11 February 2002

Upstairs, downstairs?

The row over the presence, or otherwise, of the County Council' top spin-doctor, David Thomas, at a meeting between the Leader Cllr Maurice Hughes and Cllr Mark Edwards (see October 15 January 21 and January 28) took another interesting turn last week.
Cllr Edwards was understandably miffed that both the Leader, and Mr Thomas, had questioned his veracity by publicly rubbishing his account of the meeting and, last Tuesday morning, accompanied by Plaid Cymru Leader, Michael Williams, decided to confront Mr Thomas.
According to Cllrs Edwards and Williams, Mr Thomas agreed that he had participated in the meeting by advising Cllr Edwards that, as a newly elected and inexperienced member, he should avoid speaking to the press; such matters being best left to the experts in his Department of Marketing and Communications.
However, when I picked up my Mercury on Thursday morning I read that the Council had issued a press release which asserted: "David Thomas does not accept that he took part in the meeting between council leader Maurice Hughes and Cllr Mark Edwards".
The statement continues: "As he [Mr Thomas] has maintained all along, he saw both men when he delivered proofs of letterheads to Cllr Hughes and some words were exchanged.
Cllr Edwards agrees that David Thomas was in the company of himself and Cllr Hughes for no longer than three to four minutes. This included the time spent walking along the corridor from the leader's room to the entrance of County Hall".
Alas, this is not what Mr Thomas has "maintained all along" because that version of events differs in several material particulars from the e-mail that Mr Thomas sent to Cllr Michael Williams which read: "I have NEVER at any time attended ANY meeting between the Leader of the Council and Councillor Mark Edwards (his emphasis).
As you rightly say, it would be inappropriate for me to have attended a
meeting of the sort described in [Old Grumpy's] website and I would not have
attended such a meeting.
The only occasion when I have been in the presence of Councillor Hughes and
Councillor Edwards together was when I met them near the Committee Rooms one
day and walked with them to the top of the stairs. I understand they were
both going to a meeting of the Rotary Club and went down stairs and I went
upstairs to my office."
As Aristotle taught us two contradictory propositions can't both be true (though both might well be false) so:
Did Mr Thomas go to the leader's office to deliver letterheads or did he meet the two men "near the Committee Rooms"?
Did Mr Thomas go upstairs to his office or did he accompany them downstairs to "the entrance to County Hall"?
And, as it takes less than a minute to walk from the leader's office to the entrance to County Hall, what transpired in the other two to three minutes that the three of them were together?
No wonder that Cllr Edwards is "shocked and dumbfounded" by this latest turn of events.

Name calling

I am told that the word in County Hall is that my campaign to find out the truth about Mr Thomas's activities, and the, not unconnected, matter of Cllr Brian Hall's false expense claim, is motivated by spite.
Indeed it has come to my attention that I have been called a "vindictive bastard" by one senior figure in the organisation.
This is a classic example of the old fascist tactic of trying to distract attention from the substance of the argument by questioning your opponent's motives.
"The Irish inward investor"; dreamed up as an explanation for Cllr Hall's tour of west Wales on 1 February 2001, is from the same stable.
The 3Is myth is a product of the spin-doctor's art of capturing the moral high ground while painting a picture of your foes grubbing about in the gutter.
Unfortunately, the Irish inward investor story will not run - at least not fast enough to get from the service station at Magor to Pembroke Dock in time to catch the ferry - because arithmetical analysis shows it to be a pack of lies.
But it was designed to show nice, hard-working Cllr Hall trying to bring much-needed jobs to Pembroke Dock, while nasty, negative Old Grumpy was only concerned with making trouble.
People who set out to deceive us with that sort of nonsense would be well advised to brush up on their maths.

Gravy galore

On Thursday the County Council's Policy and Resources Committee is due to rubber stamp a new scale of members' allowances endorsed by the Welsh Assembly and recommended by the Director of Finance.
Under these new arrangements the Leader, Maurice Hughes, will be paid £35,437 and his deputy, John Allen-Mirehouse, £25,225.
Eight, as yet unnamed, Cabinet members will trouser £22,672 apiece, while Chairmen of Scrutiny Committees (4) receive £17,566 and their deputies £15,615.
The Chairmen of the Planning and Licensing Committees will each get £15,615 and their vice- chairs £12,462.
Last but not least the Chairman of Council will be paid £19,909 for clanking around the County with the chain and the deputy Chairman £13,909.
All the above posts will be divvied up between the members of the ruling Independent Political (sic) Group - not surprising really because ensuring that its members monopolise the plum jobs, regardless of ability, is the only reason for the "party's" existence.
However, the minority groups will not be completely excluded from the taxpayer's largesse with the leader of the Labour Group, Joyce Watson, in line to pocket a handy £17,566.
Oh, and I nearly forgot, the ordinary bog-standard members will all pick up a not insubstantial £9,909 each.
In all, I calculate, this adds up to £825,000 or so, more than double the present cost.
The rationale behind these increases is that it will encourage more people of ability into local government, or, as it is sometimes, colourfully, expressed: if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.
If that is the thinking, then surely the time to introduce these changes would be just before the next election in two years time.
Unless, that is, someone has evidence that the IQs of monkeys can be enhanced by doubling their peanut rations.
However, it should not be thought that these new scales of allowances are all bad news.
Old Grumpy notices that:" In recognition of the higher basic allowance payable to all members it is proposed that no subsistence allowances will be payable for any approved duty within the County."
That sounds like bad news for Cllr Alwyn "Monster Lunch Muncher" Luke who will no longer be able to fiddle his claims for subsistence allowances (see Out to Munch 8 October 2001).
On the other hand, a mole tells me that Cllr Luke is being talked about as a potential Cabinet member and, if he is called to the colours, the twenty-two grand will more than make good his losses.
Once the make up of the Cabinet is announced, I will provide pen pictures of the members, plus, of course, comprehensive details of any previous form.

Mathematical truths

An eerie quiet seems to have descended over the issue of Cllr Brian Hall's bogus claim for £62 in travelling expenses as the pointy-heads in County Hall cast around for some new form of mathematics to explain his movements on 1 February 2001.
Old Grumpy can understand why they are reluctant to come clean and admit the game is up, because there are now more serious issues than the alleged theft of £62 to consider, such as the statement made by the Chairman at the meeting on 13 December 2001 (see February 4)and whether there has been an attempt to pervert the course of justice.
In the 14 December edition of the Mercury, the County Council are quoted as saying: "The evidence available to Pembrokeshire County Council clearly indicates that no statutory infringement took place and therefore there are no grounds for complaint.
"This has been confirmed by Dyfed Powys Police who have fully investigated the allegation".
However, the fact is that the police made no attempt to investigate my complaint.
According to a letter, dated 12 November sent to me by the police, all they did was take a formal statement from the Director of Finance, Mark Lewis, who had told them that, in his opinion, "no criminal act has been committed".
They didn't even interview Cllr Hall.
Unfortunately, for some mysterious reason, the council are refusing to allow either me, or the elected members, to see a copy of Mr Lewis statement so I am unable to say whether or not the police's interpretation of what Mr Lewis told them is correct.
Assuming that it is, the question that needs answering is: on what evidence did Mr Lewis base his opinion?
Did he, for instance, ask his colleague Mr Huw Roberts, the Director of Highways, who was also at the SWITCH meeting, either what time the meeting ended or what time Cllr Hall arrived?
Had he done so he would have discovered that the meeting ended at 3.45pm and Cllr Hall arrived at 2.30 pm (approx) and he could then have worked out that, given that Cllr Hall was buying lunch in the service station at Magor at 1.08pm that day, he couldn't possibly have made the journey from Pembroke Dock to Penllergaer and return, for which he claimed 130 miles at 48.5p, and attended the SWITCH meeting.
And did Mr Roberts, who can hardly have been unaware of the brouhaha surrounding this issue, volunteer the information?

Persistence pongs?

The more you poke the cesspit, the worse it smells. (Old Cumberland saying)


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