24 June 2002

End of an era

A quick look at the calendar reveals that the highlight of my year: the public inspection of the county council's books for the financial year ending 31 March 2002, is only 14 weeks away.
This will be a particularly poignant occasion because it will be the last time that members expense claims will be available for inspection because, as of last May, members will no longer be required to claim reimbursement for travelling and subsistence.
Instead, as I understand it, they will all receive a fixed allowance, calculated by means of a formula that will take account of their projected workload and the distance they live from County Hall.
Such a system must, of necessity, be based on averages, which means there will be winners and losers.
For instance, as recorded on this website, in the financial year 1999/2000 (see Luke) Cllr Alwyn "Monster Muncher" Luke ate no fewer than 107 of the 780 taxpayer-funded meals claimed by the 60 members.
As the mathematicians among you will already have worked out, on an equitable distribution of the free grub, "Monster Muncher" would have been entitled to just 13 visits to the trough: 94 fewer than he actually made.
At £6.37 a time this represents a revenue loss of £600, give or take a couple of quid.
But, before you reach for the Kleenex, it is worth remembering that this reduction in income is dwarfed by the £17,500 a year he is currently receiving as Chairman of the Transport and Environment scrutiny committee, which compares very favourably (or unfavourably, if you are a taxpayer) with the £6000 he was receiving before the Welsh Assembly put the present gravy train into service.
Another valuable feature of the now defunct expense claims is the detailed insight they provide into the movements of our elected representatives.
Take, for instance, the activities of The Leader, Cllr Maurice Hughes, on June 20-21 2000.
On June 20, Cllr Hughes left Haverfordwest at four in the afternoon to travel to Cardiff to attend what his expense form describes as: "National Museum and Galleries", returning home at 11.15pm. - 208 miles at 44.1p = £91.73.
After snatching a few hours sleep and clean shirt, socks and undies, he was back on the road at 7.00am the following morning on his way to um, er, Cardiff for the launch of National Cycle Week - another£92.
Of course, it would have been cheaper and less stressful to stay overnight in Cardiff, not to mention a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in line with the council's much vaunted Agenda 21 policy.
Perhaps, he is one of those people who just love driving.
In any case, the launch seems to have been a brief affair because he was back in Haverfordwest at fifteen minutes after noon, which means he can't have spent much more than an hour in the capital.
Now that we are paying Cllr Hughes £35,000 a year to run the county's affairs, I trust we can be assured that there will be no more of this wanton waste of his valuable time.

Hard choices

My revelations over the years, regarding the various expense fiddles indulged in by some of our elected representatives, leaves them with an interesting conundrum.
If, when I inspect the accounts the following year, I find they have discontinued their dodgy practices, then that is tantamount to an admission of guilt.
If, on the other hand, they decide to brazen it out and carry on regardless, they risk digging themselves into a deeper hole because, in addition to cranking up to number of offences to be taken into account, they can no longer rely on the defence that they didn't realise what they were doing was wrong.
Over the years it is the second option that has found most favour mainly because they believe, rightly, so far, that their friends in high places will cover up for them.
However, they should not become complacent, because I am a long way from abandoning my theory that all good things come to an end

Newswatch

Now that I don't get out so much, I have to rely on the local papers to keep me up to speed with what's going on.
Not much by the sound of it, though two stories in last week's Western Telegraph did catch my eye.
The first concerned a complaint by Labour councillor and former headmaster Lloyd Evans that he had not been appointed to the Overview and Scrutiny committee dealing with education.
According to the report Cllr Evans cites the fact that he left the Independents to join Labour as the reason for his exclusion.
While it is against my instincts to give the Independents an even break, I should point out that it was not an act of vengeance by the ruling group that have left him out in the cold, but a combination of the law and his own party.
The law is that the majority group must have a majority (8) on the 14-member scrutiny committee.
In addition there are four co-opted members, which leaves two places for Labour.
The decision on who should fill those two places was an internal matter for the Labour group.
So, if Cllr Evans has a grievance, it is with his own party and not, as the article seems to suggest, the ruling Independents.
Another Labour member, Cllr Bryn Colnett, is quoted in the same article as saying "there is no democracy at all" in the recently adopted Cabinet system.
I have been saying that for weeks, but if Cllr Colnett isn't happy he should address his complaints to his Labour colleagues in the Welsh Assembly who passed the law on which the system is based.
The other story concerned the National Park Authority's proposed move to Llanion Park, Pembroke Dock.
Apparently, the authority has pledged to reimburse staff for extra costs incurred in travelling to the office for the first four years at a total cost to the taxpayer of £172,000.
Presumably, those who live in the south of the county will find travelling costs reduced.
Can the taxpayer expect a refund from those with shorter journeys to work?
Only joking!
According to the Western Telegraph: "Ten percent of the staff will have to travel up to 30 miles further."
Old Grumpy realised long ago that local authorities inhabit a parallel economic universe, but, as it is only eight miles from Haverfordwest to Pembroke Dock (16 miles return), it would seem that one tenth of National Park employees also occupy a different time-space continuum than the rest of us.

 

Quip of the week

The actor Bernard Miles was tending his roses one Sunday morning when the vicar passed by on his way to Matins.
"My word, Mr Miles", said the vicar, "you and the Almighty are making a wonderful job of that garden."
"Yes!" Miles replied, "but you should have seen the state it was in when He was doing it on his own."

Tip of the week

When the chickens come home to roost, make sure you're not standing under the tree.

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