I have now received an “unreserved apology” of sorts from Cllr David Pugh over his his patently false claims regarding a “third side elevation” at No 25 Dimond Street Pembroke Dock.
You will recall that Cllr Pugh and the Leader had made an inspection of properties in Dimond Street Pembroke Dock and had discovered the existence of this 8 m x 7 m side elevation that enabled Cllr Pugh to trash my claim that the hacking off and re-rendering in the tender had been overstated two-and-a-half times and the paintwork to this same render by six times.
The fact that I had “overlooked” this third side elevation meant, according to Cllr Pugh, that I had got my sums wrong and, as he put it to council: “So was this a deliberate untruth, or was it sheer incompetence on his behalf by not checking the facts? I’ll leave you to decide”.
Did I detect a hint of triumphalism as he landed the killer blow and exposed me as a charlatan?
If I did, it was rather premature because as we now know it was sheer incompetence on his part because he wasn’t even talking about the right shop, though, thankfully, he was in the right street.
I am prepared to accept that this wasn’t a “deliberate untruth” – most probably the result of believing what other people told him without due diligence to establish whether or not it was true.
It seems that the Leader, who was also along on this visit to Pembroke Dock, was guilty of the same error.
Nullius in verba, as the motto of the Royal Society has it.
I will return to this subject later today, when I have had more time to consider my response to Cllr Pugh’s “unreserved apology”.
In addition to having my honesty and competence questioned by Cllr Pugh I also had to endure a patronising lecture on the workings of the Freedom of Information Act by IPPG new boy Cllr Rob Summons.
Probably because he was a former policeman, Cllr Summons was detailed off to cross examine me on my FoI requests.
Watching it again on the webcast, I get the impression that he may have been watching too much Rumpole.
“Like being savaged by a dead sheep” as Denis Healey once described an attack by Geoffrey Howe.
The full performance can be seen on the webcast at 1:00:49.
Cllr Summons had found a way round the commercial confidentiality rules and seemed rather disdainful that I hadn’t spotted the same loophole.
“I put in a FoI request asking for the total amount of money [grant] paid on these three items. That is council property and it’s not commercially sensitive” he told the council.
In response to this request he had been told that the grant actually paid in respect of this work was a mere £1,052 compared to the £7,000 to £9,000 that I had estimated from the quantities in the tender and the builder’s rates for similar operations on another contract.
Of course, this is a case of apples and pears, because my estimate was for the amount in the tender and the information he had been given concerned the final cost.
Part, but only part, of the difference, can be accounted for by the fact that, as can be seen from the photos, no rendering has been carried out to the rear elevation.
Another part arises from the fact that, while the original tender was for £227,000, only £93,000 was actually spent.
And, while the cabinet allocated a grant of £64,000 for this essential work to improve Pembroke Dock’s shopping area, only £27,400 was claimed in the final account.
It may well be mere coincidence that the final account for this project was drawn up after I first made my interest known on April 25th.
Hopefully, this anomaly will be explained when the audit committee considers the matter in January.
Anyway, I’m nothing if not a quick learner, so first thing on Monday morning I put in an FoI request for the amount of non-commercially sensitive “council property” that went towards the grant payment in respect of re-slating the roofs at No. 25 and No. 29 Dimond Street.
Normally, I would expect the council to take the full 20 working days allowed by statute to respond, but, following Cllr Summons example, I was hoping for a swifter reply.
That is because Cllr Summons’ FoI request was inspired by my website posting of 7 December.
This is particularly significant because December 7 was a Saturday, so the earliest he could submit an FoI request was Monday 9 December and there he was on December 12, just two full working days later, armed with all the facts.
Is this the quickest turnaround of an FoI request in the council’s history?
Unfortunately, I have not been so lucky because, surprise, surprise, it is already Thursday and I’ve heard nothing – not even an acknowledgement of my FoI request that usually comes automatically, almost by return.
Of course, it could be that someone has realised that, once I have the amount of grant paid together with the percentage rate of grant, it is a matter of simple arithmetic to work out the total cost.
So this Rob Summons wheeze; designed to show that the council wasn’t at all secretive if only you are intelligent enough to ask the right questions, has the potential to backfire.
I sometimes wonder if these IPPG members are too clever by half, but, on reflection, it is more likely that they’re not half as clever as they would like to think they are.
And that wasn’t Cllr Summons’ only contribution to the debate because, in addition to unlocking the FoI system, he had also spent some time between my posting on December 7 and the council meeting on the 12th wondering whether I might be in breach of the copyright laws.
“Did you have permission to reproduce those plans on your website?” he demanded to know.
I must admit that I didn’t have Cllr Summons down as the sort who would take an interest in this rather arcane area of the law, but life under IPPG rule is full of little surprises.
His concerns seem to have been taken seriously by the powers that be because, within three hours of the end of the meeting, I had a long and carefully-researched email from one of the the authority’s trained lawyers warning me of the copyright implications of posting architects’ drawings on my website.
Chicken and egg, anyone?