August 7 2001


Excuses, ecksquewses

My apologies for being late on parade this week but my typist has gone off to the Isle of Man and left me to cope (not very well) on my own.
To overcome this temporary staff shortage I invested £50 in a voice-recognition software package which is supposed to convert speech into print.
Unfortunately it is having some difficulty interpreting my Cumbrian/Milford accent and produced what was nothing more than a load of undecipheable garbage.
Who said, what's different then?
Examples of its failures include "baying rich" for pay increase, "Moorish a huge" (Maurice Hughes) "who stopped their vile earring" (whose stock they are valuing) and "How or nurse Jenny know?" (How on earth can he know?)
According to the instructions these programmes can be trained to recognise the particular foibles of the user's pronunciation.
It might be quicker if I signed up for some elocution lessons..


Not so independent

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the Government feels it has been fleeced over compensation payments to farmers affected by foot and mouth.
But what grounds has the government to complain?
After all, the assessment of the stock,s worth is carried out by independent valuers.
However, closer inspection reveals that, in many cases, these independent valuers are auctioneers from local livestock markets.
And the farmers, whose stock they are valuing, are their customers.
A serious case of a conflict of interest.
A similar state of affairs occurs with the independent consultants called in by local authorities to assess top people's pay.
The decision on which consultants to employ is taken by the very same people whose pay is being assessed.
No doubt these consultants are as pure as the driven snow and evaluate the evidence objectively before reaching their conclusions.
But there must be at least some risk that the consultants, eyeing the prospect of future commissions, will tell those engaging them what they want to hear.



Bryn wins

On the subject of top people's pay, I was interested to read in last week's Mercury that Pembrokeshire County Council's Bryn Parry-Jones is one of the most highly rewarded chief executives in Wales.
The Mercury reports that the top man in Rhondda Cynon Taf unitary authority, which serves a population almost double that of Pembrokeshire County Council, is paid £93,000 a year compared to Mr Parry-Jones, £99,700.
And Carmarthenshire County Council, which has a population half as big again as Pembrokeshire, are currently advertising for a chief executive with a salary range of 90-£95,000 per year.
Interestingly, the secret report on Mr Parry-Jones's recent pay increase emphasised the need for his salary to be competitive.
This appeal to market forces, by an organisation which is a monopoly provide, is, frankly, laughable.
Equally daft, is a situation where those taking the decision on our behalf - our elected representatives - have no idea what other chief executives are being paid.
As any economist will tell you, the essence of markets is that participants have information.
For unless you can compare the prices inSafeway, Tesco and your local greengrocers you have no idea whether the true market price for a pound of apples is 50p or £5.
But the prize for the most fatuous statement goes to County Council leader Maurice Hughes who is quoted in the Mercury saying: "Pembrokeshire has one of the most respected chief executives working in local government and this is reflected in his remuneration."
How on earth can he know that?
Does a league table exist entitled: "the relative respect in which UK chief executives are held", or is he just making it up as he goes along.


Time for a change

By now you should all have received your copy of Pembrokeshire News -"produced for Pembrokeshire people by your County Council". On page four is a consultation document in respect of the options for changes to local government due to come into force in May 2002.
The Council (for which read the ruling independent political group) favour option 2, which involves a Cabinet appointed by the leader.
The other serious contender is option one: a Cabinet appointed by a directly elected mayor.
Naturally, the independents have set their face against this option because, I suspect, they know the mayor would not be one of them.
It is interesting to note that the evaluations of both the mayor options contain the words: "he or she [the Mayor] would be the most influential member of the council. For some reason probably not an oversight, these words do not appear in respect of the leader in option two, though, with the power to appoint cabinet members and sack them presumably, the leader would certainly be the most her influential member of the council.
This chimes perfectly with the Independent's rationalisation of their opposition to a directly elected mayor - that it will place too much power in the hands of one person. Though they seem to have no problem with the immense amount of power presently in the hands of an unelected chief executive.
Also, it ignores the fact that a directly elected mayor would derive power from a vote of the whole electorate, while the leader's mandate would be limited to a few hundred electors in a particular constituency, plus the votes of the majority of his independent colleagues at a secret group meeting
I know which sounds more democratic to me.
Furthermore, because the leader's position will depend on the patronage of the independent group he will be under severe pressure to draw the whole of the Cabinet from its ranks, whereas a directly elected mayor, endorsed by the electorate at large and therefore beholden to no clique, would be free to choose the Cabinet from the whole of the council.
I hear a rumour that Labour and the Conservatives are to join forces to campaign for an elected mayor.
ood luck to them, anything would be better than perpetuating the present system in a different guise.

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