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Pembrokeshire Council faces divisions over recall of ‘Dark Days’

Pembrokeshire County Council County Hall

A CALL to prevent a return to “the dark days” of Pembrokeshire’s previous administration drew the ire of one of its members, with talk of the “dark days” of Tony Blair and the Iraq war raised in County Hall.

In a submitted question before Pembrokeshire County Council at its May meeting, Councillor Maureen Bowen had asked: “Under the previous Independent Political Group Administration the Pembroke Dock Commercial Property Grant Scheme was defrauded in a way the report to last council described as ‘extremely unsophisticated and simplistic’ not only did the Independent Political Group Administration defend the scheme, they actually took to their feet in the council chamber to attack those highlighting shortcomings in the scheme.

“Later in the report the author also states: ‘the evidence is staggering and shows utter incompetence bordering on complicity’.

“Does the Leader agree with me that it’s every members’ duty to prevent any return to the dark days of Independent Political Group control of Pembrokeshire Council?”

Cllr Maureen Bowen (Pic: Pembrokeshire County Council)

Cllr Bowen’s quest drew the anger of Independent group member Cllr Alan Dennison, who called -through a point order – for the question to be struck out, describing it as “another pointless point-scoring exercise”.

“It was subject of extensive inquiries to include a police investigation which concluded with CPS advice of no further action, my understanding is there was no loss to the public purse.

“Cllr Bowen, like myself, and most members of the chamber were not elected county councillors when this matter occurred, and to suggest that I, and other councillors elected since, are culpable for the pat is akin to me accusing Kier Starmer as being as equally culpable as Tony Blair for taking Britain to war against Saddam Hussain for weapons of mass destruction, and voting Labour at the next general election will return us to the dark Labour days.

“I hope the presiding member will agree that questions such as this are frivolous and vexatious and distract us from getting down to the business we are elected for.”

Cllr Alan Dennison (Pic: Pembrokeshire County Council)

Presiding member Cllr Simon Hancock said: “We have refused questions in the past, this didn’t come to the bar.”

Answering the question, the-then leader Cllr David Simpson, who had previously announced he was to step down, said: “The point that she [Cllr Bowen] makes has been made in tabling the question.

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“The issues relating to the grant scheme reflected extremely poorly on the council, there can be no doubt about that. In this administration we have been open to the truth and learning the lesson to be sure it never happens again.”

More than a decade ago Hakin county councillor Cllr Mike Stoddart uncovered irregularities in a council-administered Commercial Property Grant Scheme (CPGS) in Pembroke and Pembroke Dock, funded by the Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO).

Irregular payments of around £60,000 were found to have been made to a developer – in respect of properties on Dimond Street and Meyrick Street – who offered to pay back a total of £180,000 having received payments for other projects.

The council had to repay £309,000 to WEFO and take steps to rewrite the CPGS procedure manual to close loopholes in order to minimise the opportunities for fraud stated Cllr Stoddart.

After much fighting – and facing false accusations from fellow councillors of lying – Cllr Stoddart’s evidence was reported to police following a formal review in 2014.

In 2019 the Crown Prosecution Service said there would be no charges following the five-year investigation.

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