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Block vote saves Bryn… for now

County-Hall-ChamberAN ATTEMPT to discuss the matter of Pembrokeshire County Council’s highly controversial pension arrangement which has allowed the chief executive and another unnamed officer to avoid tax liabilities, was shouted down at yesterday’s meeting of full council.
It was the first full council meeting held since July, and t he only opportunity that was on the agenda for the topic to be raised came in the form of questions previously submitted by Cllr Paul Miller, Cllr Mike Stoddart, and Cllr Jacob Williams.
Following responses by council leader Cllr Jamie Adams to his questions on the topic, Cllr Paul Miller, the leader of the council’s Labour party, said he was “not happy” with the answers he had been given, and proposed that the council should take a vote to suspend the constitutional rule which prevents items being transacted that aren’t on the agenda. The reason Cllr Miller said he wanted to take the vote, was so that the council could discuss whether to refer the pensions arrangements saga to the Welsh Assembly, and to suspend Bryn Parry-Jones the chief executive.
A recorded vote was taken, which lost by 21 votes to 34. Of the ruling party, the IPG, only Cllr Reg Owens supported the discussion there and then, with all others voting it down. Of the opposition members, the Labour party was unanimous in its support for allowing the matter to be discussed, as was Plaid Cymru, however whilst Cllrs David Bryan and David Howlett for the Conservatives were for the proposal, their party colleague Cllr Stan Hudson was not. Of the council’s unaffiliated members, only Cllrs Mike Evans, Owen James and David Lloyd voted against, whilst all others voted for the move.
Following the loss of the vote, the agenda continued, and responses were provided by the leader, Cllr Jamie Adams, to questions that had been tabled by Cllr Jacob Williams, who wanted to know whose idea it was for the Council to introduce the pension arrangements scheme.
Cllr Williams also asked why no independent or legal advice was sought back in 2011 prior to the scheme’s introduction, which enables the highest paid officers to receive their pension contributions as a cash sum, thereby avoiding tax liabilities.
Cllr Adams responded by stating that: “HMRC made it clear that their expectations were that employers may implement alternative payment arrangements (to those that currently existed)”.
He also went on to confirm that the Authority had the appropriate powers to affect the change of remuneration packages, which also included pension arrangements, and that the reason no further advice was sought was so the scheme would not cost the authority any further expense.
Following this revelation, Cllr Williams said: “I understand there’s a full moon tomorrow evening, and we really would have to be totally barking mad to believe what Cllr Adams is telling us, that HMRC which is collecting this tax money, would notify Councils to introduce a scheme allowing senior officers to avoid tax on their pension contributions. If that was true, why did no other councils introduce it? It can be no coincidence that Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire are the only two councils to have done this.”
“So with that in mind, could the leader explain what collusion went on between the two authorities at or prior to that time?” he added.
In responding Cllr. Adams referred Cllr. Williams to information that he said was available on the HMRC website, which he said “supported the council’s view that HMRC suggested such a scheme be introduced by employers”.
In a separate supplementary question Cllr. Williams asked whether or not the council’s legal advice covered the issue over officer attendance during the controversial meeting and Cllr. Adams refused to answer the question.
Cllr. Paul Miller who had previously requested for the same matter to be discussed at an extra-ordinary meeting, told The Herald that he still intends to pursue the matter, and that the EGM will be held as there is no legal way that the Council can refuse.