Friday 4 October 2013

Pensions and indemnities - where next?

It's been a busy week in Carmarthenshire, with more revelations about the shocking conduct of the top brass in Carmarthenshire County Council, and more questions than answers. Barring any new surprise developments, it seems likely that the fog will descend on Jail Hill once again while the lawyers and auditors meet behind closed doors and various investigations get underway.

The next date in the calendar is the monthly meeting of the full council on Wednesday, where the main subject up for debate is a motion attacking the Health Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab), over the downgrading of the Prince Philip Hospital in Llanelli.

Any councillors wishing to raise the subject of the auditor's report and the unlawful indemnity and pension payments are likely to find themselves immediately slapped down for straying from the agenda put together by the chief executive, and because the chief executive permanently removed Item 10 giving councillors the right to raise emergency matters at meetings last year, that avenue is also closed to them.

Readers who have been paying close attention may have spotted that both of the unlawful items of expenditure were approved as emergency items by the Executive Board. But what is sauce for the goose is definitely not sauce for the gander in County Hall.

You may think that this is a deliberate subversion of the democratic process designed to stifle debate and prevent elected councillors from holding the executive to account, and you would probably be right.

Further down the A40 in Pembrokeshire where councillors will shortly be debating a motion calling for the suspension of their chief executive pending the outcome of the investigations, the council top brass have been trying to spin the controversial pensions tax dodge.

Old Grumpy is on top form again when he contrasts a statement made by one of the cabinet members that "the tax man gains in each and every way" from this arrangement, with the minutes of the meeting which approved the scheme stating that the scheme had been devised to allow senior officers to avoid "a substantial tax liability".

All we have been told in Carmarthenshire so far, apart from claims that the scheme was OK'd by a QC and independent financial advisers, was that it was "difficult" for some people to remain in the local government pension scheme, while the minutes of the meeting which approved the scheme say only that the Executive Board noted changes to HMRC rules.

You may think that the Carmarthenshire minutes were deliberately opaque and misleading, and you would probably be right.

Old Grumpy also takes his council to task for use of the Local Government Act 1972 (Section 100) to place a public interest exemption on the report.

Public interest exemptions are like confetti in Carmarthenshire and used to hide all sorts of things from the public gaze, including proposals affecting public lavatories.

You may think that the exemption was improperly applied to ensure that embarrassing information and unlawful decisions did not become public, and you would probably be right.

You may also think that Carmarthenshire County Council had no good reason to treat the indemnity and pensions decisions as emergency items at its meetings, thereby avoiding drawing attention to them on published agendas.

Certainly that's what the WAO auditor thought about uncannily similar treatment of senior officer pay increases in Caerphilly, where the police were called in to investigate and the chief executive and his deputy were subsequently arrested.

The Wales Audit Office is very busy at the moment, what with one thing and another, but you may also think that they should spare a little time to investigate the arrangements which allow the council's chief executive to pay himself handsome advances for his work as Returning Officer.

Pertinent questions include who initiated the recommendations which resulted in this possibly unique arrangement.

If you think, as public spirited citizens, that these matters deserve proper scrutiny as a part of the Wales Audit Office's routine work, why not drop a line to the Auditor General for Wales asking him to investigate your concerns?
Don't be put off if someone says that you should complain to the council first, because the council has already made its position clear that everything it did was in order. And don't waste your ink writing to the Carmarthen Journal because they will not print your letter. And even if they did, it would not make a scrap of difference. No, leave that to people who like tilting at wind turbines.

Finally, just think how grateful senior figures in the council will feel that you have helped to bring about an open and thorough investigation which could dispel any lingering nasty thoughts that people in Carmarthenshire may have about the way their council has been run.


Anonymous said...

The Pension Trustee code of conduct with maybe a sprinkling of Ethics would go down well here.
Professional conduct in a drink this potent may curdle so best go with Ice shaken not stirred, oh and some morals on tap for the cat no ice.

Anonymous said...

Name the Q.C.

Cneifiwr said...

Anon @12.56 - I am just passing on what the press office has said. You will have to ask them for the name of the QC.

Anonymous said...

Cllrs the meeting of the full council is your chance to demonstrate to the public that you will not condone transactions that are considered to be unlawful. You owe it to the electorate to stand united on this one!

Anonymous said...

Were next Cneifiwr asks ! A class action against the pension fund would be a good start but thats a members only club so up to them.

Anonymous said...

The AGM of the pension fund will be in December. All members of the Pension fund, employees and pensioners are entitled to attend and ask questions

Anonymous said...

Class actions don't exist in the uk.