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Council’s war with auditors

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top qcCounty Hall deploys top QC in legal battle over Bryn’s ‘tax-dodge’

PEMBROKESHIRE County Council has instructed top barrister Tim Kerr QC of 11 King’s Bench Walk, London to fight its corner against the WAO investigation into the decision to allow controversial CEO Bryn Parry Jones to avoid tax on his personal pension.

Mr Kerr is described on his chambers website as being “frequently engaged by central and local government entities as well as private
sector clients”. The Herald understands that Mr Kerr is also overseeing a probe at Lancashire County Council into alleged breaches of the local government tendering process.

The engagement of an expensive leading barrister by the Council to support a tax break for highly paid staff at a time when it is contemplating raising leisure charges and closing facilities around the County is sure to generate more controversy. Council Leader, Jamie Adams, claimed that the decision to give Bryn Parry Jones a tax break would not cost Pembrokeshire an extra penny.

The leader of neighbouring Carmarthenshire Council, Kevin Madge, has already accepted that the fall-out of the same policy has been
to damage that Council’s reputation. Carmarthenshire County Council has jointly instructed lawyers with Pembrokeshire to resist the WAO.

The Pembrokeshire Herald can reveal that the WAO has already sent its ‘consideration documents’ to Pembrokeshire County Council. It is understood that those who were asked to comment on the documents were CEO Bryn Parry Jones, Head of Finance Mark Lewis and the members of the committee who passed the tax dodge policy in 2011, including current Council leader Jamie Adams and former Council leader John Davies, who Cllr Adams has claimed gave the committee members advice on the complex issue.

Herald readers will recall that the Council only took independent legal advice AFTER the Wales Audit Office raised concerns about the decision to give senior staff a large tax break on their pensions.

The Auditor General for Wales said recently:

“There are those who would argue that asking and answering the difficult questions can safely be left to officials. I commend the professionalism of our public servants in Wales, but, I would warn, “Beware the summary produced by your own staff”. I want to stress that scrutiny must not be undertaken through a tick-box approach. Strict adherence merely to the letter of the standing order is not the objective, nor will citizens accept mere compliance as an excuse for profligate behaviours.”

Those who received the documents were given the opportunity to reply to them and have now done so.

The Pembrokeshire Herald can reveal that Carmarthenshire County Council’s Executive Board met in secret session on Wednesday, December 4, to consider its next steps. Despite a meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet taking place on Monday, December 2, no mention was made at the meeting of the WAO investigation.

The Wales Audit Office told The Pembrokeshire Herald:

““We can confirm that both Councils have provided their detailed responses to the Auditor’s consideration documents. He is now considering them and whether they will affect a decision to issue a report in the public interest. While there is no time scale on his decision, he hopes to conclude matters before Christmas.”

The Pembrokeshire Herald contacted Pembrokeshire County Council and asked the following questions in relation to the ‘consideration documents’ to which officers and members were due to respond:

• Please confirm whether responses have been made; if made, by whom they have been made and when they were made.
• Please confirm whether external Counsel or solicitors advised any of those responding either collectively or individually.
• Please provide us with a statement for publication regarding the dispute with the WAO regarding senior staff remuneration and when the matter is to be discussed by Council members.
• Please confirm what contribution – if any – is being made by the Council toward the fees of Mr Tim Kerr QC of 11 King’s Bench Walk Chambers.

Replying, a County Council spokesperson told The Herald:

“We can confirm that responses to the Wales Audit Office (WAO) ‘consideration document’ have been sent to the WAO.

“However, there are questions from Elected Members on this matter which are due to be asked at next week’s meeting of full Council. Responses will be given at that time.”

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Jonny Skyboss

    December 17, 2013 at 10:14 am

    The sooner the masses gather at the council offices and demand resignations, the better off this county will be! Whilst the average person is struggling to make ends meet, the council finds yet another way to spend hard-earned cash on protecting its own. Bah! Come on people! Stand up and be heard!

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Business

West Wales firm fined £75,000 after man killed by escaped cow

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A WEST WALES company has been fined £75,000 following the death of a 75-year-old man, Huw Evans, who was killed by a cow that had escaped from a livestock market. The incident occurred on November 19, 2022, at Whitland Livestock Market in Carmarthenshire, operated by J.J. Morris Limited.

Father-of-two Mr Evans was crossing the junction at North Road and West Street in Whitland when the cow, which was being auctioned, escaped from the market pen. The animal attacked Mr Evans, knocking him down and trampling him. He suffered multiple injuries and was airlifted to the University Hospital of Wales, where he succumbed to his injuries six days later.

A worker from J.J. Morris Limited was also injured during an unsuccessful attempt to recapture the cow. The cow eventually made its way towards Whitland Rugby Club and a railway line before being subdued and put down by Dyfed-Powys Police.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) launched an investigation into the incident and found that J.J. Morris Limited had failed to implement essential physical control measures to prevent cattle from escaping. The HSE concluded that the company’s risk assessment was inadequate, referencing control measures that were not in place at the market.

J.J. Morris Limited, based in Haverfordwest, admitted to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The company was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £5,047.55 in costs by Llanelli Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday, June 20.

In court, Mr Evans’ son, Dafydd, expressed his grief, saying: “Dad was my best friend, and I miss him terribly. He was taken from us too soon. Losing dad has had a tremendous effect on both myself and my brother. Because of this incident, dad’s grandsons will never fully know him personally, and he will not see them grow up.”

Following the hearing, HSE inspector Rhys Hughes remarked, “This tragic incident was foreseeable and preventable. The risk posed by cattle escaping from the livestock mart should have been identified, and effective control measures implemented. The case highlights the importance of following industry guidance, which is readily accessible and outlines the requirements to safely manage cattle.”

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Wales international Johnny Williams signs new Scarlets contract

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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.

“He is an important cog in how we look to play and it’s fantastic that he has agreed a new contract with the club. I know the fans will be thrilled with this news and, along with the likes of Eddie James, Joe Roberts and with Macs Page coming through, we have a lot of talent in that midfield pool for the coming years.”

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.

“A lot of young boys have put their hands up and we showed during the final few games of the season the kind of rugby we can produce.

“Pre-season will be around before we know it and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in, ready for a big start to next season.”

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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Business

Tata workers call first strikes in 40 years to stop steel destruction

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HISTORIC strikes in Port Talbot as Labour vows emergency talks with Tata after general election

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.

“Our members will not standby while this immensely wealthy conglomerate tries to throw Port Talbot and Llanwern on the scrapheap so it can boost its operations abroad. They know South Wales is ideally placed to take advantage of the coming boom in green steel – if the right choices are made.

“The strikes will go on until Tata halts its disastrous plans. Unite is backing Tata’s workers to the hilt in their historic battle to save the Welsh steel industry and give it the bright future it deserves.”

Labour has called for Tata to halt its plans and wait until after the general election to engage in talks with the government, saying there is a ‘better deal to do’. Labour has pledged £3 billion for UK steel if elected next month, a commitment secured by Unite. Labour has also made emergency talks with Tata a priority if it wins the election.

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