June 5 2007


Bluestone's bankers

If you live in the south of the county you will already have seen the county council's press release about the new Bluestone roundabout in the Western Telegraph.
This hand-out features a photo of Cabinet member Jamie Adams (highways) together with a group of other notables, at the grand opening.
According the county council's blurb: "The works were funded by Bluestone and carried out by local contractor Jones Brothers."
However, last September, meeting behind closed doors, the Cabinet agreed: "That the arrangements set out in the report of the Director of Transportation and Environment for effecting and managing the construction of a new roundabout on the A4075 to accommodate access into the new Bluestone Development near Narberth be approved.
Reason for Decision: To facilitate highway improvements and economic development."
If you think that is not terribly informative, you would be right.
The reason for this coyness is that the "arrangements" referred to involved the council providing the £750,000 it cost to build the roundabout, with the owners of Bluestone promising to reimburse the council on completion of the whole development, whenever that might be.
So the words "were funded" should read "will eventually be funded".
The uposhot of all this is that the taxpayer is acting as Bluestone's banker.

Influence peddlers

During the run-up to Cllr Brian Hall's resignation from the Cabinet, the Western Telegraph's website carried a message board which invited readers to provide an answer to the question: "Should Hall go?"
A lively discussion ensued - much of it libellous - and though Cllr Hall's critics easily outnumbered his supporters there was a significant minority who praised his ability "to get things done".
Now, while getting things done is an important part of a councillor's role, the term covers a multitude of sins.
The way the system is supposed to work is that councillors (the politicians) make policy and the officers carry it out.
Of course, nothing is perfect and from time to time members will receive complaints from their constituents which they will then draw to the attention of officers.
One common source of friction is the idea embraced by some members of the public that elected members can issue orders to officers.
Occasionally we might nag, but orders, never.
Clearly, if a constituent approaches a member with a problem which is swiftly resolved, it doesn't do the member any harm electorally.
But the skewing of priorities to favour one member, or party, over another - a species of the Dame Shirley Porter syndrome - would be both illegal and unethical.
I previously reported on the secret group meeting of the Independent Political Group where Cllr Hall's fate was ultimately sealed (see Hall's resignation-what really happened).
At that meeting, Cllr Rosalie Lilwall related how Cllr Hall had telephoned her and threatened that, unless she supported him, nothing would be done in her ward.
This has echoes of an e-mail I received from Cllr Martin Davies after I wrongly accused him voting the IPG ticket on a particular issue.
Cllr Davies contacted me to say that he had actually voted against the party line and, as a result, a message had been passed to him from someone known as the "Cabinet enforcer" that if he didn't support the group the group wouldn't support him.
Support, in this context, means "getting things done" in your ward.
Only recently, the IPG's arch rebel Cllr Henry Jones was heard to say that he had been warned that if he didn't stop making a nuisance of himself over the proposed imposition of car parking charges in Fishguard, Milford Haven and Pembroke Dock he would get nothing done in his ward.
I don't know exactly who is alleged to have issued this alleged threat but I am certain it wasn't either Cllr Hall or the Leader.
Indeed, I doubt very much whether Cllr Hall or anyone else has the power to direct officers to do some works rather than others and if any officer was so influenced he/she would clearly be in breach of the employee's code of conduct which states: "Employees serve the Authority as a whole. It follows they must serve all Councillors and not just those of the controlling group . . ".
However, what is not in doubt is that the threat is used as a means of imposing internal party discipline, and conversations I have had with IPG members lead me to believe that, in addition to the prospects of landing a special responsibility allowance, the promise of favourable treatment in respect of "getting things done" was part of the bait used to recruit them into the party following the last election.

The boys on the black stuff

Of course, back in the days of Preseli DC, persuading officers to misappropriate public assets for a member's own electoral advantage was not entirely unheard of here in Pembrokeshire (see Tarmac scandal).
In that case, the scam involved "getting things done" that were not even part of the council's responsibilities.
So the elected member would be approached by some organisation in his ward that wanted a car park resurfaced.
"Leave it to me, I'll have a word" he would say.
The member would then approach a senior officer in the Works Department who would in turn instruct a contractor to carry out the works which would be paid for by adding the cost to some legitimate job he was doing for the council.
In due course, the benefiting organisation would pass a vote of thanks to Cllr Whatshisname for using his good offices on their behalf and, come the next election, his ability to get things done would be rewarded at the ballot box.
Of course, if the member's part in the transaction had been put in its proper light - facilitating the theft of X thousand pounds worth of tarmac from the taxpayer - the applause might not have been quite so enthusiastic.

The gasman cometh

Mr Putin is engaging in a bit of sabre rattling ahead of the G8 summit by threatening to aim some of Russia's nuclear missiles at European targets.
This is in response to American plans to site an anti-missile defence system in Eastern Europe.
Putin claims this endangers Russian security, though just how a defensive system designed to intercept incoming missiles can be considered a threat is not altogether clear.
There is talk of a new cold war but Old Grumpy isn't losing too much sleep.
Much of Putin's fiery rhetoric is aimed at smoothing the nationalist elements in his own country who feel much diminished following the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Now, bolstered by Russia's vast reserves of oil and gas, Mr Putin is feeling his oats.
Rather than be alarmed by all this we should heed the words of Adam Smith who pointed out that trade was the best route to peaceful coexistence. As Smith said: "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard for their own interest."
And it would hardly be in Russia's interest to annihilate tens of thousands of its best gas customers.


Navel gazing


Reading today's Daily Telegraph it is difficult to escape the conclusion that we are becoming dangerously self-obsessed.
On page four the headline "Children are missing out on crucial friendships" appears over an article which claims that "parental paranoia" is stunting child development".
On the same page, "Women happier with their bodies" is followed by the "news" that "Women over 50 are so confident about their bodies that one in ten would pose naked for a photographer."
At the top of page six I read "Multi-taskers 'lose ability to focus' " with the strap line "Surrounding yourself with gadgets could damage family life and your health, writes Sarah Womak"
And just below that, the Bishop of Reading is urging "Change your life, by doing nothing".
In addition there is "BMA calls on pubs and restaurants to display warnings on alcohol units"; "Why a brisk walk after a meal burns more calories"; and "Researchers link brain tumours to pesticides" as well as no fewer than six articles on the damage done to the planet by our rampant consumerism.
No wonder that, despite our unprecedented wealth, there are now more people on anti-depressants than at any time in history.
Indeed there were only three things in the whole paper that lifted the spirits.
First, a survey has discovered that we Britons lose 855,000 mobile phones each year by flushing them down the loo.
This amounts to one for every 70 of the UK's 60 million inhabitants or 185 in a town the size of Milford Haven.
I blame these new slimline phones. Those bulky, old fashioned models wouldn't go round the bend.
Second, Sharon Stone's flashing scene in Basic Instinct has been voted the most paused television moment (is she over 50?) and finally, tucked away near the bottom of page 14, is the heartening news that "Police may question Blair under caution."

Only here for the beer

A member of the Haverfordwest Improvement Project rang this morning to inform me of beer festival to be held on 28-29 July at Haverfordwest Castle.
My spirits soared because I thought he was ringing to ask me to be a judge, but it turned out that all he wanted was some free publicity.
The organisers are hoping to have upwards of 20 beers and ciders on offer, and there will also be music, food and soft drinks (Can this be right? Ed).
Entrance will be £3.
It is also hoped to run a competition for home brewers, so if you fancy becoming the Premier County's premier home brewer ring 01437 768092 for further details.

No such thing as a free lunch


My son-in-law has now transferred the picture of mother and chicks on to the website (Chicks).
Free computer services might seem like a good thing, but he arrived at 12 O'clock on Sunday with the tribe in tow, so the transaction cost us five roast beef lunches.
And, if you saw the way those children eat, you would realise that's no cheap option.
Fortunately, the potatoes came straight from the garden (SF please note) so they were both delicious and cheap.
Indeed, although they went in rather late, the plastic bags and other contrivances seem to have done the trick because we have been digging our own spuds since mid-May.
Meanwhile, despite getting a flying start (see Playing catch-up) and having the advantage of living in the much warmer southern part of the county, SF's potatoes are little bigger than marbles.
Another triumph for the inventiveness of free enterprise over the schlerotic collectivist dinosaur, I would suggest.

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