Jacob Williams
Wednesday 28th January, 2015
Over £150k fees for Bryn’s pension fiasco

Over £150k fees for Bryn’s pension fiasco

My previous post revealed how former chief executive of Pembrokeshire County Council, Bryn Parry-Jones, utilised previously unspent sums from his monthly car allowance as ‘credits’ towards his £90k taxpayer-funded Porsche Panamera lease car.

As part of his termination of employment with the authority, the car was returned to the lease company. In doing so, taxpayers also funded the almost £9k early release fee. No details of such a fee were given to the councillors who supported Mr. Parry-Jones’ golden handshake whatsoever. It was an unknown – or at least, unmentioned – quantity.

As you will see, the Porsche termination fee can be added to a long list of the sort of unmentioned, hidden and/or wasteful sums which Pembrokeshire folks have been taking on the chin time after time for ages. All of which, in some way or another, relate to the erstwhile chief exec.

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EXCLUSIVE

To get to grips with the council’s outlays on the various Bryn issues, it’s helpful to take a journey along the timeline of events.

In September 2011 a special meeting of the council’s senior staff committee was convened. It should have been open to the public but was held in the chief executive’s private office, two flights up his secret staircase (see here) and behind several locked doors deep inside the bowels of County Hall. It wasn’t accessible to the public.

During the meeting, councillors discussed – and approved – only one item. A scheme which allowed Bryn Parry-Jones and only his highest paid colleagues the option to exit their local government pension schemes and receive their employer’s contribution as a pay rise.

If it hadn’t been introduced, they could still leave their pension schemes but would have to lose out on the council’s contributions

It was all done in secret session, with the exclusion of the public and press. It shouldn’t have been – the grounds cited for doing so were incorrect, and on the basis of what was discussed, no valid legal grounds existed.

It still remains unclear who placed this scheme on the agenda. The then council leader and chair of the committee, Cllr. John Davies, denies any involvement.

It was introduced, supposedly, to aid the recruitment and retention of staff, but no documentary evidence was presented to the committee. All councillors received was a confidential report set out on less than half an A4 sheet, which remains confidential to this day.

The minutes of the meeting suggest that the scheme’s introduction allowed a new “substantial tax liability” introduced by the coalition government to be avoided.

At around the same time, Carmarthenshire County Council introduced an identical scheme, the only other of Wales’ 22 local authorities to do so.

During 2012/13, Bryn Parry-Jones, whose pension pot was saturated, was the only employee of PCC to take advantage of the scheme. He opted-out and received his cash sums in lieu of the council’s contributions, and was joined in 2013/14 by one other unnamed officer.

In Carmarthenshire, Mark James CBE – Bryn’s counterpart – was the sole officer to avail himself of this benefit, doing so during 2012/13 and 2013/14.

Following the timeline of events, a clear picture emerges of the amounts of Pembrokeshire – and Carmarthenshire – ratepayers’ cash that was spent by officers on experts and lawyers in a bid to protect this cosy arrangement which wasn’t available as an option for school cleaners or binmen, only the most senior staff.

The issue was first flagged up during the audit of the council’s 2012/13 accounts. In a statement of the audit’s status, the WAO said: “one matter will remain outstanding” which “relates to a difference of opinion between the Council and us about a decision the Council has made.”

The WAO discovered the opt-out ruse because 2012/13 was the first year any payments in lieu were disclosed on financial statements. At this stage, the WAO left it at: “Given the different legal views, we need to obtain clarification of the position. This is a complicated area and is likely to affect many other public sector bodies in Wales.”


I wrote about it at the time, see ‘Pension contention‘ and ‘Signing off.’

On the second anniversary of the senior staff committee’s meeting which introduced the scheme I wrote about it in a post titled ‘Pension potty.’


This “difference of opinion” got serious on 25th October 2013 when the WAO’s assistant auditor general, Anthony Barrett, informed both councils in a letter that he had investigated their pension scheme opt-out ruses and had come to the view that they were ‘unlawful’ for numerous reasons.

He also deemed that all opt-out alternative pension contribution payments that had been made to officers – which he calls “pay supplements” – amounted to an “item of account that is ‘contrary to law.'”

Accompanying his letter, Mr. Barrett set out the WAO’s legal views within draft versions of the public interest reports called ‘consideration documents.’ Pembrokeshire’s scheme was deemed unlawful for more reasons than Carmarthenshire’s, but the key elements of unlawfulness at both authorities were exactly the same.

Issues raised in Pembrokeshire included inequality, discrimination, involvement of officers with prejudicial interests and even that the arrangement wasn’t being implemented in accordance with the committee’s decision.

Mr. Barrett stated in his letter that he was minded to formally publish his findings into the public domain – via public interest reports – and forwarded the confidential drafts inviting responses to the legal issues raised, before making his decision to go public and publish.

Had the councils held their hands up at this stage – and withdrawn the dodgy pension opt-out schemes – it’s almost certain the public interest reports would never have been published and we’d probably know very little.

Instead, Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire councils got on the defensive. They hired Tim Kerr QC, top London barrister of repute in numerous fields from high profile sports doping charges to disciplinary investigations into misconduct in local government. He was their man.

We can assume Mr. Kerr’s engagement was hoped to inspire some legal arguments beyond those that the home-grown talents could muster, to argue with the Wales Audit Office over the legal points raised.

And, who better to turn to than a legal brain whose chambers has a profile including such anonymous third party bluster as: “although he is a genius, he is very human with it.”

With Mr. Kerr’s assistance, PCC ended up sending a nine-page response to Mr. Barrett’s draft public interest report on 29th November 2013. The letter is a real tearjerker, practically pleading with Mr. Barrett not to go public with his damning report.

It can be read here.

It’s very lengthy, but can be summed up with the following extract from page one:

“We have carefully considered the consideration document [the draft version of the public interest report] with leading counsel and now respond as follows. We do not accept that the consideration document is fair and balanced and we disagree with its contents, reasoning and conclusions. We do not accept that it is necessary or appropriate to issue a public interest report. We set out below our reasoning.”

Mr. Barrett was largely unswayed by the reasoning set out over the next eight pages by PCC’s legal eagles, and in a letter dated 27th January he responded:

“I have considered your detailed response, and apart from one aspect (s54 Pensions Act 2008) where I am persuaded that the Council’s view of the law is arguable, I do not find the Council’s submissions persuasive and maintain my view of the unlawfulness of the decision. I have concluded that a public interest report is still required. I, therefore, expect to publish a report in the public interest on 30 January 2014.”

The public interest report was duly issued on 30th January. It created holy hell.

Mr. Kerr’s services in trying (unsuccessfully – even geniuses are only human, remember?) to prevent Mr. Barrett from releasing his explosive public interest report weren’t cheap. Thanks to Cllr. Tony Brinsden, we know exactly how much.

Following the infamous Valentine’s Day Massacre meeting (more on that later) Cllr. Brinsden tabled a question to the March 2014 full council meeting asking: “What was the total cost to the Council Tax payers of Pembrokeshire” for Mr. Kerr’s services.

£5,800

In response, leader Cllr. Jamie Adams revealed that PCC had paid £5,800 +VAT for Kerr’s help in drafting the failed begging letter to the WAO, which was sent by the council’s now retired head of legal services.

However this was only half of the cost it could have been because Mr. Kerr provided his advice jointly to Carmarthenshire County Council officers on exactly the same matters, so both authorities split the bill. Had it not been for this freak stroke of fortune, Pembrokeshire taxpayers could easily have footed a £10k+ bill for the QC’s early role.

Initial attempts by the council to downplay the auditor’s strong stance backfired hopelessly. Cllr. Adams was away, so in his absence the then deputy leader Cllr. Rob Lewis issued a statement which had other people’s fingerprints all over it.

The following statement – published in its entirety, including original bold and capitals – was sent out to all councillors and media outlets soon after the public interest report hit the fan:

COUNCIL RESPONDS TO ‘PUBLIC INTEREST REPORT’

The Authority confirms receipt of the Auditor’s report which will be considered by the Council in due course.

Councillor Rob Lewis, the Authority’s Deputy Leader, said: “This report deals with a number of complicated issues.

“While I note the Auditor’s views in relation to the decision taken, I am pleased he has concluded the Council could take a lawful decision once a number of procedural matters have been addressed.”

And so an extraordinary meeting of the council was arranged on February 14th 2014 to debate Mr. Barrett’s public interest report, and to determine the council’s response to it. This unforgettable encounter was where councillors and the public first got to know Mr. Kerr QC.

Ahead of the meeting the powers that be were in denial overdrive, claiming the WAO was wrong to say the opt-out ruse was unlawful, and even questioned whether the auditors had exceeded their remit.

Yet again, Mr. Kerr was commissioned. This time his role was a speaking one, in public, in only the second council meeting to be webcast. Expectations were high, and nobody was left disappointed.

Combined with monitoring officer Laurence Harding’s envelope-on-the-back-seat-of-the-limo revelation, Cllr. Keith ‘Hokey Cokey’ Lewis’ stooge-like antics (photos here), the meeting was extraordinary in all senses of the word.

Mr. Kerr tried, against almost all councillors’ beliefs, to argue that the dodgy opt-out schemes weren’t unlawful. Had the council accepted his advice and rejected Mr. Barrett’s findings, a high-profile court battle was the likeliest means of resolving the spat – Mr. Barrett said as much.

Fortunately, this was one of the very rare occasions at the Kremlin where throwing cash at the problem and trying to baffle councillors with supposed legal and professional heavyweights just didn’t work. It was unable to overturn the sense of right and wrong that was held by even the most loyal of the Kremlin regime’s supporters.

Instead, councillors voted to accept Mr. Barrett’s report and adopt his recommendations, including scrapping the scheme and ceasing any future opt-out payments.

As the invoices set out below attest, council officers who instructed Mr. Kerr were free and easy with your money because his chambers charged over £10k for his preparation and appearance at this meeting alone:

£10,290

Kerr invoice

Interestingly, the invoice fails to make any reference to Mr. Kerr’s involvement in the second half of the meeting, which was where the day gained its notoriety.

Council had long accepted the WAO’s report and scrapped the dodgy pension element before the meeting took its unusual turn. Mr. Barrett was well up the M4 when the topic of debate turned to an entirely different matter: a debate on a motion considering whether Bryn Parry-Jones’ conduct should be investigated under suspension.

A mockery of democracySome have queried whether this was the real reason Mr. Kerr was asked to attend the meeting. If it was or wasn’t, it certainly saved Bryn’s skin.

With the monitoring officer’s help, councillors who had dared to speak to the press ahead of the meeting on Mr. Parry-Jones’ future at the authority and the motion were ambushed. Those who were singled out were threatened with being in breach of the councillors’ code of conduct having, in Mr. Kerr’s view, predetermined the issue.

Funnily enough, none of the names Mr. Kerr read out – based on information including newspaper cuttings supplied to him by the monitoring officer – included councillors who had spoken in support of Bryn.

After lengthy scenes of confusion and much bloodshed, the Parry-Jones disciplinary/suspension debate collapsed.

The shameless shambles spurred an unprecedented front-page opinion piece from the Western Telegraph’s Lee Day titled ‘A mockery of democracy,’ and it wouldn’t be over-hyping the Valentine’s Day Massacre to say it’s gone down in Welsh political history as a very dark day for democracy.

The top London barrister wasn’t the only hired help at the February 14th meeting. If Tim Kerr was hired to turn the right thumbscrew, it was down to Stuart Watson to turn the left.

Tim Kerr QC and Stuart Watson

Kerr (L) and Watson (R)

Although he had departed long before the ambush, Mr. Watson, a director at London-based pension consultants and financial planners Chartermarque, was there solely for the debate on Mr. Barrett’s report.

Watson’s role was with the numbers and finer points on pension matters, rather than the legal pickings which was Kerr’s preserve.

We owe a debt to Cllr. Tony Brinsden. Thanks, again, to his question at the March 2014 council meeting, we know that for a glossy report and his appearance at the February 14th showdown, Mr. Watson cost even more than his QC counterpart.

£12,450

Not only was Watson’s appearance dearer than Kerr’s but he was present for only the first half, and barely spoke when he was there – for a shocking £12,450.

You also paid to put both chaps up for the night at the plush surroundings of Slebech Park with its self-styled “sumptuous chic” hotel rooms at over a hundred quid each, based in a countryside setting with a “migratory bird population that changes with each season.”

For one night only last February it played host to two very very important specimens – easily distinguished by their extremely large bills!

£106,354

The pièce de résistance is the amount of your cash that was lavished on Eversheds, the Cardiff-based employment law specialists who were brought in as Bryn Parry-Jones neared the end of his reign, when finally faced with allegations of gross misconduct and a formal inquiry.

Eversheds is the go-to law firm when the good ship PCC is facing choppy waters on the employment front. Bryn’s case was no exception – and the firm was rewarded amply for its services, though quite whose loyalties Eversheds rewarded most in return, is a matter of some debate.

Cllr. Michael Williams received these invoices which show that, within just two and a half months, Eversheds racked up a monumental £106,354.42 for their part in the escapade that saw Bryn Parry-Jones walk away with almost three times as much in his own back pocket

Cllr. Michael Williams received these invoices which show that, within just two and a half months, Eversheds racked up a monumental £106,354.42 for their part in the escapade that saw Bryn Parry-Jones walk away with almost three times as much in his own back pocket

Cllr. Michael Williams obtained the above invoices which demand a huge premium for Eversheds’ services in connection with the Bryn disciplinary and pay-off.

For several weeks Cllr. Williams has also been trying to obtain a specific breakdown of the colossal sum, but so far hasn’t been provided the requested information.

What I know for certain is that two Eversheds lawyers were present for one seminar with all councillors, three meetings of the disciplinary investigation committee probing Mr. Parry-Jones’ conduct, and the final full council meeting during which the golden handshake was awarded.

The ‘advice’ offered by Eversheds lawyers during the behind-closed-doors session of the golden handshake meeting on October 16th was that the council had a weak disciplinary case against Mr. Parry-Jones.

This was despite the fact that Cllrs. Mark Edwards and Peter Morgan testified to the disciplinary committee that the then chief executive had sworn at the pair in a foul-mouthed fit of rage after they voted in support of my own proposal to ask him to repay the unlawful sums he had received under the pension scheme opt-out (a request which he later refused.)

Mr. Parry-Jones also refused to address the disciplinary committee on the merits of the evidence and case against him because he claimed it could prejudice his chances of being awarding a juicy pay-off to leave.

Eversheds’ lawyers seemed to be quite familiar with Bryn’s tune. During the secret pay-off meeting they placed great emphasis on how smooth and clean the termination of employment would be under the £332k golden goodbye, with no chances of recourse. They said it would be quick and underline the whole affair, avoiding any protracted period of dispute and bad publicity, allowing the council to move into a new era.

They contrasted this with the unknown timescale, expense and outcome if the BPJ disciplinary case continued to a conclusion, stressing that it could have resulted in total exoneration.

Much less emphasis was placed on the possibility that it may have found him guilty, warranting a summary dismissal with no pay-off, or anything in between these two outcomes. It could also have been cheaper – not that you can easily put a price on justice.

The leader, doing his best to keep a straight face, would tell you that Eversheds was brought in to defend the council’s interests during the gross misconduct investigation period, so the council didn’t do anything which could cost the council more in the long run.

Cllr. Adams would tell you that their role was to advise councillors on the best course of action to ensure Mr. Parry-Jones got away with as little as possible and the council could avoid any pitfalls in the treacherous area of employment law.

But Eversheds had a bizarre dual role which was hardly independent – it took a front seat during pay-off negotiations with BPJ, along with representatives of the Local Government Association, whose services came at an as yet unknown cost.

Cllr. Jamie Adams was the first councillor to flannel his brown nose, ditch his blind support and declare no confidence in Mr. Parry-Jones ahead of 45 others when the recorded voting list was called out on September 12th last year.

A persuasive argument lingers among the council’s conspiracy theorists in that, having taken such a gamble – or as some put it ‘throwing Bryn under a bus’ – it was in Jamie’s best interests to see the back of Bryn, and preferably with a suitably large reward to keep him off his back.

Jamie got his result – and at a big cost – but he didn’t pay for it, you did. So that’s alright.

Approximately £25,000

Another collosal professional fee associated with this affair appears in the council’s 2013/14 audit certificate, issued by the Wales Audit Office.

The WAO billed the council for the “additional work” undertaken in compiling the public interest report into the dodgy pension opt-out ruse.

At the time the accounts were signed off last September this sum wasn’t finalised, but it was in addition to the authority’s ordinary audit fees and was stated to be “approximately £25,000.”

Had the authority not attempted to ‘defend the indefensible’ as so many have put it since, this professional services fee is unlikely to have been as high.

£?

There are other unknown costs in the whole BPJ debacle, including for the pension scheme.

As a mutual fund, the Dyfed Pension Scheme lost out when Bryn and another unnamed PCC officer opted out. When Mr. Parry-Jones draws his pension it will equate to £100k per year, for life, plus lump sum. Mark James is on a very similar salary to Bryn, and will have placed further strains on the fund.

Whatever views you may have of the two chief execs, it was the elected members who voted through schemes allowing them to reap the rewards of the Dyfed Pension Scheme whilst not contributing in their final years, or, at least, that was the plan until the WAO got wise.

Had it not been for the WAO’s second intervention, the biggest sum – the £280k golden handshake – would have been £332k. So keen were councillors from the ruling party to soften Bryn’s fall from grace they stuffed his safety mat with unlawful sums. In time, you can hold them to account in your own way.

The costs lavished on Tim Kerr QC, Chartermarque and Eversheds are a different case. They weren’t sanctioned by councillors but by officers.

Your money is often being spent – and as can be seen, wasted – in the interests of a select few who have a lot at stake, and often by those who are not even accountable to you directly.

Many of the people who allowed the Bryn-era antics to become an acceptable norm without challenge are still in place.

The council’s latest buzzwords – with the best will in the world, no doubt – are ‘culture change.’ As the next council election is still over two years away, I fear the public shouldn’t get too excited just yet.

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34 Comments...

  • Lobsterman

    Well done Jacob for pulling together this sorry saga. The financial costs are bad enough but greed, mismanagement and incompetence are worse.

    I think another ‘vote of no confidence’ is required in relation to Cllr Adams together with dismissal of the Monitoring Officer. Directors of the various departments involved should go as well.

    Shameful is the only way to describe these proceedings, but it seems shame is one thing they lack.

  • Keanjo

    Jacob, is it possible to charge the Cabinet with gross maladministration? If not, it should be.

  • If you add all this lot up and include the £280,000 golden goodbye + all the officers’ time expended on trying to defend the council’s position, there isn’t much change from half a million.

    No wonder the council is having to introduce a charge of £10 for applications for replacement blue badges.

    50,000 of them and we’ll have our money back.

  • John Hudson

    Sadly the days when councillors and officers could be surcharged are long over. I can’t help thinking that this would have focussed the minds of the 29 Councillors who voted blindly for the unlawful pay-off, as negotiated by the Leader of the Council without knowing all (any?) of the relevant considerations and costs involved.

    While they are required to have regard to professional advice given by the Council’s officers they are also required to exercise judgement taking all relevant considerations into account. I have previously been informed by a council officer that relevant considerations are those as referred to by officers!

    Did these councillors comply with the requirements of their Code of Conduct when reaching their decision? Should they all be referred to the Ombudsman?

    Is all of this a matter for the Audit Committee to consider in order to learn lessons in the hopefully unlikely event of similar legal tussles when the infallibility of the Council is called into question?

  • D. Pleconcerned

    I note from Mr Kerr’s itemised invoice that a large sum of money can be made from ‘perusing and considering papers’. This is something that I do regularly along with checking for news on this excellent website and OG’s.

    Unfortunately I am unpaid for my efforts but that will not stop me from seeking the truth behind the shambles that has been allowed to run in place of good government in this county.

    I will certainly not be voting for the resident council member for Johnston again.

  • John

    I find it incredible that PCC potentially paid £106k and even the ‘lesser’ amounts without a full and detailed breakdown.

    If that is so, I believe those that authorised payment are guilty of gross misconduct!

  • Hi John, I don’t know whether the breakdown pre-existed the payment of the invoice and officers have simply failed to provide it to Cllr. Michael Williams, or whether the invoice was paid without a breakdown and the reason for the delay is that one is actually being compiled after the fact.

    Either way, it’s not very encouraging.

    Keanjo, John Hudson – you probably realise that your only realistic opportunity to hold councillors to account is at the ballot box.

  • John Hudson

    At the inspection of 2013/14 accounts, I did ask for the invoices from Tim Kerr and Chartermarque. That of Tim Kerr was provided in redacted form, so that only the total amount was readable. It took a while for the unredacted version to be provided under the Freedom of Information Act, rather than under the normal “inspection” rules which allow all books, contracts, invoices etc to be inspected.

    Incidentally, although everything is meant to be up for open inspection, none of the legal corporate work is. I only obtained the ones above by special specific request and only then was I able to do so due to the fact that I knew the names of the consultants because they had been made known at Council.

  • 10blad

    Great write up, love reading how the council which should be looking after us, seems more interested in what they can get out of it, with no comebacks.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Welshman 23

    The Eversheds invoice shows travel expenses over £200 per invoice. As they are based in Cardiff it seems rather excessive.

    Tim Kerr’s invoice (from KBW) shows VAT being charged for travel and taxi. My understanding is there is no VAT on these items.

    Who authorises all of these payments, they must be countersigned. Farmer Adams mentioned the pay off to BPJ was a good result, I don’t think so and were all these other costs brought to the attention of members?

    Surely BPJ must have had support at senior levels to sanction some of these expenditures. They should be investigated. Vote of no confidence in Adams and the senior members too.

  • Brian

    Gosh, what’s that loud noise, the sound of the Monitoring Officer evacuating his bowels?

  • The Rock

    Thanks folks, for ferreting out the incredible waste of our money and the extent to which they are prepared to go to defend the unlawful and indefensible.

    I see the according to the Herald the Monitoring officer is recommending councillors who are parent governors not to take part in tomorrow’s education debate.

    If I was a parent governor councillor I would resign (written letter addressed to clerk of governors required) and then immediately reapply for election again at the end of the debate.

    Seems to me like double standards again. I remember Jamie Adams was not stopped for speaking when the subject of his annual re election to leader at nearly £50,000 was up for discussion.

  • Peter Wigan

    The fact that Mr Kerr only deemed those Councillors who spoke against BPJ last February as predetermining the issue, and not then also naming and suggesting the same to those who had spoken in support of BPJ, seems questionable.

    Was he not there to advise the whole Council and not just the IPG? If so then he failed in his duty and maybe should account to the Bar Standards Committee.

  • Welshman 23

    What qualifications does the monitoring officer have? What a load of rubbish, councillors not being allowed to speak on one of the biggest changes in local education. Huw George went to Ysgol Dewi Sant, is he excluded from the debate? How much longer do we have to put up with this dictatorship.

    Under FOI if you are able to see the signed documentation on BPJ’s leased Porsche it would be interesting to see who signed the agreement.

  • Quill

    The whole thing is just abhorrent. He’s been gone three months now, how many more of Bryn’s skeletons will rattle out?

  • Kate Becton

    I am becoming confused! I know…yet again! Is it the case that Officers of the Council can take decisions that amount to a blank cheque to any lawyers, consultants, fortune tellers etc., as they see fit without any discussion with Councillors and apparently without any idea of what this will cost?

    When will the representatives of the people of Pembrokeshire finally get their act together and remember ‘they are not the Council they are the Councillors’?

  • Kate Becton

    Whilst I’m on the subject, I did notice that Mike Stoddart stated in an earlier comment that he did not know that Officers could ‘save up’ their monthly car leasing allowances in order to get a posh boy’s toy.

    Did anyone know? Who would be authorised to approve such an arrangement – are there any Councillors who should know of these ridiculous arrangements?

    Pembrokeshire can no longer afford this largesse, offered to a small number of individuals who do not seem to have any respect for the people of Pembrokeshire.

    I have lived here for over thirty years, I appreciate it does not make me a local!, but never fail to appreciate the wonderful sense of humour, the sheer bloodymindedness and the generosity of the vast majority of people in this county.

    They, we, deserve better than this.

  • Flashbang

    I want fingers pointed, names named and heads to roll. There must be a paper trail leading to the culprits and if it goes back to BPJ and his cronies, civil action should be taken to recover the monies.

    P.S. The only time you see single digits on anything to do with PCC is the checksum on here.

  • John Hudson

    Kate, as I understand the position, the Head of Legal Services has a statutory role to institute, defend or settle legal proceedings

    Somewhat confusingly, the Council’s Constitution also empowers the Head of Paid Service to undertake any functions specifically or generally delegated to Directors and any other officers.

    The Monitoring Officer is supposed to make the council aware of any proposal that is outside the annual budget or otherwise unlawful. This also applies to the Director of Finance, who in case law has also been found to owe us taxpayers a special fiduciary duty to look after our money.

    There is some wooliness about this, as any action would seem to be in consultation with the Head of paid Service or Chief Executive. So the top man would seem to be able to override, overrule and direct any action.

    It would be interesting to see the decision trail leading to the engagement of the professional consultants involved in this farce and who made the ultimate decision and what the brief was.

    We already have one “dodgy” brief exposed by an aware councillor who asked to see what question the professional officers asked in order to obtain independent legal advice for Council.

    I expect that there is no such formal decision record, as was found in the Care Home fee Judical Review. Yet another administration failure. I do not think that Councillors have any role in this, which may, or may not, be a good thing.

    Mind you, how Eversheds and WLGA ever became involved in the BPJ “agreement” negotiated by the Leader is an open question.

    One would hope that council officers would take an unbiased decision over cases to defend, but, if you are defending the infallible reputation of the Council’s administrative machine, led by officers with minimal input or challenge by the Cabinet…

  • Kate Becton

    Thank you John, the more cynical of us would wonder whether this rather complex situation was deliberately set up in order to ensure that the ‘buck’ never stopped anywhere!

    It would seem that the only thing Councillors could do at this stage would be to insist that a formal decision-making record is kept and that it, and the brief, would be available to them.

    Do you think that this would enable at least some degree of transparency upon proceedings – Jacob – could this be done?

  • Timetraveller

    John, probably best councillors have no input. Most of them struggle to follow the arguments anyhow. (Apart from obvious exceptions Jacob et al).

    This leaves many authorities run by officer cabals, with occasional “deals” with leaders to keep the children quiet. Their activities regularly grace Private Eye’s “Rotten Boroughs” column, to which Pembs is a regular contributor.

    That leaves Westminster and Cardiff Bay seemingly unable to restrain these officers from raiding the public purse to the extent they do. Even Haringey Council’s Sharon Shoesmith got a massive handout when a government minister intervened to sack her.

    The auditor is a rare hero standing up to such corruption, pity other agencies aren’t so proactive (Police, Ombudsman), Legal is a real problem, it is no coincidence that BPJ was a lawyer. Perhaps WAG would limit authorities to only using govt lawyers or approved firms to avoid the cosy relationships some firms enjoy with local govt officials.

    Who knows, PCC’s acting Head of Legal might be tartly told to stop wasting public money or take partisan stances. It’s nonsense for two public bodies to engage in legal dispute, especially in our adversarial system.

  • Welshman 23

    Having watched the full debate yesterday regarding the education reforms I was astounded that how many people were unable to take part, it does beg the question going forward should councillors be on any committees at their local schools.

    Another issue is the number of people that were absent. They could not care less on this important issue. Do these people still get paid? In the real world, miss work get no pay.

    The debate itself some of the councillors blew hot air, great effort from David Lloyd and the protestors well done. As for Jamie Adams it just shows a boy doing a man’s job, waffled his way through his speech, and pulled a rabbit out of the hat. Well done Ysgol Dewi Sant.

  • John Hudson

    Oddly enough, guidelines issued on the new council constitution include a statement that decisions taken by officers were required to be properly recorded, as were executive decisions, with reasons/explanations why they were reached.

    One can only reflect on why the council’s professional officers didn’t ensure that this was done from 2001 and especially after the judicial review.

    Part of the “improvements” made recently included corporate governance arrangements issued by the Head of Legal Services for Directors to publish decisions made under their delegated powers, but only if they thought it appropriate – in true PCC Style.

  • Welshman 23

    If we have to take advice from outside companies like this so often, why do we need a legal department in the Kremlin?

    Let’s do a deal with a legal company and get rid of this department, because they are clearly unable to give solid advice they always have to run to other companies.

  • Keanjo

    I must agree with Welshman 23, it is worrying that much of the advice given by the Council’s legal officers appears faulty.

    As for school closures, if enough parents get their banners out and wave them about outside the Kremlin, Jamie will propose an amendment.

  • Ken

    Parry-Jones didn’t take this unlawful payment alone. He was given it by his employers who we elect. They are as guilty as him. WE can sack them the next time we vote. Well done for an honest exposé.

  • The Rock

    Profound thanks to Viv Stoddart and those who supported her motion to bring these crucial education issues to full open debate.

    The wishes of the people of St David’s were listened to. I am sure this would not have been the outcome if it had been left to the previous cabinet rubber stamp arrangement. As Welshman 23 points out, a few councillors seemed to have gone missing and restrictions on councillors voting need to be looked at.

    If you cannot be an unpaid elected governor with children at a school in Pembrokeshire and participate in the debate something is wrong. Especially when the council appointed governor can take part. This is a WAG issue and needs to be sorted.

    It is now about a year since the IPPG leadership inhaled the air in the lofts of Coronation School and it seems to have had lasting long term effects on those who inhaled it. Then it gave rise to a series of unfounded attacks. The leader showed again how they live in a world totally divorced from the reality of the people they represent.

    Jamie Adams starts the debate with his “damning indictment of the local press”. Only to be followed by criticising members for using education as “a bandwagon” and severely criticising members who have used, in his opinion, education to “publicise themselves above that of children”. His colleague’s now infamous quote about “the fictional character whose madness drove him to see enemies in everyone” seems to be resurfacing much closer to home.

    Above all however, some fragile shoots of democracy, transparency and accountability are beginning to show through. Thank You Viv, Jacob et al.

  • Billy Dokar

    Jamie Adams’ disgraceful behaviour at full Council, in all its baleful, gurning and contemptuous glory was particularly noticeable on Thursday morning. His fellow councillors have witnessed his supercilious disdain up close for a long time, but on Thursday it was displayed for a packed public gallery to see.

    His rise to the top at County Hall and his conduct in public is conclusive proof that sh*t floats.

  • This comment thread seems to have wandered off message a bit. However, while on the subject of last Thursday’s meeting, I would suggest that what we saw from the Leader was a tactical retreat rather than a full-blown surrender.

    The proposal to merge Hakin Community School and Hubberston VC School gives a taste of what really goes on during these school re-organisation exercises.

    There was an extended consultation process based on the assumption that there were two choices open to the community: a new school for Hakin Community School (the product of the amalgamation of Hakin Infants and Hakin Junior in 2010) and a new school for Hakin Community School and Hubberston combined. The parents at Hubberston were almost unanimously against this second arrangement.

    The minutes of the meeting on 17 July 2014 tell you what was really going on:

    “Councillor Susan Perkins advised Council that Welsh Government had stated that they would not support two schools in close proximity [Hakin Community and Hubberston] as it was not in the spirit of their transformation agenda for schools.”

    So the consultation process was just so much window dressing because the Welsh Government had already predetermined the final outcome. Don’t be surprised if something similar transpires with regards to Ysgol Dewi Sant.

    By the way, the webcast for the July 2014 meeting seems to have gone walkabout.

  • John Hudson

    For an issue affecting the whole county long into the future, to a greater extent than more immediate effects on salaried family members, unpaid governors or even children in current education, how disappointing was it to see the number of councillors, and, it must not be forgotten, the thousands of people that they are meant to represent, who were disenfranchised from taking part.

    One has to wonder whether the administration, perhaps frustrated by Viv Stoddart’s successful NOM to get this matter debated in full Council, rather than approved by the rubber stamping Cabinet, engineered the presentation of this matter to ensure the maximum number of councillors could be excluded from the debate. Surely it could have been arranged to ensure the maximum number of participants? Perhaps it is just a lack of thought rather than incompetence.

    In pushing through its proposals on the Hakin/Hubberstone schools, the Council somehow appeared to take account of yet to be parents and their non-existent children in the “Consultation” to skew the outcome favoured by WG.

    The Member’s Code of Conduct explains that a personal interest exists in circumstances where a member of the public might reasonably perceive a conflict between your role in taking a decision upon that business, on behalf of your authority as a whole and your role in representing the interests of constituents in your ward or electoral division.

    Even in the case of prejudicial interests, there is a test of where the interest is one which a member of the public with knowledge of the relevant facts would reasonably regard as being so significant that it is likely to prejudice your judgement of the public interest.

    Given the circumstances of this issue, could anybody reasonably sustain an argument that a current narrow personal interest, or even a prejudicial interest, outweighed the wider longer term representational interests of constituents and the County? Would the Ombudsman have supported such a case or cases?

    Is it significant that the Constituency in which Pembrokeshire College, and the proposed sith form campus sits, was excluded from representation the debate?

    On a wider point, Viv Stoddart drew attention that Education Plans could be brought forward for approval by full Council rather than Cabinet.

    There are a number of such plans where a Council has the local choice of requiring such plans to be brought before it. Our Council has never been given the choice to decide which plans it wishes to approve and which ones it is content to delegate to Cabinet. Rather by default, officers have never given Council the option.

  • Hetscam

    Having watched Thursday’s meeting carefully, I can see the sticky little fingers of the Welsh Assembly all over the proposals – and they don’t exactly have a good track record as far as Pembrokeshire is concerned(!)

    There are so many issues that have been glossed over without proper consideration, and basic (flawed?) assumptions seem to have been accepted without question, that I fear we are being manipulated into a ‘solution’ which may destroy the intrinsic nature of our county.

    Shiny new buildings may give a temporary boost, just as a football team may start winning on the appointment of a new manager, but even new buildings age and fade. If all the councillors who have relevant experience were precluded from the debate, then how could any informed decisions be made? Just as with Withybush, I fear that we are being shafted!

  • Keanjo

    This website and Old Grumpy’s blog together with webcast has given us all the opportunity to look at our Council closely over the past year or so. Similarly, other websites have given us an insight into our neighbouring Council in Carmarthen which appears to be in a similar mess.

    What is the reason? Could it be the Cabinet system, the Chief Executives, the Constitutions? Probably all of these contribute to the problems but it seems to me that one thing stands out – a complete lack of common sense.

  • Goldingsboy

    Whilst that is true, Keanjo, the ruling group’s fundamental failings have actually existed for many, as Old Grumpy’s loyal readers can readily attest.

    What has changed is that the countless misdeeds of the IPG have been brought to the attention of a much wider public by the emergence of a local newspaper, the Pembrokeshire Herald, unshackled by a regular stream of, money-spinning, Pembrokeshire County Council public announcements.

    The filming of council debates has added to the labours of the Fourth Estate. However, the webcast, in reality, has been a disaster – for the Special Responsibility Allowance Party.

    Perhaps it would be a good idea if all those Council candidates, in the forthcoming election, include a commitment to the webcast’s retention in their election manifestoes – that should winnow out those who choose to decide our business behind closed doors.

  • John Hudson

    I rather fear this all comes back to the councillors we elect, and their subsequent actions.

    They were, and are, responsible for the terms of the constitution which sets out the layers of authority for decision making between full council, cabinet, the Head of Paid Service and Directors as advised by their own officers. It is this document that should protect us from abuses of power. The fact that all power ended up with the Head of Paid Service is down to them.

    Councillors are responsible for applying checks and balances on decisions made by cabinet through the system of statutory overview and scrutiny committees. Anyone with an ounce of common sense who bothers to attend these will soon realise how worthless they are.

    The council’s external auditor has pointed to the lack of motivation by the majority of councillors to challenge, and most just sit there dumb. For some reason the council claims things are improving by pointing to a small number of decision amendments pressed by a minority of members.

    The previous Leader instituted an urgent review of the council’s failed constitution. Despite a special committee being set up, this has been moribund under the council’s present leadership for years now. It is not clear whether it is self interest by officers, the political leadership, or both that is failing to give this priority and direction in the interests of more openness, challenge and transparency.

    We have the example of 29 councillors approving the CEO’s farewell, negotiated by the Leader, based on the minimum of information which proved to be unlawful.

    Approached within an established legal framework, goodwill and interest in democratic probity, it should not be that difficult to determine the terms of the constitution to ensure that decisions are lawful.

    Has anyone noticed that the regular financial and performance monitoring reports are no longer being presented to cabinet or scrutiny? This omission escaped the notice of the 10 cabinet members when it approved its forward work programme, and scrutiny committees, when they approved theirs.

    The budget proposals include an outturn estimate for the current year. This has not been subjected to any meaningful scrutiny by councillors by reference to actual detailed spending reports during the current year. This is a requirement set out in the council’s constitution and financial regulations, but this is the independent state of Pembrokeshire.

    The fact that this council is in such a mess is due to complacency and over reliance on officers by most councillors, who seem to think that the council is the body corporate, is infallible and needs to be defended at all costs out of our pocket.

    Why did councillors excuse themselves from the great education debate? Did not the wider public long term representational interest outweigh their own, short term, personal and/or prejudicial interests? Who would have objected their participation and even then, what was the likelihood of the Ombudsman upholding such complaints? A lack of common sense judgement indeed.

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