25 April 2006


Hello, hello


Old Grumpy hears that the police had to be called to Monday's meeting of Manorbier Community Council after a member of the public refused to leave the meeting.
It appears that the council voted to go into private session while a disputed invoice connected with the analysis of the community appraisal was discussed, but the lady in question sat tight, claiming it was her democratic right to witness what was being done in her name.
Apparently, the chairman called the police and there was a one-hour stand-off before they arrived to sort things out.
For a fuller account see Manorbier.com 
Regular readers will know that the police are in regular contact with Manorbier CC following allegations that a photocopier was unlawfully employed in order to get the number of completed community appraisal questionnaires up to the required threshold.
And it is rumoured that Manorbier CC may be seeing even more of m'learned friends following the sudden sacking of the council's clerk.
My information is that the clerk is seriously considering an action for wrongful dismissal.
Not that I give her much chance of success because the chairman of the council is Labour Party member Tony Wales.
And, surely, Brother Wales would never do anything to infringe a poor worker's rights.
There was also some excitement at Monday night's meeting of Milford Haven Town Council where Cllr Tony Miles defeated Cllr Anne Hughes for the post of deputy mayor by nine votes to four.
So Cllr Hughes will have to concentrate on her job as assistant cabinet member for social well-being (whatever that means).
At least she can console herself that the cabinet job pays better (Special Responsibility Allowance circa £5,000 per annum).
Nevertheless, defeat must be a blow to her because, by sheer coincidence, of course, whoever is deputy mayor this year will take the chain in May 2007 giving them a year in the limelight in the run up to the county council elections in May 2008.
From what Old Grumpy hears from the rolling focus group I encounter in Tesco on my regular forays in search of fresh supplies of Embassy filter and Chilean merlot, Cllr Hughes might need all the help she can get because a significant number of people were under the impression when they voted for her last time that she intended to be truly independent rather than a member of the Independent Political Group.
When asked by the Mercury following the last election about her intentions regarding the IPG she said she was still thinking about it, though as can be seen from the list of IPG members (see Party animals) she was actually one of the first to sign up.
Perhaps a credible, genuine independent candidate will emerge to challenge her next time round.
Historical footnote: No sitting member of the IPG has ever been re-elected in Milford Haven. Eric Harries and Eddie Setterfield both went down the tubes in 1999 and the same fate befell George Max in 2004.


Might is right

Next Friday, the county council's corporate governance committee will consider seven opposition proposals to amend the constitution.
This twelve-member committee; the main function of which is to review the council's constitution, comprises the leader, deputy leader, two members of the cabinet, four scrutiny committee chairman and four members of the opposition .
As Viscount Bolinbroke said more than 200 years ago "The constitution is that set of rules under which the people consent to be governed."
Unfortunately, the county council's present constitution was written by officers and forced through with minimal debate by the Independent Political Group majority.
The idea that the people consented to these arrangements is simply laughable.
In a democracy, the role of the constitution is to set the limits on the power of the elected majority.
And I would argue that the constitution is a better guardian of our rights and liberties than the vote.
That is certainly the case with a first past the post electoral system which invariably puts power in the hands of the largest minority.
For instance, 63% of those who voted at the last general election ended up on the losing side.
Take, for example, the situation where the ruling majority decide to confiscate your property by compulsory purchase.
Clearly there are instances where such coercive behaviour can be justified in the public interest, but in a constitutional democracy there are also rules to defend the interests of the the individual against the power of the state.
So, the authority must show that it requires the property for some public purpose - mere acquisitiveness will not suffice.
It must undertake certain legal processes during which the individual can mount a challenge and, most important of all, it must pay adequate compensation.
All these are safeguards which, in a system with a written constitution, might come under the general heading: "The right to property."
It stands to reason that, if the purpose of a constitution is to limit the power of the majority, those in power should be the last people on earth to have the final say on what those curbs should be.
But that is the case in Pembrokshire where the leader's payroll has an 8-4 majority on this committee.

And everybody else is wrong


Needless to say, the opposition's seven amendments; most of which are designed to bring greater democratic accountability, are all recommended for the dustbin.
Of particular interest to Old Grumpy is my own modest technical amendment that would allow members to submit notices of motions and written questions by e-mail.
Soon after I made this proposal, I got wind of the fact that some of the IPG's leading intellectuals (only joking) had hit upon lack of security as a suitable torpedo.
Sure enough, this has now surfaced in the report to the corporate governance committee which states: "Members will appreciate that the submission of Notices of Motion and Questions is a formal process and that for obvious procedural/legal reasons, it is necessary for such submissions to be properly verified traditionally required as being by way of a clearly recognisable signature. In terms of submission by e-mail, there is the possibility that transmissions could be generated from destinations which are not truly those from which they purport to be sourced, and they cannot be readily verifiable by the traditional name and signature."
As an objection to my proposal, this is beyond feeble.
Firstly it supposes that there are people out there who are itching to slip notices of motion onto the council's agenda by impersonating members.
And, secondly, that there is no way of safeguarding the system against these interlopers.
The report does hold out the hope of future reform when a "technology of 'electronic signature'" is developed.
They should really try to keep up because most of us have been familiar with this technology for ten years or more.
It is called a PIN number.
For the mathematically minded the numbers 0-9 will generate100 two-digit, and 1000 three-digit, PINS.
More than enough, I would have thought, to secure the system against even the most determined hacker..
While on the subject of formal legal processes, I would point out that, according to the Ombudsman's report on Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse, when the council's monitoring officer made a statement to the police during their investigation he did so by e-mail.
Does that mean that the ability of the police to verify that the person making a statement is who they actually say they are, is of less importance than someone submitting a notice of motion to the council?
Or is it our old friend: one rule for us and another for the rest of you?


Chain gang

Last October, Old Grumpy was told by an Independent Political Group insider, that when he ejected Cllr Bill Roberts from the Cabinet (see Balancing act) the leader had promised his former Minister for Housing a soft landing in the form of the vice-chairmanship of the council.
I didn't mention this at the time because making predictions about things over which other people have control is a sure way to getting egg on your face.
However nominations for vice-chairman closed at 5.00pm today so by the time this is posted on the web the die will be cast.
Anyone who wants to bet an even tenner that someone other than Cllr Bill will be the IPG's sole nominee is welcome to give me a ring.
With 35 paid posts at his disposal it is easy to see how the Leader manages to keep these "independents" singing the same tune.
However, Old Grumpy also understands that Cllr Roberts may be a closet socialist, so he may be more inclined towards the principles of open democratic debate than some of the authoritarians who have gone before.
Another thing in Cllr Roberts' favour is that he is an built like a whippet so the endless diet of rubber chicken dinners is unlikely do serious damage to his liver.
Though what the lads in the St Ishmaels Sports Club will make of it when the limo, complete with uniformed flunkey, turns up to convey him to council meetings is anyone's guess.


Two jobs plus


One fact that seems to have been overlooked during the recent furore over the chief executive's pay rise is that, in addition to his salary, he is also paid for acting as returning officer during local and national elections.
This led to perhaps the best story I have seen in a local paper during my 40 years in Pembrokeshire when the Mercury ran the headline "What makes Bryn grin" over a story that claimed he had received £15,000 for his role in the 1999 Welsh Assembly elections.
The story was accompanied by a photo of Mr Parry Jones reading out the results together with a speech bubble with the words "Richard Edwards 12,463" and a thought bubble with the words "And another few grand for me".
Sadly, I have to report that we had sold the Mercury by this time so this piece of journalistic brilliance has to be credited to the, then, editor Simon Spruce.
Subsequent enquiries lead me to believe that the £15,000 quoted in the Mercury may have been an exaggeration, though, as it was based on information supplied by a well-placed council officer, I can't be entirely certain.
However, what I can be sure about is that whatever the Home Office pays Mr Parry Jones for his exertions during election time is in addition to his salary.
In October 2004, I asked the Leader what steps were taken to recompense the council for the loss of the chief's services during election campaigns i.e did he forgo part of either his hols or his salary, and was told that "The Leader was in no doubt that the chief executive executed his duties over and above what was required of him contractually, as evidenced by his commitment late into weekday evenings and on weekends during election periods, a fact which had been frequently witnessed by many members."
Old Grumpy hopes that all this burning of the midnight oil isn't at the expense of compliance with the Working Time Directive.

Green growth


In order to burnish his environmental credentials, Dave has been to the Arctic Circle to see a melting glacier - about as apt a metaphor of the Tory Party as you could possibly get.
Dave is telling us "Vote blue, get green" while constantly banging on about something called "green growth".
As the present government is finding to its cost, achieving satisfactory levels of ungreen growth is not an easy task.
Last year the British economy grew at only 1.75% - not enough to prevent either a rise in unemployment or a serious deterioration in the public finances.
The bald fact is that our economy is founded on cheap energy and any increase in energy costs, whether caused by rising oil prices, or a switch to more expensive renewables, is bound to depress economic growth even further.
I think the idea of green growth is based on a confusion between economic activity and economic progress.
Suppose you have saved up £10,000 to buy a new car but that purchase has to be cancelled because you have to divert the cash towards curing the dry rot that you recently discovered in the roof.
Now £10,000 spent on either a new roof or a new car represents exactly the same amount of economic activity but it doesn't amount to the same amount of economic progress.
Indeed, economically, you are back to where you started before the dry rot problem came to your attention.
Of course, spending the money on the roof produces a better outcome than allowing it to collapse into the upstairs rooms, but it is still inferior to not having dry rot in the first place.
One of the most reliable catalysts for economic activity is a force 8 earthquake but nobody would suggest that having to rebuild your house from scratch every twenty years is economic progress.
As Adam Smith pointed out all economic progress is ultimately based on the accumulation of capital.
If your capital is periodically destroyed by earthquake, flood or hurricane then you are on an economic treadmill.
The other fallacy associated with "green growth" is the idea that insulating all those lofts will create jobs.
But economic output is measured in terms of goods and services produced not the quantity of work done.
If it were otherwise all our economic problems could be solved by outlawing the JCB and putting the unemployed to work with pick and shovel.
Of course, if global warming turns out to be more than just a series of uncertain predictions based on computer models of the atmosphere, we may be forced to pull our horns in.
But it is dishonest of politicians like Dave to pretend it will be a painless experience.

Living expenses

Monday's post brought the excellent news that, should Standard Life be demutualised, we will be entitled to 954 shares, predicted to be worth 230p-290p - about £2,500, at a guess.
The bad news is that, less than a month ago, another letter landed on the doormat informing us that our endowment policy; taken out 16 years ago to cover a £45,000 mortgage, is projected to be worth £32,000 on maturity in 2010.
This policy also carries life cover which ensures payment of the full amount should either of us shuffle off before the maturity date.
A classic case of being worth more dead than alive.

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