The former leader of Caerphilly County Borough Council held shares in a company that benefited from a £38.5 million investment of public funds.
Councillor David Poole resigned from his top post on Friday, September 20, and referred himself to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales after spending watchdog the Wales Audit Office wrote to the council’s interim chief executive Christina Harrhy with concerns over a potential conflict of interest.
As the leader of the council, Cllr Poole was a member of the cabinet of the Cardiff Capital Region (CCR) City Deal – an economic development partnership of ten local authorities including Caerphilly.
In September 2017, the CCR cabinet agreed to buy the former LG Semiconductor site at Newport’s Imperial Park from the Welsh Government for £38.5m and lease the site back to Cardiff-based tech firm IQE. The aim of the deal is to create the world’s first compound semiconductor ‘cluster’, attracting other firms developing the technology and creating thousands of jobs.
Cllr Poole became leader of Caerphilly Council in May 2017 and was a member of the CCR cabinet when the decision to invest the £38.5m was made.
According to Cllr Poole’s declaration of interests, published on Caerphilly Council’s website, he was a shareholder of IQE in June this year.
An amended version, with the IQE reference crossed out, was signed and dated on September 9. A Caerphilly Council spokesman confirmed this was because Cllr Poole had sold his shares.Declaration file for Councillor David Vincent Poole
Cllr Poole has said he bought shares in the firm in October or November last year and had been advised by a council officer that he did not need to declare an interest.
However at a CCR meeting on June 10 which discussed the semiconductor cluster project with IQE, Cllr Poole did declare an interest and left.
The Wales Audit Office published a report last month on the CCR’s spending. It read: “Our work has identified an issue in respect of the Registration of Members’ Interests within one authority and the processes and procedures in place to notify CCRCD’s Director and Monitoring Officer of those interests. Consequently, we intend to write to CCRCD’s Director, and the local authority concerned, in relation to this matter in the near future.”
Cllr Colin Mann, leader of the Plaid Cymru group on Caerphilly Council, said: “Cllr Poole is a very experienced councillor and was a senior council officer before retirement, so will be well aware of both the fundamental necessity to declare interests and the issue of conflict of interest.
“It is always the ultimate responsibility of a councillor to declare an interest. He knows that well, so why didn’t he declare that interest immediately he bought the IQE shares?
“It is also interesting to note that he removed his declaration of interest relating to the IQE shares in Caerphilly Council’s register of interests just a few days before he resigned as leader. When were Caerphilly Council officers’ aware of the shares purchase by Cllr Poole in IQE and what advice did they give him? We need full transparency now.
“This latest incident is sadly yet another example of a council in crisis. The Labour leadership of Caerphilly council has failed residents time and time again and my view is that unless there are detailed and satisfactory answers to the issues raised now he should resign immediately as a councillor. Further action may be needed depending on the report promised by the Wales Audit Office.”
Member of Parliament Chris Evans, who represents Islwyn, has criticised Cllr Poole’s leadership style – despite the pair both being Labour.
Mr Evans said: “I have made no secret of my serious concerns regarding the leadership of Caerphilly County Borough Council. I am shocked, however, to hear of these new allegations against Cllr Poole. If true then, once again, my constituents have been very badly let down by him.
“I hope a full and swift investigation will now take place. The people of Islwyn will not stand for another ridiculously expensive, drawn out disciplinary process that wastes more taxpayers’ money.
“There are many, many, excellent, hard-working councillors and officers at Caerphilly County Borough Council who have been let down by the leadership over the last few years.
“There are also those that have followed blindly and allowed arrogant mismanagement, and possibly worse things, to happen at the top.”
Mr Evans has long been at odds with Cllr Poole and his cabinet, with disagreements on issues such as the Pontllanfraith Leisure Centre closure playing a part.
In July, Islwyn’s Constituency Labour Party (CLP) made an official complaint to Welsh Labour about the cabinet.
Cllr Barbara Jones, who represents the St James’ ward and was deputy leader, has taken over temporarily.
Caerphilly Observer has contacted Cllr Poole for further comment.