Caerphilly council to face police probe over pay row
9:22am Thursday 7th March 2013 in News
GWENT Police say Caerphilly council should face an investigation after the Wales Audit Office said the way pay rises were made for its top officers was unlawful.
The WAO on Wednesday blasted Caerphilly council for failures, inadequacies and acting unlawfully over the way pay rises of up to 20 per cent were made for senior officers, including chief executive Anthony O’Sullivan.
Gwent Police yesterday said the matter should be investigated to ensure transparency and independence, but has referred the controversy to Avon and Somerset Police, who say they are reviewing the issue.
It comes after the Welsh Government Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant yesterday demanded swift action from the council.
A spokeswoman for Gwent Police said the matter was referred in light of the force’s close proximity and working relationship with Caerphilly council.
Avon and Somerset Police confirmed they are reviewing the report, and a spokesman said the force will be liaising with the Crown Prosecution Service.
A spokesman for Caerphilly council said: “We have become aware of police involvement and we will cooperate fully with any investigation.”
Colin Mann, leader of the opposition Plaid Cymru group on Caerphilly council, said police involvement was inevitable.
He said: “There are thousands of dedicated and loyal employees at the council and it is vital that they are not tarnished by this episode.”
Meanwhile, Mr Sargeant yesterday told AMs he will be “contacting the leader of Caerphilly council today to ask him what action the council plans to take”.
He said: “I am seeking an assurance that the council will take swift action to deal with the recommendations in the report and that this situation will not be repeated...
I expect a prompt response.”
He said he was “very concerned”
that legal advice given within the council was deemed unlawful, and that it “is totally out of keeping with these principles for any such decisions to appear to be taken ‘behind closed doors’.”
The statement came after Jocelyn Davies, Plaid AM, was refused an urgent question in the Assembly on the matter by presiding officer Rosemary Butler. If one was allowed, AMs would have been able to debate the matter in the Senedd yesterday.
Ms Davies later managed to raise the issue in the chamber, but she told the Argus: “If the government are prepared to comment in this to the media, then why should democratically elected representatives be denied the opportunity to pursue this with the minister directly?”
An Assembly spokesman said: “The presiding officer determined that it was not a matter of urgent public importance.”
Auditor says the decision was unlawful
PAY rises for top Caerphilly council officers – including an extra £32,000 for chief executive Anthony O’Sullivan – caused an outcry among staff after they emerged in December.
The rises were awarded by a five-man committee and were based on a report written by the chief executive. Caerphilly council later reached a compromise, and Mr O’Sullivan’s pay rise was reduced to £5,000.
But Anthony Barrett, of the Wales Audit Office, found that the original decision was unlawful for a number of reasons.
They included the fact that officers who were likely to gain from the move, including Mr O’Sullivan, were sitting in on the meeting where the decision was made and did not leave.
Nor was the meeting advertised, with agendas not available for public inspection as they should have been.
The report recommended that in future all meetings are properly advertised, any conflicts of interest are looked into and procedures are clearly set out.
Awards ‘immoral and insensitive’ - union
PUBLIC sector union Unison has welcomed the findings of the Wales Audit Office report, saying the pay awards were “immoral, insensitive and unjustified”.
Dominic MacAskill, Unison Cymru head of local government, called for a review of all chief officers’ pay in the Welsh public sector.
He said: “We have called on Mr Sargeant to initiate this review so that a fair, objective and transparent process can be established for determining the pay and terms and conditions of this group of workers.”
Gary Enright, Unison Caerphilly branch secretary, said: “Unison has always argued that the decision to award such lucrative pay awards to the Caerphilly council’s chief executive officers was immoral, insensitive and unjustified.
“The workforce in Caerphilly has suffered a three-year pay freeze and many are struggling to make ends meet.
“The chief officers’ pay award has left a bitter taste in workers’ mouths and morale has been affected.
“The officers involved have an opportunity to stand alongside the workforce, do the right thing and to forgo any award given.”