March 10 2009


Out of favour


This week, we will look into the murky machinations that led to the removal of Cllr Malcolm Calver as local education authority (LEA) representative on the board of governors at St Florence VC school.
Cllr Calver was an LEA governor by virtue of the fact that he is the elected county councillor for the area.
His term of office expired on July 9 2008.
As I know from my own experience, in order that appointments can be made in timely fashion, there is an item on every governing body agenda regarding any vacancies arising either through resignations or upcoming expiry of terms of office.
Cllr Calver tells me that this was discussed at the governors' meeting in January 2008 when he expressed his willingness to continue, provided of course that he was successful in the forthcoming elections.
Having been re-elected, he was fully expecting the Leader, Cllr John Davies, to reappoint him.
When six months passed with no word from the Leader he made enquiries and was told that someone else had replaced him.
Now, while there is no requirement that LEA governors have to be elected members, there is, as you might expect in a democracy, a convention that the elected member should have first call.
Cllr Calver then obtained the minutes of the October 2008 governors' meeting which showed that only four members attended.
The minutes record:
There was one vacancy for an LEA governor, as Cllr Calver's term of office has ended on 8 July. A nomination for this position was awaited from the Leader of Council, Cllr John Davies, and the Cabinet member for children, young people, learning and Welsh language [Cllr Rev Huw George]. Some governors spoke of hearing, and having, concerns about Cllr Calver remaining on the governing body. Following a secret ballot, it was unanimously RESOLVED (i) to request that the LEA did not reappoint Cllr Calver (ii) to suggest an alternate person for the LEA governor position.
Cllr Calver felt this was against the Rules of Natural Justice which require that any allegations are made known to the "defendant" who should be given the opportunity to answer them i.e. the law takes a dim view of Kangaroo Courts.
So he wrote to the Leader and the Rev Huw George asking to be told what he was supposed to have done wrong and why the Rules of Natural Justice hadn't been applied.
Cllr George replied: "I was not privy to to the 'concerns' raised or discussed at the meeting and do not feel it appropriate to question the resolutions of governing bodies. I am not aware of any 'serious allegations' made against you as referred to in your letter."
That neatly dodges the Natural Justice problem because the absence of 'serious allegations' means there was nothing for Cllr Calver to defend himself against.
However, it raises another question: how did Cllr George come to the conclusion that Cllr Calver was not a fit and proper person to be a governor of St Florence School if he made no attempt to discover the nature of the other governors' concerns?
The Leader replied: "Given the unanimous decision of the meeting, I am more than happy to support the decision of my colleague Councillor Huw George to abide by the wishes of the governing body meeting. It was not necessary to question their unanimous decision and on the basis of effective relationships inappropriate to appoint you to the governing body."
What this waffle amounts to is that four members of the governing body - none of whom are elected - should have a greater influence in these matters than those who less than a year ago elected Cllr Calver to be their representative on the county council.
The Leader and Cllr George seem to be saying is that the governing body will, effectively, have a veto over who is appointed as an LEA governor.
I am not sure the law allows them to fetter their discretion like this.
In any case, if governors can exclude anyone who disagrees with their world view, it is a recipe for cronyism.
And it is totally against the principles of a liberal democracy which values freedom of speech and the right of dissenting voices to be heard.
Cllr Calver, who I know to be less than enthusiastic about the prevailing soft left, touchy feely theories of the educational establishment, has a habit of asking awkward questions and not always in the most diplomatic terms.
But that shouldn't disqualify him from being a school governor, just the opposite in fact.
Such people provide a counterweight to the cosy consensus.
Just think how different things might have turned out if, instead of a board packed with yes-men, Sir Fred Goodwin had to contend with a couple of members of the awkward squad who questioned whether the bank was lending too much to too many dodgy customers.
It also strikes Old Grumpy that there is something rather strange about the time-line of the above events.
Cllr Calver's term of office expired on 8 July 2008.
So why wasn't he reappointed straight after the elections in early May?
After all, at that point, there was no (official) indication that the rest of the governors were unhappy with his presence among them.
So why delay the decision until October?
My theory is that someone had already had a word in county hall's ear but Cllr John Davies realised the dangers in giving Cllr Calver the boot on the basis of a backstairs whispering campaign and the vote at the governors' meeting was arranged to provide cover.
In his letter Cllr George says: "Having noted the resolution recorded in the minutes I therefore felt it inappropriate to reappoint you to the governing body."
But, as the governing body meeting was on October 15 and Cllr Calver's term of office expired on 8 July, there must have been some other reason why he wasn't reappointed in the intervening period.
The suspicion must be that the actual decision had been taken much earlier and the "unanimous decision" of the governing body was merely a piece of sanitary engineering designed to mask the smell.
The Leader is clearly impressed by the unanimity of the governors' decision - he mentions it three times in his letter - but as Socrates observed: "The truth isn't discovered by counting heads".
Unfortunately, the Leader seems to believe that the truth of a proposition is determined by how many people can be persuaded to vote for it.
But there is no logical foundation for such a belief.
If it were so, majority government would be the acme of perfection.
But, as the poet Dryden said:
Nor is the people's judgment always true:
The most may err as grossly as the few
Finally, as I have reported previously, Cllr Calver claims he was telephoned by the Leader soon after the election with an invitation to join the Independent Political Group: "come in from the cold" as I am told the Leader put it.
At that time there was some doubt whether Cllr Brian Hall was going to sign up and Cllr Calver's signature was required to bring the IPG's membership up to the magic 38 (Brian's revenge).
Old Grumpy wonders whether he would have been so shabbily treated had he not spurned the Leader's warm embrace.
As George Orwell observed: "Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness."

Bottom up

The government is deploying vast amounts of taxpayers' money in an attempt to get the banks lending again.
Could it be that they are chasing the wrong fox and the real problem is to get people - especially house buyers - to start borrowing again.
It takes two to tango and the banks can't force unwilling borrowers to join the dance.
Imagine your bank manager rings you in the morning with the offer of a 100% mortgage at zero interest on any property you fancy.
If you have been reading in the papers that house prices have another 10-15% to fall before they reach bottom, you would be wise to decline this generous offer.
So, instead of insuring the banks against their losses on toxic assets wouldn't it be better if the government extended a guarantee to anyone purchasing a house in the next six months, say, that it would cover any losses made on a future sale.
If this succeeded in putting a floor under the housing market it needn't cost the taxpayer a penny and even if it didn't it would cost peanuts compared to the billions being thrown at the banks.
This financial crisis originated with the housing bubble and until price stability is restored there will be no end to it.

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