Jacob Williams
Friday 30th August, 2019

Lost in the reshuffle

Lost in the reshuffle

August was a typically quiet month for County Hall developments until Tuesday’s announcement that the council’s leader, David Simpson, is appointing two new cabinet members.

Letterston councillor Michelle Bateman, first elected at the 2017 election, and Jon Harvey – who’s been a councillor since winning his Pembroke by-election eleven months ago – are both being elevated following the resignation from the cabinet of Fishguard councillor, Pat Davies, on health grounds.

But the appointment process followed by leader Cllr. Simpson in his biggest cabinet reshuffle yet, has raised some questions.

It’s a departure from the process he followed, when he first became leader following the 2017 election, where he invited cabinet hopefuls to submit their CVs.

Fresh to the role, it was part of his bid to show his commitment to transparency and making appointments on merit, rather than murky patronage as was the case under previous administrations.

These two new appointments weren’t openly advertised for hopefuls to apply – and neither was Cllr. Simpson’s first cabinet change in May this year, which saw him appoint Cllr. Guy Woodham to replace Cllr. David Lloyd as head of the education portfolio.

JW heard the rumour that both Cllrs. Bateman and Harvey were to become cabinet appointees over a month ago.

It came up during a conversation with three other councillors in the County Hall car park, from a source who I didn’t have reason to believe would have the ear of Cllr. Simpson.

I may have to reevaluate!

Cllr. Pat Davies is also believed to have mulled the possibility of her reluctant retirement from the cabinet some time before the aforementioned car park rumour of who might replace her, was doing the rounds.

So, quite why Cllr. Simpson chose not to adopt his application process for cabinet wannabes this time around, is not altogether clear.

On the basis of what I’ve set out above – and the fact that no business takes place in August in any case – it can’t have been due to pressures of time.

Labour gains

Cllr. Simpson’s cabinet reshuffle news ended the summer drought of County Hall political gossip.

And if any more confirmation was needed that the municipal wheels are grinding back into action, it came with the almost perennial news that Monkton councillor Pearl Llewellyn could be crossing the floor.

On my Facebook page I was careful to word my tip-off that Cllr. Llewellyn has signed the necessary paperwork to join Pembrokeshire County Council’s Labour party group.

I have no reason to believe that she didn’t file the said paperwork – and she reacted online favourably to my Facebook post – but as anyone who knows Pearl will know, she’s apt to change her mind!

Having changed her political affiliation variously during her uninterrupted two decades as a councillor, it could be said that Pearl used to be indecisive – but now she’s not so sure!

Cllr. Llewellyn was most recently elected as an independent candidate at the 2017 election, since which time she’s sat as a member not affiliated to any political group.

The next full council meeting is in October. It will be interesting to see if she’ll be seated on the Labour benches.

Nothing to see here

Councillors have today been informed that the Crown Prosecution Service is sticking by its decision not to prosecute in the Pembroke Dock grant saga.

At our July full council meeting, councillors resolved to request the CPS review its decision not to bring any prosecutions in relation to the alleged large fraud on taxpayers.

We’re told that the outcome of their review is “that there is insufficient evidence for there to be a realistic prospect of conviction.”

At the same July meeting, campaigning councillor Mike Stoddart – who exposed the irregularities in the grant schemes on his OldGrumpy.co.uk blog – expressed his intention to launch a private prosecution into well-evidenced cases of public cash being handed out by the council for phantom building restoration works.

The police’s handling of the case and the CPS’s decision not to prosecute gets a good airing in the current edition of Private Eye.

Indeed it’s the lead story of the magazine’s Rotten Boroughs column.

I’ll have more to say on this topic, and will discuss some interesting correspondence with the case’s top cop – CID head Steve Cockwell – in due course.

In the meantime, I reproduce the column in full, below:

Tripe for the picking

South county MP Simon Hart, Tory, has taken to Facebook with his views on recent Brexit developments.

The former backbencher who’s just been appointed to the government by the new prime minister, sets out why Boris Johnson’s prorogation of parliament, which has caused much breathless outrage this week, is not particularly extraordinary.

In a bulleted list, Hart offers “a bit of context” to the “media hype,” setting out a number of reasons why he believes an autumn stoppage is “nothing new, outrageous, conspiratorial or without precedent.”

JW noticed one of the comments posted in response to Hart’s social media piece comes from Joshua Beynon – Labour party county councillor for Llanion.

The Pembroke Dock member calls Simon’s thoughts “tripe” – and says BoJo’s prorogation of parliament is “being dressed up as ‘normal’ when in fact it is anything but and rather abuse of executive power over the legislative.”

As a number of attempts are being made by various remainer factions to take up the matter legally – seemingly motivated by politics rather than principle – that might be a matter for the courts to decide.

And if they make it any further than the courthouse door, I wouldn’t bank on the judiciary coming down in the remainers’ favour.

Angry with the Westminster shutdown, Cllr. Beynon reveals that, like Mr. Hart, he had voted to remain in 2016, and used to think that “a deal and respecting the result of the referendum was the right move.”

But because of what he says are “the lies” and “vote leave breaking electoral laws,” he now thinks “the only way to break this impasse is to put it back to the people.”

Cllr. Beynon’s passion when it comes to claims of duping the electorate, and what he sees as an affront to democracy, is evident.

And his talk of broken electoral promises and the people-thought-they-were-voting-for-something-else implication is more than interesting.

JW wonders if the young Labour councillor has considered whether the voters of Monkton – who voted in an independent councillor in 2017 – deserve their own reunion with the ballot box.

If he’s consistent – and motivated by principle and not politics – then Cllr. Beynon would surely have strong views on how democratic it is for an independent-voting electorate to have a Labour party councillor foisted on them.

In his rejoinder to Hart’s post, Josh ends with the line: “…in a democracy it is not undemocratic to go back to the people and ask is this still what you want.”

I’m sure he’s dusting down his red rosette and polishing his campaign boots as I type!

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  • Rosieone

    Thought we’d seen an end to the curse of the floor-crossers when Farmer Adams was booted from his perch.

    As for Cllr. Beynon, he won’t be the last politician to selectively apply morale outrage when it suits…

  • H

    Well, well, well! The double standards of certain councillors are certainly coming out of the woodwork!

    Jacob you’re again spot on with your write up…I saw the ‘tripe’ comment and wondered if Cllr Beynon had read what he wanted to read or not read anything at all.

    Mr Hart’s was an honest evaluation of what was currently happening and his explanation satisfied my understanding of the state of play. To write ‘tripe’ is quite unprofessional in my view.

    Furthermore, as a representative of the Labour Party he should have put his brain in gear before opening his mouth.

    Pearl will do as she is told, I just hope there isn’t an unhealthy, coercive reason why she has joined the reds!

  • Malcolm Calver

    On the alleged grant fraud saga, I am afraid Pembrokeshire County Council, Dyfed-Powys Police and the Crown Prosecution Service are all pissing in the same pot, and the only way to get to the bottom of this scandal is for Cllr Stoddart to launch his threatened private prosecution.

    Cllr Stoddart seems to have all the photographic and quantity surveying evidence to prove there was wrongdoing on a vast scale.

    Cllr Beynon, I am told, was very good at photography in his teens should Cllr Stoddart need photographic assistance.

  • Flashbang

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

    Just about every council across the length and breadth of Britain is full of people whose only reason to be there is to scoop up as much cash and favours even when they have been rumbled.

    It seems to be all done with the compliance of their local police force to derail any investigations.

    When was the last time you heard of prosecutions and jail sentences for any local corruption.

    On the other topic no doubt both those Councillors will be on full pay in very cash strapped Pembrokeshire. When is the belt tightening that the taxpayer is subjected to, going to start in County Hall?

  • Joshua Beynon

    It’s quite extraordinary reading the comments on this blog, especially when there is vast jumping to conclusions when I haven’t yet been given the right to reply.

    I don’t sit on Facebook all day waiting for these blog posts to emerge so my finger isn’t quite on the pulse with this. If it’s any consolation, I believe any elected official who crosses the floor should go back to their ward. That’s the same for any party. I believe Nigel Farage should have as an MEP when he defected from UKIP to form his own group and the same for the Change U.K. MP’s who came from the two main parties. That being said, the decision isn’t up to me, or council. It’s up to the individual.

    With all the above in mind, I am still under the opinion that our local MP’s position on Brexit is far more important in current times given the Halloween deadline. If only I had been asked directly first for my view then I could have saved some time for you all in reading a blog post that was based on myth and without fact. Next time instead of ‘JW Wondering’, he could just ask!

  • Malcolm Calver

    Nice to see a county councillor posting comments on your website Jacob, and especially his concern for the readers of the website and your detailed scrutiny of the actions of Pembrokeshire County Council, both employees and county councillors.

    As for his concern that he has not been given the right to reply I am sure Jacob you would give him and other county councillors the same freedom you give us mere mortals.

  • Mark

    To be fair Joshua, I thought it was more light hearted than accusatory, and he did kind of suggest that you’d have that opinion anyway! 😉

  • Henry

    As a person who spent all of his working life in construction reaching before retirement a high management position with one of the world leaders in engineering and construction, and like all who comment on this blog, I have found it hard to understand the logic behind the CPS and police stance on the matter.

    In my forty years I must have dealt with hundreds if not thousands of interim and final payments both as a contractor and as a project manager acting for a client.

    I can understand the difficulty to proving fraud with an interim certificate. With retention and with the contract work incomplete the checking of the validity on an invoice may not receive the level of checking it should have but in almost all cases there is time to correct mistakes in later invoices. But in the case of completed work then the calculation of quantities should be 100% accurate and strictly compliant to the contractual measurement for payment.

    So if a contractor submits a final invoice and this invoice is accepted by the client only to be found out later that there were serious errors in the final submission, is the contractor being fraudulent?

    If accused of fraud his first line of defence would be that the client checked the invoice and found no fault with it while at the same time making the point that the contractual terms were difficult to understand since they also confused the client.

    But when you get to this stage you have a more difficult conundrum to solve: why did the client’s representative approve the invoice, was there collusion, or was the person who agreed the quantities and calculations not up to the job?

    With this in mind it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that since the contractor has offered to repay the client for contract over-payment the Police and the CPS were not prepared to argue the case for fraud.

    It does not surprise me the CPS had no stomach for this fight, technically there was no money obtained by fraud and trying to prove collusion or incompetence by the Council would only muddy the waters. But this does not mean that the matter should end there.

    The facts still indicate that the Council Department who were given the responsibility to manage this work did not perform to standards that would be expected from them.

    After all, if the Council had disallowed the first invoice for over-measurement and claims for work outside the scope of the contract, the matter would probably never arisen. The owner, his agent and his contractor would have learnt their lesson and would have complied in future invoices with the agreement/contract.

    The concern today must be why did the Council’s officers and employees not ensure that the invoices were properly dealt with. Someone did not carry out his duties with the diligence and standard that the tasks required and unfortunately the question of whether the errors were collusion or incompetence will still remain.

    I repeat that it is my opinion that this whole debacle would have been nipped in the bud if the Council had checked the invoices received for the grant work and really checked them for conformity with the agreement/contract.

    Today we should be reviewing the actions of everyone in the department from the highest to the lowest to find out where the Council went wrong. When that is known and understood, actions should be taken to ensure that these occurrences never reappear.

  • John Hudson

    Am I right in thinking that Michelle’s Vice Chairmanship and membership positions in the Policy and Pre-decision O&S Committee are now vacant, following her appointment to the Cabinet?

    Also, as an independent councillor, will her replacement have to wait for appointment by full council at its next meeting?

    At the next meeting of that committee, scheduled for 19 September, it is likely that the cabinet’s referred proposals for an increase in cremation charges to the level of the higher Welsh average charge will be considered.

    The Council’s customers for this service are unlikely to be in a position to opt out of this high charge surplus income generating monopoly service.

    This service already makes a profit, but more can be squeezed out from a captive customer base.

  • Malcolm Calver

    John, whilst I have always in the past supported the idea of independent councillors being the way forward for so called “local government,” this seems to have failed in the case of Pembrokeshire County Council.

    With a cabinet made up of independents and party members such as Kilmister (Liberal) and Miller (Labour) how can the electorate decide and hold as being responsible for the collective action of the council come election time?

    Maybe it would be more advantageous for those who pay council tax in the county if a more rigorous party system was introduced/adopted for local elections.

  • Keanjo

    Henry points out that the responsible officers in County Hall assigned to this scheme have failed to do the job with due competence.

    I can understand the reasons he gives to justify the police not taking further action but I consider their tardiness in pursuing the case when it was first brought to their attention is much to blame.

    However the then responsible Director is still employed by the Council and he should be directed to lead a thorough internal investigation and to report his findings to a committee chaired by Councillor Stoddart and also including Councillor Jacob Williams who jointly brought the matter to the public attention.

    Clearly it is possible that disciplinary action could be necessary if incompetence or worse is found but at the least procedures could be tightened to avoid future problems.

  • John Hudson

    Malcolm raises the question of a more rigorous party system being required for local elections.

    The “independent member” representation apparently favoured by the Pembrokeshire electorate has to fit in with the statutory system predicated on a binary choice.

    I have long felt that the Pembrokeshire electorate votes for “a pig in a poke” with no clear idea of why or how their elected independent candidates will group together politically post election.

    We now have a majority of unaligned councillors, who even have to rely on the full Council to approve which of their number sits on committees. The Cabinet now consists of 10 independent members with only one vote each, appointed by the Leader of the Council with no collective mandate. Who fills this policy vacuum?

    I would suggest that as in the past, unelected officers, through their formal corporate governance arrangements, fill the gap and provide the missing policy direction for the disparate elected representatives to fall in with.

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