January 30 2007


Waiving the rules

After a good deal of probing, I have at last received a definite answer to my questions about what the Department for Transport (DfT) knew of Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse's encounter with the Ombudsman, when the minister endorsed Milford Haven Port Authority's recommendation that the councillor should be appointed to the MHPA board (See Last hurrah!).
When I asked the port supremo Ted Sangster, he told me that he had twice briefed the DfT about it - once last year and once this.
However, as it was the transport minister's decision, the important point was whether the DfT was briefed before the appointment was made.
When the question was put to the DfT the answer was a simple "No".
It is difficult to be absolutely sure but I think the following e-mail from Ted Sangster says more or less the same thing in a slightly more roundabout way.

The selection panel, having taken the view that the outstanding determination hearing on the Ombudsman's opinion relating to John Allen Mirehouse's relationships within the National Park's affairs was irrelevant to any consideration of his application for a position as a non-executive member of the board of MHPA, this was not touched upon in the recommendation made by that panel.
The subsequent briefing that I made to officials was verbal and after the recommendation for the appointment had been made to the Minister who was therefore not aware of this, nor indeed did he need to be as the selection panel had undertaken that review and decided that it was irrelevant. The Minister confirmed the recommendation based upon the report of the selection panel on the relative capabilities of those short listed and interviewed against the requirements of the position.
The purpose of the briefing was to make the department aware of the way in which people like you were seeking to create an issue out of this, for whatever reason, and not to insert it into the Minister's review and approval of the recommendation made.

The reason I am interested is that the 1,800 people I represent are stakeholders in the Port Authority - it says so in the DfT document "Modernising trust Ports - a guide to good governance." (MTP).
So, who sits on the board, and how they got there, is of some consequence.
I am also taken with the idea that public bodies such as MHPA should abide by the rules.
So when I read in MTP that: "Reappointment for a third term should be regarded as the the exception rather than the rule" and "All board appointments . . . should be for a maximum of three years duration" and ". . . each board member may be, exceptionally, appointed for a maximum of three terms", I expect those making appointments to take it seriously and when I discovered that Cllr Allen-Mirehouse has been on the board since 1979 I realised that they don't.
According to MTP, these restrictions on length of membership are to avoid "cosiness and complacency" i.e. to prevent the organisation being taken over by a self-perpetuating bunch of cronies. (see Self-selecting).
It might be possible to turn a blind eye to these constitutional shortcomings if MHPA was an outstanding success but, despite having monopoly rights to collect dues from the vast tonnage that uses the Haven, it struggles to break even.
As MTP says, reappointing the same people to the board " means that new blood with new ideas and new skills essential for the operation of a healthy and effective commercial operation is often excluded."
Quite so! (See Jack of all trades).

Live and let live

As a secular humanist, I come to the argument about Catholic Adoption Societies and gay rights without any religious baggage.
However, I think the Roman Catholic Church are right about this because, while the state may have the right to control our behaviour, it can't claim the right to control what we think.
It seems that the Labour Party, having abandoned its ambition to take over the "means of production, distribution and exchange", has now embarked on a project to control the nation's conscience.
If, as is generally agreed, the interests of the child are paramount, it must follow that a Roman Catholic, or anyone else who believes that the best environment for child rearing is with a married couple, will be biased (discriminate) against a gay couple wishing to adopt.
Similarly, they will be biased against an unmarried heterosexual couple.
So, either you must debar people with strong views on marriage from having anything to do with adoption, or place on them a duty to make placements which they conscientiously believe are not in the best interests of the child.
This is a difficult area because there is a clash between the right to freedom of conscience of Roman Catholics and the right of gays not be discriminated against.
Which of these rights should prevail is a question well beyond the scope of any rigid law.

Inside job

Back in November, I reported that the county council had provided summer jobs on the Tenby traffic survey for the chief executive's two sons (See Jobs for the boys).
Following that article, I received a tip off that the leader's niece had also been temporarily employed by the council.
I sent in an FoI request for the names of any relatives of the leader and cabinet who had been so employed.
The council refused, citing the exemption in Section 12 of the FoI Act which allows the council to reject a request on the grounds of cost..
I was told it would ". . . require a manual inspection of every file to comply with your request. This would take in excess of the time allowed by the Act, i.e. 18 working hours."
Undaunted, I narrowed down my search to the Education Department, but was again rebuffed under the 18-hour rule.
So, I simply asked for the dates between which Cllr John Davies' niece had been employed.
Realising that I was following Mark Twain's advice (never ask a question unless you already know the answer) the council, unusually, provided a reply well within the 20-day limit.
"The information you requested is: 19th June 2006 to 31st August 2006." I was told.
I have now received tip-off that another cabinet member's offspring was fitted up with a summer job.
This time, I intend to employ the direct approach from the outset and will report in due course.

Changing sides

It seems that Manorbier is good deal livelier than sleepy little Liddeston.
The nearest we get to excitement here is when a big lorry ventures down the lane and gets stuck on the corner.
By way of contrast, as can be seen at Manorbier.com, the pretty little south county village resembles a war-zone.
It seems that not a few of the sizeable crowd that turned up at the emergency meeting to discuss the way forward following the loss of the court battle with ICT Marketing (see Manorbier madness) were calling for the whole council to resign.
And, as they are the ones faced with picking up the reputed £18,000 bill for this piece of folly, who can blame them?
Unfortunately, as the Community Council voted to go into secret session, I am unable to report on what was decided.
What strikes me as rather strange about the whole thing is that, back in November 2005, all the councillors, bar one, voted to fight the case on the grounds that the community council didn't have a contract with ICT Marketing.
One of those who voted to take it right to the wire was Cllr Pat Griffiths, who then turned up in court as ICT's star witness.
All very peculiar!

Inside out

My Cabinet mentor Cllr Islwyn Howells has so far failed to answer my question about whether he knew that MHPA was merely to be the "front man" in a "back-to-back agreement" by which the Mine Depot at Milford Haven was to pass to Haven Facilities Ltd (see Backs to the wall).
As he claims not read this column, I will have to e-mail him to see what he can help me with the meaning of "Most recent offers" in the final sentence of the extract from Haven Facilities Ltd submission to the MHPA board meeting of 18 November 2005 reproduced below.

We know that the offers received during the tender exercise that closed on 7 October 2005 were accompanied by the various bidders' proposals for the site.
Also, that, following the opening of these tenders, Ted Sangster was asked to get involved and, on 17 October, he attended a meeting in county hall with Bryn Parry-Jones and Roger Barrett-Evans .
We also know that Ted Sangster was familiar with the proposals of the two highest bidders (see TS report paragraph 5 Surprise packet) and that he was concerned that one of the contenders (Cleddau Enterprises Ltd) would be in competition with MHPA's operation at Port of Pembroke.
How did Mr Sangster come by this information?
On top of that we know that Mr Sangster offered £600,000 - later raised to £620,000 - for the site, and that this was precisely double the £310,000 offered by MHPA's "partners" Haven Facilities during the tender exercise that closed on October 7.

When a young man's fancy ...

Though he doesn't own a watch, my Old English Game bantam cockerel seems to have noticed that the nights are drawing out and has started to behave in a most peculiar fashion.
He has adopted a strange gait involving going round in circles with one wing dragging on the ground which I assume is his puny attempt to show that he is fit for purpose, a la Home Secretary John Reid.
The other day he caught a worm and presented it to the little pullet with which he shares the greenhouse.
She, of course, gobbled it down before wandering off just like the procession of girls for who, during my student days, I bought a G &T in the Crystal Ballroom in Stoke-on-Trent
And he has developed the habit of picking up pieces of dry grass and dropping them in front of her to the accompaniment of much strange clucking and strutting.
Now this is not quite in the same league as a box of chocolates and a bunch of flowers, but the purpose is the same.
In any case, worms, which are full of proteins and vitamins, and organic to the Nth degree, are far more healthy than chocolates, and you can't make a nest out of a bunch of daffs.
I believe this behaviour is triggered by the light-sensitive pineal gland which regulates birds' biological clocks.
As is so often the case, the cockerel's clock is running well ahead of that of the pullet who greets his advances with a sharp peck.
No doubt, in time, she will come round to his way of thinking - they usually do, otherwise we'd all be extinct - and we'll have chicks for Easter.

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