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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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Herald publisher ceases operations

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HERALD NEWS UK LTD, the company which prints The Pembrokeshire Herald, The Carmarthenshire Herald and The Llanelli Herald has ceased operations.

Editor of Pembrokeshire Herald, Thomas Sinclair said: “After finalising today’s paper to go to print yesterday, a meeting was held last night. It was confirmed that the expected further investor funding would not be made available for the company.

“This meant that operations need be halted as the businesses was not able to pay its ongoing costs.

“At 10am today the 24 members of staff working at the newspaper have today been given notice of redundancy.

“We are absolutely devastated that after nearly 7 years and hundreds of editions of the paper we can no longer continue.”

“I would like to think that over those years, some of the stories we have written have made a difference to Pembrokeshire and beyond.”

Director of Herald News UK Limited, John Hammond said: “The company accountant could be appointing administrators as soon as next week.”

“The Owners of The Pembrokeshire Herald came to the conclusion last night during a finance meeting that the venture is no longer financially viable.

“Whilst every conceivable effort has been made to improve the financial situation of the business, we have to face the fact that there is no way that we can now continue in a solvent position.

“Whilst there has been a slow decline in readership of local newspapers, our costs for wages, printing and transport have substantially increased.”

“We would like to thank all of our loyal readers and staff.”

Community: Herald titles were campaigning newspapers

Popular: 45,000 people read Herald titles each week in west Wales

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Crocodiles to appear at Folly Farm in early 2020

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A PAIR of crocodiles is set to join the Folly Farm family and be shown off in a new enclosure. The West African Dwarf crocodiles will take their place in the Tropical Trails exhibit next February.

The fascinating reptiles are classified as vulnerable due to being hunted for their meat and having their habitats destroyed. The crocs are labelled as ‘dwarf’ in name only, as both are over five foot long at 29 years old. Folly Farm is re-homing them from Drayton Manor Park, their home for several years, as it is currently renovating its crocodile enclosures.

The female of the duo was caught in the wild as part of the illegal pet trade and seized by customs whilst her male companion was captive-bred at Barcelona Zoo. The two crocs will join sloths, bats and snakes in the Tropical Trails enclosure.

Folly Farm’s zoo curator, Tim Morphew, said: “Tropical Trails seeks to highlight the issues of habitat destruction and the illegal pet trade, so these new additions will be a flagship species for the conservation messages we’re trying to deliver. We’re designing the enclosure to replicate the swampy, forest habitats in Africa with plenty of glass viewing windows so our visitors will get a good view of these powerful creatures.”

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Community Engagement Event in Narberth

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A PART of the roll out of information about the Household Waste and Recycling Changes, Pembrokeshire County Council will have information and advice for local residents.  It is a chance to find out about:

  • Reusable Nappy Scheme
  • Absorbent Hygiene Product collections (AHP’s)
  • Availability of assisted collections
  • Kerbside Sort – New method and new containers
  • Additional recyclable household items
  • Text alerts for collection days

There will also be plans on show of the current active travel routes in Narberth and residents will be able to discuss and comment on how they work for the town and how they could be improved whilst planning for the future.

An officer from Sustrans, the Sustainable Transport Charity, will also demonstrate what has been done so far with the multi user route from Narberth to Haverfordwest and what plans there are for the future.

Cllr. Vic Dennis said

“All 3 of these pieces of work are part of the local efforts to reduce carbon and improve our environment, along with helping us to access and enjoy our environment.  I am delighted that we have staff from County Hall here to advise and answer questions as well as listen to local people.

The roll out for the new recycling and waste collection is planned for 4th November so it will be very timely to have this information available before then.  Join us in the Sports Hall at Bloomfield Community Centre, Narberth between 1-4pm on Weds 23rd October 2019.

I hope that residents from the surrounding area will also take the opportunity to join us to find out more.”

This is a part of a wide information campaign so look out for further information in the press, on social media and on the website at www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/waste-changes

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