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Senior officers covered up scandal in Pembrey

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AS THE COUNCIL carries out its own investigation into irregularities at Pembrey Country Park and other council leisure facilities, The Herald has been provided with credible information from more than one source which indicates that not only were there significant and widespread irregularities in the management and finances of the venue, but that senior council officers were made aware of them and took steps to cover them up.

The Herald has spoken to several current members of council staff and been given documents and recordings which suggest that the Council’s ongoing enquiry into Pembrey is likely to uncover not only who knew, but when they knew, and why the matter was brushed under the carpet by officers desperate to avoid a scandal.

The Herald understands that affairs at Pembrey were on the radar of senior then opposition councillors before Plaid took leadership of the authority last year.

We can also confirm that Executive Board Member for Resources David Jenkins launched an enquiry into the operation of the leisure operation at Pembrey having previously held concerns at the lack of clarity in certain figures relating to the Park’s operation. The result of that enquiry was the preliminary report presented to the Audit Committee on March 22.

That report suggested that there were ‘historic issues’ and that Council procedures had not been complied with.

We believe that at least one officer concerned in the allegations has recently left – or is shortly due to leave – the Council’s employment without facing disciplinary action and with a payoff.

Repeated assurances were given to councillors at a Full Council meeting that there was no evidence of dishonesty, with Deputy Leader Pam Palmer leaping in to defend officers from any suggestion of misconduct. It appears those assurances and Cllr Palmer’s wish to fling herself in front of a bullet for council officers, were sadly misplaced.

ASSURANCES FROM OFFICERS

Responding to questions from members of the Audit Committee in March, Ian Jones, Director of Leisure and Regeneration, and Phil Sexton expressly denied that any fraud had taken place.

Mr Jones told the committee that, following the departure of the previous Director (David Gilbert OBE, who is now a member of the Swansea Bay City Region Board), staff had been asked to look at a number of issues. However, Mr Jones failed to expressly identify what those issues were or how they had arisen in the first place.

Mr Jones went on to claim that what the report had picked up on were ‘exceptions’ and that whatever the ‘historic issues’ were, they were not the norm across all sites.

The Director of Leisure and Regeneration claimed that the authority was a victim of its own success and change within his department. He cited challenges the authority had faced with staff leaving and with unidentified and unexplained ‘complicated Human Resource issues’.

Mr Jones said that areas needed to be strengthened and improved, while failing to identify why improvement was required, or at least how the circumstances giving rise to improvement’ necessity had arisen.

NO FRAUD, BUT NO HIDING PLACE

Phil Sexton, the council’s head of audit, risk and procurement said: “It was made clear to the Audit Committee that no fraud had been identified. In terms of the review of the leisure facilities at Pembrey Country Park and the Millennium Coastal Park, which had been undertaken at the request of the Director of Communities, the committee was made aware that the weaknesses identified were being addressed and officers would continue to work closely with the audit section.

“Members were advised that an Action Plan was being prepared in respect of the issues in question and it was agreed that this should be brought to the committee at its next meeting.

“It was then resolved by the committee that, for monitoring purposes, an Action Plan be submitted to the next meeting detailing as to how the concerns raised following the review of the leisure facilities at Pembrey Country Park and the Millennium Coastal Park would be addressed.”

Speaking to Herald reporter Alan Evans after the meeting, the Executive Board Member for Finance, Cllr Dai Jenkins, said: “The audit committee have done their work and there is going to be an action plan to look into it further. If the allegations are as bad as they seem to be and are found to be true and if there are loopholes in the system they will be removed. The audit committee is only a tool of the full council as are all scrutiny committees.

“There is no hiding place. I don’t see any way shape or form that there can be a cover up. We will look at the review in full detail and report to full council accordingly.”

‘FOR F**K SAKE DON’T GO TO THE POLICE’

The Herald can confirm that it has listened to a recording in which two senior council officers are heard pleading with a third party not to go to the Police with details regarding allegations of serial dishonesty and sharp practice by other council employees.

In the course of that recording one senior officer demands to know what information is in a third party’s possession. When the third party refuses to confirm or deny that he has information that substantiates allegations of dishonesty, the senior officer says: “You do [have the information] don’t you. For f**k sake don’t go to the police.”

The Herald believes that information is now in the possession of local MP Nia Griffith and AM Lee Waters and that material has now been handed to the Police.

A further recording has a manager at a council facility detailing the fact that a contactor would win a tender and openly giving them confidential information about other tenders and about the amount of money they should offer for the tender. THE TENDER

The Herald has heard a recording and seen a transcript which contains a conversation between in which the parties discuss the tender for catering services at Pembrey Country Park. They also discuss personal HR information regarding the dismissal of a council employee who is unaware of their impending purported redundancy.

The two discuss plans for reorganisation of council facilities in order to ‘get rid’ of the employee who is known to them both. They also discuss conversations they have had with county council officers.

The recording took place in January 2016.

We know the identity of both participants, but we will refer to them as H and X.

H: You will be awarded the bloody tender on the first of February. Trust me, on the first of February we will award you the contract. We will make a decision week after next. We will give you the nod on the first of February. There is a ten day cooling off period. There are ten days where it is in limbo where you can change your mind if you don’t want it. The formal contract is February 15 or 16.

Nobody knows what we are doing really do they? I discussed it with (council officers) and that.

THE DISMISSAL

X: We know what has happened the problem we have is that we are not able to do what we want to

H: He is going to get his redundancy notice

X: Oh he hasn’t had it yet?

H: (A named senior current officer) fixed a meeting with him for yesterday to formally give him….HR said don’t give him his redundancy notice before Christmas it will spoil his Christmas. It was due for the 7th. It is something like the 15th that he will get his formal notice. The trouble is he’s got three months’ notice.

X: Ah, but you said you were going to do like you did with (a former manager).

H: I have plans. The only problem we got with the ski slope is they are putting it into sport.

X: That is a way of getting rid of him?

H: To get rid of him. I hope I can get it back. My problem is if it goes into a trust I have problems. I don’t want them to have the cycling. The leisure centres are going into it. All the leisure centres, theatres and they are going to add the ski slope. They’ve done it to get rid of him.

The Herald has also seen two letters, which our source says were written by X under duress from H. We were told that the letters were given to council auditors in order to cover up failure to follow tender processes at a council facility.

Referring to the two letters our source said: “It is all falsified. H wanted the auditors to see X had tendered but X hadn’t.”

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Police urge visitors to ‘check the rules’

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POLICE in Powys are reminding people to check the rules before they travel, as tourists from the Midlands, London and Bristol continue to visit despite lockdown restrictions.

Last weekend more than 1,000 cars were turned around by police in the Brecon Beacons after visitors attempted to access the area around Ystradfellte known as ‘waterfall country’.

Many of those stopped claimed they thought the rules around travel were the same as in England, while others had deliberately flouted them.

Seventy-two per cent of people reported for breaches of Covid-19 restrictions in Powys since March 27 have been from outside the police force area.

“I would like to thank the communities of Powys for their cooperation in recent months in complying with requirements of the Covid 19 legislation and also reassure them we are still working hard with our partners to police the restrictions that remain in place across Wales,” said Superintendent Steve Davies.

“Our officers have worked hard to engage with the public at every opportunity throughout these unprecedented times by explaining what we are doing and why, and encouraging people to make the best choices to protect public health in Wales.

“But where people have clearly flouted the rules we have dealt with them appropriately and issued fines.”

He said officers will continue to conduct stop checks throughout Powys and across the force area this weekend.

In England, people can now travel an unlimited distance for exercise and to access so-called ‘beauty spots’.

But the Welsh Government has said people must remain local – ideally not travelling further than five miles from their home – for exercise or limited leisure pursuits, and this also applies to anyone travelling across the border.

Wales’ three national parks – which include popular sites such as Snowdon, the Elan valley and the Pembrokeshire coast – currently remain closed to the public, as do all National Trust car parks and properties.

The latest Welsh Government advice is available at gov.wales/coronavirus.

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Forestry fire near Rhos, Llandysul, is believed to have been started deliberately

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On Sunday, 31st May 2020 at 08:57pm, Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service (MAWWFRS) were called to a forestry fire near Rhos, Llandysul. Crews from Llandysul, Newcastle Emlyn, Carmarthen and Tumble have attended this incident.

Approximately 210 hectares of various sized spruce trees and shrubland have been destroyed by the fire.

The resources deployed to fight the fire have included a helicopter, drone, 45mm jets, five hose reel jets, a fogging unit, wildfire blowers and beaters.

The main fire has been extinguished, however, due to the dry conditions, there are a number of local hotspots that remain, and the affected land will continue to smoulder for several days.

A crew from Llandysul is currently at the scene damping down hotspots and inspecting the area.

The fire is believed to have been lit deliberately and is being investigated by the Police and Fire Service.

Station Manager Richard Vaughan-Williams, Arson Reduction Manager for MAWWFRS, said:

“Unfortunately, we have seen far too many large wildfires already this year. Not only do they have a significant ecological and financial impact, but also put a strain on our fire and rescue resources.

For the firefighters, they are very difficult to deal with due to terrain and accessibility. The extreme temperatures and longer travel distances carrying equipment make working conditions even harder.

This incident has seen multiple crews detained over several days meaning appliances must travel from further afield to attend other emergencies in the area. This is all at a time that we are trying to limit exposure between crews during the pandemic phase.

At this incident, we have again seen various ages of forestry, habitats and wildlife destroyed as a consequence of fire which is suspected to have been started deliberately.”

Sergeant Delme Jones, of the local neighbourhood policing team, Dyfed-Powys Police, said:

“Fires such as this pose a real threat to community safety. Fires are unpredictable – this one alone has damaged land the size of 400 football pitches – and also have a devastating environmental impact, damaging both wildlife and the trees themselves, some which take up to 50 years to fully mature.

“The Neighbourhood Policing Team is working closely with the fire to investigate this fire and identify those responsible. Both agencies will be in the local community over the coming days to make enquiries and offer reassurance and advice.”

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Crisis masterclasses for Welsh food & drink producers

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THE COVID-19 pandemic has particularly hit the food and drink sector. But Welsh producers will get expert advice on coping with the current situation at two special marketing masterclass webinars later this month.

The ‘TUCK IN – Marketing in a Crisis’ webinars will be held on June 9 and June 16.

Organised by the Food and Drink Wales Industry Board and the Fine Food Cluster, the ‘TUCK IN’ masterclasses bring together a wealth of expertise and experience from across the marketing spectrum.

Previous masterclasses have been very well received by producers, and there has been a tremendous response to the forthcoming webinars, which will be conducted via Zoom.

The Fine Food Cluster is a business-led development programme supported by the Welsh Government and facilitated by Cywain.

Fine Food Cluster Lead, Sioned Best, said “Food and drink brands need to be incredibly reactive and on top of how the market is changing in order to pivot their strategy, survive this period and thrive the other side. TUCK IN is all about brands sharing their experiences of how they have done and continue to do just this.”

Speakers will share their marketing expertise, along with experiences of how COVID-19 has impacted on businesses and brands.

Master of Ceremonies will be Jim Cregan, founder of one of the UK’s most loved coffee brands – Jimmy’s Iced Coffee. What began 10 years ago as a café backroom experiment has grown into a brand that is stocked by multiple retailers and wholesalers nationwide.

He said, “The show must go on is the order of the day for ‘TUCK IN’ this year.

COVID won’t stop us from producing and delivering an awesome day of stories and insight from some great companies.

“It’s my third event, and I’m really looking forward to being this year’s MC, it’ll be interesting to work it digital style, but we love a challenge! Let’s do this.”

Also among the keynote speakers are Cathy Capelin of Kantar Worldpanel, Scott James founder and director of Coaltown Coffee, and Pip Murry founder of Pip & Nut.

Joining them are Sophie Higgins, head of marketing for HIPPEAS Snacks, Abergavenny Fine Foods commercial director, Bryson Craske, and Jubel co-founder Jesse Wilson.

Alison Lea-Wilson director of the Anglesey Sea Salt Company and chair of the Fine Food Cluster said, “TUCK IN 2019 was motivating and enjoyable, and brought companies of all sizes together in a day of sharing information, tips, and ideas.

“I know how much work the team at Menter a Busnes has put into organising it for 2020, and I’m so pleased these two days will be going ahead despite COVID-19.

“The food and drink sector is crucial to the Welsh economy, and all parties who have made TUCK IN possible should be commended for their continued support.

“With technology’s help, we will be able to share inspirational speakers’ stories to help us get through – and even thrive – in these extraordinary times.

“I hope the producers who join the TUCK IN days will be heartened by the encouragement and support available to help our great businesses meet the challenges of this turbulent world.”

Andy Richardson, chair of the Food and Drink Industry Board for Wales said, “We have to recognise the situation we are in, that the COVID-19 crisis is a significant disruption for many businesses. The effect has been varied, depending on end customers. Still, there is a common thread – that the indications show that consumer buying behaviour and what they value may have changed potentially forever.”

“Perception is reality, and we need to constantly think about how we present our products and food and drink businesses to demonstrate we are in step with these changes. We have to remain connected to existing customers, while also looking at the opportunities of gaining new business where COVID -19 has been the catalyst for change.”

Lesley Griffiths, the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, said, “I am very pleased that a valuable resource such as TUCK IN is available to bring Welsh food and drink businesses together at this challenging time.

“The array of targeted advice from experts at the heart of the food and drink industry will, I am sure, help producers to weather the current situation and to focus positively on the future.”

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