Jacob Williams
Monday 30th June, 2014

The wombler returns

The wombler returns

Not that I feel I owe any excuses for the timespan since my previous post – almost two weeks – but as Old Grumpy reveals in a scoop he posted on his blog this evening, I have been away at Wimbledon to watch the tennis.

In any case, the tennis would be a lame excuse because I was only away four days and there have been no county developments to write home about. But what Old Grumpy neglects to tell his readers this evening is that, whilst I was wombling around SW19, he rang me on my mobile, scouting for me to check out his (then) most recent blogpost about the police investigation into the Pembroke Dock grant scheme fraud allegations.

With strawberries and cream and a tennis match before me, I found it difficult to feign much interest. But I concluded his desperation for readers had stooped to a new low, and, not to hurt his feelings, said I would check it out at a more convenient time.

Desperate for readers he may well have been, but he’s served the equivalent of an ace in our blog-rivalry this evening. Even the most uncharitable opponent would have to concede that, in the unlikely event anybody happens to stumble upon his blog, they’re in for a rare treat: something actually worth reading.

It regards the shock resignation at the end of May of John Evans MBE, the lay chairman of the council’s audit committee, which, among other things, has been probing several issues concerning the Pembroke Dock historic property grant schemes, funded by public cash administered by the county council.

Along with six councillors including me, Mr. Evans was the statutory non-councillor independent “lay” member of the audit committee, and during his two years in the post served as the committee’s chairman.

Mr. Evans’ unexpected resignation sent shockwaves through council circles, at a time when police were already conducting their own investigation into allegations of fraud in the grant schemes.

In this evening’s post, Old Grumpy has reproduced the letter John Evans sent to the council’s chief executive, announcing his immediate resignation, dated 29th May.

As a member of the audit committee who had some experience of his chairmanship, I can say that Mr. Evans seemed to me to have a firm grasp of the issues surrounding the shortcomings by the council in its administration of grants schemes, and of the allegations of fraud. Under his chairmanship I had confidence that he knew what he wanted to achieve, and was prepared to shine light into corners that some would rather were left undisturbed.

As Old Grumpy points out in his exclusive, I’ve actually been sitting on the resignation letter for some weeks, having obtained a copy of it from the council’s chief executive. It now appears that the letter, which the chief executive reminded me had been marked as “PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL Letter,” has been placed into the public domain by the authority, having been disclosed to the regular correspondent of this blog, David Edwards, under a Freedom of Information request – and what interesting reading it makes.

For those councillors and officers who would like you to believe that the council is turning a new leaf on the transparency and openness front, Mr. Evans’ letter delivers what can only be described as a devastating bombshell.

It’s long been known that some inhabitants of County Hall have a unique understanding of the word ‘independent,’ but Mr. Evans – as the lay independent member – certainly gave every impression that he owned a dictionary, and his resignation is a disappointing loss.

What is more disappointing – and concerning – about his departure, are the reasons he cites in his resignation letter, including that the “vision” he held is “no longer aligned to the appetite for change held by the Authority.”

Are you a reader who fancies becoming the audit committee’s independent lay member? If so, you have until 8th July to apply to fill the vacancy, details can be found here:

http://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/content.asp?nav=101,2212&id=29243


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21 Comments...

  • Timetraveller

    Does one expect a leopard to change its spots? No surprises here.

    As the author of that other website notes, Mr McCosker has offered to “refund” a cool £250,000 in grants, and not disclosing his bank statements can raise all sorts of suspicions.

    If there was an investigation going on, I would have thought that the police would already have accessed his accounts, they certainly have the authority to do so, as he is a figure of significance in a financial matter. If anything, moving an investigation to Carmarthen should have speeded things up, unless of course the intent was the exact opposite.

    If the leopard that can’t change his spots is involved, there is far more to this than Mr McCosker. Does this not put the Chief Constable in an awkward position? Methinks this is a hayfield that won’t be getting mown soon! (May the long grass grow.)

  • John Hudson

    I see that the 2013/14 financial monitoring report is due for Cabinet’s rubber stamp on Monday. No inclusion or mention of the usual earmarked reserves table.

    Who is under any illusion that Cabinet is accountable for our money and its use?

    As a councillor you may recall that some £1.6m was required to be “saved” in 2013/14 on the provision of our services. A quick glance shows that while the report states that this saving was achieved, (without any evidence) some £1.6m has been found to put towards the 21st Century Schools programme.

    This report and the Council’s accounts will not be formally presented to full Council, although this report will be shoved in front of ineffective scrutiny committees. It is after all too late to do anything, the money, our money, has been spent!

  • Keanjo

    John Evans is an honourable man and in his resignation letter he is telling us that he has no trust whatsoever in the Administrators of PCC.

    Many of us outside the walls of the Kremlin share these misgivings but this is from someone who was very much inside those walls and must be very seriously listened to.

    Considering the ongoing police investigations and the ‘outcomes of the processes’ in many of the services controlled by the County Council, it cannot be long before the First Minister steps in. The sooner the better.

  • Goldingsboy

    The contents of the resignation letter should have rung alarm bells in Cardiff, and the Wales Audit Office should be crawling all over the Kremlin by now.

    What on earth are they waiting for?

  • Welshman 23

    A little humour to your wonderful blog. Perhaps you and Old Grumpy should merge, some names to consider…

    Old Jacob

    Jacob Grumpy

    The Kremlin is quiet for the moment, it must be hay and silage time.

  • John Hudson

    I see that not only the ability of the Council (that is for PCC, a hand picked selection of councillors appointed to the Senior Staff Committee – advised by senior officers) to determine pay and conditions is to be subject to evaluation by the Independent Remuneration Panel, but now SI 2014 No 1514 (W55) requires from 1 July 2014 that such decisions, concerning the appointment or dismissal of the head of paid service, discipline and rates of pay and changes in the rates of pay for chief officers can no longer be delegated but must be made by the authority.

    Further, all jobs in excess of £100,000 are to be openly advertised.

    I believe this arrangement was promoted by unaffiliated councillors (OG I think) not that long ago but was watered down, on the advice of officers, supported by the majority IPG, so that the decisions of the Senior Staff Committee had to be formally reported to Council.

    Whether the Council had an effective veto under this arrangement depends of course on the IPG block vote.

  • John Hudson

    Quite clearly the Leader hasn’t been told that senior officers have no inclination or intention of meeting the public declarations of openness and transparency or following the “improvement” path. Perhaps they are under instruction?

    Can I add that the Council’s 2013/14 Accounts are open for public inspection from next Monday.

  • Keanjo

    Welshman, as distinct from pay and mileage time?

  • Goldingsboy

    The Old Grumpy website for the 26th June surely adds to our understanding of how some bureaucratic minds actually work at the Kremlin.

    They are apparently such understanding fellows in the European funding team that they gladly accepted a photocopy of a cheque stub, from Mr McCosker, as proof of payment as he was not prepared to furnish his bank statement as required under the terms of the grant application.

    I wonder, perchance, if a tax inspector would be similarly so sympathetically obliging?

  • Sallie

    John, are the council’s accounts available to be inspected online or do you have to arrange an appointment to come in to County Hall?

  • John Hudson

    Sallie, the Statutory Public Notice was given in the WT on 11 June.

    From Monday 7 July to Friday 1 August, between the hours of 10.00am to 4.00pm, any person interested, on application to Unit 19, Thornton Business Park Milford Haven may inspect and make copies of the accounts for the financial year 2013/14 and all books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers and receipts relating thereto.

    Following the Inspection, at which written questions can be asked of Council officers, and replies are required to be given, you, or your representative then have the statutory right to ask the Council’s External Auditor questions about the Accounts on or after Monday 4 August.

    If you look up the Cabinet’s agenda for Monday, the 12 month monitoring report is reported. This and the appendices show the level of financial information that officers feel suitable for Members to know. If you bother to do the sums yourself you can find out how the money has been spent compared with the original budget approved by the Council.

    On an initial pass, it seems that the original planned saving of £1.6m on service provision has been achieved, but no explanation or evidence is given. However it also seems that somehow some £1.6m was found to put towards the 21st Century Schools programme. Again no explanation for this.

    Cabinet are usually quite content to rubber stamp this report as presented without asking any detailed questions, as are Scrutiny Committees.

    The formal draft pre audit accounts document used to be presented to Corporate Governance Committee before the inspection started. This step has been discontinued.

  • Dave Edwards

    Sallie, I don’t wish to sound patronising but if you do go to Thornton, it is best to go with a specific query in mind rather than just trawling through the accounts which are quite opaque.

    As a general rule of thumb, start with a request such as “provide copies of all invoices relating to grants paid in respect of properties renovated or adapted in Pembroke Dock”; then study these and home in on items of interest.

  • John Hudson

    Yes David is quite right, faced with the computer screen lists of alphabetical list of payments made to contractors etc. is not very helpful.

    If you have a particular or special interest, you have to go and ask a pointed question and then go back after a couple of days to see if the departments have answered it! Then as David suggests, you may have more questions to ask.

    As we are all kept in the dark about how the Council spends our money, this is the only right we have, with of course Freedom of Information requests, also a list of payments over £500 is available on the Council’s website which is also payment orientated rather than what the money spent was for.

  • Sallie

    David and John, thank you for your replies. I wonder if the documents available for inspection will allow any more light to be shed on which council officer is the second to benefit from the unlawful pension opt-out scheme.

  • John Hudson

    As far as I am aware the draft accounts document is required to include details of officers’ remuneration, in accordance with accounting reporting requirements. These override the usual personal confidentiality considerations about non-disclosure.

    This document will be available at the inspection and may, if officers allow, be put up on the Council’s website.

    As it is not formally presented to any committee of the Council it is not available on the web as a committee agenda item.

    So much for openness and transparency, and the involvement by our councillors. I do not know who determined that they should not be allowed to see the accounts.

  • Timetraveller

    Perhaps a complete aside, but as an example of governance issues, has anyone seen a dossier on child abuse in Westminster in the 1980s?

    Apparently it was quite bulky etc, so you might notice it if it’s lying around your house etc. The previous owners are now keen to have it back, so if everyone could check their attics and the like.

    Thank goodness such things couldn’t happen in Pembs.

  • Keanjo

    Sallie, I have a feeling the bird has flown.

  • Welshman 23

    Interesting developments in the Carmarthen Kremlin:

    http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/mark-james-carmarthenshire-county-council-7386773

  • Goldingsboy

    Very interesting developments in Carmarthen Welshman which will also raise important questions for our local authority and its governance.

    If you or I, for example, received unlawful payments (as the Wales Audit Office says) designed to personally enrich ourselves at the taxpayers’ expense, would we be similarly entitled to expect an employer to engage an expensive lawyer to extract ourselves from the consequences?

    Furthermore, I believe this crude form of legal aid should also be flagged up to the WAO, if indeed such a referral has not already been undertaken.

  • Welshman 23

    The lunatics are spreading to Carmarthen:

    http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/only-court-ruling-could-ultimately-7398116

  • Welshman 23

    It’s an epidemic moving east very quickly, the loonies are on the move.

    No one can stop them:

    http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/revealed-how-suspended-council-boss-7399220

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