Friday 24 October 2014

Stand by for a stitch up

As the dust settles on the latest act of the farce in Pembrokeshire, events are beginning to take shape in Carmarthenshire which will provide local government watchers with another master class in rotten borough studies.

There are growing signs that Kevin Madge, the Labour leader of Carmarthenshire County Council, is preparing to cough up a massive pay-off for Mark James, the council's chief executive, in a move which is certain to receive the enthusiastic backing of Meryl Gravell, Pam Palmer and their "Independent" troops - not because they want to see the back of Mr James, but because they think he deserves to be paid as much money as the council can scrape together.

Unusually for Carmarthenshire County Council, the mechanism for bringing this about is relatively simple. Mr James was one of the architects of the council's severance programme and has also been responsible for carrying out a review of senior management.

The senior management review, which is not yet in the public domain, is believed to have recommended abolition of the post of chief executive. Purely by coincidence, Mr James has applied for a pay-out under the severance scheme he engineered on the assumption that his proposals to restructure senior management will be approved.

As Caebrwyn reports, Kevin Madge last week softened up readers of the South Wales Guardian by telling them that abolition of the post of chief executive was one of the options he was considering. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

And so the municipal slot machine has been programmed to come up with three cherries in a row and pay out a jackpot. All Kev needs to do is accept the recommendations and read from a pre-prepared statement saying that in this time of austerity and belt-tightening, the move will lead to a leaner administration and save truckloads of money.

Except, of course it won't, and the council will still need a head of paid service performing the same functions as Mr James, albeit on a slightly less inflated salary.

This won't go down at all well with the voters, of course, but as with the row over the unlawful pension and libel indemnity schemes, Kev is calculating that everyone will have forgotten all about it by the next council elections in May 2017. Let us draw another line in the sand and move on, he will say.

Expect all this to happen before Christmas, with Labour and Independent councillors voting to exclude press and public from the crunch meeting on legal advice (Mrs Rees Jones, possibly with the backing of a report drawn up at considerable additional expense by someone like Mr Tim Kerr QC) before they give Mark the best Christmas present ever and he heads off for new pastures, heaped with praise from Meryl, Kevin Madge, Uncle Tom Theophilus and the rest.

You don't need to be Mystic Meg to predict that Kev's hopes of drawing a line in the sand, with or without ostriches, will be quickly dashed as the Wales Audit Office announces that it will carry out an investigation following complaints.

And just as we saw with the pensions scandal (tucked away and in heavy disguise in minutes of an Executive Board meeting), there is every reason to believe that there are more time bombs ticking away in County Hall.

Like the Ancient Mariner and his albatross, Kevin Madge's support for Mark James will hang over the Labour Party in Carmarthenshire for years to come.


Anonymous said...

It looks like the perfect stitch up to me but also shows we did not need the C.E.O. in the first place.
I bet we will hear in the end it will not cost the taxpayers a penny as the C.E.O. likes to say and as usual they will be correct
it will cost a small fortune.

Anonymous said...

Cneifiwr, good summary of what lies ahead in the next few weeks. However, should this forecast of events include Mr James going off with the loot to his new position in the west of England? In which case there would be no (Kevin Madge) business case for a redundancy package as he was going to leave anyway.

Anonymous said...

It's not a stitch up at all. It's the price you pay for weak political leadership combined with a dictitorial command and control culture. Given that the governance review is highly likely to recommend the reintroduction of transparent decision making linked to accountability what has become normal working practice within county hall will have to change. Such a cultural u turn will require visible change from the top both politically and officer wise.

The chief executive has applied for severance which he is entitled to do. If the business case stacks up and the council saves significant sums by doing so then fine. The problem is the council have to have a head of paid service and whichever way the figures are presented no-one will believe them as there are cheaper ( and more efficient) options. One is for the leader of the council to tell the chief what he/she wants him to do and for him to get on with it. Another is for the Chief to just leave.

Redhead said...

Would I have liked to have been a fly on the wall at that interview?

What do you think you can bring to this job? Well, hopefully more than £300,000.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time? With a similar severance package from you.

Thanks, you seem to be just the person we were looking for. Now, let's talk about councillor allowances ..... I think you will agree with me it's time the Cabinet had big rises don't you and, of course, as Leader I deserve the biggest of the lot.


Anonymous said...

Please tell me it ain't so. I find the spectre of doling out huge sums of money to this man to be utterly repugnant. Just how can elected politicians even countenance bestowing even more riches on one of the best paid public officials in Wales at a time when Council budgets are in crisis? Even if he had been a steady hand on the tiller, it would be difficult to justify, and the fact that he has steered the Council into murky waters should ensure that he should go with some hearty good wishes from his devoted followers, but no more. A windfall payoff would be a slap in the face for the Council's rank and file staff who have suffered low wages and a pay freeze over the last few years. It would divert ever more scarce resources from the needy, the disadvantaged and the poor to an exceedingly well-paid individual. Has Kev any recollection of what socialism is about?

Cwm Taf said...

Boyo, and there was me thinking a proper Welshy anorak like you would be able to spell Caebrwyn proper.

Your blades have gone blunt! Get with it mun!

Anonymous said...

Can it not be argued that Mr James is making himself redundant by finding himself another job and then is not eligible to severance Allow him 3 months salary in lieu and let him go to his job - cost £about £50000 less tax /ni cheaper than £300k

Anonymous said...

I think this present C.E.O's management style and practice are redundant.
The webcastings have shown how he treats councillors and I think this discouraged debate.
I do not think the post of C.E.O. is redundant. I think we need somebody who encourages debate and helps councillors get the information they require to make good decisions.