3 March 2004

 

Hall- Ryan. The full story

 

It was in early summer 2002 that I first got to hear about the business relationship between Cllr Brian Hall and the county council's Irish-based economic development consultant Dr Michael Ryan, the sole directors and shareholders in the company Euro-Ryall Ltd.
Checks at Companies House revealed that the company was incorporated on 31 December 2000, five months after Dr Ryan was taken on by the council.
But what follows shows that their relationship goes back further, possibly much further, than that.
During the public audit inspection in October 2002, I made a point of investigating payments made to Dr Ryan's company ORA International.
What I found was that, on 1 August 2000, ORA had been awarded an £18,000-a-year, 35-days-a-year consultancy contract with the council , the terms of payment being £6,000 up-front and £1,000-a-month thereafter + expenses amounting to some £6,000 for the financial year in question (2001/2002).
I first raised the issue on this website in November 2002 and, in response to questions from opposition members and the press, the Leader, Cllr Maurice Hughes put out a press release in which he claimed:

"The council is fully aware of the company Euroryall (sic). Before the company was registered, the principals approached officers of the council. They gave firm undertakings that the company would not trade in Pembrokeshire nor provide any conflict of interest."

At that point in time, I had already had sight of a letter dated 16 October 2000 from Dr Ryan to Cllr Hall, which is printed below.
Though not in possession of the letter, I knew enough to conclude that Cllr Hughes' press release was inaccurate to say the least.
I emailed the Leader asking which officers had been approached and on what date.
After a long delay, he replied that his press release was comprehensive and that he "had nothing further to add".
Four subsequent emails, repeating my original questions, failed to elicit any response.
I then wrote to the chairman of the economic development scrutiny committee, Cllr Tom Richards, expressing my concerns about this inappropriate business relationship and was pleasantly surprised to receive a a prompt reply informing me that he had been assured by the council's monitoring officer that there was a "contractually enforceable agreement" that the company would not trade in Pembrokeshire.
In due course the monitoring officer produced the letter printed below to support this claim..

From ORA International Ltd (managing director, Dr Michael Ryan) to David Thomas Head of Marketing and Communications Pembrokeshire County Council (the officer in charge of ORA's contract)

3 September 2000

Expansion of ORA International in UK market

Dear David,
Following my recent appointment as Economic Development Consultant to your authority and having discussed the matter with my Board of Directors we (ORA) have decided to establish a UK base, which will be a separate company with me representing ORA on its board and hopefully establish new business opportunities through my presence within that market place.

I am therefore advising you that I will represent ORA's interests in the UK, through this new company, but this will exclude the territory of Pembrokeshire County and any other areas within Wales which you may request, within reason.

It is my intention, on behalf of ORA International Ltd to incorporate a limited liability company which will commence trading upon receipt of new business as and when that should arise, but will not be of immediate importance. The business plan will aim at facilitating UK businesses requiring the support of an Irish based consultancy company in opening up Irish business opportunities and in certain cases reciprocal arrangements for Irish companies.

I see no potential for a conflict of interest and if you have any reservations whatsoever please let me know by return so that we can discuss same at earliest possible date. It is common practice for Consultancy Companies such as ORA International to establish a base within a new market territory upon obtaining a high profile contract.

I look forward to your early reply.
Yours sincerely
Dr Michael P Ryan
Managing Director

It is noticeable that this letter makes no mention of either Cllr Hall or Euro-Ryall Ltd, making it difficult to reconcile with Cllr Hughes' press release which not only names Euroryall (sic), but also refers to the company's "principals" (Hall and Ryan) and "They" (Hall and Ryan).
As the letter is on ORA's notepaper and signed by Dr Ryan in his capacity as managing director it is also difficult to see what basis there is for the "contractually enforceable contract" claimed by the monitoring officer (see Con Tract).
The conclusion must be that the council was engaged in one of its hallmark cover-ups.

However, one thing that ORA's letter does confirm is that Dr Ryan was fully aware that a conflict of interest would arise were someone; in possession of confidential and sensitive business information by virtue of his official position, to trade in Pembrokeshire.
How much greater that conflict of interest if his partner in the enterprise was a senior county councillor such as Cllr Brian Hall.
But, as the letter printed below; written less that six weeks after Dr Ryan's promise not to trade in Pembrokeshire, clearly demonstrates, that is exactly what the pair of them were plotting.
As I said earlier, I first had sight of this letter, back in the early part of 2002.
It is only fairly recently that I got my hands on a copy and then on the strict understanding that I would use it only if either Hall or Ryan threatened to sue me.
Well, on 19 December last year Dr Ryan's solicitors wrote to me giving me 14 days to apologise and fork out £3,000 to cover his legal costs as a result of defamatory remarks I was alleged to have made on my website.
So, today, a copy is being sent to his solicitors.
And, if Dr Ryan knows I've got it, why shouldn't you?

 

From Dr Michael Ryan to Cllr Brian Hall

16 October 2000

Dear Brian,

COMPANY FORMATION

I have at last [1] completed my first draft of the Business Plan, which I want you to review.
Also will you draft the section dealing with yourself (similar to my own name one) as financiers look at the calibre and business background of the promoters before they look at the viability of the project.

It is also important that we select a good accountant at your end as it will be necessary for him to finalise the business plan and also the Memorandum and Articles of Association before we register the company.

We also need to identify potential investors before we complete the business plan so that we have a strong paid up share capital to secure the company and also establish the board of directors. We can however, in the meantime continue with two directors, yourself and myself.

I am prepared to invest £20,000 Irish into the company, along with approx £130,000stg loan in lieu of salaries or fees over the first three years.

I have made the same provision for you as far as salary is concerned, as I feel that this is good image building with relation to the other investors and banks and also the Grant Aid Agency (Leader+).

Gareth Scourfield [2]will be away on holidays as from Wed of this week until Nov 6th.

Any news [3] from the Purcell Bros [4]? This would be a very important project if we can get our hands on the Masterplanning and Project Management of this it would set us up. I would be prepared to base myself for most of the time in Pembroke Dock [5] if we can get in on this project. By the way do you feel that they would be interested in another financial and development partner for the entire project. I may have someone at this end that might be interested in the right type of project.

It is important that we keep in touch as frequently as possible so will you give me a ring as many mornings as possible between 9.30 and 10.30 am so that we can exchange urgent information. I find it difficult to make contact with you and I don't like ringing your home all the time [6].

I am meeting Seamus Brennan , Minister of State, Prime Minister's Office and also Chief Whip on Tuesday next 24th in Dublin at which I will be discussing possible networking with Pembrokeshire County Council. By the way his brother Eamonn (CEO Irish Aviation Authority) is at present bidding for the takeover of the British Aviation Authority business and spends almost all his time now in London. Does your good friend the Lord (Councillor) have any influence in this area.

Have you any up to date information on PBI [7] (Richard Packman). If any difficulties arise at that end ORA International or Euro Resources would be capable of taking over the entire operation. What is the chance of we taking over PBI on a buy out? What do you think it would cost. We should be looking at opportunities of buying out small competitors in the general area [8] and bringing in our own expertise.

If you know of any such companies this is the best commercial way to go. Our financial return would be much higher and quicker. What we would in fact be doing is taking them over at low cost, retaining the key personnel, utilising their contacts and business networks and inflating our profit margins. We could gain a very competitive march on any perceived rivals doing business this way. In your new position [9] you would also come across some small businesses, which may require small amounts of capital injection, and again we could move in and take over majority shareholding for little investment [10], but with our core skills turnaround these businesses quite rapidly knowing the future prospects for the area.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Please destroy any of this confidential information as I keep copies on my computer if and when you require them.

Yours sincerely

Michael

NOTES.

[1] "at last" - how long has this been in gestation? Since before the letter of 3 September 2000 was written?

[2] "Any news" indicates this is not the first time the two of them have discussed this issue.

[3] Head of Pembroke Design - a local firm of architects.

[4] Purcell Bros - owners of the Cleddau Bridge Hotel.

[5] Why would Dr Ryan want to base himself in Pembroke Dock "for most of the time" if there was no intention to trade in Pembrokeshire?

[6] Dr Ryan ringing Cllr Hall's home "all the time" is further evidence that this project precedes 16 October 2000.

[7] PBI = Pembrokeshire Business Initiative. A privately run, publicly funded business development agency which trades exclusively in Pembrokeshire.

[8] "the general area" = Pembrokeshire.

[9] Does "In your new position ..." indicate that Cllr Hall was to use his position inside the council to help himself and Dr Ryan to further their own interests?

[10] Hall was to identify small businesses in financial difficulties so that these two predators could move in and "inflate" their profits by taking them over on the cheap.

Attached to the letter is a five-page business plan designed to appeal to investors in which it is stated under the heading "Marketing" that "To date Dr Ryan and Brian Hall have been requested to participate in a number of projects, such as:
Hotel recreation & Conference Centre Project(Masterplanning and Project Management)
International Investment Project aligned to Pembroke Dock redevelopment (my emphasis)
European Commission Objective 1 Project Finance Design & Submission."

So much for the "contractually enforceable agreement" that the company wouldn't trade in Pembrokeshire.
I would suggest the council dust it down and set about trying to recover some of the more than £50,000 that ORA has already been paid.
Not that there's much hope of that because as I wrote on April 8 (see Con Tract) this enforceable agreement isn't worth the paper it isn't written on.

There are several other unanswered questions:
(1) Why were Hall and Ryan allowed to spend four days in November 2000 in Pembroke Dock, at public expense, with a Mr Pat O'Sullivan? Were Hall and Ryan on the council's business, or their own? [since writing this I have uncovered evidence of at least five other meetings between Hall and Ryan for which Hall claimed expenses from the council].
(2) Was Mr O'Sullivan the potential "financial and development partner for the entire project"?. The "someone at this end that might be interested in the right type of project."?
(2) I understand that there was a meeting attended by Mr David Thomas, Head of Marketing and Communications, Brian Hall, Dr Ryan and the Purcell Bros sometime in 2002. When exactly was this meeting held and what was discussed? [I have since discovered that this meeting took place on 26 January 2001 and the Chief Executive was also present. There was another meeting on 2 April 2001 when Hall, C E and David Thomas met the Purcell Bros]
(3) Who were the representatives of Pembrokeshire County Council who visited Dr Ryan in Dublin to be "introduced to his achievements" approximately one year before his appointment in August 2000?
(4) Is it true that Dr Ryan was appointed on the basis of verbal references only? Who were the referees? Who drew up the short list and interviewed the candidate(s)? [Note. the auditor's report, which was published after this was written, records that no interviews were carried out and that there was a single verbal reference though "the information and comments received at the time were not formally documented."]

I have drawn these facts to the attention of an outfit known as the Institute for Management Consultants Ireland (IMCI) of which Dr Ryan is a member.
IMCI's code of conduct requires:

"2.1 A member will disclose at the earliest opportunity any special relationships, circumstances or business interests which might influence or impair, or could be seen by the client or others to influence or impair, the member's judgement or objectivity on a particular assignment.

2.1.1 Rule 2.1 required the prior disclosure of all relevant personal, financial or other business interests which could not be inferred from the description of the services offered. In particular this relates to:

any directorship or controlling interest in any business in competition with the client;
any financial interest in goods or services recommended or supplied to the client;
any personal relationship with any individual in the client's employ;
any personal investment in the client organisation or in its parent or any subsidiary companies any recent or current engagement in sensitive areas of work with directly competitive clients;
any work for a third party on the opposite side of a transaction, e.g. bid defence, acquisitions, work for the regulatory and the regulated, assessing the products of an existing client."

At no time did Dr Ryan inform the council of his relationship with Cllr Hall, nor did he ever tell the council of his and Cllr Hall's intention to trade in Pembrokeshire, thereby breaching the undertaking given in his letter of 3 September 2000.

Yet this Micky Mouse IMCI tells me that he didn't breach their Code of Ethical conduct.

This should come as no surprise to anyone old enough to recall that, not that long ago, Charles Haughey was the Prime Minister (Taioshoch) of this corrupt little country.