The final curtain

Revelations in today’s Herald must surely spell the end for the Independent Political Group (IPG) which has ruled Pembrokeshire since reorganisation in 1996.

I have been a consistent critic of this corrupt regime since its inception – both in this column and previously in the Mercury – but the Herald’s latest scoop has laid bare a system even more rotten than even I ever imagined.

The newspaper has reported the claims of two IPPG stalwarts (Peter Morgan and Mark Edwards) that they were harangued by the supposedly politically-neutral Chief Executive about the way they voted at the extraordinary meeting on 1 May this year when senior officers’ unlawful pension arrangements were debated.

At that meeting Cllr Jacob Williams put down a seemingly innocuous amendment: “that both Officers in receipt of payment supplements be invited to return those unlawful payments.”

Being an amendment from the floor it had the IPPG in some disarray because, as it hadn’t been discussed at the group’s secret meeting the previous day, members weren’t sure of the party line.

In addition, supporting Cllr Williams’ proposal appeared to offer an escape from having to vote on the original motion which read: “That council approve action to investigate the recovery of any monies paid under the scheme for senior officers approved at the senior staff committee on 28th September 2011 under agenda item 6.”

Considering that public opinion and the party line were at odds on this issue, giving the nod to the amendment seemed to offer a easy way out.

In the event eight of them (Cllrs Mark Edwards, Lyn Jenkins, Michael John, Stephen Joseph, Pearl Llewellyn, Peter Morgan, Myles Pepper and Rob Summons) voted with the opposition, which was for once totally united, and the amendment was carried by 32 votes to 21.

It is not clear why Cllrs Morgan and Edwards were singled out for the chief executive’s “hairdryer” treatment, but one theory is that he regarded them as close friends, so their treachery was particularly hard to take.

Indeed one version of events – not reported in the Herald – has Mr Parry Jones reminding Cllr Morgan of his status as honoured guest at his Llangwarren dinner parties.

There has been extensive coverage recently of another meeting in the chief executive’s office: that called in an effort to discover who had revealed the identity of the officer who had tampered with grant panel minutes provided to me under freedom of information legislation.

However, there is a category difference between these two meetings.

While there may be concerns about the tone of the “molehunt” investigation, there is no doubt that the chief executive had every right to call such a meeting if he believed that there had been a breach of internal security.
But he has no right to criticise members for the way they vote in council meetings.

Elected members are answerable to their constituents (and their party if they belong to one) for the way they vote, but certainly not to the chief executive.
And, by taking it upon himself to express a view on the matter, Mr Parry-Jones crossed a clear red line.

If, as has been reported, he swore at the two members and accused them of betraying their friendship, that would add bullying to the constitutional impropriety, but even if he had just said: “Look here chaps, I didn’t like the way you voted at last week’s meeting” that would be enough.

And, as the meeting of May 1 resolved that the issue of repaying the pension money should be brought back to the next meeting of council in July, there is the question of whether Mr Parry-Jones was trying to ensure that these two didn’t vote “the wrong way” in future.
As he had a clear pecuniary interest in the matter, the implications of that are serious.

Talking of red lines brings me to the Leader who is also in a spot of bother over his strenuous attempts to defend the chief executive.
I understand that IPPG members have been called to an emergency group meeting next Monday – time and venue unknown – where, from what I hear, Jamie Adams is likely to be find that a significant number of his erstwhile supporters have already donned their lifejackets and are preparing to abandon ship.

But we shouldn’t delude ourselves that they are motivated by high principle rather than low political calculation.
Quite simply, they have concluded that continuing to support their discredited Leader isn’t going down too well with those who will decide who gets a seat on the gravy train when it pulls out out of the station following the 2017 election.

How much more honourable it would have been had they called time on Cllr Adams for his economy with the truth over (a) the grants business, or (b) whistleblower Sue Thomas’ correspondence with the chief executive, or (c) the reasons for the resignation of the chairman of the audit committee John Evans.

Cllr Stephen Joseph has already done a bunk under cover of a smokescreen of windy rhetoric about integrity and honest dealing and some of the smarter members of the IPPG have realised that this line is a rapidly devaluing currency that will be worthless if not spent well before the next election.
It would be interesting to hear why Mark Edwards and Peter Morgan sat on their account of the meeting with the chief executive for fully three months.

Why now? you might ask.

Indeed, I am reliably informed that, as late as yesterday (Thursday) morning, Cllr Morgan was still insisting that his encounter with the chief executive had been entirely amicable.
But once it became known that Mark Edwards had spilled the beans to the Herald, Cllr Morgan had no choice but to follow him over the top.
It would be nice to believe that this sudden change of heart on the part of Cllrs Morgan and Edwards was brought about by the realisation that PCC is a constitutional cesspit, but I’m afraid a more likely explanation is that they are looking to save what little is left of their credibility from the wreckage of the upcoming IPPG train crash.
Making a virtue out of necessity, as they say.
Still, there is more rejoicing in heaven over one (or two) sinners that repenteth – and all that.

Stop press.

PCC has just issued the following statement:

The Leader of Pembrokeshire County Council, Councillor Jamie Adams, has announced that the Chief Executive, Mr Bryn Parry-Jones, is to take a period of absence with immediate effect.

Councillor Adams said: “This decision has been taken in view of the continuing speculation surrounding the Chief Executive’s position.

“It has been reached by mutual agreement between Mr Parry-Jones and myself and I believe is in the best interests of the Authority at the present time.

“There will be no further statements on this matter.”

I’m not quite sure exactly what this means, but I will endeavour to find out and let you know.