It's not what you know . . .

Older readers will remember Maurice Hughes, the former leader of Pembrokeshire County Council who lost his seat in Merlins Bridge to Labour's Umelda Havard at the 2004 local elections.
This was a severe blow to Maurice because, not only was he, a school governor, defeated by the dinner lady, but, of course, he found himself thirty-six grand a year worse off (£11,000 basic allowance + £25,000 Leader's stipend).
As I have recorded elsewhere, the most frequently asked question when I was out campaigning was: "If I vote for you, will it help to get rid of Maurice Hughes" (expletives deleted).
I had to explain that only the electors of Merlins Bridge could do that, but as my principal opponent, George Max, was one of Maurice's most loyal supporters, voting for me would help to reduce his power base.
However, you can't keep a good man down and SF has drawn my attention to the website of a WAG-sponsored quango known as the Welsh Centre for Health (WCfH) which lists ex-councillor Hughes as a member of its board alongside Professor Mansel Aylward, and other notables: details of which - plus a nice photo - can be seen at http://www.wales.nhs.uk/sites3/page.cfm?orgid=568&pid=12633
According to the website, board members are paid £4,000 per annum; not quite up to his previous level of remuneration, but not bad for attending six meetings a year.
When I told a friend about this he asked: "What the hell does Maurice Hughes know about public health?"
It most disheartening to think that I have been writing this column for almost seven years (plus eight years at the Mercury) and there are still people in this county who don't understand how these things work.
The job also seems to involve quite bit of travelling, so, mindful of Maurice's previous record (see Pot and kettle), I have put in an FoI request for details of his expense claims.
I will report again in due course.

Pembakhstan

I have a gizmo on my computer that allows me to identify the location of visitors to my website.
Amazingly, people log on from all over the world and this week I had my first hit from Kazakhstan.
Clicking on to the link to "Facts" I discovered that Kazakhstan has "authoritarian presidential rule, with little power outside the executive branch."
And that: "President Nazarbayev alone can initiate constitutional amendments and appoint and dismiss the government."
Not very democratic, then, but substitute Leader for president, and you find a remarkable similarity with the way Pembrokeshire County Council is organised.

Double standards

It is not absolutely true to say that the Leader is the only person who can initiate constitutional change - all members are free to put down Notices of Motion seeking to amend the constitution.
However, what is true is that opposition members come up against the problem that the Independent Political Group has an 8-4 majority on the corporate governance committee which examines NoMs.
So it was that Monday's corporate governance committee rejected a NoM that would have allowed applicants and objectors to speak at planning committee meetings.
To quote from the officers' reasons for non-adoption: "There is a considerable danger that in allowing public speaking in a decision making context, an issue could be raised verbally which has not been raised before and which could influence the committee decision but which has not been verified and upon which the opposite party to the application has had no opportunity to react. This in itself could be grounds for subsequent legal challenge of the decision."
Of course, it would be entirely wrong for members to create a situation where the council could find itself on the wrong end of a legal action with all the cost implications that might involve.
Presumably, the six members of the IPG, including deputy leader John Allen-Mirehouse, who also sit on the National Park authority - where public speaking at planning committee meetings is allowed - will be taking immediate steps to have this risky practice discontinued.

Pearl returns

A fire service mole tells me that Cllr Pearl Llewellyn, or should it be Llewelyn, has been reinstated to the Fire Authority (see Pearl fired).
Regular readers will remember that Cllr Llewellyn/Llewelyn was Labour's representative on the authority before the group gave her the bullet for voting, contrary to party policy, for cuts at Haverfordwest Fire Station.
Her cause wasn't helped when the Mercury pointed out that, just a couple of weeks before the crucial vote was taken, it had published a photo of Cllr Llewellyn among a group of people protesting against the proposed cuts outside Haverfordwest fire station.
After being stripped of her £1,000-a-year position, Pearl promptly resigned from the Labour party and joined the Independent Political Group.
At the time, some conspiracy theorists claimed that Pearl had been promised a quick return to the fire authority as reward for her defection to the closet Tories, but Old Grumpy is sure the Leader's decision to appoint her was taken purely on public interest grounds.
Cllr Llewellyn replaces Cllr Brian Hall (see Hall's resignation).
PS I've just heard on the news that Pearl's defection from Labour to the Tories has been cancelled out by Quentin Davies' move in the opposite direction.

On thin ice

Last week I pointed readers in the direction of http://www.manorbier.com/ the website of county councillor Malcolm Calver.
Several people e-mailed to express their astonishment at such bizarre happenings in a sleepy little seaside village.
Well, you ain't seen nothing yet.
My attention has recently been drawn to the Western Telegraph's website where, it seems, the rival camps in the village have been on a war footing for the past several weeks (see Manorbier mayhem ).
What is most striking, I suppose, is that the Western Telegraph, which shies away from controversy when covering stories involving Pembrokeshire County Council, allows this poisonous bile on its website.
I understand that the theory is that because the WT allows readers to write in and object to libellous postings the paper isn't liable to actions for defamation.
Having, through sheer necessity, acquired a substantial body of knowledge about the laws of defamation, I wouldn't bet the farm on it.
If Auntie was to be sued, I wouldn't know whether to laugh or cry.
Which do you think it would be?

Bridge questions

I am grateful to SF for drawing my attention to the article on the Cleddau Bridge in the Western Telegraph of 11 November 2002 which can be found at http://archive.westerntelegraph.co.uk/2002/11/13/6812.html
This is a report on the previous Monday's Cabinet meeting which discussed Welsh Assembly proposals to increase the extent of trunk roads in Pembrokeshire including the Cleddau Bridge.
This would have meant the Assembly taking over responsibility for the bridge which, according to Cllr Jamie Adams, Cabinet member for highways, is costing the council tax payer £600,000 per year (£12 on a band D property).
The Cabinet turned down the chance to be relieved of this albatross.
That being the case, it is not easy to understand how Cllr Adams recently came to tell the Western Telegraph that "they [Welsh Assembly] came down and took a look but in terms of the obligation that goes with the bridge and such an important structure, as well as the EU directive coming in they didn't take kindly to taking it on."
He also told the BBC "“The Welsh Office did look at taking over the bridge, just prior to the formation of the Welsh Assembly, but I don’t think they realised the size of the structure”.
All this is, of course, at complete variance with what appeared in the WT on 11 November 2002.
Hopefully, Cllr Adams will be able to explain these apparent inconsistencies at the next meeting of council on 12 July.

Euro fudge

It seems that we are not to be allowed a referendum on the EU "treaty amendments" agreed last week in Brussels.
Before setting off for the summit, Mr Blair outlined his four "red lines" on which there could be no compromise.
In a curious piece of double-talk he said that, provided these red lines were not crossed, there would be no constitutional changes of the sort required to trigger a referendum.
However, as the evaluation of the extent of any constitutional changes is in the hands of the government, this is entirely meaningless because Mr Blair and, after tomorrow, Mr Brown are the judges in their own cause.
All Mr Blair has to do is assert that the changes are of a minor nature and the need for a referendum is removed.
While Mr Blair describes the changes as treaty amendments, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel is telling her people that: "The fundamentals of the constitution have been maintained in large part" and a spokesman for Spain's ruling socialists claims that 99% of the constitution has survived.
Even Mr Blair's chum Bertie Ahern admits that what has emerged is 90% of the constitution rejected by Dutch and French voters only last year.
That's the beauty of EU summits: political leaders can all go home and tell their voters different things.
But the prize for the most slippery argument goes to Europe Minister Geoff Hoon who told World at One that those Eurosceptics calling for a referendum were disregarding their own principles.
According to Mr Hoon, the Eurosceptics' main criticism was that transferring power to the EU undermines British parliamentary sovereignty.
Our parliamentary system is founded on the principle of representative democracy, he said, therefore, Eurosceptics should be happy to let our sovereign parliament ratify the new treaty.
There is a flaw in this line of reasoning because all three parties promised a referendum at the last election and it is perfectly conceivable that at least some of our elected representatives owe their seats to that promise.
If Labour is now saying that representative democracy should always prevail, haven't we the right to ask why they ever promised a referendum in the first place?

 

Pension reality

The last person you'd expect to give a classical free market analysis of the problems of an ageing population would be the Chinese Finance Minister.
But that is what I heard on the radio a few week's ago.
The minister was discussing the consequences of China's one-baby policy which, he said, meant that by 2030 there would be only three Chinese workers for every person over 65, compared to the present 6:1 ratio.
He also pointed out that the situation was even more serious than the raw figures suggested because a significant proportion of those of working age would be employed in looking after the elderly.
One of the most persistent myths about the state pension is encapsulated in the frequently heard statement: "I've paid in all my life and I deserve a decent pension."
No so, I'm afraid, there is no great pot of money waiting to keep us in our old age because the state pension is a pay-as-you-go system i.e current taxpayers fund current pensioners.
People of Old Grumpy's generation - the so-called baby-boomers - have had it easy because there were a lot of us to support relatively few pensioners.
Because of our collective failure to breed as freely as did our parents, as we reach retirement age the situation is reversed.
There will have to be either a significant increase in the retirement age, or a dramatic improvement in productivity, or probably both, if the wheels are not to fall off the pensions' wagon.

Tony the Saviour

As Tony Blair heads for the exit it is only natural that he should be looking for a new challenge.
I suppose it was a close run thing between saving Africa and saving the Middle-east but, given his messianic tendencies, the latter was always the better bet.

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