west*wales*news*review

West Wales News Review — analysis with a sustainability slant

Whatever Happened to the Ideal of Public Service?

Whatever happened to the ideal of public service?

Standing back a minute from the immediate furore about illegal activities in Carmarthenshire County Council, a question which hangs suspended above our heads is:

When the council is slashing £30-million-worth of services over three years because there is allegedly no alternative, why does it continue to throw money and time in defence of a chief executive who chooses to use public funds to buy an indemnity so he can afford to counter-sue a resident for libel, and who chose to leave the local government pension scheme which his own council administers, but who received the amount that formerly would have been paid in employer’s contributions –  in cash, available to spend immediately, instead of being locked up in a pension fund until retirement?

Legal advice is beyond the financial reach of most of us, as it can cost several hundred pounds per hour, into the thousands of pounds to tap the wisdom of the most successful legal brains. Yet Carmarthenshire Council has obtained legal advice from a London barrister to try and bolster its position, AFTER receiving the decision of the Wales Audit Office that these two particular spending decisions are unlawful. If it can be proven that the barrister, Mr Tim Kerr QC, provided the advice free of charge, my assumption would of course be unfounded. The argument about misplaced time and effort would remain, though. The council’s counter-attack absorbs energies that would be better devoted to the weighty task of rebalancing the county’s finances to spend less on vanity construction projects so that more can be pumped into services which make the difference between a miserable and an adequate quality of life.

The unpleasant situation suggests to me that to an excessive extent the Executive Board, who have protected the chief executive, Mr Mark James, like a posse of bodyguards, have had their current priorities guided away from serving the entire population of the county, and towards expensive ‘reputation management’ for a single individual.

Of course individuals should be protected, but the Executive Board is taking its duty of care to an extreme that now seems indefensible, considering that other individuals, blogger Jacqui Thompson among them, have been pilloried for daring to criticise the council’s activities and decisions. It seems that for the Executive Board of 10, led by Labour’s Kevin Madge, it is more important to protect a single handsomely rewarded personage, than to heed the damaging findings of Anthony Barrett, the assistant auditor general for Wales.

Apart from Kevin Madge, the members of the Executive Board are:

  • Tegwen Devichand (Labour), Dafen
  • Pam Palmer (Independent), Abergwili
  • Keith Davies (Labour), Kidwelly
  • Jeff Edmunds (Labour), Bigyn
  • Colin Evans (Labour), Pontamman
  • Meryl Gravell (Independent), Trimsaran
  • Jim Jones (Independent), Y Glyn
  • Mair Stephens (Independent), St Ishmael
  • Jane Tremlett (Independent), Laugharne Township

In public life, criticism is part of the expression of democracy.

by Pat Dodd Racher

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