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Hostile exchanges at Audit Committee

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jacob williamsCouncil’s Director of Development’s, presentation to Monday’s (Sept 22) Extraordinary Audit Committee has raised considerably more questions about grants scandal in Pembroke Dock than it answered. The thrust of Dr Jones’ lengthy address to the committee was, essentially, that where – in his words – “the irregularity” had occurred it was the fault of everyone but him or his department. Doctor Jones began by blaming the Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO) for approving a manual for the Commercial Property Grants Scheme that had “weaknesses”. His European Manager, Gwyn Evans, had written the manual, but any problems with it were clearly WEFO’s fault. And if WEFO weren’t at fault then there were all sorts of other compelling reasons (or possibly excuses) that Dr Jones could offer up. In public session, Dr Jones alleged that issues that had arisen with the Pembroke and Pembroke Dock grants schemes were all to do with the activities of one developer exploiting “loopholes” in the system. Further and in addition, Dr Jones averred that some problems had arisen because of increased workload and staffing shortages. On the one hand Dr Jones pointed out that the number of staff and projects for which he and his department had risen and on the other he pointed out that staff shortages had caused problems to arise. The failure, to replace a key manager and plan adequately for one member of staff’s maternity leave, were offered up as reasons why problems had arisen in project management.

DEPARTMENT UNDERSTAFFED’ At one point, Dr Jones sought to demonstrate that whereas there were once 18 members of staff under the Head of Regeneration (a manager’s post), he now had 94 members of staff as Director of Development (a director’s post). Any sympathy most members of the Committee might have felt for the £130k+ a year Dr Jones was somewhat moderated by the fact that the overwhelming majority of those “new” posts are actually contractors engaged with the Council’s partners – such as the Futureworks initiative organised in concert with the DWP. In a thinly veiled attempt to put pressure on councillors, he three times said that it was up to councillors to decide whether they wanted the benefit of grant-aided investment in Pembrokeshire and were willing to make funds available to ensure that grants could be administered properly. Of course, Dr Jones never admitted any problems existed before – whether in staffing levels, workload or administrative burden. On the contrary, before the same Committee in January Dr Jones asserted confidently that any issues uncovered would be trivial in nature. Back in January, Dr Jones had claimed that any problems with the grants would amount to the equivalent of a few bread rolls a day lost from the canteen. As it happens, using only the figures before the Audit Committee that would mean that – at 15p per bread roll – something like 900,000 bread rolls over a calendar year, or nearly 2,500 a day h a d gone walk about on Dr Jones’ watch. But he did not apologise. He expressed “disappointment”. As a display of patronising chutzpah before the Audit Committee, it was only equalled by the continued protestations of European Manager Gwyn Evans that whatever had gone wrong it was nothing to do with him. In all of these protestations, Dr Jones and Mr Evans were dealt with in soothing and understanding tones by the newly-elected Chair of the Audit Committee, Peter Jones. Formerly of Morgan Cole Solicitors and presently legal counsel to Swansea University and Chair of Swansea Bay Futures, Mr Jones’ role appeared to be less to encourage rigorous scrutiny and investigation than to accept everything the Committee were told by officers at face value. In the absence of the Head of Legal Services, Huw Miller, and the Council’s own Monitoring Officer, Laurence Harding – it appeared that Mr Jones’ appointment was – at times – particularly fortuitous, due to his extensive legal experience heading a major law firm.

JONES THE LEGAL EAGLE Prepared to deploy his undoubtedly deep legal knowledge when it was most advantageous to the culture which allows £125,000 to be treated like loose change lost behind a sofa cushion, Mr Jones managed to appear to contradict two senior officers (Kerry MacDermott and Jon Haswell). Both of whom agreed with Cllr Jacob Williams that key documents and correspondence relating to negotiations between the Council and Mr Cathal McCosker (Dr Steven Jones’ ‘lone gunman’) could be examined by councillors on the Audit Committee as of right. That is not to say that everything was plain sailing. The Chair was visibly narked and exasperated by the efforts of Cllr Jacob Williams to extract even the merest scintilla of an apology from Dr Jones or Mr Evans. On the basis that evidence is literally ‘that which can be seen’, Mr Jones appeared impatient when Cllr Williams continued to point out that the problem was not necessarily the old procedural manual but the failure to adhere to it. Cllr Williams continued to press on in the teeth of the Chair’s rising impatience with his wish to actually hold someone to account for the repeated and manifest failings of the Council’s Development Directorate and Regeneration Unit. Cllr Williams pointed out that the Council’s own manual provided that bank statements should have been produced to show expenditure had been incurred. Offering a legal opinion based on his professional practice, Mr Jones disagreed. What Mr Jones’ keen legal mind did not pick up on, however, was that the procedural manual was a document produced by Pembrokeshire County Council for its own use. It was only approved by WEFO. The manual’s author was before the committee. Going increasing red at the back of his neck, Gwyn Evans failed to explain why he had included something in the original manual that he and his department had no intention of enforcing. He ventured to say that it would not be practical. And the Chair nodded sagely; but Mr Evans could not or did not explain that if his own procedural manual was impractical why he did not realise that and change it to reflect practicalities before any issues arose.

SAY SORRY TO STODDART Cllr Jacob Williams landed a telling blow by following up a point made earlier by Cllr Guy Woodham. Cllr Williams asked why all of the issues that Dr Jones now prayed in aid of his department had not been acknowledged before. Why, in particular, did Dr Jones persist in saying that nobody could have known what was wrong when clear evidence had been presented by Cllr Mike Stoddart at the time that something was amiss? Cllrs Woodham and Williams suggested that officers should apologise to Cllr Stoddart for the way they had previously dealt with his concerns. Councillor Williams went so far as to say that a systematic attempt had been made “to rubbish” the Hakin representative. Dr Jones pointedly declined to apologise and the Council’s European Manager, Gwyn Evans, remarkably said he stood by the content of a public FAQ document which had been shown to be factually incorrect. It was hard to determine whether either officer was intentionally or unintentionally patronising. If the word ‘sorry’ was in their minds, it was rapidly strangled before it could be uttered. Peter Jones, of course, would have been a stranger to the intricacies of the discussion before him. It did not matter how well briefed and prepared he was, the ins and outs of the grants scandal and the efforts of the Council to cover it up were not on his radar.

STODDART GETS A SAY In the teeth of Chair’s bemusement, Cllrs Woodham and Williams proposed that Cllr Stoddart address the meeting. Cllr John Allen Mirehouse gracelessly consented. Two officers, Kerry MacDermott and Jon Haswell, pointed out that as Cllr Stoddart had been invited to address the panel previously on this matter he should be asked to share his thoughts. Cllr Stoddart offered some constructive views on the way forward and agreed that the proposals in the new procedural manual and checklist proposed went some way to tackling concerns. Indeed, Cllr Stoddart seemed to have gained an ally in Jon Haswell, who agreed with him that a very basic amendment could resolve an issue which had plagued the whole grants scheme. Gwyn Evans disagreed. Peter Jones leapt in to Mr Evans’ defence. Mr Haswell was not deflected and persisted with his view. With the Chairman looking at his watch, the meeting ended shambolically and unsatisfactorily with a spat between Cllrs Mirehouse and Stoddart. Peter Jones, seemingly taking the position that the Audit Committee had no choice but to approve the documents before them, drew the meeting to a quick close at the behest of Cllrs Mirehouse and Tom Richards.

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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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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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