Wednesday 9 July 2014

July meeting; libel indemnities and "more 'satire', than 'Eastenders''

(Links to the archived webcast can be found at the end of this post)

The meeting got off to the usual start with a prayer for guidance and good judgement (it never works, I don't know why they bother) and a very lengthy series of family announcements, parish notices and apologies The Chief Executive welcomed members of the WLGA Governance Review panel who had come, he said, "to see how we do things properly"...

The whole meeting, well most of it, was quite a lengthy affair which seemed, to the casual observer, to consist of several hours of tributes to various people. The people were the Director of Resources, who was retiring after thirty seven years, the Director of Social Care who was leaving next month and the organisers of the Eisteddfod to be held in Llanelli in August. All of which left little time to actually debate anything meaningful.

The Director of Resources was thanked by the chief executive for his continual reminders that the money they were spending was taxpayers money.... Despite partnering up with Linda Rees Jones to push through the unlawful indemnity, the Director did make a valiant effort to protect the taxpayer over the Scarlets/Council car park deal, but was sadly thwarted at the last minute by the chief executive....who must have momentarily forgotten about those continual reminders.

Following the presentation from the organisers of the Eisteddfod the meeting moved on to some technical amendments to the Local Government Pension Scheme. The chief executive said that although he didn't have to leave the Chamber during this item, he would, as he wasn't going to give the auditors another reason to send a large bill. This dig at the Wales Audit Office concerned their unlawful findings relating to his pension arrangements, or to put it another way, tax avoidance.

Next up were those troubling legal issues surrounding libel indemnities.

Kevin Madge waffled on about Eastenders, Eddie Murphy, 'score draws' and, contrary to what his senior colleague, the First Minister said yesterday, moved that the report be accepted.

Plaid Councillors Darren Price and Alun Lenny expressed their surprise that the now infamous letter from Lesley Griffiths did not represent what was in the officer's report, nor what Mr James had published in his newsletter last week. Alun Lenny also read out the First Minister's statement from yesterday in the Senedd.

Plaid Leader Cllr Emlyn Dole proposed that council should accept the comments from the First Minister, and thereby accept the findings of the WAO. Although amongst the later confusion Cllr Dole's amendment wasn't, he said, 'retrospective', so how it would have impacted on the WAO report was not entirely clear.

Thanks I suspect to the First Minister's timely intervention yesterday, Cllr Calum Higgins (Lab), possibly thinking that his parliamentary career could be over before it began by associating himself with this nonsense, proposed that the report and the Minister's letter be 'noted', and that the 'libel clause' should be withdrawn from the Constitution indefinitely. The reason being of course that it was unlawful. Though nobody was saying that. It was as unlawful today as it was in January 2012 of course, but nobody was saying that either.

'Noted' is a well known euphemism for kicking something into the undergrowth and avoiding further embarrassment for as long as possible.

Cllr Caiach reminded everyone that the whole saga, more 'satire' than 'Eastenders', began with the chief executive's strange decision to comment on an interestingly titled blog, namely the 'Madaxeman'. Feathers could be heard ruffling dangerously from the direction of the executive podium.

Linda Rees Jones and the soon-to-be-departing Director of Resources, the authors of both this misleading report and the equally misleading one to the Exec Board in 2012, chipped in with their subjective interpretation of the letter and the 2006 Order; but it was not just the Wales Audit Office which disagreed with their view now, so did the Welsh Government.

According to Ms Rees Jones, they hadn't asked the Minister to comment on this particular case, ie Thompson v James, the unlawfulness of that indemnity was apparently still a matter for the courts to decide.

As I rather expected, the conversation twisted around to the 'exceptional circumstances' argument. Meryl kicked it off with a tribute to Linda Rees Jones, or 'Mrs Carmarthenshire' as she called her and how it was their duty to protect their officers. Not, of course, to hold them to account, Meryl would never show such disloyalty, especially to Mark. She added they should accept the report because it had been proved by a judge - in London (no less) - that I was liar. Nice one Meryl.

There was more confused to-ing and fro-ing only broken by an episode which featured the chief executive letting off a little executive steam, directed at Cllr Caiach and myself of course. It was similar to the outburst in the Y Gair newsletter last week but delivered with very unchristian-like venom. Anyway, this steam can be viewed, if you wish, on the webcast.

The WLGA panel must have been dumbstruck.

One thing which seems to have irritated Mr James, to fever pitch, was the fact that Cllr Caiach had the brazen audacity to be a witness in court on behalf of the dastardly Mrs Thompson. And the mention of the word 'Madaxeman' in the Chamber seemed to touch a very raw nerve.

I had no means to a right of reply of course but neither it turned out, did Cllr Caiach; her attempt to respond to Mr James' accusations was stamped on with force by the Chair and the Leader.

Predictably, Cllr Dole's proposal was defeated. The Labour/Ind council would not accept what the Labour First Minister had said.

Cllr Calum Higgins' proposal was next, which was to 'note' the officers' report and letter, and to permanently 'suspend' (but not abolish) the libel indemnity clause, essentially to guard against any legal challenges from the auditor, not because it was morally wrong.

That was passed.

So despite some very careful fudging and muddying the waters, the officers didn't quite get their own way - the WAO report was rubbished and the auditor put in his place again.....but nothing was resolved. The WAO report is still hanging in the air.

I suspect that the real purpose behind today's 'item' was to enable Mr James to claim some sort of 'democratic mandate' over his unlawful personal indemnity - and if it hadn't been for Carwyn Jones' remarks yesterday, and Calum Higgins' political aspirations, he might have got it.
But he didn't quite get what he was after.... and as for the 'libel clause' they would just have to manage without it. For now.

The Welsh Local Government Minister is apparently consulting her own officials over the council's interpretation of her letter, whether anything will come of that we'll have to wait and see.

If you thought it was all over, it's not, not just yet.

The item on the libel indemnities starts here. If you wish to access the whole meeting from the beginning, and you have the stamina, it starts here.

Update 10th July; Cneifiwr has updated 'A test of Kevin Madge's leadership' ' with further observations from the archived webcast. Including this;

"One other interesting snippet from the archive came rather earlier when councillors were paying tribute to Roger Jones, who is retiring as Director of Resources. The WLGA observers may have spotted that the Chair, Daff Davies, turns to the Chief Executive to warn him that Cllr Siân Caiach wishes to speak, presumably to seek guidance as to whether this should be allowed.

We cannot see Mr James's response, but presumably it was a nod of assent. Later on when the Chief Executive had finished his rant about Jacqui Thompson, and Cllr Caiach was seeking to raise a point of information, the advice coming from the left of the Chair appears to have been rather less indulgent.

There in a nutshell is governance as we have come to know it."


Legal position now clarified to the satisfaction of everyone apart from those directly responsible. It is and was, unlawful. However, the clause still appears intact under the delegated 'general' powers of the Chief Executive, page 12.


Anonymous said...

If there was any doubt who has a vendetta going on, yesterdays vitriolic, spiteful and most unpleasant outburst by Mark James proves he is the one still harbouring some very personal vengeance issues. A self proclaimed christian at that! Meryl also appears to be possessed with similar bitter streak. Truly unprofessional and shameful for senior council officers to be seen and heard spouting off in this manner.

Blodwen said...

If Mark James is an example of christianity, I'm even more pleased to call myself an atheist after witnessing his behaviour yesterday.

Anonymous said...

Outrageous outburst from the Chief Executive. Clearly harbouring ill will, taking advantage of his position, indulging himself in yet another attack upon the same member of the public which led to his mis-use of public money. Clearly hasn't moved on from his now infamous personal attack in writing on the 'madaxemans' blog. As for the disgraceful attack upon Cll. Caiach - she was absolutely justified in mentioning his most unprofessional conduct and his outburst on a blog, as it became very costly for the taxpayer. Didn't come out of his own pocket did it?? As for his so-called christian beliefs - he should have the grace to practice what he preaches!

Anonymous said...

Who on earth does meryl gravelle think she is? Standing there and stating that, in here opinion, if 'they' have found matters difficult to understand then the general public would find it almost impossible.

Clearly she holds herself in such high regard and of vastly superior intelligence than the general public that she evidently has lost touch with that general public, many of whom, have benefited from education.

No doubt this point would be lost on her.

As for the leader. What leader????

His leadership qualities are found seriously wanting. He struggles to string sentences together delivering incoherent and quite frankly meaningless ramblings. To liken a county council to a soap opera maybe funny but is hardly appropriate nor confidence inspiring.

As a leader I imagine people follow him out of sheer curiosity, just to see what he will do next.

Interesting the indemnity has been parked now. No doubt it will not be required again for mark james and if ever it is considered for a similar purpose then mark james will have moved on to pastures new. No doubt as head of a very large corporation, as they are begging him for his services apparently.

Anonymous said...

Meryl Gravel, well well. "We will support our officers". She would wouldn't she - support Mark - even if he is wrong and out of control! After all it isn't her money that supported him, it was the taxpayers money. I'm sure her voters weren't very pleased to hear Meryl being so flippant about the thousands of pounds wasted on supporting her dear friend Mark!

Anonymous said...

I've got to say that I listened to the leaders speech and I am dumbfounded as to how he could be the leader of a political group.

His colleagues must cringe with embarrassment whenever he speaks in public - it just isn't right.

Perhaps he would be more comfortable in Welsh in which case he should speak in Welsh. !

If it wasn't used as a pretext to stop the filming of meetings I would be tempted to download his speech onto Utube then Facebook. It would be an internet sensation but for al the wrong reasons !