Thursday, 21 August 2014

News in Brief - redundancy costs, executive jobs, filming and more from Pembrokeshire

I've been a little puzzled recently over information given out by the council press office about the total cost of exit packages as the authority sheds jobs, mainly low paid jobs.

There was something of a discrepancy between the amount quoted by the press office, £2.8m and the amount appearing in the latest Statement of Accounts (Page 95), £4.1m. The total costs relate to 197 redundancies in 2013/2014, 122 of those being the lowest paid workers.

After some enquiries it turns out that the difference, some £1.3m, is the amount the council must put into the pension fund to cover future entitlements, so, technically, it is part of the total cost of exit packages, it is also likely to be needed pretty soon, and it is public money. Whether or not by excluding it, it could be classed as 'massaging the figures' I wouldn't know....but when Carmarthenshire Council enters 'league tables' of local authority redundancy costs, they all really need to be singing from the same ledger...

The big argument put forward by councils as they shed jobs, is that these high short term costs of redundancy lead to huge efficiency savings in the long term. The trouble is, they need to be up front with the true cost in the first place.

The council has embarked on the second attempt to appoint a new director of technical services, (roads, potholes, refuse etc) after the fiasco last year. A committee of councillors is supposed to do the appointing of course but during the meeting last year it became apparent that the Members were not on course to appoint the, er,  'right' candidate and external pressure was brought to bear, resulting in the process being abandoned.

Hopefully, the WLGA governance review panel will be taking a look at the appointments process as a whole as the councillors, (the employers) have had no say in the appointment of head of legal and monitoring officer Linda Rees Jones who has been acting since 2011 and the Director of Education, who was brought in from 'special projects' a few years ago.

The advert is for a 'Director of Environmental Services' and suggests that this directorate will be 'reprofiled' and may take over the functions of the Director of Regeneration (planning) in the future. This may be a good plan given the salaries for each post are in excess of £100k.

The Welsh Government has issued new guidance concerning council newspapers, filming meetings etc etc. It is nothing new, council newspapers look set to continue to land on our doormats and councils are still only 'encouraged' to allow public filming. There is a reminder that the politicisation, and personalisation, of council publicity is wrong, but as with most 'Guidance' from Cardiff, it is ignored by our local authorities here in West Wales, unless it suits their own agenda. 
Another lost opportunity from Cardiff, in my opinion.

The Carmarthen Journal enquired this week whether Carmarthenshire Council would be lifting the ban on public filming in light of the new legislation in England, unsurprisingly the answer, from that mysterious anonymous council spokeswoman, was 'no'. It would, she said, be a matter for full council to discuss.
I shall be looking out for the webcasting of planning meetings in the autumn, as promised by the Executive Board in the spring..

Meanwhile, over in Pembrokeshire, there seems to be far more action going on over the chief executive's refusal to pay back the unlawful pension money.

What is striking is the contrast yet again between the Labour opposition group in Pembrokeshire and the ruling Labour group in Carmarthenshire where the level of protest and dissent is currently 'nil'.

Bryn Parry-Jones has now 'stepped aside' of course, and Gloucestershire Police are investigating the alleged extent of his involvement in the authorship of the report recommending the pension arrangement. The Labour group, led by Cllr Paul Miller who hosted a public meeting this week, are considering formal disciplinary procedures against Mr P-J over recent scandals and allegations.

Pembs councillor Mike Stoddart (Old Grumpy) has added his views regarding the slippery slope facing the ruling mob in Pembs, and also deliberates on the problems and pitfalls of permanently removing an unwanted chief executive.

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