22 April 2002

As a matter of interest ...

Acting on a tip off, as they say, I popped into County Hall last week to inspect the authority's statutory register of member's interests.
There I discovered that Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse, Deputy Leader and automatic member of the soon to be announced Cabinet, is a director of Angle Development Company Ltd.
I am told that Companies House documents record the objects of Angle Development Company Ltd as "Development and sell (sic) real estate".
The reason this is interesting is that Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, of which Cllr Allen-Mirehouse is a member, has decided recently to make local need a criteria for determining future planning applications for residential development in the Park area.
Clearly, any such planning restrictions will have a deflationary effect on the value of development land in the National Park, so, on the face of it, Cllr Allen-Mirehouse, the owner of extensive real estate in the Park area, would seem to have an interest to declare.(See March 4 2002 Self Interest)
However, on checking the National Park minutes for the meeting of 22 January 2002 at which this policy was agreed, I find that not only did Cllr Allen-Mirehouse fail to disclose an interest and leave the meeting but actually spoke and voted against the new measure.
The minutes record that he argued - no doubt with Old Grumpy in mind - that the locals only policy was undesirable because "in-migrants provided a turn-over of skills and ideas, which in itself ensured a sustainable community".


Between ourselves

Old Grumpy has been studying the reports on the new Cabinet arrangements on the agenda for next Thursday's meeting of the County Council's policy and resources committee.
At page 38, I notice that in the interests of "effectiveness and transparency", Cabinet decisions and detailed background will be carried on the Council's Intranet site.
The problem is that the only people with access to the Intranet are, as the name suggests, insiders - elected members and officers.
What Old Grumpy finds difficult to understand is why, given the council's stated intention to "enable improved public information about decision-making", this material cannot be carried on the Internet where we can all see it.
After all once it has been formatted for the Intranet it is only a matter of pressing a few keys to send it to the worldwide web.
If a toy town outfit like Llanelli Borough Council can put their minutes on the web it is surely not too much to ask that Pembrokeshire County Council (budget £130 million) should do the same.


Impotent members

As I have said before, the new arrangements for local government will effectively marginalize the vast majority of our elected members (those 50 out of the 60 who are not in the Cabinet) though, judging by the enthusiasm with which they have voted through the proposals to date, the poor mutts either don't care or haven't noticed.
And, it seems, in one crucial area: appointment of staff, even the Cabinet will not be consulted.
The only appointment where the generality of members will have any say at all is that of chief executive where the whole council will be invited to consider (rubber stamp?) the recommendation of the senior staff committee.
The six person senior staff committee will be made up of four members of the ruling Independent Political (sic) Group and two from the minorities.
This committee will also be responsible for the appointment of the most senior staff: "Directors of Services and percentage related Chief Officers [whatever they are]".
However, the shortlist from which the committee will make their selection will be the responsibility of the chief executive.
It is to be hoped that there is no repeat of the process that led to the appointment of Mr Huw Roberts as Director of Highways where the personnel committee considered a shortlist whittled down to one from the original forty-odd applicants.
Another strange thing Old Grumpy noticed are the new rules on the canvassing by applicants.
According to the report before Thursday's meeting: "Applicants are also required to sign a declaration that they have not canvassed, either directly or indirectly, any member or officer of the council in connection with their application. Nevertheless this will not preclude a councillor from giving a written reference for a candidate."
Just how you ask a councillor for a reference without, in the ordinary meaning of the word, impliedly canvassing his/her support is not explained.
Personally, I would look with a jaundiced eye upon anyone who was so hard up for a referee that they had to seek the endorsement of a politician.


Waste not ...

Last week, I wrote of the difficulties involved in making gardening pay, especially if you take labour charges into account.
One way of reducing costs and maximising benefits is to recycle packaging materials.
For instance, the large plastic bag in which the new mattress was delivered a couple of years ago, serves as an effective, if rather unsightly, temporary cover that enables me to eat new potatoes two weeks before they appear in the shops.
Substantial economies are also to be had by using the containers found in supermarket meat sections, as seed trays.
A little care is required here to make sure the item selected is the right depth (about 2"). If it has a yellow sticker, so much the better.
I find Tesco medium-sized diced beef is perfect for the job.
Only this morning, while collecting my daily cigarette rations, I snapped up a buy-one-get-one-half-price offer on diced beef, so I'll be able to prick out those onion seedlings in the morning.
"Not beef curry again", Old Grumpette grumbled as we sat down for dinner.
"And poppadums", I replied brightly.
I don't think she's twigged, but those clear plastic poppadum boxes make simply perfect propagators.

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