Jacob Williams
Tuesday 27th September, 2016

Collective wisdom

Collective wisdom

We’re forever being told of the increasing need for councils and other public bodies to work together.

A worrying development of the consequences seems to be emerging at the Kremlin on Cleddau in, would you believe it, even more allegations of misappropriated cash in taxpayer-funded grant schemes.

In its wisdom, whilst Pembrokeshire County Council’s cabinet makes the final decision on the Property Development Fund (PDF) grant awards – which means rubber-stamping officers’ reports – all of the behind the scenes administration has been delegated to neighbouring Carmarthenshire County Council.

Given PCC’s track record of handling building grant money, you might think this was a smart move.

But the author of that other website, Cllr. Mike Stoddart, has turned up evidence suggesting an office block built between Milford Haven and Haverfordwest using this EU cash – administered by CCC on behalf of PCC – might not be all above board.

Piecing together available information on the office block, Cllr. Stoddart has highlighted what looks suspiciously like splashback of EU cash reaching as far as a drainage network for a prospective housing development which was neither part of the scheme nor grant aid compliant.

This unqualified grant money on the adjoining project even includes a road to nowhere – a paved road leading to an adjoining field.

Concerning enough, but us councillors are now being led to believe that this CCC/PCC collaboration allows information which Pembrokeshire councillors would be able to access had PCC retained administration of the scheme in-house, to be legitimately denied to us by CCC.

Cllr. Stoddart wants his hands on certain information to further his own investigation – and, sure enough, is being denied access by Carmarthenshire’s finest.

Not only has Carmarthenshire council refused but they won’t even allow him and a PCC officer to come up to Carmarthen to inspect the files.

Apparently they say this could breach the agreement which includes other councils as part of the collaboration.

A further sub-plot Cllr. Stoddart is probing on his Old Grumpy website – and which these denied documents might help him understand further – relates to opportune valuations of the office block to affect the amount of grant cash the project could attract.

It’s all very complex and Old Grumpy’s latest blogpost explains the finer points, but, in a nutshell, wildly differing valuations were given, all based on the same reports, despite the fact that the developer had in place a contractual agreement to sell the completed project back to the original owner of the undeveloped land at an agreed price.

Allegations of impropriety in publicly-funded grant cash administered by public bodies are one thing.

But as I raised at last week’s audit committee meeting – see the webcast at 35 minutes in – this job-sharing arrangement surely cannot open up a loophole allowing administrators of public cash to provide each other mutual cover from prying councillors.

In response to my query the audit committee was informed that CCC’s statutory finance officer – listed on their website as “Director of Corporate Services & Section 151 Officer” Chris Moore – has been made aware and is looking into the matter.

Either Carmarthenshire council is ‘doing a PCC’ – i.e. denying Cllr. Stoddart information to which he is entitled – or PCC and CCC have discovered a handy way of bypassing elected-member scrutiny of any incompetencies their public servants may have presided over.

Of course, these documents could show nothing untoward and CCC just doesn’t want us Pembrokeshire councillors to see how much more conscientiously their officers work.


Outdated opinions

The Pembrokeshire Herald’s policy of giving over space to political columnists seems to be wildly indiscriminate.

A preponderance of feminists, nationalists and liberals are among the no-names regularly gifted column inches by the dozen.

But it wasn’t what one of their motley muses wrote on 9th September that questioned my recollection of recent political history.

It was the heading of the column authored by one of their better-known mouths, the Liberal Democrat, William Powell.

You know, one of our Mid and West Wales electoral region’s four indirectly-elected assembly members.

Or, was.

Over four months since losing his party-list seat to UKIP’s Neil Hamilton, our man from Brecon is introduced as William Powell AM.

The by-line balls-up was surely the newspaper’s, as I notice Powell – still a Powys county councillor until at least May next year – concludes with his council email address.

Around half a dozen of these sundry pundits’ opinion pieces make it past the editor’s guillotine and into print each week.

I guess the Herald’s readers aren’t alone in disregarding them.

Positively Liberal


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5 Comments...

  • John Hudson

    As you have mentioned Powys County Council, may I thank its council taxpayers for their admittedly small contribution towards the Cleddau Bridge annual surplus toll income.

    Toll charges are paid by the emergency services that use the bridge. Therefore, all the various counties that contribute to the police, fire and rescue services and the NHS (ambulance) help ensure that the bridge produces an annual toll surplus profit. This is applied to our countywide non-bridge related highways and transport budget. So thanks to them as well.

    Council taxpayers in Pembrokeshire, including those who do not use the bridge and do not pay tolls, receive a council tax “subsidy” through the annual toll surpluses applied in this way. (£11.0m since 2003, about £1.8m p.a.) This helps the council achieve the lowest council tax in Wales. So thank you also to our “in county” toll payers.

    Thanks must also go to our the majority of our councillors, who, when voting on 12 May 2016, must have thought this to be fair and reasonable for toll payers, although a minority of councillors did question this.

  • Galf

    Watch what you’re saying Jacob. That pontificating badger and deputy editor Jon Coles might be standing in the next county council elections.

  • Jon Coles

    Oh no he won’t.

    And neither will his mate Badger.

    As for pontificating…I’m pretty sure Badger is a Baptist.

  • Jon, Baptist preachers Huw George and Ken Rowlands seem to prove that pontificating is not an exclusively Roman Catholic activity.

    Pontificate: 1. express one’s opinions in a pompous and dogmatic way.

  • William Rees

    Hands off Badger. His is one of the most eagerly awaited columns of the week and Jacob it is important to listen to ‘no names,’ you were one once.

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