20 January 2004

Grey dawn

Last week's Western Telegraph carried a most peculiar letter from Cllr George Grey of Johnston.
For the most part, Cllr Grey's missive was devoted to criticism of the County Council's madcap scheme to locate a waste recovery facility smack in the middle of the village.
He signed off: "Pembrokeshire County Council is not a democracy it is an autocracy."
That had Old Grumpy reaching for the Oxford where I found: "Autocracy - absolute government by one person." which is not dissimilar to "Dictatorship - rule by a person with unrestricted authority."
One can only assume that the dictator Cllr Grey has in mind is the Leader of the Council (and the Independent Group) Cllr Maurice Hughes.
The irony is that the source of His Leadership's dictatorial powers is the council's new constitution which Cllr Grey and his Independent colleagues nodded through without question less than two years ago.
Even more ironic is that notices of motion put forward by opposition members; striving to give the constitution a more democratic flavour, have consistently met with rejection by the block vote of the majority Independents, including Cllr Grey.
Still, it is a cause for celebration that he has, even if belatedly, seen the light.
No doubt, his resignation from the autocracy-supporting Independent Group is already in the post.


Tangled web

Just before Christmas (see Micky Mouse ...) I drew attention to shortcomings in the County Council's inward investment website (www.choosepembrokeshire.org.uk).
After a decent interval - to have acted immediately would be a tacit admission that the council was in error - the website has been taken down for "reconstruction".
Fortunately, I took the precaution of downloading the site onto my PC, so, when it eventually arises Phoenix-like from the ashes, I will be able to compare the new truth with the old.
In the meantime, I have been giving the County Council's main website (www.pembrokeshire.gov) the once-over.
All that can be found under "Minutes of meetings" are the records of Cabinet meetings; an admission, perhaps, that the various toothless scrutiny committees are merely a device to keep the old boys from hanging around on street corners or the local snooker hall.
Even the Cabinet minutes seem designed to give the minimum of information.
It is something of a mystery why the reports and agendas for all committees (and the minutes) can't be posted on the Web.
After all, they are on the Council's internal website (intranet) and experts tell me that to put them on the internet would require no more than the pressing of a few buttons.
Not that the council's postings to the Web can automatically be relied on.
This afternoon, while checking the council's constitution, I came across the following under member's expenses:

3.3 Travelling Allowances
Travelling allowances for approved duties within the County will be annualised within
existing resources uprated for inflation and based on a notional number of journeys
to County Hall commensurate with each Member’s role.

It is more than 18 months since the Welsh Assembly ruled this method of calculating travelling expenses illegal, forcing the council to hastily revert back to the old system of paying on the basis of actual journeys made.
I would have thought that anyone checking up on the constitution was entitled to know what it is today rather than what it was in July 2002.


Jobs for the boyos

Every Thursday, the Daily Telegraph's business section carries an item under the heading "Non-job of the week".
These are culled from the sits vac in the Grauniad and usually involve those standard figures of fun the gay and lesbian outreach workers at £25,000-30,000 a year.
But this week's offering was for a far more serious business: Director of the Welsh Local Government Association at £95,000 a year.
The WLGA was set up in 1996 to coincide with the local government reform that saw the number of local authorities cut from 45 to 22.
Presumably, our councillors needed a substitute talking shop to replace all those abolished committees.
It is not clear how much all this costs the taxpayers of Pembrokeshire, though I do have an invoice that indicates the council's subscription to the WLGA's parent body, the LGA, is some £70,000 a year.
Old Grumpy has visited the WLGA's website where I notice from its most recently published accounts that the organisation has all the attributes expected of a publicly funded bureaucracy, particularly an insatiable appetite for taxpayers' money.
Expenditure in 2003 was £2.7 million,up a cool £1 million (58%) on the previous year's £1.7 million.
Most of the extra money seems to have gone on - you've guessed - salaries, which rocketed from a paltry £823,000 to £1.8 million (125%) in the 12 month period.
This may have been something to do with the opening of a European office in Brussels to house some of its 55 staff.
Cynics among you will be saying: "what a waste of money" and when I tell you that Pembrokeshire County Council's representatives on the WLGA are His Leadership, Maurice Hughes; John Allen-Mirehouse, the Laird of Angle; and Bill "Freebie" Hitchings you will justified in thinking you are right.

Poetic licence

Old Grumpy always thought he had his finger on the pulse, as far as events in Milford Haven are concerned.
However, an email from one of my cyber-chums has disabused me of that conceit.
Unbeknown to me, the town apparently boasts a highly accomplished poet.
His name is Adrian Jenkins, who you may remember as the Stowe brothers' "legal representative", and the following is extracted from his website.

From the green valleys of South Wales comes a talent as precious as Welsh Gold. Adrian Jenkins was born to write poetry. He exudes a grass-roots passion for his native land, which is truly irresistible.
Adrian travelled far and wide throughout his early life, and for a while worked and lived in America and Australia, but the constant pull on his heart-strings to return to those same Welsh valleys that produced such great artistic talent as Sir Richard Burton, and Sir Anthony Hopkins became too great for him to resist any longer. He returned to Wales in 1982, and eventually settled in the harbour town of Milford Haven, in the beautiful county of Pembrokeshire, West Wales, U.K.
I will not lower the tone by printing any of his dire doggerel but, for those with a taste for that sort of thing, it can be accessed by printing the poet's name into the google search engine.
Lionel Kellaway was on the radio last night discussing the importance to our ancestors of being able to identify and interpret animal droppings.
Antelope and wild boar when looking for food; lion and brown bear when trying to avoid becoming it.
Nowadays, with the supermarket shelves stacked with prime cuts, and the nastier predators hunted to extinction, these skills have become redundant.
Though, in this ever more complex world, it is a foolish man who goes about with his bullshit detector switched off.


In denial

Another who seems to have difficulty maintaining contact with reality is Cllr Norman Parry, the Independent County Councillor from Carew.
Three weeks ago, I referred to Cllr Parry's appearance before the beak over the destruction of a badger sett on his land near St Florence.
Cllr Parry denied the offence but, according to the Western Telegraph's report of the court proceedings, the magistrates decided he was an "unreliable witness"; found him guilty; and fined him £2,000 with £560 costs.
Now I read that Labour Leader Joyce Watson has complained to the County Council's monitoring officer that Cllr Parry's conduct has brought the authority into disrepute.
Recording this development, the Mercury highlights Cllr Watson's reference to an earlier Ombudsman's report into a planning application for waste transfer station at Princes Gate near Narberth which found that Cllr Parry, who was employed by the applicants as a landscape consultant, had breached the councillors' Code of Conduct by failing to declare his interest in the site when the application had been discussed by the then South Pembrokeshire District Council.
Imagine my surprise when I read on and found that Cllr Parry had told the Mercury that "there were no past Ombudsman's reports as Cllr Watson suggested."
As it happens, in keeping with my policy of never throwing anything away, I have a copy of the Ombudsman's report in front of me as I write and I stand by everything I wrote about this affair last month (see Game, sett and match).
The County Council are trying to pass this off as a purely private matter between Cllr Parry and goodness knows who.
But that simply will not wash.
The Code of Conduct is absolutely clear about the obligations placed on members in cases such as this (see Game, sett and match) and, furthermore, Cllr Parry holds the vice-Chairmanship of the Aged and Infirm Overview and Scrutiny Committee for which he is paid a special responsibility allowance of £4,000 a year, in addition to his £10,000 basic allowance.
As he was parachuted into this job by the ruling Independent Political (sic) Group, we can only assume that the fact that he remains in post is evidence that they tacitly, at least, approve of his behaviour.


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