He’s behind you

Last week’s Herald featured a front page advert for Sleeping Beauty at the Torch Theatre which included the endorsement “Best panto in Britain, The Western Mail”.

To be fair to the Western Mail, this ad was probably composed before last Thursday’s meeting of the county council (Agenda item 13) when what had been a fairly sedate affair was rapidly transformed into farce.

As so often, the trigger for chaos were amendments to the Leader’s proposal that the council should collectively endorse the appointment of three highly-paid senior officers – Head of Adult Care, Deputy Director of Education and Head of Transformation.

The first two vacancies – the result of the promotion of the previous incumbents – were fairly uncontroversial, but the creation of a new post of Head of Transformation was fiercely contested by some opposition members who thought that splashing out the best part of a hundred grand a year for someone to tell the council’s £100,000+ per annum directors how to run their departments might be difficult to justify to an electorate faced with service cuts and the prospect of having to wait three weeks between rubbish collections.

Jamie Adams’ answer was that asking directors to make savings in their own departments was “akin to asking turkeys to vote for Christmas”.

This is a surprising admission because it seems to play into the widespread public perception that it is services that are taking the strain rather than the bureaucracy in county hall.

The scheme to appoint all three in one fell swoop hit the buffers when Cllr Paul Miller pointed out the the rules required that the Head of Adult Care post should first be approved by the senior staff committee.

The speed with which the Leader conceded this point led to suspicions that he knew this but had decided to smuggle it through anyway.

Of course, any suggestion of sharp practice was vigorously denied by the Leader who told Cllr Miller: “I can confirm, and I apologise, but it wasn’t deliberate I can assure you, but you are right and this has not been discussed by senior staff committee.”

Unfortunately, this denial is not easy to reconcile with the Leader’s statement when he first made the proposal that: “I bring these three appointment opportunities before councillors as chairman of the senior staff committee”.

As Shakespeare almost said: “The leader doth protest too much, methinks”.

It is not often that the Bard is outshone, but the American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson put it even better: “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.”

As was also mentioned during the debate, the council has already paid Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) some £70,000 to come up with a transformation agenda that is presently gathering dust in some dark county hall cupboard.

The Leader’s response to this was that PCC had spent nothing like as much with PWC as some other authorities.

I don’t think these but-I-don’t-beat-my-wife-as-often-as-you arguments carry much weight.

With the Head of Social Care removed from the scene, Cllr Jacob Williams proposed that, rather than the job lot proposed by the Leader, members should have the right to separate votes on the two remaining appointments.

After all, which way was a member supposed to jump if he favoured one appointment but not the other.

The need for this amendment seemed so obvious that even I was surprised when the IPPG’s synchronised voters (aided and abetted by the Tories, Pembrokeshire Alliance and Cllr David Lloyd) voted it down.

Indeed, conspiracy theorist were left with the impression that lumping these posts together was a deliberate ploy designed to sneak the transformation business through without their members having to endure the prospect of a recorded vote.

Not that they need have worried because when Cllr Tessa Hodgson called for a recorded vote she couldn’t get the necessary ten members to stand in support.

What was noticeable was that both Labour and the Pembrokeshire Alliance remained glued to their seats giving rise to the suspicion that, with an election just six months away, they were in favour of the transformation post but were not prepared to see their support recorded in black and white.

Finally, I can’t let this go without mentioning the contribution of Cllr Pat Davies (at 2.00 hrs) who told us that she had recently been appointed by the Leader to something called the Transformation Board and that she was emphatically in favour of creating a new post of Head of Transformation.

“Those members who can’t quite grasp what this is about are being short-sighted.” she opined.

That might be so, but we’re not so slow on the uptake that we can’t recognise when we’re being patronised.

She was also keen that we all work together and show trust in each other.

What Cllr Davies should realise is that nobody is entitled to trust – it has to be earned.

And while the cover-up continues with regard to the grants’ business and the Mik Smith affair (the subject of my recently submitted notice of motion) trust is a commodity that will remain in short supply from my end of the table.

I spent a good part of last week glued to my computer screen as events unfolded in the Supreme Court.

Even though I have some knowledge of the legal issues in question, I still found it hard to keep up.

So just think how difficult it is for those top QCs who have to have all the arguments and references to authorities at their fingertips.

If I was a betting man, I wouldn’t be taking odds of less than 5:1 on the Brexiteers coming out on top.

The nub of the case seems to be whether rights given by Parliament under the 1972 European Communities Act can be taken away by the Government under the Royal Prerogative.

The principle seems to be: What Parliament giveth only Parliament can taketh away.

There was a shaft of light when the President, Lord Neuberger, suggested the existence of something along the lines of the Benn doctrine that I discussed in a previous post.

He said it would seem “odd” to the general public if the referendum had no legal force, to which Dominic Chambers QC replied: but not to lawyers.

The problem is that while the Referendum Act 2015 was passed with a 6:1 majority it didn’t contain a provision to make the result binding.

During the hearing, two cases with which I am familiar cropped up several times.

The first was Costa v ENEL, which, as I recall, had something to do with electricity prices in Italy where ENEL is the state-owned generator.

The principles of statutory interpretation contain something known as the doctrine of implied repeal.

Simply put, this doctrine holds that, when two statutes contain incompatible provisions, the implication is that the later statute has repealed the earlier.

What the court held in the Costa case was that this doctrine didn’t apply when there was a clash between EC and domestic law and that EC law prevailed whatever the chronological order.

The second case, Factortame, had a strong local flavour because the directors of the company were John and Joseph Couceiro who were prominent in Milford Haven 20 years or so ago.

Several of the company’s trawlers spent years tied up in Milford Docks having been prevented from fishing by the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 which had been passed by the Thatcher government in order to protect UK fishermen from what was known as “quota-hopping”.

The Act required any trawlers fishing in British waters to be at least 75% British owned.

The Couceiro brothers alongside several dozen other Spanish fishing companies sued the government for breach of European law.

After a prolonged legal battle the courts came down on the side of the Spanish fishermen on the grounds that EU law overrode the MS Act even though it was the later statute.

The Spaniards were awarded £55 million in damages, though it might have been worse because their original claim was for £285 million.

Whatever else the case decided it put paid to the myth of UK parliamentary sovereignty.