Monday 10 March 2014

MP calls for 'intervention' as Mark James confirmed as Returning Officer for Euro Elections - updated

Update 17.40;
The Electoral Commission Wales have been in touch with Cneifiwr with a clarification as to their position. They state that they are not responsible for the appointment or removal of a Returning Officer for any given election. The full text can be found on Cneifiwr's blog.

In a further update, Jonathan Edwards MP has confirmed, via Twitter, that he has tabled a series of Parliamentary Questions to the Cabinet Office which should be published on the Order Paper tomorrow.

Update 12 March;
According to a spokesperson from Carmarthenshire Council, Mr James will still be fulfilling the role of Returning Officer as it is different to that of chief executive of the council.

Strange then that under the council's constitution it says;

The Chief Executive shall be the Head of Paid Service under Section 4 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, having responsibility for the following functions.... 
...acting as Returning Officer and Electoral Registration Officer for local government, National Assembly for Wales, Parliamentary and European elections.

Doesn't sound particularly 'different' to me.

So, as for 'stepping down' pending a criminal investigation by Gloucestershire police, it seems that he will be back in County Hall, not only for voting day but in preparation for the election as well.

(Golwg360 reports)


Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards spoke at last week's Welsh Affairs debate at the House of Commons about recent events in Carmarthenshire.
He also called for urgent ministerial intervention regarding confirmation from the Electoral Commission that Mark James, "an individual who is no longer at his desk due to a police investigation" will still be the local Returning Officer for the forthcoming European elections. He has already 'stepped aside' from his various roles in the Welsh Government.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): 
Carmarthenshire has a very proud history. Some say it has a claim to be the birthplace of Welsh democracy, which is a reference to Carmarthenshire’s role in delivering a yes vote for the National Assembly in the successful 1997 referendum.  
However, a dark cloud has been hanging over local democracy in Carmarthenshire for far too long, with a ruling cabal of senior officials and executive board members repressively running the council, stopping democratic debate by the full council, pressurising local journalists, smearing opposition politicians, coercing a council chair who dared defy instruction and making financial arrangements to enable the chief executive, a man who earns almost £4,000 a week, to avoid paying his fair share of tax.  
A seemingly permanent back-room deal between Labour and so-called independent councillors—or the closet Tories as the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) describes them—means elections are unlikely to lead to political change. 
At the last local authority elections, my party won the largest number of seats convincingly, achieving over 10,000 more votes than our Labour opponents. It is the same discredited personnel at the helm, however. 
Given the number of mentions that Carmarthenshire has had in Private Eye’s “Rotten Boroughs” column, one might think that the executive board members would have got the message. 
However, unrepentant, the council and the executive board are moving towards darker waters. 
That is what happens when we have a toxic combination of weak executive board councillors and powerful senior officers. 
The warnings relating to recent events could not have been clearer. Local papers have lost advertising revenue, which could bankrupt their businesses, for daring to criticise executive board decisions.  
We have seen the steady erosion of the democratic process, with powers being taken away from councillors and put into the hands of unelected officers, and with the executive board rubber-stamping decisions and, to all intents and purposes, operating as the political wing of those senior officers. 
In the past month, a report from the independent Wales Audit Office has found that the executive board was guilty of sanctioning two unlawful payments for the benefit of the chief executive. Those payments totalled more than £50,000.  
One relates to the granting of a legal indemnity which enabled the chief executive to counter-sue a local blogger.  
The second relates to a tax dodge involving the redirection of pension contributions into the pocket of the chief executive.  
The report was damning, and any politician with a sense of integrity would have done the honourable thing and instigated an urgent investigation into the implicated officers before resigning on the spot themselves.  
Instead, we got a deliberate propaganda campaign from the publicly financed press department of the council to discredit the Wales Audit Office, and threats and smears against opposition politicians. 
Last week, the people of Carmarthenshire were subjected to a farcical extraordinary meeting to discuss the Wales Audit Office report. 
The executive board commissioned a QC, at a potential cost of thousands of pounds to Carmarthenshire ratepayers, to discredit the Wales Audit Office’s findings and protect its leaders from votes of no confidence. 
This has all been happening at a time when the executive board is pushing through huge cuts to council services and increasing council tax by almost 5%. 
The Labour party in Carmarthenshire is pushing through the privatisation of care services, increasing charges for school meals, reducing assessments for children with special needs, making financial cuts to welfare advice services and extending and increasing charges for social care, as well as introducing a range of other regressive measures. 
It is a matter of pressing concern that, despite being relieved of his duties, the chief executive of Carmarthenshire county council will continue to be the local returning officer for the forthcoming European elections.  
The Electoral Commission has confirmed that position. I fail to understand how an individual who is no longer at his desk due to a police investigation can be responsible for the democratic processes in my county. The same applies in Pembrokeshire, unless events in that great county have changed the situation today, and I ask for immediate ministerial intervention. 
(Hansard 6th March 2014)


Anonymous said...

I do not think any council chief executive should be the returning officer for their own area. In the case of Carmarthenshire, I am surprised that someone one who is under police investigation has been confirmed as the acting returning officer.

Tessa said...

Good point anon 16:35. The returning officer would surely have a vested interest in the outcome. The Carmarthenshire Ratepayers' Association (now defunct) also considered it foul play that prior to the 2008 local government elections, serving councillors were given £5,000 each to spend in their constituencies. We believed this was from a wish by the council (officers and/or members)to maintain the status quo.

Anonymous said...

Could it be that he's already been paid for being returning officer and it would be very embarrassing if he didn't have the job?

Anonymous said...

The statement by Jonathan Edwards is an excellent summary of the disgraceful situation in CCC. He's got it in a nutshell!

Anonymous said...

Excellent point anon 08:51!

Anyone with any ideas as to how we can find out?

Well done Jonathan Edwards!

Anonymous said...

I cannot understand why a CEO needs to be paid as a Returning Officer anyway - it should be part of his or her normal duties.

It is their staff who keep up the Electoral Roll and I very much doubt if the Returning Officer does anything more than sign a few forms after hard-working counters have done their jobs.

Perhaps in future councils could write the job into the CEO's general functions for the very high salaries that they already command.

johnsouthwales said...

ooh err, that does sound like on paper that the role is part of the job package so to speak..

but does that mean the responsibility lays in the 'chief executive' contract and pay, meaning extra roles are in the contract.. or are the roles construed as 'overtime'?

i don't see them as extra duties based on that info, so the extra duties are part and parcel of the main job, and no 'overtime'