Wednesday 30 January 2013

Chief Executive received £20,000 'cash advance'

Back in July 2012 I noticed in the council accounts that the Chief Executive of the council appeared to have had a £20,000 pay rise, bringing the total up to £209,498 per annum for 2011/2012. This seemed rather generous considering the financial position of the council. However, I clarified the blogpost after Unison, understandably, as they represent many low paid council workers, contacted the council and made enquiries. A rather vague response was issued to say that it was for 'fees as Returning Officer'. A detailed breakdown was not forthcoming but I took it to refer to the Welsh Assembly elections and the Referendum held earlier in that financial year.

Plaid Cymru, who have been campaigning for a Living Wage for the lowest paid workers (rejected by the Labour led administration) have followed up this matter. It has now come to light that it was not the Assembly election at all, as those fees and expenses were paid directly by the Welsh Government. The £20,000, (a 'part payment' no less), was paid in advance of the local council elections in May 2012, which is rather novel being in a different financial year and normally paid after the event when the number of candidates and contested seats are actually known. Fees and expenses for local elections are paid by the council of course.

This payment does not figure anywhere in any meeting, agenda or minutes but surely must have been approved by Meryl and Co...apparently there were 'funds available'. Also odd is that, if this was approved just prior to a possible change in the Administration, the Members who gave the rubber stamp were effectively acting on behalf of an unknown future membership of the council. It is far from clear whether approval was sought from elected members at all and Plaid are asking questions.

Plaid Cymru Carmarthenshire have issued a press release;

Carmarthenshire County Council’s Chief Executive received a £20,000 cash advance last year Plaid Cymru has revealed. 
....Information obtained by Carmarthenshire MP Jonathan Edwards and AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas shows that the £190,000-a-year Chief Executive was paid an additional £20,000 for election activities a minimum of 5 weeks before the election took place, in a different financial year and before the number of candidates was even known. 
 .....E-mail correspondence from the Chief Executive and the Director of Resources states the payment was made in advance of the election actually taking place and because “funds were available”.
Mr Edwards said the cash advance would leave county residents asking a number of questions about the priorities of the Council’s Executive, especially how “funds were available” for a cash advance whilst services were facing unprecedented cuts. Constituency colleague Mr Thomas said the decision resembled the scandal at the All Wales Ethnic Minority Association (AWEMA) in which the Chief Executive awarded himself a cash advance on his expenses. Mr Thomas also expressed concern that the same people who approved this cash advance continue to sit on Council’s Executive Board. 
Jonathan Edwards MP said: 
“I’m sure the residents of Carmarthenshire will be asking serious questions as to how funds were available to pay the £190,000-a-year Chief Executive a cash advance of £20,000 at a time when services were facing, and continue to face unprecedented cuts. 
“More questions will inevitably follow as to how that £20,000 figure was calculated before the election took place and before knowing how many council wards were going to be contested. 
“Both the Leader and Deputy Leader of the council who would have approved this cash advance continue to lead the local authority on its Executive Board. This is the same leadership which continues to deny its low-paid employees a Living Wage. 
“This revelation will be a slap in the face to those hard-working low-paid employees and speaks volumes about the priorities of Carmarthenshire County Council’s Executive.” 
Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM added:
“Many county residents will be shocked to learn the £190,000-a-year Chief Executive pocketed an additional £20,000 before the close of nominations, let alone before the election itself.
“The whole affair seems remarkably similar to the scandal at AWEMA in which the Chief Executive awarded himself a £9,000 advance on expenses he claimed he would have earned at a later date. 
“The only difference I can see in this case is that the council’s Executive Board – the then Leader and Deputy Leader of which continue to run the council today – would surely have approved the cash advance. We have now written to the Council Leader asking for a full justification of the decision
“When so many people are relying on pay-day loans to get them to the end of the month, to learn that such a highly paid officer received an extra £20,000 weeks in advance will be a bitter pill to swallow for those struggling to make ends meet. 
“There is a need to look more widely at Chief Executives receiving these substantial sums of money for election activities on top of their already large salaries when we consider that much of the work is actually carried out during normal working hours.
“I believe the role of Returning Officer should be incorporated into the existing duties of a Chief Executive and constitute part of their job description to put an end to these hefty elections fees which are paid almost every year.
“As such, I will be presenting amendments to the Local Government Democracy Bill which is currently under consideration in the National Assembly.”
(Full press release here)

Update Feb 1st; Western Mail article here


Jacob Williams said...

I posted the following comment on a similar post on the blog of Cneifiwr, and the same applies to you. I do tend to keep an eye on the Carmarthenshire Council gossip, if only to help me to comprehend how much worse things are than in Pembrokeshire Council. Some of what goes on is quite alarming!

There's long been a rumour that for national polls, each returning officer is given a pot of money to cover the costs of conducting the election in his/her area, and any money left-over afterwards can be trousered. If true, this would create a vested interest to run the elections on a shoe-string, to keep costs down to a minimum ― though not for the benefit of the tax-payer.

It's widely regarded as the reason certain authorities no longer carry out overnight election counts, opting to start the following morning. The higher rate of pay the ballot counters would command to work through the night would eat into the profits, sorry, the savings.

If you google ‘SN/PC/05302,’ the first document might suggest otherwise. Either way, nobody ever said democracy was cheap!

I’ve been meaning to delve into this for a while, if it does have legs I might do a story of my own, or perhaps it could be a joint venture?! Speaking of which, I can't waste this free opportunity for a shameless plug to my own website!

Jac o' the North, said...

This might explain the curious decision by Mohammed Mehmet, chief executive of Denbighshire county council, in his role as returning officer for the six northern authorities at the 2011 referendum, to hold the count the day after the vote, when the results from the rest of the country were already known.

Jac o' the North, said...

Sorry, that should have read, the 2011 Assembly elections. But the rest holds. The count was delayed until the following afternoon and the decision was made unilaterally - and without explanation - by Mohammed Mehmet, returning officer for the northern region.