Mutual backscratchers

It is now two-and-a-bit years since Pembrokeshire County Council handed a thick, detailed dossier on alleged irregularities in the Pembroke and Pembroke Dock Commercial Property Grant Scheme (CPGS) to Dyfed-Powys Police.

I know it is thick and detailed because my contribution, which amounts to more than 50 pages, identified payments of more than £80,000 for work that was either not eligible for grant aid or simply not carried out.

In July 2014 I submitted a separate complaint in my own name so that I would have a dog in the fight and wouldn’t need to rely on PCC for information.

Over the past few months I have asked Dyfed Powys Police for an update on progress.

They have point blank refused.

The last email I received on the subject reads:

“Whilst I appreciate you contacted Dyfed Powys Police in July 2014 to report this matter, I feel I should clarify that the police’s only obligation is to provide an update to the victim, which in this case has been identified as Pembrokeshire County Council.

I know you hold the view that the victim in this matter is the taxpaying public, but in terms of categorisation the victim is a person/organisation that has suffered economic loss, which was directly caused by criminal conduct.

In this instance taxpayers have not suffered any economic loss as they would have paid the same amount of tax regardless of whether this crime had occurred or not.

It is also worth bearing in mind that any suspects in this case could potentially be members of the “taxpaying public” that you refer to as victims.”

The final two paragraphs were daft enough to warrant a mention in Private Eye’s Rotten Boroughs.

A few weeks ago, I put in a Freedom of Information request to the Wales European Funding Office (WEFO) asking for copies of all correspondence, emails and notes of telephone conversations between themselves and the police.

Predictably they refused citing Section 31(1)(a) which protects information concerning the prevention or detection of crime.

Helpfully, they sent me a list of the documents being withheld together with their reasons:

DPP update WEFO

So this business about only providing information to the victim (Pembrokeshire County Council) doesn’t apply when it involves their establishment chums.

Helpfully, WEFO also provided me with detailed justification for their decision to withhold the information:

WEFO justification

It might well be true that it could “take a number of years” to investigate complex cases involving webs of linked companies and offshore bank accounts, but this is not one of them.

For example: a grant of £3,599 was claimed and signed-off by council officers for laying slates on the flat roof above the bedsits at 29 Dimond Street Pembroke Dock.

Not only was this work not eligible for grant aid, but it wasn’t even done (see here).

It seems to me that all the police had to do was determine whether this irregularity was the result of criminal activity, or mere incompetence.

After all, the sum of money involved can’t be the issue because I frequently see reports in the papers about people being hauled up in front of the beak for liberating half a dozen cans of larger from Tesco.

It is interesting to note that back in April 2014 the council’s European Office produced a 14-page report on the administration of these grants.

The first four pages concerned a fraud at the grant-funded Pater Hall Pembroke Dock where the treasurer had, allegedly, made off with £30,000 of the trust’s cash.

That case came to court some six months ago, so the police can get a shift on when it suits them.

This report shows that the council was in denial about my claims regarding the CPGS scheme.

It seems it was all kicked off by Pembrokeshire’s Best, the sister publication to the Pembrokeshire Herald.

The magazine had, the report claimed: “essentially alleged that PCC had misused the ERDF [European Regional Development Fund] to create bedsits, which wasn’t true” and went on to say: “Unfortunately this magazine allows no right of reply.”

Presumably, if it had the European Office would have taken the opportunity to put them straight.

Instead, the magazine published another article in which it stated: “ERDF money intended to put in place sustainable infrastructure and commerce has has been used by the council to fund speculative propert development for private profit by individuals sheltering behind a maze of companies and brass plate addresses”.

To which the report’s author responds: “It is an allegation that has no substance whatsoever.

What is amazing is that this report is dated 10 April 2014 – three days after the council submitted the dossier to the police containing evidence that, just as Pembrokeshire’s Best had said, grant money had indeed been used to fund bedsits which were, according to the council’s own rules, ineligible for grand aid.

In fact, Cllr Jacob Williams and myself presented the evidence of irregularities in the tender for 10 Meyrick Street to the Director of Finance and the Head of Finance and Assurance on 11 February 2014.

With respect to this meeting, the report continues: “Cllr Williams, in particular, was insistent that they contact the police immediately” (ah, the impetuosity of youth!) but it was not formally reported to the police until a week later.

The delay is explained thus: “…council officers were not immediately convinced that there was evidence of financial loss to the council. The discovery also coincided with severe storms and the police were otherwise occupied.”

This is self-serving tripe because it was immediately obvious to both finance officers that the wangle with the tender documents at 10 Meyrick Street had skewed the grant payment upwards by several thousand pounds.

However it is not all bad news as far as the press is concerned.

“The existence of an element in the local Pembrokeshire media that is critical of the council and European initiatives is a fact the council has to face.” the report’s author grumbles.

“PCC can do nothing about this, but must instead work hard to present the benefits that this European project is bringing to Pembroke and Pembroke Dock. The council has been successful in placing positive press stories in more receptive local media outlets.”

Now, I wonder who that might be?