1 July 2003

 

About turn

 

Old Grumpy has recruited a new and, apparently, highly knowledgeable mole.
Talpa Novellus, as I shall call him (Novellus for short), claims to have detailed knowledge of the inner workings of the Independent Political (sic) Group, the non-political, political party that rules Pembrokeshire.
According to Novellus, May's election of the new vice-chairman was not as straightforward as it seemed (see Money Talks).
Then, nothing ever is where the Indies are concerned!
He tells me that up to a few weeks before the election it was generally thought that Cllr John George of St Davids would be a shoo-in, if for no other reason than that he was the only declared candidate.
Then, it appears, Cllr George made a serious error of judgment: he wrote to His Leadership, Cllr Maurice Hughes, to complain about the way the saga of the "blue building" in Haverfordwest had been handled; particularly the fact that the matter had been dealt with by officers rather than the Planning Committee.
It seems that, in his letter, he may even have mentioned "democracy", or, more likely, the lack of it.
Clearly, in the eyes of the ruling clique, this sort of fiery rhetoric marked him out as a dangerous radical, so they set about finding someone more sympathetic to the group's yes-man ethos to stand against him.
The first prospective candidate, I am reliably informed, was Cllr George Max; the member for Hakin.
But, after throwing his hat into the ring, Cllr Max promptly pulled it out again.
By now, time was running short and, given the constraints of Buggin's turn (most of the likely candidates are either in the Cabinet; occupying lucrative committee chairs; or have recently had a spin on the gravy train), there was a restricted choice.
Eventually, the spotlight fell on Cllr Glyn Rees of Newport.
Whether they chose wisely, only time will tell, but older readers will remember Cllr Rees as the electoral agent of one of the most notable rebels of recent political history: Desmond Donnelly.
Donnelly, you may recall, was thrown out of the Labour Party in 1967, after giving expression to his dismay at the party's drift to the left by voting against a Bill to renationalise the steel industry..
He remained in Parliament until the 1970 General Election when he was soundly defeated by the Conservative, Nicholas Edwards.
At the 1970 election he stood under the banner of a new party which had formed after his expulsion from Labour.
It was called the United Democratic Party.
Strange that Cllr Rees should now find himself cast as the favourite son of the United Undemocratic Party.

 

Luke out

Naturally, because Novellus was an unknown quantity, I was keen to run a check on his reliability..
A good place to start was with one of his more improbable claims: that Cllr Alwyn "ex-Monster Muncher" Luke was out of favour and that His Leadership had replaced him as the council's representative on the Local Government Association (LGA) and Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) with Cllr Bill Hitchings.
These are both highly prized positions because these organisations hold conferences and meetings in exotic far-off places like Llandrindod Wells and Eastbourne thereby providing lots of opportunities to drive around the UK at a highly profitable 50p a mile.
As I have remarked previously, once someone is appointed to one of these outside bodies the only exit involves a box: ballot or brass handled, so the idea that Cllr Hughes had overthrown a hallowed tradition by sacking Luke seemed, at best, fanciful.
So, I rang the County Council's Policy Unit to check.
They told me that the authority's three representatives on the LGA and WLGA were His Leadership: His Deputy Leadership the Laird of Angle, Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse; and the ex-Monster Muncher.
When I told the officer on the other end of the line that I had been told that Luke had been replaced by Hitchings, he explained that Hitchings had been standing in for Luke "during his illness".
Now, when I last saw the ex-Monster Muncher, a few weeks ago, he looked in rude good health.
I asked the officer to check on the accuracy of the information he had given me and, lo and behold, half an hour later he was on the phone to tell me that he had discovered a letter dating back to April confirming the changes that Novellus had told me about.
It seems, I have unearthed a real treasure.


The long wait

It is now nine months since I first attempted to assert my statutory right to see details of Brian Hall's rental payments in respect of 75 Stockwell Road Pembroke Dock; an industrial unit that he leases from the County Council at £9,000 a year (see Right denied)
The legislation which gives me these rights is the Audit Commission Act 1998 which provides that:
15. - (1) At each audit under this Act, other than an audit of accounts of a health service body, any persons interested may-
(a) inspect the accounts to be audited and all books, deeds, contracts, bills, vouchers and receipts relating to them, and
(b) make copies of all or any part of the accounts and those other documents.

Of particular interest is a clause in the lease (of which I have a copy) granting Mr Hall a six month rent-free period in respect of works he was to carry out within three months of the date of the lease at his own expense.
The lease is dated 27 September 2000 and almost three years later the works have not been done.
Naturally, I was keen to find out if the Council had taken any steps to recover the unpaid rent.
After all, it would be against every principle of democracy if Mr Hall was being afforded preferential treatment just because he happens to be a councillor.
Since last October, when I first asked for this information, the County Council has sought to obstruct me at every turn.
First it claimed that the information I was seeking was confidential by virtue of the Data Protection Act.
After an extended exchange of correspondence, it conceded that it was wrong about that.
In March 2003, five months after my original request, I was sent a letter with 12 x £750 down one side of the page and another 12 x £750 down the other, which purported to demonstrate that all the rent had been paid.
But, as it only showed the dates the payments had been made, and not the dates when the amounts fell due, this proved nothing.
The Council then claimed that it was long-standing policy not to divulge information about its various tenants.
I wrote back pointing out that the Council's policy was neither here nor there - what governed the situation was the law.
In any case, at previous audit inspections, I had been provided with precisely the same type of information about other tenants that I was now requesting with regard to Cllr Hall.
On the 12 March 2003, I complained to the District Audit Service - a reply is still awaited.
So, three weeks ago, I sent the County Council an ultimatum - either they produced the requested information or I would test the matter in the Courts.
I have now received a letter from the Monitoring Officer: "I am awaiting copies of the information about amounts due and paid in the inspection period which you requested in your letter of 22 May. I will send you this information within the next couple of days."

I wait with bated breath.

Dai in a spin

A fine old row is brewing over Dr Michael Ryan's threat to sue Plaid Cymru leader Cllr Michael Williams (see June 24 2003).
Dr Ryan's action is based on an email, sent by Cllr Williams to the Council's Head of Economic Development Kefin Wakefield.
A copy of this email accompanied the letter sent to Cllr Williams by Dr Ryan's solicitor.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, it was not just Cllr Williams' email that came through the post.
Also included is the trail of the email's journey to Dr Ryan.
This shows Cllr Williams' offending email being forwarded by Mr Wakefield to the Head of Marketing and Communications (and Dr Ryan's controller) Dai "Spin" Thomas at 9.45 on Friday May 16 and then being transmitted on to Dr Ryan by Mr Thomas at 17.02 the same day.
Thomas' message accompanying the email reads: "Michael [Ryan], This was the reply from Mike Williams to Kefin's email re the trip to Poland. I believe it is not only offensive, but that it is also libellous. I shall give you a call to discuss. Cheers Dave."
On the face of it, this looks very much like an attempt to encourage Dr Ryan to sue an elected member.
At the very least, it demonstrates a complete lack of the impartiality we should expect from a senior council officer.
And that's without knowing what advice Mr Thomas had to offer when he rang Dr Ryan "to discuss".
I expect the whitewash brushes are already being polished ready for action, though, as more and more evidence emerges over the coming weeks and months, I doubt if there will be enough whitewash in the Pembrokeshire to conceal the truth about the thoroughly unpleasant regime that rules the roost in County Hall.
And even here, Novellus, whose every utterance I am treating as gospel, offers hope.
He tells me that some of the Indies are so disillusioned by the antics of their so-called leadership that he confidently predicts that they will split before long.
One can only hope that their disillusionment is based on principle rather than the desire to avoid guilt by association.
Hopefully, some of the more decent souls have come to realise that keeping your head down and your nose clean is not enough, for, as Robert Louis Stevenson wrote: "The cruellest lies are often told in silence."



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