December 10 2001



This week's episode on the voyages of Councillor Brian " Gulliver " Hall, deals with his curious habit, when travelling between Pembroke Dock and Carmarthen, and other points east, of making a detour via Haverfordwest on both legs of the journey.
This adds a 30 miles to the trip (and two bridge tolls) costing the taxpayer more than £15.
In all I counted 26 such trips during the financial year 2000/2001, nineteen of which involved his attendance as the county council's representative at Fire Authority meetings.
According to the county council these deviations were necessary to enable Councillor Hall to be briefed by senior officers " prior to " meetings.
The first question that arises is why Councillor Barrie Woolmer, who also represents the council on the Fire Authority, doesn't get invited to these briefings.
According to the council: " Members will, in appropriate circumstances, be briefed by senior officers, depending on the issues and nature of their external representation on outside bodies ".
Roughly translated, this piece of impenetrable waffle means that the rules concerning who gets briefed, about what, and when, are whatever the " senior officers " say they are.
But what puzzles Old Grumpy is what these briefings can be about.
As far as I am aware, the County Council has no policy on Fire Authority matters - at least not one that is ever discussed at council meetings.
So, is Councillor Hall representing the people of Pembrokeshire on the Fire Authority or is he acting as point man for the Chief Officer's Management Board (COMB)?
Several other questions arise:
Why does he need to travel via Haverfordwest on his way back from Carmarthen?
To tell his controller in County Hall what has transpired the meeting, perhaps.
And, in this context, was his secret tape recording of a Sparc meeting for his own, or someone else's, benefit?
Which super-conscientious senior officer was on hand to brief him when he left home at 6:30am on December 6th last year to travel, via Haverfordwest, to a meeting in Cardiff?
And what sort of briefing was required on 31st January 2001 when he went to London (via Haverfordwest) to attend a bash in the House of Commons?
Perhaps Mr Parry-Jones was offering advice on how to handle the finger buffet on the Commons' terrace.
" Remember not the stuff too many canapés in your mouth at the same time Brian." the Chief Executive might have told him.
If that was the advice given, Cllr Hall seems to have heeded it, because he was so hungry after the reception that he went out and blew £51 of our money in a Chinese restaurant.


Maurice on the warpath

Usually, when reading the Western Telegraph, I have nodded off before page 3, but last week's edition it must have been particularly interesting because I was still going strong when my eye alighted on the page 5 headline: " Pleas for democracy fall on deaf ears ".

Nothing unusual in that seeing as the article was about the County Council.
But what was interesting was a report that THE LEADER, Councillor Maurice Hughes, was threatening to report the Liberal Democrats to the Ombudsman for publishing a misleading pamphlet on local government reform.
Apparently, Councillor Hughes' objection to the pamphlet rests on " three or four " untrue statements contained therein, which, he demanded should be withdrawn.
I have now had the opportunity to scrutinise a copy of the offending document.
The only obvious inaccuracy I can spot is the statement that the ruling Independent Group's favoured option (Leader with Cabinet) " will allow the Cabinet to meet in secret ''.
I don't think this is what the legislation says.
However, a single inaccuracy in a 500-word document, produced by politicians, is hardly earth shaking.
And if the Ombudsman is called in every time a politician makes a misleading statement the poor chap will be run off his feet.
At least the Liberal Democrats manage to avoid putting misleading information on their expense claims, which is more than Councillor Hughes and his Independent Group cronies Councillors Hall, Luke and Hitchings can boast.
Nor, to the best of my knowledge, do they breach the Code of Conduct by seeking to influence the outcome of deliberations involving planning applications on their own land, as did the deputy leader Councillor John Allen-Mirehouse.
I must admit to being pulled two ways in the debate on local government reform.
The democrat in me would prefer a Mayor elected on a countywide franchise, while the journalist can't wait to see these cabinet members in action.

Shining examples?

Old Grumpy feels a good deal of sympathy for the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Elizabeth Filkin, who, it seems, fell foul of the House of Commons authorities for being rather too good at her job.
I could have told her that, while politicians love to spout about openness and accountability, their enthusiasm is based on the assumption that such principles will only apply to others.
In her time Mrs Filkin has investigated Peter Mandelson, John Reid, Keith Vaz, Geoffrey Robinson, John Prescott, John Major and William Hague, so, whatever her faults, she can't be accused of political bias.
And just as the mouth-watering prospect, of applying her forensic skills to the ever-widening scandal in the corrupt heartlands of Scottish Labour, steams into view, she is preparing to clear her desk to make way for whatever poodle our supine MPs choose as her replacement.
How she must envy her counterpart on Pembrokeshire County Council - Monitoring Officer, Huw James - who, in the more than five years of the council's existence, has not felt it necessary to produce a single report.
If only our MPs could learn to behave as well as Maurice Hughes and Co, think how much better the World would be.


Multiculturalism on the ropes


Apart from the terrible loss of life in New York, Washington and Afghanistan, the biggest casualty of the atrocity of September 11 is the doctrine of multiculturalism.
The extent of the change can be gauged from the fact that David Blunkett is now promoting more or less exactly what Mrs Thatcher was branded racist for suggesting in the run up to the last election: that immigrants should learn English and adopt the core cultural values of the UK.
I am not a fan of Mr Blunkett, who, in his brief period in the Home Office, has managed the not inconsiderable feat of making Jack Straw seem liberal, but I have no doubt he is right about the need for more integration of immigrants into mainstream society.
And, I am pleased to say, I was rather ahead of the pack on this issue (see April 30 - Race and culture).

But where Mr Blunkett is way off beam is with his proposals for a European arrest warrant to replace the present extradition proceedures.

As I understand it, these proposals would allow any other EU government to demand the arrest and automatic extradition of a British subject even if the what they had done was not a crime under British law.

Had the unfortunate plane-spotters; currently languishing in a Greek jail, made it back to the UK before their nefarious activities came to the notice of the authorities, the Greek government could have demanded their return and the British government would have no option but to comply.

And, unlike the present extradition law, there would be no right to appeal to the courts.

It is ironic that the only barriers to this authoritarian piece of legislation are the Italian government, who fear it might apply to Prime Minister Berlasconi, and the unelected, undemocratic House of Lords.


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