July 18 2013

 

Debate denied

Thursday's full county council got off to a lively start when opposition members led by Cllr Bob Kilmister attempted to suspend standing orders to allow a debate on an emergency Notice of Motion on the Leader's unorthodox expense claiming practices.
Although it was my revelations on this subject (Perfect timing) (Journey into the past). that prompted this surprise move, I had nothing to do with it.
Indeed, I didn't even know anything was afoot until a few minutes before the meeting.
Not surprisingly, the IPPG block vote was wheeled out to ensure that their Leader wouldn't be embarrassed, though two members of the party: Cllrs Lyn Jenkins and Pearl Llewellyn, abstained.
Cllr Tessa Hodgson suggested the Leader should have declared an interest in this matter, but he responded that, as it was merely a motion to suspend standing orders, he was entitled to vote.
Though, as proposers made it perfectly clear that standing orders were to be suspended to allow debate on Cllr Adams' expense claims, that seems rather feeble to me.
However, as none of the trained lawyers present offered a contrary view, I suppose he must be right.
The result of the recorded vote can be seen on that other website

Shady business

As unaffiliated members, our committee places are allocated by full council, while those of members of political groups are allocated by the group leaders.
Some years back the former Leader Cllr John Davies hit on the bright idea that he would use his majority to impose committee places on unaffiliated members.
We responded by coming to an agreement among ourselves as to which committee places we would fill with the added safeguard that if anyone nominated another member they would refuse to stand.
So, by default, we all got the committee places we had agreed upon.
This honour-based system has worked without a hitch for some five years.
At yesterday's meeting there was a vacancy for the National Park seat following the resignation of Cllr Tony Brinsden after an eight-year stint.
Three unaffiliated members had expressed an interest in the position, so a ballot was arranged from which Cllr Phil Baker (Saundersfoot) emerged the winner.
In true gentlemanly fashion, Cllr Mike Evans one of the defeated candidates proposed Cllr Baker for the position.
However, what we were not aware of was that there had been behind the scene manoeuverings and up popped Cllr Stan Hudson (Conservative) to propose another unaffiliated member (Cllr Owen James) seconded by Cllr Stephen Joseph (Plaid).
Cllr James was not one of the three who contested the ballot.
Interestingly, Cllr James was elected as a Tory but refused to join his erstwhile Conservative colleagues after the election.
On a vote Cllr James came out well on top largely because of the overwhelming support of the IPPG.
At least the next time he sidles up to bend my ear about the Tory party and the weak leadership provided by Cllr Hudson, I won't feel the need to be polite to him.
Word in the members' tearoom is that this was all stitched up at the IPPG's secret meeting last Tuesday afternoon.
Cllr Hudson as proposer and Cllr Stephen Joseph (Plaid) as seconder were selected in order to conceal the fingerprint evidence.
Of course, this has implications going much wider than a seat on the National Park committee (allowance circa £3,000 p.a.).
Now that the dam has been breached, there is nothing to prevent Cllr James from opposing any unaffiliated member for any committee position.
And with the support of the IPPG he would almost certainly succeed.
The only protection against this sort of coup is for unaffiliated members to form a political group(s).
I have always set my face against such a move, though, back in 2006, following the death of Lib Dem leader Cllr John Allen, and the loss of his seat to the Tories at the subsequent by-election, I did form a coalition with the two remaining Lib Dems for the sole purpose of preserving Cllr Brinsden's seat on the National Park (2/60 x 12 = 0.4, which rounds down to zero, while 3/60 x 12 = 0.6, which rounds up to one).
I haven't had time to work it all out, but I can say for certain that, should four unaffiliated members form a group, they would rob the Tories of their scrutiny committee chairmanship and the nearly nine grand that goes with it.
And it would serve them right for getting involved in this shabby affair.
Of course there are all sorts of Machiavellian theories as to why Cllr Hudson got involved in this shady business.
The one I like best is that with his seat on the National Park dependent on his unaffiliated status there is no chance that Cllr James will apply to rejoin the Tory Group.

In the hot seat

Thursday's council meeting was something less than a triumph for the chairman Cllr Arwyn Williams.
Shambles, embarrassing and complete farce were some of the descriptions applied to the proceedings and that was from members of the IPPG whose votes put him in the chair.
What opposition members had to say about it is unprintable.
Things got off to a poor start when his phone rang while he was in the middle of chairman's announcements.
There was much red-faced pressing of buttons before the offending instrument was carefully placed back on the desk.
Obviously not the right buttons because a few seconds later it rang again.
Already flustered, he then had to cope with series of technical points from opposition members which had him bobbing up and down in an attempt to restore some sort order to the proceedings.
Then there was a debate on the pay and grading structure led by Labour Leader Cllr Paul Miller.
After Cllr Miller had summed up the chairman asked the head of personnel to contribute his two-pennyworth.
But Cllr Miller had been reading the constitution especially the bit where it says: "The mover of a motion has a right to reply at the end of the debate on the motion, immediately before it is put to the vote".
"As chairman, you will understand the constitution better than all of us", he began [I think he was indulging in some heavy irony] before pointing out that, as the vote hadn't been taken "immediately" after he summed up, he was entitled to another bite of the cherry.
The chairman's first reaction was to deny this request, but Cllr Miller stood his ground and after a quick whisper in the his ear from the Chief Executive Cllr Williams gave way.
But that was not the end of the matter because the head of personnel made a further contribution and Cllr Miller demanded a third chance to sum up.
And the chairman didn't exactly cover himself in democratic glory when it came to written questions.
Under the rules, the member who submitted the question can ask one supplementary question as of right.
After that, further supplementary questions are at the chairman's discretion.
Cllr Williams decided that supplementary questions wouldn't be allowed.
So much for open accountable democracy!
The meeting ended at 12.30, so time wasn't an issue.
The council meets five times a year - six if you include the AGM.

Something to hide?

My struggle to persuade PCC to cough up information on the grants in Pembroke and Pembroke Dock continues.
As I reported last week, the council has provided me with a copy of the Bill of Quantities and a tender report for 25 Dimond Street Pembroke Dock with all the financial information blacked out (redacted).
The tender report on the preferred contractor G & G Builders (Pembs) Ltd states: "Their tender contains low preliminaries; however as a large local firm one would expect this to be an area where they can keep their tender low."
The logic of this would seem to be that the other six tenderers were not large local firms, but, as their names have been redacted from the tender report provided, this is impossible to confirm.
That being the case I decided to check the Bill of Quantities to see why these "preliminaries" might favour a large local firm.
To my surprise, I discovered that Bills 2-9 had been disclosed but that "Bill 1 Preliminaries/General conditions" had been omitted from the documents sent to me.
For those not familiar with the subject, I should explain that preliminaries usually include such things as offices, workmen's cabins, health and safety and storage facilities, at least that was the case when I was in the building business.
I assumed the council's failure to provide this document was an oversight, so I emailed the FoI officer asking them to remedy the situation.
They replied: "I can confirm that the redacted Bill of Quantities is complete i.e. there are no missing pages. I am informed that what the originator of the document has done is to include a lump sum for preliminaries but this is shown only on the General Summary on page 17; Bill 1 has not been completed."
Now Bill 1 may not have been completed i.e. priced, but it still exists and, as the council has not provided me with a copy, it constitutes "missing pages".
Even if it had been completed the prices would have been redacted so it is difficult to see why providing me with a copy of the original causes the council a problem.
If I was the suspicious type I might come to the conclusion that there is something about these preliminaries/general conditions that the council would rather I didn't see.
I am confident that the Information Commissioner will see things my way.
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