June 6 2013

 

Brought to book

It appears that my calculations in last week's column on the relative cost of building projects in Kensington and Pembroke Dock (Information blackout), contained an arithmetical error .
Even Homer nodded!
The mistake arose because I adopted the rule of thumb that one square metre equals 10 square feet when it is actually 10.7 square feet.
The corrected figures are:
Kensington and Chelsea £500 so ft
25 Dimond Street Pembroke Dock £606 sq ft.
41 Dimond Street Pembroke Dock £63 sq ft.
Still plenty of food for thought!
Making a mistake is one thing - the man who never made a mistake never made anything, and all that - but to have it pointed out by the author of that other website (TAOTOW) is rather hard to bear.
Mind you, judging from the letters' page in this week's WT he isn't exactly a master of accuracy himself.
Last week he had a letter published in the WT in which he criticised Plaid Cymru leader Cllr Michael Williams' attack on the Tory group for supporting the ruling Independent Plus Political Group (IPPG).
As TAOTOW pointed out, some months ago Plaid had effectively supported the IPPG when it failed to support my Notice of Motion calling for the resignation of cabinet member for education Cllr Huw George and that Plaid's decision to abstain was all the more strange because the day before the vote the WT published a letter from Cllr Williams in which he made a strongly worded demand for Cllr George to go.
All I will say about that is that there are some members of Plaid who are what Mrs Thatcher used to refer to as "wets" and Cllr Williams couldn't persuade them support for his hard-line stance.
But what got TAOTOW into hot water was his claim that, until recently, Plaid had been in coalition with the Independents on Carmarthenshire County Council.
That brought forth letters from Cllr Michael Williams and Iago Ap Steffan both pointing out that the Independents in Carmarthen shire are currently being "propped up" by Labour as was also the case prior to last May's elections.
But TAHITI was ahead of the game and, having realised his error, he had submitted a letter of correction in which he admitted that the last time Plaid had "propped up" the Carmarthenshire Independents was prior to the 2004 election.
However, he was also able to remind readers that this was not an issue of great principle for the Party of Wales because, in neighbouring Ceredigion, Plaid are currently "propping up" the Independents.
Indeed, the Machiavellian in me wonders if the original mistake over Carmarthenshire was a deliberate ploy to draw the enemy fire so that he could strike back with the Ceredigion bombshell.
Whatever, anyone who is bold enough to challenge Old Grumpy's arithmetic is surely one to watch.

Popular mythology

Page two of this week's Western Telegraph is devoted to a puff piece about county council leader Jamie Adams.
And we are promised more of the same in the next edition.
I fancy this is a bit like reading Pravda in the days before the fall of the Soviet Union.
The first paragraph, where Cllr Adams is described as "the popular Independent Plus [Political] Group councillor" was enough to send my blood pressure soaring to danger levels.
Popular with who, might I ask?
When the word "popular" is used with regard to a politician it usually refers to their standing with the electorate.
In Cllr Adams' case we will never know because, as far as I am aware, not one of his party members mentioned either the party or its putative leader in their election addresses.
I have no doubt Cllr Adams is very popular with those who he has fitted up with an SRA but that's about as far as it goes.
For a real measure of the man and his methods you should read Through the looking-glass
However, it seems that help is at hand because I read in Pembrokeshire's Best that it intends to launch a new weekly newspaper next month.
I have feeling that the Pembrokeshire Herald, as I believe it is to be called, will be a bit more robust in its dealings with the county council.

Counter attack

An item: FAQ Commercial property grant scheme, has popped up on PCC's website.
I don't know who has been asking all these question, though you can be certain it wasn't the Cabinet that dished out the grants.
Purely by coincidence, the Q and As bear a remarkable similarity to the issues raised on this website over the past few weeks (Taken for granted) (Close brethren) and (Information blackout)
One item that caught my eye was:
Q: Why is the grant offer based on the lowest tender? Should it not be based on the tender with the lowest eligible costs, as it's only these that matter in calculating the grant award?
A: It is possible (though not guaranteed) that, were the grant offer to be based on the tender with the lowest costs for the eligible works alone, rather than the lowest tender overall, the grant offer might be lower than that offered under our present practice. It isn't guaranteed that the tender with the lowest eligible costs will give the lowest grant offer because there are markedly different grant rates for different types of eligible costs, and so two tenders with the same eligible costs may have different grant offers depending on the balance of costs between the three eligible categories.
All the same, it should be borne in mind that since the key factor that determines the tender price is the builder’s rates then it is likely to be the case that the lowest tender and the tender with the lowest eligible costs are one and the same.
There are a number of reasons for using the lowest overall tender. The principle behind all European funding is that the grant offered must be the lowest possible that will still allow the project to proceed. If the lowest grant comes from a tender other than the lowest tender then we would have to expect the applicant to accept a tender that is more costly than the lowest one. The applicant would quite reasonably expect to be able to use the lowest tender and, without some other reason, would be unlikely to accept the grant if he or she could not do so. In this case it is self-evident that basing the grant offer on the tender with the lowest eligible costs does not provide the lowest grant that allows the project to proceed, which is the whole point of the exercise. The only reason for the grant scheme is to make good things happen that would not otherwise take place.
In addition, the Council wishes to create the maximum possible impact from this grant scheme. Consequently it wishes to encourage property owners to carry out ineligible works (and therefore to include them in the specifications on which tenders are based) so as to address wider Council policy objectives such as improving the quality of private sector housing.

I have printed the item in full so that nobody can accuse me of cherry-picking.
As I have said the inclusion of eligible and non-eligible works only serves to muddy the water.
In any case it flies in the face of the council's procedures which require that a specification for the eligible works should be drawn up and agreed with the council PRIOR to obtaining quotations.
Were that done there would be no possibility of ineligible (private) work being included in the tender.
To accept the lowest gross tender rather than the lowest tender for eligible work leads to some rather strange anomalies.
Take, for instance, the tender of builder A for £100,000 split 60 : 40 between eligible and ineligible works.
At a grant rate of 50% this will attract public funding of £30,000.
Builder B's tender for £105,000 is split £45,000 : £60,000 which would attract a grant of £22,500.
Clearly A's bid is preferable from the point of view of the owner because (a) it is £5,000 cheaper and (b) it attracts a £7,500 bigger grant - £12,500 in all.
It is not such a good deal for the taxpayer who pays £7,500 extra for the same outcome.
There is a bit of clever footwork starting with the words The principle behind all European funding which is designed to show that there are advantages in paying out a bigger grant.
I'm not altogether convinced about this because it is predicated on the proposition that, unless the tender that maximises the grant is accepted, the owner will not proceed and "good things" will not happen.
As this can never be proved, we have to take the owner's word for that.
The final paragraph is complete homey because, as the ineligible work is a private matter between the builder and the owner, the council has no powers to ensure that these desirable improvements, which form the basis for awarding a bigger grant, are ever carried out.
Not having been allowed access to the bills of quantities and other documents, I make no judgment on the immediate case but it seems to me that allowing private work and grant-eligible work to be intermingled gives rise to the possibility of collusion between the owner, architect and builder.
If the parties were so minded it would be a simple matter to include in the bill of quantities phantom items that it was never intended to carry out, or high specification items when the intention was to use cheaper alternatives.
The builder in the know prices these items very cheaply, while the others, unaware of the scheme, put in a fair price.
Result: the favoured builder submits the lowest tender.
If this is coupled with asymmetric loading of the rates (and therefore the grant) for the eligible work in the chosen builder's tender, it can be very beneficial for the owner.
As I said, there is no evidence that this is what has occurred in this case, but it is the duty of public officials dealing with taxpayers' money to ensure that opportunities for such practices are eliminated as far as is humanly possible.

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