Wednesday 19 March 2014

You won't feel a thing

A freedom of information request shows that in 2013 Carmarthenshire County Council spent £11,935 on advice on the unlawful pay supplement policy (aka the pensions tax dodge) which was taken up by just one person - the chief executive, Mark James.

The picture is likely to be very similar in Pembrokeshire where the policy was supposed not to cost  taxpayers a penny. Just close your eyes - you won't feel a thing.

From documents released by council officers it seems clear that this was the cost of advice provided by Mr Timothy Kerr QC who wrote a report dated 2 September 2013. The timing is interesting because Mr Kerr's report was produced just three weeks before councillors discovered that the Wales Audit Office considered the pay supplement policy to be unlawful. It is hard not to conclude that council officers knew what was coming and started spending money on preparing their defence.

In Pembrokeshire councillors were told that Mr Kerr had provided two separate pieces of advice - in September and again in November.

During that period Mr Kerr was acting for both county councils, and it is very likely that the November advice was also relevant to Carmarthenshire. Despite Kevin Madge's promises to put all information on the table ahead of the extraordinary meeting in February, the November advice has not been released.

Cneifiwr understands that another freedom of information request relating to the costs of defending Carmarthenshire's unlawful decisions has been submitted, and slowly the staggering extent of the waste is beginning to emerge.

In the case of the pensions tax arrangements we do not yet know the cost of a report produced by Total Reward Projects Ltd in 2011. However, Pembrokeshire's county councillors were told by officers that a report produced by another company for that authority cost around £15,000.

What we will never know is the huge cost of officer time spent fighting the Wales Audit Office's findings because the council says it has not recorded that. Bearing in mind that it has preoccupied a good many of the highest paid officers for months, the real answer is likely to run to many tens of thousands of pounds.

Also not included in the figure of £11,935 is the cost of Mr Kerr's services in 2014, including his special guest appearance at the extraordinary meeting in February.

And then, of course, is the much greater and still unknown cost of defending the unlawful libel indemnity.

All of this money was spent using delegated powers. Ordinary councillors were not consulted or even made aware of all of the cheques being written. The Executive Board headed by Kevin Madge was undoubtedly aware, and is supposed to be accountable.

The only excuse we have heard came from Labour's Cllr Anthony Jones, who argued at the February meeting that they were only acting on advice. Not only was it bad advice, but it was also extremely expensive.


Anonymous said...

Now lets see if i understand that.
In Carmarthenshire there is no building control all builders and householders are free to do as they please.

Anonymous said...

Officers advise councillors but councillors are not obligated to follow that advice, provided that what they do is ok in law.

A culture has grown up that seems to suggest that all officer advice MUST be followed - in effect that officers give orders and councillors carry them out.

It may apply to officers in the army and "other ranks" follow the orders but not in local government. National government often commissions advice and just as often ignores it. Councillors must wrest back control from those whose advice is nowadays about quiet lives and nest-feathering and sometimes worse.

Anonymous said...

With so many aged, parochial and ignorant councillors, maybe the status quo is the least bad option?