August 7 2007

Double take

A mole inside the Independent Political (sic) Group tells me that the county council's nomenclatura was well represented at the recent Royal Welsh Show (RWS) in Builth Wells.
This is a annual boondoggle for the great and the good - especially so this year when they were the guests of honour; the Cabinet having donated £60,000 of your money towards a new control tower,
As a bog standard member, I have some difficulty in understanding how money can be found for this sort of caper when there are insufficient resources to provide adequate parking on the council estates in my ward.
A regular at these junkets is our old friend Cllr Brian Hall.
In July 2006, Cllr Hall made three separate 170-mile round trips to the RWS; claiming 510 miles (£255) from Pembrokeshire County Council..
What is remarkable is that on one of these days - 24 July to be precise - Cllr Hall also claimed 66 miles from the Fire Authority (FA) for driving from Pembroke Dock to a meeting held at the FA headquarters in Carmarthen, and back home.

According to the FA's website this meeting started at 11 am.
So, as the more alert among you will have already have worked out, if Cllr Hall made two separate journeys, as he claimed, he must either have driven to Builth Wells and back to Pembroke Dock by about 10.15 am, or from Carmarthen to Pembroke Dock after the FA meetings before setting out for the RWS.
Assuming that the FA meeting lasted two hours (there were actually two back-to-back meetings, the second commencing at noon), and discounting the Tardis, this means that, having driven from Carmarthen to Builth Wells via Pembroke Dock, he couldn't have got to the RWS much before 4.00 pm.
Of course, as you and I know, he went straight to the RWS from the FA meeting, which means that he trousered £33 for the Pembroke Dock - Carmarthen - Pembroke Dock leg of the journey to which he was not entitled.
Old Grumpy has long suspected that Cllr Hall's massive travelling expense bills are based on claiming twice for the same journey (Is your journey really necessary? and Mystery tour) but absolute proof has always been lacking.
As the, then, chairman of PCC Cllr Rosemary Hayes (Churchwarden and former JP) told me during an exchange of correspondence following her statement to the council in December 2001, my allegations were "...based on a series of assumptions about the speed with which Cllr Hall undertook a number of journeys on a particular day."
My basic assumption was that it was impossible to eat lunch and drive from the Severn Bridge to Pembroke Dock in the 52 minutes between 1308 and 1400 hours.(Time Lord)
You might think this assumption reasonable, but it is an assumption, nonetheless.
This time, however, I am on the firm ground of fact because, in February this year, soon after I first brought the interesting comparisons between Cllr Hall's FA and PCC expense claims to the world's attention by revealing that he had claimed from both authorities for a trip to the RWS on 18 July 2005 (On approval) Cllr Hall submitted a claim to the FA for the three trips to the RWS in July 2006..
Written on the claim form are the words "Wrongly charged to PCC".
Interestingly, while 170 miles was booked against two of the journeys, only 102 miles were claimed for 24 July, 66 miles having already been claimed from the FA for the attendance at the two meetings.
So, he didn't make two entirely separate journeys as claimed originally.
However, this attempt to sanitise Cllr Hall's travel claims is not without its difficulties.
As regular readers will know, members can only claim travelling expenses for what are known as "approved duties".
At the material time, the council's definition of an approved duty was: "Attendance by the Leader of the council and other group leaders (or their nominated representative(s)) at such meetings approved by the Chief Executive for the proper discharge of the business of the authority." or according to the District Auditor: "At the request of the Chief Executive: The Leader or other group leaders (or their nominated representative(s)) to attend at such meetings for the proper discharge of the business of the authority." (On approval).
Either way, it doesn't much matter.
Last January, David Edwards (aka SF) put in a Freedom of Information request to PCC which asked for: "The names of all Elected Members authorised by the Council Leader and/or the Chief Executive to attend the Royal Welsh Show at Builth Wells in July 2005 and July 2006.
Back came the reply: "Members of Pembrokeshire County Council authorised to attend the Royal Welsh Show at Llanelwedd as an approved duty were the Chairman of Council, Leader of Council and Councillor Brian Hall."
So, unless the Chief Executive and Leader neglected to tell Cllr Hall that he had been nominated to represent the council on an "approved duty" at the RWS, his claim for travelling was not "Wrongly charged to PCC" after all.
That being the case, we can only conclude that the purpose of transferring the cost from PCC to the FA was to flush the bogus claim for 66 miles out of the system.
Oh! what a tangled web we weave . . ..
The great mystery, of course, is how someone like Brian Hall came to be such a key figure in Cllr John Davies' cabinet.
After all, on taking up the leadership, Cllr Davies did promise that his administration would be conducted in accordance with "the highest ethical standards".

Power v justice


Just before Christmas the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham Rt Rev Vincent Nichols wrote an interesting article in the Daily Telegraph in which he said: ". . . the role of faith is well understood as that of casting new light on our power of reasoning, preserving us from a kind of ethical blindness caused by the effects of power and special interest."
As a secular humanist, I would reject the idea that religious faith is necessary for ethical conduct.
Indeed, the evidence from PCC would seem to suggest otherwise because the last time I inspected the register of members' interests I noticed that more than half the members of the ruling Independent Political (sic) Group claim allegiance to a church or chapel, many of them in positions of authority.
The key to ethics in politics is not religion, but a love of justice over power for, as St Augustine said: "A state which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves." (De Civitate Dei, IV, 4).
And, while the twin concepts of truth and justice are deeply embedded at the heart of all the great religions, there is no evidence to suggest that these values can be acquired by the mere act of sitting in a pew.


Rhodri update

My contacts in the national media tell me that, more than three months after being arrested at Nuremberg airport as he tried to leave the country, the Hon Rhodri Philipps is still languishing in a German jail.
Mr Philipps is best known in Pembrokeshire as one of the leading lights in the ill-starred Crownridge Steel operation at the former Mine Depot at Blackbridge Milford Haven.
The authorities in Germany allege 'breach of trust' by Mr Philipps in respect of German company Brochier.
Bail has been refused and Hon Rhodri is being kept in custody while the prosecutor builds his case
Just to demonstrate how seriously the German authorities are taking this, a second man involved in the Brochier affair, Derek Ashley, was arrested in Spain two months ago and quickly extradited to Nuremberg .
My sources tell me more arrests are expected.
For a more extensive account of Mr Philipps activities in Pembrokeshire follow these links (Polo neck) (Living it up) (We seek him here . . .)
Anyone who understands German can read the full story at

One of my contacts has also provided me with a computer generated translation of an article in Der Spiegel. I doubt it will make you much the wiser, but it is good for a laugh (Aristocracy destroys)

No bull

Every cloud has a silver lining, and it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good and Old Grumpy hears that the foot and mouth outbreak, and the consequent ban on animal movements, is no exception because huge sighs of relief must have been heard at the Western Telegraph where junior reporters and sub-editors are celebrating the fact that they will no longer be required to tabulate all those results from the County Show's livestock classes.
However, that leaves the problem of how to fill the paper during what is known as the "silly season".
Unfortunately, Cornwall has beaten us to it with the Great White Shark, so don't be surprised the if the big cat; last sighted in the Johnston/Tiers Cross area a couple of years ago, makes another of its regular appearences.

Counting back

Although it was only the barest of bare passes, Old Grumpy has always been proud of his 'A' level in maths.
It came as a surprise to my maths teacher and part-time Methodist preacher "Chippy" Wood, who told me after the results came out that my achieving 40% had abolished any last doubts he had about the truth of the biblical accounts of the miracles.
Now I read in the Sunday Times that research by an academic at Durham University has revealed a general inflation of two grades in 'A' level results since 1988.
The rate for maths is an even more dramatic 3.5 grades.
That is over 20 years, and if you extrapolate back the 50 years to 1958, when Old Grumpy was sitting in the examination room wrestling with the complexities of the binomial theorem, coefficients of restitution and simple harmonic motion, you get an improvement of approximately nine grades - enough to lift me from a scraped pass to an A*******.
So, in the past, when I have prefaced my remarks on things mathematical with the words: "While I'm no Einstein . . .", I fear I may not have been telling you the truth.

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