Jacob Williams
Friday 12th February, 2016

Sectioned off

Sectioned off

• Councillors’ budget amendments wrongly vetoed
• Auditor pronounces on PCC’s latest legal howler
• Resolution to simple dispute took nearly a year

Readers may recall the bizarre turn of events at the county council’s budget-setting meeting way back in March last year.

This is the annual occasion where all sixty councillors set council tax rates and approve the authority’s spend for the forthcoming municipal year.

Historically it’s a case of rubber-stamping budgets drawn up by officers and accepting their suggested council tax increases.

Proposals for inter-budgetary amendments – where for instance councillors may wish to take a few grand from one budget heading and give it to another line or department – have been few and far between over the years, but it should be every councillor’s right to put such amendments forward.

Here the fun and games began last year as two opposition councillors did things differently – or at least they tried to.

Labour group leader Cllr. Paul Miller proposed to reduce the senior staffing budget – earmarked for directors – by a sum which could only result in the redundancy of a highly paid officer.

Cllr. Miller left little doubt over his candidate for the resulting chop: the then deputy chief executive, Mr. Ben Pykett.

After Cllr. Miller summed up his plan to use the saved cash on frontline services, the then acting chief executive, Mr. Ian Westley, intervened to say that as this related to staffing it was not a matter for councillors, and suggested the chairman rule the amendment out of order.

Accordingly, all of this was set out in section 4 of the 1989 Local Government and Housing Act, which was quoted.

The obliging chairman, Cllr. Tom Richards, followed the advice and ruled it out of order.

Cllr. Miller didn’t accept the reasoning on the grounds that budget-setting was part of a councillor’s role but was powerless to do anything there and then. He subsequently complained to the Wales Audit Office.

A report presented earlier this week to the council’s corporate governance committee seems to draw a line under the saga, confirming – in couched terms – that the the ‘section 4’ veto was hokum.

However the WAO, not wishing to stick the knife in, comes up with a whole host of other reasons why Cllr. Miller’s amendment would have been legally unsound – reasons which are agreeable to this armchair lawyer.

Essentially, councillors would have been sacking an employee on a whim. There are several clear reasons in employment and public law why this would have created a legal minefield.

It’s a question of debate whether it’s the WAO’s job to correct or justify council officers’ advice with the proper legal reasons after the fact, however if they are going to one might expect some consistency and not a selective account.

And this is where the issue really lies.

I don’t doubt that the legal position was stacked against Cllr. Miller’s proposal, but the given justification – that the law gave the head of paid service carte blanche over matters pertaining any which way to employment – was simply not the case. It provides no grounds to automatically bar such budget amendments from debate by elected members as we were told.

However on the day of the budget meeting it worked, torpedoing not only Cllr. Miller’s effort to snip the directors’ budget but in total FOUR proposals which, for some reason, the WAO neglects to analyse.

This ‘section 4 veto’ was first deployed when Pembrokeshire Alliance group leader Cllr. Bob Kilmister proposed a budget allocation be set aside, from reserves, for two town managers for the county.

But after Bob had outlined his budget amendment the then chairman, Cllr. Tom Richards, made an announcement. It wasn’t on the spur of the moment – he said: “Before we proceed any further, Mr. Westley wishes to address the council.”

Reading from material before him, Mr. Westley said:

“Bob, just a point of clarification, the requirements of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 imparts duties on the local authority to: in the first instance, appoint a head of paid service; and in the second instance to provide that officer with such staff, accommodation and other resources as are in his opinion sufficient to allow his duties under that section to be performed.

The issue with the way that you’ve worded that amendment is that you would actually in this instance be adopting a proposal that the head of paid service would then be required to implement, and I believe that that flies in the face of the requirement of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989.

So a very subtle amendment might be that you ask the head of paid service to consider that, rather than to implement it.”

The approved minutes of the meeting accurately reflect this transcript of the intervention I made from the online webcast.

Bob didn’t protest and allowed his idea to be discussed among councillors on the basis that we would ‘ask’ for the proposal to be ‘considered’ by the acting chief.

But an interpretation of the law giving an officer such a powerful veto over budget amendments didn’t sit well with some of us.

I was the first to query the cited legislation and its supposed blocking effect on Bob’s proposal and was told: “actually it goes on to say grades of staff and the organisation of the authority’s staff and the appointment and proper management of the authority’s staff are a defined function for whoever is designated the responsibility to be head of paid service. It isn’t a function for council. I understand what Bob is proposing, but actually it’s not a function for full council.”

The ‘section 4 veto’ was next brought out against Cllr. Miller’s aforementioned effort to prune the senior staff budget.

Again, we were told by Mr. Westley that as a ‘staffing matter’ this was “caught by the duties bestowed on this council by the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 and subsequently the duties that I have currently as acting head of paid service, I believe this is a staffing matter and not a function of council,” so it was kiboshed.

It was followed by a third and fourth occurrence – both of which terminated further budget amendments from the Labour group leader.

Cllr. Miller proposed a 20% deduction from the PR (marketing and communications) budget – amounting to £123k.

But the chairman was told by the acting chief that this too should be ruled out of order:

“Chairman, I’m afraid it is the same again. My understanding of the PR budget as described and as the point of interest from Cllr. Miller in this particular amendment, is principally spent on the employment of sixteen or so full time equivalent members of staff.

It is primarily a staff budget, Paul, so I understand the issue that you’re raising in terms of driving out waste but it is a staffing matter again and in my view is caught by exactly the same clause from the same act.”

Completely hamstrung by the events panning out before him, Cllr. Miller moved his shears elsewhere in the spreadsheets and outlined a plan to snip the £18k budget for the chairman’s chauffeur-driven limousine.

By this time of the meeting councillors were in the doldrums. Brow-beaten and essentially told that our role on budget day is to consider what’s put before us by officers, as any ideas of our own would invariably be disallowed by the chairman on advice from senior officers that they in some way, even tenuously, pertained to employment.

So to introduce a bit of levity to the absurd proceedings Cllr. Mike Stoddart – the author of that other website – made a tongue-in-cheek wisecrack.

To laughs audible on the webcast Cllr. Stoddart jokingly suggested that as the chairman’s limo is driven by a council employee perhaps this proposal might also be caught out by Mr Westley’s clause and his supposed powers under section 4.

But it was no joke – or if so, it was on us councillors – and it was the acting chief who delivered the punchline:

“I’d thank Cllr. Stoddart for pointing that out and he beat me to it by a few seconds, but you’re absolutely right.

If this decision led to a compulsory redundancy, which it could, then I believe Cllr. Stoddart is right.

In all reality I would doubt whether that would be the case but I couldn’t give this chamber a guarantee in that regard, so again it’s a matter for councillors as to whether they wish to vote on something which could eventually fly in the face of the act regarding staffing issues.”

Extending a withered olive branch to Cllr. Miller, Mr. Westley suggested that he may wish to ask for a cabinet review of the chairman’s limo provision.

Cllr. Miller wasn’t prepared to accept the compromise so you can guess what came from the acting chief next:

“In that instance chairman I think it will have to be ruled out of order on the basis that I can’t guarantee that the chauffeur wouldn’t end up being redundant as a consequence of this decision.”

Independently of Cllr. Miller I also complained to the Wales Audit Office. Not over a particular amendment but the general reasoning given for vetoing them all – specifically, this seemingly wild interpretation of the 1989 act.

As I pointed out to the WAO, the advice must have been wrong otherwise councillors would be somewhat redundant in budget-setting.

The cited legislation – the 1989 act – also underpins many forms of public bodies UK-wide from county councils in Wales to district, borough and unitary councils in England.

So either the interpretation we were given was incorrect or the hundreds of other UK authorities have been doing things wrongly for decades and only us in Pembrokeshire were doing things the way they were supposed to be.

Not a chance!

I chased the WAO several times over the months since. The first action on the topic came in a September letter.

The WAO reviewed the legislation internally – noting that it was without taking ‘formal legal advice’ – and said:

“In our view, in order for section 4(1) (b) to have the effect that the HoPS [head of paid service] is claiming, it would need to be the duty of the HoPS under section 4 to secure the provision of all of the Council’s services. We do not consider this to be the case and so it is our view that it is incorrect to state that section 4(1)(b) can operate to prevent budget proposals that affect staffing generally from being considered.”

And there the matter should have ended.

The reason it didn’t is because in the same letter the auditor revealed: “We have discussed this with the Council’s officers, who do not agree with this view,” before copying a rather lengthy rationale from the council which “provides further context” why Cllr. Miller’s proposal would have been legally unsound.

However this didn’t distract or baffle the WAO who said: “but it does not address the specific issue of citing Section 4 as a rationale. Our view would be that this full rationale should have been the basis of the debate at Full Council and the question is then of reasonableness if the Council ignores the view of the HoPS.”

The WAO seemed happy enough at that stage to allow the matter to rest on an agreement to disagree, concluding the letter by saying that they would be ‘considering this issue’ as part of their (then) ongoing in-depth assessment of the council.

But when their corporate assessment findings were published in December no mention of this controversy was anywhere to be found within the 42-page report.

As members of the council’s corporate governance committee Cllr. Mike Stoddart and I made sure we raised this topic at the September 30th meeting.

The attending WAO representative soon realised that his organisation would have to come down off the fence and definitively resolve the dispute. There was every possibility – indeed, probability – that it would be used to hinder councillors’ rights over future budget amendments.

And that was pretty much the last we heard until the agenda for Monday’s corporate governance meeting was published.

Its appearance on the agenda was unexpected – though a long time coming – and to say I was surprised at what I read would be an understatement.

In a PCC U-turn the WAO’s report now says the council agrees the section 4 veto was wrong:

“It is agreed that sub-section 4(1)(b) of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 did not, in and of itself, prevent the Council from taking a vote on the amendment.”

This key point gets only a fleeting mention in the report which goes round the houses to justify why such a reduction of the directors’ budget would have been otherwise legally dodgy in any case.

The WAO’s report was the last agenda item at Monday’s corporate governance committee and it was unfortunate that I had to air my criticisms in the (no longer acting) chief executive’s absence.

At the start of the meeting we were told that Mr. Westley was stuck on the M4 but that he may be with us before the end of the meeting if he could.

As it’s likely to be the only opportunity for discussion at County Hall I filled in the committee with the full picture that the WAO’s report left out, saying I felt the council was owed an apology over the affair.

I note in today’s Pembrokeshire Herald that Mr. Westley makes a welcome apology for the ‘section 4’ issue, but his comments to the newspaper appear to be in the context of Cllr. Miller’s ‘Pykett’ proposal, and how he agrees with the WAO that it would have been out of order for alternative reasons, neglecting to address the other instances where he deployed the ‘section 4 veto.’

There has been no suggestion from the WAO or the council that the town manager, chairman’s limo or PR budget reductions could have also been similarly unworkable on other grounds, so this is a simple case where councillors were prevented from acting in their role on the basis of an unsound interpretation of the law.

This episode – and the defence of the stance for so long – hardly instils confidence in the supposed culture change.

Nor does the fact that it took the external auditors nearly a year and lots of chasing to resolve what is an elementary matter.

As for poor old Pykett, within months of last year’s budget meeting he left the council and was snapped up by PricewaterhouseCoopers – the multinational financial and professional services conglomerate subsequently engaged by Mr. Westley to identify future council savings.

It’s a funny old world!

The report on this from today’s Pembrokeshire Herald is reproduced below with their kind permission. The quotes are somewhat garbled, but you get the idea. I hope to write about other topics discussed at Monday’s meeting next week.

Chief executive apologises


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31 Comments...

  • Welshman 23

    Here we go again, more controversy from the Kremlin. Mr Westley late for the meeting?

  • Keanjo

    Banana County goes bananas.

  • Flashbang

    What is the point of local government in Wales if your representatives are gagged from working on your behalf

    As for the WAO, whose side are they on?

    The whole system is corrupt and heads need to roll to focus hearts and minds as to why they are in the job.

  • Malcolm Calver

    Jacob, the readers of your website, whilst having to stump up for Pembrokeshire County Council through their rate demands, must surely be reaching the end of their tether.

    What is the point of electing county councillors when their proposals are illegally thwarted by council employees?

    It would have surely been better if councillors had demanded a clean out after Mr Bryn Parry Jones voluntarily finished.

  • Oliver Cromwell

    It was quite obvious when the villainous BPJ’s close henchman was appointed to the top job that we were in for business as usual. So it has come to pass!

    The ability of this council’s officers to misadvise, mislead and misdirect the county’s elected representatives, with impunity, is almost beyond belief.

    It is matched only by the inability of Councillors to conduct themselves and the running of the county with the wisdom and probity required of them. It is not as if they are unrewarded for the attention and effort they need to put into the job they sought election to carry out.

    Those few exceptions who do their utmost in the wilderness to stand against the placemen and muppets need to come together under a formal banner to present the electorate with a viable, formal, deliverable manifesto for the next local elections.

    The proper governance of the county is surely worth the fight, and will gain the endorsement of the electorate. Start now – stand up and tell it how it is.

    A good starting point would be the criminal shambles that is the future of education. Closely followed by the wholesale purge of the costly and useless legal department.

  • Goldingsboy

    I see that Malcolm Calver suggests that councillors should have “demanded a clean out” following the ousting of BP-J.

    This idea makes perfect sense from the democratic viewpoint, but overlooks the symbiosis between the IPPG and the upper-levels of the Kremlin’s bureaucracy.

    Even if that difficulty could be overcome, many of the individuals who negotiated the last CEO’s gold-plated package would now be arranging each other’s.

    The eventual cost to PCC’s budget would surely put our county into the same dire economic position as that of Greece, with consequences that would require it to be rescued by Washington’s World Bank.

  • John Hudson

    Yet more “contentious” legal advice, that served to keep officers in the driving seat.

  • Ladybench

    Jacob, thank you for all that you do informing the public of the incredulous goings on in the PCC.

    I find it completely disheartening for members of long standing that appear to be clueless in the workings and legalities of the office to which they stand, these people need to be named and shamed before the elections.

    I for one will never forget the underhand tricks played by Rob Lewis.

  • Les

    Although the CE has been wrongly advised he has now apologised and that in itself is a step forward.

    Surely his spotlight must now be on the source of his advice. If it’s come from the council’s legal department there needs to be a look at that.

  • Keanjo

    Since the budget was accepted only after the Council was given incorrect advice by the Chief Executive, should it now be declared to be illegally passed, the budget suspended, and returned to the Council Chamber so that the proposed amendments can be properly considered?

    On another issue, the Chief Executive was delayed on the M4 and therefore late for the meeting. Does that mean that he does not even reside in the County because I always understood that residency in the Authority area was a requirement of service for a Chief Officer?

  • Keanjo, Cllr. Miller asked the WAO to consider if the budget was ‘void’ in light of the issue but their view is that it wasn’t.

    However it’s worth noting that, even if it had been, it’s now eleven months later and that budget has practically run its course, with mere weeks before next year’s is set.

    We were told that the chief executive was delayed on the M4 and may turn up before the end but he didn’t.

    The meeting lasted over two and a half hours so I can only assume the automotive encumbrance was a humdinger and/or took place far east of Cardiff!

    On residency requirements, I’m not aware of any – maybe John Hudson or Dave Edwards will know, but this was in the afternoon and it’s a busy role so Mr. Westley could have been caught up in any number of other appointments, it wasn’t the end of the world though.

  • Teifion

    I may not know what the difference is between 4(1)(b) and four whelks but it’s pretty clear that our public servants don’t like being public “servants”.

    Seems to me many of our democratically elected representatives are being treated like a lamp post by the officers’ cocked leg.

  • Teifion, turns of phrase like that give rise to suspicion that you’ve been thumbing through my back numbers. If not you might like to.

    Specifically this March 2015 cracker from my ever-expanding PCC legal howlers series: Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.

    Les, I think that’s fair.

    However I don’t have general experience with all council lawyers so it may be doing a disservice to tar the whole legal department with the same brush.

    It’s perhaps more a case of the weakest link.

    Does that make me Anne Robinson?

  • I’m afraid the Wales Audit Office doesn’t come well out of this.

    All it had to do was decide whether the chairman was correct to cite Section 4 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 as grounds for ruling the four amendments out of order.

    Instead, it provided the council with a fig leaf by finding other reasons why one of the four was legally flawed.

    This is by no means the first time that the WAO has put its good relations with the council above the truth:

    http://oldgrumpy.co.uk/archived/Ryan-Hall%20auditor.html

  • John Hudson

    I do not think that there are any restrictions on where Council officers live, unlike elected Councillors where I think residence is a qualifying requirement.

    You might consider that highly paid chief officers might benefit from living in an area with a consistent record of having the lowest Council tax in Wales.

    I wonder how often the Auditor has been dissuaded from direct open challenge to the Council’s decisions by consideration of legal expenses and high court fees at the public expense? This would be a last resort. Usually a measure of agreed, compromised, action is preferred.

    Of course this council, as advised by its legal officers, and supported by sought legal “independent” advice, is always right, and can find reasons for its actions, however legally contentious.

  • Teifion

    Jacob, my comment was just my take on a fairly famous quote, thought it was Mencken (not yours, sorry :)) so I looked it up:

    “The relationship of a journalist to a politician should be that of a dog to a lamppost” is a witty statement that is frequently credited to American journalist and critic H. L. Mencken (1880-1956). However, there is no evidence that Mencken ever said it. “Having read H. L. Mencken’s opinion that the correct relationship of a journalist to a politician was that of a dog to a lamppost” was cited in print in 1990.

    “His disdain that of the dog for the lamp-post – which is how he describes the perfect relationship between the journalist and the politician” was said in 1987 about Vincent Hanna (1939-1997), a Northern Irish television journalist. Hanna’s authorship of the saying is probably more likely.

  • I was aware of the lamppost quote, but it reminded me of the “Don’t pee on my leg…” one – which certainly isn’t mine!

    I believe it’s American, often using a different word beginning with ‘p’ without changing the meaning, if you follow.

    Made popular (if not coined) by no-nonsense New York city family court judge Judith Sheindlin, better known as the eponymous star of the TV ratings-winner Judge Judy, who also titled a book with it.

  • Welshman 23

    Here is a bonkers system that happens in the municipal tips in Cardiff. I took some rubbish from my daughter’s house in Cardiff to the local tip about a mile away. I was greeted with a jobsworth, can I help you? he asked, yes I replied I have come to recycle some rubbish.

    Have you got identification he said, what identification and what’s it for, I asked? You now need photographic ID and proof of where you live to come on site and recycle your rubbish.

    I looked at my watch and saw it was Valentine’s Day not April Fools. I started to drive off as I thought he was joking, he shouted no ID and address = no dumping.

    Trying to explain that I lived in Pembrokeshire when I showed him my driving licence, he said you had better take your rubbish to Pembrokeshire then.

  • Keanjo

    Many Authorities, when advertising senior posts, make it a condition that successful applicants relocate to live within the Authority area.

    If Pembrokeshire haven’t imposed the condition in the past I would suggest they do so in future.

  • Malcolm Calver

    Welshman 23, I am sure you will soon get used to the idea of taking along a council tax demand when depositing materials at the recycling centres in Cardiff, at least they are open seven days a week.

    There was a proposal to close some of the recycling centres in Cardiff but many households objected on the grounds of the distance to be travelled to the ones that were to be left open.

    I would suggest that the identification information, if collated, will help to decide which ones will remain open in future.

    I am afraid this is the future, you pay directly for the services you use.

  • The Rock

    Thanks Jacob, without you and Old Grumpy et al doing the auditor’s job I hate to think what a mess we would be in.

    Not so long ago I remember the WAO Auditor sticking to his guns when attacked over the CEO’s pension payments. Then things went a bit downhill again. The same Auditor having a real wobble when confronted with Cleddau Bridge issue.

    In fact a WAO officer is quoted (www.freepressseries.co.uk) as saying the situation as set out by the Act is “a bit vague” and “a very complicated procedure to understand”.

    And then Council leader Jamie Adams is quoted by BBC on the 4 September 2015 as saying:””the authority’s position was that it can make a profit as long as the funds are used for other transport projects.” However, he accepted that the wording of the 1987 law was unclear”

    Vague, unclear? Ahh.

    Dyfed Act 1987 Part 11 Section 25

    (3) Whenever the money received by the county council from the bridge on account of revenue in any financial year shall exceed the amount expended or set aside in connection with the bridge in respect of the several purposes mentioned in section 24 (Application of revenue) of this Act then the surplus of such revenue shall be used in and for the purposes of the bridge and for no other purpose.

    But then perhaps there is an election coming and they don’t want to rock the political boats. Or have I missed something?

  • John Hudson

    In 2007 I raised the issue of the Cleddau Bridge with the auditor (when the accumulated deficit was a mere £39m).

    Both the then Director of Finance and the auditor informed me that this debt did not exist, although it was still being accounted for, and used as a deterrent to anyone seeking to take over responsibility for the bridge.

    The auditor also advised me that if I did not agree with his view, that all was well, then I could seek legal advice. (Perhaps he didn’t feel up to the challenge of a legal head to head with the council?)

    With impending local government reorganisation and an accumulated non existent debt of some £61m at 31 March 2014, the auditor undertook an investigation to clarify the position, and confirmed that the accumulated deficit did not exist (if it did, bridge users would never be able to pay back the council).

    The auditor however concluded that the accumulated PROFIT from toll income over accumulated bridge operational costs could be either £9m or £17.6m depending on how interest on the profit was calculated.

    It could be argued that the council owes bridge users, or that it should be put towards a bridge toll funded reserve, as the Act provides for.

    The council refused to accept the auditor’s view and sought its own legal advice to support its accounting treatment of the bridge – that over the life of the bridge, costs between the council and tolls should be neutral. (The Council has never undertaken this calculation, until the auditor pressed this “as a Matter of Emphasis” in the accounts).

    As The Rock points out, this is NOT what The Dyfed Act 1987 stipulates.

    The council has used, without question, the annual bridge toll profits from the few, and applied it, for benefit of the many, to reduce expenditure on county-wide highways and transport services, and hence council tax.

    As The Rock asks: “vague, unclear” and we might also ask fair and reasonable?

  • Goldingsboy

    I think The Rock is only half right about Mike and Jacob doing the auditor’s job as that body has actually, from time to time, come up with the right answers.

    Clearly, they appear to have pulled their punches in some of their adjudications and one wonders whether they have done so in order to avoid the prospect of being snowed under by the number and the weight of the various tasks – both here and elsewhere.

    Of course, we could mention their courageous role in questioning the advice to PCC by its highly-paid legal officer, their role in tackling an assortment of past judgments by the Monitoring Officer; their role in probing the way in which the planning department has fulfilled its important functions, especially in regard to grant-aided projects, their role…

  • The Rock, it is a long time since I read the Dyfed Act, but it always seemed to me that one of its purposes was to prevent PCC from using bridge tolls as a stealth tax.

    The section you quote seems to bear out that impression.

  • John Hudson

    Section 14 of the Dyfed Act 1987 which covers the way tolls are calculated and used, includes the provision:

    2) Any order made by the county council under this section shall prescribe such tolls as, in the opinion of the county council, are reasonably required to be demanded, taken and recovered so as to produce an annual revenue not substantially less nor substantially more than adequate to meet such expenditure as is authorised for the several purposes mentioned in section 24 (Application of revenue) of this Act, and in determining the level and pattern of tolls to be specified in an order made under subsection (1) above, the county council shall have regard to –

    (a) the financial position and future prospects of the bridge;

    and

    (b) such other matters of a transportation nature as shall be deemed by the county council to be relevant.

    The auditor has now required the council to do the sums required at (a). The Council has not done this in the 20 years it has had responsibility for the bridge.

    As regards (b), the leader’s statement that: “the authority’s position was that it can make a profit as long as the funds are used for other transport projects,” is caveated by the Act in terms of what the council deems to be relevant.

    It has never informed toll payers what these relevant factors are, or justified why it thinks it reasonable for toll payers to contribute total annual toll profits to off-set council tax.

    In next year’s budget, the Council estimates the bridge budget at expenditure £1.1m, income from tolls at £3m and seeks to perpetuate the state of affairs by applying the total estimated annual profit of £1.9m to county-wide highways and transport expenditure.

    Are bridge users being taken for an expensive ride? This would appear to be a case where those who use a council service are required to pay more for it.

  • Jon Boy Jovi

    John Hudson’s summary leads to an interesting scenario: if this has been the case for the last twenty years, am I able to reclaim the excess expenditure I incurred from travelling over the bridge twice a day, 252 days a year (weekends/holidays off)?

    At an average of 60p per journey over the twenty years this equates to approx £4K. Multiply this by the number of people who claim and the council may find itself requiring a grant from WEFO to cover the outlay!

    If I’m mistaken with my sums then I’m sure the Tarmac King will put me right. No wonder he was able to preach the gospel of tarmacking his constituency’s roads when he was in the know of the highways budget.

  • The Rock

    Thanks John now it’s becoming clearer. The council seems to have decided to ignore a part of the regulations they don’t like (Section 25) revenue shall be used in and for the purposes of the bridge and for no other purpose and the Section 14 requirement to produce an annual revenue not substantially less nor substantially more than is adequate to meet (bridge) expenditure.

    But at least I think we now know what Huw George meant by positive politics and positive results in the Maenclochog Ward road resurfacing election video:

    We overcharged you (positive politics) and used your bridge tolls to mend my roads (positive results).

  • John Hudson

    It is a requirement of the Act that if, after consideration of all relevant factors, the council considers that a revision of tolls is required, this requires a public inquiry, at which the council’s assumptions could be tested and justified. A revision of tolls would require a Parliamentary Order, since devolution, by Welsh Ministers.

    Small wonder PCC were put off by this close inspection.

    An interesting sideline is that while investigating something else, I came across a Preseli District Council report of April 1984. This was before PCC inherited the bridge in 1996, and the last Dyfed toll charge regime, fixed in 1993, which exists unchanged to this day.

    It was reported that Dyfed CC had reviewed tolls and had concluded “that toll levels on the bridge need to be continually revised if there is any likelihood of the self financing objective of the 1965 Pembrokeshire Act being achieved”.

    PDC sought to oppose this proposal to increase tolls with particular reference to the bridge being a close link between the southern and northern enterprise zones now or shortly to be established on both sides of the haven.

    It is quite likely that tolls would have increased to the current level, but then be reduced in the light of subsequent regular reviews.

    The original 1965 Act was redrawn and revoked by the Dyfed Act 1987, with the same self financing principle: that tolls should be reviewed in compliance with the terms of the Act to ensure that bridge operational costs, as prescribed in the Act, were met from tolls and did not fall on the rates. Similarly, that the rates or council tax did not benefit from bridge profits.

    I doubt whether individuals can claim back, but it might be considered that bridge profits – of £9m or £17m at 31 March 2014 – which was collected under an Act of Parliament should be used for the purposes of the bridge. The council has spent this money.

    Toll payers will be pleased to know that the council’s Economy Overview and Scrutiny Committee last reviewed the financial arrangements of the bridge just before the auditor’s challenging report. On the advice of the chairman, that committee concluded that the bridge was being managed well, although reservations expressed by some members were minuted.

    The council’s bridge report, required to meet the auditor’s requirement, will probably appear after next year’s budget has been approved by councillors.

  • Dimly Fiendish

    All of the above rather reminds me of the old saw that there is no problem with law, only with lawyers.

    As for being mean towards the local authority’s crack legal team, for shame Jacob! For shame! They’re trying their best in the plasticine classes.

  • Oliver Cromwell

    The Dyfed Act 1987, section 25 – which of the words “…and for no other purpose” are difficult, ambiguous, or confusing?

    The more important question is what is to be done? It is intolerable that those complicit in this misappropriation of funds should not be held to account for their actions.

    Perhaps the Secretary of State for Wales has a view.

  • William Rees

    The whole section 4 debacle shows that we do not have any substantial change of culture. It is still a case of councillors not running the show, even on the most important of all issues – the budget.

    I just can’t get my head around the continual modus operandi of officers resisting democratically elected members. It really is simple, council decides policy and officers are instructed to implement.

    This is a battle that must be won or things are never going to change.

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