March 13 2007


It's official!

You will recall that Cllr Brian Hall was cleared of bringing the office of councillor into disrepute after his solicitor convinced the standards committee that he had attended the BBC reception in St Davids in his private capacity.
Or, to be more precise, that there was no evidence that he had attended in his official capacity.
As the committee stated in its written decision: Notwithstanding the fact that Councillor Hall believed he was attending an approved duty and claimed and was paid in respect of that attendance, in the light of the absence of other facts, we do not feel we can make a decision as to whether, in law, he was performing the duties of a Councillor.
It seems reasonable to conclude that, if Cllr Hall wasn't attending in his official capacity, he claimed travelling expenses to which he was not entitled.
Members are only allowed to claim expenses for "approved duties" which, in addition to obvious things like attendance at council meetings, are defined as:
Attendance by the Leader of the Council and other Group Leaders (or their nominated representative(s)) at such meetings approved by the Chief Executive for the proper discharge of the business of the Authority.
So I submitted two written questions to the most recent council meeting.
1. Did the leader nominate Councillor Hall to be his representative at the BBC reception in St Davids in January 2005? and

2. Did the Chief Executive certify that Councillor Hall's attendance at the BBC reception was for "the proper discharge of the Council's functions"?

The Leader's answer to both these questions was yes.
As I understood the discussions at the standards committee, the issue revolved around how Cllr Hall came to be invited to the BBC reception.
If an invitation was sent to him personally, then the presumption must be that he was there in his private capacity.
If the invitations were sent to the council, and Cllr Hall was one of the council's chosen representatives, then the presumption must be that he was there in his official capacity.
Unfortunately there was no evidence before the standards committee either way and "in the light of the absence of other facts" the committee felt unable to decide that he was performing the duties of a councillor.
However, the Leader's answers to my questions seem to indicate that Cllr Hall did, indeed, attend the reception in his official capacity.
If he received a personal invitation, why would the Leader need to nominate him as his representative?
And, presumably, the leader must have informed Cllr Hall that he had nominated him.
After all, what's the point of nominating someone to represent you unless you inform them of the fact?
And why, if he was there in his private capacity, would the chief executive certify that Cllr Hall's attendance was for "the proper discharge of the authority's functions" ?

Full circle

Last week, the Leader put out a press release giving details of the Cabinet reshuffle in the wake of Cllr Brian Hall's untimely departure.
On assuming the Leadership, Cllr Davies created four new assistant Cabinet posts.
This was dressed up as a move to improve the way the county is governed but Old Grumpy remains convinced it was a cynical ploy to strengthen his grip on power by extending the payroll vote (see One party state)(In and outs)..
As I predicted, this system proved unworkable and, in order to achieve a more politically acceptable distribution of the gravy, the Leader sacked Cllrs Bill Roberts and Jim Codd and and made their posts redundant (Balancing act) (Round pegs).
Now he has gone full circle and reverted to the original ten full Cabinet posts and done away with assistants altogether.
Promoted are Cllr Jamie Adams (Highways) and Huw George (Environment); walking proof of Robert Louis Stevenson's dictum that "Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary" though, if I am right that environmentalism is the new religion, Cllr George's position as a Baptist minister may make him better qualified to spread the message than most.
I had tipped Cllr Adams for stardom (see Barn Dance) but Cllr George's elevation, after less than a year on the council, comes as something of a surprise.
Risen without trace, is the phrase that springs to mind.
This latest reshuffle gives the Cabinet an even more lopsided appearance because, while the county's population is split roughly equally between the towns and the countryside, eight of the ten members represent rural seats.
It also has a distinctly agricultural look about it with five members needing to declare an interest when farming matters are discussed.
With a couple of Freemasons (Cllrs David Wildman and Islwyn Howells) on board, Cllr Michael Williams' description of the IPG as the party of farmers, Freemasons and the far-right looks increasingly apt.
I prefer the term Tories, though it is difficult to reconcile the Conservatives' roughly 30% of the county's vote at national elections with their control over 65% of the seats on the county council.

Synchronised voters

Asked whether recent splits in the Independent Political Group over the fate of Cllr Brian Hall had weakened the party, the Leader, Cllr John Davies, told the Western Telegraph that it was "a diverse group of people who will from time to time have different views".
"It is for that reason we are independents" he told the newspaper.
He added: "If the group had been weakened the voting patterns on the issues that really mattered would have been quite different."
So, we have a diverse group of people with different views who vote as one on the issues that matter.
How logical is that?
It is difficult to know what, if any, views most of these so-called independents hold because, at a conservative estimate, at least half of them have never spoken at a council meeting - preferring to let their Leader to do the talking.
What I can say, however, is that when it comes to a vote on a show of hands there is always virtual unanimity on that side of the chamber.
The joke is that the Independents are completely free to vote whichever way they like - right hand, or left.
Fortunately, there is a database on voting patterns in the form of the dozen recorded votes forced by the opposition.
It should be pointed out that the opposition uses recorded votes as a tactical weapon designed to embarrass members of the IPG into voting against the party line.
It must be said, this is not a great success because across all dozen recorded votes less than 4% of the IPG have defected.
Indeed, when it comes to block voting, the opposition displays much less solidarity with 9% voting with the IPG.
The top rebel is Cllr Henry Jones who has voted with the opposition on four occasions.
No special responsibility allowance for him, then!
A full analysis of all recorded votes since the last election can be found at Voting machines .

Taxing questions

County council Leader, John Davies, is constantly telling us that Pembrokeshire has the lowest council tax in Wales
This is undoubtedly true, but it doesn't tell the whole story.
The county council has four main sources of revenue: the rate support grant from the Welsh Assembly; its share of business rates; council tax; and what is loosely called income.
Income includes special grants from government and the charges the council makes for services.
Clearly, if one council charges for services that another provides for free, it can set a lower council tax.
Unfortunately, it very difficult to discover the exact level of charges for PCC, or any other authority, so it is nigh on impossible to determine whether low levels of council tax are the result of efficiency or high charges.
Another complicating factor is that the band D rate only gives part of the picture because the revenue raised by any tax depends on both the rate levied and the size of the thing being taxed.
So the amount of revenue raised is arrived at by multiplying the tax base (the number of band D equivalent properties in the authority's area) by the band D rate.
Pembrokeshire County Council's tax base has been on a steadily rising trend that was given a huge boost (8%) by the rebanding exercise that saw 33% of properties increased by one or more bands on 1 April 2005.
This differential between the increase in the band D rate and the revenue collected was most noticeable in 2005-2006 when an 8% increase in the tax base due to rebanding, combined with a 5% increase in the band D rate allowed the council to extract 13% (£3.2 million) more cash from the council taxpayers' pockets (See Brass tax).

Taking a ten-year perspective helps to show how an expanding tax base coupled with increases in the band D rate helps to swell the council's coffers.

The figures for the financial year 1997-1998 were:
Band D rate £386.44
Tax base 41,100
Total revenue £16 million.

For next year (2007-2008) the comparable figures - with % increases over the ten-year period in brackets - are:
Band D rate £614 (59%)
Tax base 50,400 (23%)
Total revenue £31 million (94%)

So, over the ten year period, the amount of council tax collected by the Pembrokeshire County Council has gone up by more than three times the compounded rate of inflation (30%).

The figures for the Police Authority are even more dramatic.
In 1997-1998 the Police Authority's precept was £1.99 million and the band D rate required to raise that amount was £48.
Next year the precept is £7.9 million and the band D rate £157.

It's the sun wot done it

One evening last week, I found myself in a discussion about Al Gore's Oscar-winning film "An Inconvenient Truth".
When I offered the opinion that this was a piece of political propaganda, I met with a withering response from one of the company who expressed the view that heretics such as me should not be allowed to mix in polite society.
I haven't actually seen the film but, from what I am told, it depicts a 20 foot tidal wave engulfing New York and blames hurricane Katrina on global warming.
Neither of these claims have any foundation in fact - propaganda, in other words.
The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); the UN body at the forefront of climate research, projects a sea level rise of about half a metre by the year 2100 and, with regard to hurricanes and the like, its Third Report says:
"There is no compelling evidence to indicate that the characteristics of tropical and extra tropical storms have changed.
Changes in tropical storm intensity and frequency are dominated by interdecadal to multidecadal variations, which may be substantial, e.g., in the tropical North Atlantic.
In general, trends in severe weather events are notoriously difficult to detect because of their relatively rare occurrence and large spatial variability.
Indeed, despite the warming of 0.6 degrees experienced over the past century, last year's N American hurricane season was one of the quietest on record.
Last week, I sat up late to watch S4C's film "The Great Climate Change Swindle" which showed a succession of eminent scientists queuing up to explain that the sun was a far more likely source of global warming than carbon dioxide.
Indeed, there is growing body of research that connects the ups and downs of the earth's temperature with the observed number of sunspots.
It is suggested that, during periods of high sunspot activity, the increased strength of the sun's magnetic field deflects cosmic rays away from the earth.
Cosmic rays, it is thought, cause ionisation in the atmosphere which encourages cloud formation.
As clouds have a cooling effect, the fewer the cosmic rays, and the fewer the clouds, the warmer the earth.
The sun is particularly active at the moment.
Click the link for a more comprehensive account of this research by Henrik Svensmark of the Danish National Space Centre
For anyone seeking an antidote to the so-called scientific consensus on this subject I would recommend
For a critical analysis of Al Gore's book and film try

Breeding season

My OEG bantam pullet has just produced her third egg.
Knowing that your wives and servants may inadvertently log on to this site, it is difficult to know how to put this, but I have witnessed certain activities involving her and the cockerel that leads me to believe that we may have some bantam chicks before April is out.
I will keep you posted.

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