Agenda and minutes

Special Meeting of the Council
Monday, 7th February, 2022 10.00 am

Venue: Virtually Via Microsoft Teams - if you would like to attend this meeting live via Microsoft Teams please contact committee.services@blaenau-gwent.gov.uk

Contact: Democratic Services  6139

Media

Items
No. Item

1.

Welcome

Minutes:

A warm welcome was extended to the representatives of Audit Wales.

 

2.

Simultaneous Translation

You are welcome to use Welsh at the meeting, a minimum notice period of 3 working days is required should you wish to do so.  A simultaneous translation will be provided if requested.

 

Minutes:

 

It was noted that no requests had been received for the simultaneous translation service.

 

3.

Apologies

To receive.

Minutes:

 

Apologies for absence were received from Councillors M. Cook, T. Sharrem, B. Summers, Corporate Director of Regeneration & Community Services and Chief Officer Commercial & Customer.

 

4.

Declarations of Interest and Dispensations

To consider and declarations of interest and dispensations made.

Minutes:

The following declarations of interest were reported:

 

Item No. 4 – Report of the Auditor General for Wales – Deficiencies in Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council’s Governance and Oversight Arrangements in Respect of the Council Owned Company, Silent Valley Waste Services Limited

 

The Members had sought advice from the Monitoring Officer in relation to this item as follows:

 

Councillor Lee Parsons – would be able to remain and participate in the meeting whilst this item of business was considered and vote on the matter, if required.

 

Councillor Hedley McCarthy – would take no part in the discussion/consideration of this item.

 

Councillor Joanna Wilkins – would be able to remain and participate in the meeting whilst this item of business was considered and vote on the matter, if required.

 

Councillor John Hill – would be able to remain and participate in the meeting whilst this item of business was considered and vote on the matter, if required.

 

The Leader of the Labour Group raised a query relating to the final two declarations of interest that had been made and wished this to be placed on record.  He continued by stating that he clearly understood the reason why the current Board Members were not participating in the meeting and with no disrespect to the other two Members concerned, pointed out that from 2018 one Member had spent 1 year on the Board and the other 2 years on the Board and during this time they could have discussed this issue as an on-going concern as Board Members and, therefore, could be open to bias.  

 

The Head of Legal and Corporate Compliance (Monitoring Officer) confirmed that she had spoken to the Leader of the Labour Group recently on this point and had discussed this with the Members concerned and had provided full written advice to them in relation to the declarations of interest in respect of the report.  She continued by stating that it was important to note, that the two Members did not have a current interest, their interest had ended some time ago. The context of the report was such that there was no criticism or implication of either Member inherent in the report and their state of knowledge was such that it did not give them any special or different knowledge of the matters under discussion.

 

The Head of Legal and Corporate Compliance advised that both Members were able to discuss the matter and vote without any bias or predetermination. Both had noted their interests for the record and minutes and that being noted, the officer was satisfied that both Members were able to participate and vote, if required on the matter.

 

Item No. 6 – Waste Transfer Station and Household Waste Recycling Centre

 

Councillor Lyn Elias – would declare an interest and leave the meeting whilst this item of business was considered.

 

5.

Report of the Auditor General for Wales - Deficiencies in Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council's governance and oversight arrangements in respect of the Council Owned company, Silent Valley Waste Services Limited pdf icon PDF 571 KB

To consider the report of the Managing Director.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

As detailed in Item No. 3, Councillors L. Parsons, H. McCarthy, J. Wilkins and J. Hill declared an interest in this item.

 

Consideration was given to the report of the Auditor General for Wales together with the report of the Managing Director.

 

At the invitation of the Chair, the Managing Director advised that the purpose of the meeting was for Members to consider the report (at Appendix 1) of the Auditor General for Wales on the Deficiencies in Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council’s governance and oversight arrangements in respect of the Council-owned company, Silent Valley Waste Services Limited.

 

Members were advised that the Auditor General’s investigation had commenced in the summer of 2017, when the Council had received a whistleblowing letter raising concerns relating to the Council's oversight of Silent Valley, a company wholly owned by the Council. This correspondence had been brought to the attention of Audit Wales as part of the duties of the Council’s Whistleblowing policy and a request had been made for an investigation to be undertaken to examine the concerns raised within the letter.

 

On 27th January, 2022 the Auditor General for Wales issued the final report (the Report) in the public interest under Section 22 of the Public Audit (Wales) Act 2004. This report provided the findings of the investigation undertaken by Audit Wales for Members to consider and respond.

 

The Managing Director, thereupon, concluded by outlining the options for recommendation detailed at paragraph 3 of the covering report.

 

At this juncture, Mr. Adrian Crompton – Auditor General for Wales expressed his appreciation to the Members for the opportunity to address the Council meeting and said that he would make a few brief remarks about the audit report that was due to be considered.  Mr. Crompton, thereupon, introduced his colleagues from Audit Wales, Mr David Rees and Mr. Derwyn Owen who were also in attendance at the meeting. 

 

Mr. Crompton said he was sure that Members would have read the report and understood the reasons why the conclusion had been reached i.e. that the oversight and governance arrangements of Silent Valley Waste Services Ltd had been deficient for many years.  Whilst he was not planning to go through the report findings and conclusions because the report spoke for itself, he advised that he would explain the:

 

-      Reason why the audit had been undertaken;

-      Audit process; and

-      Scope of the audit.

 

Why the Audit had been undertaken:

 

Mr. Crompton explained that in 2017 the Council had received correspondence from a whistleblower highlighting a number of concerns regarding the oversight and governance of Silent Valley Waste Services Ltd.  At that juncture, the Council’s then temporary lead Corporate Director requested that an investigation be undertaken by Audit Wales.  The Auditor General for Wales’ predecessor had considered this correspondence and had reached the view that the concerns were of a serious nature and subsequently, auditors liaised with the whistleblower to seek clarification of the concerns that had been raised. Therefore, the previous Auditor General  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.

6.

Adjournment

Minutes:

At this juncture the meeting adjourned and resumed at 11.20 a.m.

 

7.

Exempt Item

To receive and consider the following report which in the opinion of the proper officer is an exempt item taking into account consideration of the public interest test and that the press and public should be excluded from the meeting (the reason for the decision for the exemption is available on a schedule maintained by the proper officer).

Minutes:

To receive and consider the following report which in the opinion of the proper officer was an exempt item taking into account consideration of the public interest test and that the press and public should be excluded from the meeting (the reasons for the decisions for the exemption was available on a schedule maintained by the proper officer).

 

8.

Waste Transfer Station and Household Waste Recycling Centre

To consider the joint Officers’ report.

Minutes:

Councillor Lyn Elias declared an interest in this item and left the meeting whilst it was under discussion.

 

Having regard to the views expressed by the Proper Officer regarding the public interest test, that on balance, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighed the public interest in disclosing the information and that the report should be exempt.

 

RESOLVED that the public be excluded whilst this item of business is transacted as it is likely there would be a disclosure of exempt information as defined in Paragraph 14, Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act, 1972 (as amended).

 

Consideration was given to the joint officers’ report.

 

The Managing Director commenced by bringing to Members’ attention to correspondence that had been received from the General Manager of Silent Valley Waste Management Ltd on behalf of the Board raising objections to the report.  Whilst this correspondence had been received at a late stage and officers had not yet had the opportunity to consider it, the Managing Director proposed that the report continue to be presented for decision.  The Executive Member for Environment supported this proposal.

 

The Managing Director continued by advising that Members had received briefings on the matter a few weeks previously and the report had also been considered at the Community Services Scrutiny Committee.  She thereupon presented in detail the key issues as set out in the report which included the scope and background together with the options for recommendation. 

 

The Chief Officer Resources at this juncture outlined in detail the budgetary implications of the review and the costs associated with each of the options.

 

Members were advised that the preferred option was option 3.

 

The views of Members were, thereupon, sought (summarised below) and were responded to by the Managing Director, Chief Officer Resources, Head of Community Services and Head of Legal and Corporate Compliance.

 

-      It was pointed out that some Members of the Scrutiny Committee had felt that the report should be deferred until the next administration pending preparation of a robust and detailed business plan

 

-      Grave concerns were expressed regarding bringing the services back in house under the current organisational structure and details were provided of appointments to other organisations that were held on record at Companies House. The Auditor General for Wales’ report had been damning and a full open and transparent internal investigation needed to be undertaken before any action was taken to bring the services back in house.

 

-      Concerns were raised regarding the financial implications this proposal would have on the Council and which could potentially in future be borne by the residents.

 

Councillor Mandy Moore left the meeting at this juncture.

 

-      In reply to a question regarding the operation of the Regional Wood Facility at the site, the Head of Community Services clarified the status of the land ownership and the leasing arrangements that were currently in place and potential arrangements that could be established in the future to ensure project opportunities would not be lost.

 

-      A Member  ...  view the full minutes text for item 8.