Wednesday 5 February 2014

Council Crisis: County Hall lays into the auditors

Driving to work earlier this evening Cneifiwr was listening to BBC Radio Cymru's main early evening new programme when it announced that within the last few minutes another angry statement had come in from Carmarthenshire County Hall. The presenter seemed genuinely taken aback at the tone of the latest press release, and commented that it showed that the rift between the council and the Wales Audit Office was deepening.

The announcement came immediately after an interview with Keith Davies AM (Lab. Llanelli) whose main concern at the moment is apparently the need to bring in regulation of hairdressers. Unfortunately the BBC did not take the opportunity to ask him for his thoughts about what is happening in Carmarthen, but there are muffled whispers that there are stirrings of discontent within the Labour ranks.

Another mystery is what the MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, Simon Hart (Con), thinks about this. Perhaps he's too busy fox hunting.

In the meantime, here is the latest rant from the Ministry of Spin.


Councillors and officials at Carmarthenshire County Council say they are bitterly disappointed and frustrated at misinformation being circulated around the recent public interest report issued by the Wales Audit Office.

As such, they have today published correspondence between themselves and the Wales Audit Office in order for people to judge for themselves as to what has actually taken place, ahead of the extraordinary council meeting which has been called to debate the Public Interest Report later this month (February 27).
Whilst the intention had been to present this information to councillors at the meeting, the scale and persistent nature of the misinformation in circulation has led the council to publish it earlier and set the record straight.
It has been made available on the council’s website.

A council spokesperson said: “For almost two years the Wales Audit Office gave the council every indication that it was quite satisfied that the authority was within its rights to indemnify a council officer to bring a counterclaim in response to being sued for libel and was fully aware of the legal advice that the council had received supporting it’s action. In fact, some six months after the indemnity was granted, the auditors – responding to questions raised by a local resident – repeatedly confirmed that they were satisfied that the council was acting within their powers.  We feel the only way to prove this is to publish the correspondence between ourselves and the auditors so that everyone can see for themselves what has taken place.

“We notified the Auditor of our intention to provide the indemnity before we proceeded and have kept them fully informed of legal advice that we received and all developments in the court case throughout the past two years. They have had every opportunity to tell us of any concerns before the action started and at every turn since, but failed to do so until 20 months after the action started and nine months after the court case had been settled.

“In correspondence with a member of the public in August 2012, the Auditor stated that the Wales Audit Office was content that the council had the necessary legal powers to issue the indemnity. We would ask the Auditor to reflect that their failure to suggest at any time that we did not have the legal powers and this explicit statement that we DID have those powers could not have been taken as anything other than confirmation that the Wales Audit Office was quite happy with the actions that the council was taking.

“The auditor seems completely unwilling to accept that their inaction and, in fact, positive confirmation of the council’s actions for most of the period in question, has contributed to the unfortunate ‘stand-off’ of differing legal interpretations that we now find ourselves in, as they appear to have changed their minds.

“We are also asking for the Auditor to retract his statement that the council did not seek fresh legal advice at the time of granting the indemnity. This is not true. The Auditor knows that we did seek such advice and that part of it is referenced within the officer report presented to members and quoted within the Auditor’s own Public Interest Report.

“We have published on the council website several pieces of legal advice, two of which are from separate QCs, which indicate that in their view, the council has acted lawfully. We remain confident in the advice we have received and we do not believe that the auditor should present his opinion as if it was the only opinion that mattered.”


Anonymous said...

I guess that the Auditor's reaction to this is "see you in court then"!

Anonymous said...

Rantings and ravings. Why carry on like this? Nothing left for the handful to lose I suppose. They can't really go into minus credibility. I wish those outside of the clique would stamp on their fingers and let the buggers fall, mind. I'm a busy woman - and I'm spending far too much time visiting blogs and reading, commenting, and indeed laughing - when I should be getting on with some work. Same will apply to the council officers, too, I daresay. Get on with what we're supposed to be paying you for!

Anonymous said...

James Goudie QC advised the Council in his written legal opinion of 2008 that:
“In my view it will be only in exceptional circumstances that such considerations indicate that it is reasonable and lawful to offer an indemnity in respect of bringing proceedings for defamation. Indeed, Sullivan J [now Lord Justice Sullivan] ….observes that common sense should warn all but the most litigious authorities from doing so.”

As Carmarthenshire seems to have been happy to be seen as one of the “most litigious authorities”, if they are confident that they have been wronged, why on earth haven’t they rushed off to the High Court to have the Appointed Auditor’s reports struck down?

Do they think that a stream of petulant denials and accusations will wear down accusers and convince people that they were right after all? Not if they have read the Auditor’s reports, they won’t.

Common sense clearly doesn’t carry much weight with this lot.

Lesley Williams said...

Oh boy! These are really desperate ravings. If this is the best they can come up with, they should perhaps contemplate giving the hole-excavating a rest for a bit.

And, just as a matter of pedantic interest, how many auditors are there? This piece of semi-literate english talks of an auditor and "their" intentions and failings so whoever wrote this needs a session with someone wielding a red pen.

Anonymous said...

From the BBC page after CCCs outburst:

The WAO also stated "the council has not made available all the correspondence between us".

Any idea what this might be referring to?

Cneifiwr said...

Anon @14.38 No. I hope the WAO will respond by publishing what it has. I also hope that the WAO will be allowed to attend and speak at the extraordinary meeting on 27 February. Otherwise we will just have the council's version.

Anonymous said...

Whilst it might be helpful for the WAO to address Members, I am not sure that it would be appropriate to do so. The WAO stands by its reports, despite the desperate protestations of the Exec, and I think it would be undignified to have to appear on the Council's home turf in such acrimonious circumstances.

So the Council must either accept the auditor's recommendations or reject them. My understanding is that if they choose the latter, the WAO may then resort to the High Court to seek a declaration that the Council's decisions were unlawful.

Do they dare take that risk? Or will they try to force a fudged decision, using weasel words that try to absolve them of blame whilst giving the impression of a grudging acceptance of some of the auditor's findings.

Anonymous said...

As someone has commented on another blog - who is writing these statements that the council has issued?

Is it PR team doing their job? In which case these statements presumably reflect the consensus view of the whole council as an elected entity.

Is it just the leadership grouped members - in which case they should say so.
Is it someone else?

I'm amazed that other elected members haven't asked