May 21 2001


Negative equity

A couple of years ago the Audit Commission introduced new rules requiring local authorities to publish a register of their property assets, together with their value.

Part of the purpose of this exercise is to enable councils to charge themselves a notional rent for use of the assets thereby giving a truer reflection of the actual costs of services.

Unfortunately the register doesn't give a true reflection of the value of the assets.

For instance, according to the register, the County Council owns 16 administrative buildings worth £7.25 million, including Milford Haven, Fishguard and Neyland Town Halls; Llanion Park and Pier House, Pembroke Dock; and County Offices, St Thomas Green, Haverfordwest.

Oh, and I nearly forgot, the new County Hall, which was finished just a couple of years ago at a cost of £10 million, is also one of the 16, so how the whole lot can worth just £7.25 million is a mystery.

I also notice that Old North Road School, Milford Haven appears on the latest list though there has been a Lidl store on the site for at least five years.

For reasons which are not easy to understand the council owns the Belgrave Hotel, Tenby; valued at £60,000 and the Coach and Horses, Tenby (£63,300)

If our elected representatives were doing their job instead of running around influence-peddling, with a view to keeping their seats on the gravy train, they would be exploring the possibility of selling off some of these surplus assets in order to reduce the council's borrowing which currently costs more than £10 million a year in interest charges

Hidden truth

Old Grumpy has been trying, without much success, to establish the truth about Jackie Lawrence's alleged signing of a letter calling for a referendum on the UK's continued membership of the EU.

Readers will remember that last week the British Democracy Movement (BDM) placed a full page advert in The Times which listed several MPs, including Mrs Lawrence, who, they claimed, supported their call for a referendum.

Mrs Lawrence immediately put out a press release asserting that her "name was on that list wholly inaccurately" because she hadn't signed any such letter.

That contradicted Paul Sykes, leader of the BDM, who told John Humphrys on the Today programme that all those listed had definitely signed up.

It seemed a simple matter to ring the BDM and ask them to fax me a copy of Mrs Lawrence's letter.

Unfortunately, several phone calls later, I still haven't made it past the switchboard.

Promises that the person dealing with this matter will ring me back have not been kept, and Old Grumpy is beginning to suspect that the BDM is up to no good.

No doubt, Mrs Lawrence will lodge a complaint with the Advertising Standards Agency and we will eventually know the truth.

Interestingly, Mrs Lawrence's press release went beyond a simple denial that she had signed the letter.

"I do not support calls for a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU." she says. "Only last year Southampton University published a study which showed the number of jobs in each area of the UK that are dependent on Britain's membership of the EU. In Preseli Pembrokeshire that was estimated to be 3000 jobs. There is no way that I would jeopardise 3000 much needed jobs in Pembrokeshire........"

So I rang Southampton University to try to get hold of a copy of this study.

Unfortunately, the Department of Public Affairs, which deals with university publications, had no record of such a study, though they were unable to categorically deny its existence or the possibily that such a study had been carried out by one of its academics, independently.

However, Old Grumpy is aware of a similar study carried out last year by one of the country's left-leaning think tanks which estimated that 3 million UK jobs were Europe-related. That would equate to about 3000 in Preseli Pembrokeshire on a pro rata basis.

When that study was published, Trade Secretary Stephen Byers and Euro-fanatic union leader Ken Jackson were quickly on the airwaves calling for our early entry into the single currency to save these 3 million jobs.

Unfortunately, this particular bandwagon turned out to have no wheels when the author of the report in question popped up on the Today programme to announce that Byers and Jackson had misrepresented his findings and that what he had actually concluded was not that 3 million jobs depended on our membership of the EU, but on our trade with the EU.

Of course, it is always possible that, if the UK withdrew from the EU, our former partners would erect tarriff barriers to exclude our exports, but, as we buy considerably more from the other EU countries than they buy from us, that would be cutting off their nose to spite their face.

By next week I hope to be able to tell you whether Mrs Lawrence has fallen (jumped?) into the same verbal trap (trick?) as Mssrs Byers and Jackson.

Luvvie's lament

Over the past two weeks, former Labour enthusiast, the author Robert Harris, has been treating Sunday Times readers to a withering attack on Mr Blair and all his works.

Mr Harris's disillusionment with the Blair project stems from what he percieves as the shabby treatment meted out to his friend Peter Mandelson,who, you may remember, was thrown out of the Cabinet earlier this year "for doing nothing wrong".

This week's diatribe concerns New Labour's subservience to big business, especially the emphasis on turning the education system into a production line for well trained workers.

"Human beings are thus reduced to the level of capital equipment, and learning - reading writing and all that stuff - is merely the fuel that makes them go" writes Harris, disapprovingly.

He attacks New Labour's infatuation with statistics, quoting a party briefing paper which claims that if the numeracy standards of all adults were raised to those expected of 11 year olds, GNP could be lifted by £30 billion a year.

What Harris seems to be against is the idea that individuals are being treated as mere instruments of the state.

A strange thing for a socialist to complain about seeing that the the supremacy of the state over the individual is the whole basis of the creed.

Hell hath no fury like a luvvie scorned.



No doubt you have all been enthralled by the story of Utah's Tom Green with his five wives and 30 children.

Apparantly, to avoid disputes, the wives have formed themselves into a committee, chaired by the senior wife, to decide who will sleep with Tom on any particular night - all very civilised and democratic.

I suspect many men will be secretly envious of Mr Green - green-eyed,even - because with five women to wash, cook, iron and clean there will be little call for him get involved in the domestic chores.

Picture the idyllic scene as he sits out on the porch of an evening, with a beer and his favourite pipe, waiting for the committee's directions.

And the odds against all five having a headache at the same time must be astronomical.

But, before male readers get carried away by this vision of heavenly paradise, they would do well to remember that every silver lining has a cloud - five mothers-in-law, for instance.

Perhaps they too have a committee to ensure that not more than one at a time turns up for Sunday tea.


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