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Councillor ‘right’ to question chairmanship

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Are you a lawyer? Audit Chair Peter Jones asked Cllr Williams

Are you a lawyer? Audit Chair Peter Jones asked Cllr Williams

THE WALES AUDIT OFFICE has determined that Cllr Jacob Williams was right to question whether Cllr Mike James could chair the December meeting of the Audit Committee.

Lay member and Chair, Peter Jones did not attend December’s meeting of the key Council committee and Vice Chair Mike James stood in for him. Legal advice from the Acting Head of Legal Services, Claire Incledon, was that Cllr James could chair the meeting in Mr Jones’ absence, despite being a member of the ruling group. The relevant rules state no member of the ruling group can chair the Audit Committee.

Cllr Williams questioned Ms Incledon’s advice at the time and at Thursday’s (Feb 5) meeting of the Audit Committee the Wales Audit Office said that his assertion that Cllr James’ membership of the IPPG debarred him from chairing the committee was correct.

In the interim period since December, the Council sought advice from Bristol barrister Simon Morgan, of St John’s Chambers. Acting Head of Legal Services, Claire Incledon, declined to go through the report prepared for the committee members and asked for questions straight away.

Cllr Jacob Williams asked that the legal advisor take them through the report. but that was not supported.

Richard Harris from the Wales Audit Office said: “We’ve seen the legal advice that has been given to the council, we haven’t taken legal advice. We have spoken to the Welsh Government; In terms of the letter of the law we think that the process does need to be refined.

“The Welsh Government have spoken to us and they’re looking at the guidance they provided and from what they are saying it is not clear. Their view was that the person who chaired the meeting shouldn’t be part of the ruling group.

“The Welsh Government are going to look at it again, there are three other counties across Wales who are in the same position and they will try and clarify the guidance they put forward”.

Chairman Peter Jones said: “It’s not as good as it should be, it needs improvement and that is in hand”.

Claire Incledon said: “I welcome the challenge from Cllr Williams. It has brought this to our attention, I have given my interpretation on the law and that’s also been supported by this advice from the council and as the WAO has explained has enabled us to see that there are matters lacking in regards to the implementation and the wording used with regards to the 2011 measure. It needs addressing and leaves us in a position with regards to the recommendations in the report whether we want to seek steps as suggested or waiting for the outcome of the update”.

Cllr Jacob Williams said: “I am disappointed with what’s happened here. The Local Government Measure is clearly designed to prevent a member of a ruling group from chairing a committee.

“We would all agree that this is the committee but under this lawyer’s external opinion that is not the case, he says this is not a committee, it’s a meeting of the committee. You or I wouldn’t make that distinction. It’s a wacko distinction, in my view, because when Cllr James sat in the chair at the start of the December meeting, I was aware of the measure which intended committees not to be chaired by members of the ruling group. I raised an objection and Ms Incledon’s view was that the rule requiring the meeting to be chaired by a non-ruling group member only applied to you chair, Mr Jones, as the appointed chair and that it didn’t apply to anybody else.

“I find it interesting that Mrs Incledon would come today and say that her view was supported, because that isn’t what the external barrister says. The external barrister says that rule didn’t apply to Councillor James because he was not chairing the committee, he was only chairing a meeting of it. That, to me, is bizarre: I don’t accept that this is a loophole because the measure also says that if, for instance, myself or Cllr Woodham had not been there, a member of the ruling group could chair the meeting if there were no other alternatives, but a member of the executive group could not under any circumstance. The reason for this is that the Welsh Government, when they made this legislation, wanted to drive a wedge between the executive and this important committee.

“I also find it a bit of a concern that Mr Harding said that the rule doesn’t apply to Cllr James. I find it concerning that Mr Harding couldn’t understand the intention of the measure and I don’t think that’s good enough.

“The external barrister makes five points, only one of which is now relevant, and that’s whether there is a distinction between chairing the committee and chairing the meeting. He finds that there is a distinction to be made. I don’t think there is a distinction to be made. ‘It is my view that the chairing of the meeting is very different from the chairing of a committee’, that’s what he says, I cannot believe that. Basically the council has gone to this barrister and he’s provided a report to back up the internal lawyers who said that I was wrong to raise this. I am pleased that the Wales Audit Office recognises I was exactly right.

“This is an easy way out in my view and the external barrister provided a wacko report”.

Chairman Peter Jones then questioned whether Cllr Williams was a qualified lawyer.

Cllr Williams said he wasn’t but went on to say: “On this occasion I have been vindicated and I was entirely right”.

Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse leapt to the officers’ defence, claiming: “The guidelines are ambiguous and the interpretation we received from our legal adviser at the time was in fact legally accurate. It was on this advice that the committee voted.”

Using his own extensive legal experience, Cllr Mirehouse continued: “If the guidelines change in the future that will not affect the legality of that decision we took that day. The committee was properly constituted, under the law with legal advice.

Graciously acknowledging Cllr Williams’ contribution to highlighting the issue, the Hundleton representative concluded: “He raises a good point that the measure is ambiguous. The Welsh Government have said they are going to re-draft it. I can see what he is saying that the legislation is ambiguous but that was not the law”.

Chairman Peter Jones added: “We are where we are; the committee took advice and acted on that in good faith.”

Ignoring the findings of the Wales Audit Office, he concluded: “The advice was supported and my advice to this committee is that we should await the outcome of the ongoing deliberations and then we will revisit the issue”.

It was not clear whether Mr Jones’ advice was intended as legal advice to the Committee members.

Mr Jones’ proposal was supported by his former client Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse and by Council Chair Tom Richards; Cllrs Guy Woodham and Jacob Williams voted against it.

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Crime Commissioner continues to secure funding for organisations that support victims of domestic and sexual violence

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THE POLICE and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed-Powys Police is again making the offer for organisations that support victims of domestic and sexual abuse to bid for additional funds.

Funding was made available last year, in light of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on organisations supporting victims of domestic and sexual violence.

It was part of a £76 million package of support made available by the UK Government.

Police and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn said: “Thanks to this additional funding, we can ensure that victims and survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence in Dyfed-Powys can access specialist services for support, at a time when they are needed the most.

“Unfortunately, we have seen a rise in domestic violence during the pandemic and victims need help now more than ever and I am grateful for the work of all the service providers across the Force area that help these men, women and families who are most in need.

“I want to reassure anyone who is in an abusive situation or relationship that you do not need to suffer in silence, and I urge anyone to report abuse to the Police on 101 or 999 in an emergency.

“This funding is open both to providers whom I currently commission and those that I do not currently fund. However, unlike the extraordinary Covid-19 funding provided in 2020/21, organisations do not need to be a registered charity, a charitable incorporated organisation, or a social enterprise to be eligible for this funding. They must, however, provide support services which have the purpose of helping victims of sexual violence or domestic abuse cope with the impacts of crime and, as far as possible, recover from the harm they have experienced. We would also encourage applications from small specialist organisations that support groups with protected characteristics.

“If you wish to submit a request for this funding, further guidance is available on my website, and can be requested via the office e-mail address.”

Closing date for submissions is close of play on Friday, March 12, 2021.

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Covid alert level lowered for whole of UK

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THE COVID alert level for all four nations of the United Kingdom has been lowered to alert level 4.

The decision comes following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and in light of the most recent data.

In recent weeks, the R-rate and the number of covid cases has been on the decline.

Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Frank Atherton said: “Following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and in the light of the most recent data, the four UK Chief Medical Officers and NHS England National Medical Director agree that the UK alert level should move from level 5 to level 4 in all four nations.

“The health services across the four nations remain under significant pressure with a high number of patients in hospital, however thanks to the efforts of public we are now seeing numbers consistently declining, and the threat of the NHS and other health services being overwhelmed within 21 days has receded.

“We should be under no illusions – transmission rates, hospital pressures and deaths are still very high. In time, the vaccines will have a major impact and we encourage everyone to get vaccinated when they receive the offer. However for the time being it is really important that we all – vaccinated or not – remain vigilant and continue to follow the guidelines.

“We know how difficult the situation has been and remains to be for healthcare workers, we thank them for their immense effort, skill and professionalism throughout the pandemic.”

Under the Welsh Government’s Alert level 4 restrictions, schools and colleges, places of worship, community centres, playgrounds and public parks are among those that can be opened.

Theatres, entertainment venues, leisure facilities and outdoor visitors attractions are among the places that must remain close while the country is in Alert Level 4.

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Postmaster and politicians welcome Goodwick cash machine U-turn

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GOODWICK post office will now be keeping its ATM, after a U-turn by Post Office Ltd.

The machine was due to be removed within months with the post master, Jon Moverley saying that it would be a disaster for the village.

If the ATM had been removed, there would have been just two 24-hour ATMs serving the whole of Fishguard and Goodwick in the short term and three when the Co-op renovations are completed.

Both politicians and local residents then got behind the campaign to keep the ATM

Pembrokeshire politicians Paul Davies and Stephen Crabb have welcomed the news that Goodwick post office is now set to keep its ATM facility. Following representations made by both politicians to the Post Office, it’s now been confirmed that Goodwick Post Office will be included in the rollout of ATM machines across the post office network.

Mr Davies said “This is really welcome news. I’m pleased that the Post Office has listened to the representations made by the local community and decided to retain the ATM at Goodwick post office. The facility is so important for local people and businesses and it’s great that that’s been recognised and the Post Office has committed to keeping it.”

Following the Post Office’s decision to invest in Goodwick’s ATM rather than remove it, Stephen Crabb MP, who campaigned for the ATM to stay, commented: “It’s great news that the Post Office has overturned its own decision and will be keeping an ATM machine in Goodwick.

“Access to cash continues to be incredibly important for a number of people and businesses and I’m pleased to have played my part in working with John from the Post Office in Goodwick, Paul Davies MS and the wider community to highlight the ATMs importance to the area. It shows what can be achieved when we work together.”

The postmaster described the news as ‘brilliant’. Mr Moverley thanked supporters.

He said “Many thanks to all of you who have used the machine and complained to POL about the removal. We were also supported by our MP, MS and mayor, the National Federation of Sub-postmasters and our Chamber of Trade.

“Everyone did their bit, and it says an enormous amount about the strength of the community.

“We are delighted that locals and so many other people have come together to save this essential facility in the village.”

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