April 6 2009

Forked tongue


Just before Christmas I reported on my failed attempt to persuade the county council to adopt Welsh Assembly guidelines on the allocation of scrutiny committee chairmanships in line with the authority's political balance (Useless opposition).
Presently these positions are monopolised by members of the ruling Independent Political Group (IPG) and naturally they all voted to preserve the status quo.
Furthermore, at the last county council AGM, the Leader, Cllr John Davies, got up and told us who he wanted to fill these positions which seemed to cut across the Assembly's reasons for issuing the guidelines which was to ". . . serve to assure the public that the overview and scrutiny function is not in any way under the control of the council leadership."
Most people I talk to understand that there is something profoundly undemocratic in the Leader choosing who will chair the committees charged with scrutinising the activities of himself and his Cabinet, but the members of the IPG are so blinded by power that they simply can't see it.
However, the cavalry may be coming over the hill because Mr John Hudson has drawn my attention to a report by the Welsh Assembly's Health, Wellbeing and Local Government Committee which is recommending that the Assembly gives the guidelines statutory force.
During the course of its deliberations, the committee was told by Daniel Hurford of the Welsh Local Government Association that this was no longer a serious problem because "few local authorities in Wales now have scrutiny chairs drawn entirely from one party."
That being the case, it is difficult to understand why the Leader of WLGA - one Cllr John Davies - opposed my Notice of Motion.

A bit rich

The Taxpayers' Alliance (TA) has just published its "Town Hall rich list" which shows that there are now 1022 council officers earning more than £100,000 - a 27% increase when compared with the previous year's 818 (http://www.taxpayersalliance.com/).
These include 122 who are paid more than £150,000 (Cabinet member £137,579, including MPs’ salary) and an elite group of 16 who earn more than the Prime Minister (£194,250).
I have extracted the Welsh figures from the TA's website and they are presented in the table below.
Unfortunately, the figures are incomplete but from the figures available Pembrokeshire's Chief Executive (£162,500) comes out well ahead of the pack, especially when compared to authorities with similar populations such as Bridgend (£123,677), Conwy (£111,350), Gwynedd (£105,675) and Wrexham (£104,900).
Old Grumpy remembers that when, he was first appointed back in 1996, Mr Parry-Jones' salary was set at £63,000 and even that might have been over the top (Creative counting).
In the intervening 12 years, cumulative inflation has been well short of 50% while his salary has increased by 150%.
This is surprising given that the Leader of the council and his two deputies are large landowners - a group with a reputation of stinginess towards their employees who are one of the most poorly paid sectors of the workforce.
One possible explanation is that contained in Milton Friedman's argument against big government: that people are likely to be more careful with their own money than that of other people.
Though, we should be wary of generalisations because all the evidence indicates that the generosity of two of these particular landowners is almost boundless when it comes to providing accommodation for their staff (Worker's paradise) (Bungalow farmers ride again).

 Authority  Chief Executive's salary  Population (2002)
 Blaenau Gwent  £100,000+  69,300
 Bridgend  £123,677  129,000
 Cardiff  No response  308,000
 Carmarthenshire  £148,867  174,000
 Caerphilly  £127,219  170,000
 Ceredigion  £100,000 +  77,000
 Conwy  £111,698  110,350
 Denbighshire  £104,000  94,500
 Gwynedd  £105,675  116,600
 Isle of Anglesey  £122,970  67,500
Merthyr Tydfil  £133,914  56,000
 Monmouthshire  £103, 227  84,900
 Neath Port Talbot  No response  134,500
 Newport  £124,625  138,500
 Pembrokeshire  £162,500  114,400
 Powys  £113,406  129,500
 Rhonda Cynun Taff  No response  231,000
 Swansea  £148,590  233,000
 Torfain  £110,857  91,000
 Vale of Glamorgan  No Response  120,000
 Wrexham  £104,900  129,000

Dead letter

As a result of an EU Directive, internet service providers (ISPs) are to be compelled to keep records of all e-mails for one year after they are sent.
This data will be available to all arms of government, including local authorities, who will be able to use it to detect benefit fraud and other crimes.
As reassurance, we are told that the content of e-mails is not to be included, only the identity of the sender and recipient.
I am not sure I want Pembrokeshire County Council to know with whom I am corresponding.
What if I obtain information over the Internet from one of my moles in the Independent Political Group?
How easy will it be for the council to go on a fishing expedition to identify the informant by inspecting my e-mail traffic records?
Just as well that I can still remember the location of that hollow tree that served me so well in the days before I had a computer.

No joke


Last week's attempt to inject a bit of early April humour into the column fell a bit flat.
As one reader put it: "I was disappointed at how obvious your April Fool effort was - Allen-Mirehouse - Economic Development and Regeneration? Not even funny!" (Fiscal stimulus)
Not a very flattering assessment of my talent for taking the mickey.

Due to other commitments on Tuesdays, from next week I will be updating this site at 6.00 pm on Thursdays.

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