Somehow, that argument doesn't ring true when you remember that a good many of our top council officers have been in post for years and are cruising towards a gold-plated retirement, while swathes of the pond life in their charge are made redundant or have to claim benefits to try to make ends meet.
The way the programme was structured, picking out one name from each of the 10 sectors under review (NHS trust bosses, Quango bosses, council bosses, etc.) meant that viewers in Carmarthenshire were spared from hearing that our own chief executive easily makes it into the top 10 earners because his salary and benefits package is slightly less than that of the boss of Cardiff.
The programme came about because of the scandal at Caerphilly, where the council chief executive effectively awarded himself a massive pay rise. Had it not been for complaints from opposition councillors in the Labour-run authority and members of staff, it is unlikely that the Wales Audit Office would have had its slumbers disturbed.
The fact that the WAO did intervene probably owed as much to nervousness in the executive suites of our Welsh Winter Palaces at the sight of a spontaneous walk-out by Caerphilly council staff. With the peasants in revolt, the chief executive, Anthony Sullivan become suddenly expendable, and the WAO was dispatched with a blue flashing light.
The WAO's report found that
- The meeting at which the salary rise was approved had not been publicised, and so members of the public did not have an opportunity to go along. In reality, of course, the council would have slapped a public interest exemption on the report and excluded the press and public from the meeting, but the WAO appeared to feel very cross that the matter had not appeared on a published agenda.
- Equally shocking, the WAO found, was that Mr Sullivan failed to declare an interest and participated in the meeting.
Nevertheless, the meeting approved the report and recommendation, and Mr James was handed a blank cheque.
It emerged in court recently that Mr James did not declare an interest, and that he participated in the meeting.
It remains to be seen what that indemnity was worth, but we can be sure that it will make Anthony Sullivan's pay rise look like loose change from the back of the sofa..
The indemnity was introduced as an "emergency item" according to the minutes of the meeting, something which will probably induce hollow laughter from various councillors who have tried to introduce emergency items in meetings of the full council during the last year, only to be blocked by the chief executive. Indeed, recently the chief executive took the precaution of removing "Any Other Business" from meeting agendas to prevent this from happening.
Bearing in mind that Mrs Thompson's writ was served to Mr James on 14 November 2011 and that three meetings of the Executive Board were held before the "emergency" on 23 January, you have to wonder why the indemnity proposal could not have been placed on an agenda in the usual way. But then, guess who is responsible for drawing up meeting agendas.
Mr Sullivan may well feel that he has been the victim of rough justice if the WAO does not now head west to Carmarthen.