February 11 2010
Over a barrel
In a rare report on the proceedings of the county council's cabinet, this week's Western Telegraph highlighted the fact that an officer's report recommending the rejection of my Notice of Motion calling for paper's pricing policy for public notices to be referred to the Competition Commission had been unanimously accepted by that august body..
This should not come as a surprise because, in its eight years in being, involving some 80+ meetings, the Cabinet has never failed to endorse an officer's recommendation, and only twice (the sale of the Mine Depot and parking charges) has the decision not been unanimous.
These are the yes-man's yes-men (and yes-woman).
Unfortunately, while the WT's report was comprehensive in some respects it omitted some rather important facts; not the least of which is that it charges £11.30 for public notices and only £7.50 for other adverts such as property.
Being a charitable soul, I initially put this omission of these key facts down to the pressure of deadlines.
Having some experience of newspapers, I know how difficult it is to ensure that all the important details are included when you have the editor shouting at you demanding copy by sometime yesterday afternoon.
Then I remembered that the almost identical story had appeared in the WT's sister paper the Mercury on the previous Thursday so there must be some other reason why there is no mention of the fact that public notices cost half as much again.
As both types of advert use the same paper and ink, the only reason for this 50% mark-up that I can think of is that property adverts are discretionary while the council has a statutory duty to publish certain public notices "in a newspaper circulating in the area".
I am strengthened in that view the contents of a report on a previous NoM submitted by Cllr Tony Wilcox in which the council says that the WT "is the only newspaper circulating in the area [the whole county] " and that "Newspaper proprietors are aware that all local authorities have a statutory duty to publish public notices in relation to a range of their activities."
According to the council these excess charges for public notices are an example of the application of "the law of supply and demand."
In fact, as I interpret the council's previous report, they represent a blatant case of market abuse ("Newspaper proprietors etc") based on the paper's dominant market position (the only newspaper circulating in the area) i.e the subversion of the laws of supply and demand.
I must apologise for referring to pubic notices in last week's column.
This is by no means the first time this has happened and is due to a fault with our keyboard which has a reluctance to register the letters e, l and k.
The missing ls and ks are usually picked up by the spell checker but it is ineffective when it comes to pubic/public.
However, pubic notices has a certain logic to it because, as the Leader admitted during the debate on Cllr Wilcox's NoM, with regard to ads which the council has as statutory duty to publish, the WT has them over a barrel.
Or, to put it in more picturesque terms, they have them by the short and curlies.
The only material difference between the reports in the two local newspapers was a quote from Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse in the WT, which came out after the Cabinet meeting, that the officer's report on my NoM "spoke for itself".
This is the report that I analysed at length last week (Premises, premises).
I will be repeating the points made there when the matter comes back to council in a couple of weeks time.
Not that it will make much difference because the members of the IPG can be relied on to vote the party ticket whatever arguments are put forward.
But it will be interesting to read the WT's report on the debate.
Success at last
It is not all bad news because last Friday's meeting of the corporate governance committee (CGM) agreed to adopt my NoM on members' declarations of interest.
This is a simple reform that will see a standard item on every agenda giving members the opportunity to declare any interests they might have in the business to be transacted.
However, before giving myself a pat on the back, I must acknowledge that this victory was somewhat Pyhrric because the report says: "Officers, who had experiences of similar procedures at a variety of other local authorities, had discussed such an additional agenda item when reviewing the Code of Practice for Planning and felt it would be useful to assist Members comply with the Code of Conduct requirements."
So they thought of it first.
And just in case you ask why they didn't get on with it: "The new Code of Conduct is quite different from the Code introduced in 2001 and
there has been a period of re-adjustment to the present requirements."
Oh do come off it! National Park agendas have contained such an item for donkeys' years and in a report last year on a complaint about Cwm Gwaun Community Council the Ombudsman remarked that the lack of an opportunity at the commencement of the meeting to declare an interest might lead Members to be complacent about interests.
Still, a win is a win.
I was not so fortunate with my other NoM which called on the council to "instruct" its two representatives on Dyfed Powys Police
Authority to support any proposal for the direct election of Police Commissioners.
This is now official Conservative policy and I was interested to see how many of the Tories (official and closet) who dominate the Independent Political Group would support it.
The answer was, unsurprisingly, none.
I was also interested to hear the council's reaction to the word "instruct".
As I expected, the response was that the council is not in a position to instruct its representatives because "Local Authority Members are not appointed to a Police Authority as delegates or representatives of the Council. The Councillors appointed to the Police Authority have to make decisions that are in the best interests of the Police Authority."
In short, these people represent nobody but themselves and the sooner they are directly elected and made directly accountable to the public, the better.
Its almost enough to make you vote Tory.
I had to sympathise with Welsh Rugby supporters i.e. the whole of Wales, after last Saturday's debacle at Twickers.
It is difficult to accept defeat even when it is at the hands of superior opposition but to lose to a lacklustre outfit like England as a result of a moment of lunacy by one of your most reliable players must be unbearable.
To get back into the game after that setback was an epic achievement and to then throw away any hope of victory by conceding a soft interception try only added to the pain.
If England can maintain this sort of luck the Grand Slam should be a formality.
I hope to report next week that England are still the only home country never to have been beaten by Italy.
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