We county councillors do lead exciting lives.
On Friday we will be attending an extraordinary meeting in county hall to discuss the Welsh Audit Office’s (WAO) report on the controversial (unlawful?) pension arrangements for senior officers.
The reports for this meeting can be found on the council’s website and it is clear from the letter from the council’s head of legal services to the WAO that they have no intention of going quietly.
Meanwhile Old Grumpy has been digging away in the files for the Commercial Property Grants Scheme (CPGS) in Pembroke Dock.
On Tuesday afternoon I came to the conclusion that I had unearthed some documents that were conclusive proof of the malpractice that I have long suspected and it was time to stop pussyfooting around.
So, armed with the evidence, Cllr Jacob Williams and I presented ourselves at the offices of the Director of Finance.
This concerns 10 Meyrick Street Pembroke Dock – a property that has not featured prominently in my previous scribblings.
According to the tender report produced by Kinver Kreations for their client Mr Cathal McCosker, an impressive-looking fourteen companies bid for this £100,000 (approx) contract, among them G&G Builders (Pembrokeshire) Ltd, though it should be said that only three of them had Pembrokeshire addresses and the other 11 came from places as far afield as Stoke on Trent, Anglesey and Leigh in Lancashire.
But that is a story for another day.
There was however a slight problem in that six of the tenders were lower than that of Mr McCosker’s preferred contractor, G&G.
The tender report swiftly disposed of the four lowest on the grounds that either their rates were too low, or their creditworthiness was questionable, or both.
The six highest tenders were rejected as too expensive, leaving four runners standing of which G&G were third.
The tender report got around the problem thus.
On inspecting G&G’s tender it quickly became apparent that the statement about the accuracy of their tender was an outright lie because in the margin alongside the items highlighted in the document below were some handwritten notes showing that there were arithmetical errors to the tune of £11,500.
Had these errors been corrected it would have raised G&G’s price to thirteenth of the fourteen bidders.
Whether these errors were accidental or deliberate needn’t concern us here, but I would have to say they were so gross that the latter must be favourite.
And I should also point out that the bit about G&G’s rates being consistent and competitive is also of dubious veracity because their price for roofing is 66% higher than most of the other tenderers.
An extract from G&G’s tender can be seen below.
The complicated arithmetic involved in explaining how these errors, which apparently cost £11,500, could be of advantage to G&G will have to wait for another day.
Think swings and roundabouts!
In the meantime, we can compare the Bills of Quantities of the other thirteen companies (one example of which appears below) and what we find is that the architect had provided them with an entirely different specification, with more than three times the area of hack off and re-render and 30% more painting.
Indeed, substituting the quantities in G&G’s tender into that of the other bidders, lowers their tenders by roughly £10,000.
So taking together the arithmetical errors and differences in quantities, G&G’s tender was £20,000 higher than their nearest rivals – and a good deal more when compared to the four lowest tenders which were eliminated at the the first stage.
These documents provide the clearest possible evidence that the tender process had been slanted to favour of G&G.
We left the director of finance’s office with a firm assurance that, first thing in the morning, the matter would be reported to the the police and that an email would be sent to all members and the relevant officers apprising them of the situation.
Indeed, at one time during the meeting it was even suggested that the police should be contacted there and then, but that was rejected because it was already past 5.00 pm.
When the email failed to appear in my inbox the following morning, I immediately suspected that someone had decided on a change of plan.
We are now told that the police have been “informed” and if evidence of fraud emerges a formal complaint will be lodged.
If this patently corrupt tender process isn’t evidence enough of fraud, then I give up.
I suppose news of another police investigation on top of the one announced yesterday into the pensions’ business would not be a welcome development.
Time to bury bad news – even if only temporarily.
However, I am not happy with these delaying tactics hence my decision to put the facts into the public domain.
A brief history of this affair might give you some idea why I am reluctant to trust the council.
I first raised my concerns over these grants in April last year.
Having read my column, Cllr Michael Williams brought the matter up at the audit committee where it was agreed that a report would be presented to the September meeting.
The report, when it appeared, was a complete whitewash.
So I put down a notice of motion at the October meeting of council calling for all members to be given access to the documents (bills of quantities, final accounts etc) concerning these grants.
That was remitted to Cabinet where it was discussed at the meeting on December 2.
A report was presented by the internal audit service which was had even more coats of whitewash than the previous one.
At that meeting, you may recall, the Leader, Cllr Jamie Adams, insinuated that there was something in my past history in the construction industry that didn’t reflect well on me, though he refused to substantiate this slur.
I find it hard to believe that the people of Pembrokeshire chose this nasty piece of work to lead their council.
They didn’t, of course – that was all fiddled up behind closed doors, with the horse trading of Special Responsibility Allowances, National Park seats and illegal promises that membership of the IPPG would help them to “get things done in their communities”.
Cllr David Pugh – of whom more presently – claimed I didn’t understand how the grant system worked and, predictably, the cabinet stooges voted unanimously to recommend to full council that my notice of motion be rejected.
At full council on December 12, Pugh launched a vicious personal attack in which he thrice accused me of being either a liar or an incompetent.
It transpired that almost everything he said was untrue and he has since had to apologise for one particular falsehood.
The IPPG block vote saw off my notice of motion at full council, but, when the matter returned to the audit committee, I used my knowledge of the Local Government (Access to Information) Act – acquired during my time as a newspaper reporter – to force the council to allow all members to inspect all the documents and take copies.
That was only achieved after a protracted battle with the Monitoring Officer, who was eventually forced to apologise for misleading members over the provisions of the Act.
We have now arrived at the position where I have all the information I require.
Much of this is confidential which is why I have been careful to redact the commercially sensitive bits out of the documents above.
However, if I come to the conclusion that the council is trying to pull off one of its trademark cover-ups, I will not hesitate to break Jacob’s two golden rules and reveal everything I know.
That might put me on the wrong side of the Code of Conduct but, with the facts that I now have at my disposal, I am confident that I will be able to persuade a High Court Judge that I was acting in the public interest.
It seems that Pugh was on a bit of a high during the latter part of 2013 because he also reported me to the Ombudsman on the grounds that my “false” claims about these grants brought the council and the office of councillor into disrepute.
While his credibility might be in negative territory, he is evidently not short of sheer brass neck.
The Ombudsman, I am pleased to report, kicked him firmly, but politely, into touch.
I suspect the Cabinet member for the economy was buoyed up by (mis)information fed to him by council officers.
As he told the meeting of December 12: “I know he [Old Grumpy] 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.”
That “opinion” included the stories about the third side elevation and most of the retail space at Paul Sartori, both of which turned out to be false.
If Pugh was even half as clever as he thinks he is he would have been asking himself a long time ago what motivated the officer who accompanied him and the Leader on their “fact finding” mission to Pembroke Dock to fill their heads with such easily exploded myths.
And he might also wonder why the “highly regarded European funding team” didn’t spot the serious discrepancies in the tenders for 10 Meyrick Street which it took me less than an hour to discover.
He might even conclude that my “higher level of expertise” is something to be taken seriously.
I get the impression that word is filtering around the councillors’ tea room (aka the Day Centre) that I might be on to something with these grants.
Members who have studiously ignored me for years and, to be fair, me them, have suddenly taken to making a point of speaking to me.
Goodness me! Johnny Allen-Mirehouse even asked my opinion about something the other day.
One of the IPPG’s lesser lights came up to me one afternoon when I was outside having a smoke and in conspiratorial tones informed me: “I’ve told them [IPPG top brass] you’re not stupid”.
People can be so kind!