Readers will have read exclusively in this newspaper about the collusion of certain Councillors in a scheme intended to help top boss Bryn Parry-Jones avoid tax.
There are times when even Badger is astonished by the way in which some members of the Council, having found one level, appear to find murkier depths to plumb with ease.
Look at the six faces opposite: The leader of the Council, his predecessor, a former deputy leader of the Council, a former cabinet member, a current cabinet member and the former leader of Pembrokeshire’s Conservatives: there they are.
These are the faces of the Councillors who sat behind closed doors in a meeting that, in a time of brutal cuts to Council services, decided that a man paid more than the Prime Minister needed a big tax break to make ends meet in his retirement.
Well that condensed milk and those tinned pilchards won’t buy themselves, will they?
Let’s look at some of the sorts of figures involved in the calculations of the Staff Remuneration Committee to see if we can get close to the size of Bryn’s Big Break. The Council, as is usual, have decided that such is Bryn’s importance and magnificence that the public should not have the details of the pot of public money he gets for his part in bringing such shame to Pembrokeshire that the Welsh Government had to intervene in the Council’s operations.
Readers may be surprised to learn that not only is Bryn’s salary actually a matter of public record – although Pembrokeshire County Council held out against revealing his hefty salary for many moons– but calculations used in other local authorities are widely available online.
In 2011, Haringey Council produced the following figures for someone on a salary of £150,000 (much less than his Bryn-ness):
|Salary at beginning of year
|Service at beginning of year
|Pre-2008 service at beginning of year
|Increase in Pay
|Salary at end of year
|Service at end of year
|Pre-2008 service at end of year
|Inflation over year (Consumer Price Index)
|Pension accrued at beginning of year
|Lump Sum accrued at beginning of year
|Pension accrued at end of year
|Lump Sum accrued at end of year
|Value of “pension savings”
|Excess over annual allowance of £50,000
|Tax charge if 40%
|Tax charge if 45% (from April 2013)
|Tax charge if 50%
Local government pensions work on the basis that employers and employees make contributions to the scheme. In order to permit Bryn to avoid tax what the IPPG led Committee did was to make it possible for Bryn Parry-Jones – as well as his fellow highest-paid officers – to choose to salt away the equivalent value of the Council’s contribution to their pensions to somewhere the tax man wouldn’t be able to get his mitts on it.
The change in the tax laws which brought about this tax dodge “arrangement” only affects those described as ‘very high earners.’ In fact the reason the change was brought in, ostensibly, was because of a quarter of all pension tax relief was going to only 1.5% of members of the pension scheme.
Bryn is one of the 1.5%.
These members – and take a good look at the mug shots opposite – thought that in a period when services were being cut and the wages of the lower paid employees were being slashed, they would give the best paid of their best paid employees a chance to avoid paying tax.
They have colluded to give those most able to afford tax to avoid it at the expense of everyone else.
Cosy and complacent: it appears they sat around a table in secret session to carve out a sordid tax dodge.
They should be ashamed. They won’t be.
Five of these sat together and decided to cut low-paid workers’ pay knowing that Bryn is trousering a big tax-free wodge of Council Tax payers’ cash.
The members of this Committee have colluded to let their very well remunerated Chief Executive avoid tax.
The Welsh Audit Office don’t seem to like it. Why should we?
Let’s also put this in context. At the time this meeting took place, the Council had just been the subject of the report that led to Welsh Government intervention in Pembrokeshire’s affairs. That report said this about our County Council (emphases added):
“The absence of effective governance in relation to safeguarding and protecting children REFLECTS FAILURES WITHIN THE CULTURE OF THE AUTHORITY AS A WHOLE. The shortcomings with the authority’s arrangements to safeguard and protect children are longstanding and systemic. This is indicative of the deep-seated nature of these problems and failings within the authority … THIS IS INDICATIVE OF A CLOSED, NOT AN OPEN OR TRANSPARENT CULTURE.”
So it was – as the minutes of the meeting put it – to aid the retention of the person in charge at the time the Council failed most spectacularly in its duty to us that the Committee members opposite decided that so essential was Bryn’s contribution that he needed an annual five-figure sweetie to stay.
Shortly after the child safeguarding issue came to prominence, a vote of no confidence in Bryn was tabled by Councillors who were, to say the least, “disappointed” in his management. He survived the vote as ‘Cwmbetws’ and his cohorts rallied round him.
Smell a rat?
It stinks of other odours, too: those more associated with the dairy farming with which John Davies and Jamie Adams will be familiar.
Badger was thinking of illustrating this point with the quote from Animal Farm about some animals being more equal than others. Instead, he remembered something he read when being taught history by former Director of Education, Graham Longster.
Senator Joseph McCarthy was notorious for helping create the ant-communist hysteria in America during the early 1950’s. His claims became more outrageous and vindictive as time went on. He finally met his come-uppance before a Senate committee in 1954.
Joseph N. Welch, Counsel for the US Army, finally – exasperatedly – asked McCarthy the lethal: ‘You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?’
Shut a library. Close a school. Cut bin collections. End public toilets. Slash workers’ wages. Tell everybody the cuts are unavoidable. But for God’s sake give Bryn the Merciless a tax break.
Look at the faces opposite again.
Ask Joseph Welch’s question of them.