Pembrokeshire County Council 'will look to claw back' any funds unaccounted for from controversial property grants scheme
5:46pm Wednesday 22nd January 2014 in News
PEMBROKESHIRE County Council will look to claim back “any money unaccounted for” if errors have been made in the administration of property grants in Pembroke and Pembroke Dock.
At an extraordinary audit committee meeting on Monday (January 20), the council’s director of development, Dr Steven Jones, told members his understanding of the schemes was “limited” to his role as lead director and it was difficult for him to “give a personal guarantee that every single penny of money spent has been accounted for”.
He added: “I’m clear that if there is an error we will look at that immediately, to claim back any money unaccounted for and move on with any other opportunities we have to bring grant money into the area.”
Concerns have been raised by some members about the Town Heritage Initiative (THI) and Commercial Property Grant Schemes (CPGS) in Pembroke and Pembroke Dock.
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 mainly funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
The first six items on the audit committee meeting agenda – which included background papers, an overview of the two grant schemes and a discussion of five properties in the scheme - were open to the public.
The meeting was then adjourned for a site visit to properties in Pembroke Dock which included Coronation School, 16/19, Commercial Row, and 25, 27 and 29 Dimond Street.
On their return the committee voted in favour of excluding the public and press to discuss the funding arrangements for each property as it would involve confidential information.
That discussion was due to involve a discussion of Councillor Mike Stoddart’s submissions to the council. This includes a five-page document outlining his “grave concerns about the probity” of the schemes, which questioned grant payments and whether some of the work was carried out.
Previous reports by council officers have 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.
But any site visits were carried out while projects were still in progress, Monday’s meeting heard.
The findings of an internal audit also concluded that “adequate and effective compliance arrangements” were in place and “complied with”.
Audit committee chairman John Evans said the meeting was likely to be adjourned for members to “absorb” all of the information which will be available over the coming weeks.
“Openness and transparency is a priority for us,” he added.