June 7 2012

 

Shaky foundations

A reader in Johnston kindly sent me a copy of the election address put out by Ken Rowlands in which he describes himself as "The Voice of Johnston".
My correspondent was interested in the following extract in which "The Voice" claims that the Welsh Government and Pembrokeshire County Council have between them committed £7 million for investment in a new Johnston Community Primary School.
Is there any truth in this statement? my reader asks.


Well to answer that we need to go to the county council's minutes and the answer to the written question I submitted to the meeting of 23 February 2012: Can the Leader give details of proposed school building programme under 21st Century schools and the order in which specific projects will be implemented?

In reply, Deputy Leader Adams gave a list of the schools, including Johnston, approved for inclusion in the programme.
He concluded:
Information was still awaited from Welsh Government about the development processes that would be required but, at this stage, it was essential to note that these were only approvals at an outline stage. A detailed business case would be required for each project which would have to be evaluated and specifically approved by Welsh Government. A number of these projects were dependent on further consultation procedures with, for example, Pembrokeshire College, the Diocesan Authorities and the individual schools. At this stage, therefore, it was impossible to provide Members with certainty about the confirmed inclusion of specific projects, their timescales or their prioritisation across the entire programme.
I am given to understand that there has been no change to this situation since Cllr Adams made that statement.
So, Cllr Ken "The Voice" Rowlands' claim about "committed investment" in Johnston school, is pure fantasy.
If a used car salesman employed such a misrepresentation in the course of his business, I have no doubt the council's trading standards officers would be round in a flash.
Following their appearance in court and deservedly large fine, we would be treated to a quote from Cllr Rowlands in the WT to the effect that this prosecution showed that the council was determined to protect the public from this sort of sharp practice.
Geese, sauce and ganders, anyone?

Easily led

I am now in a position to bring you up to speed on the Independent Political Group's invitation-only recruitment meeting in county hall on 8 May 2012 where potential members were subject to a high-pressure sales campaign by Leader-in-waiting Cllr Jamie Adams (Quick off the mark).
My information is that Cllr Adams gave members a quick run down on the election results which had seen 42 independent (more properly non-party ) candidates returned out of a total of 60 members.
This, he claimed, showed that the electorate wanted the council to be run on an independent basis by members who are free from political ties.
You might think this is a strange sales pitch at a meeting where the object was to persuade members to sign up to join a political group.
But, as someone once said: you shouldn't expect too much by way of logic from a man in hot pursuit of power.
Indeed, as Cllr Adams told the meeting, the only way the electorate's aspirations for a council run by members free from political ties could be met was for those members to be bound together in a political group.
You have to be a familiar with George Orwell's Animal Farm to appreciate what is going on here.
Cllr Adams then turned his attention to the alternatives; pointing out that, in addition to the 42 independents/non-party members, the rest of the council was made up of nine Labour, five Plaid, three Conservative and one Lib Dem.
He then asked if it would be correct to allow Labour, as the biggest party, to undertake the responsibility for the administration of the council and whether with only nine of the sixty seats they had a mandate to undertake that task.
As straw-man arguments go this must be in line for the gold medal.
To form an administration, Labour would first have to get its leader elected as council Leader at the AGM.
How this would be achieved, with only nine of the 60 votes at its command, is not clear to me.
At this point we might consider the distinction between an untruth and a lie.
Put simply, an untruth is a false statement made by someone who believes it is true, while a lie is a false statement made by someone who knows it is untrue.
Now, Cllr Adams might believe that, in the absence of the the IPG, Labour would be in a position to control the council, and he may even know something about arithmetic that I have overlooked.
But, having done hard sums at university, I doubt it.
I suppose what is most disturbing is that 32 members have signed up for the Independent Plus Political Group (as it is now known) and from what I hear not one of them thought to ask Cllr Adams to justify his claim that nine-member Labour could form an administration.
Finally, if these 32 members genuinely believe that the people of Pembrokeshire want their council to be run by something akin to the IPG/IPPG, why is it that none of them thought to mention their past or potential membership of this party in their election material?
Indeed, only 14 of the 31 candidates who were already members of the IPG chose to use the word "independent" in the description box on the ballot paper, while the other 17 opted to leave it blank.
You would think that. if they really believed that the voters supported the IPG, or something similar, they would be shouting their membership from the rooftops rather than hiding behind phrases like "truly independent" and "not burdened by membership of a political group".
Perhaps they have been reading Alice in Wonderland.
Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice,"
said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

Collective wisdom

While on the subject of believing in impossible things, we might consider the position of Cllr Sue Perkins and her colleagues in the Labour Group now that she has joined the Cabinet.
The question is whether Cllr Perkins is bound by collective Cabinet responsibility and, if so, where does that leave the other seven Labour members who would otherwise be the largest opposition party.
Much of the debate on this subject resembles theological discussions on the subject of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
If Cllr Perkins is bound by collective Cabinet responsibility, is she free to campaign against Cabinet decisions with which she disagrees.
Again we can refer to the council's minutes of 20 October 2011 when, following the highly critical, independent reports on the council's child protection procedures and the education system in general, a large tranche of Cllr Huw George's Cabinet responsibilities were taken from him and handed to the newly-appointed Cabinet member Cllr Anne Hughes, Cllr Michael Williams put down the following question.
Has the Special Allowance paid to the Cabinet Member for Education and the Welsh Language been adjusted to reflect his reduced level of responsibility, bearing in mind that he is no longer responsible for Children and Young People?

Responding, the Leader stated that the Special Responsibility Allowance in respect of the Cabinet Member referred to in the question had not been reduced.
He pointed out that Executive functions were not discharged by individual Cabinet Members. The Cabinet took collective responsibility for such functions. It was entirely appropriate, therefore, that there was no direct link between the scope of an individual’s portfolio and their level of remuneration. No single portfolio was more or less important than the others.
That seems clear enough, though I have heard it argued that, while there is collective Cabinet decision making, that doesn't amount to cabinet collective responsibility.
I'm afraid that distinction is lost on me.
Surely, if you are collectively responsible for the decision you are also collectively responsible for its implementation.
The recently enacted Local Government Measure (LGM) certainly seems to proceed on the basis that a member of an opposition party who joins the Executive (Cabinet) can't simply carry on as before.
The LGM provides that any party that provides a Cabinet member is classified as "an executive group".
And the Leader of an "executive group" is not entitled to the Special Responsibility Allowance that accrues to the Leader of the largest opposition group.
Thus we have the situation where Labour with eight seats is the biggest group outside the Independent Plus Political Group (IPPG) but the SRA for the leader of the largest opposition group goes to Plaid Cymru with five seats.
What this seems to mean is that, with regard to the LGM,, Labour is now classed as being in coalition with the IPPG.
Does that also mean that Labour members will be expected to support Cabinet decisions for which their former Leader and still party member bears collective responsibility?
It will be interesting to see how this all pans out.

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