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Council row over accounts sign-off

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PEMBROKESHIRE County Council has today controversially voted to sign off last year’s accounts in a lively meeting of the Corporate Governance Committee.

Seven members to six voted in favour of a motion by leader Cllr Jamie Adams that the Council were able to ratify the financial statements despite legal concerns by the Welsh Audit Office. The Council and WAO are currently locked in a “legal dispute” over the legality of pension arrangements which help senior members of council staff avoid paying tax on their pensions.

During a heated discussion at County Hall the representative from the Welsh Audit Office said his organisation was not in a position to sign off the accounts. The Welsh Audit Office will be holding a meeting on Thursday to discuss the legal position, following which they may qualify the authority’s accounts, issue a statement in the public interest, or possibly commence legal action.

Plaid Cymru group leader Cllr Michael Williams said in a response to a statement by Cllr Adams: “Things aren’t as rosy as they should be, I hear your words but I accept them with a pinch of salt”.

Councillors were asked to vote in favour of signing off the accounts with a caveat over the controversial element, something which Cllr Michael Williams was unable to support, telling the meeting: “We have been asked to park the issue over pensions at the side, and sign off the accounts anyway. I’m uncomfortable with this. We shouldn’t be able to separate something potentially illegal from the rest of the accounts.”

Cllr Paul Miller said after the Leader explained how the pension plan was introduced: “You must be aware of the ridiculousness of the story you have cooked up in a venue which is not open to the public, after no legal advice had been given, that members of the Senior Staff Committee without intervention from officers read half an A4 page report and voted in favour of this tax scheme.”

Cllr Adams replied: “You have painted a dark picture Cllr Miller, if any public had turned up they would have been shown to the chief executive’s office. This is an office open to the public.”

Disputing that the chief executive’s office was accessible and open to the public, Cllr Jacob Williams, who held up his security key-card, said: “You have to use an electronic pass to open locked security doors to get as far as the chief executive’s room. It’s simply not true that this is an office open to the members of the public.”

Cllr Mike Stoddart, who earlier in the meeting commented on the council’s transparency by way of a reference to “political democracies such as Russia or Zimbabwe,” told members of the committee that he thought that when the Senior Staff Committee went into private session in 2011 this also was potentially unlawful. Under section 100 of the Local Government Act, the Committee can go into private session, but there is a public interest test which was introduced in 2006.

‘’I wonder whether the public interest was considered in this case. I don’t think that in this instance the law in excluding the public was applied correctly,’’ he added.

Cllr Stoddart also questioned if the Chief Executive, Bryn-Parry Jones, should have declared an interest during the controversial meeting.

“If a member had failed to declare an interest and acted in this way, they would probably be lead of in handcuffs,” he said.

Cllr Jacob Williams said: “The legal advisor has read out to us a Local Government Act section 117 guidance note which says interests like this don’t need to be declared by an employee if the matter under discussion relates solely to that single employee, as the interest will be automatically presumed declared. This seems wrong to me, but despite that, this was not a situation where the matter related only to the chief executive or even to named employees, it was a whole change of policy which affected all senior staff members of the council, so I disagree entirely that no interest needed to be declared.”

In reply, the council’s legal advisor, Mr Huw Miller, stood by his own interpretation of the law saying the Chief Executive did not need to declare an interest in the pension policy change.

All the members of the Independent Plus Political Group voted to adopt the accounts, and all other councillors not in the IPPG voted against.

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Two vans and outbuilding broken in to in Milford Haven – Police investigating

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DYFED POWYS POLICE is investigating reports of two vans and an outbuilding being broken in to sometime overnight on Tuesday 12 to Wednesday 13 October, at Vaynor Road, Milford Haven.

Items including tools, cash and bicycles were stolen. Following enquiries, two men have been arrested on suspicion of burglary and theft. The 20-year-old and 23-year-old, both from the Milford Haven area, remain in police custody at this time.

Anyone with information that could help officers with their investigation is asked to report it to Dyfed-Powys Police, either online at: https://bit.ly/DPPContactOnline, by emailing 101@dyfed-powys.pnn.police.uk, or by calling 101. If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908. Quote reference: DP-20211013-043. Alternatively, contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously by calling 0800 555111, or visiting crimestoppers-uk.org.

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Nathaniel Nuttal charged over serious assault in Monkton

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A 32-YEAR-OLD man who was arrested following a serious assault in Monkton on Wednesday Morning (October 13) has appeared in court this morning charged with Grievous Bodily Harm with intent.

Police were called to a property in Tenby Court, Monkton, at approximately 5.35am on Wednesday Morning following a report of a serious assault.

A 40-year-old man has been taken to hospital with serious injuries.

32-year-old Nathaniel Nuttal from Monkton was arrested at the scene and has subsequently been charged with section 18 assault (GBH with intent).

Nuttal appeared at Llanelli Magistrates’ Court this morning.

A Dyfed-Powys Police spokesperson told this newspaper: “The 32-year-old man that was arrested at the scene, was subsequently charged with Section 18 Assault.

“Nathaniel Nuttal from Monkton, appeared before Llanelli Magistrates Court this morning (Friday, October 15).”

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Education

Schools gearing up for Shwmae Day

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THE Criw Cymraeg (Welsh Crew) at our schools in Pembrokeshire have been busy preparing a whole host of exciting activities to celebrate ‘Shwmae Day’ today! (Friday, October the 15th). 

Shwmae Day is a celebration of the Welsh language and all things Welsh. Seren and Sbarc (the Welsh Language Charter mascots) are asking children to dress as Welsh superheroes or in their best red, white and green outfits to celebrate the day and kick start their Language Charter journey this year.

Bro Ingli Welsh Crew (pictured) have organised several activities for Shwmae Day. Every child and even the staff will come to school dressed in a Welsh cape like Seren and Sbarc. The Criw Cymraeg have arranged a competition between each year for one winner to win a specially designed Seren a Sbarc water bottle. Parents will have the opportunity to have a cup of tea and Welsh cakes when dropping off their children at school in the morning and having a Welsh conversation with the Criw Cymraeg or even being taught a few phrases! The donations will be given to the Wales Air Ambulance. The Criw Cymraeg have also arranged with the kitchen for everyone to have Welsh soup and Welsh cakes for lunch.

Roch School are also dressing up as superheroes. Their Criw Cyrmaeg have arranged lots of exciting activities throughout the day for children to use their Welsh skills from crafts, mocktail making, listening to Welsh music and quizzes to teddy bear picnics. Children will have an extra surprise as they host some special superheroes at their picnic who will join them playing Welsh language games in the playground and sharing a sandwich at the teddy bear picnic.

Scores of teams have also registered for the Big Welsh ‘Dim Clem’ quiz hosted by Menter Iaith Sir Benfro for our English medium primaries. We’ll see which school will be crowned the winner!

And finally, to top off the excitement, all schools will have access to an online gig by Welsh artist Gwilym Bowen Rhys to enjoy during the day.

“What a fantastic effort by our schools to celebrate the Welsh language and to kickstart their Language Charter journey,” said Cllr Cris Tomos, Cabinet Member for the Environment and Welsh Language. “I wish everybody a great, fun-filled day.” 

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