July 11 2013

Journey into the past


Cllr Jamie Adams would do well to heed Denis Healey's advice: When you're in a hole stop digging..
When asked about his late (historic?) claims for travelling expenses reported in last week's column (Perfect timing), Cllr Adams told the Western Telegraph: “It’s poor bookkeeping on my behalf. I got out of the habit of claiming and it’s my fault entirely. The chance came at the end of the council term to reflect on a number of things and update everything ready for the next term of council. I accept that this is not a position I should be in with claims going in late.”
If he'd left it at that he might have got away with bit of a ribbing e.g. His book keeping may be bad but he must have a very good memory! (comment by KeanJo WT website).
Of course he couldn't leave it at that and he launched into an attempt at self-justification.
I could have warned him that the commenters on the WT's website would not be so easy to dupe as the 31 members who maintain him in power (Through the looking-glass).
First up was a veiled attack on the accuracy of what I wrote. He told the newspaper: “It’s very easy for Councillor Stoddart to highlight the fact cabinet members’ claim for travelling, but perhaps what he doesn’t allow for is cabinet members travelling in their roles as opposed to meetings at County Hall.”
Now, whenever Cllr Adams speaks it always wise to be on the lookout for red herrings and non-sequiturs and this is no exception because nowhere did I question the amount claimed by Cllr Adams.
The only issue as far as I was concerned was the fact that some of these claims were four years' out of date and, according to the handbook provided to every member, claims must be made no later than three months after the expenses were incurred.
These late claims meant that anyone taking an interest in the future Leader's expense claiming practices during the 2012 election campaign would have discovered that his claims for the previous three years were zero, £311 and zero.
They would have had no idea that lurking in the background was a massive single claim for £4,650 for travel expenses dating back to August 2008.
He also told the Telegraph: “I have been told by the director of finance to make sure I keep up to date with expenses claims in the future. I have accepted that and my claims this year have been in line with that advice."
It is not clear from this when the advice was offered, or when it was acted upon.
In addition to the 44 claim sheets for the period August 2008 - March 2012 there are a number of other sheets available for inspection during the public audit.
These cover the period April 2012 - October 2012 (seven months) and were all submitted on 9 November 2012.
As the mathematicians among you will already have spotted, four of these monthly claims (April - July) were also outside the three-month time limit.
As the October claim was the last to be submitted during the financial year 2012 - 2013 (closing date 31 March 2013) any claims for November/December 2012 will also be out of time.
So Cllr Adams respect for the rules must be of fairly recent vintage.
He also told the Western Telegraph: “All of the claims are fully approved in respect of being approved duties – there’s no question of that.”
There are 44 of these claim forms covering some 400 separate journeys which were all submitted on 10 April 2012.
They all had to be checked to see that (a) he had attended the meetings claimed for, and (b) that they constituted approved duties.
This must have involved a heroic effort by the staff in the finance department because all 44 forms were signed off and approved for payment by the Director on 13 April.

Sinking fund?

Old Grumpy notices that Bluestone is back in the news following a management buyout inspired by its founder William McNamara.
The last time the up-market resort hit the headlines was back in 2009 when it went bust and was resurrected on the same day by way of a pre-pack administration led by its two biggest creditors Bank of Scotland and Finance Wales.(see Bankrolling Bluestone).
This was of interest to county councillors because PCC had made a £1 million loan to the company, and had constructed a £750,000 roundabout at the entrance to the holiday village on the never-never.
In exchange for its £1.75 million the council received 3% of the company's shares.
As I pointed out at the time £1.75 million is 3% of £58.3 million but the selling price at the time was £37 million, 3% of which is £1.1 million so, on the face of it, the council had lost £650,000.
Now we hear that this management buy-out has cost £10 million, 3% of which is £330,000.
Of course high finance is involved here - not a subject I have ever had reason to take much interest in - so the simple arithmetic used above may not provide a true picture of the situation.
I was therefore pleased to receive a copy of an email from the author of that other website requesting that the Leader makes an emergency statement at next week's meeting of council to update members of the status and value of the authority's investment in Bluestone.
I can hardly think the Leader would refuse such a reasonable request.
P.S. I read in the Western Mail that, having posted losses in excess of £5 million last year Bluestone showed a small profit on an
EBITDA basis in the current year.
EBIDTA , for the uninitiated, is an acronym for Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortisation.
So, it's more a measure of cash flow than profit.

Unknown quantities

There has been some progress in my quest to find out exactly what has gone on with regard to grants in Pembroke and Pembroke Dock (Taken for granted) (Tender thoughts) (Standing firm) (Close brethren) (Information blackout)
My initial FoI request dated 24 April was partially refused on 24 May.
The information withheld on grounds of commercial confidentiality included G & G builders tender for 25 Dimond Street Pembroke Dock and the tender report for the same property.
I appealed and, after some delay, the review panel met on 1 July but failed to reach agreement on my case.
After a further meeting on 7 July it was agreed to disclose a copy of a bill of quantities and the tender report but with all financial information redacted.
Also redacted from the tender report is the name of the author and the names of the unsuccessful tenderers.
However a bit of detective work leads me to the conclusion that the tender report was written by Kinver Kreations (employed by Mr McCosker) for use by Mr McCosker in his grant application.
Fortunately, the council has already supplied me with a drawing and specification of sorts, so when I get the time the I will attempt to reconcile the bill of quantities with the drawings.
My preliminary view is that this might prove to be an interesting exercise.
With regard to the council's refusal to provide me with G & G's rates that will be the subject of an appeal to the Information Commissioner.
In the meantime, I will have to rely on the copies of G & G's priced bills of quantities for two other McCosker projects: Commercial Row and the former Coronation School in Pembroke Dock, both of which I came across during the public audit .
Though why this supposedly "commercially confidential" information is available for public inspection is something of a mystery.

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