Following the publication of the two Welsh Audit Office Public Interest reports identifying Carmarthenshire county council’s decisions to use tax-payers money to indemnify chief executive Mark James libel counter-claim costs and fund a “senior officer pay supplement” as “unlawful” the authority issued the following response on Thursday, January 30:
Regarding the issue of the pay supplement in lieu of employer’s pension contributions, we are pleased to note that the Auditor does not form the view that the policy itself was unlawful, but that it was the procedural process that was flawed.
This is in accordance with the legal advice that we ourselves have received. We fully accept his findings on the matters of procedure, particularly that the matter should have been included as a separate item on the agenda for the meeting, and have already taken steps to ensure that such errors are not repeated in future.
Although the report author was present at the meeting, he has not benefitted personally in any way from the decision, nor would he ever be likely to do so, and there is no question of anyone seeking to influence the decision in order to gain any material advantage.
The procedural errors were an honest mistake and there has been no impropriety of any sort.
We would also like to reiterate that the proposed alternative pension arrangements did not involve any additional cost to the authority.
Regarding the indemnity, we sought legal advice from day one and remain convinced that the advice we have received, that the council has the power to grant such an indemnity in these circumstances, is correct.
Although the Wales Audit Office has expressed an ‘opinion’, that opinion does not in itself determine that the council’s actions were unlawful.
We have been completely open and consulted the Wales Audit Office at the outset, prior to granting the indemnity, and they did not advise against the action we took.
Some months after the indemnity had been granted, the Wales Audit Office further confirmed to a member of the public who queried the decision that they felt the council’s action was lawful.
Clearly they have now changed their minds, some considerable time after the decision was taken, and too late for us to turn back the clock.
We remain firmly of the belief that we acted legally and properly as a caring employer should.
Our Chief Executive was subject to a campaign of defamation and harassment. He was being victimised not because of anything in his personal life, but because of the job he does for us.
This was borne out by the findings of the court judgement.
It is only right and proper that we defend and support one of our employees who may find themselves in such an exceptional situation purely because they were doing their job. Any good employer would do the same.
The indemnity was just that, an indemnity against costs should the Chief Executive not be successful in his counter claim.
In the event of course, he was successful and the judge awarded costs and damages against the other party.
As a result, the costs should ultimately be met by the person who originated the legal action and not the council.
Finally we want to assure everyone there will be a full and open debate on these reports at full council in due course.
The press and public are of course always welcome to attend, and the proceedings will be filmed via webcam for everyone to watch on our website.
We look forward to being able to bring all the facts to this public forum to demonstrate that our actions and intentions were honourable and lawful at all times.