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Officer fiddles council minutes

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Grants panel: Minutes tampered with

Grants panel: Minutes tampered with

THE PEMBROKESHIRE HERALD understands that a senior officer in the County Council’s Development Directorate has undergone disciplinary proceedings for altering the minutes kept of several European grant-awarding panel meetings to put a more favourable gloss on the scrutiny that took place.

Writing on his website, Hakin Councillor Mike Stoddart explained how last year he submitted a Freedom of Information request to obtain the minutes of several panel meetings where applications for European funding were evaluated and approved. Cllr Stoddart duly received the minutes, but says he received an email out of the blue last week from County Hall stating that after he submitted his request, the minutes were significantly altered with the result that the documents Cllr Stoddart was sent as a true record of the panel meetings, were materially different to what had been approved by the panel.

Cllr Stoddart told The Herald:  “Some of the amendments are trivial and some less so, but the point is that someone within the authority thought fit to make these alterations.”

“While most of the alterations are merely concerned with tidying up the grammar, those regarding No 29 Dimond Street, Pembroke Dock, involve substantial additions to the text and seem to have been designed to give the impression that the Grant Panel’s evaluation of this application was a good deal more rigorous than indicated by the original minutes.”

The re-writing of such public records is a damning indictment on the authority’s handling of publicly-funded grant cash for property development projects, which has been reported for over a year in the Herald and our sister publication, Pembrokeshire’s Best.

Officers’ role questioned

Allegations of questionable practice have dogged two European-funded property grant schemes in Pembroke and Pembroke Dock since Pembrokeshire’s Best magazine uncovered in 2012 that the majority of monies for multiple projects in Pembroke Dock had gone to a single developer, Cathal McCosker, who had used a maze of pop-up companies to avoid restrictions intended to cap grant money awarded to grant applicants.

In January 2013 it emerged that Cathal McCosker had been granted a licence for bedsits by the County Council in the former National Westminster Bank building in Meyrick Street Pembroke Dock. Those bedsits had been built in a flagrant breach of the planning permission granted by the Council, who turned a blind eye to the developer’s conduct and the well known complaints and behaviour logged by the emergency services as a result of overcrowding. An application for retrospective planning permission for the bedsits was submitted by Mr McCosker, which officers intended to approve under delegater powers, however the local member Cllr Alison Lee called it in to be determined by the committee. Amid public outcry and angry scenes, only the officers and a few ruling IPPG councillors backed the Irish developer’s application for approval, and the application was refused.

Following refusal, and amid strong local opposition to his scheme to develop more bedsits, Mr McCosker subsequently withdrew from other plans he had announced to develop properties in Pembroke near the castle, which had not been required to go to tender by the County Council. In particular, it emerged that Mr McCosker had been accompanied to a key meeting by Council officers to assist his “pitch” for those plans to Pembroke Town Council.

Last year, Pembrokeshire’s Best Magazine revealed that Council officers in the local authority’s Planning Department had acknowledged Police reports of anti-social behaviour in the Meyrick Street bedsits development but withheld that information from members of the Planning Committee.

The Herald then obtained further information which suggested that officers used a contrived definition of its obligations to provide “affordable housing” for those in need, in order to justify the construction of bedsits, widely regarded as Housing Benefit magnets for private developers and a blight upon any hope for economic regeneration of commercial properties.
Cllr Mike Stoddart continued to press the Council for answers to questions about the works supposedly carried out under the scheme and the way in which public money had been lavished on building bedsits in the commercial heart of Pembroke Dock.
His efforts were met with obstruction by officers and repeated attacks on his integrity by IPPG Cabinet member Cllr David Pugh, who at a meeting in December received the support of barely a third of Councillors in a no confidence vote, and had the grants schemes responsibility removed from his cabinet portfolio and handed to Cllr David Simpson.

After a reversal of position by the Council’s Monitoring Officer Laurence Harding on the legal stance, it was agreed that the law allowed the documents sought by Cllr Stoddart to be made available for inspection by all councillors, which also allowed copies to be taken. Shortly thereafter the Police were called in by the Council following representations made to Mark Lewis, Director of Finance and Leisure, by Cllr Stoddart and Cllr Jacob Williams after discoveries they made in the files.

The council refused to confirm or deny the identity of the officer who has been disciplined for tampering with the grant panel meetings minutes, following emails sent by the Herald.

The council also refused to confirm or deny what disciplinary action has been taken against the officer, and if they have been suspended to prevent further documents held by the council being tampered with, in light of the ongoing Police investigation into the grant schemes.

The only response the Herald received from the council came from a spokesperson who said:
“Pembrokeshire County Council’s Audit Committee will be reviewing how the Council deals with grants. As the matter has been referred to the Police, the County Council will not be making any further comment at this time.”

Audit Committee take action on grants

Yesterday (Thursday, April 24) the Council’s Audit Committee considered the ongoing issue and briefly discussed the alterations made by the unnamed officer, of the record of grant panel meetings. The Monitoring Officer Laurence Harding told the committee that the officer responsible had been disciplined, but added that he could not reveal who it was nor could he say what punishment was given out.

Cllr Jacob Williams told other members: “There are two recent developments that I’m aware of with which I’m very uncomfortable: firstly the fact that the minutes of the grant panel have been edited by an unnamed member of staff. That to me is very frightening.
“The second matter is that at the cabinet meeting in early April, an updated report was presented in which WEFO (the Welsh European Funding Office) requested that the Council sends them a response.

“I have now received a copy of the confidential report the council sent in response to WEFO, and I’m absolutely appalled at it. It’s shocking to me, knowing what I do about what’s happened, and as councillors you are all entitled to see it and I urge you to, you’ll be amazed at what has been said – I can’t believe anybody thought this was a fit and accurate representation of what’s gone on here”.

Cllr David Simpson, who recently took over control of the Council’s public works grants schemes from Cllr David Pugh, said:  “We should be looking at a full internal audit into the process on one of the units. A full audit by the authority to look at the process, to see where we started at, the process in its implementation, how grants were paid, the staff that were involved”.

Independent lay-Chair of the committee, John Evans MBE, responded saying:  “We should start something now to learn lessons as quickly as possible.

“By taking one and learning the lessons as quickly as possible from that, so we need to learn those lessons quickly to rebuild the confidence of others in the organisation so that we can move forward”.

Cllr Mike James added: “Time is of the essence”.

As a result of their deliberations, the Audit Committee agreed that a management review should take place in respect of the grants process for 29 Dimond Street, Pembroke Dock, as quickly as possible, which will return to a reconvened extraordinary meeting at a date which has not yet been set.

It was also agreed that the two matters raised by Cllr Jacob Williams – the tampering of documents and the response the council sent to WEFO – would also be discussed when the extraordinary meeting reconvened, though this is likely to be behind-closed-doors in private session, where the press and public are excluded.

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Health

Proposed locations for new hospital site to be reviewed

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HYWEL DDA UNIVERSITY HEALTH BOARD (UHB) will this week undertake a review of potential sites as part of the ongoing process to identify a suitable location for a new hospital.

Eleven sites will be assessed on Friday 22 October, including those identified by members of the public during the six-week engagement exercise, which took place earlier this year.

This stage of the process is intended to lead to the creation of a shortlist of sites. This will be subject to further detailed appraisal with significant public and wider stakeholder involvement. The final decision about the chosen site will be made by the health board, in agreement with Welsh Government.

Steve Moore, Chief Executive of Hywel Dda UHB, said: “The building of a new hospital is a major long-term project, which is why we place great emphasis on being open and transparent about the process involved.

“The process we are following includes developing a programme business case to support our strategy for community and hospital-based health and care. As part of the process to apply for funding from the Welsh Government, we will submit the programme business case, and then individual outline business cases, then the final business cases for the new infrastructure we will need. The health board will therefore engage with the public on a regular basis between now and the submission of the final business cases to ensure your views are fully considered.

“I understand and recognise there are passionate feelings about a new hospital, but we strongly believe a new facility is essential for urgent and planned care in the south of the Hywel Dda area. It will provide trauma care and be the main emergency department for the south of our area.

“I can also reassure the public that we have no plans or intention to close either Glangwili or Withybush hospitals. We will engage further on how these hospitals could work alongside the proposed new hospital.”

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Unprecedented demand on health and social care services in local area

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Joint statement by Hywel Dda University Health Board, the Welsh Ambulance Service NHS Trust, Pembrokeshire County Council, Carmarthenshire County Council and Ceredigion County Council

The urgent statement we have asked to publish is as follows:

THERE is currently an unprecedented demand on health and social care services across Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire, which is leading to significant delays in care provision. Put simply, the difficulty in discharging medically-fit patients from hospital – many of whom have complex personal circumstances and needs – is leading to significant bed shortages, and consequently, lengthy ambulance waits at the ‘front door’ of A&E departments, which mean that paramedics are unable to respond to other 999 calls in the community.Social care and Health teams are doing everything possible to support people who are well enough to leave hospital but need ongoing care. Priority is being given to the most vulnerable, and alternative health and care packages are being offered as a short-term measure. More carers and health staff are also being recruited to support people in need.

If you have a relative or loved one in hospital who is well enough to go home, but is waiting to be discharged with homecare and community health support, you may be able to help them to get home more quickly if you and your family are in a position to support them at home. If your relative is waiting for a formal package of care, you may be able to offer support and care on a short term, temporary arrangement or you might want to consider whether your loved one could be supported in a temporary residential or nursing care setting. If you feel that this is an option that you could consider, please speak to the ward manager or your social worker to explore further.

Spending as little time in hospital is better for patients and means that NHS beds can be freed up for others with urgent care needs. Supporting older patients to get home from hospital efficiently is an important part of their recovery and it also protects them from negative consequences of hospital admission, such as hospital acquired infection, falls and a loss of independence.  You can find out more about the hospital discharge process and guidance here: Inpatient information – Hywel Dda University Health Board (nhs.wales)

Your support not only helps your loved one, but it is a huge support to the NHS and social care services as well.

Thank you.

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News

Child taken to hospital following collision with car outside school

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AN EARLY morning collision outside Ysgol Harri Tudor school, Pembroke, has seen a child taken to hospital.

The collision happened between a child and a car on Pembroke Road, Pembroke, at approximately 9am this morning.

A secondary school pupil has been taken to hospital via ambulance for what is said to be minor injuries.

Police and ambulance service were on the scene and were helped by school staff to manage the incident.

A police spokesperson said: “Dyfed-Powys Police attended a road traffic collision involving a car and a secondary school pupil this morning, 21st October 2021. The collision occurred on Pembroke Road, Pembroke at approximately 9:00am.

“The Ambulance Service also attended and escorted the teenage boy to hospital with what are believed to be minor injuries.”

A Pembrokeshire County Council spokesperson said: “We can confirm that there has been an incident outside Ysgol Harri Tudur in Pembroke this morning where a pupil came into contact with a car. 

“The police and ambulance have been on the scene and were assisted by school staff. We are not able to release any further details at present.”

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