A wall of silence descended on County Hall this week as the local authority refused to answer questions over the controversial unlawful payments scandal.
After the Wales Audit Office branded the payments to council chief executive Bryn Parry-Jones and another officer as unlawful, the Western Telegraph submitted a series of questions to the county council.
- Does the council now accept that the scheme referred to is unlawful, as the auditor has made clear? If not, do you plan to take the matter further?
- Has the council now rescinded the decision to allow the pension opt-out and stopped the payments? If not, when will that happen?
- Will Bryn Parry-Jones be offering his resignation? If not, is he facing any disciplinary action?
- How much has the council already spent on legal fees relating to this issue? Is there any estimation of the likely total cost?
- The council has often used the line that the scheme would not cost the council any extra money to defend it against criticism. The auditor clearly says the scheme would have cost extra. What is the council’s response?
Pembrokeshire County Council refused to answer the questions.
In reply, the local authority would only say: “We will not be answering the questions as the Council has to meet first to discuss the Appointed Auditor’s report.”
Pembrokeshire's stance is markedly different to that of Carmarthenshire, where the authority's cabinet has come out strongly in support of the officers involved and issued several statements in relation to the issues.
As council leader Jamie Adams was on holiday, the Western Telegraph also emailed several other questions relating to the political fallout to deputy leader Cllr Rob Lewis.
The questions included whether Cllr Adams should stand down for defending the pensions payments over several months.
Cllr Lewis did not respond but Cllr Adams sent a statement, reading: “The council has received a Public Interest Report which it is obliged to consider within one month. The report sets out four recommendations that the Council will be asked to consider. Until such time as Council has met to consider the Auditors report, and other relevant evidence, it would be inappropriate to comment further."
South Pembrokeshire MP Simon Hart told the Western Telegraph that the Pembrokeshire County Council should now publish the legal advice it had received about the pension opt-out scheme and set out exactly how it had come to the decision to allow the scheme.
“There have been a number of occasions over the past few years where the finger of suspicion has been pointed at the council in terms of decisions taken and accountability – it’s frustrating because I’m not prone to a conspiracy theory, I try to support the council wherever possible – but they do make it very hard for themselves," said Mr Hart.
“They can’t be surprised when members of the public, the press, run out of patience.
"If there is a justifiable reason for the decisions taken, let’s see them. If I was in the council leader’s shoes I would be publishing this information on the council website ASAP."