Tuesday 10 December 2013

Unlawful pension u-turn - an 'Incredible situation' say Plaid

Update 11th Dec; The SW Guardian published an opinion piece today wondering if last Wednesday's reversal of the pension decision shows rising panic in County Hall,  and whether members of the Executive Board are 'dogged by the fear of something nasty lurking at the bottom of their Christmas stockings'.....

.....On the other hand, today's editions of the Carmarthen Journal and Llanelli Star report that the stand-off between the council and the Wales Audit Office over both unlawful payments has 'ended'....really? Either they are privy to information that neither the council nor the WAO have, or there's some wishful thinking going on....Update 12th Dec; The Carmarthen Journal has now corrected the online article to exclude the libel indemnity...the print version remains the same of course.


The unlawful payments row rages on and the South Wales Guardian reports (see below) that the Plaid Cymru opposition are demanding answers, and accountability, over the pension 'u-turn' last week, (a partial u-turn you may remember as it was not accepted that the pension payments were unlawful). By the way, kudos to the newspaper for regularly updating it's website as the story has unfolded over the past weeks, and for that matter, using the term 'tax avoidance'.

The Wales Audit Office is yet to publish a Public Interest Report into the two unlawful payments relating to the Chief Executive, the second issue being the libel indemnity of course. The council state below that they are still unable to comment as discussions with the Wales Audit Office are still 'ongoing'.

However the begrudging partial u-turn last week was cloaked in terms of a policy change and I would have thought that elected members would have every right to see the paperwork associated with such a decision. Legal or otherwise.

I can't imagine that discussions with the auditors will be 'ongoing' for very much longer; their investigations concluded back in August/September when the payments were deemed unlawful, and I understand that complaints regarding the circumstances surrounding the meeting when the libel indemnity was granted were made back in March.

Anyway, to see challenging questions being avoided and concerned councillors silenced, over these and other topics, don't forget to tune into tomorrow's full council meeting, starting at 10am here.

South Wales Guardian 10th December 2013 
Plaid demand answers over County Hall's pensions U-turn 
Searching questions are being asked of Carmarthenshire county council leader Kevin Madge after the authority's executive board backed down over a disputed £16,350 payment to chief executive Mark James in lieu of pension contributions, as a tax avoidance measure. 
The Plaid Cymru opposition group, at a meeting last night, demanded answers from the council leader. 
“This matter has been one of intense public interest since the Wales Audit Office declared the payment to be unlawful,” said Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, who leads the 28-strong Plaid group at County Hall. 
“The executive board, after insisting all along that the pay supplement policy to senior officers was perfectly lawful, has now done a U-turn by saying it will be 'withdrawn on procedural grounds'. I’m asking the leader to explain exactly what that means. 
“Despite being told by the Wales Audit Office that the payment to the chief executive was unlawful, the executive board insisted on taking their own legal opinion from a leading QC, in the hope of proving otherwise. 
"It’s obvious they've been advised to back down by the barrister, but they still deny that the arrangement is 'intrinsically unlawful'. 
“This is quite an incredible situation, which shows that the Labour-Independent regime which runs this council has made a shambles of the whole affair. 
"The taxpayers of Carmarthenshire have a right to know just how much this sorry affair has cost us to date. We, in Plaid Cymru, feel that those responsible should be called to account.” 
The council have told the Guardian they are unable to answer any questions. 
"The executive board has reconsidered the matter at its meeting of December 4," ran a statement. 
"As discussions are ongoing with the Wales Audit Office it would be inappropriate to discuss the matter further until those discussions are concluded." 
(Link to article here)

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