12 July 2005

Marching orders

My report on County Council chairman, Clive Collin's, dummy-spitting activities during the Pemboke Dock civic service led to a follow up in Thursday's Mercury.
This included Cllr Collins' explanation for his actions.
He told the Mercury: "I just decided that I wasn't going to [take part in the procession]" and "I was there before the march. Then I left. I had another engagement I had to go to."
It seems to Old Grumpy that Cllr Collins wants the penny and the bun.
If there was something that he "had to go to" there was nothing left to decide.
As George Orwell said in "1984": "Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them."
The Chairman - second in precedence inside the county only to Her Majesty - was not too pleased to be rung up by one of Grubb Street's finest.
"You just want something sensational to put in your paper." he told the Mercury's reporter, before summoning up all his reserves of self-importance and concluding : " I've said all I'm going to say. Good day."
Putting sensational news in the paper!
Whatever will these journalists get up to next?
In truth, there were some very serious and worthy articles in last week's Mercury, including one on the issue of LNG and port safety, and another on the excessive secrecy surrounding the "Think-tank" set up by council leader John Davies.
I was in the members' tea room in County Hall last Thursday morning when a freshly minted copy of the Mercury was being passed eagerly from hand to hand..
I didn't enquire what was causing such interest, but, judging from the amount of mirth being generated, it was neither of the above.

Hope springs eternal

Last week I was feeling less than optimistic about the prospects of my Notice of Motion calling for the revocation of the agricultural planning consent awarded to Cwmbetws Ltd (managing director, Cllr John Davies leader of Pembrokeshire County Council).
With the Independent Political (sic) Group's 38 votes ranged against me, and some of the opposition members lukewarm in their support, the chances of success seemed, to say the least, slim.
But a letter on the controversial Brithdir Mawr Roundhouse in the Western Telegraph from the Chairman of the National Park Cllr Stephen Watkins; also a leading member of the IPG, has given me renewed hope.
Cllr Watkins writes: "The vast majority of our population recognise that planning law exists for their long term benefit, and should not be flouted or manipulated for self-interest."
As a statement of the values that planning authorities should follow this is impeccable.
Presumably, Cllr Watkins, "a lifelong socialist" by his own admission, believes that these principles should be applied to prince and pauper alike.
We shall see!
I was further encouraged to find, when looking through some recent back numbers of the Telegraph, that the deputy leader of the county council, Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse, also seems to be a stickler for the rigorous application of planning law.
Criticising the National Park committees' decision not to go proceed with legal action against the roundhouse, Cllr Allen-Mirehouse said: "It undermines the authority of this authority. These people have virtually built a village in the woods and got away with it. It really is intolerable."
If Cwmbetws Ltd's planning consent is allowed to stand, the applicant will actually have actually built a large, 2,800 sq ft (excluding detached double garage) executive-type house in the open countryside on the pretext of the need for a herdsman's cottage.
Furthermore, with the dairy cattle now gone, there no "functional need" for a herdsman's cottage of even more modest proportions.
Indeed, the planning committee gave consent for this dwelling on the basis of false information.
I wonder if Allen-Mirehouse J P finds that intolerable, too?
Or does he believe in one rule for the rich and powerful, and another for the rest of us?
Looking through the members' register of interests the other day I encountered another source of hope when I counted up that almost half the council are affiliated to some church or chapel - including a Churchwarden and several members of Parochial Church Councils.
And I understand that at least one can be found in the pulpit of a Sunday morning promising hellfire for the world's sinners.
If these people can't be relied upon to stand four square behind the principles of truth and justice, what hope is there for unbelievers like Old Grumpy.

Conflicts of interest


When my Notice of Motion comes before Thursday's meeting, I will be pressing for it to be dealt with there and then rather than being sent off round the houses in order to give the ruling group time to get their act together.
This, you will remember, is what happened to our NoM calling for the removal of Cllr John Griffiths from the post of vice-chairman of the children and young persons scrutiny committee when the Chairman used his absolute powers - and we all know what Lord Acton had to say about that - to send the NoM for consideration by the Cabinet.
Once there, it was realised that the Cabinet lacked the powers to deal with the matter, and it was sent back to the council from whence it came.
The object of these constitutional shenanigens was to allow the Leader time to think of a way to sweep the matter under the carpet which he did with customary aplomb. (see dodging the column).
By the way I have recently had it confirmed that the reason for this bit of chicanery was that the Leader knew that, had our NoM been put to the vote, sufficient members of the IPG, including, it is rumoured, several Cabinet members, would have voted with the opposition to inflict defeat.
Indeed, the only time I can recall a NoM being dealt with at the council meeting at which it was first tabled was the Leader's hare-brained scheme to introduce assistant cabinet members whose general usefulness is, by common consent, akin to that of a chocolate toasting fork.
If our new Chairman tries to pull the same trick this time, I will swiftly remind him that he wears the chain on behalf of all the people of Pembrokeshire and not just the 38 members of the ruling Independent Political (sic) Group.
And as the constitution says: the function of the Chairman is to conduct meetings so that business can be carried out efficiently "and with regard to the rights of councillors and the interests of the community."
And "the interests of the community" are not the same as the interests of the ruling group.

Unpaid bills

It seems that things are hotting up in Manorbier over the Community Appraisal.
Part of the dispute appears to concern an unpaid invoice for £3,000 from the company that carried out an analysis of the questionaires.
The company is now threatening legal action.
The problem is that the Community Council has no record of ever agreeing to this analysis being done, though there is, apparently, an undated letter; not on Community Council notepaper, signed by a former chairman, authorising the work.
The other difficulty is that the council's constitution requires all contracts over £1,000 in value to be sanctioned by resolution of the council, which this, it seems, wasn't.
Questions have been asked as to why the Clerk failed to inform the council of this requirement.
As the contract at issue never passed through the proper channels, how was the Clerk to know?
Perhaps, they should give the Clerk's job to Mystic Meg.

A full report can be found at www.manorbier.com


Gardening hints

When I mentioned to my socialist friend and gardening consultant that my tomatoes were a bit slow to turn red, he advised me to hang a ripe banana next to the bottom truss.
And does this work?
Well, a week later and the tomatoes have taken on that yellowy tinge that is the precurser to ripening, while those on the untreated plants are still pure green.
Is my socialist friend on to something or is it just a reflection of the colour of the banana.
I will report next week.
It is that time of year again when I regret planting so many broad beans.
I did cut the number of rows from five to four but the beans have responded by producing a 25% bigger crop.
So there are plenty of boring hours ahead shelling and freezing the things.
One consolation is that, acting on the advice of a correspondent in Pembroke Dock, I no longer bother blanching, which cuts the work by half without any discernible effect on the quality.
Last week, I finished picking the gooseberries which are now installed in the freezer.
Liberally sprinkled with sugar, stewed, chilled and eaten straight from the fridge with a generous dollop of double cream, they beat strawbwrries any time.
My tip for "nopping" gooseberries is to freeze them first, which Old Grumpette finds makes the stalks and the remains of the flowers brittle and easy to rub off.

Helping Africa

The G8 summit agreed to tackle both global warming and African poverty even if the USA could not be persuaded to throw its weight behind the Kyoto protocol.
It is easy to blame American foot-dragging over climate change on Bush and his oil industry cronies but that is to ignore the fact that when Clinton tried to push Kyoto through Congress it was defeated by 93 votes to nil.
Which brings us to Africa.
Africa we are told will be brought out of poverty by investment from the "rich countries".
This is something of a misnomer because there are no rich countries in the way there are rich people i.e. people such a Bill Gates who has more money than he could spend in a hundred lifetimes.
That is not the case with the world's richer countries most of which are running large budget deficits in order to meet their electorates' expectations.
As long as their economies are growing at 2.5-4% they can fund their own public spending and spare a few bob for Africa.
But, if a reduction in energy use depresses growth, all bets are off.
We must hope either that the global warmers are wrong, or that we can harness some alternative non-polluting source of energy to keep the wheels turning.


If you are careful not to stamp on the fingers of those below you on the ladder, you will be forgiven for biting the ankles of those on the rungs above.

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