March 27 2007

I have written a rather long and detailed piece on the cover up of the Hall-Ryan business relationship.This can be found at Whitewash

 

We seek him here . . .

I recently reported that the Hon Rhodri Philipps; late of Crownridge Steel of this parish, had found himself in a spot of bother over his business dealings in Germany (Living it up).
Now, thanks to my valuable contact at the London Evening Standard, I learn that things have taken a turn for the worse for this scion of the aristocracy who traces his ancestry back to Richard the Lionheart.
According to the Evening Standard, the Hon Rhodri has featured in the German weekly Der Spiegel, which accuses him of squandering the funds of the construction company Brouchier to fund his extravagant life style.
In addition to the costly purchases listed in (Living it up) Philipps is said to have taken more than half a million Euros from company funds to promote a singer from the state opera.
However, the German authorities seem to have taken a dim view of his activities because the Evening Standard reports: "Leading British aristocrat Rhodri Philipps, 40 year-old polo-playing son and heir of Viscount St Davids, who was once a deputy speaker in the House of Lords, has been arrested at Frankfurt airport and denied bail in case he flees the country."
When Crownridge went bust owing more than £5 million in February 2001, Pembrokeshire County Council was listed as one of the creditors.
Fortunately, the council had obtained personal guarantees from the directors, including Mr Philipps, and in October 2002 the Cabinet resolved to seek recovery of the outstanding debt.
In 2005, after I put down a question to the council, the Mercury enquired as to the current position and was told: "Attempts by the council to trace the whereabouts of Mr Philipps have proved unsuccessful."
Well, they know where to find him now.

Rare triumph

I am happy report a minor triumph with my notice of motion on the definition of councillors' "approved duties" at the most recent meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council.
The definition is important because it is only in respect of approved duties that councillors can claim travelling and subsistence allowances.
Basically, what I was calling for was the replacement of a council resolution from 1995 which defined an approved duty 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." with paragraph (h) of the statutory regulations passed in 2002 which reads;"(h) any other duty approved by the body, or any duty of a class so approved, for the purpose of; or in connection with, the discharge of the functions of the body, or any of its committees or sub-committees."
I was fairly sure that I had right on my side because I know of no power in a local authority to vary the words of statutory regulations approved by the the Welsh Assembly.
In addition, John Hudson had provided me with a letter he had received from the District Auditor which seemed to bolster my case.
The auditor told Mr Hudson:"The definition is clearly set out in the Regulations and it would not therefore be appropriate for the council to make any further definition."
When my NoM came before the corporate governance committee in January the Leader used his 8-4 majority to vote it down.
So, it came before full council with a recommendation that it be rejected.
However, I was not prepared to give in without a fight and I proceeded to read from the auditor's letter to Mr Hudson.
At that point I was interrupted by the chief executive who said he couldn't believe that the auditor had said any such thing and that two district auditors had been present at corporate governance committee and neither had spoken up in my support.
That, I think says more about the district audit service than is does about the strength of my case.
I assured the chief executive that I wasn't making it up and read the extract from the auditor's letter again.
Realising that, to reject my NoM, would be to contradict the express words of the auditor, up bobbed the Leader to propose that the council adopt the statutory definition.
As this was, effectively, what I had been asking for all along, I then found myself in the strange position of having to second my own motion.

Empty handed

Last year, I reported that one of my more reliable moles had told me that a party from Pembrokeshire County Council had travelled to Cardiff in the authority's chauffeur-driven people carrier to attend the Welsh Local Government Association's "Excellence Wales" awards.
As I recorded, there were some rather long faces on the return journey because, despite high hopes of success, Team Pembrokeshire returned empty-handed (see Double bill).
This year, another mole tells me, PCC decided to boycott the event and so obvious was their absence that it was commented upon by WAG minister Sue Essex.
It didn't seem to make any difference because present or not present the result was exactly the same: no gongs for Pembrokeshire.
There were 20 awards to be shared between Wales' 22 Unitary Authorities, but the one with the lowest council tax didn't get a look in.
In all, 15 authorities won awards with Carmarthenshire and Flintshire leading the way with a highly commended and a commended each.
I only mention this because, if Pembrokeshire had been among the winners, I have no doubt the council's spin doctors would have made sure it was splashed across the front page of the Western Telegraph.
That's the trouble with propaganda - it is, by definition, one-sided.

Manorbier mayhem

It seems that the political climate has become even more toxic in the sleepy little village of Manorbier.
I have already recorded how the community council's refusal to pay ITC Marketing's bill for analysis of the village appraisal, and how subsequent defeat in the county court has cost the local taxpayer an arm and a leg - £18,000 to be precise (see Manorbier madness).
So annoyed was the community council by the loss of the court case that the it is now pressing for two of its former members to be indicted for perjury. In the meantime ICT are suing the community council for £250,000 for defamation, loss of reputation, and other alleged breaches of the law too numerous to mention.
There also seems to be some strange goings on at the school, where Cllr Malcolm Calver has been admonished by a disciplinary panel for speaking to a child at the school of which he is a governor (see Manorbier.com) )
According to Manorbier.com) one of the panel members was the wife of someone who had been interviewed by the police regarding a complaint Cllr Calver had made about the forgery of community appraisal forms.
Cllr Calver argues that, in these circumstances, this person couldn't possibly consider the disciplinary complaint against him with the impartiality that is usually expected in a democratic system under the rule of law.
Not only must justice be done, it must manifestly be seen to be done, and all that.
I must agree with him about that, but my recent experiences lead me to believe these principles of Natural Justice are not widely understood.
PS. I am hearing whispers that Cllr Calver is considering throwing his hat in the ring at the forthcoming Assembly elections.
As if things weren't already lively enough in that neck of the woods.

Winds of change

I am no nearer to clearing up the mystery of Cllr Arwyn Williams' premature retirement from the Milford Haven Port Authority board (Pensioned off).
I have devised a working hypothesis but, as things stand at the moment, lack of empirical evidence makes me reluctant to expose it to peer review.
However, I have requested an application form for the post which arrived in this morning's post together with an information pack.
Regular readers will remember that, in the past, I have raised certain issues regarding appointments to the MHPA board, most recently when they failed to inform the Department for Transport (DfT), which actually makes the appointments, about Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse's forthcoming appearance before the Adjudication Panel for Wales (APW) to answer the Ombudsman's finding that he breached the Code of Conduct by failing to declare a pecuniary interest - potentially a criminal offence - at a National Park planning committee meeting (Last hurrah).
Incidentally, I notice from APW's website that the hearing of this case is set for 10 July 2007 - venue to be arranged.
This seemed of particular importance because the DfT document Modernising Trust Ports, which lays down guidelines for the governance of bodies such as MHPA, requires that board members should uphold the principles of ". . . truth, honesty, integrity, loyalty and acting within their powers."
I suspect that the DfT has had a quiet word with MHPA because I notice that the information pack now contains a section headed "Conflicts of interest and reputation" which asks applicants to disclose: "Details of ... any issues that could be perceived by others (from whatever motivation) as conflicts of interest or having any bearing on the reputation of the authority, including any current or previous claims of conflicts in other organisations, any business difficulties or failures that you have been associated with or any other matter that could have a bearing on the way in which the authority and its board are seen by others."
Progress of a sort, I suppose.
Another issue was the presence on the interview panel of the Leader of the county council Cllr John Davies.
Adam Price, the excellent Plaid Cymru MP for East Carmarthen, wrote to the DfT asking if they thought it was appropriate that Cllr Davies should be on the panel when his deputy, Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse, was one of the candidates.
Surprisingly, this rather obvious question doesn't seem to have occurred to the Leader, himself.
As is usual with government departments, Adam Price's question wasn't answered directly, but the Dft seems to have had a quiet word because, for this latest round of interviews, the Leader has been replaced by the rather less politically partisan figure of the county council chairman.


Quick fix

The Sunday Times carried a fascinating article on the possibilities for mitigating climate change by global engineering.
Various schemes have been mooted: from fertilising the oceans with iron to encourage algal growth, through to reflecting the sun's light by the deployment of thousands of tiny mirrors in deep space.
It reminds Old Grumpy of the 1970s, when temperatures were falling despite increases in atmospheric CO2, and some scientists were suggesting dropping soot on the polar ice caps to increase heat absorption.
One of the most puzzling questions is: how do ice ages come to an end.
With half the earth's surface covered in glaciers, the planet's aldebo (reflectivity) is increased and, as more light is reflected back into space, it should get cooler leading to more ice and a correspondingly enhanced aldebo.
The earth has been through several ice ages, so there must be some natural cause for the reversal of what should be a self-perpetuating process.
Changes in the earth's orbit, or the sun's output seem the most likely candidates, but nobody knows for sure.
However, rather than getting into a lather about dire predictions of the effects of global warming, we should be reassured that we now have the technology to do something about it.
Fifty years ago, if we had spotted an asteroid heading our way we would have had no alternative but to pray and hope for the best.
Now we have the technology, not only to detect such a body years in advance, but to intercept and deflect it from a collision course.
If the man-made global warming hypothesis is correct, we must think big - changing the light bulbs or sticking a windmill on the roof isn't going to do the trick.
My own suggestion is a large solar-powered carbon dioxide liquification plant situated in the Sahara.
Its operation would be entirely carbon-free and the gas fixed from the atmosphere could be stored out of harm's way deep in the earth's crust.
But, ingenious though these solutions are, they are merely attacking the symptoms and not the the underlying cause: too many humans on the planet.
Greens will tell you that the planet is only capable of sustaining half the present number of people, though, when it comes to implementing the obvious solution, they seem reluctant to take the moral lead.

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