Misconceptions

While wandering round Milford Haven Marina one day last month, I bumped into a former member of Haverfordwest Town Council.

After an exchange of pleasantries, he began telling me how much he disagreed with what I had written about Haverfordwest museum.

Noticing my puzzled look, he added: “In your Badger column in the Herald!”

Not for the first time, I had to explain that Badger is nothing whatsoever to do with me.

I am more than capable of making my own enemies without any help from that quarter.

Besides, how could anyone believe that a nice peaceable chap like me would would identify with an animal that goes around killing hedgehogs, infecting cattle with TB, and digging holes in people’s lawns?

And he was not the only one to get hold of the wrong end of the stick recently because I notice Pembroke Dock councillor Paul Dowson is making a bit of a fuss about being prevented from asking questions at full council.

Apparently, he submitted questions for the council meeting on 10 May sometime after 1.00 am on the morning of the 27 April.

The rules state that questions must be received ten clear working days before the meeting.

In normal circumstances the deadline would be midnight on the last Wednesday but one before the Thursday of the meeting.

Unfortunately for Cllr Dowson this time around normal circumstances didn’t apply because Monday 7 May is a Bank Holiday and, by definition, such days are not “working days”.

Nor is 1am “before midnight”.

It seems he regards this adherence to the rules as some sort of conspiracy to prevent him asking awkward questions.

He should remember that just because everybody’s against you doesn’t mean you’re paranoid!

I know of several members, myself included, who have had questions and motions rejected because we failed to take a bank holiday into account, and we have just shrugged our shoulders and resolved to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

But for some reason Cllr Dowson wishes to dispute the matter on the grounds that Bank Holiday Monday is a working day and even more remarkable that 1am is before midnight.

What is even more surprising is that he has already found 100 people to sign a petition in his support.

There must be a flourishing Flat Earth Society in Pembroke Dock.

The reason I am taking an interest in this matter is that part of his case is the claim that another member was allowed to submit questions at 9am on the Wednesday morning.

That would be me.

However, Cllr Dowson has got hold of the wrong end of the stick because my questions were originally emailed to the council at 22.55 on the Tuesday evening.

When committee services manager Sue Sanders opened my email on Wednesday morning she noticed that one of my three questions had an “and” in the middle, and notified me that it was in fact deemed to be two questions – taking me over the limit of three questions per member per meeting.

I could have challenged this, but it didn’t seem worth the trouble so I agreed to the removal of one of my questions.

I have had several disagreements with Sue over these sort of issues in the past, though it has never occurred to me to go public, or to set up a petition.

I haven’t kept a record of the outcomes of these encounters, but what I can say for sure is that my side of the scorecard reads “Nil”.

My advice to Cllr Dowson is to go quietly – fighting above your weight is a mug’s game.


Some time ago I reported on some dodgy arithmetic that had led the county council’s education department to conclude that school ‘A’ level classes of fewer than 18 students were not financially viable.

Indeed, PCC and Pembrokeshire College signed a Memorandum of Understanding to that effect back in August last year – a move some of us thought set the bar so high as to ensure the end of sixth forms in schools.

Some of the maths behind all this was so plainly flawed that I put down a notice of motion at the October meeting of council calling for an audit of the figures.

When this came before the schools and learning scrutiny committee in December, the internal audit report concluded that, while the original calculations were flawed, the errors miraculously cancelled each other out to leave the 18 number undisturbed.

As the minutes of that meeting record:

“Assurance was sought regarding whether the findings of the review were likely to change the viable sixth form class number. The Principal Auditor advised that a number of inconsistencies had influenced increases and decreases in the viable number figure and that a quality assurance audit would need to be conducted again before a viable number was quoted in future; however, that when put through the calculation model used the overall viable number still came out at approximately 18.”

And:

“The Business Manager for Ysgol Dewi Sant advised that since 2012 Ysgol Dewi Sant had spent a considerable amount of time investigating post 16 provision and trying to find a financially efficient model. He advised that all avenues had been exhausted and that Ysgol Dewi Sant were averaging a figure of 15 based on this year’s cohort, which was still by no means financially viable…”

Despite these assurances, the scrutiny committee sent the principal auditor away to conduct his “quality assurance audit” and, lo and behold, so great were the errors found in the original calculations that the viability number has now been reduced to the 15 – a drop of roughly 17% – a number which the business manager of Ysgol Dewi Sant, having “exhausted” all the avenues, had told the December meeting was by “no means financially viable” (see above).

At the most recent scrutiny committee on 26 April, when these revised calculation were reported to members, I pointed out that the overall cost of ‘A’ level provision had fallen from £4.9 million in the original calculations to £3.9 million in the revised version, and suggested that members were due an explanation for this 20% reduction in cost.

Unfortunately, chairman Cllr John Davies cut in (at 1.39 of the webcast) to say that the committee had covered this ground at its meeting in December; it was time to move on etc, etc, etc; and the matter disappeared under the county hall carpet.

This wasn’t true of course because back in December these latest calculations weren’t available for comparison and, furthermore, we were being told by the principal auditor that the recalculation didn’t make any difference, anyway (see above).

A full account of what went on at this comically-named scrutiny committee will have to wait for a separate blog post.

Meanwhile, it is noticeable that not a word about this dramatic climbdown, and its potential impact on future sixth form provision in schools, has appeared in any of the local papers.

Where is “Pembrokeshire Council Watch” when you need it?