Self-financing

A couple of weeks ago, I published information that seemed to indicate that part of a Property Development Grant for an office block in Johnston may have been redirected to pay for the drainage on an adjoining housing development carried out by the same company.

The grant for the project was reported to Pembrokeshire County Council’s cabinet in January 2015.

For the past few months I have been trying to establish whether there are any grounds for my suspicions that most of the roads on the site may have been the subject of a similar diversion of funds.

Keen to satisfy myself whether, or not, this was the case, I asked Pembrokeshire County Council for copies of the Bills of Quantities for the project.

That was on 23 June, though I had asked, verbally, for the BoQs back in November 2015, and the council’s response was to repeat that the documents were held by Carmarthenshire County Council (CCC) and, after a bit of toing and froing, I was provided with the email address of the officer in CCC who should be contacted.

As the grant had come before PCC’s cabinet, I emailed the council to point out that under S 100 of the Local Government Act 1972 I had the right to inspect the documents at PCC’s offices.

M’learned friends in the legal department became involved and on 29 July they advised me that: “BoQs are not available for this project as the contract was awarded on a JCT design and build contract 2011.”

Of course, it would have been helpful if this absence of BoQs had been flagged up when I first asked for them, but we are where we are.

These design and build contracts, which post-date my time in the building industry, are something I don’t know much about, but fortunately I know a man who does.

He tells me that these contracts take a variety of forms ranging from a light specification, where the contractor will, for instance, be asked to design and build a school for a certain number of pupils, to those where detailed drawings and specifications are provided.

In the first case the client will have to evaluate the bids on the basis of both design and price; in the second on price only.

In both cases the client will need to take steps to ensure delivery of the specification on which the price is based.

As my man in Canada says: this can be problematic, when, as in this instance, the contractor (Uzmaston Residential Ltd) and the client (Uzmaston Projects Ltd) are two closely related companies with common directors.

So, while there may be no BoQs for this project, there are certainly some tender documents which I have now asked to see.

Two weeks ago, I had a phone call from someone in PCC’s audit section telling me that they were trying to make arrangements to go up to Carmarthen to inspect these tender documents and, as they were not all that familiar with building contracts, they had asked that I might be allowed to accompany them.

As of today, nothing more has been heard.

Like me, you might find it odd that even the county council’s auditors seem to be having difficulty accessing documents relating to a £328,553 grant approved by the authority’s cabinet.

In the meantime, all I have to go on are the documents already provided – one of which is reproduced below.

My Pentlepoir-based IT technician (everybody has their uses) has blanked out the names of the unsuccessful tenderers in the interests of data protection.

Tender comparison

Two things strike me about this document.

First, while the tender report points out that Uzmaston Residential’s quote is 25% lower than the next highest bidder, it is noticeable that the bulk of the difference is under the heading “Two storey offices” where the difference is a whacking £155,350, or 38%.

This is partly explained by the fact that: “It would seem that Uzmaston Residential Ltd have not included any profit and only limited overheads within the tender submitted.”

And that, of course, goes to the heart of the matter, because, unlike its competitors, any profit included in Uzmaston Residential Ltd’s bid, would come straight out of the pocket of its sister company Uzmaston Projects Ltd.

To my mind that means this tender exercise falls well below the standard of fairness required in a process involving public money.

And the latest twist in this tale comes in an email from the council’s Director of Development Dr Steven Jones in which he informs me: “Your email doesn’t appear to acknowledge that the Cabinet resolved to delegate its responsibility for decisions on PDF grant applications to Carmarthenshire in a Cabinet report (from the former Head of Legal and Committee Services) in c 2011/12.”

I assume the c in ‘c 2011/12’ means circa, so a little more precision would be helpful, but the key question is, why, if this function had been delegated to Carmarthenshire, was PCC’s cabinet involved at all?