June 4 2001




It seems that I owe an apology to Mr Malcolm Calver (The Manorbier Mauler) who I accused in last week's column of harbouring ambitions to become the County Councillor for East Williamston following the resignation of Gordon Williams on health grounds. Mr Calver assures me there is not a shred of truth in the story.

The mole who provided me with this this misinformation has had his worm rations cut until further notice.

My legal advisors tell me that, in normal circumstances, putting about a rumour that someone is considering standing for election is not libelous as it cannot be construed as "holding them up to ridicule and contempt" such as to damage their reputation.

However, I was told, it would be prudent not to assume that seeking to become a member of Pembrokeshire County Council falls within this general rule.

Hence this grovelling apology.




Also last week, I drew attention to Cllr Brian Hall's venture into the private detective business and wondered if this gave rise to a potential conflict of interest with his role as a councillor.

It seems that my concerns were well founded because, according to information I have received, he has been using his position as a County Council representative on the board of SPARC to polish up his surveillance techniques by secretly tape recording SPARC's meetings.

And this time my mole is absolutely reliable because the allegation is backed up by a copy of a shirty letter from Cllr Hall to SPARC's Treasurer Tom Price, regarding the oprganisation's AGM held on May 9 2001, in which he says: "Firstly, I should inform you that I tape-recorded the entire meeting and on listening back to the tapes, I was even more astonished at some of your comments than I was on the night."

What appears to have annoyed Cllr Hall is that when he asked Mr Price a question about SPARC's accounts the Treasurer replied that :"the meeting was taking place near to a large organisation where there were constantly irregularities in financial matters."

"I want to know the name of the organisation you were referring to and the exact nature of the irregularities you were alleging." thunders Cllr Hall.

Unfortunately, I have been unable to raise Mr Price on the telephone but as the meeting was taking place in the Picton Centre in the shadow of county hall it is safe to assume that the large organisation to which he was referring was Pembrokeshire County Council.

As to the irregularities to which he was alluding we can only guess.

It might, for instance, have been Old Grumpy's revelation that Council Leader Maurice Hughes had claimed, and been paid, £360 for hotel expenses in respect of a trip to Eastbourne in 1997 despite the fact that the council had already paid the bill.

Alternatively the SPARC treasurer might have been alluding to Cllr Hughes' attempt to claim £218 in identical circumstances in respect of the following year's Rospa conference.

On the other hand, he could have had Cllr George Grey's 1998 trip to Harrogate in mind.

Regular readers of my column in the Mercury will recall that Cllr Grey claimed £70 for an overnight stay in Chester on the Sunday prior to the conference, which didn't actually kick off until mid-day on Tuesday.

Or it could have been the habits of Cll Hall's bosom pal Alwyn Luke, who regularly inflates his expenses by claiming that two hours is "a reasonable time" for the journey between Haverfordwest and Fishguard, thereby keeping him away from his place of residence for long enough to be able to claim lunch on the taxpayer.

Or, . . . I could go on and on.


Feeble opposition

With talk of a Labour landslide in the air, attention has been focused on the importance of an effective opposition in any system of democracy.

It is easy to get the idea that opposition is a futile business because whatever they do the ruling majority can always outvote them.

However, in a democracy, it is not who wins the vote that is important, but who wins the argument and it is vital that there should a strong opposition, both to prevent the ruling majority passing dud legislation and to present the electorate with a choice at the next election.

This applies as much to local as to national government which is why the total ineffectiveness of the opposition parties in the county council causes me such grief.

An example of how feeble they are occurred at a recent planning committee where the opposition wished to voice their concerns about the appointment of Cllr Norman Parry as Vice-Chairman of Planning.

Their objections were based on Cllr Parry's role in the Princes Gate Waste Transfer Station fiasco for which he was found guilty of a serious breach of the Code of Conduct by the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman found that Cllr Parry, despite being engaged by the owners as a landscape consultant on the site, failed to declare an interest at at least ten meetings at which he was present when the site was discussed.

When interviewed by the Ombudsman, Cllr Parry claimed he had always withdrawn when the matter of Princes Gate was raised, but, as the Ombudsman pointed out, there was no mention either that he declared an interest, or withdrew from the meetings, in the Council's minutes.

Evidence that the was trying to lie his way out of trouble was provided by the fact that, at two of the meetings from which he claimed to have withdrawn, the committee clerk's shorthand notes revealed that he had actually spoken on the matter.

Armed with these facts, which are on the public record, it should not have been too difficult to make the case that Cllr Parry is not a fit person to hold office in the sensitive area of planning.

But the opposition made a proper hash of it.

Instead of nominating one of their own number to be Vice-Chairman, which would have provided the opportunity to mount an attack on Cllr Parry's record, Labour Leader Joyce Watson jumped up on a point of order and was swiftly (and rightly) slapped down by the Chairman who ruled that the issue she was raising was not a valid point of order.

As a result, these squalid goings on didn't rate even a paragraph in the local press.


What about the workers?

Last week I heard the Finance Director of the Ford Motor Co on the radio urging the Government to join the European Single Currency.

He agreed with the interviewer that we couldn't join in the present strong pound/weak Euro situation because that would lock us, forever, into and uncompetitive exchange rate.

Some way had to be found, he said, to devalue the pound against the Euro prior to entry.

This may be easier said than done because the strength of the pound is, in large part, a reflection of the strength of the UK economy so, if you rule out an inflationary boom or an unsustainable Public Sector Borrowing Requirement there is no simple method of lowering the pound's value.

As I have pointed out before, devaluing your currency is merely a way of giving yourself a pay cut viz a viz the rest of the world.

A 20% devaluation means that French imports which cost a fiver cost £6 after devaluation i.e. you have to work 20% longer to buy the same amount of goods.

One of the claimed advantages of the single currency is that it gives transparency in pricing. No longer do you have to reach for the pocket calculator to determine whether something priced in francs or marks is cheaper or dearer than the same goods at home priced in pounds.

That also applies to the price of labour.

If we entered the Euro at current exchange rates (1 Euro = 59p) a person on £5 an hour (8.4 Euro) would receive 336 Euro for a 40 hour week.

If, through devaluation, the Euro could be returned to the level at its inception (1 Euro = 73p) £5 would be worth only 6.8 Euro and our man would collect a mere 270 Euro for his week of toil.

No doubt Ford will be happy with a 20% cut in wages, but what about the workers?

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