It is now almost two years since Pembrokeshire County Council provided the police with a fat dossier detailing alleged irregularities in the Pembroke and Pembroke Dock Commercial Property Grants Scheme (CPGS).
A large part of this document consisted of material provided by me following my lengthy investigation into the matter.
The latest from the police is in an email via PCC which states:
“The police investigation into this complex issue is continuing. Police are liaising with WEFO, and will provide summary updates to Pembrokeshire County Council when appropriate.”
As WEFO are supposed to have audited this scheme on multiple occasions, you might think there is an element of marking their own homework involved in this arrangement.
On one of my many visits to the data room during the county council’s audit committee’s investigation of the grants situation in early 2014, I came across a bill of quantities (BoQ) for 10 Meyrick Street Pembroke Dock, an extract from which is reproduced below.
What is noticeable are the handwritten corrections of arithmetical errors in the right hand margin that I now know were the work of an unnamed officer in the county council’s European Department.
These are the result of adding, rather than multiplying, the quantity and the rate though it is interesting to note that multiplication was used on the rest of the page.
As you can see, these are not minor mistakes and the officer making the corrections has totalled them up to £11,517 (net) at the bottom of the page.
Whoever carried out this operation was clearly no great shakes at arithmetic because the original figures add up to £803 not £1,190.
But what’s £387 between friends?
The standard procedure when errors disadvantageous to the contractor are discovered is to write to them offering the choice of standing by the error, or withdrawing the tender.
My search through the file for 10 Meyrick Street failed to turn up any such letter.
This was of interest for several reasons not the least of which was that the tender report prepared by Kinver Kreations for their client Mr Cathal McCosker contained the following:
Clearly the corrections in the margin gave the lie to this claim regarding the tender’s accuracy and I will return to this later.
Not that these glaring errors should have been difficult for KK to spot in a BoQ that was only four pages long.
Following these discoveries, I arranged to visit the data room with Cllr Jacob Williams in order to confirm the absence of any correspondence between the architect and the builder regarding these errors.
Our first port of call was the tender document containing the corrections which I knew was filed under “O”.
However, what we found was what looked like an identical extract from the BoQ, but without the arithmetical corrections.
We searched the file several times for the annotated copy, but without success, though we did come across a letter dated 17 November 2011 from Kinver Kreations to the council which stated that they had drawn the attention of G&G Builders to the errors in the BoQs and that the contractor had agreed to stand by them.
There were a couple of interesting things about this letter:
1. All other correspondence had been by email.
2. It looked in rather good condition compared to the dog-eared state of all the other documents in the file.
3. It was not stamped with the date received.
4. Despite a thorough search of the file on my first visit to the data room, I had overlooked it.
It is also worthy of note that the tender report (above) containing the claim that the tender had been checked and found to be accurate went before the grant panel on 17 December 2011 which was one month after Kinver Kreations claimed to have written to G&G pointing out the errors which their tender report said didn’t exist.
Unfortunately, Jacob had only booked the room for one hour and our inspection was interrupted when Cllr Mike James showed up to take his turn.
We were concerned that someone had tampered with the file so we took ourselves up to the office of Dr Steven Jones the director who heads this department.
We asked Dr Jones to call for the file to be brought up to his office so that we could establish beyond doubt that the version of the tender with the corrections was missing.
By now it was about half-past three and Dr Jones told us he had a meeting at 4 pm so our proposed inspection would not be possible.
Our next port of call was the office of the Director of Finance Mark Lewis (since retired) who was in a meeting with Mr Jon Haswell (then head of internal audit) and, after explaining our concerns, Mr Haswell went off to retrieve the file from the data room.
Lo and behold, when he returned the tender document with the handwritten corrections was quickly located, filed in an entirely different place to where it should have been.
A few days later I wrote to the council seeking an explanation as to why the file contained two versions of the tender (a clean copy and one with the corrections) and received an email from Mr Haswell informing me that his staff had checked the two copies of the tender and found them to be identical.
“The explanation provided by officers involved in the scheme is that, wherever possible, they do not write on “original copies” of tenders and take additional copies if they need to annotate them. In this case they needed to annotate the the tender to reflect the arithmetical errors identified, hence the reason why an additional copy was taken and there were two copies of the tender on file.”
While that sounded reasonable enough, it turns out that “the explanation provided by officers involved in the scheme” couldn’t possibly be true.
That was because, as the the eagle-eyed Jacob noticed, while the quantities and prices were indeed identical, the annotated copy had a B in the top left hand corner and the “original” had a C.
And not even the county council has photocopiers that clever.
One theory is that, following my keen interest in this file, someone decided to take a closer look and, on noticing the obvious inconsistency between the corrections and the statement in the tender report that the Bills of Quantities were error-free, asked Kinver Kreations for a clean copy.
And, for whatever reason, KK had two copies on their computer system and carelessly sent the wrong one.
The council has form in this area because last year I reported how someone had altered the minutes of the grant panel meetings to give the impression that its deliberations on these awards were a deal more thorough than the originals suggested.
And, of course, as regular readers will recall, this would not be the first time Kinver Kreations had been involved with multiple copies of BoQs.
Interestingly, this involved the selfsame page.
The only difference being that, on the previous occasion, it showed that all the other tenderers were bidding for three times the area of rendering as G&G builders.
All in all, the variation in the quantities and the arithmetical errors (had they been corrected) would have increased G&G’s tender by some £20,000 – a not inconsiderable amount on a £100,000 contract.
Indeed, it would have made G&G’s tender far and away the highest.
That, of course, was not the object of the exercise.