29 June 2004

In denial

On Tuesday we all trundled along to County Hall for the AGM of the County Council.
This is the occasion for the election of the Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Leader and the Chairs and Vice-Chairs of Committees.
It is also the occasion for a great deal of self-importance and puffery, accompanied by the exchange of chains and flowers and a windy speech by the outgoing Chairman about what has been achieved in his term of office.
I referred to elections earlier but that is something of a misnomer because every decision waved through at this meeting had already been taken earlier at one secret meeting or another of the Independent Political Group.
I trust the members of this political group made it clear during the elections that this is the way they intended to do business, otherwise it would be difficult not to conclude that the voters have been the victims of a gigantic con trick.
We already know that Cllr Jim Codd sought to conceal his membership of the IPG from electorate in an advert in the Tenby Observer (see June 22) and then we have the strange case of Cllr Anne Hughes who was running round Milford during the campaign proclaiming that she was an independent independent but has now dropped half of that title by signing up to the IPG.
A word of explanation is in order here because joining this group is often portrayed by its members as something that just happens to them.
In fact, it is a legal requirement that members joining such a group must give written notice, countersigned by the group leader, deputy leader or more than half the existing members.
In the case of Cllr Hughes, last Monday (21 June) she told the Mercury that she was still considering whether to join.
The document bearing her signature is dated 21 June and she is tenth on the list.
This would mean that sometime during Monday 21 June she made up her mind, and, after that decision was made, another 28 members signed the form.
If that sounds improbable it's because it isn't true.
I am reliably informed that the document was passed around for signature at a secret meeting held on the previous Monday, 14 June, at which Cllr Hughes was present, .
At that same meeting the members decided to nominate John Davies as Leader, Clive Collins for Vice Chairman and John Thomas for Chairman.
It is noticeable that Cllr Hughes is the tenth name on the list, ahead of the leader John davies and several Cabinet members.
The reason the document is dated 21 June is that there were a number of members absent from the June 14 meeting and the membership list, on which the number of committee seats allocated to the group depended, couldn't be handed in until they had a full house.
The arithmetic is interesting because 38 (the final number) entitles the group to 38/60 ths of the seats on any committee or outside body.
Scrutiny committees have 12 members and there are 12 places for county council members on the National Park..
38/60 X 12 = 7.6 which rounds up to 8, whereas 37/60 X 12 = 7.4, which rounds down to 7.

One-party state

At the AGM the new Leader made much play with the idea of inclusiveness.
To this end he is now proposing to create an unspecified number of deputy Cabinet members.
The good news is that there will be no extra cost because the special responsibility allowances (SRAs) attached to these posts will be financed by reductions in the gravy rations of the Cabinet members themselves.
Figures I have heard suggest that Cabinet stipends will be cut from £23,000 to £18,000, with the five grand savings being used to pay the deputies.
One justification for these changes is that Cabinet portfolios are too burdensome and this will help to spread the load.
The other is that it will devolve power further down the food chain.
As a fully paid-up member of the association of sceptics, I would suggest a third: that once all these people are in place more than half the council will be receiving considerable extra sums of money by virtue of the Leader's patronage.
In short the payroll vote will outnumber the rest of us.
And, what the Leader giveth, the Leader taketh away.
In my humble opinion what is happening here is that the Leader is using the £250,000 the taxpayer has put at his disposal for SRAs, to turn Pembrokeshire into a one-party state.
And we all know where that leads.

Ryan's demise

On logging on to the Irish Times website (www.ireland.com) over the weekend I discovered that Cllr Brian Hall's former business associate, Dr Michael Ryan, has been sacked from his post as Chairman of the Irish Civil Defence Board by the Minister, Michael Smith.
Regular readers will remember that, for just over a year, Dr Ryan has been threatening to sue Old Grumpy and Cllr Michael Williams for libel.
One way and another, fighting off these threats has set me back more than £1,000 in legal fees and other costs.
According to letters Cllr Williams and I have received from his solicitors, Dr Ryan is the best part of £7,000 out of pocket.
The strange thing is that, despite being cleared of any wrongdoing following an Audit Commission in Wales (ACW) investigation into his and Hall's business dealings, he seems to be making no effort to recoup these costs.
I suspect that he has concluded that a High Court Judge might not put such a generous interpretation on his fax to Hall dated 16 October 2000 as the ACW (see Hall Ryan-the full story).
Another strange thing is that I have not heard a word from lawyers representing the normally combative Cllr Hall.
Perhaps he is still smarting from the more than £3,000 it cost him (not including his own costs) the last time we clashed in the High Court.
But the strangest thing of all is that, despite the clearest evidence that Dr Ryan was prepared to double-cross the council by plotting to trade in Pembrokeshire after promising not to do so (see Hall-Ryan) it continues to employ him as a £450-a-day economic development consultant.
To sack him would, of course, be to admit there was something wrong in the first place - and that would never do.

Straight talking

Monday's Western Mail carried a fascinating story about events inside the debating chamber of Swansea City Council.
After a long period of uninterrupted Labour rule the majority "party" in the council is now a coalition of Tories, Independents and Lib Dems.
Except for the Lib Dems, rather like Pembrokeshire County Council, in fact.
The new Labour leader David Phillips is clearly not enamoured of this rainbow coalition and he told the first meeting of the council: "People didn't vote for this devil's cabal of political extremists, crypto-fascists, racists, bigots and other supporters of the far right."
After being asked to moderate his language by the Lib Dem Chairman, he continued by saying that the ruling group was made up of "hypocrites, outright liars, Tories, plain fools and people just there for the money."
Now, I'm all for a bit of plain speaking, but to accuse somebody of being a Tory is going a bit too far.
The upshot is that, having sought the advice of the Monitoring Officer, Cllr Ioan Richard, an independent member of the ruling group, is making a complaint to the Ombudsman.
According to Cllr Richard, the Code of Conduct states that "no member or officer shall bring the authority into disrepute".
So it does, but what that means, I think, is that members should not fiddle their expenses; seek to abuse their positions as councillors, to feather their own nests; threaten other members with violence; and that sort of thing, if you get my drift.
I can't believe it can be used to curtail a member's right to free speech, which is safeguarded by article something or other of the Human Rights Act 2000.

Out of stock

A friend alerted me to an amusing little quirk on the County Council's website (www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk)
Click on "Inside the council" and then on Cllr Maurice Hughes and you get the message: "It is regretted but the article requested is no longer available either having expired or having been restricted."


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