March 4 2002

Sweat shop...

Readers will not be surprised to learn that, at last Thursday's meeting of the County Council, members voted, overwhelmingly, to award themselves the massive pay rise foreshadowed in this column two weeks ago.
The ruling Independents were solidly for the increases, though the political antennae of some of them had obviously detected the widespread public hostility to this second large pay hike in less than three years.
Cllr Steve Watkins (Ind), "a lifelong socialist" who said he had "examined the issue in accordance with my own conscience", announced his intention to vote in favour.
He claimed to spend 50 hours a week on council duties (when does he find time to work and attend to his duties as a member of the National Park Authority?) and even with this unsought and unexpected "bonus" he calculated that his efforts brought in less than the minimum wage.
Still, that's a vast improvement on the less than £1.50 an hour he offered to work for when he stood for election in May 1999.

 

... or sweet shop?

How allowances have soared between the May 1999 election and the present.

 Ordinary members  £3,500  £9,907
 Leader  £8,500  £35,500
 Deputy Leader  £6,000  £27,000
 Chairman of Council  £8,500  £19,907
 Vice Chaiman  £6,000  £13,309
 Committee Chairmen  £6,000  £17,500
Committee vice chair   £5,250  £15,615
 Leader of opposition  £5,250  £17,500

Plus eight additional Cabinet members at £22,500 each

 

 

And it is not only our elected representatives who have been filling their boots.
While rummaging around in the shed I came across the County Council's accounts for 1996/97 which included the following details of employees earning more than £40,000 a year.

£40,000 - £50,000 8
£50,000 - £60,000 7
£60,000 - £70,000 1

And 2000/01

£40,000 - £50,000 20
£50,000 - £60,000 13
£60,000 - £70,000 3
£70,000 - £80,000 3
£100,000 - £110,000 1

 

Self service

The Birmingham University report on which these increases are based is a masterpiece of its kind.
One of the problems the authors faced was to fix an appropriate hourly rate for councillors' remuneration.
The Boyne report, which led to a doubling of members allowances as recently as 1999 utilised the average all-Wales wage rate - £9.95 an hour - as the benchmark, on the principle that "as councillors represent the community as a whole their remuneration should reflect the average wages in Wales".
But the Birmingham team didn't accept that that approach gave adequate weight to the skills and responsibilities required of our elected members.
The argument that they seemed to find compelling was that: "The national LGA has a policy on this and it is to relate the worth of a councillor to the median national male non-manual average salary [£12.56 per hour]".
The LGA is, of course, the Local Government Association made up of, um, er, councillors.
As Mandy Rice-Davies once remarked, in an altogether different setting: "They would say that, wouldn't they".

 

Self interest

As part of the recent shake-up in local government administrative arrangements, County Councillors are now subject to a shiny new statutory Code of Conduct.
The requirement that members must declare their pecuniary interest in any matter under discussion is a feature of both the old and new codes, the only difference being that failure to do so was a criminal offence under the previous code, whereas now it is a matter for the Standards Committee (of which Cllr Bill Hitchings is a member).
At last Thursday's County Council meeting members debated a resolution of the Policy and Resources Committee that criticised the National Park Authority's proposals to introduce a local need restriction on new housing development in the Park's area.
Clearly, any such restriction could have a significant effect on property values in the National Park.
About five minutes into the debate Cllr Pat Griffiths bobbed up in the back row to tell members that, as she owned "development land" in the National Park, she wished to declare a pecuniary interest.
She then sat down again.
A minute or so later the authority's Monitoring Officer, Huw James was seen circling the back of the chamber in the direction of Cllr Griffiths.
He whispered something in her ear and in a trice she was gone.
We can only speculate about what Mr James had said but my guess is that he drew her attention to the requirement in the code (S16(3)) that members in her situation should "withdraw [from the chamber] during consideration of the matter".
He may also have pointed out that she should have declared her interest "at the commencement of that discussion" and not halfway through the debate.
Old Grumpy also notices that Cllr Griffiths is recorded as being present at Policy and Resources when this matter was discussed at some length, though there is no indication in the minutes that she declared her interest on that occasion.
So, it would appear that she has committed two breaches of the code.
If that is the case, it leaves her colleagues in something of a quandary, because the code also provides at 6(1)(c) that members "must" report to the Ombudsman and the Monitoring Officer "any conduct by another member which they believe involves or is likely to involve a failure to comply with this code of conduct."
Presumably, any member who fails to report such a breach will themselves be guilty of a breach of the code, as will anyone who neglects to report a member who has breached the code by failing to report the original breach, and so ad infinitum.

Grumpy grounded

A mole tells Old Grumpy that word has gone around County Hall that anyone caught reading this website in working hours could face instant dismissal.
I hope that doesn't apply Dai "Spin" Thomas and his colleagues in the Marketing and Communications Department, who I rate among my most loyal fans.

Anarchy rules OK

Commander Brian Paddick has caused something of a furore by admitting to a degree of sympathy towards anarchy.
Unfortunately, we anarchists are seriously misunderstood, especially by the media, which mistakenly bestows that honourable title on the hooligans who stage violent anti-globalisation demonstrations during economic summits.
The confusion arises, I think, because people fail to make the distinction between the philosophy of anarchism, itself, and the generally predicted results if such a philosophy were to be implemented.
The prediction being that anarchy will lead to a rapid descent into lawlessness and chaos.
The logical flaw is to conclude that those who advocate anarchy are in favour of chaos.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
We anarchists take our lead from the 18th century philosopher William Godwin who argued that pure objective reasoning was the key to happiness.
"Sound reasoning and truth, when adequately communicated, must always be victorious over error", he insisted: "truth is omnipotent… man is perfectible."
Sound education, allied to unfettered private judgement, he claimed, would remove the need for government and authority.
As can be seen, this gentle creed, which values freedom of the individual above all else, is about as far removed from the fascist thugs, who use violence to disrupt summit meetings, as it is possible to get.
However, if you sit down in your armchair with a bottle of Chilean Merlot to ponder Godwin's ideas, you will not be halfway through the first glass before you realise that anarchism is hopelessly utopian and impracticable because until all men (and women) reach the state of rationality that Godwin desired, the absence of authority will allow the fascists a free run.
This realisation wouldn't be too hard to bear if it wasn't for the fact that many of those who seek power over their fellow men are unable to grasp the distinction between authority and authoritarianism.

 

Tres Miserables

Alas, that long-delayed acquisition of a Grand Slam sweater will have to be postponed for yet another year.
Fortunately, we don't have Sky so all I had to endure was half an hour of lowlights on ITV.
Pretty dire stuff, I'm afraid.
Next up is Wales at Twickers on March 23.
And I'm still having nightmares over Scott Gibbs' last minute winner at Wembli three years ago.
Could it happen again? Surely not!

Just in case, I'd better dig out that false beard and wig that I used to go about in during the unspeakable Seventies.

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