July 16 2009

 

Enlightenment

 

Andrew Marr's guest on Monday's 'Start the Week' was the Nobel prize-winning economist and philosopher professor Amartya Sen.
Professor Sen's theme was the connection between democracy and justice.
In the spirit of the great European intellectual flowering of the 18th and 19th centuries known as the Enlightenment, he said, to achieve justice required the constant interrogation of the facts.
In addition, in a democracy, such decision-making would need to follow from "public reasoning and open discussion" involving "probing and argument".
Naturally, Old Grumpy favours Prof Sen's view over that of Pembrokeshire County Council's ruling Independent Political Group which seems to believe that democracy means the majority riding roughshod over the minority.
At the May meeting of full council the IPG voted down a modest proposal that would have fostered "public reasoning and decision making" by allowing the proposers of Notices of Motion (NoM) to speak at the Cabinet meetings where they were considered (Groupies).
Members already have this right with regard to NoMs remitted to the corporate governance committee, so it wouldn't be too radical to extend it to Cabinet.
The Leader's argument against this proposal was interesting.
The distinction he drew between cabinet and corporate governance was that all members had a Cabinet mentor who could put their case for them so there was no need for them to address Cabinet themselves.
The problem with this as far as opposition councillors are concerned is that the Cabinet are all members of the ruling IPG and are therefore unlikely to be sympathetic to their proposals.
On the other hand all the opposition party leaders are members of corporate governance committee.
So, if anything, it is much easier for members to get someone to speak with conviction on their behalf at corporate governance.
There was a recorded vote on this issue at the last council meeting and it must be coincidence that none of the four IPG members who voted for more open debate (Cllrs Elwyn Morse, Mike John, Martin Davies and Michael Evans) are in receipt of a Special Responsibility Allowance.



Indiscretion

 

If her performance on her first outing is anything to go by,. the new chairman of council, Cllr Anne Hughes, clearly doesn't believe in 'probing and argument'.
Under the council's constitution members who submit a written question "may ask a supplementary question."
In addition, "Members may ask further supplementary questions at the discretion of the chairman."
At the beginning of question time, Cllr Hughes announced that she was not going to allow further questions.
Her reason for this was that, as there were 26 questions on the agenda, it would take too much time.
The meeting started at 10 am and finished at 12.30 pm.
The council only meets five times a year.
Surely, an extra hour at most is not too much to ask in the interests of "probing and argument".
According to the constitution the duties of the chairman include:
To chair meetings of the council so that its business can be carried out efficiently and with regard to the rights of councillors and the interests of the community, and to ensure that the council meeting is a forum for the debate of matters of relevance to the local community.
It not clear how this is to be achieved if the chairman uses her powers to restrict members' right to hold the executive to account by asking questions.

Put up job

 

A couple of weeks ago I drew attention to the number of county council cabinet members appointed by the Leader to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park authority and mentioned that some conspiracy theorists were suggesting that they represented a third column ahead of a planned county council takeover (Missing votes).
Well, it seems the conspiracy theorists were on to something because today's county council meeting considered a Notice of Motion by Independent Political Group loyalist Cllr Arwyn Williams calling for the park's planning function to be amalgamated with that of PCC with a view to "a more cost and delivery efficient service being provided to the people of Pembrokeshire and beyond".
This move is inspired by a recent auditor's report which criticised the park's failure to determine planning applications within the recommended time limits.
Normally these NoM's are remitted at the chairman's discretion to either Cabinet or Corporate Governance Committee for consideration before being returned to full council for a final decision.
However, because of what he describes as the "urgent nature" of the issue given that ""matters appertaining to this motion are currently being considered by PCNPA" Cllr Williams asked the chairman Cllr Anne Hughes to exercise her discretion to allow his NoM to be debated at today's meeting.
And, sure enough, she did
The conspiracy theorists say that they hadn't thought of Cllr Williams as a "matters appertaining" type and suspect his NoM was a put up job by the IPG leadership.
Speaking in favour Cllr Williams outlined the opportunities for what he several times referred to as "co-working" between the two authorities.
I felt compelled to seek clarification because the NoM used the term "amalgamation" which is not at all the same as co-working.
Cllr Williams indicated he was happy with either term, though one should not expect too much by way of linguistic precision from a member of something called the Independent Political (sic) Group.
Describing the NoM as an "ambush" National Park vice-chairman Cllr Tony Brinsden said it was a "thinly-veiled attempt" to take over PCNPA.
And former park chairman Cllr Simon Hancock pointed out that if the county council usurped PCNPA's planning function there would be little left.
Several supporters of the NoM referred to the present situation whereby people on different sides of the boundary were subject to different planning policy regimes but, as was admitted, this would be the case even if the functions were combined because PCNPA and PCC operate under two distinct statutory frameworks.
Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse said he had been a member of PCNPA for many years and drew attention to previous critical auditor's reports which had not been acted upon.
It seems not to have occurred to him that, as a member, of the park, he might bear some responsibility for this lack of remedial action.
As so often, it was left to Cllr Michael Williams to administer the coup de grace when he asked the other Cllr Williams to explain the difference between the statutory remits of the two authorities.
Cllr Williams (A) took on the expression of a recently landed fish and turned to the Leader for help.
But Cllr Williams (M) told him "It's your NoM, you answer", at which point (A) had to admit that he didn't have a clue.
Turning to the Leader, Cllr Williams (M) said: "In future, when you put someone up to propose a NoM, please try to make sure they are properly briefed."
Quite!

Double take

Conservative leader Cllr Stan Hudson put down a question about capital spending since 2005 in the county's five main towns.
Old Grumpy raised this subject some time ago (Face the facts) and the answer in Milford Haven's case: not very much.
The problem for the Tory leader is that, during the period in question, two members of the Cabinet which decided to starve Milford Haven of cash were members of his own party.
Not to mention the several Tories fellow travellers in the upper reaches of the Independent party.
Old Grumpy doesn't remember either them or the Conservative party making a fuss at the time.
Still, as I always say: When you're all peeing in the same pot, it doesn't pay to rock the boat.
For the record, capital spending per head of population (excluding education) since April 2005 was Haverfordwest £2,300; Milford Haven £1,100; Pembroke Dock £1,292; Fishguard £1,321 and Tenby £1,099.

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