24 February 2004


On the box


It promises to be an exciting week in Pembrokeshire politics with no less than six Notices of Motion on the agenda for Thursday's meeting of the County Council.
In addition, rumour has it that, on Thursday night (11 pm), ITV are screening a hard-hitting programme on the County Council's social services department.
So hard hitting, in fact, that, according to my moles, the council has resorted to threats of legal action against the TV company in an attempt to have the programme suppressed.
I am told these efforts have been unsuccessful and the programme will go out as scheduled.
Perhaps those clever lawyers at ITV have read the famous case Derbyshire County Council v Times Newspapers in which the House of Lords held that it would be against the public interest to allow institutions of the state - including local authorities - to sue for defamation.

Puppet Chairman

The most interesting Notice of Motion, at least as far as a political anorak like Old Grumpy is concerned, is that submitted by Cllr Bill Philpin.
Cllr Philpin wants whoever is Chairman of the council to renounce their political affiliations during their term of office.
This is an important constitutional issue because the Chairman, like the Speaker of the House of Commons, has almost absolute power when it come to the conduct of business during meetings.
The Chairman can, for instance, decide whether Notices of Motion are debated by the full council or whether they should be kicked into the long grass by being remitted to the Corporate Governance Committee - a body dominated by Cllr Maurice Hughes and his stooges.
There is a perception that the Chairman's rulings on this issue are influenced by what suits the ruling Independent Group, rather than any constitutional principle.
Imagine the outrage if Speaker Martin were to slant his rulings in favour of the government of which he used to be a supporter!
Or if he attended Labour Party meetings prior to important Commons' debates so that he could be apprised of the party line.
Even worse, what would the reaction be if Mr Speaker should routinely meet with the Cabinet Secretary in the run up to meetings in order to be briefed about likely problem areas in the agenda.
That is, in essence, what happens in the County Council where the Chairman is the creature of the ruling group and not the chairman for the people of Pembrokeshire who pay his £20,000 annual allowance.

Gold Plated

I notice that members of the Dyfed Powys Police Authority are to be paid a basic allowance of £6,491 a year.
This is good news for Pembrokeshire County Council's two representatives Cllrs Don Evans (Ind) and Joyce Watson (Lab) both of whom already pick up over £10,000 a year for being a county councillor.
In addition Cllr Watson collects a further £8,000 for being the Leader of the Labour Group on the county council while Cllr Evans gets an extra five grand for being chairman of the Licensing Committee.
For those of you who can't do hard sums, that puts Cllr Watson on £24,500 (approx) with Cllr Evans trailing on £21,500 (approx).
And, if they start to feel the pinch, Cllr Evans can always fall back on his Chief Superintendent's pension and Cllr Watson on her government funded job in the field of wimmin's rights.

Playtime showdown


There are two Notices of Motion on the controversial issue of childrens' play areas, which the Cabinet would like to hive off to community councils in the name of local ownership, devolving power down to the grass roots, motherhood and apple pie and whatever other buzz phrases you can think of.
Cynics suggest that the real reason is to save money and keep council tax bills down in an election year.
Super-cynics point out that over the past three-and-a-half years these penny-pinchers have voted themselves two massive pay rises taking the cost of councillors allowances from £250,000 per annum, at the time of the last election, to more than £800,000 at the present time.
What does it say about their sense of priorities that they should line their own pockets while seeking to deprive children of basic facilities.
Unfortunately for the ruling Independents, this issue, which they hoped by now to have quietly put to bed, refuses to go away.
Thanks to doughty campaigners like Cllrs Sue Perkins (Lab) Anthony Wilcox (Lab) and John Allen (Lib Dem) the subject has been kept in the public eye with petitions, letters to the papers and other campaigns.
Now, with the election less than four months away, the ruling party are faced with a dilemma.
Do they admit they were wrong in the first place, or to they face the wrath of the electorate in early June?
And will the Chairman allow the Notices of Motion to be debated on the day, thereby drawing a line under the issue, or will he send them off to the Leader's tame Corporate Governance Committee?
It is not an easy call to make, but if I was a betting man I wouldn't put my money on the Independents risking their first class seats on the gravy train over any mere matter of principle.

Second hand rose (with an accent)

Last week, the Ritz Hotel admitted to an employment tribunal that it was in the habit of recycling left-over wine from its restaurants through the hotel bars - effectively selling the same goods twice.
The gaff was blown by one of its employees who was suing the company for wrongful dismissal.
Old Grumpy was pleased to see his first rule of good management - be nice to the staff, they know more about what is going on than you do - so comprehensively endorsed.
But there another interesting aspects to the case.
BBC radio news described this wine as "unfinished bottles", not, I must admit, a concept with which I am familiar.
I have often been considerably worse for wear but never so bad that I couldn't finish off a bottle of wine even if it meant chewing it to help it down.


Phantom jobs


Old Grumpy has been carrying out some further research into Metropole Sales and Management (MSM) Ltd; the company featured in a press release posted on the County Council's economic development website www.choosepembrokeshire.org.uk on 20 March 2003.
According to the blurb "Fifty jobs are to be created [by MSM] over the next six months at a new call centre in Pembroke Dock"
Welcoming this development, Leader Cllr Maurice Hughes is quoted as saying that three new companies have now opened up in Pembroke Dock.
"Adkins Medical and Cyber Travel already employ 50 people and now we have the prospect of a further 50 jobs with Metropole" he claims.
In another press release, posted on the site on 17 February 2003, Cllr Hughes is to be found singing the praises of Cyber Travel which he is "sure ... will be able to pursue its expansion plans and create more jobs in Pembrokeshire over the coming months."
His Leadership signed off his peaan of praise to Cyber Travel with the words: "Discussions are taking place with a number of companies and we hope to be able to announce further successes in the coming weeks."
Old Grumpy downloaded this information from the council's website in December 2003 just before the site was taken down for "reconstruction".
I am not in the least surprised that this website has been removed from cyberspace because my researches reveal that MSM only lasted until July 2003 and Cyber Travel packed up in May of that year.
So why was this optimistic account of the council's job-creating activities still on the website six months later.
Two explanations offer themselves:
(1) the council were trying to mislead the public, or
(2) whoever was in control of this website was too lazy/incompetent to keep it up to date.
Neither of these scenarios reflect much credit on the council.
I intend to conduct an in-depth investigation into the council's job creation record including the two Chinese shoe factories and the improbable claims 3,300 new jobs and the safeguarding of a further 6,200 has resulted from Objective1.
Not to mention the four new jobs and the 20 direct and indirect jobs - "within the next 12 months" - that that were supposed to be created by the lease of 75 Stockwell Road to Cllr Brian Hall.
I would suggest that most of the extra jobs are in the job-creation industry.


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