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Badger and the magic carpets

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WHAT a rum old week, last week was! Back in the news was Tony Blair, both boosting Ed Milliband and as the potential focus of the Sir John Chilag’s Badger85imagelong-running inquiry into the Iraq War. It is likely that as long as the current state of affairs continues at County Hall, the Audit Committee’s inquiry into shady dealings in Pembroke Dock will take even longer to conclude. Lest we forget readers, the Audit Committee looked at one property as a test case with the clear intention under the then committee chair, John Evans MBE of looking further if they found something amiss. They found a lot amiss readers. But in the period between discovering that council officers were complacent lazy and smug bureaucrats who had missed a scam so obvious that it raises questions about their ability to organize the proverbial in a brewery and the writing of the final report, Chair John Evans MBE left. He was dismayed by the council’s ‘lack of appetite’ to be honest and straightforward about the extent of their officers’ incompetence. Your friend Badger has it on particularly good authority from a number of separate people that there was a widely held view that two officers in particular had displayed a level of incompetence that went beyond mere dim-wittedness and strayed into the realms of almost unbelievable crass stupidity. Badger blows those officers names and he knows who mark the final decision not to discipline them.

We now have a new Chair of the Audit Committee. One-time legal representative of John Allen-Mirehouse and onetime partner in a firm that has previously advised our County Council, Peter Jones was the only applicant for the post of lay member of the Audit Committee who came forward during the Council’s extended deadline period. Badger wonders how Mr Jones became aware of the exciting opportunity to renew his acquaintance with Johnny M and the rest of the not so great and less than good members of the council. This newspaper asked the council for details at the time it announced Mr Jones’ appointment. It was told that the council had extended the deadline for applications for the lay member’s post as the original advert had attracted insufficient applicants. We can infer from that the ideal number of applicants was the total of original applicants plus one. Now, readers all of this might seem like ancient history re-heated but we are now getting to the crux of the matter.

Having found irregularities in the sample property, one would anticipate that a new chair would he keen to press on with the investigation and fulfil the Audit Committee’s role. For that role’s definition we need look no farther than the Council’s Annual Statement of Accounts: ‘The Audit Committee, made up of County Councillors and a -non-elected” independent Chair, considers matters related to the authority’s financial affairs and the appropriateness of its risk management, internal control, corporate governance and internal/ external audit arrangements. The Audit Committee provides the forum for formal and transparent scrutiny of these arrangements, whilst improving oversight and accountability of the authority’s governance arrangements.” So, Badger anticipates, readers might envisage a new Chair rolling up their sleeves and getting ready to crack on with the work in hand about the grants scandal in Pembroke Dock. Not a bit of it. Let’s all move on and forget all about it, seemed to be

the order of Mr Jones’ day way back in September 2014. It’s all a long time ago and things are all better now. Best not to dwell, eh? How usefully uninquisitive, readers. Mr Jones’ broom swept exceedingly clean. The carpets at County Hall must be getting mighty lumpy with all the things brushed underneath them: the Audit Committee’s investigation into the grants scandal in Pembroke Dock being just one addition to the towering pile of ordure lurking under the Axminster. And now the latest piece of idiocy. At public expense and miffed at being proved so often wrong 11. Jacob Williams, the Council \ legal team approached a banister to try to spike his goo, Naught> Councillor Williams had offered an opinion that the advice given that allowed ClIr Mike James to chair a meeting of the Audit Committee in December when the letter of the law prohibits it was dead wrong. So, off went the Council’s legal team to pool their own ignorance with council tax-payers’ money and scurry off to St John’s Chambers.

Bristol for some advice. Simon Morgan, for that was the barrister instructed to advise the Council’s legal team, is an experienced practitioner, called to the Bar in 1988 and in practice as a solicitor before that. Mr Morgan is not, however, a specialist in Welsh local government law. His mightily impressive CV -and it truly is impressive, readers -shows a host of experience in serious criminal cases and health and safety prosecutions. Able he undoubtedly is a specialist in the relevant field he is not.

On the face of his CV, calling on Mr Morgan was the equivalent of calling on a plasterer to sort out your central heating. And mighty strange was Mr Morgan” advice. You see readers. Cllr Mike James – to whom Badger attaches no blame for this farrago.

Williams’ refusing to give up the point, Mr Jones enquired whether Jacob Williams was a lawyer. A wily old legal campaigner, readers, Mr Jones would not ask a question to which he did not already know the answer. His put-down, disguised as a question wanted those present to draw a clear inference: Lawyers are all terribly clever chaps – in the case of the acting head of legal. an honorary chap – and that mere mortal councillors should not enquire too closely of their expertise 1 e s t Icarus like they plunge to their farrago – was not Chair of the committee in Mr Jones’ absence; he was only chairing a meeting of the committee. You might think that is a distinction without a difference.

The Wales Audit Office did, It backed ClIr interpretation of the relevant regulations. Now Mr Jones is a mighty experienced lawyer, also. He found it within himself to attend last Thursday’s meeting. Mr Jones’ response to the conflicting advice was pretty straightforward. He backed the officers. He stuck with the status quo. The legal advice given by the council’s own legal officers was correct. Mr Morgan was correct. The WAO was correct. It was all the fault of the government for drafting such imprecise guidance. No harm, no foul. And then, with pomposity that bespoke his exasperation at ClIr

doom,. Rather like the child in Hans Christian Andersen’s Nay tale, Cllr Williams was having none of it. The emperor not only had no clothes but was so blinded by his own magnificence that he could not conceive his exposed position. The idea that literacy and an eye for detail was all ClIr Williams required escaped the Audit Chair. Cllr Williams is surely right that, where regulations are ambiguous, there should not be a rush to interpret them in favour of a convenient status quo; rather. calm reflection as to whether it is worth the risk of taking unlawful decisions in the event the regulations are breached. Ever willing to do a chap a favour however Johnny M proposed that the carpets at County Hall would not be damaged by having one more thing swept under them. Best not to be too curious. eh readers? Best not to dwell.

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Cllr Mike James is new Chairman of Pembrokeshire County Council

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL has a new Chairman.

Cllr Mike James became Chairman at the virtual Annual Meeting of Council today (Friday, May 14) following an extended period as Vice Chairman due to the Covid-19 situation.

Cllr James, who represents St Dogmaels, moves into the Chairman’s seat vacated by Cllr Simon Hancock.

Cllr Pat Davies was appointed Vice-Chairman of Pembrokeshire County Council.

At the same meeting Cllr Hancock was appointed Presiding Member for the coming year.

Cllr James joined Pembrokeshire County Council in 2010 and has previously served as Chairman of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority and Chairman of National Park Wales.

Cllr James said: “I feel very privileged to be appointed Chairman of Pembrokeshire County Council.

“I always try to achieve the best in my life and this is right up there at the top.

“I hope I can achieve the high standard set by Councillors who have been Chairman before me. Councillor Simon Hancock most certainly accomplished that standard.”

Cllr James is married to Sian and they have two daughters, Fern James and Rhiannon Lloyd.

Born and bred in St Dogmaels, Cllr James attended Ysgol Llandudoch and Ysgol Uwchradd Aberteifi.

He worked for 32 years at Slimma/Dewhirst Cardigan and for four years as an LSA in Ysgol Gyfun Emlyn.

Cllr James has also served as Clerk to St Dogmaels Community Council, as the Carers Champion for Pembrokeshire County Council and as a representative on numerous other committees and sub-committees.

A member of Cardigan Rugby Club Male Voice Choir, Cllr James also sits on the Dyfed-Powys Police and Crime Panel.

Cllr James added: “The last 14 months have not been easy for many people. I hope there is a light at the end of a long tunnel where we can meet and speak to loved ones again.

“I am a people’s person and I hope, if I am allowed, to have the opportunity to meet and talk to as many residents in Pembrokeshire as possible.”

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New international travel rules for Wales confirmed by First Minister

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International travel will restart for people in Wales from Monday 17 May, the Welsh Government has confirmed today.

As part of changes to Wales’ coronavirus regulations, people living in Wales will be able to travel to some overseas destinations without the need to quarantine on their return.

But additional safeguards will be put in place to help prevent new cases of coronavirus being imported into Wales.

A traffic lights system, aligned with England and Scotland, will be introduced. Countries will be classified as green, amber and red, depending on their rates of coronavirus.

Mandatory quarantine is in place for all people returning to the UK from countries on the amber and red lists. All people returning from overseas travel must have a PCR test.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said:

 “Wales, like other parts of the UK, will be restarting international travel. But protecting people’s health continues to be our top priority and we want to do everything we can to prevent coronavirus from being re-imported into Wales.

 “This will not be like travel in the past. Everyone travelling abroad will have to have a test when they come home and for many people, they will need to quarantine when they get home. There are significant fines in place for those who do not follow the legal requirements.

“Some countries are not yet opening up travel to people from the UK. It’s my strong advice that this is the year to stay at home and enjoy all that Wales has to offer.”

Under the international travel rules:

• People arriving from green-list countries are not required to quarantine on their return to Wales, but they must book and pay for a mandatory PCR test on or before day two of their return. All travellers and members of their household will also be reminded about the availability of additional lateral flow tests to continue to monitor their health.

• People arriving from amber-list countries are required to quarantine for 10 days at home on their return. This is a legal requirement. They are also required to book and pay for mandatory PCR tests on day two and on day eight. Unlike in England, Wales does not operate a test-to-release scheme where an additional test can be taken on day five to reduce the period of quarantine. This is because some 30% of people who develop Covid-19 do so after day five.

• People arriving from countries on the red list are required to quarantine for a full 10 days on arrival in the UK at a designated UK port in a government-managed facility – a ‘covid hotel’ – at their own cost, starting from £1,750 per person. All UK entry points for arrivals from red-list countries are in England and Scotland, which means Welsh residents returning from those countries will need to quarantine outside Wales. Travellers are also required to book and pay for mandatory PCR tests on day two and day eight.

All those who do not follow the rules for red-list countries face fixed notice penalties of £10,000.

Welsh residents must also consult the requirements for visitors for any country they plan to travel to. Restrictions may be in place, including proof of vaccination, tests, quarantine and reasons for entry.

Vaccination status certificates will be available for people in Wales who have had two doses of their vaccination and need to urgently travel to a country that requires covid vaccination proof from Monday 24 May.

The First Minister added:

“We call on people to think about whether they need to travel overseas at this time. We should be cautious about going abroad in light of the ongoing risk of coronavirus and the presence of variants of concern in many countries.

“My clear message to everyone is make Wales your destination of choice this year.”

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Hemp: the old new supercrop

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HEMP could become a more common feature of the countryside, our diets and everyday life, thanks to a new £1.1m research partnership.

The two-year project between Aberystwyth University and industry aims to make hemp a more valuable crop by increasing the amounts of compounds used to make a variety of food, health and pharmaceutical products.

Hemp is currently used in specialised fire-resistant fabrics, mattresses, building materials, insulation, animal bedding and biofuel.

An environmentally friendly, natural material, it is seen as a crop that can replace petrochemical products.

Hemp fibre has been used extensively throughout history, with production climaxing soon after being introduced to the New World. For centuries, items ranging from rope to fabrics, to industrial materials were made from hemp fibre.

Hemp was also commonly used to make sail canvas. The word “canvas” is derived from the word cannabis.

Pure hemp has a texture like linen.

Because of its versatility for use in a variety of products, today hemp is used in a number of consumer goods, including clothing, shoes, accessories, dog collars, and homewares. For clothing, in some instances, hemp is mixed with lyocell.

The new PHARMHEMP research partnership will develop the crop’s compounds sustainably; making them from parts of the plant that are currently left unused.

The research will also make the crop more valuable and allow use in more industrial and non-industrial sectors – making it more attractive to farmers who are keen to include alternative crops when rotating the use of their land.

Aberystwyth University’s involvement has benefited from the Welsh Government funded SMART Expertise programme.

Alan Gay, Senior Research Scientist at the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University commented: “We’re delighted and excited about this new partnership. We will use our long-established expertise here in Aberystwyth to help spread the benefits of this crop to many more people.

“We also hope to contribute to improving awareness of the crop among both consumers and farmers.

“The project is also an economic boost: supporting highly skilled jobs in the west of Wales. As well as the cosmetic, food and pharmaceutical uses, we will also explore industrial applications, which would significantly reduce the need for expensive imports.”

Professor Iain Donnison, Head of the Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University commented: “The Pharmahemp project builds on IBERS expertise in developing new opportunities for Welsh farming. It also represents an exciting opportunity for us to revisit and tailor a highly sustainable and versatile crop for the 21st century.”

The project links a number of the UK’s experienced operators in Hemp with the specialised breeding expertise of IBERS, Aberystwyth University.

The commercial partners are: TTS Pharma, specialists in pharmaceutical and health products; Voase and Son, specialist hemp growers; Elsoms Seeds, who develop and distribute seeds to the farming community; and GrowPura®, experts in controlled growing of plants where high levels of control are required.

Mark Tucker, Chief Executive at TTS Pharma, added: “This project builds on the foundations we laid in 2018 with Aberystwyth University, along with our other research projects.

“The resources and expertise at IBERS in Aberystwyth are particularly well suited to this research. They will help us to develop new cultivars, optimised for the UK climate and the end-use.

“We are delighted to have such strong partners to deliver the project’s objectives.  We are confident that this project will contribute significantly to improving existing yields.  It will also accelerate the introduction of a domestic supply chain and help eliminate the importation of illegal and non-compliant materials from China, South and North America.”   

David Coop, Director of Elsoms Seeds Ltd, commented: “Elsoms Seeds is the UK’s leading independent seed specialist and plant breeder. We breed, supply, and treat high quality vegetable and agricultural seed throughout the UK, using the latest in plant breeding research and seed technology.

“We are looking forward to working with IBERS and our partners on this project, and one day providing UK farmers with high quality seed of the new and innovative varieties which will result from it.”

Nick Bateman of Growpura added: “In the pharmaceutical industry, the all-year-round production of materials under well-controlled conditions is important. 

“With this project, we are keen to see how this plant can be adapted to growing in our high throughput sterile growing conditions, so that high quality products can be produced right throughout the year.”

Industrial Hemp Grower Nick Voase said: “We have been growing and processing industrial hemp since 2002 but have seen little development of the crop in the UK. 

“We are happy to be involved in this project which will adapt the crop to new uses and is specifically aimed at optimising yields from UK grown crops.”

Despite a common misunderstanding, the industrial hemp strains grown in the UK are all varieties with negligible levels of the psychoactive substance THC and are selected from an ‘Approved List’ and only grown under Home Office licences.

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