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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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Three kayakers assisted by St Davids inshore lifeboat crew

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WHILST on exercise, Tuesday (June 22), St Davids In-shore Lifeboat was tasked by the coastguard at 3:15pm to assist three kayakers off St Davids Head.

The volunteer crew made way to the casualties and once one scene could see that one of the kayakers had made their way around the headland to the safer waters of Whitesands Bay.

The party had paddled out from Whitesands Beach when the tide had been ebbing and made there way North around St Davids Head. When the tide turned a wind against tide situation occurred on the headland causing 1.5m choppy seas and 5 knot current preventing the other two kayakers from returning back into Whitesands Bay, a member of the public had spotted the situation and called the Coastguard.

The crew assisted the remaining two kayakers around the headland one at a time by taking them on-board the lifeboat and around the headland. Once the party was reunited in the safety of Whitesands Bay they were escorted back towards the beach where RNLI lifeguards were informed and expecting their arrival.

The crew returned to exercise and complete its crew assessments with the on board assessor before rehousing at around 4:30pm.

When going out on kayaks always wear a lifejacket, check tides and weather, and bring a means to call for help, on 999 and ask for the Coastguard.

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Green hydrogen electrolyser and car refueler arrive at Milford Waterfront

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL says it is leading the way in renewable energy with a collaborative £4.5 million project exploring the vital role hydrogen could play in a decarbonised energy future.

Milford Haven : Energy Kingdom (MH:EK) is a two-year ‘detailed design’ project, completing in 2022, exploring what a renewable energy based Smart Local Energy System could look like for the Milford Haven Waterway – including the concept of a Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (HFCEV).

The aim is to gather detailed insight into the whole energy system around the Waterway, looking at how to make, using and distributing hydrogen financially viable within the different energy sectors of buildings, industry, power and transport.

The MH:EK team will investigate the potential of local renewable energy, including solar, onshore wind, future offshore wind and biomass for decarbonised gas transition.

One element of the project involves a consumer trial of two Riversimple ‘Rasa’ HFCEV’s. The MH:EK team is building a green hydrogen electrolyser and refueler on Milford Waterfront – and this will be used to produce green hydrogen on site to fuel the two trial HFCEV’s.

The project will demonstrate the practical application of hydrogen technology. The aim is to test the feasibility of two hydrogen powered Rasa cars. They will be built by Welsh company Riversimple, and operate as fleet cars in and around the Haven.

Pembrokeshire County Councillor Cris Tomos, Cabinet Member for the Environment and Welsh Language, said: ‘We welcome the progress made by the partnership, particularly in view of recent news that new petrol and diesel cars will not be sold in the UK after 2030. This innovative approach will help us to switch to a low carbon future and promoting sustainable transport as we respond to the climate change emergency.’

Work is underway and should be operational for the trial in July. A hydrogen-ready smart hybrid heating system is also being designed and will be installed and tested in an operational Port building.

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Council’s building maintenance teams to resume non-emergency responsive repairs

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THE HOUSING Building Maintenance teams within Pembrokeshire County Council are now able to re-commence non-emergency responsive repairs to customers’ homes around the County.

Lockdown has prevented tradesmen and women from entering homes to carry out anything other than emergency repairs for many months but the PCC Contact Centre is now able to take calls from customers to request a non-emergency service in their homes once more.

The Contact Centre receives around 38,000 building maintenance related service requests each year and even throughout lockdown Building Maintenance have proudly maintained a 99.2% success rate in responding to emergency repairs within 24hours since restrictions came into force.

Covid has caused a large disruption to the service and while the authority is now in a position to re-open phone lines to routine responsive repairs, a delay in providing that service is inevitable as the backlog is worked through but the authority is working hard to meet the demand.

Backlog is likely to take several months and is dependent on a number of factors including the numbers of repair requests received, availability of materials and contractors.

PCC currently employs 64 tradesmen and women directly and has a considerable number of contractors on its framework to undertake a wide range of maintenance works and Building Maintenance are in the process of tendering a New Minor Works Framework.

All maintenance employees and contractors will continue to work under strict guidelines in people’s homes to ensure that all safety and social distancing measures are adhered to.

The Housing Building Maintenance service is also in the final stages of implementing ‘Repair Finder’ which will enable Contact Centre staff to diagnose the faults in customer’s homes far quicker and more accurately than before, which will in turn ensure that Building Maintenance are better informed and resourced ahead of arriving at the property to carry out the repair.

This is expected to reduce the length of calls to the Contact Centre and subsequently reduce call-waiting times.

The ‘Repair Finder’ tool is expected to be available later in the year and will soon offer residents direct access to an online version which will enable them to report responsive repairs themselves.

Once trialled and released, service requests can be logged by the tenant via the Council’s ‘Housing Online’ portal.

When residents report a problem within their home via the Call Centre or ‘Repair Finder’, they will receive text message alerts informing them of the timescales within which they can expect the repair to be made.

Cabinet member for Housing, Cllr Michelle Bateman said: “We’re under no illusion that lockdown measures have caused a major disruption to the building maintenance service.

“We’re receiving new requests now on top of those that have been on standby during the Covid restrictions. Pembrokeshire residents have shown tremendous patience and understanding of services that have been stretched throughout the crisis so we’re counting on their ongoing support and we hope they appreciate that it will take a period of time to get back to where we were.

“People can be assured that we are working very hard to bring back the outstanding levels of service we provided before Covid and it’s things like ‘Repair Finder’ that will help make this possible going forward.

“With one in every six employed people in Pembrokeshire working for the local authority, it’s important to remember that we are very much in this together”.

If you wish to report a repair to your home you can call the Contact Centre on 01437 764551.

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