December 27 2012


Lost year

It was interesting to read what PCC Leader Cllr Jamie Adams had to say about the Wales Audit Office (WAO) report on the county council's child safeguarding.
The WAO found that "by failing to respond with sufficient speed and rigour the council failed in its duty to make arrangements to secure continuous improvement" and as a result of this and other failures the WAO was recommending that Welsh Government Ministers place the authority under special measures.
Cllr Adams told the Western Telegraph: "It is unfortunate that there was such a long delay between the completion of the inspection work in the summer and the publication of the report a week before Christmas when so much has been achieved in the intervening months. I am very pleased with the progress that has been made in respect of our safeguarding arrangements since the Wales Audit Office completed its fieldwork in August and the fact that many of the weaknesses identified in the report have already been addressed."
As red herrings go, this is a rather large and smelly specimen.
The fact is that, when the inspectors called in August 2012, more than a year had passed since the publication of the original critical reports which set the alarm bells ringing.
As the WAO says: "some key safeguarding issues identified in August 2011 remained unresolved in August 2012"
What Cllr Adams needs to explain is why it took so long for the council to get its act together and why it was only after Welsh Ministers gave the Pembrokeshire Ministerial Board powers of direction in July 2012 that things started to move in the right direction.
This "lost year" and the reasons for it are the questions we as elected members need to address.
Whether we get any satisfactory answers is another matter altogether.
And what won't wash is the explanation floated by Cllr Adams at the pre-Christmas meeting of the authority: that this is a new council and all the fault lies with its predecessor.
The truth is that this "new council" is controlled by the same clique that ran the old one, which, it should be remembered, had Cllr Adams as its deputy leader.
And it should also be pointed out that part of the delay in publication was caused by the process by which a draft report is first sent to the council for comment.
As you would hardly expect the council to write back saying that the WAO had been too gentle in its criticisms, the final report will, in all likelihood, be more favourable to the council than the draft.

Code breakers


My report on Cabinet member Cllr Rob Lewis's use of county council computers to send emails on IPPG business (Party piece) has led to changes in the format of emails emanating from county hall.
Previously the following words of warning appeared at the bottom of every official email.
"This document should only be read by those persons to whom it is addressed, and be used by them for its intended purpose; and must not otherwise be reproduced, copied, disseminated, disclosed, modified, distributed, published or actioned. If you have received this email in error, please notify us immediately by telephone on 01437 764551 and delete it from your computer immediately. This email address must not be passed on to any third party nor be used for any other purpose."
Clearly, the words "should only be read" at the foot of the message are as much use as a chocolate toasting fork because by the time you get to that bit you have already read the message.
So the council has now added a second message at the top of every email: "If you have received this email in error, please notify us by telephone on 01437 764551 and delete it from your computer immediately."
The problem is that, if the email arrives in your inbox you have no way of knowing that it has been received in error until you have read it.
I understand there is a school of thought in the council that considers these words on emails endows them with the status of confidentiality.
I am not so sure about that.
But, if I am wrong, it would seem that I have a duty under the Code of Conduct to report whoever sent me the document to the Ombudsman and the council's Monitoring Officer.
Paragraph 6.(1)(c) provides: "You must report to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales and to you local authority's monitoring officer any conduct by another member which you reasonably believe breaches this code of conduct."
And Paragraph 5(a) provides: "You must not disclose confidential information or information which could be regarded as being of a confidential nature, without the express consent of a person authorised to give such consent, or unless required by law to do so.
So, if these documents really are confidential, the person who disclosed them to me is in breach of the code of conduct and so am I for failing to report their breach to the Ombudsman and monitoring officer.
Incidentally, any councillor who reads this may also be in breach of the code if they fail to report me for failing to report my mole, and so ad infinitum.
The English have had the good sense to remove this piece of nonsense from the code.
In essence, all that is left in the English code is failure to declare a prejudicial interest which has been made a criminal offence - the rest is left to the judgement of the electorate.
And they beat the All Blacks.
Before fellow councillors rush to the Ombudsman's website to download a complaint form, I would say that the offending emails (Party lines) (Party piece) were cut and paste jobs that came through the post in the customary plain brown envelopes.
So, not knowing who sent them, I don't even have to rely on the traditional journalists' defence of protecting my sources.

Salary leapfrog

There is good old row developing in Caerphilly where trades unions; faced with job losses and a pay freeze as a result of the government's austerity programme, are out on the streets protesting about £27,000 salary increase for the council's chief executive, Anthony O'Sullivan..
According to BBC Wales website: "The council has previously said a cross-party committee reviewed pay arrangements for senior staff. Minutes of a meeting where the pay rise was agreed were presented to the full council in October without any concerns being raised. It added that Mr O'Sullivan's pay met an independent external pay scheme."
Now it seems the leadership of the Labour run council are rowing backwards at a rate of knots.
The BBC reports that the council leadership would "investigate the possibility of rescinding the decision based upon independent legal advice".
And in a further concession it has promised that, in future, full council will decide on remuneration levels for senior managers.
This is how the system works.

To simplify the arithmetic we will assume we have 6 councils A - F.
The councils all employ a chief executive whose salaries are given in the table below.
A - £200,000
B - £195,000
C - £190,000
D - £185,000
E - £180,000
F - £175,000

The ruling group in Council D think a lot of their man/woman and are concerned that he/she might take their talents elsewhere.They are aware that their CE is in the bottom half of the table and seek out independent consultants to carry out an appraisal of his/her remuneration.
The first thing to realise is that it won't be the councillors who engage these consultants. That will be left to the head of HR whose boss is, incidentally, the CE.
These consultants are clever people and they know what is expected of them and, furthermore they know that if they don't come up to expectations, they may not be invited again.
You will notice that, apart from initiating the process, neither the taxpayers who will eventually fund the upcoming pay rise, nor their elected representatives have much say in this process.
In the fullness of time the independent consultants will provide a job evaluation, plus a hefty bill, and some recommendations.
One of their main findings is that the council's CE is in the bottom half of the table with a salary below the average of £187,500 and that, according to some complex formula that most of the councillors on the remuneration committee don't begin to understand, he/she should be given an extra seven grand a year - probably back-dated to the previous January - to put them in the top half.
That all seems fair enough until you realise that this pay rise has now pushed C into the bottom half as well as pushing E and F even further below the (new) average.
So, not wishing to be seen as cheapskates, leading councillors on these newly demoted councils will seek to increase the salary of their chief executive - after all they wouldn't want him/her lured away to run NASA, or the Bank of England, or whatever - and you you have to pay top dollar if you want to keep the best people.
I think its called the law of upward creeping averages, and if it isn't it should be.
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