August 17 2004



The Time Lord (2)

I hear on the grapevine that the latest line - or should it be lie - about Cllr Brian Hall's travels on 1 February 2001 is that he signed his name in the wrong column in the Neath Port Talbot visitors' book (see below) and that 3.45 pm was the time he arrived in the building and not when he left.

The problem with this, as I pointed out last week, is that Mr R G Jones of Ceredigion County Council, who was also at the SWITCH meeting, left at the same time i.e. at the end of the meeting.
In any case, what is beyond doubt is that Cllr Hall was in the building at 3.45 pm.
We also know, from the receipt he provided to support his claim, that at 1.08 pm that same day he purchased lunch at the First Motorway Service Station, near Magor.
His expense claim shows that, having eaten his meal, he then drove to Haverfordwest; on to Pembroke Dock and back to Penllergaer a distance of some 190 miles.
The time available to complete this journey was 2hrs 37 mins (say, 2hrs 22 mins allowing for time to eat) which works out at an average speed of 80 mph.
Assuming, he went to Haverfordwest and Pembroke Dock for some time-consuming purpose rather than just to give the Merc a spin, would increase the average velocity required accordingly.
For instance, if he spent 15 minutes, in total, in Haverfordwest and Pembroke Dock the average speed needed to reach Penllergaer by 3.45 pm would be 88 mph.
I say that is impossible, and I intend to keep repeating these allegations until Cllr Hall offers a reasonable explanation - preferably from the witness box, under oath.

The Time Lord (3)

An alert reader has emailed to draw my attention to some fascinating aspects of Cllr Brian Hall's expense claim for 1 February 2001, which is reproduced below for your delectation.

"According to what you wrote previously ", my cyber-chum writes, "Cllr Hall drove to Pembroke Dock that afternoon; passing the meeting in Penllergaer which was already underway, because he had to put an 'Irish inward investor' on the ferry."
"Other documents you published last week (see The Time Lord ) show him crossing the Severn Bridge at 12.56 pm and calling in at the First Motorway Service Station, near Magor, where he bought lunch at 1.08 pm."
"I believe the ferry sails from Pembroke Dock at 3.00 pm, so Cllr Hall was already hard-pressed to catch it when he crossed the Severn Bridge at 12.56 pm, especially as you have to board 15 minutes prior to sailing."
In these circumstances, I would have thought the last thing he would have done was stop for lunch which would make catching the ferry impossible."
"Furthermore," my correspondent writes, "I notice that he took the route London-Hwst-Pembroke Dock [see expense claim above] hardly the action of someone who was in a hurry to get to Pembroke Dock to catch a ferry."
I must admit that I had already spotted his strange habit of always travelling via the county town when journeying to destinations east of St Clears.
Indeed, I have already done extensive research on this aspect of Cllr Hall's expense claiming practices.
What this shows is that, on first becoming the County Council's representative on the Fire Authority in May 1999, he took the direct route PD- Carm - PD for which he claimed 60 miles.
That lasted for five meetings between 22/6/99 and 13/8/99.
However, for some reason, when he travelled to Carmarthen on 27/9/99 he went via Haverfordwest on both legs of the journey - the double dog-leg route [LL]- and claimed 80 miles.
There followed another six LLs at 90 miles a time before he apparently discovered a shortcut which cut the distance to 84 miles for three trips between 15/5/00 and 7/6/00.
After that he reverted to claiming 90 miles; a practice that persisted through 13 journeys between 14/7/00 and 12/2/01.
To cut a long story short, between 8/3/01 and 18/11/02 he made another 22 such journeys for which he claimed 90 miles (6), 80 miles (13), 83 miles (2), and one each of 87 and 78 miles.
Adding all these up I find that he has claimed in excess of 1,200 miles (at 50p) more than he would have done had he stuck to the 60 mile direct route of the early days.
When asked about this, County Council said he had to go to Haverfordwest to be briefed (and debriefed on the way back, presumably).
Two things strike me as strange about this explanation.
(1) As far as I am aware, the County Council has no policy on Fire Service matters, so exactly what Cllr Hall was being briefed about is not altogether clear, and
(2) Cllr Barrie Woolmer, who was also a County Council representative on the Fire Authority, was never invited to these briefings, though he had to drive past County Hall on his way to Carmarthen.
It would also seem that, on at least two occasions, Cllr Hall had time on his hands because when he got to St Clears (via Haverfordwest) he turned back along the A477 towards Pembroke Dock and had breakfast at the Cottage Cafe, Llanddowror.
However, I notice that, for three journeys during January 2003 - the last for which I have records - he claimed only 76, 66, and 76 miles.
Whether this was because he knew I was on the case, or because the debriefing sessions had been discontinued, is a moot point.
Next week, I will discuss the apparent disagreement between Cllr Hall's milometer and that of the AA.

Follow my leader

You should, by now, have all received your copy of the County Council's propaganda sheet Pembrokeshire News.
On the front page is a call for unity from the new Leader Cllr John Davies.
"I sincerely believe that if we can all work together irrespective of political affiliation," the Leader writes, "more can be done to improve the quality of life for all in Pembrokeshire."
This, I'm not afraid to say, is platitudinous rubbish, and dangerous platitudinous rubbish at that, because, decoded, what it means is that we should all row in behind Cllr Davies and his Cabinet, whatever the circumstances.
There are several reasons why I can't go along with this call for a one-party state..
Firstly, just as a healthy economy depends on competing providers of goods and services, so a healthy democracy requires competition between different ideas. The implication behind Cllr Davies' remarks being that anyone who opposes his regime is against improving "the quality of life for all in Pembrokeshire".
That is clearly wrong because it is perfectly possible for people to have honest differences about the best way forward.
Indeed, the idea that good governance requires a vigorous opposition to hold the ruling party to account is commonplace among constitutional thinkers.
As Adam Smith said: "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices."
If that is true of generally honorable people like butchers, bakers and candlestick makers how much more so for politicians.
Secondly, there are certain highly-placed members of the Cllr Davies' Independent Political Group whose methods and political views I find utterly objectionable. The idea that I should "work together" with them is simply bizarre.
Thirdly, could Cllr Davies send me a copy of his party's manifesto so that I can decide which parts of his programme I can support?
I think it was Einstein who said that all the progress in the world is down to troublemakers (like himself) who seek to overthrow the received wisdom.
Though I wouldn't want to push the analogy too far, or very far at all, that is how I see my role as an opposition member of the County Council.
Whether I am the grit in the oyster, or the spanner in the works, will depend to what extent Cllr Davies keeps to the promise he made at the AGM when he said that under his leadership the council's business would be conducted in accordance with the "highest ethical standards".
He can be assured that the present way of doing things, which casts Arthur Daley's used car emporium in a good light, will never have my support.



Foundations of freedom


Old Grumpy is on his fourth reading of Professor Michael Burleigh's book on the the Third Reich.
Naturally, most of the pages are devoted to a gruesome account of the unspeakable barbarities committed by the Nazis during their rampage through Europe in the late thirties and early forties.
But, as far as I am concerned, the most interesting section is that entitled "The demise of the Rule of Law" which catalogues Hitler's rise to power in the early 1930s,
And initially, at least, that rise to power was achieved through the ballot box.
At the election in March 1933 the Nazis and their allies won 52% of the vote giving them 340 of the 647 seats, which should give pause for thought to anyone who equates democracy with elections.
At the elections on November 12 that same year the "Fuhrers list" received 92% of the poll.
There are no further references to elections in the index of Professor Burleigh's book.
Elections, as philosophers are fond of saying, are a necessary but not sufficient condition for democracy.
Once elected, Hitler and his gang set about dismantling the German constitution - especially those parts of it which restricted the unfettered and arbitrary exercise of power.
By the end of the section Burleigh has concluded that the hallmark of a civilised democracy is not the holding of elections; important though they are, but the Rule of Law, which he describes as "the most fundamental characteristic of free societies."
To most people, the Rule of Law means the promotion of law and order.
But it encompasses much more than that, including such concepts as equality before the law and protection from arbitrary arrest.
Perhaps the ultimate tests of democracy under the rule of law is whether those in power are subject to the same laws as the rest of us and whether an individual citizen can expect a fair hearing when he takes the State to court.
For that to occur the courts must be absolutely independent of government - something elections alone cannot guarantee.
After all, Mugabe and Putin are elected but nobody would suggest that opponents of the government can expect a fair trial in either Zimbabwe or Russia.



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