Thursday 3 July 2014

Minor matters

The latest edition of "Y Gair", Carmarthenshire County Council's in-house newsletter for staff, contains a message from the Chief Executive. 

Ignoring the abuse of apostrophes, there are a couple of points which may surprise some readers, and possibly the Wales Audit Office. 

First is the claim that the Welsh Government has apparently confirmed Mr James's view that the Council did have power to grant him an indemnity to bring an action for libel, contrary to what the Wales Audit Office found.

Second is the claim that changes to HMRC rules on pensions for senior officers (i.e. top earners) "forced" them out of the local government pension scheme, that the scheme was introduced on the condition that it did not cost the Council any additional money (in truth it cost the Council a small fortune), and that there was nothing intrinsically unlawful about it. Eagle-eyed readers will note that Mr James says that the scheme has been withdrawn "for now".

In other words, a complete and total rejection of the Wales Audit Office's findings.


"It has been some months since I have penned an article for Y Gair.  During that time, the Council found itself in the headlines and in the middle of a political row.  As with all such matters people take the opportunity to grab media attention for their own ends, irrespective of the facts of the matter. 

"There were two matters raised by the Wales Audit Office.  The first was whether the Council could indemnify an officer in respect of proceedings for defamation.  The legal advice the Council had from two QC’s (sic) was very clear, it could indemnify its’ (sic) officers in exceptional cases.  They granted that indemnity to me, as Chief Executive, on behalf of the officers, to not only defend an action for defamation brought by a local blogger, but to counter sue.  Following a six day trial last year, the blogger’s action against the Council was thrown out in its entirety.  In turn, she was found guilty of unlawful defamation, harassment, attempting to pervert the course of justice and generally being so dishonest that her own insurance company cancelled the policy to underwrite her legal action and the judge said that he would not believe a word she said unless it was backed up by evidence, other than her own words.

"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.  The Auditor was wrong in the Council’s view.

"On the second matter, the Council had agreed to make a payment to senior officers equivalent to pension contributions where such officers were forced to leave the pension scheme because of new restrictions by the Government.  This was on condition it did not cost the Council any money.  Many employers make similar arrangements and whilst of itself not intrinsically unlawful, there were some procedural deficiencies in how the decision was taken and the Council decided to withdraw this scheme for now

"Some politicians felt there had been criminal wrongdoing and asked the police to investigate.  This, they did and were subsequently fully satisfied that there had been no such wrongdoing.  I said publicly at the time that I was utterly convinced that no officers had done anything wrong, but in order that no one could subsequently allege that I had attempted to influence any investigation I would be “out of office” until the matter was concluded.

"Can I place on record my sincere thanks and appreciation for all of you who got in touch, by email, letter, card, phone or in person, to offer your support.  It was very much appreciated. 

"The  Council can hopefully put this hiatus behind it and now move on.  The Council has excellent services which are highly valued by our residents.  Our Education and Social Care services are second to none.  Our investment in housing is delighting our tenants and in schools, is delighting teachers and students alike.

"Our refuse and cleansing services are the envy of many councils and our fantastic regeneration of our County is widely respected across Wales and England.

"I am extremely proud of what we together have achieved in Carmarthenshire and I am certainly not prepared to allow our County to be talked down because of these minor matters."


Redhead said...

Well he would wouldn't he. His bat, his ball and he's in forever as long as he has such a weak Leader who is not only afraid to keep him in order but also prepared to be complicit in his actions.

Sian Caiach said...

I can agree that probably "no officers did anything wrong" although I suspect they may have suggested that the Council Exec and Council Leader,followed a cunning plan of giving a large amount of money to Mr James to "compensate" him for the change in the pension tax rules.

When the nodding dogs went along with it, it was their responsibility entirely.

I cannot imagine that Kevin Madge thought this deal up himself, I doubt he decided to give thousands of pounds of public money to his his best paid employee spontaneously.

If it was such a great plan, why did he deliberately try to hide the decision by not putting the details in the Executive minutes? Had he realized it was unlikely to be popular, even among his own party?

The whole sad saga shows not only the deliberate deception and bad judgement of Kevin Madge, but the weakness of our pathetic Welsh Government.

Understandably they are reluctant, as a Labour Government to criticize a Labour Council Leader but clearly were unable to get him to quietly resign and take the heat off them.

The man is not for turning, he really believes in "stealing from the poor and giving to the rich."
After all, don't the wealthy deserve to get richer? Kevin appears to think so.

Cneifiwr said...

I think to be fair to Kevin Madge, these issues are part of the toxic legacy of his predecessor, Meryl Gravelle, who continues to exercise massive behind the scenes influence.

Kevin's biggest weakness is his decision to throw in his lot with Meryl's Independents, and as long as he is trapped in that alliance, he will be dragged down into the quagmire.

Blodwen said...

The man is a Christian - "Vengeance is mine", saith the Lord.

Anonymous said...

It's not for me to question experienced detectives but if (as Caebrwyn's FOI request has shown)the police did not interview anyone in connection with the case how can they be so sure that the law wasn't broken. When my father was a policeman hw found things out by asking people (a long time ago admittedly).

Anonymous said...

Complete narcissistic nutter. has his memory returned I wonder? Can he remember whether or not he was in the meeting that decided to fund his counter-action?

Anonymous said...

" In turn, she was found guilty of unlawful defamation, harassment, attempting to pervert the course of justice and generally being so dishonest that her own insurance company cancelled the policy to underwrite her legal action and the judge said that he would not believe a word she said unless it was backed up by evidence, other than her own words."


First of all, the case wasn't a criminal case, but a civil case. It therefore certainly DID NOT find Jacqui guilty of harrassment, or indeed of attempting to pervert the course of justice. These are criminal matters, and in order to arrive at at a finding of guilt or innocence, a criminal trial, in a criminal court, and to the criminal burden of proof would be needed. Throwing around accusations that a court has found Jacqui guilty of such serious offences as "Attempting to Pervert The Course Of Justice" (a potential life term) is a rather serious matter. Rather ironically, I would contest that that, in and of itself, is defamatory.

To be fair, the judge certainly did manage to convince himself of that Jacqui had indeed behaved in such a manner. Quite how he arrived at this decision is a complete mystery to those of us familiar with the case, and I think it fair to say that most of us on this blog believe both justice and judgement have been found wanting in this matter.

As for the claim that the Welsh Government have confirmed that it's ok for councils to sue by proxy, well, I think the Welsh Government really need to step into this debate directly now. The veracity of this claim has been questioned - and it's time for the Welsh Government to answer it, clearly and definitively.