February 15 2005

Tilting at windmills

Another meeting of the Corporate Governance Committee and another failed attempt to reform the county council's constitution.
The first of my two notices of motion before the committee concerned the four assistant cabinet members (ACMs) introduced by the leader at the first meeting of new county council last July.
These ACMs, who are paid a special responsibility allowance of £4000 a year, are appointed by the leader and can be sacked by the leader.
Their role it appears is to advise their Cabinet colleagues on the great policy decisions that the Chief Executive and his management board have already made for them.
As they are the leader's creatures, and are clearly beholden to him for their elevated positions, not to mention 80 quid a week, I put forward an amendment to the constitution that would have barred them from the scrutiny committees whose job it is to scrutinise the activities of the leader and his cabinet.
The problem is that the Corporate Governance Committee is made up of 12 members - nine of whom are on the leader's payroll so if the leader objects to a notice of motion it hasn't a snowball's chance in hell of success.
I felt slightly encouraged when Cllr Simon Hancock (Labour, semi-detached), the leader's appointee to some scrutiny committee chair or another, made a strong speech in favour of a complete separation between the executive (Cabinet) and the scrutiny committees, but was rather disappointed to find that, when it came to the test, his loyalty to constitutional principle didn't quite stretch to voting against the leader's wishes.
As for the other placemen on the committee, if, after 50 or 60 years on the planet, they haven't grasped that it is against the rules of natural justice to be judge in your own cause, then it was always unlikely that my limited powers of persuasion would cause the scales to fall from their eyes.
I was rather more optimistic about about the chances of success of my second proposal which sought to curb the leader's powers to make appointments to outside bodies and boards of school governors..
In the original constitution, approved by the full council, this power was delegated to the Cabinet, where the process was, at least, reasonably transparent.
However, at its very first meeting,after appointing a couple of governors, the cabinet delegated this power to the leader.
I am not sure this is, strictly speaking, legal because I have a vague recollection from my days as a law student of one of those wonderful Latin tags delegare non potest delegatus which I think translates: a delegate cannot delegate.
So, the Cabinet having had the power delegated to itself was not in a position to delegate it further.
Whatever the truth about that, the fact is that by putting the matter in the hands of the leader, the whole complexion of the process was changed.
Whereas when the Cabinet exercised the power, appointments were reported publicly, now they only existed in the leader's head.
Indeed, it was a complete surprise to most of my fellow councillors when I obtained and circulated a list of the 175 appointments that the leader had made to outside bodies.
Among the more interesting were that all six council appointees to the Port of Pembroke Liaison Committee were his Independent Party cronies, while three of the four elected members for Pembroke Dock, where the port is situated, are Labour.
Even more interesting was that Cllr Davies had appointed himself to the Police Authority, a position that entitles him to an annual allowance of some £6,000 in addition to the £36,000 he is paid as leader of the county council.
But what really got up my nose was that, before I could serve on the board of governors at one of Milford Haven's schools, I had to have the leader's approval.
As I pointed out to the Corporate Governance Committee, so far as I was aware, only two people from Milford had ever voted for Cllr John Davies: his Independent Party lackeys, Cllrs Anne Hughes and Martin Davies.
All to no avail, I'm afraid, though there there was a small chink of light because Cllr Simon Hancock broke ranks and voted for my proposition.
Every journey starts with a single step!

Take your pick


Last week the county council's Cabinet discussed the recent rebanding exercise which has resulted in 36% of properties in Pembrokeshire moving up one or more bands.
During the discussion - they don't have debates in Cabinet - Cllr Peter Stock claimed: "People think that the County Council are having this money from the 36% - that money is not coming through to Pembrokeshire County Council."
To which the Leader, Cllr John Davies, replied: "You're absolutely right Cllr Stock."
Absolutely wrong, I'm afraid, because the rebanding exercise has increased the council's tax base from 45,512 to 48,943 (+8%) and allowed an increase in total taxation from £24.66 million to £27.85 million (+13%) under cover of a modest 5% increase in the band D rate.
Indeed, to raise £27.85 million without rebanding i.e. on the old tax base of 45,512, would have required a band D rate for next year of £612; 13% more than the current year's band D rate of £541.
The upshot is that, while the 64% of residents whose bandings remain unaltered will all pay just 5% more, those who have moved up a band will have to pay, on average, an extra 27%.
And, whatever spin Cllr Stock and Co try to put on it, every penny of that will go straight into the coffers of Pembrokeshire County Council
Old Grumpy can only conclude that Cllrs Stock and Davies are either trying to pull the wool over our eyes, or they haven't bothered to make the effort to understand the system by which they are taxing us.
Take your pick.
A more comprehensive treatment of this subject can be found at Brass Tax


Nil desperandum

As I said last week, you have to try to think positively, though with internationals now coming round every week, rather than once a fortnight, one doesn't have much time to recover from the previous weekend's bumps and bruises.
However, after Sunday's act of daylight robbery by the French, I sat down at the kitchen table with a bottle of Chilean Merlot to see what could be salvaged from the wreckage.
Incidentally, I chose the Chilean because they have never beaten England at rugby, though, on the same basis, I might have opted for Italian, Canadian, Romanian, or the pick of the great Western Samoan vintages, which is more than can be said for some people I could mention.
Before I had drunk even half the bottle, I had constructed a 6 x 6 grid on the back of a set of old county council Cabinet minutes that happened to be to hand and, two glasses later, I had worked out how England can still win this year's championship.
This requires that:
1. England win their three remaining matches, racking up some big scores in the process.
2. Wales narrowly beat France.
3. France narrowly beat Ireland.
4. Ireland narrowly beat Wales.
5. Scotland beat Italy and Wales.
6. Italy beat France.
Leaving England as champions on points difference.
Then you'll all be laughing on the other side of your faces.
However, this could all go hideously wrong especially if 4 and 5 don't work out as specified.
Then I will have to abandon my joke about looking forward to the day when my two little Welsh-born grandsons are old enough to be taken to St Fagans to see the Grand Slam jersey.
Though, "It's a good job the whole of Samoa didn't turn up" still retains some potential as a weapon of gloat deterrence.
By the way, for Welsh masochists, who are also interested in rugby memorabilia, I discovered, while researching this piece, that copies of the programme for the 1988 Wales v Romania game are available on eBay for less than a fiver.
I even came across one website offering a programme signed by the players from both sides for a mere £135.
I notice that one J Davies was Wales' fly half on that fateful day.
Hurry now, while stocks last!
And, while you're all getting excited about this Micky Mouse, six-nations caper, just remember who won the World Cup.


Flawed theory


The biologist T H Huxley called it the tragedy of science - "the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact."
And, in the final analysis, it is the willingness to accept that the evidence no longer supports your pet hypothesis or theory, that is at the heart of intellectual honesty.
Of course, from time to time, we all have difficulty in facing up to unpalatable realities (see above) and indulge in all manner of sophistry and verbal gymnastics in order to avoid the inevitable conclusions.
It is more difficult to get away with that sort of thing in the realm of science because your work will be picked over by your fellow (rival?) scientists during the process of peer review.
And, as these peers will usually be extremely clever people, with precise mathematical tools at their disposal, the holes they pick in your theories will not be easily glossed over.
In the world of politics, where ideas are expressed in words that are themselves often ambiguous, it is, as witnessed on a daily basis, much easier to assert that black is white.
However, having done hard sums at university, where I was indoctrinated in the principles of the scientific method, I am left with no alternative but to abandon my explanation for the elevation of Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse to deputy leader of the Independent party.
My theory was based on the solid observation that, when voting on a show of hands, certain members of the party seem to find it necessary to look round to see what the leadership is doing before expressing their own independent, considered view.
It occurred to me that recorded votes, where members names are called out and they answer "for" or "against", could cause a problem.
How clever, then, to make the first, alphabetically, deputy leader so that he could give the troops a steer.
Unfortunately, one Jamie Adams joined the Independent party following last June's election and seven months later Squirehouse, as he is affectionately known, remains as second in command.
So there must be some other reason for his high position.
Beats me!

email: oldgrumpy.mike@virgin.net

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