Many column inches have been devoted to my little spat with Cllr Jamie Adams and his sidekick Cllr David Pugh at last week’s meeting of the county council’s Cabinet.
Cllr Pugh ended up shouting at me, though, if this was intended to intimidate me, he should be aware that it has had just the opposite effect.
He also told me that I didn’t understand the difference between the items on these projects that were eligible for grants and those that were not.
Now, I don’t take kindly to being patronised, even by people who are cleverer than me, so you can imagine how I feel when someone like Pugh tries it on.
Adams, as has been widely reported, resorted to a smear about some failure in my previous career in the construction industry, though he was reluctant to be specific.
If what he is supposed to have heard concerns my competence as a builder he should be worried because some 50 of the council’s tenants sleep under roofs constructed by my company and the children in at least five of the county’s schools are being taught in classrooms that I built.
However, we shall let that pass.
The issue at stake was my Notice of Motion calling for documents connected to these grant projects to made available to elected members.
When I first asked for this information under FoI legislation I was provided with Bills of Quantities with all the financial information redacted on the grounds that it was “commercially confidential” and disclosure would harm the competitive position of the builder.
I am happy to concede that the council has a point on this issue.
However, when I applied for another BoQ for a different contract I was sent just the summary sheet which essentially told me nothing.
The reason given for this was that the full BoQ would reveal aspects of the architect’s design which could be useful to his competitors.
It is true that anyone familiar with these documents can get a pretty fair idea what a building looks like by careful study.
For instance, if these are no stairs included in the BoQ you can be reasonably certain that it is a single story building, and if the section on roofing has no provision for lead valleys and the like you can assume that it has a plain roof.
But that is no substitute for sight of the drawings which are, of course, freely, available to anyone who cares to log on to the planning section on the council’s website.
So this business of withholding the BoQs because the might help the architects rivals is entirely spurious.
The real reason is that someone in the county council realised that armed with nothing more than a scale rule, I could check the quantities in the BoQs against the drawings.
When I did carry out that exercise on the BoQs for 25 Dimond Street, for which I had the complete document with only the financial details redacted, I discovered some very interesting anomalies.
The front and back elevations for this building can be seen below.
It is roughly six metres wide by seven metres high, which, as the mathematicians among you will have already worked out, means the gross area of the two elevations is 84 sq metres.
The area of plasterwork, excluding windows and doors is obviously considerably less.
At a rough guess, I would say half the front and about 25% of the rear elevation are taken up by windows and doors, leaving approximately 50 sq metres of wall.
We can now turn our attention to the BoQs where we find the treatment of these walls on page 14.
This would seem to indicate that hack off and replaster have been overmeasured by two-and-a-half times and the painting by six.
Fortunately, I do have the same builder’s priced BoQ from another contract, which I obtained during the public audit inspection.
Assuming the builder uses similar rates from one contract to another we can work out how much this overmeasure added to the tender price.
Hack off render: extra 74 sq m @ £17.20 = £1,272
Re-render: extra 74 sq m @ £35.70 = £2,604
Paint: extra 249 sq m @ 25.32 = £6,304
Cllr Pugh can be assured that I’m absolutely certain this work is eligible for grant aid though whether it qualifies for “heritage features” 90% or “structural repairs” 70% I can’t be sure.
Whichever it is, the effect on the grant is considerable at either £9,162 or £7,126.
If this was an isolated instance, it could be put down to error, but, as I will reveal over the coming weeks, it wasn’t.
Cllr Adams and Pugh make much of the fact that these grants have been subject to multiple audits and all has found to be in order.
That may be the case, but there are not enough auditors in the country to convince me that £3,789 has been spent on refurbishing the downpipes and gutters on the front of Coronation School (see Up the spout)