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Auditor General finds departure payment to Pembrokeshire Council chief represented a ‘serious breakdown in governance’

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A report by Audit Wales has found that the process that led to a departure payment to the Chief Executive of Pembrokeshire County Council represented a “serious breakdown in governance”.

Audit Wales say that the Council has taken action to improve its governance and decision making though much work is still needed.

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Issues found in the Auditor General for Wales’ report in the public interest included failure to address and resolve relationship difficulties between members and officers, disregard of external legal advice, failure to comply with legal requirements and poor and untransparent decision making.

On 2 September 2020, Pembrokeshire County Council announced that its Chief Executive would be leaving his employment by mutual consent. Under the terms of a Settlement Agreement, the Chief Executive received a termination payment of £95,000 and his employment ended on 30 November 2020. The Auditor General carried out an audit examining the circumstances that led to the Chief Executive’s departure and the decision-making process that led to the Council making the termination payment.

The report found that the Council failed to properly record the reason for the Chief Executive’s departure and why the Chief Executive was to receive a termination payment. The decision-making process the Council followed, as well as failing to comply with legislation or their constitution, led to a payment likely to be contrary to law.

Significant and numerous governance deficiencies were found in the way the Council dealt with the termination payment to the former Chief Executive. These include:

  • A failure to address and resolve relationship difficulties between members and officers
  • Lack of clarity on respective roles and responsibilities
  • Officers failing to properly discharge their professional duties
  • Disregard of external legal advice
  • A failure to follow internal policies and procedures
  • Poor and untransparent decision-making
  • A failure to document and report the reasons for decisions
  • Members of the Council not being given the opportunity to review and scrutinise the proposal
  • Failure to comply with legislative requirements

Audit Wales say that whilst the report findings are based solely on matters relating to the Chief Executive’s departure, action is needed by the Council to provide the public with confidence that its governance arrangements are sufficiently robust to prevent similar failings occurring in the future. The report makes several recommendations relating to areas of governance that the Council needs to address, including recommendations around roles and responsibilities, member/officer relationships, decision-making, termination payments, the Council’s pay policy statement, procurement, the use of external advisors, the Council Constitution and the need to ensure adherence to the Nolan Principles of Public Life.

Auditors say that while further improvement is still needed, the report recognises that the senior officers at Pembrokeshire County Council have acknowledged the seriousness of the report findings and have put in place an ongoing improvement plan, as well as taking action to improve its governance and decision-making.

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Auditor General, Adrian Crompton said: “Failure to put in place effective governance arrangements and/or to comply with the arrangements that have been established can have serious consequences and undermine public trust in an organisation. Pembrokeshire Council has work to do to ensure that its governance arrangements are sufficiently robust and to regain public trust. However, the steps the Council has since taken to improve its governance and decision-making processes, and the leadership already provided by its new Chief Executive, gives me confidence that the Council will act on the recommendations in my report.

“I hope that other public organisations will take note of the report and consider whether it holds lessons from which they can learn.”

Welcoming the report, a statement from Pembrokeshire Council recognised the seriousness of its findings.

A spokesperson for Pembrokeshire Council added: “Significant progress has already been made in many of the areas identified in the Audit Wales review of events which took place over a year ago.

“The Council recognises that there is still more to be done. 

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“A comprehensive improvement programme was established last year to address observations originating from external and internal reviews commissioned by the Council.

“The Auditor General’s report, other associated reports and an action plan to address recommendations will be considered by a meeting of the Council on 1st February 2022.”

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Education

Council to review Swansea Valley ‘Super School’ decision made by previous administration

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A reprieve could be on the cards for Alltwen, Godre’rgraig and Llangiwg Primary schools as Neath Port Talbot’s new coalition administration say they want to review the decision made to create a new ‘super school’ in Pontardawe.

The new administration says it wants to establish if an alternative way to bring 21st Century School standards to the Swansea Valley can be achieved, which would be more acceptable to the community.

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The decision to establish a new £22.7m English-medium 3-11 school and specialist Learning Support Centre for pupils with a statement of Autistic Spectrum Disorder in Pontardawe to replace Alltwen, Godre’rgraig and Llangiwg Primary schools was taken by Neath Port Talbot Council’s Cabinet on October 20th, 2021.

The controversial decision triggered a process of communicating with local schools around the next steps and general planning for the construction of the new school and swimming pool.

A successful tender exercise took place to secure a contractor to begin stage one of a two stage process.

Neath Port Talbot Council say that under its own procurement rules, it says it has been necessary to approve the appointment of the contractor to undertake Stage 1 contract works only, with no obligation on the council to proceed to the second stage. Stage 1 includes developing the design information; carrying out assessments of traffic and site conditions; ground investigations; and obtaining planning approval.

The council say that this first stage contract does not commit them to the construction of the school and pool, with a further contract being entered into at Stage 2, which is the actual construction phase. 

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It adds that allowing stage 1 works to progress will ensure that the opportunities to meet the timescales of the October 2021 decision could still be realised if a review does not highlight any changes are needed to the project.

This will avoid further anxiety for the school staff and families due to unnecessary delays, particularly important for those pupils in Godre’rgraig Primary School who are currently educated in temporary accommodation awaiting the new school.

Neath Port Talbot Council say they will now start discussions with Welsh Government Ministers to establish what information they might require from the council. This will inform the consultation process which the council will undertake with stakeholders.

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Books & Literature

Carmarthenshire author’s Carmarthen Crime series hits the bookshelves

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Ferryside author John Nicholl is celebrating the re-release of his Carmarthenshire-based detective books as the Carmarthen Crime Series.

His new publisher, Boldwood Books – winner of Publisher of the Year in the 2022 Independent Publishing Awards – has repackaged the four books with a strong emphasis on the Carmarthenshire setting and covers depicting local locations including Carmarthen, Dryslwyn Castle and the Tywi Estuary.

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The first two books, The Carmarthen Murders and The Tywi Estuary Killings, are on sale now, with the other two – The Castle Beach Murders and The Dryslwyn Castle Killings to follow soon.

The books focus on DI Gareth Gravel, an accomplished, old-school policeman affectionately known as Grav, who feels out of step with the modern world as he approaches retirement.

“Grav is something of a legend within the West Wales Police Force, liked and respected by the rank and file but not so much by the top brass due to his sharp tongue and a willingness to bend the rules to get results,” says Nicholl, who lives in Ferryside.

“Grav is overweight, loves rugby, drinks too much, particularly since the loss of his wife, and is struggling with chronic health issues. The job matters to him, victims matter to him, and he often goes the extra mile to protect the vulnerable victims of crime, particularly women and children, who he has a strong inclination to protect.”

The books draw on Nicholl’s own experience as a police officer and then as a child protection officer in Carmarthenshire. He started writing fiction after his psychologist recommended it as a way to process traumas he had witnessed during his career, which left him with PTSD.

He self-published his first book and it became an online bestseller; he went on to get signed by a publisher and now has 11 bestsellers behind him. His focus is on crime and the darker side of human nature, with a strong empathy for victims of abuse.

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“The four-book Carmarthen Crime Series, while fictional, draws on my real-life experiences as a police officer and child protection social worker,” he says. “I hope this gives the stories a gritty realism readers will enjoy.”

He adds that he is delighted to see the books republished as the Carmarthen Crime series.

“I grew up, live and write in west Wales, and so I’m delighted my publisher has given the books a strong Welsh identity, with stunning covers featuring some of the beautiful locations I know so very well,” he says.

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Port Talbot

Port Talbot RNLI shop open again for business

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Following refurbishment, visitors to Port Talbot will once again be able to visit the shop located at the lifeboat station at Aberavon seafront.

The shop refit marks the start of a new era. The shop was opened in loving memory of the previous shop manager, Phil Jones, who sadly passed away in early 2021.

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Phil had kept the shop open single-handedly for over twelve years with much success. Phil’s wife and daughter kindly agreed to officially open the new shop on Sunday 12 June when many memories were shared and there were plenty of best wishes for the future.

RNLI shops started out as simple cake stalls run by volunteers to raise money for their local station. Around 1920 commemorative RNLI products were added and shops were selling souvenirs and Christmas cards, all profits helping to save lives at sea.

The RNLI now has over 170 shops around the coast and inland all of which are run by dedicated volunteers: Port Talbot is no exception.

The shop volunteer team has grown since April 2021 from a team of one to thirteen and is also involved with fundraising.

New Shop Manager Kirstee David says: “It has been amazing watching the shop team develop over the last twelve months and to see how passionate the team is about developing what we offer – and about the RNLI!”

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(Lead image: Port Talbot RNLI)

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