Jacob Williams
Sunday 28th January, 2018

Blue-sky thinking

Quite a few of you were interested by last month’s Western Telegraph story on Bluestone’s board of directors approving the formation of an employee benefit trust.

In what we’re told is the “first scheme of its kind in the UK leisure industry,” a 30% shareholding has been set aside for the holiday resort’s “eligible staff,” says the press release-based article.

Accompanied by the customary group photo, we’re told employees who have “served for a minimum of 12 months” can soon be “benefiting from profits the company makes.”

Bluestone supremo, William McNamara, with staff

Let’s hope Bluestone’s staff have better luck with their stakes than you Pembrokeshire County Council taxpayers.

On the advice of the authority’s disgraced ex-CEO Bryn Parry-Jones, in 2006 PCC’s cabinet pumped a million pounds of your cash into this outfit.

This was meant to be a loan – and is on top of the near £1m the authority lavished on a new roundabout for Bluestone’s exclusive benefit.

In 2009, following serious financial issues, investors were screwed as the failing Bluestone went into administration.

Taking advantage of the pre-pack administration process, Bluestone founder William McNamara and chums founded a brand new company which then bought the insolvent resort for a fraction of its cost.

Whilst a pledge was made to honour debts to local traders, PCC taxpayers’ £1m loan was written off and converted into practically worthless shares.

This car crash must have been a speck in McNamara’s rear view mirror as he hailed his innovative staff shareholding scheme a “very proud moment for me, my fellow directors and shareholders.”

Last year the company boasted an eye-watering £24m turnover projection – and has ambitious expansion plans.

Flanked by beaming staff against the distant Preselis backdrop, Bluestone Bill says he has his “sights firmly set on the future.”

You bet!

JW couldn’t help noticing how youthful the bunch were, photographed alongside their boss – most appear to be in their twenties.

The WT’s story being devoid of technical detail, readers in the comments section were left to wonder if these guys and gals will be investing any of their own cash under the scheme.

Giving some stick to Parry-Jones and “the PCC shower who “invested” OUR millions,” contributor Tomos sagely advises to never put in money one cannot afford to lose.

Converted from the £1m loan, PCC’s dividendless shareholding jumped from a value of £3 in 2010 to £50 last year.

It’s probably just as well Bill’s millennials have time on their side.

Friends in high places

Tuesday morning’s audit committee will consider a proposal to refer the Dyfed-Powys force to the police watchdog.

It’s been tabled by Cllr. Mike Stoddart, in response to the old bill’s hopeless inaction on the long-running Pembroke Dock grant fraud debacle which he unravelled.

It’ll soon be four years since PCC handed plod a thick dossier of evidence supporting fraud allegations in historic property restoration grants.

It followed months of denials by senior council figures who insisted nothing was amiss.

Earlier this month the Independent Police Complaints Commission was superseded as the police complaints body by the Independent Office for Police Conduct – and that’s where the council’s complaint will be heading if Cllr. Stoddart gets his way.

Readers may recall when a senior Dyfed-Powys Police officer appeared before PCC’s audit committee suggesting action was imminent.

That was in May 2016 – since which time no arrests or charges are known to have been made, despite the evidence having been handed on a plate.

Senior PCC officers and councillors mounted a failed cover-up when Cllr. Stoddart first suggested impropriety.

The whitewashing exercise – which backfired big time – introduced what can only be described as lies to discredit the campaigning councillor and put him off the scent.

The report to Tuesday’s meeting by the authority’s director of finance is surprisingly well-balanced, rightly having no recommendation for or against making the proposed watchdog referral.

It goes as far as stating: “the time taken to conclude the investigation is unacceptable and worthy of a complaint.”

But the clanger is dropped – without a hint of self-awareness – in the final sentence:

“However, the Council does enjoy a good relationship with Dyfed Powys Police, and other options may be preferable to explore, such as the Chief Executive speaking again to the Chief Constable, or requesting an update at the next Audit Committee.”

Many point to this cosy relationship between the council and the police as precisely why there’s been no action so far.

And the suggestion that this ‘unacceptable’ delay could instead be dealt with by a behind-closed-doors phone call between their respective top dogs – for which they’ve got form – will do nothing to appease a highly suspicious public.

The audit committee meeting starts at 10am on Tuesday, 30th January, webcasted live and archived afterwards at this link. Cllr. Stoddart will speak in support of his proposal at agenda item 4. He has also been invited to speak on being denied information by Carmarthenshire County Council officers, who administer a separate grant scheme on PCC’s behalf. Their refusal to allow access – and the general principle of joint working and how it affects councillors’ entitlement to information – will be discussed at agenda item 5.

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  • Patrick

    The audit committee, according to the webcast site, is Tuesday 30th of Jan. Correct me if I am wrong.

  • Thank you Patrick, date corrected.

    I was actually thinking of Friday 2nd February when the corporate governance committee meets (at 2pm) with a similarly interesting agenda (to me, anyway) including two proposals of my own.

    Committing all these meeting dates to memory can be a challenge as they always come together, in a cycle!

  • Readers may also be interested to know that the request I made to audit committee members (detailed below) has been agreed to and will feature on Tuesday’s audit committee meeting:

  • Patrick

    Thank you for your answer. These meeting discussions will be interesting and hopefully enlightening too.

  • Keanjo

    Does our 3% interest in this company obtained at the cot of almost £2 million entitle us to a say in the running of the business?

    For instance, are we represented on the board of directors? Have we access to the annual accounts? How is the dividend calculated?

  • PCC has never received a dividend payment – this was confirmed by cabinet member Bob Kilmister at the July 2017 full council meeting.

    He was answering a public question (agenda item 22) tabled by David Edwards – a regular comment contributor to this blog.

    As to the other parts of your question, I think I could hazard a guess, but somebody else may be able to confirm – possibly even David.

  • Flashbang

    Love the way it looks like PCC admitting to a pact between themselves and Dyfed-Powys Police.

    What would be even better is if prosecutions came about for perverting the course of justice.

  • Malcolm Calver

    Jacob, perhaps you would clarify the position regarding the grants fiasco.

    I thought the police gathered the evidence and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) prosecuted or not based on that evidence.

    Are you aware if the file has been passed to the CPS?

  • Dave Edwards

    Predictably, Keanjo, Adams & Co. did not insist on a seat at the director’s table but just handed our money over!

    The local directors are Mr and Mrs McNamara, Neil Evans and Gerald Atkins.

    The net value of the company, at January 2017, was estimated as £16.1 million with assets of £3.1m and liabilities of £7.1m.

    It is hard to see why they couldn’t raise the funds needed commercially.

  • Keanjo

    Dave, I can’t help wondering how a company with assets of £3.1 million and liabilities of £7.1million can have a net value of £16.1 million and a 3% book value of £50.

    Can anyone explain in understandable language?

  • Malcolm, I don’t think there’s been any update stating if the case is in the hands of the police, the CPS, or somewhere in-between. It’s all a bit cloudy.

  • Martin Lewis

    Cloudy? DODGY is the word you’re looking for Jacob!

  • John Hudson

    Following the last cabinet meeting and the policy pre-decision O&S committee meeting, councillors are to be offered workshops on technical CIPFA accounting procedures.

    Apparently there are three methods in use, but only the one that is used for annual budget and financial control purposes is reported in detail to cabinet and members.

    A CIPFA total cost full cost recovery income generation strategy was approved by the previous administration in July 2016, apparently in full ignorance of what they were approving.

    This allows real expenditure, as approved in the annual budget to be topped up by notional charges when charges for services are set and approved by cabinet. We then are obliged to meet these inflated charges, if we use charged for services.

    As a WAO report on income generation (November 2016) suggests, councillors are required to take other wider matters into account when setting charges, not least the purpose of the legal authority allowing the council to provide the service and our ability to pay both increased council tax and increased charges.

    I wonder if the technical accounting presentation to members will also, for the sake of completeness, include the other relevant considerations councillors should take into account when making decisions?

    These presentations are to be made in secret to members. Our well informed councillors are our only protection against abuses of power.

    At the moment, under financial regulations and the constitution, all the levers for the allocation and spending of capital, the spending of revenue within approved revenue service budgets, including the allocation and use of reserves, are in the hands of officers.

    When will councillors get a grip and take control and accountability for the council’s (our) money?

  • Dave Edwards

    I see that Bluestone have now paid Pembrokeshire County Council a dividend of £3030.30. So in just 600 years we will get our money back (less of course 600 years of inflation).

    Hey-ho, it’s a start!

  • John Hudson

    Dave, didn’t we find that PCC had an invite to the AGM, but did not know who, if anyone went to it?

  • Dave Edwards

    John, shareholders have a legal right to attend a company’s AGM but I don’t know if anyone from PCC did.

  • Flashbang

    Here’s something: Dyfed-Powys Police are asking for volunteers to join their Independent Advisory Group.

    I’m betting they already have their hand picked stooge/s and are just going through the motions to make it look legit.

    As they are hopelessly compromised over their inaction on the grants investigation nothing they say or do can be accepted as the truth. Any thoughts on the matter?

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