9 December 2003
... but not forgotten
Old Grumpy has received a couple of emails asking why there has been a two week interruption in the story of the Hall/Ryan bid to capture the commanding heights of the Pembrokeshire economy.
Well, partly because the District Audit Service is currently carrying out an investigation into the matter and I thought it only fair to let the law take its course.
However, I wouldn't like anyone to get the idea that Old Grumpy and his army of moles have lost interest in the story.
Only this week one of my fellow diggers called to update me on the status of Hall/Ryan's company Euro-Ryall Ltd, formed, you will recall, as a vehicle to combine Dr Ryan's internationally renowned talent for blarney with Hall's string-pulling abilities.
This most reliable and industrious mole pointed out that, according to Companies House website, Euro-Ryall Ltd is now more than a month late filing its latest accounts.
This is in addition to the fact that the company's annual return, which should have been filed on 26 January 2003, is almost a year overdue.
It is quite common for small companies to fail to comply with the minutiae of the Companies Acts, but Euro-Ryall Ltd is no ordinary small company.
But this company, whose directors couldn't even arrange to send in a couple of simple forms on time, had ambitions to take over the county's premier small business advisory service, Pembrokeshire Business Initiative (PBI).
This is a company which claims its directors both have 30 years (1970-2000) of business experience and expertise.
This, like most of the guff put out by this pair of fantasists, should be taken with a liberal pinch of salt because 30 years ago Dr Ryan was a road safety officer in Dublin and Hall had not yet risen to the dizzy heights of running the family's two-pump filling station in Pennar.
However, word reaches me that, despite their lack of any substantial business background, they were intending to secure a strong capital base for the company by recruiting four investors who were willing to each sink £30,000 into the business in exchange for preferential shares.
This, together with £20,000 apiece from the two promoters, was to have given the company share capital of £160,000.
Dr Ryan, I understand, was to be paid £130,000 over the first three years while Cllr Hall was going to have to struggle by on £100,000 over the same period.
There is no evidence in Euro-Ryall Ltd's accounts that anyone felt attracted by the bait and the company is recorded as having a paid up share capital of um, er £2.00 which may be an indication of the truth of Dr Ryan's philosophy that, before risking their money, financiers look at the calibre and business background of the promoters.
It seems that the financiers took one look at this pair and locked their cheque books away in the safe.
Blair's lurch to the right
Old Grumpy can only stand open-mouthed as the Labour Party tears itself apart over top-up fees.
Of course, there is nothing new in paying to go to university.
Such payments were commonplace before the Second World War and it was only during the 1950s that free university education for anyone who could win a place became the norm.
In 1961 University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman wrote a book "Capitalism and Freedom" in which he advocated that, in order that supply and demand be brought into balance, students should pay their own way through college.
And in America the vast majority do just that.
But, on this side of the Atlantic, Friedman was seen as the wild man of economics and his ideas were widely mocked by the leftist-corporatist establishment.
However, it is interesting to consider how many of the theories in Friedman's book have been put into practice: privatisation of public utilities, floating exchange rates and performance-related pay for public servants, to name but three.
No wonder he won a Nobel Prize!
But there is an air of unreality when Friedman's free market ideas on paying for university education are promoted by Tony Blair and opposed by the Tories.
So the National Park committee has, at long last, come to a decision on the Bluestone application, which, according to the Park's planning officer Cathy Milner, involves building a new village somewhere between the size of Newport and Saundersfoot in the middle of the open countryside.
As the debate unfolded it became clear that the members were divided into two separate camps: the Welsh Assembly appointees, who wanted to stick with the principles of the Development Plan, and refuse the application, and the County Council representatives who were all in favour.
As the County Councillors outnumber the others 2:1 the outcome was never in doubt.
Another victory for politics over the law.
But, there are some big hitters on both sides in this argument and it would come as no surprise to Old Grumpy if the law got up off the canvas to deliver the knockout blow.
Richard Howells, a Welsh Assembly appointee on the committee, proved to be one of the leading 'Bluestone' sceptics.
According to Mr Howells, not only was the application clearly outside policy but its claims to job-creation were also dubious.
He claimed that there was already "a glut" of low paid holiday jobs in Pembrokeshire and that existing operators had difficulty in finding staff during peak periods.
"Bluestone may not be the panacea that it is made out to be", he concluded.
Richard has more reason than most to be wary of panaceas.
I remember him as the economic development, tourism and public relations officer during my time as a member of Preseli District Council.
Every month, wearing his PR hat, he used to provide the members with a file containing the previous month's press cuttings from the local papers.
By sheer chance, while emptying a cupboard last week I came across one of these documents, dated January 1992..
Under the headline "Forging links with the Far East" I read that the Council had agreed to fork out £5,000 so that Richard could join the other local economic development gurus on their annual trip to Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan in search of inward investors.
Members who may have entertained doubts about the worth of such trips were assured that: "A promotional visit to Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan was made in November last year and this has led to 120 active enquiries which are currently been pursued."
According to the report Cllr Desmond Codd was suitably impressed.
"This is a very cheap way of putting this place on the map." He said. "We must try to get the Taiwanese to have their shirts made here and the Japanese their TVs."
And this was long before I nicknamed him Solomon.
No doubt, when Richard returned, there was another glowing report about the number of south east Asian entrepreneurs queuing up to come to Pembrokeshire.
One day, when I have nothing better to do, I intend to go in the library, dig out the minutes and total all the job-creation claims made by the various local authorities over the past 15 years.
If even half of them were true we'd all have three jobs each.
And, in the same file of cuttings, I spotted the headline "£2 million Task Force Launched".
Ah! the Task Force, how romantic.
Nowadays we have to get by with a measly Objective 1 committee.
Who needs friends ...?
When we lived in Stoke in the early '60s we made friends with a couple called Ann and Brian.
I seem to recall that Ann and Old Grumpette met at that temple of female bonding - the anti-natal clinic.
We moved to Pembrokeshire in 1966 and we've only seen them once since then; about five years ago, when we met them for a meal on one of our journeys up north,
But we still exchange Christmas cards and the odd letter (written by Old Grumpette) keeping each other up to speed with family gossip and the rest.
I had always found them thoroughly nice people until, that is, the Christmas card arrived this morning.
Inside Ann had written the usual pleasantries about the grandchildren and the cat, then, halfway down the page, the tone changed completely.
"Brian", she writes, "has been kept busy for months fitting out the kitchen and laundry, painting and decorating, laying floors, landscaping the garden, etc."
In the summer, when Brian takes a break from being Bob the Builder, they go to vintage car rallies in their MG Midget.
Ann writes "We attended several rallies last year. The car broke down every time but Brian always got it going again. He plans to strip the engine down after Christmas and rebuild it ready for next season."
From the look on Old Grumpette's face, when she read the card, I fear my peaceful, lazy evenings with a bottle of merlot and a good book may be numbered.
The question of councillors' declarations of interest (See December 7) has raised its head in another, unexpected, quarter: Manorbier Community Council (MCC).
Earlier this year a number of MCC members were granted dispensations to speak and vote on matters pertaining to Manorbier Community Association of which they are also members.
The dispensation was granted on the perfectly legal grounds that more than half of the MCC were also members of MCA and if they had to declare an interest it would leave MCC inquorate.
The problem is that almost all of MCA's funds comes from the MCC precept which means, in effect, that the unelected MCA has a more or less direct route into the Council Taxpayer's wallet.
The Chairman of MCC also doubles up as Chairman of MCA and the clerk to the Community Council is the Community Association's administrator.
It appears that a new Treasurer has been appointed and has found MCA's bookkeeping to be somewhat Enronesque.
I understand that, when the matter came before the AGM one item was labelled "discrepency in receipts" which doesn't sound too bad until you read on manorbier.com that the local constabulary has been informed.
If you want a more comprehensive account of what is going on in sleepy Manorbier log on to www.manorbier.com.
I have been told that Wagner's music is better than it sounds. (Bill Nye)
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