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Grants probe continues

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probe continues Councillor seeks fair treatment Stoddart steps up attack Pugh wins award

COUNTY COUNCILLOR Mike Stoddart has drawn attention to potentially preferential treatment given to requests for information made by members of Pembrokeshire’s ruling IPPG.

At December’s meeting of the Full Council, Cllr Rob Summons responded with information that purported to rebut a post that Cllr Stoddart had made on his website, oldgrumpy.co.uk. Councillor Stoddart said:

“The article on my website that inspired his request was first published on Saturday, December 7. So, the earliest his request could have been validated was on Monday, December 9. There he was just a couple of days later waving the reply around in the council chamber.

“So first thing on the morning of Monday 16 December I put in a request for the amount of grant paid in respect of slating at numbers 25 and 29 Dimond Street, Pembroke Dock, both of which appeared to fall within Cllr Summons’ helpful definition of freely available information. This brought forward one of those “out of office” replies from the information officer telling me they were on leave until 18 December.

“Concerned that I hadn’t received the customary official acknowledgement, I emailed again on 19 December when another “out of office reply” came back from the same officer telling me they were now on leave to 6 January. Fortunately, it contained an alternative email address of someone who could be contacted in the case of urgency.

“This I did and have now been told that “the programme officers who provide this information are on annual leave over the holidays” and I can expect a substantive reply within the 20 working days allowed by statute, i.e. by January 20, 2014.”

Councillor Stoddart went on to explain:

The employees’ Code of Conduct
says that:

“ … Employees must serve the Authority as a whole … [T]hey must serve all Councillors and not just those from the controlling group…”

HAVING received an apology – of sorts – from IPPG Cabinet member David Pugh just before Christmas, Councillor Mike Stoddart has questioned how grant money was spent on refurbishing and redeveloping 29 Dimond Street, Pembroke Dock: a property tenanted by a charity shop run by the Paul Sartori Foundation.

Councillor Stoddart points out that the total cost of works done to the property on the basis of a grant for £21,000 would have been in the region of £53,000, including works to remove asbestos from outbuildings. Councillor Stoddart points out that the outbuildings concerned were excluded from a calculation of the retail space which attracted the grants and goes on to explain:

“The work done to the rear of the building involved converting some rather scruffy outbuildings into four bedsits. Councillor Pugh told Full Council on December 12,

“The simple fact is that the developer has taken on much higher cost projects bringing semi-derelict buildings back into use both commercial and residential which incidentally is not grant aided.”

“I think the trick here is to suggest that, because these outbuildings were formerly part of the storage space for the shop, their conversion into bedsits can be classified as refurbishing retail space.

“The tender document calls for the removal of 80 sq m of asbestos sheeting and the disposal of 5 tonnes of the material.This sheeting weighs in at 1.25 cwt (62 kilo) per sq m.In fact asbestos sheets typically weigh about 3lb per sq ft which works out at roughly 14 kilo per sq m.

“Of course, when Cllr Pugh made his speech to council he was acting on behalf of the Cabinet and under the doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility all members of that body are saddled with what he said.

“If they have any regard for the truth, they should be demanding that Cllr Pugh accompanies them to 29 Dimond Street and shows them where exactly this £53,000 has been spent on refurbishing the retail space for which the grant of £21,000 was paid.”

AFTER being forced to climb down from his assault on a fellow-Councillor’s probity, IPPG Cabinet member David Pugh’s New Year got off to a bad start when he was voted the winner of the first Golden Don Qui Award by visitors to East Williamston County Councillor Jacob Williams’ website.

The Awards, which take their name from Councillor Pugh’s now infamous comparison of Councillor Mike Stoddart to Don Quixote, tilting at windmills, were inaugurated by Jacob Williams after a post on his website made the suggestion. Councillor Williams explains:

“What happened at the Full Council meeting spurred a comment on my website from Paul Absalom. Taking into account the poor way Cllr. Pugh conducted himself at the council meeting, his outrageous comments directed towards Cllr. Stoddart, and then his humbling comedown when it came to the ‘facts,’

Paul Absalom suggests that, following the ‘Don Quixote’ gag: “I bet Cllr Pugh feels like a right ‘Don Qui’ now.”

“Cllr. Pugh (with 37% of the vote) beat council leader Cllr. Jamie Adams (29%) into second place, and is a thoroughly deserving recipient – congratulations. Publicly accusing another councillor of being incompetent or a liar is serious stuff, and even more serious when the accusation is based upon untrue information presented as fact. The main thread of Cllr. Pugh’s botched attempt at discrediting Cllr. Mike Stoddart at the December 12 full council meeting was based on something he had made up. He has since apologised, and will have come to realise that the only character he was assassinating in his bungling tirade, was his own.”

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Education

Exciting visit to France for Pembrokeshire school pupils

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LAST week, 60 children and 16 teaching staff visited the Bassin d’Arcachon in France as part of a Taith funded project. 

The children, representing Pennar Community School, Neyland Community School, Prendergast Community School, Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi and Haverfordwest High School, engaged in a week of activities with French school children. 

They visited lessons, took part in dancing, art, maths and playground games, all with the aim of developing modern foreign language skills, exploring cultural similarities and differences as well as having an overarching theme of sustainability in schools and caring for the environment. 

The children explored the Dune de Pilat, the largest natural sand dune in Europe, and Biscarosse beach where they undertook beach and environmental studies.

The town of Neyland has had a twinning connection with the town of Sanguinet for more than ten years and this trip allowed these friendships to develop further and pave the way for a return visit by up to 20 French children next year.

The group was hosted by the twinning committee and the mayor at a reception in the town hall where the children had the opportunity to sample local dishes.

The children and staff were excellent ambassadors for their schools and for Pembrokeshire, laying the foundations for future collaborations.

Taith is Wales’ international learning exchange programme, with taith being Welsh for journey.

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Business

UK inflation falls to 2.3%, raising questions over interest rate cuts

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UK inflation has dropped to 2.3% in April, marking its lowest level in nearly three years. However, the decline fell short of analysts’ expectations, dampening hopes for an imminent interest rate cut by the Bank of England.

City analysts had anticipated a reduction to 2.1%, closer to the Bank’s 2% target. This discrepancy led markets to adjust their forecasts, now predicting that the Bank’s current rate of 5.25% may not be reduced until August, rather than next month as previously speculated.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that the decrease from March’s 3.2% was primarily due to lower energy and food costs. The last time inflation was this low was in July 2021. Significant contributions to the drop included a record 27% fall in electricity and gas prices over the past year and a modest 2.9% annual rise in food and soft drink prices, the smallest increase since November 2021.

Illustrating the ongoing strain on household budgets, furniture retailers reduced prices by 0.9% between March and April, while overall goods prices dropped by 0.8% month-on-month. However, annual services inflation, reflecting inter-company charges, remained stubbornly high at 5.9%, only slightly down from March’s 6%.

Despite the overall fall in the consumer prices index (CPI), the ONS noted that higher property rents and mortgage costs kept the alternative CPIH measure, which includes housing costs, elevated at 3% year-on-year. Petrol and diesel prices rose last month, although the price of Brent crude has recently stabilised around $83 (£65) per barrel.

KPMG UK’s chief economist, Yael Selfin, suggested that the chance of an interest rate cut next month had diminished. “Falling inflation nears the Bank of England’s target but may not suffice for an early rate cut,” she stated. Echoing this sentiment, Paula Bejarano Carbo of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research noted that core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, remains high at 3.9%. Combined with robust wage growth, this persistence could compel the Bank’s monetary policy committee to maintain rates.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak heralded April’s CPI figure as a “major moment for the economy, with inflation back to normal,” asserting that it validated the government’s economic strategy. Conversely, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves argued that it was premature for the Conservatives to celebrate, highlighting the ongoing pressures of soaring prices, mortgage bills, and taxes.

In the eurozone, inflation held steady at 2.4% in April.

Separate ONS data indicated a larger-than-expected rise in public borrowing for April, with the monthly deficit reaching £20.5bn. Despite a decrease in debt payments, the high cost of servicing government debt exceeded expectations, potentially ruling out pre-election tax cuts.

Economic adviser Martin Beck from the EY Item Club described the public finance figures as disappointing, suggesting that continued higher borrowing costs would likely prevent any significant fiscal easing before the next general election.

Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Economy and Energy, Samuel Kurtz MS, praised the inflation drop, attributing it to the UK Conservative Government’s effective economic policies. He called on the Welsh Labour Government to support the economy by fully implementing business rates relief and reforming growth taxes.

Paul Butterworth, CEO of Chambers Wales South East, South West, and Mid, noted that while the reduction in inflation was significant, it remained above the Bank of England’s target. He expressed hope that the continued downward trend might prompt an interest rate cut soon.

Meanwhile, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) warned that despite the fall in inflation, the cost of living crisis continues to severely impact mental health. Their recent survey revealed that 74% of respondents felt their mental health was worsened by the crisis, with particularly high impacts on those with pre-existing conditions, women, ethnic minorities, and lower-income households.

BACP’s Director, Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard, emphasised the need for government action to address these mental health challenges. The BACP has proposed a 13-point action plan to improve access to mental health services, stressing the importance of funding and support for vulnerable populations.

As the nation grapples with economic and mental health pressures, the government’s response to these intertwined issues will be crucial in the coming months.

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Community

Fleet Air Arm veteran donates ‘a lifetime’s research’ to heritage centre

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A CENTENARIAN Fleet Air Arm Veteran has made a nostalgic return to Pembrokeshire to donate documents, photographs and books – a lifetime of research – to Pembroke Dock Heritage Centre.

Hugh Langrishe, who recently celebrated his 101st birthday, lived in Pembrokeshire for 25 years – initially at Llanfallteg and then at Saundersfoot – with his late wife, Pam, who died last year. Since 1994 he has lived at Bromyard, Herefordshire.

He was joined by his son Jack and partner Julie Cavanagh, and friend Cliff Morris.

Hugh served as an engineering officer in the Fleet Air Arm during World War II and was attached to Royal Navy squadrons at air stations in Australia which supported the British Pacific Fleet. This prompted his research into many aspects of aviation history. When living locally he was a very active member of the Pembrokeshire Aviation Group.

This was his first visit to the Centre and he commented: “I did not expect to find such a professional museum. Everyone involved has done a job which is absolutely outstanding. The result is better than many a professional museum or collection I have seen. It deserves any award it might fetch.”

John Evans, of the Heritage Trust, added: “We were honoured to welcome Hugh back to the county and to be entrusted with his archive which includes a remarkable photographic collection.”

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