August 28 2007

Fishy business

While the rest of the family spent Sunday afternoon on the beach, I stayed at home and read the annual report of the Milford Haven Port Authority (MHPA).
Ah! the sacrifices I make for my art!
Though I should say that it makes quite an entertaining read, especially when you compare its contents with the facts.
Old Grumpy takes a keen interest in what goes on at MHPA; firstly, because I represent 1,800 of the authority's "stakeholders", and, secondly, because of my own personal experiences of its methods.
Regular readers will recall that, in the summer of 2005, I applied to become a local authority representative on the MHPA board (Foregone conclusion).
Unsurprisingly, I was unsuccessful, despite being being blessed with both an education and wide-ranging business experience.
At the time, I concluded that the reason I had failed was my non-membership of the Independent Political (sic) Group (IPG), which, since its formation in 1995, has exercised a total monopoly these MHPA board positions.
However, on reading the 2006-2007 MHPA annual report, I realise that I may have been rather too eager to jump to conclusions because I read of the successful candidate, Cllr Arwyn Williams, that: "Over the years, he has built a reputation as an enthusiastic 'can-do' man, ever mindful of protecting the environment and the continuing development of the County" who ". . . lists his main recreation as fishing, where his hands-on knowledge of the Haven is readily transferred to the Authority."
I have to put my hands up and admit that I know absolutely nothing about fishing.
That said, things are never as simple as they first appear.
Pembrokeshire County Council has two representatives on the MHPA board; listed in the annual report as Cllrs Williams and John Allen-Mirehouse.
Because of the gap between the end of the authority's financial year on 31 December 2006 and the publication of the annual report in the following August, the opportunity arises to append relevant information that has come to light in 2007.
In the present case, this includes the fact that, during 2007, Cllr Anne Hughes was appointed as PCC representative.
Now, three into two won't go, so who who has been cast overboard to make room for Cllr Hughes.
Well, certainly not Cllr Allen-Mirehouse who was described as 'head and shoulders' above the other candidates when he was reappointed in 2006 (Class apart).
So it had to be Cllr Williams, who was just halfway through his three-year term.
At the time, Cllr Williams told me that he had been forced to resign because he had reached age 65, but, as I pointed out, that explanation didn't ring true because there is nothing in the rules that requires a member to retire on receipt of their pension book ( Pensioned off).
The other flaw in this explanation is that Cllr Williams reapplied for the position made vacant for his own retirement (Eternal youth) and was shortlisted for interview.
It is not often Old Grumpy is floored, but this one had me really baffled.
One explanation that occurred to me was that his fellow board members had tired of his the-one-that-got-away stories, but I fancy the truth is that the Department of Transport, faced with Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price's questions about MHPA board appointments (Self-selecting), became concerned about the flawed process that led to Cllr Williams' initial appointment and ordered a rerun.
However, Cllr Anne Hughes' potted biography in this latest annual report may hold the key because it describes her close ties with the Milford Haven fishing industry ". . . which commenced with her great-grandfather and his five sons bringing the first steam trawler "the Sybil" into Milford's 'new docks'.
Sorry Arwyn, but fishing off the rocks with a rod and line can't match that.
In addition, we read that Anne, who "has gained enormous respect from peers and colleagues for her ongoing community support and active guidance." also ". . . brings to the Board empathy and a detailed knowledge of how the Authority's commercial remits continue to interact with community groups across Pembrokeshire."
Presumably this 'enormous respect' business doesn't stretch to one of her constituents who wrote to the Mercury to complain that, by joining the IPG just three days after the election, she had "ratted" on her election promise that: "I am standing as a true independent with no political allegiance to any party. I WILL NOT abide or be controlled by party policy." (Cllr Hughes' emphasis throughout)
Since then she has voted the party line on every single occasion.
Still, it is looking increasingly like a smart decision, financially, because membership of the IPG is set to net her best part of thirty grand on top of her basic allowance (two years as assistant Cabinet member (£9,000) and three years at MHPA (£19,500)).
Whether it will play so well, electorally, is another matter.

Green Grumpy

My recent scribblings on sustainability, biodiversity and global warming (or, given our recent summer, should that be climate change?) have led some readers to conclude that the Grumpy family are some sort of ecological vandals.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
We drive a modest little car which rarely ventures beyond Canaston Bridge; we seldom fly, though not seldom enough for my taste; we grow all our own vegetables; we have an attic full of insulation; and, though we have central heating, we never turn on the upstairs radiators.
Indeed, I calculate that, with a ten-acre field at our disposal - cow (1 acre) six sheep and followers (1 acre) corn for pigs and chickens (2 acres) vegetables (0.25 acres) tobacco plantation (0.75 acres) and a vineyard (5 acres) - we could be virtually self-sufficient.
And I'm sure Grumpette will soon get the hang of the spinning wheel and hand loom that I'm planning as a Christmas surprise.

Wine and roses

A Welsh rugby supporter has e-mailed to comment on my lack of biting satire following events at Twickenham three weeks ago.
Well, beating Wales' third string is nothing to boast about, especially on your own midden.
Brave and patriotic soul that he is, my man offered to bet a pint on the outcome of the probable World Cup quarter final match between Wales and England.
Were that to come about, my earlier prediction: that neither side would reach the semis, would be a logical impossibility.
However, I am not even confident that England will make it through the group stage.
Their chances of beating South Africa are somewhere between nil and vanishing point and they also have a tricky encounter with the whole of Samoa.
Anyway, I e-mailed back to say that a pint was a totally inadequate stake on a matter of such vital importance, and suggested, instead, a bottle of the best £3.99 Chilean.
Following Saturday's debacle against France, I didn't expect to hear from him again, so imagine my surprise when an e-mail arrive on Monday evening taking me up.
If I could find a few more like him, I might have room for another five cows.

Softly, softly

SF tells me the amalgamation of the Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion health trusts is back on the agenda.
This comes as no surprise because, as I suggested last September (Playing for time), the issue had been put on the back burner until after the Assembly elections.
What is amazing is that, despite almost unanimous opposition to the merger at all the public consultation meetings, Pembrokeshire County Council gave it their backing (Lack of trust) .
The IPG voted the policy through after The Leader told them approval was on the basis that certain conditions be met, particularly that the the three existing trusts should have an equal say in the future arrangements.
As I have pointed out previously these so-called safeguards are entirely spurious because equality only gives Pembrokeshire one vote out of three.
Furthermore, Pembrokeshire representatives on the merged trust will be appointed by the Welsh Assembly, not elected by the people, and can be expected to dance to the Minister's tune.
So, in due course, services will be transferred, bit by bit, to Carmarthen until ten years down the line the proposals in Designed to Deliver, which was roundly rejected by all the public consultation meetings, will have slid, almost unnoticed, into place.

Paxo's stuffing

Jeremy Paxman laid into the TV industry - his employers at the BBC, in particular - during last week's MacTaggart Lecture.
His comments on the dumbing down of TV in the pursuit of ratings made the headlines, but Old Grumpy was more interested in what he had to say about the relationship between journalists and politicians.
Someone once said that the proper relationship was the same as that between a dog and a lamp-post and, while he didn't quite go that far, Paxo said that tension between politicians and the media is a healthy thing and that , ". . . the interests of democracy are better served than in a system where the media think it part of their duty to help the government get its way."
He went on to say: "Television journalism’s justification should be the justification of journalism through the ages: to inquire, to explain and to hold to account. The news may have been dull, but it was respected because it made sense of the day. That involved people assessing, filtering, separating the froth from what mattered. It was, in short, the exercise of clear judgement. And in return, it demanded - and got - the trust of the audience.
"We are engaged in a trade which has the potential to do amazing things, to show people things they didn’t know existed, to give them the power to make informed decisions about how they see the world and how they want to be governed."
I can find nothing in that with which I would want to disagree and, furthermore, I would say the national media, for all its faults, makes quite a reasonable job of carrying out its duty to keep the public informed.
That is largely because the fierce competition in both the print and broadcast media leaves them with little option.
And that's what concerns me about the latest political fashion - localism.
Of course, common sense tells us that, the closer to the electorate decisions are taken, the more democratic they will be.
However, observing what goes on in local government up and down the country leads me to conclude that common sense is a poor guide in these matters.
And part of the reason why local government is so awful is that, in many areas, its activities are covered by what are in effect monopoly newspapers run by accountants who are more concerned with advertising revenue than news.
In our particular case the Western Telegraph whose coverage of local politics is almost entirely given over to printing, usually unedited, press releases (propaganda) put out by the county council's spin doctors.

Red Grumpy

Following last week's piece on Inheritance tax (Death and taxes), I received quite a few e-mails - none of them agreeing with me, I should say.
One reader even accused me of being a communist.
Lack of time means I can't respond just now, but I will rejoin the fray next week.

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