15 August 2006

 

Matter of trust

 

You might have noticed that Old Grumpy has been a bit quiet recently about the strange goings-on over the sale of the Mine Depot at Blackbridge Milford Haven (see A nod is as good as a wink).
However, my silence should not be interpreted as inactivity because I have been beavering away at trying to unearth that rarest of commodities in Pembrokeshire politics: the truth.
One of the outstanding matters concerns a report that appeared on www.pembrokeshiretv.com on 28 June 2006 which quoted Milford Haven Port Authority (MHPA) chief executive Ted Sangster as saying: "We [MHPA] were not passed any confidential information by anyone inside the County Council."
That, of course, doesn't hang too well with Mr Sangster's report to the MHPA board meeting of 20 January 2006 (see MHPAboard) which makes a clear reference to confidential Cabinet papers.
When confronted with a copy of that document, Mr Sangster began to sing a different tune.
Old Grumpy has been given a government document entitled "Modernising Trust Ports (MTP)", which sets out in great detail what is expected from the management of what are, after all, public assets.
Among the provisions of MTP is that, in their dealings with the public, chief executives of trust ports should "conduct themselves with integrity, impartiality and honesty" (see Spurious safeguards).
So, I e-mailed Mr Sangster to enquire as to how his apparent economy with the truth could be reconciled with that requirement.
When, after an interval of four weeks, these e-mails failed to elicit a response, I reverted to snail mail (see Lost in cyberspace) and on Saturday morning Mr Sangster's reply thudded on to the doormat.
I must give him full marks for optimism because, after apologising for the mysterious disappearance of my earlier emails, he writes: "I should be grateful if you would please inform me as to how and when these documents [his report to the board and a letter to Roger Barrett-Evans] came into your possession . . . ".
On the substantive point of whether he told the truth to the press he says: "I don't think that I told Pembrokeshire TV that MHPA were not passed any confidential information by anyone inside the County Council."
Notice the "I don't think . . ." which are weasel words designed to give the impression that Mr Sangster probably didn't say such a thing to Pembrokeshire TV while avoiding an outright denial.
Of course, as a matter of logic, he either said what he was quoted as saying, or he didn't.
I have therefore e-mailed Pembrokeshire TV asking if they can provide me with evidence to back up their story.
After all, it is their journalistic integrity that is being questioned.
I will report further next week.


Up-market

While perusing this week's Sunday Times executive appointments section, as one does, Grumpette noticed that Pembrokeshire County Council is advertising for a new Head of Personnel.
This must mean that the present incumbent, Francis Maull, is collecting his P45 and preparing to settle down to life on his £40,000-a-year pension.
The job attracts a salary of £76,100 - £83,300 + car (up to 10% of salary to pay leasing costs), and you get to live by the seaside.
Mr Maull is a mere First Division player (Chief Executive - Premier; Directors - Championship: and Heads of . . . First Division) but that's the sort of money you have to pay in today's transfer market (see Sellers' market).
Just consider yourselves lucky that Ashley Cole doesn't have a diploma in personnel management, or human resources, as I believe it is now known.
On the same page, HM Treasury is seeking to recruit a Senior Knowledge Manager who will must have "an impressive track record of designing and embedding effective knowledge management solutions" and "the ability to drive the Treasury's knowledge management strategy at all levels in the organisation"
It seems that the market for executives in London is a bit flat at the moment because this whizz kid, who must have "the ability to create and lead a team of knowledge management professionals", is worth only £55,000 - £70,000, with no mention of a car.
If I was an effective knowledge management solutions embedder, I'd be looking to retrain.

Rats' tales

A couple of months ago, I heard a fascinating radio programme about snakes in India.
Apparently, 50,000 Indians die each year from snake bites - many of them because they prefer to seek treatment from traditional healers rather than western-trained doctors.
Given this rate of attrition, the obvious question is: why not exterminate the snakes.
The answer: because they keep down the rats, which already consume in excess of 25% of the annual grain harvest.
Fewer snakes - more rats - less food - more starvation.
As stark an example of the old saying that politics often boils down to little more than choosing between competing evils.
Nowadays, rats are not such a serious problem in this country, as better buildings and improved poisons keep them under control.
But that was not always the case.
I can remember when the grain harvest was stored in stacks of sheaves to await the arrival of the mobile threshing machine, and rats sometimes reached epidemic proportions.
Then the local rat catcher would do his rounds of the farms with his terriers and ferrets.
Around each stack in turn, a fence of small mesh wire netting would be erected, inside which were placed the terriers.
The ferrets would then be introduced into the rat holes in the side of the stack and before long the fleeing rats would emerge to be dispatched by the dogs.
It was not uncommon for 50 rats to be found in a single stack.
At threshing time the same process would be repeated, but without the need for ferrets because, as the stack was reduced in height, there was nowhere for the rats to go.
When the men feeding the threshing machine got down to the last course of sheaves it was quite a spectacle as the rats scurried here and there in search of somewhere, anywhere to hide from the eager, yapping terriers.
So, when you see old pictures of farmworkers, with trousers tied round their ankles with binder twine, don't jump to the conclusion that they couldn't afford bicycle clips.
It might also explain why so few of them were Freemasons.

Allegedly

After an early barrage of highly prejudicial reporting, the newspapers and the BBC seem to have come round to the view that even terrorist suspects are entitled to a fair trial, and reports on the recent spate of arrests are now liberally sprinkled with the words "alleged" and "allegedly".
This requirement for non-predjudicial reporting is usually referred to as the sub judice rule but in fact it stems from the contempt of court acts which provide that nothing should be published that could lead to a significant risk of substantial harm to the prospects for a fair trial.
No doubt, if these cases come to trial, the defence will be raising these issues.
Wouldn't it be ironic if the over-enthusiasm of the press was to lead to terrorists being acquitted on a technicality?
The use of alleged and allegedly is perfectly acceptable where it involves some official action by the police or other authorities provided it refers to the offence.
So, an alleged bomb plot is of a different order of things to an alleged terrorist, though once someone has been charged he becomes an alleged.
Newspapers sometimes try to avoid the libel courts by slipping alleged and allegedly into their reports.
However, headlines like "Premiership footballer raped me, model alleges" will not keep you out of trouble because, unless the model's allegations can be substantiated, the newspaper will be guilty of republishing the model's original untrue (and libellous) statement.
The third way that alleged and allegedly can be employed is to cast doubt on on the veracity of a story.
I first came across this usage soon after I became a county councillor.
At the first meeting of council I put down a series of questions to the Leader about the relationship between Cllr Brian Hall and "Dr" Michael Ryan particularly regarding a fax "Dr" Ryan sent to Hall on 16 October 2000 (see Hall-Ryan the full story).
This fax, which was sent just six weeks after "Dr" Ryan had written to the council informing them that he intended to set up a UK business which, in order to avoid a conflict of interest, would not trade in Pembrokeshire, set out in some detail Hall and Ryan's well advanced plans to um, er trade in Pembrokeshire.
A week later "Dr" Ryan's line manager Mr David Thomas replied saying that he saw no problem with these arrangements but asked to be informed of any development with the new business.
I was, therefore, anxious to know if Mr Thomas had been made aware of these plans.
Unfortunately, the Leader neglected to answer this question at the council meeting so I e-mailed him asking for this omission to be rectified.
Back came the reply: "I apologise for the oversight in relation to your question as to Mr Thomas' knowledge of the alleged fax. My understanding is that Mr Thomas has no knowledge of the fax allegedly sent to Cllr Hall from Dr Ryan."
This weaselly use of allege and allegedly was despite the fact that nowhere in the auditor's earlier report into this matter was there even the slightest hint either that the fax wasn't genuine, or that Cllr Hall hadn't receive it.
And this was just one month after Cllr Davies had promised on taking on the leadership that, under his stewardship, the council would be run to "the highest ethical standards".
Promises, promises!

Lack of trust

In a little reported development in the debate on reorganisation of the NHS, last month's meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council threw its weight, or some of it, at least, behind the proposal to unify the three trusts into a Dyfed-wide body.
This despite all the recent public consultation meetings voting unanimously to reject such a move.
I spoke out against this proposal, as did Cllr Peter Stock, because of the fear that once there is a single trust there will be nothing to prevent the proposed reforms, having been denied entry through the front door by the sheer weight of public opinion, being slipped in through the rear entrance.
Once this single trust is in place, there will be nothing to stop the salami slicing of services at Withybush to the point where, ten years down the line, the aims contained in Option 2 (concentration of services in Glangwilli) could be achieved without anyone noticing.
It is true the county council only adopted this stance on the proviso that improved networking arrangements should be finalised before the amalgamation of the trusts takes place but that is a poor safeguard against the gradual evolution towards the configuration that the experts in the NHS prefer.
The Leader Cllr John Davies stipulated that any amalgamation should be on an equal basis between the three existing trusts, but that is pie in the sky.
It is hardly likely that Carmarthenshire, with its much larger population, will be happy to be on an equal footing and even it it was that would still leave the possibility of Pembrokeshire being outvoted on the other two.
In any case, the trust boards are appointed by the Welsh Assembly Government so what's to stop them being packed with "reform-minded" place men?
And even if they were elected, that would be no guarantee that health services in Pembrokeshire would be protected because, as Cllr Davies told a recent meeting of the corporate governance committee, where he controls eight of the twelve votes, the majority prevails because "that's what democracy is all about".
So, unless the Pembrokeshire contingent on any unified trust board has a veto, they would be powerless to stop the majority riding roughshod over their wishes - as majorities are prone to do.

Tongue -tied

Last week's tale about getting lost in the hills above Mynachlogddu caused some amusement, as well as generating several e-mails.
One from a resident of those parts, suggested that we "townies" would be well advised not to stray too far from places with pavements and street lights.
A bit of a cheek, really, because it's not that long since she lived only a few yards from St Katherines Church.
However, she was kind enough to invite me to call in for a glass of wine next time I'm up there.
I remember the first time I ever ventured into those hills - some 40 years ago, soon after we'd moved to Pembrokeshire.
Packing the kids into the back of the Mini van, Grumpette and I set off for a Sunday afternoon mystery tour.
Unfortunately, we got hopelessly lost somewhere around Crymmych.
The only map we had was the AA book from which we worked out that we had to find our way back to Haverfordwest via Mynachlogddu and Maenchlochog (we daren't go by the main road because the van wasn't licenced) but there didn't seem to be any signposts.
Eventually we came across a chap out for a walk, so I slid open the window and asked for directions to Mine-clog-doo.
He looked at me as if I was a foreigner, which of course I was, and, slowly shaking his head, repeated Mine-clog-doo.
Finally, I got out of the van and pointed to the place in the AA book.
Ah! Monacklogthee, he said, pointing back the way we had come.
I am proud to say I can now pronounce it like a native, and my initial difficulties with Dollgelloo and Mackylineth are happily a thing of the distant past.
PS. within an hour of posting this, SF e-mailed to say: "No wonder you got lost in Crymmych; had you been near Crymych you wouldn’t have had a problem!

Dai y Pedant

PPS. I usually slip in a deliberate mistake every week, just to see if he's still awake.


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