13 January 2004

Moving on

If you look at the top of the page you will see that my website is now hosted by Virgin.net rather that, as previously, Tiscali.co.uk.
Two weeks ago, I reported that solicitors acting for Cllr Brian Hall's business partner Dr Michael Ryan had threatened Tiscali with legal action unless they removed seven of my pages from the web.
These seven pages all dealt with the business relationship between Hall and Dr Ryan.
The pages were duly suspended but, last Wednesday, Tiscali removed the whole site.
That meant finding a new Internet Service Provider (ISP) and I opted for Virgin for no other reason that its name came up when I ran the connection wizard.
I was reluctant to put money into the pocket of Sir Richard Branson, fearing he would only use it for his unremitting self-promotion campaign.
Imagine my despair when I opened up my Daily Telegraph this morning to see a picture of a grinning Sir Richard driving his new £150,000 amphibious vehicle round one of London's docks.
It seems that no sooner was my first £12.99 monthly installment in the bank he had to go out and spend it on something flash.
For the time being, in order to ward off another attack by Dr Ryan's solicitors, I have withheld the items referring to his business dealings with Cllr Hall.
In the meantime, I am actively seeking an ISP in America where they have a more robust attitude to freedom of expression.

All equal before the law?

As I am not allowed to write about his dealings with Dr Ryan I will switch my attention to Cllr Hall's business relationship with the County Council.
On 27 September 2000, Cllr Hall entered into a lease with the County Council for an industrial unit at 75 Stockwell Road Pembroke Dock at a rental of £9,000-a-year exclusive of rates.
The rent was to be paid monthly in advance.
As part of the agreement, within three-months of the lease being signed, Cllr Hall was to carry out certain works on the site at his own expense, particularly a fence around the yard, in consideration of which he was to be allowed a six-month rent free period.
During the public audit inspection in October 2002 I asked for details of Cllr Hall's rental payments on the premises and was refused on the grounds that the information was confidential under the Data Protection Act 1998.
This seemed rather strange because at previous public audits I had been given full details of other tenants' rental payments without demur.
There followed a protracted correspondence with the Council's Director of Finance and Monitoring Officer and in June 2003, after I threatened to take the council to court to assert my statutory rights to the information, the authority finally relented.
What the documents provided showed was that over the first ten months of the lease (not counting the six month rent-free period) Cllr Hall had made only three payments.
So, rather than paying monthly in advance he was seven months in arrears.
On top of that, he had not carried out the works for which he had been granted a six-month rent holiday which took the effective arrears to over a year.
Last summer, I wrote to the District Audit Service drawing attention to the situation.
On 18 November 2003 the Audit Service wrote telling me that the reason for the delay in erecting the fence was that planning permission was required before the work could go ahead.
Remember, this is almost three years after the works should have been completed under the terms of the lease.
"The Property Services department informs me that planning permission is currently being sought", the auditor told me.
So far as I am aware, the only way to seek planning permission is to submit an application so imagine my surprise when I rang County Hall last week to make arrangements to inspect the file and was told that no application had been submitted.
Advice to the auditor: don't believe everything (anything?) you are told by County Hall.
In any case, although I understand an application is in the offing, the question of planning consent is all rather academic because when I visited 75 Stockwell Road in September part of the fence was already in place.
Over the years Old Grumpy has attended many meetings of the planning committee where so-called retrospective applications have been considered.
Nothing is better designed to get the old boys in a lather than the thought that somebody has had the temerity to go ahead without first asking their permission.
Usually, one of the more self-important members - plenty of competition there - will propose that the application should be refused, to teach the applicant a lesson.
I look forward to observing their reaction when Cllr Hall's application comes before them.

Turn of the tide

I have been a consistent opponent of the European project for more than 20 years.
One of my chief objections is that the EU is an enterprise where political expediency always trumps the Rule of Law.
The most recent manifestation of this phenomena was the decision by a meeting of Finance Ministers to turn a blind eye to the budget deficits of France and Germany even though both were clearly in breach of the legally binding Stability Pact.
So I was pleased to hear on the 5 o'clock news that the European Commission is to challenge the Finance Ministers' decision in the courts.
The other piece of good news is that the Italian Constitutional Court has held that a hastily introduced law, rendering Silvio Berlasconi immune from prosecution, is unconstitutional.
These two decisions are to be welcome by everyone who believes in democracy under the Rule of Law.
However these principles still do not extend everywhere.
While he remains President, Jacques Chirac retains his immunity from prosecution over fraudulent practices while he was Mayor of Paris and then, of course, there is Pembrokeshire County Council.
Still, I feel as if the tide is beginning to turn.

Troubled Tony



Spare a thought for all those Labour rebels who have signed the early day motion attacking the Governments plans for top-up fees for university students.
If they all stick to their guns Mr Blair will be defeated with who knows what consequences for the rebels' own electoral prospects.
On the assumption that turkeys don't vote for Christmas, you can bet that a good number of them are now desperately casting round for some excuse not to carry out their threat to vote the policy down.
In normal circumstances, I would bet the farm on the PM getting his way but I fancy there is a significant number of Labour MPs who see a Blair defeat on this "issue of principle" as a convenient way of achieving their ultimate aim: the installation of Mr Brown in No 10.
And if Blair comes out of The Hutton inquiry smelling of something other than roses the knives will be out in force.
Could be the most exciting few weeks in British politics since Mrs T was toppled.

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