Headlines: March 8th, 2004

The Welsh First Minister has ruled out calls for the Assembly Government to sanction retrospectively disputed payments to members and officers of Cardiff Council.Allowances paid to members of Cardiff County Council were increased by 400,000 pounds in 1999-2000, an increase of around 56 per cent on the 1998-99 figures. Complaints from some councillors and members of the public led to the intervention of the then District Auditor. After investigations she concluded that some payments made by the Council had been unlawful. This has been disputed by the Council, and the Auditor has applied to the High Court in accordance with section 17 of the Audit Commission Act 1998 seeking a declaration that the items which concerned her were contrary to law.

If the Auditor’s view is upheld by the court, the council will have been found to have made payments amounting to 2.5 million pounds, without legal authority. The statement from First Minister, Rhodri Morgan follows a recent meeting at which the Council was reported to have resolved to apply to the National Assembly to have its actions declared lawful retrospectively. So far the Assembly has not received an application from the council.

Mr. Morgan said it would be wrong for the Assembly to cut across the court proceedings, and added, “This is now a matter for the Auditor, the council and the court. If the council win the case, they will not require the Assembly to sanction the payments. If the Council lose the case, it is very hard to see how it could be in a position to make an application to the Assembly then.”