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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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Blue Gem Wind begins digital aerial surveys for 300MW Valorous floating wind project

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BLUE GEM WIND, the joint venture between TotalEnergies, one of the world’s largest energy companies, and Simply Blue Energy, has begun offshore digital aerial surveys for a proposed 300MW floating wind project.

APEM Ltd have been chosen by Blue Gem Wind to deliver 24 consecutive monthly bird and marine mammal surveys of the early-commercial scale Valorous site. The high resolution data obtained will support baseline environmental characterisation of the site and environmental impact assessments for key ecological receptors.

The survey programme commenced in March 2021 and four of the 24 monthly surveys have been completed
to date.

Sean Evans, Environmental Specialist at Blue Gem Wind said, “It is important for us to begin long-lead in items
such as bird and marine mammal surveys as early as possible. These surveys will provide crucial species specific
data on the number, spatial distribution and activity of individuals across the Valorous site. This enables us to
undertake robust environmental impact assessments ahead of our planned consent application submission in
2023.”

Matt Rohner, Senior Consultant at APEM, “APEM Ltd are delighted to be able to support Blue Gem Wind’s
proposed Valorous offshore wind farm with our best-in-class survey design approach. Imagery captured using
state-of-the-art cameras is of ultra-high (1.6cm) resolution, providing industry leading image quality that is
essential for species level identification.”

The Celtic Sea is poised to play a key role in Net Zero, the Committee on Climate Change’s 100GW offshore
wind target, and crucially, the UK Government’s target of 1 GW of floating wind by 2030. The ORE Catapult also
estimated that the first GW of floating wind in the Celtic Sea could potentially deliver over 3,000 jobs and
£682m in supply chain opportunities for Wales and Cornwall by 2030.

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Three arrests as suspected cocaine worth £12,000 seized in Milford Haven

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POLICE in Milford Haven have disrupted the supply of cocaine in the town in a major operation which saw people detained and a large quantity of drugs found.

Three people were arrested and suspected cocaine worth up to £12,200 was seized, police said.

Dyfed-Powys Police carried out a warrant at a house in Hubberston on the evening of Friday, June 11, “where 122g of what is believed to be cocaine was found.”

This is estimated to have a street value of between £9,760 and £12,200 depending on its purity.

The occupant of the address – a 59-year-old man – was not present at the time, however he was later arrested on suspicion of possessing class A drugs with intent to supply.

He has been released under investigation pending the result of forensic, digital and financial enquiries.

As enquiries progressed, officers made two further arrests over the weekend.

A 33-year-old man from Manchester, was arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the supply of cocaine and possession of an offensive weapon after police stopped the car he was driving.

A quantity of white powder was seized by Greater Manchester Police during a warrant at the address he gave officers in custody.

A 27-year-old woman from the Stockport area was also arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the supply of class A drugs.

Both have been released on bail with the condition not to enter Pembrokeshire.

Detective Constable Phillip Jones said: “This was a significant drugs seizure, and we will continue our enquiries with the view to securing a swift outcome.

“I would like to thank all officers involved over the weekend for their dedication and diligence.”

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Major blaze destroys well known Tenby chip shop

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EMERGENCY services have sealed off part of Tenby following a major fire at a chip shop.

Fire fighters rushed to Park Road Fish & Chip Shop after a blaze broke out late on Tuesday morning (Jun 15).

Emergency services are still at the scene. Police are asking people to avoid the area.

Diversions for traffic are in place.

Four fire appliances responded to the blaze at the Tenby chip shop (Image G Davies Photography)
Fire fighters take off BA kits after the blaze was put out (Image G Davies Photography)

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