Old Grumpy was given a rough ride at Monday’s cabinet meeting when I tried to persuade that august body to allow members access to all the information on the award of grants in Pembroke Dock that have been a regular feature of this column since last April.
This was, as expected, a complete waste of breath, but perhaps I’ll have more success at full council where the room will not be completely packed with members who owe their SRAs to the Leader’s patronage.
Cllr David Pugh, Cabinet member for economic development, reminded his colleagues that council had wasted a lot of money and effort in preparing an internal auditor’s report rebutting my allegations (see below) and Leader Jamie Adams said that my activities were jeopardising much needed investment in the town.
Will these people never learn that I am not susceptible to this sort of emotional bullying?
And when I referred to my experience in the building industry the Leader suggested he knew something about my past career that didn’t reflect well on me.
Predictably, despite me challenging him several times to be more specific, he wasn’t man enough to tell me more about this alleged skeleton in my cupboard.
Part of the auditors report attempted to disprove my claim that grants awarded to Mr McCosker were larger than those to other applicants.
With that in mind the table below was produced.
My claims are in the left hand box – the rebuttal in the right.
MKG contracts are those carried out by Mr Cathal McCosker, Kinver Kreations and G&G Builders Ltd.
The * alongside £371,000 denotes that two projects, total cost £35,000, not included in my calculation have been added, increasing “other projects” from £371,000 to £406,000.
This table is supposed to support the conclusion that “…there is no evidence that MKG contracts received a higher level of grant funding.”
The row “Grants awarded” shows the percentage of the amount allocated to MKG is almost exactly equal to that allocated to “other projects”.
While this may have impressed the Cabinet, I am afraid it just doesn’t cut the mathematical mustard because it is simply a truism:- a statement that is so trivial that it isn’t worth saying.
Restated in purely mathematical terms all this says is that if you add together two nearly-identical numbers (410 and 406) and then express each of them as percentage of the total (816), both will be approximately 50%.
This amounts to nothing more than doing the same process in reverse and it would be a mathematical sensation if the two percentages didn’t bear the same relationship to each other as the original figures
I’m afraid the second row suffers from exactly the same defect because all it tells us is that if you take two nearly identical numbers and apply the same percentage to each, you will get a nearly identical result.
That is hardly surprising because, as both sets of grants were calculated using the same percentage rates, it would be rather strange if they were different.
So, despite all this fancy footwork, the fact remains that the five MKG grants average out at £82,000 each while the 16 others (including the two at £35,000 the pair) now average out £25,375, which makes the gap between the two even greater than I suggested.
And nothing in this table contradicts my contention that £82,000 is more than three times as big as £25,000
To simplify this for the benefit of the arithmetically challenged, we will take a hypothetical local authority consisting of a chief executive on £170,000 and ten members of staff on £17,000 each.
If we award them all a 10% pay rise we can then represent the total pay increases as Chief Executive £17,000 others £17,000.
If we add these two figures together and express the pay rises as a percentage of the total, we get Chief Executive 50% and others 50% and conclude that there is no evidence that the Chief Executive received a higher pay rise than the rest.
Of course, using this logic, if you vary the number of staff you can vary the conclusion.
With five staff, you can “prove” that the chief executive’s pay rise is larger than the rest, with 15 it is smaller.
But, in all three cases, the fact remains that the chief executive received an extra £17,000 and each of the others £1,700.
And that wasn’t the only piece of flawed logic in the auditor’s report that troubled me.
One of my concerns all along has been that there seems to have been no attempt to separate grant-eligible work from non-eligible in the tenders that formed the basis for these grants.
This despite the protocols on these grant schemes seeming to require such a separation.
The “procedure manual” for Commercial Property grants requires (4.8 page 16) that: “the specification should be agreed prior to the applicant obtaining quotations in order to avoid the need for revision.” And “…the specification should be agreed & approved prior to going out to tender.”
And at 4.10 (page 17) : “Quotations must be based on the agreed specification and should be similarly itemised to enable comparison.”
That can only refer to the specification for the eligible works because any non-eligible (private) works are purely a matter between the developer and the builder and are none of the grant-awarding body’s business.
That interpretation seems to be borne out by the guidance for officers 5.3 (page 24) which under “Expressions of interest” says:
“(a) An itemised and detailed specification should be submitted at this stage.” and,
“(b) Carefully assess the specification and establish which items are eligible and which are ineligible.”
All this before the section headed “Submission of application form”.
The procedure for Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI) grants contains a similar provision.
Under the heading “Before making an application” it states:
“It is strongly recommended that a pre-application meeting with the THI officer take place in order to identify the scope of the works to be grant aided” and “These [specifications] should be broken down if necessary into two parts to show the cost of those works considered eligible for grant and the cost of the remainder of the works. It is important that all tenders should be itemised in similar manner to enable comparison of prices”.
Clearly I have misunderstood this because the internal auditor’s report informs us:
Of course the whole point is that this splitting is not done by “the tenderer, the applicant or his agent” but by the officer when he/she “Carefully assess(es) the specification [to] establish which items are eligible and which are ineligible” prior to the “submission of the application form”.
Or, in the case of the THI grants, during the pre-application meeting with the officer where the work is “broken down if necessary into two parts to show the cost of those works considered eligible for grant.”
It would seem to follow that the assertion: “the applicant and his contractor does (sic) not know which items are eligible and which are not” simply doesn’t hold water.
This is especially so when you consider that: “It is important that all tenders should be itemised in similar manner to enable comparison of prices”.
How are the applicant and contractor and, by definition, the applicant’s architect, supposed to itemise the tender into eligible and non-eligible elements if they “do not know which items are eligible and which are not” ?
Sometimes I feel like I’ve accompanied Alice through the looking-glass where we encounter Humpty Dumpty who tells us: “When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less”
It wouldn’t surprise me if Jamie Adams appointed the White Queen to the Cabinet post left vacant by the resignation of David “Codebreaker” Wildman.
Fans of Lewis Carroll will recall that when Alice told the White Queen: “There’s no use trying, one can’t believe impossible things”, the Queen replied: “I daresay you haven’t had much practice. When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
With this new setup, I will be updating regularly rather than my usual Thursday evening slot.