Jacob Williams
Monday 14th July, 2014

Sleeping policemen

Sleeping policemen

Since early 2013 there have been numerous controversies and allegations surrounding historic property restoration grant schemes in Pembroke Dock administered by Pembrokeshire County Council.

Cllr. Mike Stoddart who authors that other website was the first to raise suspicions about apparent irregularities between the large awards of money that had been doled out in exchange for the work that was – or simply wasn’t – carried out.

In the beginning, and, some would say to this day, the county council denied any problems and shrugged off Cllr. Stoddart’s concerns.

However in February of this year Cllr. Stoddart and I uncovered clear evidence of favourable treatment to the successful building contractor in what was supposed to be a competitive tendering process. Following this discovery, the very council officers who denied there had been any problems up until that date were given no option but to self-refer the matter to the police.

Since the self-referral things have gone quiet on the criminal investigation front. ‘Maybe the fraud squad are up to their necks in their painstaking investigation,’ I thought to myself. So the other day I contacted Dyfed-Powys Police to ask what stage their investigation was up to.

Even knowing how slowly the wheels of justice turn in Britain, I was in for a bit of a shock.

The response I received from the officer handling the case was quite unnerving. I was told:

“The current position is that we are working closely with WEFO in relation to this case and at present enquiries are ongoing to establish if a Police investigation is appropriate under the circumstances.”

So not only has no investigation yet commenced, but here we are, five months on, and the police are consulting an interested party with a vested interest to decide if a criminal investigation is appropriate.

Those with short memories needn’t go back too far to understand how inappropriate it is for WEFO to have a say in the matter. At the December meeting of cabinet – two months before self-referring fraud allegations to the police – the council’s top brass were still in denial overdrive.

In the light of Cllr. Mike Stoddart’s request for the release of further grant scheme documentation to allow him to progress with his own investigation, a report was presented to the cabinet meeting setting out why Cllr. Stoddart should be denied.

Part of the reasoning was the stringent level of scrutiny and approval the council’s Commercial Property Grant Scheme procedures had already been through. Using this, they said there wasn’t anything new Cllr. Stoddart could bring to the party.

The report and the presentation has since been forensically dissected by Cllr. Stoddart and broken down into its constituent parts: largely spin, whitewash and diversion.

Among other nuggets of information designed to encourage councillors that things were all above board, the report contained the following extract (my emphasis in bold), which you’ll note gives a nice pat on the backside to our Cardiff Bay organisation which the plod feels is an appropriate body to consult in deciding whether to commence an investigation:

The procedures used to administer the CPGS were approved by the Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO) prior to the grant scheme beginning to operate. Minor amendments made since then have also been approved by WEFO. However, there have been concerns expressed, initially in a series of anonymous articles and since April 2013 by Councillor R M Stoddart that the CPGS is procedurally flawed, and that the Council is at risk of fraud.

By the time that these concerns were raised the CPGS, and the wider Pembroke and Pembroke Dock Regeneration Scheme, had already been through a number of in depth audits by four different auditors:

WEFO
• Wales Audit Office (WAO)
• Welsh Government European Funds Audit Team (EFAT)
• The Directorate General for Regional and Urban Policy, European Commission.

None of these found any shortcomings.

Talk about marking your own homework! Surely the last thing WEFO wants is an open and transparent court case where its own shortcomings – not to mention the council’s – would be aired to all and sundry.

I wrote back to the officer and expressed my dissatisfaction at the news I had been provided. I also pointed out that if anybody has been defrauded it’s the public, and not WEFO, which is a faceless body with no direct accountability to the public whose cash they splash.

Fortunately for those seeking justice, the ripples from the Pembroke Dock cash-splashing exercise show little sign of relenting, and WEFO’s involvement at this early stage of the police case will do little to engender public confidence in the criminal investigation of this long-running tumultuous saga.

As a pertinent side-issue, when the Wales Audit Office issued its public interest reports into the unlawful pension opt-out schemes at Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire county councils, Dyfed-Powys police decided they were worth investigating to see if a criminal offence had occurred.

However, it did so via a press release which said:

“Due to the close working relationships and partnership arrangements that exist between Dyfed-Powys Police and both local authorities, it is not appropriate for [Dyfed-Powys Police] to carry out the enquiry. As such the matter has been referred to Gloucestershire Constabulary who will undertake the investigation.”

A few people have asked me if I know why those same ‘close working relationships and partnership arrangements’ haven’t stopped Dyfed-Powys police investigating issues in the grant schemes administered by the council. I don’t know, but there’s bound to be some explanation.


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31 Comments...

  • Andrew Lye

    With crime figures dropping in recent years, what are the police doing then, as they are obviously rushed off their feet? Just wondering…

  • Chas.

    Why don’t you both send your findings to the Serious Fraud Office who also investigate allegations of bribery and corruption?

  • Tom Pritchard

    I think “sleeping policemen” is wrong, because them and the council are very busy watching each other’s backs.

    Stick with it Jacob.

  • A report by the county council’s finance department; presented to the audit committee in September 2013, gives a list of those bodies that have audited these grant schemes.

    It includes:

    The Welsh European Funding Office [WEFO]; they have their own Project Inspection & Verification (PIV) team who are required to carry out checks on a set percentage of projects, and satisfactorily reviewed the Pembroke and Pembroke Dock CPGS in May 2012. The report received following the May 2012 visit stated:

    “Pembrokeshire County Council adhered to a policy of competitive tendering via the adoption of open, transparent and documented procurement processes, demonstrating compliance with EC and WEFO guidelines.”

    And in a FAQ section prepared by the European Officer for the same meeting we find:

    Q: What do the auditors say about the Commercial Property Grant Scheme?

    A: The Commercial Property Grant Scheme, along with the wider Pembroke & Pembroke Dock Physical Regeneration Scheme of which it is a part, has since May 2012 been audited by the Wales Audit Office (twice), the PIV Team [WEFO], EFAT and the European Commission. All have given the project clean audit reports. The PIV Team and EFAT identified best practice in terms of comprehensive project management arrangements, reliable financial management systems, full and open procurement process with suitable controls and good communication and publicity.

    So, having given the CPGS a clean bill of health, WEFO must be the last people on earth to have any say in whether the police should launch an investigation into what really went on.

    Lady Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, anyone?

  • Keanjo

    Why not contact the Police and Crime Commissioner with our concern about this fiasco and ask him to intervene. That’s what he’s there for.

  • Tim

    Is it IPCC time Jacob?!

  • Les

    I have no doubt that he reads this blog but it may be worth alerting the current Police and Crime Commissioner to this issue.

  • Teifion

    A previous police investigation in Pembrokeshire was concluded without any cops investigating or asking ANYONE anything – I really hope this time that they pull their fingers out otherwise the police will have as bad a reputation as Pembs. CC.

    I hope all that funny hand shakes, great architects and the threats of crabs have no bearing on the police investigation!

    Keep on with the great work Jacob.

  • Robin Wilson

    Time for that venerable team, known as “Trading Standards” to get involved!?

  • Goldingsboy

    It’s like living in a banana republic – the stench is at its greatest when even those organisations set up (supposedly) to protect the public interest are tainted.

  • Timetraveller

    The possible collusion between a number of public bodies makes this an impossible investigation for the police, even if they had the will, which they do not show any indication of having.

    The individuals concerned do not have personal liability for this money, so virtually everyone concerned, including the police, have little inclination to dig deeper.

    Possibly the only way it can be properly investigated is some form of judicial review-enquiry imposed by the WAG. In such circumstances the police are best out of it, though it will be interesting to see how the supposed investigation in Caerphilly goes regarding the criminal case into the way their council’s CX arranged his remuneration.

  • Les

    To change the subject entirely – I watched the BBC Wales Week In Week Out programme last night and quite frankly I am appalled.

    PCC is in a complete mess. There have been issues about pensions contributions and grant claims etc but they pale into insignificance in my view compared to what was allowed to happen to vulnerable children by a trusted youth service officer.

    I’m guessing the affected kids in the main were vulnerable – not youngsters from nice respectable middle class home but probably individuals whose only holiday in the year was a Youth Service camping trip to Pembrey.

    We are not talking here about missing money, dodgy pension arrangements or hurt feelings but serious unlawful activity with children for god sake. For the children involved abuse is a life changing event, it’s not just something that happens and you store the memory away. It affects them for all of their lives and all Pembrokeshire residents should all be very ashamed.

    I say this because Pembrokeshire people have allowed this shambles of a council to continue running the county. At the next election all will be forgotten and much the same crowd will be elected because that’s the way it is.

    I agree with OG – there needs to be apologies and contrition – resignations would be appropriate but of course there is no likelihood of that.

    Personally I think Cllr Miller should call for a vote of confidence in the ruling group on this single issue – it should be discussed in detail in public and those who were in charge at the time should not be allowed into the chamber.

    The sooner PCC is amalgamated with Ceredigion the better!!

  • Martin Lewis

    I missed the program last night but I’ll be watching it here at lunchtime:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b049mpkw/week-in-week-out-the-monster-the-council-failed-to-stop

  • Tony Wilcox

    Apparently the Chief Executive has suffered some detriment in relation to pension payments, how about that ex employee who highlighted her concerns regarding Mik Smith to the Chief Exec and was brushed aside with typical arrogance. Did she not suffer detriment also?

    The same old story will be trotted out tomorrow. All in the past, must move on, nasty officers all gone, won’t happen again (certainly under the new structure it won’t)!

    The one common denominator in the litany of disasters being?

    Answers on a postcard to Jacob…

  • Keanjo

    I agree with Les, I have seldom seen such a positive condemnation from the presenter of a TV programme. There can be only one answer to Pembrokeshire’s problems. This Administration must be replaced. Perhaps the newly appointed Secretary of State for Wales will use his newly acquired influence and make this his first priority.

  • Goldingsboy

    Well, I wonder Keanjo, is that the same bloke who claimed his “main home” was a room in another MP’s flat, after buying a new house for his family at taxpayers’ expense?

  • Lobsterman

    According to the Western Telegraph, BPJ takes the view that PCC has breached his contract in not paying his lawfully due pension contributions. Can we now look forward to the unedifying prospect of him taking PCC to court and PCC funding him to do it…

  • John Hudson

    Who was in charge of the professional officers who provided the advice to the senior staff committee?

    Who was the officer in charge of ensuring that the procedures of Council/Committees, in reaching decisions, met the lawful requirements of decision making?

    Who in the Council can ensure that it is provided with correct impartial professional advice to extricate itself from this mess? Someone who is without a pecuniary interest.

  • Timetraveller

    Week In Week Out was a hatchet job, but well earnt. Scrimping on social services will inevitably produce the harvest now being brought in.

    The program picked up on a culture of denial, still there. The IPG currently hide behind the fig leaf of “Safeguarding”. If officers were competent, ethical and open to scrutiny, we don’t need “safeguarding”. Safeguarding is an exercise were the council supposedly protects the public from itself. A farce and one the IPG will hide under in today’s meeting.

    The Mik Smith case wouldn’t have even been on the Ministerial Board’s radar if it wasn’t for a persistent and ethical past employee and whistle blower.

  • John Hudson

    If I understand things correctly, the CEO did not know anything about anything so therefore none of it is his fault.

    Leader Adams seemed to accept that some attention should have been focussed on processes and not just outcomes. So all is set fair for the future.

    The WAO’s annual improvement report (WAO website) is worth reading for an independent review of PCC. The Letter addressed to Cllr Jamie Adams is of particular interest.

    It also seems that the Council is going to ignore impending re-organisation and voluntary working together arrangements until after the next Assembly election.

    After all this time it seems that the Council is just beginning to be aware of the threat of a non-health service in Pembrokeshire. It is apparently going to be quite firm with the HDUHB and seek assurances.

    We must not forget the role of the Local Service Board in this. The Leader and CEO meet with other lead CEOs at this forum/club (health, police, fire and WA). Some time ago the LSB minutes record that the former health boss asked the council for support in its proposals for change.

  • PreseliView

    Yes, Goldingsboy, the same one who, when faced with irate constituents, held a public meeting chaired by the late Danny ‘The Enforcer’ Fellows who didn’t allow any pertinent questions. The authoritative ex union boss was later rewarded by the MP’s friends in the IPG.

  • Goldingsboy

    Does anyone know whether the legal status of the unlawful payment to BPJ and A. N. Other has changed, just because a majority of councillors has voted to take no action for its recovery?

  • Antony Glynn

    ‘scuse my ignorance, Timeraveller, but what does “well earnt” mean?

  • Les

    It seems that the WAO will charge £25,000 for time spent working on the public interest report into the unlawful pension payments.

    I wonder what the total cost is – taking into account legal fees, officer time and of course a few pennies for the brown envelope!

    It wasn’t supposed to cost the people of Pembrokeshire a penny!

  • John Hudson

    From my visit to the public inspection of the Council’s accounts, the WAO bill dated 6/6/2013 for Special Inspection follow up was £59,990. (Only the Follow up!)

    I don’t think that this can relate to the Public Interest Report into items of account contrary to law as this was concluded with the Council meeting of 14 February 2014.

  • Goldingsboy

    Given that the police seem to lack sufficient enthusiasm, do we have recourse to some other course of action?

    Is it possible, as a last resort, to petition to impeach those in high office that we believe have acted unlawfully?

  • Goldingsboy

    Or, perhaps, an online petition to government to launch an enquiry into the running of PCC?

  • Timetraveller

    Anthony, the program pulled no punches, and could be considered harsh, but then this isn’t the only issue.

    Sharon Shoesmith at Haringey was considered wanting in the various scandals afflicting her department. Ed Balls MP, as Secretary of State, stepped in and sacked her. After much legal expenditure the government settled out of court for a six figure sum for unfair dismissal. These people really can be untouchable!

    The council should be able to pay the pension into the chief’s fund, as per contract. However, that is now taxable, hence the “scheme”. The leaked letter merely illustrates how avaricious and without shame he is.

    Transferring this money to his wife to invest – yet Jamie Adams makes “heartfelt” apologies to him over this leak, yet a half hearted apology had to be dragged out of him for the whistleblower, who suffered greatly for merely being professional in her job.

    Perhaps the man for this is HMRC, although his track record is poor.

    40% of £26,000 is £10,400 if this money is treated as income and not a pension contribution.

  • Concerned

    By my reckoning our CEO would pay 50% tax 2012/13 so the tax liability on £26,000 would be £13,000 not counting NIC. Wonder what tax band Mrs P-J is in?

  • Welshman 23

    Here is a response from Stephen Crabb MP, you can draw your own conclusions.

    Thank you for your recent e-mail regarding Pembrokeshire County Council.

    It is vitally important that Pembrokeshire County Council operates with the confidence of the electorate in Pembrokeshire and strictly in accordance with the law. I am concerned that recent events at County Hall have damaged that confidence and I do hope that the situation improves. Of course as an MP I rightly do not have a direct influence at County Hall, but I do raise these concerns in meetings with senior officials at Pembrokeshire County Council.

    In terms of accountability, the buck stops with the Independent-Controlled Cabinet and the individual councillors. As I keep saying at local elections, we need different County Councillors who will provide new leadership.

    Once again, thank you for raising this issue with me.

    Kind regards

    Stephen.

  • Nev Andrews

    I wonder what the senior officials’ response is when they have these concerns drawn to their attention by Mr Crabb…with more questions…and which ones he dealt with.

    Is it worth asking him Welshman? I have found that nothing irks a smug, superior politician or official more than asking more specific questions when they have previously suggested that you/we (politely of course) ‘sod off’…

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