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Carmarthenshire spill the beans: QC’s legal advice published online • This is what they didn’t want you to see

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spill the beansCOUNCIL IN CRISIS • PENSION SCANDAL

LEGAL ADVICE given to Carmarthenshire County Council about an unlawful pay supplement given to its CEO Mark James has been published on that Council’s website.

Having entirely coincidentally made the same arrangements for their respective CEOs, both Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire Councils were the subject of Wales Audit Office investigations on which they took advice from the same barrister, Tim Kerr QC.

The content of the advice runs a coach and horses through the insistence of Pembrokeshire’s IPPG leader Jamie Adams that the Council acted lawfully in giving controversial CEO Bryn Parry Jones a tax break on his seven-figure pension pot.

The row over Bryn Parry Jones’ pension was the subject of the farcical Extraordinary Council Meeting held on Valentine’s Day, when an attempt to suspend the CEO pending an investigation was thwarted by an IPPG coordinated procedural stunt.

Although the advice online relates directly to the situation in Carmarthenshire, its content lays bare common and gross defects in procedure and decision-making that also affect Pembrokeshire.

Far from containing the “robust” advice that the discredited IPPG leadership claimed, Tim Kerr QC sets out that – on the basis of the information provided to him – the chances of successfully defending the unlawful payments was no better than 50-50.

The claim that the Council could lawfully assist its employees to avoid tax on their pensions by adopting the right procedure is also shown to be less than certain.

Mr Kerr concludes that if the Council wished to maintain the pay supplement it should do so only “ … after full consideration, with detailed advice from junior counsel, the involvement of external consultants, a full equality impact assessment, and a fresh decision, as far as possible excluding the participation of senior officers eligible for the pay supplement. But if the fresh decision is again to offer the pay supplement, the WAO or the auditor could still challenge it as intrinsically unlawful. Again, it would be advisable to write to the WAO in appropriate terms.

“In my view, the prospects of defending the legality of the pay supplement would be materially increased if the procedural issues were fully addressed and a fresh decision made. There would still be a risk of a finding that the pay supplement is intrinsically unlawful … the question turns ultimately on the adequacy of the evidence to show that the pay supplement is likely to enhance the Council’s ability to recruit and retain good senior officers.”

When advising the Councils on the procedure adopted when awarding the pay supplement, Mr Kerr writes:

“Some of that evidence [to support giving the unlawful “pay supplement”] is rather thin. The decision was not preceded by thorough research.”

The advice runs in the teeth of assertions made by the IPPG leadership in the media and in the Council chamber that the Council’s problems could be solved by simply re-running the process.

In addition, Mr Kerr identifies the risk that the Council potentially risks undermining the pension fund, stating that:

“The notion of compensating members of the workforce for leaving the LGPS by a salary rise equivalent to saved employer contributions could damage the pension fund by acting as an incentive to leave the LGPS. It is not in the interests of the Council’s fund members collectively for their fellow members to leave in droves.”

Tim Kerr QC also concludes that there are several areas of “risk” for the Council, not least the absence of documentary evidence to back up the flawed decision, to properly inform those Committee members who ended up acting unlawfully, and the failure to carry out a proper equalities assessment before reaching it.

Such is the cost of embarking on what Tim Kerr QC notes is an uncertain exercise, it remains to be seen just how much money the affair will end up costing Pembrokeshire’s Council Tax payers. The cost of the arrangements now appear to far outweigh any possible benefit to Pembrokeshire’s Council Tax payers.

The publication of the advice in Carmarthenshire raises questions as to why the IPPG denied Pembrokeshire’s electors the chance to form their own conclusions on the content of Leading Counsel’s advice.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Kate Becton

    March 10, 2014 at 9:37 pm

    This is surely the real scandal. Despite the best efforts of a number of Opposition Councillors, as I understand it they were not allowed to see this legal advice. Who did see it? At best councillors were misled about the advice; at worst deliberately kept away from information that could informed their decisions, not just on the Auditors Report,but on the no confidence notices of motion against the CEO and Monitoring Officer.

    An even money shot based on an unprecedented legal argument that it was necessary to offer this tax break to recruit and retain senior staff strikes me (as a betting women)as a very expensive long shot.

    It makes me wonder why Mr. Kerr was there, apart from the Brown/white envelope farce. Surely he should have at least summed up his findings to ensure that all councillors were at least familiar with his opinions. I know that the question was asked at the meeting, but does anyone know who was Mr, Kerr’s client?

    Anyway it’s the start of the Cheltenham Festival tomorrow and I can assure you that I will not be betting on any horse that does’nt seem to have a decided trainer and whose form is redacted.

  2. Teifion

    March 10, 2014 at 9:51 pm

    Things are beginning to crumble for Bryn and the Adams boy, always hoped decent IPPG members would have voted the right way but now I’ll just say the rats will soon be leaving the sinking ship

  3. Kate Becton

    March 10, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    Teifion – Please bear in mind that the rats have nowhere to go and the ship may be sinking (or at least listing)- maybe;however it still contains the pieces of silver.

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Health volunteers thanked for incredible support

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THERE’S no more fitting time than National Volunteering Week to say thank you to all of the volunteers within Hywel Dda University Health Board, management have said in a press release.

‘Volunteering for Health’ is the Hywel Dda UHB’s volunteer service and has covered the three counties of Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire for the past 11 years.

During this period, volunteers have carried out 376,000 hours of volunteering and in 2019 carried out 56,000 hours.

At the start of the year prior to COVID, 400 registered volunteers were providing a range of services to support patients and improve their experience whilst in hospitals, these include; library trolley service, shop trolley service, pharmacy runners, meet and greet, patient befrienders, gardeners and many other roles.

Lisa Gostling, Director of Workforce and OD said: “Volunteers are an integral part of our service and it’s hard to think that only seven months ago we celebrated the 10th anniversary of volunteering within Hywel Dda together at Bronwydd Hall.

“It’s important at this moment in time to recognise that some of our long standing volunteers can’t be with us and we look forward to welcoming you back to the organisation soon.

“And also to recognise those volunteers who have changed what they do to support our patients during these particularly difficult times.

“So I want to just say thank you. Thank you for your commitment, your generosity and your kindness. I look forward to seeing you all soon. Take care and stay safe.”

David Fretwell. Volunteering for Health Manager, added his thanks for the overwhelming response from volunteers old and new to an unprecedented situation: “This year has been unprecedented for the volunteer service with the onset of the COVID pandemic and has dramatically affected the way we have involved volunteers.

“We had an amazing response from the community wishing to help us through volunteering with over 600 offers of support.

“To help manage the numbers of people offering to help we set up a ‘Volunteer Pool’ and are extremely mindful where we can place volunteers for their safety.

“We have now deployed volunteers to support the health board’s transport department as drivers; we also have gardeners, virtual volunteers and drivers delivering food parcels from food banks to some of our most vulnerable patients in the community.

“We appreciate the fantastic support you have provided prior to COVID and through the pandemic. Thank you for your incredible support.”

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Inflatable kayak group rescued by the Coastguard

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A GROUP of people in an inflatable kayak had to be rescued by the Coastguard on Saturday (May 30) evening.

HM Coastguard Dale said they were “very lucky people”.

They had been exploring to the north of Skomer Island when they got caught in the tidal race of Jack Sound and ended up off Gateholm.

A passing Dale sailing vessel helped them to the Little and Broad Haven Lifeboat team before they were transferred to Angle RNLI to navigate Jack Sound.

The casualties were received by HM Coastguard Dale at Martin’s Haven and given safety advice.

The group had no lifejackets on and were not wearing wetsuits, despite the cold water.

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Hart defends a tweet police boss says is incorrect

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WELSH Secretary Simon Hart has defended a tweet accused of being incorrect by a chief constable.

The MP for South Pembrokeshire and West Carmarthenshire told The Herald that he had simply been quoting Dyfed-Powys Police Chief Constable Mark Collins when he said people in Wales were allowed to travel up to 15 miles to exercise.

Mr Collins later said people should not drive to take exercise.

Hart told MPs he was “quite surprised” to hear Mr Collins’ response.

Welsh Government guidelines on lockdown restrictions say “exercise should be undertaken locally – as close as possible to the home”.

They continue: “In general this should not involve people driving to a location away from home for this purpose.”

Last Friday Mr Hart tweeted: “Fascinating to hear from Wales’ four police chiefs today, and the commissioners too, especially on what’s permissible under lockdown.

“Consensus was that travelling 10-15 miles from home to fish, play golf, surf or exercise is fine – subject to all other distancing requirements”.

However responding to questions from MPs on Thursday, Mr Hart said “the reference to 10 to 15 miles to travel to play golf or fish was actually Chief Constable Mark Collins’ own words – not mine – and not disputed by anybody on that call”.

He told the Welsh Affairs Select Committee that he was “quite surprised” to then hear that the comment he tweeted was “interpreted as being incorrect”.

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