December 11 2007

Disappearing act

Thanks for all your e-mails suggesting possible sources for the bogus letter to the tax man (Making mischief).
Most of your conspiracy theories had merit, but Eddie Setterfield, come on!
As this obscure piece of tax legislation is hardly likely to be known to the public at large, my own hypothesis is that this was probably someone who had reason to be clued up on the subject because of their own off-shore account(s) in, for example, Ireland, if you get my drift.
However, this little episode got me thinking about my past life, as one increasingly does in the run up to the three-score years and ten.
And it occurred to me that, after a lifetime in business, not having need of an offshore tax shelter must be an indication of sad, abject failure.
It is true that, thanks to the generosity of the Western Telegraph, which was so keen to preserve its monopoly that it paid way above any sensible economic price when it bought the Mercury, I have ample funds to keep me in beer and fags for the rest of my life, but the sums involved are not remotely suitable for the off-shore treatment, even though being married to Grumpette; a native Manx woman, presented the ideal opportunity to do a runner.
Last summer, I hit upon an idea to bolster the family fortunes by way of an insurance scam.
This involves a life policy with Standard Life which pays out a large sum of money if I snuff it short of 70.
Time is running out on this bet, which, despite the obvious benefits to my nearest and dearest, I have no real desire to win.
Whenever I think about it, a vision of Grumpette, driving round in an open-top sports car with a toy-boy in the passenger seat, flashes into view.
It's almost enough to make me give up smoking.
So I hit upon the idea of having the best of both worlds by doing a John Stonehouse.
Here is a picture of me getting in some practice at Broadhaven





Unfortunately, Mr and Mrs Darwin seem to have had the same idea so that's had to be knocked on the head..
It would appear that the Darwin clan have a penchant for disappearing to sea for long periods.
The most famous occasion being when one Charles went off for three years on the Beagle and came back with the Theory of Evolution.
PS. My editor queried whether readers would understand the reference to John Stonehouse.
I explained that this column is read by the county's intellectual elite who would be well aware of the circumstances surrounding Mr Stonehouse's disappearance.
However, on reflection, it occurred to me that some members of the Independent Political Group also log on, so, for their benefit, I will explain.
John Stonehouse was a former Labour Cabinet Minister who was presumed drowned after his neatly folded clothes were found on a Miami beach.
He turned up some time later in Australia with his mistress Sheila Buckley who, I believe, later lived in Llangwm.
The Darwins will not be pleased to learn that he got seven years for this fraud.
Grumpette was always suspicious about Stonehouse's disappearance; reasoning that any man who folded up his clothes left them in a neat pile must be up to no good

Jungle law

Speaking of Darwin, Charles that is, I am reminded of what the great man had to say about the biblical creation story; now resurrected in the pseudo-scientific guise of Intelligent Design.
After he had observed a parasitic wasp seeking out a host in which to lay its egg, he wrote: "I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars".

Right to know

Old Grumpy has long complained about the routine abuse of the Local Government Access to Information Act which gives the public a general right to attend meetings of local authorities.
An exception to the general rule is when what is known as "exempt information" may be disclosed.
The categories of what qualifies as "exempt information" are set out in Schedule 12A of the Act and include such things as personnel issues, contract negotiations and other matters which have the quality of confidentiality.
What the Act says is that, when exempt information is likely to be disclosed, the council or committee "may [my emphasis] by resolution" decide to exclude the public and press from that part of the meeting.
Unfortunately, members of the ruling Independent Political Group routinely interpret "may" as "must", with the result that there has been only one occasion that I can recall when the county council has voted to allow to public to stay.
Things were even worse in the former Preseli PembrokeshireDistrict Council where the chairman would simply ask the public and press to leave without bothering with a resolution.
Matters came to a head when Grumpette, who was then working for the West Wales Guardian, was asked to leave a licensing committee by the chairman Peter Lewis.
Having familiarised herself with the law, Grumpette sat tight.
Cllr Lewis was not pleased to have his authority challenged and there was a heated argument before Grumpette eventually withdrew.
However, her complaint to the Ombudsman brought forth a letter of apology from chief executive Islwyn David together with an admission that the council had been acting illegally all along.
After that, the exclusion of the public and press has always been put to the vote, though this is merely a formality as the members almost invariably followed the officer's recommendation.
My own view on this subject is that Parliament has given the public (the people we represent) the right to know what is going on and we, as elected members, should only usurp that right after careful consideration.
It cannot be the case that the mere fact that exempt information is about to be disclosed is reason, of itself, to exclude the public.
Clearly, if early retirement on health grounds is on the agenda then applicants have the right to have their privacy respected.
On the other hand, it cannot be right to impose a blanket ban on disclosure of all personnel matter - the chief executive's salary increase, for instance.
It is encouraging, therefore, to notice that the most recent agenda for Pembrokeshire County Council's licensing committee carries a novel form of words in that it recommends that the public should be excluded because "the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information."
That to my mind is the the proper test and it may be no accident that this departure coincides with the appointment of a new monitoring officer.

Below the belt

"There is no place for politics in local government" is the Independents' clarion call at election times.
Then, when the votes are safely in the bag, they all get together and form themselves into what is, to all intents and purposes, a political party (Party animals)
What amazes Old Grumpy is that so many people are taken in by this guff.
As predicted (Shifting the blame), the Independent Political Group is screaming blue murder over the Welsh Assembly's less than generous local government settlement.
They are, of course, terrified that they will have to recommend a big hike in council tax ahead of next May's elections.
With this in mind, the Leader has put down a notice of motion for Thursday's meeting of full council in which he registers his deep concern about he settlement and calls upon the Assembly to reconsider.
That's fair enough, but the NoM has a third leg which reads: "The Council asks Cllr Joyce Watson as the only member of the county Council who is also a member of the Labour /Plaid Cymru coalition controlling the National Assembly for Wales to account for her role in these matters thus far and to outline what she intends to do now."
This is just a piece of piece of political mischief making on behalf of the Cllr Davies' Tory pals and strikes me as being an abuse of his position as Leader.
Surely he knows that people like Joyce Watson are what are known as lobby-fodder whose duty it is to turn up and vote as the party whips instruct.
Much like the members of the Independent Political Group who sustain him in power.
At least Cllr Watson didn't make any secret of her political affiliations.
It will be interesting to see how the the Chairman Cllr Bill Roberts deals with this NoM.
The normal routine is for such motions to be sent to the Cabinet or Corporate Governance Committee (chairman Cllr Alwyn Luke (Master forger)) for further consideration i.e kicked into the long grass.
An exception is usually made for those submitted by the leader, though there is nothing in the council's constitution that says he should receive preferential treatment.
But why bother your head about democratic niceties when you have absolute power?

Who's counting?

You will be pleased to know that the jigsaw is finally finished.
Finished, but not complete, because, as I suspected all along, there were some pieces missing.
Two, in fact.
And, just as it happens, these were two of the pieces that I spent hours looking for, allowing Grumpette to take the lead in her silly game of seeing who had placed the most pieces.
I like to think I am above such childishness, but I did get up in the middle of the night one day last week and put in the last forty pieces.
On my reckoning this made it a dead heat, but I should point out that, if the thing had been complete, I would have been two in front.
Still, who's counting?