27 May 2003

 

Getting Warm

For several weeks now, I have been chipping away at the multiple layers of lies and misrepresentations put out by the County Council as it attempts to conceal the true nature of the business relationship between Cllr Brian Hall and Dr Michael P Ryan, the sole shareholders and Directors of Euro-Ryall Ltd a company incorporated in December 2000.
The starting point was an article I wrote questioning the appropriateness of these close ties between a Cabinet Minister and Dr Ryan, managing director of ORA International which has a £450-a-day economic development consultancy contract with the County Council..
This resulted in the issue of a press release in the name of His Leadership, Cllr Maurice Hughes, in which he said, with respect to Hall/Ryan's involvement in the company Euro-Ryall Ltd, that:
"The Council is fully aware of the company Euroryall (sic). Before the company was registered, the principals approached officers of the council. They gave firm undertakings not to trade in Pembrokeshire nor provide any conflict of interest."
I emailed Cllr Hughes on several occasions asking for the date the approach was made; the identities of the officers involved; and the legal status of the "firm undertakings" not to trade in Pembrokeshire.
In the best County Council tradition of open, accountable democracy he refused to answer my questions.
I then wrote to the Chairman of the economic development scrutiny committee, Cllr Tom Richards drawing his attention to the situation.
Cllr Richards replied that he had been assured by the Monitoring Officer that "the written undertaking given by Dr Ryan is contractually enforceable".
During the public audit process, I had asked for, and been given (reluctantly), a copy of the Council's contract with Dr Ryan's company ORA International Ltd.
Clearly, this "written undertaking" was part of that contract so I wrote to the Monitoring Officer asking if he could remedy the omission.
In response, he supplied me with a letter from ORA International Ltd, dated 3 September 2000, and signed by Dr Ryan as managing director, which informed MR David Thomas of ORA's intention to establish a UK company with Dr Ryan as its representative on the board.
"I am therefore advising you that I will represent ORA,s (sic) interest in the UK, through this new company, but this will exclude the territory of Pembrokeshire County and any other area of Wales which you may request, within reason."
This is the supposedly "contractually enforceable" agreement that prevents Euro-Ryall Ltd from trading in Pembrokeshire.
The difficulty with that is that neither Cllr Hall nor Euro-Ryall Ltd are mentioned in this letter so there is no way they could be bound by it.
Indeed, Euro-Ryall Ltd was not incorporated (born) until 29 December 2000 - four months after the letter was written.
Furthermore, it was not ORA that set up the new company, as indicated in the letter of September 3, but Cllr Hall and Dr Ryan himself (for a fuller account of the legal principles involved see Con-tract.)
So, the press release put out by His Leadership on 6 November 2002 was nothing but a pack of lies.
This, you should remember, is a man with almost absolute power in the County.
He can appoint and sack Cabinet members at will and he, alone, decides who should be appointed as County Council representatives to outside bodies such as the Local Health Board, school governing bodies and the Community Health Council.
Yet, when he puts out a press release, deliberately designed to mislead the people, all that comes from the opposition, with the honourable exception of Plaid Cymru leader, Cllr Michael Williams, is a deafening silence.
Just as hard to understand is the attitude of the so-called Independents, 19 of whom, I notice, claim Christian affiliations in the register of members interests, including a Deacon, a Churchwarden and several members of Parochial Church Councils.
Perhaps, they think it's impolite to ask questions!
However, help may be at hand.
An email from one of my readers in Pembroke Dock encourages me to think that I may at long last discover the truth about what Hall and Ryan were up to.
I hope to have more information by next week.


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Last week, I came across the following quotation from the 19th Century essayist William Hazlitt.

Corporate bodies are more corrupt than individuals because they have more power to do mischief and are less amenable to disgrace or punishment. They feel neither shame, remorse, gratitude nor goodwill. The principle of private and natural conscience in each individual is extinguished and nothing is considered but how united efforts of the whole may be best directed to obtaining political advantages and privileges to be shared as common spoils."

Hazlitt's views seem to be reinforced by both the article above and the escalation in the cost of County Councillors' allowances over the past few years.
I notice from the minutes of the Policy and Resources committee of 11 February 1999 (just before the last County Council elections) that Members Allowances for the financial year 1999/2000 were budgeted at £348,375; made up of basic allowances of £240,195, special responsibility allowances £48,730 and travelling and subsistence of £59,450.
Since then our elected representatives have voted themselves two massive pay rises and the cost in the current year is set at £965,910 which give or take a bob or two is three times what it was four years ago.
Unfortunately, in line with the County Council's policy of keeping us, so far as possible, in the dark, these most up to date figures are not broken down into their component parts.
However, Old Grumpy's rough calculations indicate that basic allowances are now costing some £630,000 which is two-and-a-half the 1999/2000 figure, while special responsibility allowances account for £250,000 or five times the level at the last election.
No wonder our councillors are so useless - it can't be easy to keep your eye on the ball with your snout buried that deep in the trough.

Bryn on the breadline?

 

I read in the Western Mail that Mr Bryn Parry-Jones has been knocked off his perch as Wales's highest paid Chief Executive per head of population.
It is not altogether easy to discover exactly what Mr Parry-Jones is paid manage the affairs of Pembrokeshire's 114,000 people but best estimates are that it is in the region of £110,000 plus 12% of salary, car-leasing allowance.
Now, Merthyr Tydfil County Borough (pop 57,300) has relegated Pembrokeshire to silver medal position by appointing a Mr Alistair Neill at a salary of £120,000, which, on a population basis, makes him twice as well paid as Mr Parry-Jones.
I trust our elected representatives will move swiftly to appoint pay consultants with a view to restoring Pembrokeshire's reputation as Wales' Premier County.
In the past such exercises have been carried out by the Hay MSL consultancy and their success in uplifting Mr Parry-Jones' pay from £62,000 when he was first appointed in 1996 to its present level is its own recommendation.
Councillors who have actually read the Birmingham University report, which led to their massive pay increases last May, might be regretting that Hay was not given the leading role in evaluating their allowances.
According to the Birmingham report, when Hay's job evaluation techniques are applied to councillors' roles, you arrive at an allowance for a Council Leader of £50,000-£80,000 a year (Maurice Hughes £35,000), while a bog standard member would get £19,000-£28,000 (Pembrokeshire £10,500).
From this you might conclude either that our councillors are grossly underpaid or there is something wrong with Hay's job evaluation methods.
I will leave to you to decide.
The Merthyr appointment has led the controversial leader of Cardiff City Council, Russell Goodway, to propose that, in the interests of transparency, all Chief Officers' salaries, including all perks, should be published as a matter of course.
This would include the substantial sums of money many receive from the Home Office for fulfilling the role of Returning Officer at local and national elections.
Unfortunately, the Home Office treat these payments as State secrets though if you have a few hours to spare you can arrive at a rough estimate by doing the required sums based on the relevant regulations.
About four years ago, the Mercury acting on information, as they say, claimed that Mr Parry-Jones had received £13,000 for running the Welsh Assembly/County Council elections.
My own calculations suggest that this was a significant overestimation but, that notwithstanding, the role of Returning Officer is, no doubt, a nice little earner.
Is the money returned to the Council to compensate it for the loss of the Chief Executive's services; or does the Chief Executive use part of his holiday entitlement: or does he pocket both the Returning Officer's fee and his salary?
Or is it bad manners to ask?

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