19 August 2003

 

Sackcloth and ashes

Sorry I'm late this week but at about 5 o'clock this afternoon I accidentally pressed a wrong button on the computer and everything I had written was wiped out. Old Grumpette says that'll teach me to save my work as I go along.

 

Spin-free

The Hutton inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly is providing a fascinating insight into the inner workings of both the Government and the BBC, as well as demonstrating the difference between the truth as we are told it and the truth as it actually is.
For the most part we have to make do with the first, inferior form of truth but now and again events conspire to give us a glimpse of the second.
Who would have thought a month ago, when Downing Street and the BBC were both insisting they were completely in the right, that emails were passing around the computer screens of the Corporation's senior management criticising Andrew Gillighan for sloppy journalism, or that an email existed in the Prime Minister's office which shows quite clearly that, just a week before the September dossier with its now infamous 45 minute claim was presented to Parliament, Mr Blair's Chief of Staff, Jonathan Powell, was of the clear opinion that the document as it then existed did not demonstrate that Saddam posed an imminent threat to UK interests.
None of that proves beyond doubt that Alastair Campbell or anyone else put pressure on the security services to have the dossier "sexed-up" but it does raise questions about the differences between what Mr Powell had to say on 17 September and what Mr Blair told Parliament just seven days later.
The probability is that no smoking gun will be found to link the Prime Minister or his staff to the last minute changes to the dossier, but there sure is a strong smell of cordite.



Happy wanderers

 

A couple of weeks back, the Western Telegraph finally got round to publishing a list of county councillors' expenses.
The article carried a health warning from one of the council's spin doctors who cautioned readers against taking the figures for travelling expenses too literally.
"Cabinet members and other senior councillors represent the authority on bodies and organisations throughout Wales and beyond, and some claims will reflect this" he explained.
Not that he need have bothered because, unaccountably, the Telegraph omitted the mileage costs from its report.
Full details can be found at (Expenses 2002/03)
One can understand the council's sensitivity on the issue of mileage allowances because what the figures show is that eight of the more footloose "cabinet members and other senior councillors" claimed £22,000 (65% of the total) while the other 52 members (21 of whom claimed nothing at all) got by on £12,000 between them.
My own view is that many of these out-of-county excursions serve no purpose other than to allow the notabilia to drive around the country at a highly profitable 50p a mile.
Unfortunately, it is not always possible to ascertain the full cost of these jaunts because of the difficulty in locating invoices for hotel accommodation and train and air fares booked and paid for directly by the council (see Hidden expenses).
While I cannot for the life of me see what it had to do with the provision of services to the people of Pembrokeshire, Cllr Maurice Hughes can, no doubt, find all sorts of justifications for the journey to Cardiff on 16 April 2002 to launch the Welsh Millennium Centre - arriving home at 2.30 am after the 235 mile (at 50p) round trip.
Ditto the trip to Swansea on 1 March 2002 for another launch - this time the National Assembly of Wales policy statement - and then on to Cardiff Castle for a dinner with his fellow leaders (254 miles at 50p + cost of nosh (unknown)).
And of what possible benefit flows to you and me from the £500 in mileage allowances claimed by Cllr Brian Hall for two visits to London to attend the "Loo of the year awards" (I jest not) and the HSBC rail presentation awards.
The second of these involving an overnight stay (cost unknown) apparently booked and paid for by the council.
And if proof was needed that these long range forays are more to do with filling their booties than fulfilling their duties I would draw your attention to two meetings of the Welsh Local Government Association held at Llandrindod Wells and Cardiff on 31 May 2002 and 29 November 2002 and attended by Cllrs Maurice Hughes and Alwyn "Two Lunches" Luke. Did they really travel in separate cars as their expense claims indicate?
Likewise the "Launch of speed cameras" at Bridgend on 25 March 2002 attended by Cllrs Hall and Hughes, who claimed 172 and 164 miles respectively.
Old Grumpy notices that the Director of Highways Huw Roberts was also along on this trip and, as he should have been doing the driving according to the council's expenses regulations, neither of them should have claimed.

 

Match fixing

During the county council's public audit inspection, it pays to closely scrutinise members' expense claims for clues as to what is going on beneath the surface.
I am indebted to the sharp eyes of Mr John Hudson of Broadhaven for spotting some interesting features in claims made by Cllr Mickey Folland, last year's vice-chairman, now elevated to chain bearer in chief.
Mr Hudson had noticed that several of Cllr Folland's sheets carried entries that read:"Pre full council briefing with Ch/Exec, Cabinet, Chairman and vice-chairman [himself]" or similar.
Thanks to television, most of us are familiar with the workings of Parliament and we can imagine the squeals of outrage that would come from all sides of the House if the Speaker was found to be meeting with the Cabinet and the Head of the Civil Service ahead of important debates.
So what is going on here?
Why would the Chairman, who, like the Speaker, is expected to be impartial, attend such meetings?
What do they discuss?
How to deal with opposition troublemakers, perhaps.
After all, only full council can change the constitution or sack the Leader and the Cabinet and the idea of the Chairman receiving instructions from those his council is supposed to hold to account is profoundly undemocratic.
At the last meeting of full council there was much talk about something called the "Team Pembrokeshire Approach" (see Team building).
Sounds like a case of match-fixing to me.

Leader writer?

Old Grumpy never ceases to be amazed at some of the things members put on their expense claims.
For instance, Cllr Maurice Hughes claimed 3 miles for the round trip from Merlins Bridge to County Hall on 3 April 2002 to meet the Chairman regarding "Western Telegraph Editorial".
I always wondered who wrote them!

 


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