13 July 2004

email: oldgrumpy@oldgrumpy.co.uk

What goes around ...

Old Grumpy has been making a concerted effort to bring some order to the vast quantities of papers and documents stored in the shed.
Some of these papers are undisturbed in the bundles that I brought with me when I left the Mercury more than five years ago.
The tidying up exercise is periodically interrupted when I find myself reading some long forgotten, but still interesting, file.
This morning, I came across an envelope full of yellowing South Pembs D C (SPDC) papers labelled "Monitoring Officer report in the matter of the complaint against Councillor D.R.G. [Denzil] Griffiths".
The substance of the matter, which dates from 1994, needn't concern us too much except to say it involved a dispute between a Mrs Jennifer Bradley and Cllr Griffiths; rival contenders for the concession for Tenby North Beach, which was in the gift of SPDC.
Mrs Bradley complained that Cllr Griffiths had been using his position as a member of SPDC to gain an unfair advantage by lobbying his fellow councillors.
The Monitoring Officer found the case proved and concluded that Cllr Griffiths had been "extremely unwise" to approach other members and had, by so doing, breached the National Code of Local Government Conduct".
Interestingly, Mrs Bradley had only learned of Cllr Griffiths' activities when canvassing the same councillors herself.
On the face of it, this seems unfair.
Cllr Griffiths' solicitors clearly thought so because in a letter to the Monitoring Officer they say: "Cllr Griffiths consulted Councillors on a point of personal interest to him. Other members of the public are entitled to do so and Councillor Griffiths is not prevented from doing so by virtue of the fact that he is a Councillor."
But the solicitors were wrong because, as the Monitoring Officer points out, the strict provisions of the Code mean councillors with a personal interest in a matter can often find themselves in a less favourable position than ordinary members of the public.
This is exactly the same point as that made by the National Park Monitoring Officer when admonishing Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse for writing to his fellow Park members about a planning application on land in his ownership.
You can't have the penny and the bun!
Another report, in the same envelope, detailed a breach of the Code by Cllr Clive Collins who had failed to declare his interest in a planning application that had been determined by a committee of which he was a member.
Clearly, standards have improved since those days because the present Monitoring Officer, Huw James, who was, incidentally, Chief Executive of SPDC at the time of these events, has not felt the need to produce a single report in the eight years of the County Council's existence.
However, some things stay the same.
I notice that, at a SPDC meeting where the beach concession was discussed, one Cllr B J Hall tried to smear Cllr Michael Williams by suggesting that he had an interest to declare because his son had worked for Mrs Bradley.
Apparently, this information, which turned out to be completely untrue, had come from a telephone call from "a resident of Tenby".
Who that resident was is not stated, though other evidence in the report gives a clue.
Cllr Mrs E Hodgson told the Monitoring Officer that Cllr Denzil Griffiths had "advised" her that Cllr Williams had an interest in the matter due to the fact that his son had worked for Mrs Bradley, and Cllr Norman Parry gave evidence that when he "bumped into" Cllr Griffiths' son Shaun at Heatherton he too had told him the same story about Cllr Williams' supposed interest.
It is entirely coincidental, I am sure, that, at the recent elections, the agent for the Independent Political Group's two Tenby candidates was, um, er Mr Denzil Griffiths.

Proud to be a Tory!


Last week, while enjoying a pint in the Burton area - can't be more specific because of the need to protect my sources - I heard an interesting story about the lengths to which some candidates went, during the recent elections, to conceal their membership of the Independent Political Group.
I have already reported how Cllr Jim Codd (now deputy Cabinet member-elect) put an advert in the Tenby Observer in which he claimed that he had "no affiliations or leanings to any political party or group", though he had actually been a member of the Independent Political Group since 29 June 2001.
Indeed, he seems to have been in something of a hurry to join because he was in County Hall the day after the bye-election to sign the papers.
Another who seems to be a bit shamefaced about her membership is Cllr Anne Hughes (another deputy Cabinet member-elect) who, on Monday 21 June, told the Mercury: "I've got a lot to learn about structures and how manoeuvres are made. Until I know what's happening and whether I can accept the way things are going, I'm standing back."
In fact, when it come to nifty manoeuvres, Cllr Hughes has little to learn because, far from standing back, she was to the forefront - she had actually signed up for the Independent Political Group exactly seven days previously.
And whatever they try to tell you, sign up is exactly what they do.
I have a copy of the standard pre-printed form in front of me, which reads:

"Local Government and Housing Act 1989
Local Government (Committees and Political Groups) Regulations 1990.
Notice of constitution of a Political Group.
To [Chief Executive]
We, the undersigned, being members of the Council of the County of Pembrokeshire
HEREBY GIVE YOU NOTICE that we wish to be treated as a political group for the purposes of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989.
The name of the political group shall be [Independent]"

But to get back to Burton, where, my friends tell me, the sitting member Cllr David Wildman found the Independent brand had such a negative effect on the voters on the doorstep, that he was running around in the final week of the campaign telling anyone who would listen that he was really a Conservative.
Now, you can't get more desperate than that.
Though, to be fair, he was speaking the truth.

Comeback kid?

Last week, the Mercury carried a rather scary letter from former councillor Eddie Setterfield.
Under the headline "I'll be back", Eddie told the voters, rather ominously, that he would be "asking for their support again at a later date.
As the next County Council elections are almost four years away this could be the start of the longest campaign in history.
About six weeks ago, I bumped into one of Eddie's supporters in Tesco.
This chap, who shall be nameless, was confidently tipping Eddie to beat John Cole.
When I expressed scepticism about this forecast, he told me: "He's very well known to Milford people, you know."
"Yes", I replied, "and that could be his problem."


Euro truths exposed

The recent ruling by the European Court, that the Stability Pact that underpins the European single currency must be adhered to by France and Germany is to be welcomed.
Pro-Europeans like to portray those of us who are sceptical about the EU project as a bunch of xenophobic Little Englanders motivated by a dislike of foreigners.
That characterisation is difficult to sustain when you consider that some of the most level headed and rational members of the Labour Party: Frank Field MP and Kate Hoey MP, for example, are staunch opponents of further European integration.
I think what drives this scepticism in many reasonable people is the prospect of the loss of sovereignty and the undemocratic nature of what lies at the end of the integration process.
Europhiles tend to play down or seek to obscure these problems but today's Court judgment has laid them bare.
The Stability Pact was brought in at the insistence of Germany which feared that profligate governments in Italy and elsewhere would result in a weak and wobbly Euro-Lira rather than a strong and stable Euro-Mark.
The rules were quite clear: if a country's budget deficit exceeded 3% of GDP it would be fined.
Ironically, the first really serious test came when France and Germany fell on hard times.
While it was easy enough to bully small countries like Portugal, when they breached the terms of the pact, France and Germany, the twin drivers of the European enterprise were a different matter.
So, the Finance Ministers got together and agreed to waive the rules.
This, of course, is at odds with the fundamental principle of equality before the law that is the keystone of any democracy.
No doubt the Stability Pact is seriously flawed because it takes no account of the need for flexibility during the economic cycle.
But, in a proper democracy under the Rule of Law, the thing to do when the rules prove inadequate is to change them, not flout them.
Those of us who have doubts about the long-term viability of the Euro usually cite the one-size-fits-all interest rate policy that is the inevitable result of a single currency.
If, as former Bank of England Governor Eddie George conceded, it is virtually impossible to set a single interest rate that suits all the regions of a relatively small currency union like the UK, what price a large diverse entity like Euroland?
As the problems of France and Germany have amply demonstrated, it is equally difficult to devise a one-size-fits-all Stability Pact.
The truth is that you can either have a Europe of sovereign nation states, all managing their own economic policies, or you can have a European superstate with a single currency under central command.
The Court's judgment, which hands a large degree of control over the economies of the Euroland states to the European Commission, should help dispel the myth that you can have both at the same time.


Last week's piece on broad beans brought two emails in response.
The first from the Pembroke/Pembroke Dock area informed me that blanching was old hat.
With modern freezers, I was told, you just switch them on to fast and open-freeze the raw, freshly-picked beans.
The other, from the south-east corner of the county, was in the form of a begging letter.
This person was reporting serious crop failure due to a lack of rain and they were on the scrounge for any I could spare.
Poor gardeners always blame the weather.
But Old Grumpy is a compassionate soul and as I was unable to find Bob Geldof's phone number I will be dropping off a few pounds later in the week.
I hardly dare mention the ship-sinking quantities of tomatoes ripening in my greenhouse in case I get an email from Penally telling me the sun hasn't been seen there since the end of February.

It's only make-believe

Last week's revelations about Cllr Alwyn Luke and his visit(s) to the Back Boy cafe in Caernarfon have brought an email from someone claiming connections with the Pembrokeshire National Park Authority.
According to this communication, the Park has appointed a five-person committee to interview and appoint an independent (in the best sense of the word) member to its Standards Committee.
As you've guessed already, no doubt, one of the five is "Monster Muncher" himself.
You just couldn't make it up.

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