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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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Welsh Deputy Minister visits New Farm Shop

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Pictured : Julie Morgan AM

A new farm and produce shop on the Scolton Manor estate outside Haverfordwest has been visited by a Welsh Government Minister.

Julie Morgan AM – Deputy Minister for Health and Social Care – called at the shop to see the Welsh Government’s Intermediate Care Fund (ICF) in action.

The shop provides work experience, training and supported employment opportunities in retail and customer service for people with learning disabilities, disabilities and autism.

It is an addition to Pembrokeshire County Council’s existing supported employment offer through Norman Industries, the Authority’s sheltered employment factory in Snowdrop Lane, Haverfordwest.

The shop is the result of partnership working involving Workways+ and Experience for Industry – both funded by the European Social Fund through Welsh Government – Norman Industries and the management and staff at the Council-run Scolton Manor attraction.

The shop, which opened just a few weeks ago, will be supplying the public with fresh produce from the walled gardens at Scolton Manor, local meats, produce, tea and coffee.

It also provides a retail outlet for some of the arts, crafts and products made at Norman Industries.

Over the coming months the shop will also be supplying chutneys made by participants and employees at the supported employment café in Milford leisure centre ‘Caffi Man Cwrdd’.

The Deputy Minister was welcomed by County Councillor Tessa Hodgson, the Authority’s Cabinet Member for Social Services.

The farm shop has been partially resourced and staffed through some of the £400,000 ICF money allocated to expand supported employment opportunities regionally.

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Haverfordwest: Police promise extra patrols for GCSE results night

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THERE will be an increased police presence in Haverfordwest tonight, in response to an anticipated influx of young people who will be celebrating their GCSE results.

Parents are being asked to go over their child’s plan for the evening, before they head out. Sergeant Haydon Mathias is overseeing the operation.

He said: “It’s a big day for teenagers, and we understand they want to celebrate after all of their hard work.

“We’ll be there to make sure they do that safely, and without disrupting others.

“This is usually a busy night for us, and historically we have seen crime and anti-social behaviour rise. You’ll notice my team out and about from early this evening to stop that happening. They’ll be seizing alcohol from anyone they suspect is under the age of 18, and dealing with any other issues that arise.

“We’re asking parents to take the reins and discuss plans before your child goes out. Make sure you know where they’re celebrating, who they’re with, and how they’re getting home. It’s useful to make sure your child’s phone is fully charged, in case of an emergency.

“I encourage anyone with concerns to come and speak to an officer or Police Community Support Officer around the town, or contact Dyfed-Powys Police.”

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Llangwm Church Donation Box Stolen

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St Jerome’s Church: Second theft in a year!

 

A DONATION box has been stolen from a village church, the second theft from the historic building in a year.

The donation box at St Jerome’s Church, Llangwm, is believed to have been taken in the last few weeks.

The box is usually kept next to the Talking Tapestry of Langum, a project which tells the story of the village’s origin with the invasion of the Flemish in the 12th century and its later history.

Pamela Hunt of Heritage Llangwm said: “This theft is the second from St. Jerome’s in a year.

“If anyone has seen or knows anything, then please let the police know.

“If they feel unable to do that, but would like to contact us at St Jerome’s Church, then email info@heritagellangwm.org.uk

“We will treat your contact in the strictest confidence.”

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