10 June 2003


Unreliable evidence

Cllr Michael Williams, leader of the Plaid Cymru group on the County Council, has emailed to say that I should stop worrying about Euro-Ryall Ltd, the company set up and owned by Cabinet member Brian Hall and the authority's Irish-based economic development consultant Dr Michael Ryan.
According to Cllr Williams, the council's Monitoring Officer, Huw James has told him that the company has been dissolved.
I suspect the Monitoring Officer's information comes from Dai "Spin" Thomas, the £60,000-a-year Head of Marketing and Communications, who manages Dr Ryan's contract with the council.
If Mr James wants to know the truth he would be well advised to seeks it from a more reliable source.
Could Old Grumpy suggest the Companies House website (www.companies-house.gov.uk) where he will find that Euro-Ryall Ltd is still listed as active, though, because the Directors have failed to submit the annual return, due on 26 January 2003, the company's status is listed as "proposal to strike off."
The Directors being Hall and Ryan, who, I am reliably informed, despite their "contractually enforceable" agreement not to trade in Pembrokeshire, were planning to make their fortune by taking over struggling companies in the county and using their brilliant business brains to turn them round.
PS The woolly socks seem to have done the trick and my mole says the chilblains are clearing up nicely.
Will report more fully next week.


Sneer and smear

When Mrs Anne Lye of Johnston wrote a letter to the Mercury about the undemocratic nature of the County Council, she was, presumably, trying to start a public debate.
If she expected the County Council to join in she was to be disappointed because, a couple of days after her letter was published, there landed on her doormat a stern missive from His Leadership, Cllr Maurice Hughes, telling her she was talking through her hat.
Not content with putting Mrs Lye in her place, H L's letter attacked the Mercury which he described as "a newspaper which ill serves its readers by printing only half a story."
A classic example of His Leadership's preference for sneer and smear over reasoned debate.
In any case, accusing others of a cavalier attitude to facts is a bit rich coming from someone who last November put out a press release containing a pack of lies about the relationship between Cllr Brian Hall and the council's economic development consultant Dr Michael Ryan, sole shareholders and directors of the company Euro-Ryall Ltd.
Not that either the November press release or the letter to Mrs Lye were necessarily the Leader's own work (see Fax facts).


History lesson

While looking through my ancient file on the now defunct Milford Port Health Authority, I came across a letter sent to the editor of the Mercury [Old Grumpette] dated November 1994, by the authority's then chairman Cllr Beryl Thomas-Cleaver.
I apologise for temporarily forsaking important topical issues for this trip down memory lane, but what Cllr Thomas-Cleaver had to say in her letter is relevant to the modern age.
Her letter began: "As Chairman of the Milford Port Health Authority, I am very concerned at the increasing attacks being made by one local newspaper, on the credibility of the Authority, its Members and staff."
The newspaper was, of course, the Mercury and the "increasing attacks" were in my Old Grumpy column.
The reason for my criticism was the authority's practice of holding meetings in secret, contrary to the law.
I had mentioned my concerns to the Director, Mr David Rye, on several occasions but to no effect.
So, acting on a tip off, as they say, I turned up at South Pembs District Council's offices at Llanion, where one of these secret meetings was to be held and settled myself at the press desk.
When Mr Rye spotted me he came across and insisted that I leave.
Fortunately, I had anticipated this turn of events and from my inside pocket produced a writ that I had obtained earlier that day at the County Court and thrust it in his hand by way of service.
Much to my satisfaction, the meeting broke up in disarray while Mr Rye went off to seek legal advice from Hugh Miller SPDC's solicitor.
In due course, I received a letter from the authority's solicitors "regretting our misunderstandings" - these people never apologise - and the clandestine meetings were abandoned.
In keeping with the policy of never admitting fault, Cllr Thomas-Cleaver's letter, rather than trying to argue that my criticism of the authority's law breaking was unfair or unfounded, attempted to lay the blame at the Mercury's door.
There were some members of the authority who supported my stand, particularly Cllr Tom Sinclair.
Perhaps he was one of the few who had taken the trouble to read the Code of Conduct that all councillors agreed to abide by when taking office, the opening words of which are: "Members hold office by virtue of the law, and must at all times act within the law."
Cllr Beryl had oblique words of censure for him and his kind.
"I also wish to express my appreciation of the loyal service to this Port Health Authority, made by the great majority (my emphasis) of Members over the past years …" she wrote.
And that, in a nutshell, is what is wrong with local government in Pembrokeshire.
With very few exceptions, the members come to regard themselves as representatives of the authority rather than the people who elected them.
But, in my view, the true constitutional position is that, apart from the requirement that they avoid bringing the authority into disrepute by fiddling their expenses, or using the power vested in them to feather their own nests, elected members owe no loyalty, whatsoever, to the institutions on which they serve.
Their loyalty is to the electorate, the law and the truth - not necessarily in that order.
Suspending their critical faculties and taking the attitude "My council right or wrong" only leads to the culture of cover-up, lies and spin for which the County Council has become, justly, infamous.
Still, it is less than a year to the next election when we will have the opportunity to consign these old authoritarians to the dustbin of history.


The not so good life

One Julian Rose was on the radio on Monday morning bemoaning the fact that, now Poland has voted to join the European Union, half of that country's 2 million small farmers would go out of business.
According to Mr Rose, these peasants, with holdings of 20 acres or less, "produce enough to feed their families with a small surplus to sell in the market." i.e. they are subsistence farmers.
Subsistence farmers are much favoured by environmentalists, though, as someone once said, the only people who glorify this precarious way of life are those who have never experienced it first hand and those that have never experienced anything else.
The fact is, because it is wasteful of scarce human resources, dependence on subsistence farming is the high road to poverty and economic backwardness.
Indeed, it is only when one man can grow enough to feed two or twenty that you can have economic development at all.
The earthly paradise envisaged by some greens, where we all live self-sufficiently on our ten-acre plot, would be a living hell.
If we all devoted all our time to eking a living from the land there would be nobody to man the hospitals, schools and other services that we all consider essential.
And what is true of farming is true of all other economic activity.
The fewer workers required to manufacture the motorcars we need, the more there are to produce the other goods and services that go to make up economic wealth.


Euro fudge

Gordon Brown's statement on the Euro was a masterpiece of New Labour spin.
While ruling out entry in the near future, because four of the Famous Five tests have not been met, the Chancellor held out an olive branch to the euro-enthusiasts by talking up the economic benefits of joining, eventually.
His most preposterous claim was that our trade with the rest of Euroland might "perhaps" increase by 50% over the next 30 years if we were in the club.
In fact, the potential for trade growth in the voluminous reports prepared at great public expense by the boffins in the Treasury was put at 5-50%.
A rather different story!
Anyway, it was not long before the elegant, lamp-tanned Peter Hain was on the tele telling us that Euro membership would be "good for jobs, stability and prosperity".
Like it is in Germany where, largely because of inappropriate interest rates resulting from the "one-size-fits-all" nature of monetary union, growth is at or below zero (UK 2.2%) and unemployment is at 11% (UK 5%) and rising to the point where political instability cannot be ruled out.
Hopefully, our convergence with Germany will happen only slowly or, preferably, not at all.
The Nobel prize-winning, Harvard economist, Professor Martin Feldstein, has written some penetrating articles on the dangers of monetary union for Europe in general and the UK in particular.
For anyone interested, these can be found by searching his name on the net.


All too chummy

Last autumn, when Dr Richard Edwards announced he would be standing down from the Welsh Assembly, I said how much I would miss his forthright comments on our County Council.
Dr Edwards understood the true nature of the County Council: branding it Stalinist and referring to its HQ as Kremlin on the Cleddau.
Now he is gone.
However, every cloud has a silver lining and, as a result of Dr Edwards' retirement, I have regained my accustomed place at the top of the Independent Political (sic) Group's most hated list.
And, it seems, my position will not be challenged by Dr Edwards' successor Tamsin Dunwoody-Kneafsey, who, I am told, is looking to have a much more cosy relationship with the County Council.
So cosy, in fact, that when the Queen attended last week's opening of the Assembly, Mrs Dunwoody-Kneafsey chose Chief Executive Bryn Parry-Jones to escort her to the champagne reception that followed.
There are, I hear, dark mutterings from some of the brothers (and sisters) who think she might have chosen someone more sympathetic to the Labour cause.


Money talks

A mole tells me that last month's race for the Independent Political (sic) Group nomination for the vice-Chairmanship of the County Council was a close run thing.
Apparently, the two runners: Cllr A G Rees (Newport) and D J H George (St Davids) fought it out in a postal ballot organised by the Independent Political (sic) Group.
Curiously, the postage, both ways, was paid for by the Council.
Furthermore, the instructions were to return the completed papers to the Chairman's secretary - a council employee.
Whether it is appropriate for public money to be expended on what is a purely party matter is a question I will be raising with the District Auditor.
What is particularly interesting is that the result of the poll is binding on all the members of the Independent Political (sic) Group so that, come the Council's annual general meeting, only the name of the winner, in this case Cllr Rees, goes forward for unanimous acclamation.
What is commonly known as a stitch-up!
That means that all those who voted for Cllr George in the run off ended up voting for someone they considered to be the inferior candidate in the final.
So much for independence!
More worrying is that all the minority party members are effectively disenfranchised.
It is possible that, if both names had gone forward to the AGM, Cllr George might have attracted sufficient support from the minority parties to take the laurel wreath.
There is an important constitutional point involved because the vice-Chairman, barring an electoral accident come May 2003, will automatically become the next Chairman.
And the Chairman wears the chain and eats the diet of endless rubber chicken dinners on behalf of all of us.
Even more important, he or she is supposed to undertake a role not unlike that of the Speaker in the House of Commons: to chair County Council meetings in a spirit of fairness and in accordance with the council's Standing Orders; a fundamental principle of democracy sadly beyond the comprehension of several recent occupants of the Chair.
Of course, the system as it stands suits the Independents because, in the absence of any coherent, shared political vision, the ability to fix who will get which special responsibility allowance, is the glue that holds them together.
And, judging by the way their hands go up in unison in support of whatever the Chief Officers Management Board decrees, money talks.

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