Last week I related that Cllr David Pugh, cabinet member for economic development, had been forced to issue an “unreserved apology” after falsely accusing me of either lying or incompetence because of what I had written about the vastly exaggerated quantity of rendering in the tender for No. 25 Dimond Street, Pembroke Dock.
Following on from that, I sent Pugh an email asking him if he could offer an explanation as to why this over-measure hadn’t been spotted when the tenders were checked prior to a grant being awarded.
I gave him two further examples of gross over-measurement in the tender, though there were several more I could have mentioned, and asked for his observations.
He has now replied:
“You have made your position and approach to these matters quite clear, so I see little value in continuing this dialogue with you. Council has referred this matter to the Audit Committee to address your concerns. I will not be commenting further until the committee has dealt fully with these issues”
How convenient – when the heat is on, hide behind the skirts of the audit committee.
Can this be the same Cllr Pugh who spent fully ten minutes vilifying me at full council on December 12?
Mind you, that was when he thought he had at his disposal facts that destroyed my credibility – facts which he now knows won’t stand up to scrutiny.
As Corporal Jones would say: “They don’t like it up ’em”.
Well, Pugh might be happy with his self-imposed purdah, but I’m not.
So let us wander a little further up Dimond Street to No. 29 (Paul Sartori).
This is what Pugh had to say on this subject:
“Moving on to No 29 Dimond Street. “An inspection of the shop premises reveals that little or no work has been done to the interior.” [quoting from what I had said]
The £21,000 grant for retail space included work such as asbestos removal, insulation, electrical work and work to renovate the walls and floors.
I don’t know when Cllr Stoddart did his inspection, or whether he didn’t bother to walk to the back of the shop, but as you know, this is a charity shop and most of the retail space is taken up with space that has been used for storage and cleaning of clothes and so on.
If he was to check, he would see that the main work done in that retail space by bringing a semi-derelict building back into use and is not just the shop. The majority of that work was done to the rear and was completed satisfactorily.”
Of course, I had checked – several times in fact – but, unlike Pugh and the Leader who accompanied him on this inspection of the premises, I didn’t have access to the room at the back of the shop.
However, I did have a set of drawings which showed the opening between the back of the shop and the outbuildings in the backyard blocked up.
But so confident did Pugh seem that I began to wonder if there might have been a change of plan with the outbuilding incorporated into the retail space instead of being converted into a bedsit.
So last Sunday morning I went and took another look.
And surprise, surprise, it turns out that Pugh wasn’t telling the truth about this either.
“Most of the retail space” that is given over to “storage and cleaning of clothes and so on” turns out to be a partitioned off area in the left rear corner, roughly 2.5 m square or 7 sq m in all.
The total area of the retail space is 50 sq m, so, thanks to the wonders of IPPG arithmetic, 14% is now classed as “most”.
This has echoes of Cllr Jamie Adams’ claim at the recruitment meeting just after the 2012 election that, if members didn’t sign up for the IPPG, Labour as the biggest group with nine of the 60 seats would form the administration.
The final sentence of Pugh’s oration also pays careful study because it is actually true.
However, the work done to “the rear” involved converting some rather scruffy outbuildings into four bedsits and, as he said elsewhere in his speech: “The simple fact is that the developer has taken on much higher cost projects bringing semi-derelict buildings back into use both commercial and residential which incidentally is not grant aided.”
I think the trick here is to suggest that, because these outbuildings were formerly part of the storage space for the shop, their conversion into bedsits can be classified as refurbishing retail space.
Nice try, but no cigar!
In case there is any ambiguity, could I refer to the FAQ section on page 59 of the report to the audit committee on 23 September.
This FAQ was designed to make it clear to the committee how the grants’ system works, particularly the distinction between what is eligible for grant and what is not.
Q: Has any property ever received a grant for flats or for a house of multiple occupation?
A: No, this has never happened through this grant scheme. Such works have always been ineligible.
Sometimes property owners carry out residential works at the same time that builders are working on commercial parts of the building but this is entirely at their own
In fact the Council encourages this, in order to improve people’s accommodation, although we cannot and do not make any financial contribution to these costs.
What should also be understood is that the figure of £21,000 doesn’t give the full picture because the grant was paid at the rate of 40%, so the total cost was £53,000.
Apart from the partitioned off storage area at the back of the shop the only other work that appears to have been done is to partition off a toilet/washroom roughly 2 m square.
And the lighting consists of three dirty, antique fluorescent fittings.
I’d be surprised if the whole lot cost as much as £5,000.
As for the asbestos it is not easy to see how this was removed without disturbing the walls, which retain their original woodchip wallpaper, or the ceilings which still sport their 1970s artex.
In fact the only mention of asbestos in the tender is for the removal of an asbestos sheeted roof on one of the outbuildings.
But, as Cllr Pugh himself said, that was part of the residential development and wasn’t eligible for a grant.
It is interesting to note that the tender calls for the removal of 80 sq m of asbestos sheeting and the disposal of 5 tonnes of the material.
As the mathematicians among you will have already worked out, that means this sheeting weighs in at 1.25 cwt (62 kilo) per sq m.
In fact asbestos sheets typically weigh about 3lb per sq ft which works out at roughly 14 kilo per sq m.
Of course, when Cllr Pugh made his speech to council he was acting on behalf of the Cabinet and under the doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility all members of that body are saddled with what he said.
If they have any regard for the truth, they should be demanding that Cllr Pugh accompanies them to Paul Sartori and shows them where exactly this £53,000 has been spent on refurbishing the retail space for which the grant of £21,000 was paid.