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Audit Committee to see key correspondence

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Evil?: Cllr Mike Stoddart

Cllr Mike Stoddart

FOLLOWING a lengthy – and at times angry – debate, councillors voted to pass a motion from Cllr Mike Stoddart to allow the audit committee to have access to documents relating to the controversial Commercial Property Grants Scheme in Pembroke Dock. Cllr Stoddart’s original motion asked for all councillors to have access to correspondence between the authority and WEFO and Mr Cathal McCosker but he amended the motion so that Audit Committee members alone could have access. Many councillors in the chamber felt they should all have access to the information in order to make a proper decision. Cllr Stoddart said: “This is a matter of some importance because public money is at stake here.

“Mr McCosker has offered to pay back a rather large sum of money – £189,000 is the figure I’ve been given. “There is also a sum of money that this council has got to pay back in respect of administrative payments that WEFO have made to this council. “The audit committee have a duty to look into this to see just how much this is going to cost the council, that’s what the audit committee was set up for.

“I am not talking about the police disclosing information; this is about the council disclosing information that is already in its possession. I’m not asking for the police to disclose it. He added: “Suggesting otherwise is another red herring being dragged across the floor.” Cllr Bob Kilmister said: “This is very important information for the debate and we need to see it, but once again members are being asked to debate without seeing any of the information that is required.”

Cllr Jamie Adams said: “Any information will be made available to members on conclusion of the police investigation and we have a process in following that investigation and I believe it’s very important that we recognise effectively the polity that should remain around any evidence that should remain following legal proceedings from that situation. “Members will have full information but as a body of council we must recognise that there is a time limit on it in terms of when that information is appropriate. “It may be appropriate for the audit committee to consider that advice, but I would suggest that it’s not really the function of full council to undertake that, and I am confident in the ability and the desire that is held within audit committee to get to the bottom of these matters with the assistance of the police. “Now is not the time for us as members to discuss the matter.”

Cllr Jacob Williams said: “How times have changed! At our Christmas meeting in 2013, Cllr Stoddart put forward a very similar motion and Cllr Pugh gave a number of facts, and subsequently it was revealed he wasn’t telling the whole truth and he has since been sacked from the Cabinet. “At that stage everybody was in denial in the IPPG group and a vote was taken, but that vote was taken on duff information. “Everything Cllr Stoddart has said about the grant scheme has proved to be correct.

The police investigation is ongoing – I don’t know what stage it is at, but isn’t that a long way we’ve come? Information was denied and it’s still being denied now. “One thing remains constant, and that is the ethos of this county which is to keep elected members in the dark. “Cllr Pugh denied there was a problem but now there is going to be a loss to the authority and I think you should all know about that.” Cllr Paul Miller said: “Clearly we are responsible for the budget. There is a financial issue in terms of a loss or a reclaim and we need to understand that.

That is part of our core remit as members, and this information is key to understanding that. I don’t how we can be in a position when we are not given the information.” Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse said: “The committee was requested by the police not to divulge the information which the police are using during the investigation. The legality of this was confirmed to the committee by the acting head of paid service. Assurance was given that in due course, at the conclusion of the police investigation the documentation would be made available to all members of this council. It is no good listening to what people think, we need evidence.”

Retired senior police officer Cllr Tony Brinsden said: “I’m rather concerned that so many red herrings are being dropped across the floor in front of us. I’m surprised that our leader had to go to council to find out that simple fact.” Cllr Mike Evans said: “This is information that is with the council, this is what we are debating.” Indicating the advice given by officers, he continued: “We open up this advice here and the first line says: ‘In this case I have been asked to advise upon a request by councillors who have access to information obtained by the police. This is not the case.

“How much has this one question cost us? What is the point of asking a question about information in the possession of the police? We all know that we have no right to see their documents. Cllr Bob Summons, a former police constable for over thirty years, said: “An email came in yesterday from the sergeant who is running the investigation. It says: ‘As discussed the police investigation has commenced and as part of the investigation team it is important that we have all material in relation to this matter.”

He continued, quoting the email: “Until any trial it is good practice for all materials to be classed as confidential. I am aware that information is available within Pembrokeshire County Council, which councillors have asked to be disclosed to them. “I would recommend at this stage of the enquiry that this material is not disclosed upon this request.” Councillors were not deflected from their pursuit of the matter by the red herrings offered in response to Councillor Stoddart’s motion: it was passed by 28 votes to 24 with four councillors (Mike Evans, Brian Hall, Stan Hudson and Steve Joseph) abstaining.

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Green hydrogen electrolyser and car refueler arrive at Milford Waterfront

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL says it is leading the way in renewable energy with a collaborative £4.5 million project exploring the vital role hydrogen could play in a decarbonised energy future.

Milford Haven : Energy Kingdom (MH:EK) is a two-year ‘detailed design’ project, completing in 2022, exploring what a renewable energy based Smart Local Energy System could look like for the Milford Haven Waterway – including the concept of a Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (HFCEV).

The aim is to gather detailed insight into the whole energy system around the Waterway, looking at how to make, using and distributing hydrogen financially viable within the different energy sectors of buildings, industry, power and transport.

The MH:EK team will investigate the potential of local renewable energy, including solar, onshore wind, future offshore wind and biomass for decarbonised gas transition.

One element of the project involves a consumer trial of two Riversimple ‘Rasa’ HFCEV’s. The MH:EK team is building a green hydrogen electrolyser and refueler on Milford Waterfront – and this will be used to produce green hydrogen on site to fuel the two trial HFCEV’s.

The project will demonstrate the practical application of hydrogen technology. The aim is to test the feasibility of two hydrogen powered Rasa cars. They will be built by Welsh company Riversimple, and operate as fleet cars in and around the Haven.

Pembrokeshire County Councillor Cris Tomos, Cabinet Member for the Environment and Welsh Language, said: ‘We welcome the progress made by the partnership, particularly in view of recent news that new petrol and diesel cars will not be sold in the UK after 2030. This innovative approach will help us to switch to a low carbon future and promoting sustainable transport as we respond to the climate change emergency.’

Work is underway and should be operational for the trial in July. A hydrogen-ready smart hybrid heating system is also being designed and will be installed and tested in an operational Port building.

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Council’s building maintenance teams to resume non-emergency responsive repairs

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THE HOUSING Building Maintenance teams within Pembrokeshire County Council are now able to re-commence non-emergency responsive repairs to customers’ homes around the County.

Lockdown has prevented tradesmen and women from entering homes to carry out anything other than emergency repairs for many months but the PCC Contact Centre is now able to take calls from customers to request a non-emergency service in their homes once more.

The Contact Centre receives around 38,000 building maintenance related service requests each year and even throughout lockdown Building Maintenance have proudly maintained a 99.2% success rate in responding to emergency repairs within 24hours since restrictions came into force.

Covid has caused a large disruption to the service and while the authority is now in a position to re-open phone lines to routine responsive repairs, a delay in providing that service is inevitable as the backlog is worked through but the authority is working hard to meet the demand.

Backlog is likely to take several months and is dependent on a number of factors including the numbers of repair requests received, availability of materials and contractors.

PCC currently employs 64 tradesmen and women directly and has a considerable number of contractors on its framework to undertake a wide range of maintenance works and Building Maintenance are in the process of tendering a New Minor Works Framework.

All maintenance employees and contractors will continue to work under strict guidelines in people’s homes to ensure that all safety and social distancing measures are adhered to.

The Housing Building Maintenance service is also in the final stages of implementing ‘Repair Finder’ which will enable Contact Centre staff to diagnose the faults in customer’s homes far quicker and more accurately than before, which will in turn ensure that Building Maintenance are better informed and resourced ahead of arriving at the property to carry out the repair.

This is expected to reduce the length of calls to the Contact Centre and subsequently reduce call-waiting times.

The ‘Repair Finder’ tool is expected to be available later in the year and will soon offer residents direct access to an online version which will enable them to report responsive repairs themselves.

Once trialled and released, service requests can be logged by the tenant via the Council’s ‘Housing Online’ portal.

When residents report a problem within their home via the Call Centre or ‘Repair Finder’, they will receive text message alerts informing them of the timescales within which they can expect the repair to be made.

Cabinet member for Housing, Cllr Michelle Bateman said: “We’re under no illusion that lockdown measures have caused a major disruption to the building maintenance service.

“We’re receiving new requests now on top of those that have been on standby during the Covid restrictions. Pembrokeshire residents have shown tremendous patience and understanding of services that have been stretched throughout the crisis so we’re counting on their ongoing support and we hope they appreciate that it will take a period of time to get back to where we were.

“People can be assured that we are working very hard to bring back the outstanding levels of service we provided before Covid and it’s things like ‘Repair Finder’ that will help make this possible going forward.

“With one in every six employed people in Pembrokeshire working for the local authority, it’s important to remember that we are very much in this together”.

If you wish to report a repair to your home you can call the Contact Centre on 01437 764551.

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Leader’s update: Keep doing your bit to prevent Covid-19 spreading

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THE LATEST from the Leader of Pembrokeshire County Council, Cllr David Simpson.

Hello everyone, I hope you have had a good weekend and enjoyed some of the lovely weather we have had.

Pembrokeshire is beautiful in all weathers but there’s nowhere quite like it when the sky is totally blue and the sun shining. Fingers crossed for more lovely weather this summer.

Let me firstly apologise for the late message this week but our focus has been working hard on the situation with a cluster of Covid-19 cases in Tenby.

It is not a surprise that we are starting to see a rise in cases following the easing of restrictions but the cluster of 22 confirmed cases as of yesterday (Monday) shows just how important it is for us all to keep following the rules to prevent further spread.

Council Leader, Cllr David Simpson (Pic PCC)

Our Test, Trace and Protect teams have worked tirelessly to contact close contacts and break the chain of infection in a complex situation.

Working closely with Public Health Wales and Hywel Dda University Health Board we have now got a mobile testing unit in place at the Salterns Car Park in Tenby.

The full address is Salterns Car Park, Marsh Road, Tenby, SA70 8DU.

If you have symptoms of Covid-19 – even if you have had the vaccine – please arrange to get a test.

Previously, only those with either a high temperature, a new continuous cough, or a loss/change of taste and smell, were advised to seek a test.

But across Pembrokeshire, people with any of the following wider symptoms that are persistent and/or unusual for should also get a PCR test:

  • Mild summer cold type symptoms – including sore throat, runny nose, headache
  • Flu-like symptoms, including myalgia (muscle ache or pain); excessive tiredness; persistent headache; runny nose or blocked nose; persistent sneezing; sore throat and/or hoarseness, shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Generally feeling unwell and a history of being in contact with a known Covid-19 case
  • Any new or change in symptoms following a previous negative test

If you have any of the above symptoms, please stay home and book a test by calling 119 or through the UK portal https://www.gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test

There are also a series of walk-in clinics for both first and second doses of the vaccines continuing this week.

See Hywel Dda Health Board on Facebook for more information.

As you will know, the First Minister on Friday set out further information on the ongoing Covid-19 situation.

Mr Drakeford paused further plans to relax restrictions as cases rise across Wales.

This should underline just how important it is for us all to maintain social distancing, keep washing hands regularly, meet people outside whenever possible and wear face coverings where required.

All these things work to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

We’ve all worked so hard to get to this point, let’s not let it slip now.

Stay safe everyone.

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