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THE DEATH OF DEMOCRACY

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Farcical scenes: The Council Chamber last Friday

Farcical scenes: The Council Chamber last Friday

THE EXTRAORDINARY meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council to decide if the Chief Executive, Bryn Parry Jones should be suspended has collapsed, amongst unprecedented scenes at County Hall last week.

On Friday, February 14, opposition Councillors were told by a top QC that they should withdraw from the meeting due to comments they had made in the press.

A stunned Cllr Bob Kilmister stood up and said “Can I just have a point of clarification please before other members go, I gave a response to the “Pembrokeshire Herald” and the question that they asked me was ‘Do you as an elected member support the growing calls for the chief executive to resign?’ Now I’m not aware that we have got that motion before us, I don’t believe that that is something that we can actually vote on as nobody is actually calling on him to resign.”

He added: “Now we have a notice of motion that is in that uses the word suspension. Suspension is a highly different thing to resignation. Resignation can only be done by the person concerned. I was asked my question about resignation and I said it in the chamber already that those people in that position should consider their position including that resignation.”

Cllr. Guy Woodham was next on his feet, saying: “I am one of the signatories on the notice of motion. When I gave the quote that appeared in the Pembrokeshire Herald, it said I believe it said the chief exec should be suspended pending an investigation. To me that doesn’t show pre-determination.”

Cllr. Reg Owens told the meeting: “Mr Chairman, are these names just the ones that came from the Pembrokeshire Herald? Because my name wasn’t read out and I gave my quote to the Western Telegraph. You have only been given the press cuttings from the Pembrokeshire Herald, You haven’t been given the press cutting from the Telegraph!”

Tim Kerr QC, the lawyer advising the Council on the ‘tax-dodge’ pension arrangements read out a list of Councillors who he felt could not participate in the meeting due to negative comments they had made about Bryn Parry Jones in the local press.

In light of this, most members of the opposition walked out of the council chamber and the one remaining signatory to the notice of motion that Bryn Parry-Jones be suspended, Cllr Phil Baker, withdrew the vote.Cllr. Phil Baker told the Herald after the meeting: “I knew something was afoot when the QC was allowed to remain after the Wales Audit Office report was discussed.”

He added: “I think that a lot of IPPG members as well as opposition Councillors are not happy about what has happened today. Very shabby indeed, it’s like the old East Germany.”

Labour leader: Cllr Paul Miller

Labour leader: Cllr Paul Miller

Pembrokeshire Alliance

The Pembrokeshire Alliance Group have made a statement about the meeting:

A spokesperson said: “This meeting was an insult to democracy. The people of Pembrokeshire deserve openness, transparency and good governance and this meeting was an example of what happens when these principles are quite deliberately not followed.”

The Pembrokeshire Alliance Group says it is now in discussions with other opposition groups and non-affiliated Councillors as to what should happen next.

AM wants Bryn stripped of returning officer powers

Welsh Labour AM Rebecca Evans has called for embattled chief executive of Pembrokeshire Council Bryn Parry-Jones to be stripped of his role as Returning Officer for Wales in the European elections this May until local Councillors are allowed to debate the issue properly and the police investigation has concluded.

Rebecca Evans AM, Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales said: “After the embarrassing spectacle that was Friday’s ‘extraordinary meeting’ of Pembrokeshire council, it is clear that the Pembrokeshire council leadership is content to allow the debate to descend into farce rather than grapple openly and in public with the serious issues presented by the Wales Audit Office reports.

“It would now be utterly preposterous for Bryn Parry Jones to preside over the European Ballot as Returning Officer while his pension payments are still under police investigation. The public must have complete confidence in the election process, and in all of the people involved. Until the police investigation is concluded, alternative arrangements must be made – and that means relieving Bryn Parry Jones of his Returning Officer role.”

Paul Miller, leader of the Labour group in Pembrokeshire said: “Sometimes, particularly around planning issues, pre-determination rules help ensure fairness but last week it was worrying to see those rules used to stifle debate and silence critics in a totally unjust and undemocratic way. Many opposition Councillors felt cornered having a QC tell them that they had to leave. Having sought legal advice, I know that no Labour councillors pre-determined the debate. Pre-determination is a matter for individuals not lawyers. Enlisting a barrister in a crude attempt to undermine our roles as Councillors and prevent us from seeking to represent the views of our constituents on this hugely important issue is nothing short of Orwellian.

“The public deserve reassurance that this matter is being dealt with properly. I will not lie down and be silenced by the puppet administration running Pembrokeshire, and will continue to fight to ensure the full council are able to debate this.”

Angela Burns urges Bryn to step aside

AM Angela Burns has called for Pembrokeshire council’s chief executive to step aside.

She said: “I would say that he should stand aside. I’m perfectly happy for the status quo to be restored, providing the police investigation comes up saying that everything is as it should be.”

Mrs Burns said: “I would like to see an independent investigation being undertaken because I feel that the councillors involved here have acted with the most extraordinary behaviour.”

Plaid Cymru speaks out

Pembrokeshire Plaid Cymru leader Cllr Michael Williams has called on the Welsh Government to intervene in the running of Pembrokeshire County Council.

Cllr Williams told The Herald: “The recent events are yet more evidence of the gross incompetence of the Independent Group which presently masquerades as the controlling group of the Council. We say “masquerade” as it is patently obvious that the authority is run by a small cabal of out of control senior officers orchestrated by the Chief Executive, who are bringing the Council into disrepute.”

He added: “After their appalling performance in the Council meeting on Friday, is it any wonder that PCC is the laughing stock of Wales? Pembrokeshire tax payers deserve better. We deserve honesty and integrity, and they have consistently failed to deliver.”

“This Council staggers from crisis to crisis, from travel claims which were years late from the Leader to the misuse of Council computers by Councillor Rob Lewis to produce Independent group election literature. This together with failures to properly safeguard our children, a failed social care provision and recently dubious grant dealings in Pembroke Dock render them unfit.

“It was amazing to see on Friday their efforts to extricate themselves from their self-inflicted problems. Legal advice of forty five pages, which we, as elected Members, were not allowed to see, and the costs of at least one Q C, with another expert flown in from Edinburgh. This, plus the mysterious brown envelope left on the passenger seat of the Council vehicle which transported the Q C with information enclosed selectively identifying those Members who had stated that the CEO should go. “The rulers of North Korea would be proud.

“Mr Parry-Jones should step aside immediately, and take his poodle, Jamie Adams with him. The Welsh Government should immediately install Commissioners to take over the running of PCC” he concluded.

QC advice was ‘not the whole story’,says Herald

The Pembrokeshire Herald took independent legal advice before publishing comments made by County Councillors this month, in the days leading up to the vote over the suspension of chief executive of Pembrokeshire council, Bryn Parry Jones.

During the extraordinary meeting of Full Council, members were told to withdraw by a barrister appointed by senior officers and leaders of the authority.

Mr Tim Kerr QC told members that some of them had ‘crossed the line’ by showing predetermination over whether the chief executive should be suspended. Mr Kerr told members that this predetermination was demonstrated by comments made in the newspaper article.

Mr Kerr had been given photocopies of selected press cuttings from The Pembrokeshire Herald’s February 7 edition by the monitoring officer, Mr Laurence Harding. He told the meeting that the newspaper article had been ‘brought to his attention’ but refused to say by who. However, Deputy Leader, Cllr Rob Lewis told members that he also had copies of the same documents. He did not, however, admit to giving them to Mr Laurence Harding.

Pembrokeshire Herald editor Thomas Sinclair said: “There is legislation regarding the issue of predetermination that was not brought up at the meeting. Section 25(2) of the Localism Act 2011 provides that ‘a decision-maker is not to be taken to have had, or to have appeared to have had, a closed mind when making the decision just because the decision-maker had previously done anything that directly or indirectly indicated what view the decision-maker took’.”

Mr Sinclair added: “This legislation clearly applies to all County Councils in Wales & England, but a very restrictive interpretation of it was given to Councillors at Friday’s meeting.”

He concluded: “In the newspaper’s view if Lawrence Harding was acting in the best interests of all the members of the council, he would have advised members of any issue with what they had said before the meeting.”

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Teifion

    February 28, 2014 at 7:59 am

    So let’s get this right, a London QC paid for by the Pembs. tax payer basically stops councilors who have expressed an opinion NOT favourable to Bryn Jones are told they cannot vote BUT those who support him through thick and thin and have told the press they will continue to do so and as I understand get special allowances from the Council ARE allowed to vote – No wonder the place is called the Kremlin on the Cleddau.
    I can only hope the more decent and honest members of the IPPG have been disgusted by actions and acts conducted in their name will revolt against Mr Adams when the vote comes

  2. rath_riviera

    March 1, 2014 at 11:39 am

    Seems there is a lack of understanding in Council between the technicality of the law and the spirit of the law. If speaking to the press provides rationale for stating pre-determination, then any pre-meeting conversation could be construed the same so that IPGG meetings would be an equivalent technical problem? The payment of a QC under these circumstances appears a questionable use of public funds: as a tax-payer, how am I gaining by paying for certain individuals being able to de-rail a Council meeting by show-boating a QC? Did full council have notice a QC would be present (and why)? It is reasonably foreseeable that the outcome would be a publically funded Council meeting being de-railed so that a vote the whole County wants cannot take place. Why not have him pop out of a cake? Whatever the technicalities, perception of foul-play is undermining integrity and trust. On top of the apparent shambles with pension funds, educational degradation, and current investigations into property, are we obtaining value for our money? Who sanctioned the QC payment? When was the last time the accounts were independently audited?

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Bar 10 licensing hours extended

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THE COUNTY COUNCIL’s Licensing Sub-Committee granted an extension of hours to a Tenby pub this Tuesday (Feb 18).
The Committee considered an application from the licensees of Bar 10 in St George’s Street to allow it to remain open until 2:00 am.
Tenby Town Council objected to the application and Cllr Paul Rapi represented the Town Council in front of the Committee.
Cllr Rapi told the Committee that people walking past the premises during the day tended to avoid the front of the premises ‘because it can be a bit lively for some people’.
Licensing officers issued a noise abatement to the bar in September last year.
Cllr Rapi said that he and other councillors continued to receive complaints about noise from the pub, even though those complaints had neither been recorded nor reported.
He continued: “Tenby Town Council want to see some sort of control over this noise that’s coming out of Bar 10.
“It’s the main street in Tenby, the sort of rowdiness that occurs between 5 and 7 pm in the summer is not acceptable.”
The Committee also heard from Police that there general noise and disturbance were prevalent in the confines of Tenby’s town centre during the summer months. The area around Bar 10 is a ‘cumulative’ noise area caused by the presence of a significant number of pubs and bars in the vicinity
A report regarding noise pollution prepared by the local authority said that ‘despite a number of complaints and interventions by … the Designated Premises Supervisor has not shown sufficient consideration and understanding of the need to control noise from activities at the premises to ensure disturbance is not caused to nearby residents’.
When cross-examined by the solicitor acting for the applicants, Mr David Lewis, the Council officer presenting that report, Nathan Miles, confirmed his department received no complaints about noise since a noise abatement was issued the preceding September. Questioned once more by Mr Lewis, Mr Miles also confirmed no complaints were received by the Council following the issue of seasonal temporary extensions granted to the premises over Christmas and New Year.
Objections to the hours’ variations raised by the Licensing Inspector, Geraint Griffiths were also examined both by members of the Committee and David Lewis.
Licensing inspector Geriant Griffiths said in the past there had been issues with CCTV not working and there was a “serious disregard for licensing objectives.”
During questioning, it emerged that the Licensing Inspector had no information about the premises following his previous visit to it over two years ago. The Licensing Inspector agreed that comments about the quality of CCTV in his report were similarly out of date. Mr David Lewis pointed out that the premises’ owners installed a new CCTV system at considerable expense after the Licensing Inspector’s 2017 visit. The Licensing Officer could not contradict the applicant’s solicitor on that point.
The most contemporary information in front of the Committee came from Dyfed Powys Police’s Pembrokeshire Licensing Officer, Nigel Lewis.
The Licensing Officer set out that he met with the applicants to discuss their application and conducted ‘amicable mediation’ regarding the most contentious elements of it. He explained how, once he related the level of opposition to the original proposal, the applicants eagerly embraced the opportunity to address concerns and alter their application from its original form.
Nigel Lewis was questioned closely by Cllr John Davies about public order incidents and related the only one linked to the premises in the last year was one in which staff were assaulted. The Herald reported that incident in our February 7 edition and confirm that a Torfaen man pleaded guilty to assaulting staff when he was asked to return inside the pub to prevent a public nuisance.
The Licensing Officer reported during mediation, the applicant accepted there appeared to an issue of noise escaping from the premises and they needed show diligence regarding it in the future
After retiring to consider their decision, the Committee reconvened and approved the application subject to the following conditions with immediate effect: Bar 10 would be permitted to serve drinks until 1:00 am on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday each week with the premises to be closed at 1:30 am; recorded music would end at midnight on each night; two qualified door staff would be engaged for weekend nights and also for other evenings to which extended hours applied; on Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve and on Sundays before a Monday Bank Holiday, Bar 10 could supply alcohol until 1:30 am and the premises must close by 2:00 am. On each of those dates, recorded music must stop at midnight.
Committee Chair Cllr Tim Evans concluded by adding the mediation conducted between Nigel Lewis and the applicants had ‘enhanced the application’.

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Tesco grant boost for Haverfordwest children

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AN ORGANISATION working with children in Haverfordwest has received a £1,000 grant from a special costal voting round of Tesco’s Bags of Help scheme.

The grant for Clybiau Plant Cymru will go towards delivering workshops and out of school childcare clubs that encourage children to play outdoors and connect with nature in coastal areas.

Alex Fudge, the Regional Manager for Clybiau Plant Cymru, said the funding will help combat issues of childhood obesity in Wales, giving children the opportunity to play freely and get active away from distractions such as social media.

“We’re truly grateful to Tesco for its support and funding through the Bags of Help scheme,” she said We aim to promote health, wellbeing and environmental awareness through fun, outdoor activities, so every donation has a huge impact on kids’ lives.

“The clubs provide valuable play and learning opportunities outside of the school day, enabling parents to work and train, which in turn drives economic growth, tackles poverty and reduces inequalities.

“Through the funding we are delivering six workshops within three clubs in the Haverfordwest area to children and our staff,” she added. “It will engage up to 100 individuals, as well as providing skills and knowledge which staff can apply on an ongoing basis to provide quality childcare for years to come.”

Tesco shoppers in Haverfordwest cast their votes using blue tokens handed out at checkouts as part of the special voting round supporting groups in 42 coastal communities across the UK. More than 100 projects working to improve Britain’s coastline shared the combined funding pot worth £300,000.

Bags of Help, run in partnership with the charity Groundwork, sees funding awarded to thousands of local community projects every year. To date £80m has been awarded through the scheme, with more than £5m awarded to projects in Wales.

Claire de Silva, Tesco’s Head of Community, said: “Bags of Help has been a huge success since we introduced the scheme and we are glad to be able to support great projects, including this coastal scheme in Haverfordwest.

“We saw a fantastic mix of projects shortlisted and I’d like to thank customers for casting their votes for projects that will have a positive impact within their community.”

The scheme is ran in partnership with community charity Groundwork. Groundwork’s National Chief Executive, Graham Duxbury, said: “Bags of Help continues to enable local communities up and down Britain to improve their local spaces and the places that matter to them. We’re pleased to be able to be a part of the journey and provide support and encouragement to groups enjoying, protecting and improving Britain’s coastlines.”

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Monkton bus service to be axed

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FIRST Cymru has confirmed that it will be dropping its 348 bus service which runs from Monkton to Haverfordwest.
The service will cease on March 29.
A spokesperson for First Cymru said: “First Cymru can confirm that it has notified the Traffic Commissioner and the Council of its intention to deregister service 348, which operates between Haverfordwest and Monkton via Johnston and Pembroke Dock, from Sunday, March 29.
“Across the section between Monkton, Pembroke & Pembroke Dock we are better matching the number of journeys available with level of usage.
“It’s important to note that no bus stop is left without a bus service as a result of our intention to withdraw Service 348, and that Service 356 will continue to serve Monkton, Pembroke and Pembroke Dock.
“First will use the freed-up resources to extend Service 349 beyond Tenby to Saundersfoot and Kilgetty from Easter. We are confident passengers will welcome with this improvement.”

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