Tuesday 4 February 2014

Plaid calls on Leader to suspend Chief Executive

Update 14.55; Kevin Madge has responded to Plaid's requests (see main post) and refused to consider calling for immediate suspensions, he insists that the matter of the libel indemnity should not be discussed until the extraordinary meeting on the 27th February. Their 'evidence' opposing the WAO findings is now being circulated amongst councillors, evidence, of course, that the auditor has already seen.
There is, however, an ordinary meeting of full council next Wednesday (12th Feb).....

via South Wales Guardian


Following a meeting yesterday evening of the Plaid opposition group on the council they resolved to call for an emergency council meeting immediately. Kevin Madge, the Labour leader had, earlier in the day said there would be an extraordinary council meeting on the 27th February, after the budget to 'discuss' the audit reports. He said that councillors would be provided with all the evidence and suggested that once they'd seen that, everyone involved would be vindicated.
The Appointed Auditor has already seen all the evidence and still reached the damning conclusions presented in his two reports.

The Plaid group resolved to ask Kevin Madge to suspend the Chief Executive Mark James immediately whilst investigations, which now include the police, are ongoing. We now know the police are liaising with the Crown Prosecution Service and a second police force over the findings.

Further resolutions were agreed to table votes of no confidence at the emergency meeting in the Chief Executive and Councillors Kevin Madge, former leader Meryl gravell and deputy leader Pam Palmer.

Full statement from Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths (Plaid);

“The serious and damaging findings of the Wales Audit Office reports required swift action.  It is not the job of councillors or the council’s leadership to challenge and undermine the integrity of the independent Audit Office – these reports should be accepted and their recommendations implemented.

“The group I lead is increasingly concerned by the attitude of the Council leadership and called an urgent meeting of the council to discuss the reports’ findings.

“After an informed meeting, we have regrettably decided to present two motions of no confidence in both the Chief Executive and three members of the Executive Board. 

My members take no joy in bringing forward these motions, but the highly-damaging report findings are serious enough to warrant this action.

“We believe an extraordinary meeting of the council should be called immediately, and in advance of the budget-decision meeting scheduled for 19th February.  We have signed a request to the Council Chair and will be presenting that official request to him.

“In the meantime, and now considering the involvement of the police, I call on the Council Leader, Kevin Madge, to suspend the Chief Executive in order for a thorough investigation to take place into the findings of the Wales Audit Office reports.

Meanwhile, the Executive Board, which met yesterday, issued a response to Jonathan Edwards' complaint to the police. As per my previous post, Mr Edwards has reported Mark James and acting head of law, Linda Rees Jones to the police and has requested an investigation into possible Misconduct in Public Office over the auditor's findings.

The best word to describe the Executive Board statement is delusional. And astonishing. Mr Edwards' complaint to the police, and his press release, were based on the factual findings of the auditor yet County Hall have accused him of libel and political opportunism. I've copied the Exec Board statement below as it is evidence of an administration which is not only in extreme denial, but has completely lost the plot:

There is a saying in this country that has been upheld over many years and that is – innocent until proven guilty.

However, this sentiment appears to have been lost on an MP who penned a letter, copied to the press, which finds two Carmarthenshire County Council senior officers guilty of varying charges without making any pretence of fairness or balance.

We understand he has asked two police forces to look into this matter prior to council even having the opportunity to look at all the information and debate these issues. This is premature at best, or political opportunism at its worst.

The letter contains libellous and factually inaccurate statements, which is ironic because if the officers concerned issued information of this nature they would be pilloried for doing so.  

It appears the MP feels he has licence to publish any information regardless of checking all the facts which is extremely unfair on the individuals concerned.

Both officers robustly deny they have acted in any way other than a professional and proper manner and are confident that this will be supported by the evidence when the matters go before full council.

As an executive board they have our full support and we are sure that they will be vindicated, it would be wise if opposition politicians waited to see the full evidence before making judgement.

On the subject of political opportunism there was a fine example of this at yesterday's Exec Board meeting where in desperation due to current events, members backtracked on some of the more unpopular budget cuts, well for another year anyway. Cuts to children's respite services, crossing patrols and charges for 6th form transport were dropped; welcome news whatever the motive. The rest goes through of course hoping for a full council rubber stamp on the 19th February, however that might not be plain sailing now...

I assume this urgent PR strategy as well as the collective indignation over Mr Edwards' complaint had been formulated during the pre-meeting meeting, a curious and traditional habit which the auditor found to be worryingly undemocratic and lacking in transparency. Maybe it also includes a traditional group hug.

As for dropping some proposed cuts, I should think so too. Figures just released under FOI show that the council continue to pay Scarlets Regional Ltd a weekly fortune in back door subsidies (see my post from 2012). The latest figures include £30,000 for a 'large signage' and £20,000 for 'on kit logos'.
What I find completely staggering is that whilst the firm doesn't have to pay any rent for the lease until it returns a hefty profit, which is quite possibly never, the council pays rent to the company, around £3425 every couple of months, for 'office space'. More on all that in time to come. Along with the curious case of the 'allowable expenses', and I believe the auditors are also dealing with a complaint about that.

Hopefully readers will understand that the main event at the moment is the unfolding meltdown of senior officialdom at County Hall. Developments are moving swiftly, but so far, those involved are not budging an inch. I'm certain that it's only a matter of time...and it won't be long either.

There will be further updates when necessary. The South Wales Guardian continues to be very much on the ball and updates its site regularly. It goes without saying that everyone should be reading Cneifiwr's blog and, of course, the excellent Mrs Angry from Broken Barnet; Light breaks on secret lots, or: 'an honest mistake', by the Daftarrest council 

The Apponted Auditor, Anthony Barrett has written a very topical article today on the Wales Audit Office blog titled 'Why Public Interest Reports are so important in holding to account' .


LATRA said...

Keep at it Jacqui! This mustn't be allowed to go away. Maybe we will see a democratic Carmarthenshire in our lifetime after all! Let us know if there's anything we can do. Little rays of hope are creeping in!

Catherine said...

Can I suggest that as many people as possible write to Lesley Griffiths AM, Local Government Minister WAG, asking that Carmarthenshire County Council be put in special measures and taken over by commissioners from WAG until this mess is sorted out.

We cannot let this drag on and on - Mark James should be suspended at least until the police and CPS investigation is concluded.

Carmarthenshire deserves better.

Anonymous said...

All public servants, inclduing Council officers, should demonstrate the highest standards of probity in public life. The Chief Executive of a large local authority should not only be seen to demonstrate these high standards, but like Caesar's wife, he should be above suspicion.

The Appointed Auditor's findings can give us no confidence that high standards will be forthcoming. The Chief Executive has overseen unlawful decisions, taken part in meetings when he should not have done, and he has promoted secrecy and feigned urgency in order to prevent transparency. His advice to his own Members has been partial, to say the least.

Not only should Council Members have no confidence in him, but members of the public, other Council officers, other public bodies and numerous stakeholders should have no confidence in him.

If his officially acknowledged and reported failings are the standards of high office that the Council wishes to uphold, then God help Carmarthenshire!

Anonymous said...

Where are the statements from the so-called Independent councillors. You know, the ones who can say what they think because they belong to no party and are not (or so it is said) whipped.

Anonymous said...

'Conduct Unbecoming'.

The conduct of the Executive Board - particularly Mark James and Kevin Madge is becoming almost as serious as the Auditor's findings.

Anonymous said...

Can I take this opportunity to remind Labour councillors of some of the Labour Party Rules?

Chapter 1
Constitutional rules
Clause IV – Aims and Values
…..we work for:

B. A JUST SOCIETY, which judges its strength by the condition of the weak as much as the strong, ….. and delivers people from the tyranny of poverty, prejudice and the abuse of power
C. AN OPEN DEMOCRACY, in which government is held to account by the people, decisions are taken as far as practicable by the communities they affect and where fundamental human rights are guaranteed

Chapter 13
Rules for local government Labour groups on principal authorities

Clause 2 – Aims and Values

2. Individual members of Labour groups and group observers
A. To uphold the highest standards of probity and integrity.
i. The party requires its representatives to uphold the highest standards of probity and integrity and they shall be guided in those standards by advice from the NEC.
ii. The onus of responsibility for upholding those standards rests with the individual councillor and group observer …..
iii. Labour councillors and members must at all times avoid not only wrong-doing but also the perception of wrong-doing.

If any Labour Members are considering supporting the unholy status quo perhaps they might wish to take a step back, reflect on the rules that they have signed up to, and ask themselves what on earth they are thinking of!

Anonymous said...