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Fiddles, fixes, and dodgy deals

Thomas Sinclair

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pembreysignAS THE COUNCIL carries out its own investigation into irregularities at Pembrey County 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, Councillor 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, whilst 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, or 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 C ouncil 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 contractor 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 it ….HR said don’t give him his redundancy notice before Christmas as it will spoil his Christmas. It was due for the seventh . 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 ‘ve 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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Four charged with conspiracy to supply class A drugs

Carli Newell

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FOUR people have been arrested and charged as part of an investigation into an organised crime gang supplying class A drugs from London to Aberystwyth, Llanelli and Swansea.

Dyfed-Powys Police, with support from The Met Police, carried out warrants at four addresses on July 21, resulting in four arrests.

Mohammed Osman, aged 23, Yonis Mohammed, aged 20, Salman Mohamoud, aged 23 – all from Islington – and Amy Simmons, aged 21, from Dulwich were charged with a total of 12 offences:

  • Mohammed Osman: Two counts of conspiring to supply class A drug heroin, and two counts of conspiring to supply class A drug crack cocaine,
  • Yonis Mohammed: Two counts of conspiring to supply class A drug heroin, and two counts of conspiring to supply class A drug crack cocaine.
  • Salman Mohamoud: Conspiring to supply class A drug heroin, and conspiring to supply class A drug crack cocaine
  • Amy Simmons: Conspiring to supply class A drug heroin, and conspiring to supply class A drug crack cocaine.

All four appeared at Llanelli Magistrates’ Court on Friday, July 23, where they were remanded in custody. They are due to appear at Swansea Crown Court for their next hearing on August 20.

The investigation is being carried out by the Ceredigion Serious and Organised Crime Team, Aberystwyth CID and the Operation Orochi command of the Met Police.

Detective Sergeant Steve Jones said: “These four arrests and charges are the result of a coordinated approach to target an organised crime gang we believe is running a county lines operation into the Dyfed-Powys Police force area.

“We will continue to work diligently to disrupt gangs of this kind, to prevent the supply of illegal substances into our community.

“I would like to thank all officers involved, as well as the Met Police for their part in the operation.”

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New children’s play area in Bryn as part of new council housing development

Carli Newell

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A NEW children’s play area has opened in time for the summer holidays in Bryn, Llanelli as part of a new £5.9million council housing development.

Carmarthenshire County Council is building 32 new homes on land close to the Dylan housing estate in Bryn.

The scheme will be made up of 22 two-bedroom homes, four two-bedroom bungalows and six four-bedroom homes and is part of the council’s ongoing drive to deliver more affordable homes across the county. It has been part funded through the Welsh Government’s Affordable Housing Grant.

The development also includes a new children’s play area, funded by the council in partnership with Llanelli Rural Council, which will take over the running and maintenance of the play area on completion.

Executive Board Member for Housing Cllr Linda Evans said: “I am delighted the park has been completed in time for the summer holidays for the local children to enjoy.

“We are committed to delivering more affordable housing across Carmarthenshire and this development will benefit dozens of families in Llanelli, as well as proving much needed facilities for the local community.

“I would like to thank the rural council for collaborating with this us on this and I hope the children are thrilled with it.”

Before designing the play area, the rural council liaised with local schoolchildren to find out what play equipment they wanted at their new park.

Llanelli Rural Council Chairman Cllr Tegwen Devichand said: “The council is delighted to be working in partnership with Carmarthenshire County Council to provide this wonderful new play area for the community.

“The opening of the play area couldn’t have been better timed to coincide with the school holidays. I hope the local children will enjoy the range of challenging play equipment on offer and that they have lots of fun using it over the summer.”

The housing development is due to be completed by the beginning of 2022.

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Burry Port Harbour lighthouse overhaul tops council’s £2million investment

Carli Newell

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A £2MILLION investment in Burry Port Harbour is nearing completion, topped off with the iconic lighthouse getting a fresh lick of paint.

Carmarthenshire County Council is behind a range of improvements to maintain and restore the historic harbour which is one of the county’s most loved and well visited beauty spots.

Restoration of the Grade II listed harbour walls, undertaken under the guidance of CADW, will conclude within the next few weeks.

The council has also been working alongside The Marine Group, which operates the harbour, to improve mooring facilities. They are working closely with fishermen to bid for funding for new commercial pontoon infrastructure.

It will add to investment made over previous years which saw the council spend almost £1.5million on new pontoons, and over £300,000 in maintaining the harbour railings and bridge.

A local operator has agreed a lease for a cafe and public toilets on east side of Harbour, and the refurbishment of the old RNLI harbour office has recently started by The Marine Group (TMG) to create a harbour-side coffee house.

TMG has also invested in a state-of-the-art dredger which arrived at the harbour last autumn. Dredging is well underway and will continue until targeted depths are reached.

Boat lifting equipment and new fuelling points are also planned.

The council has introduced community safety officers to patrol the harbour assisting tourists and local people during the summer months, especially to advise around Covid regulations, as part of a tourism hotspot plan to take care of issues such as parking, litter, street cleansing, enforcement and signage.

Temporary car parking surfacing has also been laid on the east side along with new pay and display facilities ahead of a wider multi-million regeneration plan that will transform the harbour with a mix of housing, commercial and leisure space covering around 13 acres of prime development site.

Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, Executive Board Member for Culture, Sport and Tourism, said: “We are proud of our continued investment in Burry Port Harbour. We are spending millions restoring and maintaining historic features that are much-loved by local people and visitors who come from far and wide to enjoy what the harbour has to offer.

“We continue to work closely alongside The Marine Group and Pembrey and Burry Port Town Council to plan and prioritise works and ongoing maintenance. We are as keen as everyone else to ensure it is well-maintained and continues to be a place people can enjoy.

“We appreciate that there has been some upheaval during these improvement works but we ask people to understand that our investment will make Burry Port Harbour an even better place for the future.”

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