Friday 28 February 2014

Council Crisis: A QC and some cops

As the dust settles after yesterday's truly dreadful council meeting, Cneifiwr can report that County Hall today received a visit from Gloucestershire Constabulary who left with two boxes of documents.

Meanwhile a freedom of information request has gone in asking how much Mr Timothy Kerr QC was paid for his jaunt to Carmarthen yesterday. The council's finance department said a couple of weeks ago that they were expecting a bill of between £6,000 and £8,000 for the visit.

That comes on top of the hundreds of hours of officer time which have been spent on the pension and libel indemnity scandals, the cost of the libel litigation itself, the specialist legal and financial advice which the council took, much of it after being told that it had acted unlawfully, and the loss of contracted out national insurance rebate. Although the pension scheme has since been rescinded, it seems that the council is either unwilling or unable to claw back the £25,000 or so Mr James received as a salary "supplement". It also seems not to have decided to ask for repayment of almost £30,000 paid out under the unlawful libel indemnity.

Add that little lot together, and there will not be any change out of £100,000. All for one man, and all wasted.

After the envelope stunt played in Pembrokeshire, Mr Kerr's performance in Carmarthen was altogether more low key. Things got off to a bad start when his presence was challenged by Cllr Emlyn Dole (Plaid) who had been doing his homework by reading the council's constitution. His conclusion was that Mr Kerr had no more right to be in the council chamber than an ordinary member of the public who wanted to ask a question of the Executive Board.

It has been years since a member of the public exercised their right to ask a question in County Hall. Hardly surprising when you examine the procedure, which makes Indiana Jones's adventures look like a Sunday afternoon stroll. Needless to say, Mr Kerr would have found himself joining the skeletons of intrepid members of the public before him, dangling from a spider's web of impenetrable sub-clauses in his quest to ask his question (no follow-up questions allowed, naturally).

Fortunately for Mr Kerr, the rules were brushed aside after Labour and Independent councillors voted to allow him to stay.

Having got that out of the way, Mr Kerr turned to rubbishing the Wales Audit Office's reports, and answering "questions", principally from Cllrs Meryl Gravell and Pam Palmer.

Cllrs Gravell and Palmer are not in the habit of asking questions because they know the answer to everything, and what we got was a little routine which had almost certainly been practised beforehand.

Having declared that people who had spoken to the press had brought the council into disrepute, Meryl asked the QC to explain once again what guidance the Welsh Government had provided on the 2006 Order.

Mr Kerr duly trotted out his view that the Order prohibiting councils from indemnifying actions for defamation did no such thing. Meryl could have followed that up by asking what was the point of the 2006 Order in that case, but she didn't.

Pam Palmer (Ind) was interested in a case involving Bedford Borough Council which she believed showed that councils have a duty to protect officers (it doesn't), while Cllr Sue Allen (Ind) wanted to know what constituted "exceptional circumstances". The law does not provide a definition, Mr Kerr replied, and so it was up to Meryl and Co to decide as they saw fit.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this was that Cllr Allen broke her Trappist vow of silence and proved to the world that she can actually speak.

Having performed a few of these routines and sat twiddling his thumbs for the rest of the meeting, Mr Kerr left for London at lunch time.

We will see what the FOI request produces, but Mr Kerr said nothing that was not already stated in advice to the Executive Board at a cost which probably works out at around £2,000 per hour.


Anonymous said...

Don't leave us like this.. WHO WHAT?

Anonymous said...

I think Mr. Kerr,s argument in support of the indemnity is held by a exceptionally thin silk thread.

Anonymous said...

Another bungalow could have been built with this 100k.

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that the Council have accepted that they acted unlawfully in the pensions matter and have agreed not to repeat this. The WAO accept this and agree not to pursue the matter.

If this is the case given that he council did behave unlawfully should not the unlawful payments be recovered ?

In relation to the indemnity the council merely note the auditors comments and agree not to repeat. Essentially they do not accept that they behaved unlawfully.

If this is the case is it not now the duty of the W.A.O. to bring he matter before the High Court for a ruling. This will of course involve more expense for all tax payers in the county.

As regards the number of people who watched the debate think this is really encouraging. Many more people will watch the recording and such enthusiasm must now be indicative that the public do want such facilities to continue.

We are talking about local government and Im sure we don't expect councillors to make Churchillian speeches but some of he contributions during the debate were dire.

Finally the no confidence motion was against three individuals but I only heard a few speeches in support of Mr Madge.

caebrwyn said...

It doesn't sound like the WAO will be taking CCC to court, not at the moment anyway. Mr Barrett said: "The council's accepted the recommendations in both reports so that's very much an end of it from my point of view.
"It clearly isn't for the council, they've got some things to look at from the governance arrangements etc and we will be monitoring that very closely"

Anonymous said...

Surely the fact that CCC refuse to accept that the indemnity was unlawful is neither here nor there. It is what WAO think is important.

How much has been paid out so far and is there a continuing liability.

Another aspect of this sorry affair is the cost of the investigation. There is no way that Gloucestershire Constabulary are doing this for nothing. Every hour of every officer working on the enquiry will be recorded and the costs will be passed on to DPP. It will be local taxpayers paying for that as well.

Cneifiwr said...

Anon @8.45 The council says that the indemnity has now come to an end because the "exceptional circumstances" no longer apply (perhaps more truthfully because they were caught out). What the case ends up costing the council remains to be seen because Jacqui Thompson's insurer revoked her cover.

The WAO seems content to keep a watching brief for the time being, but it will be interesting to see how they respond if (or rather when) new scandals emerge, as seems quite likely.

Anonymous said...

What about the cost of the private guard on the door in the public gallery , he was not Council staff how much did that cost ££££££ you should ask F O I ?????

Anonymous said...

How and when did the "exceptional circumstances" end and who decided that?

Anonymous said...

I had to giggle when the Cllr attempted to praise Mr Madge about the building of bungalows and when he too went on to praise himself, it reminded me of a joke ... bungalows are like some people in this world who are small and have nothing at all upstairs.

passerby said...

security provided by workfare?
someone mentioned someone is building a million pound house in gloucestershire.. can't say who, obvious reasons

Anonymous said...

have a look at leeds united takeover
by marcello cellino ? same independent qc
they must be right when they come from london. just like in the middle ages. good things never change.