December 17 2009


Kitchen sink drama.

I must explain the reason for my exceptional lateness this week.
My daughter is having her kitchen revamped with myself as project manager.
So she ordered a large cupboard which is supposed to house the dishwasher and a Belfast sink.
I was assured by the suppliers that this cupboard was suitable for any standard dishwasher and they don't come any more standard than my daughter's Hotpoint.
Still, being a pessimist (defined as an optimist with experience), I took the precaution of trying the Hotpoint in the cupboard before it was fixed to the wall.
Sure enough, it wouldn't go in far enough for the doors to close.
That problem was solved by a minor bit of wood-butchery in the back of the cupboard and it, together with its heavy granite top, was installed and the plumber called in.
Two hours later the dishwasher was still obstructing the door - the problem being that while the cupboard was in the centre of the room it was possible to locate the dishwasher precisely in the space but once it was fixed to the wall we were flying blind.
That difficulty was eventually overcome by removing the top which overhung the back of the dishwasher by about two inches and our attention turned to the simple matter of installing the sink.
The supplier of the cupboard informed us that a certain builders merchants - the one that got the xxxx lot - supplied suitable Belfast sinks so, after explaining what it was for to the rep, one was ordered.
The opening in the Cupboard is 600 mm the sink supplied 610 mm.
Now 10mm doesn't seem a lot but when you are dealing with a solid oak cupboard and a hundredweight of earthenware it is almost as far the distance between the earth and the sun.
The explanation for this monumental cock-up, apparently, is that they who've got the xxx lot have change their suppliers from Armitage who make a 595mm sink to Twyfords whose sinks are 610mm.
My son informs me that 610mm is exactly 2 feet.
I always knew no good would come from metrication.


Sorry situation


Joyce Watson AM is demanding an apology from county council Leader John Davies after he criticised her for failing to "call in" the Cabinet decision to appoint consultants at a cost of £67,000 to review parking charges across the county.
After my researches revealed that no such decision had ever been made (Story telling) (Blame game), Labour Group leader Sue Perkins put down a question to full council asking the Leader to explain how Mrs, then Cllr, Watson was supposed to know about it.
The Leader waffled on about the review being a substantial piece of work that was too big to be done in-house and that it was "a reasonable assumption" that consultants would need to be employed.
Just imagine the scorn that the Leader and his acolytes would have poured on Mrs Watson's head if she had attempted to base a call-in on a reasonable assumption.
They would no doubt have been keen to point out that the council's constitution provides that "call-in" applies "When a decision is made by the Executive [cabinet]".
Even people who can't appreciate the illogicality of belonging to an Independent Political Group must be capable of understanding that this cannot possibly include situations where no such decision has been made.
The original WT article was accompanied by an editorial, which, while generally sympathetic the Mrs Watson's claim that the £67,000 spent on consultants was a waste of public money, also concluded that the Leader "had a point" with regard to her failure to call-in the decision and that she had "missed the boat".
As this opinion was based on misinformation supplied by the Leader, I would have thought the newspaper had a duty to set the record straight.
It is not as if the Leader is unfamiliar with the concept of saying sorry.
Old Grumpy remembers him jumping to his feet at a council meeting in July 2007 demanding that I should apologise to Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse for reporting him to the Ombudsman.
As I wrote at the time, there was nothing for which to apologise - all I had ever done was report the facts to the Ombudsman (Simple explanation).
If anyone needed to apologise it was the Ombudsman who, on the basis of the information provided by me, concluded that Cllr Allen-Mirehouse had breached the Code of Conduct. At the end of a rather one-sided "trial" the Adjudication Panel for Wales rejected the Ombudsman's findings (Two sides to every story).
But, of course, His Leadership would never try to bully someone as powerful and influential as the Ombudsman.


Rubber stamp


Little by little the full story behind the county council's conversion of its £1.75m secured loan in Bluestone into a 3% unsecured equity shareholding in the company comes to light.
The first we heard about the company's "restructuring" was an article in the Western Telegraph of November 18 headlined "Bluestone grows with new £10m investment".
The latest chapter comes from a letter dated 16 November 2009 sent to creditors by the original company's administrators Grant Thornton (GT).
It is interesting to compare the story in the WT, which was based on a press release from Bluestone and the contents of GT's letter.
WT: "Mr McNamara said the first year of operation had been challenging but added that visitor bookings had grown month by month, a trend he expects to continue."
GT, who had monitored the company's performance from April - October 2009 on behalf of the Bank of Scotland (BOS) had concluded that "The business was suffering from a poor trading performance compared to business plan budgets leading into the off-peak season, leading to a projected negative cash flow by early November 2009."
Questions have been asked about the date of GT's letter to creditors (16 November) setting out the terms of the restructuring and the date of the Cabinet meeting (30 November) when approval was given for the debt for equity swap.
Was this already a done deal when the Cabinet met?
There is certainly no indication in GT's letter that this restructuring is in any way dependent on the Cabinet's agreement though it would seem that negotiations involving PCC had been concluded some time prior to the Cabinet meeting.
"In completing the pre-packaged administration we engaged with and gained the support of all major stakeholders with the exception of one [Polygon holdings."according to the Western Mail]. And "All major secured creditors were consulted during the phases prior to our appointment [as administrators on November 13]."
So it looks like the Cabinet was acting in its traditional role as expensive rubber stamp.

Establishment under fire

The article in The Times by former Director of Public Prosecutions Sir Ken McDonald is the most heartening thing I have read for a long time.
Sir Ken's attack on the methods used by Tony Blair to persuade a reluctant British public that it was right to invade Iraq is one of the most powerful pieces of sustained invective I have ever read but it was his thoughts on the Chilcot inquiry into that war in particular, and the British Establishment in general, that caught Old Grumpy's eye.
He wrote: "So far, apart from some interventions by Sir Roderic Lyne, the former ambassador in Moscow, its questioning has been unchallenging. If this is born of a belief that it creates an atmosphere more conducive to truth, it seems naive. The truth doesn’t always glide out so compliantly; sometimes it struggles to be heard. Sometimes it takes cover in a shelter that is entirely self-serving.

"Sir John Chilcot himself, a distinguished former Permanent Secretary at the Northern Ireland Office during the Troubles and finely tuned for years to the security services, will be key. Perhaps a great and brave struggle against instinct will be necessary. In British public life, loyalty and service to power can sometimes count for more to insiders than any tricky questions of wider reputation. It’s the regard you are held in by your peers that really counts, so that steadfastness in the face of attack and threatened exposure brings its own rich hierarchy of honour and reward. Disloyalty, on the other hand, means a terrible casting out, a rocky and barren Roman exile that few have the courage to endure. So which way will our heroes jump?

"We must hope in the right direction — for it is precisely this privately arranged nature of British Establishment power, stubborn beyond sympathy for years in the face of the modern world, that has brought our politics so low. If Chilcot fails to reveal the truth without fear in this Middle Eastern story of violence and destruction, the inquiry will be held in deserved and withering contempt. This would be a serious blow to the integrity of the State. It would not restore trust.

"For so many years this would not have mattered. Questions sufficiently critical and grand were decided at an elevated level, and in air more refined than most people would ever inhale. A besotted king could be skewered in the shadows and depart, or an illustrious commission twist and turn from any finding of government fault. And if the cost of the reasoning was ermine splashed in whitewash, the price would be willingly paid."

I understand what Sir Ken is on about having experienced exactly this same process when the District Auditor "investigated" the wholly improper relationship between Cllr Brian Hall and Dr Michael Ryan.(seeWhitewash)


EMU takes flight

There was a time when hardly a week went by without me mentioning what I considered to be the madness of the European Single Currency.
Eventually, I realised that I was crying in the wilderness and dropped the subject altogether.
For one thing it seemed that my predictions that EMU's one-size-fits-all policy on interest rates would lead to disaster were well wide of the mark as economies as different as Germany and Greece prospered under the new regime.
However, what I hadn't fully understood was that this prosperity, like that of much of the rest of the world, was built on the shaky foundations of easy credit and low interest rates.
Now that the bubble has burst, some of the less competitive European economies are feeling real pain because they are unable to allow their currencies to devalue in order to take the strain.
Whatever we might think of Gordon Brown's stewardship of the UK economy we owe him a debt of gratitude for coming up with his five back-of -the-envelope tests that thwarted Tony Blair's European ambitions.
I once wrote that EMU would eventually collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.
With Greece getting close to sovereign default and the economies Spain, Portugal and Ireland in intensive care, 2010 could be the year.

Browned off

My copy of the Grant Thornton letter arrived by email rather than the customary brown envelope.
I did, however, receive one large brown envelope during the week and it cost me £1.06 in postal surcharge.
Unfortunately, it contained an anonymous letter about some perceived scandal regarding the consultant's report on improvements to Milford Haven Town Centre.
So I can neither claim the excess postage from the sender; nor return it whence it came; nor, given my policy on anonymous correspondence, utilise its contents.
A lose-lose-lose situation.
I will be taking a couple of weeks off - back on January 7 2010 - so may I wish you all a happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year

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