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Officers competence questioned over Council Chief’s pay-off

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AUDIT WALES published its long-awaited report on the departure of former Council CEO Ian Westley on Thursday (January 13).

Audit Wales released the report in the public interest due to what it identified as serious governance failures at Pembrokeshire County Council.

Under the Settlement Agreement terms, the Chief Executive received a termination payment of £95,000, and his employment ended on November 30 2020.

The report found that the Council failed to properly record why the Chief Executive left and why the Chief Executive received a termination payment.

Auditor-General Adrian Crompton said: “Pembrokeshire Council has work to do to ensure that its governance arrangements are sufficiently robust and to regain public trust.

“However, the steps the Council has since taken to improve its governance and decision-making processes, and the leadership already provided by its new Chief Executive, gives me confidence that the Council will act on the recommendations in my report.T .”

LEADER DID NOT GET RIGHT ADVICE

The report says Cllr Simpson failed to grasp the legal situation because internal advice was of poor quality.

The Head of HR, Ceri Davies, sent Ian Westley legally privileged information that Mr Westley had no right to see regarding the Council’s negotiating strategy and provided him with an insight into confidential legal advice.

Mr Davies, who is seconded to the regional education consortium ERW until April 1, faces a warm reception when – or if – he returns to work at the Council.

The Auditor casts significant doubt on “evidence” provided by Mr Davies, particularly the content of several notes prepared by the Head of HR.

The Auditor repeatedly observes that he doubts how much faith he has in the Head of HR.

Officers either overlooked or ignored procedural red flags that should’ve prompted them to take external advice on their conclusions.

Worse, when former Head of Legal Claire Incledon raised an important issue regarding the tax treatment of Mr Westley’s payment, her concerns went unaddressed.

BULLYING CLAIMS DON’T ADD UP

Crucially, the report finds that Mr Westley’s after the fact interpretation of his pay-off as compensation for bullying does not stack up.

The Auditor finds no evidence that Mr Westley’s payment was anything other than a severance agreement between employer and employee. He notes a planned corporate restructuring exercise was an opportune time for Mr Westley to leave.

The report observes that if Mr Westley wanted to complain of bullying and seek protection due to a whistle-blower, he was more than aware of the procedure to do so.

Mr Westley’s failure to record a formal grievance and the Auditor’s conclusions regarding that issue do not hide occasionally difficult relationships between officers and councillors.

The report expressly rejects Mr Westley’s assertion that the £95,000 payment represented compensation for his being bullied.

That leaves Jamie Adams and Stephen Joseph with very little wriggle room.
Faced with findings of fact, they are not in a position to contradict the Auditor’s conclusions.

LEADER TOO EAGER TO REACH EXIT AGREEMENT

Cllr Simpson does not come out of the report with his reputation unscathed.

His loyalty to his Cabinet shines through the report. It is possible that, so closely was her working with Cabinet members at the time, he allowed them too much leeway dealing with senior staff.

However, there is nothing in the report to support Jamie Adams’s naked attempt to blame the leader and Cabinet for the situation with the former CEO.The report suggests that Cllr Simpson’s wish to avoid a public confrontation led him to set aside his better judgement to seal a deal at all costs.

The report suggests that not only did Cllr Simpson want to avoid a public confrontation but took the decision to structure the agreement in a way he believed would not require further scrutiny of it.

His belief was bolstered by poor quality advice from senior officers upon whom he should’ve been able to rely. David Simpson did a botched job based on botched advice from officers who, putting it generously, got several key calls wrong.

NEXT STEPS

Ceri Davies’s position must surely hang by a thread following the damning conclusions about his conduct and honesty as a witness.

It beggars belief that the Head of HR shared private legal information with Mr Westley related to the former’s own responsibilities to his employer.

The Auditor General’s report, other associated reports and an action plan to address recommendations will be considered by a meeting of the Council on February 1.

News

Two arrests in Haverfordwest after reports of man in possession of a knife

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THERE was a large police response following 999 calls made in Haverfordwest last night to reports of an affray involving an offensive weapon.

Multiple police units descended on Fleming Crescent just before nine o’clock on Thursday (May 19).

Two people were taken into police custody, where they remain, police confirmed.

A spokesperson for Dyfed-Powys Police told The Pembrokeshire Herald: “We were called to a disturbance and reports of a man in possession of a knife in Fleming Crescent, Haverfordwest, at around 8.50pm on Thursday, 19 May.

“A 41-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of being in possession of an offensive weapon, while a 33-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of affray.

“Both remain in police custody.”

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Grape expectations for Welsh Wine Week 2022

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THIS JUNE, Welsh vineyards will welcome guests from Wales and beyond to taste what Wales’ burgeoning wine sector has to offer during its annual Welsh Wine Week.

From Saturday 4th to Sunday 12th June, free events, competitions, expert guided tours and tastings will make up the Welsh Wine Week schedule and give wine lovers the chance to personally discover the country’s picturesque vineyards and sample their wide range of award-winning vintages.

Special product releases will take place during Welsh Wine Week to commemorate the event, including Pembrokeshire’s Velfrey Vineyard’s Cuvée Reserve Sparkling Brut, a 2019 vintage traditional method sparkling brut wine, made especially from the vineyard’s Seyval Blanc and Pinot Noir grapes.

Confirmed events for Welsh Wine Week 2022 include: a cheese and Welsh wine sampling event from Gwinllan Conwy (in collaboration with Bodnant Welsh Food), White Castle Vineyard will be holding a tasting of their wines with Fine Wines Direct and there will be free vineyard tours and wine tastings across the week from Parva Farm vineyard.

Andy Mounsey, owner of Velfrey Vineyard and Chairman of the Welsh Vineyard Association, said: “Whether you relish in a red, white, rosé or sparkling wine, Welsh Wine Week is the perfect opportunity to show consumers what the Welsh wine industry has to offer.

“Wales is making strides in its wine production and has proudly adopted an innovative approach in which its experimental and diverse with the wine it produces. Wine producers are working collaboratively to drive the industry forward and championing each other, creating a supportive and closely connected network of vineyards.

“We have all been waiting fondly for the return of Welsh Wine Week and will mark the first event with no restrictions with a stellar line up of producers. We hope to welcome many more wine enthusiasts into our businesses this year, so please sign up to our events and treat yourself to some quality Welsh wine as you do.”

Full event listings and access to exclusive competitions and interviews with Welsh vineyards can be found on the dedicated Welsh Wine Week website.

Welsh Wine Week is organised by the Welsh Drinks Cluster, funded by Welsh Government, which works in partnership with Welsh drinks producers to promote the industry and its production of world class products.

For more information go to: https://www.welshwineweek.co.uk/

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Warm Pembrokeshire welcome for Ukrainians fleeing from war

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THE PEMBROKESHIRE community has been preparing a warm welcome to Ukrainian people fleeing the devastating war in their homeland.

Across Pembrokeshire, people have been signing up to become sponsors under the Homes for Ukraine scheme – one of the formal routes by which Ukrainian people can make their way to the UK, having been matched with a local family.

To date, Pembrokeshire has seen over 75 households signing up to the scheme.

As part of the formal process for becoming a sponsor, Pembrokeshire County Council is undertaking checks to ensure that people arriving from Ukraine are being offered safe and comfortable environments in which to live.

When people arrive with their sponsor household, contact is made by the Council to welcome them, support them with any immediate needs and ensure that they know where they can get information and advice.

The Pembrokeshire Community Hub, a partnership between Pembrokeshire County Council, PAVS and Volunteering Matters, is also working with Council teams and community groups to ensure that people are offered a warm welcome to the county.

People who are hosting and sponsoring families arriving from Ukraine are being equipped with information packs to help them prepare for their guests’ arrival and are also being invited to become part of an online support network, where they can connect and support one another.

The support has led to positive feedback from local people hosting Ukrainians with compliments for the level of assistance and support provided.

Community groups are also establishing themselves across the County, offering a range of support to those arriving.

This includes spaces to meet, organised community gatherings and fundraising activities.

Through the Community Hub and with support of PAVS, these groups are also being encouraged to join Pembrokeshire Community Support Network – Ukraine, where they can get up to date information, share with one another and get support when needed.

If you are looking to support people arriving from Ukraine, or are already doing so, and would like more information, please contact the Pembrokeshire Community Hub on 01437 776301 or ukrainecommunityresponse@pembrokeshire.gov.uk

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