Despite my cruel jibes aimed at the young upstart who publishes that other website, I have to admit he has his uses.
Although he is 50 years younger than me, he does occasionally come up with the odd gem.
Whether this is an example of the type of phenomena involving monkeys, typewriters, infinite time and the works of Shakespeare or sheer intellectual brilliance I can’t be sure, but being a charitable soul I will assume the latter.
Last week he was kind enough to share his latest insight with me: his two golden rules for a successful life.
1. Never reveal everything you know.
I’ve had numerous emails taking me to task for banging on about the grants caper in Pembroke Dock to the exclusion of all else.
One of my regular readers even accused me of being a “one-trick pony”.
Better than a no-trick pony, I suppose.
Some are of the opinion that a word or two about the downgrading of Withybush Hospital might have been more relevant to most people’s daily lives.
Well, I can’t deny that what happens in the NHS is rather more important than whether grant money designed to revitalise Pembroke Dock has been misappropriated, but I take the view that there are already more than enough people who know more about the health service than me involved in the campaign to save Withybush.
So this cobbler will be sticking to his last!
What follows should be read in the light of Jacob’s invaluable advice.
To briefly recap: I put down a Notice of Motion to the council meeting on December 12 calling for all elected members to be allowed to inspect documents relating to the grants schemes in Pembroke and Pembroke Dock.
To make it easier for members of the ruling IPPG to swallow, I submitted an amendment during the meeting that all the financial information would be redacted, thereby sidestepping their main argument that what I was proposing would breach commercial confidentiality.
There was a second purpose to my amendment which was to demonstrate that, being blind to reason, the IPPG membership would vote down my NoM come what may.
They didn’t disappoint – with the exception of Cllr Reg Owens (a semi-detached member of the party) they said nay to the last man and woman.
They thought they had hit upon a super-wheeze by leaving the matter to the audit committee which has a four-three IPPG majority.
However, all they succeeded in doing was shooting themselves in both feet because, as I pointed out to the council’s lawyers, once the matter came before one of the council’s committees, the Local Government Access to Information Act (LGAI Act) kicked in and all members were allowed to inspect all the unredacted documents.
Once this point was conceded, I had access to the Bills of Quantities, final accounts etc, including all the financial information.
The committee was advised that members’ rights were restricted to inspecting the documents and making notes. However, thanks to LGAI Act, I was able to show that we had a right to demand copies of the documents.
That not only saved a lot of scribbling, but it also means I now a have a large dossier sitting on the kitchen table which I can read at my leisure.
And most interesting it all is, though, as members are bound by the confidentiality requirements, I can’t reveal everything I know even if I was minded to disregard Jacob’s golden rules.
That said, I do have quite a lot of information that falls outside these confidentiality rules because it was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
These include the BoQs and a set of drawings for 29 Dimond Street (Paul Sartori) which together with my scale rule allows me to check the quantities against what is shown on the plans.
In addition, I have inspected the site to compare what is on the drawings with what has actually been done.
And, finally, we have what I will refer to as “The Summons doctrine” as enunciated by Cllr Rob Summons at the council meeting on December 12 and further refined during email correspondence during early January.
Briefly, the Summons doctrine holds that the amount of grant on any particular item is “council property” and is not therefore commercially confidential and that members are also able to discover the quantities involved in the grant-eligible works.
Applying these disparate pieces of information to the roof at Paul Sartori I can reveal that the tender included for the stripping of 112 sq metres of slates.
Strangely, the same tender allows for the fixing of 222 sq metres of new Spanish slates in their place.
My scale rule tells me that the lower figure is nearer the mark.
These slates are on two separate roofs: That of the main building fronting on to the street (90 sq metres approx) and that to an extension to the rear (40 sq metres approx) so how the quantity surveyor arrived at 222 sq metres is something of a mystery.
The extension to the rear has been converted into bedsits so applying the principle reported to the audit committee last September: that residential development doesn’t qualify for grant aid, except for external works that “improve the look of the street”, that can be discounted leaving just 90 sq metres eligible for a grant.
This principle, which was part of a FAQ document that was published by the council in an attempt to deflect criticisms of the grant scheme both on this website and Pembrokeshire’s Best magazine, is worth quoting in full:
Q: Can this grant scheme fund work to residential as well as business properties?
A: No. This grant scheme is strictly only for commercial properties. Many properties in town centres are mixed use, often being in commercial use on the ground floor but in residential use on upper floors. In these cases no internal works in parts of the building used for (or intended to be used for) residential use will be funded by the grant. We will fund external works to upper floors even if they are in residential use if they help to improve the street scene, because this contributes to improving the look of the town centre for businesses.
Q: Has any property ever received a grant for flats or for a house of multiple occupation?
A: No, this has never happened through this grant scheme. Such works have always been ineligible. Sometimes property owners carry out residential works at the same time that builders are working on commercial parts of the building but this is entirely at their own cost. In fact the Council encourages this, in order to improve people’s accommodation, although we cannot and do not make any financial contribution to these costs.
Applying the Summons doctrine I applied under FoI for the grant paid out for reslating this roof and was told that, including ridges, lead soakers and flashings, the grant awarded for slating came to £9,882.
As this grant was paid at a rate of 70% the total cost was £14,117, or £156 per sq metre.
My friends in the roofing business tell me that £55 per sq metre is a good price for this sort of work, so you can see why my curiosity-meter is going off the scale.
That doesn’t give a complete picture because the lead soakers on the rear roof clearly haven’t been renewed and there is some doubt in my mind whether the front section of the roof, which isn’t clearly visible from the street, has been done at all.
I would emphasise that all of the above respects both Jacob’s golden rules and my obligations under the councillors’ Code of Conduct.