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‘Investigation’ into grants begins

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grants beginsON MONDAY, January 20, what was scheduled as a review of controversial grants awarded to property developers in Pembroke Dock under the Town Heritage Initiative and Commercial Property Grants Scheme turned into a full-blown investigation into the activities of builders and property developers who have benefited under them.

Although the word “review” appeared on the meeting’s agenda, the word “investigation” featured prominently in addresses to the Council made by Council officers, Mark Lewis, Director of Finance and Leisure; Dr Steven Jones, Director of Development; Gwyn Evans, the authority’s European Manager; and Jonathan Haswell, the Council’s Head of Internal Audit.

The meeting began with a striking reversal of position; Monitoring Officer Lawrence Harding confirmed that ALL Councillors WOULD have confidential access to documents and financial information concerning claims submitted for works and payments made under the schemes.

WE CAN’T ACCOUNT FOR EVERY PENNY

IN A REMARKABLE address to the County Council’s Audit Committee on Monday, Director of Development Dr Steven Jones confirmed that the audit procedures used by the authority meant that he could not guarantee that every penny claimed under the Town Heritage and Commercial Property Grant Schemes in Pembroke Dock had been spent by the developers concerned.

Dr Jones prefaced his remarks by claiming that although the chain of command left him ultimately responsible for the schemes, he was not involved in their day-to-day management and was not involved in their detailed scrutiny. Dr Jones went on to announce that in circumstances where money had been claimed for works not done then the Council would seek to recover those monies from property developers.

KEY PROPERTIES NOT INSPECTED

COUNCIL OFFICERS adopted a bullish and confident tone in their presentations to the Audit Committee, each pointing out that they had complied with procedures applicable to their respective roles. Mr Gwyn Evans told Committee members that even if there were problems with the Commercial Property Grant Scheme “which there are not” the Council had sufficient powers to reclaim money incorrectly paid out.

Under questioning from East Williamston Cllr Jacob Williams and Independent Committee Chair John Evans it was confirmed that DESPITE the assurance to the contrary given to December’s Full Council by IPPG Cllrs Pugh, Adams, Hall and Allen-Mirehouse properties in Dimond Street had NOT been checked and inspected: at the time of a major inspection in May 2012 the projects had not begun. Council officers had no idea which properties were inspected in a further audit visit in October 2012. Cllr Guy Woodham followed up by establishing that the Old Coronation School in Meyrick Street, Pembroke Dock, had not been checked by external auditors, as it was a residential development funded by the Town Heritage Initiative.

Under further questioning from Cllr Woodham officers confirmed that the process used by the Council to provide information to external bodies depended upon the provision by Council officers of small samples of data relating to individual projects, instead of a detailed examination of the bills of quantities for all of them.

Officers also confirmed that the Town Heritage Initiative did not have a procedural manual available for inspection as none was in place.

COUNCIL’S “MARGIN” REVEALED

ONE PIECE of information provided to Audit Committee members was the revelation that for each £ paid out under the Commercial Property Grants Scheme, the County Council obtained 9p. The recovery of this 9% was explained by the Council’s European Manager, Gwyn Evans, as covering its administration costs for the grants scheme and funding other enhancement works.

Mr Evans went on to claim that enhancement works and Council street improvements, such as the Tudor Rose paving project in Pembroke, would have been impossible without the Council recovering money out of the grants scheme.

COUNCILLORS QUERY WORKS

AUDIT COMMITTEE members and officers travelled to Pembroke Dock to see the buildings for themselves.

Stopping first at the Old Coronation School, where questions were raised about the refurbishment of the roof and windows, they moved on to Commercial Row before moving on to Dimond Street.

Accompanied by Cllr Mike Stoddart and Labour Leader Paul Miller, the Committee and officers visited 29 Dimond Street to gauge the works done for which £21,000 had been claimed. Councillors expressed some astonishment at the condition of the shop’s interior in light of the claims made for its refurbishment and were told by a Council surveyor, Steve Owen how grant money had been spent:

“There has been a new kitchen, WC, staff room, new wiring and fire alarm system – that’s the kind of thing they had to do.”

Cllr David Simpson asked: “You mean don’t know what work has actually been done?”

A local passer-by who knows the shop well, told Herald Assistant Editor Jon Coles, taking photographs of the visit, that he was amazed at the claims, saying that little or no work had been done in respect of the shop’s retail space. He said that the old fire alarms were still there, the partition and ceiling had not been removed and that apart from “perhaps a lick of paint” little had been done to change the shop’s interior.

On examination of the shop, Councillors noted that contrary to the expectations raised by the summary of works provided by the Council’s surveyor, a large hole in the toilet roof enabled them to see the underside of the floor above it and establish that the ceiling had not been insulated as stated or at all.

MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS

MIKE STODDART told the Herald that the visit raised more questions than answers about how the Council justified the grant given to the developer:

“It seems that part of the answer lies in some creative thinking by the officers involved in calculating these grants. What emerged during the site visit to 29 Dimond Street was that the cost of the Celotex insulation in the roof had been charged to retail space on the grounds that it would contribute to countering heat loss from the shop.

“You might think it would contribute a lot more to keeping warm the five bedsits on the upper two floors.

“These 40% retail refurbishment grants – financed by the Welsh Government – are designed to regenerate the shopping centres of places like Pembroke Dock. “Quite how this is achieved by turning former retail space into bedsits is not immediately obvious.”

INVESTIGATION TO TAKE TIME

ON RETURNING to County Hall, Committee Chair John Evans told members that there was a consensus that the site visit was a positive and worthwhile exercise Members of the Committee and all members of the Council now have the opportunity to look at the information about the scheme and satisfy themselves as to the claims submitted and payments made. It is anticipated that this process will take over several weeks in a room set aside for members to scrutinise the paper trail.

Mike Stoddart told The Pembrokeshire Herald:

“This is a big improvement on what I was trying to achieve at Full Council, where my Notice of Motion to allow members to inspect these documents with the all financial information redacted was defeated by the IPPG block vote. I have now withdrawn my call for an Extraordinary Meeting to enable the investigation to proceed.”

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Entertainment

Save the dates: Classic car shows in Pembrokeshire

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THE FIRST of the Summer season of the Classic Car Shows in aid of the Paul Sartori Foundation took place at the Commons Car Park, Pembroke recently.

Organised by Malcom Powell and friends, the show was opened by the Mayor of Pembroke, Ann Mortenson, accompanied by the Ward Ten Withybush fundraiser Ellie Neville.

The rest of the shows are follows

Wednesday 5th June at the Cresselly Arms

Wednesday 19th June at the Plough Inn, Sageston

Wednesday 3rd July at the Cresselly Arms

Wednesday 17th July at the Plough Inn, Sageston

Wednesday 14th August at the Cresselly Arms

Wednesday 18th August at the Plough Inn

All events are at 4pm, except for the final show of the year on Saturday 14th September at the Plough Inn Sageston which starts at 2 30pm.

Pictured is the first show of the year at the Commons,Pembroke.

Pic-Martin Cavaney

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Charity

Royal celebration at Buckingham Palace marks RNLI’s 200th anniversary

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HIS MAJESTY The King has graciously hosted a garden party at Buckingham Palace today to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). This prestigious event brought together approximately 2,500 of the RNLI’s dedicated volunteers, staff, and their families.

The garden party, held in the palace’s magnificent grounds, was marked by the presence of an Atlantic 85 inshore lifeboat, showcasing the RNLI’s modern lifesaving capabilities. The event celebrated the remarkable history and ongoing contributions of the RNLI, which has been saving lives at sea since its founding in 1824.

Among those honoured at the event were representatives from Tenby Lifeboat Station and St Davids Lifeboat Station. From Tenby, the delegation included recently retired Coxswain Philip John, along with Michael Lewis, Daniel Young, Graham Waring, and Peter O’Hagan, all accompanied by their partners. Representing St Davids Lifeboat Station were Will Chant, Jestyn Martin, Ffion Rees, Judd Kohler, Ellen Evans, and their respective partners. These individuals were recognised for their exceptional service and dedication to the institution, trading their RNLI yellows for smart attire on this special occasion.

The RNLI, established in 1824 by Sir William Hillary, has grown into a vital organisation dedicated to saving lives at sea. Over its two centuries of operation, the RNLI has saved more than 142,700 lives, thanks to the bravery and commitment of its volunteers and staff. Today, the RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations and provides a 24-hour search and rescue service around the coasts of the UK and Ireland.

His Majesty’s patronage and the garden party at Buckingham Palace underscore the nation’s deep appreciation for the RNLI’s invaluable service. The celebration not only honoured past achievements but also highlighted the continued importance of the RNLI’s mission as it looks forward to the future.

For more information on the RNLI’s history and its bicentenary celebrations, please visit the official RNLI website.

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Community

The Big Beer Festival returns to Milford Waterfront

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MILFORD HAVEN is set to host the highly anticipated Big Beer Festival tomorrow at Milford Waterfront. Beginning at 12:00 PM on May 25, the event promises a vibrant celebration featuring an impressive array of real ales, lagers, and ciders, along with a prosecco and Pimm’s bar for those with different tastes.

Local bands will provide live music throughout the day, ensuring a lively atmosphere. Headline act 4th Street will be among the performers, with additional acts including After the Fire, Steve Bartram, Two Suns, Tin Man Revolution, and DJ Robzy. Food lovers can enjoy diverse culinary offerings from The Junkyard Dog and Marcela Mexican Cuisine at the Thornton Motors Streetfood Zone. Entry is £20, which includes four drink tokens and a limited edition glass. Each token can be exchanged for a half pint, a glass of prosecco, or a glass of Pimm’s. The festival will run until 11:00 PM.

This event is part of the continued partnership between Milford Waterfront and the Milford Haven Round Table. This collaboration supports a calendar of events throughout the year, raising funds for local causes and creating enjoyable experiences for the community and visitors. Upcoming events include the Milford Haven Carnival on July 6 and the Fireworks Extravaganza on November 5.

As well as local petrol station company The Ascona Group, Howden, a global insurance intermediary group, is a key supporter of the festival. As a deluxe sponsor, Howden is donating £500 towards the event. Gary Stevens, Regional Managing Director, expressed his delight in supporting the Milford Haven Round Table, emphasizing the event’s significance as a fantastic day out for the bank holiday weekend and a means to support the local community.

Milford Haven Round Table, the UK’s largest Round Table with 30 active members, organizes this festival to give back to the local community. All funds raised support local charities, groups, and individuals, including popular free entry events like the town’s annual carnival and fireworks display.

For more details, visit the official event page.

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