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Grants tender process ‘corrupt’

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tender process

COUNCIL IN CRISIS

THE PEMBROKESHIRE HERALD understands that Dyfed Powys Police will be called in by Pembrokeshire County Council to probe payments made under the Town Heritage Initiative and Commercial Property Grants Schemes in Pembroke and Pembroke Dock. The schemes are the subject of an ongoing investigation by the County Council’s own Audit Committee, chaired by independent lay person John Evans MBE.

The news that the Police are to become involved is a further body blow for the beleaguered IPPG party, which spent much of last December’s Full Council meeting making personal attacks on unaffiliated independent member Mike Stoddart, who wanted Councillors to have the chance to examine documents relating to the scheme.

The storm of protest that followed the meeting, which included the discoveries that Cabinet member David Pugh had attacked Cllr Stoddart on the basis of a viewing of the wrong building and that a visit to 29 Dimond Street by IPPG leader Jamie Adams did not include actually entering the shop premises, led to the Council’s Audit Committee allowing all Council members to examine documents relating to the schemes’ administration.

The grants scheme came to prominence in two feature length articles in Pembrokeshire’s Best Magazine in 2012 and 2013. The magazine’s investigation had discovered that the majority of grants by value had gone to a single property developer, Cathal McCosker – whom it christened “The Baron of the Bedsits”. In addition, the magazine discovered that the developments headed by Mr McCosker had employed one local building firm and – latterly – one local architect’s practice to carry out the grant aided projects.

Councillor Mike Stoddart continued to harry the Council with requests for information and clarification, culminating in his discovery of a Bill of Quantities and other documents in the public examination of the Council’s accounts held annually at Thornton Business Park.

A site visit to Pembroke Dock by the Audit Committee in January of this year raised more questions than answers for its members. An examination of the Paul Sartori charity shop in Dimond Street, caused some members to question the way in which in excess of £53,000 had been purportedly paid for works on the retail premises. There is absolutely no suggestion that the Paul Sartori Foundation are implicated in any potential or alleged wrongdoing in relation to the premises, of which they are only commercial tenants.

East Williamston Councillor Jacob Williams wrote on his website:

“The grant scheme documents are stored in a room known as the ‘data room.’ I booked an appointment to view them on Tuesday afternoon, where Mike Stoddart joined me.

“Mike revealed an alarming discovery he had made, which we took to the director of finance and leisure, who decided it was time to refer the matter to the police.

“All I know so far is that the police have been ‘called,’ but I do not know if this constitutes a ‘referral’ of the matter, but it was ‘referral’ of the matter to the police that was pledged by the director.”

The news of the referral to the Police could scarcely come at a worse time for the IPPG, which has spent enormous political capital backing the Council’s conduct of the schemes at the same time as supporting the Council’s decision to allow controversial CEO Bryn Parry Jones to receive a so-called “pay supplement” which has cost the Council around £45,000 over the last two years. The so-called “pay supplement” was part of a scheme hatched to help Bryn Parry Jones avoid tax on his publicly funded Local Government Pension.

The Pembrokeshire Herald contacted Pembrokeshire County Council and requested a statement. A Council spokesperson told The Herald:

“We can confirm that we have been in contact with the police. In the event that we are satisfied that a fraud has been committed against the Council, we will formally refer the matter.”

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Wales 10 – Ireland 34: Clinical Ireland outfox wasteful Wales

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RUGBY is often described as a game of inches, where the tiniest errors significantly affect games’ outcomes. That was the case on Saturday, where Ireland won convincingly by making fewer unforced errors than Wales.

As a contest, the game was all but over in the first 25 minutes. Ireland did nothing flash, nothing extraordinary. They were just better at the basics. It’s what you’d expect when the first-ranked team in the world play the ninth.

Conceding a try after two minutes was a bad start, but again and again thereafter, Wales either coughed the ball up or conceded penalties in clutch positions.

Ireland’s game management showed the confidence of being a settled group under a single coach with a defined game plan. Ireland’s players constantly worked off the ball to close gaps and shut off running lines. The Irish slowed down the Welsh ball and applied pressure with clinical precision. The Irish scrum and lineout gave the visitors’ backline time to play.

Whatever the Welsh game plan was before Wayne Pivac left as the coach (answers on a postcard for that one), on Saturday, Wales showed signs of trying to create a pattern of play based on phase play creating the space to allow Wales’s backs to punch through stretched defensive formations. However, a plan is only as good as its execution. And Wales repeatedly created good positions only to make sometimes desperately disappointing mistakes.

Twice Wales had the throw near the Irish line, and twice Irish forwards picked off the ball. On another occasion, Wales went long at the lineout in their half, only for the ball to land on the Irish side. Add that to a crooked throw in a promising position, and Wales lost momentum at crucial stages.
Ireland stormed into an early lead with their first attack ending with Number Eight Doris smashing his way over from close range. It got worse six minutes later when James Ryan scored with almost a carbon copy play.

Wales’s best chance of the opening quarter came when Irish full-back Hugo Keenan got to a loose ball over the Irish line before Welsh winger Rio Dyer.

Although Biggar got the home side off the mark with a penalty, within minutes, a telegraphed pass ended in the hands of Lowe, who streaked over unopposed for Ireland’s third try.

24-3 down soon became 27-3 following another Sexton penalty following Welsh indiscipline at the breakdown. Realistically, that score ended the game. However, in the half’s dying moments, Wales again applied pressure. Jac Morgan, who had a good game in a losing cause, crossed the Irish line only to be held up by a strong Irish defence.

It looked grim at half-time. Wales had been disorganised and disjointed, while every time the Irish got the ball in the Welsh half, they looked like they would come away with points.

Whatever Warren Gatland said at half-time got the Welsh players’ attention.

Wales came steaming out of the blocks in the second half, looking better organised and less frantic. Good phase play opened a gap in the Irish midfield, and Liam Williams sped through the gap to touch down near the posts, making Biggar’s conversion a formality. Wales continued to work through the phases, and only an uncharacteristically poor pass from Justin Tipuric spoiled a good chance for Rio Dyer to get a clear run at the Irish line.

Wales still tried to keep up the pressure but lacked accuracy at key moments when cooler heads might have produced more. As if that wasn’t bad enough, with fifteen minutes of normal time to go, Liam Williams was – maybe a little unluckily – yellow-carded for making contact with the ducking, bobbing and weaving Jonny Sexton’s head.

The man advantage was all Ireland needed to break Wales’s stranglehold on the match. They kept kicking for space behind the Welsh midfield and used Bundi Aki as a midfield battering ram to keep the Welsh players tied in at the breakdown. With Wales stretched and gaps appearing in the defensive live, Van der Flier had the simplest of tasks to add a fourth try for Ireland.

As the clock ticked down – and with Wales 34-10 down – the Irish pressed for the score that would give them a record win in Cardiff. Wales tried again to break out for a consolation score, more in hope than expectation, and it was all Ireland when the final whistle blew.

Warren Gatland said he was “strangely not that disappointed” after the game.

The Wales coach said: “The things I’m disappointed with are things we can put right: the slow start and giving away needless penalties. When you look at the game we put ourselves in positions we could’ve taken advantage of. We can take away the positives, look at our second half performance and improve on that.”

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Chairman of Fishguard Sports AFC made fraudulent claim to council for Covid funds

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THE CHAIRMAN of a Pembrokeshire of a football club tried to con the council out of a Covid grant by claiming a derelict and tumbledown shed was actually a gym.

Owen Duggan, 41, falsely made a bid for £4,000 in pandemic support by claiming the shed was a facility used by players of the club but a visit to the site by a suspicious inspector revealed the truth – Swansea Crown Court heard.

After a council investigation the police were called in and the defendant found himself charged with fraud.

The court was informed that Duggan was perceived as a pillar of the community, who was deeply ashamed of his false claim for his club.

During the trial, prosecutor Jim Davis informed the court that Duggan was the chairman of Fishguard Sports AFC in Pembrokeshire at the time.

The club, which had played its home games at St Mary’s Field owned by the Diocese of St. David’s for 80 years until 2017, was established for 80 years.

He said under the terms of an oral agreement struck in 1947 the club would pay a “small amount for rent” annually for use of the field. The court heard that in 2017 the club moved to a new home at Tregroes Park and at that point it emerged it had not paid any rent on St Mary’s for the last decade.

The court heard that after the changing rooms at St Mary’s were demolished, a shed was left in place and access to the field was closed due to insurance liability issues. In June and October of 2020, Duggan, who was the chairman of Fishguard Sports AFC, applied for Covid funds from Pembrokeshire Council on behalf of the club to support its operations during the pandemic restrictions.

He received grants of £10,000 and £1,000, respectively. However, in January of the following year, he made a third application for £4,000, claiming that the shed was a gym used by the club.

Mr Davis said an inspection of the site was carried out and it was found the shed was “very dilapidated and had not been used for some considerable time” and no evidence could be found it had been used as gym.

An internal investigation was carried out and then the police were alerted to what appeared to be a fraudulent application.

The prosecution’s case was that Duggan’s claim about the shed being used as a gym was false, and he was arrested and questioned but denied any wrongdoing. Duggan, of Heol Dewi in Fishguard, Pembrokeshire, had previously pleaded guilty to one count of fraud and was appearing in court for sentencing, with no prior convictions.

Duggan’s barrister portrayed him as a respected community member who greatly contributed to the local area, and pointed out that the case was unusual as the defendant would not have personally benefited from the money even if the application was successful.

He also noted that the club’s financial records showed they were not in difficulty at the time of the fraudulent claim.

The defence stated that Duggan, a loving father of two, was filled with regret and shame for his actions and the negative impact it had on his family and the club.

He had voluntarily resigned from his job at Pembrokeshire County Council as a result of the charge.

Judge Paul Hobson told the defendant: “You are not being sentenced for getting into a muddle or for making an honest mistake. You are being sentenced for fraud. Your actions were thoroughly dishonest”.

The judge said in his view the fact the fraud involved Covid funds was an aggravating factor and he said people who abused those funds could ordinarily expect a prison sentence. Judge Hobson said he accepted Duggan was remorseful for his actions and that the loss of his good character would be a punishment in itself for him.

He also noted the motivation had not been personal gain but he told the defendant he had been “risking the club’s good name” by what he did. Duggan was sentenced to a 12-month community order and must complete 100 hours of unpaid work and pay £1,000 towards prosecution costs.

The court heard the football club tried to return the money from the fist two grants even though they had been properly obtained but that proved impossible and the money ended up in some sort of leisure fund at the local authority.

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Successful forum held in Pembrokeshire for local landlords

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A NEW scheme enabling local private sector landlords to lease their property to the County Council in return for a guaranteed monthly rental income (Leasing Scheme Wales) has been launched at a Pembrokeshire Landlords Forum.

Held at County Hall in Haverfordwest last week, the successful Forum was attended by more than a hundred landlords.

As well as the launch of Leasing Scheme Wales, the Forum included presentations on the new housing act Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016, fire safety in the private rented sector and eight key points for landlords.

The speakers were Fiona Brown, Private Rented Sector Liaison Officer for Pembrokeshire County Council, Gillian Owens from the National Residential Landlords Association, Stuart Macdonald from Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, and Julian Ings from Rent Smart Wales.

Cabinet Member for Housing Operations and Regulatory Services, Cllr Michelle Bateman, said it has been a very worthwhile evening.

“We were so pleased to see the level of attendance from landlords in Pembrokeshire,” she said. “There was a lot of interest in the presentations, particularly in the new renting homes act, plenty of questions and good feedback.”

Organised by the County Council’s housing team, the Forum will be a regular fixture with another one planned for the summer – date to be confirmed.

Cllr Bateman said they were also very pleased with the interest shown in Leasing Scheme Wales (LSW). The scheme enables local private sector landlords to lease their property to Pembrokeshire County Council for between five and 20 years, in return for a guaranteed monthly rental income and full property management service. LSW is funded by Welsh Government and managed by Pembrokeshire County Council.

“This scheme will help more Pembrokeshire people to live independently in safe and affordable properties,” said Cllr Bateman.
“Landlords will not have to worry about the condition of their properties after a tenancy as we will be responsible for the maintenance of the property and will return it to the landlord in the same condition as it was before the tenancy started. We will also be responsible for all the void work – the work done on properties in between tenancies.”

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