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Council’s war with auditors

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top qcCounty Hall deploys top QC in legal battle over Bryn’s ‘tax-dodge’

PEMBROKESHIRE County Council has instructed top barrister Tim Kerr QC of 11 King’s Bench Walk, London to fight its corner against the WAO investigation into the decision to allow controversial CEO Bryn Parry Jones to avoid tax on his personal pension.

Mr Kerr is described on his chambers website as being “frequently engaged by central and local government entities as well as private
sector clients”. The Herald understands that Mr Kerr is also overseeing a probe at Lancashire County Council into alleged breaches of the local government tendering process.

The engagement of an expensive leading barrister by the Council to support a tax break for highly paid staff at a time when it is contemplating raising leisure charges and closing facilities around the County is sure to generate more controversy. Council Leader, Jamie Adams, claimed that the decision to give Bryn Parry Jones a tax break would not cost Pembrokeshire an extra penny.

The leader of neighbouring Carmarthenshire Council, Kevin Madge, has already accepted that the fall-out of the same policy has been
to damage that Council’s reputation. Carmarthenshire County Council has jointly instructed lawyers with Pembrokeshire to resist the WAO.

The Pembrokeshire Herald can reveal that the WAO has already sent its ‘consideration documents’ to Pembrokeshire County Council. It is understood that those who were asked to comment on the documents were CEO Bryn Parry Jones, Head of Finance Mark Lewis and the members of the committee who passed the tax dodge policy in 2011, including current Council leader Jamie Adams and former Council leader John Davies, who Cllr Adams has claimed gave the committee members advice on the complex issue.

Herald readers will recall that the Council only took independent legal advice AFTER the Wales Audit Office raised concerns about the decision to give senior staff a large tax break on their pensions.

The Auditor General for Wales said recently:

“There are those who would argue that asking and answering the difficult questions can safely be left to officials. I commend the professionalism of our public servants in Wales, but, I would warn, “Beware the summary produced by your own staff”. I want to stress that scrutiny must not be undertaken through a tick-box approach. Strict adherence merely to the letter of the standing order is not the objective, nor will citizens accept mere compliance as an excuse for profligate behaviours.”

Those who received the documents were given the opportunity to reply to them and have now done so.

The Pembrokeshire Herald can reveal that Carmarthenshire County Council’s Executive Board met in secret session on Wednesday, December 4, to consider its next steps. Despite a meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet taking place on Monday, December 2, no mention was made at the meeting of the WAO investigation.

The Wales Audit Office told The Pembrokeshire Herald:

““We can confirm that both Councils have provided their detailed responses to the Auditor’s consideration documents. He is now considering them and whether they will affect a decision to issue a report in the public interest. While there is no time scale on his decision, he hopes to conclude matters before Christmas.”

The Pembrokeshire Herald contacted Pembrokeshire County Council and asked the following questions in relation to the ‘consideration documents’ to which officers and members were due to respond:

• Please confirm whether responses have been made; if made, by whom they have been made and when they were made.
• Please confirm whether external Counsel or solicitors advised any of those responding either collectively or individually.
• Please provide us with a statement for publication regarding the dispute with the WAO regarding senior staff remuneration and when the matter is to be discussed by Council members.
• Please confirm what contribution – if any – is being made by the Council toward the fees of Mr Tim Kerr QC of 11 King’s Bench Walk Chambers.

Replying, a County Council spokesperson told The Herald:

“We can confirm that responses to the Wales Audit Office (WAO) ‘consideration document’ have been sent to the WAO.

“However, there are questions from Elected Members on this matter which are due to be asked at next week’s meeting of full Council. Responses will be given at that time.”

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Business

Further Covid-19 business support packages to become available soon

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PEMBROKESHIRE businesses that remain affected by Covid-19 restrictions can check their eligibility for a new package of support from the Welsh Government.

This latest support package will help those businesses eligible to meet ongoing costs through to the end of June as they prepare for re-opening and more normal trading conditions.

Businesses that stand to benefit include:

  • nightclubs and late entertainment venues
  • events and conference venues not covered by the Welsh Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund (CRF)
  • hospitality and leisure businesses, including restaurants, pubs and cafes
  • supply chain business, which have been materially impacted by restrictions

An eligibility checker has opened on the Business Wales website so businesses can find out how much support they are likely to be entitled to and how to apply.

See more information and check your business’ eligibility at: https://businesswales.gov.wales/coronavirus-advice/

Funding will be calculated based on the size of the business and the type of restrictions they are under.

Businesses will be able submit applications to the Welsh Government from 24th May 2021 for grants of up to £25,000 and by the end of the month to Pembrokeshire County Council for smaller fixed Discretionary Grants.

To keep up to date and see the future application process for the Discretionary Grants please see: https://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/business-advice-and-support

The above link will be be updated with the latest information.  

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£50,000 funding windfall for low carbon community projects

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OVER £50,000 of funding has been awarded to local projects through the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority’s Sustainable Development Fund (SDF).

Since June 2020, the Fund has focussed on supporting community-led projects that contribute towards a reduction in carbon and help respond to the climate emergency. These can include:

·       Installing renewable energy generation facilities, such as solar panels, to a community building

·       Transport initiatives that promote reduced carbon emissions

·       The installation of community facilities that minimise waste, such as water fountains

·       Any other community-based carbon reduction initiatives.

Tenby RFC were among those to benefit from the most recent round of grants with an initiative to install recycling bins and litter pick stations at each of the sports facilities in the town.

There were two successful applications from the Solva area – one for the installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels at Solva Community Clubhouse, and the other from the Community Organised Allotment for Solva Tenants (COAST) to help with set-up costs.

Others to be awarded an SDF grant were the Paul Sartori Foundation and the EcoDewi community group. The Paul Sartori Foundation’s project involved fitting of tracking devices onto warehouse vans to enable route optimisation and increased fuel economy; while EcoDewi secured funding to support a part-time role organising community engagement events and volunteering activities, and developing wider community partnerships.

Jessica Morgan, Funding and Grants Officer for the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Trust said: “It’s been wonderful to see such variety in the applications we’ve received, and the innovative climate emergency solutions suggested by communities in the National Park.

“We look forward to receiving the next round of applications, and would encourage any community-led group or organisation that needs support to fund projects that will help reduce carbon and/or respond to climate change to apply as soon as possible.”

The next deadline for SDF applications is Friday 10 September 2021.

To find out more about SDF grants, and to apply online or download the application form please visit www.pembrokeshirecoast.wales/sdf.  

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News

Appeal after woman sexually assaulted on cycle path near Haverfordwest

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POLICE officers in Haverfordwest are appealing for witnesses after a woman was sexually assaulted at approximately 4.30pm on Sunday (May 16).

The woman was walking along the cycle path between Haverfordwest and Tiers Cross when she was approached by a man who threatened and assaulted her, before walking away towards Haverfordwest town.

The male is described as a white male, between 5ft 4 and 5ft 11 tall , normal build with a welsh accent. He has short dark hair, a beard and a moustache, brown eyes, and wearing light blue jeans, navy/dark blue jersey with grey sleeves. Anyone who saw a man matching this description in the area between 3.30pm and 5pm in the afternoon.

A 35-year-old man has been arrested and is currently in police custody.

The cycle path is currently closed while the investigation continues.

Detective Superintendent Jayne Butler, who is leading the investigation, said “Incidents of this nature are extremely rare in the Dyfed-Powys area. The public may see an increased presence of police officers in the coming days as police investigate the incident. Anyone with concerns or information that could help our enquiries can speak to those officers or contact police. While a man was quickly arrested we would still like to speak to anyone who saw a man matching the above description in the area yesterday afternoon.”

Anyone with information which could help the investigation is asked to contact police. This can be done online at bit.ly/DPPContactOnline, by emailing 101@dyfed-powys.pnn.police.uk, or by calling 101. If you are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired, text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908.

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