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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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THE SCARLETS said this week that they are delighted to announce that Wales international centre Johnny Williams has signed a new contract with the club.

The 27-year-old joined the Scarlets from Newcastle Falcons in 2020 and after just four appearances earned his first Wales cap, against Georgia in Llanelli.

A powerful-carrying presence in the Scarlets midfield, he has since made 46 appearances, scoring six tries, including a memorable interception in last season’s Challenge Cup quarter-final win over Clermont Auvergne.

He has won seven caps for Wales, featuring at the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.

Scarlets head coach Dwayne Peel said: “Johnny has been a key member of the side in recent years. He’s a player who is a dynamic carrier, is physical with and without the ball, has a good skill set and has an impact on every game he’s involved in.

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Johnny Williams said: “I am delighted to have signed a new contract. It has been a frustrating season in terms of results, but I am excited by the potential of the squad we are putting together.

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Johnny is the latest player to recommit to the Scarlets ahead of the 2024-25 campaign, following Tonga lock Sam Lousi, Wales internationals Tom Rogers and Harri O’Connor and back-rowers Dan Davis and Ben Williams.

Scarlets have also strengthened their squad with the addition of hooker Marnus van der Merwe (Toyota Cheetahs), prop Alec Hepburn (Exeter Chiefs), full-back Ellis Mee (Nottingham), lock Max Douglas (Toyota Canon Eagles), Wales international prop Henry Thomas (Castres Olympique) and back-three player Blair Murray (Canterbury).

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Around 1,500 Tata workers based in Port Talbot and Llanwern will begin all-out indefinite strike action over the company’s plans to cut 2,800 jobs and close its blast furnaces.

The strike action, which begins on 8 July, will severely impact Tata’s UK operations. It is the first time in over 40 years that steel workers in the UK have taken strike action.

The escalation in industrial action comes after the workers, who are members of Unite, the UK’s leading union, began working to rule and an overtime ban on Tuesday (June 17).

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Tata’s workers are not just fighting for their jobs – they are fighting for the future of their communities and the future of steel in Wales.

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THE WELSH CONSERVATIVES are rallying voters to use their voice on Thursday, July 4th, to signal that 25 years of Labour governance in Wales is enough. However, the question remains whether their message will resonate with the electorate amidst predictions of a near-wipeout for the Tories in Wales.

Since 1999, Labour has overseen critical areas such as the Welsh NHS, education, transport, housing, rural affairs, and job creation. According to the Conservatives, this quarter-century of Labour rule has left Wales with the longest NHS waiting lists in the UK, the poorest educational outcomes, and the lowest employment levels in the country.

Unveiling the Welsh Conservative manifesto in Kinmel Bay this morning, David TC Davies highlighted their achievements, stating, “We have a strong record of action in Wales, from cutting taxes and putting £700 back into the pockets of hardworking Welsh workers, to delivering two freeports which will create thousands of jobs and investing over £2.5 billion to support transport, tourism, heritage, and culture across Wales.

“This is just the start. Our bold plan for Wales will go further so that people in Wales keep more of their hard-earned money to spend on what they want, not what the government wants. We will continue to bring investment and jobs to Wales, so that people can provide for their families and enjoy the security of home ownership. We will make sure our children have the best start in life, with access to opportunities they never thought possible.

“Labour’s lack of ambition for Wales is clear for all to see – Labour in Westminster and Wales ruling out the electrification of the North Wales main line. Only the Conservatives will deliver for North Wales.

“It is only by voting Welsh Conservative can our clear plan, with bold action be put in place and deliver a secure future for Wales.”

Andrew RT Davies MS echoed these sentiments, calling for a change in leadership: “Keir Starmer said that Labour in Wales was his blueprint for what he would do to the rest of the UK. Here in Wales, we know that is a stark warning as we suffer with 20,000 people waiting two years or more for treatment, a 50/50 chance of an ambulance arriving in our hour of need and 20mph speed limits hitting the Welsh economy by up to £9 billion. That is what 25 years of Labour in power looks like.

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At the heart of the Welsh Conservative election manifesto, set to be published on Friday, is the pledge to reverse Wales’ controversial 20mph speed limit policy by giving people a legal right to challenge existing zones. The policy, introduced by former First Minister Mark Drakeford’s government, has faced significant backlash despite figures showing a reduction in road injuries.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Welsh Secretary David TC Davies, and Tory Senedd leader Andrew RT Davies will present the manifesto in Kinmel Bay, Conwy. Mr Sunak will describe Wales as a “great country, but a country let down by Labour,” which has led the Welsh government since devolution 25 years ago.

Additional neighbourhood police officers and a £1bn investment plan to electrify the North Wales main rail line will also feature prominently in the document. The electrification project, initially announced by Mr Sunak in October 2023 after cancelling the second leg of the HS2 high-speed rail line, aims to revitalise transport infrastructure in North Wales. However, transport experts estimate the actual cost could exceed £1.5bn.

During the manifesto launch, Mr Sunak is expected to criticise Welsh Labour’s priorities, accusing them of focusing solely on maintaining power. He will highlight initiatives like lowering the voting age to 16 in Senedd and local elections and increasing the number of Senedd members as examples of Labour’s self-serving strategies.

Despite calling the election last month, Mr Sunak has not seen a significant reduction in Labour’s lead in opinion polls. David TC Davies, expressing scepticism about Labour’s predicted victory, suggested that any Labour majority would lack enthusiastic support from the electorate.

As the July 4th election approaches, the Welsh Conservatives are emphasising the need for a dramatic shift in governance, advocating for policies they believe will rejuvenate Wales and rectify the issues they attribute to 25 years of Labour control.

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