6 May 2003


Soft landings

I read in the Western Telegraph that the County Council - with the support of Objective One funding - is to spend £380,000 on the replacement of the landing stages on the Haven.
Old Grumpy remembers the uproar back in 1996 when the authority had to backtrack on its decision to withdraw the pontoons from service because it was going to cost £28,000 to repair them and put them back in the water for the summer season.
During the debate on that issue, members were told that the pontoons were unsuitable for an open water location like the Haven.
To be fair to the County Council, this was a problem inherited from the former Preseli District Council which had spent a fortune, particularly at Gellyswick, where massive civil engineering works were necessary, on the provision of this playground for tourists and locals alike.
And having, myself, made the boat trip from the mackerel stage to Burton to enjoy a pint in the aptly named Jolly Sailor, I can vouch for the pontoons' attractions.
Given that the structures were clapped out in 1996 it seems something of a miracle that they are still in use seven years later, until, that is, you realise that their continuation in service is more to do with the magical properties of taxpayers' money than divine intervention.
My attention was drawn to the cost of this exercise about five years ago when, during my annual trawl through the council's accounts, I came across a series of spectactular bills for the repair and maintenance of these floating jetties.
Unfortunately, I am unable to locate the copies of these invoices in the chaos of my shed so I will have to make do with the information in the council's accounts.


 Year  Repair and Maintenance  Finance charges  Total
 1998-99  £46,700  £17,222  £63,920
 1999-00  £117,875  £16,490  £134,365
 2000-01  £65,820*  £16,490*  £83,310*
 2001-02  not available    
 2002-03  £67,995  £17,335  £85,270
 2003-04  £40,450*  £18,370*  £58,750*

* = figures taken from council estimates.
That adds up to more than £420,000 not including the years 1996-97, 1997-98, and 2001-02, which, assuming a similar rate of attrition, would take the total more than £600,000.

Shot fox

Thursday's extra-ordinary meeting of the County Council promises to be a lively affair.
The meeting has been called to debate a series of opposition Notices of Motion designed to correct what they see as flaws in the council's constitution.
The main item on the agenda is a motion to remove the right of the Corporate Governance Committee, two thirds of which is made up of the Leader and his stooges, to veto changes in the constitution (see Constitutional monstrosity).
Unfortunately, the extra-ordinary meeting is preceeded by a meeting of full council and the Leader, Maurice Hughes, and his deputy, John Allen-Mirehouse have taken the opportunity to shoot the opposition's fox by submitting a very similar motion to the earlier meeting, leaving the minority parties to console themselves with the thought that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Old Grumpy can only speculate about the Leader's motive for this shabby little ruse but my best guess is that one or other of the authority's pointy heads has persuaded him that the present set-up can't be defended even by the Kremlin on Cleddau's finest truth benders, and this is an attempt to get his retaliation if first in order to preserve something of the doctrine of council infallibility.
In any case this move represents a dramatic about face by the leader who only a couple of months ago, in response to a article in the Mercury by Mr John Hudson, claimed that the constitution had been approved by the Welsh Assembly and "it clearly meets the very rigorous requirements of its [Welsh Assembly's] modernisation programme."
It will be interesting to see how the Chairman deals with the Leader's motion (no pun intended).
Though the Chairman has the power to allow the issue to be debated at the meeting where the motion is proposed, it has invariably been the practice that such motions are remitted to the relevant committee for further consideration.
Presumably these rules apply to the Leader just like everyone else.
We shall see!

Hard sums

Another change that the opposition is trying to force through concerns the regulations governing the transfer [virement] of funds from one departmental budget to another.
The present rule reads:"Virements in net expenditure may be made within and between Divisions of Service (capital and revenue), but those virements between Divisions of Service in excess of £100,000 or 10%, whichever is the greater sum, will require formal approval of the Council/Executive[Cabinet]."
As this fails to stipulate 10% of what, it is largely meaningless.
Nor is it altogether clear what is meant by Division of Service.
Assuming that a Division of Service is a department such as education, and the 10% is a proportion of that department's budget, it would be possible under the rules, as written, to transfer £6 million from education to some other area with so much as a by your leave.
That being the case the opposition groups are surely right to insist that the wording be changed from the greater sum to the lesser sum.
Hopefully, Thursday's debate will cast some light on these matters.

Mystery letters

Thanks to some intensive tuition from my son in law, I have achieved sufficient mastery of the scanner to post the Fishguard letters (see Letters galore) on to the website.
Unfortunately, I have not yet learned how to compress files so they might take time to download (see Fishgard letters link on my home page).
What is fascinating is the similarity in the layout and typeface of the two letters.
Cllr Howells claims that the squiggled "signature" on the letter purporting to come from Fishguard Junior School, is a mark put there by him to indicate that it was a copy.
As far as I know, there is no explanation for the remarkably similar squiggle on the letter from his brother Charles Howells..
How the letters found their way to Fishguard Town Hall is another point of contention.
According to Cllr Howells they had become mixed in with a bundle of papers he handed in to the Town Clerk.
But his opponents say that when they asked the Mayor, during a meeting of the Town Council, how the letters had arrived he replied "in the post".
Whatever the truth about that, one thing is certain: Cllr Howells is mistaken in his claim that the letter bearing the name of the vice-chairman of the governors was a draft on plain paper.

Rule of Law

My apologies for banging on about matters constitutional, but it is my firmly held belief that constitutions are what ultimately keep us free.
There are, I think three main types of state:
(a) Those which are totally unconstitutional and where the will of the ruler holds sway e.g. pre-war Iraq.
(b) Those which have a constitution which is inoperative because the courts are under the control of the government e.g Zimbabwe, and
(c) Those where the courts are independent and the Rule of Law generally prevails e.g. UK.
So, whether we agree with the judgement or not, we should rejoice whenever the courts overrule the government, just as we should cringe when someone like David Blunkett criticises a judge for interpreting the law in a way he finds inconvenient.
And when Lord Irvine objects to Mr Blunkett's attitude to the Rule of Law, we should realise that it may be a mistake to judge a man solely on his taste in wallpaper.
Recently, I was reading Michael Burleigh's book "The Third Reich" which contains a chapter headed "The demise of the Rule of Law".
Burleigh draws attention to the "Law for the Alleviation of the People's and the Reich's Misery", otherwise known as the Enabling Laws.
He writes: "The Enabling Laws permitted the government to pass budgets and promulgate laws, including those altering the constitution, for four years without parliamentary approval. In democracies, constitutional amendments are especially solemn moments; here they were easier than changing the traffic regulations."
I rest my case.


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