4 November 2003

oldgrumpy@oldgrumpy.co.uk

Web of intrigue

Old Grumpy has been checking up on the website of O'Riain International Associates Ltd (aka ORA International Ltd) the Irish company of which Cllr Brian Hall's business partner Dr Michael Ryan is managing director.
Much interest was caused when I revealed that this website (www.oriain.com) boasted of more than 40 "successfully completed major projects", in places as far apart as Tokyo, Rio de Janerio, San Fransisco, Singapore, Istanbul and Moscow, and including one in Pembrokeshire.
This surprised many locals who were unaware of any such development.
Several, including Old Grumpy, emailed Dr Ryan asking for further details.
All were uniformly disappointed because the good doctor declined to provide the answer - indeed one enquirer, Cllr Michael Williams, received a curt reply instructing him to refer all future correspondence to Dr Ryan's solicitors.
Somewhere about that time the website disappeared from the internet for "reconstruction".
Now, I see, the website is back but has relegated this "successfully completed major project" in Pembrokeshire to one which ORA is "currently engaged in."
This, of course, is the management consultancy agreement ORA has with the County Council which brings in a handy £18,000 a year + expenses, for 38 days work, or in excess of £70,000 during the three years the contract has been running..
I also notice that the website claims that "ORA International Ltd is the largest and most experienced Practitioner Consultancy Company in Ireland in the fields of conceptualisation through to operation of projects in the sector of Regional Economic Development ...".
So now we know why Dr Ryan wanted Cllr Brian Hall as a partner!
Having been in business for most of my adult life, I find it difficult to reconcile all this bull with ORA's profit and loss accounts lodged with the Irish Company Records Office (www.cro.ie) which show this, apparently, massive global company making a loss of 10,000 Euro (£6,600 approx) in 2000, a tiny profit in 2001 of 3505 Euro (£2,400) and, according to the latest reported figures, a loss of 4,189 Euro (£2,800) in 2002.
The original website also boasted of the company's branches in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Tokyo, though I can find no reference to them on the current version.
Dr Ryan has, perhaps, decided to cut his coat according to his cloth.

Shifting sands

Another who has pulled his horns in is the Leader, Cllr Maurice Hughes.
Almost exactly a year ago, on 6 November 2002 to be precise, His Leadership put out a press release in response to questions from opposition members and the local papers, after I uncovered the inappropriate business relationship between Cllr Brian Hall and the council's economic development consultant Dr Michael Ryan (see ORA story).
In that press release Cllr Hughes stated: "The Council is fully aware of the company Euroryall (sic). Before the company was registered, the principals [Hall and Dr Ryan] approached officers of the Council. They [Hall and Ryan] gave firm undertakings that the company would not trade in Pembrokeshire nor provide any conflict of interest."
Old Grumpy has read dozens, if not hundreds, of these council press releases and has learned to be on the look-out for the absence of clarity that betrays the untruth.
So I emailed His Leadership to ask the names of the officers who had been approached, the date the approach was made and whether the "firm undertakings" were in writing.
Despite five further emails he has failed to answer these three simple, straightforward questions.
He then has the temerity to write to the District Audit Service claiming that my campaign about this issue is "taking an inordinate amount of our [the council's] time and limited resources ...".
If the statement in his press release is true he could have settled the matter, and saved all this precious "time and limited resources", by answering my questions.
I notice that, in his letter to the Auditor, Cllr Hughes has adopted an even vaguer formulation than that in his press release.
He writes: "While visiting Pembrokeshire in this context [as economic development consultant] Dr Ryan met Cllr Hall and they determined privately to establish a company Euro Ryall (sic) Ltd, which I understand has never traded. Both parties made clear their intentions in this regard and I do not believe they have acted in relation to their company in conflict with their roles and responsibilities with the council.
"[Old Grumpy] alleges otherwise ...".
I have no doubt that it must have occurred to the highly-paid pointy heads in County Hall that, if what His Leadership claims to believe about the conduct of Cllr Hall and Dr Ryan is true, it is rather strange that neither has instituted action for defamation.
It will also have crossed those same Rolls Royce minds, I am sure, that I wouldn't be so stupid as to risk such an action by making all this up.

Day trip to Whitland

Last week was half term and Old Grumpette and I had, sort of, half-promised to take the two eldest grandchildren for a trip on the train as a treat - for their mother.
Unfortunately, a combination of bad weather, stinking colds all round and other commitments meant the trip never took place.
At about half-past-eight on Monday morning the phone rang - it was Eleanor who had an extra day off school for INSET.
"Are you going to take Joe and me for a ride on the train today?" she asked.
There may well be more than one answer to questions of this nature but at that time of morning, before the red wine has completely worn off, and given who was asking, I couldn't think of anything to say but "Yes!"
The train times from Haverfordwest were not convenient for a round trip and so it was that we found ourselves at Pembroke Dock Station catching the 12.15 pm to Whitland.
Joe amused himself for most of the journey looking out of the window and pointing out the various animals in the fields.
He clearly didn't think the his old grandad had ever seen anything like this before because he kept saying "Look granddad, them's cows", or sheep, or horses, or, on one occasion, goats.
Just beyond Manorbier Station, in a field close to the line, there were two superior-looking horses wrapped up in rugs against the wind and rain.
After we'd passed, Joe said to me there were two horses back there.
"I know, I saw them", I replied.
"No you didn't", he fired back, "I was looking at them on my own."
Even when I told him the colour of the two nags, and that one of them had a white face, he would still not accept that I had seen them.
Still, he's only three, so he has plenty time to develop a sense of logic.
Otherwise, I'm afraid, there's nothing for him but to become a Independent Political Group member on the County Council.
We had an hour to spend in Whitland before catching the train back.
Ah! I hear you say: "I had never thought of Whitland as a tourist destination."
My advice?
Don't start now!

Elections! Whatever next?

David Blunkett has published proposals for directly-elected Police Authorities.
According to opinion polls less than five percent of the population know what Police Authorities are, and even fewer what they do.
Old Grumpy can be of some help.
Police Authorities are the bodies, made up of lay people, magistrates and local authority members, that oversee the general strategy and set the budgets of the various police forces up and down the country.
What they can't do is interfere in operational matters such as the deployment of officers or the prioritisation of investigations.
Positions on Police Authorities are much sought after by councillors, if for no other reason than that members are paid at the handsome rate of £20 an hour for attending meetings.
They get 40p-a-mile car allowance, which is considerably less than the 50p they are paid as councillors, but, before you reach for the paper hankies, I should point out that, unlike councillors, their £20 an hour is paid from the moment they leave home.
So the 30 mile trip from Haverfordwest - estimated time 45 mins - will bring in £15 allowance + £12 travelling expenses - £54 for the round trip.
Oh! and I nearly forgot, Police Authority members are paid £3,000 basic allowance on top of all the other bunce.
So a member attending 12 five-hour meetings (including travelling time) a year can expect to pick up £1,200 attendance allowance + £3,000 basic allowance (over £300 per meeting) + travelling expenses.
Pembrokeshire County Council's representatives on the Dyfed Powys Police Authority are Labour Leader Joyce Watson who last year collected almost £20,000 from the County Council (£9,700 basic allowance, £9,000 Leader of Opposition allowance) and the Independent Group nominee, former Police Inspector Don Evans, who doubles up as Chairman of the County Council's Licensing Committee which, with his basic allowance thrown in, brings in some £17,000 a year.
Nice work if you can get it.
According to the jargon these Police Authorities are supposed to hold Chief Constables to account.
In reality, they are just another of the rubber stamps that pass for democracy in this country.
Mr Blunkett should press ahead without delay.
Another specie of public body that would benefit from an injection of democracy are the Local Health Groups, designed, according to the blurb, to bring the NHS closer to the people it serves.
Pembrokeshire County Council has three representatives on this board - Maurice Hughes, Roy Folland and Bill Hitchings, the last two of which presided over the County Council's Social Service department during its slide into the chaos that led to a highly critical inspection report.
All three owe their positions to Maurice Hughes who has absolute power to make such appointments.
My guess is that, if these posts were subject to direct elections, none of these three would come in the top hundred.
The only consolation I can think of is that these Health Board posts are unpaid, so avoiding undue pressure on the County's supplies of washers.

No hurry

Wales' tremendous performance against the All Blacks will have put them in good heart for this weekend's clash with England.
I have never been one to let narrow nationalism get in the way of my judgement and it has always been my considered opinion that a strong Welsh team is essential for the good health of British rugby.
On top of that, it is no fun living in a country where half the population go around for the first few months of the year with faces as long as fiddles.
However, I mustn't let my altruism and generosity of spirit run wild.
As St Augustine almost said - Lord, make them good, but not just yet.

 

Manorbier mayhem

Manorbier looks such a sleepy little place from the train but, according to the website www.manorbier.com, which chronicles the village's political life, there's more going on than meets the eye.
The latest row involves a set of minutes, or, more correctly, two entirely different sets of minutes, both for the same meeting.
This issue is far too complex for me to go into here so, if you want the full story, you'll have to log on, yourself.
There is a link on Old Grumpy's home page.

oldgrumpy@oldgrumpy.co.uk

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