June 14 2012

 

What's important?

Conservative AM Paul Davies was interviewed on Radio Wales on Wednesday morning about the latest episode in the PCC child protection saga.
This concerns a letter to council Leader Jamie Adams from Welsh Government Ministers (Ministerial letter) in which, among many other things, they say: There also remains within the authority a culture where elected members seem unable to submit officers to proper scrutiny and challenge, and officers and front line staff are afraid to disclose concerns.
In light of all of this, we wonder what confidence you, or for that matter, we, can have in your senior officers.
The interviewer asked Mr Davies "The criticism of senior officers within PCC is extremely strong in this letter. Do you have confidence in their competence and determination to get to grips with the problem.".
He replied: "What is important is that PCC responds positively to the letter sent by [Ministers] and that they work with the Welsh Government to address the failings identified. Elected members and the Cabinet of PCC, in particular, must now provide leadership to support their officers to tackle some of these very serious issues. It is clear they must get to grips with these problems as a matter of urgency."
In all, I counted four occasions when Mr Davies prefaced his remarks with the words "what is important" in order to avoid answering the question.
While listening to the lunchtime news on Radio 4, I heard David Cameron use exactly the same words to enable him to dodge a tricky question at the Leveson inquiry.
I wonder if they teach this technique at some Tory staff college.
Of course, Mr Davies has difficulty being totally frank with issues concerning PCC because, despite being forced to recruit ex-labour members in order to preserve its majority, the ruling Independent Plus Political Group (IPPG) is, and always has been, a Tory party front.
And the problem is not made any easier by the fact that the former Leader of PCC, Cllr John Davies, during whose watch all these child protection issues arose, is one of the front runners to be the Tory's candidate for the post of elected police commissioner.
I has surely occurred to the Conservatives that, during the election campaign for the top cop job, somebody is going to ask why, having made such a hash of looking after the welfare of the county's children, Cllr Davies should be entrusted with protecting the rest of us.

Non-voting majority

Cllr Jamie Adams was on BBC Wales this morning trying his best to waffle his way around some searching questions about the latest revelations about the county council's child protection procedures.
At one point he seemed to suggest that part of the problem was that the Pembrokeshire Ministerial Board had failed to give Welsh Government ministers a full account of the changes already made.
Somebody else to blame, as usual!.
The interviewer gave Cllr Adams a bit of an easy ride because he'd only been Leader for three weeks.
Well, he was a cabinet member and deputy leader for four years before that and, as the former Leader told us last October, Cabinet members have collective responsibility for all cabinet functions (Collective wisdom).
In addition, it has been known for months that Cllr Adams was the chosen successor to Cllr Davies, so the idea that this mess has suddenly been thrust upon him simply doesn't stand up.
Mind you, since the election, he has been rather busy trying to persuade new members to sign up for the IPPG in order to cobble together the majority that would he see him crowned as Leader, so he may have taken his eye off the ball.
Talking of majorities, I would point out yet another flaw in the reasoning behind the formation of the IPPG (Easily led).
Just over a week after the election, Cllr Adams announced to the Western Telegraph that he now had a majority.
At their invitation-only meeting on 8 May, potential members were assured repeatedly that nobody would ever tell them how to vote.
That being so, you have to ask why the IPPG needs to have a secret meeting before every meeting of full council if it is not to apprise members of the party line.
In any case, what does this majority consist of, if not votes?
And what is the point of joining a political group unless you intend to support it with your vote?
Perhaps the members are not told directly how to vote - like a flock of starlings they may know instintictively what is expected of them - but the outcome is that, in the past, at least, they have invariably voted as a block.
It is always possible, of course, that the new recruits will buck the trend.
I must try to engineer a few recorded votes to put them to the test.

Britannia waives the rules

The Leveson inquiry is providing a fascinating insight into the contrast between the system of government that we are all allowed to see and the parallel universe inhabited by the likes of David Cameron, Rebekah Brooks, Rupert Murdoch and Tony Blair, where the real action takes place.
I'm afraid our so-called democracy is infested with what I refer to as spurious safeguards - rules and regulations that are there to assure the public that all is hunky-dory but which are routinely ignored by those in power.
It is not that the powerful dislike rules - just those that place restrictions on them.
On my bookshelf is a wonderful booklet published by the Dept of Transport and the Regions (DETR) entitled "Modernising Trust Ports - A guide to good governance".
Published in 2000 this guidance sets out the rules for the governance of Trust Ports such as that in Milford Haven.
Despite its rather dull title, this document is designed to lighten the heart of anyone who believes in democracy.
It is full of uplifting phrases about openness, accountability, probity and partnership.
One bit that I particularly like is Section 9 which deals with the length of the terms of office of board members.
It reads: "All board appointments . . . should be of a maximum three years duration. Subject to continued eligibility each board member may be, exceptionally, appointed for a maximum of three terms. Reappointment for a third term should be regarded as the exception rather than the rule."
In a footnote the DETR explains the thinking behind this change in the rules.
"Many trust boards are currently made for indefinite periods or, if for a term, an unlimited number of terms. This can result in cosiness and complacency. It also means that the average trust board has a high average age. Defenders of the status quo point to such boards being a repository of experience. Unfortunately it also means that new blood with new ideas and new skills essential for the operation of a healthy and effective commercial organisation is often excluded."
And how do these new rules work out in practice?t
Well, would it surprise you to learn that, apart from a short break in 2006*, Cllr John Allen Mirehouse has been the local authority representative on the MHPA board (salary entitlement of circa £7,000 p.a) since 1979 (the year that Margaret Thatcher came to power), and, much to the annoyance of his former trades union colleagues (see Self-selecting), Danny Fellows has been the trades union representative since 1997?
* Cllr Allen Mirehouse resigned from the board in 2006 knowing full well that the term of office of Cllr Brian Howells, who had lost his seat at the 2004 election, was shortly to expire. Sure enough, when Cllr Howells left, Cllr Allen Mirehouse hopped back on board (literally).
The latest MHPA annual report show him as being appointed in 2006, but Old Grumpy has a big shed and my copies of the reports go back to before 2006 where the 1979 start date is recorded.

European politicians are being urged to get a grip and find a solution to the Euro debt crisis.
It occurs to me that there may be no solution, at least none that doesn't involve a considerable amount of economic pain.
There seem to be be two options which we will call Francois and Angela.
Francois would like to see more public spending as a way of promoting economic growth.
Critics of this approach ask whether borrowing more money to solve a debt crisis is a sensible course of action.
Angela favours cutting public spending, also known as austerity, as a means of reducing borrowing to levels that the economies of EU members can afford to service.
Critics of this approach point out that, in the short term, austerity destroys the prospects of the economic growth that is essential if countries are to pay down their debt.
If both sets of critics are right, as I believe they are, there is no happy ending.
The unpleasant truth is that the architects of the Euro embarked on a huge financial experiment with the continent's people as the guinea pigs.
As many warned at the outset, monetary union without prior political union has turned out to be a disatster.
As Bernard Connelly - the top EU official charged with the preparations for launch of the Euro pointed out in his book The Rotten Heart of Europe - this disaster was preplanned.
Knowing that the peoples of Europe wouldn't buy into political union, the Eurocrats decided to sell them monetary union instead.
This was a relatively simple task because it could be dressed up as being an easy route to prosperity.
In addition to the boost to trade as a result of the elimination of exchange rate risk, and the benefits of price transparency, we wouldn't have to endure the inconvenience of having to change our currency when we went on holiday.
And on top of that, the Euro would become a reserve currency to rival the Dollar.
Of course, they knew it wouldn't work, but that was the point because the inevitable crisis would provide the opportunity to force political union down the throats of an unwilling public.
Unfortunately, the American sub-prime fiasco: the banking crisis and the collapse of Lehman Bros; and the unsustainable accumulations of sovereign debt, meant the crisis, when it came, was bigger and more sudden than anyone had anticipated.
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