August 21 2007

 

Taxi driver 1 Trained lawyers 0

 

The biggest surprise of the week was that Labour county councillor Alun Byrne took on and beat the county council's "trained lawyers" in Haverfordwest magistrates' court.
It seems that an eagle-eyed licensing officer spotted Cllr Byrne in his taxi on the car park at county hall.
According to the Western Telegraph's report on the case:
"Jeff Harries, prosecuting, said Cllr Byrne was not entitled to drive to a meeting in his taxi because his Hackney Carriage licence had expired and he was also therefore not insured.
But Cllr Byrne said he maintained his own vehicles which entitled him to road test them.
This claim was refuted by the county council, submitting that only a mechanic authorised by the council or the Secretary of State could carry out road tests"
However, the magistrates concluded that Cllr Byrne's interpretation of the law was correct.
This has led to suggestions on the Telegraph's website that this is another case of "one rule for them".
However, that can't possibly be the case as it was the county council that brought the prosecution.
Surely, if they had been out to protect "one of their own" they would have quietly let the matter drop?
As someone called Richard from Milford Haven has pointed out (www.thisispembrokeshire.org) Cllr Byrne is a member of the opposition and, as such, definitely not one of the ruling clique.
This leads Richard to wonder if this prosecution might have been politically motivated.
That, I think, is a conspiracy theory too far, though it is interesting to compare the council's reaction to Cllr Byrne's alleged breach of the law with what happened when I reported Cllr Brian Hall's unorthodox expense claiming practices to the police.
On that occasion, you will recall, the council pulled out all the stops to close the matter down.
This included the, then, Chairman Cllr Rosemary Hayes (J P and Churchwarden) making an extremely misleading statement to the council, and the Director of Finance, no less, making a statement to the police in which he said that Cllr Hall's expense claim was "correct in every detail".
As I have pointed out several times before, "every detail" included purchasing lunch at the motorway service station near the Severn Bridge at 1.08 pm and, on the same day, leaving Pembroke Dock at 2.00 pm to attend a meeting in Swansea - claiming £63 for the return journey (see Time Lord).



Out of focus

 

There was an interesting episode at July's meeting of the county council when Cllr Kate Becton's Notice of Motion calling for a survey of members to ascertain their views about the service they received from officers was debated.
The recommendation was that the NoM be not adopted because such an exercise "had recently been undertaken by way of cross-party focus group".
The only problem was that nobody except the focus group members seemed to know about it.
That was because, instead of the leaders of the various political groups being asked to nominate representatives, this focus group was hand picked by the Leader of council, John Davies.
Naturally, he chose the three most amenable Labour members: Cllrs Ken Rowlands, Umelda Havard and Simon Hancock none of whom, it seems, even bothered to inform their party colleagues.
And it is is not altogether clear how this survey was carried out because nobody I have spoken to was asked for their views.
Nor did the focus group report its findings to the council, though, according to the report to council, the group's recommendations, whatever they were, had been implemented.
I am not sure that the constitution gives the Leader powers to set up such a group, never mind implement its recommendations, but why worry about constitutional niceties when you have a Supreme Leader with a two-thirds majority at his command.


Unsustainable jargon

 

One day last week, a large brown envelope containing a variety of jargon-filled, official publications landed on the doormat.
Pride of place must go to "Sustainable development framework for Welsh Local Government" - "A Briefing for Councillors" which informs councillors that sustainable development means that ". . . they must ensure that all their actions are undertaken with consideration for environmental limits - by respecting the planet's environment, resources and biodiversity so that the natural resources needed for life are unimpaired and remain so for future generations."
With this aim in mind, we councillors must follow "four key principles", including: "Engaging people through participative systems of government: maximising scope to foster input from all key stakeholders through a range of styles of engagement, putting citizens at the heart of service design and delivery."
After reading all 12 pages of this guff, a man could easily lose the will to live.
It wouldn't be so bad, but "sustainable development" is a largely meaningless concept.
Firstly, natural resources such as fossil fuels are, by definition, finite, so when you fill the car up you are depriving future generations of the use of that fuel.
Secondly, it is not possible, without resort to futurology, to say what is sustainable and what is not.
Clearly, our current use of fossil fuels is unsustainable because reserves will eventually run out.
But as the former Saudi oil minister Sheik Yamani has said: "The Stone Age didn't come to an end because of a shortage of stones and the oil age will not come to an end because of a shortage of oil."
The oil age will end when we find some better alternative source of energy - possibly nuclear or solar.
As Professor Roy Spencer has pointed out, in the early 1900s dung from several thousand horses was a huge problem on the streets of New York and it was possible to calculate that the, then, rate of increase in traffic was unsustainable because by about 1938 the city would be under a six feet thick layer of the stuff.
Then along came the automobile.
Of course, we should do all we can to minimise our use of energy, but any attempt by politicians to say with any precision what is sustainable and what is not, is nothing more than the purest conceit.
A few months ago, I put forward a NoM aimed at curbing the use of gas-guzzling vehicles by senior officers by restricting car leasing allowances to £5,000 instead of 10% of salary (more than £10,000 in the case of directors) as at present.
Not surprisingly, this modest little proposal was put to the sword by Independent Political Group's block vote.
It's easy to talk the talk!

Living beyond our means

The recent turmoil on the world's stock exchanges and debt markets would have brought a wry smile from Adam Smith.
According to Smith, the economic progress of societies flows from a combination of improved productivity and what he called "the accumulation of capital".
Clearly there is general economic benefit if, by some improvement in the manufacturing process, a man can make two widgets where he could previously make one because not only will widgets become cheaper but labour will be released to make other things.
But the accumulation of capital is an altogether more interesting idea because it involves people consuming less than they produce.
Obviously, people living hand to mouth in a subsistence economy can never accumulate capital and are destined to remain poor for ever.
Similarly, people living in earthquake zones and areas of extreme weather events, where the capital stock (houses, roads and the like) is periodically destroyed, have difficulty in climbing out of poverty.
We in the UK are fortunate in this respect because we have both highly productive land and a general freedom from major disasters.
It is difficult to calculate exactly how much capital a mature developed economy like the UK has accumulated but I recently saw an estimate that, taking private and public capital together, put it at the equivalent of £100,000 per head.
Much of this has been bequeathed to us by our forefathers' prudent saving habits.
Unfortunately, so-called financial engineers have been busy designing devices called "credit instruments" which enable us to consume our present and future income through the creation of low-interest credit.
The result has been a consumer-led boom as the world economy has floated on a sea of public and private debt.
Now some of the more profligate lenders are wondering if they will ever get their money back and the credit taps have been turned off.
Central banks in Europe and America have released vast amounts of liquidity into the market in an attempt to forestall a crash, but that can only be a temporary expedient.

Death and taxes

Though I am generally in favour of allowing people more control over their own money - less taxation, in other words - I can't support the Tory proposals to abolish inheritance tax.
Firstly, the ability to freely pass on large amounts of money inevitably leads to the establishment of a rentier class who live off the backs of the rest of us.
This is not only unfair but worse it is economically inefficient because it puts resources in the wrong hands.
Secondly, I can see no justice in a system where a person pays more tax on what they earn by their own efforts than on money acquired by an accident of birth.
Finally, the Tories say they want to abolish the tax because it is a charge on aspiration.
That is true up to a point, but, as there is no way of distinguishing between money acquired by hard work and effort; money previously inherited; and that obtained from immoral or criminal activity, it is not the whole story.
I remember many years ago watching a television programme featuring Gladstone's great, great grandson who was living the life of country gentleman in a minor castle somewhere in Cheshire.
During the programme it was revealed that much of the Gladstone family fortune, of which he was the latest beneficiary, had been made from the slave trade.
As a free market liberal, I give most weight to the first of these arguments because abolishing inheritance tax will eventually lead to a small group of super-rich families cornering the market in capital.
A return to feudalism, in fact.
Much better, I would have thought, in terms of economic efficiency, to increase inheritance tax to confiscatory levels and use the money raised to incentivise the workforce with a corresponding cut in income tax.


Age old problem

 

The Chief Constable of Cheshire has proposed that teenage drinking should be curbed by raising the legal age for buying alcohol from 18 to 21.
This comes in the wake of the horrific murder of Gary Newlove who was set upon by a gang of drunken yobs.
One fifteen-year old and two sixteen year olds have been charged with the murder.
This would seem to indicate that the authorities are incapable of enforcing the present 18 limit, so what is the point of raising it to 21?
Meanwhile, the campaign to lower the voting age to 16 gathers pace.
Were both these proposals enacted, it would allow young people to decide on the country's future government a full five years before they could legally buy a pint.

 

Fast breeder

 

Fluffy my Old English Game bantam has produced another six chicks.
This is her third brood in what has been an arduous summer for her.
However, she seems to be on an upward learning curve because the numbers hatched have risen from two to three and now six.
I bought the original hatching eggs which produced Fluffy and her partner Spike on eBay.
They were supposed to be Wheatens - cockerels browny black with orange-red hackles and wing feathers, and the hens a creamy white with a slightly darker tail and neck.
Spike came up to specification but Fluffy is a browny-grey-black speckled confection known as "partridge" that bears no resemblance to the required colour.
The chicks are an even stranger mix with five out of the eleven partridge, three cream and three pure white.
While 11 is too small a number to reach any definite conclusions about the genetic make up of my little flock, the near enough equal ratio between partridge and non-partridge individuals allows a tentative hypothesis to be devised.
Like Mendel, I will have to test this hypothesis by second generation crossings.
As you can imagine, this research requires me to keep quite a lot of noisy cockerels.
But the good folk of Liddeston can sleep easy in their beds because my daughter and her husband have just bought an old rambling farmhouse way out in in country and, though they don't know it yet, that is my intended base for my genetic researches.
I will dress it up as being interesting for the children.
PS I had hoped to provide a picture of Fluffy and her tribe, but Grumpette is out and the digital camera is way above my pay grade. Next week, perhaps.

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