Wednesday 12 February 2014

The Unlawful Payments - Day 12

It looks like, finally, there may be some pressure from Cardiff Bay for Carmarthenshire council to act on the auditors reports. Sooner rather than later. In response to very well presented questions from Janet Finch Saunders (Con) and Rhodri Glyn Thomas (Plaid), the First Minister, Carwyn Jones (Lab) said;

"It's important for any local authority to consider any report that comes from the auditor and not just think that it's something that can be put to one side, and I don't think that any local authority should be in that situation.
"It's very important that Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire deal with this situation and then act on it,"
(BBC Wales)

Hopefully this was more than a subtle subliminal message to Kevin Madge (Lab), who is now ignoring pressure within his own party to call for the immediate suspension of the Chief Executive.

There have also been calls for Cllr Madge himself to step down immediately over his own involvement as Exec Board Member when both the payments were approved, along with 'independent' Cllrs Meryl Gravell and Pam Palmer.

We know already that the Minister for Local Government, Lesley Griffiths (Lab) is in discussions with the Auditor General.

We also know, of course that Kevin Madge has been invited to discuss the matters with the Deputy Chief Constable of Dyfed Powys Police, one can only hope that this meeting today (Wed 12th) takes place over a tape recorder rather than tea and biscuits.

As Rhodri Glyn Thomas pointed out the other day, the Chief Executive of Caerphilly Council was suspended two days after the Auditor published his report. In Carmarthenshire, we are now on Day Twelve.

The council have issued another swathe of documents to all councillors, accompanied with another email from Linda Rees Jones who again reminds Members that she has been reported to the police. She also suggests, patronisingly, that this early release of information may help as "we fully appreciate that some members will find the documentation complex"...

Those aware of the practices within County Hall over the release of documents will recognise this new founded openness as a sign of desperation, not transparency.Presumably the Exempt Report on 'public toilet transfers to community councils' remains safely under lock and key...

Anyway, one thing which has finally appeared attached to Ms Rees Jones' email is the report to the Executive Board on the 23rd January 2012 recommending the libel indemnity. This report has been kept very close to their chests and disclosure refused on at least one occasion. This was the report which misrepresented the 2008 legal advice.

As readers may be aware, the libel litigation has not been concluded yet, there is an outstanding Appeal relating to Mr James' counterclaim. Therefore I am unable to give my full views on this matter yet but I am writing as an observer, and it's worth mentioning that in amongst the various risks the Members chose to take on your behalf was the potential for a costly Judicial Review and a potential loss of £100,000.

The report will appear in its entirety at some point, probably when the agenda for the special council meeting on the 27th is published. To give an example, you would think that sentences such as 'The Authority's insurance policy doesn't extend to counterclaims' may have raised a concern or two as to why exactly it didn't...... As observers have noted, a propensity for asking challenging questions is not a criteria for becoming a Executive Board Member in Carmarthenshire. In fact, quite the reverse....

Also disclosed to councillors is the Auditor's response to the Consideration documents, it is clear that nothing any of those involved said in their response to the Auditor changed his initial view that the indemnity was unlawful. His response forms the basis of the Public Interest Report.

As Mr Tim Kerr QC has been booked for Pembrokeshire's special Valentine's meeting on Friday to defend the pension scandal, you can bet your bottom dollar he'll be joining our friends in County Hall Carmarthen on the 27th to defend not one, but two unlawful payments. On the opposing bench will be the Auditor.

Clearly those responsible for these unlawful payments including the Chief Executive who received them will not have to justify their actions, nor defend themselves, to their fellow councillors, the public and the press -  they will have a QC there to do it for them.

Meanwhile, I'm sure there will be a few curious viewers watching tomorrow's (Wed) 'ordinary' full council meeting - if County Hall bosses manage to stop this overwhelming scandal being mentioned, I'll be very surprised. That's if they turn up...

Webcast starts at 10am and can be viewed here, or later on archive.

Update 7.13;
The South Wales Guardian reports that if a police investigation is launched then Mr James will be suspended.

They have also enquired about the legal advice given by barrister Adam Speker who has represented Mr James throughout the libel case, advice which the council claim was 'independent'.

The council have said that this advice was given verbally at the meeting on the 23rd January 2012, but the advice from Tim Kerr QC, (written 22 months after the decision) refers to Mr Speker's written 'Note of Advice dated 17th January 2012'

 A council spokesman said: “The report which went before the executive board regarding the indemnity, which included advice given by Mr Adam Speker, will be published shortly. As there is ongoing litigation regarding [the libel case] we need to check that we are able to publish it in its entirety at this time.”
(South Wales Guardian)

This is the report I referred to in my main post above which has been sent to all councillors. It refers to Mr Speker's advice but does not include the separate 'Note of Advice'.


Anonymous said...

It is my understanding that if anyone in CCC is suspected of fraud or corruption the Head of Audit, Risk and Procurement arranges for an investigation to be carried out and no internal investigation by any department in CCC is attempted. It is also his/her job to refer the matter to the police. Have these unlawful transactions been reported to him/her by Kev or any other Cllr in CCC? Not that he/she could deny that they were unaware of it! The policies and procedures in place are there to follow!

Anonymous said...

Having listened to the council meeting today, I was shocked to hear Linda Rees Jones seemingly accuse Cll. Caich of breaching her Code of Conduct by being a witness for you Jacqui, in the libel action. I am wondering if this was libellous as the meeting was broadcast to the general public. It begs the question that if this was true, why hasn't this ever been brought to light before - why wait for a public meeting to launch a personal attack.

caebrwyn said...

@Anon 13.27 It was purely and very clearly a personal attack. For that matter, Linda Rees Jones was a witness for Mark James...

Anonymous said...

I would like to know what grounds and evidence Linda Rees Jones has that justifies the accusation against Sian Caiach that she had breached her code of conduct.Please note she was not allowed the right to reply.
Surely this cannot be right as nothing has been discussed prior to today's meeting.

Anonymous said...

@13:27 & @ 14:59 - Can any of you please tell me at what point did Linda Rees-Jones accuse Sian Caiach of breaching her CoC?

I have watched the webcast twice and still haven't heard or see it?

Could you tell me the exact time please?