17 February 2004

 

Second sight?

 

I have just heard His Leadership, Cllr Maurice Hughes, on Pembrokeshire Radio telling the world that it has always been the practice of members returning from conferences to answer questions from colleagues (see Freebie culture).
If that is so why did the most recent meeting of the Cabinet have to pass a resolution to that effect?
The truth is that, until the following October's public audit, when I go in and inspect the members' expense claims and report them on this website, nobody even knows about these conference attendances .
October's audit covers the accounts for the year ending the previous March 31.
So, when Bill "Boondoggle" Hitchings takes off next June, for his annual taxpayer-funded hols at the Association of Port Health Authorities' conference, we will not know about it until the books are open for inspection almost 18 months later in October 2005.
Short of telepathy, there is no way that other members can ask questions about what has gone on.



Phantom fencer

Old Grumpy has been doing some further research into the mysterious case of Cllr Brian Hall's lease agreement with Pembrokeshire County Council regarding 75 Stockwell Road Pembroke Dock.
This lease was taken out in September 2000.
The terms were that the £9,000-a-year rent would be paid monthly in advance and that Cllr Hall would be allowed a six month rent holiday on condition that, within three months of the date of the lease, he carried out certain works on the site at his own expense, particularly a fence around the yard.
My attempts to obtain details of Cllr Hall's rent payment record have been reported elsewhere (see The long wait).
Eventually, after I threatened to take the council to court, the information was produced.
It is not difficult to see why the council were being so coy because the documents provided showed that, rather than the rent being paid in advance, at one time the Chairman of Highways was seven months in arrears.
In addition the rates had been paid 10 months late.
Almost three years after the date of the lease, there was no sign of the fence nor any evidence that the council had made any attempt to collect the six months rent which fell due for non-compliance.
It seemed to Old Grumpy that there was a hint of favouritism in these arrangements so I wrote to the District Auditor drawing his attention to the matter.
Last October the Auditor wrote back to say that he was satisfied that the council had followed its normal proceedures in trying to collect the overdue rent and rates and there was no evidence that Cllr Hall had received any different treatment to other council tenants.
As for the fence, the reason for the delay was that it required planning consent, which, the auditor had been assured by the property department, was currently being sought.
Why it took three years to apply for planning consent was not explained.
There were two minor problems with this scenario.
(1) part of the fence had already been put up, and
(2) when I enquired of the planning department I was told no application had been received.
This latter omission has now been remedied with a planning application dated 26 January 2004, but that is not the end of the matter because, as two-thirds of the fence is already in place, the application is retrospective.
On top of that, because the application has been submitted by an elected member it must go before the planning committee rather than being determined by officers.
Old Grumpy has sat through many planning committees where retrospective applications have been considered and the fury of the members at being "dissed" is something to behold.
As I said a couple of weeks ago, I intend to be there to witness how they react when the miscreant is one of their own.
However, it is not as straightforward as it seems because the planning application is accompanied by a letter from Cllr Hall addressed to "To whom it may concern".
It reads: "The fencing in position was erected by the contractor without my knowledge. On return from business in Ireland I stopped the work from progressing and informed the planning department of a pending application."
I suppose if you spend most of your time mixing with members of the Independent Political (sic) Group, it's easy to get the impression that everybody's stupid.
One difficulty remains: the phantom contractor has put up a rather flimsy wire mesh fence, while the lease calls for a much more expensive palisade construction.
Explaining that away will test the ingenuity of even the county council's well oiled spin machine.


Jobs galore

The county council's £70,000 website www.choosepembrokeshire.org is still under reconstruction.
Before it disappeared from cyberspace, I took the precaution of printing it off, just in case any crucial bits of information went missing.
One item that caught my eye was a press release dated March 2003 in which His Leadership, Cllr Maurice Hughes, announced the creation of 50 new jobs in Pembroke Dock by a company known as Metropole Sales and Marketing (MSM) Ltd.
"MSM will initially create 10 jobs but they expect to see the business expand quickly and anticipate having a staff of around 50 by the end of the summer" the press release gushes.
Cllr Hughes is quoted as saying that he is pleased the company has chosen Pembrokeshire and that in addition to other developments in Pembroke Dock "now we have the prospect of a further 50 jobs with Metropole."
Old Grumpy hasn't had time to check if these jobs have materialised or whether, like so many other job creation puffs, this is another illusion.
What I do know is that, if the target of 50 jobs was reached by the end of last summer, it would make MSM one of the fastest growing businesses this side of the Suez.
My enquiries at Companies House reveal that MSM was only incorporated in September 2002 and that the present board dates from September 2003.
I also notice that the status of the company is "proposal to strike off" and that its last annual return which should have been submitted before 16 October 2003 is marked "overdue".
I have asked the county council for an update on this company's progress - I will report more fully next week.

The Time Lord

 

While on Companies House website I made a quick check on my old friend Euro-Ryall Ltd, the company set up in December 2000 by Cllr Brian Hall and the council's economic development consultant Dr Michael Ryan.
I was interested to see that the company was finally dissolved on 3 February 2004.
This seems to be at odds with the entry in the members' register of interests dated 15 April 2003 when Cllr Hall recorded: "I no longer have an interest in respect of the company known as Euro-Ryall Limited as the company has been dissolved under the terms of Section 652A of the Companies Act 1985."
Six months early with the fence; 11 months late with the dissolution of Euro-Ryall; seven months behind with the rent; and 10 months in arrears with the rates', the man must be living in a time warp.
It all fits in rather neatly with his exploits on 1 February 2001 when, you may remember, he bought lunch at a service station near Magor at 1.08pm, ate it, and drove 120 miles to Pembroke Dock in time to leave at 2.00pm for a meeting in Penllergaer (which he had just driven past on his way back from Magor) claiming £60 in travelling expenses for the Pembroke Dock - Penllergaer - Pembroke Dock part of the journey.
As I said at the time, he must have borrowed Alwyn Luke's Tardis, and recent events seem to bear this theory out.

 

Majoritarianism

 

This democracy business seems to be causing some confusion judging from three pro-Bluestone letters in last week's Western Telegraph.
All made basically the same point: that the development is supported by "the overwhelming majority of the people of Pembrokeshire" (Mike Shaw); "the vast majority of the businesses and people of Pembrokeshire (Roland Keevill) and "the overwhelming desire of the Pembrokeshire people" (Gordon Doughty).
Old Grumpy is not aware of any scientific poll being conducted on this matter, so it is difficult to see where all this certainty comes from.
But, even if Messrs Shaw, Keevill and Doughty are correct about the level of public support, that is not the end of the matter.
We are fortunate to live in a democracy under the rule of law which means that our rights are built on solid foundations of law and not on the shifting sands of public opinion.
What counts is what the law has to say.
Of course, public opinion can put pressure on our legislaters to change the law but, until such change comes into effect, even governments have to obey the law as it exists.
The law pertaining to this particular case is to be found in section 5(1) of the National Parks and Countryside Act (1949) which provides that the statutory purposes of National Park authorities are:

to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the National Parks and

to promote opportunities for the public understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the Parks.

 

Section 11A(1) of the Act requires that, in pursuing these statutory purposes, National Park authorities "shall seek to foster the economic and social well-being of local communities within the National Park ..."

What seems clear is that the pursuit of economic and social well-being is subordinate to the the main purposes set out in section 5(1).
It might also be pointed out that the legislation refers to "communities within the National Park" so the Bluestone project fails to meet even this test because the main economic benefits will fall to areas outside the Park, such as Haverfordwest.
As I understand it, any legal challenge through the courts, by way of judicial review, will be based on this particular piece of law.
The other issue which seems to be exercising the trio of letter writers is a complaint to the Ombudsman that certain County Councillors failed to declare their interest during the meeting where the application was approved.
Mr Shaw is particularly virulent on this point.
"Let us hope that the Ombudsman has the sense to tell this anonymous meddler to get a life. Unless he has the guts to reveal his identity to his peers, his complaint to the Ombudsman should be disallowed." he thunders.
Again, it should be pointed out that even the Ombudsman is subject to the law and, as far as I am aware, he is not able to reject complaints on a whim.
In any case, the identity of the complainant is no secret.
I was at the recent meeting in the Cleddau Bridge Hotel when the National Park Authority's Monitoring Officer, Mr David Irvine, advised that, in his opinion, those County Council members who had failed to apply for a dispensation (see Political football) had an interest to declare and, if they failed to do so, it would be his statutory duty to report the matter to the Ombudsman.
So much for our "anonymous meddler".



Manorbier mayhem.

 

Things seem to be hotting up in Manorbier (see www.manorbier.com).
The website contains a copy of a letter from a Mr Don Beddoe who seems to have an even worse opinion of local councils than Old Grumpy.
Well worth a read!
There is also an interesting posting on the meeting of the Manorbier Community Association held on 28 January 2004 which I recommend to anyone interested in how local government works at the lower end of the food chain.

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