SEARCHING questions are being asked of Carmarthenshire county council leader Kevin Madge after the authority's executive board backed down over a disputed £16,350 payment to chief executive Mark James in lieu of pension contributions, as a tax avoidance measure.

The Plaid Cymru opposition group, at a meeting last night, demanded answers from the council leader.

“This matter has been one of intense public interest since the Wales Audit Office declared the payment to be unlawful,” said Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, who leads the 28-strong Plaid group at County Hall.

“The executive board, after insisting all along that the pay supplement policy to senior officers was perfectly lawful, has now done a U-turn by saying it will be 'withdrawn on procedural grounds'. I’m asking the leader to explain exactly what that means.

“Despite being told by the Wales Audit Office that the payment to the chief executive was unlawful, the executive board insisted on taking their own legal opinion from a leading QC, in the hope of proving otherwise.

"It’s obvious they’ve been advised to back down by the barrister, but they still deny that the arrangement is 'intrinsically unlawful'.

“This is quite an incredible situation, which shows that the Labour-Independent regime which runs this council has made a shambles of the whole affair.

"The taxpayers of Carmarthenshire have a right to know just how much this sorry affair has cost us to date. We, in Plaid Cymru, feel that those responsible should be called to account.”

The council have told the Guardian they are unable to answer any questions.

"The executive board has reconsidered the matter at its meeting of December 4," ran a statement.

"As discussions are ongoing with the Wales Audit Office it would be inappropriate to discuss the matter further until those discussions are concluded."