15 April 2003
A few weeks ago Old Grumpy drew attention to remarks made by Community Councillor E O Williams at a meeting of the County Council Standards Committee.
At the committee's meeting in November 2002 (see Standard Practice) Cllr Williams let slip that prior to the October meeting of the Standards Committee he had been telephoned by one of the persons involved in a case the committee was due to discuss.
In fact, Cllr Williams had not attended the October meeting, when the committee adjudicated on a complaint by leading Independent Roy Folland that Cllr Terry Mills (Lab) had leaked confidential information to the press.
However, whether or not he attended is beside the point.
On the face of it, ringing one of the judges before a trial in which you have an interest, is akin to attempting to pervert the course of justice.
Now the Monitoring Officer has reported on the case and it seems it was all an unfortunate misunderstanding.
"At the last meeting of the [Standards] Committee", the Monitoring Officer writes, "Cllr Owen Williams indicated that he had been approached by someone involved in a case that had subsequently considered by the Committee in October 2002. I was asked to make some enquiries.
"I subsequently discussed the matter with Councillor Williams and it became evident that his concern was that he had not been made aware formally that the particular case was being referred to the Committee. My enquiries have revealed that no one attempted to influence him as a member of the Committee and Councillor Williams confirms that to be the case."
Old Grumpy has shown this report to a number of intelligent people, including Old Grumpette, and none of them have the first idea what it means.
My own, highly tentative, interpretation is that this unnamed interested party telephoned Cllr Williams and told him "Did you know you haven't been formally informed that my case, which I can't speak about because I will be accused of trying to influence you, has been referred to the Standards Committee of which you are a member."
I am offering a ten pound beer voucher to anyone who can come up with a better explanation.
The Time Lords
I notice that this column has had a dishonourable mention on the website www.manorbier.com.
According to the site, during a discussion on a future visit to Manorbier Community Council by Cllr Brian Hall, Cabinet Minister for Transportation and the Environment:
"One councillor asked if Councillor Hall would be coming in his Tardis. Councillor Meyrick queried what was meant by this and was told he should read the www.oldgrumpy.co.uk website for the latest information on the comings and goings at County Hall. The Pembrokeshire County Council, Cabinet Member, Councillor Griffiths interjected with a comment that the website was not worth looking at."
The Tardis, for the benefit of Cllr Meyrick and others not familiar with this columnar territory, is the means of transport postulated by Old Grumpy to explain the ability of Cllrs Hall and Luke to be in two places simultaneously for expense claiming purposes.
Unfortunately, Cllr Pat Griffiths, Cabinet Minister for Lifelong Learning, appears to have closed her mind to the possibility of time-travel.
In that case she should tell us how she accounts for the amazing exploits of her Cabinet colleague Cllr Brian Hall on 1 February 2001 when bought a meal at the Motorway Service Station near the Severn Bridge at 1.08 pm, ate it, and still managed to drive the 120 miles to Pembroke Dock (via Haverfordwest) in time to depart at 2.00pm for a for a meeting at Penllergaer, Nr Swansea.
Someone charged with responsibility for lifelong learning might also wonder why Cllr Hall thought that the quickest route from the Severn Bridge to Penllergaer was via Pembroke Dock.
She should enrol him into some night classes in elementary map reading, or, seeing that he claimed 120 miles at 50p for the Pembroke Dock - Penllergaer - Pembroke Dock trip, basic accounting might, perhaps, be more appropriate.
There he might learn that double-entry bookkeeping does not mean claiming twice for the same journey.
Last week, I wrote to the County Council's Monitoring Officer, Huw James, offering him my legal opinion on the supposed "contractually enforceable" agreement with Euro-Ryall Ltd - the company owned and managed by Dr Michael Ryan and Cllr Brian Hall.(See Con tract )
Mr James has now replied.
It is worth recording that he makes no attempt to dispute my legal analysis, though, in keeping with the doctrine of County Council infallibility, neither does he admit that the council might be wrong.
Instead he opts for a tautological cop out, writing: "I have noted your views as set out in your 7 April letter. I suppose the only real test would be in the event of the contractual position having to be enforced."
How many of our elected members would be happy if their solicitor told them that he couldn't be sure they had good title to the house they had just bought until the contract survived an action for possession by some third party?
The County Council having already produced two, hitherto undisclosed, letters (ORA International Ltd to PCC, 3 Sept 2000 and PCC to ORA, 12 Sept 2000) in an attempt to prove the existence of Euro-Ryall Ltd's "contractually enforceable" agreement not to trade in Pembrokeshire, I was keen to know if they had any other rabbits to pull out of the hat.
So I wrote to Mr James asking if there were other documents that should have been provided when I requested a copy of the contract between ORA and PCC during the public audit last October.
He replies: "... I am not aware of any further relevant information."
When I do eventually get round to writing the book about my dealings with the County Council, it will be entitled: "Wrestling with eels".
Less than a year after Cabinet government was introduced into the County Council, people are beginning to realise the extent to which any remaining vestiges of democracy have been stripped out of the system.
Just how serious the situation is can be judged from the fact that even the Western Telegraph has noticed.
And if that wasn't proof enough, it seems to have dawned on veteran councillors, like Johnston's George Grey, that, when, against the unanimous will of his constituents, the Cabinet decides to stick a waste recycling facility in the middle of his village he is utterly powerless to do anything about it.
Not that I have too much sympathy with Cllr Grey, who was present at the meeting on 28 February 2002 when these new arrangements were approved and whose only contribution was to put his hand up as and when required by the Independent Group leadership.
Indeed the only Independent member to participate in the debate on the new constitution was Cllr Viv Hay, who criticised the opposition parties for trying to introduce amendments.
After about half an hour of debate, Cllr Hay intervened to tell the Policy and Resources Committee that it had already wasted too much time on this subject.
"These rules are not set in stone," he opined, "if they don't work we can always change them."
He might have added - if the Leader and his cronies agree (see Constitutional monstrosity).
One subject in which the Bungalow Farming wing of the Independent Political (sic) Group might have been expected to take an interest was the area of planning, where the new constitution has transferred huge powers to unelected officers, with the wholly beneficial side effect that the BFs will no longer be able to wangle planning permissions for their favoured applicants - well, that's the theory, though you should never underestimate the talent of some of these old boys when it comes to grubbing around in the political gutter in search of votes.
As regular readers will know, Old Grumpy takes a jaundiced view of the present planning set-up which involves elected politicians adjudicating on individual cases, in direct conflict with the principle of the separation of powers that underpins any system of government operating under the Rule of Law.
In a truly democratic order, politicians lay down the ground rules and independent tribunals decide individual cases.
However, whatever the constitutional shortcomings of the former arrangement, it did have the advantage over an officer-dominated regime in that the process was conducted in public.
Below is a summary of the old and new schemes of delegation which set out the categories of applications which must be determined by the planning committee.
As can be seen, the range of applications that must be decided by the committee has been severely curtailed.
Of especial interest is that objectors to planning applications, which do not fall within these specific definitions, will now have the validity of their objections assessed by officers in secret, whereas, in the past, all such applications had to go in front of the committee.
Next week: How the new constitution allows officers to sell off our land in complete secrecy.