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Call for fraud probe on grants

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grants scandalPLAID CYMRU has uncovered that Pembrokeshire Council’s procurement rules were not followed in respect of public funds to 29 Dimond Street, Pembroke Dock.

A letter from the Welsh Local Government Minister states the Council’s procurement procedures were not followed and there was insufficient evidence to support the expenditure claimed in respect to 29 Dimond Street, Pembroke Dock, officials in the Welsh European Funding Office found.

Speaking from Brussels where he held a meeting with the EC’s Director of Public Procurement at which probity and corruption in EU funds was discussed, Mid & West AM Simon Thomas said:

“I am grateful to my constituent for raising this important matter with me. The Council’s own rules on procurement were not followed in this case and I have little faith that there are no other examples. It is not enough that the Welsh Government is seeking a claw back of the money paid to the council and will remove the properties in question from the European Union scheme.

“This is only sweeping things under the carpet. Either the police or an independent audit must go over such schemes with a fine toothcomb to ensure no other project has been mismanaged or fraud has been committed.

“I will be calling on the government to undertake such an audit and have also raised questions over the wider issue of governance of Pembrokeshire Council with the Local Government Minister as my Plaid Cymru colleagues on Pembrokeshire Council have done in the council chamber.”

Councillor Michael Williams, Leader of the Party of Wales on Pembrokeshire Council added:

“This is public money and it is disgraceful that Pembrokeshire Council haven’t followed their own procurement procedures particularly when the council makes companies jump through so many hoops to get contracts. The Wales Audit Office found that the council acted unlawfully over pension payments, and now this.”

The Council strikes back

RESPONDING to the Plaid press release, a Council spokesperson told the Herald:

“Pembrokeshire County Council has seen the correspondence between Minister Lesley Griffith AM and Simon Thomas AM and we do not agree with the statement by Plaid Cymru.

“It is not the case that procurement rules were not followed in relation to 29 Dimond Street.

“Works undertaken with the benefit of the Commercial Property Grant Scheme (CPGS) are not procured by the Council. The Council’s role is set out in the Council’s Procedure Manual which has recently been revised in consultation with the Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO).

“The grant for the property is being recovered and, while a police investigation into other matters in relation to the property are on-going, it would be inappropriate for the Council to comment further.

“There is no basis on which Mr Thomas can say that there may be other examples within the CPGS as WEFO has recently completed a 100 per cent check on all 24 CPGS-funded properties and found only two where there were any issues. Both had already been referred to the police by Pembrokeshire County Council.

“As Mrs Griffith’s letter makes clear, WEFO is satisfied that the Council has taken appropriate action and has lifted the payment suppression, both positive points that the statement from Plaid Cymru chooses to overlook.”

Inspection: Council officers check buildings

Inspection: Council officers check buildings

Procurement procedure not followed

THE DISPUTED revelation that the County Council failed to follow its own procurement procedures is bound to be an embarrassment to what it has been only too proud to proclaim is its “expert” team.

In January, we reported how the Council’s own European Manager had reassured Audit Committee members that they would find nothing wrong with the Scheme. It later appeared as though that officer, Gwyn Evans, had doctored a report of a meeting in an attempt to ensure that was the case.

At that same Audit Committee meeting, Dr Stephen Jones told members of the Committee that any problems with the scheme that would lead to recoupment would be trivial in nature.

It is now open to question how much active collusion or passive acquiescence there was by other officers more intimately involved in the grants scheme and the Town Heritage Initiative that preceded.

The response from Welsh Local Government Minister Lesley Griffiths, reveals that Pembrokeshire County Council has undertaken that it will refund monies paid out under the Commercial Property Grants Scheme (CPGS).

The Herald understands that the amount to be repaid is rather more significant than trivial, and sums between £150K and £300K are the subject of speculation at County Hall.

Questions still remain, however, about money given to other developments carried out by “Baron of the Bedsits”, Cathal McCosker under the Town Heritage Initiative.

What is certain, however, that once Pembrokeshire’s Best Magazine and Mike Stoddart began reporting on the grants fiasco the amount received in grant payments by Mr McCosker’s developments markedly diminished. As The Herald revealed, NO request for payment has been made by Mr McCosker or any of his companies in relation to 50 Dimond Street, a property now up for auction at a guide price significantly under that than would be indicated by the original grant allocation.

Mirehouse’s mistake

AT JANUARY’S Audit Committee meeting, former Deputy Leader of the Council John Allen Mirehouse (IPPG, Hundleton) proclaimed it was a shame that only around £18K of public money had been spent on renovating a tiny former butcher’s shop in Dimond Street instead of the £64K originally scheduled.

As the Council now faces repaying grant monies paid out to Mr McCosker and his companies under the CPGS, Mr Allen Mirehouse might want to re-appraise both that view and the view that there was no need for the scheme to be subject to scrutiny that he expressed in an ill-judged tirade directed against Cllr Mike Stoddart at a Council meeting in December last year.

In fact, even if the Council succeeds in getting any money back from Cathal McCosker at all, it will still be out of pocket. The rake the Council took for its so-called “administration” of the grants scheme amounted to 9% of the total amount received in European Funding. It is Pembrokeshire’s Council Tax payers who will ultimately foot that bill.

Minister also errs

THE HERALD is able to confirm that an assertion regarding controversial CEO Bryn Parry Jones in Ms Griffiths’ response is also misleading.

The letter claims that the controversial CEO has stepped aside from his post while an unrelated Police investigation takes place into the unlawful pay supplement scheme that the Council’s own Senior Staff Committee agreed in a bid to help Mr Parry Jones avoid tax on his seven-figure publicly-funded pension pot.

The Herald has confirmed that it is not the case that the ongoing Police investigation into that matter has anything to do with Mr Parry Jones continued paid absence from work. A Council spokesman told The Herald:

“Lesley Griffiths is incorrect in her assumption that the Chief Executive stepped aside ‘for the duration of the re-opened Police investigation.’

“He has taken a period of absence because of the “continuing speculation” surrounding his position and this is what we said in our press statement.”

grant scandalStoddart’s analysis

MIKE STODDART, who has tirelessly investigated the grants scandal told The Herald:

“It is heartening to see that Plaid Cymru are taking an interest in this matter.

“What is difficult to understand is why the police, who were provided with a dossier by PCC in April containing evidence of serious “irregularities” on projects carried out in Pembroke Dock by Mr Cathal McCosker and his associated companies still haven’t launched an investigation.

“The last time I enquired, about a month ago, the police told me that they were consulting with the Wales European Funding Office (WEFO) on whether it was “appropriate” to mount a criminal investigation.

“I met with three officers from WEFO on 9 June when I explained at great length how these “irregularities” were engineered by the developer his architect and builder so it is not easy to understand what is holding them back though, as WEFO have carried out multiple audits of these grants and failed to spot any of these “irregularities” it looks like they’re being asked to mark their own homework.

“In her letter to Simon Thomas AM the Minister Lesley Griffiths, after referring to the police involvement, says: ‘However these do not form part of the Commercial Property Grants Scheme, or other European Union funded scheme led by the council and so it would be inappropriate for the Welsh Government to comment any further at this time.’

“This is extremely misleading because the two projects that were referred to the Police were 10 Meyrick Street and 29 Dimond Street, both in Pembroke Dock.

“According to documents in my possession, large Commercial Property Grants funded by the EU were paid out on both these projects.

“However, I also understand that PCC has been forced to refund WEFO with ALL grant monies paid to Mr McCosker and the companies he controls, plus the sums provided by WEFO to cover PCC’s costs for administrating the scheme, so I suspect that what is now being spun is that, as the money has been returned, these projects were never grant funded in the first place.

“That seems like a classic case of rewriting history to me.

“I suspect a narrative is being prepared along the following lines: McCosker has repaid the grants so there is no loss to the public purse. PCC has tightened up its administrative procedures so that these ‘irregularities’ are unlikely to recur. In all the circumstances it would not be in the public interest to launch an expensive, time-consuming criminal investigation.

“Or, what most people recognise as a typical establishment cover-up.”

Who picks up the bill?

THE HERALD asked the Council that, as the Minister suggested that the Council had agreed to repay grant monies incorrectly paid out, to specify the amount in which payment was to be made, whether Mr McCosker agreed to indemnify the Council for this repayment and, if so, to identify with whom at County Hall any discussions took place.

A Council spokesperson told us: “As explained at the Council meeting on July 17, the fact that the grant is to be repaid does not mean that on all the properties concerned there are irregularities. The repayment is to expedite the continuation of the grant scheme and the lifting of the payment suppression. The grant to be repaid on the two properties that have been referred to the police is £144k. The owner of these properties has offered to repay grant paid to the Council. A charge has also been placed against the properties.”

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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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