27 January 2004
Up with the lark
While wandering round Haverfordwest market last week, I bumped into Peter Stock, the Cabinet member responsible for liaising with the community councils.
As someone once memorably put it: he was all over me like a duvet.
He shook hands and told me he was "genuinely" pleased to see me.
"I'll soon put a stop to that", I thought to myself, so I asked him how he justified the £23,000 salary that I and my fellow taxpayers are being forced to pay him.
"What time do you think I get up in the morning?" he asked.
I've no idea" I replied.
"Go on!" he said, "What time do you think I get up in the morning?"
I shrugged my shoulders.
"Well, I'll tell you - 5 am. That's the only way I can get through all the work." he confided.
"Sometimes I get 80 letters a day" he claimed.
It occurred to Old Grumpy that they must have a very early postal delivery on the Haven Road, and, as there are only 79 community councils in Pembrokeshire, at least one of them is guilty of wasting stamps.
I let that pass and asked him how the person who used to answer all these letters was now employed.
But he was one step ahead.
These were additional letters, he explained, resulting from the County Council's closer involvement with the communities because of the efforts of - you've guessed - Peter Stock.
Who's the mole?
Mystery surrounds the leaking of a confidential document produced by Haverfordwest Town Council in response to a consultation paper from the Welsh Assembly about the workings of the new Cabinet system.
It appears that, in its reply to the Welsh Assembly, Haverfordwest T C had some rather rude things to say about what goes on across the road in Kremlin-on-Cleddau.
Somehow a copy of the document found its way into the hands of the high-ups in the county council.
A member of the Town Council, who I bumped into the other night, clearly felt he knew the identity of the leaker but was giving nothing away.
All I could get out of him was the stock answer: "I couldn't possibly comment".
I also asked this Haverfordwest Town Councillor about the report in the Mercury that the council had gone into secret session to discuss next year's budget.
He told me that some of the daft ideas put forward by some of the members for ways to spend the townsfolk's money were better kept out of the public domain.
On the contrary, I would have thought that, in a democracy, it was essential that such matters be widely known.
After all, how are people to know how to vote if they are kept in the dark about these things?
I know it makes me look like a bit of a saddo but over the weekend I have been perusing the minutes of the Pembrokeshire Partnership Management Board (PPMB) that magnificent collection of the great and the good who have been put in charge of the county's attempts to secure its fair share of Objective1 money.
Perhaps "in charge" is not quite accurate because all bids have to be directed through the Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO) which ultimately controls the keys to the safe.
It appears from the minutes of the meeting held at City Hall, St Davids on 1 October 2003 that the paymasters have not been showing PPMB the respect they think they deserve because it is recorded that they resolved to write to the Welsh Assembly expressing their concerns that "WEFO officers do not consider regular attendance at PPMB meetings a priority".
If you read the minutes (www,objective1-pembrokeshire.org.uk) you will quickly realise why no sane person would drive all the way from Cardiff to drown in the alphabet soup that is the committee's staple diet.
In any case, it seems that the physician should be trying to heal himself because, when I turned to the minutes of the PPMB's Board meeting held at the Memorial Hall, Letterston on 3 December 2003, they recorded that only eight of the 36 members, and alternative members, had bothered to turn up, leaving the meeting inquorate.
Among the absentees were such notables as Cllrs Maurice Hughes and John Allen-Mirehouse.
Reading these minutes is a depressing experience for a serial entrepreneur like Old Grumpy.
Not only is private business almost wholly unrepresented on this Board but when you turn to the section on grants awarded you find that the vast bulk of the money has gone to large public sector organisations like Pembrokeshire County Council, Pembrokeshire College, Milford Haven Port Authority and PBI all of which, as you might have guessed, are represented on the Board.
Indeed, the only light relief on reading the minutes is to watch them declaring their interests and leaving the meeting when their own pet projects come up for discussion.
Amidst all this toing and froing, not to mention the influence peddling, all the private sector appears to have had out of tens of millions available is £1 million for the Slebech Park Conference and Interpretation Centre, and 60 grand for a shellfish processing facility.
This is not surprising considering that one of the three members of the Board representing "business interest" is Tamsin Dunwoody-Kneafsey AM (not MP, as PPMB's website would suggest).
I also noticed that, at its meeting in Crymych on 5 November 2003, the Board agreed to increase the budget for Pembrokeshire Fish Week 2004 from the original £130,000 to £160,000.
This is made up of a grant of £105,000 to Pembrokeshire County Council, to cover their contribution, and £57,750 to FIFG (don't ask!).
Interestingly, the reason given for the increase in the cash to the County Council from £77,000 to £105,000 was that they were now seeking to include "staff costs", which means, I suggest, that someone on £28,000 a year must be devoted full time to this enterprise.
Perhaps one of our more energetic elected representatives will ask for a cost-benefit analysis of Fish Week so that we can see what we are getting for all this money.
Otherwise, I'm afraid, our perceptions of this piscine promotion will be shaped by the glowing press releases put out by the County Hall propaganda machine (at taxpayers' expense) and printed without question by the local press.
Perhaps I'll apply for a grant to set up a newspaper!
Feeling the heat
I was telling my son on the phone about the bitterly cold weather we've been having.
This morning he emailed from Chetwynd (BC) in the Rockies to report that, after experiencing a chilly minus 20-28 degrees Centigrade for the past couple of weeks, things have taken a turn for the worse with the mercury plunging to minus 40.
At that temperature, he tells me, the foam in the car seats goes rock hard, plastics become brittle, and if you spend more than a few minutes outdoors there is a serious risk of frostbite.
People leave their cars running all day to stop them freezing up and your hand is liable to become welded to any metal it touches.
If this nice spell continues I might nip down to Broadhaven tomorrow for a swim and a spot of sunbathing.
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