25 May 2012

 

Cabinet maker

Our new Leader Cllr Jamie Adams has announced the names of those who will occupy the Cabinet and there are no surprises for those of us in the know.
Readers will recall that, early last year, the former Leader announced that, as a cost-cutting measure, the number of Cabinet members was to be cut from 10 to 8
Well, this enthusiasm for saving seems to have gone out of the window because the number has gone back up to 10 in what those who have been watching events these past couple of weeks will recognise as a majority-saving measure.
We await to see if other Cabinet members will be take a corresponding cut to avoid the taxpayer having to fork out an extra 30 grand.
The truth is that the Independent Political Party took such a drubbing at the polls that Cllr Adams was struggling to persuade enough of these "true independents" to sign up for his "ruling oxymoron party" as the Western Telegraph once described it. (see Censored)
In addition to the election losses, there were two IPG members, Cllrs David Bryan and Mike Evans who became so disenchanted with the antics of the "farcical 'independent' cabal", as the Western Telegraph once described it, that they resigned.
There are now 13 unaligned independents, up from six in the previous council, and as the electorate wakes up to what this "cabinet of puppets", as the Western Telegraph once described it, is doing to their democracy and members of the IGP come to realise that they are skating on some very thin electoral ice, there will, I predict, be more.
Some of them might today be basking in the glory of being made up to vice-chairman of this and that, but I can assure them that, when the voters fully realise what has been going on, they won't be impressed.
Perhaps the most dramatic development is the defection of Cllr Simon Hancock after 17 years as a Labour councillor.
He is blaming an "onerous" contract that the Labour Party has asked him to sign, so it would be interesting to know whether this contract was issued before, or after, the election.
Still, the people of Neyland will be pleased to hear that Cllr Hancock hasn't changed his "principles or policies", though that might come as a surprise to his colleagues on the Tory and closet-Tory dominated Cabinet.
Still, if he is right, he is having the penny and the bun - a £14,700 Cabinet allowance and his principles intact.
And, as I said elsewhere, to accommodate Cllr Hancock's reluctance to join the Independent Political Group (IPG), the non political political party has changed its name to Independent Group Plus (IGP).
So he has now signed up to the IGP without breaking faith by signing up for the IPG.
You might think this piece of sophistry perfectly sums up the charade that has been played out in county hall these past three weeks.
Unfortunately my spell-checker doesn't recognise the difference between these two titles, because whether I type in IPG, or IGP, it still comes up with the same alternative.
P.S. Acting on a tip-off, as they say, I Googled "Labour Party contracts" and found that Peter Hain MP announced them on 20 September 2011,
which was, presumably, long before Cllr Hancock sought the party's endorsement to stand as a Labour candidate at May's election.
I suppose the crucial question is whether Cllr Hancock was offered a Cabinet post before, or after, he jumped ship.
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Odds and sods

The County Council's AGM is usually a sedate affair with a worthy speech by the outgoing chairman followed by the passing on of the chains of office; presentations of baskets of flowers to the partners of the newly installed civic dignitaries; and a bit of bureaucratic tidying up - all under the watchful eye of the Lord Lieutenant and his wife - before we all go off for a buffet lunch and a couple of glasses of the taxpayers' wine
This year's bash would have followed the same trajectory had it not been for a Notice of Motion (NoM) submitted in the name of Cllr Peter Stock, that sought to increase the number of seats on the four scrutiny committees from 12 to 15.
Actually, this NoM was inspired by a NoM that I submitted back in October 2011 in an attempt to correct an anomaly caused by a an arithmetical quirk.
It is some years since I noticed that the operation of the political balance rules used to allocate committee seats between the various parties/groups depended to a significant extent on whether there was an odd or even number members on the committee.
These rules are rather complicated, but all that needs to concern us here are the two that require that a party/group which has a majority of members on the council must have a majority on every committee (the majority rule) and, subject to that condition being met, the remaining seats are distributed in proportion to the number of seats held by each party/group (the proportionality rule) .
Now you might wonder what this has to do with whether the committee has an odd or even number of seats.
Well the reason is that an even number can't be divided into two unequal portions (as required if someone has to have a majority) with a difference of less that two.
So the closest possible division of 12 member committee is 7-5, whereas a 13-seat committee can be divided 7-6.
That means it is theoretically possible for a party/group with a single seat majority on a council to have a two seat majority on every committee.
Clearly, in close elections this favours whichever party manages to secure a majority.
This imbalance is even more stark when the rules are applied to smaller committees.
For instance the party with the majority, however small, will be entitled to four of the seats on a six-member committee.
Or put another way, a party with a single seat majority on the council as a whole, would have double the number of seats on a six-member committee of all the others put together.
I suspect I am not the first to spot this anomaly, which would explain why all the committees on Pembrokeshire County Council have an even number of seats.
This was not a problem when, as was the case before the 2012 election, the IPG held almost two thirds of the seats because the number of seats allocated by the proportionality rule gave them a majority anyway.
Back in 2006, in an attempt to correct this anomaly, I proposed that the number of members on the four scrutiny committees be increased from 12 to 13.
This didn't find favour with the IPG because these four additional seats would have all gone to the minority parties though the Leader's objections were dressed up as concern that these enlarged committees would be unwieldy.
There was never much of an argument, but his loyal foot soldiers rallied to the flag and my proposal was thrown out.
I should add that this increase would not have benefited me in any way because at that time there were only two unaffiliated members: myself and Malcolm Calver, and we wouldn't have qualified for any of these additional seats.
It is heartening to see that, following the 2012 election, there are now 13 unaffiliated members, so it seems that the dictionary definition of independent is becoming more widely understood, especially by the voters.
Fast forward to October 2011, when I submitted an identical NoM.
This eventually found its way to something called the "constitutional working group" where the Leader Cllr John Davies popped up with a proposal that the numbers should be increased to 15.
Yes, this is the same John Davies (our would-be police commissioner) who had argued back in 2006 that 13 would be too unwieldy.
It would be encouraging to think that this change of heart had come about because he had seen the democratic light, but I would suggest it had more to do with the presence of the Ministerial Advisory Board, and the attendant threat that the Welsh Government might send in Commissioners to run the council.
As Dr Samuel Johnson put it: "Nothing better concentrates a man's mind than the sight of the gallows".
But to return to the AGM and Cllr Stock's NoM.
It occurred to Old Grumpy that now what we shall call the oddness principle had been adopted for the scrutiny committees it might be a good opportunity to extend it to all the other committees.
The committees particularly in my sights were (current numbers in brackets) Urgency (6) Senior Staff (6) Corporate Governance (12), Democratic services (6) and Audit (6 Cllrs + 1) lay member.
So, I proposed an amendment to increase the seats on each of these committees by one.
Under the present arrangement the IGP, with 53% of the seats on the council, holds 62% of the seats on these committees, while the unaffiliated members with 21% of the seats hold a derisory 5%.
Increasing each committee by one would leave the IGP with 56%, but exactly the same number of seats and a majority on every committee, while the unaffiliated share would increase to 17% which is much more in line with the actual balance of power decided by the electorate.
You might think that people with even the most rudimentary idea of fairness, never mind concern to abide by the wishes of the electorate (i.e. democrats), would be eager to support this.
As our new leader Cllr Jamie Adams had spoken against my proposal, I suspected it might be otherwise, but, having been told endlessly that nobody tells IGP members how to vote, I decided to put it to the test.
I called for a recorded vote, and they didn't let me down.
I haven't got the record of the vote, but I can tell you that, with the exception of Cllr Michael John and maybe a couple of others, the IPG voted solidly against.
What was more surprising was that the vast majority of Labour members failed to support my amendment.
I do hope that having their Leader in the Cabinet hasn't turned their heads.
I will publish the record of the vote when it comes to hand.
Finally, I owe Cllr Michael John an apology.
A few days ago I wrote about the secret IPG (this was before it was rebranded IGP) recruitment meeting, where Cllr John assured the new members that he had never been instructed how to vote by the IPG leadership.
I wrote "Pencil that man in for an SRA".
Well, Michael didn't get an SRA and he assures me he never sought one.
Indeed, on checking my cache of recorded votes, it is evident that Cllr John is the IPG member who most often goes against the flow.
Next time I'm in Llangwm, I'll buy him a pint.

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