13 May 2003
As predicted, last Thursday's two meetings of the County Council were lively affairs.
The first, an ordinary meeting, might have been over in half an hour except that Cllr George Grey sought to amend the Unitary Development Plan provisions for "Materials recovery and waste transfer stations" in an attempt to scupper the County Council's proposal to site a waste recycling facility slap in the middle of Johnston.
Not unnaturally, the people of Johnston are less than enthusiastic about this development and a sizeable contingent were in the public gallery to witness the proceedings.
Cllr Grey suggested that the requirement in the policy that such developments should be "sufficiently distanced from neighbouring properties so as not to constitute a potential public health or safety hazard" was too vague and that such developments should be barred from within villages, 30 mph zones or the limits of recognisable communities.
Leader Maurice Hughes countered that if this was passed "all villages will be looking for 30 mph limits.".
The good folks of Johnston, whose ability to spot a bogus argument clearly surpasses that of the average County Councillor, hooted in derision.
To cheers from the Johnstonians, several opposition members asked the ruling Independents to imagine what their reaction would be if the proposal was to site the facility in their village.
Unsurprisingly, this attempt to shame the Independents had little effect.
After all, if the waste recycling centre is directed to Johnston, the question of putting it on their patch is not one they are ever likely to have to face.
Finally, a word about Cllr Grey's role in all this.
It shows, I think, the wonderful Janus-like position in which individual members of the Independent Political Group find themselves - being members of the ruling party while at the same time being able to slide effortlessly into opposition when anything crops up that upsets their voters and threatens their seats on the gravy train.
You can bet your life that if the proposal had been to site this facility in Llangwm, Spittal or some other village, Cllr Grey would, as usual, have been voting with the crowd.
Cowboy and Indian
The County Council never ceases to surprise.
During the debate at the Extra Ordinary meeting called to discuss changes to the constitution, up jumped Cllr Brian Hall to offer his two pennyworth.
"I don't read very much" he started.
After that statement of the obvious, Cllr Hall warmed to his task by telling members that he had been dipping in to the works of Mahatma Gandhi where he had come across a reference to the Indian statesman's idea of the seven deadly sins.
These he proceeded to read out, ending with "Politics without principle".
This was a reference to the opposition groups, who, he claimed, to had put down these constitutional amendments in order "to overshadow the good news" about the Council Tax.
How the denizens of the public gallery laughed at that.
After all, "politics without principle" is the perfect description for a bunch of people who stand as independents and, immediately the election is out of the way, form themselves into a political group for no other purpose than to monopolise power and the lucrative special responsibility allowances that follow in its wake.
And there is a rich irony in Cllr Hall, who was censured by the council in October 1997 for threatening the leaders of Labour and Plaid Cymru with physical violence, and more recently was reported to the Monitoring Officer for jostling Plaid Cymru Leader Michael Williams in the corridor, should be quoting that icon of pacifism, Gandhi.
Perhaps, when he gets deeper into the book he will come across the speech Gandhi made in March 1922 in which he said: "Non-violence is the first article of my faith. It is also the last article of my creed."
Escape route It would seem that, while Cllr Hall has been devoting his time to literature, he has been neglecting more mundane matters such as his legal obligations as director of Euro-Ryall Ltd the company he owns in partnership with the council's economic development consultant Dr Michael Ryan.
On a recent visit to Companies House website I find that Euro-Ryall Ltd's annual return, which should have been lodged by 26 January 2003, is over three months overdue.
Under the heading "Status" is the legend "Proposal to strike off".
Questions about the appropriateness of this business relationship between a council employee and a Cabinet member have been met with the response that the company has never traded, together with spurious claims that the "principals" have given "contractually enforceable" assurances that, in any event, it would not trade in Pembrokeshire..
How convenient it would be if Euro-Ryall was to slip quietly into oblivion.
Unfortunately, for the cover-up merchants in County Hall, that will not get them off the hook.
Presumably, the company was formed for some purpose other than to allow Cllr Hall to give his occupation as Company Director if he happened to be caught doing 180 mph on the M4, and I intend to find out what that purpose was.
Slow on the uptake
One of the opposition's proposals at the Extra Ordinary meeting was that the council should keep more comprehensive minutes.
Cabinet member Pat Griffiths warned of the pitfalls of such an approach.
She told members that at meetings of the Community Council on which she served (Manorbier) "Certain people wish to challenge the minutes" and the longer they were the more things there were to query.
This clearly bothered her because she told the meeting that she had recently sought the Monitoring Officer's advice on the matter.
"He told me that we have to take questions about the minutes" she said forlornly.
Cllr Griffiths is the Cabinet member with responsibility for Lifelong Learning.
According to the County Council's website she has been a councillor for "nearly 25 years".
If it has taken her all that time to realise that members have the right to question the accuracy of the minutes, I doubt that lifelong will be long enough for her to learn anything really useful..
Another who didn't think much of the proposed amendments was Deputy Leader, John Allen-Mirehouse, the Laird of Angle.
Squirehouse, as he is affectionately known in this columnar territory, is a very poor advert for both private education (Eton and up-market cow college) and inherited wealth, which have left him with a lofty, though unjustified, air of superiority.
He dismissed the opposition's "cloud of badly drafted amendments" as "not worth talking about".
This annoyed Plaid Cymru Leader Michael Williams.
"I don't know who Cllr Allen-Mirehouse thinks he is [surely you can guess, Michael] with his sneering response. This place has been likened to the Kremlin by the press but it is more like Pinochet's Palace." Cllr Williams said.
I will leave readers to work out the subtext of this last remark.
Cllr Rev Emyr Jones (Lib Dem) was another who found the Deputy Leader's attitude offensive.
He claimed that many of the Independent group's foot soldiers were complaining of being kept in the dark.
"I appeal to them to stand by their convictions for once."
Now, for a man of the cloth to have faith in human nature is a wholly admirable thing, but on this occasion, as the forest of hands went up to vote down the amendments, it looked like naive optimism.
Lesser breed bite back
Having finally left the Cabinet, Clare Short has fired off a blast at the Prime Minister' modernisation programme and presidential style of government .
Unfortunately, New Labour's Local Goverment Act 2000 has forced a similar system on local authorities where power is now concentrated in the hands of a small, tight-knit, unaccountable junta aka the Cabinet, leaving 50 of the sixty members in a purely ornamental, if expensive (£500,000 a year) role.
As His Leadership, Cllr Maurice Hughes told the Extra Ordinary meeting: "Certain members don't approve of modernisation. They want to go back to the old committee system where they had debates."
Debates in a democracy?
But, Old Grumpy detects the first stirrings of revolt among the outsiders.
Veteran Independent Group member and former Council Chairman, John Thomas, told the meeting: "For the past 12 months we of the lesser breed haven't known what is going on. I came to the last Cabinet meeting hoping to find out what was going on by listening to the debates but the meeting was over in 35 minutes and I left none the wiser".
Time for regime change, I suggest.
Where now for Clare Short?
The House of Lords, perhaps.
Baroness Short of Credibility sounds about right.
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