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Fishguard: Lie over lotto funding left town council ‘embarrassed’

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Misled town council: Former councillor, Chris John

Misled town council: Former councillor, Chris John

THE PUBLIC SERVICES OMBUDSMAN FOR WALES has looked into a former Fishguard and Goodwick town councillor, after it was alleged that he misled the parish council into believing he was securing lottery cash.

The ombudsman was informed that Cllr Chris John had deceived the town council, during five meetings – between April 2013 and March 2014 – that he had submitted an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund, for help with funding the World War One commemorations.

The community councillor said his application had passed the ‘first stage’ and was now on ‘stage two’ of the funding process. However, enquiries by the town council revealed that Cllr John had only submitted an expression of interest and no funding had been applied for.

The mayor at the time, Cllr Richard Grosvenor said the Cllr John’s dithering had left it too late for an application, and as a result many local organisations had been left disappointed.

The ombudsman found that Cllr John breached paragraph 6 1 (a) of the code of conduct. Cllr John was elected to the town council in 2012 and Cllr Grosvenor told The Herald: “Cllr John gave very articulate reports and he was praised by his fellow councillors for all the hard work he had been putting into the WWI project. This really is an embarrassing situation for the council.”

The town clerk Sarah McColl Dorion added: “Misrepresenting is a serious offence. Once we knew Cllr John had been misleading us, we contacted the ombudsman.”

Mr John said that with his farming job and the birth of his first child he had less time to devote to the project. “All I can say is that the timescale did go on too long and I apologise for that,” he said.

“I’m extremely apologetic to have caused any upset or disappointment. It was never my intention to mislead anyone on this.”

As Cllr Chris John has resigned due to ‘moving out of the parish’, the ombudsman cannot take any action.

UPDATE

Former Cllr Chris John send the following letter to The Herald on Saturday (Jan 5), which we publish here in full:

 

DEAR SIR,

I have seen and read many articles printed and published in the last couple of days regarding the findings of a Public Services Ombudsman investigation against me, condemning me and how I have misled and deeply embarrassed the Fishguard & Goodwick Town Council with regards to a Heritage Lottery Funding Application for monies to assist in the holding of commemoration events in our Twin Towns, and worse, to have let down my community as a whole. May I take this opportunity to say that I am extremely apologetic if I have caused upset and disappointment to anyone, as this was never my intention, nor did I mean to mislead anyone on this project.

However, I feel the full version of events has not been told, and until they are, I do not think the people of Fishguard & Goodwick can make up their own minds regarding this situation.

The Fishguard & Goodwick Town Council first began exploring the possibility of holding commemorational events for the 2014 First World War Centenary back in the autumn of 2012 under the leadership of then Mayor, Mrs. Maggie Stringer. A Committee was assembled by the Town Council to look into this project, and I was extremely keen to be involved due to my keen interest in both local and military history – this project married the two perfectly in my view. In a committee meeting that autumn, I was chosen to be the Chairman of the WW1 Committee, a great honour to be bestowed on such a new, and young, councillor and I was delighted.

The project started out on a really good footing; we held a public meeting in the Bay Hotel with other organisations, hoping that they would get involved. A number of them showed interest in this, and we talked about the various ideas of ways of commemorating such an important date in our nation’s calendar. It soon became apparent that many organisations wanted to hold a variety of events, and so it seemed to me that our Council should take an overall supervisory and administrative position; and this was reported to the full Town Council who agreed.

I was new and naive to the ways of local government, but I had some older and more experienced councillors on the Committee, and I felt that together we could make this project really work for our community. It was decided by the committee that we should look at obtaining HLF funding for this project as the supervisory body, and assist each of the different planned events by allocating funding. I was informed by Cllrs. Allison and Grosvenor who were on the WW1 Committee, that the process was “two-fold”. I then proceeded with speaking to the Heritage Lottery Fund in Cardiff via telephone about what kinds of events or projects they covered, the possibility of putting in a single, all-encompassing application for funding, and for ideas for projects. They informed me that I would need to make an Expression of Interest online to them, and then put together a comprehensive application, after which it would be considered and possible funding granted. I believed that this was the “two stages” of the process, and so I completed the Expression of Interest form online. I reported this to the Town Council, stating that we had completed “stage one” and we were looking at the “second stage” of the funding. With hindsight I can now see that my misunderstanding of the process coupled with the misdirection by certain councillors led me to make a complete muddle of my teminology used in the Council Chamber and recorded by the Town Clerk, which led to this investigation.

I spent the months, during which I reiterated our “progression to stage two” of the application process to the Town Council, obtaining ideas, collaborating with local organisations, attending numerous meetings, collating information on the men of Fishguard & Goodwick who fought and died in World War One, and obtaining quotes for a number of different proposals for the formal application. As those of you who have had dealings with democratic politics, by the time this information is compiled, relayed and acted upon takes time. Each committee member was employed full-time, and due to a number of reasons, it soon became a “one-man” committee.

However, I was determined this project carried on in honour of those who had fought and died in the First World War. Again, with hindsight, maybe this was a bad move on my part and I should have abandoned the plans according to Council Standing Orders as a committee must form a quorum of members for approval of suggestions to be brought to the Full Council.

Due to my occupation as a full-time dairy farm worker, and at the time my partner being heavily pregnant with our first child (who was born in April 2014 just after my removal from the WW1 Committee) I found myself having more and more limited spare time to devote to the project, just as the workload became more and more cumbersome. I even mentioned this informally to members of the Council, but I continued unaided.

Finally, with all the information gathered that I felt I required to complete the application process, I began to make a formal application online for funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for projects such as replica uniforms for the Army Cadets to wear and parade, trips to the Penally Trench system and local museums, and working on projects with the local schools to educate them about the First World War, and make sure this centenary did not pass without the sacrifices and information passed onto the next generation.

I had just began the application process when I was summoned to the Clerk’s Office for a meeting with the Clerk and the then Mayor. I spoke to them regarding all of the above, giving my explanation as to why the timescale had been far over-reached. It was then in that meeting I was told I was to be reported to the Ombudsman for misleading the Council, and gross misconduct. Although deeply hurt and frustrated, I accepted this as it was the correct procedure and had to be applied, and I was removed from the WW1 Committee. In my opinion, with my removal, the committee fell by the wayside and the planned events and application was abandoned by the decision of Cllr. Grosvenor.

I continued, wherever possible after my daughter’s birth, to attend Council meetings, and assisted the Clerk in making sure the History and Art Competitions went ahead apace in the local schools, designing the posters etc. The WW1 Committee regularly came up on the agenda of full Council meetings, but nothing was said, and the agenda item was quickly passed over. Retrospectively, I have wondered why no-one from the Committee stepped up to replace me and take over, especially as all the background work had been completed, and try to ensure that more of the planned events went ahead regardless of my removal. But, no-one did. Time soon passed, Remembrance Day came and went, and now in 2015 the Centenary Year is over, with little to show for it.

Finally however, despite my reasons, I take full responsibility, as the ex-Chairman of the Town Council’s WW1 Committee until Spring 2014, for its failure, and for that I apologise wholeheartedly to the community of Fishguard and Goodwick, and to the memory of those who lived and died on those atrocious battlefields throughout the world.

I would just like to add as a footnote that my resignation from the Town Council, although construed as connected to the findings of this Ombudsman’s investigation, actually had nothing to do with it. As mentioned previously, I continued where possible to attend Council meetings and it was simply due to my moving to Mathry closer to my new job on a different farm, and in doing so, I was now outside of the catchment area allowed for Councillors of the Town Council. I therefore had to tender my resignation as Councillor for Fishguard North-East Ward; a decision I did not take lightly as I had always wanted to follow in my late grandfather’s footsteps onto the Town Council and delve into a political career.

I have not made a previous reply to this story being published, as I was unaware of the verdict and closure of the investigation by the Ombudsman until after the deadlines given to me by the local press for comment. I feel that this was an immoral decision by certain members of the Town Council to release this story without my knowledge of its termination.

When I was contacted 23rd December by the Western Telegraph and County Echo, I made no reply as I was still under the impression that the matter was ongoing with the Ombudsman, and the last correspondence I had with them stated that any disclosure to the public and the press would be a violation of the Code of Conduct. It was not until the deadlines for a reply had passed that on the 27th December I received my post from my old landlord (who happens to be Cllr. Grosvenor) including the letter from the Ombudsman with their final verdict and ruling (and allowing me to speak on the investigation), which was sent out on the 19th December according to its date stamp on the envelope. Coincidence? Maybe.

I would like to finish by thanking you for reading this statement, and stating that I concur with the findings of the Ombudsman, but that I would only add that it was an unintentional misleading on my part. I hope that it gives my side of the story, and that it will help towards each reader coming to a balanced conclusion.

Christopher John

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Simon Hart MP says that First Minister is ‘reckless’ to say that the UK is ‘as it is, over’

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THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WALES, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire MP Simon Hart, said that the First Minister for Wales, Mark Drakeford is wrong to suggest that the United Kingdom has had its day in its current form.

The First Minister’s exact words were “the UK as it is; is over”.

Mr Drakeford’s has said a new union should be created to reflect a “voluntary association of four nations”.

In his conference speech, the Welsh Labour leader called for “home rule for Wales in a successful United Kingdom”.

In a strong rebuke of Mark Drakeford’s comments Simon Hart MP said on the BBC’s politics Wales programme on Sunday (Mar 7) that his suggestion was “reckless” and “an overt act of flirtation with Plaid Cymru.”

Mr Hart added: “I think he realises if he wants to remain first minister he has to do a deal with Plaid, it’s the only option on the table. He hasn’t denied that, I’ve heard.

“In order to do that he has to start making noises about the union that has to appeal to his Plaid Cymru colleagues. I think it’s quite a reckless thing.”

Mr Hart explained that the UK “benefits” Wales and that the UK-wide procurement of Covid-19 vaccines proves this. He added: “It demonstrates just one example that the UK is a positive influence but it doesn’t mean that some of the other arguments are not valid”.

Plaid Cymru wants to hold a referendum on Welsh independence if it wins May’s Senedd election, but the power to do so lies at Westminster.

There has been a growing interest in more independence for Wales in the last few years, with a huge surge in membership of the non-political Yes Cymru group since the start of the pandemic.

Plaid leader Adam Price, speaking on the same programme, said: “We sincerely believe that independence is ultimately the only sustainable way whereby Wales can achieve its incredible potential as a nation that isn’t being delivered at the moment and whereby we can achieve social and economic justice for everyone that lives in Wales.”

Giving evidence to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee on Thursday, which The Herald was invited attended via a Zoom, Mr Drakeford explained said his idea of home-rule meant “the powers we have, and the devolution settlement we develop, would be guaranteed and would not be interfered with in the way we have seen so vividly in recent months”.

Mr Drakeford said: “I do think the effect of the pandemic and last 12 months has been to polarise opinion in Wales about how Wales should be governed.

“There are some people who take a lesson that we would be better off handing Wales back to Whitehall, there are some Conservative candidates standing in the Senedd elections who apparently take that view.

“It has undoubtedly strengthened interest in those people who believe Wales should be taken out of the United Kingdom altogether.”

The company which runs The Pembrokeshire Herald, Herald News UK, has recently launched a national news website for Wales which is sympathetic to Welsh independence.

This is something which could not have happened without a shift in feeling by many in Wales that as a nation it should have more autonomy.

Speaking on ITN’s News at Ten on Thursday (Mar 4), Herald.Wales South and West Wales Editor, Tom Sinclair said: “From our test marketing we can see that there certainly is a huge appetite for news that is about Wales, made in Wales, and owned by a company which is actually Welsh.”

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Education

Delight as foundation phase learners return to class

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PEMBROKESHIRE Headteachers have reported very positive returns to school for Foundation Phase Learners.

All Foundation Phase Learners returned to schools on Monday, March 1st and attendance has been reported at almost 90% since.

The Council’s Director for Education, Steven Richards-Downes, said: “A wide range of council services have worked together to ensure that Foundation Phase pupils have been able to return
safely to school.

“I am particularly grateful to all school staff and families for ensure that learning is now available for our youngest learners face to face.”

Headteachers remarked how schools have filled with smiles and laughter following the safe and phased return of Foundation Phase learners.

Cora O’Brien, Headteacher at Waldo Williams School in Haverfordwest emphasised how quickly learners have settled back in to a routine.

“It has been an absolute joy to hear their laughter in the playground and to observe their love of learning face to face once again. I thank everybody in the Waldo Williams School
community for working so hard to ensure that the transition went smoothly.”

Vicky Hart-Griffiths, Headteacher of Ysgol Hafan y Mor in Tenby, said: “It has been wonderful to welcome all our Foundation Phase learners back to school. They are thriving, being amongst
friends and back to a school routine.  

“All the pupils have spoken about how happy they are to have returned and it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome them back and we can’t wait until we have all our pupils back in school.

“The school feels alive again and there’s a positive buzz and laughter once again echoing throughout the school.”

Gareth Lewis, Headteacher at Broad Haven CP School said children had returned “with real enthusiasm, and have been very keen to meet up with their friends.”

Mr Lewis added: “Our parents have been very supportive and positive about the return, and those with older children are very much looking forward to a wider return to schooling.”

Mr Richards-Downes said plans were now turning to more learners returning to schools in the near future.

“We are looking to the next phases of the re-opening of schools on the 15th of March as long as the government guidelines allow.”

Further details will be released in due course.

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Pembrokeshire County Council: This week’s Leader’s coronavirus update

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL Leader, Councillor David Simpson, has provided a further coronavirus update for Friday, 5th March as follows:

‘Welcome everyone to my weekly update.

“It is with rather a heavy heart that I tell you that it’s almost 12 months since my first statement on the coronavirus pandemic.

“On 9th March 2020, I addressed our Cabinet meeting with the following words:

“Further to the news yesterday that two people in Pembrokeshire had tested as positive for the Covid 19 virus, I am sure you will join me in wishing them both a speedy and full recovery.

“I can reassure you that our services will continue as usual, and all our employees can continue to attend to their work, appointments, schools and services as they normally would.

“We should all help protect ourselves and our communities by following Public Health Wales advice, particularly around washing hands and using a tissue for symptoms associated with cold and flu and then safely disposing of it.

“I am grateful to the co-operation and hard work of all of our staff and we will provide further updates and information when we have them.

“In the meantime I can confirm that detailed planning arrangements, both internally, with partner agencies and through the Dyfed Powys Local Resilience Forum, are well underway to ensure that the Council and Pembrokeshire are as well placed as possible for whatever challenges we may face. Thank you.”

“I am sure you will join me while I take a moment now to remember all those people in Pembrokeshire and further afield, who, very sadly, passed away since I made that announcement.

“I continue to be incredibly grateful, as I’m sure you are, to everyone who is helping to beat this pandemic, working so very hard now for over a year.

“We are fortunate now to be in a position where the vaccine programme is protecting older members of our community and starting to roll out among one of the biggest groups – the over 65s and those with underlying health conditions.

“This time next week (12th March) the Welsh Government will have notified us of their plans for the next three weeks.

“In the meantime, we remain in Alert Level 4 and the stay at home message continues to be more important than ever as we reach the threshold of better times.

“I wish you all a good weekend and thank you once again to the vast majority of wonderful Pembrokeshire residents who are doing the right thing and waiting patiently at home for restrictions to lift.

“We do really appreciate your efforts and determination to help bring this pandemic to an end.”

 

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