South West Wales

Carmarthenshire council leadership no confidence vote lost

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Media captionA Wales Audit Office report ruled payments made to the council's chief executive were "unlawful"

A vote of no confidence in the leadership of Carmarthenshire council amid "unlawful" payment claims has failed.

The vote against council leader Kevin Madge and deputy leader Meryl Gravell was lost 28 votes to 41.

Councillors agreed to accept the findings of a Wales Audit Office (WAO) report which ruled payments made to its chief executive were "unlawful".

Mr Madge admitted the situation had damaged the authority.

"We will learn from this, we'll move forward and we'll deliver for the people of Carmarthenshire the things that we promised them and we'll carry on in the next years to come," Mr Madge said before the vote.

Pembrokeshire council, which was also criticised by the WAO over similar "unlawful" pension payments, has already agreed to accept its report.

Carmarthenshire council's chief executive Mark James has stepped aside while police investigate why he was allowed to opt out of a pension scheme and receive cash instead.

Payments for this and for libel action costs were unlawful, the WAO ruled.

The council has defended its actions and welcomed the police investigation.

The meeting saw tense exchanges between councillors.

Plaid Cymru councillor Darren Price told the chamber: "This council's name has been dragged through the mud.

"The chief executive is no longer at his desk. Members are at others' throats.

"Valuable officer and member time has been wasted and redirected away from what we are here to do and that is to provide quality services to the people of Carmarthenshire. And the question to those who made the decision is - was it really worth it?"

Libel case

Image caption Mark James has stepped aside while police investigate the matter

Mr James maintains that neither he nor any of his officers had done anything wrong.

He has also said it was "right and proper" he should not be at work while Gloucestershire Police conclude their inquiries.

Auditors said Carmarthenshire council acted unlawfully when it indemnified Mr James in a libel counter-claim he brought against blogger Jacqui Thompson.

Mr James won the case and Mrs Thompson was ordered to pay costs of £23,217.

The row began when the blogger was arrested after filming a council meeting on her mobile phone.

On Thursday, councillors agreed to withdraw the provision in the council constitution which allowed such indemnities to be granted.

The motion also said the council recognised that "the legal position is still as yet unresolved".

The WAO's Anthony Barrett said: "The council's accepted the recommendations in both reports so that's very much an end of it from my point of view.

"It clearly isn't for the council, they've got some things to look at from the governance arrangements etc and we will be monitoring that very closely."

Vigorously defended

The Wales Audit Office also found Pembrokeshire council made "unlawful" payments to its chief executive Bryn Parry Jones and another Pembrokeshire official.

Despite calls for him to step aside, Mr Parry Jones has said he will remain at work while police investigate the matter.

Pembrokeshire, which has also vigorously defended the payments, has already held an extraordinary meeting to debate the rulings.

A full meeting of that authority earlier this month was due to vote on suspending Mr Parry Jones, but a number of councillors staged a walk-out after allegations that some people had already pre-determined the outcome.

Meanwhile, two senior council officers at Caerphilly council in south Wales are due in court in April on charges following a police investigation into pay rises they received.

Chief executive Anthony O'Sullivan and his deputy Nigel Barnett face charges of alleged misconduct in a public office.

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