Wednesday 7 May 2014

A paper tiger and three wise monkeys - Updated


Caebrwyn beat me to it with a piece from the Llanelli Star which reports that Jonathan Edwards MP has called on the council to instruct Mark James to repay the money.

The council's response reminds us just how shabby the compromise struck with the WAO really is. Although the WAO declared the payments unlawful, the council refuses to accept the finding and will not be seeking repayment. Quite who penned this response is not clear.

In the matter of the unlawful libel indemnity, the council has merely suspended the clause from its constitution pending 'clarification' from the Welsh Government. It is not even clear whether the suspension of a bit of the constitution is legal.

Kevin Madge's hope that the whole episode can now quietly be forgotten is already looking about as realistic as Cneifiwr's chances of winning the lottery.


As we now know, Gloucestershire Constabulary has decided that there will be no further action over unlawful payments to the chief executives of Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire. After an investigation lasting nearly three months the police concluded that there was no evidence that criminal offences had been committed.

This is not quite the end of the story because councillors in Carmarthenshire will have to decide whether to follow the example set by their neighbours in Pembrokeshire and ask for repayment of the money which the WAO ruled had been paid out unlawfully.

The council leader, Kevin Madge (Lab), welcomed the announcement and hopes that we can now all move on, but the scandals have changed the landscape, and any attempt to return to the way things were before 14 February would be a huge mistake.

Public confidence in the council has been badly shaken, and the trust which existed between councillors and the chief executive has been dented. When the lid was briefly lifted on the internal workings of the council earlier this year, what we saw was not a pretty sight.

Some senior councillors and council officers will be mightily relieved that there is to be no further investigation, and a few may be unwise enough to crow in triumph.

The Labour group will have mixed feelings of relief tempered with nervousness about what happens next. A Bourbon restoration of a victorious and unrepentant Mr James would put an end to any hope of reform and meaningful change in governance.

There is speculation that early retirement may be the preferred face saving solution.

Kevin Madge may also be wondering nervously when the next scandal will break, and there is no question that there is more and worse lurking in the woodwork.

For its part the Wales Audit Office will be able to claim that its reports eventually achieved the desired effect, with the two councils backing down with gritted teeth, but it looks rather bruised and battered. The decision to employ the services of Timothy Kerr QC to challenge the competence and authority of the WAO was outrageous and is set to go unpunished. The WAO probably lacks the muscle and the funds to go to court, and it has been left looking like a paper tiger.

Throughout this whole story the Welsh Government has sat on the sidelines, occasionally wringing its hands, as three Welsh councils were engulfed in scandals involving over mighty chief executives, serious failings in governance and a lack of accountability.

Inaction by Carwyn Jones, Lesley Griffiths and Carl Sargeant means that the final chapter is still a long way off.


Anonymous said...

Clearly there is to be no Celtic Spring or Easter Uprising, but perhaps there ought to be some sombre reflection on events of the last few months. We saw glimmers of hope in the way the administration operated, a more open and cooperative style. And then we had more stories about some of the secretive deals involving the Scarlets, the RN and bowling for God. The very mention of the phrase "individuals known to officers" should set off alarm bells and prompt detailed impartial oversight. As Cneifiwr says, we are unlikely to have heard the last of these matters. Are Kev and the Labour Party locally and nationally really going to risk further trashing of the Council's reputation or will they act?

Anonymous said...

If they haven't acted before now they are not going to.They are clinging on for dear life.I hate to sound pessimistic but it is going to take a lot more to oust the people responsible than. I don't know what that might be but there must be someone somewhere who knows the answer.

Anonymous said...

They are Labour ,whatever they do In South Wales,they still get plenty of votes?I don't know how.

Anonymous said...

Why doesn't he just repay the cash anyway? He's absolutely friggin' loaded from what I have heard (and he surely must be with his massive salary. Unless he's got some expensive habit of some sort or other). He owns several properties around the county too apparently. Any tenants out there who'd like to give us anything from their perspective?

Redhead said...

Just suggested on Jacquie's blog: Independent Police Complaints Commission because of inconsistency between forces for the same event.

Anonymous said...

Can you clarify why the council "needed" to pay him this money directly instead of into his pension?

Is it because he had built up a pension pot in excess of £1.5m and would pay more tax than usual if he paid any more in?

If this is the case and he has avoided tax isn't this something for the Inland Revenue to investigate?

Cneifiwr said...

Anon @19.04 Tax avoidance is not illegal. My understanding is that by being paid a "supplement", he would be paying more tax now and less after retirement, which could come sooner rather than later.

Legality aside, it doesn't sit well morally with a council run by Labour.

Anonymous said...

To be fair to Mr. James, he is an officer of the council, and is free to conduct his affairs however he likes with no reference back to who runs the council.

The councillors who actually approved this though - that's another kettle of fish entirely...