8 August 2006

Time warp


Please pay attention at the back because what follows is rather complicated.
In July 2000, when ORA International Ltd (managing director Cllr Brian Hall's former business partner Dr Michael Ryan) applied for the £450-a-day economic consultancy with Pembrokeshire County Council, the documents accompanying the application included a printout from ORA's website which listed 44 "successfully completed major projects" across the world, including one in Pembrokeshire (see ORA story [cont]).
When, in late 2002, Old Grumpy and others made enquiries about this local project the website was taken down for "reconstruction" and when it reappeared there were only 43 "successfully completed major projects" the one in Pembrokeshire having been rebranded as "currently engaged in".
And so it remained when I logged on to the site ten minutes ago (www.oriain.com and click on portfolio).
Under the normal rules of logic, a project completed in 2000 must remain completed in 2002 and 2006.
Unless, of course, the Doctor has been for a spin in Cllr Hall's Tardis.
So I e-mailed the council seeking clarification and have been told that the project referred to in ORA's application was the "Pembrokeshire Economic Strategy and Framework which was produced in March 2000 by DTZ Pieda Consulting"
Apparently, "Dr Ryan was retained by DTZ Pieda as one of the team of consultants producing the document."
So, if the project was completed in March 2000, how come the website says it is "currently engaged in" in 2006?

Sellers' market

According to the county council's Cabinet minutes, charges are to be imposed for the first time on car parks in Milford Haven, Pembroke Dock and several other places: "To bring car park charges into line with market rates".
And last year, when it was proposed that the council's five directors should have 20% pay rises, the senior staff committee was told that, in this context, there was "a relative scarcity of high quality, experienced staff . . . " and: "The recruitment and retention of senior staff within the organisation is subject to this marketplace."
Now, as anyone who has read a book on economics knows, markets can only function under conditions of price competition.
Indeed, economists use the concept of "perfect competition" as a tool when analysing the operation of markets.
Perfect competition depends on several conditions being met.
Principally these are:
1. That there must be multiplicity of buyers and sellers so that the behaviour of any one buyer or seller has no effect on the market price.
2. Buyers and sellers have perfect knowledge of market conditions.
3. There is no barrier to the movement of buyers from one seller to another, or vice versa.
4. There is no barrier to the entry and exit of firms into the market.
As economists are eager to point out, such perfect competition does not exist but the concept provides a valuable yardstick for comparing the real world with the ideal.
Towards the perfect end of the spectrum would be the production of a commodity such as wheat where there are millions of producers and even greater millions of consumers.
Close to the other extreme would be a monopoly supplier of town centre car parking facilities which can charge what it likes despite the fact that, in Milford Haven's case, the only competition is at Havens Head retail park where Tesco is happy to let shoppers consume as much parking as they like for free.
Similarly, with local authority chief executives and directors, who are insulated from price, or any other, competition by their almost unlimited job security which means that buyers of their services (taxpayers) are not free to move from one seller to another.
In short, they have cornered the market.
To use the language of free market competition to describe these monopolies only goes to show how detached from reality some members of the Cabinet have become.

Planning by numbers

I read in the Mercury that the Welsh Assembly has refused to discontinue the planning consent at 37/38 Prospect Place Pembroke Dock because there is no damage to "the wider public interest".
Regular readers will recall that this consent was granted after the planning committee had been misled over the status of a "development brief" for the area.
In fact, because it had never been formally adopted by the council, the "development brief" had no standing whatsoever.
Nevertheless, the application was determined on the basis of the stipulations contained in the brief .
The other snag was that, even if the development brief did have force, it only included the gardens to the rear of Nos 2-32, and the property in question was No 37/38.
That little local difficulty was swiftly overcome when somebody inked over the 2 in 32 to make it look like 38 (see Think of a number).
The result is that Mr Arthur Evans, who lives next door, now finds his garden permanently overshadowed by a large two-storey dwelling that, on any normal interpretation of planning policy, shouldn't be there.
That seems to me to be the sort of injustice that, in "the wider public interest", requires rectification.
But what really sticks in the craw is that, when the opposition brought the matter before a special meeting of the council, the Independent Political Group - a good number of which have registered their membership of various churches and chapels - couldn't sweep the matter under the carpet fast enough. (See Up the garden path).
As an unbeliever, I would remind them of the words of Rev Martin Luther King: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Lost in cyberspace

A few weeks ago, I reported that my attempt to make it possible for elected members to submit notices of motion by e-mail had foundered on the rock of the Independent Political Group's block vote (Seeing sense).
The Leader's argument against my proposed modification to the constitution was that, while e-mails were fine for day-to-day business, they were not suitable for formal occasions like the submission of NoMs.
Strange, then, that I read in the Ombundsman's report into Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse's alleged failure to declare an interest during a debate on the National Park Authority's 'Homes for locals' policy, that the county council's Monitoring Officer e-mailed a statement to the police regarding advice he had given Cllr Allen-Mirehouse on declarations of interest.
And, as we all know, there are few things more formal than a statement to the police.
Indeed, as Maxine Carr discovered, the courts regard a false statement during the course of a criminal investigation as an attempt to pervert the course of justice; usually punished by a term of imprisonment.
However, recent events have brought me face to face with the unreliability of e-mail.
On 3 July 2006, I e-mailed Milford Haven Port Authority chief executive Ted Sangster with some questions about his actions during the recent furore over the "sale" of the Mine Depot (see Spurious safeguards)
When a week went by without a reply, I sent another e-mail asking Mr Sangster to let me know whether he intended to respond.
Four weeks later, I still hadn't heard from him so I reverted to snail mail, enclosing copies of my earlier e-mails for his convenience and requesting a prompt reply so that I might give consideration to taking the matter up with the Department of Transport.
This morning, I received a call from Mr Sangster's secretary explaining that the reason for his silence was that my e-mails had had never been read because, by some mysterious process, they had been deleted by MHPA's server.

Far from the madding crowd

On Sunday, we decided to give the crowded beaches a miss and headed for the hills above Maenclochog.
We have a favourite spot up there, beside a natural pool in what we call the horseshoe, where the grandchildren, and our children before them, can run wild.
We chose wisely because, aside from another family spotted in the distance, we didn't see a soul.
I have driven to this place on dozens of occasions so it will come as something of a surprise when I tell you that I got hopelessly lost.
The reason being that the instructions in my brain told me to turn left by the telephone box just a couple of miles beyond Maenclochog.
And, of course, the GPO, or whatever they call themselves these days, had removed the box in the interests of cost-cutting, so I drove past the road end and on towards Mynachlogddu.
After driving round for a bit, I did eventually regain my bearings and we had a wonderfully quiet afternoon.
Indeed, it was so peaceful that I even managed to curl up on the grass and have my power nap.
Now I'd love to tell you all how to get to this place so you, too, might enjoy the peace and tranquillity, but the best I can do by way of directions is: drive through Maenclochog and turn left where the telephone box used to be.
Hope that's of some help!
Getting lost in the hills was not the only alarm of the day because, when we came to leave, James was nowhere to be found and nobody could remember when they'd last seen him.
Fortunately, James is the red engine so he was not difficult to spot in the middle of a gorse bush into which he had been shunted by his friend Thomas.

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