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Audit Committee in disarray

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Questions: One of the properties in Meyrick Street, Pembroke Dock

Questions: One of the properties in Meyrick Street, Pembroke Dock

THE COUNCIL’S continuing reluctance to release correspondence relating to its relationship with controversial Irish property developer Cathal McCosker is raising fears of another cover up at County Hall. Mr McCosker, the so-called ‘Baron of the Bedsits’, received hundreds of thousands of pounds in grants to renovate properties in Pembroke Dock. Instead of allowing scrutiny of his bank accounts when pressed, however, Mr McCosker reached a deal with the Council to repay a rumoured £180,000 to the local authority. It is the correspondence between the Council and Mr McCosker which was the subject of a motion calling for its disclosure, which was debated at a meeting of the Council’s Audit Committee on Monday December 1.

The meeting began inauspiciously. Lay member of the committee and its Chair, retired Morgan Cole partner Peter Jones, was absent.Normally, when a committee chair is unavailable the vice chair takes over handling the committee’s business. In this case, the vice chair of the committee is IPPG councillor Mike James. In the normal course of things, one would expect him to step into the vacant chair. However, the Audit Committee is a special case.

The rules governing the Audit Committee are covered by a piece of legislation called the Local Government Measure (Wales) 2011. It is a piece of legislation that has its own Guidance Notes which councils and their legal officers must make sure they follow. “It is permissible for only one of the committee’s members to be from the council’s executive, and this must not be the leader (or elected mayor). The council must have regard to this guidance when determining the membership of its audit committee. The chair of the committee is to be decided upon by the committee members themselves.

It can be a councillor or a lay member but, in the former case, must not be a councillor who belongs to a group with members in the executive.” The purpose of the guidance is, therefore, to make it clear that whoever chairs the committee it cannot be a member of a group with an interest in preserving the status quo. As one of the roles of the executive is to scrutinise a council’s internal financial controls, having a member of the ruling group deciding how that function should be transacted is inappropriate.

East Williamston representative Jacob Williams challenged Mike James’ chairing of the Committee and pointed out that correct legal position. He pointed out that it was for the committee members to appoint a chair for the meeting and that the chair could not be a member of the ruling group. Acting Head of Legal Services, Claire Incledon, was summoned from her garret to help the Committee reach a decision. Ms Incledon took the view that there was nothing in the rules to prevent the blameless Mike James from taking over the committee’s transaction of business on Monday.

The IPPG councillors on the committee ensured that her view was followed on nothing harder than the basis that Ms Incledon was a lawyer who should know her stuff, regardless of what the law actually said. So, Mike James chaired the meeting: a move which calls into question whether any of Monday’s business was lawfully transacted. The substantive order of business before the Committee related to Cllr Mike Stoddart’s motion to ensure that councillors had the chance to scrutinise how and in what circumstances the authority had decided to settle up with Mr McCosker.

Detective Sergeant Lewis of Dyfed Powys Police, who was attending the committee to assist it with its enquiries, confirmed that no arrests had been made, no charges brought, and no court proceedings were pending. Claire Incledon intervened. This move, she told the Committee, would involve the council breaking the sub judice rules. Since March, Council Leader Jamie Adams and others on the IPPG benches have repeatedly and persistently misused the sub judice rule to stifle debate on the grants scandal.

Experienced newspaper proprietor that he was, Mike Stoddart pointed out with some force that the Contempt of Court Act and the sub judice rule it enshrines was not applicable. The Contempt of Court Act only bites when arrests have been made, charges brought and court proceedings are either pending or ongoing. As none of those circumstances applied, the sub judice argument was nonsense. While the police objected to the release of records under Article 6 of the Human Rights Act, it was argued that the limited circulation of the material to which Cllr Stoddart wanted access would not lead to any unfair trial, as the material would be treated confidentially.

In similar circumstances in January of this year, Monitoring Officer Laurence Harding was compelled to acquiesce in the request to release documents for councillors’ examination. On that occasion, of course, the Committee was under the robust leadership of John Evans MBE, who later resigned in disgust at the failure of the Council to respond responsibly to legitimate public concerns. Speaking to The Herald, Mike Stoddart said: “What an absolute shambles! First the IPPG members used their 4:2 majority to elect one of their own as chairman despite having it explained to them by Cllr Jacob Williams that such an appointment was clearly against the law. This constitutionally defective committee then went on to reject my Notice of Motion on the basis of what were clear misrepresentations of the Human Rights Act and the sub judice rules.”

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Covid-19 vaccination venues and timeline announced for everyone locally over 50

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EVERY person in JCVI priority groups 5 to 9 will be offered a COVID-19 vaccination by 18 April, Hywel Dda University Health Board has confirmed.

While the health board’s vaccination programme has the capacity to offer a vaccine to everyone in groups 5 to 9 by the original target date of 4 April, the delivery plan has had to be adjusted based on confirmed vaccine deliveries.

Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, and Pembrokeshire residents in priority groups 5 to 9 can expect to receive their vaccine as follows:

  • Group 5, people aged 65 – 69 years – delivered by GP practices between 15 February and 12 March
  • Group 6, people aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions and unpaid carers – delivered by GP practices between 22 February and 4 April
  • Group 7, people aged 60 – 64 years – delivered by mass vaccination centres starting 8 March
  • Group 8, people aged 55 – 59 years – delivered by mass vaccination centres starting 22 March
  • Group 9, people aged 50 – 54 years – delivered by mass vaccination centres starting 5 April

The health board currently has mass vaccination centres located in Aberystwyth, Cardigan, Haverfordwest, Tenby, Carmarthen and Llanelli.

Group 6 is significantly the largest cohort to be vaccinated to date and we understand that many in this group will be anxious to receive a vaccine. Please do not contact your GP or the health board to ask about your appointment, you will be contacted directly when it is your turn and we thank you for your patience.

People in groups 7, 8 and 9 will receive a letter with an appointment date and time. Please arrive as close to your appointment time as possible. The letter will include a phone number to contact the health board should you need to rearrange or cancel your appointment but please make every effort to keep your allocated appointment time.

Steve Moore, Chief Executive of Hywel Dda UHB, said: “While  our programme has had to slow  due to supplies, we want to reassure everyone in groups 5 to 9 that our amazing teams of vaccinators and GP practices have the capability and flexibility to deliver our vaccine supplies as they arrive into the region.

“Vaccine supplies will start to increase again from mid-March, and we are confident that everyone living in our three counties in the top 9 priority groups will be offered a vaccine by mid-April.

“In Hywel Dda we have an older population compared to some other health boards and so over 50% of our adult population will have been offered a vaccine by milestone 2.

“To be able to say that as we approach the anniversary of the first national lockdown is nothing short of extraordinary.

“And again, I must say thank you to everyone living in our three counties who continue to come forward in substantial numbers for the vaccine. Uptake remains remarkably high and we hope to see this continue through groups 5 to 9 and into group 10.”

People are asked, wherever possible, to use their own private transport to attend an appointment. Lifts can be accepted from someone in their household or support bubble, but not from anyone else due to the risk of transmission of the virus.

The health board has put in place transport support for anyone who may have difficulty attending their vaccination appointment. If you have no other means of travel, please contact the health board on 0300 303 8322 and we will be happy to assist.

Everyone in priority groups 1 to 4 should have received an offer of a vaccination. If you have not been contacted, or have changed your mind, please contact your GP at the earliest opportunity. No one will be left behind.

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Nolton Haven: Man hospitalised after getting into difficulties in sea

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A MAN was taken to hospital after getting into difficulties in the sea off Nolton Haven on Friday.

Emergency services were alerted at 2.40pm on February 26 by a 999 call to the control centre.

The Little Haven RNLI lifeboat, Broad Haven Coastguard, an ambulance crew and a Coastguard rescue helicopter assisted police in the operation.

The male casualty was stabilised on the beach and shortly before 4.30pm, was then transported to Withybush Hospital.

A police spokesman told The Herald: “We were called to a male who had got into difficulties in the water at Nolton Haven shortly before 3pm.

“He was taken to hospital by ambulance.”

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Cyclist killed on A40 was serving police officer, force confirms

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A CYCLIST who died after a crash with a van on the A40 in Carmarthenshire was a serving police officer with Dyfed-Powys Police, the force has confirmed in a statement to Herald.Wales.

The driver of the van involved in the crash, which happened on Thursday (Feb 25) has been arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving, it was confirmed on Friday (Feb 26).

Police are investigating the fatal collision, which caused the road to be closed for 12 hours, and are asking for any witnesses to come forward by calling 101.

37-year-old Lynwen Thomas, who is a former student at Ysgol Bro Myrddin, Croes-y-Ceiliog, Carmarthen, was a sergeant and a very well-respected member of Dyfed-Powys Police.

A spokesperson for the police said in a statement: “Our thoughts are with her family, friends and colleagues, who have all been offered specialist support. We ask that family members are given the privacy they need at this difficult time.”

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