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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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Council backs campaign against domestic abuse

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LEADING members of Carmarthenshire County Council are again backing the White Ribbon Campaign against domestic abuse.

Council Leader Emlyn Dole, Chairman Cllr Irfon Jones, Chief Executive Mark James, Director of Community Services Jake Morgan, Director of Education and Children’s Services Gareth Morgans and Communities and Safeguarding Manager Anthony Maynard have signed the campaign’s pledge not to commit or condone violence against women and girls.

Every week, two women in the UK are murdered by a current or former partner. While the number of incidents tends to be under-reported, the number of high risk cases dealt with locally continues to increase.

The council is supporting the White Ribbon Campaign which focuses on targeting violence against women by men and boys and promoting respectful relationships. It is led by men who are willing to take a stand against violence against women and girls and to be positive role models to other men in their community. White Ribbon Day is on Saturday November 25.

The sixth annual Candlelit Walk to remember women who have lost their lives as a result of male violence will be held in Carmarthen town centre on Thursday November 23. The walk assemble from 5pm at St Catherine’s Walk shopping centre by the Drover’s sculpture where candles will be distributed.

The walk will set off at 5.30pm towards the Guildhall steps, where flowers will be placed to remember women and girls who have been affected by male violence. This will be followed by speeches at St Peter’s Hall where refreshments will be available. Everyone is invited.

Leader Cllr Emlyn Dole said: “I want to give my full backing to this campaign. We must do all we can to prevent all forms of domestic abuse and to change the perception and stigma around it.

“The council is working alongside community safety partners to tackle domestic abuse, in all its forms, against both sexes. While the majority of victims are women and girls, domestic abuse affects both sexes. The council provides and funds services which give help and support for men and women.”

Chair Cllr Irfon Jones said: “This campaign to tackle domestic abuse deserves the support of men and boys in Carmarthenshire and I would urge them to sign this pledge.”

Chief Executive Mark James said: “People must feel confident to speak out about domestic abuse secure in the knowledge that there is support available from local organisations.”

“The Council will be working with partners to seek accreditation for a White Ribbon Campaign award. This demonstrates our ongoing commitment to reduce domestic abuse, raise awareness of this crime and the support available locally for survivors.”

For support and information about local services available to both men and women, contact the free, confidential, 24 hour All Wales telephone helpline, Live Fear Free – contact 0808 80 10 800, www.livefearfree.gov.wales

Local services for both male and female survivors: Amman Valley – Calan 01269 597474/594839; Carmarthen – CDAS 01267 238410; Llanelli – Threshold 01554 752422.

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Farmer’s bonfire warning after ‘horrific’ burns

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A CARMARTHENSHIRE dairy farmer is urging other agricultural workers to take care when starting bonfires after he suffered horrific burns to his face and hands.

Rheinallt Jones accidentally used petrol on a bonfire at his farm in Llandyfaelog near Kidwelly in August 2016. He needed expert care at the Welsh Centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery and was so badly hurt he was unable to do manual work for three months.

He was one of 20,000 adults injured by accelerants used on barbecues, garden fires and bonfires last year – this accounted for 11% of hospital admissions for burns in the UK.

Rushing to get a bonfire started, Mr Jones picked up a tin of tractor diesel to use on the fire, not realising it had been contaminated with traces of old petrol.

Mr Jones, 49, explained: “I threw this on the bonfire and lit it, causing a fire ball that went up as quick as a flash.

“My life flashed in front of my eyes as the fire ball knocked me off my feet. It was extremely frightening.”

Mr Jones’s clothes did not ignite but the intense flash of heat was enough to cause 10% superficial flash burns to his face, arms and hands resulting in severe blistering and swelling.

He managed to get himself to a cattle water trough and splashed water on to the burns for 10 minutes before turning a hose pipe on himself for another 10 minutes.

After being taken to Glangwili Hospital in Carmarthen he was transferred to the burns centre at Morriston and fortunately his burns healed without requiring surgery.

Menna Davies, clinical specialist physiotherapist at the burns centre, said Mr Jones’s quick thinking straight after the blast had helped his recovery.

She said: “Following the correct procedure by undertaking immediate and appropriate first aid can reduce the chances of scarring or in extreme circumstances save lives.”

“Fortunately the long-term scarring following effective first aid, pain relief, dressings, rehabilitation and scar management was minimal. However, due to the time taken for the skin to heal and become less fragile, he was unable to return to manual work for three months,” she added.

Now Mr Jones is hoping to alert other farmers who legally use bonfires throughout the year to clear brash and plant waste to the dangers.

He said: “I felt foolish at the time as this was an accident that could have easily been prevented.

“I could have avoided this if I had taken more time, used a wick or stick to light the bonfire and used straw, paper and firelighters as recommended by the Health and Safety Executive.”

Many people may not realise just how dangerous using an accelerant can be.

Petrol evaporates quickly when exposed to air which is why petrol and other flammable fuels and chemicals should always be stored in an airtight container in a purpose-built Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) cabinet. This will prevent the build-up of explosive gases and protect the contents from accidental exposure to sources of heat.

Because of the risks of causing serious personal injury if petrol is stored or used in an unsafe way the safe storage of petrol is covered by the Petroleum (Consolidation) Regulations 2014.

When you pour petrol on a bonfire the fuel begins to evaporate. As a rule if you can smell it, you are effectively standing in an invisible cloud of potentially flammable gas.

Once the concentration of gas in the air reaches a certain level lighting a match or introducing other sources of heat will cause an explosion, as Mr Jones discovered.

It took around 12 months for Mr Jones’s skin to become robust enough for him to return to heavy manual work.

He said: “I was unable to do any manual farm work for three months as my skin was so fragile and I’d cut myself easily by handling different equipment.

“I have had to wear factor 50 sun cream and gloves in order to perform most jobs. It has taken this long for my skin to harden up to stop using gloves.

“I have learnt from my mistakes the hard way and I would like others to take way the message to stop using accelerants on bonfires and avoid causing harm to yourself and others.”

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Cross Hands: Domino’s to open this week

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A NEW branch of Domino’s will open on the new Parc Maes Yr Eithin Retail Park, Cross Hands, on Wednesday (Nov 22) delivering a tasty menu of freshly handmade pizza and employment opportunities for the local community.

Pizza fans in Cross Hands and surrounding areas will now be able to order from Domino’s range of freshly handmade to order pizzas using the finest quality ingredients.

In addition to delivering yummy pizza, Domino’s will be serving up 25 local positions including pizza makers, customer service colleagues and delivery drivers, offering a variety of long and fruitful careers to residents of Cross Hands.

Ricky, Store Manager at Cross Hands Domino’s, said: “We’re thrilled to be opening our doors to the people of Cross Hands, and we’re celebrating the opening by offering any size pizza for £9.99 when collected!”

“There’s also plenty of employment opportunity for people living in Cross Hands, so we look forward to welcoming local pizza superstars to join our growing team. In particular we’re searching for delivery drivers, who can provide exceptional customer service, and demonstrate integrity, honesty and reliability, as well as being pepperoni passionate for freshly made pizza.”

As part of its recently launched TeamSkills programme, Domino’s offers colleagues full induction training, complete with all the tools and skills needed to become the leaders of tomorrow. Domino’s recruits on the basis of ability and, as many team members go on to management positions in under two years, this recruitment drive is a fantastic opportunity.

Domino’s in Cross Hands will be sponsoring a Christmas toy appeal in conjunction with local radio station ‘Radio Carmarthenshire’ and the store will be a collection point for donations. In addition, a special deal for the scheme will be running up until Christmas, with £1 from every redemption being donated to the toy appeal.

Domino’s believes in opportunities for all. The company is an Age Positive Employer Champion, which means that it has been recognised for its commitment to welcoming applicants of all ages.

If you are interested in a position at the store, please contact Dave on 07548649634 or email a CV to recruitment.jje@gmail.com

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