April 17 2007

Running for election

Old Grumpy notices that there are twice as many Conservatives (2) standing for the Welsh Assembly as contested the county council elections in 2004.
Remarkable, really, that they can now contest both Pembrokeshire seats when, back then, they could only manage a single candidate for the 60 seats on offer.
It's not even that Pembrokeshire is a no-go area for the Tories who already hold one of the Westminster seats.
One morning last year, I heard "Dave" Cameron on the Today programme outlining his commitment to something called the "new localism": devolving power down to the people and all that stuff, so I e-mailed his office to ask why, if his party believed in local government, poor old Frank Elliot had been left to single-handedly carry the flag at the last county council elections.
Our local MP Stephen Crabb was detailed off to reply.
I'm not sure I'm any the wiser, but I got the impression from his e-mail that the Tory hierarchy would like to contest more seats but are having difficulty persuading their troops to drop their "Independent" mask because of the fear that showing the electorate their true colours might cost them votes.
They are probably right about that because I can find nothing in the results from either Parliamentary or Welsh Assembly elections to indicate that, if presented with the true facts, the people of Pembrokeshire would give the Tories the 2:1 majority they presently enjoy on the county council.
This morning, while visiting Tesco to pick up fresh supplies of Embassy Filter, I noticed a prominent Milford Haven Tory leaving the store laden down with two jumbo packs of Andrex luxury soft.
I sincerely hope this is an indication of how well their campaign is going.
If so, it would give an entirely new meaning to the term: running for election.


Swings and roundabouts

A couple of weeks ago, I speculated that, if Labour were to lose both its Pembrokeshire seats, Cllr Joyce Watson might sneak in though the back door marked "Party list".
If, as seems likely, the party loses Llanelli as well, Joyce will be a shoo-in.
A reader has emailed to point out that the converse is that, should the Tories win both Pembrokeshire seats, it might signal the end for their two present list members Nick Bourne and Glyn Davies.
Strange sort of electoral system when those on the list are secretly wishing for the demise of their colleagues in the first past the post contest, and those on the first past the post trail know that, short of winning outright, any votes they attract might help smooth a path into the Assembly for one of the drones on the list.


Lost cause

Thursday sees another meeting of the county council's corporate governance committee (chairman Cllr Alwyn Luke) the body charged with making recommendations to full council regarding members' notices of motion proposing amendments to the constitution.
As the constitution was written by officers, it is no surprise that that the officers' recommendations to the committee almost invariably begin with the words "That council be recommended not to adopt the Notice of Motion . . ."
And, as eight of the 12-member committee are in receipt of special responsibility allowances which are directly or indirectly in the gift of the Leader, nd, as the Leader's Independent Political Group (IPG) is the political wing of the Chief Officers Management Board (COMB), it is no surprise that the officers' recommendations are almost invariably followed.
However, there have been minor concessions along the way.
For instance, it used to be the case that members whose NoMs had been remitted to corporate governance could, with the consent of the chairman, address the committee.
Following a notice of motion submitted by the opposition this was upgraded to a RIGHT to address the committee.
Generally speaking, depending on their content, NoMs are remitted either to corporate governance or Cabinet.
At present members whose NoMs are sent down the Cabinet route have no right put their case to that august body.
It occurred to Old Grumpy that this was not in the best traditions of British democracy, which enshrines the right of everyone to have their say, so I put down a NoM which would allow ordinary bog-standard members to address Cabinet on the perceived benefits of their proposal.
This has met with the standard: "That council be recommended not to adopt the Notice of Motion . . ."
But it is the reason for treating NoMs sent to Cabinet differently to those sent to corporate governance that I found most intriguing.
As the report says: "The Cabinet is constituted in a different way to a committee and there is a well-developed process for liaison before Cabinet meetings conducted by individual Cabinet members with a number of other councillors. As a consequence, there is already a means by which proposers of motions can communicate their views to Cabinet members."
This is a reference to the scheme whereby each member of the Cabinet is appointed as mentor to five ordinary members.
My mentor (dictionary definition: an experienced and trusted advisor) is Cllr Islwyn Howells.
I am supposed to sub-contract my NoM to my mentor, who will then present it to the Cabinet.
Aside from the fact that I am perfectly able to speak up on my own behalf, I am also concerned that Cllr Howell's views on what democracy entails appear to be diametrically opposed to my own.
I am, therefore, most uncomfortable with the idea that the case for my modest proposal to democratise the council's constitution should be entrusted to someone whose autocratic tendencies were amply demonstrated when he advocated a restriction on members' rights to ask questions (Questions, questions).


Alright for some


As was entirely predictable, Tuesday's planning committee nodded through Adams and Son's application for a 2,400 sq ft agricultural dwelling + 260 sq ft double garage at Keyston Hill Farm.
The "Son" in this case is Cllr Jamie Adams; Cllr Brian Hall's successor as Cabinet member for highways and transportation.
Once built, there will be three dwellings on the 300 acre farm which carries 270 milking cows and 80 followers.
Readers will remember that at the same time as the Leader's company, Cwmbetws Ltd, was obtaining planning consent for an even bigger, 2,800 sq ft house, an application for a fourth dwelling just down the road at Ffos-y-ficer was refused.
Considering that Ffos-y-ficer covers 1,200 acres and supports 500 dairy cows and the dwelling applied for was a mere 1,200 sq ft, it is not easy to reconcile refusal there with this latest example of the bungalow farmer's art (See all comparisons . . .) (Herd instinct) (Loyal opposition)
I will return to this subject in greater detail next week.

A traveller's tales

The former leader of the county council, Maurice Hughes, once accused me of leading the police on a "wild goose chase" costing "tens of thousands of pounds" when I complained to the police about Cllr Brian Hall's travel claim for 1 February 2001 - my birthday, incidentally (Time Lord).
He went on to say that I had made these false allegations because of my obsession with Cllr Hall.
He was wrong about that because what, if anything, actually obsesses me is how, in this supposedly open, accountable democracy of ours, Hall's friends in high places managed to protect him for so long.
Of course, what ultimately kept him afloat were the votes of the 38 members of the IPG, who have a special talent for averting their eyes from inconvenient facts while passing by on the other side.
However, in the end, when faced with a recorded vote, that would have exposed anyone who supported Cllr Hall to the wrath of the electorate, they turned tail and ran.
In modern parlance, they were in denial, but it must have occurred to some of more intelligent among them that there was something not quite right about the fact that, during 2005-2006, he managed to rack up almost £14,000 in travelling expenses- more than twice as much as the Leader, and almost four times that of the bronze medalist (First XV).
For those who are interested, I offer the following analysis of the various strategies employed to achieve these massive mileage claims
Firstly, there are the claims for journeys that are not in connection with "approved duties"
For example, there was the 20 miles he claimed for the journey to Pembroke to meet his solicitor and back to Haverfordwest to be interviewed by the Ombudsman's investigator (Brian the bus) (Duty bound).
Secondly, there is the ability to drive long distances at ultra-high speeds (Mystery tour) (Time Lord).
Then there are the occasions when he claims from both the Fire Authority and Pembrokeshire CC for the same journey.
For instance on July 18 2005 he claimed 179 miles for travelling to a fire authority lunch at the Royal Welsh Show in Builth Wells and, on the same day, another 170 miles from PCC for a trip to um, er, Builth Wells.
Fourthly, we have what can only be described unnecessary mileage caused by poor planning, presumably. (Is your journey really necessary).
Next, we have Cllr Hall's chameleon-like ability to fulfill two different roles at the same time.
So for the purposes of the standards committee he attended a BBC reception in St Davids as a private citizen and, therefore, couldn't be guilty of bringing the office of councillor into disrepute.
However, when SF suggested to the District Audit Service that this meant that Cllr Hall had claimed travelling expenses to which he was not entitled, he was told: "The Chief Executive has confirmed that Cllr Hall was attending an approved duty in St Davids and he was therefore entitled to claim travel & subsistence expenses."
Alice in Wonderland has nothing on this.
And, as Old Grumpy has long suspected, Cllr Hall also seems to have mastered the art of time-travel.
According to his PCC expense claims, on November 17 2005 he undertook the following journeys.

I am reliably informed that the opening of the A477 took place at 10 am followed by lunch at the Cleddau Bridge Hotel.
In response to an FoI inquiry the police tell me that day's road safety event involved the presentation of awards to the winners of the Dyfed schools' anti-drink driving posters competition.
This commenced at 10.30 and was followed by buffet lunch at 12 noon.
There was an award for each of the four counties (Pembrokshire, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Powys) and the presentations were made jointly by the Assistant Chief Constable and a representative from relevant area .
Cllr Hall didn't make the presentation on behalf of Pembrokeshire, indeed, with regard to his presence at police HQ that day, the police inform me: "No information held".
November 17 was busy day for Cllr Hall because he also attended a meeting of the Fire Authority's Modernisation Group in Carmarthen for which he claimed 68 miles.

In response to another FoI request, the fire authority confirms that Cllr Hall was present at this meeting which commenced at 1.30 pm and finished at 3.45 pm.
So, even if Cllr Hall had attended the presentations at police HQ on 17 November, in order to drive the number of miles claimed, he would have had to skip lunch and drive to Haverfordwest and back to Carmarthen between 12 noon and 1.30 pm.
But, why would anyone want to do that?
The next day, 18 November, was equally frantic with Cllr Hall first visiting County Hall before setting off to inspect public toilets at Rosebush, Clynderwen, Newport, St Ishmaels and Nevern for which he claimed 140 miles.
According to the AA routefinder, these journeys, if carried out in the most carbon-efficient order (Pembroke Dock, Haverfordwest, Clynderwen, Rosebush, Nevern, Newport, St Ishmaels, Pembroke Dock) total 89 miles
If they are undertaken in the order they appear on the expense claim it comes to 149 miles.
However, to achieve that requires the less than three miles from Newport to Nevern to be covered by way of St Ishmaels (68 miles).
Not a route that would have occurred to Old Grumpy.

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