While for some part timers high summer is the time for sneaking off to Wimbledon, for Old Grumpy it is nose-to-the-grindstone time because the county council’s books are open for inspection.
As I said last year, the ejection of Cllr Brian Hall from the Cabinet, and the consequent loss of his ability to claim almost unlimited travelling expenses for what are described as “portfolio duties”, has taken much of the fun out my annual trawl through the council’s books.
However last year’s inspection did unearth one nugget when I discovered that Cllr Jamie Adams had claimed four-years worth of travel costs all in one go.
It occurred to me that the timing of this claim (April 2012) was designed to prevent his expenses from becoming an issue in the May 2012 election, but this conspiracy theory was knocked on the head when Cllr Adams revealed it was down to “poor bookkeeping”.
Some troublemakers on the council were not satisfied with this explanation and the matter was referred to the audit committee where it was decided that, despite a three-month time limit on back claims, not only was Cllr Adams entitled to the money, but, according to the Monitoring Officer, he could have sued the council had it refused to cough up.
So, with Brian confined to barracks and Jamie’s bookkeeping skills now up to speed, where does one look for even a little bit of fun?
Well, I did come across two documents which aroused a small flutter of interest.
The first is the hotel booking at the Copthorne Tara during the trip to the Royal Garden party at Buckingham Palace by the chairman and his consort.
The other “superior double room” at £138-a-night is that occupied by the chauffeur (whose name I have redacted) which means, as the more alert among you will already have realised, that Cllr and Mrs Williams travelled to London in the council’s limo.
So, to the £288 hotel bill must be added the chauffeur’s wages and the cost of petrol.
Well, I hear you say, the chairman and his missus attending the Royal Garden Party is one of the perks of the job.
But then I came across an almost identical document which shows that, accompanied by his wife, Cllr Mike James (IPPG St Dogmaels) made the same journey to the same hotel exactly one week later.
I should point out that Cllr James is a bog-standard member of the council, so why he was was being chauffeured up to London at taxpayers’ expense is something of a mystery.
As a bog-standard councillor, myself, I once managed to get close enough to the limo to peer in through the window.
Unfortunately it is fitted out with tinted glass to prevent the hoi polloi who pay for it from seeing who is on board, so I couldn’t see much.
Also difficult to explain is why the Chairman, who according to the council’s constitution “shall have precedence in the county, but not so as to prejudicially affect Her Majesty’s royal prerogative”, should have a “superior room” that was £30 inferior to that occupied by Cllr James.
Indeed, on this second trip, even the chauffeur had better accommodation than the chairman.
Deputy Leader Rob Lewis ended a recent seminar on budget cuts with the words: “We’re all in this together”.
Of course, the power to boost its members’ already inflated sense of self-importance by sending them on chauffeur-driven trips to royal garden parties is one of the things that holds the IPPG together.
I know that some members of the group are unhappy with the present state of affairs, and I even have emails to prove it.
But, if you blow the gaffe, how do you explain to the wife that her chance of wearing that posh hat and rubbing shoulders with Royalty has gone out of the window.
Adam Smith knew all about this more than 200 years ago when he wrote:
Are you in earnest resolved never to barter your liberty for the lordly servitude of a court, but to live free, fearless, and independent? There seems to be one way to continue in that virtuous resolution; and perhaps but one. Never enter the place from whence so few have been able to return; never come within the circle of ambition…
It will be this time next year before we find out who attended this year’s garden party; how they got there and where they stayed, though I’m sure a quick FoI request to the council might spare us the wait.