22 February 2005


Each way bet

Over the past few weeks, Old Grumpy has drawn attention to the attempt by the ruling group on the county council to pull a fast one over the effect of the council tax rebanding exercise.
As I have pointed out, the increase in next year's council tax is 13% but, because rebanding has led to a rise of 8% in the council's tax base, the band D rate has only gone up by 5%.
On consulting the vast archive in my shed I discover that this is not a new phenomena.
For instance, in 1998/99 the county council raised £17.9 million from a tax base of 41,572 which, by dividing the one into the other gave a band D rate of £430.51.
Next year, the council plans to raise £27.85 million from a tax base of 48,943 giving a band D rate of £569.02.
What can be seen from these figures is that over the eight years in question the band D rate of tax has risen by 32 % while, because of a substantial increase in the tax base, the amount of money removed from the pockets of Pembrokeshire taxpayers has gone up by 56%.
No need to tell you that the band D rate, rather than the amount of tax collected, is what the council uses as the benchmark.
Even then the council has not been completely straightforward.
In the year 1998/99 when the band D rate went up by a whacking 11.4% we were told that, because the level of Revenue Support Grant and Business Rate income was fixed by the central government, "the level of contribution required towards services from local taxpayers [Council Tax] was set by the Welsh Office."
It was also a case of, "not us guv" in 2000/2001 when the band D rate went up an eye-watering 10.8%.
In his budget statement the then Leader, Maurice Hughes, told us: "The extra increase has been forced on us by the National Assembly which has decided that it will shift the burden of local government spending away from central government grant and more towards local people [Council Tax]. Perhaps I could say this is another example of increasing taxation by the back door."
However, it seems that, by the time came for the budget for 2005-2005 to be set, the Welsh Assembly had relented and the council were able to impose a modest increase of 2.6%.
And was the Welsh Assembly praised for its generosity?
Er, no - as Maurice Hughes told the council: "This year, the people of Pembrokeshire will have the lowest Council Tax in Wales. I repeat the message I have given each year [except when it was more convenient to blame someone else]. We do not achieve these results by accident. It is done by careful, efficient and effective management of our resources, allied to clear political direction."
Heads we win, tails you lose!


Old Grumpy has obtained a copy of the report commissioned by Irish Defence Minister, Michael Smith TD, into Dr Michael Ryan's activities as chairman of the Irish Civil Defence Board (ICDB).
The report, written by David J O'Callaghan Secretary General of the Department of Defence, makes interesting reading.
For those of you who have not been paying attention, early last year, Minister Smith decided to relocate the headquarters of the ICDB from Dublin to Roscrea as part of the government's policy of decentralisation.
It seems that Dr Ryan did not take kindly to this move and, as Mr O'Callaghan reports, set out to "undermine the decision of the Minister for Defence.." by a series of actions that "hampered" the effective performance of the ICDB's functions.
This included seeking legal advice, in contravention of the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies, as to how the Minister's wishes could be frustrated "...and subsequently submitting an account in the sum of Euro 4598 [£3,000 approx] in respect of such advice for payment out of public funds."
It is not clear from the report whether this amount was ever paid but Minister Smith clearly took a dim view of this attempt to turn the Department's budget against itself and promptly sacked the good Doctor.
It would seem that loyalty to his employers is not high on Dr Ryan's list of priorities because, as regular readers will know, just six weeks after writing to Pembrokeshire County Council promising that, in order to avoid any conflict of interest, a new company he intended to establish in the UK wouldn't trade in Pembrokeshire, he was sending a fax to his business partner Cllr Brian Hall detailing their elaborate and well-advanced plans to do just that.(see Ryan-Hall)
It appears that a more relaxed attitude to this sort of behaviour prevails on the eastern shore of the Irish Sea because, two years after I revealed his inappropriate relationship with Brian Hall, Dr Ryan's company ORA International Ltd retains its £450-a-day economic consultancy with the county council - total cost to date £100,000 (approx).
And, of course, Cllr Hall is still picking up £26,000-a-year (plus £6,000 as vice-chairman of the Fire Authority) as a member of Cllr John "highest ethical standards" Davies' cabinet.
No doubt, Cllr Hall will eventually commit some indiscretion that his friends in high places will be unable to cover up, and then the leader will have some explaining to do.
Two weeks ago, I reported on a three-page letter Dr Ryan had sent to the leader in which he accused Cllr Michael Williams and I of "harassment".
In that letter Dr Ryan claimed to have spent £14,500 on solicitor's fees in his efforts to bully the two of us into silence.
That comes out at £7,500 apiece, and it is gratifying to know that Dr Ryan thought we each merited more than twice as much legal fire-power as an Irish Government Minister.

Taxing times

The country is in the grip of election fever and talking nonsense about tax is all the rage.
What most economists would agree on is that there is an appropriate level of tax which is high enough to finance the essential functions of government but not so high as to strangle enterprise.
What economists cannot agree about is where the boundary lies.
However, what is not true is that cuts in tax rates automatically lead to a reduction in the flow of cash into the government's coffers.
That is because the amount of tax collected depends on two factors: the rate of tax and the size of the thing from which it is exacted.
For instance, companies pay tax on profits so the amount of corporation tax collected depends on both the rate at which it is imposed and the profitability of companies.
And one hundred percent of nothing is nothing.
Take, as an example, what happened here in Pembrokeshire with Dell Computers.
It was, apparently, touch and go whether Dell would invest here, or in Ireland.
We are told that Dell opted for Ireland because of the more benign corporation tax regime.
The result is that the Irish government, despite its lower rate of tax, collects large sums of money from Dell and its employees, while the British government doesn't get a sou.

Legal separation

I always think that one of the greatest privileges a man (or woman) can have is to be born British.
It is true that our football team is not much cop; the Aussies are streets ahead of us at cricket; and, except for some of the more far-flung regions of the Kingdom, we can't play rugby either.
That said, however, there are things about this country's ancient traditions about which we can justifiably be proud.
One of these is the doctrine of the separation of powers which ensures that, while politicians make the law through Parliament, it is independent judges who put it into effect.
Now Charles Clarke wants to override that fundamental principle by awarding himself the power to lock up terrorist suspects without the benefit of judicial process.
While the terrorist threat shouldn't be underestimated, is it so serious that we need to tear up centuries of legal tradition to counter it?
I think not, and I'm in good company.
Way back in 1690 the philosopher John Locke put it like this: "It may be too great a temptation to human frailty, apt to grasp at power, for the same persons who have the power to make the laws, to have also in their hands the power to execute them ..."
And, as the constitutional lawyer Montesquieu said some 40 years later: "When the legislative and judicial powers are united in the same person, or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty."
Hopefully, it is not too late for Mr Clarke to be persuaded that it is independent judges, rather than politicians with an eye on the next election, who should make these decisions.


No answer, came the stern reply

 This space reserved for replies from Cllrs Bill Roberts and Islwyn Howells (see Answers please)


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