Last Monday’s audit committee meeting was a lively affair.
Unfortunately the lay chairman Mr Peter Jones failed to show and the vice chairman, IPPG stalwart Cllr Mike James, inserted himself in the chair.
Cllr Jacob Williams objected to this on the basis that the law appears to debar members of an executive group i.e a group with members in the Cabinet, from chairing audit committee meetings.
I won’t go into too much detail about this because the young upstart will no doubt have plenty to say about it once he shelves his ambition to become Pentlepoir’s answer to Jeremy Clarkson.
All I will say is that the council’s lawyer, who was summoned to the meeting to act as umpire, ruled that Jacob was out.
However, I understand the decision has been referred to Hawkeye and having watched the replay, my money is on Jacob resuming his innings.
The main, indeed only, business on the agenda was my notice of motion calling for the correspondence between the council, Wales European Funding Office (WEFO) and Mr Cathal McCosker regarding the repayment of grant monies for projects in Pembroke Dock to be made available for inspection by elected members.
Last summer, I had a visit from three officers from (WEFO) – the source of the funds – to discuss these grants and during our meeting they let it drop that they were reclaiming the McCosker grants from the council.
In turn, Mr McCosker was offering to pay back a large sum of money to the council.
From what I can gather, the council wrote to Mr McCosker asking him to provide bank statements as evidence that that he had actually paid the sums on which the grants were based to G&G Builders.
For whatever reason, the council had paid out the grants on the basis of nothing more than photocopies of cheque book stubs.
My understanding is that, faced with this perfectly reasonable request, rather than produce the bank statements Mr McCosker offered to pay back all the grant money he had ever received, which I have subsequently learned comes to £189,000.
However, the grants paid to Mr McCosker are only part of the story because WEFO is also reclaiming the monies it paid the council to cover the cost of administering and supervising these projects and, of course, as that can’t be recovered from the developer, the taxpayer will have to cough up.
At October’s meeting of council, thinking that members might be interested in what was happening to their constituents’ cash, I put down the notice of motion which was remitted to last Monday’s audit committee.
When I received the papers for the meeting, it came as no surprise to read that the officer’s recommendation was that my NoM be not adopted.
According to the report: “In the interest of Article 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998, which covers the
right to a fair trial, the Police have advised that all material within their possession cannot be disseminated to Council Members until the investigation has been concluded.”
Of course, if any of this was true, it would clearly be irresponsible to allow members to see the correspondence.
But it isn’t.
It is just another example of the way the council invents “facts” to support its desired conclusion.
I made short work of Article 6 which concerns the actual trial process and has no relevance whatsoever to the matter at hand.
The council’s lawyer then retreated behind “sub judice” or, more accurately, the Contempt of Court Act 1981 which is designed to prevent the publication of information that might lead to a “substantial” risk of “serious prejudice” to any “active” criminal proceedings.
The problem with the council’s argument is that, according to the definition in the Act, proceedings only become “active” when someone has been arrested or charged and as nobody, as far as I know, has even been interviewed this cannot apply.
And, if that wasn’t enough, “publication” is defined as publication to the world at large – typically by broadcast or newspaper – and, as my notice of motion called only for elected members to be given the right of access, that didn’t apply either.
Having overcome the legal obstacles, I then turned to “the Police have advised that all material within their possession cannot be disseminated to Council Members until the investigation has been concluded.”
First, I was asking for material within the possession of the council, not the police.
And, second, “cannot be disseminated” seems to suggest that the police have a veto over what members can and cannot see.
Short of some legal bar, which doesn’t exist (see above), that can’t be the case.
Of course, it might be that both the council and the police would rather members didn’t see the correspondence, but that is entirely different from asserting that to release it would be somehow unlawful.
None of this impressed the IPPG majority, who, having been given cover by the council’s lawyers, duly did their voting duty, though it was noticeable that none of them made any attempt to counter my arguments.
Still, I will get another opportunity when the matter comes back to full council on December 11 which is, by happy coincidence, almost exactly one year since council debated my NoM calling for the files on these grants to be opened up for inspection by members.
On that occasion, you may recall, ex-Cabinet member David Pugh said of me that “the truth isn’t on his agenda” and Cllr Johnny Allen-Mirehouse, who was sitting on Monday’s audit committee, claimed that I was someone who “wouldn’t let the facts get in the way of a good story”.
Of course, it is the supreme irony that I am now being accused of jeopardising the police investigation by people who spent the best part of six months trying to ensure that no such investigation took place.
I’m sorry to bring disappointing news so close to Christmas, but it seems that Cllr Rob Summons is unwilling to share his superior knowledge of linguistics with readers of this column.
When I bumped into him outside county hall earlier this week, I again extended the invitation to email me and explain his reasons why he thinks Cllr Jamie Adams didn’t lie to council meeting on 12 December 2013 when he gave his account of what he saw during his expedition into the attic at Coronation School Pembroke Dock.
Cllr Summons offered to share his thoughts privately, but not with the world at large.
When I pointed out that he is a public figure – Cabinet member, no less – and people are entitled to know his views on these matters, he became rather coy.
However, he did give me a hint of the way he is thinking by asking: “If you think the Leader lied, why haven’t you reported him to the Ombudsman?”
It had already come to my attention from another source that this was Cllr Summons’ line of argument.
However, while this is a perfectly valid question, it is not, as Cllr Summons seems to think, proof of anything.
This can easily be demonstrated by turning it around and asking: If Cllr Summons really thinks I falsely accused the Leader of lying, why hasn’t he, or better still the Leader, reported me to the Ombudsman?
I am not a fan of Jean Claude Junker the president of the European Commission, but I have to give him credit for a brilliant observation regarding the financial problems of the western democracies.
“We all know what needs to be done,” he said, “but we don’t know how to get re-elected after we’ve done it”.
Having listened to George Osborne and Ed Balls struggling to explain what they are going to do about the deficit and the ever-increasing National Debt, it is easy to conclude that, whatever his shortcomings, Mr Junker is bang on the money on this one.