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IPPG cover blown

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• Deputy Leader used Council I.T. for “party political purposes”
• Standards Committee to decide punishment

cover blown

CLAIMS that the ruling IPPG and its predecessor IPG are not organized as a political party lie in shreds as a hard-hitting investigation by the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales lays bare the extent to which the discredited IPPG administration used Council computer facilities to co-ordinate its election campaigns.

Under its old title of the IPG, the current and former Council leadership used tax-payer funded facilities to run its campaigns and produce its election literature. In a breach of the statutory Code of Conduct governing Council members, Deputy Leader of the Council Rob Lewis has admitted using Council computers and infrastructure to both produce election literature and plan election campaigns for the elections that took place in both 2008 and 2012.

A detailed Ombudsman’s report is to be considered by the Council’s Standards Committee next Tuesday, March 18. The members of the Committee carry out a statutory function to promote and maintain high standards of conduct by Members and Co-opted Members of the County Council and Members of all Community Councils in Pembrokeshire. While the Council’s Code of Conduct permits political groups to use Council I.T. infrastructure to co-ordinate their actions for the efficient transaction of Council business, it does not allow Councillors – for obvious reasons – to use the same technology to produce their own election literature, co-ordinate election campaigns, or access Council data for party political ends.

Councillor Lewis is quoted in the report as saying that he could not justify the use of the Council’s computer system and said, “… I’m obviously wrong, I know that.”

His admission flies in the face of repeated public pronouncements by the IPPG leadership that they are genuinely independent, and do not operate as a political party. It reveals that at the last two elections – at least – the Pembrokeshire electorate have been actively deceived by those seeking their vote on the basis that they are not affiliated to a party group.

In 2008, then IPG Leader John “Cwmbetws” Davies told the local media:

“The IPG is a coalition of individuals who have established a group to allow the county council to be administered by the majority of the membership of the council. This clearly reflects the wishes of the voters of our county.”

Documents considered by the Ombudsman demonstrate that current Cabinet spokesperson for Education, Ken Rowlands, appeared on a list of IPG certainties in an IPG strategy document produced in April 2008 when the self-proclaimed “voice of Johnston” has strongly asserted elsewhere that he only chose to join the IPG AFTER the subsequent election.

The extent of the deception perpetrated by the IPG hierarchy and its camp followers is exposed by the fact that in 2012 only 14 of the 31 candidates who were already members of the IPG chose to use the word “independent” in the description box on the ballot paper, while the other 17 opted to leave it blank.

Having been caught out by the fact that the documents co-ordinating campaign strategy for the allegedly “Independent” Political Group were traced to his Council computer and log-in, Cllr Lewis seems to have tried to deflect blame and criticism. The way in which he elected to do so was by repeatedly criticising the conduct of members, who had revealed and publicised the way in which he and the IPG had deceived the Pembrokeshire electorate. The Ombudsman’s report contains a number of emails by Cllr Lewis sent to the Ombudsman apparently complaining that Cllrs Mike Stoddart and Jacob Williams were making use of what he refers to as “stolen data” to reveal on their websites the extent to which he, now-retired Councillor David Wildman, and the IPG had broken Council rules.

The Ombudsman’s investigator evidently gave short shrift to Cllr Lewis’ complaints, as no criticism of either Councillors Stoddart or Williams is made in his report. The allegations made against those Councillors appear to be more founded in their revelation of the extent of the lies told – whether actively or by omission – by the IPG and their candidates to their electors.

Mike Stoddart told The Herald:

“The simple fact is that the party of government used taxpayer-funded facilities to promote their election campaign. Put another way, they found a way to use taxpayers’ money to undermine the principle of free and fair elections which we all value.”

Notwithstanding his admission that he breached the Code of Conduct, Cllr Lewis has asserted – contrary to the findings of the Ombudsman – that he has not breached the Code of Conduct by using the Council’s I.T. to produce strategy documents. This is a potentially revealing insight into the attitude of the IPG, as Cllr Lewis appears to have confused the transaction of IPG electoral business with the permitted transaction of internal Council political business.

Such is the overwhelming nature of the evidence against Cllr Lewis that the disputed documents read in context underline the extent of his wrongdoing and that of the IPG as a whole. Furthermore, as the breaches do not require guilty intent to be proved, it remains to be seen what the Standards Committee make of Cllr Lewis’ unrepentant stand on this subject and what finding of fact they make in relation to it.

In January, Council Vice-Chairman Tom Richards – a member of the IPPG – recused himself from sitting in judgement on the basis he was identified as a candidate in some of the documents. Cllr Stanley Hudson also recused himself on the basis of his close personal association with the original complainant to the Ombudsman, Cllr David Bryan. The members of the Committee making a decision next week will therefore be lay members Messrs Ian Williams, David Morgan and Andre Morgan and Community Councillor and Haverfordwest solicitor, Mr George Allingham.

While the part of January’s meeting dealing with Councillor Lewis was held in private, the publication of the Ombudsman’s report and detailed documents should militate against the public being excluded on Tuesday.

The members have the power to censure a member, or suspend or partially suspend a member for a period not exceeding 6 months. The maximum penalty available to the Adjudication Panel for Wales is five years’ disqualification from office.

The Pembrokeshire Herald will carry a detailed report of the Committee proceedings next week.

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Pembrokeshire County Council bills Home Office for Penally camp costs

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THE COUNCIL has sent an invoice for more than £80,000 to the Home Office.

It is to cover some of the costs that the local authority has incurred in connection with the Penally Asylum Seeker Centre, near Tenby.

Following a question on the issue from Cllr Jonathan Preston at Full Council the Council have confirmed that a bill has been sent.

The Member for Penally ward asked: “Please can the relevant Cabinet Member provide a breakdown of all costs to this authority which have been incurred in providing staff, services and other associated resources to Penally camp since its re-purpose by the Home Office last September?”

Council leader Cllr. David Simpson confirmed that on February 22 Pembrokeshire County Council submitted an invoice for £83, 858 which includes £65,564 in staff costs, £12,799 of specialist support and £5,495 for works such as barriers.

Pembrokeshire County Council is currently awaiting payment, the Authority confirmed.

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Hospitality sector welcomes Budget boost

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IT HAS been so long it seems since we could stand at a bar and enjoy a well-earned pint, but now we are on the road back to normality, the Herald has spoken to some of those in the hospitality sector who have been asked to close. We wanted to know what the owners in businesses in these sectors locally thought of the budget and if Rishi Sunak had done enough to help them.

We first spoke to a Milford Haven restaurant business. Owner of Martha’s Vineyard in Milford Haven, Dan Mills said that the budget was not a silver bullet to fix all problems but said that the budget had gone a fair way to delivering what many in the Pembrokeshire hospitality sector have been calling for in recent weeks.

Dan Mills said: “The biggest risk many of us were facing was the cliff edge of a VAT increase, the end of the Furlough Scheme and a return to full business rates, I’m pleased that the Chancellor has recognised this and taken action on all fronts.

“With talk of the Welsh Government restricting us to outside trading for an initial period, the flexibility that the Furlough Scheme brings will be a huge help to ensure staff retain their jobs.

“I was also delighted to see that the Chancellor has provided funding to Wales to ensure that we benefit from a further 12 months of Business Rate Relief here in Pembrokeshire, that’s money that many of us can instead invest into restarting our businesses.

“I hope that the conversation that unfortunately began due to Covid between politicians and the Pembrokeshire hospitality and tourism sector can continue long beyond this crisis, it seems that through some open and honest feedback we are making real progress.

Award winning gastro-pub The Griffin Inn is well known throughout Wales and has received many national reviews. Their reputation puts them in a strong position once they are allowed to re-open. We spoke to Sian and Simon Vickers about the budget.

Simon Vickers, co-owner is also a director of Visit Pembrokeshire. He told The Herald: “I think the budget was very positive for the hospitality industry with the reduction in VAT being the biggest help.

“Overall I feel the government have supported the industry amazingly

In regard to tax on alcohol, Simon said: “Duty has been frozen It would have been nice to have seen a cut in it. Whether there’s a cut or not the breweries always increase their prices so in all honesty it never affects us.”

The ongoing financial support has been welcomed by industry group CAMRA, The Campaign or Real Ale, but the organisation said that the Chancellor had missed the opportunity to lower beer duty to save our pubs.

Their national chairman Nik Antona issued a statement to The Pembrokeshire Herald saying: “Freezing alcohol duty is obviously better than a rise. However, CAMRA had hoped to see the Chancellor announce a cut in duty on beer served on tap in pubs and social clubs to benefit consumers and help the great British pub recover and thrive in the difficult months and years ahead by being able to compete with supermarket alcohol.

“The Government’s commitment to review alcohol duties in the coming months is welcome. CAMRA will continue to call for a lower rate of duty for beer served in pubs – an option available to the Government now we have left the European Union.

“Reducing tax on beer served in pubs and social clubs would encourage responsible drinking in a supervised, community setting – as well as boosting jobs and local economies, helping consumers and benefiting pubs and licensees.”

On financial support announced, Nik commented: “Cutting VAT as pubs begin to reopen, and reducing it until April next year, means they can now start benefiting from that cut – but CAMRA believes this VAT cut should be extended to alcohol so that traditional locals that don’t serve food can benefit too.

“The extension of furlough until September and new grants of up to £18,000 are very welcome. However, pubs are unlikely to be able to fully reopen at pre-COVID trading levels due to outside space and then table service only indoors. The beer and pubs sector will need further support over the coming months, over and above new loans, to help them get back on their feet until there is a full and proper re-opening and they can trade at full capacity.

“Extending the business rates holiday until the end of June will help keep the wolves from the door for many English pubs, with the two-thirds reduction for the rest of the financial year a welcome step. However, given how tough it will be for many pubs we believe the 100% cut in business rates needs to be extended for a full 12 months as has already happened in Scotland.”

Picture: Simon Vickers, Griffin Inn, Dale

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Milford Haven-bound ‘flying oil tanker’ hits the national news

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A MILFORD HAVEN bound oil tanker has made the national news, after a photograph taken off the Cornish coast made it look like the ship was flying.

An optical illusion caused the ship to appear as though it was floating above the horizon

The ship is believed to be the Hafnia Malacca Oil/Chemical Tanker which is heading to Pembrokeshire from Primorsk, Russia via the English Channel.

David Morris, from the hamlet of Gillan, near Falmouth took a photo of the ship near Falmouth, Cornwall, the BBC have reported.

On the BBC news website, meteorologist David Braine said the “superior mirage” occurred because of “special atmospheric conditions that bend light”.

He said the illusion is common in the Arctic, but can appear “very rarely” in the UK during winter.

Mr Morris said he was “stunned” after capturing the picture while looking out to sea from the hamlet of Gillan

Mr Braine said: “Superior mirages occur because of the weather condition known as a temperature inversion, where cold air lies close to the sea with warmer air above it.

“Since cold air is denser than warm air, it bends light towards the eyes of someone standing on the ground or on the coast, changing how a distant object appears.

“Superior mirages can produce a few different types of images – here a distant ship appears to float high above its actual position, but sometimes an object below the horizon can become visible.”

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