Jacob Williams
Thursday 5th February, 2015

PCC in Private Eye, again

PCC in Private Eye, again

Pembrokeshire County Council has featured in Private Eye magazine’s Rotten Boroughs column again.

Within the current edition’s piece about the infamous Porsche, Rotten Boroughs dishes out high acclaim to Mike Stoddart – the author of that other website – and yours truly.

Edited by Tim Minogue, Rotten Boroughs pays a keen interest in Pembrokeshire’s plentiful and ongoing balls-ups and is familiar with the trials and tribulations of yore surrounding former chief exec Bryn Parry-Jones and the councillors who kept him afloat before his heavy list became terminal.

Last year its wide readership was regaled with the farce of Pembrokeshire’s ruling group councillors voting to put an end to gross misconduct proceedings against the former chief.

As you’ll remember, for good measure these councillors also chucked in a large pay-off so Bryn could take a hike – or, as the UK’s peerless municipal column puts it: “so he could eff off into the night without having to account for his greed.”

You may recall Eye’s post-Christmas review of 2014 recognised this notable and costly episode by naming Bryn Parry-Jones ‘pensioner of the year’ on account of his golden goodbye and, when he draws it, his £100k+ per year local government pension.

I understand Mr. P-J faced tough UK-wide competition for the gong and, believe it or not, only narrowly pipped our own Mike Stoddart to the honour.

The antiquated author of that other website lived up to his nom de plume on Sunday, celebrating his 75th birthday.

Following a rousing rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ and the bumps, reliable sources who attended the swanky do Mike laid on for himself say he ran out of puff with as many as sixty candles still aflame atop his fondant-iced sponge.

Onlookers were unable to agree which vice was to blame for Grumpy’s breathlessness during the extinguishment effort.

Some pointed to his decades’ loyalty to Messrs. Lambert, Butler, Benson, Hedges and John Player. Others considered it was the day’s intoxicating liquor binge.

Private Eye
As well as having some of the most spineless, incompetent and venal councillors in Britain, Pembrokeshire is lucky in having two independent members who are tenacious in holding their colleagues to account, and who both write excellent blogs – Mike Stoddart and Jacob Williams.
Rotten Boroughs

Private Eye’s plaudits for us councillor/bloggers might also be considered with the councillors’ code of conduct in mind.

To some extent this handbook restricts the sort of language and terms councillors are able to use to refer to one another – all in the name of showing respect.

Apparently, Pembrokeshire has “some of the most spineless, incompetent and venal councillors in Britain.”

Who knew?

Readers whose eyeballs pop out at such a bold claim had better go no further or they may never retreat.

The column continues with the bolder claim that Old Grumpy bucks the trend of Pembrokeshire’s councillors because he authors an “excellent” blog.

This minor misjudgement aside, ‘Porsche show’ is a great read – go out and buy the current edition, it’s a cracker.

Rotten Boroughs Porsche show

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  • Much as I admire Tim Minogue’s efforts to clean up local government in the UK, I fear he is not entirely right when he says that the big pay-off was: “so he could eff off into the night without having to account for his greed.”

    The reason Jamie Adams and co were so keen to strew Mr Parry-Jones’s path with fifty pound notes was that they feared that if the disciplinary process was allowed to continue to a conclusion it would bring things to light that would undermine the whole rotten edifice and send it crashing to the ground.

  • Alf Batte

    Jamie Adams is no better than BPJ. The whole council is rotten. I’ve voted Conservative as long as I can remember but Cllr Stan Hudson voted against measures aimed at tackling corruption.

    I can’t even vote the **%*%* off the council because he’s retiring before the next election. It’s time these parasites were shown what they truly are.

  • Keanjo

    Mike, if BPJ was paid gagging gold, what secrets did he have to tell?

  • Timetraveller

    Quite agree that BPJ’s pay-off kept some skeletons safely hidden in their cupboards. Apart from the auditor, the watchdogs on local authorities are singularly lacking in that this “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” situation is able to exist.

    News from Rotherham suggests that some authorities can get away with much more. That council has just been placed in administration by Eric Pickles over its failures in child abuse protection, along with South Yorkshire Police who declined to delve into such murky waters themselves.

    The police and Ombudsman are going to have to adapt more robust practices to tackle the problem, as at the moment there is little to check the sort of corruption that has permeated Pembs and a few other Welsh councils.

    One skeleton that wants to get out is how a slum landlord can trouser a considerable sum of public money, apparently hoodwinking the considerable expertise of PCC’s overpaid officers, who are, or at least were, strangely reluctant to refer the matter to the police.

    In fact they went out of their way to avoid any sort of meaningful investigation of the affair and disciplining council officials.

  • Gogledd

    Yes, I agree, when you watched the desperate rush they were in to get rid of him you wonder what they were so worried about. Sadly, while Jamie remains, we are still in the same boat.

  • Flashbang

    Has the “Eye” hit the nail right on the head with its description of the most spineless, incompetent and venal councillors in Britain? I certainly think it’s right.

  • John Hudson

    Yesterday I had the pleasure (!) of attending the Corporate Governance Committee meeting (7 IPGers, 6 opposition).

    You may recall that in 2011, the former Leader proposed a review of the constitution, and on 6 September 2011 full council decided that this review should be referred to Corporate Governance Committee for consideration before returning to Council for final consideration.

    On 6 February 2012, that committee resolved to establish a cross-party working group to explore and consider all relevant issues outstanding in regard to the current exercise of reviewing the Ccuncil’s constitution, and report back thereon to the Corporate Governance Committee, to inform the committee’s eventual recommendation to full council.

    The Working Group was to establish its own terms of reference and comprised the then council chairman and vice chairman, the then chairman of Corporate Governance, and the Leaders of all political groups including an Unaffiliated representative. (4 IPG including the Leader, 4 opposition members).

    This group meets in secret, and as it appears to involve the same people who sit on the Corporate Governance Committee, has never felt the need to report to itself on the lack of progress, and the dopey, disengaged Council, has never sought to hold it account for the lack of progress over 3 years.

    This Working Group appears to be moribund, and for whatever reason the Corporate Governance Committee, whenever faced with notices of motion by councillors to change/improve the Constitution, agrees by weight of numbers to refer consideration of such changes into the still backwaters of this ‘working group’, pending agreement on the complete revised constitution.

    Farcically, one purpose of the current constitution is to enable decisions to be taken efficiently and effectively. Those responsible for decision making are also to be identifiable to local people and to explain their decisions, or not, as in this case.

    If anything illustrates the ethos of this Council, and its claimed improved openness and transparency, one needs to look no further than this Committee and its working group, under the majority weight of IPG control.

    Is it too much to expect that our Council will demand a progress report, or at least an explanation of why this has been held up?

  • Kate Becton

    John – one of the problems with the PCC constitution is the same one that the majority of Councillors have with the budget – they simply don’t understand it – maybe they have never read it.

    If you don’t understand the system you cannot use it to achieve your aims and I don’t mean to imply that it is simple, but to get anywhere you have to at least make an effort.

    It’s not easy to go into Council to argue a case because you have to argue your case using the Constitution and once again I have to repeat that the majority of Councillors are well meaning people but are, in the main, paternalistic and naive.

    They, frankly, have no idea what they are dealing with and are far too much in thrall to people that they think are very intelligent and professional, when these are not the most important attributes in local government.

  • Keanjo

    Mike Stoddart often raises points quoting the constitution but rarely succeeds and the point of order is often ignored by the Chairman or ‘interpreted’ by the officers to confuse the issue.

  • John Hudson

    The Council’s Constitution was based on a “model” drafted by Welsh Government. This included statutory clauses and various options available for each council’s local discretion. PCC approved its Constitution in two bites. First was the approved option of Governance by a Cabinet/Council Leader, following which the detailed provisions were drafted by officers and approved by Council.

    Subsequently, various bits of legislation were passed, some of which had to be approved by the Council but other non-statutory, discretionary options were not. These improvements were the result of developing best practice in the new corporate governance arrangements as recommended by various independent authorities, CIPFA, Centre for Public Scrutiny and WG etc.

    I am not aware that Council officers ever put the non-statutory bits to Council. (One example was the option to introduce an Audit Committee before it became compulsory). In my view, the council’s Constitution was drafted for the protection of officers and the Council political leadership. The Scrutiny role was allowed to molder and was far from effective.

    Most, if not all, proposals to open the system up to greater democratic involvement have been made by NoMs from opposition councillors. This has resulted in the majority of them being recommended for non-adoption by officers, supported by the majority party, preserving the original status quo.

    Following the establishment of the Working Group, NoMs touching on constitutional arrangements are now parked awaiting the long overdue overhaul of the complete constitution. Is there any reason to be optimistic about a sudden agreement?

    I think that is generally accepted the old/existing Constitution allowed officers far too much control in the Council’s affairs to the exclusion of democratically elected councillors.

    While accepting that most councillors may not be budget or constitutionally aware, one would hope/expect that professional officers would be able to protect councillors’ statutory democratic responsibilities when drafting a Constitution.

    It may be beyond the powers of officers to get councillors to understand such issues, but we on the outside deserve some consideration and protection from abuses of power and authority.

  • Tomos

    Jamie’s getting a lot of flack here, surely you haven’t forgotten what the previous Leader was responsible for – you know, what’s his name…

    It really shows the whole setup is wrong – let’s not just blame BPJ and Jamie.

  • Kate Becton

    How I agree with you John. From personal experience I can recall a number of occasions which, silly old me, I thought were going to be simple and turned out to take hours of work and frustration.

    One was the idea that Pembrokeshire people would wish, and deserve the right to address the Planning Committee. Anyone would have thought that the barbarians were at the gates!

    This was an idea first put forward by Dave Edwards so goodness knows how long it finally took. When I spoke at the Corporate Governance Committee in favour, one of the arguments against was that not everyone in Pembrokeshire would have the confidence to address the Planning Committee and therefore it was unfair to allow this. I pointed out that not everyone in Pembrokeshire would have the confidence to stand for election so we might as well cancel the elections!!

    I recall the first time that a decision of the Council was called in to the Economic Development Scrutiny Committee – together with the late Cllr. John Allen – we had to chase all over Pembrokeshire to get enough signatures [within a short time frame]. They all had to be on the same piece of paper – apparently it was no use if Cllrs. supported it individually – looking at this I have no idea why we put up with it.

    Then there was the idea that Cllrs. could submit Notice of Motions by e-mail – apparently this could be open to fraud as there would be no proof that it actually came from the Councillor – I really couldn’t imagine that the people of Pembrokeshire would use a false e-mail to submit a NoM to Council, particularly as the NOMs would be available five days before the meeting.

    When I look back I think I must have been incredibly naive myself to not see this for the undemocratic sham it was!

  • John Hudson

    Kate, your story rather proves that the officers’ approach frustrates change. I do believe things have changed a bit now, hopefully. Sorry, but it is not just the Leader, who ever that happens to be. He/she cannot do much without support.

    Article 12 of the current constitution approved in 1996, set out principles of decision making, which include proportionality; taking account of professional (hopefully impartial) advice from officers; a presumption in favour of openness and relevant matters only to be taken account of.

    Part 1 commits the council to arrange activities in support of its community leadership role and its corporate mission to serve and represent the people of Pembrokeshire through the securement of the highest standards of public service.

    In pursuit of these high ideals, the constitution helpfully provides general direction on the purposes of its contents which includes helping councillors represent their constituents, holding decision makers to account and ensuring that those responsible for decision-making are identifiable to local people and that they explain the reasons for decisions.

    There is further advice on chairing the council aimed at upholding, promoting and interpreting the purposes of the constitution with regard to the rights of councillors and the interests of the community. (I understand that the impartial council chairmen have always regularly attended pre council meetings of the ruling IPPG).

    How did the 29 councillors, who voted to end disciplinary proceedings and then agreed the unlawful pay-off deal as negotiated by the Leader, reach their decision? Note that councillors have to take account of officers’ advice. Some application of personal reasoned judgement is also implied.

    Can it be said that they were in possession of all relevant considerations?

    Wasn’t Jamie in the previous Cabinet, (you know the one that has shared collective responsibility), the infamous Senior Staff Committee that agreed the senior officers’ pension arrangements and wasn’t there also something about submitted backdated travel claims?

    As you say, Tomos, the whole setup is wrong. Where and why did it all go wrong and why haven’t any politicos been held to account?

    How are we to move forward without full recognition of this and establish a constitution capable of delivering the highest standards claimed by the present broken wreck which has been declared unfit for purpose?

    The former CEO was appointed on the basis of a presentation on how he would translate his ideas into policies (for councillors to follow?) and how he would implement them (with full unquestioning councillor support?).

    We on the outside seem to be forgotten. Will the new constitution, when and if it emerges, be available for public consultation?

  • Morgi

    Tomos -is this the same Jamie Adams that negotiated the ‘best’ pay-off settlement with BPJ which was subsequently reduced by some £50,000?

  • Tomos

    Morgi, I agree completely with you about Jamie – my point was simply that the problem hasn’t just developed in the last few years of Jamie, it’s been getting worse and worse over many years.

    Why was BPJ taken on in the first place when people were apparently warned about him? Do I need to remind people here of the secret/open meeting where BPJ got his controversial/unlawful pay rise in lieu of employer’s pension contributions, the Senedd slating PCC, the council’s unsuccessful High Court cases, the whistle blower who was sacked whilst the paedophile she complained about kept his job FOR TEN YEARS, standard PCC “operating procedures” (or the lack of them) used in teaching people of how NOT to run an organisation.

  • Kate Becton

    I do agree with the remark that the faults in PCC cannot be laid entirely at the door of Cllr. Jamie Adams and BPJ. There are after all sixty Councillors, and although the number in the IPPG has declined there are still far too many who simply cannot conceive that there could be alternative solutions, fairer ones at that, not quite such immoral ones than those offered by the ex-CEO.

    Am I right in my assumption that the Legal Department has once again gone out to get an external legal opinion on the Audit Committee Chairmanship? How much did it cost to come up with the ‘how many angels can you get on the head of a pin’ solution – Cllr. James was not the Chair of the Committee, but chairing a meeting of the Committee – if it wasn’t so expensive, it would be laughable.

    Any idea how much Jacob?

  • Hi Kate, I don’t know how much that external legal opinion cost but yes you are right – it was sought over this issue (that I raised) and I intend to write about it in a new post on this blog soon.

  • John Hudson

    It clearly is beyond the wit of the Council’s legal advisors to follow common sense to find that when the Audit Committee rule states that the Chairman shall not be a member of the ruling political group, this is what it means.

    Perhaps again they find themselves having to defend action already taken by the oblivious IPG masterminds.

    What ever happened about the clarification sought about T&S Claims being paid after expiry of the time limit? I always thought that if members had to seek full Council permission for such late claims to be paid, they would not be submitted for public scrutiny.

    There is discretion for council to pay such late claim in exceptional circumstances. I would have thought that poor book keeping hardly qualifies as exceptional. There is an Ombudsman’s finding on this case.

  • Kate Becton

    Re the Audit Committee – all of this rather begs the question of why a member of the IPPG can become the vice Chairman of the Audit Committee. Common sense dictates that the Chairman cannot always be available and that it is necessary for someone to take over the Chair.

    Perhaps, heaven forfend, the solution would be to have a non-IPPG vice chair. Solution!

  • Dave Edwards

    A neat solution, Kate. Unfortunately it requires the IPPG to recognise logic.

  • Ianto

    Kate, that system is in place and operates in practice on the Standards Committee.

  • Morgi

    Kate – I admit to being predisposed to blame Adams as I blamed Cwmbetws before him – Adams has it within his power to clean up the mess that he has been complicit in creating – the cabinet system and appointment power is flawed as democracy has given way to a dictatorial system.

    Cabinet has the power. Adams has the power to appoint and there are councillors ready to betray those who elected them in order to secure a seat on the cabinet.

    Additionally – on the rotten boroughs theme, I see that another £1.25 million of our money has been loaned to a QUANGO (Saundersfoot Harbour Commissioners/Trust Port Status). Why doesn’t PCC stick to providing us ratepayers with the services that should be provided and leave money lending to the banks and stop gambling with our money.

  • Kate Becton

    Morgi, I couldn’t agree more about the ‘loans’ that PCC is so fond of giving. I can’t remember the exact details, but I recall that the ‘loan’ to Bluestone ended up as something else and never got repaid.

    Like you, I simply do not see giving loans as a legitimate function of Local Authorities. In the same way that I do not see it as a legitimate function of Town Councils to be doling out money to charities/individuals who just happen to know how to apply.

    It is vital at the moment for public bodies to ensure that the money they spend maintains essential services to individuals who really need their help. We are fortunate in Pembroke Dock to have a number of local charities who raise their own funds, no doubt with difficulty to keep their valued services going.

    You are possibly right that, in fact, it is the Cabinet system that is the problem – however there are a lot of people who cannot resist the lure of the position and the money that goes with it, not just the Leader of the Council.

    It is, on occasion, enough to make anyone lose the will to live!!

  • Angry of Fishguard

    Many congratulations to Jacob and his arch-rival blogger on the sterling work they have been doing which has been extremely revealing and honest.

    I have been silently following them for a couple of years without comment with blood pressure going up and down as more and more damaging evidence of corruption and greed is revealed.

    Let’s be honest, anybody who takes on a public role is open to scrutiny and abuse even when they try to do the right thing. However, the audacity of some of those Councillors on the public payroll warrants much further scrutiny than has been shown.

    What is the Legal Department in PCC for if it does not do what it is being paid to do? The stench is palpable. Back to the drawing board.

  • Keanjo

    Morgi and Kate, I’m glad you raised PCC’s record in fiscal responsibility. I recall a few incidents:

    – £30,000 to Oakwood to compensate them for loss of revenue when the Health and Safety Executive closed a ride following the death of a young girl

    – £1.75 million loan to Bluestone

    – £0.28 million pay off to our ex-CE

    – probably hundreds of thousands of pounds on outside legal advisors and yet they don’t appear to have learned a thing and agree to lending £1.25 million of our money to the Saundersfoot Harbour Commission on the vaguest terms to be agreed with the Finance Director.

    All this in a time of financial stringency and cutting services. You couldn’t make it up, it really is beyond comprehension and we need Leighton Andrews to step in and arrange new elections.

  • Dave Edwards

    Beyond WAG’s remit I’m afraid.

  • Morgi

    Reference Dave Edwards and his ‘Beyond WAG’s remit’ observation – it’s long overdue that they take action to make PCC accountable.

    Additionally, is it not possible to find someone with even basic legal skills to work in PCC’s legal department – the costs of obtaining external legal advice is eye-watering.

  • Malcolm Calver

    If the scheme for the improvement of Saundersfoot Harbour is such a good deal surely they do not need a Pembrokeshire County Council/ratepayer loan.

    I suppose the carrot dangled is the creation of jobs, in this case 55 jobs are promised. I presume they will be all full time all year round jobs, none will be zero hour contracts and the commissioners will be held personally liable if they do not create the jobs promised.

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