There seems to be no limit to the depths to which the author of that other website will sink in his efforts to put one over on me.
His latest ruse is to take advantage of my early bedtime to put up a post about Monday evening’s secret, or, if you believe what is on his website, not so secret IPPG meeting.
This posting is timed at 11.55 pm, giving him just five minutes to slip into his jimjams and snuggle under the duvet before he was turned into pumpkin.
However, I have to admit that he seems to have penetrated fortress-IPPG, so either he had the place bugged, or he has acquired some seriously handy moles inside the non-political, political party that has ruled Pembrokeshire with a rod of iron for the past nearly 20 years.
One theory is that these IPPG insiders are taking seriously Cllr Michael Williams’ suggestion that, come the revolution, Jacob will be installed as Leader, and have concluded that plying him with party secrets will put them in pole position when the SRAs are being handed out.
I understand that Cllr Rob Summons – the IPPG’s recently appointed security chief, and expert on copyright and freedom of information law – is on the trail of these moles, so the young upstart had better look out.
In the end this not-so-secret meeting, which had been called to discuss Cllr Adams’ decision to send the chief executive on gardening leave, and which many expected would lead to a vote of confidence in the Leader, turned out to be a damp squib.
There is nothing new about this chain of events, as the quotations below indicate.
The mountain heaved and brought forth a mouse. (Aesop 620-564 BC)
According to reports, a no confidence vote was suggested, but Cllr Adams, as chairman, quickly stamped on the idea.
One reason for the reluctance of members to press the issue was the lack of any suitable or willing alternative.
And always keep a-hold of Nurse,
For fear of finding something worse. (Hilaire Belloc 1870-1953)
It seems the IPPG members decided that a show of party unity would put their enemies to flight.
We must indeed all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately (Benjamin Franklin 1706-1790).
The problem is that, come the election, the voters are divided into 60 separate juries, so having a controlling majority on the council will be of no avail, especially as deputy leader Rob Lewis will not be able to use council computers to run the party’s campaign.
Cllr Wynne Evans is reported to have said that the people of Pembrokeshire owe a debt of gratitude to Mr Parry-Jones – come the next election it will be interesting to see if the good folks of Narberth feel the same about Cllr Evans.
I spent much of the weekend listening to various conspiracy theories, the most popular of which was that Cllr David Simpson was planning to present the leader with an ultimatum requiring the removal of certain unnamed cabinet members and, if Cllr Adams failed to comply, Cllr Simpson would resign and mount a leadership challenge.
That must have been the product of someone’s imagination because Cllr Simpson is still there and so are all the Cabinet.
Indeed, according to that other website, Cllr Simpson gave the Leader his full-hearted support during the IPPG’s leaky Monday evening meeting.
Never believe anything in politics unless it’s been officially denied. (att. Bismarck 1815-1898)
However, one cannot entirely rule out the possibility that these stories are true and the plotters simply bottled out when faced with the prospect of stabbing the Leader in the front.
Willing to wound, and yet still afraid to strike.
Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike. (Alexander Pope 1688-1744)
However, you shouldn’t run away with the idea that this meeting was a complete waste of time because, according to that other website the question of what to do about the chief executive was also discussed.
It appears that the word from the Leadership was that Mr Parry-Jones wouldn’t be coming back.
As a commenter on Jacob’s website has pointed out, this might be a case of prejudging the issue, so we may yet again enjoy the spectacle of Kerr QC waving a brown envelope and advising certain members that they ought to declare an interest and withdraw from the chamber.
But that is all in the future.
For the present the council would seem to have a choice of four options.
1) That after a suitable period of exile, Mr Parry-Jones returns trailing assurances that things will be different in future.
2) He is made redundant.
However, as I understand the law, that would require that the post of chief executive be abolished.
3) He is sacked.
That would involve a labyrinthine process – of which more below – designed to investigate whether there were any grounds for his dismissal.
4) A package is agreed which allows him to sail off into the sunset to spend more time with his pension.
It seems that the Leadership of the IPPG favours this fourth option and to persuade group members that this is the best way forward the spectre of Sharon Shoesmith, who recently took Haringey council for many hundreds of thousands for wrongful dismissal, was prayed in aid.
As I understand the situation, any such package would have to be agreed by full council and you can imagine what difficulties that might cause some IPPG members if and when the opposition called for a recorded vote.
So, while the present crisis might have been defused, in the longer term this issue is a ticking time-bomb for the ruling clique.
Of course, in the present political climate, public opinion would appear to favour Mr Parry-Jones’ dismissal.
However public opinion isn’t the law and justice is a universal entitlement that must be extended to friend and foe alike.
You can’t go around sacking people just because you don’t like them.
It seems to me that, if there are any grounds for disciplinary action against the chief executive, they reside in what happened at the meeting he had with Cllrs Peter Morgan and Mark Edwards when, if reports are to be believed – and they haven’t been denied – Mr Parry-Jones resorted to building-site language when expressing his displeasure at the way the pair had voted on a resolution concerning his “unlawful” pension arrangements.
The employees’ Code of Conduct states that “Members can expect from employees … Respect, dignity, courtesy and integrity.”
And: “That employees will not use their relationship with members to advance their personal interests or to influence decisions improperly, nor to raise personal issues outside any agreed procedures.”
Now you might think that aiming what has been described as “an expletive-laden tirade” at members falls short of showing respect, dignity and courtesy.
It has also been reported to me that Mr Parry-Jones told both men that he regarded them as friends and even reminded Cllr Morgan of his attendance at dinner parties at the chief executive’s home.
If true, that would seem to fall within the second provision cited above, especially as the subject of the pension arrangements was due to come back to the July meeting of council for final determination.
As an aside, it is interesting to speculate how Kerr QC might have answered if asked whether the chief executive’s two “friends” (and any others that fall into that category) should have declared an interest when these pension matters were discussed at the extraordinary meeting on 14 February this year.
However, we should remember that all we know about the “facts” regarding events at this meeting is what we have read in the newspapers and sundry websites.
As I said above, councils must follow a complicated statutory process before disciplinary action can be taken against a chief executive.
For those interested in the finer details the whole rigmarole can be found at Part 4 Page 71 of the council’s constitution.
Briefly, “(3) If it appears to the authority that an allegation of misconduct which may lead to disciplinary action has been made against the Head of Paid Service [in this case the chief executive] … the authority must appoint a Committee (an investigation committee) to consider the alleged misconduct.”
The regulations go on to outline the composition and investigative powers of this committee before we come to:
“(6) Where it appears to the investigation committee that an allegation of misconduct by the relevant officer should be further investigated, it must appoint a person (“the designated independent person”) for the purposes of paragraph 1 above.
The designated independent person (DIP) must then carry out their own investigation and report to the authority what, if any disciplinary action is appropriate.”
“(8)(iv) Must make a report to the authority –
(a) Stating an opinion as to whether (and, if so, the extent to which) the evidence obtained supports any allegation of misconduct against the relevant officer; and
(b) Recommending any disciplinary action which appears appropriate for the authority to take against the relevant officer.”
“(11) The authority must consider the report prepared under paragraph 8(iv) above within one month of receipt of that report.”
It is not clear from the legislation whether the authority is under any obligation to follow the recommendations in the report, but it is likely that any attempt to impose a more severe sanction than that recommended by the DIP would be frowned upon by an Industrial Tribunal, though a lesser sanction would probably go unchallenged.
So, as you can see, sacking a chief executive is not easy and in any case your elected representatives have little say in the matter, anyway.
And this is quite deliberate because central government doesn’t trust local democracy and over the past 20 years or so, legislation has been designed to transfer powers to ever more mighty chief executives whose unstated role is to keep the elected rabble in order.
The Local Government Act 2000, which introduced the Cabinet system, was the most recent example of this drift away from representative democracy.
I remember sitting on the press benches and hearing Mr Parry-Jones telling members that the Cabinet system would “streamline decision-making” i.e. there would be fewer messy, time-wasting debates.
That was because with non-cabinet members in the the role of spear-carriers, the elected rabble would be reduced from 60 to ten and, in the ideal situation with a “strong Leader” who could hire and fire Cabinet members at will, effectively to one.
One thing is for certain: if the council decides to go down the disciplinary route it will take an awful long time to reach a conclusion.
Long enough, I suspect, for Mr Parry-Jones, who is currently enjoying paid “gardening leave”, to keep himself fit with a spot of winter digging.
The chief executive is often described as the most highly remunerated chief executive in Wales, that can now be changed to the world’s best paid gardener.
PS I have just read Stephen Crabb’s attack on the IPPG in the Western Telegraph. This is irony squared because, until recently when it fell on hard electoral times and had to recruit members from the Labour party (Cllrs Rowlands, Hancock and Perkins, in particular) in order to maintain itself in power, the IPG, as it was formerly known, was essentially a Tory party front. I will post a history of this relationship either this evening or early tomorrow. In the meantime you can get a flavour of what I intend to say by reading Concealed conservatives.