7 February 2014

What a council (not Barnet for once)

No-one was there, did this tree falling make a sound?

Come with Mr Mustard for a quick trip to the delights of Carmarthenshire where fellow blogger Jacquie Thompson (Caebrwyn) has been shining a bright light for a long time on her local council, Carmarthernshire County Council ("CCC"), and getting herself wrongly arrested into the bargain. She has also managed to get herself into hotter water than most of us bloggers with an adverse libel judgment and damages of £25,000 which she can't afford to pay, but her goose isn't cooked yet.

What has happened is that unlike in Barnet, where complaints to the Auditor never seem to result in our Mr Paul Hughes finding anything wrong, the Wales Audit Office (WAO) have found that things aren't what they should be in CCC, see here.

Now Mr Mustard is somewhat busy with the multifarious problems in Barnet but once the war of words between CCC and WAO started, and legal opinions being published (funny isn't it that they were highly confidential when originally produced, being discussed in private session but now perhaps because CCC think they will help their cause you can download them from the CCC website and from the LGL link on the next line) Mr Mustard thought he had better take a look.  There is also correspondence available on the website of the Local Government Lawyer

Mr Mustard read the recent opinion of James Kerr QC and was struck by the final few words of paragraph 19 about the lengthy ordeal of the Chief Exec. (Mark James). 

Now what struck Mr Mustard about this statement, and he had been in Court when Jacqui was in the witness box, and he read the judgment handed down, was that Mark James didn't even know about the blog until he had the Claim Form alleging libel which was a couple of months before the indemnity was granted (a fact double checked with Caebrwyn herself) so just like the sound of a tree falling in the forest when you are not there, does it make a sound?, Mr James seems to have endured a lengthy ordeal without knowing about it; is that possible?

Mr Mustard is aware that one councillor at least reads his blog and some officers (staff) do so and communications follow his tweets and react if necessary. He would have thought that it would be wise of all councillors to keep an eye on what critical friends / armchair auditors / greatest critics had to say so that they could take any action necessary such as informing the blogger if he/she has made an error (there have been at least 2 corrections to Mr Mustard's blog when his innocent errors have been pointed out). Had the members of the Audit Committee read his recent blogs they wouldn't have been in the dark when the Auditor, Paul Hughes, was explaining that there had been five Objections to the Accounts and a councillor asked if they all came from one person. They would have known the answer as all five Objections are detailed in full on this blog. They could then perhaps have got into the details rather than just letting the matter rest there.

Moving back to CCC what the heck were the Executive Board doing when they allowed the Chief Executive to be in the room when they discussed his possible indemnity? The mere presence of the person concerned must surely cause you to innocently favour them? The Executive Board is made up entirely of councillors. They should decide which officers they want to attend on them and not let the Chief Executive hang around where his presence is not necessary, desirable or advisable.

It appears from paragraph 11 of the legal opinion of James Kerr QC that councillors didn't get to see the complete opinion of James Goudie QC but a report prepared by Linda Rees-Jones the Head of Law (& other stuff) which recited the opinion. If I was a councillor I would have wanted to see the entire opinion (it is only 6 pages with big print and wide margins so a 5 minute read at most) and it would be interesting now to compare her recital with the original to see if her recital was sexed up at all and what, if anything, was not disclosed.

If you aren't following what happens in Carmarthenshire you might like to start. This story is going to run for a while yet.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard

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