December 16 2008

 

Bogeymen

 

The Western Telegraph finally got round to publishing the article on police authorities (Self-promotion) together with a long statement from PCC Leader Cllr John Davies in which he outlines his reasons for opposing direct elections (Special pleading).
His first argument is that elections "could result in candidates coming from just one county", though the government's Green Paper makes it quite clear that the elections would be organised on the basis of the existing 22 Community Safety Partnerships which are in turn based on the 22 unitary authorities.
That being the case, the claim that all the candidates might come from "the same county" is a straw man.
In addition, he says that having senior councillors on police authorities "strengthens relationships between local councils and the police" and that "policing and politics do not mix".
"These proposals will encourage confrontational politics within the running of what has been a politically neutral service", he claims.
There seems to be some confusion here because "senior councillors" are politicians - the Leader, himself, having recently been anointed Welsh Politician of the Year - so, regardless of whether these politicians are directly elected or nominated by council leaderships, there is a mixture of policing and politics.
I think what the leader refers to is the principle that there should be no political interference in day to day police operations, but, from my reading of the Green Paper, there is no intention for that to change.
But that doesn't mean there is no political control over the police.
After all policing is a public service financed by taxpayers' money - so it would seem reasonable to let the public have some say in what goes on.
Then, as if to demonstrate the feebleness of his case, the Leader warns: "Just think if the BNP were running the show".
Oh come on!
Perhaps we should abandon local elections just in case the BNP seizes control of Pembrokeshire County Council.

Standard bearer

The Leader also has some harsh words for Old Grumpy for suggesting that senior councillors' opposition to directly elected representatives was nothing more than special pleading aimed at protecting one of their more juicy perks.
In answer to this charge he says: "Finally, my response to those who believe I would say this to support the allowance we receive is that comments of that nature are classic from individuals who judge others by their own standards."
I'm not quite sure which of my standards he is driving at.
All I can say is that I have never actively pursued political power and, so far as any such pursuit might require sucking up to the likes of Cllr Davies, I never will.
As for standards, you will recall that Cllr Davies didn't feel it necessary to inform the council that he had sold the dairy cattle on which his application for an agricultural worker's cottage (2,800 sq ft) was based (No udder conclusion)..
When I revealed the facts his natural reaction was to accuse me of making political mischief (Once more into the breach).
Myself, I regard it as the duty of an opposition member to bring these matters to the public's attention and I won't be deflected from this view by anything Cllr Davies might say.
PS Having used his powers of appointment to appoint himself to the Police Authority, Cllr Davies is entitled to an allowance of £7,200 plus generous travelling expenses which, in addition to mileage allowance, includes travelling time at £15-an-hour.
So a trip from Eglwyswrw to Carmarthen to attend a meeting of the police authority brings in between £60-£70.

Useless opposition

Not surprisingly, the attempt by Cllr Bob Kilmister and myself to introduce best practice into the county council's scrutiny committees failed to win the support of the Independent Political Group when the council met last week..
Nor was it much of surprise to find the five official Tory party members throwing in their lot with the ruling group.
However, what I was not prepared for was the failure of Plaid Cymru and Labour to fully throw their weight behind our request for a recorded vote.
This was especially strange in the case of Labour because my proposal was lifted straight out of statutory guidance issued by the Welsh Assembly in 2006 when it was under the control of um, er, the Labour Party.
The guidance says: "Local authorities are encouraged to allocate chairs of overview and scrutiny committees in such a way as to include groups who are not part of the council administration, at least to reflect party balance on the authority. This would serve to assure the public that the overview and scrutiny function is not in any way under the control of the council leadership."
At present, all four chairmanships are in the hands of the ruling IPG.
Furthermore, at last May's AGM, the Leader stood up and told the council who he had decided should fill the posts (Pick your own).
My case is that, given these circumstances, it is difficult to argue that ". . . the scrutiny function is not in any way under the control of the council leadership".
The IPG top brass point out that the Leader only nominates the candidates; the council's AGM makes the appointments and the opposition is perfectly free to nominate candidates if it wishes.
While this is all true it is not the knockdown argument that the IPG leadership seems to think it is for the simple reason that these issues have already been decided at the IPG's secret pre-meeting meeting and, as the leader controls 39 of the 60 votes on the council, any attempt to nominate an alternative candidate would be an exercise in futility.
That the IPG are unable to understand this only goes to demonstrate their inability to differentiate between a formal democracy, as practised in Zimbabwe and Russia, and the real thing.
Clearly stung by my description of them as placemen during the debate on this issue at the corporate governance committee (All the Leader's men) the four scrutiny committee chairmen rose to tell council that they would carry out their scrutiny committee duties without fear or favour.
The first two on parade - Cllrs Arwyn Williams and David Bryan - did at least manage to be brief.
Next came Peter Stock, who doesn't do brief, and he waffled on for what seemed much longer than the allotted three minutes, telling us, among other things, that he was the council's "scrutiny champion" on a body called the Centre for Public Scrutiny.
Finally, we had Danny Fellows who outwaffled even Cllr Stock with a rambling speech that was part Stanley Unwin and part Finnegan's Wake.
I must admit it was way over my head until he seemed to suggest that we dictionary independents were actually a secret political group under the leadership of Cllr Malcolm Calver.
Even his own side were rolling in the aisles at that suggestion.
Cllr Calver rose to point out that he had stood as an independent, and, unlike those so-called independents who had signed up to the IPG, had remained an independent.
That brought a shout of "We wouldn't have you" from deputy Leader John Allen-Mirehouse.
But, it would seem, Squirehouse isn't told about everything that goes on in the smoke-free rooms of county hall because Cllr Calver recalled that, shortly after May's elections, he was telephoned by Cllr John Davies who tied to persuade him to "come in from the cold" by joining the IPG.
At that time, of course, Cllr Brian Hall was playing hard to get and Cllr Calver's signature was required to get the IPG up to the magic 38 which entitles them to 8 seats on all 12-member bodies (Joined-up government and Brian's revenge).
Of course, it may be that I am guilty of rushing to judgement of these scrutiny committee chairmen who have, after all, only been in post since late May 2008.
All I can say is that, in the previous six years, not a single Cabinet decision was called in by a Leader-appointed chairman.
These scrutiny committees are modelled on the Parliamentary Select Committees which do such sterling work in holding the government to account.
A recent example is the announcement by Tony Wright MP, chairman of the Public Administration Select Committee that he is going to launch an inquiry into No 10's leaking and spinning of statistics on knife crime.
Mr Wright is a Labour MP but he understands that his obligation to uphold the principles of democracy outweighs his duty to his own party.

 

Orange's and lemon's

 

Last week, I wrote about the lack of consultation over the relocation of the Milford Haven Library and Tourist Information Centre.
Well, now the decision has been taken, Cllr Rob Lewis the Cabinet member for Cultural Services, Sports, Leisure and Tourism has e-mailed Milford Haven members with an invitation to meet him a Cedar Court so that he can tell them what he has decided.
It reads:

Hello All

Now that Cabinet have approved the modernization of library provision to the Milford Haven, Hakin and Hubberston area’s, I would like to invite you all to join Mr Neil Bennett and I at the Cedar Court site at 10.00am on Tuesday the 16th of December, so we can share with you the future vision for Library Services and information dissemination in your area’s.

Cllr Rob Lewis

It occurs to Old Grumpy that, should he be sacked from the Cabinet, Cllr Lewis might have a future as a signwriter for the greengrocery trade.

Waste paper

Just over a year ago, Old Grumpy predicted the demise of the Milford Mercury (Falling Mercury)
Now I hear that the few remaining staff have been put on notice or short time and the operation is to be moved to the Telegraph's offices in Haverfordwest.
I suspect this is just a staging post on the route to closure.
No doubt it will all be blamed on the credit crunch and in due course we will be told that these changes are designed to "improve the service to our readers" or somesuch spin.

Cover point

Islwyn Morgan, Head of Milford Haven Comprehensive School, told a recent governors' meeting an amusing story about his visit to Lords last summer to watch Andrew Salter captain the England and Wales under-15 cricket XI.
At the after-match dinner Islwyn found himself sitting among the heads of some of the country's most famous public schools who were all perfectly charming, save for one bumptious head of a southern English grammar school.
After a while, this head turned to Islwyn and said: "My chappie was batting No 4 - what was your chappie doing?"
"Ah", Islwyn replied, "My chappie would be the one telling your chappie where to field."

Financial wizardry

With Ponzi schemes making the headlines, Old Grumpy rather liked this money-making idea.

Young Chuck moved to Texas and bought a donkey from a farmer for $100.00. The farmer agreed to deliver the donkey the next day. The next day he drove up and said: 'Sorry son, but I have some bad news, the donkey died.'
'Well, then, just give me my money back.' said Chuck.
'Can't do that.' The farmer said. 'I went and spent it already.'
'Ok, then, just bring me the dead donkey.' said Chuck.
'What ya gonna do with him?' the farmer asked.
'I'm going to raffle him off.' said Chuck.
'You can't raffle off a dead donkey!' said the farmer
'Sure I can.' Chuck said. 'Watch me.'
A month later, the farmer met up with Chuck and asked, 'What happened with that dead donkey?'
'I sold 500 tickets at two dollars apiece and made a handsome profit' Chuck said,
'Didn't anyone complain?' the farmer asked
'Only the guy who won. So I gave him his two dollars back.' Chuck told him.
Chuck now works for the government.

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