July 11 2006
Life before birth
I am delighted to hear that the county council has now provided Cllr Michael Williams with the list of completed projects that accompanied ORA International's application for the contract to provide economic development consultancy services (see Open secrets).
Older readers will recall that ORA's managing director is Dr Michael Ryan who is well known in these pages for his inappropriate business relationship with Cllr Brian Hall in the company Euro-Ryall Ltd (see Hall-Ryan).
Amazingly, despite Cllr John Davies' promise on taking over as Leader that the council would conducted in keeping with "the highest ethical standards", Hall remains in his Cabinet and ORA is still picking up £450 a day for providing the county council with the benefit of the former Dublin policeman's economic expertise.
Cllr Williams has sent me a copy of these documents and they make fascinating reading.
It has taken Cllr Williams the best part of eighteen months to extract this information from the council and having read them it is easy to why they were so eager to keep them under wraps.
The five-page document; headed "ORA International Past and Active Project Listings", gives details of 28 projects in which the company is, or has been, involved since 1980.
The snag is that, according to the website of Irish version of our Companies House (www.cro.ie) , ORA wasn't incorporated until July 1996, which seems to rule out 20 of the 28 "ORA projects".
Also of interest is that the eight "Active projects" are all labelled "1996 - ongoing" which means that, when he applied to the county council in July 2000, he hadn't picked up any new work for almost four years.
Even more difficult to understand is how all this can be reconciled with the 44 major projects listed under "portfolio" on ORA's website (www.oriain.com).
Indeed, it was the appearance on this list of a "completed major project" in Pembrokeshire that first put Old Grumpy's bullshit detector on alert mode
When I e-mailed Dr Ryan to make enquiries as to the location of this project, the website disappeared for "reconstruction" and when it returned the Pembrokeshire project had been purged.
What Old Grumpy finds rather strange is that no one in the county council bothered to run a five-minute company check on O'riain before they were awarded the contract.
Because, if they had, they would have quickly realised that this list of "Past and Active Projects" was largely a work of fiction.
But, as we already know, the usual standards of care were not applied in this case because, according the District Audit Service (DAS) report into the Hall-Ryan relationship, Dr Ryan wasn't even interviewed for the post.
Indeed, as the DAS records, the only reference that the council took was over the phone from "a reliable source known to senior officers" and even that was "not formally documented".
Of course, Dr Ryan was already known to the council because the chief executive and two other senior officers had met him during a business trip to Dublin in 1998 and, while on a visit to Pembrokeshire in early in 2000 [the year of his appointment], he popped into county hall for a chat with the chief executive and his eventual line manager, head of marketing and communications David Thomas.
Now, I know what you're all thinking, but you would be wrong because, as the DAS records: "They confirmed that they did not discuss the possible future appointment of a consultant and that this meeting did not place him in a more favourable position in relation to his subsequent appointment."
So, there you are, then!
Come to think of it, the DAS would have had access to this material when they investigated the Hall-Ryan business.
Some of the whitewash must have splashed in their eyes! see The truth will out and Bare all
I will return to this subject next week
Meanwhile, I will give you an update on the the strange business of the sale of the Mine Depot.
You will remember that, at the Cabinet meeting of 6 February 2006 it was resolved that the site be sold to Milford Haven Port Authority (MHPA).
Although the Cabinet were not told the price at the time (nor did it occur to any of them to ask) we now know that it was £620,000 (see MHPAdocs) to be paid in two instalments - £310,000 up-front and £310,000 after two years.
One can only assume that this need for extended credit means that MHPA is strapped for cash.
However, rival bidders Cleddau Enterprises Ltd came in with a higher offer and, because S 123 Local Government Act 1972 requires the council to get best consideration, the deal was stalled.
I can now reveal that CEL's new offer, dated 17 February 2006, was for £670,000 to be paid in full on the signing of the lease.
Ten days later Mr Sangster made a counter bid.
The more alert among you will already have noticed that if you add £50,000 to MHPA's original bid of £620,000 it exactly matches CEL's offer of £670,000 "and potentially much more".
Of course, as we know, both the county council and MHPA deny they have ever discussed the price offered by any rival bidder.
If Mr Sangster ever invites you to a game of poker, take my advice and make your excuses and leave.
And isn't it a bit rich for the chief executive of the body that muscled its way into the bidding, even though it hadn't tendered originally, to complain that ". . .I find the current situation of offer, counter offer, offer, counter offer etc with no identified end game mechanism to be slightly distasteful."
Not as distasteful as using leaked confidential documents for commercial gain, I would suggest.
Even ruthless capitalists like Pepsi Cola draw the line at that sort of thing.
Willing to wound
The decision to lease the Mine Depot site to MHPA was taken at the Cabinet meeting on 6 February 2006.
That meeting was a something of a milestone because it was the first time ever that the Cabinet didn't vote unanimously for whatever the officers were recommending. (see Sea change)
In addition to the two refuseniks and the abstentee, two other members (Cllrs Islwyn Howells and David Wildman) expressed reservations about what was going on.
According to my notes of the meeting, Cllr Howells asked:
"It is playing on my mind - are we perfectly happy that procedures we have followed have given equal opportunities to all parties?"
Now that he knows the answer to that question, it will be interesting to see what he does next (See MHPAdocs).
Indeed, what strikes Old Grumpy as a bit odd is that, while back in February two Cabinet members (Cllrs David Simpson and Sian James) were prepared to vote against the sale to MHPA, now that the full extent of the collusion between the council and the Port Authority is out in the open they have gone strangely silent.
I suppose giving the boat a gentle rock can be quite fun.
Holing it below the water line, especially when you're being paid fifteen grand a year to sit in it, is not so clever.
No free lunch
There is a good old row brewing in Milford Haven and Pembroke Dock over the county council Cabinet's decision to impose charges on the two towns' car parks.
And right in the firing line on this side of the water is assistant Cabinet member Cllr Anne Hughes.
Two weeks ago I revealed how Cllr Hughes had ratted on her election promise to be a "true independent" by signing up to the Independent Political Group within a few days of the votes being counted
Well, now the chickens have come home to roost, and Cllr Hughes finds herself standing under the tree.
If I could quote a little gem of a passage from Cllr Hughes election address to illustrate her dilemma.
In June 2004, she told the voters of Milford Haven Central: "I am standing as a true Independent with no political allegiance to any party. I WILL NOT abide or be controlled by party policy (Cllr Hughes emphasis, throughout).
Well, as the Cabinet made the decision, and the Cabinet is comprised entirely of members of the IPG, we can safely assume that the imposition of these charges is IPG policy.
And as a member of the Cabinet, albeit in a junior role, Cllr Hughes is tied into that policy by the doctrine of collective responsibility.
The constitutional tradition in this country is that politicians who find themselves in that position have only two choices - support the policy, or resign.
I can now reveal the full list of payments made to county councillors in the financial year 2005-2006.
As befits the Cabinet member in charge of highways, Cllr Brian Hall is again in a league of his own when it comes to travelling expenses with a claim of £8,900.
In second place is the leader of council Cllr John Davies with £5,900, which is not too impressive when you consider that he lives twice as far from County Hall as the roads supremo.
I will provide a more comprehensive analysis next week.
My socialist friend has e-mailed to complain that the local papers steadfastly refuse to publish his letters criticising the ruling Independent Political Group.
He has come to the view that the reason for their reluctance is that he consistently refers to the ruling junta as the Pembrokeshire Independent Group.
This he finds rather surprising because, as he points out, this title produces are rather more catchy acronym/abbreviation than IPG.
And, as he also points out, it provides a better picture of the reality because what other purpose can a manifesto-less political party have than to exercise control over access to the trough marked: Special Responsibility Allowance (SRA).
For the record, there are 42 positions in and around the county council which carry allowances over and above the basic £12,000.
Of these the Pembrokeshire Independent Group decides who holds 36 of them, with the Leader having sole and absolute control over the destination of no fewer than 21.
Rather an impressive level of patronage in a council of 60 members, don't you think?
On the subject of acronyms, my socialist friend, who must be one of the world's leading pedants, takes me to task for describing any set of initials as such.
He asserts, and who am I to argue with someone who has mastered the intricacies of dialectical materialism, that a true acronym must be a pronounceable word.
So, he says, while Nato, Snafu [situation normal - all fouled up], PIG, Unesco, etc are acronyms, BBC, IPG, USA, and all other unpronounceable combinations of initials, are not.
My dictionary seems to bear this out by drawing a distinction between acronyms (pronounceable words) and initialisms, where each letter is pronounced separately.
However, I don't give up that easily, so I consulted the highest authority: Fowler's Modern English Usage.
While appearing to support to my socialist friend's view, Fowler holds out some little hope for the alternative when it observes that "The test of a true acronym is often assumed to be that it should be pronounceable as a word within the normal word patterns of English."
I would point to the word "assumed" as evidence that Fowler would want to avoid being too dogmatic about this question.
And the entry closes with the assertion that abbreviations like FBI, VCR and EEC can also (my emphasis) be referred to as "initialisms".
I take that to mean that Fowler is quite relaxed about them being also referred to as acronyms.
So, while my socialist friend might be able to prove my guilt on a balance of probabilities, on the stiffer test of beyond reasonable doubt, I think I can walk away without a stain on my literary character.
In future, in order to cut down on the typing, I intend to refer to my socialist friend simply as SF.
Readers are invited to suggest alternative elongations of this acronym/initialism.
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