News being what it is, this blog normally finds itself raking over past events, but a potentially explosive Employment Tribunal hearing is set to begin in Cardiff tomorrow which threatens to lift the lid on the sordid saga of Carmarthenshire County Council's management of Pembrey Country Park.
The case concerns a claim for unfair
dismissal being brought by a whistleblower, Mr Eirian Morris, and it is
likely to attract considerable media attention because the allegations
of cover-ups of corruption and other criminality involve some of the
council's most senior serving and former officers.
will have to wait for more details to come out, but what is already
abundantly clear is that councillors, and especially those on the
council's Audit Committee, have been misled and even lied to in a way
which can only be described as systematic.
When the Audit
Committee was first alerted that all may not have been as it should in
the park in a brief report on 22 May 2016, members were told that there had been an investigation into
"historic issues", and that work was now underway to tighten up procedures. Not that any criminal behaviour or anything like fraud had taken place. Oh no.
The investigation into those "historic issues" took the form of an internal audit review of allegations made by the whistleblower. The report, which was not made available to members of the Audit Committee, effectively applied a thick coating of whitewash to the allegations and concluded that there was no evidence of fraud, and no basis for any action to be taken against the staff at the centre of the allegations.
The day after the committee met, the manager of the park assaulted Mrs Stephanie Thomas who was running the park cafe and shop, and the case eventually reached court in October of last year, with the manager, Rory Dickinson, admitting the charge. He had been allowed to resign from his post just four days earlier.
The assault arose because Mrs Thomas and her husband had initially decided not to tender for a contract to continue running the shop and cafe because they felt that they had no hope of winning, given what they knew had been going on at the park, and on 23 May 2016, with just one hour and forty minutes to go before the deadline for tenders, Mr Dickinson paid his fateful visit to Mrs Thomas to persuade her to change her mind because the Council was desperate to be able to claim that this had been a competitive tender with more than one bidder.
The result of the behind the scenes moves was to compromise the bid process, although the Council continued to maintain in the face of mounting evidence that it had been "a rigorous application process designed to get the best value and
service for the County Council and users of Pembrey Country Park" (Ian Jones, Head of Leisure).
Come July, the Council was forced to change its tune, noting in a statement that, "it is possible that a member of staff involved in the process may
have had a personal interest which might be perceived to compromise the
impartiality and independence of the process".
Far from being "historic", as members of the Audit Committee were told, things were actually going from bad to worse at the park.
Cneifiwr also understands that the police are intensifying their investigations of the allegations, and that a senior officer has been put onto the case.
This is strangely at odds with categoric assurances given by the council's Director of Resources, Mr Chris Moore, last month that the police had popped in for a "dailogue" and that no further action was being taken.