Council defends mayor’s taxpayer-funded trip to Malta
Ted Peskett, local democracy reporter
A town council has defended its decision to pay for a mayor’s visit to Malta.
Bridgend Town Council voted to accept an invitation to send representatives to the HMS URGE commemoration ceremonies in Malta in April 2022.
The council also voted in favour of funding the travel costs for the Mayor, Steven Bletsoe, and Mayoress, Freya Bletsoe, to attend.
The HMS Urge – a World War II era submarine that was paid for and ‘adopted’ by Bridgend in 1941 – and it holds a significant place in the town’s memory according to the council.
According to a draft of Agenda Item 15 of the Bridgend Town Council meeting on January 24, a number of councillors said that representatives should be sent to commemorate the submarine in Malta – where it was last seen before it went missing on its final mission in 1942.
Town councillor, Ian Williams, said it was “imperative” that representatives from the council were sent to commemorate the submarine and that it would be an “insult” if they were not.
Cllr Matthew Voisey, who agreed with Cllr Williams that representatives should be sent, proposed that the council “fund the travel arrangements for the Mayor and Mayoress to attend on behalf of the people of Bridgend”, according to the draft of the minutes.
However, he noted that they should undertake a solemn promise that no press releases or photographs would be submitted of the event with an election looming.
In a statement, Mayor Cllr Steven Bletsoe said: “I consider it an honour and a privilege to be representing the people of Bridgend, on the solemn understanding that we may pay our final respects to the courageous and heroic people who were lost that day while serving their country.
“We will Remember Them.”
In 1941 Bridgend residents took part in the Bridgend and District Warship Week, and through raffles, whist drives and dances, raised £300,000 (the equivalent of approximately £15 Million today) to officially adopt the U Class submarine HMS Urge.
In October 2019, the wreck of HMS Urge was discovered off the coast of Malta. The Ministry of Defence said it recognised the wreck site “as the last resting place of HMS Urge and those who lost their lives in service of their country”.
The wreck will now be treated as an official war grave and protected by Maltese, British and international law.
Following the discovery of the wreck, plans were made for an official commemoration in Malta in April 2020.
The event was organised by the families who lost their lives on HMS Urge and Heritage Malta with support from The Royal Navy. Representatives from Bridgend were invited to the event and the Bridgend Town Mayor & Consort at the time were due to attend.
The event was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic and rescheduled for April 27, 2022 to mark the 80th anniversary of the loss of HMS Urge.
An invitation has once again been extended to the Bridgend Town Mayor and/or representatives from Bridgend.
A spokesperson for Bridgend Town Council said: “As the event is due to take place during the pre-election period, advice was sought on this matter.
“Council was subsequently advised that given that this is a significant, date driven occasion, each of the political parties should be given equal, or proportionate, representation in the invitation list or in the opportunity to attend the event.
“In addition to this, an invitation has been received from The Friends of the Royal Navy Submarine Museum for the Mayor or a representative of Bridgend to attend an HMS Urge commemoration event at the Submarine Museum in Gosport on 10th May 2022.
“The invitations were discussed at a meeting of Bridgend Town Council on Monday 24th January 2022 and Council unanimously resolved to accept the invitations.
“The current Mayor and Mayoress of Bridgend Town Council were appointed to attend the event in Malta and the event in Gosport as representatives of Bridgend to pay respects to the crew and passengers who lost their lives on HMS Urge.”
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.