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A public interest report into members' allowances in Cardiff Council has today been published marking the end of a ...
A public interest report into members' allowances in Cardiff Council has today been published marking the end of a long and drawn-out process stretching between 1995 and 1999 between the council and District Audit. The issues under scrutiny are historical since the process for calculating members' allowances has radically changed over recent years.

Firstly, the emergence of cabinet structures under the Local Government Act 2000 and full time councillors dramatically recast the role of elected members and their range of duties and responsibilities.

Secondly, until Declan Hall's report was published in July 2001, there was no national framework for calculating members' allowances. This report, commissioned by the National Assembly for Wales, put in place a new and independent national framework that has been applied across all Welsh councils over the past five years. It was the 22 councils themselves who lobbied for this approach, which is still not present in England.

Today's report shows that while the council has previously accepted that it acted unlawfully on a number of issues, members and officers acted throughout in good faith and on legal advice.

Cardiff Council has already implemented safeguards which address the main recommendations of the report. But the Welsh Local Government Association believes that there are some unanswered questions in terms of the auditor's criticism.

Throughout Wales, councillors and council officers are expected to take legal advice before making decisions on behalf of the council. This principle was followed throughout in this case by everyone involved and hence the confirmation within the report that the council as a sovereign body acted in good faith. The association deems it reasonable that members and officers are entitled to rely on legal advice and act on legal advice. It is therefore somewhat at odds for the district auditor to criticise members and officers if that advice is subsequently proved to be wrong.

The association will therefore want to reflect upon the report's findings at length since it will raise issues of wider salience with colleagues across UK local government. We will also want to continue our dialogue with the Wales Audit Office around the issues raised in the report.

The report now has a quality of 'ancient history' bearing in mind its long gestation and this underlines further the need for all parties to bring closure to this debate.

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