August 30 2012


Reluctant politicians

This morning (Thursday) I toddled along to a meeting of the county council's standards committee where the Monitoring Officer was due to give an oral report on legal opinion obtained by the Ombudsman in the wake of the High Court case involving Cllr Malcolm Calver.
Readers will recall that in a previous report the Monitoring Officer told the standards committee that the "The Association of Council Solicitors and Secretaries (ACSS) had encouraged the Ombudsman to appeal the Court’s decision" (Balancing act).
However, the Monitoring Officer told today's meeting that the Ombudsman had decided to let the matter lie because "the cost benefit of an appeal would be negative."
This is, to say the least, unhelpful because it tells us nothing about the Ombudsman's view as to whether the High Court judgment was soundly based.
However, the situation as I see it is that the High Court has ruled that the Ombudsman; the county council's standards committee; and the Adjudication Panel for Wales (APW) all got it wrong when considering whether Cllr Calver could rely on article 10 of the Human Rights Act, and that is how matters stand unless the decision is overturned on appeal.
It is, I would suggest, interesting to note that the APW didn't even bother to turn up in court to defend its decision.
The Monitoring Officer pointed out that the High Court had upheld the principle that, when faced with criticism, politicians are deemed to have "thicker skins" than ordinary members of the public.
He told the committee that councillors have to show respect to the public, but are not required to show the same regard for other members.
Repeating what he told the committee at its meeting in July, the Monitoring Officer said "community councillors were surprised to find that they were now deemed to be politicians" (Balancing act).
As I said at the time, if you put yourself in a position to conduct affairs on the public's behalf, including levying taxes and deciding how the money is to be spent, you are, like it or not, a politician.
The Ombudsman is shortly to issue guidance on changes in the operation of the Code following the Calver judgment.
I await with interest.

Follow the money

Looking back over my past scribblings, I notice that two out of the three predictions I made on February 16 have come to pass (The grapevine).
The third concerned a breakaway group of "independent" members who were rumoured to be intending to form a political group called the Pembrokeshire Alliance.
I know this was on the cards because I was invited to join.
However, nothing came of it because one of the prime movers came a purler at the elections, and the new Leader was able to meet the aspirations of some of the other key players.
It should be said that the Leader was dealt a much weakened hand.
Firstly, the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales decreed that vice-chairmen should no longer qualify for Special Responsibility Allowances (SRAs).
And second, the Local Government Measure robbed the Independent Political Group (IPG) of its monopoly of scrutiny committee chairmanships.
Depending on how you do the calculations, this reduced the payroll vote by six or seven.
There was some compensation when the Cabinet - reduced to eight a year earlier to save money - was boosted to ten.
But there are still those, I hear, who feel they have not been allocated the high (and paid) positions that they think their massive talents deserve.
Twice in the past week, I have heard rumours that the Pembrokeshire Alliance is about to be resurrected.
Usually, when I hear the same rumour from two or more apparently independent sources, I know it can't be true.
But I wonder if this could be the exception that proves the rule.
The arithmetic is interesting.
A group of three would qualify for a scrutiny committee chair (SRA circa £9,000 p.a.) and a place on the National Park committee (£3,000).
If two of the three came from the IPG, that would rob it of its majority on the council and one of its seats on the National Park.
A group of six would supplant Plaid as the largest non-executive group and add the £9,000 SRA for opposition leader to its other two benefits
I am told there could be developments before Christmas - some say before the end of September, - so we'll soon know if there is any truth in the old adage: follow the money.

Money talks

Vote for me, and I'll not stoop,
To join a party, or political group.
Independent, I'll remain,
If you put your cross beside my name.

Between the promise and the act,
Intrudes a melancholy fact.
For folk have often feet of clay,
When they get a sniff of an SRA

Under observation

Cllr David Wildman's explanation, when asked by the Mercury why he hadn't reported me to the Ombudsman for publishing false stories about his involvement in Byron Frayling's election campaign, was that he hadn't bothered because my website was "not widely read" (Faulty memory).
Of course, as I pointed out at the time, the real reason was that what I wrote was true.
As for the "not widely read" jibe, I can inform Cllr Wildman that in the past 24 hours my web-tracker records that the more than 150 visitors include hits from Alabama, Barcelona (2), Munich, Qatar, California, Barbados, Vancouver and Bridgend.
The visitor from Bridgend seems to be particularly interested in what I have to say because they have made no fewer than five visits in the past day.
My web-tracker also enables me to identify the actual name of the visitor, but only if they have their own dedicated server, and my Bridgend fan, who logged on just 20 minutes ago at 5.08 pm, turns out to be none other that the Commission for Local Government in Wales, who most of you will know as the Ombudsman.
Now, whether the Ombudsman's office is keeping tabs on me in in the hope of detecting some indiscretion that would bring me within the range of the Code of Conduct, or whether they are interested to see if I reveal some wrongdoing by others, I simply don't know.
Being an optimist (defined as a pessimist who is determined not to learn the lessons of experience) I will proceed on the assumption that it is the latter.
P S If you want a really soporific experience visit the internet substitute for mogadon

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