April 30 2009

In the money

The Remuneration Panel for Wales (RPW) was in town last week to take evidence about the adequacy, or otherwise, of the Special Responsibility Allowances paid to cabinet members and chairmen and vice-chairman of the various county council committees.
This exercise involved interviewing the recipients of these allowances, presumably to discover exactly what they did.
It will be interesting to read their report when it is published later this year.
Did any of the scrutiny committee chairmen tell the panel: "Well, actually, the £8,500 a year I already get seems rather a lot for chairing five two or three hour meetings each year."
And did the vice-chairmen say: "Well. actually, £5,500 a year seems extremely generous for just sitting next to the chairman during these meetings. In all honesty, I can't say it is value for money as far as the taxpayer is concerned."
I somehow doubt it.
On the contrary, they probably told the panel that they were up half the night reading reports and were well worth double what they are presently paid.
And it would seem they are pushing at an open door because as the Panel says in its initial report: "We feel strongly that the role of councillor across Wales should be respected as a professional one. In the interests of equity and consistency the Panel encourages all councils to pay the maximum SRAs we have set out for their population grouping".
I assume professional in this context means doing something for money, as opposed to amateur, rather than, as my dictionary puts it: "a person following a vocation or calling requiring advanced learning or science."
When the council discussed the Remuneration Panel's first report back in October, the Leader made an impassioned speech in which he said that, with people losing their homes and jobs as a result of the credit crunch, it would be unconscionable to increase PCC's SRAs by 25% as recommended by the panel.
However, that meeting also passed a resolution that: "The updating of remuneration and allowances be implemented for future years in accordance with any further determinations and recommendations of the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales." (Force-fed)
This was a nifty piece of footwork because it means these allowances will be uprated automatically without the need to bring a report to full council where the issue could be debated.
I also notice that the IRPW published a "further" report in December last year in which it recommended that allowances for 2009-2010 [ a "future year"] should be uprated in line with its previous recommendation + inflation.
If the October resolution has been given effect it means that, from April 1, SRAs will have increased as follows: Leader £28,204 to £35,462; Cabinet members £14,052 to £17,731; Chairmen of committees £8,431 to £10,637; and vice-chairmen £5,620 to £7,091 and this despite the fact that the fall out from the credit crunch is now even more severe than it was last October.

Action man

Every week, "First" the LGA's house magazine features a councillor's account of his duties.
In the latest edition it was "A day in the life of" Brigadier Christopher Wolverson a Tory member of Somerset county council.
I must admit that reading these tales of non-stop activity make me feel like a bit of a shirker.
Especially at this time of year when I spend rather a lot of time in the garden.
The Brigadier opens the day with a pre-meeting of the children's scrutiny committee of which he is chairman before he pops into the Regional Assembly secretariat followed by lunch in county hall canteen to catch up with the gossip. Then it is off to a meeting of the Quantock Hills joint advisory committee, a discussion with the manager of a children's home, a primary school governors' meeting before rounding things off with a parish council bash.
In the intervals between meetings he finds time to attend to his constituents' concerns about such diverse matters as a road that has been undermined by badgers, obtaining care for an elderly resident, and someone seeking his support for her campaign to have bridge adopted as an Olympic sport.
Finally: "Then home - yes, I say to my wife, we can find a night to play bridge next month (my emphasis) "

On the money

I was right on the money with my prediction that Cllr John George (St David) would be the IPG's nominee as next vice-chairman of council (Chain stitch).
Old Grumpy can remember when the council bore some resemblance to a democracy and there used to be an election for this much coveted position.
Now it is decided in the inner chambers of the IPG.
Leading members of the ruling group will tell you that there is nothing to prevent anyone putting their name forward but, as the IPG always vote as instructed by the leadership, and 39 is a bigger number than 21, it would be an exercise in futility.
The rot set in in 2001 when three IPG members were after the post.
Previously the three names would have gone before the AGM when all members would have had the opportunity to vote.
But the, then, Leader Maurice Hughes, decided to organise a postal ballot within the group to determine who should be anointed.
The three runners were Cllrs George Grey, Rosemary Hayes and Pat Griffiths.
All three obtained in excess of ten votes but Cllr Griffiths was eliminated after the first round and Cllr Hayes narrowly prevailed in the run-off.
Interestingly, the ballot papers were sent out using the council's postal system and the instructions were to return the ballot papers to the chairman's secretary - a council employee.
Naturally, the use of public resources for party political party purposes is not permitted, though, despite my drawing attention to this illegality at the time, nobody seemed to care.
By the way, I still have the envelope and the ballot paper given to me by a rebel member of the IPG.
Those were the days!
The upshot was that Cllr Hayes, with 39 votes in the bag , was a shoo-in.
Had all three names gone forward, opposition votes might have led to a different outcome.
So, in effect, opposition members were disenfranchised in an election for the chairman who represents all the people of Pembrokeshire, not just the IPG.
Not only that, but more than half the so-called independents were dragooned into voting for someone who wasn't their first choice.

Inaction Man

I have received a number of e-mails from people in the St Davids area protesting about the county council's proposal to close their swimming pool and replace it with a sports hall.
Unsurprisingly, they can't understand why they can't have both.
Much as I dislike fomenting dissent, I have been forced into pointing out that this was a decision made by the county council's Cabinet, all of whom are members of the IPG, as is their local member Cllr John George.
In any normal political situation, where you disapprove of what's being done, the blame must rest with those in power and those who support them.
The IPG, as I constantly point out, is a devilishly clever device designed to give its members power without them having to take responsibility.
Following my piece last week about Cllr George's elevation to the vice-chairmanship, some of my correspondents have suggested that his lack of support for their campaign to retain the swimming pool might be explained by his reluctance to upset those in whose hands his destiny lies.
As you know, I will have no truck with these conspiracy theorists.
Indeed, I notice that Cllr George has a question down for next Thursday's meeting about the current situation with regard to the business plan drawn up by the swimming pool campaigners.
He is also asking for an update on the construction of the new sports hall, though if he had been keeping up he would have noticed that the Cabinet has already decided to award the contract for this facility to Cotton Ltd (No contest) (Best value?).
Still better late than never, you might think, except that too late is, in effect, the same as never, and the Cabinet decision, having been taken, cannot now be challenged.

A bridge too far


Fortunately, in my Hakin constituency there is no one daft enough to suggest that bridge is an activity suitable for Olympic competition
However, the brigadier's article got me thinking about suitable candidates and it occurred to me that Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling might fit the bill.
I should say at the outset that I have no personal axe to grind, being a reasonably competent bridge player and quite an accomplished C and W wrestler in my day.
Though I should say that this latter was in an informal setting and I have never worn my Y-fronts over my long johns - at least not in public.
Wrestling's importance as part of the culture of my native county should never be underestimated.
According to Google, the Westmorland Gazette for 1858 had an account of 'Mr Robert Gordon, sire of the noted wrestlers bearing his name, strewed two cart-loads of foot cocks, turned over the hay and put it up into a big-cock, all in one day' at the age of ninety-five.
For those who have known nothing but the baler, I should explain that a "foot cock" was a small pile about twelve inches high into which the hay was gathered when rain threatened.
When the sun came out it was strewn around to let the air at it.
When it was dry it was collected into a big-cock ready for loading on to the cart.
Later, after tractors acquired rear hydraulic lifts, these big-cocks, also known as pikes, would be transported whole on a fork contraption on the back of the Fergie.
But I digress.
There was big money to be won in wrestling matches and an advert in the Whitehaven News for boys wrestling at the 1909 Sandwith sports offered a prize of £1 [a week's wages in those days] for the winner of a competition for "boys under 15 years, resident within six miles of the ground."
From this it is easy to get the impression of we Cumbrians as rugged mountain men who chew nails and spit rust.
But, just to show we are also in touch with our feminine side, the same advert offered prizes for boys' waltzing and "the boy running in the neatest costume."

Below are links to two interesting articles that I came across on the Internet



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