7 January 2004

email: oldgrumpy@oldgrumpy.co.uk



Last week, I reported that solicitors acting for Dr Michael Ryan had been instrumental in having seven pages removed from my website.
For whatever reason they did not seek to censor my contribution of December 9 (... but not forgotten).
Not being in the habit of making things up, I stand by everything written on this website and if Dr Ryan carries out his threat to sue me I will mount a vigorous and, I believe, successful defence.

Taxing times

This is the time of year when the County Council sets its budget and works out how much we will have to cough up in Council Tax.
With elections just five months away, the ruling Independents will be straining every sinew to bolster their electoral prospects by keeping any tax increase to the minimum.
This will enable His Leadership, Cllr Maurice Hughes, to boast about the prudent stewardship of his Independent Political (sic) Group.
In fact the level of Council Tax is almost all down to how much money the authority receives from central government (see Tax truths).
Another factor is the tax base - the number of band D equivalent properties in the council's area.
Old Grumpy notices that, since the council's inception in 1996/97, the tax base has gone up from 41,183 to 45,512 an increase equivalent to 4,329 band D properties.
At £500 a shot these represent additional revenue to the council in excess of £2 million without having to raise the level of the tax by a penny.


Old pals' act

According to the Western Mail, Glyn Davies, a leading Tory in the Welsh Assembly, has accused the ruling Labour Group of sneaking out bad news under cover of the Christmas holidays.
The bad news in question is something called the "Conduct of Members Order 2004" which will allow county councillors to vote on their own pension arrangements.
Mr Davies claims that this piece of legislation will allow the resurrection of the £20,000 "golden goodbyes", rejected unanimously by Pembrokeshire County Council, last October, after the potential beneficiaries were forced to declare an interest and leave the meeting.
Having read the legislation on the Assembly's website, I think Mr Davies is wrong about that.
What the new rules allow is for council members to vote on whether or not they should be able to join the local government pension scheme.
Hitherto, councillors have not been eligible for the scheme but, as a result of the exotically named "Local Authorities (Allowances for Members of County and County Borough Councils) (Pensions) (Wales) Regulations 2003", which came into force on 1 January 2004, they soon will be.
While Mr Davies might be mistaken about the exact effect of the Conduct of Members Order 2004, he is surely right when he says that the Labour dominated Assembly is dancing to the tune of the even more Labour dominated Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA).
Consider the Assembly's record in the four-and-a-bit years since it came into being.
Firstly there is the issue of councillors' allowances which have almost trebled during that period.
In 1999 a bog standard councillor received a basic allowance of £3,600.
That has now risen, in two jumps, to over £10,000, while, at the same time, under the new Cabinet arrangements, the members have less to do than ever.
The Leader, who was receiving £8,800 when we last went to the polls, is now trousering a massive £36,000.
A list of these comparative payments, which does not include eight new Cabinet posts at £22,500 each, can be found at (What about the workers).
Those increases sent the total cost of members' allowances soaring from £250,000 to over £800,000 a year.
If they are allowed into the pension scheme, to which the taxpayers contribute 9% of salary [allowance] that will, potentially, set us back another £80,000 a year.
Not satisfied with doling out all this extra gravy to their councillor chums, two years ago the Assembly gave them another lap on the gravy train by postponing the local government elections for a year.
This was fraud on the electorate because when we went to the polls in May 1999 it was on the understanding that, if we didn't like what we got, we would have the chance to throw them out in four years time.
The rationale behind this extension was that they wanted to avoid a clash between the local government elections and those for the Assembly in case we poor, stupid voters got confused with all those different ballot papers.
At about the same time the Scottish Parliament also put off their local elections for a year because um, er, they wanted to have their Parliamentary and local government elections on the same day.
And, just to show that politics and logic don't mix, the Welsh Assembly recently decided to delay the local elections for a further month so that they could be held on the same day as those for the European Parliament.

Madeira Marxists

One of my moles, a practising socialist, rang at lunch time today.
As we were chewing the fat he told me he had to go because his wife had just put his lunch on the table.
"Something nice?" I asked.
"Ardennes pate, rye bread and a glass of Madeira", he replied.
How New Labour is that?
Kier Hardie must be turning in his grave.


email: oldgrumpy@oldgrumpy.co.uk

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