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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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Return of Walk and Talk group for Dementia Action Week

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THE PEMBROKESHIRE Walk and Talk Group will make its return next week, coinciding with Dementia Action Week which runs from May 17-24.

Several events are being held across Pembrokeshire and the UK and PAVS has announced two Walk and Talk sessions.

One will be held in the South of the County in Begelly on Wednesday, May 19, and one in the North of the County in Newport on Thursday, May 20.

Walk and Talk is a dementia supportive group. The group provides the opportunity to socialise, improve your physical and mental wellbeing and at the same time enjoy the wonderful Pembrokeshire scenery. There will be walk and talk groups every week starting from next week.

Places are limited and will be on a first come first served basis,  to book a place on these walks please contact Cherry Evans on 07849 086009 or email cherry.evans@pavs.org.uk

Dementia Action Week aims to promote and make people aware that with the right support, people living with dementia can live a good quality of life doing what matters most to them for as long as possible.

One in fourteen people over the age of 65 are living with Dementia and approximately 42,000 people in Wales have Dementia. 65% of people living with dementia are women and 35% men

The covid-19 pandemic meant that many groups and clubs had to shut down and that has made things difficult for those people living with dementia.

People were left isolated and feeling lonely but thanks to modern technology they have been able to keep many in contact with those groups and their loved ones.

Throughout Dementia Action Week there will be daily interviews on the radio station Pure West Radio with lots of information about the activities and points of reference for support across Pembrokeshire.

These daily interviews will cover everything from diagnosing dementia, support, carers perspectives and even the power of music. You can listen to these each day at 11.15am Monday to Friday and at 2.15pm on Saturday and Sunday

If you fancy trying out a ‘tea and natter’ session on Zoom on Tuesday, May 18, at 2.30pm please contact Cherry Evans on 07849 086009 or email cherry.evans@pavs.org.uk

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Cllr Mike James is new Chairman of Pembrokeshire County Council

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL has a new Chairman.

Cllr Mike James became Chairman at the virtual Annual Meeting of Council today (Friday, May 14) following an extended period as Vice Chairman due to the Covid-19 situation.

Cllr James, who represents St Dogmaels, moves into the Chairman’s seat vacated by Cllr Simon Hancock.

Cllr Pat Davies was appointed Vice-Chairman of Pembrokeshire County Council.

At the same meeting Cllr Hancock was appointed Presiding Member for the coming year.

Cllr James joined Pembrokeshire County Council in 2010 and has previously served as Chairman of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority and Chairman of National Park Wales.

Cllr James said: “I feel very privileged to be appointed Chairman of Pembrokeshire County Council.

“I always try to achieve the best in my life and this is right up there at the top.

“I hope I can achieve the high standard set by Councillors who have been Chairman before me. Councillor Simon Hancock most certainly accomplished that standard.”

Cllr James is married to Sian and they have two daughters, Fern James and Rhiannon Lloyd.

Born and bred in St Dogmaels, Cllr James attended Ysgol Llandudoch and Ysgol Uwchradd Aberteifi.

He worked for 32 years at Slimma/Dewhirst Cardigan and for four years as an LSA in Ysgol Gyfun Emlyn.

Cllr James has also served as Clerk to St Dogmaels Community Council, as the Carers Champion for Pembrokeshire County Council and as a representative on numerous other committees and sub-committees.

A member of Cardigan Rugby Club Male Voice Choir, Cllr James also sits on the Dyfed-Powys Police and Crime Panel.

Cllr James added: “The last 14 months have not been easy for many people. I hope there is a light at the end of a long tunnel where we can meet and speak to loved ones again.

“I am a people’s person and I hope, if I am allowed, to have the opportunity to meet and talk to as many residents in Pembrokeshire as possible.”

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New international travel rules for Wales confirmed by First Minister

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International travel will restart for people in Wales from Monday 17 May, the Welsh Government has confirmed today.

As part of changes to Wales’ coronavirus regulations, people living in Wales will be able to travel to some overseas destinations without the need to quarantine on their return.

But additional safeguards will be put in place to help prevent new cases of coronavirus being imported into Wales.

A traffic lights system, aligned with England and Scotland, will be introduced. Countries will be classified as green, amber and red, depending on their rates of coronavirus.

Mandatory quarantine is in place for all people returning to the UK from countries on the amber and red lists. All people returning from overseas travel must have a PCR test.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said:

 “Wales, like other parts of the UK, will be restarting international travel. But protecting people’s health continues to be our top priority and we want to do everything we can to prevent coronavirus from being re-imported into Wales.

 “This will not be like travel in the past. Everyone travelling abroad will have to have a test when they come home and for many people, they will need to quarantine when they get home. There are significant fines in place for those who do not follow the legal requirements.

“Some countries are not yet opening up travel to people from the UK. It’s my strong advice that this is the year to stay at home and enjoy all that Wales has to offer.”

Under the international travel rules:

• People arriving from green-list countries are not required to quarantine on their return to Wales, but they must book and pay for a mandatory PCR test on or before day two of their return. All travellers and members of their household will also be reminded about the availability of additional lateral flow tests to continue to monitor their health.

• People arriving from amber-list countries are required to quarantine for 10 days at home on their return. This is a legal requirement. They are also required to book and pay for mandatory PCR tests on day two and on day eight. Unlike in England, Wales does not operate a test-to-release scheme where an additional test can be taken on day five to reduce the period of quarantine. This is because some 30% of people who develop Covid-19 do so after day five.

• People arriving from countries on the red list are required to quarantine for a full 10 days on arrival in the UK at a designated UK port in a government-managed facility – a ‘covid hotel’ – at their own cost, starting from £1,750 per person. All UK entry points for arrivals from red-list countries are in England and Scotland, which means Welsh residents returning from those countries will need to quarantine outside Wales. Travellers are also required to book and pay for mandatory PCR tests on day two and day eight.

All those who do not follow the rules for red-list countries face fixed notice penalties of £10,000.

Welsh residents must also consult the requirements for visitors for any country they plan to travel to. Restrictions may be in place, including proof of vaccination, tests, quarantine and reasons for entry.

Vaccination status certificates will be available for people in Wales who have had two doses of their vaccination and need to urgently travel to a country that requires covid vaccination proof from Monday 24 May.

The First Minister added:

“We call on people to think about whether they need to travel overseas at this time. We should be cautious about going abroad in light of the ongoing risk of coronavirus and the presence of variants of concern in many countries.

“My clear message to everyone is make Wales your destination of choice this year.”

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