January 20 2009


Deaf to reason

Yesterday, we both received a letter from our Cabinet mentors - Cllr Jamie Adams (Grumpette) and Cllr David Wildman (me).
Understandably, they don't like the term mentor with its paternalistic undertones, preferring "nominated Cabinet liaison contact" the purpose of which is to "provide a conduit between the Cabinet and yourself."
This is designed to give the impression of a system where the views of others are listened to, but it is merely part of the democratic facade behind which lurks a rather autocratic regime.
Not wishing to give legitimacy to this charade, I have never availed myself of the facility, but I know members who have and their objections to upcoming Cabinet decisions have not made a blind bit of difference.
Since the Cabinet system was introduced in 2002 there have been some 70 meetings involving about 1,000 decisions and I think I'm right in saying that every one of those decisions has been in line with the officer's recommendation.
And, as far as I am aware, all of these decisions, bar one (Sea change), have been unanimous.
At £160,000-a-year in Special Responsibility Allowances an expensive rubber stamp, indeed.
The recent decision to move Milford Haven library and TIC to Haven's Head is a case in point.
Ordinary bog-standard councillors only learned of this proposal when we received the papers on the Thursday before Monday's cabinet meeting.
Grumpette e-mailed the Leader and all Cabinet members on the Friday morning asking that: "In the interest of democracy and transparency, I urge Cabinet to hold off making this decision until local members have been consulted."
A month's delay would have made no difference at all, but the Cabinet went ahead anyway.
That, I'm afraid, is what passes for democracy in Pembrokshire.

False trail

A reader has sent me a link (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/mid/7831830.stm) to a BBC news item about a councillor in Powys who has had to pay back £2,000 in over claimed travelling expenses.
It appears that he moved to a house ten miles closer to County Hall but continued to claim mileage from his old address for three years.
What interested Old Grumpy was that it was council officers who investigated the matter by observing him travelling to meetings from his new address and then comparing that with his subsequent travel claims.
It is heartening to know that not all local authorities react to allegations of this kind by organising a cover-up (Time Lord).

Not so well endowed


Fortunately, I don't own any bank shares.
Unfortunately, I know a man who does.
He is Mr Sandie Crombie, and although I don't know him personally, he is chief executive of Standard Life with whom we have an endowment policy to cover a £45,000, 20-year mortgage taken out in 1990
The broker who sold it to us provided figures to show that, on maturity, accumulated bonuses meant these policies typically paid out 50% more than their face value.
We actually paid off the mortgage a good while ago but we kept on the policy to provide us with a nice little nest egg.
The last we heard from Mr Crombie, it was projected to be worth about £25,000 when it matures next year.
On the plus side we were, as policy holders, eligible for some free shares when Standard Life was demutualised three or four years ago.
On top of that we took advantage of the chance to buy a modest amount on favourable terms.
Fortunately, we sold the shares about two months ago for about £2.50 (down from their high of £3.60 just year earlier) leaving us with a small profit.
Unfortunately, Standard Life didn't offload its large stake in the Scottish banks and this exposure to these tartan turkeys leaves the company's shares languishing at £1.80.
I don't know whether I'll dare to open the envelope when the next report on the status of the endowment policy comes through the letterbox.

At a loss


I was talking to someone a couple of weeks ago whose father died last year leaving him a house worth £250,000.
Since then property prices have dropped like a stone and he would now be lucky to get £200,000.
He told me that, rather than take this "loss", he was thinking to let the house until such time as prices recover.
What did I think of that idea, he asked.
Well, I'm very familiar with the logic behind this, but it is flawed.
The problem we all have is that once we sell the asset we crystallise the loss, if we hang on we can pretend it hasn't happened.
As I told him the right question to ask yourself is: If I had £200,000 in the bank would I be thinking of investing it in a buy-to-let property in the present economic climate?
The answer seems obvious to me, but I must have missed something because our man is currently seeking a tenant.

Lawyers' paradise

According to the website www.manorbier.com, Manorbier Community Council is doing its bit to help Gordon Brown spend his way out of trouble by almost doubling its precept next year to £30,000 from £17,000.
It wouldn't be so bad if all this extra dosh was being used to provide services for the people of the village but from what I can gather a large part of it is going straight into the pockets of their solicitors.
The precept for 2007-2008 was already inflated by the cost of ICT marketing's action against the council for non-payment of a bill for carrying out a village survey (Manorbier madness) and the council is currently embroiled with its former clerk who has taken them to an industrial tribunal claiming wrongful dismissal.
Meanwhile one former councillor, Pat Griffiths, is suing another, Tony Wales, for defamation over remarks he is alleged to have made about Mrs Griffiths role in the ICT marketing case.
It appears that the council's insurance company is paying Mr Wales' costs and the council is picking up the tab for the 10% excess - 900 and some pounds to date, though, if manorbier.com is to be believed, the council has never debated, never mind agreed, to fund Mr Wales' defence.

Making do

For those readers concerned about Old Grumpy's diet the answer is: Yes, the chicken curry did go the extra mile but only after the addition of half a tin of beans left over from breakfast.
Then it was two days of yellow sticker mince followed by fish and chips on Saturday before reverting to the chicken routine.
I am beginning to think that those of us brought up on powdered eggs and rose-hip syrup just after the war will be at a huge advantage once this credit crunch starts to really bite.
And I can still remember how to darn socks using a cup as a miniature weaving frame.
As I write, Grumpette is busy turning the collars on my old shirts and when she's finished that she is going to cut the sheets down the middle and sew them back together with the worn bits to the outside.
She has been watching that programme about the Victorian farm and she is now pestering me to buy her a dolly tub, mangle and washing board.
I don't mind as long as I'm not expected to get up at six in the morning to light the fire under the set pot.


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