I’ve had a couple of complaints recently about both the content and the frequency of my postings.
First an email from someone who hasn’t realised that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit that reads: “We don’t hear anything about your gardening exploits these days. I suspect your allotment been overrun by Japanese Knotweed and you’re too proud to ask Huw George to come and sort it out for you.”
I take this to be a clever reference to the fact that, as Cabinet member for the environment, Cllr George has responsibility for the control of invasive species.
The second email concerns the intermittent nature of recent postings and makes the fair point that things were much better when this website was updated every Thursday night.
It is true that regular weekly postings subjected me to the discipline of the deadline without which it is easy to let things slide.
Procrastination is the thief of time, as some wise old bird once said.
However, in my defence, I would say that the sporadic postings and the garden are inextricably connected.
There are only so many hours in a day.
The reason why my vegetable growing activities haven’t featured recently is that my grandmother always taught me that it was bad manners to boast.
But, with my reputation under attack, I feel compelled to offer the following photo as evidence that the knotweed and giant hogweed have not taken over.
How many other gardeners can conceal themselves behind their runner beans in the middle of June?
You will notice that they are growing off the top of the poles and I pinched the tops out several days ago.
I’m anticipating a feed before the month is out.
And we’ve been enjoying new potatoes (Arran Pilot) for the best part of a month.
Sorry grandma! but when you’re as good a gardener as I am, it is difficult to discuss the subject without sounding just a bit boastful.
Turning to less serious matters, the excellent Carmarthenshire website Caebrwyn has an interesting post on the recent investigation by Gloucestershire police into the unlawful pension arrangements of the Chief Executives of Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire county councils.
Caebrwyn put in a Freedom of Information request to Gloucestershire police asking for details of persons interviewed and correspondence between themselves and Carmarthenshire County Council.
The answer came back that nobody had been interviewed and that there had been no correspondence.
Seems that nobody can accuse them of thoroughness.
Presumably, the same applies in the case of Pembrokeshire County Council.
Aside from the complexities of the tax arrangements, there are two issues that have always bothered me about this business.
The first is the participation of the chief executive and head of human resources (HR), both potential beneficiaries, in the meeting of the senior staff committee in September 2011 where these decisions were made.
Added to that, the report on which the committee based its decision was written jointly by the head of HR and the director of finance – another potential beneficiary.
The Wales Audit Office (WAO) public interest report stated in the clearest terms that this participation was unlawful because:
“Senior officers who had a disqualifying personal and pecuniary interest in the decision, participated in the decision making process”.
This issue is dealt with in detail at paras 47-51 of the WAO report.
It is interesting to consider what might befall an elected member who took part in a meeting where a matter in which he had a personal and pecuniary [prejudicial] interest was decided.
They would likely be reported to the Ombudsman for breaching the Code of Conduct followed by an appearance before the standards committee or the Adjudication Panel for Wales where they would face suspension, or, in certain cases, disqualification.
Indeed Old Grumpy remembers the occasion when the chief executive threatened to report me to the Ombudsman when he thought (mistakenly, would you believe?) that I had failed to declare an interest.
Another illegality – not dealt with in the WAO’s public interest report – was that the senior staff committee meeting in September 2011 was held in private session.
This issue is covered by S100 of the Local Government Act 1972 as amended by the Local Government (Access to Information) (Variation) (Wales) Order 2007.
The justification provided for this secrecy was that exempt information covered by Schedule 12 para 1 of the 2007 Order was likely to be discussed.
Paragraph 1 reads: “Information relating to a particular individual.”
As there was no such information in the report, there was no reason to override the law which states quite clearly that, unless exempt or confidential information is likely to be disclosed, all council meetings shall be held in public.
The recommendation that the meeting goes into private session is made by someone known as “the proper officer”.
I had always assumed that this meant the Monitoring Officer, but, when I took the issue up with the Chief Executive at the extraordinary meeting where these pension arrangements were debated, I was told that the proper officer was the person(s) who wrote the report.
So, the recommendation that the meeting be held in secret was made by two of the potential beneficiaries of the scheme.
It is interesting to consider what the leader had to say about this issue at the same meeting.
During a 20 minute wafflathon, he said:
“Did the decision have to be taken in private session? Again I think personally – and this is a personal view – that, on reflection, because the meeting was not appertaining to an individual member of staff – that it was to a cohort of staff, as I was suggesting [earlier], that that decision could [my emphasis] have been reached in open session, and were that to be rerun that would be my intention.”
Of course, Cllr Adams’ “personal view” and his future “intention” have nothing to do with it.
And there was no “could” about it.
The law required that it should have been held in open session, and Cllr Adams’ weasel words only go to show his complete contempt for the rule of law.