July 15 2008

I'm afraid planning training (the need for which will be revealed in due course) and the urgent need to water the greenhouse due to this unseasonal dry Tuesday have thrown me behind schedule yet again.
So you will have to invent your own headings.
If the Merlot doesn't get to me - it is heartening to read that Sir Trevor McDonald and Diana Rigg are both partial to drop or two of the red stuff - I will further update during the night.

Two regular readers have e-mailed to alert me to an article on the BBC website (http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/1/hi/wales/7506958.stm) which reveals the vast amount of money spent by Welsh local authorities on outside consultants.
Of the 22 councils, 18 responded, and, as you've already guessed, Pembrokeshire County Council was on of the refusenics - citing the section of the Freedom of Information act that allows councils to withhold information if the cost of collating it exceeds a certain amount.

Minister for Communities Hazel Blears has issued a green paper entitled: 'Communities in control', which, according to the LGA magazine First, aims 'to shift power, influence and responsibility to communities and citizens'.
Say what you like about this government, you have to agree that it excels in putting out this sort of guff.
In response, Sir Simon Milton chairman of the LGA says: "Getting people involved in decisions made by councils and promoting democracy have, for a long time, been engrained in the work of councils".
Oh yeah!
On Thursday, the county council holds one of its six meetings of the year.
A glance at the agenda reveals that the business consists of apologies, chairman's announcements, approval of previous minutes and a few questions and notices of motion mainly submitted by the opposition.
Indeed, without these questions and NoMs it would be all over in ten minutes.
As it is, with the NoMs remitted, without debate, to either the Cabinet or corporate governance committee, it will be lucky to last half-an-hour.
The reason for this is that almost all important decisions are now delegated to either the Cabinet or directly to officers.
If elected councillors are excluded from the democratic process what price ordinary members of the public being given 'power, influence and responsibility'?
What shouldn't be forgotten is that this sidelining of ordinary council members is the result of the Local Government Act 2000 passed by the government of which Mrs Blears is a member.
I was sitting in the public gallery when the chief executive told the council that the object of the new arrangements was "to streamline decision making".
I remember thinking at the time that "streamlined decision making" and democracy are uneasy bedfellows.
Nothing that has happened since has caused me to change my mind.
What we now have is a virtual dictatorship with a supreme leader who can hire and fire cabinet members at will.
And, though, nominally, the council appoints the various chairmen and vice-chairmen of committees, it is the leader who decides who will fill the posts - including the chairmen and vice chairmen of the committees whose job it is supposed to be to scrutinise the activities of him and his Cabinet.
The Leader claims that he holds these dictatorial powers because "the ballot box has spoken" though the only two people in Milford Haven who I know to have voted for the Leader are Cllrs Danny Fellows and Anne Hughes and neither of their election addresses makes any mention of such intention, nor, indeed, of their actual or potential membership of the Independent Political (sic) Group.

One of the most interesting NoMs on the agenda is that submitted by Labour leader Cllr Sue Perkins which asks that "in the light of the very public concern expressed by Cabinet members and Councillors of this authority, we ask this Council to examine the possibility of county management of our post offices using the 'Essex model' currently under consideration by authorities in England and Wales." .
A challenge to those Tory councillors, who would use post office closures as a stick with which to beat the government (Postmark), to put their money where their mouths are.

Being a wartime baby; reared on powdered eggs and cod liver oil and malt, and whose first encounter with a banana took place around about his eighth birthday, Old Grumpy has a thing about wasting food.
So there is a constant battle to get the grandchildren to only take as many cornflakes as they can eat.
My own experience of rationing; starving children in Africa; and saving the planet have all been prayed in aid, but without success.
So last week's speech by Gordon Brown in which he implored us to solve the world's food shortage by cutting down on waste, came as a bit of a godsend.
"If you don't eat all those cornflakes, Mr Broon will be most displeased" I told them.
But it made not the slightest bit of difference.
I'm afraid the commentators are right: the Prime Minister has lost all authority.

An article in one of the Sunday papers suggests that the current crisis of capitalism; caused by the credit crunch, has put a spring in the step of the Marxists who have been lying low since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
I was turned against Marx at an early age when a Colonel somebody came to school to give us a lecture during which he told us that Marx was confined to his bed when writing Das Capital because he was so impecunious that he had had to pawn his suit.
The message being that, if Marx couldn't even manage his own finances, he was poorly placed to write a treatise on the flaws in the world's economic system.
This was in 1956, at the height of the Cold War, and I have since come to believe that this fellow was probably a spook from one of the intelligence agencies who had been sent out to make sure that our young minds weren't being poisoned by dangerous left wing ideology.
So it was not just the commies who were adept at using the education system as an instrument of propaganda.

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