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Simpson makes ‘right deal for County’

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PEMBROKESHIRE County Council’s Cabinet committed to the funding of the Pembroke Dock Marine Project at its meeting on Monday, November 4.
Council Leader David Simpson received the congratulations of Cabinet members for obtaining substantial concessions on the vexed question of who pays the interest on the borrowing needed for the project.
Cllr Simpson’s position on forking over Pembrokeshire Council Tax Payers’ money to fund borrowing for the project is well-known: he was vehemently opposed to paying penny one of a loan facility in which the Council acted as bankers for a third party.
The deal he has struck means that the County Council will meet one half of the maximum bill for interest, with the Port Authority paying the other half.
In a rare display of public exasperation, Cllr Simpson laid into former leader Jamie Adams over the interest question. At the last Full Council meeting when the Deal came before members, the IPG leader demanded that the Council should pay the full amount of the interest to ensure the Deal went ahead.

David Simpson

Council Leader, David Simpson: Succeeded in cutting Deal’s cost to Pembrokeshire


Cllr Simpson said he found Cllr Adams’ willingness to throw around public money ‘disturbing.’
He pointed out that, had he done as the former leader wanted, the interest cost to the Council would have been a fraction under £4m, as the interest rate charged on the lending required went up the same day as Jamie Adams’ plea, and the burden would have remained unshared.
Instead, Cllr Simpson said, holding firm had produced significant concessions. Firstly, the borrowing had been secured at the original and lower interest rate and secondly, the Port had agreed to pay half of the interest.
The Council Leader observed mordantly the Port Authority were about as happy with the deal struck as he was.
As things stood, the County Council would pay £1m plus a £420k top slice, while the Port Authority would pay £1.3m. David Simpson conceded that this was not the outcome he hoped for; he had not fulfilled his aim, to secure a nil interest cost to the Council. However, Cllr Simpson said he resented the way funding’s structure meant local authorities would be lumbered with significant debt.
On a more upbeat note, Cllr Simpson commended the members of the Cabinet and senior officers who had managed to structure funding for the interest so the Council’s future borrowing cap remained unaffected. This, he said, meant that the Council could achieve its own very ambitious investment objectives for the future.
He explained that Cabinet Member for the Economy, Paul Miller, had negotiated a funding grant which would meet the top slice of £420k, while funding of the £1m remainder had been obtained through other means.
Responding to Cllr Simpson’s comments, Paul Miller set out the importance of energy generation and the associated supply-chain industries to Pembrokeshire’s economy. He pointed out as carbon-based energy generation reduced, developing alternative forms of energy would become increasingly important. Pembrokeshire, he said, was well-placed to exploit the opportunities those represented.
Following Cllr Miller’s comments, Cabinet Member for Finance, Cllr Bob Kilmister, chided the Leader for selling his achievement short. He had delivered the best deal he could and a better deal than that which was initially offered.
He praised the ‘superb’ outcome of negotiations led by the Leader and assisted by other Cabinet members and senior officers. He noted a lot of work had gone into ‘a really terrific job’ hammering out a deal.
Like the Leader, Cllr Kilmister doubted whether 1,800 jobs would be delivered, as claimed. He said, however, that jobs would be created and that would be good for Pembrokeshire. The County, he said, needed a balanced approach and David Simpson had delivered a deal.
He concluded: “I would love to see it run. With our contribution, we help make sure it happens.”
Cllr Phil Baker, Cabinet Member for Infrastructure, observed: “It had to be the right deal at the right price. This is the right deal for the County.”
Director of Resources Jon Haswell explained how funding the interest payments would work. The funding secured by Cllr Miller covered the ‘top-slice’ payment needed. In the meantime, officers identified money held over from the financial year 2018/19 placed in an administrative reserve to meet the rest. That would be used, but only if needed.
Steven Jones, Director of Development, added that time-critical EU funding should now be secured. He noted the timeline remained very tight. Business case approval was needed before Christmas. However, he added, having got over this hurdle, the Council had a way through. The next stage, he advised, requires a WG panel to finally approve the business case.
Jon Haswell added that he hoped to improve the funding arrangements in a meeting with the Welsh Government and an officer from Carmarthenshire County Council on Thursday (Nov 7).
Cllr Simpson returned to address the question of interest payments: he wanted to reduce the amount of interest due for payment. To that end, he was still negotiating a shorter time frame for the funding’s delivery. The current funding is due over fifteen years. Cllr Simpson prefers a five-to-ten year period for delivery. If funding’s delivery was achievable over the shorter period, the amount due from the Council (and the Port Authority) in interest would fall. He re-iterated that the current provision for interest was the maximum and he would continue to work to reduce the bill to the Council.
The Cabinet unanimously approved the deal struck.
Everything is now out of the Council’s hands and depends on the willingness of the UK and Welsh Government to finally get their act together and come up with money often-promised but not yet delivered.

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Chief inspector of Immigration to review use of Penally Training Camp

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THE CHIEF INSPECTOR of Borders and Immigration, Mr David Bolt, is to commence a review into the use of hotels and barracks in the UK, including the Penally Asylum camp.

It comes as Pembrokeshire County Council continues to seek a reimbursement for its involvement with the camp.

At Tuesday’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Councillor Jonathan Preston said it was ‘shocking’ that the home office was not engaging with the council and said that they should ‘keep knocking on the door’.

Cllr David Pugh added: “Let’s get the tanks out and start shooting some really heavy bullets at them (Home Office).”

It was confirmed at the meeting that there had still been no agreement with the Home Office on any repayments.

Camp residents protest in Penally (Image G Davies Photography / Herald )

Director of Finance Jon Haswell said that costs had been estimated at around £55,000 a month.

Cllr Pugh said it was ‘horrendous’ that the authority would be almost half a million pounds out of pocket.

Cllr Preston also questioned if Penally Community Council would be able to recover costs for the work they had done but officers said they would need to look into that matter.

The use of the camp is set to end on March 21 and it is anticipated that a planning application will be made to extend that use.

The council’s Head of Planning, David Popplewell said that if there were any breaches of planning conditions that they would be able to consider enforcement action.

He also clarified the two conditions of the use of the camp which state that the applicant must notify the planning authority after the commencement of the use and that it should be returned to its former state once it has ended.

Use of the site commenced on September 21, 2020 and a letter to the authority indicated that the applicants would be applying for a six-month extension.

Demo to support asylum seekers in Penally in 2020 (Photo Herald)

There would need to be a pre-application consultation and any application would go to the council’s Planning Committee.

Mr Popplewell added that he had been in touch with the planning consultant regularly but said that he hadn’t had a further response.

Director of Development, Dr Steven Jones confirmed that the Chief Inspector would be commencing a review into the use of hotels, barracks and asylum accommodation. He added that the call for evidence was open until February 19.

Councillors agreed that the matter should be brought back to the committee if and when the need arises.

Cllr Pugh also asked about the council’s response to the recent marches into Tenby by some of the camp users which caused some anxiety amongst residents worried about the spread of Covid-19.

Rooms in the camp are said to be too small for social distancing (Pic: Camp user)

Darren Thomas, Head of Infrastructure, Transport & Environment, said that it was a public order policing issue and that it was for them to decide how they should police it.

Cllr Pugh said he didn’t think that the council should be criticised as much as it had been on social media.

Discussions have been ongoing with other organisations about understanding and addressing the impact and rise of extremist activity upon the County.

The report to the committee also stated that there had been opposition to the camp being used by the asylum seekers and that there was also support for those supporting the asylum seekers.

Mr Thomas said that this was not a reference to any specific group and said that it was a general point.

The camp was originally set up for the use of 250 occupants but many of them complained about overcrowded conditions and some have already been moved.

At the time of the report being written, on January 8, there were 124 people still in the camp. At the meeting on Tuesday, Mr Thomas confirmed that as of January 21, that number had gone down to 118.

Transfers to and from the camp have been halted under the Welsh Government’s Alert Level 4 coronavirus restrictions, except for medical or safety reasons.

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From ‘coke to smoke’: Huge haul of contraband found in Hakin drug den

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POLICE have released a photograph of a haul of illegal drugs found during a raid on a property in Hakin in recent days.

Posting the photo on their twitter feed, police said: “A successful warrant executed by Neighbourhood Police Team and Response Teams in Gelliswick Road.

“Class A, B and C drugs and substantial cash seizures. Two arrests on suspicion of supply and two dealt with for possession offences.

Suggesting they were supplied information from locals, police said they thought this was an “excellent example of police and communities working together.”

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Police investigating missing charity funds at Narberth fire station

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Where is the cash?: Money from fundraisers was never banked

DYFED-POWYS Police have confirmed to The Pembrokeshire Herald that they are investigating allegations of dishonesty concerning raffle and fundraising efforts involving Narberth Fire Station.

The Herald was contacted by members of the public and family members of Narberth firefighters expressing their concern that ‘a considerable amount of money’ that has been raised for charitable causes has gone missing from the station.

Alarm bells started ringing last year, after funds raised in memory of local firefighter Josh Gardener, were never banked.

Josh Gardener, tragically died aged just 35-years-old, during a training exercise conducted by Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service (MAWWFRS) in September 2019.

A source told us each local station took charge of their own fundraising for the cause, but it was overseen by Milford Haven Station and all raised money was to be collated together by staff there.

It is alleged that around £500 was raised by Narberth station. However, officers at Milford Haven raised suspicions, after no money was received.

A source also told us that each year, two members from Narberth’s crew don full uniform to sell raffle tickets in the town’s High Street.

One source claims that those concerned have been unlawfully fundraising, as they do not have the relevant licences in place to do so.

We asked Pembrokeshire County Council to confirm whether Narberth Fire Station had an up to date licence which would enable them to fundraise publicly in such a manner.

A spokesperson said: “Pembrokeshire County Council has contacted the organisation involved for further information and to offer advice on the rules regarding lotteries.”

It is alleged money raised from these raffle tickets, which sources tell us is also ‘a considerable amount’, is unaccounted for.

We asked Dyfed-Powys Police to confirm if they were investigating allegations of theft at the station, a spokesperson said: “We are investigating an allegation of theft from Narberth Fire Station.

We were told: “Enquiries are ongoing.”

The raffle tickets were sold on the basis that all funds raised were being donated to The Firefighters Charity and Narberth First Responders.

We contacted The Firefighters’ Charity to ask if they had been receiving regular donations from the station, they told us that they had been asked by MAWWFR not to comment.

All monies raised from fundraising is said to be kept in a locked safe within Narberth Station before it is banked, said our source.

They added that the only crew members who have keys which would enable them to have access to the safe are those who’ve sold the raffle tickets.

Due to an ongoing active police investigation into the thefts, we are unable to name the two individuals.

It has also been brought to our attention that since the investigation opened, last year, a member of staff allegedly took early retirement due to illness.

This newspaper has recontacted Dyfed-Powys Police to clarify whether they suspect a break-in or another possible explanation, we await their response.

However, the police have made no appeals to the press or public for information that would relate to the possibility that a burglary may have occurred.

The Herald asked MAWWFRS whether they had a licence in place to sell the raffle tickets lawfully, did all raised funds reach the advertised charities, and what procedures would they be implementing to ensure funds raised reached their intended target.

A spokesperson said: “Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service take any allegations around the conduct of our staff seriously and have procedures in place to deal with such concerns appropriately.

“We also take our responsibilities in terms of respecting the personal confidentiality of all employees seriously and as such will not comment further in this regard.”

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