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Fifteen councillors want answers over grants scandal

grants scandalHAKIN councillor Mike Stoddart has submitted a requisition signed by 15 members to Pembrokeshire County Council chairman Cllr Arwyn Williams calling for an extraordinary meeting to reconsider his notice of motion to allow members access to information about the Pembroke and Pembroke Dock property grants.

His original notice of motion was rejected by the Independent Plus Political Group’s block vote at the December meeting of council.

But Cllr Stoddart claims that the process was flawed because the vote was based on a series of misleading and downright false statements by Cabinet member Cllr David Pugh.

Cllr Pugh was forced to issue an “unreserved apology” with respect to his claim that Cllr Stoddart’s failure to take into account “a third side elevation” at No 25 Dimond Street was either a “deliberate untruth” or “sheer incompetence” when the Hakin councillor proved conclusively that the third side elevation was a figment of Cllr Pugh’s imagination.

He is also challenging Cllr Pugh’s claim that most of the retail space at No. 29 Dimond Street (Paul Sartori) – the refurbishment of which is supposed to have cost £53,000 – was given over to an area set aside for storing and cleaning clothes.

Cllr Stoddart says the area in question amounts to about seven square metres out of a total of 50 square metres – less than 15%.

When he contacted Cllr Pugh to seek an explanation for this misleading claim, the cabinet member replied that he didn’t wish to continue the correspondence.

The original notice of motion followed a series of failed freedom of information requests and Cllr Stoddart also claims that Cllr Pugh gave a false account of the law on this subject.

Mike Stoddart’s website oldgrumpy.co.uk quotes Cllr Pugh as telling council: “ Before confidential information can be released permission has to be received from third parties” but he says this idea that third parties have a veto over the release of information is simply wrong, because, while they may be consulted, the final decision rests with the council after applying a public interest test. Indeed Cllr Stoddart points out that the council’s procedure manual, which is sent to all grant applicants, states quite clearly that, with regard to requests under the FoI Act, “it will be for the council alone to determine whether the documentation should be released” i.e. third parties do not have the final say.

Mike Stoddart told The Pembrokeshire Herald: “The decision taken on December 12 was based on patently false information and was in my view fundamentally flawed. I therefore emailed all councillors asking if they would support my quest to have the matter reconsidered at an extraordinary meeting of council where the issue can be decided on the basis of the truth. I am pleased to say that I had more than enough positive responses to enable me to collect the fifteen signatures required. Strangely, not a single member of the IPPG – the members who were persuaded to vote against my motion by Cllr Pugh’s false testimony – replied.”

The Chairman will now have seven days in which to call the meeting and, if he fails to do so, a request can be made to the council’s legal department to force the council to hold the meeting.

Mike Stoddart told our reporter: “It will be interesting to see whether our impartial chairman decides to act quickly, or whether he will try to delay proceedings by sitting on the requisition for the full seven days allowed in the constitution.”