Wednesday 9 July 2014

A test of Kevin Madge's leadership - Updated

Update 10 July

The archived version of yesterday's meeting is now online, and it is clear from watching that Emlyn Dole's amendment was as follows:

"That the Council resolves to support the view of Welsh Government as outlined within Paragraph 17 of Welsh Government guidance 'Providing indemnities to Members and officers of relevant authorities 2006', [which] prohibits the funding of Members and officers at public expense to bring about defamation proceedings against third parties".

This produced a mild attack of panic in the acting Head of Law who wanted to know if this resolution was forward-looking or retrospective.

The Council cannot legislate retrospectively, as Emlyn recognised, but if it could the amendment if successful would have opened up the possibility of Mr James having to pay back the indemnity along with possible career-terminating implications for Mrs Rees Jones.

As it was the amendment was lost.

One other interesting snippet from the archive came rather earlier when councillors were paying tribute to Roger Jones, who is retiring as Director of Resources. The WLGA observers may have spotted that the Chair, Daff Davies, turns to the Chief Executive to warn him that Cllr Siân Caiach wishes to speak, presumably to seek guidance as to whether this should be allowed.

We cannot see Mr James's response, but presumably it was a nod of assent. Later on when the Chief Executive had finished his rant about Jacqui Thompson, and Cllr Caiach was seeking to raise a point of information, the advice coming from the left of the Chair appears to have been rather less indulgent.

There in a nutshell is governance as we have come to know it.

Update 12.30 

Kevin Madge's leadership was tested, and it will come as no surprise that it was found wanting. After reading badly from a pre-prepared script, he put on an angry voice and said that everybody had had enough of this and it was time to move on. Despite Carwyn Jones's unequivocal condemnation of the stance taken by the council yesterday, Kevin Madge proposed accepting the report put together by senior officers rejecting the WAO's findings.

There followed a very confused to-ing and fro-ing across the chamber, with various different motions being put forward. Eventually the combined forces of the Independents and Labour voted in favour of a fudge proposed by Cllr Calum Higgins to "note" the letter from Lesley Griffiths and the officers' views as set out in the accompanying report. A separate motion put forward by Cllr Emlyn Dole (Plaid) calling for the council to accept the WAO findings was rejected by the same coalition.

The upshot of this is that the council ended up in no-man's land, and the only way the matter could ever be resolved is if it went to court. That is unlikely ever to happen, and the infamous libel indemnity clause will remain suspended indefinitely (but not abolished).

All of this was observed by members of the WLGA governance panel, who must have noticed that councillors failed to tackle the ticking time bomb of senior officers who have once again got away with sticking two fingers up to the Wales Audit Office.

Just how hostile Mr James and his allies are to interference from the WAO (or any other external body) was made apparent a little earlier when he and other officers left the chamber while councillors dealt with a highly technical report on pensions, saying that if he did not leave, the council might well be landed with another bill from the WAO.

This is not quite the final word on this sorry saga because still to come is a response from the Local Government Minister, Lesley Griffiths, to a request from Rhodri Glyn Thomas (Plaid) that she clarifies the Welsh Government's position in the light of Carmarthenshire's novel interpretation of her letter.

Kevin Madge had an opportunity here to cut the council's over-mighty officers and Meryl Gravell down to size, knowing that he had the support of Carwyn Jones. He funked it, and was left looking weak by the most junior Labour councillor, Calum Higgins, who came up with the fudge that got the officers off the hook.


Yesterday was one of the most dramatic days in the history of the Welsh Assembly, with the sacking of Alun Davies from the post of Minister of the Environment after he was caught red-handed trying to smear political opponents, something which Welsh Labour is very good at.

But the drama did not stop there. Later in the day the Minister for Local Government, Lesley Griffiths, replied timidly to a question from Rhodri Glyn Thomas (Plaid) about Carmarthenshire County Council's attempts to reject the findings of the Wales Audit Office. Her officials were looking into it, she said.

Shortly afterwards her boss, Carwyn Jones, faced a similar question from Rhodri Glyn and was rather less inclined to beat about the bush. You can see the exchange (in Welsh) here, starting at 38 minutes 40 seconds.

Rhodri Glyn asked the First Minister if he agreed that it was extremely important that local authorities accept the findings of the Wales Audit Office, and would he join him in condemning Carmarthenshire County Council's attempts to justify the libel indemnity, and make it very clear that challenging the findings of the WAO is completely unacceptable.

Here is a translation of the First Minister's response:

"Scrutiny is extremely important, of course. This is something which was said in the Williams report, namely that there is too often a feeling that public bodies facing criticism try to say that they are not at fault. Williams says that it is extremely important that public bodies accept criticism made by the Auditor and don't say that it is some kind of misunderstanding and that they are not to blame. This is an important part of setting out the way ahead.

"As far as the situation in Carmarthenshire is concerned, I think that I am right to say that we, as a Government, have said that it is not right to give any kind of indemnity for what happened in Carmarthenshire. At the end of the day, this is something for Carmarthenshire County Council, and it is extremely important that councils make sure that they do not put officers in a situation where they receive indemnities of this kind in connection with court cases. I think that this has been said before."

In a few hours time Carmarthenshire County Council is due to meet to discuss a report put together by the acting Head of Law, Mrs Rees Jones, and the Director of Resources, Roger Jones, which argues that the council was right all the way along to pursue the course it did, that the Wales Audit Office is wrong, and that the Welsh Government supports this view.

Shortly before that report was published, the Chief Executive himself weighed in with a message to council staff saying the same thing only in even more exaggerated and misleading terms.

We will see how they attempt to wriggle out of the latest mess of their own making, but surely the point has now finally been reached where serious questions have to be asked about the judgement, competence and motivation of some of the most senior officers.

Carwyn Jones's comments leave Mrs Linda Rees Jones looking very exposed indeed, but councillors are not off the hook either.

Carwyn Jones is a seasoned lawyer who chooses his words carefully. When he says that "officers should not be put in a position where they receive indemnities of this kind", he is clearly referring to a decision made by councillors on the Executive Board, led at the time by Cllr Meryl Gravell, with Labour's Kevin Madge as her deputy.

Cllr Gravell continues to exercise enormous and often very damaging influence behind the scenes, so this criticism leaves the Labour Party in Carmarthenshire is a very awkward place.

It is said that Kevin Madge feels "trapped" as council leader between the conflicting demands of the Independents, Welsh Labour and his own supporters in the council. How he responds to Carwyn Jones's blunt criticism will be one of the biggest tests of leadership he has so far faced.


Redhead said...

The fact that he feeks "trapped" shows that this man has no understanding of what he has allowed to happen on hus watch. It is perfectly clear that his senior officers have misbehaved in public office. If he cannot sort that out then he should not be Leader.

Anonymous said...

Does anybody honestly believe that the Council leaders and even the councilors of Carmarthenshire are going to hold their hands up and appologise for this fiasco. The labour party is in a right mess here.The local elections cant come soon enough for me. I look forward to the knock on the door.

Anonymous said...

I don't think emlyn dole did propose to accept the WAO's views. He proposed basically the same as Callum but in a different words. I believe Callum abstained on the Plaid vote and plaid voted in favour of his amendment.

Cneifiwr said...

Thanks Anon @15.34. To be honest it was very confusing, and we'll have to wait until the archived broadcast comes out to check - unless anyone has the wording of Emlyn's amendment.

Anonymous said...

I agree it was confusing, but I think there was general consensus that the libel cause should not go back into the constitution. I noticed that Jonathan Edwards's researcher put in twitter that Callums amendment and plaid's were the same in his view. A good chair would have spotted that and combined the two into one motion. We should be able to see from the pan view of the chamber that plaid voted in favour of the labour amendment and it was all about wording in the end. The general view sounded like, stuff the legal views lets just make sure no more money is spent on this. I wonder what the guests thought of the show?

Cneifiwr said...

The reason why they won't revive the indemnity clause is because that would be likely to trigger legal action by the auditor.

Anonymous said...

Since the audit office saga broke out I've had a keen interest in how the local council operates and find myself tuning in to the monthly broadcasts.

My sincere opinion is that Mr Madge is a nice chap. He strikes me as someone who has worked hard for his community for years, finally got into a position of power, only to see it all eroded by huge cuts in budgets.

If he wants to command an ounce of respect as Leader he has to get rid of the Chief Executive who is simply playing Mr Madge as one of his puppets.

I was surprised by the comments of Mr James today. I don't think his comments regarding that lady blogger were befitting of the position he holds. Mr James is an embarrassment to the Council and to Carmarthenshire.

Redhead said...

Mr James doesn't care a hoot about public opinion only about ensuring he ratchets up a big salary and a very big pension. He has the entire "Labour" and "Independent" group under his thumb. Only a change of ruling party will change the situation.

The Leader and his cronies are doing very nicely, thank you, from inflated salaries and expenses and also see no reason to change things.

Ballot box ... vote wisely.

Anonymous said...

The trouble in Wales people don't vote wisely,it's more
like Turkey's voting for Christmas.

Anonymous said...

Alun Davies used to be in Plaid and as a student in Aberystwyth was renowned for his robust and very colourful critcism of Labour. He's obviously a confused soul but his recent political suicide is bizarre.
Is there something we haven't been told?

Anonymous said...

Who on earth does meryl gravelle think she is? Standing there and stating that, in here opinion, if 'they' have found matters difficult to understand then the general public would find it almost impossible.

Clearly she holds herself in such high regard and of vastly superior intelligence than the general public that she evidently has lost touch with that general public, many of whom, have benefited from education.

No doubt this point would be lost on her.

As for the leader. What leader????

His leadership qualities are found seriously wanting. He struggles to string sentences together delivering incoherent and quite frankly meaningless ramblings. To liken a county council to a soap opera maybe funny but is hardly appropriate nor confidence inspiring.

As a leader I imagine people follow him out of sheer curiosity, just to see what he will do next.

Interesting the indemnity has been parked now. No doubt it will not be required again for mark james and if ever it is considered for a similar purpose then mark james will have moved on to pastures new. No doubt as head of a very large corporation, as they are begging him for his services apparently.

Anonymous said...

I thought the outburst yesterday was a mark of a desperate man!
(no pun intended). It was also, in my view, extremely unprofessional from someone in his position.

Anonymous said...

I think some kind of literacy and capability test should be introduced before candidates put their names forward for election as County Councillors.

Redhead said...

Mark James obviously felt very threatenec - I wonder by whom? So many possibilities to choose from!