Friday 4 July 2014

Dear Dave....

Update 7 July

Readers will have noticed the rather exasperated tone of Lesley Griffiths' letter below, and that it took her two months to reply to Dave Gilbert's question.

She will probably not be best pleased that more letters are now winging their way to Cardiff asking her to confirm Carmarthenshire County Council's view that she has given them a thumbs up in the matter of the libel indemnity.

Elsewhere there is growing anger that senior council officers seem to have decided to ignore the near-unanimous support given by councillors back in April to the Census Working Group's recommendations on the Welsh language.

Expect a lively meeting of the full council on Wednesday.


If Carmarthenshire County Council's free newspaper is popularly known as Pravda, the internal staff newsletter Y Gair ('The Word') would be more accurately called The Pyongyang Times. As we saw a couple of days ago, the most recent edition came with a message to the toiling masses from the Dear Leader who took a whole page to deal with what he called the "minor matters" of the pension payment and libel indemnity scandals.

On the subject of the libel indemnity, Mr James wrote:

The Council has refused to accept the Wales Audit Office report and has subsequently confirmed with Welsh Government that the Council does have the powers to grant such indemnities.  

That seems pretty clear, doesn't it?

Fortunately we have not had to wait very long to find out what the Welsh Government actually said.
In a letter dated 6 May from Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Local Government, to Deputy Chief Executive Dave Gilbert,  the minister wrote:


"Dear Dave

"Thank you for your letter of 4 March requesting I clarify the law in relation to the granting of an indemnity for meeting the cost of a defamation counterclaim.

"I am unable to comment on a decision taken by Carmarthenshire County Council about which I do not have all the facts. I am also unsighted in respect of the reports which went to Members. In any event, this is not a matter in which you should expect me to provide legal advice when the issue of statutory interpretation is clearly a matter for the courts.

"Nevertheless I have asked my officials to review the Local Authorities (Indemnities for Members and Officers) (Wales) Order 2006 and the accompanying Welsh Government guidance, Providing indemnities to members and officers of relevant authorities (2006). The guidance makes reference to the provisions which enable Local Authorities to issue indemnities to their officers and Members. Paragraphs 17 to 19 of the guidance explain the Welsh Ministers' view in relation to the provision of indemnities for defamation proceedings. The guidance notes the risk of offering such indemnities by relying on section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972.

"I have nothing to add to this guidance and neither do I think the guidance nor the secondary legislation requires any amendment or clarification. It is for the Council to satisfy itself and others it has acted within the powers available."


Hands up all those who think that Ms Griffiths was giving Carmarthenshire County Council the all clear.

No, I thought not.

But the Chief Executive and the acting Head of Law and Administration reckon that this is a ringing endorsement of their actions.
In a report which will go before full council next week, they have another pop at the Appointed Auditor and the Wales Audit Office:

It is surprising that the Appointed Auditor states that it is not the role of Welsh Government to provide a definitive statement of the law when in fact Welsh Government is a law-maker. 

Hang on a minute, didn't the Minister say that interpretation was a matter for the courts as well?

As for the Auditor's view that Welsh Ministers clearly intended to prohibit indemnities to bring actions for defamation, Mrs Rees Jones says this is stuff and nonsense:

The Minister’s confirmation that Welsh Government’s intention is as set out in its 2006 Guidance means that the 2006 Order was introduced as additional powers for local authorities as opposed to being an Order to remove the s. 111 (1) Local Government Act 1972 powers which already existed.

So there we are then. The Welsh Government has given Carmarthenshire County Council the thumbs up, the unlawful pension payment was perfectly lawful because Mr James and other senior officers were forced out of the Dyfed pension fund, and the whole thing never cost us a penny.

As Caebrwyn pointed out the other day, this makes for a very promising start to the much trumpeted review of governance in County Hall.

Carmarthenshire residents have not seen this much scorn and derision heaped on an external public body since the Council tore a strip off the Ombudsman for Public Services.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the Acting Head of Law is relying on the well-established authority in Alice v Humpty Dumpty [1872], viz:
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less'. 'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.' 'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be the master, that's all.'

Although it has been found that there has been no criminal behaviour in respect of unlawful actions undertaken by the Council, that doesn't seem to stop officers carrying out grievous bodily harm to the plain meaning of words.

If you call black white loudly and for long enough, the hope is that the feeble-minded might actually believe it.