The price is right
It has been in a long hard struggle to squeeze information on the Pembroke Dock grants situation out of PCC.
My first request brought forth a Bill of Quantities for 25 Dimond Street with the quantities intact but all the builder's rates blacked out (redacted).
Still, that was fairly useful because, as I had a copy of the drawings, it required nothing more complicated than a scale rule to check the the quantities in the BoQ for accuracy.
Indeed, when I did the calculations, I discovered that the rendering to the front of the building had been overmeasured by a factor of two-and-a-half and the painting in the BoQ was six times what was indicated on the plans (Painting the town red).
Somebody realised that I now had too much information and my subsequent requests were met with nothing but a summary sheet from the BoQ that hid even the quantities from view.
According to the council this information blackout was the result of a request from third parties (architect, builder and developer?) who feared that disclosure of the quantities in the BoQ would harm their commercial interests, though it is difficult to see how my knowing the number of square metres of plasterboard in a building could have that effect.
I wasn't even allowed to know the names of the unsuccessful tenderers because:
"As there is a link between disclosure of the names of the third parties who competed for the tender and the likely effect disclosure would have on businesses willing to engage in similar tendering processes in the future, this information is considered to be exempt. Disclosure would cause damage to the business reputation of the architectural practice concerned, the confidence of the tenderers in that practice and affect the ability to ensure best value."
I can see where the problem lies here because, if the other contractors were to discover that G&G builders always won these contracts - even when they were not the lowest tenderer - they might be reluctant to waste their time pricing up BoQs (Taken for granted).
As these grant applications usually require a minimum number of tenders in order to at least give an appearance of competition, a contractors' strike could be very harmful to the architectural practice.
Though whether the council should be complicit in a system where contractors are encouraged to participate in a tendering exercise where the outcome is preordained is another question altogether.
Fortunately, despite the council's best efforts to keep these things under wraps, I did obtain a copy of the "commercially sensitive" priced BoQ for 16-19 Commercial Row Pembroke that someone had carelessly left on full public view during the annual audit inspection.
By happy coincidence this contract features exactly the same cast (architect, Kinver Kreations; developer, Cathal McCosker; and contractor G&G builders) as that treading the boards on the projects in which I am interested at Dimond Street Pembroke Dock .
This is a document that repays careful study.
Part of the architect/quantity surveyor's duties is to check the BoQ for arithmetical errors.
In addition, he should be on the lookout for inflated rates that are likely to cost his client money.
Failure to do so could, as the council puts it: cause damage to the business reputation of the architectural practice concerned.
The following extract is a case in point
My first thought on seeing this was that this studding was measured as metre run of wall.
But that can't be right because, on that reckoning, 140 m (unit 1) would be enough to construct a 2.4 metre high wall down one side of a football field with plenty to spare.
And, as this is the partitioning in a small one-bed flat, that can't be right.
My next thought was that there was an error in the units and the quantity referred to was square metres.
But that can't be right either, because that would be sufficient to erect an eight foot fence from the corner flag to well past the halfway line.
I was further reassured when I worked out that on the first metric (metre run) there would be enough partition in the whole project to stretch from the Cleddau Bridge toll booths to Honeyborough roundabout and on the second (metre squared) to the Pembroke Dock end of Westfield Pill bridge.
So the only conclusion is that this rate refers to a metre of 4x2 sawn.
Now, 4x2 sawn cost about £1 per metre which, in the case of Unit 1, leaves about £1,300 for the labour to nail/screw the lengths of timber together .
As a pair of competent carpenters could erect such a wall before lunch, you might think this a bit excessive.
But that's not the worst of it because there is another rather glaring anomaly in this extract from the BoQ which you might expect an architect with his client's best interests in mind to have spotted.
And that is the difference in rates between double and single partitions.
If, as I suggest, the unit of measurement is metres of timber, they should be the same.
So the double partition in Unit 18 (less than a day's work for a pair of decent chippies) has a labour content of roughly four and a half grand.
In total the studding on this project comes to £56,000 with the cost of the timber at £3,500.
At a rough guess about one month's work for a pair of carpenters.
I took the trouble to have these figures checked by a qualified quantity surveyor who tells me that a reasonable rate for this operation would be less than a fiver per metre.
From my experience in the building trade I would say that is a bit generous, but even so it would result in a price of £17,500 - less than a third of that in the BoQ.
Nice work if you can get it, though it is difficult to believe that these rates (and many others, I could mention) were the product of a properly conducted competitive tender process.
Of course none of this would matter if this was a purely private contract.
But it isn't because there was a grant involved and the amount of grant was calculated as a percentage of the total cost.
Another example of the same thing is to be found in this extract.
Items 46 and 47 include two layers of plasterboard, a layer of Gyproc Plank and 22mm chipboard (Weyrock) while 48 and 49 call for Weyrock alone.
Yet they are both priced at £50.98 per square metre.
Now it could be that 48 and 49 are correctly priced and in 48 and 49 the builder has generously thrown in the plasterboard for free, or, on the other hand, it could be that items 46 and 47 are correctly priced and the builder has charged for plasterboard that wasn't used in 48 and 49.
Or it could be that both prices are too high with 46 and 47 rather less inflated than the other two.
When I tell you that 9.5 mm plasterboard costs less than £1.50 per square metre and 22 mm Weyrock comes in at under a fiver per square metre you might be able to decide for yourself.
If it's any help, 3 square metres (cost £152.96) requires two standard (8ft x 4ft)sheets of plasterboard at £4 apiece and two (8ft x 2 ft) sheets of Weyrock at £7 - total cost £22 - or, in the case of 48 and 49, just two sheets of Weyrock - cost £14.