and then decided to do the job aright, by firstly locking the flush bolts before then turning the main lock, from the inside.

My sad knowledge of fire regulations came in handy here so I stood up and bellowed to the chairman that I wasn’t happy to be locked in the room and that it was a criminal offence to obstruct a fire escape. Cllr. Keith Lewis duly obliged from the chair, and asked for the door to be unlocked. For the third time, Cllr. Hall got up and did the honours.

It seemed like hours before the chief executive made his appearance, during which time, as I’ve already mentioned, he took refuge in the chairman’s suite. The proceedings started with Cllr. Keith Lewis informing that discussions had been ongoing behind the scenes, and that there had “been some progress.”

He said he was aware that a tentative deal had been reached with the chief executive which would result in him leaving the employment of the authority, but that any deal would need to be approved by full council, though “the two tracks [settlement and disciplinary committee] may come close to one another.”

The news of this prospective deal didn’t go down too well with opposition members, and much discussion took place on how inappropriate it was for this to be brought up at the committee which was tasked with the disciplinary investigation, and not a pay-off.

Things took an even more interesting turn when it was announced that the chief executive wasn’t willing to come in. He didn’t consider it was appropriate for the committee to vote on his suspension or to formally refer the allegations against him at this stage, and that he “would require a stay.”

It became apparent that Mr. Parry-Jones was desperate to avoid suspension. The committee was told that he had even gone as far as signing an agreement – off his own bat – delegating his constitutional and statutory powers as the authority’s head of paid service to his longest-serving director, Ian Westley, and handing his electoral responsibilities over to the deputy chief executive, Ben Pykett, both until 31st October, so that a suspension wouldn’t be necessary.

To resolve the stalemate a vote was proposed by Cllr. Paul Miller to relay an invitation to the chief executive to come in, advising that the committee was minded to continue without him if he didn’t make an appearance.

The vote was taken and it resulted in the message being sent to the chairman’s suite – though Cllrs. Ken Rowlands and Keith Lewis abstained, and Cllr. Sue Perkins voted against this move.

Mr. Parry-Jones refused.

Following an interval during which the council’s external lawyers from Eversheds went into the chairman’s suite, they reported that Mr. Parry-Jones claimed he had had insufficient time to consider the allegations against him, and that he was unable to set out his case as he believed if he appeared it would be prejudicial to his chances of receiving the pay-off due to be considered by full council on 16th October.

He wished for the committee to adjourn its business until Friday 17th, the day after full council had voted on his golden handshake. In the event that it was not approved, he would then be prepared to appear at the reconvened meeting.

The committee decided to continue without him.

Next, discussion turned to suspension and referring the allegations to the formal stage. Cllr. Perkins was most insistent – Bryn had relinquished his duties so there was no need to suspend him.

Cllr. Mike James was similarly happy with the position, and felt a suspension was inappropriate, given that the chief executive had flung his duties and responsibilities into the hands of other officers.

As the debate ground to an end, Cllr. Miller proposed to relay a second message to Mr. Parry-Jones, stating that the committee was minded to go ahead and take a vote on suspension and referring the allegations to the designated independent person, and that its members wanted to give him a chance to address them before taking the two votes.

Cllrs. Ken Rowlands, Keith Lewis and Mike James all voted against sending the message, Cllr. Sue Perkins abstained, but the vote was approved, and Mr. Parry-Jones was asked, for a second time, if he would come in.

This must have shaken Bryn into action because almost by reply came the news, via an intermediary at 4.45pm, that he was prepared to come in – in fifteen minutes’ time. So the chairman adjourned the meeting until 5pm.

Cllr. Lewis must have been keeping very accurate time because the quarter of an hour had hardly elapsed when I came back into the room from the interval, where I found Mr. Parry-Jones already speaking, seated next to Mr. Penn.

He told the committee he hadn’t had enough time to prepare and that he was not in a position to address the meeting. Also, there was no need to suspend him as he had jettisoned all of his duties and he was unable to undo this voluntary undertaking – this was to allay any members’ concerns that he could decide to un-delegate them at his own will.

After I came in, Cllr. Hall stood up and, for the remainder of the chief executive’s short appearance, barricaded the entrance.

With his portly frame, Cllr. Hall leant against the doors with his outstretched arm on the handles, to prevent anybody coming in or going out.

Strange behaviour, indeed.

Following Mr. Parry-Jones’ brief appearance the committee went on to take a vote on suspending him, and on referring the allegations for formal investigation in the hands of a designated independent person.

The responsibility-offloading tactic to avert suspension must have worked. Only three members voted in support, all from the opposition: Cllrs. Michael Williams, Paul Miller and Tony Wilcox. Not a single vote of support came from the IPPG contingent, who were accompanied by opposition members Cllrs. Jonathan Nutting and David Howlett.

As we all know, there was a bit more success with the vote to refer the misconduct allegations for full independent investigation. A united opposition, joined by Cllrs. Michael John and Wynne Evans from the ruling IPPG, voted to support the formal referral.

Ten days later, at the full council meeting, Cllr. John would go on to vote to approve the golden handshake, while Cllr. Evans left the meeting due to illness before the vote.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The Pembrokeshire Herald ran an interesting report following this meeting on the efforts that were made on the day to allow Mr. Parry-Jones to avoid the waiting press and their cameras.

A car park decoy was set up by County Hall insiders in the form of traffic cones ostensibly marking out the space Mr. Parry-Jones was to pull up into.

The committee started at 2pm but unbeknown to the waiting press photographers, Mr. Parry-Jones had been bundled into County Hall much earlier in the day, and didn’t leave until the cover of darkness.

Coming soon to a TV near you…

Minder

You may also be interested in Old Grumpy’s follow-up, in which Arthur Daley and Terry McCann give way to Oddjob and Goldfinger!


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97 Comments...

  • Martin Lewis

    A very interesting insight indeed Jacob, thank you. Brian Hall couldn’t even spell democracy, let alone tell you what it means.

  • Welshman 23

    What is Cllr Hall up to?

  • Dave Edwards

    It was reported in the pub tonight, by refinery staff, that Bryn and Brian were in the PCC delegation at the royal visit to Valero today. How come?

  • Billy Dokar

    Whatever next: Huw George and Rob Lewis as Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street?

    I expect Huw will be able to come up with a couple of double acts of his own as an alternative, though.

  • Barney

    What a great show Minder was through the eighties, I’ll never be able to watch repeats on ITV3 in the same way now! Visions of Brian Hall singing the theme tune like Dennis Waterman did. “I could be so good for you…I’d do anything for you…”

  • Tim

    Who the f#%& does Brian Hall think he is?!

  • Goldingsboy

    No one can deny from your vivid description Jacob, that Brian Hall fits the mental image of a door supervisor, (more commonly known as a bouncer), perfectly.

    Indeed, his physical appearance complements, perfectly, that awesome picture. I wonder, as he performed his duties as a doorman for BP-J with so much evident dedication, whether he has any connections with the industry?

  • Tomos

    How come Jamie was happy in allowing the LGA to represent us, the tax payers of Pembrokeshire, in the negotiations with Bryn?

    It totally stinks – we really need some of the tabloids exposing PCC for what it is, on the front pages.

  • Keanjo

    Ivory towers and delusions of grandeur!

  • Welshman 23

    This shambolic outfit needs to end, the IPPG will not give in, so how about the remaining council members resign en bloc, will this force a quick resolution?

  • John Hudson

    What on earth is OUR council, (and its external and internal legal advisors) doing, rather than the self protecting council leadership?

    The council, that is our full council (60 members) has the statutory responsibility to appoint one of its officers to be the Head of Paid Service. It also has a duty to appoint a Returning Officer.

    These are statutory duties of the council and cannot be delegated. The council should have properly agreed delegations to other specific officers in the event of incapacity of its only appointed and designated officer/s.

    It seems in Pembrokeshire that its Chief Executive is allowed to assume these responsibilities and direct who takes over the administration of the council when he voluntarily vacates the council’s service, up to 31 October. What has it to do with him? What Legal Authority did the council have to discontinue the Disciplinary Committee procedure?

    Yet again we have been let down by the corporate governance and procedural arrangements of this council, or rather one interpretation of them, with the acceptance by the majority of our elected representatives. Is the legal advice on the probity of these procedural arrangements available to us? Councillors must have been given some, surely, or perhaps not.

    The wishes, or direction, of the outgoing Chief Executive about the running of the council have now been perpetuated with the approval of the majority of councillors. Who or what can protect us from an apparent ongoing abuse of authority?

    Perhaps if the council’s leadership had got round to revising the constitution, this could not have happened. The constitution should protect us. Although no doubt it would still have been written by officers with a view to their own protection and ease of administration, and be open to unchallenged interpretation and advice from the leadership’s legal advisors.

    When is the ethos of this council going to change?

  • Malcolm Calver

    Mr Parry-Jones was probably attending Chevron for the royal visit yesterday in his new role as Ex CEO of Pembrokeshire County Council, whilst Cllr Hall is probably the link man for the next person holding the position.

    I think you will find Cllr Hall holds some position on the PCC/Valero liaison committee, or used to, and surely there are PCC minutes of meetings?

  • Tony Wilcox

    Saying “you watch my back and I’ll watch yours” springs to mind for some reason or other!

  • Hercule Poirot

    I was at Chevron yesterday for the Royal Visit, so was Cllr Brian Hall, Cllr Daphne Bush and Cllr Pearl Llewellyn from the liaison committee. Mr Parry-Jones was also there by personal invitation from Valero. Cllr Allen-Mirehouse as it’s his ward, Cllr Jamie Adams as leader of P.C.C. and Cllr Tom Richards as chairman. Hope this clears things up!

  • PreseliView

    Tim, the answer to your question is the Godfather!

  • While Arthur Daley and Terry McCann might be a fitting cultural reference to the relationship between Mr Parry-Jones and Cllr Hall, it’s a bit too benign for my taste.

    Goldfinger and Oddjob rings the bell for me.

  • Welshman 23

    Chevron should have done us all a favour and withdrawn BPJ’s invitation.

  • Observer

    Hercule, it seems that the Royal Family would do well to heed my dear old grandmother’s advice: that people should take care lest they be judged by the company they keep!

  • Barney

    The lyrics to the classic Minder theme tune also include “Sometime when you’re feeling like a poor relation call on me and I’ll give you more than conversation…”

    Neither of them could have felt like poor relations yesterday when they were mingling with the future king and his wife at Chevron’s 50th anniversary. BPJ and Brian Hall also BOTH managed to personally meet the Queen and Prince Philip when they visited Pembrokeshire in April. BPJ even wangled lunch with them at Picton Castle!

    If Royal Family familiarity is their plan to fast track a CBE I hope they’re in for a nasty shock!

  • Keanjo

    John Hudson draws attention to the inadequacies of the Authority’s constitution and points to the way it reduces the powers of Members and gives excessive powers to Officers.

    Who drafted the Constitution and laid it before Council to accept? Bryn by any chance? The extreme loyalty of Brian Hall to Bryn is interesting.

  • Keanjo, I will be posting an article on my website in the next day or so which will show that this “extreme loyalty” was not a one-way street.

  • John Hudson

    As I recall, following the passing of the Local Government Act 2000 and the introduction of the Cabinet system, a model constitution was published with statutory and non-statutory guidelines by the Welsh Government.

    One guideline concerned the proper recording of decisions, including those taken by officers. This council’s practice of not doing so was found out in a judicial review and the farce of the unlawful pension opt-out arrangements.

    Within this legal framework a range of “local” choice options and ways of working were to be determined by each local authority. This council’s constitution was presented to the interim authority’s Policy and Resources Committee by the Director of Support and Cultural Services, also the Head of Legal Services. Two constitution reports were submitted, one on the council’s preferred Cabinet arrangements, i.e. appointments to be the Leader’s personal responsibility, the other report concerned detailed assumptions about how the Council would operate detailed “operational” matters.

    This second report included the local choices. For example, various plans and strategies required to be produced by the council were to be the responsibility of the council, other required plans, by default were to be the responsibility of the Cabinet. The council had the opportunity under the Act to require these plans to be a matter for the council, but have never, ever, been given the opportunity. Officers have never asked the council.

    This council operated the prior agreed constitution from May 2002. Councillor Viv Stoddart was recently successful in proposing a requirement that education reorganisation plans had to be subject to full council approval, rather than just Cabinet.

    Since the introduction of the Cabinet system, various independent reports and studies have been issued based on developing practice. ALL these have been ignored by officers of this council and proposals for change have never been put to Council.

    This Council only introduces amendments to its constitutional arrangements when required by statute (e.g. Audit Committee). Most proposals for change, when proposed by members by notices of motions, are met with the response that there is no reason for change as the matter is covered by the existing terms.

    We now have an inspiration for a new ethos of “openness and transparency and public participation”, but, in my view, are still governed by a constitution bound by secrecy, locked in by pragmatic interpretation by the council’s legal officers.

  • Lizzie-Tish

    Let’s be honest – would anyone really wish to be invited to join the so-called ‘Great and the Good’ on the Royal Visit Valero ‘celebration’, or come to that the local Remembrance Day services?

    Look at the photos of both occasions on social media of the ‘dignaTORIES’ and it makes you feel sick to the stomach. As Big Brother contestant Princess Nikki pondered a few years ago “who are these people?”

    Best wishes to Ian Westley and the employees of Pembrokeshire County Council, let’s hope the mood has lifted in the Kremlin at least a little.

  • Anoldman

    Lizzie-Tish, having served in HM Forces I find it very offensive of you to talk of Remembrance Day in the way you have. When I served as an unpaid Councillor and held down a full time job (not here thank god), one of the duties I did not mind and was proud of, was taking part in and being involved with our Remembrance Day parade and service.

    But there; I suppose that one of the reasons that people made the supreme sacrifice, was to give people like yourself, the right to freedom of speech!

  • Rockface

    Excellent!

  • Malcolm Calver

    Anoldman, it was your choice to accept the old “queen’s shilling” and any consequences that came out of that. I am sure though that many who, as you say “served”, did not do so for the nanny state that now exists.

    I am not aware how old you are but can assure you that unless you are “superman” it is not possible to hold down a full time job and be a county councillor. Unless like some of those presently at County Hall you do not participate.

    To get back to the issue of Remembrance Day services and especially the wearing of poppies, when attending events over the weekend only about ten per cent of those attending had poppies, yet when viewing the BBC every announcer had one.

    Lizzie-Tish wished Mr Westley well, I was unaware that he had been appointed but the crucial part of any new appointment must come with a huge reduction in the salary offered.

  • Faux Espoir

    Kirsty Williams of the Welsh Liberal Democrats is a leading campaigner to hold elected AMs to account and give the electorate an opportunity to make changes. Likewise this is being driven through the Houses of Parliament so that MPs are more accountable.

    It requires 20% of the electorate to petition the appropriate body to trigger a referendum. If that proves positive then an election can be called and the AM/MP can stand again. Now that would be a route for the current County Council. Its members would be answerable.

  • Morgi

    Faux Espoir is quite right about the aims to hold councillors responsible to the electorate with the ultimate sanction of firing them. Unfortunately, when our society values a vote in The X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing more than a vote for a candidate to represent our views, we get the corrupt, greedy, useless articles who share the common cause of self interest.

    It’s about time we are legally required to vote.

  • Flashbang

    All they can do is compel you to turn up at a polling station. It doesn’t work as what you do with your ballot paper when you get it is up to you. It leaves the system wide open to abuse as the “donkey vote” just marks the person lucky enough to be at the top of the ballot.

  • Interesting comment, Morgi. I also find the general downward trend in electoral turnouts to be a shame, and I agree compulsory voting wouldn’t be a bad idea. In Australia they have it, it doesn’t need to be militantly policed, and is enforceable there with a slap on the wrist (a small fine I believe) but it’s the principle. It does lead to healthier turnouts than here, but even Australia’s turnouts are on the slide.

    Others have commented in support of Kirsty Williams AM’s proposals today to be able to recall AMs and MPs. This is a feature of America’s two-party politics. I do support the idea but it would be more complex here with multi (and non!) party politics, especially as you go down the lower ranks of politicians.

    For instance, it’s not uncommon for council candidates to win their elections with poll share percentages in the mid to late teens, and overall with the votes from a single-digit percentage of their electorates – I think this could easily be open to the abuse of recall referendums.

    Another reform which I support is one recently announced by Labour – that the House of Lords is scrapped and replaced with an elected senate of, presumably, senators who represent the UK’s regions rather than constituencies like MPs.

    This, they pledge, if Labour comes to government after next year’s general election – so unlikely, I suspect. House of Lords reform is desperately needed. I do support the House of Lords and the important work it does and the wealth of knowledge it contains, but it is wholly undemocratic and I have a problem with that.

  • Anoldman

    Malcolm Calver, you have made one correct statement, and that is that you don’t know my age.

    I am shocked at the remainder of your statement regarding Remembrance Day. It’s what I would describe as “unpatriotic drivel.” Not the sort of language that I, and I suspect many others would expect to read from the pen of a councillor or former councillor. Up until 1960 there was a thing called “National Service.” No choice there! Men had to accept the Queen’s shilling and take the consequences.

    As far as my statement regarding freedom of speech, I didn’t write those that served, but rather “made the supreme sacrifice” which of course includes thousands of civilians. For you to belittle that “sacrifice” with your “nanny state” remark is shameful.

    You are obviously comparing me with yourself when it comes to my ability to work full-time and to carry out my duties as a councillor, if that is so then I think it very arrogant of you. I learned at a very early age, that if I wanted anything in life I would have to get up off my backside and work for it, I was taught this by my mother, who had the unenviable task of bringing up nine children without our father.

    I was lucky enough to be working for a national company, who, even though they did not agree with the political party I was a member of and under whose banner I stood as a councillor, that company allowed me time off to carry out my duties as a councillor. I managed to achieve a good reputation with the constituents of my ward, and is another episode in my life I shall be always be proud of.

    Perhaps I will reveal my name in the future, but unfortunately as things are in this county at the moment, I feel unable to do so. I do not wish to have any further exchanges of opinion with you Mr Calver. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  • PreseliView

    Jacob, I agree that the current House of Lords is most unsatisfactory, however, if it’s to be elected at the same time as the Commons then you end up with both Houses having the same political bent.

    This suggests that elections for the revising chamber should be held at mid-term, but, of course, nobody knows when mid-term is likely to be except, maybe, the Prime Minister. So, mid-term elections imply fixed term Parliaments. And so on.

  • John Hudson

    In relation to your reference to OG’s article, may I throw some more light on this subject?

    My involvement started when I objected, at Audit, to the payment of member allowances for approved duties on the grounds that no officer had been given delegated authority to approve such duties. It goes without saying that there was no written record of any such approvals for attendance at qualifying “approved duty” events, outside of proper Council/Committee meetings.

    Yet again the Council, if called upon to do so, could not evidence its decisions, but could comply with FOI requests, in so far as it did not hold records! The interim Pembrokeshire County Council was established in the year before the “proper” PCC Council took over in 1996 following LG reorganisation with its new constitution. The interim authority had approved its own constitution, including delegating specific authority to the CEO to approve duties in 1995.

    From May 1996, constitutionally, there had been no such delegation approved by the new PCC. Several arguments for this “omission” were put by Council officers, ranging from: that it was not necessary for everything to be included in the constitution; that the CEO had authority from 1995; similar to the position of senior officers appointed by the interim authority, whereby they did not require ratification by the new Council. (As these officers were appointed by special legislative arrangements, this was irrelevant).

    There were a number of notices of motions made during 2006 concerning approved duties arising out of Code of Conduct issues. For whatever reason, the then auditor was not keen to press the matter against the strong corporate governance arrangements of the Council, and as the Council was due to regularise the position shortly, he was not minded to pursue matters.

    The regularisation occurred in 2007, when on 1 March, Council was advised in a report by the Head of Legal and Committee Services, that the 1995 approval remained legally and constitutionally valid (!).

    The Council then resolved to rescind the 1995 decision, (which had become redundant on the establishment of the new PCC, a new legal Authority with a constitution in its own right). The Council also specifically authorised the Chief Executive to determine approved duties in accordance with relevant Regulations.

    So that all right then.

  • Gogledd

    Water always finds its own level.

  • Malcolm Calver

    Anoldman, you say that you were unpaid and worked full time that does not ring true when you say the firm you worked for allowed you time off from your work, to carry out your council duties. I presume you still received your salary which was probably more than a councillor would have received.

    I have no problem with anyone wearing a poppy or even going to remembrance ceremonies if that is their wish, all I was highlighting was the fact that it seemed that television presenters seemed to be under some compulsion to wear a poppy.

    I can assure you that I know what it is like to be brought up as a child in a family with limited resources and work hard in life to succeed. I have instilled this work ethic into both of my children, which sadly does not seem to be the case in many households today.

    I am afraid I do not go for this “patriotic bit” as I have utmost sympathy for the families of those that died from being in the army, especially the widows left behind to raise families but we must not forget many were coerced into going, especially the First World War. Many civilians and service personnel died in conflicts around the world to suppress the local population and ensure the survival of the British Empire, some close to home across the Irish Sea.

    You state that many made the “supreme sacrifice” to give people the right to “freedom of speech” yet you say you feel unable to reveal your identity because of the way things are in the county at present. Having been born in Pembrokeshire many years ago and worked in both the UK and Ireland I do not recognise this county as being any different than the rest. Many seem to relocate into Pembrokeshire and then complain about the county without just cause.

    Let us please look to the future for our children’s and in my case grandchildren’s sake and stop looking back all the time.

  • Compo

    And birds of a feather always flock together!

  • Martin Lewis

    Malcolm, you’re talking rubbish as usual. The people that were coerced into fighting during WW1 deserve our respect and remembrance even MORE if anything.

    Stop looking back all the time? Your words are disgraceful and disrespectful in the extreme.

    Someone of your generation should know better than to implore the younger generation not to look back and remember what happened, because people like you with attitudes like that mean that such things have a greater chance of happening again in the future.

    All of your points in the above post are pedantic and offensive. Shame on you!

  • Concerned

    Interesting articles on both blogs, but the question remains as to why these two characters are seemingly joined at the hip. What common interests, PCC apart, do they share I wonder?

  • Flashbang

    I think one helps the other with his homework and the other stands over people who question the other’s integrity.

  • Goldingsboy

    One of the most bizarre narratives that has emerged from the downfall of Bryn Parry-Jones, has been the account of his extraordinary association with Cllr. Brian Hall.

    However, I suspect that another equally weird story will be the invitation of councillors to dinner at BPJ’s grandiose mansion.

    Were you Jacob, perchance, invited (it being obvious that Old Grumpy, being an “evil bastard”, would not have been included on the guest list), and were you ever made privy to any crumbs of gossip that fell from his table?

  • Never, Goldingsboy, but you guessed that! Cllr. Peter Morgan did say though during testimony at the disciplinary committee that he had been invited over to the P-J residence for “beans on toast.” It raised a few laughs, you can imagine.

    In reply to Concerned, it does remain unanswered…as Grumpy says, one’s an Oxford-educated lawyer, and the other…well…isn’t!

  • Martin Lewis

    Flashbang, are we talking about Bryn and Bri here or JW and OG?

  • Dave Edwards

    What is so special about a second class law degree?

  • Goldingsboy

    So, does anyone know who did attend any functions at BPJ’s dacha and whether they were a regular feature in the diaries of any IPG members?

  • John Hudson

    Perhaps they were declared as non-pecuniary interests, that were not made available to all councillors. Perception by outsiders is the key here. Would we think that such invites and attendances may have persuaded those selected councillors to vote in a particular way? Clearly somebody thought it did.

  • I can say, hand on heart, that I have never been invited to Llangwarren for beans on toast, or even just toast.

    In my ten years on the council, I have spoken to Mr Parry-Jones on exactly six occasions – three when he accepted my nomination papers and another three when he swore me in.

    Mind you, I am rather pleased never to have been invited up to his office. If that’s the way he speaks to his friends, imagine how blue the air might be if he was confronted by the “most evil bastard in Pembrokeshire”.

  • Flashbang

    The fact that Mike Stoddart has never been invited may raise conspiracy theories. If those attending have all been IPPG that may be a cause for concern. The chief exec is supposed to be impartial and neutral. Did anybody else miss out too, possibly due to their politics?

  • Malcolm Calver

    Surely it was up to Mr Parry-Jones and his wife who was invited up to their residence. The inference is that they were invited up for sinister reasons. Councillors may have been invited up for an assessment of their educational needs, there must be an NVQ awarded for which item of cutlery one should use when eating beans served upon toast.

  • Peter Stock

    Flashbang, I can honestly say that I was also not invited to the chief exec’s home at any time even when I was the Chairman of Pembrokeshire County Council, or when I was on the Cabinet.

  • Timetraveller

    Common ground between BPJ and BH? Well one practically ran the authority, doing almost anything to get the council tax down. The other brought Irish investors over to “invest in the county”. Getting housing costs down may have been a mutual interest.

    Incidentally a clever lawyer like BPJ could have “earnt” £500,000 plus in the city, I believe this led him to believe he was worth every penny as PCC’s CX. We had him on the cheap.

  • Dave Edwards

    A good question for the leader at next council meeting could be: “How many times have you, and your IPPG members, had tea, toast or other hospitality at the home of the former CEO?”

  • Goldingsboy

    Timetraveller, if you were to trouble yourself to read Old Grumpy’s latest blog, “Brothers in arms”, recounting in detail his triumphant legal battle in which BPJ played a part, you may reach a different conclusion as to whether this “clever lawyer” was worth £200,000, let alone your suggested £½m+.

    The argument concerned the interpretation of the Local Authorities (Members Expenses) Regulations 1991, an area of law which, given his particular role in local government, he really ought to have understood clearly.

  • Pembs. Exile

    Jacob, thank you for an excellent report keeping us up to date with some of the deliberations of the County Council. In view of the silence I was wondering whether or not the Kremlin had imposed a news blackout.

    I would have thought following recent momentous events that the people of Pembrokeshire deserved some sort of statement about the decisions taken on their behalf. One can only assume that those responsible for the decisions have their heads so deeply buried in the sands of Pembrokeshire that they have not heard the outcry from the general public. These days even my English friends are waiting excitably for the next episode of the long running pantomime and I constantly find myself humming “Send in the Clowns”.

    The Local Government Act 2000 created a new ethical framework for local government in Wales resulting in Welsh Ministers issuing a model code of conduct which all relevant authorities were required to adopt. I suggest that some of the problems of the past months could have been avoided if rules/regulations/policies relating to conduct of members, conduct of meetings, openness and transparency, decision-making records, officer codes of practice and disciplinary procedures for employees were scrupulously followed at Pembrokeshire County Council.

    As an exile I do not have access to some of the information that the people of Pembrokeshire have. I have to rely on the webcast or on other written information. I do however, these days, on listening to the webcast and reading reports emanating from the council, find myself increasingly having to find different interpretations of the English language. Let me give you a few examples:

    In a recent report (if it is accurate) I read that the monitoring officer responded to a question from a member about the legality of a panel involved with the appointment of the new lay member to the Audit Committee: “This was the process used throughout Wales”. The head of legal services, who if quoted correctly said: “Just because other authorities used this system it didn’t make it right”. So was the panel legal or illegal?

    Whilst watching a webcast a member questioned why a letter addressed to the Leader of the Council had not been previously drawn to the attention of the council. The response was: “Nobody asked”. This left me wondering whether psychic powers are mandatory to serve as a Councillor.

    I have heard the expression used that several arrangements with the now ex-chief executive were arrived at as the result of a “gentleman’s agreement”. I am not aware, and can find no reference in law to suggest that local government can be conducted on gentlemen’s agreements. From subsequent actions, it appears some of these had conditions attached, so surely must be regarded as executive decisions, e.g. the leader granting ‘permission’ for the desk-clearing session, which was carried out with apparently no safeguards.

    Dealing with your report on the disciplinary committee, what was its remit? As I understand it was to look into allegations which had been made against the chief executive and decide if they should be remitted for investigation by a Designated Independent Person. I can understand why parties making allegations should be asked to substantiate them, but for what reason was the chief executive invited to attend?

    The meeting was not a disciplinary panel established to hear the case, it was established to decide if there was a case which warranted a full investigation. Also, what remit did the panel have to bargain with the officer against whom allegations were made?

    Regarding the views expressed by councillors that they did not feel it was appropriate to suspend the chief executive after he had agreed to hand his duties and responsibilities to other officers, I interpret this as an indication that he undertook a voluntary resignation. (No doubt a point on which lawyers would have a difference of opinion). I am also at a loss to understand why if you enter into a voluntary agreement you are unable to reverse it. Is this yet again another “gentleman’s agreement”?

    I have of course heard of cases where a voluntary resignation has been offered because the employer has made, through his/her actions, the continued employment of the individual untenable. If the action in this case can be construed legally as a voluntary resignation then would compensation for loss of earning need to be paid?

    So many questions arise about the functioning of the Council, about the power wielded by officers and the relationship between officers and members. These must be addressed as a matter of urgency. Two decisions of Pembrokeshire County Council have this year been challenged by the appointed auditor, and in each instance were deemed to be ultra vires. Both issues were conceded by the council.

    Unless the general public have full details of all the decisions made in relation to these particular issues, suspicion about the decisions reached will continue and public confidence in the quality of governance offered by the existing executive will continue to fall. If these details are not available through the written records of the Council then it must be for the Council to issue, in the public interest, a full statement.

    If the information to return clarity, transparency and confidence to the governance of Pembrokeshire is not forthcoming then I think that the electorate should petition the Welsh Assembly to institute an inquiry or the matter should be referred to the Ombudsman so that the facts can be established as to whether or not there is any evidence of maladministration.

  • Timetraveller

    Goldingsboy, BPJ certainly felt he could have made such money, hence his taste for the high life. Personally none of them are worth £0.5m.

    As for legal cases? It ain’t necessary to win, spend enough and the other party might shy off. Basically exactly like the elected members did with BPJ’s package. (Well at least 29 of them.) Congratulations to Mr Barrett for seeing through this bullshit. What exactly did Kerr QC do for £26k and who instructed Eversheds? (Another £26k?) Anything done at this authority was done through BPJ.

  • Goldingsboy

    Timetraveller: it was your description of BPJ as a “clever lawyer”, buttressed by your assertion that “we had him on the cheap”, that I found so indigestible. Your reply, incidentally, raises another thought in my mind concerning the David-and-Goliath struggle between Old Grumpy and Parry-Jones.

    Mike, unlike the greater part of the British public, did not buckle under threats of court action from a £½m+ London lawyer. I bet, however, on receiving their first letter that his sphincter muscle twitched at least once.

  • Timetraveller

    Sorry if you have taken offence. I make these comments on the basis of comments made to other parties. Suffice to say these are opinions BPJ may well have of himself. He certainly seems to have been motivated to take our money.

    Personally I do not think he was worth it, if he wanted a fat pay cheque he should have gone to practice law in the city – in another life we might have paid him £26k for a couple of days’ work, perhaps pretending to advise on a CEO called Kerr (in another life!)

    In the spat with the evil one I am sure he did know the law very much as Goldingsboy suggests he should have done. He was merely playing a bluff, which the evil one called on that occasion. Long term it worked for him as the paper could not justify paying lawyers to cover every word in a small newspaper.

    Credit to the Herald for taking this authority on as they have done, because that is the sort of intimidation they faced up to.

  • Dave Edwards

    I think Eversheds will be nearer £50k.

  • Malcolm Calver

    Mr Parry-Jones has left with his severance payout but the people responsible i.e. certain county councillors are still in position, getting financially rewarded. How can members of the public have any faith in decisions these people are going to make, when they have read so much about the shenanigans going on at County Hall.

    What has the LGA advised the county council would be an appropriate salary for an incoming chief executive or do we really need the position filled? I felt there was some hope the other day when the television announcer mentioned that Sue Perkins was going up the Mekong, sadly it was the wrong Sue Perkins.

  • Timetraveller

    Pembs. Exile has hit the nail on the head about how the admin of this authority operates and the need for something to be done about it, (Ministerial Board II?). The other website’s last post indicates that a certain culture has operated for years.

    As a former teacher I found one had to be circumspect about bullying and avoid the knee jerk reaction. It soon becomes “normal”, when the bully and the bullied accept and settle into their roles. I believe this culture has permeated significant parts of the admin of this authority and will persist for some time.

    Officers will be reluctant to admit to maladministration on their part, as the original intimidation may have been some time ago. Any effective process should have no blame or amnesty provisions, as the “confessions” needed to eradicate the problem are more important than laying blame.

    Get to the bottom of the Pembroke Dock grant schemes for starters. Members have been fed a pack of lies throughout by officials – time for the truth, perhaps.

  • Goldingsboy

    Timetraveller suggests that BPJ “was merely playing a bluff” in this “clever lawyer’s” bowdlerisation of the Local Authorities (Members Expenses) Regulations 1991. If so, that raises the question as to why he went out on a limb to provide at least one councillor with a mechanism for claiming travelling expenses to which he was not legally entitled. Surely not?

  • Patrick

    Can you still upgrade a B.A. Oxon to a M.A. Oxon by waiting a few years and paying a tenner?

  • Patrick, I believe so. Incidentally, Mr. Parry-Jones graduated from Jesus College, Oxford. Which might go some way in explaining the “holier than thou” aspect.

  • Keanjo

    BPJ has done very well out of this County. We should not forget that in addition to his golden goodbye he is entitled to another £300,000 or so pension lump sum and a pension of about £100,000 pa, inflation-proofed for the rest of his days.

    I recall meeting a former County Councillor shortly after BPJ’s appointment at a lunch and asking why on earth he had been appointed. The reply was that we were very lucky to have secured his services!

  • Keanjo, for a historical perspective see: http://oldgrumpy.co.uk/archived/July%209.html

  • Keanjo

    Thank you for that reference Mike, it confirms my view that a fair salary for a Chief Executive of Pembrokeshire should be about £100,000 pa and Directors about £77,000.

  • Timetraveller

    Goldingsboy, BPJ’s threats were probably just as much about stifling investigation by Mike as actually helping out Cllr Hall. There is an issue, perhaps even an attitude that simply because the appropriate officer says something, it must be legal. There is a distinct lack of scrutiny in the system, even when the auditor deemed his pension supplements unlawful, he protested to the contrary and the authority even shelled out to get a QC to say it was legal!

    They have even taken such arguments to court in hopeless cases on the off chance of winning, after all this is not money that will come out of any PCC officer’s pocket, except perhaps their share of the council tax.

    The current problems in the authority stem from this bias were the ruling group has enjoyed support from the administration, who in turn trouser their SRAs and don’t ask too many questions.

  • Dave Edwards

    A very interesting report on CEO pay was published on 12 September by the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee. Well worth a read by Elected Members!

  • Flashbang

    It can’t be that difficult to prove that it’s not possible to be at the Severn Bridge services 45 minutes before being in Pembroke Dock. If there isn’t a case to answer there then something needs to be done to make it so.

  • Malcolm Calver

    Surely if any new person was appointed at £100,000 pa and directors reduced to £77,000 pa what would happen to the salaries of all the personnel who are presently receiving salaries close to these figures?

    I am afraid county councillors are going to have to bite the bullet and sort this out once and for all, we cannot go on paying such high salaries.

  • Keanjo

    I agree Dave, a very interesting report which echoes the views of many people in Pembrokeshire. I wonder if we asked him nicely, whether Jacob would reproduce a copy of the report on this website?

  • John Hudson

    The Independent Remuneration Panel, (that’s the outfit that controls and sets Councillors’ salaries and expenses) is also now responsible for having a say in the remuneration of CEOs. So any sum determined by our IPG, to retain and recruit our next CEO, will be subject to the agreement of this panel.

    Have we seen any justification for the salary paid to the acting Head of Paid Service, when we also have a Deputy CEO in place?

  • Dave Edwards

    Keanjo, Jacob has provided the link to the document in my original comment, highlighted in green, so people can directly access the report.

  • The Rock

    It’s ‘International Fraud Awareness Week’ – so the world is watching us this week. Back to normal for the next 51 weeks then.

  • Flashbang

    The best thing for the PCC to do with all the high paid staff is re-shuffle the positions then fire them all. They could then re-apply for an interview alongside other suitable candidates for a job at lower pay. If they are good enough maybe they will get the job. With a bit of luck the yes men, cronies and incompetents will be forced out.

  • Pembs. Exile

    The Great conundrum: Appoint a new Chief Executive! What happened to the last one?

    He was not dismissed by the Council (no disciplinary action was ever taken against him). He did not break his contract (if he had the Council could have sued for breach of contract). He did not resign (if he had the council would not have compensated for loss of future earning). He was not made redundant (if he had been the post could not be filled immediately).

    So what was the reason he left? More information comes out of North Korea than comes out of County Hall!

  • The Rock

    I see from John Hudson’s article in the Pembrokeshire Herald that he has found a concealed £10 million overspend in the council budget. I wondered if it was connected to the following statement in the WAO Annual Improvement Report for Pembrokeshire County Council issued in July 2014, or if it is a separate issue:

    46 In addition, reporting more regularly on the movement and utilisation of reserves, particularly where there are significant changes made to reserves following closure of the previous year’s financial statements would enable members to make more informed decisions.

    This information is also in the Auditor’s letter of 11th June 2014 to Jamie Adams, copied to the ex CEO and the Chief Finance Officer, J Haswell. It’s now over 4 months since this letter was written.

    Reserves have often been a tool used to mask and tally funds in times of surplus and deficit, which might explain the Auditor’s concern. You would think IPPG members, especially cabinet members, would immediately be taking proactive steps to ensure council officers report the position of reserves at every opportunity and demand explanations for any movements in order to protect our money. Well it would appear not.

    At the recent consultation regarding budget cuts held in Pembroke Dock, Councillors Perkins and George explained earmarked and usable reserves to the assembled throng. When one of the audience asked about what steps they were taking to apprise themselves of changes to these funds, both appeared to be totally unaware of the Auditor’s statement. Cllr Perkins going so far as to ask for a copy of it. So much for scrutiny and oversight then.

    Jamie Adams’ lengthy report to cabinet, item 22 on 6th October does not appear to mention it, nor could I find it in the report of the Chief Finance Officer’s Integrated Budget & Performance Monitoring Report on 8 September 2014.

    So much for openness and transparency then.

  • Goldingsboy

    I wonder if someone could explain, in simple terms, the full implication of this £10m shortfall to the county’s coffers. Will it mean, for example, that the budget cuts facing all local authorities will be that much greater here?

  • John Hudson

    I see that Councillors, ironically, have had the benefit of considering a report about the levels of reserves (total £5.9m at 31 March 2014) held by schools. These are under the control of schools. The Council’s own reserves are under the delegated authority, via Cabinet, of the Chief Financial Officer. Councillors have given him authority for the allocation and use of reserves, both capital and revenue.

    I am not surprised that Cabinet members seem to be clueless about the level and use of reserves. The 2013/14 out-turn monitoring report submitted to Cabinet “overlooked” any reference to reserves. Although details are included in the draft and audited Annual Accounts, these documents are not presented formally to all councillors.

    The out-turn monitoring report was not even submitted to Overview and Scrutiny Committees, so they are oblivious of how their services ended up financially in 2013/14. The public consultation on budget savings also overlooked any reference to the level and use of the Council’s Reserves.

    At 31 March 2014, some £7.3m was available in a contingency reserve for unforeseen circumstances, which, given the size of the Council’s operation is considered appropriate by the Council’s Auditor; some £29m in Capital Earmarked Reserves (including £20m for 21st Century Schools and £1m in respect of the Housing Revenue Account); £27m is available in earmarked Revenue Reserves held to support council services.

    As regards the Auditor’s comment, this may be a polite way of saying any report on reserves would be a necessary improvement. It makes you wonder why Cabinet members allow themselves to be so ill informed. They, after all, are responsible and accountable for recommending a budget, based on officers’ advice, to Council.

  • Welshman 23

    It seems that nothing changes in the Kremlin perhaps the problem was not with BPJ but the 60 councillors. Reorganise the hierarchy and get them to reapply for their jobs.

  • John Hudson

    Goldingsboy asks for a simple explanation about the £10m gross expenditure overspend on the provision of service in 2013/14 when compared to the original budget approved by the Council. This is not explained in reports to Cabinet or Scrutiny Committees.

    In my view officers should have been explaining this to Cabinet in the three-monthly monitoring reports, with a full explanation in the final out-turn report. Officers get around having to do this by arranging for Council to approve revised estimates for the current year as part of the next year’s budget proposals.

    I have been informed by the previous Chief Financial Officer that this approval legitimises all of the delegated spending decisions taken by Directors during the year, including those where such decisions involve over spending the original approved estimates, where officers exceed their authority to incur expenditure. (There is another cute twist to this, by focussing on the net matched expenditure/income position, the requirement for the Cabinet to report expenditure outside the approved budget to Council is neatly avoided.)

    The Gross service overspend in 2013/14 was broadly matched by an increase in service income. This could be by increased income from charges for services, expenditure met by drawings from the reserves, or by additional specific grant received during the year. This is not explained in reports.

    I was also told that Councillors could ask questions if they thought it necessary! Having worked out the simple differences between the original and actual estimates from the information provided in monitoring reports for myself, each councillor would have to carry out this exercise for themselves. This simple sum is not shown in reports and could open the door for detailed explanations being required, if Councillors were remotely interested in how officers were spending our money.

    There is a basic lack of understanding by councillors about the level of spending required to provide our services at a level from which the effect of budget cuts can be assessed. I do not expect councillors to be accountants, but I do consider that it is within the basic capability and responsibility of a councillor to be aware of the effect of a proposed estimate reduction in one area, as opposed to another, and the likely effect of a proposed increase in charges. I do expect officers to tell them.

    Was anybody able to make any sensible informed comments on budget reductions based on the information provided for the Budget Consultation? The way things are, budgets are drawn up by officers and are approved by the council with very little councillor “political” overlay or understanding, let alone scrutiny.

    The way the Council controls and delegates spending decisions on its behalf, is set out in the Constitution. A lasting legacy of the ex-CEO.

  • Goldingsboy

    I think, John, from your detailed explanation that you are saying that PCC avoided a substantial black hole in its accounts by hitting the sick and the elderly with swingeing new charges for day care etc. Additionally, it may also enlighten Pembrokeshire motorists as to the root cause for the introduction of charges in all the authority’s car parks. You are also saying, I think, that we don’t have a “Tesco-style” problem with the accounts.

  • Timetraveller

    John, as you have such an excellent grasp of local authority finances, you may be able to clear up a little confusion (To me anyway.) Ken Rowlands got on his high horse that the authority didn’t get what he considers due credit for the auditor commenting that the recent accounts presented were well presented.

    I can think of a number of financial issues recently reported that don’t add up – unlawful payments to an unknown official, PD regeneration grants and your own comments about the opaqueness of the accounts presented to councillors. Presumably, well presented accounts do not necessarily mean accurate, truthful or actually clear, and if so why did the auditor make his/her comments?

  • John Hudson

    The Council should get congratulated and credit for presenting its accounts well to the auditor? I should hope that it is able to meet this basic legal requirement as a matter of course, and needs no comment.

    Unfortunately, the accounts as a document is pretty well incomprehensible to mere mortals like us (and councillors) and include a lot of notional figures that are required to be included and then excluded to get at the “true” money funded position.

    I guess this is why they are not required to be submitted to Cabinet or Council for approval. However the auditor is required to declare that they meet statutory requirements based in International Financial Reporting Standards and give a true and fair picture of the Council’s finances.

    Don’t forget that it was the auditor that drew attention to the unlawful payments and stuck out for his view against the Council’s legal advice to the contrary. I do not understand how the accounts can be qualified by identification of unlawful payments, yet these amounts remain paid. The ability to surcharge those councillors responsible for the original unlawful decision, even if based on officers’ advice, has long gone. How can the Council get our money back?

    The auditor has yet to issue his audit financial statement for 2013/14. I wonder if Councillors are given a copy of the auditor’s report? Cabinet members Perkins and George both seemed to be unaware that the auditor had commented on the level of reserves, or even that they had any, as reported in the Herald at a public budget consultation.

    The true money funded position is reported to Cabinet, and next Monday a 2014/15 6 month monitoring report will be presented with a recommendation to “receive the report”, before it goes for intensive scrutiny by relevant Overview and Scrutiny Committees.

    I urge you all to look at this Cabinet meeting report on the Council’s website and consider whether, if you were responsible for looking after other people’s money, it is adequate and meets your needs.

  • Dave Edwards

    Also in next Monday’s cabinet meeting are reports on Commercial Property Grant Scheme applications in Pembroke Dock, and guess what? They will heard in secret session!

  • Timetraveller

    Many thanks for that insight John. It seems the authority may have decided that the cost of recovering the unlawful payments exceeded the benefits, so will cheerfully write it off! I bet many people struggling with council tax etc found them so amenable!

    I have considered that all councillors should be encouraged to understand the Green Books, which are the formulations used to determine the block grants. They are not compulsory edicts on the authority to spend accordingly, but political clarity will be served if books were presented under such headings. Officers should then be required to explain overspends or underspends accordingly.

    Case in point, the poor schools report from ESTYN a few years ago was put down in part to the authority’s underspend on schools. Councillors would then have been aware they were saving on schools to benefit the ratepayer. Perhaps this is a reform Leighton Andrews should consider rather than re-arranging deck chairs. Of course the members can vote for it themselves!

  • John Hudson

    I see that the 6 month financial monitoring report is to be “received” by Cabinet on Monday. This doesn’t include any reference to the position regarding the Council’s reserves, but does in paragraph 3.3 comment on the position on the £12.9m target reduction, with only £9m likely to be achieved by the end of the year. However, have no fear, the full £12.9m is still said to be achievable by realising alternative cost reductions and ensuring effective budget management.

    As this represents a change to the 2014/15 Budget as approved by Council, surely this represents a departure from the budget policy and at the very least, more information must be given to the Cabinet, if not a report to Council. Perhaps this approval will be given when the Council approves the revised budget for the current year, as part of the next year’s budget process. Dog (officers) wagging the tail (councillors) after the event.

    An improvement to the information usually provided is given by way of commentaries for each service. However this is based on the net position and while reference is made to reduced income receipts, no details of proposed equivalent gross expenditure or consequential changes affecting the delivery of services are given.

    Can I apologise for attributing the Cabinet members’ lack of reserve awareness (and apparently Auditor’s reports) to the Herald, it should of course have been The Rock, in a post here on 22 November.

  • The Rock

    I must agree with John Hudson that the budget statements and accounts are presented in a way that is difficult to understand. But as John always so ably shows to the readers of this blog, they can be explained. It only needs a desire on the part of the officers to explain the information and a desire on the part of the members to understand the material.

    Under the Bryn and Jamie regime ‘control’ was the overriding obsession and it will still be whilst Jamie Adams is there. No amount of PR training is going to cover that up. Control of the people, control of the money and control of information.

    This led to most of the scandals and cover ups that have enveloped County Hall. Grants misappropriation, children safeguarding issues, not telling the truth and the bullying of councillors and lay members, for example, whilst things that matter like justice, democracy, the law, and the people of Pembrokeshire were pushed aside.

    It is not surprising officers do not want councillors or the ordinary people to have information, they lose control of the only power they have. The IPPG councillors are party to this. If they delve into issues it is clear the cabinet posts and salaries they crave will no longer be available to them and they will be turned into scapegoats for letting the side down. The power and recognition they yearn for associated with their posts will be gone, so they acquiesce.

    It takes a strong inner character to resist those pressures and at present those people only reside on the non IPPG benches. Keep up the good work Jacob, Mike and colleagues, progress might seem slow but it will eventually prevail.

  • Pembs. Exile

    I have scanned your website regularly over the past week hoping that one of the twentynine in the know councillors would provide me with an answer to the conundrum posed last Friday. Let me pose another question and I think I already know the answer to this one. WOULD THIS HAPPEN TODAY?

    In the early 1950s the opportunity arose for the then, independent controlled, Pembrokeshire County Council to appoint an Assistant Director of Education. Hitherto the duties of the post had been attached to that of the County Librarian.

    A panel was appointed and charged with interviewing a longlist of six or seven candidates, and sending forward a shortlist to be interviewed the following day by the full Education Committee.

    On the morning of the appointed day, three shortlisted candidates were duly interviewed by the full committee sitting in session in the Shire Hall. After due serious deliberation the chairman ordered a secret ballot of all those present. When the ballot papers were counted, the Chairman declared a tied ballot, noting that some members had abstained.

    The Chairman declared his reluctance to use his casting vote in such an important appointment and ordered another ballot, imploring those who had abstained, to vote.

    It was only after three tied ballots that the Chairman chose to use his casting vote. This was democracy at work with well informed men and women, unpaid, with a strong sense of public service, adhering to the principles on which they had been elected, reaching a decision which stood up to public scrutiny.

    In the words of Max Boyce, “I know ’cause I was there!”

  • Flashbang

    Where is the infamous Porsche these day? Who has it?

  • John Hudson

    Timetraveller refers to the Green Book, which provides details of the results of the formulas used to determine the rate support grant or settlement.

    Having looked at my rate demand notice for 2014/15, I see that the RSG calculations identified the Council’s “need to spend” £221.0m, which compares to the Council’s estimated expenditure of £207.2m.

    Presumably the £13.8m “shortfall” in the provision of services goes some way to explaining the “lowest council tax in Wales”. We are given more than the Council needs.

    If this is right, what is all this puff about a poor settlement?

  • Timetraveller

    The “Green Book” and “Green Book Approach” are widely used in public sector planning and finance. The Green Book for Welsh Local Government finance more or less fairly allocates funding for authorities based on assessed needs. A simple example of one element is that each authority gets the same amount for each street lamp.

    In the case of Pembs, circa 16,000 lamps attract about £1,5m. This figure is a good example because the Leader seems to be something of an expert on street lighting. Mind, if the accountability prevalent in the PD grants scheme applied, it’s only a matter of time before he thinks up some form of “street lamp farming”!

    John is about right with the £13m underspend, unfortunately this amount falls mostly on social services, as the bulk of the electorate notice poor roads, schools, lighting etc. Do not grow old in Pembs!

    Most IPPG members are simply told there is no money, they know little of the Green Book, as ignorance is their virtue. There is no economy with their expenses and that is probably all some are interested in!

  • John Hudson

    Having thought about this a bit more, it seems that the WG’s calculation of “the need to spend” (Standard Spending Assessments) provides it with an aggregate estimate of every local authority’s spending. It then has to determine how much it can give out to each one. In simple Pembrokeshire terms:-

    2013/14 SSA = £224.1m, Council’s spend = £211.8m, Revenue Support Grant = £134.8m plus National Non Domestic Rates share = £38m = total support £172.8m.

    2014/15 SSA = £221m, Council’s spend = £207.2m, RSG = £127.9m plus NNDR = £38.9m = total support £166.8m.

    2015/16 Provisional SSA = £216.8, Council spend = ???, provisional aggregate RSG and NNDR support = £160.3m.

  • Dave Edwards

    Glad to see that the independent remuneration panel thinks that a mere £130k is a fair rate for Bryn’s successor. A Director’s salary based on 77% of that is almost exactly £100k, so, pay cuts all round?

  • John Hudson

    Who proposed the Council’s suggestion and did it need Council approval before it was submitted to the IRP? Are we allowed to know what the IPG thought the job is worth?

  • Keanjo

    Dave, I don’t think they will be able to cut existing Directors’ salaries, but they could reassess the salaries to a more sensible level and freeze existing pay. Incidentally, I think the IRPW recommendation is too high and a more realistic sum would be nearer to £100,000.

  • Powertothepeople

    It doesn’t matter what Brian Hall does, he always gets elected!!!

  • Eifion Davies

    This is one of the most hilarious documentaries I have ever read – it’s like an unfinished scene from ‘Great Expectations’ – can’t somebody make a film which would be a best seller without any doubt.

    On a serious note though, it is terrifying that such abuse of privilege should be occurring right on our doorstep and we are funding it – go on, make a film – it will be brilliant with John Cleese cast as the Chief Executive.

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