7 January 2002


Memory man

A few years ago, during one of the periodic debates on the chief executive's salary, Councillor Rev Aled ap Gwynedd, Plaid Cymru's then leader, was heard to say that Mr Parry-Jones was one of the three most intelligent people he had ever met.
My advice to the Minister at the time was to get out more.
No doubt, Mr Parry-Jones is vastly more intelligent than the average county councillor, but so is almost everyone else, and while a second class honours degree from Oxford is a worthy achievement it is hardly the badge of genius.
Of course, the quality of a degree is not necessarily a true reflection of intelligence.
Some extremely bright people squander their time at university playing rugby, chasing after the opposite sex; and boozing, though Mr Parry-Jones' general demeanour would hardly marked him out as one of them.
However, it must be admitted that anyone who can persuade our elected representatives to hike his salary from £63,000 to £100,000 in five years must have something going for him.
And Old Grumpy has other evidence of Mr Parry-Jones' cerebral capacity.
The other night, I was reading through my voluminous file on Cllr Brian Hall, when I came across some letters written by the chief executive.
You may remember that my troubles with Cllr Hall originated with an article I wrote in the Mercury in March 2000 in which I stated that he had wrongly claimed for seven journeys between Pembroke Dock and Haverfordwest, because there were not in respect of " approved duties " as required by law.
This led to a barrage of angry letters from Councillor Hall's solicitors to my then employers Newscom Ltd.
Eventually, Mr Parry-Jones involved himself in the dispute by writing three letters in which he said that the journeys undertaken by councillor Hall (see Legal Eagles) were approved by himself and were therefore " approved duties ".
Newscom's solicitors expressed the view that these letters, " pulled the rug from under us ", but at my insistence further details were sought.
This revealed, among other things, that Mr Parry-Jones had given his approval ''orally''.
Oral approval seemed to me to be a rather sloppy way of keeping track of public spending - after all there are 60 members and at Councillor Hall's rate of attrition (seven meetings in six months) there was the potential for more than 800 such meetings in a full year.
How, for instance, were the staff in the treasurer's department, charged with checking expense claims, to know whether or not Mr Parry-Jones had given his oral approval?
Clearly it would be impracticable to be running to the great man all the time to check on the validity of these claims.
And, perish the thought, what would happen if the Chief Executive fell under the proverbial bus.
So I persuaded Newscom's solicitors to write another letter seeking more information about these meetings.
Mr Parry-Jones wrote back to Cllr Hall's solicitors expressing surprise that further questions were being asked.
"As you and they no doubt appreciate, I have wide discretion in this context'', he wrote.
His letter ended: "Please be assured that I am in absolutely no doubt that these instances were approved duties in accordance with the statutory provisions as applied to the council's scheme''.
That letter was dated 19th June 2000, more than two years after Councillor Hall made the journeys in question.
What a memory!
Perhaps Rev ap Gwynedd was right after all.
Then again, perhaps not!
According to Mr Parry-Jones, Cllr Hall's attendance at these meetings was covered by a resolution of the Council that defined "approved duty" as "Attendance by the Leader… or his nominated representative(s) at such meetings approved by the Chief Executive for the proper discharge of the functions of the authority".
"In these cases", he wrote, "it was agreed [with the Leader] that Councillor Hall's attendance was appropriate in relation to his local knowledge and enthusiastic support for new developments to be brought forward. The presence of an appropriate elected member at certain meetings with third parties is important to give confidence about the political will of the Authority".
The fact is that, of all the hundreds of councillor's expense sheets I have studied, Cllr Hall's are the only ones which feature claims for such things as "meet Roger Barrett-Evans (Pembroke Dock Museum Trust)" and other ad hoc meetings of that sort.
Could it be that the other members lack Cllr Hall's "local knowledge and enthusiastic support for new developments" or are they so public spirited that they carry out these "approved duties" at their own expense?
Whatever the answer to that question, the fact is that, after Newscom's solicitors wrote, on August 8 2000, demanding copies of the minutes of these seven meetings, an uncharacteristic silence descended over Cllr Hall and his solicitors.
This despite their letter, written less than a week earlier, in which they threatened that unless "the necessary retraction and apology" was forthcoming within the next seven days "… our client will have no alternative but to seek his recourse through the courts".
It always pays to stand up to bullies.


Old Grumpy's self-esteem has suffered yet another devastating blow at the hands of the County Council.
I have just been reading the minutes of the Appointment Panel, which met on Monday 10 December to decide who would be the two independent members of the newly instituted Standards Committee.
The Panel interviewed two short-listed candidates for the two available positions.
As the minutes record "one candidate was considered suitable", which, by a process of elimination, means that the other wasn't up to the mark.
Now, to be considered unsuitable to sit on a Standards Committee to which Cllr Bill Hitchings has already been appointed, is a considerable blow to anybody's ego, but where does that leave poor Old Grumpy.
I applied for the post and despite having a Second Class Honours Degree in Law, just like Chief Executive Bryn Parry-Jones and Monitoring Officer Huw James, and twice as many A-levels as B P-J; I didn't even make the short-list.

I must get myself an image consultant.


Out and out

Top Treasury civil servant Gus O'Donnell has admitted that Mr Brown's five "clear and unambiguous" economic tests for Euro entry are a sham.
This was always the case because the five tests concern the future effects of membership on the UK economy.
And, nobody, not even Mr Brown, can have a clear and unambiguous view of the future.
As somebody once said: if you ask five economists for a forecast you will get six different answers.
The fact is that, since its launch three years ago, the Euro has lost more than 25% of its value against the dollar but, despite that weakness, which, according to economic theory, should make Euroland more competitive, unemployment is double that of the UK, and rising.
Gazing into my own crystal ball, which, I must admit, is no more reliable than anyone else's; I foresee one of two possible scenarios.
On the one hand the lack of a single European political authority (the USA had political union for 80 years before it adopted the dollar) will lead to the collapse of the whole system.
Alternatively, the steps required to establish the European government necessary for the single currency to succeed, (tax harmonisation and control over national budgets) will prove so unpalatable to the British electorate as to make a referendum unwinnable.
Either way, we won't be in it.


The other morning the following conversation took place between Old Grumpy and Old Grumpette.

Grumpette: You should go easy on that home brew. I've been kept awake half the night by your snoring.

Grumpy: I know. I've been awake half the night listening to you nagging me about it.

Grumpette: Good! It makes me feel better to know I wasn't suffering alone.


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