Jacob Williams
Monday 26th January, 2015

£9k fee to return Bryn’s Porsche plus an interesting funding arrangement

£9k fee to return Bryn’s Porsche plus an interesting funding arrangement

Last week the Information Commissioner’s Office made an important appeal decision concerning transparency and accountability around local authorities’ senior officer salaries and perks.

It ruled that Pembrokeshire County Council was wrong to refuse a BBC journalist’s request under the Freedom of Information Act asking how much former chief executive Bryn Parry-Jones received each month under his council car allowance.

The ICO agreed to a “limited degree” with the council’s defence, stating that such a disclosure “could constitute a minor infringement” of privacy, but ruled that “the strength of the legitimate interest in disclosure is sufficient to outweigh the privacy rights of the Chief Executive in this instance.”

The appeal decision also relies heavily on Mr. Parry-Jones’ senior public position:

“In this particular case, the Commissioner notes that the individual in question is the most senior paid employee of a large public authority. The Commissioner’s opinion is that an individual occupying such a prominent position could reasonably expect a degree of public scrutiny into those aspects of their personal life that cross over into their public serving role.”

The authority has now been ordered to comply with the FoI request which was submitted on 11th March last year and has 35 days to provide the information or appeal further.

Bryn's luxury hybrid saloon was a regular sight towards the end of his tenure, seen here hooked up to the electric charging point in the County Hall car park [CLICK TO ENLARGE]

Bryn’s luxury hybrid saloon was a regular sight towards the end of his tenure, seen here hooked up to the electric charging point in the County Hall car park [CLICK TO ENLARGE]

That Mr. Parry-Jones used the monthly sums he was awarded under his lucrative contract to fund a hybrid Porsche Panamera is well publicised.

In December I gave the low-down on the German jalopy with its ‘green’ credentials and its stupefying power, all paid for by you.

Such are the perks within the Parry-Jones gold-plated employment contract, you also funded the insurance cover which allowed his family members to drive the luxury sedan at their leisure.

The Porsche first hit the headlines locally in May last year when the Pembrokeshire Herald reported that it was Bryn’s car of choice. The story received a resurgence in November and attracted much wider interest when the council made a belated partial concession to the BBC’s FoI request by revealing that the car was a Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid.

By then the BBC’s appeal was already in the hands of the Information Commissioner. Up until that point the authority had refused to reveal the make and model of Mr. Parry-Jones’ contract car on the basis that it constituted personal information relating to an employee, despite being common knowledge throughout the county.

The council’s revelation – and its timing, amid the public backlash at the £280k pay-off – ensured that Bryn’s Porsche became common knowledge throughout the whole of the UK, as the story was soon picked up by the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, ITV, the Western Mail and many others.

The council made no suggestion that its partial November U-turn had anything to do with the ICO’s impending appeal decision. Instead a spokesperson at the time said the authority caved in because the vehicle was “no longer in use” following Mr. Parry-Jones’ termination of employment.

However the council didn’t back down on its refusal to reveal the value of Mr. Parry-Jones’ monthly car payments and argued its case – on the grounds of privacy – all the way to the ICO, which has now found in favour of disclosure, claiming that the information requested is not “specific enough to make any meaningful statement about the personal life of the Chief Executive,” and that its disclosure is unlikely to have “any tangible consequences for him.”

The decision also cites the extensive press articles and media interest concerning Mr. Parry-Jones’ remuneration as “evidence of a degree of public interest in the subject matter,” and says that the disclosure of the information requested would “contribute to the public’s understanding” of the composition of senior council staff pay and would “help satisfy the public interest.”

If the council doesn’t agree with the ICO’s decision, dated 19th January, it can appeal within 28 days to the Ministry of Justice’s reassuringly-titled Information Rights Tribunal.

In her decision – which hasn’t yet been published on the ICO’s website and may yet be appealed – assistant commissioner Anne Jones scolds the council for its “extremely poor practice” in wrongly telling the journalist that the information sought on the car’s costs was publicly available in the authority’s annual statement of accounts.

No such charges could ever be laid at JW’s door. For instance if anybody asked me for any details on the Porsche such as which optional extras were taken out, if I knew then I’d fess up without protest. I’d even reveal how much they cost you.

Alas, Bryn may have much more time and money on his hands to take to the Alpine pistes than he did when he took receipt of the car back in March 2014, but we’re unlikely to ever know if he specified the optional “removable ski bag” on his order form, at an eye-watering £266.

Bryn may even have had the foresight to place a tick against Porsche’s “electrically extending towbar system” – a snip at just £876 – to help him cart his golden goodbye pay-off to his smiling bank manager. We’ll just never know.

But one detail I am able to disclose is just how much it cost you to terminate Bryn’s Porsche lease contract early:

£8,669.84

When Bryn was sent packing from the authority, his Porsche was sent back to the lease car company. The public’s piggy bank was already squealing but this nigh-on £9k early termination fee – which I’m told consisted of four monthly payments – sprinkles salt into the wound.

I can already hear those of you with a thing for numbers tapping away at your calculators. You’ve reckoned that, when the council finally complies with the ICO’s ruling and discloses Bryn’s monthly car sums to the BBC, we can divide the £8,669.84 by the four months and arrive at £2,167.46.

However, as is so often the case where Pembrokeshire County Council and its senior officers’ pay and remuneration are concerned, not all is as it may seem.

JW has had sight of the information commissioner’s decision on the BBC appeal and found the most interesting element relates to the way Bryn funded last year’s upgrade from his gentlemanly Jag XF council runaround to the Porsche Panamera.

It transpires that in addition to his as yet unknown monthly car allowance, an ever-resourceful Bryn Parry-Jones had racked up ‘credits’ on his previous monthly lease car payments and was able to use these accrued ‘credits’ to help pay for the pricey Porsche (£90k.)

The ICO decision explains:

“When supplying the withheld information to the Commissioner, the Council qualified this with a statement explaining that in 2014 the Chief Executive had utilised a ‘credit’ on his lease car account whereby he used credit built up from previous car lease arrangements as funds for the current leased car. In other words, the Chief Executive had underspent on his leased car arrangements in previous years and was now putting the underspent amount towards his lease car for 2014. The Council’s view is that this is further evidence of how the Chief Executive was choosing to spend his remuneration and therefore supported its view that disclosure would be unfair.”

So, all the while you were paying for the Parry-Jones family – including kids – to drive the cheaper Jag, unspent car allowance payments were also accumulating to fund the family’s more expensive sporting saloon of the future.

It came as news entirely to a mere councillor like me, who, as a matter of course, would never know about the finer points of an employee’s perks, let alone how they would use them, but it comes as no surprise – and for that we can thank the ICO.

Much has been said since Bryn’s departure of how much he’s cost the county’s ratepayers.

That the public purse took a battering to see the back of him is common knowledge. Whether he should have received any pay-off at all is an argument you may have to wait until the next council election to settle.

From the originally approved £332k pay-off he was awarded, the erstwhile chief exec quickly accepted a £50k cut after the Wales Audit Office’s intervention which deemed part of it was unlawful.

But a lot more than £280k of your money has been spent dealing with the BPJ ‘problem’ – the £9k to return the Porsche early is just the tip of the iceberg.

Like the Porsche termination fee, some of the sums are not yet in the public domain. This week I will publish all of those that I know.


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27 Comments...

  • Welshman 23

    I said in November that the early settlement was going to to be circa £10k. I have leased cars for a number of years and early termination fees apply. Were these figures ever brought to the table when the final figures were discussed at full council meetings?

  • Hi Welshman 23, this early termination fee wasn’t specified as part of (or additional to) the golden handshake deal approved by the IPPG’s majority vote in October.

    I think it can be filed under those sums that we’ve just had to ‘take on the chin’ – and I’ll be revealing more of these in the next couple of days.

  • 10blad

    I thought FOI had 21 days? As I’ve been asking PCC about the way it is ripping people in Tenby off by oversubscribing nearly every street in Tenby by 100% for residents’ on-street parking.

  • Peter Warrender

    The councillors that voted to allow Bryn’s terms and perks are responsible for all this waste of public money. They should be named, they are obviously not fit for purpose.

  • Keanjo

    What other skeletons are lurking in the Kremlin’s cupboards?

  • Welshman 23

    BPJ was able to bank lease monies not spent in previous years. Who sanctioned this and who approved the lease of the Porsche? This stinks and a full investigation should be conducted pretty damn quick.

  • Rockface

    The councaloofs who voted for this should be kicked out of the council…there must be an end to all of this!

  • I hadn’t realised that unused car allowances could be carried over from year to year. That being the case, there must be something in the council’s accounts that records the owners of these unused allowances as creditors.

    Is there someone who knows a bit more about accountancy rules who can help?

    I suppose it would be possible for an officer to drive a Ford Fiesta for the first thirty years of his career and then use his accumulated car allowances to swan around in a top of the range Lamborghini for his final decade.

  • Timetraveller

    BPJ simply took the p***. Hands up those IPPG fools who thought you had to pay top money to retain such talent. His old nest will take some cleaning out.

  • Welshman 23

    All the councillors who voted for BPJ’s pay off are so naive, they were dealing with a person who has made them look stupid.

    He is the one laughing all the way to the bank and couldn’t care less about you. So spare your blushes and find out who sanctioned the lease and the accrual of car lease amounts from previous years.

  • Kate Becton

    Whilst, of course I would be very interested to know further details of what senior staff at the Council are entitled to in the way of perks etc., I fear that, unless there is some way of holding those Councillors who were in the know responsible for their negligence, the whole situation is, as my dear cousin would say, PPF (past praying for).

    In the meantime Jacob, I note in the WT that PCC are determined to support the large number of people in the County that are Carers – well they would, would’nt they – it’s very much cheaper to voice platitudes than to offer Social Services.

    We can all see how hollow this promise is with the case near Fishguard where PCC have forced the grandparents of a severely disabled grandson to the High Court to ensure that they live with the threat of having to pay for a ‘spare room subsidy’ some time in the future.

    Can we know exactly what this promise means – is there money in the budget to give grants for equipment, respite etc., for carers, many of whom are older people themselves instead of relying on the quite exceptional local charities (perhaps PCC funds them?).

    I find myself absolutely disgusted at the cost of the over-priviledged, self-satisfied and patronising senior staff and councillors at PCC. Thoughts anyone?

  • Paul Absalom

    Surely it is time to get rid of the cabinet system. The cabinet only seems to look after themselves and have sucked up to Bryn for years. Where public money is being spent ALL elected councillors should have a say.

  • Keanjo

    Paul, you really have hit the nail on the head. The old Committee system where each Director ran his/her department under a Committee and Chairman, answerable to the County Council ensured much more Member involvement and did not involve the same amount of patronage that the cabinet system encourages.

    I would be glad to see a return to that system but what do the elected members think? Would the Councillors outside the cabinet be prepared to do the additional work involved?

  • Welshman 23

    Did BPJ have a council fuel card?

  • Dave Edwards

    When he was appointed in 1995 Bryn’s car allowance was set out as “the same arrangement as in his previous post in Llanelli”.

    In his CV he stated that to be “12% Salary Maxima plus insurance”. No mention of banking unused allowances. Therefore, if his final salary was £16,200 per month his car allowance should not exceed £1,944 per month, £224 short of the £2,168 for the Porsche.

    So, when did it change, who authorised it and who knew?

  • Goldingsboy

    The answer to Welshman 23’s question is utterly predictable.

  • John Hudson

    Thankfully the Council is obliged to report on senior officers’ “benefits in kind” in the annual accounts. This statutory requirement started for the 2009/2010 financial year.

    The amounts recorded in the Council’s audited accounts for the Chief Executive Officer are-

    2009/10 = £12,709; 2010/11 =£12,979; 2011/12 =£12,929; 2012/13 a restated amount of £10,017 for 2011/12 and £11,685 for 2012/13; 2013/14 = £11,685.

    These “benefits in kind” may include the car allowance which I understand is not paid as part of the salary. Does anyone know?

    As for accounting for sums “due” but not claimed, we have the example of the Leader’s backdated travelling expenses claim to go by. Here the backdating was not accounted for as it only became due when the Leader remembered to submit his claim.

    What a cosy relationship these council top dogs had, or may still have, unless the Council is forced to reveal them by external agencies.

    It behoves us all to question everything. I must admit to being confused by the predisposition/predetermination matter which has erupted again over the schools reorganisation issue.

    Under the provisions of the Localism Act of 2011 Chapter 6 Section 25, which commenced in force 2 months after the passing of the Act, prior indications of a view of a matter do not amount to predetermination.

    This I think was intended to allow councillors to comment on matters so that we could know how they were thinking and why. As long as they had not predetermined the matter before hearing the arguments at Council/committee and approached these meetings with an open mind, they would appear to be free to comment on them. (11KBW have an interesting opinion on this matter dated 11 July 2012).

  • Malcolm Calver

    I think we have to accept that the system that we have, not just here in Pembrokeshire, but all over the UK has become unsustainable. It is all part of the nanny state that has evolved to try and control us from cradle to grave.

    Does the average person in Pembrokeshire really think we need 60 county councillors, 700 community councillors, 2 AMs, 2 MPs and 1 MEP to control our lives?

    Maybe we should try to provide for ourselves a little more.

  • Bob

    Does anyone reading know the answer to the question posed by Dave Edwards on 27th Jan? Who authorised BPJ to bank unused allowances from when he leased the Jag?

  • Goldingsboy

    Jacob, do you know whether the monthly leasing costs of the Porsche, which you calculate to be £2,167.46, include a sum to allow a member of his young family drive?

  • Goldingsboy, I can’t see how the cost of the lease car could be affected by who drove it. The insurance costs would, though. This was also paid for by ratepayers, and included family cover as part of the former chief’s gold-plated employment contract.

    I do not know whether the insurance costs were in addition to the monthly car allowance or taken out of it, though I strongly suspect it was the former.

  • Keanjo

    Malcolm, I agree entirely. The creation of more and more politicians and public servants must be the biggest growth industry in the country and it is time the numbers were reduced drastically.

  • Goldingsboy

    My point is that the comprehensive insurance costs of allowing a 20-something to drive a £90,000 car would be staggeringly high. Indeed, I would not be surprised if a four-figure sum, per month, was required to cover BP-J’s son’s drive to the office each morning.

  • Timetraveller

    Never mind the council’s 500th appearance in Rotten Boroughs, Bryn’s car has made it onto Mail Online again.

    This council is surely making a bid for Britain’s most disreputable, despite the stiff competition. All this makes the police, Ombudsman, WAG and others look like chimps.

  • Timetraveller, I had spotted that – 586 reader comments posted on it as I type, which is staggering!

    Goldingsboy, I doubt it cost that much. In fact, I raised this matter at the July 2014 full council meeting and, actually, according to the leader it would seem difficult to put any figure at all on the insurance cost as it was part of the council’s fleet policy. 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.””

    Check out the minutes here, it’s item number 34.

  • John Hudson

    Do you recall the advice given to council by the Monitoring Officer regarding the unclaimed backdated travelling expenses?

    These were legitimately incurred, but despite the council’s three month time limit, were still due for payment. Also, that payment was authorised under the Director of Finance’s Section 151 responsibility for making proper arrangements for the council’s financial administration.

    There was, and is, no specific council approved delegation for the purpose of paying expenses beyond the specified three month time limit. Using the “blanket” 151 advice, the director can do any thing he wants, so why does the constitution provide for him to have specified terms of delegation to act within certain parameters on specified matters?

    It would be interesting to know whether the unclaimed car allowances were logged up as unpaid commitments for possible expenditure in future years. This wasn’t declared in the senior officer’s remuneration details table in the accounts.

    Between the draft accounts stage and the post audit accounts stage, two additional senior officers were “found”. One of whom included a lower rate of employer’s pension contribution – the missing one?

  • Tomos

    PCC refusing to divulge personal information about an employee? Did it strike anyone else how ironic and hypocritical that phrase was when we’ve been supplied so much information about an employee’s ill health in relation to the cancellation of this year’s Pembrokeshire Fish Week?

    STILL one rule for the chiefs and another for the Indians – PCC HR really should have standard operating procedures for ALL employees.

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