Wednesday 21 January 2015

Comfort packs, privacy glass and convertibles - Top Drawer Top Gear in Carmarthenshire

Back in the news is the disclosure that the former chief executive of Pembrokeshire County Council, Bryn Parry-Jones, enjoyed the use of a hybrid Porsche Panamera (retail price around £90,000) as part of the perks of running the local authority. The luxury sports car was officially designated as a family car, with the hefty insurance bill apparently also paid by the council.

The Information Commissioner has ruled that Pembrokeshire County Council must disclose the cost of the Porsche after it refused a freedom of information request from the BBC. Let's hope that the council does not follow the lead taken by Carmarthenshire County Council which refused to disclose correspondence with Towy Community Church. When the council was over-ruled it changed tack and branded Jacqui Thompson's request as "vexatious".

Meanwhile Leighton Andrews, Labour's Public Services Minister, has gone on the war path with a warning that he would like to bring the days of over-inflated salaries and luxury perks for council bigwigs to an end. This puts the spotlight once again on Carmarthenshire which now has the highest paid Welsh council chief executive, although Leighton might want to ask Kevin Madge and other members of the local party why they have for years supported Meryl Gravell in her policy of peanuts and monkeys, and voted to approve more perks, pay rises and tax dodges for Mark James than you can shake a stick at.

So while a lot of attention has rightly been paid to Parry-Jones's Porsche, an interesting question is what perks are enjoyed by his former neighbour and other top council officers in Carmarthenshire.

Employee car leasing schemes used to be very popular until the taxman spoiled things, but accountants are nothing if not inventive when it comes to new ways of beating the system, and as we saw with the controversial pension scheme opt-outs enjoyed by Parry-Jones and James, councils - a branch of government when all is said and done - are up there with the best when it comes to finding ways of helping their top brass to pay less in tax.

One way of doing this is what is known as the "Salary Sacrifice Car Scheme". Here is a prominent car leasing company explaining how it works:

Salary sacrifice works by allowing employees to give up part of their salary under their terms of employment, in return for their employer providing the employee with a non cash benefit such as a car. Gross salary and cash allowances are usually subject to both Income Tax and National Insurance Contributions (NIC). By 'sacrificing' part of this gross salary for a new car, this part will not be subject to Income tax or National Insurance, resulting in lower tax and National Insurance being paid overall by the employee (and lower NICs paid by the employer) each month. In addition the employee takes advantage of any car manufacturer discounts offered to provide further savings. This means significant savings to employees can be made under salary sacrifice.

Champagne all round for everyone except the ordinary taxpayer.

Thanks to a Freedom of Information request (here) made earlier this year, we can get a pretty good idea of what Carmarthenshire County Council considers to be acceptable perks for its top brass.

Two lists were provided in response - one marked "Leased Vehicles Personal Contract Lease", and the second detailing vehicles leased by the council for work use, "Contract Leased Vehicles Corporate".

The corporate list comprises 91 vehicles, including two Mercedes limousines. One of those was ordered by Kevin Madge (Lab) when he became council leader so that he did not have to share with the Council Chair. It is now being proposed to axe one of these as part of cost cutting measures although Kevin Madge is understood to be very reluctant to let go of the keys

Other than the Mercs, one of the most popular vehicles on the corporate list is the VW Tiguan, a 4x4 which retails for around £20,000. There were around 20 of those.

The personal list is even more interesting, and comprised 87 vehicles back in April 2014. It seems that the council's car lease scheme operates for the benefit of roughly 1% of the workforce.

There were 4 BMWs, including a natty "3 Series Diesel Convertible 320d 2 door with extras". Not very practical in Carmarthenshire, you might think, but somebody obviously thinks that a flash convertible (retail price around £40,000) is essential.

Also on the list were two Mercedes A Class diesel A180 5 door efficiency "sport" runabouts.

Rather more popular were Audis. There were 7 on the list, including several A3 Sportbacks. One came with privacy glass and comfort pack (whatever that is), while another was a "special edition". One of those will set you back around £30,000.

Thanks to massive cuts in the road maintenance budget, expect to see a shift to more robust 4x4s over the next couple of years.


Redhead said...

What happened to 40p per mile in your own car!

Elderly Neil. said...

Carmarthenshire council has been party to scurrilous practices which
have received the nod from all sides

Creative accounting (definition cooking the books) criminal fraud in my book

Blodwen said...

Jesus wept! I need stronger blood pressure pills after reading this. The examples of money-wasting you uncover go from bad to worse. Who sanctions all this stuff (need I really ask?)?

Anonymous said...

An appalling indictment on the integrity of officers and councillors of Carmarthenshire.I would think there are thousands feeling as Blodwen 17.19.

Wavell said...

The sooner they increase the Community Charge the sooner they can get more (& better) BMWs.
Makes me think !!!

Anonymous said...

For clarity some of the 20 4x4 vehicles are used by home care services . Most often there are two carers per vehicle to ensure effiicieny. More importantly these vehicles mean that the carers can get to people needing the service in difficult terrain and adverse weather. Surely , if you were reliant on these services you may think this is important and that the LA was taking a responsible approach to care delivery. Oh and by the way , they are more cost effective as well!

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable,it's a pity more of the public aren't aware
of this,especially residents of Garnant.

Anonymous said...

I am more interested to know how much Leighton Andrews will be paying for his new executive management board. I expect county councillors will be abolished since they lack unlimited tax raising powers of the community councils. This would explain the drive to up skill the hapless local volunteers. Three county councils would be more than enough for just over three million people. Beware the axe of June ...

Wavell said...

Re: 22:56

Good on the 4x4's.Makes some sense.
Now explain the BMW Convertible.
Surely that was not necessary !!

Anonymous said...

Can you say who is paying for these vehicles?

Anonymous said...

Madge does not drive the vehicles, neither does the current incumbent, Daf (Elmer Fudd) Davies.

I understand the vehicles are driven by 2 chauffeurs, who also transport other members of the council to various civic functions.

Despite the economic climate there is a need for these vehicles and the 4X4's as explained above.

I cannot comment on the remainder, or the £30k BMW but if thats what an employee can afford as part of their income, why not?

I think you are being a little disingenuous and seeking to create a story where really there is none.But never let the truth get in the way of a good story though ;-)

Anonymous said...

Madge has no driving licence then ?

Anonymous said...

What part of "Madge does not drive the vehicles" implies he has no license?

Anonymous said...

15.49 says Madge and others are driven by chauffeurs,
just wondered why they can't drive themselves around,
or are they the Royal Family of Carmarthenshire.

Anonymous said...

Probably for the same reason other politicians et al don't drive themselves around.

I imagine most of the time they are attending official functions, where alcohol may be involved. Why take the risk?

Anonymous said...

Well why don't they make an example and take a taxi,the
same as the rest of us,it might go towards repairing the
bad reputation they have,anyway don't drink alcohol
I dont.