March 21 2006
This afternoon, I toddled along to county hall to hear the economic development committee's deliberations on the council's procedures for selling land.
Though the site was never mentioned, this debate was all about the circumstances surrounding the sale by "informal tender" of the Mine Depot in Milford Haven (see Tender spot).
To briefly recap, the highest bidder in the informal tender process was Cleddau Enterprises Ltd, a consortium of local businessmen.
As you can imagine they were not best pleased to learn that their bid had been rejected and that the council was negotiating to sell the property to Milford Haven Port Authority (MHPA) who hadn't even taken part in the original tender process.
As I have pointed out previously, the sale of land by this method has long caused problems for local authorities because S123(2) of the Local Government Act 1972 requires that they get the best consideration that can reasonably be obtained.
The difficulty arises when a higher bid(s) comes in after the closing date for tenders and before contracts had been exchanged.
Faced with S123(2) local authorities have an obligation to consider, though not necessarily accept, such bids.
Clearly, this can lead to an endless series of bids, counter-bids and counter-counter-bids.
Back in 1998, the county council drew up a set of rules designed to assure disappointed purchasers "that the council is acting fairly, transparently and consistently in its property dealings."
One of the rules adopted in 1998 (and still in force) is that local authorities "should make it clear in particulars of sale that in the event of any higher offer being received before a contract is exchanged, they [the council] may be obliged to consider it."
It is my understanding that the particulars of sale for the Mine Depot contained no such provision.
Roger Barrett-Evans told the committee that "informal negotiating offers" would be a more accurate description than "informal tenders" and that, regardless of the tenders (sorry negotiating offers) received, the council might "even want to negotiate with its preferred bidder" (or non-bidder in the case of MHPA).
Indeed, the general perception, which Mr Barrett-Evans did little to dispel, is that it was always the council's intention to sell the site to MPHA, or their partners Haven Facilities Ltd, and that the informal tender process was instituted to give the appearance of compliance with S123(2).
If that is the case, can the other tenderers be assured "that the council is acting fairly, transparently and consistently in its property dealings."?
It promises to be an exciting next few weeks in the Kremlin-on-Cleddau..
First up is the standards committee meeting on April 5 when, presumably, consideration will be given to the Ombudsman's report on Cllr Brian Hall's alleged threats to hospitalise Simon Morris; the BBC's Dragon's Eye presenter who dared to expose his dubious relationship with the council's economic development consultant Dr Michael Ryan.(See Hall-Ryan).
Hall's threats - the subject of another Dragon's Eye programme (see Dragon's Eye) - were allegedly made in front of independent witnesses during a BBC reception in City Hall St David, and led to a complaint to the police, and, when they declined to act (yet again!!!), to the Ombudsman.
That was back in January 2005 so it has taken fifteen months, and counting, to bring this matter to 'court'.
Much of this delay is down to the Ombudsman who took almost twelve months to produce a report, but the county council, which has been in possession of the watchdog's findings since early January, is not entirely blameless.
It is not altogether clear why the matter was not brought before the standards committee meeting on February 23, though my own theory is that the delay is something to do with the fact that Hall's tenure of the Fire Authority chairmanship expires in May.
As April's meeting will take the form of a preliminary hearing to determine if there is a case to answer, there should be no difficulty in pushing any final decision beyond May.
That is important because any adverse finding by the standards committee would be inconsistent with Hall holding the top job at what is, after all, a body dedicated to public protection.
The sale of the Mine Depot at Milford Haven is another contentious issue that is due to make a reappearance at the Cabinet meeting on April 15.
Readers will remember that the last time this matter came before Cabinet it sparked an unprecedented revolt. (see Sea change) and an almost unprecedented call-in by the economic development scrutiny committee.
The scrutiny committee investigation of the matter was abandoned after it was revealed that Cleddau Enterprises Ltd (the highest bidders during the tender process) had submitted a last minute offer that topped that of Milford Haven Port Authority (MHPA) which had entered the fray post-tender.
Kremlinologists will be looking to see whether the Leader has managed to reassert his authority - after all he has it in his power to sack any Cabinet member who refuses to toe the party line - and whether MHPA has come up with a counter-bid.
And, if MHPA has made a counter-bid, whether CEL respond with a counter-counter-bid, and so ad infinitum.
Lord Grumpy of Liddeston
Having been caught with his hand in the till, Mr Blair is now proposing that loans should be disclosed in exactly the same way as donations.
This diversionary tactic is unlikely to impress either the chasing press pack or the public.
The fact is that Mr Blair, having made a great virtue out of his party's move towards greater transparency regarding donations, then discovered a handy get out where loans were concerned. .
An honest man, whose only interest was to clean up party funding, would have taken steps to plug this loophole.
Instead, he decided to exploit it.
Meanwhile, the Tories, whose record on this issue is not one to be proud of, are proposing that there should be a limit on individual donations.
All parties now seem to agree that some sort of state funding is required, presumably on the grounds that that they can't be trusted not to fiddle the present system.
Would state funding mean that we would be compelled to pay taxes to fund the BNP's poisonous propaganda?
It is true that political parties need money to fight elections.
However, political parties exist for the sole purpose of maximising their own chances of getting their hands on the levers of power.
I can't see why I should be obliged to pay for that.
Unless, of course, there's a peerage at the end of it.
Left, right and centre
And, just to show that there is nothing new under the sun, Monday's Daily Telegraph previewed a book by Stephen Dorril (not to be confused with the former Tory Cabinet Minister Dorrell) under the headline "Oswald Moseley 'was a financial crook bankrolled by Nazis'".
Apparently, Dorril has turned up evidence that Moseley's British Union of Fascists was was in receipt of suitcases of Nazi cash "carried in by a man known as 'Agent 18', who was almost certainly Franz Wrede, a henchman of Joseph Goebbels".
It seems that, at today's prices, Oswald received some £2 million from Hitler and an undisclosed sum from Mussolini.
It is not revealed whether these were donations, or loans at commercial rates of interest.
Nor are we told whether either Adolf or Benito had been promised a seat in the House of Lords as reward for their generosity.
However, what we do know is that Mussolini was a communist before turning his mind to fascism, and Hitler was the Leader of something called the German National Socialist Party.
As for Moseley himself, he was a Labour MP before breaking away to found the Blackshirts, and, thanks to the Daily Telegraph, I also now know that the BUF's director of publications was "John Beckett, the former Labour MP".
I have long held the view that the traditional left-right divide in politics, with Hitler at one end of the spectrum and Stalin at the other, is highly misleading.
As FA Hayek says in the "Road to Serfdom", on any realistic analysis it is impossible to get a cigarette paper between these two bloodthirsty tyrants.
A much better way of analysing the situation is to distinguish between the authoritarian/totalitarians who believe in centralised planning (and, by definition, that the individual must be subservient to the state) and the liberals who favour free markets, individual liberty and the idea that the state is the servant of the people.
I will leave you to guess in which camp Old Grumpy belongs.
I must apologise for failing to uphold the standards of unimpeachable accuracy that readers have a right to expect.
This fall from grace, for which I beg forgiveness, occurred two weeks ago in a piece I wrote about the attendance of a party of local grandees at a WLGA sponsored "Celebrating Success" event in Cardiff (see Double bill).
The word from my moles in the Day Centre (aka the members' tearoom in county hall) was that Cllr Brian Hall, in the capacity of Chairman of the Fire Authority, had turned up at this bash in a white tuxedo.
I suggested, wrongly as it turns out, that he was making a play for Martin Bell's man-in-white-suit role.
In my defence, I should say I found this entirely believable because, when Cllr Hall was running around the local newspapers, peddling a story about the liquidation of a company owned by the then Leader of the council's Labour Group, he was quoted as saying that elected members should be "squeaky clean" (Western Telegraph) and "whiter than white" (Milford Mercury).
Readers will have to judge for themselves the extent to which Cllr Hall's subsequent actions speak more loudly than his words.
However, one of my moles now tells me that the white tuxedo had nothing to do with Hall's enthusiasm, or lack of enthusiasm, for high standards of conduct in public life.
According to this most recent theory: thinking it was a fancy dress do, he went as a Frostie the Snowman.
By now, you should all have received the booklet "Pembrokeshire Today" published at great cost by the county council's propaganda machine (aka Department of Marketing and Communications).
Old Grumpy particularly liked the page headed: "Catching fraudsters for honest council tax payers."
Underneath is the legend "If you are committing fraud, you should watch your back."
I sincerely hope the council's endeavours in this field prove more successful than my own. (see The master forger and The Time Lord).
Good job it was a 5.30 pm kick off.
At least it finished too late to get in the Sunday papers.
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