Cllr David Pugh's speech to council 12 December 2013

 

I have now transcribed Cllr David Pugh's speech to council on December 12. My comments on some of his more glaring inaccuracies are italicised in square brackets.

 

Cllr Stoddart's NoM was quite specific in its content in that previously before the amendment. "All information on the Pembroke and Pembroke Dock [Commercial property] grant schemes be made available to all members on a confidential basis."
As he is well aware, and he has admitted today and through his FoI requests, some of that information is clearly confidential and has been redacted. [I admitted no such thing. What I said is that it is arguable that financial information is commercially confidential, but that I didn't accept it in this case]
Before confidential information can be released permission has to be received from interested parties
Such permission has not been given in this case - hence the redactions.
Cllr Stoddart refuses to accept that and has escalated his NoM through additional submissions. [This is not so. Third parties do not have a veto on disclosure of commercially confidential information. They may be consulted, but, as most of the redactions relied upon S43 of the FoI Act, the final decision is for the council, following the application of the public interest test. Indeed the council's procedure manual, which is sent to all grant applicants, states quite clearly that, with regard to requests under the FoI Act, "it will be for the council alone to determine whether the documentation should be released" i.e. third parties do not have the final say.]
And can I refer you to his own submission which is printed in the appendix.
"I am making this request because of my grave concerns about the probity of both the commercial property grant scheme in Pembroke and Pembroke Dock and the THI in Pembroke Dock.
That's his submission so to isolate one grant when he's put in two is a bit misleading. [Not really! I already had already obtained fully priced Bills of Quantities and final accounts for the THI projects at Coronation School and 16-19 Commercial Row Pembroke Dock during the public audit inspection. So there was no point in including them in my NoM. I referred to my concerns about the THI grants in my submission merely to strengthen my case for disclosure of information on the Commercial Property grants]
He's escalated it through submissions to both the audit committee and Cabinet and a campaign of innuendo and smear tactics conducted on his Old Grumpy website and with selected press releases to the media
Cabinet received a detailed rebuttal of all the spurious allegations made by Cllr Stoddart - allegations made without any evidence, just his unjustified opinions and self-proclaimed expertise.[My rebuttal of part of this detailed rebuttal can be found at http://oldgrumpy.co.uk/2013/82/mission-impossible/]
These grant schemes have been subject to numerous audits including Welsh Government, Wales European Funding Office, Welsh Audit team, Heritage Lottery Fund and two internal PCC audits led by Jon Haswell reporting directly to our Director of Finance. [Following some searching questions from Cllr Guy Woodham at the audit committee on 20 January 2013, it was revealed that the two main external audits took place in May and October 2012. The work to Nos. 25, 27 and 29 Dimond Street was carried out in the spring and summer of 2013. [ Correction. Nos 25 and 27 were carried out in spring/summer 2013 - final account for No 29 settled November 2012] So, the two audits by PCC's internal audit team apart, rather than being audited to death as suggested, these projects haven't been audited at all]
None of these audits found any evidence of wrongdoing or alleged fraud.
Further to concerns raised by Cllr Stoddart a report was made to examine the specific allegations made.
Every single concern has been answered and a strong rebuttal made.[ See above for my rebuttal of these rebuttals. Now that all members have access to all the documents my future rebuttals will be in even stronger terms]
I don't intend to go through each element of his allegations which you're all able to read, but here are a few examples of the type of questions he has raised.
If you'll bear with me I'll turn to the relevant pages of the report.
If you take Coronation School Pembroke Dock, this is Cllr Stoddart's submission: "According to the final account for this project, £46,000 has been paid to the builder for slate, felt and batten. As far as I know no one has has yet mastered the art of felt and battening a roof with the slates in situ".
Now we looked at that and we also checked with the builders and checked with the building control..
The whole of the roof was stripped off and re-covered in a mixture of new and recycled natural slates on new felt and battens.
These works commenced in May 2010 and were completed in July 2010 - the work to the chimney stacks happening at the same time.
There is photographic evidence of this and there are statements from the builder and subcontractor.
We also have evidence from neighbouring properties and other builders who witnessed that work being done.
I personally have been up in that roof and checked it, as has the Leader. That work has been done to the specification.
[What was revealed during the audit committees site inspection on 20 January 2013 was that there are only two open accesses to the roof at Coronation School - those at the top of the two main staircases at each end of the building.
The ceilings at the top of these two staircases are the lowest of any on the upper floor of the building.
Some of the other ceilings, which Cllrs Adams and Pugh would have had to have visited in order to establish that the work had "been done to the specification" i.e. " the whole of the roof was stripped off etc" are some ten feet higher than the access point so it always seemed to me that it would be something of a mission to inspect the whole of the roof if that was only way in.
Unfortunately, I could only see the roof from the outside, and such was Cllr Pugh's certainty that I hesitated to contradict him in case there was something I had missed (see most of the retail space in No. 29 Dimond Street below).
However, at Monday's site inspection, it was confirmed by the officer who accompanied Adams and Pugh on their roof-space expedition that they hadn't inspected the whole of the roof after all. Of course none of the above proves that the whole of the roof hasn't been stripped off etc - merely that, contrary to the impression that Pugh was trying to convey, Adams and Pugh's attic antics don't prove anything either way. The audit committee has now asked for further evidence - photos etc - that might cast some light on the matter. It did strike me as strange that they didn't produce any photos of their trip to the attic. Indeed, I told one IPPG member who suggested that what Cllr Pugh had said scuppered my claims about the roof, that before jumping to conclusions he should ask to see the evidence. I doubt he ever did. Better to swallow the convenient lie than bite on the unpalatable truth?]

Moving on to the interior of No 29 Dimond Street. "An inspection of the shop premises reveals that little or no work has been done to the interior." [This is a quote from my submission]
The £21,000 grant for retail space included work such as asbestos removal [The asbestos removal in the tender involved the stripping of an asbestos sheeted roof from one of the outbuildings to the rear of the property. This was part of the conversion into bedsits and, as it was residential development, it had no connection with refurbishing retail space and therefore didn't qualify for grant aid (see below)], insulation, electrical work and work to renovate the walls and floors. [The walls and ceilings are in their original state and the lighting in the shop is provided by three ancient fluorescent fittings]
I don't know when Cllr Stoddart did his inspection or whether he didn't bother to walk to the back of the shop. [I now hear that when Adams and Pugh visited No 29 (Paul Sartori) the shop was closed and they had to resort to peering through the front window. So, while we listened to Pugh sneering at me for not bothering to walk to the back of the shop to inspect "most" of the space (see below) little did we know that he and the Leader hadn't made it past the front door.] But as you know, this is a charity shop and most of the retail space is taken up with space that has been used for storage and cleaning of clothes and so on. [What Cllr Pugh describes as "most of the retail space" consists of a small partitioned-off area measuring roughly 2.5 m x 2.5 m - 7 sq metres in all - which makes up less than 15% of the 50 sq metre retail space.]
If he'd bothered to check, he would see that the main work done in that retail space by bringing a semi-derelict building back into use and is not just the front shop. The bulk of that work was done to the rear and was completed satisfactorily. [The work to the rear involved the conversion of some outbuildings into four bedsits and as it was residential development it didn't qualify for grant aid. It was "just the front shop" that was eligible for grant assistance, so any work done to the rear is totally irrelevant]
The other allegation is concerning the interior of No 25 Dimond Street. "An inspection of the shop (Community Hub) reveals that no work appears to have been done to the interior. [This is a quote from my submission. The original tiles of the former butcher's shop still adorn the walls and the ceiling is untouched despite the specification requiring it to be stripped out and replaced by double-skin plasterboard in order to provide fire protection for the flat above]
The specification on that was amended and reduced and is reflected in a reduced grant from £23,000 to £6,000. That again was done in the rear of the shop [The £6,000 grant represented 40% of the total cost of refurbishing the retail space i.e. £15,000 gross. The question that remains is why officers of the council advised the cabinet to approve a 40% grant of £23,000 (gross £57,000) for the refurbishment of the interior of a small (35 sq m) former butcher's shop].
It included plumbing, electrical, kitchen units, sanitary facilities and shop modifications mainly to the rear of the shop.
Now he didn't go and check these but he's made the allegations on his website.
And just to bring you all up to date with Cllr Stoddart's latest blog, he raises further issues with the rendering at No 25.
He has used his expertise to calculate the sum of the front and rear elevations at 84 sq m.
But he asserts that the BoQ contains 125 sq m.
So, hey ho, it must be fraud.
What he neglects to add is that, although this property, by appearance, is a mid-terrace one, there is an access to the rear which has a third side elevation of 8 m x 7 m or a further 56 sq m. If you add the two together you get 140 sq m. OK if we take out the windows it is not far off the 125 sq m quoted.
So whether this is a deliberate untruth, or sheer incompetence on his behalf in not checking the facts, I'll let you all decide. [Cllr Pugh has issued an "unreserved apology" with respect to this "third side elevation" which he now admits doesn't exist. So who is guilty of "deliberate untruth" or "sheer incompetence"? However, he has refused to give an explanation as to how the tender for this contract had rendering two-and-a-half times, and the painting six-times, what was shown on the drawings ]
Now we come to the main thrust of this smear campaign which has been directed at one developer, his agent, architect and one building company.
He asserts that the developer has colluded with all concerned to receive higher grant funding than anyone else - hence the assumption there must be fraud.
The simple fact is that the developer has taken on much higher cost projects bringing semi-derelict buildings back into use both commercial and residential which incidentally is not grant aided, [This is confirmation of my comments regarding No. 29 Dimond street above] whereas other projects which have been of a much lower scale and in some circumstances only included grant-aided work to shop frontages.
None of this has, apparently, been considered by Cllr Stoddart. Comparisons between different projects based purely on levels of grant funding, or the amount of commercial floor space are both erroneous and extremely misleading.
Pembroke Dock has hugely benefited from these grant schemes and the transformation that has, and is still, taking place and with a much smarter streetscape and new businesses opening has brought this previously struggling town back into some sort of life. There is still a long way to go, but improvements to these old buildings have made an enormous impact.
My biggest regret is that this unseemly campaign has driven away potential investors who were considering investing in both Pembroke Dock and neighbouring Pembroke.
Having received the reports that refute all his arguments, Cllr Stoddart then changes tack and asserts that the grant schemes rules are flawed and that the council has wrongly interpreted them.
I know he claims a much higher level of expertise in most matters, but here I will take the opinion of our highly regarded and experienced European funding team over his any day [Including, no doubt, that of the officer who told him about the "third side elevation" at No.25 Dimond Street].
There are many more spurious claims made - for none of which has he produced any evidence, purely conjecture and speculation.
May I ask why he has not bothered to ask the project officer to take him through the process and give answers to his concerns. Something I know he has not bothered to do. [This isn't true either. When I first became interested in this subject I made an appointment to meet Mr Gwyn Evans (European Officer) at his office. I asked to see the information on certain contracts and was given files which had been filleted of all financial details. I was told that this had been done following advice from the Monitoring Officer that I didn't have "a need to know" the information. Mr Evans did however provide me with a copy of the "Pembroke and Pembroke Dock Commercial property Grants procedure manual" so I am familiar with the "process" that is supposed to be followed with regard to these grants]
But, then, getting at the truth is not on his agenda.
[In light of my comments above, members may conclude that it not I who has a cavalier attitude to the truth]
I have no doubt that further allegations will appear on his website though I doubt he will ever admit to his errors or mistakes.
Cllr Stoddart reminds me of Don Quixote, the fictional character whose madness drove him to see enemies in everyone and ended up tilting at windmills. I should add, of course, that Don Quixote was accompanied and assisted by his faithful servant Sancho. I'll leave you all to . . .
Cllr Paul Miller: Point of Order. What on earth is this nonsense that we're having to listen to here. Can you do your job please chair?
Chairman to Cllr Pugh: Can you just wind up?.
Cllr Pugh: I trust you will join me in condemning Cllr Stoddart's actions which have not only taken up an enormous amount of time and resource, but have maligned a developer, his architect and builder, officers and members of this council.
I urge you to support the motion that this NoM be not adopted.