3 August 2004
They're all at it
Denis Healey's advice was: "When you're in a hole - stop
But those wise words are rarely heeded by most institutions because
they fear that abandoning the excavation will invite questions
about why it was started in the first place.
So, when Pembrokeshire County Council finds itself in a hole
it digs with increased vigour in the hope of convincing us that
the hole was a good idea all along.
I came across a classic example of this phenomena in Saturday's
Daily Telegraph which reported the resignation of the Keeper
of the Royal Academy after £80,000 was found to be missing
from the accounts.
This is not the first time financial irregularities have blemished
the reputation of the RA.
Back in 1996, the Telegraph reports, the bursar Trevor Clark
was jailed for five years after pleading guilty to theft from
The interesting part of this story is that Clark had been fingered,
earlier, after £45,000 went missing, "But fearing
adverse publicity, officials kept him on and allowed him to convert
the missing money into a loan."
This decision not to confiscate Clark's pick and shovel turned
out rather expensive because he spurned the opportunity to go
straight and when he eventually came to court the hole had become
And if such a prestigious body as the Royal Academy can become
involved in a cover up, not to mention the FA, why not Pembrokeshire
Fairy tale ending
This week, I return to the auditor's report into the business
relationship between Cllr Brian Hall and Dr Michael Ryan.
This report is really nothing more than a recitation of the story
concocted by the County Council and Dr Ryan, with no attempt
by the auditor to check the veracity of the yarns he was being
And some parts of the story read more like "Alice Through
the Looking Glass" than the product of a serious investigation.
As I reported a few weeks ago, what the auditor refers to as
"this apparent inconsistency" involves a letter supposedly
written three weeks before the events to which it refers could
possibly have taken place.
In an attempt to bring clarity I put down some questions for
the July's meeting of the County Council.
One of them asked for the date (my emphasis) on which
the Chief Executive become aware of the business relationship
between the two men.
And the answer: "Early Autumn 2000".
Another asked for the date (my emphasis) on which Dr Ryan
told his line manager Mr David Thomas about his dealings with
"October/November 2000", came the answer.
Strangely, there is no mention of this latter disclosure in the
Stranger still is that nobody in County Hall seems to keep a
The tale related to the auditor attempts to give the impression
that Cllr Hall, at least, was up front about his business relationship
with Dr Ryan.
However, there is no mention in the auditor's report that either
of them ever told anyone about their detailed plans to trade
in Pembrokeshire set out in Ryan's fax to Hall dated 16 October
2000 (see Hall-Ryan)
As this seemed rather crucial - after all, it wouldn't matter
much if the intention was to set up a chain of fish and chip
shops in Cardiff - I also asked whether David Thomas had been
made aware of this fax.
Unfortunately, the Leader omitted to address this question at
the meeting, though, when I drew this to his attention, he emailed
me with the answer.
The email reads: "Apologise for the oversight regarding
Mr David Thomas' knowledge of the alleged fax. My understanding
is that Mr Thomas had no knowledge of the fax allegedly sent
to Cllr Hall from Dr Ryan on 16 October 2000. I hope this answers
As there is nothing in the auditor's report to suggest that either
Hall or Ryan made any attempt to challenge the authenticity of
the 16 October fax, the use of the words "alleged"
and "allegedly" takes on sinister Orwellian undertones.
It could of course be that the Leader, having read the auditor's
report and realised that the council's version of events has
more holes than a Rich Tea biscuit, is preparing a second line
Down on the farm
Speaking of Orwell, I have in the past quoted his brilliant
description of the typical County Council meeting in his great
book "Animal Farm".
"After hoisting the flag all the animals trooped into
the big barn for a general assembly known as the Meeting. Here
the work of the coming week was planned out and resolutions put
forward and debated. It was always the pigs that put forward
the resolutions. The other animals knew how to vote but could
never think of any resolutions of their own."(Page 28).
That was how it was before the introduction of the Cabinet system
by the Local Government Act 2000.
Orwell seems to have foreseen this development because at page
58 he records how, following Snowball's flight into exile, the
pigs imposed a new regime.
"He [Napoleon] announced that from now on Sunday morning
Meetings would come to an end. They were unnecessary, he said,
and wasted time. In future all questions relating to the working
of the farm would be settled by a special meeting of pigs, presided
over by himself. These would meet in private and afterwards communicate
their decisions to the others. The animals would still assemble
on Sunday mornings to salute the flag, sing 'Beasts of England',
and receive their orders for the week; but there would be no