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Porthcawl Town councillor resigns over £7k maintenance contract given to local charity

A TOWN council awarded a £7k maintenance contract for a subway to an organisation whose directors include local councillors which then paid the town’s mayor to do the work.

One former councillor said he resigned after discovering Porthcawl Town Council (PTC) had awarded the subway maintenance contract to Credu Charity Ltd, two of whose trustees Mike and Norah Clarke are councillors on PTC and Bridgend County Borough Council.

Documents seen by WalesOnline show that Credu sent the town council an invoice for £7,798.15 for subway maintenance.

The council was charged for 270 hours of labour at a cost of £22 per hour. Other fees included £167.04 for spends at Pages DIY, a DIY and hardware store owned by Cllr Norah Clarke’s ex-husband and one of her sons.

Mayor of PTC Brian Jones was paid to paint the subway and do other maintenance during the summer of 2020, along with another man. Cllr Jones has also worked as a maintenance worker for Credu since November 2019 and is a self-employed painter.

Sean Aspey has resigned as a councillor on the town council, questioning whether proper procedures were followed.

Mr Aspey claims the first time he and other councillors knew a maintenance contract had been given to Credu was when the council received the invoice for the subway refurbishment in August after the work was complete.

He said: “I thought ‘I can’t be part of this’. I’ve resigned to keep my integrity and reported it to the relevant authorities. That’s as much as I can do.”

He believes that a more open process should have been followed if the contract was being awarded to Credu with other councillors doing the work.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service asked Cllrs Mike and Norah Clarke how and why Credu was awarded the maintenance contract for the subway and why an hourly pay rate was agreed. They were also informed of the allegations that an open process was not followed when awarding the contract to Credu.

Councillor Norah Clarke, who is listed as a secretary of Credu Charity, said the day-to-day running of the company was done by its chief executive and she and Michael, who is listed as a director, only attended meetings as trustees.

She said questioning why the “extremely modest amount” of £167.04 was spent at a DIY shop her son was involved in was “a very poor show”.

She said:

“Who Credu bought supplies from was of their choosing, not ours.

“I guess it was difficult obtaining supplies and my son does actually live in Porthcawl and will deliver so I guess that may be the answer to your question as well.

“How would the staff know that someone working in Pages DIY was related to us? Our surnames are different.

“All we do know is that specialist materials had to be sourced for work on the subway and perhaps the staff had to approach different suppliers in order to obtain those materials.”

The current interim town clerk of Porthcawl town council told us the contract was awarded in line with the council’s policies.

Sarah Watkins said:

“The contract procedure was carried out by our previous town clerk in October/November 2019.

“I wish to assure you that I am wholly satisfied that all staff have behaved with honesty, integrity and commitment in ensuring that all statutory and other duties of the council have been carried out in accordance with our policies and decisions of the council.

“The meeting where it was agreed to tender for a maintenance contract was agreed by full council and can be found on the PTC website.”

Responding to the allegations, Mike Clarke said that the cost of painting the subway, which he said was 70m long, was £3,740 and that the remaining part of the bill was for other maintenance on the subway.

The town’s mayor Brian Jones said that he had done the work as an employee of Credu Charity, for whom he had worked since 2019. He said that the £22 an hour rate referred to the sum paid to Credu and not the sum he was paid.

Mr Aspey said the council does not usually agree with maintenance contracts at an hourly fee.

“That can open up all sorts of connotations… you could get an invoice in for 10,000 hours,” he said.

“We have to have fixed costs to make sure we’re providing value to the public because it’s public money.

“In my time on the council which is nearly 13 years, we’ve never paid for jobs on an hourly basis. We’ve always had quotations.

“It’s shocking, it really is. I’m still gobsmacked now.

“I joined the council because I wanted more communication between the residents and the council because it seemed to me to be distant and not in connection.

“That’s what I sought to change over the last five or seven years but what we’ve ended up with now is even worse than when we set out.”

He added: “A town council has to be open and transparent and recent events have shown it to be the opposite.”

Credu Charity Ltd is a local organisation which emerged in 2018, delivering services under different subsidiaries including education programmes for schools and tourist information.

According to Companies House records, it was previously called Porthcawl Harbourside CIC.

Husband and wife Mike and Norah Clarke, who are also Porthcawl and Bridgend County Borough councillors, are director and secretary of the charity.

Credu was behind plans to deliver a £5.5m maritime centre in Porthcawl but the organisation voluntarily appointed liquidators to wind it up in November 2020.

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