The man in charge of Pembrokeshire County Council when the decision was taken to allow what are now known to be unlawful payments to senior council officers, has admitted that mistakes have been made.
Former Pembrokeshire County Council leader Cllr John Davies was the chairman of the Senior Staff Committee in 2011 that allowed the controversial pension opt-out scheme.
The Wales Audit Office last week said the arrangement was contrary to law.
By March, council chief executive Bryn Parry-Jones and another unnamed senior officer will have received more than £50,000 in unlawful payments, Auditor Anthony Barrett said.
Dyfed-Powys Police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) are now liaising over the issue.
During last night’s (Thursday) Question Time-style ‘Pawb a’i Farn’ programme on S4C, filmed in Crymych, Cllr Davies was asked about the payments.
He said if he was still council leader he would set up a ‘completely independent’ investigation.
Cllr Davies said he also welcomed any CPS probe into the matter.
Referring to the Senior Staff Commitee, Cllr Davies said: “It was a unanimous decision by the committee, there were Conservatives, Labour group members and the Independent Group represented at that meeting. We decided to allow it on the terms that there was no extra cost. The auditor has suggested, in his opinion, that there was an extra, long-term cost.”
Presenter Dewi Llwyd interrupted: “Well he suggests it’s illegal.”
Cllr Davies replied: “Yes, he also suggests that, but the fact is there’s legal advice from both counties that says something else. Therefore I would suggest, if I was still the leader, there’s a need to have an investigation into this that is completely independent.
“The CPS is looking at it and I would welcome that investigation because it will be unbiased, it would deal with the facts and there will be an opportunity for us as two councils to learn from this.”
Mr Llwyd added: “It’s possible you accept that a big mistake has been made here?”
Cllr Davies answered: “Of course, there’s been a mistake, we have to learn, no one is perfect and we accept that. It was not one of the best decisions after a period of two-and-a-half years.”
Fellow panel member, the former Plaid president Dafydd Iwan, said: “A big mistake has been made. It was a way to avoid paying tax and did you know there are seven chief executives of local authorities in Wales who are paid more than the Prime Minister and they have so much greed they want to have more money and not pay tax on it.”
As a senior member of the ruling Independent Plus Group, Cllr Davies’ comments that mistakes were made will heap extra pressure on the County Council ahead of a meeting to discuss the pensions scandal.
Meanwhile, another senior Independent Plus Group member said he would, if necessary, back calls for the chief executive to be suspended while investigations were carried out.
Planning Committee Chairman Myles Pepper told the Western Telegraph: “Clearly, wrongs have been committed and it may be that more than one person party to the decision(s) has also committed wrongs.”
Cllr Pepper added: “My view is that we have to hold an extraordinary meeting dedicated solely to the report and all related matters that have led to the same and this should be undertaken as soon as members are in a position so to do, i.e with the greatest of urgency and certainly before our next Full Council.
“If this means that the Chief Executive and any other persons implicated have to be suspended whilst these investigations are undertaken then, subject to legal advice, this would be the course of action I would be recommending.
“I re-iterate the matter requires most urgent investigations and furthermore that members be advised of the legally correct procedure throughout their deliberations up to the point of when matters are put to the vote.”
Pembrokeshire County Council must meet within 30 days of the report’s publication to discuss the issue.