Jacob Williams
Friday 28th November, 2014

The power of incumbency

One of the strong elements of local government – at least in Pembrokeshire – is the influence unelected officers have over proposals submitted by councillors.

They don’t have a vote, the ability to debate or the technical ability to veto, but officers do compile reports, which culminate with recommendations along the following lines:

• “That the notice of motion be adopted.”

• “That the notice of motion be not adopted.”

• “That the notice of motion be adopted but…”

• “That the notice of motion be not adopted but…”

• Or my genuine favourite, the occasional: “it is a matter for councillors to decide,” which the astute among you will already have realised applies to all of the above.

Proposals put forward by councillors are tabled at a full council meeting, of which there are only five per year. Whilst they will appear on the agenda for their first outing, as a matter of course they aren’t subjected to any debate or even discussion. They are batted off to either the authority’s cabinet or corporate governance committee, though on some rare occasions to another more relevant committee.

The proposal will then be added to the agenda of the receiving committee, and a report will be compiled by unelected officers, almost always culminating in a recommendation.

At the cabinet/committee stage, the proposing councillor is allowed to address the meeting in support of their proposal, if he or she is not a member of the committee already.

I’ve submitted or put my signature to a number of motions in the two years I’ve been a councillor, most of which are in the interests of public engagement and accountability.

Not long after being elected I set out to increase the number of full council meetings per year. My attempt was kicked out by the ruling party’s block vote.

My more recent proposal to allow members of the public to table questions at full council meetings suffered a typically PCC fate, and is deserving of a rather more complex narrative. In a nutshell, though, it languishes in the municipal long grass with a handful of motions submitted by councillors in previous years, some of which are no longer even elected.

At the last full council meeting, on October 16th, twelve notices of motions were submitted. All by opposition councillors, though the ruling group’s cabinet member with responsibility for safeguarding the yoof, Cllr. Sue Perkins, did lend her signature to Cllr. Rhys Sinnett’s move to outlaw ultrasonic youth deterrent devices on council properties. I’m not making this up.

One of the twelve proposals on the agenda was mine. It calls for the position of council leader to be elected by full council every year at the AGM. It also proposes that candidates can be nominated from the floor of the meeting.

Under the current system, the authority’s leader is elected following a general council election by and from among all sixty members.

He or she will remain in the top job until the end of that council term (i.e. the next election) unless they resign the leadership, are removed from office by a vote of full council, or are otherwise prohibited from serving as a councillor.

A host of scenarios come under the latter bracket, including taking up a position of paid employment with the council, being subjected to certain bankruptcy or debt relief restrictions, receiving a conviction for a corrupt or illegal practice by an election court, being given a three month or longer prison sentence, or dying in office!

On Monday 17th November, along with six other proposals which started off life at the October 16th meeting of full council, it came before the corporate governance committee, of which I happen to be a member.

The officers’ report was unsupportive, and was jointly authored by the authority’s acting head of legal and committee services, Claire Incledon, and its monitoring officer, Laurence Harding.

The report’s negative recommendation is predicated on:

“The present Constitution arrangements already allows [sic.] the action proposed by the Notice of Motion (subject to a Member submitting a Notice of Motion nominating a Leader) and provides even further flexibility in the election of a Leader.”

We’ll return to this bit later, but I’ll give you a teaser: it’s plain wrong!

Among other things, the duo’s write-up also states:

“However, the ability to consider any matter without any requirement for due notice to be provided is precluded by Section 100B(4) of the Local Government Act 1972.”

It is of course true that local government meetings can only transact business set out on the agenda, but this is no argument. As it borrows similar wording, I can only assume that this refers, mistakenly, to the part I included which would allow leadership candidates at an AGM to be nominated from the floor during the meeting, without needing to provide notice of their intention to stand.

The monitoring officer and the acting head of legal and committee services (the authority’s principal barrister) were both present to offer councillors their legal advice during the meeting.

I suggested that the report was inaccurate to claim that a motion could be tabled to both remove a leader and contain an anticipatory nomination(s) to elect a replacement in the event of success. The ability to make nominations to fill a vacancy that doesn’t exist when being made would be a novel scenario.

In response, the monitoring officer attempted to reinforce the report he co-authored, but with a slight tweak – a leader could be removed, he said, but there was no need for any names to be included on the agenda as he originally advised in the report, but that if a motion to remove a leader was successful, a new one could be elected to fill the “arising” vacancy there and then, without a candidate’s name needing to be on the agenda.

Mr. Harding said:

“With respect chair, the issue arises from the item on the agenda which deals with the leadership.

If a leader is elected – or remains elected – then there is no further decision to be made. If as a result the motion removes the leader, as a consequence of that, the council has to take a further decision to replace the leader.

You do not need a nomination on ten days’ notice where the item of business arises from a decision made by council at that meeting, and that has been the experience of recent days with regard to other issues relating to staffing matters.”

Recognising, as I did, that Mr.Harding’s advice to the committee was flawed, I fished out something I had prepared earlier – a clipping from the authority’s constitution.

Known for being fuzzy, grey, dull, and characterless, the constitution isn’t my read of choice, however in the lead-up to this meeting the passage concerning the election of a leader and I became quite familiar with each other.

It’s also about as clear a chapter as you’ll find in the holy text. Not holy in the sacred sense, but because in other places it’s riddled with holes, allowing for choice interpretation.

I explained that, whilst a leader can be removed by a motion at a full council or extraordinary meeting, the monitoring officer was wrong to advise that another councillor could then be immediately elected to the new vacancy at the self-same meeting as a “matter arising” from the removal of a leader.

The constitution states when a leader is removed from office, the vacancy must be filled “at a meeting of Council” where the names of candidates for the post “shall be set out in the summons for the meeting,” having been lodged at the chief executive’s office, in writing, “at least ten clear days before the meeting.”

Following a thirty-four second silence during which he consulted his own bound copy of the constitution, the monitoring officer responded:

“I take Councillor Williams’ point, there does seem to be some confusion, and I will make a withdrawal of the advice I have given.”

Despite the incorrect written and oral advice against my proposal, the thrust of it was off-target. I’m seeking to introduce a completely new procedure – the annual election of the leader position – so to compare and contrast the present rules in the light of my proposal is red herring territory.

So, too, is focussing on the idea that a method already exists to remove a leader. That’s really not the point because if adopted, my motion could result in a number of potential outcomes at each AGM, one of which is that an incumbent leader could be replaced – which isn’t the same as being removed in any case. The other scenarios possible under my scheme being: an incumbent is re-elected, an incumbent is unsuccessfully opposed, or an incumbent does not stand for re-election.

Everything I’ve described so far occurred before the debate started proper. I managed to get my retaliation in first, by discrediting – or so I thought – the limp argument I expected to come from ruling party’s key players across the room.

I had an inkling that some IPPG members would say they found it unpalatable as we would lose out on ‘continuity,’ and ‘a year is too short.’

True to form, and unfortunately lacking a violin, the present leader Cllr. Jamie Adams who nets not far shy of £50k for his troubles, said:

“Moving beyond the argument that’s been playing out for the last twenty minutes, I think there’s a clear principle in my perspective, of short-termism, and taking on the role of leader is not something that you can do with an expectation of serving only twelve months, because it takes a long time to form trusting relationships with Welsh Government, the inspectorates, and they have to have confidence in you as a leader and, in that regard, to have the opportunity to change the leader every twelve months would be damaging for the authority.

It would lead to a leader who is three to six months getting to know the job, three months making useful decisions and then three months preparing themselves for another election.

Simply, it will not deliver for the authority, and I would struggle to find somebody who would put themselves in that position to make all the sacrifices and arrangements that they need to, to make themselves available for the role, and to do so in the way that is so temporary as to ensure that their commitment to the role is also temporary, and I find that to be problematic in terms of the notice of motion – well, umm, certainly as written, which doesn’t have regard to, umm, which I didn’t have an understanding of what Jacob is trying to progress, and certainly as he is now progressing it, well that needs further clarity, I think this provides the worst outcome for the authority.”

Opposition councillors alongside me – though nothing from the Conservative group’s Cllr. David Howlett – did a sterling job of hammering home that the position of council leader has no mandate from the Pembrokeshire public, that the individual councillors do, and that continuity could easily exist if a majority of all councillors re-elected an incumbent.

In other words: when translated from theory to reality, if Jamie as the present leader was confident he was doing a good job, he should have nothing to fear.

And, what’s more, if an incumbent was challenged and lost re-election, he or she would would no longer be in the post simply and only because they failed to secure the council’s confidence, and a majority of councillors had backed another horse. And that’s called democracy.

It came as little surprise that Cllr. Keith Lewis, whose £29k cabinet salary is in the gift of the present leader, used ‘continuity’ to shape his own contribution, in which he claimed my bid was ‘mischievous’:

“I think it’s totally impractical in terms of good management, to create a situation whereby a leader may be changed on an annual basis.

I fully accept an argument in theory which may be defended on the basis that you are increasing choice, but by the same token, one might say that a councillor’s term of office is too long and that we should put ourselves up for election annually.

I think this is totally mischievous, and in terms of maintaining a well-run authority, that certainly a period of continuity for the length of that authority should be the basis, which we have now.”

I told Cllr. Lewis that, as he places so much value on continuity, it must be more important in his eyes to see the authority bumble along until the next election with an ‘experienced’ leader – regardless of who it was and the level of support they had – than a potential contender who could gain full support, given an opportunity to contest the leadership.

I’m sure some of his ruling party’s ex-councillors who succumbed at the 2012 election would be sympathetic to his line of thinking, but, again, it comes down to democracy and accountability.

It must also be borne in mind that, as its main tenet, this anti-democratic ‘continuity-trumps-everything’ argument actively sets out to obstruct self-determination.

Similar in a way to the large swathes of MPs of many parties who oppose the public being granted an EU in-out referendum. Of course, they say their opposition has nothing to do with their fear of the outcome. They won’t even admit to inertia. They just know best. But they won’t admit that either.

And who could forget how a fresher-faced Gordon Brown bottled it in 2007 by failing to call a general election? After toying with the idea earlier in the year, the voters saw through his eventual lack of courage – despite his height in the polls – and he went down in the history books as the man who failed to call an early general election because he thought he might win it.

Whilst the most accountable method of electing a council leader would of course be a county-wide poll, this is not on the cards nor could it be, but my motion would be an improvement, and would also allow councillors like Cllr. Lewis – and no doubt others who share his view – to give an incumbent a contemporaneous mandate, whoever it is. However, they want to deny themselves the opportunity to give a fresh seal of approval, and to deny all other councillors the same chance too.

The bottom of the ‘excuses’ barrel was scraped mercilessly at last Monday’s meeting. Four of the seven notices of motions were recommended for refusal in their respective reports, all of which were jointly authored by the monitoring officer/acting head of legal and committee services duo.

The author of that other website, fellow unaffiliated member Mike Stoddart is asking for councillors submitting questions to full council meetings to be allowed to read them out before the responses are provided by the leader or cabinet members.

Currently, during councillors’ questions, only the responses are read out. Unless those watching meetings from the gallery or the webcast are able to religiously follow the agenda item-by-item, they would never know what the question was.

Cllr. Stoddart proposed:

That Members submitting questions under S9.2 Part 4/page 8 of the Constitution shall have the option to read out the question at the meeting where it falls to be answered.

You might think that’s a worthwhile change. A helpful improvement. I do, too. The advisory duo didn’t! The agenda report – which I quote in full – states:

The Member reading out a question which is printed out in the agenda is a duplication of information and if the Member uses the opportunity to add “context” that could be tantamount to turning the question into a speech, and may change the scope of the question that is to be answered.

The context should be explained in any preamble to the question.

RECOMMENDATION:
That the Notice of Motion be not adopted.

Though he contained his straightforward proposal in just 171 characters, little more than a tweet limit, it didn’t prevent this attempt to muddy the waters.

Following a somewhat fruitful debate, a consensus was reached that full council – who will have the ultimate say – should be recommended to approve a similar provision, giving councillors an option to have their question read out by the leader or cabinet member, immediately before giving their response.

Cllr. Stoddart’s reading-of-the-question proposal was met with reluctance, however the most obscure excuse to block an opposition councillor’s proposal on the corporate governance committee’s agenda was reserved for mine on the annual election of the leader, to which we shall now return.

Apparently, my motion didn’t make clear that I was asking for the leader post to come up for election at every AGM.

I reproduce the wording of my motion, below. You will decide whether the intent of my proposal is clear.

Incidentally, another requirement of notices of motions is that the councillor must – not may – but must also supply a written supporting statement or it will be invalid.

I used mine to make abundantly clear exactly what I was asking for. Or, so I thought. I concluded by saying that I felt it would be inappropriate for the council officer compiling the report to make a recommendation either in favour of or against adoption, on what I feel is a political matter entirely within the domain of councillors.

My supporting statement was also submitted well before the report was authored, but it didn’t prevent the recommendation of refusal, on the basis that: “sufficient flexibility exists within the present Constitution for the election of Leader” – which, as I set out above, turns out to be not as flexible as we were intended to believe, indeed, it’s positively rigid.

Committee members also had a copy of my supporting statement printed within their agendas. I reproduce that below, too. The committee voted along party lines to recommend to full council that my motion should not be adopted, IPPG 7 – opposition, 6.

One conclusion which may be drawn is that members of the ruling group – particularly the present leader, Cllr. Adams – don’t support my motion for their own reasons, but are unwilling to say what those reasons are, and are struggling to come up with a plausible alternative rationale.

The ‘continuity’ ‘argument’ has been shot to pieces, and currently rests in the murky depths of the Cleddau alongside Tim Kerr QC’s hastily-abandoned (and expensive) ‘argument’ in favour of the legality of the council’s opt-out tax-dodge pension scheme arrangement. However our pal Mister Continuity may float to the surface so it would take a fool to rule out his reappearance at the December full council meeting.

As for the claim that the intent of my motion was unclear – whether that is a serious claim or not, I cannot be sure – it doesn’t constitute an argument against adoption, because I have explained my intention to the death, my intention remains unchanged, and the wording of my motion would achieve my intention.

You will have your own opinions. You will also be able to see the opinions expressed by your own councillor (or not, as the case may be) when he/she debates this before it is finally determined by a full council vote on Thursday 11th December, at 10am.

MY MOTION:

That the authority’s existing constitution is amended so that the position of ‘council leader’ will be elected every year by a majority vote of councillors at the AGM, and that nominations for the leader post can be made during the AGM without any requirement for due notice to be provided.

Furthermore, the council agrees that, following discussion of this proposal at Corporate Governance Committee, this Notice of Motion will be referred back to the December (or soonest) full council meeting, and not to the constitutional issues working group or any other committee, sub-committee or panel.

MY SUPPORTING STATEMENT:

My proposal will make it possible for a mandate for the council’s leadership to be established every municipal year. This is an improvement over the current situation whereby the leader is elected following a general election of councillors with no facility for council to re-elect a leader or for an incumbent leader to be challenged at any point in-between the current term of office and the next.

No council leader in Wales is directly-elected by the public, so leaders should have no claim to a full term in the leadership position for the full length of the council term, just because they were elected by a majority of council following the previous election. I find this idea grossly undemocratic. My proposal for a contemporaneous leadership mandate from councillors will be achieved at no additional cost or burden and will result in a positive change which would better reflect the vision of all sixty councillors, who are directly accountable to the public.

Should my proposal be adopted, if only one candidate puts themselves forward or a leadership election results in no change of leadership, the mandate granted to the leader will be up-to-date, rather than several years old. This would be a positive change.

Similarly, if the leadership election at an AGM results in an incumbent leader being defeated, it will demonstrate that the incumbent had insufficient support from councillors to lead, and a fresh mandate will be issued to a new leader. This is a positive change because under the current system there is no way for a leader to be challenged and the council would otherwise continue to be led by a councillor with less confidence/support than a challenger who was unable to contest the leadership post if they wanted to.

I await with interest to hear how any arguments could be framed to the contrary by councillors, or how my proposal could be seen to do anything other than improve the democracy of the council and its governance.

I don’t know which officer of the authority will compile a report on my proposal, however I would like to use this supporting statement to say that I believe it would be improper for the report to conclude with either a recommendation in favour of approval or of refusal.


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33 Comments...

  • Dave Edwards

    I am glad to see democracy, or the lack of it, back on the agenda. To my mind, the biggest barrier that members face is the deliberate and consistent disregarding of the constitution by successive Chairmen concerning motions submitted to full council.

    When a member submits a motion the Chairman requires it to be formally moved and seconded then sent off to a relevant committee without debate to come back to council at a later date. Electors therefore have no opportunity to hear the arguments for or against until council officers have prepared a report, the committee chewed it over and a recommendation approved before it reappears.

    Actually, the constitution sets out a different scenario. Part 4 clause 10.4 states “it [viz: the motion] shall upon being moved and seconded stand referred without discussion to the Executive or any such committee as the council may determine”. No mention of formally moved and seconded. In Part 4 clause 12.4 the mover is allowed 5 minutes to present the motion and the seconder 3 minutes in support.

    It follows, therefore, that the constitutionally correct procedure is to have a motion moved and seconded fully, not formally, before referral to a committee or the cabinet. This would, of course, be a fairer process for members challenging the executive and negate the Carwyn James defensive position of the IIPG/Officer XV, namely getting your retaliation in first.

  • Lobsterman

    It seems to me as you were discussing Leader Adams’ job, he has a direct pecuniary interest in maintaining the status quo and should have withdrawn for the discussion and subsequent vote. And, looking ahead, should do the same when it comes to full Council on December 11.

  • Fabian

    I think the intent of your motion is clear. The report’s (un)helpful suggestion that the council are unable to consider business not on the agenda is a smelly red herring. How else could your policy be implemented and the Leader be elected every year at the AGM if not placed on the agenda?

    The suggestion that you hadn’t made your proposal clear enough, therefore it should not be successful, is flawed.

    Say an accused appeared before a judge for sentencing, having already pled guilty to a charge, thereby avoiding a trial and being found guilty by a jury of his peers.

    Then, immediately before the judge passed sentence the accused said “I’m sorry I wasn’t clear what the prosecutor’s charge was” he wouldn’t “get off” with the alleged crime scot-free. Things don’t work like that.

  • Flashbang

    We’re all banging our heads against the wall with you Jacob and Mike. One day the wall will fall.

  • John Hudson

    Councillors, I believe, are required to have regard to officers’ advice when reaching decisions, not slavishly follow them. This is very much in the spirit of the Council being required to have regard to non-statutory guidelines issued by Welsh Government, but is not bound by them and has chosen to disregard them.

    I think this happened in the case of Audit Committees which were recommended as best practice by WG and CIPFA, but rejected by PCC. That was until Audit Committees were statutorily required by WG.

    Surely ALL Cabinet members relying on a personal appointment by the Leader have a pecuniary interest in ensuring the continuity of the Leader in position can be retained.

    Historically, with the various notices of motions he has submitted over the years, I think that Mike has probably suffered most from the officer’s mantra that a proposal was already covered by the Constitution and there was therefore no need for an amending NOM to be adopted.

    Until the Constitution is amended, (re-written) the Parry-Jones effect still rules at County Hall and officers continue to wield power through the delegations given to them by Council. This suits IPG members who are not required to think independently but can follow the Leader who follows officers’ recommendations. He has not left the building yet.

    Are we going to get an impartial Monitoring Officer? Some of his rulings seem distinctly biased in favour of supporting the Council, as an administrative machine, rather than allowing Councillors to represent their constituents.

    PS Directors are required to publish their decisions taken under delegated powers. These were updated on the website for all to see. Perhaps it’s about time they were reminded of this, unless of course they have not been making any.

  • Patrick

    I have some sympathy with an argument of one year being too short, after the first year at any rate. Equally I think five years is too long, perhaps a half-time vote would achieve the desired result for all and keep everyone on their toes.

    I feel unease that the current leader of the council is a councillor who was elected unopposed in his ward. I think when a councillor is unopposed, the electorate should at least be able to show their approval or disapproval by voting yes or no.

    It would not change the outcome of the candidate becoming a councillor, but would put that candidate’s mandate in perspective. I think councillor Stoddart’s suggested motion is just common sense.

  • Quill

    More bad advice. This would have never happened with Bryn at the helm. Nothing was ever ‘retracted’ under his watch!

  • Brian

    I fear John Hudson hits the nail on the head referring to the lingering BPJ effect. There is a well recorded tendency in history for dictators to surround themselves with like minded individuals and yes men.

    A few more bodies will need to be dragged out of that ‘burning building’ yet before the good ship PCC is on a better course.

  • The Rock

    With regard to turkeys voting for Christmas, Lobsterman’s got a good point. I had a look at the constitution. It states:

    “Where you have a personal interest in any business of your authority you also have a prejudicial interest in that business if the interest is one which a member of the public with knowledge of the relevant facts would reasonably regard as so significant that it is likely to prejudice your judgement of the public interest.”

    Simple – the discussion is about you possibly having to be re-elected to your post every year instead of every 5 or so years. That means it could result in the incumbent leader losing out on £200,000 – I’d say there’s definitely a risk of prejudice. You should withdraw from the discussion.

    However this is Bryn’s constitution and it goes on to state: “You will not be regarded as having a prejudicial interest in any business where that business relates to (iii) a body to which you have been elected … by your authority;”

    I sense a get out clause. Turkeys with a sense of self preservation. But will they have the nerve to abuse democracy in this way.

  • Jon Coles

    As someone from the outside who was present at this committee meeting on the press bench, it struck me then – and I reported the same in The Herald – that the silence from the Monitoring Officer when put on the spot seemed like minutes, not seconds.

    The embarrassed hush, as all present watched him thumb through his papers, was unedifying, and illustrated amply the points I made when I wrote my sketch of the incident in last Friday’s newspaper.

    As a forensic examination of what happened and the way in which the Council’s legal officers had to back and fill to try, vainly, to cover their error, this nails the issue stone dead.

  • Jon Coles

    Not on this topic really, Jacob, but I am also enjoying the headlines on another local newspaper site, WalesOnline and BBC News about Bryn Parry-Jones’ Porsche.

    In MAY when The Pembrokeshire Herald covered the story in detail, we simply asked the relevant question based on the fact the vehicle was already widely known and we had a photo of it hooked up to a County Hall car park charging point.

    In reply to a direct question about the Chief Executive having a hybrid Porsche Panamera as his company car, we were told: “The Chief Executive’s contract requires the Authority to provide a car of his choice and to insure it for social, domestic, pleasure and business use for (himself) and all members of (his) immediate family. The terms of the Chief Executive’s lease car allowance have been the same since 1995. The make and model of car chosen by the Chief Executive is entirely a matter for him.”

    As a result, we reported the vehicle’s make, model and cost in MAY. It strikes me that some people are VERY late coming to the party indeed. I wonder why.

  • Dave Edwards

    Laurence Harding – words fail me! Now that Bryn’s left the scene he seems to be even less clued up than usual. Hope, however, may be at hand. Rumours abound that he intends to hang up his briefcase in the spring. The Ides of March (BPJ’s birthday) would be more appropriate.

  • John Hudson

    I do not know about these things, but was the car still on a Council or personal lease contract? If it was leased by the Council, did we have to buy it out early as part of the “secret” settlement, or perhaps reimburse the ex CEO if it was a private contract. This could have been an additional cost on top of the contract settlement.

    Can one of the 29 Councillors who voted for the settlement without knowing the details let us know?

  • Goldingsboy

    Questions about that car remain, however:

    1. Is the ex-CEO (and/or members of his immediate family) still enjoying its luxurious design and performance specifications?

    2. Who is paying for the fuel and the high insurance premium for that continued use?

    3. If the answer to question 1 is no, has the financial penalty for the early break in the lease agreement fallen to the Pembrokeshire taxpayer?

  • Ratcatcher

    Laurence Harding is the council’s Monitoring Officer, an important role which requires (and should instil) the utmost honesty, impartiality and trustworthiness. I think it is high time he followed Bryn on the walk of shame, and, as for Keith Lewis, words fail me.

    Face it, there are very few people at the council that we, the people of Pembrokeshire, respect and trust, and these two gentlemen [?] are certainly not among them.

  • Keanjo

    The post of Monitoring Officer should be independent and not an officer of the same organisation where there is potential to be influenced by colleagues and more senior members of staff. If Harding is hanging up his brief case next year, the County Council should be given the opportunity to look at the type of appointment they wish to make and decide accordingly.

  • Welshman 23

    Spot on Jon Coles, the latecomers to these discussions are in my opinion the people we need to get to vote at the next elections. The silent electorate.

  • Ianto

    I have long thought the Monitoring Officer should be a WAG appointment and not an employee of the local authority. There has been a comment on the OG site for some time relating to the inability of a man to remain indifferent when his salary is on the line.

  • Clive Davies

    Perhaps the real problem all along has been Harding.

  • Timetraveller

    Huw Miller, Head of Legal, previously held the post of Monitoring Officer and Head of Legal at the same time. Did not everything go swimmingly? Presumably if he had a conflict of interests issue he went and had words with himself. Trouble is these opposition chaps will never be satisfied!

    Another alternative to Leighton Andrews’ deck chair game (re-arranging local govt), make MOs WG appointments.

  • Patrick

    Also, it’s not a good idea for council chief executives to be returning officers for their own authorities – needs to be someone from another area entirely.

  • Ianto

    When Brian Hall was before the Standards Committee, the then Monitoring Officer, Huw Miller, was unavailable due to ill health and was covered by a deputy at the hearing. It was after this an ‘independent’ appointment was made, uncoupling the role of legal advisor to the council, and avoiding any possible conflict of interest.

    It has to be said, subsequent events have raised concerns this aim may not have been entirely achieved.

  • Gwylan

    Following on from your motion and supporting statement, Jacob…

    Is the leader subject to an annual review of his/her performance? There should be some oversight of criteria to justify being worth £48k. Does the leader have a job description?

    An annual vote of confidence from elected fellow councillors would at least be an endorsement, sending positive vibes that he/she is on track…or not! Surely a competent leader would welcome this, and could be so much more effective knowing he/she carries an ongoing mandate from the majority of elected councillors, and therefore truly acts with the support and best interests of the electorate he/she represents.

    Concerns expressed elsewhere regarding continuity are unfounded…continuity would be no problem, if performance is up to the mark! (A built in job description including a requirement that the incumbent should demonstrate a consistent willingness to uphold the democratic process in the chamber, with opportunities for review and feedback would lend a measure of objectivity to the process of assessing performance). We can all benefit from having critical friends.

    The system whereby a leader can then appoint his cronies to serve in the cabinet, with scant regard to credentials indicating their suitability for office, but only their willingness to toe the party line is another topic…

  • Morgi

    Support me and toe the party line or I’ll boot you out and give your SRA to someone else who is prepared to do my bidding. If he’s hard working and comes from the North and just happens to speak Welsh then so much the better.

    Rev. George can defend the current leader as much as he likes – it’s still a dictatorship with controlling roots and brains at senior director/officer levels of PCC.

    Greed and avarice are their guiding light and despite the fiction produced at election time, the electorate needs to remember what happened to the whistleblower when she tried to protect vulnerable children, the most expensive CX in Wales, European grant (taxpayers’ money) aid for Pembroke Dock properties, new and re-cycled roof slates etc.

  • Faux Espoir

    The influence of unelected officers holds sway with Councillor Adams. The mantra developed under his leadership undoubtedly relies upon their guidance. The delegated powers afforded to such officers should and could be monitored closely, firstly by the Leader, his Cabinet and the Scrutiny Committees.

    The awaited outcome from the investigation into the Pembroke Dock grants scheme would seemingly be a true test for Councillor Adams and his leadership skills. His mantra is to trust the officers with delegated powers, and leaves him vulnerable to scrutiny and open to dialogue on his performance and review of his position as Leader of the Council. An annual review, whether through re-election as leader with the support of his colleagues or from outside organisations (WAG/police) will truly test it.

    Notice of motions aside, the acting CEO will have the devil’s job in his first Full Council meeting.

  • Pembs. Exile

    Jacob, thanks for another fascinating account of what passes for democratic government in Pembrokeshire. I want to add my support to those who have commented that the leader of the council should declare an interest in the motion, on the length of the term of office enjoyed by the leader, and take no part in the debate.

    I would go one step further and suggest that since all members of the cabinet have been chosen by the leader they, in the eyes of the public, also have a pecuniary interest in the matter under discussion and should take no part in the debate.

    This post has prompted me to take a closer look at the council’s constitution, to try and make some comparisons with the aspirations expressed in it and the actual delivery.

    What has Pembrokeshire got? It has a county council controlled by individuals who stood as independent candidates and as such they have no political affiliation. Immediately they are elected these independent elected councillors form a so called political group, the ‘Independent Plus Political Group’ and then elect themselves a leader.

    The IPPG is a party group without affiliation to any major party or political organisation and it therefore lacks the ability to obtain political advice on how to present issues or on the strategy to use in presenting those issues to the general public. It is a party which is re-active rather than pro-active and depends heavily for advice from the officers of the authority.

    I believe this dependency has led to some of the difficulties which are apparent today. As John Hudson comments, officers are required to give advice – which members can either accept or reject, that is their prerogative, they are the policy decision makers.

    Traditionally in local government circles, as with the civil service, it has been accepted that the advice in reports should contain all the relevant information, it should examine all the pros and cons, capital/revenue budgetary implications, any administrative difficulties involved with the implementation if adopted, whether if adopted it is lawful.

    Above all, reports should be politically neutral, for officers to make recommendations clearly compromises their impartiality, the constitution clearly states that “Employees must follow every lawful expressed policy of the authority and must not allow their own personal opinions to interfere with this work”.

    If the impartiality of officers is not respected and the leadership shown by the council is weak then the dangers exist of the council becoming officer led. I find it difficult to understand reports in the media which suggests an officer, had at a meeting, usurped the prerogative of the audit committee chairman in reprimanding a councillor, and likewise to read that members of the council had been crawling about in roof spaces thus interfering in the day to day management which is the prerogative of officers.

    It is very clear that secrecy has become a major public issue, newspaper reports refer to County Hall as the “Kremlin”, this cannot be good for the image of local government in Pembrokeshire. The constitution states: “that those responsible for decision making are identifiable to local people and they explain the reasons for decisions”.

    In terms of delivery it must be conceded that the County Council does not have a good record. Education in special measures for two years, the adoption of an unlawful pension scheme solely for senior officers, a severance settlement adopted by council declared unlawful, numerous grant payments signed off by someone and paid off for work found not to have been completed in accordance with the contract, which is currently subject to a police investigation.

    Another hornet’s nest to be disturbed in the very near future is of course the permanent appointment of a new chief executive. The constitution reads “Appointment of the Chief Executive/Head of paid services shall be the prerogative of the Council. The recruitment and selection process will be devolved to a senior staff committee who will make a recommendation to council.”

    Can it be that the members of the County Council have devolved this crucially important appointment to a seven/eight man committee to make an appointment for them to endorse? Was this the same committee involved in the pension opt out scheme?

    Do you remember what happened in the appointment of a lay member to the audit committee? A councillor was reported in the press as saying “We are in the dark, we are the decision making body but we have no information. I find it bizarre just sticking your hand up in favour of a recommendation without knowing the facts, it’s dangerous”. Reported response from head of legal services: “That more information needed to be provided”.

    The committee was not adjourned so that more information could be provided, as you might have expected, but the recommendation was carried through by the vote of the ruling group. The motto of old college was “By their fruits you shall know them”. Would you buy fruit from this market?

  • Welshman 23

    Pembrokeshire council have been asked to cut the chief executive’s pay to £130k, which will be discussed at the meeting on the 11th December. Vote not to replace him and save the money.

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    Thankfully Pembs. Exile has picked up the drum I’ve been playing on accountability through political leadership. Hopefully the Pembrokeshire electorate will hear the beat loud and clear. There is clearly no longer a place for Independents in Pembrokeshire.

  • Keanjo

    What is the point of appointing a Chief Executive with the probability of Local Government Reorganisation in a few years’ time? It seems more than likely that Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion will be merged. Why not approach Ceredigion and suggest sharing the services of their Chief Executive who seems to be held in high regard and has a very good record.

  • John Hudson

    Would anybody want to come and work here, given the uncertain future, and the lack of strong support at Director level? (How many vacancies are there now, and likely to be in the near future, at senior level?)

    If a young family is also involved, would the state of the health service be a consideration?

  • Pembs. Exile

    I have learned in life, Jon Boy Jovi, never to read into the written word what it is that you want to believe. There is clearly a place in Pembrokeshire for those with truly independent spirit.

    If it were not for Mike and Viv Stoddart and Jacob whose site we use to air our views, we would really be in the dark about what is happening in County Hall. The electorate are indebted to these true independents for attempting to hold the executive to account.

  • Quill

    Gwylan, there is no Leader job description that I know of. The current leader is a dairy farmer who just got lucky. His predecessor was also a dairy farmer.

    There’s definitely no shame in being a dairy farmer, times are hard and they do sterling work, but I’ve seen more than enough from these two chaps to show me they’d both be better suited to the farmyard than running a council.

    Thing is, even if they’d spent as much time milking cows as they did milking the public purse, it still wouldn’t pay as well.

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    Pembs. Exile, I too am indebted to those true independents you named [Jacob, the Stoddart family including their daughter] but it’s those independents who formed an uncontrollable independent group I’ve beat the drum about long and hard. Money makes the world go round, or in our case in Pembrokeshire, certainly the Council.

    Morgi enlightens us that Farmer Adams runs a dictatorship with controlling roots and brains at senior director/officer levels of PCC. As he points out greed and avarice are their guiding light and despite the fiction produced at election time Independents continued to get re-elected; maybe, just maybe this won’t be the case at the next election.

    Interesting to note Stoddart on his own website highlights how Farmer Adams categorically denies lying in the Council Chamber to him. He has not bleated a response, maybe he has an ace up his sleeve to draw out the high rollers at the 11th December meeting?

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