UPDATED: Wales Audit Office questions pension arrangements of senior Pembrokeshire County Council officers
1:47pm Thursday 26th September 2013 in News
The union Unison has today (Friday) waded into the growing row over pension payments made to senior Pembrokeshire County Council officers, including the chief executive Bryn Parry-Jones.
Unison said it would be asking questions about the payments which have been questioned by the Wales Audit Office.
As reported in the Western Telegraph on Wednesday the Wales Audit Office has said it is currently unable to finalise Pembrokeshire County Council’s audit as a result of an ongoing legal dispute over a county council decision on pension payments to senior council officers.
At a meeting on Monday, September 23, audit committee members were told there was a “difference of opinion” between the council and the Wales Audit Office on the subject.
The stumbling block is over a decision to allow Pembrokeshire County Council senior staff to receive the equivalent of the employer’s pension contribution if they opted out of the local government pension scheme.
The Western Telegraph first revealed details of the pension arrangements in January 2012, click here for more.
But payments were made and disclosed in this year’s financial statements for the first time, with chief executive Bryn Parry-Jones and one head of service officer being the only two officers to have opted out of the local government pension scheme.
One other council in Wales had taken the same decision, members of the audit committee were told.
“The danger here is that we could very well have acted outside the law,” said Cllr Michael Williams, who expressed his concerns at Monday’s meeting.
Audit committee chairman John Evans said the concerns were shared among all members of the committee “without question” and the issue needed to be resolved at the lowest possible cost.
Reacting to the row, Dominic MacAskill, UNISON Cymru/Wales head of local government, said: "If these reports are accurate, then of course UNISON will have questions over the nature of these pension arrangements and associated payments.
“UNISON has long campaigned for fair pensions for all. We believe that all workers deserve a decent pension, but this has to be achieved through a fair and transparent process.
“We simply cannot support a situation that benefits senior local government officials, whilst the rest of the workforce are still experiencing a pay freeze and many are not even being paid the living wage.
“UNISON plans to discuss this further with the employers concerned and we will raise our concerns as necessary.”
Pembrokeshire County Council Director of finance and leisure Mark Lewis said the council was a “complex organisation” and that “many of the things we do can be challenged in law”.
A Council spokesman added that the issue was “complicated” and said that it “will affect other public bodies in Wales,” as stated in the Wales Audit Office report seen by committee members.
He added: “The council’s legal advice is that the decision made by the senior staff committee is lawful.
“There is no additional cost falling on the council from any senior officers ‘opting out’ of the local government pension scheme “The purpose of offering the ‘opt-out’ is to aid the recruitment and retention of senior staff.”
Despite the difference of opinion, John Dwight, from Wales Audit Office, told the audit committee the accounts would be signed off on September 30 and praised the “thorough and accurate” work by the finance team.
“The audit this year has gone well,” he added.
The pension arrangements will be discussed again at the Corporate Governance committee on Monday.
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