8 April 2002


Poor parenting

Over the past couple of weeks it has been difficult to turn on the TV or read a newspaper without coming across a story about the yob culture that defaces our education system.
Apologists for the present set-up are forever telling us that these disruptive elements are a tiny minority, but that doesn't alter the fact that they cause massive damage.
Of course, it is true that the vast majority of teachers spend their Easter holidays pursuing harmless activities like gardening and foreign travel.
But it cannot be denied that a significant number congregate in centres of loutishness like Blackpool where they indulge in such boorish behaviour as slow handclapping Cabinet Ministers and staging walk-outs when the opposition education spokesmen stands up to explain his party's policies.
I blame their parents!


Poor service

A correspondent has pointed out a flaw in last week's piece on local authority value for money.
I wrote that the County Council has two ways of extracting money directly from local people - Council Tax and charges - and unless the level of both is known it is impossible to say whether we are obtaining value for money. i.e. it is no use the Leader, Cllr Maurice Hughes, boasting that we have one of the lowest Council Tax rates in Wales if the Council is extracting more than other authorities in charges..
However, as my correspondent points out, there is another important factor to be taken into account: the quality of the services provided.
He draws my attention to Social Services, in particular, where spending in Pembrokeshire is well below the Welsh average.
Not that gross spending is, of itself, a reliable guide to value for money (it could indicate efficiency) but, according to a recently completed independent review of the Council's Social Services provision; Pembrokeshire combines low spending with inadequate delivery.
My sources tell me that, at a recent seminar for members of the County Council, the independent review body were less than complimentary about the Council's performance; pointing to deficiencies in service levels and "poorly organised and delivered care management".
I am also told that there was harsh criticism of the Council's "centralised and secretive culture" which left elected members with insufficient information to enable them to properly monitor the authority's activities.
Unsurprisingly, the Leader has not issued one of his regular press releases on this subject though we shall no doubt be hearing from him later in the year when a comprehensive written report is due to be published.
Cllr Roy Folland, widely tipped to be a member of the soon-to-be-formed Cabinet, is Chairman of Social Services.


Who rules?

Last week I recorded that the Social Services Committee had rejected a proposal that senior citizens should be charged £1 per session to attend Day Centres.
When I read the Mercury's account of the debate later in the week I was amazed to find that the Leader, Cllr Maurice Hughes, and his deputy, Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse, had both spoken out against the imposition of the charge.
If leadership of the ruling Independent Political (sic) Group (40 out of the 60 seats) were opposed to the idea, how had it come to be before the Council in the first place?
Could it be that, contrary to the principles of democracy, as understood by most of us, the political agenda is dictated by the Chief Officers Management Board (COMB) and not by our elected representatives.


For those with an interest in statistical trickery, the County Council's newsletter "Value for your Money" is a rich source of material.
Take for instance the opening paragraph on the front page: " Pembrokeshire County Council has decided to increase its Council tax by 2.2 per cent for the coming year - the second lowest in Wales".
If you then turn to the bottom of Page 5 you will see that "Total charge to taxpayers …" for 2002/2003 is £22.24m compared to £21.557m last year.
This represents a difference of £683,000 - an increase of 3.2 per cent.
The reason for this discrepancy is that the number of taxable dwellings (the tax base) in the County has increased.
This increase in the tax base, over time, is quite significant.
For example the tax base in 1998/99 was 41,572 compared to 43,594 for the year 2002/2003
At the current rate (£510) these 2,022 extra units represent extra income to the council of £1.03m, independent of any increases in the actual level of tax charged.(Next week, that graph)

Fellow feeling

A mole tells me that all is not sweetness and light in the local Labour Party.
The cause of the breakdown in the collective goodwill is the hoary old chestnut of women's only shortlists (WOS).
Apparently the recent conference of the Welsh Labour Party identified the Preseli Pembrokeshire candidature for the Welsh Assembly as a potential for the WOS treatment.
Normally, these gender disputes cause bad feeling between brother and sister but on this occasion it was sisterly love that came under strain.
According to my mole, after the Pembrokeshire decision was announced, one of the front-runners, Tasmin Dunwoody-Kneafsey, who was feeling tired and emotional after a long day on the conference networking circuit, approached another of our prominent local Labour wimmin, Joyce Watson, and told her that if there was a WOS then she [T D-F] would be a shoo in.
I am told that, at that point, Mrs Watson, who has ambitions beyond being leader of the Labour Group on the County Council, suffered a serious sense of humour failure.
However, a party insider tells me that this dispute is largely academic because the Preseli Labour Party is unlikely to follow the women only route having already done its bit for gender balance by adopting Jackie Lawrence by way of a WOS and that the smart money is on the aptly named Danny Fellowes to carry off the prize.

Lost post

I must apologise to those who has not received replies to emails directed through the link on my home page.
Unfortunately, when I changed the email address for Freenetname to Freeserve, I neglected to modify the software to suit.
The result is that all emails sent through that link have disappeared into the ether.
With an assist from my son in law, who understands these things, this fault has now been rectified.


Good old days

First bore: When I was a kid we never locked our front door.

Second bore: When I was a kid we couldn't afford a front door.


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