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Fiddles, fixes, and dodgy deals

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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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Community checks out new Carmarthenshire Policing Hub and Custody Suite

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POLICE and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn today (24.06.22) hosted an open doors event for local stakeholders at Dyfed-Powys’ new Custody Suite and Policing Hub, that is currently under construction at Dafen, Llanelli Carmarthenshire.

Planning permission was granted to the Office of Police and Crime Commissioner by Carmarthenshire County Council back in April 2021 for the proposed development, which is to be an ambitious sustainable construction, with a BREEAM excellence rating.

Wilmott Dixon, who are the Construction Contractor have been on site since autumn preparing for the first construction phases, with specific progress now beginning made on the development, that aims to be completed by May 2023.

PCC Dafydd Llywelyn said; “This is a major investment for us which will see an ambitious, modern, sustainable fit for purpose policing hub and custody suite that will meet the needs and expectations of modern policing. 

“During the planning application process between 2020 and 2021, we engaged widely with the local community,  and It was a pleasure to open the door, and welcome local community representatives to the construction site today, to show the progress that has been made to date.

“I’ve worked extremely hard with partners over recent years to ensure that we get to this position and I now look forward to seeing the construction work continue to develop at pace over the year”.

In being a BREEAM related development, the new build will offer a more sustainable environment, that aims to enhance the well-being of the people who work within it, and help protect natural resources.

Amongst some of the sustainable credentials of the new build will be a photovoltaic solar power installation to minimise the carbon footprint of the building; a rainwater harvesting facility for toilets and non-potable water, and electric car charging facilities.

Chief Inspector Richard Hopkin, Dyfed-Powys Police’s operational lead on the new build, said: “We feel very fortunate to be having a new build custody suite and hub coming to Llanelli.

“Our current Llanelli estate is old, so to see a new build that is being designed with such consideration for the environment and the wellbeing of our staff and the community within which it sits is really positive.

“The development will provide a fit for purpose, future proof solution which will complement the town centre Neighbourhood Police Team base.”

Ian Jones, Director at Willmott Dixon commented, “This is the first project that we have worked on with Dyfed Powys Police, and as part of what has being a collaborative partnership, we are delighted to have the opportunity to deliver this development. 

“This is a purpose‐built, new custody suite to replace and supplement provision of custody within Carmarthenshire which will provide excellent facilities to meet the needs of modern law enforcement and detainee wellbeing for Dyfed Powys Police. 

“We were delighted to have the opportunity to welcome guests to the site to show them first-hand how construction is progressing.”

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Ryan Giggs quits as Wales manager with ‘immediate effect’

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EX Man-Utd winger has left his position as the manager of the national football team with ‘immediate effect’.

Giggs stepped back from his role in November 2020 following after being arrested.

49-year-old Giggs has been charged with assault and using controlling behaviour towards an ex-partner. A claim that Giggs has denied.

In a heartfelt statement on his decision, Giggs said: “After much consideration, I am standing down from my position as manager of the Wales men’s national team with immediate effect.

“It has been an honour and a privilege to manage my country, but it is only right that the Wales FA, the coaching staff and the players prepare for the tournament with certainty, clarification and without speculation around the position of their head coach.

“I do not want the country’s preparations for the World Cup to be affected, destabilised or jeopardised in any way by the continued interest around this case.

“I am sad that we cannot continue this journey together because I believe that this extraordinary group will make the country proud at our first World Cup since 1958.

“It is my intention to resume my managerial career at a later date.”

Following Giggs arrest in 2020, former Wales captain Robert Page took over as interim manager.

Under Page Wales beat Ukraine to earn themselves a place at Qatar World Cup for the first time in 64 years.

Giggs faces one charge of using controlling and coercive behaviour August 2017 and November 2020, one charge of assault causing actual bodily harm of his ex-girlfriend Kate Greville on November 1, 2020.

He also faces a charge of common assault on the victim’s sister.

Giggs denies all charges against him and will stand trial on August 8.

The trial is expected to last five days.

Following the announcement, a FAW spokesperson said: “The FAW places on record its gratitude to Ryan Giggs for his tenure as manager of the Cymru men’s national team and appreciates the decision he has taken, which is in the best interests of Welsh football,

“The full focus of the FAW and the Cymru men’s national team is on the Fifa World Cup in Qatar later this year.”

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M&S opticians opens its doors in Llanelli Parc Trostre

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MARKS & SPENCER has opened the newest branch of its M&S Opticians service, located in the retailer’s popular Llanelli store.

M&S Llanelli Parc Trostre will offer customers an expert opticians service, which includes a full eye health examination (OCT scan) for every eye test booked at no additional fee.

Free eye tests are available as an opening offer, as well as 15% off glasses and sunglasses for Sparks customers. There’s a wide range of designer brands to choose from including Mulberry, Prada, Joules, Kate Spade, Oakley, Police, Maui Jim along with leading lens manufacturers – Zeiss and Nikon.

Expert advice on contact lens fitting and wearing is also on hand, alongside a contact lens home delivery option. The store will also be home to a hearing aid audiologist who will be offering free hearing health checks along with latest hearing aid technology, including rechargeable models and mobile connectivity.

In addition to the physical experience in-store, customers can book appointments online here, as well as view, purchase and try on glasses via the innovative ‘virtual try on’ tool here

M&S Llanelli Parc Trostre is the second optician service to open in Wales following a successful trial across ten UK cities, during which the service received a customer satisfaction rate of 96% and a customer recommendation rate of 96%.

M&S Llanelli Parc Trostre Store Manager, Aled Bonnell, said: “We’re always looking for ways to make shopping at M&S even more rewarding and feedback from our trial showed that customers loved the convenience of having an Opticians service in our store. We’re really excited to be opening our M&S Opticians in Llanelli and hearing what our customers think. The choice of different brands we’re offering is second to none and we have brilliant opening offers to suit all budgets.”

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