Plaid Cymru demands answers over councils’ pensions scandal

Welsh Government needs to take action, says local AM

Local Assembly Member and Plaid Cymru’s Local Government Spokesperson Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM has today (27/09/13) tabled an urgent question to the Local Government Minister calling on her to make a statement on what he calls a “pensions scandal” in west Wales.

The action by Rhodri Glyn Thomas comes after the Wales Audit Office refused to sign off Pembrokeshire Council’s accounts over payments made to senior council officials. The WAO has also confirmed that Carmarthenshire Council carries out a similar practice which it considers to be “unlawful”.

The payments enable the councils’ highest-paid staff to leave the Local Government Pensions Scheme, receiving a cash equivalent of the employer’s pension contribution, for tax reasons.

During a meeting of Carmarthenshire Council’s Audit Committee today, WAO has referred also to an “unlawful” expenditure in which the council’s chief executive was indemnified by the council for his libel counter-claim against a county resident.

The Carmarthen East and Dinefwr AM has previously taken action on senior pay in local government.  In June this year, he successfully forced the Welsh government into a u-turn to bring about independent assessment of senior council officers’ salaries as part of the government’s Local Democracy Bill.

Mr. Thomas commented:

“This is the latest in a long line of scandals around senior pay. We are in an age of austerity and local government workers, who keep our vital services functioning, need to be reassured that those at the top are not getting special treatment.

“The idea that you can opt out of the pensions scheme and get payments instead, is of dubious legality. Further, it undermines the wider scheme. It says to the workers that the highest paid officials are not going to be paying their contributions in and contributing to the pensions pot.

“The Wales Audit Office considers the actions of both Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire Councils to be unlawful.  The Welsh Government needs to make a statement on whether it agrees with these damaging pensions opt-outs, and whether it believes they are legal. We need to know if this practice is happening in other public services.”

 

Constituency colleaue, Jonathan Edwards MP added:

“In the case of Carmarthenshire council the opinion of the Appointed Auditor is very clear – he considers two expenditures relating to the Chief Executive to be unlawful.

“Carmarthenshire residents need answers.  What advice was sought about the legality of these two expenditures?  How much did that advice cost county taxpayers?  Who took the decision to approve the Chief Executive’s new pension arrangements?  Who is accountable for these decisions?

“As the teams of lawyers from both the Audit Office and the council go back and forth debating the legality of the actions, how much more will this cost county taxpayers?

“It seems as if it’s another day and yet another question mark hanging over county hall. 

“Carmarthenshire needs a political reboot and an end to what I consider to be too cosy a relationship between the ruling Labour and Independent Executive and the council’s senior management. 

“The residents of Carmarthenshire deserve nothing less than a full investigation into how almost £40,000 of public money has been spent unlawfully.”

ENDS

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