October 31, 2013

An Interesting Question…

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 12:41 pm

Those of us whom have taken it upon ourselves to take in interest in matters concerning the affairs of Carmarthenshire County Council following it’s treatment of respected local blogger Jacqui Thompson can hardly fail to have noticed the recent events surrounding the pension affairs of the authority’s Chief Executive, Mr. Mark James. In brief, Mr. James has chosen to receive his pension contributions not through the authority’s usual arrangements, but as a “lump sum” instead. The motivation behind what we have to assume to be his personal choice here has not been declared, but speculation is rife that Mr. James will be making “more efficient” arrangements in terms of his tax liabilities. The Welsh Audit Office have concluded that the payment concerned is unlawful, and there’s been much tooing and froing ever since…

The council claims that they received independent legal advice before entering into this arrangement, and that they’ve been told all is just ticketty boo. We’re also told that the arrangments won’t cost the council a penny extra.

This gives rise to a number of questions – let’s see if the answers emerge…

Question 1.

How much did the legal advice cost, and who paid for it?

I don’t believe there to be a pack of feral benevolent lawyers wondering around the Carmarthenshire doling out legal advice to local authorities in distress. “Free Advice” is offered for a motivation – so if we really do have an “independent” lawyer offering the benefit of his / her wisdom, we should be told who that this. Without this information, how can we possibly assess their independence?

A second possibility of course is that Mr. James paid for the advice himself – which would clearly mean we couldn’t consider it to be in any way independent.

The third possibility is that the advice came from someone on the authority’s payroll – again, doing away with any suggestion of independence. We also need to consider that their time costs money (salary) – and the costs involved should be declared.

The final possibility, and in my view the most likely, is that the council have paid for independent advice from an external source. The following questions are based on this scenario…

Question 2.

Assuming the council did pay for independent advice from an external source, we need to know how much this cost them.

Question 3.

Was it reasonable for the authority to expend the sum on the tax affairs of a very small number of employees (possibly just one!)? They are after all claiming that the financial climate means they are going to have to implement massive cuts over a range of services. How is spending money on this advice in any way in the interests of either the council itself, or the public it is supposed to serve?

These are questions with which the members of the Council need to concern themselves at the forthcoming meeting of the full Council in November. The public deserve the answers.




  1. An authority paying out for legal advice so that one of it’s employees can benefit from a tax saving is an unattractive piece of spending which does not further the objectives of the local authority and so may itself be unlawful?

    Comment by Mr Mustard-Blogger (@_MrMustard) — October 31, 2013 @ 12:57 pm | Reply

    • Unfortunately Mr. Mustard I simply don’t know whether it would be lawful or not. I’d take a lot of persuading it was ethical though.

      Comment by madaxeman — October 31, 2013 @ 10:57 pm | Reply

  2. Some very pertinent questions. My understanding is that the council engaged the services of a QC and an independent financial adviser before entering into the pensions arrangement. Subsequently it has joined forces with Pembrokeshire County Council to commission further legal advice, and the two council’s are sharing the costs.

    Comment by Y Cneifiwr — October 31, 2013 @ 1:19 pm | Reply

    • Apologies for the dodgy apostrophe.

      Comment by Y Cneifiwr — October 31, 2013 @ 1:21 pm | Reply

    • If as you say they have engaged both a QC and an independent financial advisor, then things seem very ropey indeed. You don’t check with the lawyers before you’re about to do something “by the book”, do you? suggesting at least they knew this was going to be legally questionable from the start. I would be very interested to know who thought this to be in the public interest, especially given the context of the savage cuts the council is having to make (they claim) in light of the financial climate…

      Comment by madaxeman — October 31, 2013 @ 11:01 pm | Reply

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