Watchdog clears former council leader of misconduct after secret recording leak
Hannah Neary, local democracy reporter
A government watchdog has cleared the former leader of Neath Port Talbot Council of misconduct .
The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales found Labour member Rob Jones did not breach the code of conduct for members of local authorities – an allegation which led to his suspension from the council in March.
Mr Jones referred himself to the watchdog after comments he made during a private Labour Party meeting in 2019 were secretly recorded and shared on social media.
During the recording, the former leader could be heard talking about the reorganisation of schools.
The ombudsman investigated whether Mr Jones had breached the code by acting in a way that could damage the reputation of the council or his office or improperly using his authority for political purposes.
A spokesperson for the ombudsman said: “no evidence of breaches of the code were found during the investigation”.
A spokesperson for the ombudsman said the comments “appeared to have been made in the context of a report that identified that the school was at risk of being affected by a landslide”.
“The comments were based on independent professional advice and were therefore not likely to amount to a breach of the code,” they added.
They also said Mr Jones “made general comments” about reorganising schools but “did not appear to discount the possibility of other options” and did not suggest “he would not be willing to consider the advice of appropriate officers”.
The former leader could also be heard suggesting he would refuse funds for a proposal that came from another political party in order to support a Labour proposal and mentioned his involvement in repairing a cemetery road in Ystalyfera.
The ombudsman said that while Mr Jones was “copied into correspondence, he was not involved in the decision to fund the work”. This decision was made by the council’s capital programme steering group.
Mr Jones also mentioned “cutting out” another councillor when moving ahead with plans for a regeneration programme in which the same councillor had been campaigning about for years. The ombudsman said there was “no evidence” that he deliberately tried to exclude the member from the project.
They added: “There was a failure to keep the member informed of developments, however, it was not the member’s responsibility to do so and, in any event, a council officer took ultimate responsibility for this oversight.”
A council spokesperson said the ombudsman’s findings “have no bearing on the decision taken by full council” to elect Labour member Edward Latham as leader in March.
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Sounds like a stitch up.