Window of opportunity

 

A couple of weeks ago, council members were told that the police have now handed the file on the Commercial Property Grant Scheme (CPGS) in Pembroke Dock to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
I also hear from a separate source that the CPS is expected to come to a decision sometime in February.
By then, three years will have elapsed since PCC first informed the police that there was a problem with CPGS and just two months short of three years since the council furnished the police with a fat dossier detailing the areas of concern.
Shortly after the dossier was handed over, the developer Mr Cathal McCosker wrote to the council offering to repay the whole of the £180,000 he had received in grants on four projects in Pembroke Dock provided that would be the end of the matter.
This was an extremely generous offer considering only £80,000 was in question.
Even more munificent was his undertaking to forgo the £120,000 grant on a fifth property – 50 Dimond Street – then nearing completion.
In order to keep the police investigation simple, the dossier was restricted to two properties 10 Meyrick Street and 29 Dimond Street, though there were issues in respect of 25 and 27 Dimond Street that, had time allowed, might have been included.
However, the final accounts for these two contracts had been drawn up after my concerns about the projects were published on this website so it is interesting to note the wide discrepancy in the amount of grant allocated by cabinet and the amount actually claimed.
In the case of No. 25 a £65,000 grant was approved by cabinet and only £27,000 claimed (40%) while for No. 27 the figures were £70,000, £36,000 and 52% respectively.
Now you might ask why the cabinet would approve grants for the restoration of these building that were double what was actually required.
The simple answer is that the cabinet rubber stamps whatever the officers recommend.
But that doesn’t explain why the grants panel – a secretive body made up of high ranking officers – made the recommendation in the first place.
The panel had before it a document produced by someone in the European Department which analysed the builder’s tender and divided the work into that was eligible for grant aid and that which wasn’t.
In the case of No 27 there were two items that had been deemed eligible for grant, but not subsequently claimed, that caught the eye.
The first was an amount of £13,000 (grant at 70% – £9,100) for 200 sm of new slating and associated work.
This item was removed from the grant after someone “noticed” that the existing slates were in nearly new condition having been relaid when a large extension was built on to  the back of the property only a few years earlier.
As this is clearly visible from the street, you have to wonder why this wasn’t “noticed” when the original grant allocation process was carried out.
One explanation is that it had been intended to claim for the work even though it hadn’t been done (as had been done elsewhere) and once I began to take an interest they got cold feet.
Even more difficult to understand was the 360 m sq of hacking off, re-rendering  and painting in the original grant allocation.
This was set to cost £12,600 and attracted a 70% grant of £8,800 though as most of it was in respect of the recently built extension in the back yard, and was in mint condition, it is not clear why it was included in the original calculation.
Incidentally, this was even easier to see than the new slates on the roof.
And, even if this work had been necessary, the areas  in the Bills of Quantities (and the grant allocation) are greatly exaggerated and, to cap it all, as the vast majority of the work was to rear of the property it wasn’t eligible for grant aid anyway because as the procedure manual that governs these grants says: “External improvements to the facade (my emphasis) of the commercial property are eligible for grant aid. The rationale for this is that the improvements have an impact on the street scene and hence a contribution to increasing footfall in the town centre.”
So we have a situation where a council officer allocated a grant for work that clearly didn’t need doing; that was anyway grossly over-measured; and which, even if it had needed to be done, wasn’t eligible for grant aid.
I should also mention that, in spite of these shysters’ concerns about my interest in their activities, the council officer in charge of the project signed off a £6,000 grant for seventeen “hardwood purpose made double-glazed sliding sash windows” fifteen of which are in the recently-built rear extension and, therefore, ineligible.
Indeed, I doubt very much whether these windows are new and they certainly aren’t hardwood.
Yet, when a detective chief inspector addressed the audit committee last April, he was able to assure members that no council officer was under police investigation.
And no council officer has been suspended or disciplined, either.
This “purpose-made hardwood windows” trick is a feature of these McCosker projects.
My attention was first drawn to these CPGS projects when I noticed that the builder, G&G Ltd, was involved in all five of Mr McCosker’s  projects.
As these contracts had all been awarded after an open tender process it struck me as strange that the same builder had made a clean sweep.
Of course, if this is a scam, as I suspect, it is essential that you have a builder who is willing to  play along.
So some way has to be found to ensure that the tender process is tilted in his favour.
As we saw in the case of 10 Meyrick Street this was achieved by providing the chosen one with a different Bills of Quantities than the rest.
However, it seems to have been decided that this method lacked sophistication so other less easily detected ruses such as “purpose-made hardwood windows” were introduced into the mix.
Purpose made hardwood windows cost roughly four times as much as mass produced standard softwood, so, while the genuine tenderer puts in a price of, say, £1000, our fraudster can tender £ 900 in the full knowledge that he will only be called upon to provide the cheap standard softwood variety.
Not only does this give him a 10% price advantage in the tender, but it boosts the amount of grant payable while ensuring a healthy profit.
As the mathematicians among you will have realised, if the developer pays the full £900 it is the builder who benefits rather than the developer.
For the mathematically challenged it works like this.
The developer pays the builder £900 and with a 90% grant (£810) the job costs him £90.
The softwood windows cost the builder £250 so he makes a handy profit of £650.
Alternatively the developer  pays the builder the actual cost (£250) which when taken with the grant of £810 leaves the developer with £560 (+ the windows).
Most likely some middle position is reached where they both take a share of the spoils.
In order to avoid this particular scam there is a requirement in the Procedure Manual that the developer (to whom the grant is due) provides evidence that he has paid the builder the full amount on which the grant was calculated.
To this end the manual requires the developer to provide copies of bank statements to show that the  payments have been made.
As we know, rather than produce these bank statements Mr McCosker offered to pay back the all the grants he had received (£180,000) even though only £80,000 was in dispute.
Make of that what you will!