March 29 2012
Last week's Western Telegraph carried a long rambling letter from Richard Shepherd on the virtues of PCC's ruling Independent Political Group (IPG).
This rang a bell with Old Grumpy and, thanks to the wonders of Google, it didn't take me long to discover why.
My search turned up a piece I wrote on June 10 2008 with regard to an almost identical, though mercifully shorter, letter that Mr Shepherd had written on the same subject (Not impressed).
In his more recent missive Mr Shepherd claims: "But some independent councillors pay a high price for their honesty; I know of at least three councillors who were members of the Labour Party but were expelled by that party when they stood as independents".
The three were Cllrs Lyndon Frayling, Umelda Havard and Ken Rowlands.
I am not sure about the circumstances surrounding the defections of Cllrs Frayling and Havard but my Labour Party sources tell me that Cllr Rowlands defected after being adopted as a Labour Party candidate, but at such a late stage in the electoral process that the party didn't have time to find anyone else.
There's "honesty" for you!
As for the "high price"; for the past four years Cllr Rowlands has been picking up a Special Responsibility Allowance (SRA) of £14,000 as a Cabinet member's.(Ken's revenge) (Ken's reward) an office he would never achieved had he remained with Labour.
Not mentioned in Mr Shepherd's letter is another former Labour Party member who joined the IPG: former trades union chief Danny Fellows.
Following the 2008 election, Cllr Fellows was appointed chairman of the children and young persons scrutiny committee (SRA £8,000), a position he held until he resigned last year following the publication of a Care and Social Services Inspectorate for Wales (CSSIW) report that revealed serious shortcomings in the council's child protection systems; an area that Cllr Fellows' committee was supposed to be scrutinising.
Mr Shepherd also praised the IPG for refusing to "allow party politics and considerations to take precedence over good governance of the County Council".
He really ought to find time to read last year's CSSIW and Estyn reports before he pronounces on the subject of governance.
There he will find a account of poor record keeping in child protection cases; meetings of the Chief Officers Management Board where important decisions were made but no minutes were kept; and a culture which ". . .raises questions as to whether the protection of the child is always given priority over the reputation of the authority."
He would also read that: "The previous and current Directors of Education have not provided the leadership and management needed to ensure that that the education directorship has discharged its safeguarding responsibilities well enough" and " The Director of Social Services has not provided the leadership or challenge needed to clarify and implement the respective safeguarding responsibilities of his post . . ."
This I would point out has all occurred on the IPG's watch.
The IPG holds 39 of the 60 seats and all nine Cabinet posts. In addition, at the time these reports were written, its members held all six committee chairmanships.
It is little wonder they steer clear of party politics because any official party that presided over this sort of fiasco would find itself out on its ear.
And that is the beauty and dishonesty of the IPG's position because they can enjoy all the power and perks of office without taking responsibility when things go wrong.
Mr Shepherd also trots out the conspiracy theory stuff about how the independent (dictionary definition) CSSIW report is all part of "a vicious political campaign" which is being "cynically orchestrated" by "the Labour/Plaid coalition in Cardiff."
This bears a remarkable similarity to the IPG's initial reaction to these reports which was quietly modified when it became clear that such special pleading wasn't going down very well with the five-person board; headed by a retired High Court judge, that the Welsh Government had sent down to Pembrokeshire to guide the council back on to the democratic path.
And, if Mr Shepherd wants to set himself up as an unofficial cheerleader for the IPG, he would do well to acquaint himself with the facts, because the Labour/Plaid coalition went out of business at last May's Assembly elections; some months before these reports were published.
While I was off air during the recent Ombudsman's investigation into Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse's complaint that I had brought the office of councillor into disrespect by criticising the Independent Political Group - showing contempt for its members, no less - on this website, I was, naturally, keeping a close eye on the goings-on in the council's standards committee and its big brother the Adjudication Panel for Wales.
One case that caught my eye involved one Alison Halford, who older readers will remember as the deputy Chief Constable of Merseyside police who left the force amid claims that she had been forced out because of sexual discrimination.
Ms Halford was disciplined after taking a dip in the swimming pool at a party in her pants and bra.
But enough of the salacious details, more of which can be found on Google.
She later became a Labour AM and is currently a county councillor in Flintshire.
Ms Halford was interviewed during an Ombudsman's investigation into the conduct of one of her FCC colleagues.
During the course of that investigation, she told the Ombudsman that she had witnessed her colleague's alleged bad behaviour but had seen nothing wrong with it.
Later, an email turned up, as they do, in which Cllr Halford described her colleague "a bully and destructive" and in a conversation with an officer about the events under investigation she said he was "an extremely arrogant and aggressive fellow" and "a control freak".
As this was completely at odds with what Cllr Halford had told the Ombudsman's investigator about the self-same events, the Ombudsman launched a fresh investigation after which he found that, by seeking to mislead the investigation, she had brought the office of councillor into disrepute.
The Adjudication Panel for Wales upheld the Ombudsman's findings but decided "no further action was necessary.
Old Grumpy was rather heartened by that because if you get off scot free after lying to the Ombudsman - essential attempting to pervert the course of justice- then making a few critical (and true) comments about your political opponents is hardly likely to bring the roof crashing down around your ears.
However, a rude awakening lay ahead when Cllr Malcolm Calver put in an appearance before the PCC standards committee after the Ombudsman found he had brought the office of councillor into disrepute by posting criticisms of Manorbier Community Council and some of its members and officers on his website manorbier.com.
Cllr Calver's barrister argued that his right to freedom of expression under the Human Rights Act was sufficient defence against these charges but the committee thought otherwise and decided he should receive a reprimand and undergo training in the provisions of the Code.
This is the same committee that decided to clear Cllr Brian Hall, who had issued threats to have a BBC journalist's arms and legs broken by some of his friends in Manchester, on the grounds (inter alia) that to find him in breach of the Code of Conduct would breach his right to freedom of expression.
So, it's OK to go around making threats of physical violence but not to make snide and sarcastic comments about your fellow councillors.
Funny old world!
Cllr Calver appealed to the Adjudication Panel for Wales which upheld the standards committee's findings and I understand he is now seeking judicial review of that decision.
Interestingly, the Ombudsman's investigation into Cllr Calver's case didn't follow on from a complaint but flowed from an investigation into a complaint by Cllr Calver against another member of Manorbier Community Council (MCC), the chairman Cllr Raymond Hughes, during which the Ombudsman had cause to read Cllr Calver's website.
Cllr Calver's complaint was that Cllr Hughes had thrice taken part in meetings of MCC's appointments committee when one of the candidates for the post of clerk - the successful one, as it happens - was someone with whom he had a close personal relationship.
The Ombudsman found that Cllr Hughes had breached the Code and though the standards committee upheld this finding it decided no further action was required.
Cllr Hughes then made a second appearance before the county council's standards committee when the Ombudsman found that he had breached the same clauses in the code by participating in a National Park meeting when land he owned was being considered for inclusion in the development plan.
Again the committee found that, by failing to withdraw from the meeting when a matter in which he had a prejudicial interest was discussed, Cllr Hughes had breached the Code of Conduct.
And it again decided that no further action was required.
And silly old me always thought that the principal purpose behind the Code of Conduct was to foster confidence in the democratic system by demonstrating that elected members whose actions allow the perception to take hold that they are putting their own interests ahead of those of the public would be severely dealt with.
By the way, I have had notice that the Ombudsman has received yet another complaint about this column.
I have decided to carry on regardless in the hope and expectation that, if it comes to the point, my right to free speech will be upheld by the courts.
I have received the following from No 10. It must have been sent to me in error. I can only assume they've put Francis Maude in charge of the post room.
Thank you for the cheque for two-hundred-and-fifty grand and congratulations on your elevation to the top four in the Premier League.
Sam and I would be delighted if you could drop round next Tuesday evening for a bit of supper in our private flat - about 7.30 would be fine.
Sam will pop into Greggs on her way home from the gym and pick up some cold Cornish pasties - in these times of austerity we can't be forking out for VAT whatever Gideon might say.
It won't take her long to warm them up in the microwave, once you arrive.
By the way, as you can imagine, the press are taking a keen interest in the comings and goings at No 10 these days, so my PR people have said it would look better if you made your way here by public transport.
With all that's going on with petrol shortages, it wouldn't look good if you turned up in the gas-guzzling, chauffeur-driven Roller.
And could you use the back entrance; but be careful not to trip over the pile of jerrycans that Francis has stacked inside the gate.
It would also be helpful if you could bring along a bottle of wine, just to show that we're all in this together.
PS Tell Mrs S she needn't worry about helping Sam with the chores. That bounder Cruddas will be along to wait at table and do the washing up.