Sunday 26 June 2016

Constitutional contortions from County Hall

Back in April 2015 I mentioned the fact that the word 'Acting' had recently vanished from the job title of the Council's Head of Law and Monitoring Officer, Ms Linda Rees Jones. Ms Rees Jones had been 'acting' since the retirement of the previous postholder in the summer of 2011 and was, of course a key player in the libel indemnity and pensions scandals.

As I pointed out in that 2015 blogpost, the Council's Constitution, Part 4 (8) Officer Employment Procedure Rules, states that if the position is to be permanent, and whether or not the candidates are external or not, the appointment must be made by 'Appointment Committee B'.

Finding no trace of any relevant minutes from 'Appointment Committee B' or any other letter of the alphabet there was some speculation that the seamless move from acting to permanent was based on the acquisition of sufficient Mark James Loyalty Card points.

The mystery continued and I felt sure, given the terms of the Constitution, that I must have overlooked some council minutes somewhere that showed the involvement of councillors in the permanent appointment, particularly as the role of Monitoring Officer is a statutory post.
Last month I made a Freedom of Information request for any relevant minutes.

I received the response on Friday, and well...Who knew?

Here's the, erm, explanation;

Part 3(8) of the Constitution is the 'Scheme of Delegation' section which confers decision making powers to senior officers, including the chief executive.

The section contains a rather wide ranging clause authorising senior officers 'to make arrangements for the proper administration of the functions falling within their responsibility' on the proviso that it fits in with legislation, council policy etc or at least can be made to look that way. (This section also happens to contain the 'suspended' unlawful libel indemnity clauses, but that, of course, is another story).

Anyway, the FOI response informs me that, under this catch-all clause, a delegated officer decision was made (undoubtedly by the chief executive), via the 'Organisational Change Policy'.
So, in fact, Part 4(8) and Appointment Committee B were by-passed completely.

The 'Organisational Change Policy' was approved in 2013 in a single Executive Board Member meeting, held behind closed doors and in the pre-WLGA Governance Review days when the agenda for these meetings were not published until well after the event and did not include any published documents.

Within this policy, I am told, is the stipulation that 'employees who have been seconded for more than 2 years within a post may be eligible to be confirmed in post'. (my underline)

So there you have it! Nothing's ever quite as it seems when it comes to County Hall's 'Rule book' and it can be 'adapted', and open doors, even back ones, according to the whim of this officer-led council perhaps I was a little closer to the truth the first time...

Recently, the Wales Audit Office recommended that, like other councils, and for the purpose of transparency and scrutiny, Carmarthenshire council publishes a register of delegated decisions by individual officers. Sounds like a very good idea to me...

The Freedom of Information request and response can be seen here.


towy71 said...

I would say shocking but in reality it is no surprise, the really sad thing is that we are all being short changed here and there are not enough councillors with any backbone to stand up to the The Chief!

Cneifiwr said...

Well, well. Another mystery solved. I seem to remember Sir David Lewis describing the quality of legal advice emanating from Mrs Rees Jones's department as "cavalier at best, incompetent at worst". Presumably Sir David's job reference got lost in the post.

Redhead said...

Translation: they are our rules ( correction - the CEO's rules ) and we can bend or break them as we wish, so just go away.

Cneifiwr said...

This is not the first time that the chief executive has handpicked his own team without referring appointments to councillors, but this back door promotion is more serious because here we are talking about the council's Monitoring Officer, who is supposed to be the council's legal conscience. What we have is a monitoring officer who owes her job to her boss, and nobody else. Not only did Mrs Rees Jones oversee the unlawful pension and libel indemnity schemes, but it is now clear that the emerging Pembrey scandal involving what amounted to corruption occurred on her watch. Awareness of the wrongdoings went right to the top where action was taken to cover it up.

By no stretch of the imagination are arrangements like this compatible with good governance.

Anonymous said...

Yet another good wheeze to prevent members from doing the job that we elected them to do. Remember the one – ‘when are minutes not minutes that can be scrutinized by full council, as per the constitution’ (Answer: when the chief executive unilaterally decides to label them reports).

Anonymous said...

Re: Cneifiwr @ 05:50 - Precisely, this arrangement ensures that the post, which is supposed to provide independent oversight, remains temporary until it can be ascertained that the post holder is truly onside and willing to follow orders before the appointment is made permanent.

caebrwyn said...

I agree entirely with your comments @Cneifiwr. This cosy arrangement also took place during the time that the WAO and the WLGA were supposed to be assessing and monitoring the council's governance record. Mr James publicly treated both with utter contempt (and still does) and his actions speak even louder than his words.

Yes, Sir David Lewis nailed it, and so did the former police commissioner, likening them to a Sicilian cartel.

Anonymous said...

It couldn't come across more clearly in the previous comments.This is not democracy.Parliament is in disarray but the Welsh Government is devoid of the ability to ensure Local Government is acting democratically.
I keep repeating the fact that the ruling administration together with some opposition
honest members take appropriate steps to challenge this out-of-control chief executive.
If they can't,I have to come to the conclusion that those capable of challenging are in the minority.Many I am sure fear the same fate as that of Jacqui Thompson.And so it goes on.

Wavell said...

Surely our Councillors should try to be more in touch with their constituents.
Maybe we should create say a monthly questionnaire of queries and send them to each and every Councillor for a reply.
Currently they appear to be voting party politics and not giving any consideration for their constituents opinions.
But of course they are fully aware that only a low percentage are aware of what is going on.

Redhead said...

Misfeasance in public office!
Time to get the police involved.

Unknown said...

What a great bit of blood hound work! I heard Mark James intends to nominate you for a community journalism award, or did I dream that? I never liked those loyalty points schemes.