Auditor to report on Carmarthenshire county council transactions 'in mid-January'

THE auditor heading the investigation into two allegedly unlawful Carmarthenshire county council transactions is now expected to issue a public interest report in mid- January, the Guardian has learnt.

Anthony Barrett, assistant auditor general with the Wales Audit Office, is probing the granting of a £23,217 indemnity to pay chief executive Mark James’s costs in his libel case and counter claim against Towy Valley blogger Jacqui Thompson, plus £16,353 paid in lieu of pension contributions.

Earlier this month the Guardian revealed how County Hall’s executive board reversed the decision relating to Mr James’s pension contributions “without conceding it was intrinsically unlawful”.

The move led to calls for an inquiry from MP Jonathan Edwards and AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas as well as the Plaid Cymru opposition group on Carmarthenshire county council.

Until now, it was not certain Mr Barrett would be issuing a public interest report which aims to draw the public’s attention to a matter of concern.

The council will have to consider such a report at a full meeting of the authority within one month of the date of issue – possibly on Wednesday, February 12.

If the auditor believes that an item of account is contrary to law, he has the power to apply for the matter to be sent to the High Court. The county council insist both transactions were lawful.

In a statement released after the WAO’s initial findings, they said: “We acknowledge the views of the Wales Audit Office and are continuing our discussions with them regarding these matters.

“We have sought independent legal advice on both issues and remain firmly of the view that we have followed the correct course of action.

But referring to the executive board’s subsequent U-turn on pension contributions, Mr Edwards commented: “County taxpayers need to know how much this has cost them in legal fees.”

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