Answers demanded over pensions scandal
3:28pm Friday 27th September 2013 in News
A LOCAL AM has tabled an urgent question to the Local Government Minister calling for a statement on a “pensions scandal” in west Wales.
The action by Plaid Cymru Local Government spokesman Rhodri Glyn Thomas comes after the Wales Audit Office refused to sign off Pembrokeshire Council’s accounts over payments made to senior council officials.
The WAO also confirmed that Carmarthenshire Council carries out a similar practice which it considers to be “unlawful”.
The payments enable the councils’ highest-paid staff to leave the Local Government Pensions Scheme, receiving a cash equivalent of the employer's pension contribution, for tax reasons.
Mr Thomas has previously taken action on senior pay in local government. In June this year, he successfully forced the Welsh government into a u-turn to bring about independent assessment of senior council officers’ salaries as part of the government’s Local Democracy Bill.
Mr Thomas said: “This is the latest in a long line of scandals around senior pay. We are in an age of austerity and local government workers, who keep our vital services functioning, need to be reassured that those at the top are not getting special treatment.
“The idea that you can opt out of the pensions scheme and get payments instead, is of dubious legality. Further, it undermines the wider scheme. It says to the workers that the highest paid officials are not going to be paying their contributions in and contributing to the pensions pot.
He added: “The Wales Audit Office considers the actions of both Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire Councils to be unlawful. The Welsh Government needs to make a statement on whether it agrees with these damaging pensions opt-outs, and whether it believes they are legal. We need to know if this practice is happening in other public services.”
Constituency colleague, Jonathan Edwards MP added: “As the teams of lawyers from both the Audit Office and the council go back and forth debating the legality of the actions, how much more will this cost county taxpayers?
“The residents of Carmarthenshire deserve nothing less than a full investigation into how almost £40,000 of public money has been spent unlawfully.”