November 28 2013
Three's a crowd
It seems that, after a gestation lasting the best part of two years, the Pembrokeshire Alliance has finally arrived (The grapevine).
The three-member political group (Cllrs Bob Kilmister (leader) Peter Stock and Jonathan Nutting) has put out a press release accompanied by a lengthy manifesto.
After reading the manifesto, Old Grumpy wonders why it didn't call itself MAPP (Motherhood and Apple Pie Party).
However, all is not platitudinous waffle.
For instance, it calls on the council leader Cllr Jamie Adams to make appointments to outside bodies on merit rather than party loyalty.
But, as Cllr Adams' party depends wholly on patronage for its existence, that is asking the turkeys to vote for Christmas.
All is not lost however because it seems the new group has aspirations to recruit new members.
How else do you explain its promise to make its appointments to committees, etc by consensus and, failing that, secret ballot.
It will not have escaped the mathematicians among you that it isn't possible to have a secret ballot with only three participants.
Mind you, with Cllr Jamie Adams claiming that, unless members joined together in the IPPG , it would fall to Labour with nine of the 60 seats on PCC to form the administration, the normal rules of arithmetic don't always apply in the Kremlin on Cleddau.(see Through the looking-glass)
I wish the new group well, especially if it can prise some of the less committed members away from the IPPG, thereby depriving Cllr Adams of his majority.
After all, some of them can't be feeling too comfortable about the cuts soon to descend on their constituents.
And it is difficult for people like Cllr Wynne Evans to escape responsibility for the closure of Sunnybank and Narberth swimming pool when the party that he has loyally supported over the years is in control and doing the cutting.
Of course, if the IPPG's majority goes down the pan, and with it the power to lard its members with lucrative Special Responsibility Allowances, its rickety non-political, political structure is likely to collapse in a heap.
Then, after a 16-year pause, democracy can return to Pembrokeshire.
Last week the county council issued a press release trumpeting the fact that "Pembrokeshire's leading politicians" would be conducting a series of drop-in sessions across the county to consult the public on budget cuts.
The cast for this PR exercise are Leader Jamie Adams, his two deputies Cllrs Huw George and Rob Lewis, and cabinet member for economic development Cllr David Pugh.
This proved too much for even the Western Telegraph to swallow, and when the write-up appeared on the newspaper's website its only departure from the press release was that the word "leading" had been dropped.
Perhaps "The newspaper that fights for Pembrokeshire" remembers the avalanche of derisive comments that appeared on its website earlier this year following its fawning interview with Cllr Jamie Adams in which he was described as "the independent [political] group's popular leader".
Up the spout
As I said last week, the county council's internal auditors have been busy over the past couple of months accumulating evidence to counter my allegations about the grant situation in Pembroke Dock.
The result is a 14 page report which, as I also predicted last week, amounts to "move along there, nothing to see here".
This report was intended for February's meeting of the council's audit committee after Plaid Leader Cllr Michael Williams brought my concerns about these grants to its attention in September.
But there has been a change of plan and the report will now be presented to next Monday's meeting of Cabinet.
The reason for the report being fast-tracked is that there are two notices of motion regarding these grants before next week's Cabinet meeting. The first, by Labour leader Cllr Paul Miller, seeks to set up a small committee to investigate the issues I have raised, and the second, from myself, which calls for all the information on the subject to be made available to elected members.
My NoM follows on from my failure to extract meaningful information from the authority using the the Freedom of Information Act (Painting the town red)
The auditors' report is designed to head us off at the pass.
Not surprisingly, it rubbishes everything I have written on this subject over the past six months.
Now, whatever certain members of the IPPG think about me, I can assure readers that I don't sit in the armchair of an evening with a glass of merlot (or more) thinking up conspiracy theories.
And, as this involves building contracts, Bills of Quantities and the like, it is something I know more about than all the Cabinet members put together and, with respect, the council's internal auditors.
There are many things about this internal auditors' report with which I would take issue and I am currently composing a detailed response.
In the meantime, consider my claim that, despite receiving a £21,000 grant for refurbishing retail space at 29 Dimond Street, Pembroke Dock, little or no work appears to have been done to the interior of the shop.
The grant represents 40% of the total, so £52,000 was the full cost of the work.
In response, the auditors say: "Officers inspected the eligible work before payment was made and were satisfied that the grant paid reflected the eligible work carried out."
This is a circular argument because if the officers hadn't signed off the work the grant wouldn't have been paid, and as the grant was paid the officers must have signed off the work.
But that doesn't prove that the work was done, only that council officers signed a piece of paper to say it had been done.
Unless you accept the doctrine of officer infallibility (the creed of the IPPG) this is meaningless.
I say one thing, these unnamed officers say the opposite, but, as Aristotle taught us, we both can't be right.
It would have been helpful if, instead of committing the logical fallacy known as the appeal to authority - in this case that of council officers - the auditors had visited the shop and come up with a list of work done for this £52,000.
Alternatively the council could release the final account so we can see for ourselves what is supposed to have been done, but for whatever reason this it is refusing to do.
However, not everywhere in Pembroke Dock is subject to this information clampdown.
By a stroke of good fortune, during the public audit inspection, I came across the final account for Coronation School and fully priced Bills of Quantities for 16-19 Commercial Row - both funded by Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grants.
Naturally, I exercised my rights to take photocopies and, for someone familiar with these sort of documents, they make fascinating reading.
The auditors' report also offers some valuable insights because I hadn't realised that the original tender price for Coronation school was £1.1 million while the final cost was £1.65 million.
I would have thought a 50% cost overrun might have raised an eyebrow or two in county hall, but apparently not.
After all the building was already there and in sound structural condition, so there was no risk of the usual causes of escalating prices such as problems encountered when digging the foundations.
In my past scribblings, I have several times raised the issue of amounts included in the final account for work that doesn't appear to have been done.
One such was that rainwater fittings - gutters and downpipes - which carried a price tag of £7,000, appeared to be as shown on the photographs that accompanied the planning application.
However, the auditors inform us that only the rainwater goods for the front elevation (£3,789) were eligible for grant aid from HLF and that: "Even then, HLF preferred the refurbishment rather than the replacement of the of the existing cast iron rainwater goods."
This was a wise choice by the HLF because, as can be seen from the photographs below, the existing cast iron rainwater goods are a very elegant feature and replacing them with modern materials would have been an act of architectural vandalism.
However, what is noticeable, particularly in the second picture, is that there is something not quite right about foot of each of the central downpipes.
The giveaway is the absence of three of the decorative lugs with which the pipes are fixed to the wall - one on the right and two on the left.
These lugs are an integral part of the collars into which fits the section above.
The reason for these missing brackets is that, at some time in the past, the downpipes have been damaged - possibly by someone intent in selling them for scrap - and they have been crudely repaired using modern plastic pipes.
Similarly with the downpipes at each end of the flat roof where the section running across the roof and down to street level is also plastic.
The giveaway here is the knobbly bits on the bends where the run changes from horizontal to vertical.
They are rodding eyes of a kind only found on modern plastic pipes
Interestingly, exactly the same plastic additions can be seen on the photographs that accompanied the planning application for the project.
So HLF didn't get new rainwater pipes, nor did it get refurbished rainwater pipes, but it did get a bill for a grant based on the £3,789 that the non-refurbishment of these rainwater pipes were supposed to have cost.
As for the fact that the rainwater pipes are now a different colour, I would point out that, in the final account, painting is measured separately .
An added bonus is that this final account, including the sum of £3,789 for eligible work to rainwater goods, was signed off by the same officer who approved the grant for 29 Dimond Street and, thanks to the public audit inspection, I have a document bearing his signature to prove it.
I understand that the Cabinet had a private meeting with this same officer about a month ago and when he was questioned about the rebuilt chimneys/turrets he gave an assurance that the work had been done.
This claim appears to have been abandoned in the recently published auditors' report which falls back on the argument that this work was not eligible for a grant so it is a matter between the builder and the developer.
Of course, that doesn't answer the question as to why the architect would issue a certificate instructing his client to pay the builder in excess of £11,000 for not carrying out this work. (How green is my chimney?)
Or the £20,000 for the landscape garden and the eight rotary clothes lines which have failed to put in an appearance on the former playground (Theory ... and Practice)
I am rather looking forward to my encounter with the Cabinet next Monday.
It will give me the opportunity to ask the county's "leading politicians" some leading questions.
Unfortunately, I don't have time to deal fully with G&G Builders' priced Bills of Quantities for 16-19 Commercial Row Pembroke Dock.
That will have to wait for next week.
As a taster, 22mm T&G Weyrock flooring is priced at £50.98 per sq m.
An 8ft x 2ft sheet (1.48 sq m) costs roughly £7.00
One sheet (laid) runs out at £75.45 leaving £68 for cut and fix..
A 16 ft x 16 ft living room (23.48 sq m) will set you back £1,197 (cost of materials 16 sheets @ £7 = £112) leaving £1,085 for labour and profit.
A couple of competent carpenters would do this before lunch.
Makes you wonder what the unsuccessful tenderers would charge.
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