Jacob Williams
Sunday 19th January, 2014

Out of the extraordinary

Out of the extraordinary

Following on from my previous post, the papers have now been submitted by Cllr. Mike Stoddart, the author of that other website, calling for an extraordinary council meeting to revisit a proposal of his that was voted down in December.

At the Christmas full council meeting, the ruling group’s block vote defeated his request: “that all information (bills of quantities, tender reports, final accounts, etc) on the Pembroke and Pembroke Dock commercial property grants scheme is made available on a confidential basis to all Council Members,” to which he had also added a clause which would have allowed information deemed by council officers to be ‘commercially sensitive’ to remain blacked out.

However, as has been covered in quite some detail over on his website, and can be seen on the webcast, the main thrust of the speech given during the meeting by cabinet member Cllr. David Pugh, who heads the cabinet portfolio covering the grant schemes, was untruthful.

Cllr. Stoddart says that the untrue claims – which Cllr. Pugh has since apologised for – meant that councillors were misled and voted on false information, and he believes the matter should be revisited at an extraordinary meeting, which requires the written support of fifteen councillors to proceed.

When I came in to County Hall on Tuesday, it was quite enjoyable to hear the old duffer grovelling for my signature on his withered sheet of paper. Withered, because it had travelled many miles along country lanes, inside a poly-pocket, sitting on the passenger seat of his silver jalopy, as he made his way around the county collecting the necessary signatures, one-by-one.

He had more than enough councillors pledge their signatures (though not one from the ruling group) but due to a strict interpretation of the constitution, it is necessary for them all to be on the same physical document. He didn’t need to travel to fifteen councillors’ homes, though, only a few, because he worked out that he would have the opportunity to bump into several members by coming in to County Hall when committee meetings were being held.

Bright and early on Monday he came in ahead of the January cabinet meeting. I suspect he may have been in the early stages of desperation at this point, because as you’ll be aware, there are no opposition members on the cabinet. I’ve even heard a rumour that he was seen loitering near the door of the cabinet room, pre-meeting, and overheard asking if the leader and Cllr. David Pugh would be willing to add their signatures to save him having to come back another day.

He didn’t manage it, and so his desperation reached fever pitch on the Tuesday, when he pootled back down to County Hall to linger around the members’ room, this time, ahead of the environment overview and scrutiny committee meeting. There must be some other exploits as sad as this one, but I can’t think of any.

I can say with quite some certainty that things would have been delayed had I not signed. My claim can be evidenced by the fact that my signature was the fifteenth – and final – on the requisition. On close inspection, there should be a streak of ink running from the end of my signature to the edge of the sheet. No sooner had my trademark purple 0.5mm ballpoint made the final turn of the letter ‘s,’ had Cllr. Stoddart pulled his letterheaded sheet of A4 from beneath my hand, folded it up, and trotted down the corridor to deposit it with the chairman’s office.

I’ve since found out a likely explanation for Old Grumpy’s haste. If I hadn’t signed he was faced with a tortuous trip to St. Davids to drop in on the learnéd Cllr. David Lloyd, who had pledged to sign on the Monday morning, where, in the event, they missed each other by mere minutes.

Had I known this beforehand I could’ve got revenge for some of his recent tasteless jibes about my mathematical ability, and made him trek all the way through the Newgale warzone, on to the bright lights of the city. But I’m not like that.

Cllr. Arwyn Williams, the chairman, has a week to agree and set the date of the extraordinary meeting, or to refuse. Should he refuse, or not respond at all, the constitution allows Cllr. Stoddart and his co-signatories to write to the head of legal and committee services, who is bound to set the meeting within five days.

However, in a very recent development, it appears that the legislation governing council members’ rights of access to documents could mean Cllr. Stoddart’s request for an extraordinary meeting – and the original vote in December – might not have been necessary after all.

Tomorrow morning an extraordinary meeting of the audit committee has been set up to look into the matter of the Pembroke Dock grant schemes. It has previously been referred to as an ‘investigation,’ a term which comes with quasi-judicial connotations, however recent references – including the agenda – now refer to it as a ‘review.’

The fact that the audit committee is raking over this matter at all was initiated by Cllr. Michael Williams at the beginning of last summer, which is referred to in the minutes of the committee’s June 2013 meeting. It is completely unrelated to the vote taken at the December full council meeting to refuse Cllr. Stoddart’s request for all councillors to have confidential access to the documentation.

It was known – and confirmed more than once – during December’s full council meeting that the very information Cllr. Stoddart wanted to be made available to all councillors will be made available to the small number of councillors serving on the audit committee, of which I am one.

But in an email sent out to all audit committee members, Cllr. Stoddart says according to his interpretation of the legislation, all members of council – not just those on the audit committee – are entitled to view and inspect the documents due to be pored over by the audit committee.

Unlike the motion that was voted down at the December full council, this will be without the redaction of the ‘commercially sensitive’ information.

The extraordinary meeting of the council’s audit committee, which is open to the public, will commence at 9.30 tomorrow morning (20th) at County Hall.

The sole item of business stipulated on the meeting’s published notice and agenda is: “a review of the Commercial Property Grant Scheme and Town Heritage Initiative.”

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  • Goldingsboy

    Jacob, can we just go into the Audit Committee room tomorrow or is there some form of procedure to follow?

  • Hi Goldingsboy, I hope and expect it will be the same as all public meetings, where members of the viewing public are free to turn up and come in and out of the committee rooms when they like. However, I don’t think anybody is sure yet what will happen when the ‘commercially sensitive’ information crops up.

  • Welshman 23

    Is there going to be a webcast for this meeting.

  • I’m pretty sure there won’t be, the webcasting trial only includes full council meetings.

  • Goldingsboy

    In my attempt to attend this meeting I met with cones placed across the PCC car park and was informed by the guard on duty that it was full. Perhaps it was, but my suspicious mind about this council and its anti-democratic culture caused me to think otherwise.

  • John Hudson

    Goldingsboy, I have given up trying to park in County Hall to attend council/committee meetings. Even when there are free spaces.

    Apparently there are instructions that we prospective attendees are not to be allowed in to park there. Perhaps it’s an attempt to increase parking income? I don’t know what if any special arrangements there are for disabled council watchers.

    Perhaps I had nodded off or could not hear, but did I miss the legal advice being given about the wider public interest test that can override the exempt rules?

  • Tim

    Goldingsboy: the car park is always full. You will see staff waiting for spaces to become available quite often. It has always seemed odd to me that they reserve/allow spaces for paid employees and councillors but members of the public trying to visit County Hall get turned away.

  • Goldingsboy

    Oh well but, throughout my 70 years on the planet, ready access to the council chamber has always been taken for granted – and then I moved to Pembrokeshire.

    Now I can understand why the Western Telegraph has to rely on press handouts and snaps of the leading lights of the IPG to fill its pages.

    Fortunately for us, the online efforts of Old Grumpy and Jacob more than fill the gap in the democratic process.

  • Welshman 23

    Good luck with the Audit Committee, let’s hope it’s the start of a new era of honesty and integrity.

    After yesterday’s proposed announcement of a possible merger with Ceredigion let’s hope that all the indifferences are ironed out and let the Pembrokeshire people get value for money.

  • Goldingsboy

    Jacob, as a member of the Audit Committee, could you give an update on the progress and direction of the committee’s investigation into the awarding of grants at Pembroke Dock?

  • Hi Goldingsboy,

    You may be aware that the author of that other website uploaded a post this morning, here. Alas, I can quite understand your desire to read literature of a higher quality, on the topic.

    I hope to update the county’s premier blog with something soon.

  • Welshman 23

    Jacob, I’m waiting for the outcome of Monday’s meeting, what happened?

  • The wait is now over!

  • Powertothepeople

    I am quite shocked at some of the comments at the council meeting that I saw on the ‘webcast.’

    A lot of them seem to have it in for Mike Stoddart. You were good Jacob and also the gentleman sitting next to you. When certain councillors mentioned how happy the people of Pembroke Dock were with the new shops in Dimond St. I cannot imagine them raving over the charity shop or the off license.

    The ones that have brightened up the town are the two jewellers, the florist, the shop next to the post office and the new card shop. They really are pleasing to the eye.

  • Powertothepeople

    And not forgetting the new cafe on the corner of Gordon Street/Dimond St. The people who have it have really made a great job of it.

  • John Hudson

    Your Pembroke Dock followers may wish to look up a Five Year Review Report, Townscape Heritage Initiative Schemes Evaluation, carried out in 2008 by Oxford Brookes University for the Heritage Lottery Fund. This report contains details for projects in Pembroke Dock.

    I understand that recipient authorities are required to submit their own completed project evaluations to grant aided bodies. I have not seen any such reports submitted to our councillors, even for information. I have been informed that these are, or should be, available to the public. I have asked PCC but…

    I understand that HLF arranges these evaluation reports in phases, so we still have some to come. I have not been able to track co-funder evaluation reports, if there are any.

  • Powertothepeople,

    You might like to consider the following facts which were supplied to me last summer by the council’s European Office.

    1. The grant paid for No. 29 Dimond Street (Paul Sartori charity shop) was £63,127 on a total spend of £114,000.

    2. The grant paid for No 31 (flower shop) was £24,735 on a total spend of £42,648.

    3. The grant paid for refurbishing retail space at Paul Sartori (excluding the shop window) was £21,312, which at a grant rate of 40% means a total of £53,280 was spent on the interior of the shop.

    4. The grant paid for refurbishing retail space at the flower shop (excluding the shop window) was £4,329, which at a grant rate of 40% means that £10,822 was spent on the interior of the shop.

    So the interior of Paul Sartori cost five times as much as the flower shop, and for a much inferior job.

    As for Cllr David Pugh’s claims at full council that I was either a liar or an incompetent, a transcript can be found on my website together with my comments. (Click here to read.)

    What can be concluded is that hardly anything Cllr Pugh said during his ten-minute tirade bore any resemblance to the truth.

  • Powertothepeople

    Good luck to you Cllr Stoddart, may you come out of all of this with your head held high.

  • Kate Becton

    At least the old duffer has managed to post an account of the meeting – are you finding the experience so traumatic that you are unable to cope?

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