May 9 2013

Standing firm

There was a bit of excitement at today's meeting of full council when the dynamic young leader of the Labour Group, Cllr Paul Miller, made an attempt to persuade members to suspend the Standing Order which requires ten clear days notice for written Notices of Motion.
Cllr Miller's reason for this surprise move was that he wanted to put down an emergency motion regarding the allocation of property grants in Pembroke Dock which is causing concern to the town's two remaining Labour councillors (Alison Lee and Tony Wilcox).
This issue has featured on this website recently (Tender Thoughts) and (Taken for granted) and Cllr Miller proposed that all further grant allocations be suspended while a small cross-party panel of members investigated the matter.
As regular readers will know, my own investigations into this issue ran into a brick wall when the council's Monitoring Officer ruled that I should be denied access to the tender documents on which the grants were based because they contained personal information which is protected by the Data Protection Act.
To overcome this difficulty, Cllr Miller proposed that the council should give this newly-formed panel powers to have "full and complete access" to all relevant documents.
However, he first had to circumvent the 10-day rule and when the matter was put to a recorded vote the IPPG block vote ensured that Cllr Miller's attempt to shine some light on the subject went down by 28-26.
Three IPPG members (Cllrs Lyn Jenkins, Mike John and Pearl Llewellyn) abstained while Reg Owens broke ranks and voted with the opposition but, with three opposition member absent, the ruling group just squeezed home.
It was also interesting to note that the IPPG's two Pembroke Dock councillors (Sue Perkins and Brian Hall) both voted against Cllr Miller's proposal.
Can we look forward to seeing these party colleagues running a joint campaign in the 2017 election?

Musical chairs

PCC's AGM is due Friday at 11 am - members of the public can come along and observe the spectacle.
Lord Lieutenant in full ceremonial garb, chairman and vice-chairman's chains-a-chinking and their ladies in their smartest hats receiving impressive baskets of flowers.
As you are paying for the flowers, you may as enjoy the entertainment.
And, following the resolution passed at today's meeting to allow filming and broadcasting of council meetings, next year you will be able to watch it all from the comfort of the sofa.
Over the years the AGM had developed into something of a ritual and, despite the prospect of a nice buffet lunch and a couple of glasses of perfectly acceptable red wine (also paid for by you) Old Grumpy had got into the habit of giving it a miss.
However, since the election, things have changed and for only the second time in the council's history there is to be a contest for the position of vice-chairman (the first time was last year).
I hear the phones have been busy as the two candidates - Cllrs Phil Baker (unaffiliated) and Tom Richards (IPPG) - canvass support.
I hope my phone's silence doesn't mean that anyone is taking my vote for granted.
I should add that the names above are arranged alphabetically and the order should not be taken as an indication of preference.
In addition to the election of vice chairman, there is the distribution of committee seats and scrutiny chairs between the various political groups, with the unaffiliated members picking up the seats unallocated by the statutory scheme.
The last time this happened I got into a small argument with the Chief Executive because I was unable to see how a system of proportional distribution could result in the unaffiliated members having four seats on the relatively useless 13-member licensing committee and only two on the influential 13-member corporate governance committee.
I could understand a 4-3 split because there is some rounding up and down, but a two-seat difference is not possible on any system of arithmetic with which I am familiar.
The Chief Executive dismissed my concerns by saying that my argument was "logically flawed".
As a council meeting is not the place to get into an argument involving complex arithmetic, I took this rebuff on the chin, but I have since been engaged in a protracted email exchange with the council's legal department in an effort to get them to explain the precise nature of the flaw.
I'm afraid this has turned out to be a dialogue of the deaf, but I am pleased to report that the report to Friday's AGM allocates three seats on corporate governance to the unaffiliated members just as I always said should be the case.
Another matter that has been exercising my mathematical brain ('A' level 1958 vintage) is the distribution of scrutiny committee chairs among the opposition groups.
The rules for this are set out in the Welsh Government's Local Government Measure 2011 which must be a strong contender for the most badly written piece of legislation ever to make it into the statute book.
Having wrestled with it over several bottles of merlot I eventually came to the conclusion that should Cllr Sue Perkins leave the Cabinet/Labour group and Labour cease to be classed as an executive group (a group with a member in the Cabinet) then Labour would be entitled to two of the three scrutiny chairs allocated to the opposition, and the Tories nil.
The calculation, as I understand the rules, is number of members in group/total number of members in opposition groups (14 - Lab 7, Plaid 5 and Tories 2) x number of chairs available (3).
For Labour that comes to 7/14 x 3 = 1.5 which rounds up to 2.
In the case of Plaid it is 5/14 x 3 = 1.07 which rounds down to one and for the Tories 2/14 x 3 = 0.48 which rounds down to zero.
However, such is the complexity of these rules that small changes in party numbers could have a dramatic effect.
And experienced Kremlinologists have been giving some serious thought to the possible Tory reaction to the loss of its scrutiny chair.
It hasn't gone without notice among the more astute readers of the tea leaves that there are at least four card-carrying Tories and several fellow-travellers on the council who are not currently members of the party group.
In addition, those who have mastered the arithmetic calculate that if the Tories were to recruit just one extra member they would regain their scrutiny chair (3/14 x 3 = 0.64 = 1) and would , in addition, qualify for a seat on the National Park (£3,000) per year.
So, even as I write, schemes may be afoot that will make all previous calculations redundant.
And, as every race has its dark horse, we shouldn't rule out a late dash up the rails by Cllr Peter Stock's Pembrokshire Alliance.
Though it should be said that, on recent form, this is a rank outsider.

Changing places

Yesterday's meeting provided plenty of other morsels for the Kremlinologists to chew on.
Over on that other website young Jacob is trying to make sense of the strange activities of Cllr Reg Owens on the pay grading review.
Cllr Owens has been one of the council's sternest critics over this issue, but yesterday he came over all cooperative and agreed to withdraw his notice of motion calling for more extensive compensation arrangements for those members of staff who had suffered pay cuts.
However, before throwing in the towel, Cllr Owens again complained about the Leader's decision to send one of the IPPG's heavies to his home in an effort to "persuade" him to drop his NoM.
According to Cllr Owens, he was threatened that, if he persisted in promoting this costly compensation package, he would have the compulsory redundancy of some of those he was trying to protect on his conscience.
Interested to know who had come knocking on his door, I asked if Cllr Owen could identify the "heavy" concerned.
I must admit that I was following Mark Twain's dictum: "Never ask a question unless you already know the answer" but I thought other members should know that it was Cllr Ken Rowlands the cabinet member for education.
Even the massed ranks of the IPPG could scarce forbear to cheer when an opposition member cried out: "What a terrifying prospect!".
I must admit that "Ken the Enforcer" doesn't quite carry the same degree of menace as "Vlad the impaler"
While Cllr Owens' retreat on the compensation deal was remarkable enough, his actions over another pay and regrading issue was positively bizarre.
That involved Cllr Paul Miller's attempt to introduce a degree of independence into the appeals system.
The present arrangement is that the three-person appeal panels will consist of two council officers and a trades union rep.
Independence is achieved by stipulating that the chairman should be a council officer from a department other than that in which the appellant is employed.
Cllr Miller argued that this was not what most people would regard as independent and moved that the appeals panels should be chaired by someone from outside the authority.
Up jumped the Leader to propose an amendment that elected members would be allowed to sit in on these panels as observers.
This proposal, he said, was the result of his earlier discussions with Cllr Owen.
Due to limitations of time and space I won't catalogue all reasons why this is a a daft idea except to say that, unless members/spectators are able to pass judgement on the impartiality or otherwise, of the proceedings, their presence is of no significance whatsoever.
And, if they are able to pass judgement, they become, in effect, a second court of appeal.
This was in fact a fig leaf to allow Cllr Owens to vote against Cllr Miller's proposal and he duly obliged.
So, you might ask, where is the Kremlinology in all this?
Well, it hasn't escaped the conspiracy theorists' notice that the vacancy in the Cabinet caused by the departure of David Wildman still hasn't been filled.
The favourite is thought to be Cllr Keith Lewis the ultra-ponderous member for Crymych.
If Cllr Lewis is so promoted, it will free-up his present position as chairman of the economy scrutiny committee (SRA circa £9,000)
I'll leave you to work out the rest for yourselves.
The AGM is being held today (Friday) so we may not have long to wait to find out if the masters of intrigue are on to something.

Motes and beams

On my reckoning, the defection of Cllr Sue Perkins from Labour to the IPPG brings the number of former socialists in the ruling group to seven.
The two most recent, Cllrs Perkins and Simon Hancock were both elected on the Labour ticket and then decided to jump ship once the votes were safely in the bag.
Cllr Hancock shortly after the 2012 election and Cllr Perkins before its first anniversary.
It is of course entirely coincidental that both are now in the Cabinet (SRA £15,000 p.a.)
Cllr Hancock attributed his defection to a Labour party requirement that the party's councillors should pay a proportion of their allowances into central coffers though, as this rule was introduced in September 2011 - some months before he sought Labour Party endorsement as a candidate in the 2012 elections - this explanation was not particularly convincing.
Cllr Perkins case is rather different in that she entered the Cabinet in 2012 but remained a Labour party member.
This had the effect of making Labour an "executive group" which meant (a) that its leader was barred from claiming the allowance payable to the leader of the largest opposition group, and (b) the party's entitlement to scrutiny committee chairs was cut from two to one.
So you can understand why Labour might want her out of either the Cabinet, or the group, though why she joined the IPPG rather than becoming unaffiliated is something of a mystery.
The defection trailblazer was Cllr Pearl Llewellyn who crossed the floor in 2006 when Labour removed her from the Fire Authority after she defied party policy by voting for a downgrading of Haverfordwest fire station.
The strange thing about this was that just a couple of weeks earlier the WT carried a picture of a placard-waving group outside the fire station protesting against these cuts.
As you've already guessed, Cllr Llewellyn was in the front row.
Anyway, Cllr Llewellyn joined the IPG, as it was then known, and was swiftly restored to the Fire Authority (basic allowance £2,000 p.a.) as the ruling group's representative.
Then there was the mass exodus just before the 2008 election when three official Labour candidates: Lyndon Frayling, and Cllrs Ken Rowlands and Umelda Havard decided at the last minute to stand as independents and, when elected, promptly joined the IPG.
Indeed there is clear evidence that the decision to join the IPG was taken long before the election because, as that other website has demonstrated, the party's chief election strategist Cllr Rob Lewis wrote their election addresses.
Understandably, the Labour leadership was not a bit pleased by these defections.
As the Labour leader at the time of Cllr Llewellyn's desertion put it: "This is the third time Cllr Llewellyn has changed sides and crossed the floor when it suited her. She has shown a complete lack of loyalty - to her party and to Pembrokeshire. Pembrokeshire and, indeed, Monkton Ward deserves better. Let me assure the people of Monkton the Labour Party will be selecting a Labour candidate to stand against Cllr Llewellyn at the next county council elections."( Leader lashes out)
And when Cllr Rowlands left the party in the lurch in 2008 the leader really let rip.
In a vitriolic email published by the Western Telegraph the labour leader told "The voice of Johnston":
"You made the judgment that you are more important than the voters and that is pure arrogance. I believed that as a 'man of the cloth' - a lay preacher who from the pulpit talks of faith, loyalty and trust - that you would practise what you preach.I hope you are happy with your 30 pieces of silver [thought to be reference to his newly acquired £15,000 Cabinet SRA] ."(Love, Labour's lost)
And in a later comment the leader observed: "The real losers in this shabby affair are the voters who were denied the chance to vote Labour. For the three councillors concerned to mislead the electors was reprehensible and will not be forgotten."
Of course, as regular reader will realise, the leader of the Labour group who so roundly condemned these turncoats was none other than Cllr Sue Perkins.
In fairness, I should point out that Cllr Perkins was not alone in throwing out accusations of venality, because, while denying that his own actions had been motivated by the lure of a Cabinet post (and SRA) ("The cabinet offer came after the election and after I had signed my group [IPG] papers."), Cllr Rowlands told the WT: "It is perfectly understandable that Cllr Sue Perkins would feel bitter since she no longer has the kudos of being the leader of the official opposition, and in view of the loss of the allowance [circa £9,000] that goes with such a post."
Plaid leader Cllr Michael Williams used to describe the IPPG as the Party of Farmers, Freemasons and the Far Right.
My own calculation is that, as a proportion of the IPPG, ex-labour members are now neck and neck with the farmers and streets ahead of the freemasons.
I am unable to be certain about the far right, but I think there is evidence enough of labour entryism for Cllr Williams to revise his description.
Staying with the alliterative F-theme, could I suggest the addition of Former Fabians (h/t to Bob K).
Readers are invited to email me with their suggestions. The only stipulation is that the word or phrase must begin with F.

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