In Pembrokeshire the chief executive, who is currently the subject of disciplinary procedures, is reported to be in line for a pay-off of more than £320,000. Based on length of service and salary, Mr James could be looking at something between £250,000 and £300,000.
Returning to the Llanelli Star for a moment, the paper says that there have been numerous suggestions that Mr James is planning to move to a new job in the west of England. Let's be more specific.
For about a year now there have been persistent whispers that Mr James is planning to move to Bath, and the word on the street is that he is set to take up a top job at Bath University. University vice chancellors and pro vice chancellors earn more than even the chief executives of Welsh councils.
The council's reaction to the rumours is interesting. If the Star has reported the response to its questions accurately, County Hall would say only that the suggestions were "speculative" while noting that an employee who accepts a severance deal is free to take up new employment. The council's spokesman did not say, it seems, that the rumours were untrue.
Over the last few weeks there have been a number of attempts by County Hall sources to give the impression that Mr James is just another employee offering to take redundancy, but there are some important differences.
- Mr James was instrumental in setting up the scheme he now hopes to benefit from.
- Unlike other staff, Mr James does not have a departmental boss to approve or reject his application. It will fall to the elected councillors to decide, probably with the Executive Board making a recommendation.
- By making his application, Mr James is effectively calling on the council to abolish the post of chief executive. By law the council must have a Head of Paid Service, and invariably the Head of Paid Service is also the chief executive in Welsh councils. Abolishing the title may not make a scrap of difference.
- If the proposal is somehow to save the council money, as has been suggested, how long would it take for Carmarthenshire to realise a saving of, say £250,000? Someone still has to be Head of Paid Service, and the Head of Paid Service would naturally expect to earn more than other senior officers. The truth is that it could take years for the council to achieve a saving, and it may never see any financial benefit if it goes down the severance route.
Whatever happens, Mark James's application for severance will be a political decision, and councillors will need to think very carefully about what is best for Carmarthenshire rather than what is best for Mr James.
In the final analysis, everything will come down to which way the Labour group on the council decides to jump. If it succumbs to temptation and gives Mark James a cheque to clear off, public opinion will not forgive it. Furthermore, there are already signs that the chief executive's legacy is beginning to unravel even before he leaves, and who knows what may come out of the woodwork once he is gone. Kevin Madge could face years of having to defend a payment as all sorts of time bombs go off around him.
A refusal to agree to a severance package will most likely not go down well with the leading lights of the Independent group, giving Kevin Madge yet more headaches. Worse still, a by election in a ward held by one of Labour's creaking doors could really upset the apple cart and cost Kev his job as council leader.
Events over the past year have lost Mark James much of the support he used to enjoy from councillors, and his application for a pay-off speaks volumes about his loyalty and commitment to the people of Carmarthenshire. He wants to go, and most people in County Hall would be glad to see the back of him.
If someone else wants him, presumably an employer who is not familiar with Google, let him go. But say no to a pay-off.
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