Emotions run high as Pembrokeshire County Councillor questions property grants

EMOTIONS were running high as further questions were asked about the Town Heritage Initiative (THI) and Commercial Property Grant Schemes (CPGS) in Pembroke and Pembroke Dock.

At Monday’s (December 2) cabinet meeting, Councillor Mike Stoddart called for the release of “all information (bills of quantities, tender reports, final accounts, etc) on a confidential basis to all council members”.

The two THI schemes in Pembroke Dock and Haverfordwest – costing nearly £18m in total - are funded primarily by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and support the regeneration of buildings in a conservation area or with a grade II or higher listing.

The £1.47m Commercial Property Grant Scheme (CPGS) is a part of a larger Pembroke and Pembroke Dock regeneration project and is primarily funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

Cllr Stoddart talked members through a five-page document outlining his “grave concerns about the probity” of the schemes which questioned grant payments and whether the work was actually carried out.

In front of a busy public gallery, Cllr Stoddart held up redacted council documents obtained through Freedom of Information requests.

“This is the open, transparent Pembrokeshire County Council,” he said. “This council is basically obstructing me from having information that I’m entitled to have as a member.”

Cllr Stoddart said he had worked in the building industry and “knew what he was talking about”.

A report by the council’s director of development and the director of finance and leisure stated the HLF was “content” and full audits were carried out by the Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO), the Wales Audit Office (WAO), the Welsh Government European Funds Audit Team and the European Commission.

The findings of an internal also concluded that “adequate and effective compliance arrangements” were in place and “complied with”.

The council’s head of internal audit, Jonathan Haswell, and head of regeneration, Martin White, gave a presentation addressing each of Cllr Stoddart’s concerns, which accompanied a 14-page report.

Council leader Cllr Jamie Adams questioned how successful Cllr Stoddart’s career in the building trade had been, adding that he had been given information which suggested it was “less than successful”.

Cllr Stoddart asked the leader to clarify the “innuendo”.

“I’m quite happy to say what I think and not give an innuendo,” Cllr Stoddart said, to which Cllr Adams said: “Your whole argument is based on innuendo.”

Cllr Adams questioned what Cllr Stoddart’s “end game” was and added: “If the outcome is that money is not spent and you consider that a win then this is a very sad situation.”

Cabinet member of ecomony, communities and tourism Cllr David Pugh said he was “staggered”.

“We had people willing to invest in heritage buildings which were crying out for investment. This has brought the town back to some sort of life. We now have a future.

“I do not think Cllr Stoddart understands the difference between eligible and ineligible money.”

Cllr Simon Hancock added: “If there’s evidence of impropriety – and I’m not suggesting there is - then an independent investigation is needed and the matter can be referred to the police.”

Cllr Stoddart said he was “trying to find out the truth” and added: “If you really believe everything I’m saying is rubbish then you have a duty to report me to the Ombudsman for bringing the office of councillor into disrepute.”

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