Jacob Williams
Wednesday 17th December, 2014

The Christmas council meeting

December 2014 full council

Last Thursday’s meeting of full council had a few festive treats for council-watchers, and in this bumper blogpost (it has been a while since I last posted, after all) I run through some of the highlights.

If you want to see the webcast for the meeting it can be viewed here.

Red herrings and legal cock-ups galore, it was a highly appropriate end to a year at this rotten borough which has followed a very similar theme.

Before Christmas I will be unveiling my shortlist of 2014 Golden DonQui nominations which will go to the public vote before your winner is announced in early 2015.

It’s been a tough selection process this year with many prime candidates.

Unlike last December’s meeting – which provided the inspiration for the Golden DonQui – no new contenders emerged during Thursday’s full council, though I haven’t finalised the list just yet.

I even hear on the grapevine that the old duffer of that other website will be awarding end-of-year gongs between Christmas and the new year.

Grumpy didn’t bestow any honours last year, but I’m hoping to earn something to sit in my trophy cabinet alongside the Alastair Campbell Medal he awarded me in 2012.

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My annual leadership election proposal

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Mike Evans
Tessa Hodgson
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Phil Kidney
David Lloyd
David Simpson
Mike Stoddart
Vivien Stoddart
Jacob Williams

Plaid Cymru
Rod Bowen
Rhys Sinnett
Michael Williams

Conservative
David Bryan
David Howlett

Labour
Pat Davies
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Gwilym Price
Tom Tudor
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Guy Woodham

IPPG
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Pembrokeshire Alliance
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Peter Stock

28

IPPG
Jamie Adams
John Allen-Mirehouse
Daphne Bush
John Davies
Wynne Evans
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Brian Hall
Simon Hancock
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Mike James
Lyn Jenkins
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Keith Lewis
Rob Lewis
Pearl Llewellyn
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David Neale
Myles Pepper
Sue Perkins
David Pugh
David Rees
Tom Richards
Ken Rowlands
Rob Summons
Arwyn Williams
Steve Yelland

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29

No abstentions

0


I tabled this proposal that the position of council leader is elected every year, in May, at the AGM.

Currently the leader is elected only at the AGM following a general election of councillors (most recently 2012) and remains in post until he/she resigns, is removed from office by a majority vote of councillors, or is no longer a councillor – a category which includes dying in office.

When it came up for discussion last month at the corporate governance committee there were all sorts of attempts to cloud the issue.

They didn’t wash then and, lessons learned, none of them were brought out of the box on Thursday. We witnessed a very good debate, although speeches opposing my motion were thin on the ground.

I made clear I wasn’t proposing a term limit on the leadership, I wasn’t restricting the ability of any councillor to stand, and aside from an unhelpful last minute stunt from leader of the Labour group Cllr. Paul Miller, the issue was straight-forward: did we want to see our council leader elected annually, yay or nay.

Cllr. Miller put forward a minor amendment that cabinet appointments should also be elected by full council at the AGM.

Whilst I support the principle of accountability behind it, Cllr. Miller’s feckless gambit didn’t help things and was voted down 20-37, failing to secure any support from Plaid Cymru, the Tories, a single member of the ruling IPPG, or even all unaffiliated councillors.

Interestingly, Cllr. Miller didn’t even take part in the debate, and only spoke to propose his amendment without explaining or speaking in support of that, either. Whether his effort contributed to the very slim defeat when we came to vote on my own proposal, we’ll never know.

That came next and secured the support of all opposition members present apart from Cllr. Alison Lee – although it can be somewhat difficult to remember she’s an “opposition” member these days, given her lofty cabinet perch and her voting tendencies, having been booted out of the Labour group when she accepted a lucrative cabinet post against the party’s wish, where she has remained unaffiliated ever since.

A united opposition – minus Cllr. Lee – was joined with two votes of support from IPPG members Cllrs. Paul Harries and Reg Owens, who made a tubthumping contribution, challenging the current leader, Cllr. Jamie Adams, to embrace an annual leadership contest and tackle it head-on.

Their support wasn’t enough to overcome their colleagues’ block vote, joined by Cllr. Lee, which saw my proposal fail 28-29 – the recorded vote appears alongside.

Alphabetically last on the recorded voting call-out, some have claimed Cllr. Steve Yelland was ‘the most important man in the chamber’ because, before he said “AGAINST,” votes were tied 28-28, effectively handing him the casting vote.

I was on the edge of my seat waiting for Cllr. Yelland to announce his voting intention. Said nobody, ever.

The result was nonetheless encouraging, disappointing perhaps that Cllr. Michael John didn’t lend his support. I single out Cllr. John as a man who has occasionally gone against his party line on housekeeping issues such as this designed to aid accountability.

Whether his recent promotion – by the current leader – to a £22k per year committee chairmanship had anything to do with it, we can speculate.

He didn’t speak against the motion, similarly, Cllr. Lyn Jenkins was mute throughout the debate before voting against – a member who, at least a handful of times in the past, has shown an independent streak, albeit limited.

Before the vote – not knowing which way it would go – I noted how few councillors had spoken against my motion, all of whom were cabinet members.

They were Cllr. Adams, Cllr. Sue Perkins – his four-legged companion, and Cllr. Huw George – the one who wears the dog collar, both of whom owe their positions to Cllr. Adams.

Cllr. Perkins drew howls when she inadvertently raised the prospect of herself occupying the leadership post.

Immediately as Cllr. Adams got up to speak against the proposal, a member of the public in the gallery – past councillor and local political aficionado William Rees MBE – bellowed to the leader (who was hoping to save himself the trouble of having to contest his position annually) that he should “declare an interest.”

This was presumably because of the not unreasonable perception that an incumbent leader would have a financial advantage in retaining the status quo.

Continuing the theme, later on Cllr. David Simpson asked the monitoring officer if the current crop of cabinet members should declare interests when voting on Cllr. Miller’s amendment too.

No, came the advice, because any councillor has the potential to become a cabinet member. There’s hope for me yet!

As Cllrs. Reg Owens, Tessa Hodgson and others said during the debate, the incumbent leader’s opposition – and by process of patronage, the majority of his party – shows a fundamental weakness, running away from a possibility of challenge.

The slim defeat is promising, and I intend to revisit it in the future, there’s clearly an appetite.

Currently a leader cannot be ‘replaced,’ one can only resign or be ousted by a vote at a council meeting, following which a replacement cannot be made there and then, despite the monitoring officer’s incorrect advice to the contrary when the matter came before the corporate governance committee.

My proposal had the benefit of allowing an incumbent to be contested, something which the current system simply does not allow under any circumstance.

Had it been successful, whether Cllr. Adams would have clung onto his position next May, given his handling of the chief executive’s departure and flawed pay-off, is a matter of debate among some IPPG councillors.

The future may not be so certain regardless, because yesterday during an all-day session of the authority’s planning committee, Cllr. Brian Hall said that there would “definitely be a new leader” in post by the next full council meeting, underlining his certainty by saying “I promise you.”

Who knows what Bri’s got in the pipeline but if he’d supported my proposal it would have been successful. He could then have opposed the leader himself – in five months’ time – at the AGM!

Cllr. Mike Stoddart’s ‘Cathal McCosker’ documentation proposal

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Owen James
Phil Kidney
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Mike Stoddart
Vivien Stoddart
Jacob Williams

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Rhys Sinnett
Michael Williams

Conservative
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David Howlett

Labour
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Paul Miller
Gwilym Price
Tom Tudor
Tony Wilcox
Guy Woodham

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Peter Morgan
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Pembrokeshire Alliance
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Peter Stock

28

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John Allen-Mirehouse
Daphne Bush
John Davies
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Lyn Jenkins
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David Lloyd

24

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Mike Evans
Stephen Joseph

IPPG
Brian Hall

Conservative
Stan Hudson

4


It’s universally accepted these days that there was impropriety, ineptitude – call it what you will, maybe both – in the Pembroke Dock historic property restoration grant schemes administered by Pembrokeshire County Council.

Simply, public cash was awarded for project work which was either not completed to standard, or not at all.

Skip back a year, the authority was in denial overdrive. The empty tubs of whitewash piled up high on the banks of the Cleddau.

At the December 2013 council meeting Cllr. Mike Stoddart proposed that councillors should have full access to grant scheme documentation.

This was defeated following disingenuous contributions from the then cabinet member, Cllr. David Pugh, and the leader, Cllr. Jamie Adams, who provided their own first-hand accounts which, ostensibly, showed that the concerns Cllr. Stoddart had been raising about public cash awards for work not done, were misguided.

Trouble was, almost all of what they said was wrong.

A lot of water has passed over the Cleddau weir since then. A police investigation is underway – after being referred by the council – and the authority now reluctantly accepts internal processes were deficient and money was awarded and signed off by officers for work not done in a slew of properties owned by Oxfordshire-based Irishman Cathal McCosker, or companies he is associated with.

This year the council corresponded with Mr. McCosker, asking if he can provide evidence of the way he spent the cash. Why this didn’t happen at the time the money was signed off is, of course, just one item on the authority’s long list of failings.

Accordingly, Mr. McCosker has responded to say that he would rather return all the money than go to the trouble of providing the council’s requested evidence. Estimates of this sum have ranged as high as £180,000.

Last Thursday, full council debated a new proposal from Cllr. Stoddart that councillors should be allowed to see this correspondence between the authority and Mr. McCosker, and between the authority and the Welsh European Funding Office, the Brussels intermediary from which the council received the cash to award.

Cllr. Stoddart wished for councillors to have some overview of the losses to the authority – which there undoubtedly will be – given that a 9p in the pound administration charge was taken by the council for every pound of grant money administered, and which the council cannot even attempt to reclaim from Mr. McCosker or his associated companies.

Two main arguments were put up against this proposal by officers when Cllr. Stoddart argued his case before the audit committee meeting on December 1st, both of which – we were told – were on the advice of police.

One was that under the Human Rights Act, Mr. McCosker had the right to a fair trial. The other was that the contempt of court act prevented the documents’ release.

Mike took the opportunity to rubbish both of these claims, saying the police may not wish for the material to be disseminated by the council but had no right or power to demand this, and that he of all people is the last who would wish to put the police’s investigation in jeopardy.

He said the Human Rights Act was completely irrelevant, and that the contempt of court act only applies when proceedings are active, when a person has been arrested or charged.

Claire Incledon, the authority’s acting head of legal services, advised:

“This is information that has been ring-fenced and passed to the police for the purpose of their investigation, the investigation that as I indicated earlier, presumably is going to be dealing with pretty significant serious issues pertaining to fraud.

Once that information is required by the police, indeed similarly to any investigation undertaken by this authority, that information is within the gift of the case officer or the prosecutor, and it is crucial to retain, under the principles provided to them to retain that information, and it’s sub-judice in that respect, it’s not party to the contempt of court act at that part of time, because proceedings as you say have not commenced, we’re not within the doors of the court but we are undertaking a serious investigation and if any of that information were to be disseminated to councillors, you would immediately fall foul of the opportunity to prejudice any future proceedings.”

Cllr. Stoddart objected most strongly to this, saying it was “completely wrong,” and that “sub-judice is only shorthand for the contempt of court act, and sub-judice does not apply until somebody has been arrested or charged, when proceedings become active.”

He said he was “not going to have the law misrepresented in front of councillors,” before reciting the act, explaining that it’s up to the discretion of the council to release the documents, and the police have no veto.

At last Thursday’s full council meeting, where the matter was up for final determination, came an early admission from the authority’s acting head of paid service, Ian Westley, that the police had never actually brought up the Human Rights Act as an objection.

Strange, then, that it made its way into a report to the audit committee, authored by the chief finance officer. So that argument fell by the wayside.

Mike then turned to the legal advice concerning the contempt of court act – or sub-judice – saying they’d also got this wrong, and asked if this was now going to be accepted as well.

Thereafter came an admission from Mrs. Incledon that she had indeed given incorrect legal advice at corporate governance on the first of the month. She told councillors:

“I think in the respect of sub-judice, in the particular context that was raised, I did make a mistake in regards to the fact it doesn’t apply strictly to pre-proceedings, but it does apply to matters that are in proceedings.

I would just like to add that the mistake was made in regards to the fact I was dealing in my experience in prosecuting on behalf of this council, on obtaining evidence in regard to evidence and therein then presenting it to court.

I make no difference between the investigatory material, and the material that I am then going to rely on as evidence, I deal with all that material as if it was judice, so therein is the reason why I made that reference.”

Having discredited council officers’ two main arguments, Cllr. Stoddart objected to the way the legal situation was so badly misrepresented, and the way councillors were being told they had no option but to refuse the release of the information, which was palpably not the case.

He has written about it on his own website, and about the continuation of his spat with Cllr. John Allen-Mirehouse from last December’s meeting.

It’s becoming something of a seasonal council chamber tradition, and you can see part two of the Mikey and Johnny show, with the pair trading barbs in all their amazing technicolour glory from two hours and three minutes into the webcast.

Sorry, Mike, you can’t win them all – on this occasion Johnny stole the show by calling on the chairman to use his “powers” to “restrain” you. And quite right, too.

Old Grumpy had the last laugh because his motion was victorious, 28-24, though not before Cllr. Rob Summons got up to his usual tricks, attempting to pull a fast one with some information he – and only he – was provided by council officers.

Cllr. Summons read out an email from police, sent to the authority the day before the meeting (last Wednesday) relating to the disclosure of information.

It turned out to be a rookie mistake. No doubt he thought it would be a show-stopper which would lead to the motion’s certain demise.

Summons, ex-copper turned cabinet member, said he had been “handed” it on the morning of the meeting.

He can’t have studied it very well because it was all about the police’s policy on information held by the police, and disclosure of that information by the police, to the public – whereas the matter in hand was the disclosure of information held by the council, being disclosed by the council, to councillors.

Not willing to be outdone, Mrs. Incledon chimed in with something more substantial – or so she thought.

It emerged during the meeting that, following the opposition from Cllr. Stoddart at the audit committee showdown on 1st December, she’d sought external legal advice from barristers at St. John’s Chambers in Bristol, on the legalities of releasing the information.

Cllr. Summons also received a copy but was beaten to reading from it by Mrs. Incledon.

Cllr. Mike Evans wanted to know what questions Mrs. Incledon had asked the external barristers to provide advice upon. I now have this information to hand, and, like the police email read out by Summons, the question asked of the external barristers was simply the wrong one.

Mrs. Incledon asked “Could you provide a quick advice as to the police’s powers of disclosure…” because “…the acting head of paid service is anxious that this matter will be raised on Thursday in Full Council, & would like to have a strong steer.”

St. John’s Chambers certainly provided a strong steer – seven full pages’ worth – but it was a steer in completely the wrong direction.

Prefaced with the word “ADVICE” (in capital letters) the seven-page legal opinion concluded with one simple sentence:

“In the circumstances of this case as I understand them, I advise that there is no entitlement on the part of the Councillors to have access to the paperwork retained by the police at this stage.”

This advice – given the question that was asked – is impeccable. Councillors have no right to access paperwork which in the police’s possession. But we’re talking about paperwork which is in the council’s possession.

The whim with which this external legal advice was sought, which will have been very costly and is completely worthless, is of great concern.

Given that neither the HRA or sub-judice arguments applied, this advice wasn’t even necessary, either.

A simple ‘sorry’ might have sufficed, though it’s possible that bets were being placed on an external legal brain coming up with a completely new angle to prevent disclosure.

In many ways, of greatest concern, now that I have the advice in my possession as well as the instructions for that advice from County Hall, is that the wrong question was asked – and Cllr. Mike Evans should take full credit for latching onto this at the time it was raised, during the meeting.

The culture which is treated as perfectly appropriate in the council, regrettably, is that certain members – Cllr. Rob Summons in this instance – are allowed preferential treatment by being given information which, had councillors from the opposition benches not possessed the wherewithal, could have resulted in yet another ambush in the council chamber, and a decision being taken on false information.

£130k cap on council CEO salary

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David Simpson
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Labour
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Pembrokeshire Alliance
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18

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Daphne Bush
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Lyn Jenkins
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David Pugh
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Ken Rowlands
Arwyn Williams
Steve Yelland

Conservative
Stan Hudson

Unaffiliated
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Alison Lee

28

No abstentions

0


Councillors were given the opportunity on Thursday to place an outright cap on the salary of the next top dog of the council, in line with the recommendation from the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales.

Last month the council proposed to the IRPW that the eventual successor to Bryn Parry-Jones, whenever a permanent appointment is made, should be given a £145k basic salary, some thirty grand less than Bryn pocketed.

I made some enquiries and this £145k sum was, accordingly, “based on research conducted by the Local Government Association which suggests that the median average salary for chief executives of unitary authorities in the relevant population band is £147,696.”

The IRPW were having none of it. Last month they published a recommendation, after considering the council’s proposal, saying it’s simply too much.

In a letter to the council’s head of human resources the panel says £145k for the next head of paid service is excessive and “cannot be justified.”

After taking into account the county’s position among all Welsh authorities, its population, demographics and the council’s revenue and staff numbers, they say £130,000 is a more appropriate figure.

On the agenda of last Thursday’s council meeting councillors were supposed to fix the salary, job description and terms, once and for all, before going on to advertise the post.

However, as is so often the case, Cllr. Adams proposed an amendment. He said the job needed to be looked into with greater detail, and that we mustn’t rush the replacement.

He proposed that the matter be referred to the senior staff committee, before coming back to council for a final say over the type of role, job description and the salary level.

Following the meeting it was reported in the media that Pembrokeshire could be the first local authority in Wales to scrap the post of chief executive – for that is one of the possibilities of this ‘review,’ and looks like an increasingly likely outcome.

I was approached by the Western Mail’s Rachael Misstear following the meeting. I told her that, despite being tasked with setting the salary and job description at the meeting, the leader – and I don’t disagree with this way of thinking – wanted the senior staff committee to look into possible alternatives to a like-for-like chief executive role, and the structure of that role within the organisation.

My opinion is that the chief executive role doesn’t necessarily need to be scrapped just because of our recent experience with Mr. Parry-Jones, and that we shouldn’t write off the position down to this alone, but that there is no harm in looking at alternative models either.

Possible alternatives to a chief executive being mooted in the tearoom include an executive director with head of paid service responsibilities, or an executive director alongside a separate head of paid service – either of which could be new or currently-serving officers.

Cllr. Paul Miller proposed a simple amendment to Cllr. Adams’ ‘review’ proposal which would have framed the deliberations about the future of the role with a maximum salary cap of £130k.

Unfortunately, this attempt failed, the recorded voting list appears alongside. The leader was unsurprisingly against this, wishing to retain maximum control, but you may be surprised just how many other councillors were unwilling to commit to the salary cap too, especially given the advice of the IRPW.

When this does eventually come back to full council, don’t be surprised if the leader proposes the original £145k – because the IRPW’s recommendation is only advisory, and the council doesn’t need to abide by it, even though you and I might think it would be best to!

NEWS IN BRIEF

At the start of the meeting we were tasked with approving the minutes of the Bryn pay-off meeting held in October, during which the monitoring officer, Laurence Harding, advised that two sets of minutes of that (October) meeting would be published.

We were told one would be for general release not containing any of the legal advice provided to councillors during secret session, and another set which provided the full record including the advice, but which would not be for public consumption.

However only one set of minutes materialised and no record within them was made to the monitoring officer’s statement about two sets.

The minutes were suitably amended following an intervention from Cllr. Mike Stoddart, following which Mr. Harding advised that, upon further consultation with his colleagues, his advice about two sets of minutes did not accord with the “council’s practice.”

Cllr. Stoddart explains it in full over on his blog, and it’s well worth a read.

A new policy was unanimously approved – proposed by Cllr. Mike Stoddart – that, during the councillors’ questions section at full council meetings, the leader or cabinet member providing the answer can be asked to read out the question beforehand.

Until now, unless they were following the agenda, members of the public would never have a clue what question had been asked – nor after it had been answered, on most occasions.

Some say the way Cllr. Stoddart originally worded his proposal, that the councillor submitting the question could read out their own question, would have been better.

Nonsense! How much more enjoyable it will be to see a cabinet member dodging a question which they’ve just asked themselves.

On a similar theme, Cllr. David Bryan met no opposition to his bid to allow questions submitted by councillors to be answered by cabinet members, even if the questioner is absent.

It follows an incident, earlier in the year, when Cllr. Bryan was unable to make a meeting due to illness. His question – a prickly one relating to the Partygate scandal – was completely disregarded in his absence, and no answer was provided in the minutes of the meeting either, which is also now a requirement of his successful proposal.

During the secret session of the meeting held on 16th October, we were told that Bryn Parry-Jones could have a claim against the authority for “loss of earnings” over the loss of his returning officer role, if he was sacked or left the employ of the council.

So when we came to appoint a new one on Thursday – Ian Westley, the acting head of paid service – we were told this didn’t need to be a permanent appointment, and that the appointed person could be changed if need be, without any problems arising, depending on what eventually happens with the permanent solution to the chief executive role.

I queried with the monitoring officer how we could have been told weeks earlier that the previous returning officer, Mr. Parry-Jones, could claim against the authority for loss of earnings if he was forced away from the gig, when the monitoring officer’s advice to the council now, was that the appointed returning officer could be changed with no such recourse. I’m still none the wiser.


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35 Comments...

  • Jon Coles

    I have not the foggiest about how Santa will sort out who’s naughty and who’s nice out of the above. But I did note a neat summary of the position in Carmarthenshire that seems applicable to the situation in Pembrokeshire.

    On his blog “y Cneifiwr”, the author notes “Sir David Lewis pointed out, the problem is that policies and procedures are not adhered to because of the overriding internal culture promoted by the Chief Executive and Executive Board.” (i.e. the Cabinet).

    As there, so here and so probably every-bloody-where in Welsh local and national politics.

  • Flashbang

    Mass sackings need to be arranged for incompetent or wilfully obstructive council staff. They cost the county hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of pounds with wrong advice and yet they are still holding positions of power.

    Lessons obviously haven’t been learnt by Jamie Adams and I really hope that the responsibility for these fiascos comes back to bite him where it hurts most.

  • Timetraveller

    On Head of Paid service, a similar argument has gone on in Caerphilly. The ruling Labour group want to pay their next CX £145k, to “recruit talent”. Presumably this won’t be enough to recruit anyone as talented as the former Pembs CX. This £145k happens to be the same figure that their former CX allegedly decided to award himself, being some £25k up on his previous salary.

    Strictly speaking, the argument is theoretical, as Mr Anthony O’Sullivan is still being paid as Caerphilly’s CX and has been for the past year, throughout the police investigation and awaiting his court case to come up in the New Year.

    There are similarities between how Mr O’Sullivan and Mr Bryn Parry-Jones participated in their own remuneration. There are also differences, namely: one is being prosecuted whilst the other departed with a bag of swag. Another difference is one was “investigated” by Gloucestershire Constabulary, the other by Avon and Somerset.

    The ratepayers of Caerphilly have not only been paying for Mr O’Sullivan to work on his golf handicap this past year, but also his Deputy and Head of Legal who are co-accused in the criminal case and are also going on trial. Presumably they are all “team players” (sounds familiar).

    This £145k seems to be some sort of magic number at the moment, despite Caerphilly being 50% larger than Pembs, which would equate to ££98k pro rata. Pembs watchers should follow this case closely in the New Year.

  • Morgi

    Jacob – in the vote that almost succeeded for annual leadership election, all twenty eight councillors in favour should be congratulated. I am a little puzzled however that Councillor Joseph, ex Plaid Cymru, ex IPPG is listed as unaffiliated. Should he not come under his Pembrokeshire First party?

  • Hi Morgi, unfortunately for Cllr. Joseph, despite some initial interest from others including Cllr. Alison Lee, his Pembrokeshire First group never got off the ground. Cllr. Lee got elevated to the cabinet in exchange for her soul, and is now a Labour reject, also sitting as an unaffiliated.

    With no other takers (and a minimum of two councillors being required to form a ‘political group’ on the council) Cllr. Joseph remains unaffiliated, having not joined another group since leaving the IPPG. Yet.

    There are still plenty of whispers about Cllrs. Brian Hall and David Pugh plotting an IPPG breakaway, but Cllr. Joseph hasn’t been associated with any of the rumours doing the rounds that I’ve heard.

  • Timetraveller

    Perhaps some councillors should form a “Rejects Party”. There are enough Labour rejects around, plus IPPG ones (when the maths allows Jamie to create them.) On current trends, the Rejects group could even become the main opposition party, who knows…even the ruling group!

  • Keanjo

    I was concerned to see that the acting Head of Paid Service, who should be nicknamed Twojobs, was obviously discomfited in his dual role and I couldn’t help wondering why Mr Pykett who was appointed Deputy Chief Executive and reportedly paid a Director’s salary, is not doing the job he is being paid for and deputising for the Chief Executive. Perhaps Jacob can enlighten us.

  • Ianto

    If our legal officers seek expensive opinion from a barrister, but cannot even ask the right question, there seems little hope of the correct advice ever being obtained.

    Why not sack the lot for gross incompetence and go direct to outside expertise, cutting out the middle man (woman) at considerable cost saving?

    What the Monitoring Officer is doing in the midst of this, only God will ever understand.

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    So Snoop Dog Summons gets out snooped by Jacob and ‘Eversheds Evans’ using common sense and the showstopping performance ensures once again the IPPG gravy train is derailed. The last paragraph of Jacob’s Cathal McCosker documentation report summarises the people’s perception of Farmer Adams’ administration at County Hall succinctly.

    Wasn’t Snoop Dog responsible for acquiring information from officers by asking the ‘right questions’ of them when Old Grumpy was being refused information last year on the grant scheme documentation? Wheels within wheels operating at the Kremlin still, where all our Councillors are equal, albeit some of them more equal than others.

    There is no control or scrutiny in place. The quicker an external agency gets an overview the better. A start point maybe the publication of officer consultations, both formal and informal of meetings with Councillors. At least then a timeline of shared information can be established for the elected members.

    Can the Council request an administrative review in light of the WG circulation of ‘The final consultation on Boundary Changes’ for Pembrokeshire electorate wards? A few less Councillors and a wholesale sweep across the Kremlin’s officers could result in huge savings for the electorate.

  • Morgi

    Ianto points out that our legal officers can’t ask the right question. I am of the opinion that this is an expensive deliberate ploy in order to cloud the issue and enable our legal officers to waffle and avoid awkward forensic questions by the likes of OG and JW – how many times have we heard the Monitoring Officer avoid answering repeatedly only for the Chairman to eventually come to his aid?

  • Tony Wilcox

    New leader, must be true if Cllr Hall promised it, let the backstabbing begin then! There would be a few leading contenders for the leadership prize. My personal shortlist is headed by ‘The Voice of Johnston’ who as we all know is well practised in the dark art of treachery. However it would be foolish to discount other ex political party members. What a turn up that would be!

  • Patrick

    Before the debate on the motion for a yearly vote on the leader, I thought each year was a bit too frequent, but after listening to the arguments I changed my mind, as I think others probably did.

    As for the recommend £130,000 ceiling for the CEO’s replacement or whatever he is to be called, I think the public will be very angry if this ceiling is exceeded.

  • William Rees

    Even by PCC standards, last Thursday’s meeting was something special and very well described by Jacob. The more I attend and watch from the public gallery the more appropriate the oft used description of ‘Rotten Borough’ seems.

    I still can’t come to terms with the group movers who don’t think they need a new mandate from the voters. Even the UKIP movers did that. The meeting threw up so many contentious issues which were well dealt with by some admirable councillors.

    There was one issue that I felt was really wrong and when I returned from the meeting I sent the following letter to the monitoring officer:

    William Rees MBE, MA.

    Ty Ardd
    Llanreath
    Pembroke Dock
    SA72 6TL

    01646 680335
    wsrees123@btinternet.com

    11th Dec. ’14

    Laurence Harding,
    Monitoring Officer,
    Pembs. County Council,
    Haverfordwest.

    Dear Mr Harding,

    I was in attendance in the public gallery for this morning’s council meeting.

    Cllr Jacob Williams spoke to his notice of motion which called for the election of the Leader to be subjected to a vote annually at the AGM.

    The next speaker was the Leader himself. This motion, currently, is directly applicable to him but there was no declaration of interest. As the position is salaried then surely there is a direct pecuniary interest.

    There was an amendment to the NOM that called for all members of cabinet to also be subjected to a vote at the AGM. A councillor asked for advice regarding members of cabinet being able to vote on a matter in which they had a direct pecuniary interest. You advised that as all councillors could be members of cabinet that all were entitled to vote. Surely the issue is not who could be members of cabinet but those who actually are.

    I would request a response to the two issues I have raised as I intend to make a referral to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales. They have advised me that I first of all need to make a complaint to the council.

    Please consider this letter to be a formal complaint. The Ombudsman’s Office has confirmed that this letter does constitute an acceptable complaint. They have also confirmed that you have a twenty day period to reply prior to me making a referral.

    I have e-mailed this letter to you and enclosed a copy in the mail.

    Yours sincerely,
    William Rees

    Copies: Cllr Jacob Williams, Cllr Michael Williams, Cllr Mike Stoddart.

  • Les

    It seems to me that the solicitors involved here have wasted public money by offering duff advice.

    If they were in private practice they could be sued if their dodgy advice caused a loss but because it’s public money this should make no difference.

    I think they should be reported to the Law Society and offered further training.

  • Concerned

    Quite surprised to see that cabinet member Cllr Simon Hancock voted for Cllr Stoddart’s documentation proposal. Surely a first?

  • Not surprised to see that Cllr David Lloyd (unaffiliated) – the IPPG’s go-to man on occasions like this – voted against disclosure.

  • Interesting you should raise Cllr. Lloyd, Mike. Four comments before you, Patrick said he was initially of the opinion that an annual leadership election was too frequent – he even commented so when I discussed the proposal in my previous article – however he now says he changed his mind after witnessing the debate.

    Cllr. Lloyd was of a similar disposition when I spoke to him on the morning of the meeting in the members’ room, but he listened to the debate and changed his mind too, which is one of the reasons I say it was a good debate, despite the result.

    Incidentally, on the disclosure of the documentation issue, despite playing a key role in unwrapping the legal nonsense, Cllr. Mike Evans abstained when it came to the vote – something I think he regrets.

  • John Hudson

    Where do we stand on the formal public minutes as ratified by Councillors, and the notes made at the time, to evidence the reasons why a decision was reached, if challenged? Do these “notes” have any force?

    I well remember the judicial review into care home fees where no minutes, notes of meetings or reasons for decisions could be provided in support of the Council’s position. No lessons appear to have been learnt from that experience. Didn’t this also occur in the case of the decision of the Senior Staff Committee over senior officers’ pension arrangements?

    Then again perhaps there was nothing more to add to the incomplete advice given in the report, other than the extra supporting advice tendered to the committee by the former Leader of the Council.

    Perhaps there are also “notes” detailing the unlawful CEO settlement arrangement as approved by the majority of Councillors which were not disclosed to them (even in confidence) at the time they voted.

    I am also aware of the advice that the Chief Financial Officer’s statutory role in bearing responsibility for the Council’s financial administration extends to cover specific decisions (such as paying Councillors’ travel and subsistence allowances submitted after the time limit, subsequently strengthened by the view that claims properly incurred can have no time limit).

    Why, in those cases, does the Council’s constitution include specific delegations for the CFO, and why did parliament include a time limit for claims, with a discretion for payment, beyond the time limit set by Councils? Perhaps advice was “tailored” to meet certain circumstances.

  • Brian

    It seems to everyone except his line manager that Harding has been giving dubious advice for quite some time. The structural flaw that enables that important position to be answerable to the CEO in Welsh Councils is something WA needs to look at pronto if they want to deal with the plague of rotten boroughs blighting this land.

    Expand the brief of WAO to cover this role in councils – it would most likely turn out a lot cheaper for the public purse as hopefully closer scrutiny and better guidance at the operational level would result in fewer issues blowing up in their faces.

  • Chas.

    Looking ahead, did B.P.J. supervise the elections and either appointed or had a big say in who counted the votes? Some light on the subject anyone please?

  • Flashbang

    William Rees is to be commended for writing to the Ombudsman, the more complaints about malfeasance that turn up on his desk the more likely it is he will realise that something is rotten in the county of Pembroke.

    Let’s hope he will finally do something, I’m not holding my breath waiting though.

  • Quill

    Flashbang, I think the Ombudsman’s remit covers councillors’ conduct and conduct of council departments (i.e. mishandling of planning applications, mistreatment of people in social care etc).

    Is he likely to breath down a Monitoring Officer’s neck? It would be nice to think so but I don’t know, maybe somebody else could advise us? Highlighting these issues via the newspapers and social media is commendable, but we need some action from a higher power and I’m not sure that’s the Ombudsman.

    Brian’s comment before you is closer to the truth than he realises because the Wales Audit Office in fact does have the remit to take up corporate governance issues at authorities as well as its conventional role of accounting for the pennies and the pounds.

    If somebody was going to pitch this to the WAO, I think the case could turn out to be quite strong because PCC’s innumerous legal contretemps could raise concerns about the inappropriate use (wanton waste) of public funds on top of the corporate governance stuff.

    If legal advice is wrong, for whatever reason, councillors or officers could end up costing unnecessary money either at the time or subsequently, through wrong actions upon the advice, or inaction. That’s not to mention the apparent case here where it looks like money has been poured down the drain at the drop of a hat on external barristers, asking for the wrong and unnecessary advice.

  • Flashbang

    Quill, thanks for letting me know that just like everyone else, the Ombudsman has the option of passing the buck to someone else to do exactly the same. Is nobody going to fix this poxy council?

  • Quill

    I’m pinning my hopes on Brian Hall and the new Leader he’s promised!

  • John Hudson

    The Ombudsman’s role does cover the members’ code of conduct which embraces councillors’ personal decisions as to whether they have an interest, either personal, through family and other connections, and/or pecuniary, if a decision could affect them financially. Here I think the test is outside perception. Do we think that an interest in preserving their personal earnings could affect the way they voted?

    Unfortunately the advice given to all councillors did not extend to those few special cases in receipt of SRAs on the basis of the Leader’s personal appointments to Cabinet positions.

    If the Ombudsman finds that there are undeclared interests, he can send his findings back to, you have guessed it, the Monitoring Officer to advise the Council’s Standards Committee (or Pembrokeshire Coast National Park if it relates to the councillor’s conduct as a member there).

    I am sure that Malcolm Calver can tell us more about this, as he fought his corner all the way to court to get justice and overturn the Council’s decision on his conduct. There have also been a few notable Councillors who have been challenged and then exonerated by the Standards Committee, and it is interesting to note their “colour” or party allegiance.

    There may be an opportunity to involve the WAO when this year’s accounts are open for public inspection. It is here that we have the right to inspect all books, contracts and accounts, and raise objections for him to consider. This might involve wasting our money on legal lost causes, where the Council has ultimately accepted the legal view of the WAO.

    At last year’s accounts inspection, all accounts etc. were not made readily available, as the invoices from Tim Kerr QC and Chartermarque, who gave advice at Council, had to be specifically requested. That of Tim Kerr was received redacted apart from the total cost, and was only obtained in unredacted form after a separate FOI request.

    The invoices in respect of legal advice commissioned by the Council do seem somewhat elusive to uncover, this included the separate cost of overnight board and lodging at our expense where you had to find out where they were “put up”. (Slebech Park, by the way).

  • Keanjo

    Quill, so is Israel!

  • Brian

    This WAO 2014 report on PCC, paras 54-64 is interesting on governance:

    http://www.wao.gov.uk/system/files/publications/WAO_Pembrokeshire_County_Council%20_AIR_English_2014.pdf

    I haven’t heard much about the workings of the Constitutional Issues Working Group or the involvement of the Centre for Public Scrutiny.

    This report was prepared by Colin Davies and Jeremy Evans under the direction of Jane Holownia for the last two years, and Evans was also on the 2012 inspection team so some continuity there. I guess they will be involved with the 2015 issue in the New Year. Perhaps a few well aimed letters of concern from the public during the formative process might be productive this time around.

    Surely they must be tired of answering the phone and responding to letters/emails expressing concern emanating from the far south west?

  • Mustelidae

    Quill, a person pinning their hopes on Brian Hall should take care. The escaping hot air from the resultant hole might propel the popular and puce-face Pembroke Dock councillor and arch Bryn-ite into orbit.

  • Bayard

    Morgi, it has occurred to me that they asked the wrong question, because it gave the right answer. If they had asked the right question, it would have given the wrong answer, i.e. not the one they wanted to hear. Unfortunately for them, the opposition councillors weren’t fooled by their ploy.

  • Timetraveller

    As I’ve noted before, there is a dead space between three regulatory bodies as regards checking local authorities.

    The police are in a difficult position, are reluctant to delve into these murky waters and they may end up needing a whole department if they did. Still, Anthony O’Sullivan and two others from Caerphilly County Borough Council are on trial next month, in a case not a million miles removed from the two unlawful pensions scandals in West Wales, so maybe a glimmer of hope.

    The Ombudsman puts so many restrictions on his “investigations” as to nullify much of what he could do. The English counterpart was dragged before a select committee a few years ago over shortcomings, the WAG has put their own “watchdogs” on their version. Maybe there is hope.

    The Auditor has been the star of the West Wales show so far, but again, has limited powers. The issues at the heart of the O’Sullivan prosecution (without prejudicing a pending crown court trial), I believe were brought to light by the auditor.

    However the most effective solution in Pembrokeshire would be for 31 members to make a stand for ethical governance, trouble is most IPPG members somehow think they already are, despite their aversion to cameras and disclosures. They worry more about the void defection would create, which may be true in the short term, but an omelette can’t be made without breaking eggs.

  • Malcolm Calver

    The decisions and influence of the Monitoring Officer have been farcical for many years but now we have Clare Incledon seemingly wasting taxpayers money all over again.

    I note on the Western Telegraph website that the ship jumper Cllr Perkins making statements such as “children are our future” and this from a person who betrayed her own political party to join the IPG group of “yes men and yes women”, what a fine example for our youngsters to follow. Cllr Perkins has suggested that children should be “encouraged to reach their potential” I wonder who encouraged her.

    How much longer do the ratepayers of Pembrokeshire have to wait for this bunch of councillors to sort things out.

  • Fabian

    Bayard, you’re right. They underestimate people’s intelligence all the time.

  • Quill

    If Brian Hall becomes Council Leader could the last person to leave Pembrokeshire please turn off the Christmas tree lights!!!

  • Sealight

    I watched the video broadcast of this meeting, as I have all previous meetings, but as I read this full and excellent blog I began to think about the poor performance of the Monitoring Officer over the past year and the recent revelations about the acting Head of Legal Services’ poor advice. I was therefore pleased to see, whilst reading the subsequent comments, that so many others are also concerned at these poor performances.

    Council employees serve the people of Pembrokeshire through their elected representatives. They do NOT serve the cabinet. We have finally got rid of BPJ, why stop there?

  • Flashbang

    The only thing I’d like for Christmas is for a couple of defectors to tip over IPPG regime and restore honesty to the council.

    If you money grabbing IPPG councillors had any sort of conscience you’d have done the right thing years ago. Need I go on about how low you have taken the reputation of the county and the damage you have done to its finances? Please do to yourselves what Santa replied when the fairy asked him what she should do with the last Christmas tree. All the best to everyone else.

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