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Councillors condemn embattled chief

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embattled chiefCHIEF EXECUTIVE PENSION PAYMENTS SCANDAL

FOLLOWING the publication of the WAO report last week, The Pembrokeshire Herald can confirm that Dyfed Powys and South Wales police forces are seeking legal advice from the Crown Prosecution Service about whether there is any evidence to support criminal charges in relation to unlawful pay supplements given to Pembrokeshire County Council Chief Executive Bryn Parry Jones and Carmarthenshire County Council Chief Executive, Mark James.

The Pembrokeshire Herald now understands that the referral to the police was made by Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards, who wrote to the chief constables of Dyfed Powys and South Wales police forces.

Meeting due to be held

WITH THE County Council due to hold a special meeting to consider the report within the next three weeks, it is unclear whether the intervention of the authorities will have any effect on the timing of such a meeting.

In light of dithering at the head of the Council and no sign of a date being set for the crucial meeting, a motion has been submitted for an emergency meeting to discuss the report’s content.

One question that any meeting must address is whether Bryn Parry Jones will be compelled to repay the unlawful pay supplement he has received over the last two years. While the County Council has the power to request repayment of any and all sums paid under the tax dodging scheme, it is not clear whether it will – in fact – do so. In addition, it is not clear whether any personal tax penalties will have accrued to the tax dodge’s beneficiaries.

Councillors tell Herald “Bryn should go”

COUNTY councillors across the political spectrum have already been in touch with The Pembrokeshire Herald giving their views as to the future of controversial chief executive, Bryn Parry Jones. The majority of those who have provided their opinion is in favour of the Council setting up its own investigation into the affair and suspending their CEO while the investigation takes place.

Some Pembrokeshire councillors have also called for the suspension of those who sat on the Senior Staff Committee that approved the unlawful payments to Bryn Parry Jones in September 2011.

Second officer shielded

PEMBROKESHIRE County Council continues to refuse to reveal the identity of the second officer who has benefited from the unlawful payments agreed by the Senior Staff Committee. A Council spokesman told The Pembrokeshire Herald:

‘We are not prepared to identify the second staff member who took up the new pension arrangements agreed on September 28, 2011.’

The Pembrokeshire Herald understands that the Council’s refusal to disclose the identity of the second staff members is simply delaying the inevitable revelation of their identity when it publishes its annual accounts. It was the appearance of the Chief Executive’s name in the authority’s accounts that gave rise to the current and ongoing scandal.

Leader’s email row

AS THE storm over the unlawful payments made to Bryn Parry Jones continues to rage around County Hall, a communication sent to IPPG members using the Council’s own IT infrastructure has caused further controversy.

IPPG leader Jamie Adams sent the email below from his County Council email address.

email row

 The email, which seeks to reassure members of Cllr Adams’s IPPG party, is a response to the scandal that has engulfed the Council over an unlawful pay supplement implemented to help senior officers avoid tax on their publicly-funded pensions.

The Pembrokeshire Herald understands that, in using his Council email address, Cllr Adams has potentially broken rules about the use of Council emails for party political purposes.

We were notified of the email’s existence by Hakin Cllr Mike Stoddart, who has also published the story on his website.

The use of the Pembrokeshire County Council facilities for party political purposes has been a past cause of significant controversy for the supposedly “independent” IPPG. Former Councillor and IPPG Cabinet member David Wildman was heavily criticised by the Ombudsman for using Council IT facilities for party ends: “During the investigation the Ombudsman considered the twenty three files containing election literature for former colleagues … Councillor Wildman accepted at interview that he was recorded as being the author or the last person to have saved the files, and that he used Council computer systems to create the election material. He said that he had been given election material because some candidates had difficulty working computers and that he had prepared their manifestos.”

Having resigned before the publication of the Ombudsman’s report, Cllr Wildman escaped further censure. The Pembrokeshire Herald understands, however, that the Ombudsman is to consider the activities of a separate and current Cabinet member in relation to the same conduct.

The use by Cllr Adams of the Council’s own infrastructure to transact party business appears to be a similar breach of the rules as that in which Cllr Wildman became embroiled.

A spokesperson for Pembrokeshire County Council told The Pembrokeshire Herald:

“The Monitoring Officer has confirmed that elected Members are allowed to manage group business using Council resources to facilitate Council business. This applies to all political groups.”

Carmarthenshire set the date

ACROSS the border in Carmarthenshire, the Council have adopted an aggressive and assertive approach to the Auditor’s findings of unlawfulness.

The date has been set for an extraordinary meeting for Carmarthenshire County Council to debate the Wales Audit Office reports.

The Leader and Executive Board have called for the meeting which has now been agreed by the Chair of Council Cllr Terry Davies. It will take place on Thursday, February 27, and the only items on the agenda will be reports regarding the two WAO issues.Council Leader Cllr Kevin Madge said: “It has been difficult being unable to speak out, particularly knowing the full facts and having seen all the evidence, it will be a great relief to be able to share that with all county councillors and with the public.”

Evidence relating to the two issues is being shared with all county councillors in advance of the matter going before council. This includes advice from QCs and previous communication with the Wales Audit Office.

Carmarthenshire Council has also published the advice of Tim Kerr QC relating to the costs indemnity it gave to its own Chief Executive, Mark James to bring a counterclaim for libel against Carmarthenshire blogger Jacqueline Thompson.

Carmarthenshire County Council instructed Mr Kerr, a specialist in local government law, jointly with Pembrokeshire County Council in relation to the pensions tax dodge that bother authorities passed entirely coincidentally in 2011. It is not clear why the tax dodging advice has not been published, although the nature of the joint advice means that both Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire would have to agree to its publication.

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Crabb backs veterans of Irish Troubles

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VETERANS of the Northern Irish Troubles have been backed by Preseli MP Stephen Crabb during votes in the House of Commons.

In the absence of a functioning administration in Northern Ireland, Members of Parliament have been voting in an effort to keep Northern Ireland running.

Stephen Crabb co-sponsored an amendment put forward by Johnny Mercer MP which passed. The Secretary of State must now report on the options available to allow veterans of the Troubles to assist in a truth recovery process, for the benefit of bereaved families, without fear of prosecution.

Commenting following the vote, Stephen Crabb MP said: “This is a positive step towards ensuring the hounding of veterans is stopped. The proud, local veteran community, along with myself, have been deeply troubled by the ongoing pursuit of current and former British Soldiers for actions carried out while under orders on active service.

“I have made the point previously to Ministers that we risk a serious breach of trust with our Armed Forces by opening the door to such prosecutions. The pressures placed on a solder in conflict situations are enormous and it cannot be right that actions carried out in these circumstances are re-opened decades later by people with no understanding of what happened on the ground.“

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Identical ‘call-out’ within three days for Fishguard RNLI lifeboat

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FISHGUARD RNLI inshore lifeboat launched on Thursday evening 18 July to the very same inflatable dinghy they rescued on Monday July 15

The inshore lifeboat and three volunteer crew launched at 8.45pm after the inflatable was reported drifting out to sea from Fishguard harbour. The flimsy inflatable and the young men onboard were taken under tow back to the area of Goodwick beach and they were again spoken to regarding the dangers of inflatable craft. On this occasion there was an off-shore wind and an ebbing tide which potentially presented much more dangerous conditions for the persons onboard.

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Rosslare ready to go it alone

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THE UK Government stands ready to revoke legislation governing the relationship between the ports of Fishguard and Rosslare.

The abolition of the current arrangements is a step closer according to Irish newspaper reports of a recent meeting between Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and Fianna Fáil’s transport spokesperson Robert Troy and Wexford TD James Browne.

According to the reports, Mr Grayling told the Irish politicians that the UK has ‘no strategic or economic’ interest in keeping the ports’ governance structure.

The Irish Government, meanwhile, regards Rosslare as a major part of its Brexit plans and has acquired further land to provide additional facilities there.

The ports are governed by a UK Act of Parliament from 1888, which created the Fishguard and Rosslare Railways and Harbour Company.

The Act continued to govern the relationship between the Ports, even after most of Ireland secured its independence from the – then – British empire.

However, the old legislation has – in the view of Irish TD James Browne – hindered the Irish Government’s ability to expand activities at Rosslare to the benefit of the local and Irish economies.

Stena Line: Looking at the long term development of both ports

Fishguard and Rosslare ports are part of the one company, namely the Fishguard and Rosslare Railway and Harbours Company set up by an Act of Parliament.

Mr Browne explained to The Herald: “In effect, ownership of the port lies with UK government. But in turn the ports are effectively run as private companies: Irish Rail control and operate the Rosslare end and Stena control and operate the Fishguard side and there is an agreement in place as to the division of profits of the company.

“In Ireland, this complex and archaic ownership model has regularly been cited as an inhibiting factor in the development of the port. In short, no one will invest in a port whose ownership is unclear.”
The opportunity is not, however, all on one side, says the Wexford TD: “The decoupling of the two ports, and the transfer of Rosslare to Irish state ownership would free up both ports from this complex ownership model and allow investment in the ports.”

Mr Browne also highlighted the potential for growth in economic activity in West Wales’ closest trading neighbour: “Dublin Port is so busy that it is turning away business. Rosslare Port is in an ideal geographical location to attract shipping business and to take the pressure off of Dublin. Port. It, in turn, would act as an economic driver for the entire South East of Ireland.”

Preseli Pembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabb told us: Stephen: “The importance of the Fishguard – Rosslare ferry connection is unquestionable with 80% of all goods from Ireland passing through Welsh ports.
“However, the historic legal framework for the ports is outdated and does not give either side the freedom they need to develop and innovate. I can well understand why change is being sought at this time.

“I have met with the management on both sides of the Irish Sea to discuss Brexit planning and other aspects of the industry and will continue to do so.”

Ian Hampton, Chief People and Communications Officer, Stena Line said: “Stena Line hopes that by removing the historical legislation that governs the status of The Fishguard Rosslare Railways and Harbour Company it will enable Stena Line and the Irish Government to work closer together creating greater opportunity, such as the options for the long term development of both the respective ports.”

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