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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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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Tomos

    September 5, 2014 at 11:12 pm

    Even THIS paper censors comments that are anti freemasons – so in other words these ppl are no different to th eother lot :((

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Nine Dyfed-Powys Police officers assaulted in one weekend

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NINE Dyfed-Powys Police officers were assaulted in five incidents over the weekend, including a Special Constable who was bitten while on her probation period.

Officers across the force were punched, kicked, bitten and spat at as they responded to domestic assaults, harassment, a disturbance and a missing person.

The offences were alleged to have been committed by women aged between 14 and 61, all of whom were arrested on suspicion of assaulting an emergency worker.

Chief Constable Mark Collins said: “Policing, by its very nature, is a challenging occupation, and officers do expect to be put in difficult situations. However, it is completely unacceptable that they should be subject to assaults while they are carrying out their duties – particularly when they are assaulted by the very people they are trying to help.

“Nine officers being assaulted as they respond to five incidents is shocking – and this doesn’t include the verbal abuse and near misses they face daily.

“We take these matters very seriously. For every officer who is assaulted, a plan is put in place to support them, whether they are able to remain on duty or not.

“Our view is that assaults on police officers and staff should be investigated with the same care, compassion and commitment as an assault on a member of the public. This sounds obvious, but too often our response to assaults on officers and staff can be rushed or treated as secondary to other offences.”

Charges have been brought against two of the alleged offenders.

Chantelle Thomas, aged 18, of Water Street in Carmarthen, was charged with two counts of assaulting an emergency worker by kicking and biting them. Police had been called to a disturbance at Maes yr Ysgol at around 9.40pm on Saturday, where the defendant was found to be distressed. Officers attempted to calm her down, but she is alleged to have become irate, kicking out at one Special Constable and biting another.

One of the SCs, who is still in their probation period has been praised by their sergeant for their patience and composure during the incident.

Rhian Jeremiah, aged 32, of Adpar, Newcastle Emlyn, was also charged with two counts of assaulting an emergency worker following an incident on Saturday. She is reported to have bitten two PCs while they attempted to arrest her. She is due to appeal at Aberystwyth Magistrates’ Court on March 4.

In other incidents, a PC was kicked while attending a report of a mother assaulting her daughter in Pembroke Dock, and others were assaulted while at a domestic disturbance.

An officer and a sergeant were also kicked, punched and spat at after finding a teenager who had been reported missing.

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Stepaside: Residents group seeks to stop building of 80 houses

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A PLANNING application is causing controversy in south Pembrokeshire.

Stepaside and Pleasant Valley Residents Group have said that they are against 80 “houses” proposed on flood plain over the historical mine workings

The people living around Pleasant Valley have come together to keep their valley ‘pleasant’ and not developed by a remotely owned company just for profit.

The residents group was formed last year by local residents to oppose this planning application for the Heritage Park in Pleasant Valley, Stepaside.

Their Objection, submitted in October 2019 has raised awareness locally and the level of resistance has continued to grow with more and more people joining the mailing list and Facebook group.

The planning application, doubling the size of the Heritage Park in Pleasant Valley may be given the go ahead as early as the Planning Committee on 10th March.

The project proposes to cover the whole area at the top of the valley with a significant development on land riddled with unmapped old coal mines and over a floodplain.

It includes around 80 accommodation units, some of which will, from historic experience in this kind of development, be used as permanent residences, and will surround, and discourage access to, an important CADW heritage industrial site with walks, trees and wildlife, the campaign group have said.

They told this newspaper: “The car parking and access to walks and woodland, that have been enjoyed by large numbers of local people and visitors for many years, will be restricted.

“It will increase light and noise pollution, which along with human activities will significantly repress wildlife such as rare bats, dormice, a wide range of shy birds – woodpeckers, owls, herons, dippers, treecreepers, etc. and proposes to remove trees at the very time we understand the importance of re-wilding our countryside and retaining mature trees.

The pressure group says that the proposal goes against the PCC recently published aim to encourage tourism development ‘while balancing this with the need to protect and celebrate the very features that make Pembrokeshire an attractive visitor destination.’

Ben Morris said: “Our objections are to protect this small community from over development and maintain the long held, access for local people and visitors to this heritage and wildlife area`. He added ‘If there is demand for more self-catering spaces there are many less sensitive sites where such developments could take places.

“The scheme is opposed by Friends of the Earth, Woodland Trust, other environment groups and a high proportion of local residents and visitors.

“Local residents wanting more information, or to join SPVRG should go to http://spvrg.wales”

The Herald has contacted the developer’s agent for a comment to the objections.

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Met Office: More rain and flooding warnings for Wales

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ALTHOUGH the severe weather associated with Storm Dennis has passed, there is further wet and windy weather to come this week.

With much of the ground around the UK saturated from heavy rain over the last two weeks, further severe weather warnings are in force for some of the worst hit areas. Yellow National Severe Weather warnings for rain have been issued for southern and north west Wales on Wednesday evening and through Thursday.

Chief Meteorologist Andy Page said: “Further rain will arrive on Wednesday evening and this is likely to become prolonged and possibly heavy over areas of high ground. For example, there is a chance that 60mm of rain could fall in parts of south Wales over 24 hours. With the ground already saturated there is a chance of further flooding, members of the public should check their flood risk and stay up to date with flood warnings from Natural Resources Wales, SEPA, NI Direct and the Environment Agency.”

Blustery showers will continue through the day on Monday and Tuesday, particularly in the west, these showers are likely to fall as snow over higher ground especially in Scotland over 200m in elevation. Although there will be sunny spells for many, thunder and hail could accompany the heavier showers.

Under clear skies on Tuesday night pockets of frost are likely as more settled conditions associated with a brief ridge of higher pressure pass through.

Rain and increasingly strong winds will move in from the west on Wednesday morning spreading across the whole of the UK through the day. Rain will be persistent and heavy at times in Wales and north western England overnight and a further front will move through on Thursday bringing heavy downpours.

Storm Dennis brought wet and windy conditions after what was an unsettled week, with Storm Ciara bringing stormy conditions the weekend before. South Wales saw the most rain from Storm Dennis, with 157.6mm recorded at a Natural Resources Wales site in Crai Resr, Powys, between midnight on Saturday morning to 10:00 this morning (17 February). The highest wind speed recorded during the storm was 91mph on Saturday evening at Aberdaron, Gwynedd.

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