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Council’s war with auditors

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top qcCounty Hall deploys top QC in legal battle over Bryn’s ‘tax-dodge’

PEMBROKESHIRE County Council has instructed top barrister Tim Kerr QC of 11 King’s Bench Walk, London to fight its corner against the WAO investigation into the decision to allow controversial CEO Bryn Parry Jones to avoid tax on his personal pension.

Mr Kerr is described on his chambers website as being “frequently engaged by central and local government entities as well as private
sector clients”. The Herald understands that Mr Kerr is also overseeing a probe at Lancashire County Council into alleged breaches of the local government tendering process.

The engagement of an expensive leading barrister by the Council to support a tax break for highly paid staff at a time when it is contemplating raising leisure charges and closing facilities around the County is sure to generate more controversy. Council Leader, Jamie Adams, claimed that the decision to give Bryn Parry Jones a tax break would not cost Pembrokeshire an extra penny.

The leader of neighbouring Carmarthenshire Council, Kevin Madge, has already accepted that the fall-out of the same policy has been
to damage that Council’s reputation. Carmarthenshire County Council has jointly instructed lawyers with Pembrokeshire to resist the WAO.

The Pembrokeshire Herald can reveal that the WAO has already sent its ‘consideration documents’ to Pembrokeshire County Council. It is understood that those who were asked to comment on the documents were CEO Bryn Parry Jones, Head of Finance Mark Lewis and the members of the committee who passed the tax dodge policy in 2011, including current Council leader Jamie Adams and former Council leader John Davies, who Cllr Adams has claimed gave the committee members advice on the complex issue.

Herald readers will recall that the Council only took independent legal advice AFTER the Wales Audit Office raised concerns about the decision to give senior staff a large tax break on their pensions.

The Auditor General for Wales said recently:

“There are those who would argue that asking and answering the difficult questions can safely be left to officials. I commend the professionalism of our public servants in Wales, but, I would warn, “Beware the summary produced by your own staff”. I want to stress that scrutiny must not be undertaken through a tick-box approach. Strict adherence merely to the letter of the standing order is not the objective, nor will citizens accept mere compliance as an excuse for profligate behaviours.”

Those who received the documents were given the opportunity to reply to them and have now done so.

The Pembrokeshire Herald can reveal that Carmarthenshire County Council’s Executive Board met in secret session on Wednesday, December 4, to consider its next steps. Despite a meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet taking place on Monday, December 2, no mention was made at the meeting of the WAO investigation.

The Wales Audit Office told The Pembrokeshire Herald:

““We can confirm that both Councils have provided their detailed responses to the Auditor’s consideration documents. He is now considering them and whether they will affect a decision to issue a report in the public interest. While there is no time scale on his decision, he hopes to conclude matters before Christmas.”

The Pembrokeshire Herald contacted Pembrokeshire County Council and asked the following questions in relation to the ‘consideration documents’ to which officers and members were due to respond:

• Please confirm whether responses have been made; if made, by whom they have been made and when they were made.
• Please confirm whether external Counsel or solicitors advised any of those responding either collectively or individually.
• Please provide us with a statement for publication regarding the dispute with the WAO regarding senior staff remuneration and when the matter is to be discussed by Council members.
• Please confirm what contribution – if any – is being made by the Council toward the fees of Mr Tim Kerr QC of 11 King’s Bench Walk Chambers.

Replying, a County Council spokesperson told The Herald:

“We can confirm that responses to the Wales Audit Office (WAO) ‘consideration document’ have been sent to the WAO.

“However, there are questions from Elected Members on this matter which are due to be asked at next week’s meeting of full Council. Responses will be given at that time.”

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Jonny Skyboss

    December 17, 2013 at 10:14 am

    The sooner the masses gather at the council offices and demand resignations, the better off this county will be! Whilst the average person is struggling to make ends meet, the council finds yet another way to spend hard-earned cash on protecting its own. Bah! Come on people! Stand up and be heard!

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Coastal car parks at beauty spots remain closed

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THE RECENT changes in regulations reinforce that movement is restricted to your local area.

This has been identified by the Welsh Government as an approximation of a five mile radius from your home.

Members of two separate households from the same local area (not travelling more than five miles) can now meet outdoors, as long as they maintain social distancing.

You should aim to meet another local household as close to your home as possible. Always take care to maintain social distancing and hand hygiene.

Pembrokeshire County Council car parks at attractions and beauty spots (including public toilets) currently remain closed so you should check before travelling.

They remain closed as a clear message that travel remains restricted, and associated tourism amenities remain closed.

A critical point for all to note is that lifeguards are not currently patrolling beaches and toilets and other facilities are not open.

Full details of the car parking facilities which remain open for the local community can be found on the Council’s website:
https://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/emergency-planning/service-changes

Councillor Phil Baker, Cabinet Member for Infrastructure said: “The emphasis is on careful, structured unlocking, and not to put in danger any of the recovery measures that relate to public health and not to undo the safeguarding that lockdown has delivered.

“We will continue to review and monitor this carefully and take cautious, measured steps only to provide the benefits of the eased regulations without putting our residents at risk.”

Motorists are reminded not to contravene parking restrictions – such as yellow lines – where they exist as parking enforcement is still being undertaken.

As with other service areas, car parks will be reviewed in line with current advice.

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Pembrokeshire County Council Leaders coronavirus update

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PEMBROKESHIRE County Council Leader, Councillor David Simpson, has provided a further coronavirus update for Tuesday, 2nd June, as follows:

‘I want to thank everyone for the continued support to myself, Elected Members and officers of the Authority.

‘We have all experienced many challenges over the years but this continued struggle is very testing for all. We continue collectively to work together to ensure we, in Pembrokeshire, remain safe and avoid catching Covid-19

‘It is clear that we still have to remain “local”. There is no remit for travelling outside our local community. You will have read and heard clear guidance on only travelling five miles from home.

‘As always and where you can, please exercise from your home. The more we can do to reduce the spread of the virus, the better we will all fare in the long term.

‘I want to highlight that today marks the 50 th anniversary of the collapse of the Cleddau Bridge. This was indeed a tragedy as lives were lost and it is a sad chapter in Pembrokeshire’s history.

‘As in any incident, people can, and do, rebuild and also learn lessons. After Covid-19 the new “normality” will look different from what we were used to. But we will all move forward and regain Confidence.

‘I’m sure, like you, I question how I should be tackling this issue. Should I be doing more? The answer is simple and direct – we need to ensure social distancing is maintained; wash our hands regularly and listen to the advice given by experts.

‘Remember: ‘Stay Strong and Stay Local.’

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‘Check in, Catch up and Prepare’ All school’s in Wales prepare to enter next phase

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ALL children will have the opportunity to “Check in, Catch Up, Prepare for summer and September”, the Education Minister Kirsty Williams announced today as she published details of the next phase for schools in Wales.

It is proposed that all schools will start the next phase on 29 June, with the term extended by a week, therefore ending on 27 July.

In the next academic year, beginning in September, the intention is that the autumn half-term break will be expanded to two weeks.

In each school there will be a phased approach. Year groups will be split into cohorts with staggered starts, lessons and breaks. It is expected that this will mean, at most, a third of pupils present at any one time, though schools may need time to reach this level of operation.

There will be much smaller classes, providing secure dedicated time with teachers and classmates. This time will include online and personalised classroom experience, getting children and teachers ready for a similar experience in September.

Next week, the Welsh Government will publish guidance to support schools, as well as further and higher education institutions. This will include information on managing their facilities and logistical arrangements, including buildings, resources, cleaning and transport.

The Government is also today publishing a paper from its COVID-19 Technical Advisory Group, representing the latest understanding of the virus with respect to children and education.

Further Education colleges are ensuring that appropriate measures are being taken to re-open for face-to-face learning from 15 June. They will prioritise those students requiring licence to practice assessments and vulnerable learners. This follows close working with Government and the joint trade unions.

Guidance for childcare providers will also be published in the next week, supporting them to increase the numbers of children in attendance alongside schools.

Kirsty Williams said:

“My announcement today gives schools three and a half weeks to continue preparing for the next phase.

“We will use the last weeks of the summer term to make sure pupils, staff and parents are prepared – mentally, emotionally and practically – for the new normal in September.

“29 June means there will have been one full month of test, trace and protect, which will continue to expand. I can also announce that teachers will be a priority group in our new antibody-testing programme. As we continue to keep Wales safe, this approach will be critical.

“The evolving science suggests that warm weather and sunlight gives us the best opportunity to ensure more time in school. Waiting until September would mean almost half a year without schooling. That would be to the detriment to the wellbeing, learning progress and mental health of our young people.

“This is and has been a worrying period for us all. I know that many will feel apprehensive. We have not rushed this work and this decision.

“The three and a half week period before the next phase also gives us time to keep watch on developments elsewhere and provides further check-points to review evidence and the roll-out of testing.

“This is the best practical option that meets my five principles which underpin my decision making.

“I am also convinced that it is only by returning to their own school that we will see increased attendance from our more vulnerable and disadvantaged children.

“Working together we will secure equity and excellence for pupils as they check in, catch up, and prepare for summer and September.”

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