Council chief executive steps down for duration of police investigation

South Wales Guardian: MUTUAL AGREEMENT: Mark James MUTUAL AGREEMENT: Mark James

Carmarthenshire county council chief executive Mark James has stood down from his role for the duration of the police investigation into “unlawful” payments at the authority identified by the Wales Audit Office.

A statement issued by the authority this evening (Friday) said Mr James had, by mutual agreement with council leader Kevin Madge, agreed to “no longer undertake his duties as chief executive” until a probe, due to be carried out by Gloucestershire Police, was concluded.

The force is to look into a “pay supplement” given to Mr James in lieu of employer pension contributions, which, the WAO claimed, was primarily arranged to “avoid or mitigate” recent changes to pension tax legislation.

The arrangement was deemed “unlawful” by the WAO.

The auditor – the local government watchdog – also labelled a tax-payer funded indemnity granted to Mr James for his libel counterclaim against Llanwrda blogger Jacqui Thompson as “unlawful”. The indemnity would have seen all Mr James’ legal costs paid for by county taxpayers had he lost the case, which he in fact won.

In this evening’s statement, Cllr Madge said: “By mutual agreement the Chief Executive Mr Mark James will no longer undertake his duties as Chief Executive from now until Police enquiries concerning the two Wales Audit Office Public Interest Reports have been concluded.

“I welcome the police investigation which will give the public the assurance they deserve.

“The Auditor has not referred his reports to the police nor has he made any suggestions of any criminal wrongdoing, and I hope that the investigation can be concluded as quickly as possible in order for us as a council to move forward.”

The statement added that Mr James was “absolutely certain that neither he nor any of his officers had done anything wrong” but that it was “only right and proper” that he should remove himself from office while the police concluded their enquiries. “This would avoid any perception of undue influence being brought to bear,” the statement said.

The statement went on to say that Mr James “hoped that the police enquiry could be conducted as quickly as possible as this was in everyone’s best interest”.

Cllr Madge added that he would make no further comments in relation to the police investigation or Mr James’ position prior to a debate by councillors.

“I have nothing further to say on this matter, there will be a full, frank and public debate on the reports at the Council meeting of February 27,” he said.

Deputy Chief Executive Dave Gilbert will take over the duties of chief executive for the duration of the investigation.

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