July 5 2005


Out of order

Old Grumpy hears there was a bit of a to-do at last Sunday's civic service for the mayor of Pembroke Dock.
As so often in these cases, the row involved vitally important matters of protocol - remember the occasion when Haverfordwest's Sheriff Twigg was lucky to escape with his head after he got above himself and climbed onto the dais alongside the Mayor to take the salute from the Royal Corps of Signals?
Sunday's incident involved a dispute over who should go before/behind who in the procession..
It seems to have been common ground that the mayor Cllr Ron Watts should lead the way and it was during the battle for silver and bronze that problems arose.
From what I am told, both the deputy mayor Cllr Sue Perkins and the chairman of county council Cllr Clive Collins stepped forward to take their place in the mayor's shadow.
Some accounts suggest there might have been some pushing and shoving, but your correspondent's eyewitness was too far from the action to confirm that this was definitely the case.
What is known for certain is that the diminutive, but tricky, little county council chairman proved no match for the tall, blond, Junoesque Cllr Perkins who easily elbowed him, whether literally or metaphorically, aside.
Cllr Collins now knows what Shane Williams felt like during the previous day's ill-fated test match.
But there the similarities end because, while the plucky Williams took his medicine like a man and came back for more, Collins, my moles tell me, stormed off to his car, removing his chain of office as he went, leaving a bemused Mrs Collins standing alone in the aisle.
I am also told that even Cllr Peter "all-over-you-like-a-duvet" Stock's best efforts to pour oil on troubled waters failed to restore the peace.
And that was not the end of the misfortunes because when they all (minus Cllr and Mrs Collins) retired to the town hall for some much needed light refreshment it was found that someone had forgotten to order/deliver the sandwiches.
So, the council chairman can at least console himself with the thought that his petulance didn't cost him a free tea.
As I have said so often, previously, if only these tribunes of the people would study the constitution, many of these unseemly incidents could be avoided.
Pembrokeshire County Council's constitution couldn't be clearer where at Part 4, Page 5, Paragraph 6.1(d) it says: "The Chairman of Council shall have precedence in the County, but not so as to prejudicially affect Her Majesty's royal prerogative."
Who does Sue Perkins think she is?



No courage - no convictions

Old Grumpy has put down a Notice of Motion (NoM) for the next meeting of the county council calling for the revocation of the decision to award an agricultural planning consent to Cwmbetws Ltd (managing director, Cllr John Davies leader of the county council).
I had thought to submit a motion of no confidence in the leader on account of his failure to inform the council of the sale of the dairy herd which formed the whole basis for the "functional need" for a herdsman on the farm and, by definition, the 2,800 sq ft (excluding detached double-garage) herdsman's cottage in which the worker was to live.
But preliminary consultations with my opposition colleagues soon convinced me that most of them found this a bit too much like real politics for their liking.
Indeed, not only were most of them unwilling to put their names to such a motion, the Labour Group couldn't even commit themselves to back a recorded vote, which, incidentally, requires 10 members to stand in their places.
So, I have gone for the revocation option because it is difficult to see how any rational person could oppose it.
As we are constantly being told, the planning committee is a quasi-judicial body whose function is to determine planning applications by comparing the facts of each particular case with planning policy (law).
In this particular case the tribunal was either misinformed, or not informed, both on the rules regarding the functional need for such a dwelling, and those requiring that such a dwelling should be "of a size commensurate with the functional need".
In addition, the committee made its decision on the basis that there were 165 dairy cattle on the holding and that the "farming regime" (milking all those cows) warranted a dwelling for an extra worker.
As we now know, at the material time, the milking part of the herd had been sold off, taking with them any lingering pretence of functional need.
And a judicial decision based on a misdirection in law, and the wrong facts, is about as flawed as it gets.
I must say, with the Independent Political (sic) Group's 38 votes ranged against me, and only lukewarm support from my own side of the chamber, I am not expecting success but, if I can persuade enough members to back a recorded vote, it will, at least, give the people of Pembrokeshire the opportunity to see which of their elected representatives believe in the Rule of Law, and which don't.
This all takes me back to last Christmas when my NoM calling for the disclosure of a statement made by the Director of Finance to the police with regard to Cllr Brian Hall's high-speed activities on 1 February 2001 was defeated by 43-10 with three abstentions.
Having now obtained a copy of that statement through the Freedom of Information Act (after an initial refusal and a successful appeal), it is easy to see why the IPG leadership wanted to keep the matter under wraps.
What is hard to understand is why, on a recorded vote, only four of the 11 Labour members present (Cllrs Kate Becton, Alun Byrne, John Cole and Ken Rowlands) felt able to support my motion.
For the record, the Director told the police: "My position gives me access to all financial records within the council. I am aware that a complaint of fraud has been made to the police regarding expenses claims by [name blanked out]. I have myself examined these claims and confirm they are correct in every detail and do not believe any fraudulent act has taken place. In the event of a fraud of this nature Pembrokeshire [County] Council would be the loser and in this case believing we having lost nothing I have no complaint to make to the police."
"Every detail" includes timed receipts which show that, on 1 February 2001, Cllr Brian Hall paid his hotel bill in London at 10.13 am, crossed the Severn Bridge at 12.56 pm and, 12 minutes later at 1.08.pm, bought a "Large fizz and daily spec" at the First Motorway Service Station near Magor.
His expense claim shows him leaving Pembroke Dock at 2.00 pm (altered from 1 pm) the same day to attend a 2.00 pm meeting in Swansea, claiming 130 miles at 48.5p for the return journey.
Presumably there must be some explanation, consistent with conventional physics, for how he managed to eat lunch and drive the 125 miles from Magor to Pembroke Dock (via Haverfordwest, for whatever reason) in 52 minutes.
And some explanation, consistent with common sense, for why he drove past Swansea - where the SWITCH meeting he was supposed to attend was already in progress - on to Pembroke Dock (via Haverfordwest, for whatever reason) and all the way back to Swansea again.
Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, by clicking on The Time Lord, readers of this website can enjoy the same access to the council's records as the Director of Finance
Have I missed something, or is the Labour Group backing the wrong horse yet again?
Having been told that Mr Lewis had made a second statement, I applied to the police under the Freedom of Information Act for a copy.
They have again refused and I have appealed on the grounds that full disclosure of what has occurred in this case is in the public interest.
However, whether my appeal is successful or not is to some degree immaterial.
It would seem that either Mr Lewis retracted his previous statement, or he didn't.
If, after reviewing all the "financial records of the council" to which he had access, he did eventually conclude that a fraudulent act had taken place, why is Cllr Brian Hall still in Cllr John Davies' Cabinet?
And if he didn't?



Speaking on the radio about the election of a hard-line Islamist as President of Iran, the American political commentator David Frumm observed: "Iran has all the forms of a democracy, but all the characteristics of a tyranny."
What he meant was that, while Iran has elections, a parliament and all the other paraphernalia of democracy, real power lies in the hands of a small, mainly unelected clique.
Just like Pembrokeshire County Council, in fact!

All comparisons are odious.

Below is a drawing of the herdsman's cottage at Ffos-y-ficer near Boncath that was refused by the planning department, even though the council's surveyor certified that there was a functional need for another dwelling on the site.


And below is the herdsman's cottage up the road at Cwmbetws that was given the OK even though, when the decision was made, most of the dairy cows upon which the "functional need" was based had been sold off.

Both to same scale.

Back to home page