8 July 2002

 

What about the workers?

Local authority workers are gearing up for a series of one-day strikes over pay.
On the table is an offer of three per cent - half what the unions are demanding.
Local authority association spokesman, Sir Jeremy Beecham, came on the Today programme one morning last week to tell us that the employers' offer was above-inflation and, in any case, Council budgets are so stretched that they can't afford to pay more.
Can it really be less than six months since our county councillors voted themselves pay rises of 80 per cent on top of the 80 per cent increases they awarded themselves the previous year?
Below is a table showing a comparison of Councillor's allowances at the time of the last election in May 1999 and the present.

   1999  Present

 Ordinary members  £3,700  £9,907
 Leader  £8,800  £35,500
 Deputy Leader  £6,200  £27,000
 Chairman of Council  £8,800  £19,907
 Vice Chairman  £6,200  £13,309
 Committee Chairmen  £6,200  £17,500
Committee vice chair   £5,250  £15,615
 Leader of opposition  £5,250  £17,500

So much for rates of inflation and budgetary constraints!
No doubt the unions will be making that point during their campaign.
The unions might also observe that, since awarding themselves these huge, some would say obscene, pay increases, councillors have adopted new arrangements for local government which leave 50 out of the 60 with little or nothing to do.

 

A little dickey bird tells me a that orders have gone out from the county council's marketing and communications department that, in order to convince a sceptical public of the importance of our recently appointed Cabinet Ministers, all press photos must, in future, include the moniker of at least one of them.
Since being told this a month ago, Old Grumpy has been keeping a close eye on the local press and all the evidence is that my little songster was telling the truth.
I hope we are not paying this lot twenty-two-and-a-half grand each to run around the county having their pictures taken.
You may have gained the impression that these photos and the accompanying text are all the newspapers' own work but I can assure you that they are produced, and paid for, by the authority, or, more accurately, you and me.
The photos usually carry the attribution " Martin Cavaney photography '' and are circulated to the local newspapers in the hope of generating some favourable publicity.
The local papers play the game because they get a "news" story without having to do any serious work.
A classic example appeared in the Western Telegraph a couple of weeks ago on the occasion of the opening of a new building at Maenclochog School.
It showed the chief executive, Bryn Parry-Jones (£120,000 a year, including car and pension) The Leader, Maurice Hughes (£35,000) two Cabinet members, Pat Griffiths and John Davies (£22,500 each) chairman Leslie Raymond (£19,500) and one bog-standard member, Councillor John Thomas, (£9,900).
Add that lot together and it comes to the best part of £230,000, or roughly £1,000 for each working day (excluding holidays and weekends).
So this half-day in Maenclochog cost the taxpayer £500.
But that is not the end of the story because also to be considered are those not in the picture.
Mr Cavaney himself (say £60) the chairman's chauffeur (£50) and someone from the marketing department, probably the head man, David Thomas, given the star-studded cast list (150 quid).
It occurs to Old Grumpy that all these vastly important people should have better things to do with their time.
Or am I just being a killjoy?

Kept in the dark

Once upon a time the Labour Party was in opposition and strongly in favour of open, accountable government and freedom of information.
Now that it is in power its attitude has undergone a dramatic change.
Take the new arrangements for local government.
In the good old days, all members had access to all exempt information (details about employees, contracts etc) discussed by the Council's committees.
Now, assuming the Council's constitution is within the law, that right of access has been severely curtailed.
According to the constitution, members of Scrutiny Committees will only be entitled to see exempt information provided it "is relevant to an action or decision [of the Cabinet] that is being reviewed or scrutinised and provided that the Director of Support and Cultural Services is satisfied that the information should be disclosed".
Satisfied about what is not made clear!
So, it would appear, the situation could arise where a Scrutiny Committees; reviewing a decision of the Cabinet, could be denied access to the information on which the decision was based.
Also, in the past, members of the public had a general right to attend all council meetings.
That right was subject to a provision in S 100 of the Local Government Act 1972 that members " may by resolution '' exclude the public whenever exempt information was being discussed.
Clearly, if a majority voted against the resolution, the public could stay and the exempt information was brought into the public domain.
Under the new constitution, whenever exempt information is provided to a Scrutiny Committee it "… will be bound to conduct any discussion of that information in private and not to make the information public.'' thus removing the members' discretionary power to allow the public to stay if they consider it is in the public interest.
Having read the relevant legislation, I have serious doubts about the legality of the Council's constitution.
However, I understand that the Welsh Assembly, which passed the legislation, has approved the constitution, so I suppose I must be wrong.

Odious comparisons

County Council Leader, Cllr Maurice Hughes appeared on TV the other night to defend his Independent Political (sic) Group's decision to monopolise all 10 Cabinet posts and the six Committee chairmanships.
From what I could gather, The Leader's case was that, in places like Cardiff where Labour have the majority, they, too, have filled their boots.
As with almost everything connected with the Independent Political Group, this argument is entirely bogus.
Labour in Cardiff, and elsewhere, is a genuine political party that contests elections on the basis of a manifesto.
When they win an election there is a presumption that the voters have given them a mandate to carry out that manifesto.
That is entirely different from the Independents on Pembrokeshire County Council who did not put any sort of programme before the electorate and therefore have no real political legitimacy.
As they have no coherent policies and, given their rag bag of political views ranging from "lifelong socialists" to hard right conservative, are never likely to have any, they have no option but to do whatever the officers tell them.
Last week, I noticed they were boasting about the efficiency with which they have gone about the closure of small rural schools, often in the face of fierce opposition from parents.
Old Grumpy offers a tenner to anyone who can produce an election address issued by a Independent in which this school closure programme is promoted.
Then again, it is perhaps a good thing that they have no policies.
After all, anyone who can join an Independent Political Group is obviously a bit lacking in the intellectual honesty department.

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