No expense spared

I missed the first part of the audit committee’s debate on Cllr Jamie Adams’ unorthodox expense claiming habits because I had to wait in for a man who was coming to fit a new electric meter.
However, much of what I did hear had the flavour of “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin”.
Readers may remember that, just before the last election – on April 10 2012 to be precise – Cllr Adams submitted four years’ worth of claims dating back to August 2008 all in one go and, on the 13 April, these were signed off by the Director of Finance whereupon he was paid £4,650. (Perfect timing) (Journey into the past)
This despite the fact that the members’ rule book imposes a three-month limit on making claims for expenses.
Cllr David Simpson could see a snag in this.
He told the committee that, as cabinet member for housing, he claims roughly £2,500 per year in mileage expenses.
He speculated that if he claimed nil, nil, nil, nil for four years prior to an election the voters would think what a good chap he was for doing all this running about out of his own pocket.
Then, once the votes were safely in the bag, he could bung in a claim for ten grand.
Of course, that is exactly what Cllr Adams did, except that he didn’t have to wait until after the election because, once nominations closed, and he found he was unopposed, he could bung his claim without waiting for polling day.
What’s more, he pulled exactly the same trick in 2008.
Old Grumpy senses that recent events have shaken the IPPG’s sense of invincibility because even Cllr Johnny Allen-Mirehouse had to admit that his leader’s late claims were “extremely unfortunate”, “not a good thing”, and “inexcusably careless”, though, before anyone could run away with the idea that he had fully bought in to the seven principles of conduct in public life, he was also keen to point out that payment of these late claims was “not illegal”.
How long before people like Squirehouse come to realise that the public expect their elected representatives to respect the spirit of the law, and that hiding behind petty legalism isn’t acceptable?
Cllr Jacob Williams put forward the view that the test should be whether the Director of Finance’s decision to pay up was “reasonable”.
Reluctant though I am to admit it, I think my rival blogger is on to something here, though as Cllr Guy Woodham (a qualified solicitor) pointed out, what is reasonable is a question that has exercised some of the finest legal minds down the centuries.
However, while the man on the Clapham omnibus might have difficulty defining an elephant, you can be sure he can recognise one when he sees it.
So it is that Cllr Adams will forever in the public mind be the man who claimed four years-worth of expenses in one go, just as, whenever his predecessor’s name comes up in conversation, people say: “Isn’t that the feller who got planning permission for a herdsman’s cottage even though he’s already sold his herd” (No udder conclusion).
Credibility is the most valuable commodity any politician possesses – once lost, it is devilishly difficult to regain.


Much of the above debate revolved around the Director of Finance’s discretion to approve these payments.
This is a subject that causes much confusion amongst councillors.
With a few statutory exceptions, all the authority’s powers are vested in the council.
For practical reasons most of these powers are delegated to officers.
It would be impracticable, for instance, if every time someone submitted a late claim for expenses, the council had to decide whether or not it was acceptable.
Similarly, if every planning application had to be decided by the planning committee the members would find themselves sitting 24/7 to get through the workload.
However, it should always be remembered that, ultimately, the power remains with the council and it has the duty to ensure that it is being properly carried out.
It was, I recall, one of the criticisms of the Ministerial Board that members of PCC seemed to take the view that once they had delegated a function to an officer, they could wash their hands of all responsibility.
Making sure that delegated powers are being used properly is all part of “holding the executive to account” which should be central, but sadly isn’t, to every member’s role.
That would include ensuring that the power is being exercised reasonably and, even more important, fairly.
For instance, if it was found that, while Cllr Adams’ four-year-old claim had been met, some other member had had his claim turned down because it was outside the time limit, that would clearly be unfair and therefore, not in keeping with the way the council intended the power to be used.


Bush telegraph

It seems that the IPPG’s email system has sprung another leak.
Earlier this week, I reported that Jamie Adams had sent out a message to all his party members about the pension business with an offer to call a meeting to discuss their concerns.
On Wednesday afternoon, IPPG ultra- loyalist Cllr Daphne Bush emailed interested members of the health community advising them that the following day’s joint county council scrutiny committee meeting with the Hywel Dda Health Board would be held in private session.

Good afternoon everyone,
The purpose of tomorrow’s special joint meeting is for the committees to meet Hywel Dda representatives. We haven’t invited the public or persons to observe, as it isn’t the nature of our meeting.
Could you please convey to all concerned that this is not a public meeting tomorrow.
Many thanks.

Daphne

I don’t know how Cllr Bush got this idea in her head, but she ought to know by now that, unless exempt or confidential information is to be discussed, it is a legal requirement that all council meetings are held in public.
I suspect there are members who quite like the idea of secret meetings because it boosts their already overdeveloped sense of self-importance.
Following the 2012 elections, Cllr Bush was talked about as one of the brightest of the IPPG’s new intake.
Those in the know predicted a swift elevation to cabinet rank, and there was even mention of her as a potential future leader.
I’m afraid bungles like this will do nothing to enhance her chances of future glory.
I would say vice-chairman of licencing (unpaid) is now the upper limit of her aspirations.