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Town council refuses to disclose details of maintenance contract under police investigation

14 Jun 2021 4 minute read
Porthcawl Town Council. Photo via Google

Hannah Neary, local democracy reporter

A town council is refusing to reveal details about the circumstances which led to a company run by councillors being given a £7,000 maintenance contract.

A contract agreed by Porthcawl Town Council (PTC) is currently being investigated by South Wales Police following an Audit Wales review of its accounts for 2019/20. Police are also looking into a maintenance contract that the council awarded to a local charity.

The council is refusing to provide information about the contract under the Freedom of Information Act, claiming it intends to after the conclusion of the investigation.

Paint peeling off the subway. Photo by Simon Tucker

Last summer, Hibiscus Walk subway in Porthcawl was re-painted by Credu Charity Ltd, whose directors included two councillors on PTC and Bridgend County Borough Council, Michael and Norah Clarke.

Documents seen by WalesOnline show that Credu billed the town council for £7,798.15 for subway maintenance, charging the authority £22 an hour for labour. Credu employed the mayor of PTC Brian Jones and another man to do the work.

The paint is now already peeling less than a year later and a former town councillor, who resigned questioning the process that was followed in awarding the contract, has called for an independent investigation into the maintenance work.

The council is currently refusing to give details about the process which led to councillors awarding the maintenance contract to Credu.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) asked PTC for the following details under the Freedom of Information Act:

  • Was the maintenance contract for refurbishing the subway in Porthcawl (awarded to Credu Charity Ltd) put to public tender?
  • If so, when was the contract put to tender and for how long was it advertised?
  • Where/how was the contract advertised?
  • How many companies bid for the contract?
  • The council refused to provide the information in May 2021, stating it intends to publish the information.

An appeal made by the LDRS was then rejected by Bridgend County Borough Council, who revealed the maintenance contract is being investigated by police, on June 10.

Public interest

Charlotte Branford, the council’s information and data protection officer said: “I accept that there is a public interest in disclosing the information particularly in the local area; however I consider it reasonable in the circumstances to withhold the information as the report containing all the information requested will certainly be published at a future date. Disclosure at this time is likely to prejudice the on-going investigation by Audit Wales.

“The matter on which you are requesting information is currently subject of a police investigation. Whilst I accept that there is a public interest in disclosing the information I think there is greater weight in withholding the information until such time as the investigation is complete as disclosure at this time is likely to prejudice the live investigation.”

In May, Audit Wales, which is responsible for auditing public sector accounts in Wales, asked South Wales Police to look into the council’s accounts.

At the time, the full statement from the council read: “Audit Wales have been undertaking an in-depth audit of the Town Council’s accounts for 2019/2020. Audit Wales have now arrived at a position where they will need to interview members and staff of the Council to gain a complete view of certain events and decisions. However, Audit Wales have some concerns which could potentially fall outside of their remit to consider and bring to a conclusion.

“Audit Wales have consulted with South Wales Police to see if it would be appropriate to progress to interviews. South Wales Police have advised that they will now be taking this matter forward. Audit Wales and Porthcawl Town Council will assist South Wales Police fully with their enquiries.”

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