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Call for fraud probe on grants

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grants scandalPLAID CYMRU has uncovered that Pembrokeshire Council’s procurement rules were not followed in respect of public funds to 29 Dimond Street, Pembroke Dock.

A letter from the Welsh Local Government Minister states the Council’s procurement procedures were not followed and there was insufficient evidence to support the expenditure claimed in respect to 29 Dimond Street, Pembroke Dock, officials in the Welsh European Funding Office found.

Speaking from Brussels where he held a meeting with the EC’s Director of Public Procurement at which probity and corruption in EU funds was discussed, Mid & West AM Simon Thomas said:

“I am grateful to my constituent for raising this important matter with me. The Council’s own rules on procurement were not followed in this case and I have little faith that there are no other examples. It is not enough that the Welsh Government is seeking a claw back of the money paid to the council and will remove the properties in question from the European Union scheme.

“This is only sweeping things under the carpet. Either the police or an independent audit must go over such schemes with a fine toothcomb to ensure no other project has been mismanaged or fraud has been committed.

“I will be calling on the government to undertake such an audit and have also raised questions over the wider issue of governance of Pembrokeshire Council with the Local Government Minister as my Plaid Cymru colleagues on Pembrokeshire Council have done in the council chamber.”

Councillor Michael Williams, Leader of the Party of Wales on Pembrokeshire Council added:

“This is public money and it is disgraceful that Pembrokeshire Council haven’t followed their own procurement procedures particularly when the council makes companies jump through so many hoops to get contracts. The Wales Audit Office found that the council acted unlawfully over pension payments, and now this.”

The Council strikes back

RESPONDING to the Plaid press release, a Council spokesperson told the Herald:

“Pembrokeshire County Council has seen the correspondence between Minister Lesley Griffith AM and Simon Thomas AM and we do not agree with the statement by Plaid Cymru.

“It is not the case that procurement rules were not followed in relation to 29 Dimond Street.

“Works undertaken with the benefit of the Commercial Property Grant Scheme (CPGS) are not procured by the Council. The Council’s role is set out in the Council’s Procedure Manual which has recently been revised in consultation with the Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO).

“The grant for the property is being recovered and, while a police investigation into other matters in relation to the property are on-going, it would be inappropriate for the Council to comment further.

“There is no basis on which Mr Thomas can say that there may be other examples within the CPGS as WEFO has recently completed a 100 per cent check on all 24 CPGS-funded properties and found only two where there were any issues. Both had already been referred to the police by Pembrokeshire County Council.

“As Mrs Griffith’s letter makes clear, WEFO is satisfied that the Council has taken appropriate action and has lifted the payment suppression, both positive points that the statement from Plaid Cymru chooses to overlook.”

Inspection: Council officers check buildings

Inspection: Council officers check buildings

Procurement procedure not followed

THE DISPUTED revelation that the County Council failed to follow its own procurement procedures is bound to be an embarrassment to what it has been only too proud to proclaim is its “expert” team.

In January, we reported how the Council’s own European Manager had reassured Audit Committee members that they would find nothing wrong with the Scheme. It later appeared as though that officer, Gwyn Evans, had doctored a report of a meeting in an attempt to ensure that was the case.

At that same Audit Committee meeting, Dr Stephen Jones told members of the Committee that any problems with the scheme that would lead to recoupment would be trivial in nature.

It is now open to question how much active collusion or passive acquiescence there was by other officers more intimately involved in the grants scheme and the Town Heritage Initiative that preceded.

The response from Welsh Local Government Minister Lesley Griffiths, reveals that Pembrokeshire County Council has undertaken that it will refund monies paid out under the Commercial Property Grants Scheme (CPGS).

The Herald understands that the amount to be repaid is rather more significant than trivial, and sums between £150K and £300K are the subject of speculation at County Hall.

Questions still remain, however, about money given to other developments carried out by “Baron of the Bedsits”, Cathal McCosker under the Town Heritage Initiative.

What is certain, however, that once Pembrokeshire’s Best Magazine and Mike Stoddart began reporting on the grants fiasco the amount received in grant payments by Mr McCosker’s developments markedly diminished. As The Herald revealed, NO request for payment has been made by Mr McCosker or any of his companies in relation to 50 Dimond Street, a property now up for auction at a guide price significantly under that than would be indicated by the original grant allocation.

Mirehouse’s mistake

AT JANUARY’S Audit Committee meeting, former Deputy Leader of the Council John Allen Mirehouse (IPPG, Hundleton) proclaimed it was a shame that only around £18K of public money had been spent on renovating a tiny former butcher’s shop in Dimond Street instead of the £64K originally scheduled.

As the Council now faces repaying grant monies paid out to Mr McCosker and his companies under the CPGS, Mr Allen Mirehouse might want to re-appraise both that view and the view that there was no need for the scheme to be subject to scrutiny that he expressed in an ill-judged tirade directed against Cllr Mike Stoddart at a Council meeting in December last year.

In fact, even if the Council succeeds in getting any money back from Cathal McCosker at all, it will still be out of pocket. The rake the Council took for its so-called “administration” of the grants scheme amounted to 9% of the total amount received in European Funding. It is Pembrokeshire’s Council Tax payers who will ultimately foot that bill.

Minister also errs

THE HERALD is able to confirm that an assertion regarding controversial CEO Bryn Parry Jones in Ms Griffiths’ response is also misleading.

The letter claims that the controversial CEO has stepped aside from his post while an unrelated Police investigation takes place into the unlawful pay supplement scheme that the Council’s own Senior Staff Committee agreed in a bid to help Mr Parry Jones avoid tax on his seven-figure publicly-funded pension pot.

The Herald has confirmed that it is not the case that the ongoing Police investigation into that matter has anything to do with Mr Parry Jones continued paid absence from work. A Council spokesman told The Herald:

“Lesley Griffiths is incorrect in her assumption that the Chief Executive stepped aside ‘for the duration of the re-opened Police investigation.’

“He has taken a period of absence because of the “continuing speculation” surrounding his position and this is what we said in our press statement.”

grant scandalStoddart’s analysis

MIKE STODDART, who has tirelessly investigated the grants scandal told The Herald:

“It is heartening to see that Plaid Cymru are taking an interest in this matter.

“What is difficult to understand is why the police, who were provided with a dossier by PCC in April containing evidence of serious “irregularities” on projects carried out in Pembroke Dock by Mr Cathal McCosker and his associated companies still haven’t launched an investigation.

“The last time I enquired, about a month ago, the police told me that they were consulting with the Wales European Funding Office (WEFO) on whether it was “appropriate” to mount a criminal investigation.

“I met with three officers from WEFO on 9 June when I explained at great length how these “irregularities” were engineered by the developer his architect and builder so it is not easy to understand what is holding them back though, as WEFO have carried out multiple audits of these grants and failed to spot any of these “irregularities” it looks like they’re being asked to mark their own homework.

“In her letter to Simon Thomas AM the Minister Lesley Griffiths, after referring to the police involvement, says: ‘However these do not form part of the Commercial Property Grants Scheme, or other European Union funded scheme led by the council and so it would be inappropriate for the Welsh Government to comment any further at this time.’

“This is extremely misleading because the two projects that were referred to the Police were 10 Meyrick Street and 29 Dimond Street, both in Pembroke Dock.

“According to documents in my possession, large Commercial Property Grants funded by the EU were paid out on both these projects.

“However, I also understand that PCC has been forced to refund WEFO with ALL grant monies paid to Mr McCosker and the companies he controls, plus the sums provided by WEFO to cover PCC’s costs for administrating the scheme, so I suspect that what is now being spun is that, as the money has been returned, these projects were never grant funded in the first place.

“That seems like a classic case of rewriting history to me.

“I suspect a narrative is being prepared along the following lines: McCosker has repaid the grants so there is no loss to the public purse. PCC has tightened up its administrative procedures so that these ‘irregularities’ are unlikely to recur. In all the circumstances it would not be in the public interest to launch an expensive, time-consuming criminal investigation.

“Or, what most people recognise as a typical establishment cover-up.”

Who picks up the bill?

THE HERALD asked the Council that, as the Minister suggested that the Council had agreed to repay grant monies incorrectly paid out, to specify the amount in which payment was to be made, whether Mr McCosker agreed to indemnify the Council for this repayment and, if so, to identify with whom at County Hall any discussions took place.

A Council spokesperson told us: “As explained at the Council meeting on July 17, the fact that the grant is to be repaid does not mean that on all the properties concerned there are irregularities. The repayment is to expedite the continuation of the grant scheme and the lifting of the payment suppression. The grant to be repaid on the two properties that have been referred to the police is £144k. The owner of these properties has offered to repay grant paid to the Council. A charge has also been placed against the properties.”

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Covid-19 vaccination venues and timeline announced for everyone locally over 50

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EVERY person in JCVI priority groups 5 to 9 will be offered a COVID-19 vaccination by 18 April, Hywel Dda University Health Board has confirmed.

While the health board’s vaccination programme has the capacity to offer a vaccine to everyone in groups 5 to 9 by the original target date of 4 April, the delivery plan has had to be adjusted based on confirmed vaccine deliveries.

Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, and Pembrokeshire residents in priority groups 5 to 9 can expect to receive their vaccine as follows:

  • Group 5, people aged 65 – 69 years – delivered by GP practices between 15 February and 12 March
  • Group 6, people aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions and unpaid carers – delivered by GP practices between 22 February and 4 April
  • Group 7, people aged 60 – 64 years – delivered by mass vaccination centres starting 8 March
  • Group 8, people aged 55 – 59 years – delivered by mass vaccination centres starting 22 March
  • Group 9, people aged 50 – 54 years – delivered by mass vaccination centres starting 5 April

The health board currently has mass vaccination centres located in Aberystwyth, Cardigan, Haverfordwest, Tenby, Carmarthen and Llanelli.

Group 6 is significantly the largest cohort to be vaccinated to date and we understand that many in this group will be anxious to receive a vaccine. Please do not contact your GP or the health board to ask about your appointment, you will be contacted directly when it is your turn and we thank you for your patience.

People in groups 7, 8 and 9 will receive a letter with an appointment date and time. Please arrive as close to your appointment time as possible. The letter will include a phone number to contact the health board should you need to rearrange or cancel your appointment but please make every effort to keep your allocated appointment time.

Steve Moore, Chief Executive of Hywel Dda UHB, said: “While  our programme has had to slow  due to supplies, we want to reassure everyone in groups 5 to 9 that our amazing teams of vaccinators and GP practices have the capability and flexibility to deliver our vaccine supplies as they arrive into the region.

“Vaccine supplies will start to increase again from mid-March, and we are confident that everyone living in our three counties in the top 9 priority groups will be offered a vaccine by mid-April.

“In Hywel Dda we have an older population compared to some other health boards and so over 50% of our adult population will have been offered a vaccine by milestone 2.

“To be able to say that as we approach the anniversary of the first national lockdown is nothing short of extraordinary.

“And again, I must say thank you to everyone living in our three counties who continue to come forward in substantial numbers for the vaccine. Uptake remains remarkably high and we hope to see this continue through groups 5 to 9 and into group 10.”

People are asked, wherever possible, to use their own private transport to attend an appointment. Lifts can be accepted from someone in their household or support bubble, but not from anyone else due to the risk of transmission of the virus.

The health board has put in place transport support for anyone who may have difficulty attending their vaccination appointment. If you have no other means of travel, please contact the health board on 0300 303 8322 and we will be happy to assist.

Everyone in priority groups 1 to 4 should have received an offer of a vaccination. If you have not been contacted, or have changed your mind, please contact your GP at the earliest opportunity. No one will be left behind.

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Nolton Haven: Man hospitalised after getting into difficulties in sea

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A MAN was taken to hospital after getting into difficulties in the sea off Nolton Haven on Friday.

Emergency services were alerted at 2.40pm on February 26 by a 999 call to the control centre.

The Little Haven RNLI lifeboat, Broad Haven Coastguard, an ambulance crew and a Coastguard rescue helicopter assisted police in the operation.

The male casualty was stabilised on the beach and shortly before 4.30pm, was then transported to Withybush Hospital.

A police spokesman told The Herald: “We were called to a male who had got into difficulties in the water at Nolton Haven shortly before 3pm.

“He was taken to hospital by ambulance.”

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Cyclist killed on A40 was serving police officer, force confirms

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A CYCLIST who died after a crash with a van on the A40 in Carmarthenshire was a serving police officer with Dyfed-Powys Police, the force has confirmed in a statement to Herald.Wales.

The driver of the van involved in the crash, which happened on Thursday (Feb 25) has been arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving, it was confirmed on Friday (Feb 26).

Police are investigating the fatal collision, which caused the road to be closed for 12 hours, and are asking for any witnesses to come forward by calling 101.

37-year-old Lynwen Thomas, who is a former student at Ysgol Bro Myrddin, Croes-y-Ceiliog, Carmarthen, was a sergeant and a very well-respected member of Dyfed-Powys Police.

A spokesperson for the police said in a statement: “Our thoughts are with her family, friends and colleagues, who have all been offered specialist support. We ask that family members are given the privacy they need at this difficult time.”

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