13 May 2002
Following my piece on Cllr Brian Hall's business connections with Dr Patrick Ryan (Rules and rulers) a mole inside County Hall phoned to tell me that the situation was even more complicated than I suspected.
Apparently, the Limerick-based Dr Ryan is employed by the County Council as an economic development consultant, and my informant was kind enough to fax me a copy of his official County Council business card as proof of the fact.
It hardly needs saying that this relationship, between a senior County Councillor (former chairman of highways and now Cabinet member) and a council-employed consultant, is highly inappropriate.
I have passed the information on to the opposition groups on the council in the hope that they can find out what is going on.
Last week I published the names of those chosen by the Cabinet to chair the so-called scrutiny committees. (see The scrutineers).
On Friday the County Council met to appoint the scrutiny committee chairs and lo and behold the four I predicted all got the nod.
It is always possible, of course, that Old Grumpy just made a lucky guess but the odds against such an eventuality are 30 x 29 x 28 x 27 = 19.7 million to one.
This is rather worse than the 13 million to one chance you take when you venture a pound on the National Lottery.
Even if you eliminate some of the guesswork by discounting some of the potential runners as complete no-hopers, the odds against coming up with the four names at random are formidable.
For instance, even if you narrow the field down to ten, the odds are 10 x 9 x 8 x 7 = 5,040:1.
And, of course, if you disqualify all the no-hopers there would be insufficient left to man the ship of state.
That seems to have been a problem when it came to choosing the vice chairman when the Cabinet must have been scraping the bottom of the barrel when they came up with the name of Cllr Norman Parry to represent the interests of us old folk.
Parry you will remember was cited by the Ombudsman for serial failure to declare his pecuniary interest as landscape consultant at the Princes Gate waste transfer station, during meetings of the former South Pembs district council.
When interviewed by the Ombudsman, the bold Norman denied that he had attended the meetings in question though the minutes recorded that he had.
This attempt to lie his way out of trouble was thwarted when the Ombudsman consulted the committee clerk's shorthand notes and found that Parry's "absence" from the meetings had not prevented him contributing to the debates
As the Ombudsman pointed out in his report, failure to declare a pecuniary interest was a criminal offence, though, true to form, the miscreant was never prosecuted.
Some weeks ago I predicted trouble for the Independent Political (sic) Group once the lucrative special responsibility allowances (Cabinet posts, chairmanships and vice-chairmanships) had been distributed, because 40 into 24 won't go.
That means that several members of the group have been excluded from positions of power, not to mention the perks.
First to jump ship is Cllr Rev Emyr Jones who has joined the Liberal Democrats, with
important implications for the political balance of the 10 member scrutiny committees where the Independents currently hold a 7:3 majority.
The procedures for "calling in" Cabinet decisions by scrutiny committees requires a request by either the Chairman (not much hope there seeing that they are all Independent Group stooges hand-picked by the Cabinet) or four members of the committee.
So, as things stand at present the opposition parties would need to recruit a member of the Independent Group to their cause if they wanted to question a Cabinet decision.
Cllr Jones defection changes the balance slightly and if there are further desertions - and informed sources tell me that several Independents are "considering their position" - the opposition's strength on these committees could reach the magic four.
The Cabinet have certainly struck a balance with their choice of Cllr Don Evans as Chairman and Glyn Rees as vice-chairman of the licensing committee.
Cllr Evans being a retired police inspector and Mr Rees the ex-landlord of the Golden Lion in Newport.
So, both sides of the argument will be represented.
But every silver lining has a cloud, and Old Grumpy wonders what the form will be when, as frequently happens, one of Cllr Evans' former colleagues is called to give evidence to the committee, which is a quasi judicial body subject to the same rules of Natural Justice as a court of law where the rules set out in the Lord Hoffman/General Pinochet case apply.
This will be of particular importance in licensing applications from the Tenby area where, I am told, Cllr Evans' son is a police inspector.
Old Grumpy reads in the Mercury that Richard Hancock, who is standing as an independent in the forthcoming Rudbaxton bye-election, denies being approached by the Independent Political (sic) Group to be their candidate.
I can only repeat what I wrote last week: that Mr Hancock told me he had been asked to stand by "a member of the Cabinet" and that he would be joining the Independent Political Group if elected. That Cabinet member was, I understand, Cllr Peter Stock.
Could it be that Mr Hancock's sudden coyness about his links with the ruling group comes from the realisation that the electorate is smart enough to understand that an Independent Political Group is a contradiction in terms?
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