Thursday 24 October 2013

Privileged information

Council leader Kevin Madge has told the South Wales Guardian that he sees no reason to suspend chief executive Mark James from his duties pending the outcome of investigations into the lawfulness of the pensions and libel indemnity payments. Kev is satisfied that the payments were lawful.

The first thing to say about that is that in reality there are no ongoing investigations; the auditor appointed by the Wales Audit Office reached the conclusion following his own investigations that the payments were unlawful, while the County Council unsurprisingly decided that it acted lawfully. Unless determined members of the council's Audit Committee are still ferreting away behind the scenes, investigations have for the time being come to an end.

Kev's confidence that the payments were lawful almost certainly derives from the expert legal advice which Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire County Councils jointly commissioned.

Old Grumpy picked up on this last week when he reported on an interview the somewhat more eloquent Pembrokeshire council leader, Jamie Adams, gave to the Western Telegraph:

All legal opinion provided to the authority is done so on the basis that those that see it have a need to know the information. At the moment, apart from myself as corporate leader, I would consider that the majority of members do not have a need to know. They may have a wish to or a desire to know, I understand that.

In Carmarthenshire we can be sure that the senior officers involved and the senior councillors who approved the disputed decisions have also come to the conclusion that nobody else has a need to know what advice they have been given.

In Pembrokeshire Cllr Jacob Williams reports that opposition councillors have decided to defer calling an Extraordinary Meeting of the council until after publication of the Wales Audit Office's public interest report. They say that they expect publication to happen in November.

It seems reasonable to expect that the WAO would publish its public interest report on the goings on in Carmarthenshire at the same time.

The idea is that publication would give the two councils an opportunity to reflect on the error of their ways and avoid going to court. It seems unlikely that the sinners will repent, and so the next stage would be for everyone to head off to court.

That would not happen until well into 2014, and so far the councils' strategy of playing for time is working.

In the meantime we can sit back and enjoy the spectacle of a Labour leader defending tax avoidance arrangements for a top earner who, uniquely, is also able to take his critics to court at public expense.

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