Pinocchio Pugh

I have now updated my piece on Cllr David Pugh’s speech to council on December 12 in light of yesterday’s audit committee meeting and site inspection.
The complete command performance can be viewed at  PCC webcast 40.56
On reflection, it seems that Cllr Pugh achieved the not inconsiderable feat of speaking for fully ten minutes without saying anything that was remotely true.
I have modified my comments to reflect what we learned yesterday – particularly with regard to the much heralded auditing of these schemes and the visit to the attic at Coronation School by Cllr Pugh and the leader Cllr Jamie Adams.
And we mustn’t neglect the Leader’s role in all this because, while it was Pugh who did the talking, it is inconceivable that his carefully prepared speech to full council wasn’t approved by the leader.
It wouldn’t surprise me to find that some of the more thoughtful members of the IPPG – admittedly a fairly restricted field – are beginning to wonder if their electoral prospects might look a bit rosier if they found a less lumpy pillow on which to rest their political heads.
But to return to yesterday’s meeting of the audit committee.
The first thing to say is that it represented a minor triumph for Grumpy’s legal education because I was able to convince the council’s lawyers that, now the matter was before a committee of the council, all members had a right to see all the unredacted documents concerning the case.
Who’d have thought that knowledge of The Local Government (Access to Information) (Variation) (Wales) Order 2007 would prove to be so useful?
This is a big improvement on what I was trying to achieve at full council, where my Notice of Motion to allow members to inspect these documents with the all financial information redacted was defeated by the IPPG block vote (Cllr Reg Owens excepted) plus Cllr Owen James (unaffiliated).
In the light of that, I will not be proceeding with my request for an extraordinary meeting of council to reconsider my NoM based on the facts rather than Cllr David Pugh’s unreliable testimony.
While I’m sure I would have enjoyed seeing Pugh squirm as he was reminded of the serial untruths on which he based his conclusion that I was either a liar or an incompetent, that piece of self-indulgence wouldn’t justify the trouble and expense of calling all the members to a meeting when my objectives have been achieved by other means.
Anyway, I’m sure another opportunity will arise.
One small problem arises: members are only allowed to see these documents on terms of strict confidentiality, so, for the time being, I won’t be able to share my discoveries with a wider audience.
However, the committee only resolved to go into private session after the site visit, so it is open season for those things I learned on our tour of Pembroke Dock.
One of the mysteries that has troubled me for a long time is how the Cabinet came to approve a grant of £26,800 for the refurbishment of 50 sq metres of retail floorspace at No 29 Dimond Street Pembroke Dock.
This grant was paid at a rate of 40% so the total proposed spend inside this modest little shop must have been in the region of £66,000.
Even more difficult to understand, given the requirement in the council’s procedure manual that governs this grant system that: “The specification should be agreed prior to the applicant obtaining quotations in order to avoid the need for revision. It must be sufficiently detailed to enable a full understanding of the proposed works and the methods and materials to be used,” was how this £66,000 of expenditure (£26,800 grant) was arrived at based on the Bills of Quantities (specification), of which I already had a redacted copy obtained through FoI, that at ref. F7 stated simply: “Renovate internal walls in existing retail space including new decorations, new floors, new ceilings and display lighting. Item [rate and price redacted]”.
No sign there of the sufficient detail that might enable a full understanding of the proposed works etc.
Even more difficult to understand is how a grant of £21,300 (Gross expenditure £53,280) came to be paid out for refurbishing this retail space when a visit to Paul Sartori reveals that little or no work appears to have been done.
It seems that part of the answer lies in some creative thinking by the officers involved in calculating these grants because what emerged during the site visit was that the cost of the celotex insulation in the roof had been charged to retail space on the grounds that it would contribute to countering heat loss from the shop.
You might think it would contribute a lot more to keeping warm the five bedsits on the upper two floors, but you are paying so who are you to know?
The other thing that emerged was that the removal of asbestos sheets from a building at the rear, which has also been converted into bedsits, has also been charged to refurbishment of retail space on the grounds that the building concerned was formerly part of the shop.
So conversion of retail space into bedsits now counts as refurbishing retail space.
These 40% retail refurbishment grants – financed by the Welsh Government – are designed to regenerate the shopping centres of places like Pembroke Dock.
Quite how this is achieved by turning former retail space into bedsits is not immediately obvious.
Anyway, I am off to county hall this morning to take advantage of this new-found openness, though it may be some time before I can provide you with a full account of what I find out.