September 5 2013
County councillor Stephen Joseph put his foot in it and let the cat out of the bag when he told the Pembrokeshire Herald that he had abandoned Plaid and joined the IPPG because he thought it would help him to get things done in his patch.
As I pointed out previously (Coat of many colours) such preferential treatment would be a breach of both the members' and officers' Codes of Conduct.
In an attempt at damage limitation, those in power are insisting that what gets done in any particular member's ward is as a result of criteria set out in policies agreed by the council.
As a statement of how democracy is supposed to work, that can't be faulted.
And in my experience, I have never met any barriers to getting things done in my ward even though I am a constant critic of the ruling clique.
What I think is true is that the IPPG uses the perception that membership of the group will help you get things done as a recruiting sergeant.
The deal is that they will help you obtain favours for your voters and as a result your prospects at the next election will be much enhanced.
And members of the IPPG are not averse to sowing this idea in their constituents minds.
At the last election the then cabinet member for education Cllr Huw George ran under the slogan: "What we can do together - positive politics brings positive results." which was followed by a litany of road surfacing projects that had been completed in his ward during the previous twelve months (The love that dare not speak its name).
He even made a video of himself driving round the ward showing off the newly laid black stuff.
Unfortunately this has now been taken down from Facebook, but I understand there is a copy on DVD so it may make a welcome reappearance.
During the 2012 public audit, I took the trouble of inspecting all the tarmac contracts for the previous financial year and was surprised to discover that £300,000 had been spent on resurfacing in Cllr George's ward in the twelve months running up to the election.
As luck would have it, this discovery coincided with my appearance in front of Cabinet to put the case for increased expenditure on car parking facilities on the county's council estates when I contrasted the £50,000 in the budget for improvements to car parking county-wide and the six times as much spent on tarmac in a single ward.
The leader, Cllr Jamie Adams, assured me that all this tarmac had been laid as part of the routine maintenance programme.
That being the case, was it not rather dishonest of Cllr George to attempt to persuade his electorate that it was all down to "positive politics".
Ditto, Cllr Ken Rowlands' implied claim in his election address that, due to his influence, £7 million had been committed to building a new school in Johnston (Shaky foundations).
My efforts to wring information out of the county council regarding the award of grants in Pembroke Dock has met with only limited success.
The most recent refusal is in respect of 29 Dimond Street for which the council provided me with a Bill of Quantities (BoQ), specification and tender report; all of which had the most interesting information redacted (blacked out).
I appealed to the council's review panel against these redactions, but they have refused to budge.
One paragraph that caught the eye concerned the council's redaction of the names of unsuccessful bidders from the tender report.
I should explain that the tender report is a document prepared by the architect (Kinver Kreations) which, after evaluating the various tenders, recommends that the client (Mr Cathal McCosker) employs a particular contractor.
It contains the paragraph: "Notwithstanding the fact [name redacted] submitted the lowest quote [£172,370] you've [Cathal McCosker] indicated to me that you would like to appoint G & G Builders (Pembs) Ltd [£183,371] as the principal contractor for this project. Under the terms of the selective tender process, you are entitled to choose any contractor from the above list and not necessarily the lowest."
This last sentence represents common practice in most tenders and is usually expressed as: "The client is not bound to accept the lowest, or any tender."
This is to guard against being forced to accept a tender which is too low (builder goes bust), or from someone whose standard of work is known to be unsatisfactory.
However, in this case the difference in the tender figures £11,000 (6%) wouldn't rule out a tender on the first grounds and, as it is a selective list, the suitability of the contractors would normally be established when the initial list is drawn up.
The council's reasons for refusing to disclose the identities of the unsuccessful tenderers to me is interesting: "Additionally, you were provided with a redacted copy of the Tender Report. 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."
So why would full disclosure make firms unwilling "to engage in similar tendering processes in the future"?
One possible explanation is that they would come to the conclusion that the process favoured G & G Builders who were the successful bidder in all six Cathal McCosker/Kinver Kreations contracts of which I have knowledge, even on those occasions when they didn't submit the lowest price.
And why, if everything is kosher, would disclosure ". . . cause damage to the business reputation of the architectural practice, and the confidence of the tenderers in that practice. . ."?
Of course, if other tenderers got the impression they were only there to make up the numbers (these grants are usually dependent on a minimum number of tenders being received) they might decide that there were better uses for their time than taking part in a competition where the outcome was preordained.
And if word got out that tendering for Kinver Kreations/McCosker projects was a waste of effort because, come what may, G & G Builders were going to be awarded the contact, then Kinver Kreations might find it difficult to find the required minimum number of tenderers to satisfy the bid conditions.
It strikes me that a public authority shouldn't be cooperating by concealing this patently unfair practice from unwitting contractors.
I shall be appealing this refusal to the Information Commissioner and I'm optimistic that he might see things my way.
The only problem is that these appeals take time but the upside is that these buildings and the work done, or not done on them, will not run away.
I have been taking a closer look at the county council's "procedure manual" for these grant projects.
Including various appendices, it runs to almost 100 pages and, as a guide to how such contracts should be supervised, it is a model of good practice.
For instance 5.9 (c) on page 30 instructs the project coordinator: "On receipt of the invoices [from the grant applicant] check that the works have been completed in accordance with the agreed specification, the conditions of the award [grant] and to acceptable conservation standards.
Unfortunately, there seems to be some divergence between theory and practice.
How else can you explain how a final account for Coronation School containing the best part of £14,000 for "rebuild chimneys/turrets" and scaffolding for same, was approved, when anybody walking past can see that this work simply hasn't been done?
Or how the same final account included £20,000 in respect of external works much of which consisted of a planting scheme in the former school playground designed to provide a "quiet communal garden for the residents" when all that appears to have been done is spread a couple of loads of concrete chippings on the area. (see Weed control)
There are a number of other issues which I will come back to when, hopefully, the Information Commissioner orders full disclosure.
Though, as the council's internal audit service, which has access to all the information, is already looking into the administration of these grants, I might be beaten to the punch.
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