6 April 2004


Only a game?

I hear it is being put about that the late appearance of last week's column was in some way connected with the previous Saturday's events in Paris.
This is totally untrue!
The reason why last week's effort was two days overdue was that I was swanning around among the tax exiles in Old Grumpette's native land, the Isle of Man.
However, in all honesty, I cannot deny that losing to the French had some effect on my psychological equilibrium.
But nothing so serious that a couple of extra glasses of the Chilean Merlot, and a good night's sleep, couldn't put right
In any case, it is not in the nature of the English to dwell on defeat or make excuses about blind Irish referees - even if he did have a rather French-sounding name.
Though, on reflection, it is difficult to believe that someone with the potato famine, Waterloo and Agincourt swirling round in his his collective ancestral conscience could be completely unbiased.
And, because it is not the English way to bleat in the face of adversity, nor am I going to make anything of that first try; scored by the French number 8 whose name was, as I recall, something like Imanol Yardsoffsidewashe.
As I said, I am not in the business of whingeing and making excuses but that doesn't mean we can't look for an explanation for the World Champions' (let us not forget) dismal first half showing.
It could of course be that France were the better side, but that explanation is both far too simplistic and self-evidently ridiculous.
While I have never had much time for conspiracy theories, I am beginning to wonder if all those gongs that Mr Blair gave the English players after the World Cup might have been in exchange for an agreement that they would throw the match.
Being at the heart of Europe, entente cordiale, the Queen's visit and all that.
If that seems a bit fanciful, what about the 8 pm kick off?
We all know how the French love their nightlife.
So, at a time when the clean living English boys would normally be slipping into their jim jams, ready for a cup of cocoa and a bedtime story from Sir Clive, they were forced down the tunnel and into the glare of the floodlights to face a French side who were, not to put too fine a point on it, up for it.
Proof of the soundness of this theory can be seen from the second half, when, properly awake, having rubbed the sleep from their eyes, our lads whopped them 19-3.
Surely, it is not the business of a public service broadcaster like the BBC to sacrifice the reputation of the World Champions (let us never forget) in a silly ratings war with "Who wants to be a Millionaire".
Michael Grade, please take note.
Still, I'm not complaining.
After all, as my Welsh friends keep telling me, it's only a religion.


Steady Eddie

On catching up with the local papers on my return from the Isle of Man, I noticed that Cllr Eddie Setterfield had had an unprecedented third consecutive letter published in the Mercury.
Can we look forward to seeing them in book form?
The Thoughts of Chairman Eddie, perhaps.
I would say that this flurry of self-publicity means that it is now a racing certainty that he will be throwing his hat into the ring at the forthcoming county council elections.
Being a public-spirited sort of chap, I feel it is my duty to remind people why they chucked him out last time.
To start with, I will relate the tale of Eddie and the register of interests.
Since 1990, it had been a statutory requirement that elected members should disclose their business and financial interests but, back in 1995, when the county council was resurrected, the, then, Labour Leader Jackie Lawrence pushed though a resolution calling on all members to register their social interests as well.
Naturally, Old Grumpy took a keen interest in this register and on checking Eddie's entry I found under the heading "Clubs" that he was a member of Pembrokeshire Yacht Club.
And, under "Societies" he had written "Nationwide and Cheltenham and Gloucester".
But my favourite Eddie story relates to the arrival of Tesco at Milford Docks.
Clearly, the new supermarket was popular with the people of Milford Haven and in an attempt to jump on the bandwagon Mayor Eddie was heard to boast to a town council meeting about his crucial role in attracting the UK's biggest grocer to the area.
As this was contrary to my recollection of events, I consulted my vast library of council minutes.
Because Tesco was such an important development the planning application was determined by a meeting of full council, rather than the planning committee.
The minutes revealed that two members asked for their opposition to the granting of permission be recorded.
One of the two was, um, er Cllr Eddie Setterfield.


Mind-numbing numbers

As promised, I have been trying to make sense of the County Council's budget and, more particularly, the boast by Cllr Maurice Hughes in the recently distributed newsletter that "...Pembrokeshire County Council provides more for less".
This time last year I pointed out that it was impossible to know whether we were getting value for money unless we knew how much the council was charging for its services (See tax truths).
Unfortunately, such is the opacity of the council's accounts and budget documents that it is impossible to identify with any precision how much we are paying in charges.
For example, the authority could lower Council Tax if it charged us all five pounds a week to collect our rubbish bins but that wouldn't necessarily mean we were better off.
Below is a table comparing the council's budget requirement for 2002/03 and 2004/05.
What is striking is the 8.6% rise in income which offsets almost two-thirds of the increase in total spending.
The problem is that nowhere in the budget documents is this £94.6 million broken down into its component parts so it is impossible to tell how much additional money is being extracted from residents' pockets through the imposition of charges.
The council has a natural preference for charges as a means of raising revenue because it allows it to generate favourable headlines about low rates of Council Tax while leaving it with the same amount of money to spend.

   2003/2004  2004/2005  Increase  Increase %
 Total spending  £236,975,350  £248,467,185  £11,491,835  4.8%
 Income (Charges, rents, grants, etc)  £87,084,352  £94,607,650  £7,523,298  8.6%
 Net spending  £149,890,998  £153,859,535  £3,958,537  2.6%
 Government grant and Business rates  £125,463,165  £128,443,995  £2,980,830  2.4%
 Council Tax  £23,466,285  £24,395,941  £929,656  4%

What is also interesting about these figures is the 4% rise in the take from Council Tax compared to the 2.6% increase of which the Leader boasts in the newsletter.
There is no great mystery about this - the 4% is the amount of extra revenue raised while the 2.6% represents the increase in the rate per individual dwelling - so both figures are correct.
The difference in the percentages is the result of an increasing tax base [the number of taxable properties in Pembrokeshire].
So, at £541.93 the Band D rate of tax for 2004/05 is 26% higher than the £430.51 in 1998/99, but the amount of money to be collected (£24.4 million) is 37% greater than the £17.9 million in 1998/99.
The reason for this discrepancy is that, during the six-year period, the Council Tax base has risen by almost 10% from 41,572 to 45,512.

Masonic influence

From time to time, Old Grumpy receives e-mails from people concerned that the ruling Pembrokeshire Independent Group is dominated by Freemasons.
In fact, the number of Masons in the group has shown a dramatic decline since the County Council was resurrected in 1996.
At that time, as far as I could ascertain, there were 17 Masons in the forty-strong ruling group.
The last time I counted it was down to seven.
This represents a net loss of 10 members; three to the great Temple in the sky; five who have resigned their seats for purely honourable reasons; and three who failed to persuade the electorate of their indispensability at the 1999 election, offset by a single gain in the form of Cllr David Wildman who was elected as a Conservative but defected to the Independents two years ago.
Cllr Wildman's case is an interesting one because it would seem that he is now a member of two political parties.
However, it would be a mistake to get the impression that this large fall in the number of Masons in the ruling group has led to a corresponding reduction in their influence.
Old Grumpy has been doing some sums and what they show is that, while the funny-handshakers comprise only16% of the Pembrokeshire Independent Group, they hold six (40%) of the 15 special responsibility allowances that go with the plummiest jobs: Leader, Cabinet member (9), Chairman of Council and Chairmen of Scrutiny Committees (4), which means that the brethren hold two-and-a-half times more jobs than mere numbers would justify.
Indeed, the only Mason without a top job is Cllr George Grey.
Has he been caught rolling up the wrong trouser leg, wearing his pinny back to front, or what?
In the interest of open, accountable, local government, I think we should be told!
It is also interesting that, for almost the whole of its existence, Pembrokeshire County Council has had a Mason as Leader - Cllr Eric Harries (1996-1998) and Maurice Hughes 1999-2004.
I say "almost" because shortly before the 1999 election Cllr Harries let it be known that he was no longer "on the Square".
Unfortunately, this abandonment of Masonry in a bid to spend more time with his special responsibility allowance failed to impress the voters of Hubberston who gave him the boot.
What is also worth noting is that three of the last four chairmen of council have also been members of the Masonic fraternity: Bill Hitchings, Leslie Raymond and the present incumbent, Micky Folland.
The odd one out is Cllr Rosemary Hayes who prevented it being four out of four by beating George Grey in a photo in the 2001/2002 Chainbearer Stakes.
There are several possible explanations as to why there is such a preponderance of Masons in senior positions.
Offhand, I can think of:
(1) Sheer coincidence, or
(2) Freemasonry is a magnet for the county's finest intellects, or
(3) Er, I can't think of anything else.

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