July 2 2009
In addition to Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse's steadfast refusal to withdraw from the meeting (Interesting times), last week's National Park AGM threw up a further interesting event for Kremlinologists to ponder - the election of vice-chairman.
There were three candidates: Cllrs Tony Brinsden (Unaligned), Rob Lewis (Independent Political Group) and Mr David Ellis (WAG appointee).
Seventeen members were present - eight of them members of the IPG - and Cllr Brinsden won on the first round of the secret ballot.
The mathematicians among you will already have worked out that, on the assumption Mr Ellis obtained at least one vote (his own), not all the IPG members can have supported their party's nominee.
There is much speculation about which IPG member(s) jumped ship and whether this might be an early sign of a breakdown in the party's iron discipline.
My own theory is that one/some of the more thoughtful members decided that, as a Cabinet member, Cllr Lewis already had enough on his plate/a sufficiency of Special Responsibility Allowances without taking on the vice-chairmanship of the National Park (SRA unknown but thought to be in the region of £2,500 in addition to a similar amount in basic allowance).
Indeed Old Grumpy hears mutterings about the number of cabinet members on the National Park Authority (4 - Cllrs Peter Morgan, Huw George, John Allen-Mirehouse and Rob Lewis) all of whom currently receive almost £30,000 from the county council.
As I understand it, the reason for paying these leading lights of the IPG the best part of £600 per week is that being a county councillor/Cabinet member is a full time job.
I assume that taxpayers would be most unhappy if they were paid that sort of money for part-time working.
So the question arises: how do they find the time to serve as ordinary members the National Park Committee, never mind as vice-chairman?
The same could be asked of the Leader, Cllr John Davies, who has an even more full time job (basic + SRA £41,500) but who still finds time to serve as the county council's representative on the police authority (£6,500 per year) and as leader of the WLGA (£5,000).
But I am told that patronage allied to the solid tug of money may not be the main reason for the Leader appointing these Cabinet members' to the National Park Authority.
The latest conspiracy theory is that they are part of an advanced to guard whose role is to promote the Park's takeover by Pembrokeshire County Council when local government undergoes its next reorganisation.
I must say that I'm no great fan of conspiracy theories, but I've heard worse.
A large white envelope landed on Grumpy's doormat this morning.
Makes a change from the usual brown variety.
Inside was a document entitled "Report of Monitoring Officer. Subject: Member Indemnity". which seems to indicate that my hunch about the identity of the member seeking to to have his legal bills met by the taxpayer was on the button (Strange developments).
Unfortunately, I have not had time to thoroughly absorb this complex six-and-a-half page document but after a quick examination the following salient points emerge.
1. The amount being claimed is in excess of £40,000.
2. The authority's rules requires applications for indemnity to be made before the expense is incurred, but this particular request is retrospective.
3. That being the case any payment the authority decides to make is entirely discretionary.
4. The authority's indemnity insurance policy doesn't cover retrospective agreements to pay legal costs, so, if the authority does decide to exercise its discretion in favour of Cllr Allen-Mirehouse, the cost will fall on the National Park's revenue budget i.e. the taxpayer.
5. The authority's rules also require that applications for legal indemnity should go before its standards committee which will have the power to decide on the appropriate level of representation (QC, junior barrister, solicitor etc) and likely expenditure.
6. Cllr Allen-Mirehouse unilaterally employed a senior solicitor and a QC and, according to the Monitoring Officer's report: "The Member has also objected to the idea of having enforced upon him, who should represent him."
7. The policy regarding member' indemnity was adopted by the National Park Authority on 13 September 2006. The minutes of that meeting published on the authority's website show that Cllr Allen-Mirehouse was present, but there is no record of him having raised any concerns regarding the standards committee's involvement in deciding on the appropriate level of representation, or any other issue. Given that he was instrumental in the policy's adoption, it is, therefore, something of a mystery how he can now object to its implementation.
During the debate on whether last week's meeting should be held in private, the Monitoring Officer advised that, in his opinion, application of the "public interest test" required the public to be excluded.
However, he indicated that, if it was decided to meet all, or part, of Cllr Allen-Mirehouse's legal costs out of public funds, the "public interest test" would need to be revisited and in that case his advice would be to release the information into the public domain.
This nod towards openness and transparency is to be welcomed though, as authority member Christine Gwyther pointed out, unless there is a verbatim record of the debate, the public would be left in the dark about their representatives' stance on the matter.
From what I could gather, there is no intention to provide such a transcript.
Old Grumpy would suggest that, the next time they debate this issue, members bear in mind the principles set out out in the 'Spycatcher' case where the English courts eventually decided that, as the book was readily available in countries across the world, notably Scotland, there was no longer any secret material to protect.
Strictly for the birds
Earlier this week, Radio 4's The Today programme carried a long piece about the harlequin ladybird which has now spread as far north as Scotland and is threatening our native species.
According to the Royal Horticultural Society's website, the harlequin is originally from Japan, but is likely to have arrived here by way of mainland Europe where it has been deliberately introduced as a biological control.
Biological controls are much favoured by environmentalists because they reduce the need for pesticides, but as Rabbie Burns taught us: "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley, An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain"
This is true of the harlequin which not only competes with our native ladybirds for food- mainly aphids - but when greenfly run scarce turns its gastronomical attention to the ladybirds themselves.
In addition, the harlequin is said to threaten another 1000 species of British insects, many of which form an essential part of the food chain in which birds are the top predators.
You have to be careful what you say about immigrants in these politically correct times, but I am thinking of starting a political party which will campaign on the slogan "British bugs for British birds".
That should see off the BNP.
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