December 4 2006

 

Not me guv

I reported recently that county councillor Pearl Llewellyn had voted at a fire authority meeting for cuts in night cover at Haverfordwest Fire Station just a couple of weeks after being pictured in the local papers protesting outside Haverfordwest Fire Station against um, er, cuts in night cover.
For this piece of inconsistency, Cllr Pearl lost her place as Labour's representative on the fire authority; promptly resigned from the party in a fit of pique and joined the Independent Political Group where the ability to face in both directions while riding two horses and having your cake and eating it is required practice.
Just this week, for instance, Old Grumpy spotted a picture in the Western Telegraph featuring Cllr Anne Hughes among part of a group of people objecting at county hall against the imposition of parking charges in Milford Haven
Strangely, Cllr Hughes collects a £5,000-a-year special responsibility allowance as a member of the Cabinet which imposed the charges.
In addition, I am reliably informed, she raised no objections when these charges were discussed at an informal meeting of Cabinet at which she was present.
Meanwhile, Cllr Michael Evans, another in receipt of a Cabinet special responsibility allowance, is leading the campaign against Cabinet-imposed parking charges in Tenby (See Facing both ways).
It seems to me that what makes these allowances special is their recipients' ability to trouser the money while at the same time denying responsibility for their actions.

Hanging together

It seems that the county council may at last have found a suitable home for the Mine Depot in Milford Haven, after Monday's Cabinet voted unanimously to sell the site to an unnamed biofuels producer for an unspecified price.
Nice to know that our overpaid rulers like to be sure for what they are voting.
Regular readers will recall that, as long ago as June 2005, the Cabinet agreed, without debate, to sell the site to a Peter Scott on terms satisfactory to the director of development.
The Scott deal fell through after a leak to the Mercury led to other bidders entering the fray.
Now I hear that the site is being sold for a good £1 million more than was on offer then, so the taxpayers of Pembrokeshire have cause to be grateful to this public-spirited leaker.
Old Grumpy has to be careful what he says about this because the most recent report to Cabinet was on pink papers and marked RESTRICTED ; meaning the info is classified.
However, if this latest deal delivers what it says on the tin - massive capital investment and lots of jobs - nobody in Milford Haven will have any complaints.
The leader, Cllr John Davies, told his Cabinet: "There has been a lot of politics played on this issue and that will continue."
As someone who has spent a fair bit of time kicking this particular political football around, I feel I must respond.
I would remind the leader that, at the Cabinet meeting on 6 February 2006, where it was agreed to sell the site to Milford Haven Port Authority, some of his fellow Cabinet members were so concerned about what was going on that two (Cllrs Simpson and James) voted against the sale, Cllr Peter Stock abstained and Cllrs Howells and Wildman expressed doubts about the fairness of the process (see Sea Change).
That was all before I revealed that there had been collusion between the council and MHPA whose bid had been assisted by the leak of a confidential Cabinet report by a senior council officer (see MHPA docs)).
This was a rather more serious business than the general feeling of unfairness aired at the February meeting, but our brave cabinet members decided that discretion should be the better part of valour and retreated behind a wall of silence.
The poet Alexander Pope had the measure of such people when he wrote:

Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,
Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike.

But it got even worse when I put down a question about this leak to the leader at the council meeting on 13 July 2006.
According to the leader this wasn't a leak at all because: "A draft of the intended report to Cabinet on 6 February 2006 was provided to Milford Haven Port Authority on 19 January 2006 in order to ensure that the terms being proposed for approval precisely reflected the detailed negotiations between the parties."
This, I'm afraid, was a travesty of the truth because the only term mentioned in the leaked draft report was that the lease was to be for 999 years.
There was no mention of the price; responsibility for repairs to the sea wall; or any of the other dozen terms of the lease.
And, having read the Cabinet papers, all members of the Independent Political Group must have known that their leader's explanation was mendacious, though none of them had the courage or honesty to say so.
Perhaps they were heeding the words of Benjamin Franklin: "We must indeed all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately"

Sinned against?

As was entirely predicable (and predicted see Brian's big day) the hearing into the Ombudsman's findings that Cllr Brian Hall breached the Code of Conduct by making threats of violence against a BBC journalist has been postponed until after Christmas because his London lawyer is unable to attend on December 7.
Old Grumpy has received several e-mails seeking reassurance that the Pembrokeshire taxpayer will not be picking up Cllr Hall's legal bills.
I understand their concerns because regular readers will remember that when I threatened to sue Maurice Hughes, the former leader of the county council, after he accused me of making false allegations to the police about Cllr Hall's unorthodox expense claiming practices, the council picked up the leader's tab (see Libel on the rates).
However, taxpayers can rest easy in their beds because local authorities are not allowed to indemnify members for legal expenses incurred as a result of putting in an appearance before a standards committee
I notice that the issue of police investigations into his past conduct has resurfaced in Cllr Hall's submission to the Ombudsman in which he also claims that the present allegations are all a Labour Party-inspired plot because he is "a consistent and public supporter of the aims and objectives of the Conservative party".
In addition to persecution by these wicked socialists, there is "an offensive website written and published by a fellow county councillor" which I suspect might be a reference to yours truly.
However, as Cllr Hall informs the Ombudsman, his enemies' best efforts to undermine him have come to nought because complaints about his conduct to "the local police, fraud squad and to the District Auditor who have all carried out very extensive investigations and who have each, in turn, cleared me of any wrong-doing."
As the catalyst for these "extensive investigations", I am more than happy to take the opportunity to remind readers of the facts.
Leaving aside the county council-inspired District Audit whitewash of his improper relationship with Dr Michael Ryan (see Hall-Ryan), let us examine the police and fraud squad investigation into his expense claim for 1 February 2001.
To cut a long story short - a full account can be found at Time Lord - Cllr Hall was travelling back from London on 1 February 2001.
On that day, his busy schedule included a meeting of the South Wales Integrated Transport Consortium (SWITCH) at the Neath and Port Talbot county borough council's offices in Penllergaer which was due to commence at 2.00 pm.
According to timed receipts provided by Cllr Hall to support his expense claim, he crossed the Severn Bridge at 12.56 pm and bought lunch at the service station at Magor at 1.08 pm.
His expense claim then shows him leaving Pembroke Dock at 2.00 pm to travel to Swansea [Penllergaer] to attend the SWITCH meeting (claiming 130 miles at 49p for the return journey) which means he must have covered the 125 miles from Magor to Pembroke Dock in no more than 52 minutes - assuming it took him zero time to eat his lunch.
Of course, anyone with more than three fully functioning brain cells can easily work out that Hall called in at Penllergaer on his way back from London and, therefore, the £63 he collected for the imaginary journey from Pembroke Dock - Penllergaer - Pembroke Dock was fraudulently obtained.
The reason he got away with it was that the county council's director of finance, no less, told the police that he had inspected Cllr Hall's expense claims and found them "correct in every detail".
The police were more than happy to accept this because it relieved them of the onerous duty of conducting a proper investigation (see Untouchables)
I'm not sure what you call a political system where those in power are in cahoots with the police, but I'm pretty certain it isn't democracy.


News from Down Under

Congratulations to Robert Fulford an his team which retained the MacRobertson Shield with a thumping 19-2 win over Australia in the croquet World Series.
Nothing much else to report.

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