26 August 2003

 

Spellbound

The Daily Telegraph letters' page has recently carried extensive correspondence on the demise of the apostrophe, with readers equally divided between those who think the quirky punctuation mark is redundant and those who believe that civilisation depends on it.
I tend towards the second camp but, before anyone embarks on a fault finding mission though my past scribblings, I will admit to occasionally failing to practice what I preach.
However, I do try, which is more than can be said for the authors of the County Council's website www.visitpembrokeshire.co.uk.
On the homepage of this site, I spotted walkers bus, visitors book, wont, and whats on.
Not that the apostrophe has been abandoned altogether, because I also noticed it's [Pembrokeshire's] stunning coastal scenery and it's [Pembrokeshire's] delights and, on the inside pages, several examples of St David's.
And the further you go into the site the worse things get.
Under attractions we find something called musuems (twice) including the motor museum at Simpson Cross, which features "A unique and intersting range of locally owned vetern and vinatge classic cars …".
The entry for Tenby Museum has several spelling mistakes, but the Coracle Centre and Mill at Cenarth takes the biscuit.
There, it seems, one can visit "a restored flower mill" - mass-producing daisy chains and dandelion clocks, I presume.

 

Ganging up on Gilligan

 

I am no great fan of Andrew Gilligan.
Many are the mornings during the recent war that I have shouted angrily at the radio during his extremely biased reports from Baghdad.
One particular occasion I remember well was when the Americans reported their troops to be within striking distance of the airport and Gilligan appeared on the Today programme to rubbish their claims by telling listeners that he had driven out to the airport that very morning and had seen no US tanks.
Then there were his regular predictions of months of vicious hand-to-hand street fighting as the "elite" Republican Guard units fell back into the suburbs of the Iraqi capital in readiness for the American advance.
But none of that excuses his treatment at the hands of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee chaired by Swansea MP Donald Anderson.
Old Grumpy is a long time admirer of select committees, which, to all outward appearances, fearlessly hold the Government of the day to account, regardless of party loyalties.
Not any more, after it emerged at the Hutton inquiry that Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon set the parameters for Dr Kelly's appearance before the committee and Mr Anderson meekly accepted.
Those parameters were that Dr Kelly's appearance should not exceed 45 minutes and that he should not be questioned about WMD or other topics that might be uncomfortable for the Government.
Considering that the committee's remit was to investigate whether the Government had embellished intelligence material in order to strengthen the case for war - an issue much wider that the spat between Alastair Campbell and the BBC - this has all the appearances of an attempt by Anderson and Hoon to ambush Gilligan.
There was also Mr Hoon's helpful suggestion that, after it had interviewed Dr Kelly, the committee might like to consider recalling Gilligan - which is, of course, exactly what happened.
Furthermore, following Gilligan's second interview, Mr Anderson emerged from the committee room to denounce the BBC reporter as "an unsatisfactory witness" - an assessment based on the committee's earlier (wrong) conclusion that Dr Kelly was not the sole source of Gilligan's story.
The good news is that that there are Labour MPs, such as Barry Sheeman and Andrew Mackinlay, who are prepared to put the interests of democracy above those of party by openly expressing disapproval of Mr Anderson's actions.
They deserve public support because it will be a sad day if Parliament ever comes to resemble Pembrokeshire County Council where everything is carefully choreographed behind closed doors and all the public is allowed to see is a well rehearsed charade (see Match fixing).


Lawyers' paradise

One of the most effective ways of finding out what really goes on inside the county council is to spend some time trawling through the books during the public audit process.
Some of the ways they find to spend our money are truly amazing.
For instance, it appears that during the financial year 2002/2003 the council was sued by DTG (initials used to protect his identity) over a personal injury claim.
According to the payment slips, DTG was paid a handy £3,000 in compensation.
But, as always in these cases, it was our learned friends who were the main beneficiaries.
It appears that the council engaged Swansea solicitors Douglas-Jones Mercer (so much for supporting local businesses) while the plaintiff was represented by Lowless and Lowless of Pembroke.
This must have been quite some case because Douglas-Jones Mercer's costs came to £17,244 (even after a £6,127 discount) and those of Lowless and Lowless £16,800 - all met by the council, i.e. you and me, as the losers.
And this was by no means an isolated incident.
There was also the case of Ms SAH whose compensation payment I was unable to find but who apparently won her case because the council again paid the bills of the two same solicitors.
In this case Lowless and Lowless picked up exactly £10,000 and Douglas-Jones and Mercer £6,948.
And there were several similar, if rather less specactular, cases which I didn't have time to investigate fully.
Strangely, the accounts contain a breakdown of Douglas-Jones Mercer's costs but not those of Lowless and Lowless, which, I am told are "confidential".
That is not how I read the Audit Commission Act 1998 so I could have another nine-month battle on my hands (see Above the law)
Not that your local councillor will know anything about all this because the council's constitution states quite clearly that: "The Director of Support and Cultural services is authorised:- to institute, defend or settle legal proceedings (either in the name of the council or an individual officer of the council), at common law or under any enactment, statutory instrument, order or bye-law conferring functions upon the council ... and to lodge an appeal in respect of any such proceedings".
Now, Old Grumpy can understand why it might be unwise to allow elected members to play a part in these matters - they already do enough influence-peddling in the planning committee without giving them a say in who is prosecuted or compensated.
However, it does seem strange that our elected representatives, who, after all, nominally control the council, are not given reports on the outcome of concluded cases.
Then again, considering they are never given details of the sales of the authority's (our) land and buildings, perhaps not.

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