2 April 2001


Taken to task

Old Grumpy has received a slap on the wrist from a Fishguard reader for giving too much prominence to what she calls "the Enfield planning saga".

"Your constant reference to it is in danger of creating the impression that you can't dig up any other questionable planning decisions,etc." she writes.

Having exposed a score or more dubious planning decisions over the past eight years, I must plead not guilty to the charge that I am a one-club golfer.

My reason for concentrating on the Enfield saga is that, of all the dodgy planning decisions taken by the County Council, and its predecessor PPDC, this is the best documented and most blatant abuse of the system I have come across.

As a development issue Enfield is pretty small beer but, as an example of influence-peddling and contempt for the rule of law, it is way out on its own.

My hope is that my persistence will eventually lead to the facts of the case being examined by an independent tribunal.

That could be an inquiry set up by the council itself - highly unlikely given that several prominent members of the ruling Independent Political (sic) Group are also the leading influence-peddlers.

Or the Welsh Assembly might decide to launch an investigation into this corruption of the democratic process.

Or Mr Roger Barrett-Evans might sue me for what his colleague Mr Dai Thomas, the authority's head of Marketing and Communications, describes as the "overtly defamatory and factually inaccurate" comments I have published regarding his his activities in connection with this unseemly business.

As I am not optimistic that any of the above will ever come to pass, I keep pegging away in the hope that the electorate might finally wake up to what is going on and consign these so-called Independents to the dustbin of history.

Which brings me to another point in my correspondent's e-mail where she complains of the lack of information on how these Independents vote on issues affecting their constituents.

"People up here", she writes, believe that " 'political parties' have no place in local government and that Independent Councillors really are independent".

If they believe that in Fishguard the town must be a fertile recruiting ground for the flat-earth society.


Drinking on duty

Last week's Western Telegraph carried an interesting story about four County Council bin men who had been suspended for engaging in that time-honoured British pastime of calling in the pub for a pint at the end of their shift.

It seems they made the mistake of not taking the ash cart back to the depot before slaking their thirst.

Another error was to chose the Bristol Trader as their port of call- immediately under the watchtowers of County Hall.

Anyway, it seems that two functionaries made use of the new footbridge to nip across to the 'Trader' and catch the miscreants red-handed.

Over the years Old Grumpy has collected a voluminous archive on drinking on duty within the County Council.

For instance, during last October's trawl through the authority's books I came across several examples of what, to me at least, seems like the extravagant, not to say wasteful, use of taxpayers money on expensive food and wine.

One particularly eye catching specimen was the £833 bill from Stone Hall for the Chairman's Civic dinner held on 25 March 1999.

The order signed by Dai Thomas, Director of Marketing and Communications and holder of the Chairman's purse-strings is worthy of quotation in full.

"Please provide dinner @ £21.50 per person x 16 for Chairman's Civic Dinner on Thurs 25 March + wine etc. Accommodation for Mr S Daley & Cllr and Mrs Carthy for Thursday 25 March.

Hot meals (bar meals) for 6 chauffeurs (not as above menu choice for dignitaries)".

Dignitaties? give me a break.

And we've got to add six chauffeurs' wages to the cost of the eats and drinks

Mr Daley and Mr and Mrs Carthy are I believe some of our friends from Ireland.

The fact that Pembrokeshire's taxpayers are paying to feed and water them is all part of a neat little scam which involves their council paying the bill when our lot visit Ireland and vice versa.

This has the advantage of keeping the expenditure off the Councillors' expense sheets where it can easily be discovered and burying the evidence among the several hundred thousand invoices that the authority recieves each year in the hope that someone like Old Grumpy won't find it.

While it might just be argued that fostering links with Ireland encourages cross-border trade- though I would point out that there was a thriving trade between Wales and Ireland long before local authorities were even though of - it is difficult to see what discernible benefit the people of Pembrokeshire obtained from the £535 it cost to entertain His Excellency, Dr Singha Basnyat, the Royal Nepalese Ambassador at the St Nons Hotel on Sunday 26 March 2000.

The order was for luncheon for 15 at £19.75 a head and, in addition, the assembled "dignitaries" managed to drink ten quids worth of wine each - not a lot really when the order called for claret at £15.75 a bottle and Chateau something unreadable at £18.

Watch this space for news of the reciprocal visit.

Squirehouse J P

Another story which caught my attention was the appointment of County Council deputy leader Mr John Allen-Mirehouse to the bench.

Readers of my column in the Mercury will remember that, about two years ago, I reported on Mr Allen-Mirehouse's brush with the National Park Authority's Monitoring Officer over a letter he [Allen-Mirehouse] had written to his fellow National Park members regarding an application for planning permission on land he owned at Angle.

This was clearly an abuse of his position on the authority and therefore a breach of the Local Government members' Code of Conduct.

Whether someone with such a poor grasp of the principles underpinning the rule of law is fit to be a magistrate is a matter I will be taking up with the Lord Chancellor's Department.

Not that his mastery of the law itself is anything to write home about.

In the letter to his fellow members he claimed that he had a "non-pecuniary interest" in the application.

Even the Monitoring Officer, who strove manfully to put the best possible gloss on Squirehouse's nefarious activities, was forced to point out that having a non-pecuniary interest in land which you own is a logical absurdity.

Physician, heal thyself

Last week, Tony Blair, in his address to the Christian Socialist Movement, complained about those in the media who damage our democracy by encouraging cynicism about politics and politicians.

As someone who plays a part in this process, albeit vanishingly small, I am totally unapologetic.

The people who bring politics into disrepute are the politicians themselves.

The recent fiasco over the timing of the election is a classic case in point.

It appears that Mr Blair prefers to conduct the nation's business through leaks to the Sun rather than through the traditional democratic channels of the Cabinet and Parliament, so why should we turn out to vote for the MPs which he himself treats with such arrogant contempt?


Another story I spotted in the local press concerned Chief Executive, Bryn Parry-Jones, and other County Council officers giving talks to sixth-formers on the workings of local government.

What was absent from these reports was any mention that our elected representatives played any part in this exercise.

Ten out of ten for realism,then.

Poets corner

I eat my peas with honey,

I've done it all my life.

It makes them taste quite funny,

But it keeps them on the knife. (anon)




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