Jacob Williams

When Porsche comes to shove

Wednesday 3rd December, 2014
When Porsche comes to shove

A topic that’s been on Pembrokeshire people’s lips for nine months has been given the national mainstream media treatment this week: Bryn Parry-Jones’ £90k council Porsche.

The story’s resurgence is because the BBC has finally been provided information it requested from Pembrokeshire County Council under the FoI Act back in the spring: the make and model of the then chief executive’s publicly-funded lease car.

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Up until now the Kremlin refused to divulge on the basis that it was personal information relating to an employee. The BBC appealed to the Information Commissioner’s Office to test what it believed were shaky grounds to decline the disclosure.

But the ICO won’t need to force the council’s hand because of a County Hall U-turn. The requested information has now been provided to the UK’s public broadcaster on the basis that now he’s no longer an employee, Mr. Parry-Jones’ taxpayer-funded motor is fair game.

The BBC is unashamedly late to the party, yet with the phrase “BBC Wales has learned” in the opening sentence of its online article, gives the impression of revealing something new.

The Beeb’s reluctance to report the existence of the Porsche until receiving council confirmation is down to its over-cautious journalism. It’s been common knowledge for months. The Pembrokeshire Herald even reported on Bryn’s new ride as far back as May this year, and it’s been spotted regularly throughout the county since.

Rumours of the chief’s change of company car from his gentlemanly Jaguar XF to the yuppie-like Porsche began to circulate soon after he took delivery of the brand new car, a 14-plate example, in early March this year.

The first I heard was from a regular County Hall insider. “Have you heard Bryn’s got a Porsche?” I was asked. “Surely not, he isn’t the boy-racer type, he drives a Jag!” I replied. “Well, that’s what I’ve heard. Nobody’s seen it but everybody’s talking about it,” I was told.

I happened to mention it whilst speaking to the leader of the Labour group, Cllr. Paul Miller, who’s known Mr. P-J for years, ever since he attended Sir Thomas Picton with the P-J kids, who were his school friends.

“No chance,” he said. “I would be amazed if Bryn drove a Porsche, that’s just not his style.”

It took some weeks of speculation before the rumour became so widespread and from such quality sources as to be cemented, though one key element was missing: a sighting of the Germanic jalopy in the chief’s County Hall parking space.

Many put Bryn’s reluctance to roll up to his place of work in such an ostentatious motor down to its inherent political toxicity. After all, at a time when the man’s credibility and popularity were practically non-existent among employees, loads of whom under his watch saw pay cuts in the hundreds and thousand of pounds, it would send out all sorts of impertinent messages. On the contrary, some queried whether Mr. Parry-Jones possessed such sensitivity.

Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid

Towards the end of the ex-chief executive's tenure his luxury hybrid saloon was regularly hooked up to the electric charging point in the County Hall car park

The luxury hybrid saloon was a regular sight towards the end of the chief executive’s tenure, hooked up to the council’s electric car charging point in the County Hall car park

Bryn’s racy roadster is a luxury performance machine – and pricey. The exact model is a Panamera S E-Hybrid edition, with a base price of around £90k.

Launched in 2010, the Panamera is the Stuttgart marque’s first ever attempt to compete in the lucrative ‘executive saloon’ market.

They say there’s no accounting for taste, but the model’s aesthetics and unusual styling cues have stoked almost universal displeasure among the motoring media since day one.


Click to enlarge

With weird lines and a broad backside that could absorb the impact of any rear-end shunt without causing whiplash, it possesses looks even a mother would struggle to admire. Or father, come to think of it – earlier this year the global CEO of Porsche, Matthias Mueller and the car’s designer, Michael Mauer, admitted its “design could be better,” it’s not “the best car ever” and that the next model won’t be so aesthetically impaired.

“But goodness it’s ugly. Really. It’s hideous,” says Top Gear’s review, “Porsche’s Ugly Duckling” it’s been dubbed by others. Jeremy Clarkson went as far as saying it’s not only ‘hideous’ compared to its market competitors, but that “it’s hideous compared to a genital wart.”

Though the unsightly styling has done little to dampen sales figures which can only be described as brilliant, the appeal for which can probably be owed to the model’s thundering performance courtesy of an extensive range of engines.

The version you’ve been paying for is technically a hybrid car, but in reality the electric motor is of limited practicality on its own and seems to be more of a nod to the sandal-wearing eco nuts – because up front is a high performance three litre supercharged V6 petrol.

Even a cursory look at the figures confirms the battery power’s constraints. From a full charge, which itself takes 3.8 hours, it can travel at best for just twenty-two miles, thereafter you’ll have to rely on high-octane internal combustion. Of course, being a ‘hybrid,’ the technical gadgetry allows the car to switch between battery and petrol power seamlessly, and the battery to be charged on the go by the petrol engine, or whenever the throttle is released, increasing the range and economy.

However at full throttle the vehicle is driven by both the petrol and electric motors in combination – serving up a collective 416 bhp “providing a sporty shunt into the future” according to Porsche’s glossy magazine.

The German gas-guzzler’s green credentials come second to performance and prestige, and if the quadruple rear tailpipes don’t give the sporting sedan’s game away, the garish lime green-painted calipers ought to.

Bawdy brake parts and tawdry tailpipes might not stand out to those of a non-automotive bent, but for those more at home with a pen and a calculator, the raw figures reveal the true nature of the beast.

From a standing start to 60 mph in a spritely 5.5 seconds, the 416 thoroughbreds under the bonnet gallop their way through the silky-smooth automatic eight-speed ‘Tiptronic’ gearbox to haul this hulking machine onto an eye-watering top speed of 167 mph.

Surprisingly for such performance, Porsche claims it manages a combined economy of 91 mpg. Driven by a nun, perhaps – or a baptist reverend. Speaking of which, 91 mpg has all the hallmarks of the technological nous and numerical wizardry we’ve come to expect from Cllr. Rev. Huw George, though as you’re about to learn, it doesn’t allow the taxman to gain “in each and every way.”


Click to enlarge

Lentil-eating greens surely see straight through the electric motors and eco-themed calipers and recognise in practical usage its carbon footprint is a shade sootier than the tropospherically-friendly 71g/km CO2 figures would suggest.

But what’s sure to chime with motorists across the board – from those sitting behind the wheel of their gutless puny-engined superminis to mid-range family workhorses – is that this particular model of Panamera with its “economy” and “low emissions” ticks all the right boxes in the government’s eco-drive and qualifies for absolutely free vehicle tax. Not a penny!

Although its supercharged engine is a worse CO2 pollutant than a whole host of cars which are billed annually in the triple figures, Porsche’s swish and swift Panamera S E-Hybrid manages to pack in all the goodies with minimal damage on the tax front. Something history has shown Mr. Parry-Jones is quite keen on.

Despite weighing in at over two metric tons, which is considerable even by four-door grand tourer standards – and one of the Panamera’s criticisms – the high performance figures put the German engineering into some perspective.

Having such power on tap under one’s right foot means it comes in at the upper end of insurance brackets. The highest, in fact – insurance group 50 out of 50. But, like the tax, the insurance was never a concern for Mr. Parry-Jones because as part of his lucrative employment contract with Pembrokeshire County Council, you footed the bill for that too!

What’s more, the generous deal also provided FAMILY insurance cover for the fast-paced prestige motor to be used by all of the Parry-Joneses.

In its early days the car was rarely seen in use by Mr. P-J himself, but towards the end it was a regular sight at County Hall. The theory that he was reluctant to put on a show of such opulence in front of downtrodden staff soon gave way to a more convincing one – based on several sightings – that he didn’t get a chance to use it because Master P-J wouldn’t hand the keys back.

True it is that son number two was spotted regularly behind the wheel, using the car for his daily commute back and fore from his refinery job.

I tabled the following question to July’s full council meeting:

Does the leader agree with me that it would be unfair and inappropriate for Pembrokeshire taxpayers to be expected to pay the insurance cover for council officers’ children to drive their parent’s council lease car?

The minutes record:

“In response, the Leader stated that lease cars were provided on contractual terms which were the same for all qualifying Officers. These included use by members of the Officer’s immediate family, as was the case in other similar organisations.

The Leader advised that as lease cars were covered as part of a fleet insurance policy, there were no additional costs. Council also noted that employees of all ages were covered by fleet insurance to drive Council vehicles.”

As a supplementary, I asked if the leader knew how much cheaper the council’s insurance bill could be if only the employee was covered as opposed to their extended family, to which the minutes record:

“In response to a supplementary question on the cost of the policy if it only related to Council employees, rather than family members, the Leader stated that the cost of the fleet arrangement policy did not differentiate between the employee and the employee’s family member. The Leader indicated that he would provide any available information in respect of the differential.”

I’ve never been provided any information in respect of the differential.

The council’s confirmation about the car this week was picked up by the Daily Mail whose online article has attracted 572 comments, the Daily Express, ITV, the Western Mail, LocalGov, the Western Telegraph and the South Wales Evening Post.

There have been some suggestions that Mr. Parry-Jones was allowed to walk away from the authority with the Porsche in his own garage. Alas, when he handed back his set of keys for County Hall, he also relinquished the Panamera’s keyfob.

The official return of the vehicle is reputed to have taken place at the council’s lesser-exposed registry office at Cherry Grove, Haverfordwest, rather than the more conspicuous surroundings of County Hall, just down the road.

With black paintwork and cream leather upholstery, some speculated that, rather than lying around one of the council’s lock-ups to attract dust and rust, it would make an ideal replacement as the authority’s official limo, currently a black Seat Alhambra people carrier with velour upholstery and a sluggish diesel under the bonnet.

Rumours that the chairman and vice chairman were eyeing up the Panamera as their new parade vehicle were dealt a devastating blow when a ‘spokesperson’ confirmed to the daily nationals this week that it’s been handed back to the lease company.

It remains to be seen if the ex-CEO purchased the car back off the lease company, but black Panameras are a rare sight in the county so it may not be long before we know.

Criticisms over taste and extravagance aside, Mr. Parry-Jones could have pushed the boat out even further and chosen any car he wanted. His vehicle allowance was set at 12% of his salary (roughly £20k) with any remainder having to be topped-up personally.

The criticisms to be laid over this generous scheme lie with the councillors who allowed it in the first place. As Mr. Parry-Jones has enjoyed this contractual perk since his 1995 appointment, many of the original councillors who approved the deal are no longer in service or dead – so holding them to account could prove difficult.

But as Pembrokeshire County Council progresses along the Autobahn of improvement at a considerable rate of knots – or so they’ll have us believe – the chief exec’s pay and perks package may not be allowed to get so carried away.

Help may be at hand for the future because yesterday the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales announced it was unimpressed with the figure the council wished to pay Mr. Parry-Jones’ eventual successor, whoever and whenever that may be.

In a letter to the council’s head of human resources, the panel says it “has considered the salary proposed for the new Head of Paid Service submitted by your Council” before explaining why it’s excessive and “cannot be justified.”

The BBC reports that the “council” submitted a proposed salary of £145,000, though I was unaware such a proposal had been made. The IRPW’s letter doesn’t say what figure it received from County Hall, only that if it went ahead, Pembrokeshire would have the second highest paid chief in Wales – the top spot has previously been occupied by Mr. Parry-Jones.

The panel says that taking into account the county’s position among all Welsh authorities, its population, demographics and the council’s revenue and staff numbers, that £130,000 would be a more appropriate figure.

The IRPW doesn’t specify if its recommendation is inclusive of perks like a car allowance, but I believe it’s just the base salary, which is a vast reduction on Mr. Parry-Jones’ £170k.

However, if we go back to 1995 a potential twist in the tale could be unveiled. County councillors then introduced a policy capping directors’ salaries at 77½% of the highest paid officer’s. If this policy is still in place, and the recommended £130k is adopted, directors’ remuneration would encroach the 77½% by a large margin.

Funnily enough there’s history of this at the council. Page 5 of the fascinating minutes of the full council meeting held on 17th July 1995 where the authority’s very first directors were being considered, records:

“Members referred to a debate earlier in the meeting when it was recognised that the salary levels agreed for the 7 Directors posts infringed on the differential between the Chief Executive and the Directors’ pay levels which was established through the National Grading Structure.

Members acknowledged that this situation should be rectified as follows:-

That it be established as a matter of policy that the grade of the Directors’ posts be at 77½% of the Chief Executive, and that the Chief Executive be repositioned at the bottom point of the revised grade.”

In other words, councillors awarded Mr. Parry-Jones a pay rise in order that the recommended salaries of the then directors serving beneath him wouldn’t encroach 77½%. Charming!

But would something like that that happen in 2014? Time may tell because the IRPW’s £130k is only a recommendation – full council isn’t bound to go along with it when it meets to set the new salary on December 11th.

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  • Rockface

    The IPPG won’t go for it as they want the control, they don’t like any other institute butting in on their business. They always vote against the most sensible thing. A great blog, Jacob!

  • Welshman 23

    It seems that decisions are made with the knowledge of some councillors but not by others. The root cause of many problems is overpaid employees that are not fit for purpose, this includes some councillors who are only there for the cash.

  • Fabian

    One spec where the Seat Alhambra people carrier clearly has the trump card is its better headroom in the passenger compartment.

    How on earth did anybody think you could stow the chairman’s swollen ego or his lady’s Buckingham Palace garden party summer hat in the back seat of a Porsche Panamera?!

  • Malcolm Calver

    County councillors are only given information on a “need to know” basis and that “need to know” is decided by the employees at County Hall.

    In these times of austerity when cuts have to be made, many residents and county councillors complain when cuts are proposed but it is time councillors themselves took a good look at some of both the projects/services provided by Pembrokeshire County Council and suggest alternatives. During the last few years many positions have been created at County Hall unnecessarily.

    It has been suggested that a salary of £80,000 would be sufficient for any incoming CEO and considering this is five times the salary of the average private sector worker in Pembrokeshire, I would agree with it. This time no overgenerous car allowance should be given as there is already a chauffeur driven company car at County Hall, if that is not good enough they should supply their own at no expense to the taxpayers of Pembrokeshire.

  • Keanjo

    An excellent post Jacob, ever thought of writing for Private Eye? The proposed salary of £130,000 is far too high, it should be much closer to £100,000 or better still, bearing in mind the impending reorganisation, why not approach Ceredigion and seek agreement to jointly employ their CE who has an excellent reputation?

    As for these ridiculous car allowances, what happened to the national agreement? That should apply to all employees. Directors’ salaries should be pitched at about 75% of the CE’s and could be frozen until that level is reached or alternatively the posts re-advertised at the new levels.

    I hope the Council will become much more democratic in future and decisions made by all the members rather than a selected few.

  • Ray Roberts

    Pay should be performance based…basic salary of £75k and bonus for actually doing the work they are hired for. Renew annually and if under performing, get rid. Then £130k would be plausible for a hardworking CEO with the basic salary and a P45 if we get another muppet!

  • Jon Coles

    It is noticeable that chief officers and heads of paid service in the English shires are – by and large – paid less than their Welsh counterparts. While there are exceptions, it appears to be a general rule that the pay for heads of paid service in England is correlated more closely to the pay of the lowest paid full time council employee.

    Welsh councils appear to have allowed an artificial market to be created in which the pay of chief officers and heads of paid service are set by comparison with each other. This means that if one or two of the twenty two secure a particularly lavish spot on the gravy train it allows others to jump aboard and hike up the overall pay bill.

    In Wales, if the Chief Executive threatens to jump ship and leave if you don’t cough up or do his bidding, you only need to ask one simple question: how do I spell P45? After all, there is no other game in town for him (and it’s usually a him) to play. All it took in Pembrokeshire was a few to become convinced of BPJ’s genius and ability.

    Over time, the IPG and their ilk who have power and retain it come to believe that some of that Bryn magic has rubbed off on them. They are clever because they appointed someone clever. They are encouraged to feel they are “irreplaceable” because they felt Bryn was “irreplaceable”.

    The right person could cultivate and exploit that feeling, often without thinking things through properly. For instance turning up for work in a Porsche which is contractually funded by the taxpayer, bagging dodgy pension opt-out pay supplements and refusing to repay them after they’ve been deemed unlawful, and taking the self-respect and dignity of councillors.

  • Timetraveller

    Of course Bryn is a genius. He achieved the lowest council tax in Wales, hence worth every penny and whatever car! The councillors who backed him must also be clever for doing so, top rate SRAs all round!

    My problem with this is why didn’t all the other authorities in Wales flock to the county to “see how it’s done”? I suspect they knew, but didn’t want engage in some of the activities now unravelling!

    They can be dangerous, these genii.

  • The IPPG allowed chief officers’ pay to become a game of salary leapfrog. As Jon Coles says, pay levels were set by making comparisons with other authorities rather than by reference to the real world.

    So, if your man (or woman) was in the bottom quartile (posh word for quarter) it was felt to be the council’s duty to move them up the ladder.

    This meant that someone, somewhere was moved down the ladder and the process had to be repeated to restore them to their rightful place in the pecking order.

    So all that was required to maintain the salary escalator in a state of perpetual motion was simple arithmetic.

  • Brian

    I notice up at the Senedd they are justifying the proposal to raise AM salaries with the argument that it will attract higher calibre individuals who in turn will hopefully make better decisions…yeah right!

    Now from my school days I remember that a few of our present councillors didn’t scrub up too well when it came to passing their 11+ yet now have oversight of budgets that significantly exceed their number of visible digits even with their shoes and socks off (possibly any number between 20 and 24??)

    People of Pembs shouldn’t really be surprised when their elected councillors then get bamboozled if the maths gets tricky and we end up handing over large wads of wonga to the sharper cards.

  • Goldingsboy

    I wonder if Jacob or Mike would like to make further comment on the curious, if not illegal, goings-on of the Audit Committee, as reported in today’s Pembrokeshire Herald?

  • Welshman 23

    The cost of BPJ’s car was about £1k per month with an up front payment of anything between £3k to £6k. As the contract only started in March 2014 there was probably a penalty in the leasing contract for an early return, which is usually around 6 months of payments. If so, who paid it?

  • Flashbang

    Goldingsboy, can you provide a link please. PH seems to be all over the place with no order to their stories.

  • Goldingsboy

    The link, Flashbang, is a very modest 50p coin in order to purchase a copy of the Pembrokeshire Herald. In it you will discover the very latest in the protracted history of IPPG duplicity that I alluded to.

  • John Hudson

    In a January 2012 Briefing paper, Let’s be Clear, The Audit Commission commented “Local authority accounts are difficult to understand. Even professional local government accountants can find the statutory accounts hard to explain.” I think it unreasonable to expect lay councillors, or members of the public, without any professional financial background to understand the accounts.

    For this reason, the Council presents its annual budget in a simplified format showing the financial resources allocated over services in its annual budget. During the year, every three months, spending against the annual budget is reported to Cabinet and Overview and Scrutiny Committees.

    It is therefore possible for lay councillors, and interested members of the public to draw conclusions from the financial position as reported. Whether these budget and monitoring reports are understandable, comprising mainly of lists of figures, without much in the way of explanatory narrative, is another matter.

    Have a look at the 6 month monitoring report presented to the last Cabinet meeting and see if you can understand it, or whether you would need further explanation, when you are spending public money.

  • Barrie Woolmer

    To follow the rules do all officer pay increases become red circled or downgraded for new officers, until the percentages for the new suggested salary of CEO are met?

  • I’m sure Jacob will explain the legal niceties behind chairman business once he comes out of Top Gear mode. I will be posting an account of my part in the meeting on Pembrokeshire’s premier website within the next half hour.

  • I will Mike, next week – but in a nutshell for Flashbang, Cllr. Mike James chaired the audit committee meeting in the absence of the lay-member chairman, Mr. Peter Jones, despite the legislation banning him (and other IPPG councillor members) from chairing the committee.

    I challenged this at the start of the meeting when I became aware Mr. Jones had tendered his apologies and Cllr. James intended to take up the reins. Having quickly got the statute up on my iPad – it’s very straightforward and the relevant part is contained within just two lines – the authority’s acting head of legal and committee services was then asked to come down.

    She gave councillors a differing legal opinion of what those two lines meant – and to whom they applied – and Cllr. James carried on, in my view rendering the meeting unlawful.

  • Pembs. Exile

    Just had a look at the agenda for the council meeting on the 11th December. Nothing on the agenda seems to indicate that the Pembrokeshire electorate are to be given any further information on the departure of the Chief Executive. I think the public are now entitled to know:

    (a) The official reasons stated for his departure?
    (b) Were any other costs, other than the figures already published, involved in his departure?
    (c) What were the total cost to the authority of obtaining outside legal advice?
    (d) Will the council now, in the public interest, issue a full and frank statement?

    I notice also that the council are advertising for two senior members of staff. Would it not be in everyone’s interest that these posts were left in abeyance until such time as a new chief executive is in post? It may well be that a new chief executive would want to look again at the current management structure.

  • Welshman 23

    Pembs. Exile, where are the jobs advertised? I can’t see them on the PCC website.

    I see the Daily Express have picked up the BPJ Porsche story again, it seems that Pembrokeshire’s name is in disrepute. All you councillors should be ashamed, resign and let the public decide your fate.

  • Quill

    Pembs. Exile, do you reckon Bryn will apply for one of the vacant senior roles at the authority?

  • Ratcatcher

    There are a few things that I find rather puzzling [and worrying], the council [all hail] continually refer to monies in the coffers as council [all hail] money, surely this is wrong? This money has been paid by the people of Pembrokeshire for safekeeping [ha ha] in order to maintain and improve the county of Pembrokeshire, not to ensure that a select few are able to live in the lap of luxury.

    I always understood that councillors and their minions were in fact public servants, it is a very strange sort of servant that continually adopts a holier than thou attitude, and, the higher up the ladder into the clouds of deceit they climb, the more condescending they become to us peasants, they assume that by merely acknowledging our presence they are fulfilling their terms of office.

    Lastly, if these servants are not doing the job for which they are very handsomely rewarded, we the people of Pembrokeshire should be able to get rid of them, also known as instant dismissal, as not fit for purpose.

    One very confused Ratcatcher.

  • Ianto

    Given the number of occasions on which the MO/Legal Officers have given advice which has subsequently proved inaccurate, is it time to invoke disciplinary procedures for failure to provide proper guidance, either through ineptitude or deliberate obfuscation?

  • Welshman 23

    Ianto, it would be interesting to see how much money PCC spends on external legal advice, I bet it’s thousands. And we have a legal team in PCC, what a waste of money. Shambolic shower.

  • Timetraveller

    Ianto – doubt if it’s ineptitude, these are clever people, or so they will have everyone believe when it comes to remuneration!

    The impressive thing about this authority is how it is all joined up, singing off the same hymn sheet and mostly in tune. Legal was almost certainly BPJ’s power base in the authority, being a lawyer himself.

    The cynical would say that the legal profession are a bit like latter day medieval pardoners, pay them the most money and whatever problems we have is resolved. Most of them have scruples and even ethics, it is when they haven’t got these redeeming qualities that things get messy.

    Unfortunately the Pembs legal stable needs mucking out before much can really change, BPJ or no BPJ, sadly there is no mechanism to do so at the moment. If a merger with Ceredigion is going through a good start would be for the next Head of Legal to come from outside Pembs, perhaps even a secondment from Ceredigion.

  • Pembs. Exile

    Welshman, look at the agenda for the council meeting on 11th December, agenda item 21, chief officer appointments, job descriptions.

  • Keanjo

    Merger with Ceredigion will be enforced if not agreed voluntarily, so rather than employing new chief or senior officers who may well become redundant in a few years, why not face the inevitable now and talk with Ceredigion about the possibility of sharing the services of such staff?

  • Brian

    Jacob, it has been put to me that the reason some IPPG members decline to justify their decisions in this forum is not for lack of argument but because they struggle with the checksum required to submit a comment. Perhaps if you removed this technical requirement the website would be viewed as less of a threat?

  • Timetraveller

    Surely some of them struggle with the “checksum” in council as well? No surprises there! Now, what’s 7 add 9…

  • Malcolm Calver

    The saga continues. Correct me if I am wrong Jacob but has Peter Jones not just been given the role as chair of this audit committee. Surely you would have thought he would, with all the controversy of late, have put a little more effort into attending the meeting. But there, if you aren’t there then you can’t be blamed for the goings on.

    The legislation you say clearly bans members of the IPPG from chairing the meeting, so what reason did the acting head of legal and committee services give for allowing Cllr James to chair the meeting. Even if IPPG members accepted the advice given by the lawyer, you would have thought a man of the cloth would understand the rules.

    I did note in this week’s Sunday Times that Wirral Council are advertising for a new CEO, interestingly the salary being offered is stated as being “competitive”, whatever that means.

  • Brian

    …and for those of you who thought sustained pressure from Jacob and Mike over the years was key to BPJ’s exit you are in fact mistaken.

    See http://oggybloggyogwr.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/apocalypse-nawr.html through to the last line where all is revealed!

    Merger with Carmarthenshire anybody?

  • Keanjo

    Watched the debate on the CE’s post today. Headless chickens comes to mind. Why not accept the inevitable and start negotiations with Ceredigion?

  • Welshman 23

    Watching the webcast from Thursday’s meeting, I was astonished to see that some of the minutes were inaccurate and needed to be changed. The monitoring officer seemed to have some difficulty with his words when trying to answer questions.

  • Timetraveller

    The problem with Thursday’s meeting was a slim majority of members voting regardless of common sense. As a majority can vote the Leader out anyway, why oppose Jacob’s motion to elect the Leader? It would have given the rank and file IPPG a small measure of censure of their man.

    Cllr Miller’s amendment would have been more radical, as presumably an elected cabinet was no longer at the Leader’s whim. Presumably Cllr Miller sensed the paucity of the arguments against, are the speakers against really as intellectually challenged as they seem?

    The other votes might be deemed as toeing the party line, whatever that is, but that vote reduced IPPG members to unthinking sheep. Comments from any sheep who can manage a checksum!

  • John Hudson

    I found the Monitoring Officer’s Advice as to whether Cabinet Members had an interest to declare about the election of the leader on an annual basis very telling. Apparently, as ALL councillors could potentially become cabinet members, and be affected by the decision, they all might have an interest to declare.

    The fact that current Cabinet members, personally appointed by the Leader, with a salary attached, might have an extra personal interest in retaining the current leader in office, does not seem to have been considered, or pointed out. There was nothing to suggest that the current Leader would be voted out, or in for that matter.

    The rules about pecuniary interest revolve around an outsider’s perception as to what factors might affect the way a councillor votes. The decision to participate in a vote is personal, and may be judged against the Members’ Code of Conduct by the Ombudsman.

    The issue about the CEO role is also confusing. It appears that the Leader is angling for a higher salary than the recommended £130k, on the basis that a Director with a service portfolio may be able to do that job and take on the role of the Head of Paid Service, which involves arrangements for the operational management of the whole Council.

    We have been through a period where, by an arrangement between the CEO of PCC and Hywel DDA, a former Social Services Director of PCC and another senior PCC post were shared 50/50. This arrangement was terminated some time ago and we now have Directors in charge of Childrens and Adult services full time.

    Given the state of the Council and the improvement road it still has to climb, how likely is it that the Head of Paid Service job and a Directorship’s job can be done part time? Has Mr Westley been given any extra support to fulfil the requirements of both roles on an acting basis?

    The Head of Paid Service can make arrangements for the administration of the Council as he/she chooses and the Council is bound to provide the support required.

    Have we any confidence in the Senior Staff Committee to sort this out? Is this the same committee responsible for approving unlawful pension arrangements, that led to the unlawful settlement negotiated by the Leader, supported by 29 councillors unaware of the finer small print.

  • Welshman, a post will appear tomorrow morning on Pembrokeshire’s premier political website dealing with these mysterious minutes. As you say, the Monitoring Officer seemed a bit tongue-tied as he struggled to explain what had gone on.

  • Timetraveller

    Reading Mike’s blog this morning, I do have one query. Is Mike sure it was howls of protest he heard on his prediction about their voting intentions? I bring this up because sheep can make a similar sound when agitated.

    Anyway it is refreshing to find “continuity” is working well in Pembs, and a new generation of officers stepping into recently vacated shoes. The leadership plough on, always turning “the corner”, which is another way of describing going in circles. If the opposition want to take over, buy some sheep!

  • Brian

    Yes Thursday’s webcast from Narnia was most interesting. Now please correct me if I got this wrong but I now believe that our vulnerable leader and his IPPG chums have done the county a great service. Was it not he who twisted the knife for BPJ and, not satisfied with this act of bravery, now proposes that council should question whether the expensive post of Chief Exec could be chopped altogether. We are so lucky somebody has their eye on the ball in these financially straitened times.

    Of course this proposal is fortuitous, what with WA thumping the table on LA amalgamation. PCC seems to be ‘Billy no mates’ at the moment. Something needs to be done, maybe a slimmed down senior team (perhaps with a shared Chief Exec from another Authority) will be enough for WA to get off PCC’s back and allow the county to continue (with the same band playing?).

  • Welshman 23

    Old Grumpy, the only option is to resign en bloc, this regime is rotten to the core. Even the monitoring officer makes up his own rules. What qualifications does this person hold to qualify for holding this position?

  • Keanjo

    Did anyone notice that Mike Stoddart and Tony Brinsden appeared to know considerably more about the sub judice/human rights law than the Council’s paid solicitors who seem intent on throwing money away on Counsel’s opinion every time they are asked for legal advice? The bill must be running into 6 figures. This administration really appears to be in a state of crisis.

  • Timetraveller

    Keanjo, flawed legal advice is not necessarily incompetence. It serves its purpose on the day, say preventing any real investigation into the grants scheme for example. Is it just a coincidence that some of the money from this scheme was used to help provide “affordable” housing, for which the council knows there is unmet demand?

    Kerr QC is well qualified in his field, but what exactly was the purpose of his rather pricey visit to the county? Did sort of railroad a council meeting though. Anyway, it’s surprising how even flawed legal advice can carry the day in court, so it’s always worth a go, especially as the Pembs ratepayer is paying.

  • Malcolm Calver

    Being out and about on the day of the webcast I visited my local library, thinking it would be the ideal place to witness and hear the debate. All went well, the library assistant pulled up the internet and for ease of access knowing there was a link from this site, I duly entered the website address jacobwilliams.com

    This is where things started to go wrong as I found access had been blocked, presumably by someone at County Hall. I then tried oldgrumpy.co.uk and found this was also blocked, being a person who knows his way round these things I pulled up Google and found both domains.

    In what is supposed to be a country of free speech, it concerns me that two county councillors who have taken the trouble to provide information to the electorate in Pembrokeshire on their websites, are put in this position. Surely in this day and age this decision should be reversed and also a link should inserted in the councillors’ contact point section on the official PCC website.

    I now settled down to watch and listen to the show, noticing there was no headphones in the booth I proceeded to ask the library assistant if I could have a set, as I am afraid I am not quite old enough to have watched and enjoyed silent movies. This is where it became ridiculous as the library assistant then informed me that the council had stopped supplying them and the reason “elf and safety”. Time, I thought, to go home.

  • Goldingsboy

    I bet, Mike, that you could well have thought, after the Monitoring Officer’s byzantine elucidation of his ruling: “If you find it hard to laugh at yourself, I would be happy to do it for you”.

    Now, that was something that Groucho Marx actually said.

  • John Hudson

    For those that can remember (will we ever forget?) the advice on predetermination, Hansard (16 January 2013, column 294 on) reports an interesting debate on this issue and goes on to discuss advice given by Monitoring Officers which appears to be at odds with the provisions of, and intention of S25 of the Localism Act.

    I think that legal advice is a view taken, no more valid perhaps than yours or mine, but hopefully might be a bit more informed by knowledge of the law. Until tested independently it is just that, as Mike was so able to demonstrate when challenging the advice given to a committee.

    Probably the role of Monitoring Officers is to give impartial, balanced advice to members, about which they have to have regard, but make their own mind up.

    It appears to me that advice given by council officers often seems biased in as much as it seeks to protect the Council’s position by using legal argument to close or prevent open debate. It may also be used to bolster up or defend decisions already taken.

  • The Rock

    Keanjo, I agree but I’m more inclined to favour the Brian/OggyBloggy view “This administration is out there operating without any decent restraint, totally beyond the pale of any acceptable human conduct.”

  • Apologies all, for the delay in my post-Christmas meeting debrief. I had intended to write something up this evening but I’ve been all day at the planning committee, 10am until gone 5pm. Fear not though, I’ll publish tomorrow – along with some key voting records.

    Also, John Hudson, Keanjo, Goldingsboy and Timetraveller may be interested to learn that I have a further post in the pipeline concerning recent legal advice given by officers to councillors, on a matter of some contention. I’m on one side, with my view and interpretation, and they are on the other, with theirs.

    I can’t say I’ve noticed that ‘change of culture’ at County Hall just yet, though time will tell!

  • I suppose that, if all that was expected of councillors was to slavishly follow officers’ advice, taxpayers might be forgiven for asking why the are forking out £1 million a year in allowances and expenses to maintain 60 elected members in the manner to which they have grown accustomed.

    Not to mention the cost of all those unnecessary elections.

  • Malcolm Calver

    Mike, Pembrokeshire residents have been informed over the last few years of cutbacks in some services provided by Pembrokeshire County Council. I am aware that the council have a statutory duty to provide certain services but have councillors been provided with a breakdown of the non-statutory services provided by PCC, including a detailed cost of those services/projects, which would enable them to make a decision on what should be cut back?

  • Lobsterman

    So, Bryn Porsche-Jones, did he jump, was he pushed or made redundant? If the latter, he cannot be replaced.

  • Brian

    “No more Porsches in Pembrokeshire” it seems the Minister is a bit cross then!


    Bang – what was that? Oh nothing – just a stable door…

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