Friday, 31 January 2014

County Hall Meltdown; Plaid opposition to discuss 'No Confidence' votes - updated


Following yesterday's revelations here's a press release from the Plaid Cymru opposition on Carmarthenshire Council calling for heads to roll, further updates and links can be found below;

Opposition Group meet to discuss ‘no confidence’ votes

‘Extraordinary meeting must be held’


The leader of the Plaid Cymru Opposition Group on Carmarthenshire Council, Councillor Peter Hughes Griffiths, has announced his group will be meeting on Monday (3rd February) to discuss presenting motions of no confidence in three members of the Council’s Executive Board (Leader Kevin Madge, Former Leader Meryl Gravell and Deputy Leader Pam Palmer). 
The Plaid group will also be discussing no confidence motions in two of the Council’s most senior officials, namely the Chief Executive, Mark James, and the Head of Administration and Law, Linda Rees Jones. 
Plaid Cymru is the largest group on the council with 28 elected Councillors.  It sits, however, as the opposition group to a Labour and Independent coalition which runs the County Council. 
The no confidence calls have come following two damaging Wales Audit Office reports which state the Council acted unlawfully in relation to two matters of a libel indemnity and pension arrangements for the authority’s Chief Executive.  The reports are highly critical of the way in which information was presented by senior council officers to the Executive Board, and how members of the Executive Board took decisions to spend tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money without sufficient information. 
Councillor Hughes-Griffiths strongly criticised the Labour Leader of the Council, Councillor Kevin Madge, for his complete lack of leadership in the matter, claiming that the Leader should have at the very least suspended the council officers pending further investigation. 
Councillor Peter Hughes-Griffiths said: 
“It is imperative that these two extremely damaging reports are discussed as a matter of urgency.  Carmarthenshire residents deserve answers and the council group I lead is not prepared to wait. 
“We cannot go into a meeting to discuss the authority’s budget next month when we have no confidence in the political leadership and some of the council’s senior staff. 
“Carmarthenshire Council has been bereft of political leadership which has sadly continued since the publication of these reports.   It appears that every member of the Executive Board has gone into hiding and has not taken an ounce of responsibility for their actions. 
“If I was leading this authority I would have at the very least suspended senior officers pending further investigation.  It is the bare minimum which should be done given the seriousness of the Auditor’s findings.  Furthermore, if I was responsible for spending tens of thousands of pounds unlawfully, I would do the honourable thing and stand down. 
“The opposition group will meet on Monday evening to discuss presenting motions of no confidence against three Executive Board members and two senior officers.  There is overwhelming evidence from the Wales Audit Office to say these people cannot continue in their posts. 
“I emphasise that an extraordinary meeting must be held.  The people of Carmarthenshire will rightly expect their local councillor – irrespective of political party – to agree to this meeting without hesitation.
Ends.
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"Council did not seek legal advice over indemnity," - In a further update, the South Wales Guardian reports that the council did not actually take separate legal advice when it approved the libel indemnity in January 2012, this was against the advice of the auditors who told them at the time to obtain legal advice.
The only advice they had was the legal opinion sought when they amended the constitution in 2008.

As we now know, that legal opinion was 'sexed-up' and misrepresented to councillors and the public - in effect the Chief Exec, Mark James and the Head of Law (which in 2008 was Mr Lyn Thomas and in 2012 was Linda Rees Jones) have been misleading councillors that their 'libel cost amendment' was lawful since 2008.

I also happen to know that Mr James was threatening to bring the counterclaim in November 2011.

As I have said, I have been questioning and challenging the lawfulness since 2008. As far as I am concerned, I have been proved right.

The Carmarthen Journal also has also provided an update;

"The Wales Audit Office has rebutted Carmarthenshire Council's statement that auditors changed their mind over the legality of the indemnity to fund legal action against blogger Jacqui Thompson.

In its statement yesterday, the council said: "We have been completely open and consulted the Wales Audit Office at the outset, prior to granting the indemnity, and they did not advise against the action we took. Some months after the indemnity had been granted, the Wales Audit Office further confirmed to a member of the public who queried the decision that they felt the council’s action was lawful. Clearly they have now changed their minds, some considerable time after the decision was taken, and too late for us to turn back the clock."

But the WAO has today said this is not the case, adding: "When the council took the decision to grant an indemnity to its Chief Executive in January 2012, we advised the council to take their own legal advice on this particular issue, which they did not do. Instead, they referred to general legal advice dating back to 2008.

"In August 2012, some four months after the council had already started paying legal costs, the Appointed Auditor provided a response to a member of the public, in which he referred to the general legal advice that the council had obtained."

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As everyone will now be aware the council issued a statement yesterday afternoon claiming that the auditor has got it all wrong and they have done nothing unlawful.
There has been some curious chopping and changing to the statement which was first published on the Carmarthen Journal website, but I note the complete version has now appeared on the council website.
Cneifiwr has covered all this here.

The council's statement is a perfect example of the total arrogance we've come to expect, I'm not going to even guess who wrote it. It's the first time I've heard such allegations of financial impropriety described as 'honourable intentions'.

I say 'the council' but of course the council hasn't actually met yet to discuss the auditor's report. Someone has obviously decided exactly what the 74 councillors want to do, before even asking them.

It suggests that the council are quite content to take their battle with the WAO all the way to the High Court. Apart from being enormously expensive it could also, once and for all, mean an end to Carmarthenshire 'special' powers to indemnify officers.

The Appointed Auditor is standing by his reports and has given a reaction to the council's statement;

"Regarding the issue of the pay supplement in lieu of employer's pension contributions, the process was significantly flawed, thereby rendering the policy unlawful. In particular, the council have not demonstrated proper exercise of discretion in setting ‘reasonable remuneration’.

In relation to the granting of an indemnity to the Chief Executive, the Appointed Auditor firmly remains of the view that the decision was unlawful.

If the Council does not accept this view, the Appointed Auditor may apply to the courts for a declaration that the item of account is contrary to law."

Another development yesterday was the raising of the matter in the House of Commons by MP Jonathan Edwards, the response was that they were fully aware of these reports. As far as I know there has been no reaction so far from the Welsh Government.

The news has been excellently covered by numerous blogs including Mrs Angry at Broken Barnet, award winning Owen Donovan at Oggy Bloggy Ogwr and fellow Carmarthenshire bloggers (yes there are more than two of us), Towy71 and West Wales News Review

More soon.

6 comments:

Bloke Zed said...

Just spoken to someone, who will remain nameless, senior St. Peter's Boy like me from West Carmarthen Town, and he confirms our suspicions...

This will sure end in tears for certain individuals on Castle Hill.

; )

Anonymous said...

Large EU grants to be forensically examined:
http://www.localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=17061:government-to-hire-legal-auditors-to-test-750-erdf-procurements&catid=62&Itemid=30

Anonymous said...

@ anon 21:07 - Unfortunately, it is WEFO in Wales! From what I have been told it has taken them over a year to investigate a complaint made by a member of the public about maladministration in CCC's Coastal project.

caebrwyn said...

Thanks anon 00.46 for reminding us that there is plenty more to come....it takes time. Don't give up.

Bloke Zed said...

WHOOPSIE! ref. my post above, EAST Carmarthen Town even, parish of St. Peter's.

Anonymous said...

So,mtime for "Independents" to show their true colours. This will be interesting. Do you vote against a majority unfit for purpose and possibly worse which has allowed itself to resign power to the unelected or do you let it continue. Tough call ....