Pembrokeshire County Council leader Jamie Adams defends controversial pension payments
‘Our position is lawful’ and there is no need for the chief executive to be suspended'.
That was the message from Pembrokeshire County Council leader Jamie Adams during an exclusive interview on the pension payments row to senior officers - despite calls from some members for Bryn Parry-Jones to be suspended while a full investigation is carried out.
The issue of pension payments to officers has rumbled on since the Wales Audit Office said it had a 'difference of opinion' with PCC about whether paying the equivalent of the employer's pension contributions to an employee who had opted out of the local government pension scheme is lawful or not.
But Cllr Adams said: “Our legal advice is that our position is lawful.
“I’m a little bit perplexed as to how the Wales Audit Office can consider the position to be unlawful, they’re not the law.
“There are a number of next steps – one is that we will find agreement and we can be signed off by the Wales Audit Office in the usual manner. Another is they will take us to a point where we will have to gain that legal conclusion, which is court, or, of course, we can continue discussions.
“Our advice is that our position is lawful, under statute, local government has the capability to make its own agreement for the engagement of staff and to undertake them,” said Cllr Adams.
'Need to know basis'
The legal advice received is not currently available to the wider of membership of council, Cllr Adams said, because of a 'need to know' basis.
“All legal opinion provided to the authority is done so on the basis that those that see it have a need to know the information. At the moment, apart from myself as corporate leader, I would consider that the majority of members do not have a need to know, they may have a wish to, or a desire to know, I understand that,” he added.
The pension arrangements had been made at what Cllr Adams maintains was a public meeting, although it was held in the office of chief executive Bryn Parry-Jones, in September 2011.
It was resolved that the option of ‘receiving the equivalent of the employer’s contribution so that they make their own alternative arrangements for saving for retirement ‘be made available to senior staff on the basis that there were no additional costs to the council.
The legality of the meeting is not in question said Cllr Adams; the legal advice sought relates to the pension procedure itself.
Cllr Adams said: “The chief executive and head of HR were both present and had no interest to declare because they were not part of the decision making process.”
The pension arrangements, said Cllr Adams, were to provide incentives to attract high standards of staff or to help high earners who would otherwise be better off retiring early than continuing working.
“One of the important points to make the arrangements aren't made to the detriment of the public purse of Pembrokeshire County Council. One of the main considerations was that this exercise should be cost neutral to the tax payer. And in terms of just ensuring people are understanding of the rationale behind the decision - it's about our ability to recruit and retain officers who can lead in terms of providing services to the county, and we do so on a basis of lowest council tax in Wales by far, and still provide a good level of service to our residents. Driving value for tax payers is certainly what Independent Plus Group is all about and as leader of the council that's what we deliver on.
'Suspension call is easy way to set up a great story'
Speaking of Cllr Paul Miller’s push to rescind the pension decision and suspend the chief executive Bryn Parry- Jones while the decision on the legality of the procedure is resolved, Cllr Adams said it was ‘very easy to set up a great story’.
“I’m increasingly frustrated that Paul is putting his own interests before that of Pembrokeshire County Council and certainly before that of services we are providing the people of Pembrokeshire.
“Basically stepping on the heads of members of council, personal attacks on senior offices, ultimately it’s showing negativity and showing the services we provide to people of the county are not important to him and frankly they should be,” he added.
In response Cllr Miller said: "I’ll leave the Pembrokeshire people decide for themselves what they think, but I think it’s time for change at the top and sooner rather than later. People can rest assured that I’m resolute in that view and I won’t be deflected by anything Cllr Adams is shovelling"
Cllr Miller had also called for an extraordinary meeting to be called to discuss the issue.
This has been refused by council chairman Cllr Arwyn Williams but the members can insist a meeting is held. Cllr Miller said that is what will happen.
Cllr Adams said it an extraordinary meeting was ‘likely’ and he’d ‘welcome the opportunity to put the true facts in front of a wider audience’.
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