Jacob Williams
Tuesday 21st March, 2017

Amateur dramatics

Amateur dramatics

The most entertaining awards ceremony moment, bar none, unfolded last month with the climax of the 89th Academy Awards ceremony.

This saw the gong for best picture wrongly handed to the bookies’ firmest favourite in years, musical La La Land.

Adding to the mirth was how long it took to rectify. Most of the film’s production crew had given acceptance speeches before the mistake was announced and drama Moonlight was declared the real winner.

It was the stuff of dreams for entertainment reporters, who wasted no time laying the blame for the biggest balls-up in Tinseltown history entirely in the hands of a bumbling accountant called Brian.

He had one job to do! Handing over an envelope! But his attention was distracted.

This was Brian Cullinan, joint-guardian of the awards envelopes with his colleague, Martha Ruiz.

Against instructions not to, he was caught snapping photos of the night’s penultimate award winner backstage – best actress recipient, La La Land star Emma Stone.

Cullinan and Ruiz are the high-ranking officials from PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm which has officiated the Academy Awards’ complex voting process for over eighty years.

Positioned in the wings one each side of the stage, the board-level pair were entrusted with a set of complete winners’ envelopes each, for backup purposes.

Held in flashy briefcases emblazoned with gold-plated PwC logos, they were to be handed to award presenters before the big on-stage reveals.

Cullinan was so preoccupied with Tweeting Stone’s pic that he mistakenly handed Warren Beatty – the final award announcer – Stone’s back-up envelope.

Famously anti-Trump, the Hollywood elite’s disdain for the new president and his own so-called ineptitude formed the backdrop of the evening.

So there was a special irony that such a monumental howler could upstage their pious gala bash and the presentation of their industry’s crowning glory.

Now readers may wonder what this farce has to do with a blog whose spotlight is usually trained on Pembrokeshire County Council matters.

The link is somewhat tenuous, but as you’ll see JW will use any excuse to bring the video at the bottom of this post to a wider audience.

The more dedicated council-watchers will recall that PCC had its own brush with PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Only on that occasion the PwC briefcases contained £70k of your cash.

Without recourse to any elected members, PCC’s chief executive commissioned PwC to come into the council to identify multi-millions of savings senior staff were unable to.

The plan – at least as far as PwC was concerned – was to hook the authority with the £70k scoping report, with a view to a longer-term engagement for which the company would earn a commission of any cuts it helped identify.

Councillors were also led to believe that, following the provision of this £70k report, that’s exactly what would happen.

The scheme was the subject of a scathing BBC documentary by renowned documentarian Jacques Peretti.

PwC had impressed a considerable number of councils across the UK into commissioning reports, which Peretti’s investigations suggested were of questionable value.

Many of these authorities were located in Wales, some of which featured in the documentary, including Pembrokeshire.

PwC, the documentary revealed, had a predatory strategy of burrowing themselves in so far that there was no return for the councils.

This approach – dubbed ‘land and expand’ – is described as “profit out of austerity.”

After the show aired, PwC’s relationship with PCC came to a very quiet end.

You may have noticed my cameo in the film, where I was interviewed above North Beach, Tenby.

But I wish to regale readers with the documentary’s highlight.

Not my appearance before the idyllic harbour scene, but the leader of Ceredigion council, Ellen ap Gwynn, interviewed in her own territory – her council office.

Ceredigion council was sucked in by PwC’s glossy presentations, and engaged the firm for the long haul – handing over an unconfirmed chunk of the savings they helped identify.

The Plaid Cymru council leader got stroppy with Peretti after he persisted in asking her to confirm if this figure was 16%.

The nerve of him to ask!

Ellen stubbornly and repeatedly refused to answer, and as the temperature rose, brought the interview to an abrupt end.

The car crash showdown culminated in Peretti and his crew being turfed out of the council offices – with the bolshie battleaxe barking: “Will you please get out of my room, the bloody lot of you!”

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  • Flashbang

    Jacob, are you sure PwC’s relationship with PCC came to an end after the show aired? I wouldn’t put it past them to have a secret deal going to drain every last penny from the county’s coffers, or what’s left from the largesse being thrown around at the moment.

    For a council that’s supposed to be tightening its belt there seems to be an extraordinary amount being thrown away on non-starters, the St Davids City of Culture bid being one of them.

  • Malcolm Calver

    What an enlightening video that sadly shows the arrogant attitude of her and many county councillors and we must remember this lady is a member of the party which claims to be “The Party of Wales” and thus our way forward in future.

    Surely we have to now rein in such pompous people who think that just being elected allows them to act in such a manner. Does she and others like her realise they are talking about and handling money that has been provided to the council, not voluntary, but on demand?

    I am not aware if this person is standing for re-election in May but if so I do hope electors in her ward view this video and consider their options very carefully.

  • Brian

    I suspect we will find the next area of fertile ground for consultancy firms selling snake oil is going to be the large regional projects such as the Swansea City Deal.

    We need to monitor very closely how PCC contributes taxpayers’ money to this and have clear lines of accountability.

    The cross border shared service arrangements where schemes are administered for a collective of local authorities by one LA on their behalf are already proving to be a minefield behind which councils can hide from attempts to establish transparency/accountability.

    I notice that PwC has cosied into Swansea’s Institute of Life Science building. Hmm, when was consultancy/accountancy ever considered a life science?

    It smacks of new offices underutilised to me, just like the Pembroke Dock Technium – a flop project in partnership with Swansea Uni.

    Swansea University is clearly positioning itself at the centre of this grand new regional initiative yet it has a reputation as being a nest of vipers.

    Standby for PCC to get sucked right in and all the ‘big shots’ at PCC and Pembrokeshire College strutting around at our expense showing us all what suppressed entrepreneurial geniuses they actually are.

  • Keanjo

    Many councils in Wales went to this company and in return for a substantial fee received an almost identical report. Why didn’t someone have the nous to look at another county’s report before diving in with £70,000 of council tax payers’ money?

  • Dai Trump

    Keanjo makes a very good point but sadly the whole situation of councils and consultants does not work like that.

    In the sad bad old days of the Welsh Development Agency, it was actually encouraged and was often the prerequisite of securing grant money, loan approvals or other support. Names of organisations change but sadly the consultant mentality does not.

    In this respect PCC is probably no worse than any other Welsh authority but let’s face it, why tax the minds and imagination of Pembrokeshire’s highly paid Directors and Heads of Service when you can, no doubt on their recommendation, shell out tens of thousands of pounds of our money safe in the comfort of knowing that if it all goes wrong or proves to be worthless advice, at least no blame can attach to them or to the councillors who were only following consultants’ advice.

    The gravy train is alive and well, accountability and using the skills and knowledge of the highly paid staff at County Hall sadly does not seem to be on the agenda.

  • Goldingsboy

    We, in Pembrokeshire, should reflect on the almost certain fact that the timing of the BBC documentary saved us from parting with only £70,000 to PwC. The hapless taxpayers of Ceredigion, the programme revealed, shelled out a wopping £1,000,000.

  • John Hudson

    It is all very well commissioning consultants, even procuring legal advice that supports the council’s contentious position, however an impartial view needs to be applied to that advice rather than blind acceptance at face value.

    It seems that officers and most councillors are incapable of exercising such scrutiny on our behalf.

  • Flashbang, during the debate on the St Davids City of Culture bid, cabinet member for economy Keith Lewis said “If I had to put money on it I would make it a small amount.”

    He then went on to recommend that the council commit £5 million capital and £800,000 revenue spending to the scheme.

    So either Cllr Lewis is so rich that the odd few million is petty cash, or he has forgotten that, where taxpayers’ money is concerned, you have a much higher duty of care than when your own funds are involved.

  • John Hudson

    It looks as though the Cabinet led IPG council went on a last minute carefree spending spree, committing the next council to all sorts of projects.

    According to the advice of the Director of Finance the money for these has yet to be identified, and the cabinet did not offer any direction.

    One of the first jobs for the next elected council may be to review service priorities and commitments and consider recasting the budget within the approved envelope.

    As the new leisure centre/culture services management structure and attendant savings will not be achieved, has cabinet identified where this shortfall will be funded from?

  • Keanjo

    Mike, £5.8 million! Have these people lost their minds?

    St David’s is a lovely place and does not need the razzmatazz that goes with the city of culture award. I hope the Almighty agrees.

  • Malcolm Calver

    I note that the Western Telegraph has a section on its website which will allow candidates to make their pitch for the Pembrokeshire County Council election in May 2017.

    Surely if the candidates can make their pitch through the newspaper/website, there should be a facility on the website allowing voters to question them.

    We are constantly told the internet is the way forward and I am sure many residents would like to question to the likes of Cllr Adams or the Leader of Ceredigion council.

    I am aware that you as a candidate cannot do it Jacob but I would hope the Western Telegraph with all its expertise could provide this service for the people of Pembrokeshire.

  • Flashbang

    Another election, another cock up!


  • Faux Espoir

    Residents should question all candidates knocking their doors during the election campaign.

    The ballot box may return a totally different council in May with a large number of candidates detailing their true independence whilst others follow a standard party form.

    Of interest will be if ‘independent’ candidates state their intention to form a political group when challenged on the doorstep. It’s this political format which has caused such contention during the last council term.

    The opportunity for change has arrived, now those who have been forthright in their opinions need to action change in a democratic way.

  • Morgi

    Mr. Calver takes every opportunity in having a pop at anything that’s associated with the party of Wales – I agree with his sentiments regarding the Ceredigion Leader but I remind him that the arrogant attitude to which he refers is not the sole preserve of Plaid Cymru.

  • Malcolm Calver

    Morgi, you seem to be an anonymous supporter or at least defender of Plaid Cymru. All I was commenting on at this time was the video of the Ceredigion Leader, who happens to be a member of Plaid Cymru, with an attitude that can only be described as “disgraceful”.

    Maybe you can inform us what action, if any, Plaid Cymru took against the lady after this video was released.

    I would agree this attitude is not the sole preserve of Plaid Cymru councillors but if they did not have such councillors I would be unable to take as you say a “pop” at them and Plaid Cymru.

    I note Plaid Cymru candidates for the upcoming 2017 Pembrokeshire County Council elections, including their present leader at County Hall Cllr Michael Williams, making their pitch on the Western Telegraph website. They fail to mention the party’s opposition to Brexit which was the decision of the majority in Wales, or the party’s ultimate goal which is an independent Wales.

  • Goldingsboy

    Is it true, Jacob, that the Saintly Sue is planning to abandon all those darling little quids of Pembrokeshire?

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