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Controversy over Cleddau cash

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cleddaubridgeA DISPUTE about tolls on the Cleddau Bridge has delayed the council’s accounts being signed off by its external auditors.

Councillors have been kept in the dark about the argument and the fact the council has had to seek external legal advice on the issue.

It is alleged that the council has been funnelling between £1.5m and £2m per annum into the council’s revenue services account and not accurately accounting for either the income it receives or the deficit it claims the vital transport link has accumulated over time.

The Pembrokeshire Herald can confirm that the council has been in dispute with the Wales Audit Office (WAO) about the way it accounts for revenue from tolls on the Cleddau Bridge.

The spat turns on the interpretation of part of an Act of Parliament from 1987, The Dyfed Act, which sets out how the Council is supposed to deal with the revenue from bridge tolls it collects. The dispute is also about how the council’s own figures show a large accumulated deficit for operating the bridge, which is more a work of accounting fiction than a true reflection of its financial position.

The Herald has spoken to a person close to the dispute who has told us that one way the council has used the revenue from tolls is to subsidise its Council Tax figures, using the money gathered in tolls to drive down Council Tax bills so that Pembrokeshire has apparently lower Council Tax than other councils.

The Herald further understands that the accumulated deficit shown in the council’s accounts is an issue which is under discussion between the council and the WAO. The picture is obscured by the fact that while the bridge was commissioned in the 1960’s under one local government settlement, there have been two subsequent re-alignments of the local government landscape. Those reorganisations have contributed to the confusion about how to draw up the profit and loss schedule for the bridge, how much it has received in tolls, whether a profit has accrued and, in the event it has, what the council and its predecessors have done with the money.

Our source told us that it’s fair to say the situation is a mess and one partly created by the 1987 Act’s unclear drafting.

With local government re-organisation a hot topic at the moment, the effect of any merger will be that the council will need to both strike a more realistic position in respect of the Bridge’s financial status.

At the same time, in the event of merger with neighbouring authorities the effect of the backdoor subsidy given to Pembrokeshire’s Council Tax will unwind as a sudden and significant rise in Council Tax for the county.

Significantly, members of the council appear to have been kept in the dark about the situation and the potential impact it will have on the council’s financial position going forward.

The Herald understands that the council has sought external legal advice on how to sort out the dispute, which both it and the WAO are keen to resolve.

The Herald asked for a comment from the council about the position of its accounts. A spokesperson told us: “We anticipate the matter will be resolved at the next meeting of the Corporate Governance Committee which will be held before the end of the financial year.”

The WAO said: “We had a formal objection in regard to the accounting for the Cleddau Bridge. This delayed the accounts opinion. That has recently been resolved with the Council and we are awaiting an updated set of accounts, so we can check and certify them in March.”

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Council’s Planning Committee approves ambitious dockyard plans

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL’s Planning Committee this morning (Tuesday, May 18) approved an application for the construction of a new marine engineering project at Pembroke Dock’s Royal Dockyard.
The plans, vociferously opposed by local heritage groups, passed unanimously.

The matter will now go to the Welsh Government, which has reserved its position on the scheme’s approval.
Committee members expressed the view that the balance between heritage and economic development were balanced, with strong views expressed on either side. They decided the balance of the application favoured economic development subject to conditions regarding aspects of the site’s preservation and its ability to be restored in the future.

The Committee members who attended a site visit on Wednesday, May 12, said it was the most informative and best site visit they had this council term. Visiting the site gave them a clearer idea about what was planned and the scale of the project, which would not have been gained from a paper exercise.

While the approval of the scheme was unanimous, one element of the reserved matters caused some members concern: the height and size of the proposed massive new sheds which would be built at a later phase of the project.
Cllr David Pugh, seconded by Cllr Steve Alderman, moved an amendment which would approve the project and delegate reserved matters to officers apart from the sheds’ construction, which would return to the Committee for detailed approval.

Cllr Tony Wilcox and Cllr Mark Carter emphasised the need for certainty regarding the project’s development, a position supported by Cllr David Howlett, Cllrs Pugh, Alderman and Cllr Stephen Joseph said that little delay would be caused to the scheme by bringing the sheds’ development back to the Committee. They noted the significant intrusion of the sheds into the landscape for miles around.

Planning Officer Mike Simmons advised that the project would proceed in five phases and that the applicant, Milford Haven Port Authority, was keen to proceed with the first phase as soon as possible. The first phase would be the infilling of the docks and pool, removing a caisson gate and preserving it, before the building of new slipways.
The Port Authority already accepted the sheds would only be built if there was commercial demand for them.
The amendment proposed by Cllr Pugh passed by six votes to five with two abstentions.

It means before the sheds are built, the Committee will decide the detailed application relating to them.

All other aspects of the development will be decided by officers.

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Business

Further Covid-19 business support packages to become available soon

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PEMBROKESHIRE businesses that remain affected by Covid-19 restrictions can check their eligibility for a new package of support from the Welsh Government.

This latest support package will help those businesses eligible to meet ongoing costs through to the end of June as they prepare for re-opening and more normal trading conditions.

Businesses that stand to benefit include:

  • nightclubs and late entertainment venues
  • events and conference venues not covered by the Welsh Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund (CRF)
  • hospitality and leisure businesses, including restaurants, pubs and cafes
  • supply chain business, which have been materially impacted by restrictions

An eligibility checker has opened on the Business Wales website so businesses can find out how much support they are likely to be entitled to and how to apply.

See more information and check your business’ eligibility at: https://businesswales.gov.wales/coronavirus-advice/

Funding will be calculated based on the size of the business and the type of restrictions they are under.

Businesses will be able submit applications to the Welsh Government from 24th May 2021 for grants of up to £25,000 and by the end of the month to Pembrokeshire County Council for smaller fixed Discretionary Grants.

To keep up to date and see the future application process for the Discretionary Grants please see: https://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/business-advice-and-support

The above link will be be updated with the latest information.  

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£50,000 funding windfall for low carbon community projects

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OVER £50,000 of funding has been awarded to local projects through the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority’s Sustainable Development Fund (SDF).

Since June 2020, the Fund has focussed on supporting community-led projects that contribute towards a reduction in carbon and help respond to the climate emergency. These can include:

·       Installing renewable energy generation facilities, such as solar panels, to a community building

·       Transport initiatives that promote reduced carbon emissions

·       The installation of community facilities that minimise waste, such as water fountains

·       Any other community-based carbon reduction initiatives.

Tenby RFC were among those to benefit from the most recent round of grants with an initiative to install recycling bins and litter pick stations at each of the sports facilities in the town.

There were two successful applications from the Solva area – one for the installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels at Solva Community Clubhouse, and the other from the Community Organised Allotment for Solva Tenants (COAST) to help with set-up costs.

Others to be awarded an SDF grant were the Paul Sartori Foundation and the EcoDewi community group. The Paul Sartori Foundation’s project involved fitting of tracking devices onto warehouse vans to enable route optimisation and increased fuel economy; while EcoDewi secured funding to support a part-time role organising community engagement events and volunteering activities, and developing wider community partnerships.

Jessica Morgan, Funding and Grants Officer for the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Trust said: “It’s been wonderful to see such variety in the applications we’ve received, and the innovative climate emergency solutions suggested by communities in the National Park.

“We look forward to receiving the next round of applications, and would encourage any community-led group or organisation that needs support to fund projects that will help reduce carbon and/or respond to climate change to apply as soon as possible.”

The next deadline for SDF applications is Friday 10 September 2021.

To find out more about SDF grants, and to apply online or download the application form please visit www.pembrokeshirecoast.wales/sdf.  

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