21 February 2006

 

 

Humble pie

The letter's page of last week's County Echo made interesting reading with a page-and-a-half given over to correspondence on the spat between the Mayor of Fishguard, Cllr Richard Davies, and the county council Cabinet member for sport, leisure, culture and tourism, Cllr Rob Lewis (see Own goal).
The dispute arose from the mayor's attendance at the opening of Fishguard's new sports's centre, the development of which, cabinet member Lewis claimed, Cllr Davies "had tried to strangle at birth".
And the bad news for Cllr Lewis is that all the letters in the Echo, including one from his Independent Political (sic(k)) Group colleague Cllr Henry Jones, supports Cllr Davies.
As I pointed out last week, Cllr Davies had been a long-time campaigner for a new sports' centre; what he was against was the proposed access to the site.
It only goes to show how important it is to get the facts right before jumping to conclusions..
It seems that the Leader Cllr John Davies has had to step in to try to defuse the row and he tells the Echo that Cllr Lewis has sent a letter of apology to the mayor over "this unfortunate misunderstanding".
And that "Cllr Lewis thought he was also opposed to the leisure centre and this is a wrong which is now put right - and rightly so."
Myself, I prefer Cllr Henry Jones' view of the matter.
As Cllr Jones points out, Cllr Lewis' offensive comments were contained in a letter published in the County Echo and that these "publicly-expressed, ill-founded remarks" deserve "an equally public apology."
If this was simply a case of mouth (or pen) in top gear, brain in neutral, it could easily be shrugged off.
However, as I said last week, it is rather more sinister than that because there is a suspicion that the letter was actually written by someone in the council's marketing and communications department, and Cllr Lewis was just the front man (or fall guy as it turns out) for this attempted character-assassination.
The question is: for how much longer will the synchronised voters of the IPG be prepared to sustain this rather unpleasant regime?

Out of line

 

And for how much longer will they be prepared to be synchronised voters?
Not much, if recent events are anything to go by.
Two weeks ago, I reported on the unprecedented Cabinet rebellion over the sale of the Mine Depot (see Sea change)and yesterday we witnessed the Economic Development committee's unanimous rejection of the terms imposed by the Cabinet on the lease of the Barbecue building in Saundersfoot to the local community council.
Considering that the IPG has an 8:4 majority on this committee, this was, in may ways, even more momentous than the previous week's events.
As Tenby's Cllr Michael Evans, who led the assault on the Cabinet decision, pointed out: "The ratepayers own these buildings and we are here to look after these assets on their behalf."
Quite so!
It seems that there has been a collective realisation by the members of the IPG that being free to vote as you please amounts to more than having the choice of which hand to put up.
Unfortunately, we didn't get to see the committee's reaction to the Mine Depot sale because, before the debate got underway, the Monitoring Officer announced that another (higher) bid had been received, which meant that the council could no longer legally accept the Milford Haven Port Authority offer.
The matter would, therefore, have to be reconsidered by the Cabinet, he said.
This was a pity because, judged by some of the comments, the Cabinet's original decision was in for an extremely bumpy ride.
Former Cabinet member Bill Roberts told the committee that there was dismay among the public in the Milford Haven area at the way this decision had been reached.
"My job is to see that things are open and fair." he concluded.
Several members wanted the debate to proceed on the grounds that it was not the Cabinet decision that was under review but the way in which it was reached.
They were eventually persuaded that the correct way to proceed was for the Cabinet to reconsider the matter in the light of the increased bid, but not before they had voted (again unanimously) for an extraordinary meeting of the committee to examine the council's tender procedures.
Could it be that we are seeing the first green shoots of democratic recovery?.



Leaky story

Although last Thursday's Dragon's Eyeprogramme on the sale of the Mine Depot was rather truncated, it did throw up some interesting comments from the participants.
Old Grumpy was particularly interested in the brief, but revealing, contribution from Ted Sangster of Milford Haven Port Authority.
It seems that the Port Authority was operating behind the scenes last summer when a company called Haven Facilities tried to buy the site.
More recently, Haven Facilities Ltd was one of the bidders in the "tender" exercise which was "won" by Cleddau Enterprises Ltd ; the company set up to bid for the site by a consortium of local businessmen.
This setback seems to have forced MHPA out into the open.
As the BBC's Simon Morris put it: the council's present intention is "To lease the site to the Port Authority so that it could work in partnership with Haven Facilities the company that was on the point of buying the site last summer with a view to turning it into a container port."
"The Port Authority says it supports the idea of a container terminal and was happy to let Haven Facilities bid for the site, but when it seemed they wouldn't win it stepped in as a buyer of last resort.
That intro was followed by a short interview.

Ted Sangster: "We were quite happy to be kept aware of what they [Haven Facilities] were doing, um, and, um, support them in so doing."

Simon Morris: "How would you have known that someone had put in a higher bid than them?"

Ted Sangster: "Well we didn't know for definite. I haven't seen the bid, I don't know what the, what the, price is, if you like, that was put in. What did become apparent was that there was a strong likelihood [of a rival bid]."

Simon Morris: "How did that become apparent? It is a confidential process isn't it?"

Ted Sangster: "It became apparent through leaks in the local media."

Now, I might have missed something, but the only "leaks" I know of were reported in the Mercury on 23 and 30 June last year.
I have copies of those two reports and the only information they contain is that the potential purchasers intended to set up a temporary camp for LNG workers followed by the possible development of a container port.
The identity of the prospective purchaser [which we now know was Haven Facilities] is nowhere mentioned, nor is the price they intended to pay.
The reason these two vital pieces of information were absent from the Mercury's reports is that they were not mentioned in the confidential report to the Cabinet meeting of 27 June 2005, where the decision to dispose of the property was taken.
What is even more surprising is that none of the highly paid Cabinet members, who are supposed to represent our interests, thought to ask.
But what is also missing from the Mercury's two reports is any trace of a hint that someone else was lining themselves up to submit a rival bid.
So the leaks referred to by Mr Sangster must have appeared elsewhere in the local media.
Can any reader help?



 

Also on Dragon's Eye, the deputy Leader Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse repeated the claim that perceived problem with the sale of the Mine Depot all flowed from a misreading of the meaning of the term "tender".
It is true that, to most people tender conjures up an image of a competitive bidding process involving sealed bids, all of which are opened at the same time to avoid any suspicion that favored bidders have been tipped off about their rivals' offers.
On this definition, tenders were received for the sale of the Guildhall/Glendower house in Tenby.
Below is reproduced a copy of the relevant page from the council's tender register.



This would appear to have all the characteristics of a tender process as commonly understood, yet in the council's own words:
"As will be apparent, there was a tender exercise, which ended on 29th April 2005, in which eight tenders were received. One of the tenders [the one next to bottom] was for an amount of £1.25 m, plus a further £0.75 m, but this second amount was conditional on certain matters. Accordingly, an unconditional tender for £1.755 was accepted as the highest tender, and the council commenced the conveyancing process with that tenderer."
However, "Subsequently, the tenderer that made the partially conditional bid made an unconditional offer of £2 m."
Following on that the tender process was reopened and "It is understood that the two tenderers then formed a new company, which submitted a bid for £2.01 m"
Now Old Grumpy has no interest in who bought this site and from the taxpayer's point of view the extra £250,000 is welcome.
But, all the same, there is an uneasy feeling that the integrity of the tender process has been undermined, especially the clause: "No tender received after the time and date specified in the invitation shall be accepted or considered under any circumstances unless there is clear evidence of it having been posted by first class post at least the day before tenders were due to be received." (see Tender spot)
This clause is specifically designed to prevent late bidders with notice of their rivals' offers.
Yet how can we be certain that, when the underbidder subsequently upped his bid to £2 m, he didn't have knowledge of Anglo define's offer?
Similarly with the Mine Depot where, although Mr Sangster denies having knowledge of Cleddau Enterprises bid, what cannot be denied is the possibility that he could have had such knowledge.

Manorbier mafia

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a letter to the Tenby Observer in which I pointed out, using the Tetra mast at Uzmaston as an example, that public opinion alone is not sufficient to determine the outcome of planning applications.
The reason for my writing was a series of letters in that paper which seemed to suggest that local councillors had a duty to oppose a planning application for no other reason than that their constituents were against the proposal.
Though I was careful to avoid any comment on the particular circumstances of the case (night firing at Manorbier), the reaction was quite dramatic with the Chairman and vice-Chairman of Manorbier Community Council and one of their confederates writing to the paper to condemn me in the strongest terms.
Sadly, some of the arguments ranged against me by Manorbier's big guns were so intellectually incoherent that I suspect the letters were all written in green ink.
They mainly consisted of attacking things I neither said nor believe, such as that I am against free speech and the right to protest - the old politicians' trick of standing up straw men and making a big show of knocking them down again.
One of my detractors, vice-Chairman Cllr Brian Coleman, helpfully, explained the Greek roots of the word democracy, though I suspect most people knew about that already.
Cllr Coleman asked whether I think that "public opinion and protest does not help to formulate and change laws?"
Of course they do, but what I also know is that, until such time as the law is changed, the law as it exists trumps public opinion every time.
The alternative is usually called mob rule.
I'm sure if Cllr Coleman reads a little more deeply into the subject he will find that we actually live in a democracy under the rule of law; what that famous Greek Aristotle described as "rule by laws and not by men."
No doubt, as local councillors, Messrs Wales and Coleman will have agreed to abide by the Code of Conduct, which states under the heading "Propriety and Objectivity" that: "A member when reaching decisions must make decisions on the merits of the circumstances involved and in the public interest."
The point I was seeking to make is that, while opposing a planning application on populist grounds might promote a member's electoral interests, saddling the authority with a large bill for costs, as appears to have happened in the Uzmaston case, cannot possibly be in the public interest.
Log on to www.manorbier.com for a more comprehensive account of what goes on inside the council over which Cllrs Wales and Coleman preside.


Let there be light

One of the most important of a local councillor's roles is to take up their constituents' complaints with officers of the council.
Some people imagine that this gives us the right to issue orders to council staff, but, thankfully, that is not the case.
What we can do, however, is draw attention to problems in our wards in the reasonable expectation that, provided it falls within the council's remit, action will be taken to remedy the situation.
I must say that my own experience is that council staff have always been very efficient in dealing with such problems.
Last Wednesday evening, I received a call from one of my constituents that the street lights in his area had failed.
I emailed the maintenance depot to report the fault and was pleased to receive a reply the following morning that "It is in hand".
I rang my constituent to tell him the good news but was rather taken aback when he rang me on Friday evening to tell me the lights had still not been fixed.
On Monday I contacted the depot to find out what was going on and was told the fault was in an underground cable and was taking longer to repair that first anticipated.
However, I was assured that all would be well before nightfall.
So, on Monday evening, I called to see my constituent to explain the reason for the long delay.
Imagine my dismay when I turned into the street to find everything in darkness.
He answered the door and before I could blurt out my apologies, the lights suddenly burst into life.
I could see from the expression on his face that he was well impressed.

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