20 August 2001


Pot and kettle

Last week County Council Leader Maurice Hughes launched a savage personal attack on Tory group leader Phil Llewellyn, the thrust of which was that Councillor Llewellyn was unfit to be the mayor of Pembrokeshire.
As work has barely started on the mammoth task of collecting the 8800 signatures required to force a referendum on whether or not the electorate want a mayor, this seems like an extreme example of getting your retaliation in first.
To Old Grumpy this smacks of panic, brought on by the realisation that, if there is an election, Councillor Hughes and his Independent cronies will not be able to drum up enough support to land the top job. They will, to coin a phrase, be "yesterday's men ".
In any case, for Councillor's Hughes to attack someone else's suitability for the post shows a breathtaking amount of brass neck.
He, you may remember, is the man who claimed £360 subsistence for a trip to Eastbourne in June 1997, though the Council had actually paid his hotel bill in advance.
I discovered this false claim when inspecting the council's 1997/98 accounts in October 1998 some 15 months after the £360 had been paid.
When I tackled Councillor Hughes about this he told me he thought he was entitled to the payment for being away from home.
Despite the fact that the signed declaration on his expense claim states: " I have necessarily incurred expenditure and subsistence for the purpose of enabling me to perform approved duties as a member of Pembrokeshire County Council. I have actually paid the fares and made the other authorised payment shown ", I believed he had made an honest mistake.
In October 1999, when I inspected the authority's accounts for the year 1998/1999, I realise that my faith in him had been misplaced.
There, on the file, was a letter dated 27th April 1998 addressed to Councillor Hughes' home, informing him that to £218 downward adjustment was being made to a claim he had recently submitted.
My subsequent enquiries revealed that this deduction was in respect of a three-day RoSPA conference in Cardiff for which Councillor Hughes claimed £72 per night subsistence even though the council had already paid the hotel bill.
So, when he told me in October 1998 that he thought he was entitled to claim for the Eastbourne trip he had already been informed, six months earlier in April 1998, that such claims were inadmissible.
Furthermore, he had hung onto to the Eastbourne cash for six months after he was told that it was not a valid claim and, so far as I know, would still be hanging on to it had I not uncovered the evidence.
All this was faithfully recorded in my Old Grumpy column in the Mercury on 12th November 1999.
The following week the Western Telegraph took up the story, pointing out that he had retained the £360 despite having previously been "warned" by the Council for wrongly claiming £218.13.
This brought a furious response from Councillor Hughes we threatened to sue the Telegraph unless they apologised.
" I repeat my demand that you print a correction and full apology with equal prominence in the next edition of your newspaper. I require the right to approve the wording of the correction and apology ''.
Failing this, Councillor Hughes thundered, '' I shall have no alternative but to take the matter further ''.
As regular readers will know, I am no great fan of the Western Telegraph, but I have nothing but admiration for the masterly way David Evans, the publisher, dealt with this barbarian at his gate.
One plank of Councillor Hughes defence was that he had " no recollection '' of ever receiving the letter informing him of the invalid claim for £218.
Mr Evans sent him a copy, which I had obtained during the public audit, together with a letter which said: " I am concerned that the implication from your remarks is that the council may have placed letters on file, addressed to you at your home, but about which you know nothing ''.
Back came a letter from Cllr Hughes in which he said: "with regard to the letter from the County Council, dated 27th April 1998, I repeat that they have no recollection of having received a letter''.
Perhaps it will be helpful if I tell you what the letter said: " Dear Councillor Hughes, I refer to your recent telephone conversation with Darryl Thomas in connection with the RoSPA conference and confirm the following adjustment will be made in May 1998. Reclaim £218.13. Add two evening meals £7.64 ''.
Presumably, Councillor Hughes couldn't recollect Darryl Thomas' phone call either.


Politically corrected

Old Grumpy has been taken to task by e-mailer for a " display of blatant sexism '' in a piece I wrote a couple of weeks ago.
In what was intended to be a joke, I said that COMB, which is generally taken to stand for the county council's Chief Officer's Management Board, actually means Control Over Maurice's Boys - Maurice [Hughes] been the leader of the Independent Political (sic) Group on the county council.
The point being that, when COMB says jump, the vast majority of the so-called Independents ask: " how high? '' though I am told some more robust spirits have been heard to mutter: " which hoop? ''.
But, as my e-mailer points out, there are three women members of the Independent Political (sic) group and they are excluded by the tag '' Maurice's Boys ".
" It is totally unacceptable in these inclusive times'', my correspondent writes, '' that women should be discriminated against by this use of gender-specific language ''.
Point taken!
How about: Control Over Maurice's Bozos?


Lovely grub?

At long last a rational debate is getting under way about the virtues or otherwise of organic food.
To date, organic food has been regarded as an unmitigated good thing like motherhood and apple pie.
But some scientists are now questioning the most cherished assumption about organic food: that it is more nutritious than the bog-standard stuff most of us eat.
Be that as it may, what is undeniable is that organic food is vastly more expensive than ordinary products, which puts it out of the reach of the poor
Organic chickens and eggs in Tesco are three times the price of their intensively produced equivalents.
It would seem to follow that either the costs of production are correspondingly higher, or that the squeaky-clean Greens are ripping off the gullible folk who have swallowed the Soil Association's propaganda.


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