As a result of answers provided by Cllr Jamie Adams to my questions at yesterday’s council meeting, we now know that two-and-a-half years after Mr Cathal McCosker offered to repay £184,000 in grant monies for four properties in Pembroke Dock, only £25,000 has been collected.
I should say that these questions followed Mark Twain’s injunction that you should never ask a question unless you already know the answer, so I can confirm that the Leader’s replies were correct in every detail.
What we also learned is that the Wales European Funding Office (WEFO) has reclaimed £309,000 from the monies allocated to Pembrokeshire County Council for the purposes of the Pembroke and Pembroke Dock Commercial Property Grant Scheme (CPGS).
This is not quite as bad as it looks because some £125,000 relates to the grant for 50 Dimond Street Pembroke Dock which Mr McCosker decided to forgo before it was paid out leaving the £184,000 outstanding.
Whether this decision to waive the grant for No 50 was an act of pure generosity, or a move designed to prevent me enquiring more deeply into this particular grant is a moot point.
For instance, I would like to know why purpose-made hardwood windows were specified in the tender documents in preference to the much cheaper standard softwood variety that were actually used.
As a rough guide, hardwood windows are double the price of softwood and purpose-made windows are twice the price of standard, so, as the mathematicians among you will already have worked out, there is a 4:1 price differential.
From my experience in the construction business, purpose-made windows are usually specified when dealing with an existing building when it is cheaper than modifying the openings to accommodate a standard window.
This doesn’t apply to 50 Dimond Street which was a complete new build of a property previously destroyed by fire.
One possibility is that, as in other cases, it was a ruse to give the favoured contractor (who knew that standard softwood windows would be used) an advantage over his competitors who tendered on the basis of the more expensive product.
However, a full analysis of what nearly went on at 50 Dimond Street will have to wait for another day.
Mr McCosker’s decision to waive the grant at No 50 left the council to repay WEFO the £184,000 in grants it had already paid Mr McCosker in respect of 10 Meyrick Street and 25, 27 and 29 Dimond Street.
Within a couple of days of the council handing a fat dossier on the grants to the police, Mr McCosker wrote to the council offering to repay the whole of this £184,000.
This was prompted by a letter from the council asking him to provide copies of bank statements as proof that he had paid the builders the amounts due.
This offer seems a bit strange because only some £80,000 of these grants was in question and there was no dispute that the remaining £104,000 was completely above board.
So, rather than produce the bank statements, he was prepared to cough up over £100,000 to which he was legally entitled.
Perhaps the clue is to be found near the end of his letter (see below) where he suggests that this payment “will close the book on the current disputes.”
Of course, with the police already involved, the council was in no position to accede to this request.
I first became aware of this generous offer in the summer of 2014 during a visit to my home by four WEFO officers.
Thankfully there is someone in the Kremlin who thinks the truth about this affair deserves an airing, and a couple of months ago the customary brown envelope appeared on the doormat containing several interesting documents, including a copy of Mr McCosker’s letter:
10 April 2014
Dear Mr xxxx
Thank you for your letter of the 9th April 2014. I am bewildered by the extraordinary interest that there has been to what I thought to be a straight forward project. You will know that I was encouraged to apply for grants by the Council and all the works have been audited and signed off by Council officers.
The works were carried out to the Council’s specification, the workmanship is of a high standard and many local people now have housing accommodation in regenerated buildings that otherwise would have remained vacant. The tenants are content with the way matters are run. The Council is content it has had value from me with the efficiency and the works I have carried out. I have made no massive profit but leave my money invested in the schemes as I have believed in them.
I appear to be getting dragged into a political dispute as the Council appears to be questioning its use of funds to regenerate the area. You will know my work is to a high standard. Yet in the press I have been described as a “bed-sit baron in the most derogatory terms. I have ignored this to date as to respond would simply give the perpetrators additional publicity which they do not deserve.
Dealing through the grant system has involved an awful lot of paperwork and a lot of additional time and effort. I am now being asked to produce my bank statements which undoubtedly will be publicly analysed and get involved in further work and effort over what are comparatively small sums of money against the overall money I have spent on these projects.
Frankly I can do without this in my life at the moment. In your letter you state “If we cannot obtain this evidence WEFO may seek to recover the grant paid”. In the circumstances I have looked at the amount of grant that was paid in relation to the four properties that seem to be in dispute. The grant that I have received totals £184,000 or thereabouts. If it would resolve all this Council in-fighting and all this adverse publicity that is being generated against me, then I will repay this grant. It is by far the simplest and most appropriate process. This will release me from the obligations, I presume, that the grants imposed relating to the sale of the properties as the Council no longer will have any hold or interest in them.
As a consequence, if you can confirm this will be an end to all this, I now propose to make repayment. I will not be able to make repayment immediately but can offer an upfront payment to repay the grant on 10 Meyrick Street and I will repay the rest within a reasonable time frame. I believe I can probably repay all grants on the said four properties within twelve months. This will free up money for you to spend on other projects in the area.
Please acknowledge safe receipt of this letter and confirm with me that this will close the book on the current disputes so that we can all resume life and focus on other more pressing issues that form the businesses we do best.
Given that Mr McCosker was willing to repay the grant for 10 Meyrick Street immediately (approximately £60,000 approx) and the £120,000 balance within twelve months, taxpayers are due a full explanation as to why, some two-and-a-half years later, only £25,000 has been collected.
As for Mr McCosker’s claim that “the workmanship is of a high standard” I wonder if he had in mind the roof at 29 Dimond Street (Paul Sartori) pictured below and more fully discussed here.
For the uninitiated, the pieces of lead between the roof and the wall are called soakers and there should be one for each course of slates (count them).
I suspect the explanation for the discrepancy is that the roof was previously covered in 24″ long slates as opposed to the 20″ slates now in place.
In spite of the fact that these soakers clearly haven’t been replaced, they were signed off by a council officer for a 70% grant on the basis they were new.