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Officer ‘presiding over the ministry of cuts’ approved

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screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-12-20-11PEMBROKESHIRE C OUNTY COUNCIL has approved a new post entitled Head of Transformation.

However, at last Thursday’s council meeting (Dec 8), many councillors criticised the move while Cllr Jacob Williams said he did not support a ‘person presiding over the ministry of cuts’.

Some councillors said there was a need to change the way things were done and that the council was in need of a shake-up.

The Council also approved a new post of Deputy Chief Education Officer while a third post, Head of Adult Care, will be discussed by the Senior Staff Committee.

Council Leader Jamie Adams said: “Consideration has been given to the fact that there are demands being placed on officers within the council who perhaps go above and beyond the call of duty on some occasions.

“The Head of Transformation will enable capacity within the organisation. I believe that the ability is in council but I have questioned whether that capacity is always available to us and that’s as a result of significant budgetary cuts within senior management of the authority.

“We have before us the opportunity to consider a post which will lead that transformation agenda from within. We know our strengths and weaknesses, they’ve been well identified, externally by the report from PWC, but also are informed by our public engagement opportunities, engagement with stakeholders.

“We are half way through taking out between £80-100million of financial capacity within the organisation and we are still expected to improve standards and we are still expected to provide the services that people value in Pembrokeshire.

“We cannot simply continue to salami-slice our budget and there has been a fair acknowledgement of that in terms of members’ seminars and externally in discussions with Wales Audit Office. We are at a new juncture and I believe we do need focus and capacity in terms of ensuring that we have a lead role within the authority to take that forward.”

Cllr Tessa Hodgson said: “I spoke against this appointment for a Head of Transformation at the last meeting (of the Senior Staff Committee) and I’m afraid nothing since then has convinced me to change my mind.

“I think the people of Pembrokeshire will find it very difficult to understand why, in the face of deep budget cuts, the best that this administration can come up with is to appoint yet another highly paid manager, when they are facing cuts to their frontline services.

“We already have a team of highly paid directors, heads of service and departmental managers who should surely be tasked with making these savings in their departments. They are the ones who know best how their teams work, what their customer expectations are and where savings could be made or revenue increased.

“The salary advertised is up to £100,000; this is bad enough but when you add in the company car, pension, the admin team that a job of this stature comes with, the final figure will be much higher.”

Cllr Jonathan Nutting said: “I’ve got a certain feeling, yes there is need for more staff within the education side. We’re looking at two posts here, not just one, the Head of Transformation and a Deputy Chief Education Officer. We have to explain to our schools and our children how we are using our money and if it is transformational, the clue is in the name, then possibly, yes it has a place, but two posts at once seems to be a bit over the top to me and I would suggest one and see if the other is necessary.”

Cllr Keith Lewis added: “We meet in seminar to discuss a way forward in terms of the pressures that face this authority and we agree that we’ve come to the end of slicing bits off budgets and we say we need to think outside the box, we need to be inventive, and here we are with an idea before us, this is not a full term appointment, it’s for two years, where we create a situation where somebody can have oversight over the whole organisation, I think it’s a sound move.

“We can totally change the way in which Pembrokeshire Council County works, reducing our cost base and hopefully improving our level of service. Let’s adopt the same view in Council as that which we give to our officers in seminar. To identify and isolate this post as being a waste of money is very negative of us.”

Cllr Jacob Williams said: “I don’t think this sends out the right message. The suggestion that we could create over a £100,000 salary, I just don’t support. What it would be is a person presiding over the ministry of cuts. I don’t support the Head of Transformation creation and there are two entirely different roles and I think it’s been deliberately designed to bundle them all into one.”

Cllr Viv Stoddart pointed out that two roles, Heads of Housing and Revenue, where recently combined and asked why this wouldn’t be possible for the role of Head of Transformation.

Cllr David Simpson said the council needed a shake-up but said he didn’t want to spend £100,000 on creating a new post.

Chief Executive Ian Westley said that something radical had to change and that in his opinion this would be the best £100,000 the authority has ever spent.

Cllr Mike Stoddart added: “The leader said ‘we need somebody to think outside the box’. Is he suggesting that the present directors can’t think outside the box? The Cabinet should be driving this transformation process.”

Cllr Jacob Williams had tried to get each post voted on separately and also called for a recorded vote for the Head of Transformation but that was not supported.

After a lengthy debate, the two new posts were approved by a majority.

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Primary school teacher would ‘moan’ as he touched female pupils, court hears

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A HAVERFORDWEST primary school teacher would “moan” while he touched his female pupils in a sexual way, a witness said in Swansea Crown Court.

In total, 11 former pupils, who were all under 13, have come forward and accused James Oulton, 34, of sexually assaulting them.

Oulton denies all the charges – saying the case was a “witch-hunt” and that he had behaved appropriately all times.

One of the pupils, who was in year four at the time, opened day four of the trial by giving evidence via a video link.

The girl told the court: “He would put his arm around by back and backside.”

Under cross examination Chris Clee QC, for the defence, asked the witness: “Did you tell the police that you were touched in an inappropriate way?”

The witness answered: “Yes, teachers should not be touching in that way.”

James Oulton

Asked if what he was doing wrong, the witness replied:

“Yes, very wrong”

In cross examination letters and cards were produced, made the witness whilst in school, where she had said Mr. James Oulton was “the best teacher in the whole world.”

One of the cards said: “You’ve made my life complete”.

Another card said: “Thank you for being so nice, and thanks for everything that you’ve done for me.”

The witness added: “Despite what he did do, he was a good teacher.  

“He used to buy us treats.

“He was nice caring and a sweet and fun teacher – but not what he was doing.

Referring to the cards, she said: “I would definitely not be saying that stuff now.”

Explaining how she told her parents the witness said: “Once I realised that [x] was in his class, I asked her ‘did he do this stuff to you?’

“She said yes.

“I realised more and more it was wrong and it was time to grow up now, and to speak.

“As soon as I found out that this was happening to [x] I stood up and told my parents.

Asked if she had seen inappropriate behaviour happening to anybody else the witness answered: “He did it to most of the girls in the class, but he had his favourites.

Asked if she had spoken to other girls about the touching, the witness said: “Yes, I was just curious was it just me, or was it normal?”

“Teachers should most definitely not be doing that to students.

“Doing what?”, the witness was asked, “You said in your police interview that he would pull you off your chair and make you sit on his lap, is that true?”

“Yes,” was the reply.

“Did you try and stop him?” she was asked.

“Yes, I tried to push him off sometimes and said, ‘get off its weird’, but I didn’t want to make a scene.

“He would make me sit on his lap whilst he was marking my work.”

When asked by the defence barrister how she was sat on her teacher’s lap, and if it was under a desk, the witness answered: “No, not under the desk, as both of our legs wouldn’t fit under.”

The witness also said that when she was sat on the defendant’s knee he would make “a low grunting noise.”

Asked if she had spoken others about this case, the girl said: “Police told my mum and dad that there were very many people involved in the case.

“I thought it was just me and [x] that was going to be at court, I only recently discovered that others had come out.”

A second female pupil was also giving evidence via video link. She was 9-years-old at the time of the alleged offending.

Firstly, a pre-recorded interview was played in court in which the witness said: “My teacher, Mr. Oulton always put his hand up my leg like that and up my t-shirt.”

She added: “If he calls you over and he pulls you onto his lap, if you don’t, he pulls your chair over and makes you.”

“How would he make you?” the QC asked.

“He would grab your arm, push you, and then pull you in”, she replied.

When asked if this was a one off, the witness said that the defendant “did it every day.”

“How would you be sat on his lap?”, she was asked.

“He would have one arm on my stomach, then the other arm would be rubbing my leg.”

“He would swap arms and then put one arm up my t-shirt.”

When asked to clarify if it was under her t-shirt the girl explained: “Yes it was under my t-shirt rubbing his hands up and down.”

The witness added: “If I tried to get up for work, he would just grab my arm.”

“He would make a funny sound like a hissing airplane.”

“We had a helper in the class, and when he came in, he would stop, and then I could go and sit down.”

The trial continues.

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New trees planted to help town

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SEVERAL new trees have been planted on Riverside Avenue in Neyland.

They were planted by Grandiflora, courtesy of the Town Council which recently pledged to plant more trees in the town in an attempt to help the environment.

As well as helping the environment, the trees will prevent vehicles from being parked on the grass verges on Riverside Avenue, which had been severely churned up over the winter and looked unsightly.

The Town Council will be working with Pembrokeshire County Council regarding parking issues in Neyland.

The trees will be tended and watered over the summer period to ensure they reach their maximum potential and enhance the area for residents and visitors alike.

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Golden goodbye report likely to be critical

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A REPORT by Audit Wales into the departure of former CEO Ian Westley is very likely to contain criticism of senior council officers.

In November 2020, Mr Westley left Pembrokeshire County Council with a £95,000 pay-out, something which has been criticised by a number of councillors.

In a document before the Audit and Governance Committee on Tuesday (April 13), it says that termination payments to Chief Officers are routinely examined by Audit Wales but in the case of Mr Westley, the audit team was unable to locate a recorded decision to enter into the settlement agreement which led to a termination payment being made to the Chief Executive.

An Audit Office spokesperson said: “This appeared unusual and therefore the audit team decided to undertake an early examination of the process that resulted in the payment being made.”

No complaints were raised, by councillors or any other body, with Audit Wales but the number of concerns and questions being raised at following council meetings prompted them to commence an audit.

Audit Wales state: “Our audit fieldwork is substantially complete. However due to the complex nature of some of the issues involved we considered it necessary to take some external legal
advice. We are currently considering that advice. 

“In the near future we will draft a document setting out our provisional findings and conclusions. 

“Once this document is ready we will commence a clearance process to confirm factual accuracy. 

“If the document contains criticism of identifiable individuals, in the first instance we will provide those individuals with any extracts of the document that pertain to them. Once
we have confirmed the factual accuracy with individuals, we will send the full draft document to the Council’s Chief Executive to identify any remaining factual inaccuracies. 

“We will only issue the finalised document once the clearance process has been completed. #

“We are unable to provide a definitive timetable for reporting because it will depend on the responses we receive within the clearance process.”

Only a handful of senior officers were involved in the procedure surrounding Ian Westley’s departure.

The inference which can be safely drawn from Audit Wales’ report to the Audit Committee is that some of its content will be critical either of councillors, senior officers, or both.

The process of asking those named to respond is known as Maxwellisation, a legal practice that allows persons who are to be criticised in an official report to respond prior to publication.

The report highlights the exceptional nature of the case at Pembrokeshire County Council and demonstrates the sensitivity of the issues raised.

If senior officers are sharply criticised or found to have failed in their duty to their employer, they will almost certainly have to go.

The council’s interim Chief Executive will read the document after maxwellisation.

It is also likely that the council’s newly appointed Chief Executive, Will Bramble, will have a chance to see it.

The Audit Wales spokesperson added: “We are unable to provide a definitive timetable for reporting because it will depend on the responses we receive within the clearance process. We are unable to respond to queries about our emerging findings whilst the audit is progressing, and until we have finalised our conclusions.”

In January, Cllr Jamie Adams had called for the council to commence an internal investigation into Mr Westley’s departure but that was deferred to allow for the Audit Wales review to be completed.

Cllr Adams said that the decision of payment should have been a ‘democratic decision’ and has asked why that wasn’t the case.

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