Saturday 1 March 2014

Thursday's Extraordinary meeting

I'm a bit late reporting on Thursday's meeting so I'm sure all those interested are already aware of what transpired on the day. As reported, two plain clothes officers from Gloucestershire Police observed the meeting from the public gallery and as Cneifiwr has mentioned, two boxes of papers were removed from County Hall by the police on Friday as part of their criminal investigation. Only two boxes I hear you ask.

Tim Kerr QC was present to defend Mark James, in his absence, and also the Executive Board over the unlawful libel indemnity. He left immediately afterwards and was not present to 'advise' during the debate over the pension scandal. A freedom of information request has now been made to find out the total cost of Mr Kerr's personal services. I expect it's already more than what was spent on the unlawful counterclaim, or at least the equivalent of the annual salary of a primary school teacher.

The libel indemnity report was debated first. The ruling administration were clearly under strict orders from above that the indemnity report was not to be accepted, even though every man and his dog could see it was profoundly unlawful, both in principle and process. The plan was to satisfy the remit of the Auditor whilst at the same time rejecting the principle of the report.

Kevin Madge proposed that they 'Note' the report. An attempt by Plaid to amend this to 'Accept', was defeated. As was their amendment for the council's own Audit Committee to look at the 'Governance' issues. The reason executive officers and members wanted the council friendly quango, the Welsh Local Government Association to oversee a review was because, by all accounts, the Chair of the Audit Committee (who is a co-opted member and not a sitting councillor) is none too impressed by their dubious spending activities.

The payments under the indemnity have stopped, it is not clear when that happened but the truth is, that this was because it had been finally exposed as unlawful, not because the 'exceptional circumstances no longer applied' as per Linda Rees Jones' report for the meeting.

As I have said in numerous previous posts, there were no 'exceptional circumstances', the counterclaim was entirely tactical. As both the Executive Board, and the officials who asked them to rubber stamp it, well knew. The ability of Executive Board members past and present to do anything other that what they are told knows no bounds, even if involves unlawful actions. They are not selected for their inquiring minds. Or intellect.

Perhaps the most interesting move was to suspend the clause in the Constitution which allowed the indemnity to be granted, the 'libel cost amendment', as I must now call it. It will be suspended whilst advice is sought from the Welsh Government.

They do not need advice, it was prohibited by the 2006 Order and again in correspondence in 2010. It is unlawful, simple as that and has been an implied threat, since 2008, to anyone who criticises, or attempts to investigate, the council. Proxy publicly funded actions to avoid the rule that a government body can't sue are unlawful and that is exactly what happened here.

This little addition to the constitution appears buried beneath a raft of amendments for the council meeting of 15th May 2008 in a report by the Chief Executive, Mark James. There is no specific mention of it in any explanatory documents and it went through unnoticed by everyone, it seems, apart from Mr James and the former Head of Law, Mr Lyn Thomas, and myself. For obvious reasons they didn't mention the legal advice they'd had from James Goudie QC which didn't exactly recommend the move.
This was another decision which was deliberately hidden from view and scrutiny.

The WAO findings on the pension tax avoidance scam was accepted as, of course, the policy had already been reversed.
It was reversed because those that have been defending the decision, even yesterday, knew it was indefensible. If they'd been confident that it was anything other than a way of assisting a senior official to top up his pay, they wouldn't have hidden the decision from councillors and the electorate.

Nobody would have known about the £20,000 Returning Officer fees either, paid in 'advance' five weeks before the local election, and in a different tax year, it was only because someone had bothered to look and ask.
There's no such thing as a Chief Executive pay freeze in Carmarthenshire.

It became apparent around lunchtime, after the indemnity report, that the three Executive Board Members who were guilty of making illegal decisions were not going to lose the no confidence vote. The Labour/Independent councillors had no intention of voting in the interests of the electorate, or even in the interests of morality. Those that did have a conscience, and I know there are a few there with integrity, were whipped with the threat of being kicked out of the party.

There were undoubtedly some strong principled voices from the opposition on Thursday, valiant efforts were made to try and persuade Labour and Independent backbench councillors to show a grain of integrity.

As usual the main speakers from the Labour/Independent front benches, Meryl, Pam and Kevin and co were a national embarrassment. Cllr Giles Morgan (Ind) was a particular embarrassment to local government in general as he excused the Chief Executive's failure to leave the indemnity meeting as a "schoolboy error". Incidentally, Mr James' memory had temporarily failed him during cross-examination at the trial when asked if he'd been present at the indemnity meeting...he couldn't remember.....

The findings of the two Public Interest audit reports are just the tip of a very large and unpleasant iceberg.

I understand 2,350 people watched the live webcast on Thursday, if you missed it, it's archived here. It features several personal attacks against myself, sitting quietly a few feet away, as desperate attempts to justify their illegal actions were trotted out, this attack has now continued onto the council website 'Newsroom'.

However, Mr James, sitting a few miles away, also came under fire; Cllr Cefin Campbell (Plaid) referred to Meryl's 'You pay peanuts and you get monkeys' defence to her beloved Chief's large salary and he reminded dear Meryl that "the top monkey in this place is not here swinging from his perch this afternoon, he's home, watching in front of his monitor and is being investigated by Gloucestershire Police".

As a footnote, another example of this deeply dysfunctional council appears on the agenda for Monday's Executive Board.
An item concerning school closure decisions pops up again. You may recall that a couple of senior officials are attempting to have all school closure decisions reserved for the Exec Board only, instead of full council. Which in effect means that the couple of officials themselves will have full control. The problem being that pesky objectors, concerned parents and troublesome malcontents keep interfering in the council masterplan to close every village school in the County.

At the full council meeting a couple of months ago Kevin Madge dutifully proposed this latest anti-democratic wheeze on behalf of his masters, but in a rare moment of Labour rebellion and protestations from the opposition the decision was eventually shuffled off to the relevant scrutiny committee.

The scrutiny committee then recommended that these decisions should stay with full council.

Which brings us back to next week's Exec Board meeting where the issue re-emerges.

The Exec Board have 'noted' the recommendation of the scrutiny committee, but, true to form, have completely ignored it.

It will now go back to full council with exactly the same recommendation as at the original meeting. The whole scrutiny exercise having been completely pointless, other than to have given Cllr Madge the time to have stern words with any wavering Labour colleagues.

Ceredigion council have recently managed to keep their school closure decisions with full council. We can only hope that Carmarthenshire Councillors follow their lead.


2nd March; A great post from Owen Donovan on the latest developments in Carmarthenshire, which includes an excellent summary of the council's attitude towards the Welsh Government;

"They've made AMs and MPs from all parties look like chumps. They blatantly disrespected Anthony Barrett and the Wales Audit Office. They've spat in Lesley Griffiths' coffee, farted in Carl Sergeant's face and kicked Carwyn Jones in the balls. They've made the National Assembly look like muscleless wonders and left a flaming bag of dog poo on the steps of Cathays Park.
"The Welsh Government can either restore good order themselves by sending in more sheriffs, or they can let it go, giving other local authorities in Wales a green light to try the same thing in future."
Oggy Bloggy Ogwr blog; Bandits control the Wild West


Update 6th March - According to the Minutes of the Exec Board 3rd March Kevin Madge is not going to risk another embarrassing backlash in public, and almost all the scrutiny committee recommendations will be put forward to full council, ie all school closure decisions, unless there are no pupils on the register, will be decided by full council. Good.


Anonymous said...

Point of Fact : The Chair of the Audit Committee is Cllr David Jenkins {Plaid -Glanamman} but the member you are referring to is Sir David Lewis who is an independent lay member he is a former Lord Mayor of the City of London ,a QC i believe and more than suitable to question the EB } .

caebrwyn said...

Anon 20.17
Many thanks for the correction. Yes, Mr Lewis was exactly who I meant.

Patricia B said...

Well said Jacqui. Good factual post as always.
Something this council is very good at is bullying.
74+ against a lone individual. They were venemous towards me - why - because I spoke the truth and criticised their dishonesty. Frightening and exceedingly cruel. They turned my life into a living hell.

Anonymous said...

I didn't agree with plaids audit committee amendment. It has a Plaid Chair and therefore won't get labour buy in to the process. What Plaid should have said is that they nominate David Lewis as the independent person .Also note that Madge said it could be the WLGA to chair or 'whoever'. The motion says independent person, which I agree with.

Anonymous said...

It is very interesting that in the court case Mark James "Couldn't remember" if he was present at the indemnity meeting and then we have Giles Morgan saying it was a "schoolboy error" that he failed to leave the meeting where the indemnity was discussed.What is it with these people!!How stupid can these people be to openly support Mark James and co.Don't they realise that if they can openly do this what are other matters are they hiding?
Again still no answer as to the person raising the indemnity.We will never get it, the excuse being safety in numbers"We were all in it together"

Anonymous said...

Follow the money ..... as I hope the police will do. Presumably they have ordered disclosure of all emails from Madge and James - you don't need boxes for those.

Anonymous said...

from Carms CC Newsroom:

The policy had already been withdrawn by the Executive Board in December of last year. Council Leader Cllr Kevin Madge said: “I am glad that the Auditor has confirmed that a pay supplement of this nature is not, in itself, unlawful. However, I accept that there are lessons to learn and that there will be a cross party group, to include independent representation from outside the council, to look at all aspects of the council’s constitution and decision making to ensure that such errors do not occur again.”

When exactly did the Auditior say it wasn't, in itself, unlawful;?

Anonymous said...

What about the cost of the private guard at the door in the public Gallery he was there all day how much did that cost £££££ F O I ??? PLEASE

Anonymous said...

Two boxes!!! They need to take away a few hard drives and use their computer forensics equipment.