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Officer fiddles council minutes

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Grants panel: Minutes tampered with

Grants panel: Minutes tampered with

THE PEMBROKESHIRE HERALD understands that a senior officer in the County Council’s Development Directorate has undergone disciplinary proceedings for altering the minutes kept of several European grant-awarding panel meetings to put a more favourable gloss on the scrutiny that took place.

Writing on his website, Hakin Councillor Mike Stoddart explained how last year he submitted a Freedom of Information request to obtain the minutes of several panel meetings where applications for European funding were evaluated and approved. Cllr Stoddart duly received the minutes, but says he received an email out of the blue last week from County Hall stating that after he submitted his request, the minutes were significantly altered with the result that the documents Cllr Stoddart was sent as a true record of the panel meetings, were materially different to what had been approved by the panel.

Cllr Stoddart told The Herald:  “Some of the amendments are trivial and some less so, but the point is that someone within the authority thought fit to make these alterations.”

“While most of the alterations are merely concerned with tidying up the grammar, those regarding No 29 Dimond Street, Pembroke Dock, involve substantial additions to the text and seem to have been designed to give the impression that the Grant Panel’s evaluation of this application was a good deal more rigorous than indicated by the original minutes.”

The re-writing of such public records is a damning indictment on the authority’s handling of publicly-funded grant cash for property development projects, which has been reported for over a year in the Herald and our sister publication, Pembrokeshire’s Best.

Officers’ role questioned

Allegations of questionable practice have dogged two European-funded property grant schemes in Pembroke and Pembroke Dock since Pembrokeshire’s Best magazine uncovered in 2012 that the majority of monies for multiple projects in Pembroke Dock had gone to a single developer, Cathal McCosker, who had used a maze of pop-up companies to avoid restrictions intended to cap grant money awarded to grant applicants.

In January 2013 it emerged that Cathal McCosker had been granted a licence for bedsits by the County Council in the former National Westminster Bank building in Meyrick Street Pembroke Dock. Those bedsits had been built in a flagrant breach of the planning permission granted by the Council, who turned a blind eye to the developer’s conduct and the well known complaints and behaviour logged by the emergency services as a result of overcrowding. An application for retrospective planning permission for the bedsits was submitted by Mr McCosker, which officers intended to approve under delegater powers, however the local member Cllr Alison Lee called it in to be determined by the committee. Amid public outcry and angry scenes, only the officers and a few ruling IPPG councillors backed the Irish developer’s application for approval, and the application was refused.

Following refusal, and amid strong local opposition to his scheme to develop more bedsits, Mr McCosker subsequently withdrew from other plans he had announced to develop properties in Pembroke near the castle, which had not been required to go to tender by the County Council. In particular, it emerged that Mr McCosker had been accompanied to a key meeting by Council officers to assist his “pitch” for those plans to Pembroke Town Council.

Last year, Pembrokeshire’s Best Magazine revealed that Council officers in the local authority’s Planning Department had acknowledged Police reports of anti-social behaviour in the Meyrick Street bedsits development but withheld that information from members of the Planning Committee.

The Herald then obtained further information which suggested that officers used a contrived definition of its obligations to provide “affordable housing” for those in need, in order to justify the construction of bedsits, widely regarded as Housing Benefit magnets for private developers and a blight upon any hope for economic regeneration of commercial properties.
Cllr Mike Stoddart continued to press the Council for answers to questions about the works supposedly carried out under the scheme and the way in which public money had been lavished on building bedsits in the commercial heart of Pembroke Dock.
His efforts were met with obstruction by officers and repeated attacks on his integrity by IPPG Cabinet member Cllr David Pugh, who at a meeting in December received the support of barely a third of Councillors in a no confidence vote, and had the grants schemes responsibility removed from his cabinet portfolio and handed to Cllr David Simpson.

After a reversal of position by the Council’s Monitoring Officer Laurence Harding on the legal stance, it was agreed that the law allowed the documents sought by Cllr Stoddart to be made available for inspection by all councillors, which also allowed copies to be taken. Shortly thereafter the Police were called in by the Council following representations made to Mark Lewis, Director of Finance and Leisure, by Cllr Stoddart and Cllr Jacob Williams after discoveries they made in the files.

The council refused to confirm or deny the identity of the officer who has been disciplined for tampering with the grant panel meetings minutes, following emails sent by the Herald.

The council also refused to confirm or deny what disciplinary action has been taken against the officer, and if they have been suspended to prevent further documents held by the council being tampered with, in light of the ongoing Police investigation into the grant schemes.

The only response the Herald received from the council came from a spokesperson who said:
“Pembrokeshire County Council’s Audit Committee will be reviewing how the Council deals with grants. As the matter has been referred to the Police, the County Council will not be making any further comment at this time.”

Audit Committee take action on grants

Yesterday (Thursday, April 24) the Council’s Audit Committee considered the ongoing issue and briefly discussed the alterations made by the unnamed officer, of the record of grant panel meetings. The Monitoring Officer Laurence Harding told the committee that the officer responsible had been disciplined, but added that he could not reveal who it was nor could he say what punishment was given out.

Cllr Jacob Williams told other members: “There are two recent developments that I’m aware of with which I’m very uncomfortable: firstly the fact that the minutes of the grant panel have been edited by an unnamed member of staff. That to me is very frightening.
“The second matter is that at the cabinet meeting in early April, an updated report was presented in which WEFO (the Welsh European Funding Office) requested that the Council sends them a response.

“I have now received a copy of the confidential report the council sent in response to WEFO, and I’m absolutely appalled at it. It’s shocking to me, knowing what I do about what’s happened, and as councillors you are all entitled to see it and I urge you to, you’ll be amazed at what has been said – I can’t believe anybody thought this was a fit and accurate representation of what’s gone on here”.

Cllr David Simpson, who recently took over control of the Council’s public works grants schemes from Cllr David Pugh, said:  “We should be looking at a full internal audit into the process on one of the units. A full audit by the authority to look at the process, to see where we started at, the process in its implementation, how grants were paid, the staff that were involved”.

Independent lay-Chair of the committee, John Evans MBE, responded saying:  “We should start something now to learn lessons as quickly as possible.

“By taking one and learning the lessons as quickly as possible from that, so we need to learn those lessons quickly to rebuild the confidence of others in the organisation so that we can move forward”.

Cllr Mike James added: “Time is of the essence”.

As a result of their deliberations, the Audit Committee agreed that a management review should take place in respect of the grants process for 29 Dimond Street, Pembroke Dock, as quickly as possible, which will return to a reconvened extraordinary meeting at a date which has not yet been set.

It was also agreed that the two matters raised by Cllr Jacob Williams – the tampering of documents and the response the council sent to WEFO – would also be discussed when the extraordinary meeting reconvened, though this is likely to be behind-closed-doors in private session, where the press and public are excluded.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Jonathan

    April 25, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    About time this is found out Cathals properties are poor quality for a private let lock him away and throw away the key 🙂

  2. Welshman 23

    April 25, 2014 at 10:46 pm

    One disaster to another what are the hierarchy going to do now. Cover up. It’s about time names of the individual should be made public. What this person has done is illegal and a should be added to the list currently being investigated by the police

  3. les

    April 26, 2014 at 8:11 am

    surely the altering of minutes is a misconduct in public office. the police should step in whether invited or not,especially given the apparent “governance issues” at PCC.

  4. Keanjo

    April 27, 2014 at 11:08 am

    A very thorough report on this topic. Congratulations, please keep on with your investigative journalism into the shambles at County Hall.

  5. Teifion

    April 28, 2014 at 9:24 am

    It’s a great pity Bryn, the other senior managers and our councillors have never heard of The Nolan Principles of honesty, accountability, openness, objectivity, transparency and leadership

  6. Archie

    May 14, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    What a refreshing change to read all about the trials and tribulations going on within PCC, This paper is a credit to investigative journalism, but don’t stay rooted in County Hall, there is a lot to report in some of our wayward Community councils, St Florence and Manorbier to name just two!

  7. Phil

    December 3, 2014 at 10:14 am

    This bastard needs to sort his plumbing out. Look at the flowers, just keep looking at the flowers!

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Johnston: Police appeal for witnesses

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POLICE have again appealed for witnesses after a collision in Johnston, near Haverfordwest, on Wednesday (August 5).

A boy on a scooter sustained minor injuries during the collision, which took place at around 4.20pm. A red 4×4 is believed to have been involved also.

Anyone who was in the area of the St Peters Road pelican crossing, or nearby Langford road, and either witnessed the collision or who has CCTV that covers this area is asked to get in touch.

You can telephone 101, visit bit.ly/DPPReportOnline, or email contactcentre@dyfed-powys.pnn.police.uk

If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired you can text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908.

Dyfed-Powys Police Ref DP-20200805-249

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Police investigate ‘Chinese government vehicle’ spotted near Puma Oil Terminal

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POLICE have confirmed that they are conducting “the appropriate enquiries” after a suspicious vehicle was spotted in the vicinity of Puma Oil Terminal on Saturday afternoon (Aug 8).

Following a tip off a Herald reporter was dispatched to the area, and saw a black Volvo SUV with three IC5 (Korean, Japanese or Chinese) looking males inside the vehicle. The vehicle had diplomatic number plates identifying that it belonged to the Chinese government.

However, a DVLA check suggested that the plates were registered to a BMW and not the Volvo they were displayed upon.

South Hook LNG security was notified as a precaution.

A police spokesman said: “Members of the public are advised to contact the police to report any suspicious activity or incidents.”

Both the UK and US governments are currently on alert following incidents of spying relating to key infrastructure, computer systems and state secrets by the Chinese authorities.

[The image used in this report is a computer generated artist’s impression.]

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Milford Haven Street Food Festival Returns To Waterfront This August

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MILFORD Haven Street Food Festival will be setting up camp at Milford Waterfront for the third year running to continue their Summer of street food tour, and with a brand new sponsor joining for the ride! Jubel Beer will be on hand fully loaded with refreshing fruity beers to serve all weekend long.

Street Food Warehouse and their team of feeders are heading back into town this bank holiday weekend, 28th – 30th August.

Cooking up a storm between noon – 10pm, the festival is split into three mouth-watering portions and is the only way to get you in the mood for summer and of course, fill you up to the brim on all of your favourite foodie delights.

You’ll need to grab your tickets beforehand, just make sure you come with an empty belly ready to taste new flavours – the world will really be your oyster. From smokin’ souvlaki to naughty nachos, mouthwatering Malaysian to chocolatey treats. Carnivores, veggies and vegans alike will be able to get their hungry hands on a range of Insta-worthy grub from all over the world!

Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten that you’ll need something to tingle your taste buds and wash it all down with! Luckily, The Pop Up Bar Hire Company has got the whole weekend covered, offering all of your favourite beverages ranging from zesty Mojitos to ice-cold pints of Jubel Beer.

Two Lads Kitchen, Spicer’s Meat Wagon, Makasih and Chock Shop are just some of the street food vendors that will be attending the weekend, with many more both local and national vendors to be announced.

Come rain or shine, the event is completely free and family-friendly where you can get your hands on the most vibrant and high quality street food Milford Haven has to offer.

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