- Posted by: Joyce Watson MS
- Category: Media
QUESTIONS were raised at the Senedd yesterday (Tuesday) following the row over controversial pension payments to senior officers at Pembrokeshire County Council.
A call has been made for an extraordinary council meeting to discuss the issue – with chief executive Bryn Parry-Jones to be suspended pending an investigation – and a petition and Facebook page calling for change in Pembrokeshire have also gathered pace.
During Assembly question time on Tuesday (October 1), mid and west Wales AM Joyce Watson asked the Minister for local government, Lesley Griffiths AM, for a statement.
Mrs Griffiths said it was a matter for the Wales Audit Office, which is considering issuing a public interest report over the next few weeks.
The issue came to light last week after audit committee members were told there was a “difference of opinion” between the council and the Wales Audit Office (WAO) over the legality of a decision to allow senior staff to receive the equivalent of the employer’s pension contribution when opting out of the local government pension scheme.
The WAO said it was unable to finalise the council’s audit for 2012/13.
Chief executive Mr Parry-Jones and one head of service are the only officers to have taken the opportunity.
In January 2012, the Western Telegraph revealed details of a private meeting of the senior staff committee in September 2011, at which the decision was made.
Six councillors, Mr Parry-Jones and the head of human resources were present at the meeting, which took place in the chief executive’s office.
The council’s accounts were signed off at a stormy corporate governance committee meeting on Monday (September 30), with seven Independent Plus Group members voting in favour and six opposition members voting against.
Responding to Labour leader Cllr Paul Miller, Cllr Jamie Adams, who was deputy leader at the time, said the council acted on advice from central government to renegotiate contracts, that the decision was taken to aid staff recruitment and retention and on the basis it was cost neutral.
There was no intervention from officers, the meeting was held in an appropriate location and the six members had delegated authority, he added.
But Cllr Miller said: “You must understand the ridiculousness of this situation.
“Members of the senior committee took the decision in a venue where public accessibility is questionable, to say the least, without legal opinion and in the presence of senior officers with a direct interest in the scheme, which is now potentially illegal.”
Cllr Miller has called for an extraordinary council meeting, with Mr Parry-Jones suspended while a full investigation takes place and the original decision to be rescinded.
More than 180 people have joined Cllr Miller’s Facebook group “It’s time for a change in Pembrokeshire”, while a petition on his website (www.paulmillerpembrokeshire.com/councilchange) has 140 signatures.