September 26 2013

 

Pension problems

Momentum seems to building around the Wales Audit Office's (WAO) refusal to sign off the county council's accounts because of what they consider to be an illegality over pension arrangements for senior officers.
According to the BBC's website the WAO has also called time on a similar arrangement in Carmarthenshire.
The background to this is that, back in September 2011, PCC's senior staff committee met behind closed doors and agreed that senior officers could withdraw from the local government pension scheme because of, to quote from the minutes: ". . . recent changes in taxation provisions affecting higher earners and which had imposed limitations and penalties on the levels of annual contributions and the taking of benefits."
In order to overcome this little local difficulty the committee agreed ". . .that individuals in this
position should be given the option of receiving the equivalent of the employer’s contribution so that they make their own alternative arrangements for saving for retirement."

Even the Mercury is taking an interest in the issue, but, aside from saying "it's complicated", it doesn't shed much light on the subject, though in its report on Monday's meeting of the audit committee it does quote Plaid leader Cllr Michael Williams as saying: "The danger here is that we could very well have acted outside the law".
I was at that meeting (see Stop Press)and it seemed to me that, despite the independent [dictionary definition] chairman Mr John Evans saying that the whole committee shared his concerns "without question", Cllr Williams was the only one who had any serious reservations .
And without question it was, because Chairman Evans quickly moved on to the next business before any more could be asked.
One thing that interested me about the whole thing was in the statement of accounts, page 99 of the director of finance's report where details of senior officers' pay and emoluments are displayed.
The entry for the Chief Executive, which also includes fees from the Home Office in respect of his duties as returning officer, is below

 Financial year Gross salary, fees and other emoluments  Employer payment into local gov pension fund  Benefits in kind
 2011-2012  £208,170  £30,600  £10,017
 2012 - 2013  £194,661  NIL  £11,685

So, on the face of it the chief executive, received benefits of £248,787 in 2011 - 2012 and only £206,346 in the following year - an apparent cut of £44,441.
Some of this difference can probably be attributed to different levels of activity in his returning officer role, but the rest must be something to do with the difference between the £30,600 we contributed to his pension pot in 2011-2012 and the NIL we contributed in 2012 - 2013.
But the decision of the senior staff committee was that senior officer should have the option to receive "the equivalent of the employer’s contribution so that they make their own alternative arrangements for saving for retirement."
So how was this money received?
There is probably some simple explanation for this apparent anomaly, but no one on the audit committee thought to ask what it might be.
Oh! and I nearly forgot, the senior staff committee's decision was based on the condition that there should be no cost to the authority as a result of these arrangements.
There isn't, of course, because the money paid into the pension scheme is simply transferred to the individual concerned.
But there is a cost to the Inland Revenue, which ultimately provides something like 75% of the money the council spends each year - including senior officers salaries and pension contributions.

They stray - you pay

The pension tax avoidance scheme is not the only thing in Carmarthenshire causing concern to WAO
It has also raised doubts over the legality of an indemnity given to the council's chief executive in respect of his legal costs in a libel action brought by local blogger Jacqui Thompson.
The BBC report can be read here.
Talk of indemnity reminded me of a recent PCC standards committee hearing which I have been meaning to write about before being sidetracked by events in Pembroke Dock.
This concerns Fishguard councillor and IPPG stalwart Myles Pepper, who was called to account by the Ombudsman for failing to make his prejudicial interest clear to a council officer dealing with a traffic management issue in the street where Cllr Pepper lives.
The interest arose because ease of parking outside his residence could be affected.
The standards committee upheld the Ombudsman's findings and resolved:
"That Councillor Myles Pepper be censured and receive additional training on the application of the Code of Conduct within three months of the expiry of the period for an appeal to be lodged."
The committee also had to decide whether "Cllr Pepper should be required to reimburse the indemnity in respect of the proceedings."
The committee resolved: "That, having regard to the circumstances of the allegations and the information provided to the Hearing, the Committee determined that it would not be exercising its discretion to seek reimbursement of an indemnity under Section 7 of the Hearings Procedure."
So the council's insurance policy picked up the tab for his legal costs.
It never ceases to amaze me how generous people can be with other people's money.
And I should mention that, despite breaching the Code of Conduct, Cllr Pepper continues as Chairman of the planning committee (Special Responsibility Allowance circa £9,000 p.a.)

Socialist solutions

Capitalism, of which I am a fan, is in crisis.
Of course we've passed this way before and various alternatives have been tried with conspicuous lack of success.
Below is an anti-capitalist economic blueprint from the early part of the 20th century.

Abolition of unearned incomes. Breaking of debt (interest)-slavery.
We demand the nationalisation of all (previous) associated industries (trusts).
We demand a division of profits of all heavy industries.
We demand an expansion on a large scale of old age welfare.
We demand immediate communalization of the great warehouses and their being leased at low cost to small firms, the utmost consideration of all small firms in contracts with the State, county or municipality.
We demand a land reform suitable to our needs, provision of a law for the free expropriation of land for the purposes of public utility, abolition of taxes on land and prevention of all speculation in land.
We demand struggle without consideration against those whose activity is injurious to the general interest.

That is an extract from the 25-point plan drawn up by the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP). Leader one Adolf Hitler.
Not easy to reconcile all that with the commonly held view that Fascism is some form of extreme conservativism.

Domestic duties

Listening to the news while driving home last Friday evening I heard that UKIP MEP Geoffrey Bloom had found himself in hot water for saying rude things about women who don't clean behind the fridge
That reminded me that I hadn't inspected that part of the kitchen for some considerable time, so when I arrived home I made that my first task.
Fortunately Grumpette wasn't at home to hear me exclaim "S--t!" as I spotted the assorted butter papers, table mats and old newspapers that had accumulated in the space behind the fridge.
Now, just in case you think that's not a nice thing to be saying about your wife, I should explain that the full text of what I said was: "S--t! I'd better get that cleaned up before she gets home, or I'll be in deep trouble."

Age concern

Listening to Radio 4 is the only thing that makes driving tolerable.
The other day it was "You and Yours" which featured a succession of oldies complaining about age discrimination in the workplace.
Somebody should have a word about this with the wimmin in my family who have drawn up a work programme for what they refer to as "The Project Director" which will be enough to keep me going for the next 30 years.
What they didn't make clear when they endowed me this fine-sounding job title is that it is prefixed with the word "Honorary".
They have said I can have a day off to celebrate the telegram from the Queen (it'll probably be King by then) with a few glasses of Merlot and a cigar.
Smart girls! They understand that the carrot always works better than the stick.
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