Things are rather quiet at the moment, but I have a feeling it is the calm before the storm.
Nothing much seems to be happening on the grants front which was reported to the police some four months ago.
Soon after the police were called in, I received a visit from a detective sergeant from Milford Haven police station who went through the evidence with me.
It was encouraging to learn that he had a pretty firm grasp of the issues involved.
About a month later, he paid another visit to tell me he had been taken off the case and Carmarthen were now in charge.
Since then, a deafening silence.
Of course it hasn’t gone unnoticed that, because of their close relationship with PCC, Dyfed Powys Police passed the investigation into the unlawful pensions caper to Gloucestershire Police, though they seem to have no such reservations about this fraud enquiry.
Meanwhile, I am a bit hamstrung by the contempt of court legislation (sub judice) and the fact that most of the evidence in my possession has been provided to me on a confidential basis.
However, there have been some developments including a meeting between the author of that other website (TAOTOW) and myself and council officers to discuss various concerns about the administration of these grants.
A report has been prepared on the various administrative flaws which would have gone to the audit committee last week had it not been for the the resignation, in mysterious circumstances, of the independent (lay) chairman.
The report will now have to wait on the appointment of a replacement lay member and I hear it is expected to be presented to the audit committee before the end of July.
From what I gathered at our meeting with officers, it seems that almost all of my concerns about the way this grant scheme has been administered have been found to be soundly based.
That will come as a further blow to the already creaking credibility of Cllr David Pugh whose ten-minute barrage of falsehoods and insults at the council meeting on December 12 included the claim:
“Having received the reports that refute all his arguments, Cllr Stoddart then changes tack and asserts that the grant schemes rules are flawed and that the council has wrongly interpreted them. I know he claims a much higher level of expertise in most matters, but here I will take the opinion of our highly regarded and experienced European funding team over his any day. There are many more spurious claims made – for none of which has he produced any evidence, purely conjecture and speculation.”
It says much for the culture of the IPPG that Pugh is still a member of the cabinet.
Another who was so bold as to cast doubt on my integrity at the meeting on December 12 was Cllr Johnny Allen-Mirehouse – known affectionately to his fans as Squirehouse:
“I don’t think he [Cllr Stoddart] has yet produced any actual facts. And facts is what we need to go on. But I do say he should not continue with his policy of not letting the facts get in the way of a good story.”
As it turns out, my “facts” have proved to be infinitely more durable than those of his IPPG colleague Pugh.
In more chivalrous times, an apology for this unfounded slur would have followed as a matter of course, but, as none has been forthcoming, one may conclude that gentlemanship and membership of the gentry are not necessarily the same thing.
Cllr Allen-Mirehouse also produced a long list of bodies that had audited these grant schemes and found them all to be in order.
Just goes to show that expert opinion is not the same as proof.
Just to bring Pugh and Squirehouse up to speed with the facts, the police are investigating possible fraud; The Wales European Funding Office (WEFO) have stopped all future grants to PCC; and the council’s internal audit service has produced a report upholding almost all of my concerns regarding the administration of these grants.
All based on “spurious claims” by someone who doesn’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.
One thing that is dealt with in the internal auditors’ report is the question of proof of payment.
The council’s procedure manual is quite clear on this subject:
“Claims [for grant payments] should be accompanied by a receipted invoice and evidence of defrayment (usually a bank statement)”.
When TAOTOW and I inspected the files, we discovered that the council had accepted as evidence of defrayment a photocopy of the counterfoil of a cheque supposedly issued to the builder by the developer.
When we queried this with a member of the council’S “Highly regarded and experienced European funding team” we were told that developers didn’t like producing their bank statements.
To which we replied, in unison, that if developers didn’t like the rules they shouldn’t apply for grants.
From our conversation with the internal auditors, it seems that our view has prevailed.
Another interesting development concerns a fact-finding mission to Grumpy Towers a couple of weeks ago by a three-person team from WEFO.
Of course, having carried out multiple audits of these grant schemes without detecting any of the flaws identified on this website, WEFO is “marking its own homework”.
Nevertheless, we had a lengthy and fruitful discussion about the administrative failings of PCC including the proof of payment issue and it transpired that they, too, agree with me that photocopies of cheque book stubs don’t cut the mustard.
One thing that did emerge from our meeting is that Mr McCosker is reluctant to provide his bank statements and, rather than do so, he is prepared to to pay back the grant monies, which I calculate comes to something well north of £150,000.
And that doesn’t include the £122,000 grant for 50 Dimond Street that he hasn’t yet claimed.
Charitable souls like Cllr Simon Hancock will no doubt regard this as an act of saintly generosity, while conspiracy theorists with malice in their hearts will think there is something funny going on.
What Pugh and Allen-Mirehouse will make of it is anybody’s guess.