October 24 2013

 

Divine intervention?

Old Grumpy notices that that other website is having a dig at what it describes as, "The Rocking Rev, Cllr. Huw George".
Apparently the self-promoting preacher, who doubles up as deputy Leader of PCC, has appeared in a new video promoting the Welsh language.
The serial sermonisers latest starring role prompts the author of that other website to wonder: "does Hollywood and the silver screen beckon?".
That phrase rang a bell, and when I looked back at my earlier piece on the effervescent evangeliser's (that's enough proliferation of alliteration, Ed) radio interview (All shall have prizes) I noticed that I said if he could reconcile a tax avoidance scheme for senior officers with his claim that the tax man gains in 'each and every way' "a Nobel Prize for economics beckons".
Whether Jacob's use of "beckon" was plagiarism pure and simple, or merely a subconscious tribute to the county's premier political website, I can't be sure.
Whatever, it is well said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
With a Nobel Prize and Hollywood stardom already under his belt, we should perhaps be grateful that, as a Baptist minister, the Rev George has little chance of adding the papacy to his already impressive string of achievements.
However, joking to one side, the earlier video here raises two serious issues.
First, Cllr George seems to be suggesting that all this new tarmac in his ward (£300,000 pounds worth in the year leading up to the election) was the result of "positive politics".
A councillor's use of his influence for political gain would be against both the Code of Conduct and the general law (ask Dame Shirley Porter) and when I challenged the Leader about this I was told that the acres of black stuff spread around Cllr George's ward was a simple case of "routine maintenance".
If that is true, the only reasonable conclusion is that, by suggesting that he was somehow responsible for these road improvements, the deputy Leader; former Cabinet member for education; and man of the cloth was trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the electors of Maenclochog.
Second, the video contains a picture of Cllr George in his former role as cabinet member for education with some local schoolchildren.
This photograph was taken for the purpose of publicising the school.
Councillors recently received guidance from the Welsh Local Government Association on the use of images of children.

As with your own leaflets or newsletters always ask permission before taking a picture that you intend to use. NEVER take photos of children without the express permission of their parents based on an understanding of what you intend to use the picture for. Your council will have a policy on taking pictures of children, take advice on this before taking or using pictures.

So did the parents give their "express permission" for this photograph of their children to be used in this vote-seeking video?
I rather doubt it, but, just to be sure, I've asked the council.

Selective disclosure

Last December, Grumpette put down a Notice of Motion asking that the county council establish an on-line Freedom of Information disclosure log where a record of information requests and responses could be published.
This is fairly common practice in other authorities.
One of the perceived benefits is that it avoids duplication because, before making a request, members of the public can log on and discover whether the information is already in the public domain.
The Notice of Motion came back to council in February this year when it was adopted.
Concerned by the lack of progress in the intervening eight months, Grumpette put down a question at last week's meeting of full council and was told that the disclosure log would be up and running in November.
Well, the council excelled itself because it appeared on the website yesterday, 23 October.
However, as I have said previously, the council hasn't fully bought in to this FoI business and at top of the page is written:
Listed are our responses to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 which we feel are of wider public interest (my emphasis).
The NoM adopted in February makes no mention of requests being filtered to reflect the "wider public interest".
In any case, who decides what qualifies and what doesn't?
There are two entries for 23 October.
One reveals that the council spent almost £3,000 (ex-VAT) employing a private security firm for the opening of Fish Week and the other concerns the spare room subsidy (bedroom tax)
By happy coincidence, I also received a reply to a FoI request yesterday, but someone has clearly decided that it is not of wider public interest because it doesn't appear in the disclosure log.
I was following up my long term interest in the grants situation in Pembroke and Pembroke Dock, particularly Coronation School Pembroke Dock for which I have a copy of the fully costed and approved final account.
Of particular interest were the provisional sums in the Bill of Quantities (BoQs).
For those who haven't been keeping up, provisional sums are guesstimates included in the BoQs for tendering purposes either because the full extent of the work can't be ascertained without opening up the building (dry rot treatment and the like), or it is work to be carried out by a specialist subcontractor.
In the first case the final cost of the work will be arrived at either through remeasurement or the submission of daywork sheets and with the latter an adjustment will be made to reflect the amount invoiced by the subcontractor.
What surprised me was that the final account for Coronation School Pembroke Dock contained seven such items and in each case the certified amount exactly matched the original provisional sum.
That's some coincidence!
So I put in an FoI request for the invoices submitted to support the final cost of two of these items: electrical connection £60,000 and water connection £9,000.
Unfortunately, the council's response, which didn't qualify for inclusion in the disclosure log, informs me that the council doesn't hold copies of these documents.
Which raises the question: how, without access to these documents, did the council sign off this final account?
You might also wonder why it took the council the full 20 working days allowed by the FoI Act to provide this information even though the legislation requires that public authorities respond "promptly" and that 20 days is the maximum allowed.

Stop press.
Seems that this has now been removed from the council's website.
Nothing I said, I hope!
However, thanks to my cyber consultant, it has now been rediscovered deep in the bowels of Google cache and can be accessed by clicking here.

Power plays

The county council is currently discussing revisions to its constitution.
The basis for the changes is to be found in the New model constitution (NMC) issued by the Welsh Government.
There are several options in the NMC mainly concerning the issue of whether the councils adopt the strong or weak Leader model.
The present constitution is based on the strong Leader model which gives the leader almost identical powers to an elected mayor - without having to go to the trouble of seeking a county-wide mandate.
One option under the new arrangements is to have an even stronger leader who will be appointed after each election for the full term of the council.
To unseat the Leader will require a two thirds majority on a written Notice of Motion and only one such NoM will be allowed in any rolling twelve-month period.
If I read that correctly, once installed, the Leader could cling on to power even if he only had the support of 21 of the sixty members.
And as the Leader has the power to hire and fire Cabinet members at will, and as the cabinet has almost absolute powers, it is difficult to see how this bears any resemblance to what is traditionally regarded as democracy.

The penny drops

I have just received a personalised email from the Public Sector Executive, which, it seems, has been sent to all county councillors.

"Some wait for promotion - others go out and get one
So have you got what it takes, Mike?
Self-motivated, ambitious, focused – it takes a special sort of person to gain a triple-accredited MBA at The Open University.
So with your sights firmly set on driving your career forward, gaining promotion, more responsibilities, plus a bigger salary, our MBA will take you further."

There was I gazing enviously across at the Cabinet benches wondering what the secret was.
And all along it was staring me in the face - superior education.

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