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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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Closure of hospitals considered by Hywel Dda Health Board

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A NUMBER of the options for health care in the Hywel Dda area involve closing or removing services from Glangwili and / or Prince Philip Hospitals, consultation documents have revealed.

As The Herald reported last week, Hywel Dda UHB is considering a number of options following a series of public engagements last year.

The plans, which were described as ‘a once in a lifetime opportunity’ by Medical Director Dr Philip Kloer, appeared to mainly involve transferring more hospital services into the community where appropriate.

This was as part of a strategy that the Health Board was looking into, to help solve an acute recruitment problem which is putting a great deal of pressure on the way that the Heath Board operates – and is leading to an untenable level of use of costly temporary staff to plug gaps and services.

However, of the nine options which have been listed at this stage, five show Glangwili Hospital closing entirely, while four also show Prince Philip close its doors.

In the instances where a hospital would be closed, it is envisaged that the service provision would be replaced by 24/7 urgent provision, and ‘community hubs’.

Other options include having planned surgery at the hospitals, or even closing Withybush, Glangwili and Prince Philip and replacing them with one centrally-located hospital.

Llanelli MP Nia Griffith said: “I will always speak up for getting the best possible access to hospital services for people in the Llanelli constituency, and for keeping services at Prince Philip Hospital.

“When I sought reassurances from the Chair of Hywel Dda, she explained that the health board is currently looking at a whole range of options, and stressed the considerable investment that has gone into Prince Philip and Pride in the services there.

“I will be keeping a close eye on the situation.”

In a statement about the reorganisation, the Health Board said: “All potential options, which are clinically-led, consider significant change to the status quo and focus on improving the health of the local population and transferring more hospital services into the community where appropriate. Some consider whether hospitals need to take on different roles, or even need to be replaced.

“A fewer number of preferred options will be released publicly in the spring, when the Health Board is confident they are viable, safe and an improvement on what is currently provided.”

Medical Director Dr Philip Kloer said: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for our health service and community to work together to design an NHS which is fit for our generation and beyond. It has been acknowledged for some time across the UK that healthcare services are challenged like never before and we need significant change. Indeed this has been recognised in the recently published ‘Parliamentary Review of Health & Social Care’ here in Wales.

“We need to develop more proactive, resilient and better resourced local community services to support and improve people’s health and wellbeing, and avoid deterioration where possible. This will involve closer working with our partners, particularly colleagues in social care. We are also looking at ways of providing the most modern clinical practice, using the latest digital, technological, and new scientific developments, in fit for purpose facilities to provide better patient outcomes and experience.

“A number of our services are fragile and dependent on significant numbers of temporary staff, which can lead to poorer quality care. For us specifically in Hywel Dda, the geography we cover is large, with many scattered communities that are getting older, needing more holistic health and social care treatment and support. Because of this, we need to better resource our community based care, which is where most of our patient contact is, and help people manage their health conditions. We also need to evolve traditional ways of working and provide a more proactive approach. This should give patients – young, older and frail and everyone in between – the services they need when the need it, so people do not have to wait too long.

“This will mean changing hospital-based care, as well as community care, and we appreciate the attachment local people and our own staff have for their local hospitals. They have been cared for in them, or work in them, and they also play an important role in our wider communities. The options may propose change to a local hospital; however this is about more than the buildings. This is about investing in our communities, attracting doctors, nurses and therapists by operating a modern healthcare system and keeping hospitals for those who really need hospital care.

“We will not put in place any change that isn’t safe for our patients and population. And we will look at all the impacts from ensuring services are safer with better patient outcomes, to considering the wider impact on people, including the most vulnerable.”

Plaid Cymru, Mid and West AM, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Simon Thomas said: “These leaked documents once again call into question the commitment of the Labour government into providing a health service for rural Wales and in the west.

“Hywel Dda health bosses appear obsessed with service change and re-organisation rather than getting on with the job of running health services. It’s only a few years since the last set of major changes, justified on the grounds of ‘sustainability’ and allegedly for the long term.

“Now once again the board are considering more changes, like a gambling addict convinced just one more bet will solve their problems. Trying to have a health service with no hospitals locally is something no other country would even attempt, but that doesn’t appear to stop this relentless ideology of pretending you can deal with an elderly population by substituting hospital beds in exchange for a few extra community health staff with ipads.

“Plaid Cymru have a long-term health plan to recruit more doctors and nurses for the Welsh NHS including our hospital services.”

Plaid Cymru AM Simon Thomas has tabled an emergency question in the National Assembly to seek answers from the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Vaughan Gething.

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Councillors secure safety fence for ‘pond’

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SARON Ward County Councillors Carl Harris and Alun Davies have secured safety measures around the attenuation pond on the Ty Dyffryn / Rhodfa Frank estate, Ammanford.

The pond, which is vital to manage the control of surface water in the area, has been a cause for concern for local residents who believed a larger barrier around the pond should be erected.

The two County Councillors took these concerns to Family Housing Association which operates the site. At a site meeting last year, the two Plaid Cymru Councillors secured a commitment that a range of options for the pond would be drawn up.

Recently a new fence has been installed, meaning that water can build up in the pond without the fear and concern of anyone, including young children on the estate, being able to access the water.

Welcoming the news, Saron Ward County Councillor Carl Harris said: “Following up on the concerns raised by local residents, Councillor Alun Davies and I arranged a meeting at Ty Dyffryn with a Director of Family Housing.

“During this meeting we were able to stress how residents believed the cordon around the attenuation pond was inadequate. We also discussed options for preventing access to the river which runs around the top of the site.

“I am absolutely delighted that Family Housing have installed a new barrier around the pond. They have also erected a wooden fence around the river which surrounds the housing estate, making the estate safer and reducing the risks associated with water. Both Alun and I are grateful to Family Housing for addressing the concerns we raised with them.

“It took a bit of time, but we have managed to achieve a solution that many residents were asking for. I sincerely hope they are happy with the result.”

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Man denies £7,000 burglary

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A MAN from West Sussex has today denied carrying out a £7,000 burglary in Lampeter.

Kurtis Poat, aged 23, appeared at Swansea Crown Court for a plea and trial preparation hearing before Judge Paul Thomas.

Poat, of Osborne Crescent, Chichester, denied breaking into a house in Nantyglyn, Cwmann, in May, 2017, and stealing a tin containing £7,000 in cash.

Poat faces a two day trial scheduled to begin on April 11 and was granted bail until then.

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