2 April 2002

Face the facts

A couple of weeks ago the Mercury ran a story concerning an exchange of correspondence between County Council chairman Cllr Rosemary Hayes and Labour Group leader Joyce Watson.
You may remember that Cllr Watson had taken the opportunity offered by Standing Order 10 of the council's constitution to table written questions to the chairman regarding revelations on this website about expenses claimed by Cllr Brian Hall on 1 February 2001.
At the council meeting on 13 December 2001 the chairman made no attempt to answer Cllr Watson's questions though she did conclude her prepared statement by saying that: "The relevant facts are that Councillor Hall undertook approved duties and can establish that he actually made the journeys for which he claimed travelling expenses."
Naturally, Cllr Watson was not impressed at being kicked into the long grass, and fired off a letter to the chairman pointing out that, on the basis of the information unearthed by Old Grumpy, Cllr Hall's expense claim was patently false.
According to the Mercury, Cllr Hayes' reply to the Labour Leader stated that Old Grumpy's allegations against Cllr Hall were "based on a series of assumptions about the speed with which Cllr Hall undertook a number of activities on a particular day".
This is simply not true: my case rests not on assumptions but the application of basic arithmetic to solid facts.
The facts are that a timed receipt attached to Cllr Hall's expense claim shows that he purchased lunch at the First Motorway Service Station near Chepstow at 1.08 pm on 1 February 2001.
According to the expense claim he submitted, also on 1 February 2001, he left Pembroke Dock at 2.00 pm to drive to a meeting in Swansea, claiming 130 miles at 48.5p per mile for the return journey.
To drive the 135 miles from the service station to Pembroke Dock (via Haverfordwest) in the 52 minutes between 1.08pm and 2.00 pm would require an average speed of 156 mph.
The only assumption involved in that calculation is that Cllr Hall needed zero time to consume his lunch.
If we start making assumptions like, for instance, that he took 20 minutes to eat lunch, return to the car, etc, etc, then the average speed required increases to 250+ mph.

Hidden taxes

By now, you will all have received your Council Tax demand and the accompanying newsletter with the headline "Value for your Money. County Council Tax - one of the lowest in Wales".
Of course, as I have pointed out many times in the past, a low level of Council Tax is not necessarily proof of value for money because there are other factors in the equation such as the discretionary charges imposed by the council for various services
This was highlighted at a recent meeting of the County Council by Labour's Terry Mills who pointed out that the authority had made a "profit" of £200,000 last year from Land Searches.
As the council is the monopoly provider of this service this amounts to a hidden tax on all property transactions.
Similarly with the imposition of charges for previously free services such as the collection of garden and commercial waste.
The most recent example is the proposal, discussed at last week's Social Services Committee, to raise £45,000 a year by charging users of the Council's Day Centres £1 per session.
In the event, following adverse publicity in the Mercury, under the headline "Council plan 'stealth' tax on elderly", the ruling Independents took a powder and engineered a last-minute retreat from this policy.
A pity, really, because I was all geared up to draw attention to the contrast between their tight-fisted, mean-spirited attitude to the County's old folks with their open-handed generosity when recently awarding themselves massive increases in their own allowances.
No doubt, the opportunity will arise again.

Phil's fall

So, after much dithering, Philip Llewellyn has finally decided to resign from the County Council.
I suppose such an outcome was more or less inevitable after his ill-starred decision to abandon the Tory Party and throw in his lot with the ruling Independent Political (sic) Group.
After all, he knew full well what he was signing up for when he joined the Independents, having put out a press release only a few weeks earlier pointing out that an Independent Political Group was a contradiction in terms and accusing them of "deceiving the people of Pembrokeshire by hiding behind this coalition of convenience".
Why he didn't heed the advice of his friends and become a truly independent, Independent on leaving the Tories remains a mystery.
From that honourable position he could have used his considerable talents to bring about much needed reform - who knows, he might even have started a trend because I know of others who are uncomfortable as members of a group for which, as Cllr Llewellyn puts it, "truth has become a second-class citizen to an ethos of deceit and cover ups".

Falling standards

Old Grumpy is now in a position to tell you the full story regarding his failed (doomed?) attempt to become a member of the County Council's Standards Committee.
This committee is charged with the responsibility for investigating complaints that members have breached the code of conduct by failing to declare their interest in matters before the council and suchlike.
An Appointments Panel was set up to oversee the recruitment of two outside members to the Standards Committee.
The Panel, which did not actually meet, but proceeded by way of a phone-in, with the Council's Monitoring Officer Huw James as the ringmaster, agreed, "unanimously", to a shortlist of two for interview.
In the event only one of the shortlisted candidates proved suitable so the recruitment process had to be recommenced.
As the rest of the applicants were clearly considered inferior to the unsuitable shortlisted candidate, Old Grumpy expected the post to be readvertised.
But, no.
According to a letter I have received from the Council's Head of Personnel, Francis Maull, "the Selection Panel revisited the file and considered all previous applicants that had been received".
Apparantly, these applications had improved with age (perhaps Mr Maull's filing cabinet is made of oak) because three applicants - previously categorised as unsuitable - were shortlisted for interview and a Mr Clive Sheriden is being recommended for the post.
Mr Maull tells me that, if Mr Sheriden declines the offer, the council will readvertise the position "and would be pleased to receive another application from you at that time".
Whatever for?


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