Interesting article today from BBC Wales Online. The Ombudsman's comments were triggered by a case in Flintshire Council where the legal costs are predicted to reach six figure sums after an unlimited indemnity was offered to a Councillor defending allegations of bullying.
Curb extravagant tribunal costs, Welsh councils warned by ombudsman
The "extravagant" legal costs of defending councillors accused of breaching codes of conduct must end, Welsh local authorities have been told.
Wales' public service ombudsman says councils must put a £10,000 cap on backing individual members.
One council faces a potential bill of a six-figure sum in a single case, BBC Wales can reveal.
Ombudsman Peter Tyndall said: "I believe that such extravagance cannot be justified."
At least nine councils still offer uncapped indemnity costs to their members accused of breaking the rules.
But the ombudsman is warning that this is leading to "hugely disproportionate expenditure" and cases lasting several months.
The availability of unlimited indemnity, sometimes backed by insurance, has led to hugely disproportionate expenditure”
The tribunal hearing the case of a Flintshire councillor will reconvene in Mold on Thursday.
It has now lasted more than a year, opening in January 2011, and the council faces potential costs of a six-figure sum after offering unlimited indemnity at the start of the case.
Mr Tyndall said he was concerned that councils are dragging their feet to implement a £10,000 cap on the indemnity offered in such cases, a move that has the backing of Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant.
In a letter to the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA), he says he fully accepts that councillors must be in a position to put forward a case in their defence when they are accused of breaching their code.
He writes: "In some current and recent cases, the availability of unlimited indemnity, sometimes backed by insurance, has led to hugely disproportionate expenditure, with cases, in some instances, lasting many months.
"At a time of great pressure on public expenditure, I believe that such extravagance cannot be justified."
He was concerned that the current system encouraged wasteful expenditure and the "reputational damage" that may arise but progress from councils in introducing a cap was "slower than desirable"...
The liability for, and the level of costs, will only be determined at the conclusion of the protracted adjudication panel hearing”
.....Senior figures acknowledge the current system, where some councils still offer unlimited indemnity, whereas others have introduced varying caps and others do not offer any indemnity, is messy and in need of reform.
Full article from BBC Wales; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-17131360