Thursday 27 March 2014

The Returning Officer question...and another descent into farce

Local politicians raised the question yesterday of Mark James' suitability as Returning Officer for the European elections, given that he is 'not at his desk because of a criminal investigation'. Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards raised it in the House of Commons and AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas in the Senedd.

The Secretary of State for Wales, David Jones said that they are 'keeping a close eye on the situation'.

In the Senedd, Plaid's Rhodri Glyn Thomas asked the Labour Minister, Lesley Griffiths how, as Mr James is currently suspended from his duties as Chief Executive and is not supposed to have contact with staff, he can possibly carry out the functions of Returning Officer? He called for the Minister to intervene.

The Minister immediately corrected Mr Thomas and said that Mr James was 'NOT' suspended and was still Chief Executive and Head of Paid Service. Incidentally Mr Edwards used the word suspension in the Commons.

She then went on to say she was aware of the grave public concern and had been in discussion with Baroness Randerson, the lib dem peer, and had also written to Greg Clark, the UK Cabinet Officer who deals with these things.

Basically she said that no one had the power to step in, it was up to the Local Authority itself.

She was then passed the statement issued by Kevin Madge on the 14th February saying that Mr James was no longer undertaking his duties as Chief Executive.

She must be as puzzled as the rest of us.

What an unholy mess. Not even the Welsh Minister for Local Government seems to know whether Mr James is currently still Chief Executive and Head of Paid Service or not.

If he's 'no longer undertaking his duties' then one of those duties, according to the council's constitution, is the role of Returning Officer...surely this must logically mean he's no longer legally capable, nor entitled, to run an election.

In actual fact, it appears that Mr James might as well be sat in County Hall. It is understood that he remains in full contact with staff and has full access to the council computer network...and to all intent and purpose, remains in full control..

It beggars belief that despite the public outrage over the scandalous findings, and an ongoing criminal investigation, County Hall officials have continued to deliberately try and pull the wool over everyone's eyes.

The Electoral Commission said Returning Officers were the responsibility of the UK government, the UK government said they are monitoring the situation, the Welsh Government seems to think its up to the council.

What a bizarre affair.

There should have been an official suspension in the first place. Perhaps one reason, with an appeal on the counterclaim ongoing, is that the phrase 'stepped aside' sounds slightly better across the courtroom than 'suspended'.

Update 27th March;

Video links to questions in the Senedd here, and the House of Commons here (scroll to 11.55.00).


Anonymous said...

It's Machiavelli meets Alice in Wonderland! Careful application of spin and political manoeuvring means that nothing is quite what it seems in the fairy-tale political corridors of County Hall. But how much longer can this really go on? I'm beginning to think that the "eye" that Cardiff Bay is keeping on the situation is a blind one.

Ken Haylock said...

It seems to me that the commissioners are long overdue both in Cardiff & in Pembrokeshire, if only to come in and properly and unconditionally suspend the senior officers in question that are under investigation.

Anonymous said...

It just confirms what I was told by Cardiff "we do not have the manpower or finance to check what local Councils do" From that comment one can only assume that Councils feel confident they can do pretty well what they please without having to answer for those actions. Farcical would not cover that state of affairs.

Lesley said...

If only the Carmarthenshire "Executive Board" had had the courage to suspend him in the first place perhaps the situation would be a bit clearer now. We've GOT to have a clear out of this lot at the next election.

Anonymous said...

Will this only goes to show that WAG is not fit for purpose and another waste of taxpayers money!!!

towy71 said...

Lesley I echo your sentiments but we are going to have to wait until 2017 to get the chance to kick them out.

It beggars belief that this busted flush can go on as if nothing is wrong here!

Anonymous said...

It's going on all over the UK. Councils (and their increasingly powerful chiefs) can now basically do anything they like and are pretty much above the law. Planning is a joke: developers are being granted practically anything they want whilst objectors (local people) are literally being silenced.

Many councils have now now banned public speaking anywhere that it is not explicitely required, scrutiny committees and ombudsmen are routinely ignored (a judicial review today has meant a judge agreeing that a council does not have to pay compensation "suggested" by an ombudsman).

Councillors put their hands in tills (bogus benefits, bogus expenses) but get sentences less than 13 weeks so can continue as councillors, sometimes for councils they have defrauded.

I can see no party in the UK which is prepared to stand up and be counted on this because it seems they actually implicitly accept it because it often benefits them to cut the elector out of decision-making because increasingly same electors are not on their wavelegth whereas vested interests are.

The party that exposes what is going on, does away with Executive cabinet government, makes transparency work and allows individuals and not only developers to appeal planning decisions will get my vote.

Anonymous said...

If thhe Government feel slightly helpless on the issue, as these Councils are supposidly Votes for by the Public (I for one voted for an independant who i thought would support the issue i wasnt changed (not an 'Independant party' which it seem he's become part of and has no interests in my views).

So the Governemt can't do anything? WRONG... change the way Councils are funded. A smaller pot which is topped up based on performance and provision of public services.