January 16 2007



On the up

Old Grumpy was interested to read in the Mercury that Cllr Anne Hughes has resigned from the county council's Cabinet for "personal reasons".
This is a pity because Cllr Hughes had sound political reasons (see Ugly rumours) for throwing in her hand.
Interestingly, when Labour party chairman and Cabinet member Hazel Blears appeared on a picket line to demonstrate against her own government's cuts in her local health service, the Daily Mirror - a Labour-friendly paper - didn't hesitate to brand her a hypocrite.
When Cllrs Anne Hughes and Michael Evans do much the same thing by protesting against car parking charges imposed by the Cabinet of which they are both members the local papers maintain a studied silence.
Cllr Rev Huw George, Cllr Hughes' replacement in the Cabinet, is an interesting fellow.
He is the son of John George the county councillor for St Davids and it has become common practice among some members of the opposition to refer to them as George the Elder and George the Younger, though one wouldn't want to push the comparison between the two Pitts; Prime Ministers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, too far - or very far at all.
My friends in Fishguard tell me that George the Younger was a policeman of that parish before embarking on a career as a Baptist minister.
From locking up villains to saving their souls must be career development of a sort, I suppose.
Announcing George the Younger's elevation, the Leader told the Mercury that he was well fitted for the role as cabinet member for social welfare because of ". . . his reputation for working with young people in various parts of the county . . .".
Hopefully, Cllr George will bring some much needed spiritual uplift to the Cabinet's deliberations.

Backs to the wall


A couple of weeks ago, I published leaked Milford Haven Port Authority documents which revealed the true nature of the deal between the Port Authority and Pembrokeshire County Council for the sale of the Mine Depot at Blackbridge Milford Haven (see Surprise packet).
The meeting of Cabinet on 6 February 2006, where this decision was taken, was held in secret, though, as an elected member, Old Grumpy was present and took notes.
Nothing said at that meeting gave even the slightest indication that MHPA was merely to be the vehicle through which the property was to pass to the council's original preferred bidder Haven Facilities Ltd.
I e-mailed my Cabinet mentor, Cllr Islwyn Howells, with a transcript of these notes and asked him if, when he voted to sell to MHPA, he had been aware of the proposed "back-to-back" deal.
In reply, I received one of those clever answers - strewing the path with red herrings, while ignoring the question - that are the county council's speciality.
The object being to throw you off balance by fastening on to some apparently minor inconsistency in your original letter.
In this instance, Cllr Howells tell me that: "The document [Ted Sangster's report to the MHPA board] refers to a sub-lease whilst you talk of a "back-to-back" arrangement which is an assignment."
I will not trouble you with the arcane, but important, distinctions between a sublease and the assignment of a lease except to say that I am not sure that whoever told Cllr Howells to say that that a back-to-back agreement must be an assignment is correct.
"Back-to-back agreement" is a colloquial expression used to describe a binding contract that indemnifies one of the parties against the risk of being saddled with property for which they have no use of their own.
In any case, the description "back to back agreement" didn't originate with me.
It is, in fact, the term used by Haven Facilities Ltd in its submission (see extract reproduced below) that went before the MHPA board on 18 November 2005.

While on the subject of legal niceties, I would draw the the attention of Cllr Howells and his Cabinet chums to paragraph 8 of Ted Sangster's report to the MHPA board (see Surprise packet) where he says: "The offer is subject to a number of conditions, which include all those identified by Haven Facilities in their original offer, including a requirement that the County Council use their compulsory purchase powers if necessary to acquire the land backing on to the site. . ."
According to the council's constitution (Part 3 / Page 16), one of the functions reserved for the Executive (Cabinet) is the "Authorisation of the compulsory purchase of land and/or buildings."
As the Cabinet had never given its authority for the compulsory purchase of land at Blackbridge, it seems to follow that any assurance given by officers regarding the use of such powers must be ultra vires.
And, if such an assurance was given, and the Cabinet refused to endorse it, what would be the council's legal position if the purchaser decided to sue?
Not that there is much risk of that because the yes-men (and woman) in the Cabinet have never once failed to follow the officers' lead.

Manorbier madness

Manorbier Community Council has lost its long-running battle with ICT marketing over an unpaid invoice in respect of a Community Appraisal and the council tax payers of what the judge describes as this "picturesque little village", will have to both pay the bill and find a reputed £18,000 in legal fees.
According to reports this likely to cost the village's average council tax payer between £40 and £50 apiece.
For anyone with a hour or two to spare, the full judgment can be found at Manorbier.
And what a sorry tale of incompetence and malpractice the judgment reveals.
Without going into too much detail, the case hinged on whether or not a 60-65% return of complete questionnaires was a requirement or an aspiration, and, therefore, whether ICT Marketing should be paid for questionnaires processed before this target had been reached.
The judge concluded that it was the latter, though the two main players: the County Council's community regeneration department and Manorbier Community Council seem to have proceeded on the assumption that it was the former.
That seems to have been the view of Alex Allison of the regeneration unit who e-mailed the community council in February 2003 to say: " I can't impress how important it is that we reach the 65% target".
Other e-mails from Mr Allison refer to attaining "the magic number" which was calculated to be 390 out of the 600 distributed questionnaires.
When it became clear that this number was going to prove difficult to reach, there was correspondence between Mr Allison and the community council about the possibility of lowering the bar by removing holiday homes from the equation thus reducing the number of completed questionnaires required.
On 5th October 2003, Mrs Pamela Davies [Clerk to MCC] dispatched an e-mail to Mr Allison, with a copy to Councillor Pat Griffiths. telling him that the number of completed questionnaires had now reached 161.
Mrs Davies' e-mail also sought advice from Mr Allison about an e-mail she had received from WDA querying an invoice it had received from her for the printing of more questionnaires pointing out that one printing invoice had been paid in November 2002.
The reply from Mr Allison, on 7th October 2003, states "I would suggest that you firstly inform her (WDA) that the reprint had been agreed beforehand and there was a shortfall in the actual numbers required. Secondly I would suggest that it may pay to have a word with Pat Griffiths about some suggestions I made as to how to achieve the target i.e. photocopy some."
The judge concludes: "The first part of the reply seems to me to be suggesting that Mrs Davies tells lies to the WDA and if the reference to "photocopy some" refers to completed questionnaires (and it is difficult to come to any other conclusion) the suggestion would destroy the integrity of the overall project and be tantamount to fraud. There is however no evidence that the suggestion was taken up!"
The judge, of course, can only consider the evidence before him, but it is Old Grumpy's understanding that there is an ongoing police investigation into that very question.

French disconnection

It has been a good week for former Tory Prime Ministers with Gordon Brown lauding Mrs Thatcher for standing up for the Union against its its enemies.
Mr Brown, being a Scot, is trying to cuddle up to the English by stressing his Britishness ahead of his coronation sometime in the early summer.
Meanwhile, opinion polls show an increasing majority of the English in favour of their own Parliament.
I am not sure this is such a good idea because it could, and eventually would, lead to the ludicrous situation where we had a Labour Prime Minister of the UK, in charge of defence, foreign policy and, most importantly, the budget, and a Tory First Minister of an English parliament with control over health and education.
A recipe for disaster, if ever I saw one.
Recent opinion polls should also give pause for thought to those who think more frequent use of referenda would improve our democracy.
When Scots are asked if they want independence, more than 50% say yes.
When they are asked if they support the break up of the UK, only 32% are in favour.
It is as well to remember that, with any referendum, it is those in power who get to decide what form the question will take.
The Iron Lady also came in for praise from Dave who managed to mention her name six times in an article outlining his new big idea - social responsibility - in the Daily Telegraph
Dave needs Mrs T because he is under attack from the eurosceptics in his party who are threatening to defect to Ukip unless he stiffens his sinews.
He has described Ukip as "fruitcakes, nut cases and closet racists", and I think he is right, but that doesn't necessarily diminish their electoral appeal.
But the greatest rehabilitation of all is that of Anthony Eden who had been dismissed by history as the buffoon who got us involved in the Suez fiasco.
This week, however, we have learned that it was Eden who thwarted a cunning plot by Guy Mollet to merge France and the UK.
Of course, it was dressed up as a merger, but, as we all know, it wouldn't have been long before the crafty French had turned it into a reverse takeover.
Just think what that might have led to.
Huge tariffs on Chilean merlot for a start.
No more cheddar cheese.
Tractors blocking the country lanes.
And the English rugby team playing fast, open, attractive rugby.
It doesn't bear thinking about.

Odious comparisons

This morning the Today programme announced that, the UK' average temperature in December was twice the seasonal normal.
This is supposed to impress on us the seriousness of the threat from global warming, but making such comparisons with an artificial scale like Centigrade is meaningless.
For instance 10 degrees C represents a 100% increase over 5 degrees C but if you convert to Fahrenheit (times 9 divide 5 +32) you get 41 degrees F and 50 degrees F - a modest 22% increase.
Similarly, if you transfer the same 5 degree C difference to the summer - 70 and 75 degrees, say - the increase, in percentage terms, is only 7%.
And, if the seasonal normal is 0 degrees C, any increase, however small, will be infinite in percentage terms.

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