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Council officer’s rant by post

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rant by postCOUNCIL IN CRISIS • GRANTS SCANDAL

AFTER the publication of last week’s article “Council formally contact police”, The Herald received an undated letter signed by Gwyn Evans, the County Council’s European Manager.

In the letter, Mr Evans complains that “the juxtaposition of a photo of myself … might easily be taken to mean that I am myself under Police investigation.” That was not the Pembrokeshire Herald’s intention and we are happy to make that clear to our readers.

The Pembrokeshire Herald does, however, take issue with Mr Evans’ other assertion that he “did not tell Pembrokeshire County Council’s Audit Committee that there were no problems relating to the Commercial Property Grants Scheme or the Pembroke Dock Town Heritage Initiative.”

When this paper covered the Audit Committee on January 20, 2014, we sent our Assistant Editor and a junior reporter to cover the meeting. Part way through the committee proceedings, they were joined by the Herald’s editor. Before writing our story last week, we carefully checked our hand-written notes about what Mr Evans told the Committee members regarding the operation of grants schemes in Pembroke Dock. Aware that it is possible for an error to be repeated more than once, and in order to address Mr Evans’ concern that we had misreported his words we have consulted the transcript of a digital recording. We leave it to our readers to decide whether Mr Evans is correct in his assertion that he told the Audit Committee there were no problems with the schemes.

The transcript provides the context for the stark assertion which the Herald has highlighted in capital letters below.

On January 20, Mr Evans told the Audit Committee:

“WEFO (The Welsh European Funding Office) have their own internal audit team, they are required to have an internal audit team under the European regulations; it’s called the Project Inspection and Verification team, which we know as PIV. They come regularly to visit projects and check that everything is in order. They came to visit us in 2012 and issued a very good report.

“We were also visited at around about the same time, by WEFO’s external auditors, known as the Audit Authority, or the Welsh Government European Funds Audit Team (EFAT). They also issued a clean report. The visit carried out by PIV lasted two days, the visit carried out by EFAT lasted five days. EFAT carried out site inspections, I’m not 100% sure whether PIV did – they came and looked at documentation at the Bridge Innovation Centre in Pembroke Dock, and I think that they took themselves off into Pembroke and Pembroke Dock but there was no officer accompanying them, but EFAT, I accompanied the officer on a number of different occasions.

“The European Commission came, they have the right to carry out Audit Missions, as they call them, and they came in October 2012 and they also carried out a site inspection. They have also raised no concerns about this scheme. We are potentially subject to inspection by the European Court of Auditors, the European Commission’s external auditors, and potentially – IF THERE WAS A PROBLEM, WHICH THERE ISN’T – by the European Anti-Fraud office, which is known as OLAF.”

As background, it was following critical articles on the Pembroke and Pembroke Dock grant schemes in Pembrokeshire’s Best and on Cllr Mike Stoddart’s website (www.oldgrumpy.co.uk) that Gwyn Evans began the council’s damage-limitation exercise by producing an FAQ document.

That document sought to deny any possibility for fraudulent activity to take place, and to discredit the concerns that had been raised in the media.

This FAQ paper was included in a report by the council’s internal audit service to the meeting of the audit committee in September 2013: On the agenda at item 5.1.10 the minutes of the meeting record:

“Given the publicity the CPGS has recently received, the European Manager has also prepared a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document that was published on the Authority’s internet site on the 4th June 2013. The European Manager stated “The FAQs seek to explain and clarify aspects of the scheme where misunderstanding has led to unwarranted negative publicity.”

In the FAQs document itself, Mr Evans stated:

“Q: Are there grounds to think that this scheme is a risk to the County Council? Have taxpayers’ funds been misappropriated?

A: These allegations are not supported by the findings of any of the numerous audits of this grant scheme.”

Based on the European Officer’s assurances, the internal audit report also concluded that the grant schemes had been subject to numerous audits and stated:

“. . . that there are adequate and effective compliance arrangements in place for both grant schemes, which have been complied with. This view has also been expressed by the Council’s Monitoring Officer.” Cllr Stoddart was not satisfied with these conclusions and put down a notice of motion calling for all information on these grant schemes to be made available to elected members on a confidential basis.

This led to the remarkable scenes at the meeting of full council on December 12 where the Cabinet member for the economy, Cllr David Pugh, launched a savage personal attack during which he accused the member for Hakin of telling “deliberate untruths”.

The Herald understands that Cllr Pugh’s tirade was based on information provided by a council officer with day-to-day control over these grant projects.

Unfortunately for Cllr Pugh almost everything he had been told was wrong and within a few days he was forced to issue an “unreserved apology” for one of his misstatements, though, when challenged by Cllr Stoddart about other inaccuracies, he replied that he could “see little value in continuing this dialogue”. When Cllr Stoddart asked the director of development for an explanation for Cllr Pugh’s errors, he was told that the officer who provided the information stood by what he had told the cabinet member, but that “it was entirely possible that some of the specific references could have been lost in translation.”

The issue then came before a special meeting of the audit committee in January where Mr Gwyn Evans made a presentation during which he again referred to the numerous audits that had been carried out.

For instance, he told the committee that the Wales European Funding Office had made regular visits including one in 2012 following which they “issued a very good report”.

Also the Welsh Government European Funds Audit Team had also paid a visit and “issued a clean report”.

Because the matter was before the audit committee, Mike Stoddart used the law on access to information to force the council to allow him to inspect all relevant documents.During this inspection he discovered irregularities in the tender process for a project at 10 Meyrick Street Pembroke Dock which he drew to the attention of the director of finance and the internal auditor and as a result the council had no option but to report the matter to the police.

Cllr Stoddart told the Herald: “It would seem that any ‘misunderstanding’ about the administration of these grants lies at the door of the council, not that of the Pembrokeshire Herald or me.

“As for the ‘negative publicity’ that the FAQs document was designed to avoid, the involvement of the Police is about as negative as it could get.”

The Pembrokeshire Herald would have been happy to give Mr Evans the opportunity to respond and explain his recorded remarks, but his letter to us bore no return address or contact details to enable us to do so.

Mr Evans’ letter in full

DEAR SIR,
I WRITE regarding the article “Council formally contact Police” in your February 21 edition.

Contrary to your article, I did not tell Pembrokeshire County Council’s Audit Committee that there were no problems relating to the Commercial Property Grant Scheme or the Pembroke Dock Townscape Heritage Initiative. My position is therefore not at all “difficult”.

The justaposition of the photograph of myself, which fills 40% of the column space of the article, beneath your headline might easily be taken to mean that I am myself under Police investigation.

To be clear, I am not under investigation by the Police or anyone else. I greatly resent your inaccurate report that I misled the Council’s Audit Committee and the scurrilous insinuation that I have been been involved in fraudulent activity.

GWYN EVANS
European Manager
Pembrokeshire County Council

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Ethiopian sailor absconds from ship docked at Valero

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A SEARCH is underway for an Ethiopian sailor who has failed to return to his vessel after taking shore leave from a ship berthed in Pembrokeshire.

The male, who is understood to be a cadet in his twenties, was a crew member on the Perseus-N; a chemical products ship.

He failed to return to the ship on Tuesday night after 9pm (Aug 20).

The Liberian tanker has already left Milford Haven without the missing member of crew.

The Herald understands that the missing man was with a group of other sailors from the ship in the Milford Haven are using the marina’s leisure facilities.

The group then headed to Tesco in Milford Haven, where all went in to the store except the missing sailor who slipped away, according to CCTV which was checked by police.

One theory, The Herald has been told, was that he left on the train from Milford Haven station by hiding in the toilet. The station is next to the Tesco store.

Border Force have been contacted for a comment in relation to the incident.

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Former Chequers nightclub to reopen

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AN APPLICATION for a new premises licence for the former Chequers night club succeeded at a meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council’s Licensing sub-committee on Thursday (Aug 22).

The former nightclub closed its doors for the last time in 2003, when it ran as a private members’ club, having had an application for a full on-licence rejected.

After failing in an attempt to close the club on that occasion, Pembrokeshire County Council became the only local authority in Wales to classify mobile homes as permanent residences in an effort to shut down the club once and for all.

The new applicant, Mrs Carmen Clemas applied for a new premises licence in respect of the club, which will be renamed the Queen of Clubs.

The Committee heard objections to the licence from local residents and heard representations from both the Police and Fire Service which pointed out that the building would need significant remedial works to it before it could re-open.

While Penally Community Council objected on the basis of events and problems at the premises almost twenty years ago, neither the Police nor Fire Service had an objection to the Club’s re-opening in principle.

Both emergency services emphasised that, even though they had no objections, they had concerns that had to be addressed.

The Committee granted the application, refusing permission for licensable activities at the Club on Sundays, apart from Sundays before Bank Holidays, and imposing strict noise control measures.

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St Davids RNLI to feature in new series of a popular TV documentary

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THE volunteer lifeboat crew of St Davids RNLI will be taking to the small screen next week as they will feature twice in the first episode of the BBC TV series Saving Lives at Sea.

Now in its fourth season the documentary series, which showcases the lifesaving work of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), will be aired on BBC Two on Tuesdays at 8 pm, as well as being available on the BBC iPlayer following the broadcast. The new 10-part series features real rescues carried out by the charity’s volunteer lifeboat crews and lifeguards around the UK and Ireland – including St Davids RNLI.

Each programme gives a unique insight into the lives and work of the charity’s lifesavers who are needed more than ever before, rescuing thousands of people and saving hundreds of lives around our coastline and on inland waterways every year. The new series features more dramatic real-life rescue footage, accompanied by emotive testimonials from the volunteer crews, lifeguards and the people they rescue and their families.

This forthcoming episode, on 27 August, sees St Davids RNLI launch to a crashed plane in one shout, and tow a yacht stranded in a shipping lane in another. These shouts are shown alongside rescue stories from their colleagues at other stations and beaches around our coasts.

Judd Kohler, Station Mechanic at St Davids Lifeboat Station, said: “The first episode of Saving Lives at Sea shows two very different shouts that St Davids RNLI responded to. The programme is a great chance for RNLI supporters to catch a glimpse of the work that their kind donations go towards. We want to say a huge thank you to supporters of the RNLI, who help us to save lives at sea.”

Filming took place over the past year, with lifeboat crews and lifeguards carrying special cameras and welcoming film-makers into their day-to-day life. Rescues from the RNLI’s archives are also revisited, and we get a glimpse into the everyday lives of the thousands of men and women who give up their time to save lives.

Last year alone, RNLI lifeboat crews around the UK and Ireland rescued 9,412 people, saving 211 lives, while the charity’s lifeguards aided 32,207 people and saved 118 lives on some of the UK’s busiest beaches.

Saving Lives at Sea begins on Tuesday 27 August at 8 pm on BBC Two, and will continue throughout August, September and October.

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