Pembrokeshire councillors decide not to recoup unlawful payment to former chief executive

NO attempt to recoup the unlawful payment to Pembrokeshire’s former chief executive will be made but the council accepts the report and recommendations for improvements made by Audit Wales.

An extraordinary full council meeting was held with all Pembrokeshire County Council members on Tuesday (February 1) where lengthy discussions about the Auditor General for Wales’ report on issues relating to the Ian Westley’s settlement agreement, Audit Wales report of deficiencies in governance and decision making in relation to that pay out and an independent review of the settlement.

Councillors also voted in favour of holding discussions about the interim monitoring officer and chief finance officer’s report, including privilege legal advice and the settlement agreement, in public despite a recommendation that the public and press be excluded.

The full report includes a Section 114 report, the rarity of such a report being issued was highlighted by Cllr Jacob Williams, who was one of a number who argued for it to be discussed in open session.

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“A Section 114 report is required if, so far as relevant here, the Authority has made a decision which involves it incurring expenditure which is unlawful, or has taken an unlawful course of action which is likely to cause a “loss or deficiency” on the part of the Authority,” it states.

Councillors voted in favour of an amended recommendation put by Cllr Guy Woodham that council “acknowledges and accepts” the findings and recommendations made by Audit Wales, as well as those in the commissioned report by David Bowles, who said on Tuesday there were things he came upon “I would not expect to see in any council.”

Council heard there were examples of “poor quality advice” given to the leader Cllr David Simpson when taking the decision to award the settlement and Cllr Simpson apologised “to the people of Pembrokeshire.”

Options included in the exempt reports related to repudiation, ratification or a “do nothing approach” to the £95,000 payment, with councillors warned of increasing costs associated with trying to recoup the money and opening up further discussions to ratify the decision.

Cllr Jamie Adams said that ratification would provide a “narrative” of the situation and how the decision was made with councillors having “no part in the process.”

The full costs of the payoff saga – aside from the £95,000 itself – is not yet clear but figures ranging up to £500,000 were presented by Cllr Adams, Cllr John Davies and others, with councillors including Cllrs Paul Miller and David Lloyd highlighting the need to not incur any more charges.

Faced with the risk of increased costs associated with options a and b, councillors voted in favour of option c – to “make a positive decision to let matters lie” and accept that the payment was unlawful.

A plan of governance improvement measures was accepted by council and chief executive Will Bramble said many aspects had already been underway following a corporate peer review in 2020, but work would continue.

A Pembrokeshire County Council spokesman said:

“During today’s extraordinary meeting of Full Council, Councillors voted to accept Audit Wales’ recommendations and also note the findings made in a further report commissioned by the Council from David Bowles.

“The Auditor General acknowledges that the Council has established a wide-ranging and ongoing improvement programme and has taken action to improve its governance and decision making.

“Progress on improvements will be reported regularly and continue to build on the result of both internal and external reviews previously commissioned by the Council.”

Katy Jenkins - Local Democracy Reporter

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