25 March 2003

Never say spy

Having being left at the post, I am at last getting up to speed with the affair of the chauffeur and the spin doctor.
As I hinted last week, the council's Monitoring Officer, Huw James, has now admitted, in a letter to the chauffeur, Mr Ron Johns, that the Head of Marketing and Communications, Dai "Spin" Thomas, did ask him to keep an eye on elected members travelling in the official limo.
You have to feel sorry for Mr James because he is the man charged with sustaining the doctrine of council infallibility so, while he admits that Mr Thomas asked the chauffeur to "let him know of instances where Councillors had behaved badly" he denies he was asked to spy on them.
To give you a flavour of the sort of mental gymnastics that Mr James is routinely required to perform in his role as chief apologist, I will quote the relevant passage in full.
In his letter Mr James writes: "In my meeting with you it was evident that you understood the request to report misbehaviour as being more akin to the references to 'spying' in recent press reports."
"My office dictionary definition of 'misbehaviour' is 'behave badly' and I think, therefore, that the request by Mr Thomas was only requiring you to let him know of instances where councillors had behaved badly as opposed to more generally reporting on a whole range of information that would fall outside that definition."
As it happens, I, too, have a dictionary.
In it 'spy' is defined as "a person who keeps watch on others", which is precisely what the chauffeur was being asked to do.
Of course, all this leaves open the question of the source of Mr Thomas' authority to ask the chauffeur to gather this information and the use to which it was to be put, once acquired.

Double dummy


Now Mr Johns has decided to fight back.
I understand he has written to the Monitoring Officer suggesting that, if the authority is interested in the "misbehaviour" of elected members, he might profitably spend some time investigating the goings on at the Chairman's official reception for the crew of HMS Pembroke, held in County Hall on 4 March 2002.
According to Mr Johns, who also doubled as the council's butler on these occasions, Cllr Brian Hall turned up at the reception with a tailor's dummy on which he had fitted a grotesque mask.
According to Mr Johns, Cllr Hall introduced the dummy to the assembled dignitaries with the words: "This is Cllr Joyce Watson [leader of the Labour Group]. How would you like to wake up in the morning and find this next to you?"
It seems that not even the vast intake of taxpayer-funded booze could save this "joke" from going down like a lead balloon.
However, it would appear that Cllr Maurice Hughes, who was also present, was unperturbed by this display of gross bad taste, because, just over a month later, he promoted Brian the Buffoon to his Cabinet.
Judging from some of his other appointments, I'm surprised the dummy didn't get a job!


Dummy jobs

There was an excellent report in the Mercury a couple of weeks ago about the job creation performance of Objective One funding.
Apparently, the Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO) claims that 877 new jobs have been created in Pembrokeshire, through 57 approved Objective One projects.
There is just one snag - 800 of these jobs were at the Cleddau Bridge call centre, which, as we all know, is closed.
But, explaining the figure of 877 new jobs when only 77 exist is child's play to the bureaucrats in Cardiff.
The 800 no-longer-existing jobs are, they say, "indirect jobs".
I had always thought that indirect jobs were those that came into being by virtue of the multiplier i.e that if you create, say, 500 new jobs, the earning power of those 500 workers will help create more jobs in other areas of the economy etc, etc.
But, according to the bureaucrats "indirect jobs" are "jobs which may be capable of counting at some time in the future but beyond the lifetime of the project e.g. jobs that are eventually accommodated on sites which may have been prepared with the assistance of Objective One money."
So, if you use Objective One funds to build a factory to accommodate 300 workers, you have created 300 indirect jobs, in perpetuity, regardless of whether a single widget ever comes off the end of the production line.
All we need now is to change the name of unemployment benefit to indirect pay packet and we can all enjoy jobs and prosperity from now to Kingdom come.
There are echoes here of the Russian tractor factories that churned out record production figures but no tractors.
But this sort of thing is commonplace in the job creation industry.
I have in front of me two reports on the allocation of small business grants during 2001/2002 from the County Council's economic development department.
The first is a progress report showing the situation on 31 August 2001, five months into the year, and the second the full year results.
I will not bore you with an account of all the anomalies and inconsistencies in these two reports.
Suffice it to say that on 31 August the Council had approved grants averaging £1,688 for 29 projects, thereby, it was claimed, creating 51 full time equivalent jobs.
Seven months later, on 31 March 2002, the number of approved, grant aided projects had fallen to 22, at £4690 apiece, creating 74 jobs.
These figures give every impression of being scribbled on the back of an envelope, probably after a good lunch.


Cutting a dash

Old Grumpy's investigation into the business relationship between Cllr Brian Hall and the County Council's economic development consultant Dr Michael Ryan continues apace.
My curiosity was first awakened by a press release on the subject issued by the Leader Cllr Maurice Hughes that sent my highly sensitive spin detectors into overdrive.
Not for the first time, my instincts were right because His Leadership's press release, insofar as it refers to the Hall/Ryan connection, is nothing but a pack of lies.
Then, I had a letter from the Monitoring Officer enclosing a copy of a letter written by Dr Ryan to Mr David Thomas (see The truth will out), which the Monitoring Officer claimed, mistakenly, constituted a "contractually enforceable" agreement.
At least this letter, dated 3 September 2000, proves beyond doubt that they were already an item in November 2000 when Cllr Hall claimed expenses (see Snail mail) from the Council for the four days he and Dr Ryan spent in Pembroke Dock together. I have now had some time to study this letter of 3 September 2000 in more detail.
In it Dr Ryan refers to an Irish registered company ORA International Ltd.
On checking the Irish companies registration office website (www.cro.ie) I find there is no record of the existence of this company.
Putting my crossword solving skills to good use I came to the conclusion that ORA was shorthand for O'Riain Associates International Ltd whose website can be found at (www.oriain.ie).
In his letter to Mr Thomas of 3 September 2000, Dr Ryan writes: "Following my recent appointment as Economic Development Consultant to your authority and having discussed the matter with my Board of Directors we (ORA) have decided to establish a UK base, which will be a separate company with me representing ORA on its board and hopefully establish new business opportunities through my presence in that market place."
That new company is Euro-Ryall Ltd of which Dr Ryan and Cllr Hall are the sole Directors and Shareholders.
That immediately raises the question: why, if ORA is setting up the company, with Dr Ryan as its representative, is he, rather than the company, the owner of the shares?
And if you had a picture in your mind of O'Riain Associates International Ltd's "Board of Directors" as a group of middle-aged, grey-suited gentlemen sitting round a large polished table you will be disappointed to hear that the "Board of Directors" consists of Dr Ryan and 29-year-old Paul Ryan who lives at the same address.
A visit to O'Riain Associates International Ltd's website (www.oriain.ie) might persuade you that this is a vast global organisation with offices in California, Tokyo, Warsaw and the Czech Republic.
However a visit to the Irish Republic's equivalent to Companies House, where the company's accounts are available in exchange for a handful of Euros, shows that this company is run from Dr Ryan's front room.
Its tangible assets are valued at E21,000 (£14,000) and its profit and loss account showed a deficit of E10,314 (£6,600) in 2000 and a surplus of E3,505 (£2,400) in 2001.
But the biggest mystery of all is why, given that the stated aim of Euro-Ryall Ltd is: "facilitating UK businesses requiring the support of an Irish based consultancy in opening up Irish business opportunities and in certain cases reciprocal arrangements for Irish companies", Dr Ryan, the high-flying international businessman, chose as his partner the former owner of a two-pump filling station in Pennar?
This question is particularly pertinent in view of the claim that Euro-Ryall Ltd had made a "contractually enforceable" promise not to trade in Pembrokeshire where Cllr Hall's talent for pulling strings and opening doors would be at its most useful.


Proper English

I have only ever been to Manorbier during the winter, when it was closed.
But, having logged on to the website www.manorbier.com, I have come to realise that, however sleepy it may appear to outsiders, there is a vibrant political debate going on in that picturesque seaside village
One item on the website that caught my eye was a spat, between local resident Tony Wales and the governors of the local school, which led to Mr Wales writing a letter to the Community Council.
For some reason the Director of Education, Gerson Davies, got sucked into the argument and was persuaded to write to the Community Council in defence of the governors.
I notice on www.manorbier.com that County Council Cabinet member Pat Griffiths made some "sarcastic" comments about the standard of Mr Wales' grammar at the last Community Council meeting, where the Director's letter was read out.
The website reports that Mr Davies had said that, before sounding off, Mr Wales should "appraise" himself of the facts and "appraise" himself of the respective roles of the community and County Councils.
This is not the first time I have had to give the Director a black mark for the misuse of the word "appraise", which means to "assess the worth of".
The word he is groping for is "apprise", meaning: "make someone (including yourself) aware".
No doubt Cllr Griffiths, who is the Cabinet minister for Lifelong Learning, can point both Mr Davies and Mr Wales towards some suitable evening classes in correct English usage.
Come to think of it, there are quite a few of her Cabinet colleagues who might also benefit from such a course.


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