Thursday 7 March 2013

Council boss: Tony Blair to the rescue

It's hard to think of many people these days who would quote Tony Blair approvingly on any topic, and even harder to think of anyone who would quote the globe trotting, born again multi-millionaire former Labour leader approvingly on the subject of money, but that is precisely what the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, Mark James, did at yesterday's meeting of the full council (see Caebrwyn's excellent report here).

Blair's point was about senior public figures being paid 20 times the earnings of the lowest paid people in the organisations they run, and Mr James would have councillors and the public believe that his salary, at 13 times the pay of the lowest paid council worker, was a modest affair.

That would be bad enough, but Mr James was once again being rather economical with his version of how things are. As we know, council chief executives enjoy a very lucrative sideline as returning officers in elections, a perk which goes with the job. We recently learned how Mr James paid himself £20,000 as an advance on his fees as returning officer in the 2012 council elections before anyone knew how many wards were going to be contested.

Returning officer fees for council elections are paid by the council itself, but fees for other elections including the Welsh Assembly, Westminster, the European Parliament and referenda come out of different pots, and are not disclosed by the council as part of his earnings. Whatever the ratio is, it isn't 13:1.

If it was bizarrely fitting that Mr James should quote Blair in his own defence, it came as no surprise at all to see that Meryl Gravell dusted off her old quote about monkeys and peanuts to justify the unjustifiable.

In a nice touch, all this came on the day when it was announced that the police were being called in to investigate the circumstances surrounding a pay deal for the chief executive of Labour-run Caerphilly Council, Anthony Sullivan (who is still waiting for his CBE). This followed a damning report from the Wales Audit Office.

Jonathan Edwards MP and Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM have called for a WAO investigation of how Mr James paid himself £20,000 out of council funds without apparently needing any approval from elected councillors, and why the council said it had no record of when the money was paid.

There have been many calls in the past for the WAO to investigate goings-on in Carmarthenshire, and all have been dismissed. If the auditor does pull his finger out this time, he may also like to investigate the circumstances surrounding the chief executive's libel indemnity.

One of the things the WAO didn't like about Caerphilly was that the chief executive of the council not only produced a report recommending himself for a big pay rise, but also participated in the meeting which approved it, even though he had a direct financial interest in the outcome.

The WAO might like to ask what part Mr James played in the drawing up of a recommendation that he should be given an indemnity to defend and counter-sue in a libel action, and why he participated in the meeting which signed it off.

And not a declaration of interest in sight.


Anonymous said...

Why do you lie in this reference to the hated Tony Blair? Read your own link - "Tony Blair who had said at some point that no chief officer should earn twenty times more than the lowest paid council worker".

He did not say as you have represented it here - 20 times is OK etc.

Anonymous said...

If Caerphilly councillors say that the conduct of their Chief Executive Anthony Sullivan is untenable and called in Avon and Somerset Police to investigate.
Where does this leave the clown at the helm on Jail Hill in Carmarthen.

Cneifiwr said...

Anon @18.48 An honest mistake rather than a lie, and I have changed the offending sentence. But we are splitting hairs. I suspect that the true figure is somewhat closer to 20:1.

Anonymous said...

Anon 21.53

It seems untouchable for some unkown reason!