Several readers have sent me a copy of this extract from Hansard which shows the redoubtable Eric Pickles, Tory Minister for Local Government, on tremendous form at question time:
Henry Smith: A recent TaxPayers Alliance study identified that the chief executive of Pembrokeshire council had a Porsche funded at a cost of some £90,000 and that, in Camden, £3.25 million had been spent on so-called gagging orders for employees who were leaving. What more can be done to bear down on these unnecessary costs that burden the taxpayer?
Mr Pickles: Transparency is the order of the day. It is sad that the kind of information available to English taxpayers is not available to their Welsh counterparts. With regard to Mr Bryn Parry Jones’s Porsche, if any chief executive puts in a Porsche as part of their terms of contract, I think that is a cry for help. The chap is obviously suffering from a mid-life crisis, and the council would have been better spending money on getting him some professional help.
Never mind that very little of this bears much relationship to the truth – the Porsche didn’t cost the taxpayer £90,000 and that particular marque wasn’t part of Mr Parry-Jones’ contract – it has a certain ring about it.
Though, according to Cllrs Mark Edwards and Peter Morgan, during a meeting in his office Mr Parry-Jones was kind enough to promote me to the “Most Evil Bastard (MEB) in Pembrokeshire”, so why should I care if he gets a taste of his own medicine?
However, one thing does puzzle me which is that Mr Pickles and his fellow Parliamentarians approved the Code of Conduct which means that any councillor making derogatory comments about Mr Parry-Jones’ mental state, would likely find themselves up in front of the adjudication panel, or standards committee for showing disrespect.
This is the first time “Porsche” has appeared in this column because, though it has featured widely in the national media and on that other website, I had thought it to be a bit of a non-story especially when set alongside the pensions’ scandal and and the £277,000 pay-off.
But, to give credit where it is due, I have to reluctantly admit that the young upstart has revealed some interesting facts about the council’s venture into the luxury car market.
First, that this car, paid for and insured by the taxpayer, was being used by Parry-Jones (Jnr) for the purpose of getting back and forward to work at Valero.
And second that, while I had assumed that he was paying anything over and above his annual car allowance (12.5% of salary) out of his own pocket, Mr Parry-Jones had been able to take advantage of unused credits from previous years to pay for this high-performance motor.
As the mathematicians among you will already have worked out, 12.5% of £170,000 is £21,250.
Though according to that other website the council had to cough up £8,669 – four months’ lease for early cancellation – which works out at an annual rate of £26,000.
The percentage was agreed long, long ago when Mr Parry-Jones was first appointed, but I wonder if Mr Pickles realised that the massive salary that provides the other part of the multiplier was awarded back in 2006 on the initiative of the, then, Leader and wannabe Tory candidate for the post of Police Commissioner, Cllr John Davies.
And Cllr John Davies, as Leader of the council, also chaired the senior staff committee where the flawed pension arrangements were approved.
Both Mr Parry-Jones (the main beneficiary of the scheme) and the head of HR (a potential beneficiary) were present at this meeting – unlawfully according to the Wales Audit Office – which was held in secret, also unlawfully.
And although the head of HR was joint author of the report before committee, it was closet-Tory John Davies who played the leading role.
The instructions sent to Tim Kerr QC, who was engaged to defend the council’s actions on the pension payments, contained the following account of the proceedings:
However, neither Officer [chief executive or head of HR] spoke when this item of business was being considered. The then Leader of the Council, who was one of the members of the Committee, introduced the report and took members of the Committee through it, as he had previous knowledge of the effect of the changes to the pensions rules, arising from his membership of the Dyfed Powys Police Authority.