Wednesday 26 March 2014

Suspending disbelief - Updated

Update 27 March

The South Wales Guardian cover this story here.


Something which has had a lot of people scratching their heads for the last few weeks is what exactly is the status of Mark James, Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, following his decision voluntarily to "step aside" from his duties.

A useful rule of thumb when it comes to the top brass in this council is that if you think you smell a rat, there is almost certainly a rodent with whiskers close by. Back in the middle of February this blog noted that Mr James had not been suspended, but was merely "stepping aside" - whatever that meant. He has been on full pay ever since and is likely to remain on full pay at home for many more weeks and months to come.

The arrangement, which looked then and looks now like a shabby compromise deal to keep the Labour-Independent coalition together, means that despite being at the centre of a police investigation, Mr James will act as returning officer in the European elections in May as if nothing had happened.

It now emerges that there are no restrictions on meeting or communicating with council staff, and Mr James continues to have access to the council's IT network. Officially he is still chief executive, and Dave Gilbert is still just deputy chief executive, and not acting chief executive.

Earlier today the Minister for Local Government in Cardiff, Lesley Griffiths, confirmed in the Senedd that Mr James had not been suspended, and a statement was read out from council leader, Kevin Madge, saying that Mr James was no longer carrying out his duties. Welcome to the Carmarthenshire twilight zone.

There is no provision for any of this in the council's constitution under which officers are either suspended or carrying out their duties as normal, and as Unison and numerous members of staff have pointed out, under circumstances such as these any other employee would have been escorted from the building and suspended.

Meanwhile in Westminster, Jonathan Edwards MP has once again raised his concerns about Mr James's role as returning officer in the May elections. He was told that the situation was being monitored.

In other news another strand in the council's recently implemented budget has unravelled with the announcement that plans to scrap trade union facilitation time (voted through without a murmur by the Labour and Independent councillors) has now been suspended.

Unison has run a strong campaign and gained a lot of public support on the issue, and no doubt we will shortly be told by Kevin Madge that this is more evidence of the council's policy of listening to people - as distinct from the policy in place when the budget was approved in the teeth of opposition a few weeks ago.

With the Carmarthenshire branch of Unison calling on Unison in Wales to withdraw all support from the Labour group on the council until such time as secondments were reinstated, a more likely explanation would be that someone in Cardiff tapped Kev on the shoulder.


Jack Old Oak said...

Noticed any difference to life in and around Carmarthenshire since Mark James "stepped aside"?
No? Neither have I! (nor anyone, I suspect!)
In which case, do we really NEED a chief executive?
No! I thought not!
So why don't we "ditch" him and save close on £200K per annum?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Eric Pickles has already said that councils do not need Chief Executives - just sell it to Kevin that it will be more money available for top councillor allowances! But then again, James knows where bodies are buried .....

Cibwr said...

I have often thought why do we need Chief Executives when we have heads of departments and a Council Leader. One must surely usurp the leadership role of the other? I agree abolish the post and save some money.

Anonymous said...

Well the person in Cardiff needs to tap harder because it would appear that very little is getting through to Mr Madge.

I am pleased that Unison has had a 6 month reprieve but there is more to be done to protect employees by ensuring that this suspension is scrapped altogether.

Anonymous said...

Do the trade unions do anything to help when employees need assistance when the cases are serious? In situations I've heard about, they won't stick their necks out!

Anonymous said...

It's gone all quiet!

Anonymous said...

@ anon 13:26, I cannot comment about all trade unions but Unison Carmarthenshire certainly stuck their neck out for a former employee who had been bullied and victimised.

Anonymous said...

Anon 22.31

Not all trade unions are the same then. What was the outcome for that employee?

Anonymous said...

My union was brilliant when I was bullied and harrassed years ago - couldn't have managed without them. Adviser, lawyer - no complaints.

Anonymous said...

GMB were terrible in my situation - a total waste of money.