Update 12.49; South Wales Guardian reports;
Dyfed Powys Police have confirmed that they are liaising with both the Crown Prosecution Service and a second police force in relation to the report issued by the Wales Audit Office in respect of two unlawful Carmarthenshire County Council transactions last week.
The Plaid group on the council are meeting at 5pm today (3rd Feb) to consider proposals for votes of no confidence in Executive Board Members Kevin Madge (Leader), Meryl Gravell (former leader) and deputy leader Pam Palmer as well as the two senior officials, Mark James and acting Head of Law, Linda Rees Jones.
They will also discuss the possibility of an urgent extraordinary council meeting as the crisis deepens.
PRESS RELEASE - 3nd February 2014
Jonathan Edwards MP www.jonathanedwards.org.uk
Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales
Member of Parliament calls in Police to investigate Council Chief’s possible Misconduct in Public Office
Over £55,000 of public expenditure “unlawful”
Plaid Cymru Member of Parliament, Jonathan Edwards, has requested the Police investigate Carmarthenshire County Council’s Chief Executive, Mark James and Head of Administration and Law, Linda Rees Jones for possible Misconduct in Public Office following highly damaging public interest reports from the Wales Audit Office which conclude the Council had acted unlawfully in two key matters.
Wales Audit Office reports published last week (Thursday 30th January) investigated the decision of the Council’s Executive Board to indemnify the chief executive’s legal costs to launch a libel counter-claim against a critical county blogger, and the decision of the Executive Board to enable its Chief to avoid tax he would have been due to pay after a change in the law relating to pension contributions for high earners.
Instead of paying employer contributions to the Local Government Pension Scheme, “pay supplements” worth £28,750 were credited directly to Mr James on top of his salary.
On the libel indemnity, the Auditor concludes the local authority did not have the power to agree the indemnity - costs of which currently stand at £26,426 - and that the report given to members of the authority’s Executive Board to make a decision was not representative of the Counsel received. "The cautious and reserved terms in which Counsel expressed his opinion to the Council are not reflected in the report to the Executive Board. Instead, the report represents his advice in unequivocal terms – that the indemnity can be granted but only in exceptional circumstances, although these were not defined", the Auditor said.
The Auditor further stated that the Chief Executive took part in the decision-making process "whilst having a disqualifying financial interest in the outcome of the decision."
The report, written by the authority’s Head of Administration and Law, Linda Rees Jones, has been branded a “sexed-up dossier” by Welsh Assembly Member Rhodri Glyn Thomas.
In an astonishing revelation, the Wales Audit Office has since disclosed that the council did not seek legal advice specifically on the indemnity as it was advised to by the Auditor, but instead relied on general legal advice it had sought four years prior to taking the decision.
This revelation, MP Jonathan Edwards says, raises serious questions as to whether elected members were deliberately misled by the senior officers to ensure the indemnity was approved. Mr Edwards stated the Auditor’s new comments suggest misconduct of public office has taken place in that public officers have "wilfully misconducted themselves to such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in them without reasonable excuse of justification other than to ensure the indemnity was granted."
Outlining his reasons for contacting the police, Jonathan Edwards MP said:
"The unlawful indemnity and unlawful pension arrangements have seen over £55,000 of public money spent for the benefit of the Chief Executive.
"The reports are extremely damaging. In my mind the findings justify dismissal of senior council officers and should make the council’s elected leadership stand down from their roles.
"But even more worrying is the disclosure of the appointed Auditor that the council did not seek specific legal advice on the lawfulness of granting the indemnity.
"The documentation presented to the Executive board when deciding to approve the indemnity was a report created by council officers. It was not based on specific legal advice which the council was advised to obtain, nor was it representative of even the general legal advice obtained four years earlier.
"I have to question on what evidence exactly the documentation was based to justify a blank cheque of potentially tens of thousands of pounds for the cause of the Chief Executive and whether any criminal activity took place in the process.
"This astonishing revelation from the audit office leads me to no other conclusion than misconduct of public office has taken place. By producing what appears to be a grossly unqualified report, and taking part in the decision-making process, my reading of the legislation suggests these public officers have wilfully misconducted themselves to such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in them without reasonable excuse of justification other than to ensure the indemnity was granted to benefit the Chief Executive.
"Furthermore, given that officers drew up the report without any specific legal advice, questions need to be asked as to whether the officers were aware that their actions might be judged to be unlawful but decided to press ahead despite the risk of the grave consequences.
“This is a deeply regrettable situation to have been put in. When I entered politics I never thought I would have to report civil servants to the Police - this is the darkest day of my career. However, where such serious activities have taken place, I believe it is my duty as a Member of Parliament to stand up for the taxpayers I represent.
"I have contacted both Dyfed Powys and South Wales Police forces to request an investigation into the whole affair in order for the police to satisfy itself that no such misconduct has taken place.
"The Labour-run Council seems intent on challenging the independent Audit Office reports, and the Auditor's recommendation to rescind the indemnity looks set to be rejected. With the Council leadership digging their heels in and court action seemingly inevitable, my duty as an elected member must be to protect Carmarthenshire tax payers from footing the bill for further expensive legal costs."
The Wales Audit Office report on the “unlawful” Libel Indemnity can be found here: http://www.wao.gov.uk/system/files/publications/WAO_Carmarthenshire_PIR%20Libel_English_2014.pdf
The Wales Audit Office report on the “unlawful” Senior Officers Pay and Pensions can be found here: http://www.wao.gov.uk/system/files/publications/WAO_CarmarthenshireCC_Pay_Pensions_PIR_English_2014.pdf
|Jonathan Edwards MP Carmarthen East & Dinefwr|