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Badger smells more than a rat

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Readers will have read exclusively in this newspaper about the collusion of certain Councillors in a scheme intended to help top boss Bryn Parry-Jones avoid tax.

There are times when even Badger is astonished by the way in which some members of the Council, having found one level, appear to find murkier depths to plumb with ease.

Look at the six faces opposite: The leader of the Council, his predecessor, a former deputy leader of the Council, a former cabinet member, a current cabinet member and the former leader of Pembrokeshire’s Conservatives: there they are.

These are the faces of the Councillors who sat behind closed doors in a meeting that, in a time of brutal cuts to Council services, decided that a man paid more than the Prime Minister needed a big tax break to make ends meet in his retirement.

Well that condensed milk and those tinned pilchards won’t buy themselves, will they?

Let’s look at some of the sorts of figures involved in the calculations of the Staff Remuneration Committee to see if we can get close to the size of Bryn’s Big Break. The Council, as is usual, have decided that such is Bryn’s importance and magnificence that the public should not have the details of the pot of public money he gets for his part in bringing such shame to Pembrokeshire that the Welsh Government had to intervene in the Council’s operations.

Readers may be surprised to learn that not only is Bryn’s salary actually a matter of public record – although Pembrokeshire County Council held out against revealing his hefty salary for many moons– but calculations used in other local authorities are widely available online.

In 2011, Haringey Council produced the following figures for someone on a salary of £150,000 (much less than his Bryn-ness):

Salary at beginning of year £150,000
Service at beginning of year 25 years
Pre-2008 service at beginning of year 22 years
Increase in Pay 6.6%
Salary at end of year £160,000
Service at end of year 26 years
Pre-2008 service at end of year 22 years
Inflation over year (Consumer Price Index) 2.5%
Pension  accrued at beginning of year £48,750
Lump Sum accrued at beginning of year £123,750
Pension accrued at end of year £54,667
Lump Sum accrued at end of year £132,000
Value of “pension savings” £80,323
Excess over annual allowance of £50,000 £30,323
Tax  charge if 40% £12,129
Tax charge if 45% (from April 2013) £13,645
Tax charge if 50% £15,161

 

Local government pensions work on the basis that employers and employees make contributions to the scheme. In order to permit Bryn to avoid tax what the IPPG led Committee did was to make it possible for Bryn Parry-Jones – as well as his fellow highest-paid officers – to choose to salt away the equivalent value of the Council’s contribution to their pensions to somewhere the tax man wouldn’t be able to get his mitts on it.

The change in the tax laws which brought about this tax dodge “arrangement” only affects those described as ‘very high earners.’ In fact the reason the change was brought in, ostensibly, was because of a quarter of all pension tax relief was going to only 1.5% of members of the pension scheme.

Bryn is one of the 1.5%.

These members – and take a good look at the mug shots opposite – thought that in a period when services were being cut and the wages of the lower paid employees were being slashed, they would give the best paid of their best paid employees a chance to avoid paying tax.

They have colluded to give those most able to afford tax to avoid it at the expense of everyone else.

Cosy and complacent: it appears they sat around a table in secret session to carve out a sordid tax dodge.

They should be ashamed. They won’t be.

Five of these sat together and decided to cut low-paid workers’ pay knowing that Bryn is trousering a big tax-free wodge of Council Tax payers’ cash.

It stinks.

The members of this Committee have colluded to let their very well remunerated Chief Executive avoid tax.

The Welsh Audit Office don’t seem to like it. Why should we?

Let’s also put this in context. At the time this meeting took place, the Council had just been the subject of the report that led to Welsh Government intervention in Pembrokeshire’s affairs. That report said this about our County Council (emphases added):

“The absence of effective governance in relation to safeguarding and protecting children REFLECTS FAILURES WITHIN THE CULTURE OF THE AUTHORITY AS A WHOLE. The shortcomings with the authority’s arrangements to safeguard and protect children are longstanding and systemic. This is indicative of the deep-seated nature of these problems and failings within the authority … THIS IS INDICATIVE OF A CLOSED, NOT AN OPEN OR TRANSPARENT CULTURE.”

So it was – as the minutes of the meeting put it – to aid the retention of the person in charge at the time the Council failed most spectacularly in its duty to us that the Committee members opposite decided that so essential was Bryn’s contribution that he needed an annual five-figure sweetie to stay.

Shortly after the child safeguarding issue came to prominence, a vote of no confidence in Bryn was tabled by Councillors who were, to say the least, “disappointed” in his management. He survived the vote as ‘Cwmbetws’ and his cohorts rallied round him.

Smell a rat?

It stinks of other odours, too: those more associated with the dairy farming with which John Davies and Jamie Adams will be familiar.

Badger was thinking of illustrating this point with the quote from Animal Farm about some animals being more equal than others. Instead, he remembered something he read when being taught history by former Director of Education, Graham Longster.

Senator Joseph McCarthy was notorious for helping create the ant-communist hysteria in America during the early 1950’s. His claims became more outrageous and vindictive as time went on. He finally met his come-uppance before a Senate committee in 1954.

Joseph N. Welch, Counsel for the US Army, finally – exasperatedly – asked McCarthy the lethal: ‘You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?’

Shut a library. Close a school. Cut bin collections. End public toilets. Slash workers’ wages. Tell everybody the cuts are unavoidable. But for God’s sake give Bryn the Merciless a tax break.

Look at the faces opposite again.

Ask Joseph Welch’s question of them.

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Conservatives in plea for rate reduction ahead of Small Business Saturday

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WELSH CONSERVATIVES have reiterated their calls for Labour ministers to slash business rates for next year as we work to bounce back from the pandemic.

The party’s renewed plea comes as we mark Small Business Saturday tomorrow (Dec 4) which encourages people to shop local.

The annual event, now in its ninth year, saw 15.4 million people across the UK support their local shops, spending a huge £1.1 billion.

Small Business Saturday is a chance to celebrate the fantastic work they do such as creating jobs for local people and supporting our communities.

The Welsh Conservatives believe this year is more important than ever for people to shop in their local small businesses as they work to bounce back from the pandemic.

There are 265,340 micro, small and medium sized businesses across Wales employing nearly 740,000 people and turning over £46 billion a year.

Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for the Economy, Paul Davies MS, said: “From corner shops to cafes, small businesses are the backbone of our economy and the beating heart of local communities up and down Wales.

“Businesses have taken a huge hit because of the pandemic and with our economy still recovering, it is vital we do all we can to help our traders get back on their feet.

“We can help by shopping local, but Labour ministers in Cardiff Bay can also play their part by matching the UK Government’s pledge to slash business rates by 50% for next year – or even more.

“It is important now more than ever to shop local and help our small businesses bounce back and I hope the Labour government will step up to the plate as well and provide them with much-needed economic support so they can flourish and grow.”

Welsh Liberal Democrats are also calling for aSupport Package for Small Businesses 

Ahead of Small Business Saturday, the Welsh Liberal Democrats have called for more action to support more small businesses across Wales.

Small Business Saturday UK is a grassroots, non-commercial campaign, which highlights small business success and encourages consumers to ‘shop local’ and support small businesses in their communities and takes place on the first Saturday in December each year. 

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have stated that not enough is being done to support small businesses across Wales given the adverse few years they have just had to face, adapting to post-Brexit trading agreements and coping with the long-lasting fallout of the pandemic.  

Among the measures the party is calling for are: reform of business rates, improved broadband speeds and access, further investment in towns regeneration and a windfall tax on global giants like Amazon.  

Commenting on the calls Mid & West Wales Senedd Member Jane Dodds stated: “Small businesses are the backbone of the Welsh economy. With over 60 per cent of Welsh employment being provided by small and medium businesses, they will be the driving force behind our recovery from the pandemic.  

“It is for this reason, it is absolutely vital they are properly supported over the coming years with real tangible ideas. The Welsh Liberal Democrats would ease the pressure of business rates, invest in public transport, broadband and mobile phone signal, and make sure that big online business pay their fair share. 

“The Labour-Plaid Cymru deal is bereft of ideas to support small businesses and the Conservatives are busy undermining business in London. The Welsh Lib Dems have small businesses and jobs at the top of our agenda.   

“At the forefront is our call the reform of business rates. Business rates represent an enormous on our local shops and enterprises. An analogue tax in a digital age, rates give a competitive advantage towards online retail giants while punishing our local shops that actually employ local people and pay all their taxes.

“If the Labour-Plaid Cymru administration is considering reforming council tax, reforming business rates should also be at the top of their agenda. At a UK Government level we continue to call on the Conservatives to implement a windfall tax on online giants such as Amazon where the funds raised can go into improving high streets across the UK.

“We also want the Government to consider more support for a towns regeneration fund. We are proposing a £500 million towns regeneration fund over the next five years to invest in the physical and digital infrastructure of our towns. In rural regions like my own, digital connectivity is still a major barrier to the success of some small businesses.

“Its also important to recognise the impact that leaving the EU has had on many small businesses across Wales. Increased trading barriers and red tape have left many struggling to continue exports to EU customers, with the costs of increased bureaucracy putting them at a competitive disadvantage compared to companies in Northern Ireland and other EU states. The Welsh Liberal Democrats are continuing to call for an improved trading deal with the EU as well as the return of freedom of movement.

“We can do more to support our small businesses, we just need key players to find the political will to do so.”

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New funding for Pembroke regeneration scheme welcomed

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL has said it is proud to announce the success of its bid to the UK Government Levelling Up Fund for its regeneration project at South Quay in Pembroke.

This £4.1million LUF award will enable the Council to develop phase 2 of the South Quay plans.

“The announcement has given us a welcome opportunity for a progress update on phase 1, and to share our plans for phase 2 of the project,” said Rachel Moxey, Head of Economic Development and Regeneration.

As part of its wider regeneration work across Pembrokeshire, the County Council embarked on an ambitious programme earlier this year to redevelop the historic and prominent South Quay site next to Pembroke Castle.

The work involves the restoration and re-use of three dilapidated Grade II listed buildings on the site, as well as enhancing the surrounding environment and improving access between the town centre, castle and the waterfront.

The first phase of work aims to create a new attraction celebrating the town’s legacy as the birthplace of the Tudor dynasty. The second phase will provide a new community hub for social care, continued education and supported employment. Together, the developments will provide a diverse and sustainable mix of new uses in the town.

Phase 1:

The first phase of works is taking place at numbers 4, 5 and 6 Castle Terrace (the road between Pembroke Castle and the junction to Main Street).

The scheme will provide:

  • a new Henry Tudor visitor centre, library and café
  • landscaping of the medieval ‘burgage’ gardens to provide tranquil and restful areas in the historic heart of the town
  • major improvements to the public realm

“We were under no illusions that this was a very complex scheme, and as is often the case with such projects, a number of challenging issues have arisen as the preparatory works continue,” said Steve Jardine, Regeneration Manager.

Issues have included a roof collapse and clearance of contaminated debris, providing additional support to the existing structure and designing for additional demolition works identified during the enabling stage.

Recent work has included providing a protection system to the vaulted medieval cellars of No.4 Castle Terrace and strengthening the property at basement level, to allow for a safer working area within the front third of the building.

The next stage will attempt to make the building safer, in order to allow further investigation and inspection works to finalise the design of the regeneration scheme. This will include the installation of scaffolding to support the front façade during demolition of some of the walls.

A revised timeline will see the remaining demolition and re-build completed by the end of August next year, followed immediately by the start of the construction of the new heritage centre, café and library, with completion planned for early 2024.

In common with many other schemes taking place at the current time, Brexit and the unforeseen impact of Covid have created time and financial implications for the project. The Council is nonetheless committed to staying on track to deliver on the overall scheme as an essential element of its strategy to breathe new life into Pembrokeshire’s towns.

Phase 1 has benefited from Welsh Government ‘Transforming Towns’ funding and investment from Pembrokeshire County Council.

Cllr Paul Miller, Cabinet Member for Economy, Tourism, Leisure and Culture, said: “Repurposing and transforming our key town centres is one of the core elements of our economic development strategy. We are committed to regenerating the South Quay site into an attractive, sustainable and thriving development, of which Pembroke and Pembrokeshire will be very proud.”

Phase 2:

The second phase of development involves the completion of South Quay’s regeneration scheme and is centred on numbers 7 and 8 Northgate Street. It will provide:

  • a community hub over three storeys, including a space for day opportunities , space for digital media, art and heritage craft activities, and learning and skills areas to support independent living for people of all ages
  • environmental enhancements, including the restoration of the buildings, a new sunken garden and improvements to the parking area at South Quay
  • improved access between the Henry Tudor visitor centre and the waterfront

The development would enable the consolidation of adult social care in South Pembrokeshire, providing a modern, better-integrated, community focussed and more sustainable, inclusive day opportunities model in the heart of the town, and yielding savings to the public sector through the closure of existing, poorer quality facilities.

It will also support employment opportunities, which will be integrated within the operation of the new facility.

Jason Bennett, Head of Adult Social Care, said: “This innovative project is representative of our ambition to modernise social care, by offering inclusive services in the heart of our communities, helping people and families remain connected to their local area.”

Cabinet member for Social Care, Cllr Tessa Hodgson said it was ‘fantastic to see this substantial investment in Pembroke’. 

“South Quay is a really innovative scheme designed to benefit all members of the community and is a result of the ambition and drive of Cabinet and the hard work and vision of the regeneration and social care teams at Pembrokeshire County Council,” she said.

Cllr Aaron Carey, County Councillor for Pembroke St Mary South which includes the South Quay site, added: “By introducing an additional offering to the town we can move towards our full potential and offer people, local and visitors alike, reasons to stay in our beautiful town for longer.”

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Extreme pornographic images case to be dealt with at Swansea Crown Court

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A MILFORD HAVEN man who denies three charges of making indecent images of children and of possessing an extreme pornographic image portraying sexual interference with a corpse, has been sent to Crown Court for trial.

Markus Whatling, 38, of Waterloo Square, denies a further charge of possessing a prohibited image of a child.

The offences are alleged to have occurred between May 2, 2010 and February 25, 2021.

Whatling was released by Haverfordwest magistrates this week on conditional bail, the condition being that he does not have any unsupervised contact with anyone under the age of 18.

The case was heard on Tuesday.

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