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THE DEATH OF DEMOCRACY

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Farcical scenes: The Council Chamber last Friday

Farcical scenes: The Council Chamber last Friday

THE EXTRAORDINARY meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council to decide if the Chief Executive, Bryn Parry Jones should be suspended has collapsed, amongst unprecedented scenes at County Hall last week.

On Friday, February 14, opposition Councillors were told by a top QC that they should withdraw from the meeting due to comments they had made in the press.

A stunned Cllr Bob Kilmister stood up and said “Can I just have a point of clarification please before other members go, I gave a response to the “Pembrokeshire Herald” and the question that they asked me was ‘Do you as an elected member support the growing calls for the chief executive to resign?’ Now I’m not aware that we have got that motion before us, I don’t believe that that is something that we can actually vote on as nobody is actually calling on him to resign.”

He added: “Now we have a notice of motion that is in that uses the word suspension. Suspension is a highly different thing to resignation. Resignation can only be done by the person concerned. I was asked my question about resignation and I said it in the chamber already that those people in that position should consider their position including that resignation.”

Cllr. Guy Woodham was next on his feet, saying: “I am one of the signatories on the notice of motion. When I gave the quote that appeared in the Pembrokeshire Herald, it said I believe it said the chief exec should be suspended pending an investigation. To me that doesn’t show pre-determination.”

Cllr. Reg Owens told the meeting: “Mr Chairman, are these names just the ones that came from the Pembrokeshire Herald? Because my name wasn’t read out and I gave my quote to the Western Telegraph. You have only been given the press cuttings from the Pembrokeshire Herald, You haven’t been given the press cutting from the Telegraph!”

Tim Kerr QC, the lawyer advising the Council on the ‘tax-dodge’ pension arrangements read out a list of Councillors who he felt could not participate in the meeting due to negative comments they had made about Bryn Parry Jones in the local press.

In light of this, most members of the opposition walked out of the council chamber and the one remaining signatory to the notice of motion that Bryn Parry-Jones be suspended, Cllr Phil Baker, withdrew the vote.Cllr. Phil Baker told the Herald after the meeting: “I knew something was afoot when the QC was allowed to remain after the Wales Audit Office report was discussed.”

He added: “I think that a lot of IPPG members as well as opposition Councillors are not happy about what has happened today. Very shabby indeed, it’s like the old East Germany.”

Labour leader: Cllr Paul Miller

Labour leader: Cllr Paul Miller

Pembrokeshire Alliance

The Pembrokeshire Alliance Group have made a statement about the meeting:

A spokesperson said: “This meeting was an insult to democracy. The people of Pembrokeshire deserve openness, transparency and good governance and this meeting was an example of what happens when these principles are quite deliberately not followed.”

The Pembrokeshire Alliance Group says it is now in discussions with other opposition groups and non-affiliated Councillors as to what should happen next.

AM wants Bryn stripped of returning officer powers

Welsh Labour AM Rebecca Evans has called for embattled chief executive of Pembrokeshire Council Bryn Parry-Jones to be stripped of his role as Returning Officer for Wales in the European elections this May until local Councillors are allowed to debate the issue properly and the police investigation has concluded.

Rebecca Evans AM, Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales said: “After the embarrassing spectacle that was Friday’s ‘extraordinary meeting’ of Pembrokeshire council, it is clear that the Pembrokeshire council leadership is content to allow the debate to descend into farce rather than grapple openly and in public with the serious issues presented by the Wales Audit Office reports.

“It would now be utterly preposterous for Bryn Parry Jones to preside over the European Ballot as Returning Officer while his pension payments are still under police investigation. The public must have complete confidence in the election process, and in all of the people involved. Until the police investigation is concluded, alternative arrangements must be made – and that means relieving Bryn Parry Jones of his Returning Officer role.”

Paul Miller, leader of the Labour group in Pembrokeshire said: “Sometimes, particularly around planning issues, pre-determination rules help ensure fairness but last week it was worrying to see those rules used to stifle debate and silence critics in a totally unjust and undemocratic way. Many opposition Councillors felt cornered having a QC tell them that they had to leave. Having sought legal advice, I know that no Labour councillors pre-determined the debate. Pre-determination is a matter for individuals not lawyers. Enlisting a barrister in a crude attempt to undermine our roles as Councillors and prevent us from seeking to represent the views of our constituents on this hugely important issue is nothing short of Orwellian.

“The public deserve reassurance that this matter is being dealt with properly. I will not lie down and be silenced by the puppet administration running Pembrokeshire, and will continue to fight to ensure the full council are able to debate this.”

Angela Burns urges Bryn to step aside

AM Angela Burns has called for Pembrokeshire council’s chief executive to step aside.

She said: “I would say that he should stand aside. I’m perfectly happy for the status quo to be restored, providing the police investigation comes up saying that everything is as it should be.”

Mrs Burns said: “I would like to see an independent investigation being undertaken because I feel that the councillors involved here have acted with the most extraordinary behaviour.”

Plaid Cymru speaks out

Pembrokeshire Plaid Cymru leader Cllr Michael Williams has called on the Welsh Government to intervene in the running of Pembrokeshire County Council.

Cllr Williams told The Herald: “The recent events are yet more evidence of the gross incompetence of the Independent Group which presently masquerades as the controlling group of the Council. We say “masquerade” as it is patently obvious that the authority is run by a small cabal of out of control senior officers orchestrated by the Chief Executive, who are bringing the Council into disrepute.”

He added: “After their appalling performance in the Council meeting on Friday, is it any wonder that PCC is the laughing stock of Wales? Pembrokeshire tax payers deserve better. We deserve honesty and integrity, and they have consistently failed to deliver.”

“This Council staggers from crisis to crisis, from travel claims which were years late from the Leader to the misuse of Council computers by Councillor Rob Lewis to produce Independent group election literature. This together with failures to properly safeguard our children, a failed social care provision and recently dubious grant dealings in Pembroke Dock render them unfit.

“It was amazing to see on Friday their efforts to extricate themselves from their self-inflicted problems. Legal advice of forty five pages, which we, as elected Members, were not allowed to see, and the costs of at least one Q C, with another expert flown in from Edinburgh. This, plus the mysterious brown envelope left on the passenger seat of the Council vehicle which transported the Q C with information enclosed selectively identifying those Members who had stated that the CEO should go. “The rulers of North Korea would be proud.

“Mr Parry-Jones should step aside immediately, and take his poodle, Jamie Adams with him. The Welsh Government should immediately install Commissioners to take over the running of PCC” he concluded.

QC advice was ‘not the whole story’,says Herald

The Pembrokeshire Herald took independent legal advice before publishing comments made by County Councillors this month, in the days leading up to the vote over the suspension of chief executive of Pembrokeshire council, Bryn Parry Jones.

During the extraordinary meeting of Full Council, members were told to withdraw by a barrister appointed by senior officers and leaders of the authority.

Mr Tim Kerr QC told members that some of them had ‘crossed the line’ by showing predetermination over whether the chief executive should be suspended. Mr Kerr told members that this predetermination was demonstrated by comments made in the newspaper article.

Mr Kerr had been given photocopies of selected press cuttings from The Pembrokeshire Herald’s February 7 edition by the monitoring officer, Mr Laurence Harding. He told the meeting that the newspaper article had been ‘brought to his attention’ but refused to say by who. However, Deputy Leader, Cllr Rob Lewis told members that he also had copies of the same documents. He did not, however, admit to giving them to Mr Laurence Harding.

Pembrokeshire Herald editor Thomas Sinclair said: “There is legislation regarding the issue of predetermination that was not brought up at the meeting. Section 25(2) of the Localism Act 2011 provides that ‘a decision-maker is not to be taken to have had, or to have appeared to have had, a closed mind when making the decision just because the decision-maker had previously done anything that directly or indirectly indicated what view the decision-maker took’.”

Mr Sinclair added: “This legislation clearly applies to all County Councils in Wales & England, but a very restrictive interpretation of it was given to Councillors at Friday’s meeting.”

He concluded: “In the newspaper’s view if Lawrence Harding was acting in the best interests of all the members of the council, he would have advised members of any issue with what they had said before the meeting.”

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Pembrokeshire embraces future with new e-bike scheme

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL, under the chairmanship of Thomas Baden Tudor, has announced an exciting new initiative aimed at boosting sustainable transportation across the region. The council has introduced a “pay as you go” electric bike (E-Bike) service, now available in Haverfordwest, Fishguard, Goodwick, and Tenby as part of a 12-month trial that commenced on 8th April 2024.

The scheme, managed by Zeus Mobility, features the Zip bikes—electrically powered bicycles designed to make cycling less strenuous and more accessible to a broader demographic. Each location will start with 10 E-Bikes, with plans to increase the fleet to 50 by summer. The service will include three main charging stations and numerous satellite bays for convenient access and returns.

Priced competitively, the E-Bikes can be hired for £3.00 for the first hour, with subsequent time billed at 5p per minute. Daily and weekly rates are also available, offering users more flexibility for longer trips. The bikes are aimed at reducing reliance on motor vehicles, promoting healthier living, and contributing to national decarbonisation targets.

Councillor Tudor tested the new bikes himself, describing the experience as “brilliant fun for the whole family” and encouraging all residents and visitors to give them a try. The initiative is part of a broader effort by the council to offer eco-friendly travel options that align with environmental objectives.

To use the E-Bikes, riders need to download the Zipp Mobility app, which allows for bike unlocking, ride tracking, and payment. The app also provides information on bike locations, parking bays, and cycling routes within the county.

Funded by a £150,000 grant from the Swansea Bay and South West Wales Metro, the project focuses solely on this E-Bike trial, aiming to make Pembrokeshire a leader in sustainable travel. For further details on hiring and operating the E-Bikes, residents can visit the Cycle Pembrokeshire webpage or contact the team directly via email at [email protected].

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20mph U-turn: Some roads will return to 30mph following public outcry

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IN a recent shift in policy, Transport Secretary Ken Skates announced that some roads in Wales will revert to a 30mph speed limit following significant public opposition to the Welsh Government’s £34 million initiative to impose a default 20mph limit. This move addresses the concerns consistently raised by many citizens.

The controversial policy, initially rolled out across Wales under former First Minister Mark Drakeford and his transport minister, Lee Waters, aimed at enhancing road safety. However, it has since faced backlash, illustrated by nearly half a million signatures on a Senedd petition opposing the change.

“We’ve put our hands up to say the guidance has to be corrected,” Skates stated, acknowledging the widespread dissatisfaction with the policy’s implementation. He emphasised the need for targeted 20mph zones, particularly in sensitive areas such as near schools, hospitals, and densely populated housing estates. Yet, he admitted that certain routes should not have been included under the stricter speed limit.

Swansea Council Leader Rob Stewart welcomed the revised approach but highlighted the financial burden of changing road signage, urging the Welsh Government to assist with the expenses. Stewart praised Skates’ “pragmatic approach” and stressed that the government should not impose the financial strain on local councils, which are already facing tough budgetary decisions.

The policy has had its proponents, particularly among cycling groups and safety advocates who argue that the lower speed limits contribute to safer community spaces. Despite this, many have called for a more nuanced application of the speed limits rather than a blanket reduction.

In response to the backlash, Skates is set to present the planned adjustments in a forthcoming statement to the Senedd. The changes will allow local councils the autonomy to restore the 30mph limit where deemed appropriate, potentially affecting up to 10 roads in Swansea alone.

Leaders from other councils, including Huw Thomas of Cardiff, expressed relief over the change. Cardiff, where the majority of roads were already under a 20mph limit, saw a favourable reception of the policy. Nonetheless, the decision to empower local governments has been largely welcomed.

The Welsh Conservatives, through their transport spokesperson Natasha Asghar, have voiced strong opposition to the original policy, criticising its expansive application. Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth called for a more carefully considered implementation, supporting the principle of 20mph zones but criticising their inconsistent enforcement.

Responding to comments made by Ken Skates, Labour’s Cabinet Secretary for Transport on potential changes to the 20mph guidance, Natasha Asghar MS, Welsh Conservative Shadow Transport Minister said: “The people of Wales have rightfully taken significant issue with Labour’s 20mph policy and ‘correcting guidance’ will not be enough to ease concerns.

“The Welsh Conservatives are the only the party to have consistently voted against the ridiculous 20mph policy involving 97% of previously 30mph roads and a £9 billion hit to the Welsh economy.

“The Welsh Conservatives want to see this policy scrapped and have given the Labour Government a number of opportunities to vote to do so. A more targeted approach is needed with the support of the Welsh people.”

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Miracle pup finds her forever home after heart-wrenching journey

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AERIAL, a remarkable six-legged spaniel, has captured hearts worldwide, culminating in her adoption this week. Found abandoned in a Pembrokeshire car park and famously nicknamed after Disney’s Little Mermaid due to her unique condition, Ariel’s journey from despair to joy is nothing short of miraculous.

In September 2023, the then 11-week-old puppy was discovered outside a B&M store in a neglected state. Suffering from severe physical anomalies including two extra hind limbs and an additional vulva, Ariel faced daunting challenges. A subsequent medical examination revealed a more complicated internal scenario: a missing kidney and a malformed pelvis that jeopardised her mobility.

Despite the grim prognosis, Ariel’s plight touched many, leading to a worldwide fundraising campaign that raised approximately £15,000. These funds enabled her to undergo critical surgeries at Langford Vets Small Animal Referral Hospital, Somerset, where surgeons successfully removed the surplus limbs and preserved her four functional ones.

“Both procedures went well, and remarkably, Ariel was walking and eating by the next day,” explained Mikey Lawlor, founder of Greenacres Rescue, where Ariel was rehabilitated. “It was crucial that we avoided any post-operative infections, but she’s been in the best hands,” he added, reflecting on the complexities of her care.

Ariel’s recovery was supported by numerous vet visits, specialised surgeries, and extensive physiotherapy. Her resilience and endearing character garnered media attention globally, from radio and television appearances to newspaper features, highlighting her inspirational battle for a normal life.

“We are absolutely thrilled to announce that Ariel has been officially adopted,” announced a recent post by Greenacres Rescue. “Her journey of transformation from a discarded pup to a beloved family pet has been extraordinary.”

The post also extended a heartfelt thank you to June, Ariel’s dedicated foster mother, whose relentless support was pivotal during the rehabilitation process. “June’s care and energy have been instrumental in Ariel’s recovery,” the rescue centre noted.

Surgeon Aaron Lutchman, who led Ariel’s medical team, remarked on her progress, “She’s bounced back and is a happy little dog. We hope she goes on to lead a fabulous life.”

As Ariel embarks on this new chapter with her adoptive family, her story remains a profound testament to the power of community support and the unwavering spirit of animals overcoming adversity. Greenacres Rescue encapsulates this sentiment in their message, “Ariel is symbolic of everything we stand for—love, hope, and the chance for a new beginning.”

For further updates on Ariel and other rescue stories, follow Greenacres Rescue on their social media platforms.

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