Pembrokeshire Council’s Bluestone shares dispute continues
Bruce Sinclair, local democracy reporter
The protracted dispute over the value of council-owned shares in Pembrokeshire’s Bluestone Holiday Park has led to a rejected call for a public apology for “negative publicity.”
Furthermore, it has been suggested to give Bluestone an open offer to buy them back or to take the shares to open market.
The value of Pembrokeshire council-owned shares in the Bluestone holiday park near Narberth – exchanged for £1.9m in loans more than a decade ago – has seen claims they are worth just £70,000, and counter-claims placing them at £1.3m.
The shares were taken up by the council’s previous administration more than a decade ago. The value placed on the shares has since been disputed.
Back at the May 11 meeting of the county council, in a response to a question by Councillor Alan Dennison on dividend returns, Cabinet Member for corporate Finance Cllr Alec Cormack said the value of the shares were estimated at under £70,000, and had paid out £19,000 in dividends over the last five years.
An email from Bluestone’s Chief Executive Officer William McNamara was received by all councillors, on the eve of a May 18 leadership challenge meeting to Council Leader David Simpson, valuing the shares at £1.3m.
Details of the email – citied at the May 18 meeting – have not been made public.
At the October council meeting, Cllr Dennison asked further questions relating to the Bluestone shares.
He said: “In his email response to Mr William McNamara [Bluestone CEO], on May 17, the Deputy Leader [Cllr Paul Miller] stated: ‘It’s unfortunate that recent questions to council have generated a degree of negative publicity for you but it is incumbent upon us to respond openly and honestly, in the public domain, to questions raised by elected councillors’.
“The only question submitted referred to the share dividends received over the last five years. Can the Deputy Leader advise which part of this question he believes warranted such negative publicity against Bluestone?”
Cllr Miller said: “It feels to me that Cllr Dennison is attempting to rewrite history here. In context of what is a return; I’m certain that Cllr Dennison understands a return requires a consideration of dividends and share values.
“It was pretty inevitable that disclosure of the current value of the shareholdings would lead to some negative publicity, as indeed was the case.”
Cllr Dennison replied: “Following the meeting and the subsequent negative publicity generated for Bluestone, Mr McNamara felt it necessary to write to every county councillor and inform them of the facts as they are, facts which appear to conflict with the lengthy response given by the Cabinet Member for Finance.
“The shares are worth anything between £900,000 to £1.3m, far in excess of what was stated by the Cabinet member.”
He asked Cllr Miller to note a long list of the economic benefits of Bluestone to the county, adding: “And will he take the opportunity to formally issue a public apology to the Bluestone chief executive for this negative publicity?”.
Cllr Miller responded: “Firstly, do I think that the Bluestone experience is a good thing? Yes, I do; a really important part of the Pembrokeshire tourism offer. None of that, of course, was asked in what Cllr Dennison raised.”
He said since Cllr Dennison had been elected he had “essentially been agitating in private” for information on the council’s financial involvement and relationship with Bluestone.
“He gets one email from Mr McNamara saying the shares are worth a million quid and he parrots it like no-one’s business,” Cllr Miller told members.
“There is a debate to be had about the value of those shares, but, as I said to Mr McNamara [by email] if there’s a desire by Bluestone to reacquire the shares at the value they quote then I’m very happy to have a discussion with the management team at their convenience.”
At the meeting, councillors heard that the only way the value of the council’s shares in Bluestone could only be determined was by taking them to open market.
Cllr Dennison asked two related questions on the Bluestone shares, the second addressed to the leader.
“Did the Leader of the Council [Cllr David Simpson] approve the response of the Cabinet Member for Finance [Cllr Alec Cormack] to the question submitted by myself regarding the return to date over the last five years of the Bluestone shares held by this council, at the full council meeting held on May 11 and, if so, will he comment on the response from the CEO [of Bluestone] which appears to contradict the Cabinet member’s response?”
Cllr Simpson said: “No, I don’t screen or sanction answers by Cabinet members to council,” adding: “Cabinet members answer the question based on their own portfolio responsibility.”
Cllr Dennison, in response asked: “Given that the Cabinet member’s response to my question has been subsequently challenged by the CEO of Bluestone can the Leader advise who we are to believe?
“William McNamara, the CEO of Bluestone, a local lad of many years of experience in business striving to promote Pembrokeshire or the intransient here-today-gone-tomorrow Cabinet member for finance, who has already had to be corrected by the Chief Executive for his incorrect comments on toilet closures, and who is striving to score political points?”
Cllr Simpson responded, saying he had “every respect” for Bluestone’s CEO, citing the economic value of the attraction to the county.
“Now, he has an opinion what those shares are worth, and I respect that opinion. Likewise, our Cabinet member for finance has an opinion on the shares that we hold and what he has been advised by officers.
“There’s only one way we can find out the answer, how much these shares are worth, and that is by taking them to the open market.
“You say somebody’s wrong, but you’ve got to prove who’s going to be wrong or right. Once you take those shares to the market and get a price for them, and I say that would be very difficult, but once you get a price for them then it will be proven who’s right and who’s wrong.”
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