May 16 2013

 

Close brethren

It comes as no surprise that last week during Council the IPPG block vote was called into play to thwart Labour leader Cllr Paul Miller's attempt to shine some light on the grant-awarding process in Pembroke Dock.
After all, these grants have been nodded through by Cllr Jamie Adams' Cabinet with hardly a question asked.
It doesn't seem to have occurred to any of them to wonder whether anyone would really be planning to spend £227,000 on the refurbishment of a tiny 35 m sq shop in Pembroke Dock's Dimond Street.
And that was the lowest tender!
The highest of the six "genuine" bids received was for the astronomical sum of 277,000.
Having spent a good part of my life in the building industry, I fancy you could knock the place down and rebuild it for that sort of money - twice.
Indeed for just £273,000 Persimmon Homes will provide you with a pair of semi-detached three-bed houses on their estate on the Dale Road, Milford Haven.
And that price includes the land, roads, sewers and other services that come as part of any housing development.
The Western Telegraph reports that Plaid Leader Cllr Michael Williams is calling for the matter to be investigated by the authority's audit committee.
I don't much fancy his chances.
The council talks a good game where openness and accountability is concerned, but when it comes to walking the walk its boots are made of lead.
Unfortunately, though I am an elected member, the council has refused to let me see the documentation for these grants on the grounds that they contain personal information.
I have submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act and it will be interesting to see if the Information Commissioner shares their interpretation of the relevant legislation.
In four of the five Kinver Kreation/ McCosker contracts listed G & G builders were the lowest tenderer (Taken for granted).
The number of bids submitted was 16, 6, 6 and 14.
My statistical consultant tells me the probability of drawing the same name out of a hat in these circumstances is 16 x 6 x 6 x14 = 8064 : 1.
Of course, tendering for building contracts is not a random business and among the possible reasons for G & G's high success rate is that they are simply more efficient than their competitors.
Though it should also be noted that, on the other two occasions when Kinver Kreations were the architects - 10 Meyrick Street Pembroke Dock and 18 Main Street Pembroke - G & G were awarded the contract even though they didn't submit the lowest bid.
Heads I win, tails you lose.
But not much fun for the other contractors who went to all the trouble of pricing up a Bill of Quantities with, it would appear, little or no chance of success.

Deja vu

Of course, this is not the first time that a large amount of public money has been expended on the enhancement of Pembroke Dock.
Back in 2000 the Heritage Lottery Fund made grant of £2 million to the Pembroke Dock Townscape Heritage Scheme (see PDTHS).
There was also dosh from PCC (£1.2 million) Welsh National Assembly (£700,000) WDA (£2 million) Cadw (£220,000) and European Commission (£1 million) - some £7.1 million in all.
Together with private sector contributions from Milford Haven Port Authority, Irish Ferries and other private businesses the total expenditure was nearly £10 million.
Pembrokeshire County Council was the lead authority and the funds were administered by a Steering Committee chaired by Cllr Brian Hall, though I have not been able to locate any minutes of its meetings on the county council's website.
Given my dinosaur tendencies, this may be because of my technical inadequacies rather than their non-existence.
Perhaps one of the nerds who visit this site will give it go and let me know how they get on.
Thanks to the estimable Mr John Hudson, I now have a copy of the evaluation carried out by the Department of Planning, Oxford Brooks University on behalf of the Heritage Lottery Fund.
I have to say that this document gives a less than ringing endorsement of the efforts of Cllr Hall and his committee.
"Quality of life down 0.5%. Townscape improvement up 5.75%. Economic regeneration up 3% and Image and confidence building up 1.75%" these last two mainly attributed to the boost in employment from the LNG developments on the shores of the Haven.
The only real positive is on the townscape side of things, but even there the assessment is less than enthusiastic; recording that: "large sums have been lavished on a few large projects such as the Sunderland hangers, the Garrison Chapel and the market" the last two of which "remain barely used."
The expenditure on these flagship projects is given as: Garrison Chapel £1.85 million; Sunderland Hangers £1.5 million and the Market £1.3 million with another £850,000 on repairs to the Dockyard walls and £386,000 on Sunderland House
As the summary concludes: "The balanced scorecard yielded only minor increases of 2.5%" and while scores for 11 of the 16 indicators rose some of the increases were only marginal and two went down and three remained the same.
Undeterred, the Heritage Lottery Fund made a further grant in 2007. The results are still awaited.
It is of course entirely coincidental that it was in 2000 that Cllr Hall and Dr Michael Ryan were hatching their plans to make a killing in Pembroke Dock (Hall-Ryan)

Friends in need

In a letter in last week's Western Telegraph, Gordon James of Friends of the Earth berates climate change sceptic Leon Ollin for basing his argument on the Oregon Petition - a document allegedly signed by 32,000 climate scientists denying the link between human activity and climate change.
As Mr James points out, the Oregon Petition; signed by the likes of Gerry Halliwell and Perry Mason has been widely discredited
In the same letter Mr James relies on an opinion poll of "practising climate scientists" which shows that 97% believe that "human activity is fuelling dangerous climate change".
This reliability of this survey has also called into question (97% questioned) and even on its own terms it is difficult to see how it can support the use of the word "dangerous".
Never mind, as Mr James says, this survey has attracted support from such experts in statistical methods and research procedures as "local authorities, the WI, Welsh Rugby Union, farming and trades unions and the International Energy Agency (IEA)."
Incidentally, neither China or India are members of the IEA.
In any case, this competition between opinion surveys is profoundly unscientific.
Science doesn't proceed by consensus.
As someone once said: "science is not democratic, it is a dictatorship. And the dictator is the facts."
Indeed, all scientific advance involves the overturning of received wisdom - think Galileo, Darwin, Einstein and Alfred Wegener whose theory of tectonic plates and continental drift; first published in 1915, was roundly rejected by the geological establishment and was only accepted in the 1950s when the evidence could no longer be resisted.
Of course, the fact that someone seeks to overturn the consensus doesn't mean they are right.
Indeed, the safe bet is to go with the general view of the experts, while at the same time accepting that because a majority of people believe something doesn't prove it is true.
The problems caused by contrarian views on the MMR vaccine is a case in point.
Mr James goes on to say that the most prominent climate sceptics: Fred Singer, Richard Linzen and Patrick Michaels, have all been funded at some time or another by tobacco, oil or coal interests.
This is yet another logical fallacy in that the fact that someone has been mistaken about one thing doesn't prove they are mistaken about another.
After all, Isaac Newton was a fan of alchemy and Alfred Russel Wallace - Darwin's co-author of the original paper on evolution - was deeply into spiritualism.
And Albert Einstein spent the last few years of his life railing against the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics, famously saying that "God doesn't play dice".
The source of someone's funding proves nothing about the validity of their research - that depends on whether their conclusions stand up to close inspection by their scientific peers
In any case, FoE are not entirely squeaky clean in this respect.
An article in the Guardian (where else?) informs us that: "An analysis for Friends of the Earth, published today by the EU policy expert Dr Charlotte Burns from the University of York, provides a damning critique of UK environmental performance over decades, and highlights the huge risks of EU withdrawal."
What the Guardian doesn't say is that one of the huge risks is to FoE's funding, almost half of which comes from various European institutions: - EU DG Environment € 777,917; EU DG Development € 284,035; Executive Agency for Competitiveness and Innovation € 18,926; EU Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency € 106,781 (see FoE funding).

Stop press

2 p.m. Friday 10 May

The Tories have managed to recruit a third member, card-carrying party member David Bryan - see (Musical chairs) this week's column.
Cllr Bryan claims that the reason for this move is that "Individual councillors on Pembrokeshire County Council seem to be having declining influence" and that he feels he will have "more chance of holding the ruling group to account in County Hall by collective rather than individual action"

Old Grumpy was taking a keen interest in the voting patterns at yesterday's council meeting and I noticed that, with the exception of the vote on Cllr Paul Miller's proposal to suspend standing orders, the Tories voted solidly with the IPPG.

As I have said before, the Tories are basically IPPG-outreach, which is why they failed to make much of an impression in what should be the safe Conservative seat of Burton.

The electorate is smart enough to work out that you can either vote Conservative and elect a member of a minority party, or you can vote IPPG and get more or less the same policies with the advantage that your local member will be part of the majority group and, therefore, in a much better position to "get things done" in the ward.

Of course, if Cllr Bryan can turn the Tories into a true party of opposition, that would be a welcome development.
But I'm not holding my breath!

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