– Council has received its expert legal opinion
– Councillors are being refused access to it
– Lack of ‘confidence’ in councillors
Ahead of the impending extraordinary meeting of the council to discuss its controversial ‘Pensions Arrangements,’ councillors appear to be kept in the dark – that’s according to one of the authority’s sixty members.
On his website, councillor for the East Williamston ward, Jacob Williams, claims that councillors have been denied all access to the council’s legal advice over the affair, due to a number of claimed reasons, including a lack of ‘confidence’ that councillors will retain confidentiality.
On his jacobwilliams.com blog, Cllr Williams has published an email he sent to what he’s called the council’s “nerve (-ous) centre” in which he asked if all councillors could be provided with a copy of the legal advice the council had received into this matter, ahead of the extraordinary meeting.
The extraordinary meeting calls for the referral of the pensions scandal to the Welsh Government and the suspension of the chief executive pending the outcome. The email in which Cllr Williams asks for councillors to be provided with the council’s legal advice, concludes “I would suggest that there is a clear need for councillors to know this information ahead of the extraordinary council meeting, and that a summary of the information would simply not be adequate to inform our views on a matter we will be expected to vote upon.”
Cllr Williams wonders “whether it was by collusion or coincidence” that neighbouring Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire County Councils both brought in an apparently identical pensions arrangement at exactly the same time, which the Wales Audit Office now says is ‘unlawful.’
In a response that was sent to all councillors at Cllr Williams’ own request, councillors have been told that as the legal advice was sought by both Carmarthenshire County Council and Pembrokeshire County Council, the legal opinion is now “jointly owned” by the two authorities, and there is no permission from Carmarthenshire Council to allow councillors in Pembrokeshire to see the advice. Cllr Williams says that whilst it is convenient that the joint arrangement between the two authorities cuts their expensive costs in half by seeking their legal advice together, it also “handily provides a mutual excuse to keep their respective councillors in the dark!”
On his website, Cllr Williams also says that another reason councillors were given the thumbs down to the request was that it could prejudice any future legal action that might be taken against either of the authorities. But the third reason why the legal advice must remain under wraps, appears to be that councillors can’t be trusted.
Cllr Williams states “we’re told that there have been “previous instances when exempt information papers have been found to have been disclosed to third parties,” and so there is a lack of “confidence” in councillors that “the confidentiality of the opinion could be guaranteed.””