Old Grumpy nearly choked on his cornflakes (sausage, egg and
tomato actually) when I read Christopher Booker's column in this
week's Sunday Telegraph.
Mr Booker recounted the story of David Adami, a member of North
Dorset district council, who, because of his criticisms of the
local authority, had fallen foul of the Standards Board for England
Some of Mr Adami's criticisms, such as that whenever he tried
to find out what was really going on inside the council he was
always fobbed off with "non-answers", and that the
organisation was "influenced and controlled" by the
officers and not the elected members, ring a bell with Old Grumpy.
But what seems to have brought matters to a head was his attempt
to discover the truth about an arrangement whereby the chief
executive was paid £37,000, tax-free, to stay on for a
few weeks after the expiry of his contract.
The chief executive filed a complaint, including the charge that
Mr Adami had "attempted to reopen old issues", and
the Standards Board found him guilty and barred him from being
a councillor for four years.
He appealed to the High Court and was reinstated, but the Standards
Board went to the Court of Appeal where, according to Booker,
the High Court's decision was overturned on a technicality and
the case referred back to the Standards Board for reconsideration..
The upshot was that the Standards Board again found him guilty
on all counts, but reduced his suspension to three years.
Must remember to watch my step.
At the risk of raking over old coals, Old Grumpy is still
trying to discover exactly what went on in the first few months
after 1 August 2000 when ORA International Ltd (managing director
Cllr Brian Hall's former business partner Dr Michael Ryan) was
appointed as economic development consultant by Pembrokeshire
Material recently released under the Freedom of Information Act,
contains a document showing that ORA Ltd had a branch office
Copies of expense claims obtained during the 2001 public audit
inspection show that, in May 2001, Pembrokeshire taxpayers forked
out £1,278 in travelling and other expenses for Dr Ryan's
trip to the Polish capital.
This included £650 for a return flight from Dublin (no
Ryanair for him) and £330 for hotel expenses in Warsaw
On the assumption that these hotel bills represent four nights'
accommodation, you have to add £1,800 to cover his daily
fee of £450, making £3,000 in all.
Arithmetically, so far, so good.
However, I made the mistake of speculating that Dr Ryan's trip
to Poland might not have been, as tax lawyers put it, "wholly
and exclusively for the purpose of the [county council's] business",
and that he might have taken the opportunity, while in Warsaw,
to pop into his branch office for his own ends.
Nothing, it seems, could be further from the truth.
The council now informs me that Dr Ryan went to Poland to conduct
negotiations with ". . .a Polish vodka company which was
looking to set up a base within the EU and, more specifically,
Unfortunately, the council says, talks broke down when it became
apparent the the company "had unrealistic aspirations of
unachievable levels of State financial aid . . "
It would seem that the top management of this company may have
been spending too much time in the product evaluation section
of the quality control department because, in mid-2001, the accession
talks, which would give all Polish companies an "EU base",
were at an advanced stage and, in any case, in order to take
advantage of cheaper labour behind the former iron curtain, all
the investment flows were in the opposite direction.
Sadly, I can't tell you much more at the moment because no records
have been kept and the council can't even remember the name of
the company involved.
I have written to the council suggesting that Dr Ryan, whose
£450-a-day contract was renewed on 1 August, might be able
to fill in the gaps.
Mind you, if I spent four days in a vodka distillery, I doubt
I'd remember which day of the week it was, never mind some name
consisting mainly of Cs and Zs.
Off the record
It seems that, for a large public body, the county council
is rather careless when it comes to keeping records.
For instance, according to the district audit services report
on the relationship between Hall and Ryan the authority's standing
orders require that, before consultants are engaged, the council's
management board has to agree that there are not enough in-house
staff to carry out the work, and that there is sufficient money
in the budget to cover the cost.
The auditor reports: "the chief executive has informed us
that the decision to appoint a consultant was discussed and accepted
by the management board although this was not recorded at the
And, Dr Ryan was appointed on the strength of a verbal reference
". . . from a reliable source known to senior officers.
The information and comments received at the time were not formally
documented, however . . .".
Then there is the confusion over when Hall and Ryan first met.
The auditor records: "Initially, Cllr Hall informed us that
he met Dr Ryan in September or October 2000".
"Subsequently, Cllr Hall provided us with a private letter
he wrote to the Leader [Maurice Hughes] dated 20 September 2000
setting out that he was going into business with Dr Ryan."
So it couldn't be October, then.
As this was a private letter the, council has no record of it.
However, according to Dr Ryan, he first clapped eyes on Hall
during a visit to Pembrokeshire between 4-7 October 2000.
The auditor made no effort to resolve what he described as "this
apparent inconsistency" though he was told that the chief
executive recalled introducing them to each other "in a
meeting in his office after ORA Ltd had been awarded the contact.".
ORA was awarded the contract on 1 August 2000 and the only times
Dr Ryan was in Pembrokeshire between that date and the 16 October
2000, when he faxed Hall with details of their plans to trade
in Pembrokeshire (see Hall-Ryan), contrary to his promise in
a letter dated 3 September not to do so, were the periods 14-18
August and 4-7 October.
The October 16 fax starts: "I have at last completed
my first draft of the Business Plan" and goes on to
detail the various schemes in which they are planning, including
the fact that: "To date Dr Ryan and Brian Hall have been
requested to participate in a number of projects, such as:
recreation & Conference Centre Project(Masterplanning and
Investment Project aligned to Pembroke Dock redevelopment
Commission Objective 1 Project Finance Design & Submission."
Is it possible that all this had been achieved in the maximum
12 days between 4 October and 12 October?
If not, their introduction in the chief executive's office must
have taken place during Dr Ryan's visit to Pembrokeshire in mid-August.
My attempt to achieve greater clarity by submitting written questions
to full council was met with studied vagueness.
I was told: "The head of marketing and communications had
been informed orally by Dr Ryan during October/November 2000
about the intended formation of the company to be known a Euro-Ryall
And "The chief executive had been informed orally in early
autumn by Cllr Hall of the latter's discussions with Dr Ryan
about the possibility of forming a company".
October/November! early autumn! can't these people afford a diary?
I heard on the radio that researchers in America (where else?)
have discovered that the cells in the blood vessels of those
of us who lead unhealthy lifestyles appear to be 40 years older
than our chronological age.
As the other parts of us are unlikely to qualify, the Queen should,
perhaps, consider sending our arteries a telegram on our sixtieth
Meanwhile, up in Scotland, the anti-smoking nannies are having
a fine old time with Mel Smith being barred from smoking a cigar
while playing the part of Churchill at the Edinburgh Festival
and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones under threat of prosecution
for, horror of horrors, smoking a cigarette on stage.
To avoid making complete fools of themselves, the Scottish legal
authorities have decided that Mr Richards, who usually smokes
something rather more stimulating than tobacco, will not be prosecuted.
No doubt, he will be terribly relieved to have avoided the maximum
It is hard to believe that, just two hundred years ago, Edinburgh
was the centre of the Scottish - some would say, European - Enlightenment,
when such great liberal thinkers as Adam Smith and David Hume
could be found wandering the streets.
It was a sad day, indeed, when bossy socialists ousted liberals
as the UK's primary anti-Tory movement.
A reader has e-mailed to observe that there has been little
mention of my vegetable garden this year.
"Has there been a plague of locusts in Liddeston, or what?"
Well, to tell the truth, my garden has been so magnificent this
year that it is almost impossible to write about it without sounding
And, being a modest sort of chap, I felt it best to keep quiet.
However, seeing as you ask, almost everything I've planted has
been a rip-roaring success.
Even the carrots, which usually end up riddled with maggots,
have turned out well.
Being a sceptic, I regard stories about planting schemes designed
to deter pests as akin to voodoo, but this year, acting on the
advice of SF, I planted the carrots between two rows of onions
and it seems to have done the trick.
However, before I concede that he can tell me anything about
gardening, the experiment will have to be repeated for at least
After all, it might be a fluke.
Another crop which usually gives me trouble is cabbages.
If the root fly doesn't get them the caterpillars will.
This year there has been no sign of the cabbage root fly (run
off with the carrot fly, I wouldn't be surprised) and I'm managing
to keep the caterpillars under control with a combination of
spraying and egg destruction.
If I paid myself the minimum wage, the savoys would come out
at about a fiver apiece, but if a job's worth doing, it's worth
As for the sprouting broccoli, it is growing so vigorously that
I've had to knock stakes in to support it.
And I'm hoping my son in law and a couple of his friends will
come round and give me a hand to carry the pumpkins indoors.
Mr Roy McGurn, author of the website www.pccsucks.co.uk, has
e-mailed to say I was wrong to claim that a cricket ball cannot
pick up speed off the pitch (See Spin
As he points out, if topspin is imparted to the ball, the rotational
energy will be converted to linear energy when the ball strikes
the ground making it possible for the ball to leave the pitch
faster than it arrived.
He draws my attention to the backspin used by snooker players,
which has the same effect in reverse.
This seems to be correct in theory, though I am not so sure how
you put topspin on a cricket ball, especially if you're a fast
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