January 15 2008


Blame game


Old Grumpy reads that at a recent cabinet meeting, county council leader Cllr John Davies was having another go at the Welsh Assembly over this year's local government settlement (Below the belt) (Shifting the blame).
Of course, government belt-tightening was inevitable following years of above inflation increases in public spending of which PCC was one of the beneficiaries.
However, when a combination of central government generosity and rebanding (Brass tax) allowed PCC to impose modest increases in council tax, it was credited to the Independent Political Group's financial wizardry.
Now, faced with the prospect, in an election year, of having to dip into council taxpayers' wallets to make up the shortfall , the IPG is seeking to blame the Assembly.
I also read that the leader has "welcomed moves [by the Assembly] to allow local authorities to opt out of the right to buy [council houses] regime".
And I thought 'the right to buy' was one of the Tories' flagship policies.
Sill, not needing to believe in anything is one of the great benefits of Tories standing as independents.
The other, of course, is that you can gather in the votes of people who would never dream of voting Conservative.
Cllr Davies seems to have been in full flow because the local paper also reports his comments on the scarcity of building land caused by nimbyism and the consequent effect on the availability of affordable houses.
At least, when it comes to making land available for housing, he can't be accused of being a NIMFY (Not in my farmyard) (Bungalow farmers ride again) (And more of the same).


Called to account


I have now received a response to my FoI request for copies of the minutes of the meetings of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority's asset management group where the decision not to purchase East Blockhouse Angle was taken (Information blackout).

"I refer to your Freedom of Information Act request dated the 29th November 2007 concerning East Blockhouse, Angle and apologise for the delay in responding. Actually, very similar information was requested by, and provided to, the Western Telegraph some 3 months ago, and it is most unfortunate that your request was overlooked due to an administrative anomaly. As can be seen from the audit of e-mail messages below, despite the Reception Team's good intentions, your original query was not passed to me for actioning, but was passed only to xxx, who logs any requests made under the Act. As such, your query was lost in a void until xxx followed up the matter this week (the National Park Authority offices were closed over the Christmas period). This has highlighted a gap in our procedures, for which I am grateful, and the position has now been remedied. In addition, we have reviewed our operations to ensure that future requests under the Act are followed up on a more frequent basis.

As to your substantive enquiry under the Act, I am able to respond as follows. Electronic Summary Action Notes of the relevant meetings of the National Park Authority's internal Asset Management Group were prepared with regard to the Authority's decision not to buy property at East Blockhouse, Angle, and the relevant extracts are reproduced below for your information:"
As I said last week, there are no minutes, and all the NP has been able to provide are copies of two brief action notes.
Perhaps members of the National Park committee could try to bear in mind that they represent the public and not the National Park.
Chief among their duties is what is summarised as "holding the executive to account".
Among the areas covered by this blanket heading are ensuring that the officers obey the authority's own rules and, even more important, that it obeys the law of the land e.g. The Freedom of Information Act.



Last week I discussed the Welsh Assembly's proposals to introduce a degree of transparency into the process for appointing local authority members to National Park committees (Power of patronage).
This didn't go down well with the Leader, who currently has the sole power to appoint the eight members that his party is entitled to under the political balance rules, and when the matter came before Cabinet it received a unanimous thumbs down (Almost without exception, Cabinet decisions are unanimous).
Some cynics, Old Grumpy included, suggest that this is because Cllr Davies can hire and fire Cabinet members at will and, as he is known to like getting his own way, none of them oppose him for fear that any show of independent thinking might lead to them being parted from their 13 grand a year special responsibility allowances.
But I digress.
The Cabinet minutes record:

National park membership Draft Protocol on the Selection of County Councillors as Members of National Park Authorities
That the Leader writes to the Welsh Assembly Government expressing serious concerns about the principles and practicalities inherent in the draft protocol.
Reason for Decision: To respond to a draft protocol document issued by Welsh Assembly Government.
Now, as I said last week, the Assembly's proposals present certain practical difficulties, but what sort of democratic politician is it who can object to the principle of greater openness in the making of public appointments?

Funny money

Peter Hain is in a spot of bother over £103,000-worth of undeclared donations to his deputy leadership campaign.
In all, the lamp-tanned MP for Neath, who trailed in fifth out of a six horse field, seems to have spent over £200,000 persuading his fellow party members not to vote for him.
He claims the failure to declare the cash was an administrative oversight, which is not very reassuring considering he is in charge of administering the multi-billion pound pensions' department.
However, as the story has unfolded it has been revealed that the money was channeled to Mr Hain's team through a mysterious think-tank which has never published any research and doesn't even have a website.
On top of that, the think-tank's birth coincided with the start of his deputy leadership bid and its sole purpose seems to have been as a front organisation for delivering cash from private donors into Mr Hain's coffers - the point being that, unlike political donations, gifts to think-tanks don't have to be declared.
So when the think tank passed the money on the identity of the original donor was concealed from public gaze.
In other circumstances, this is known as money laundering.
Gordon Brown is standing by his man because, sceptics suggest, should Hain be made to fall on his sword for failing to follow the rules, two other prominent Labour figures: Wendy Alexander (the leader in Scotland) and deputy Leader Harriet Harman - both of whose records are not unblemished in this respect - would come under renewed pressure.
Meanwhile, the Tories are huffing and puffing, but not much else, because their own endeavors in the field of party funding doesn't bear too close scrutiny.
Only this week it has emerged that Shadow Chancellor George Osbourne has failed to declare half-a-million quid given to him by Conservative Central Office on the register of members' interests.
Osbourne's excuse is that he received ambiguous or unclear advice from a Parliamentary official.
However that just won't wash because he wouldn't have sought that advice unless he knew there was an issue.
And, having received that advice, he decided that it best suited his purposes to resolve any ambiguity in favour of concealment.
What I find amazing is that politicians of all parties have the brass neck to suggest that the best way to avoid these funding scandals is for the taxpayer to finance the party system.
Why not try a bit of honesty and integrity before dipping their hands in the public purse?

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