August 5 2008

 

The public interest

 

I have just received a list of the county council's appointments - 135 of them - to public bodies.
These range from the worthy but parochial (Solva Harbour Authority - Cllr Leslie Raymond) to the pretentious (Welsh Centre for International Affairs - Cllr Myles Pepper).
Mostly it wouldn't matter if the county council's cat was appointed, but who gets what gives Kremlin-watchers like Old Grumpy a window into the thinking of our supreme Leader in whose gift these various positions lie.
When the county council's revised constitution was adopted in 2002, the responsibility for these appointments was delegated to the Cabinet, but, at its first ever meeting, the Cabinet decided to hand these powers to the Leader.
Whether this arrangement is strictly legal - being in apparent conflict with the principle that a delegate cannot further delegate (delegatus non potest delegare to give it its Latin tag) - is a moot point.
These positions fall into two categories - those where political balance is required (Police Authority, Fire Authority and National Park) where the Leader only gets to appoint the representatives from his own party and the rest where he holds complete sway.
By happy coincidence, the first category carry an allowance (Police Authority £6,500, Fire Authority £2,000 and Nat Park £2,000) while the rest do not.
All of which is part of the vast system of patronage through which the Leader maintains his iron grip on power.
In all, the Leader controls, directly or indirectly, the destination of some 34 allowances: nine cabinet posts; chairman and vice-chairman of council; chairmen and vice chairmen of scrutiny committees (8); chairman and vice chairman of planning; chairman and vice chairmen (4) of licensing; Police Authority (2) Fire Authority (2) and National Park (8).
I have long argued that such a level of patronage has no place in a democracy but, given the number of members in receipt of the leader's largesse, you will not be surprised to learn that my efforts to bring about reform have met with only limited support.
The one democratic safeguard against abuse of this system is to be found in Para 8(a) of the Code of Conduct which requires that, when making decisions including appointments to public bodies, members, including the leader, must always act in the public interest.
So, we must assume that the Leader's decision to appoint himself to the £6,500-a-year post on the Police Authority (in addition to the nearly forty grand he gets for being a a member and Leader) was because he thought he was the best man for the job.
Though, as these processes go in inside Cllr Davies' head, we are not privy to the criteria used to arrive at this conclusion.
Does he have some specialist knowledge of policing matters that he has been keeping from the rest of us.
Even more surprising is the appointment of the invisible Cllr David Neale to the Police Authority, which, I am told, has not not gone down at all well with some of the Leader's senior colleagues.
The main political parties are coalescing around the view that police authorities should be directly elected.
The sooner the better because I doubt Cllr Neale would come in the first 5,000 if the people he is supposed to represent had any say in the matter.
But I digress.
So, employing this equivalent of observing the Soviet Union's May Day parade in order to see who was standing next to who on the top of Lenin's tomb, who is in and who is out.
Well, if I was Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse, I would be watching my back.
Recently demoted from sole deputy Leader to joint deputy leader (with Cllr Jamie Adams) Squirehouse, as he is affectionately known to readers of this column, has lost his place on both the Welsh Local Government Association (replacement Cllr J Adams) the Local Government Association and has been replaced on the Fire Authority by Danny 'Quango' Fellows (of whom more later) .
He has also been taken off the committee of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association of Wales in favour of Cllr David Wildman
On the plus side he has retained his place on the National Park and the Court of Governors of Swansea University together with his power-base on the South West Wales Regional Waste Management Committee.
Another who has been demoted is Cllr David Simpson whose seat on the governors of Pembrokeshire College has been handed to Cllr Myles Pepper.
However, as with any system of patronage, the utilitarian principle of the greatest happiness for the greatest number has prevailed and the winners easily outscore the losers.
Among those on the up and up is Cllr Fellows (already chairman of some scrutiny committee or another) who has added the Welsh Joint Education Committee, the Fire Authority and the Murco Liaison committee to his already impressive list of quangos.
Cllr Pepper also appears to be running hot with a place on the Court of Coleg Harlech to go with his two previously mentioned appointments.
Ken Rowlands has been suitably rewarded for deserting Labour's sinking ship with seats on Environment Agency SW area and the South West Wales Regional Waste Management Committee.
But the real rising stars are the aforementioned Cllr Jamie Adams and Cllr Huw George who finds himself on the Court of both Aberystwyth and Lampeter Universities and the boards of PLANED, Dyfed Alcohol Advisory Council (PRISM), Narberth Education Charity and Cwmni Laith Cyf.
The only surprise, I suppose, is that he wasn't appointed to the Police Authority because, as a former Fishguard bobby, that would seem more his field.
One surprising inclusion in the list of those on the upward path is Cllr Brian Hall who the Leader has appointed to the South Wales Fisheries Committee, Association of Port Health Authorities, Chevron Liaison Committee and Interreg 111 A (whatever that is).
All these meetings in far-flung places will give him ample opportunity to rekindle his passion for taxpayer-funded travel because, I notice, his promise not to claim travelling expenses only extended to the life of the last council.(Resignation statement)
I have a feeling in my water that Cllr Hall is being groomed for a Cabinet comeback and I think I know who is keeping his seat warm in the meantime.
It is difficult to gauge the extent to which the above appointments bear out Robert Louis Stevenson's observation that "Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary" but we can be assured that they were all made in the public interest because the Code of Conduct says so.


The public notice

Two readers have been in touch following my comments on the Western Telegraph's advertising rates (Quantity discount).
Firstly, someone emailed to point out that Newsquest, the Telegraph's parent company, is in turn owned by the US based and appropriately named Gannett Corporation.
A brief scan of Gannett's latest annual report shows the importance of advertising, which accounts for four times as much income as newspaper sales.
My other correspondent has sent me some information on the actual charges for adverts.
It seems that what the council pays rather depends on what is being advertised.
A 10 x 2 cols ad for farmers markets cost £102.32 (£5.11 per column centimetre) while a 34 x 6 public notice for road closures cost £2640 (£12.94 p c cm).
And job adverts are even more expensive again with a 3 x 4 ad for a systems manager setting the taxpayer back £207.14 (£17.26 p c cm).
It also worth noting that the word 'column' is something of a movable feast.
For someone who has been in the business, the structure of a newspaper is almost as interesting as its content.
So I can't help but notice that the news pages of the Telegraph have six columns, while those generating advertising revenue have nine.
I seem to remember that at one time the ads pages ran to seven columns and instead of raising rates they just increased the number of columns.
To give an idea of what a lucrative business this public advertising can be the 34 x 6 advert mentioned above amounts to two-thirds of a page, which, as the mathematicians among you will already have worked out, means the whole page would cost 40 quid short of four grand.
And a full page of job adverts will set the taxpayer back £5,281.
So, if you find nothing of interest in the Telegraph's news pages, as Old Grumpy finds is all too frequently the case, all you need is a tape measure and calculator and you can amuse yourself for hours working out how much of your council tax has gone down the Gannett's gullet.
Beats Sudoku every time.

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