Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The WAO Factor

Kevin Madge, Labour Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council, promised twice in the last month, most recently in an interview last week, that councillors would get a chance to discuss the pensions and libel indemnity scandals at the next meeting of the full council on 13 November (South Wales Guardian story here). He also promised that all the necessary documents would be laid before councillors.

The print on the Guardian's story barely had time to dry before it emerged that there would be no debate at the next council meeting after all because the Wales Audit Office has, contrary to the council's expectations, failed to roll over and change its mind about the lawfulness of the disputed payments to the chief executive (who also happens to control what appears on the agenda).

The scandal broke in the final week of September when it came up before the council's Audit Committee. All efforts by councillors to raise the matter since then have been blocked.

Garnant's finest was asked to make a statement ahead of the October meeting, but refused. An attempt by Darren Price (Plaid) to suspend standing orders so that the subject could be aired at the end of the October meeting was blocked, and so toxic is the issue that he was not even allowed to say why he wanted to suspend standing orders before the chief executive declared the meeting closed.

"I am at a loss to think what more we can do to be as open and transparent as we possibly can.....To suggest that there is a lack of openness or that members of the council are being silenced is ridiculous", Kev later fumed in an interview with the Guardian, as a squadron of porkers flew past.

He ended by suggesting that any councillors who wished could table questions to the council leader for the next council meeting. Cneifiwr understands that a councillor decided to do just that, but was advised that the council would be holding a debate instead.

Expect more fun and games at the November meeting as the legal artillery is brought in to prevent the dreaded pension and libel words from being spoken in another show of openness and transparency Carmarthenshire style, although they may get an opportunity when the minutes of the Audit Committee meeting are "received".

The next opportunity for councillors to question Cllr Madge and the chief executive himself will not be until 11 December, just five days before the Court of Appeal settles down to examine Jacqui Thompson's appeal.

As things stand, the appeal relates to a point of law arising from Mr James's counter-claim (that's the bit of the case which was funded by the council direct). It would appear that Mr James's costs are being funded under the original indemnity approved in secret back in January 2012, an indemnity which the WAO has since branded unlawful.

An interesting question is whether the WAO will now act to prevent the indemnity from being given a second outing, since standing by and watching the council indulge in yet more unlawful expenditure would be very hard to explain away.

Meanwhile, Cneifiwr understands that recriminations are already flying inside County Hall, with an e-mail written by what has been described as a "very senior officer" attacking the integrity of several opposition councillors.


Patricia B. said...

It is scandalous that no-one from the Welsh Assembly er Government is taking a stand against this despotic authority for the sake of the residents of Carmarthenshire.

I as one who stood up to them which led to an Ombudmans' Investigation am now on the receiving end of their reprisals.

They now ignore all communications from me no matter how serious.

That's how it works! And it's Wales - GB - 2013.

Anonymous said...

Its obvious to me that if i was a councillor I'd have a debate when the audit committee papers are presented. I've just checked the agenda and they're there.

Cneifiwr said...

Anon @19.28 - rather more time will be allocated to a Powerpoint presentation by BT! The point is that Kevin Madge promised twice that there would be a debate and that the council would produce "all the necessary documents". That won't be happening. Fortunately the top brass could not avoid putting the committee meeting minutes before councillors, but you can be sure they would have blocked them if they could.

Expect to see various Independent and Labour councillors queuing up to praise the positive aspects of the auditor's report while ignoring the bits where he talks about unlawful payments.

Anonymous said...

There is no doubt that Carmarthenshire is indeed a" Rotten
Borough" as described in Private Eye
Next week's meeting will be fascinating to watch councillors in action especially in their attempts
to debate the"Unlawful payments."