November 11 2008

Force-fed

 

Let me introduce you to the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales, which was set up last year by the Welsh Assembly to "undertake a fundamental and ongoing review of the type and level of allowances available to county and county borough councillors in Wales.
It has now published its first report which can be found at http://new.wales.gov.uk/irpwsub/home/publications/?lang=en
A brief summary follows for those of you with better things to do with your time.
Councils in Wales are divided into four population groups.A, 300,000+; B, 200,001-300,000; C, 100,001-200,000; and D, less than 100,000.
Pembrokeshire is in group C (100,001 - 200,000).
All councillors in Pembrokeshire are paid a basic allowance of £13,000 approx.
In addition, members holding important positions within the council are entitled to Special Responsibility Allowances which are divided into six bands.
The bands relevant to Pembrokeshire are

Band 2
Leaders of councils in a leader and cabinet executive
Band 3
Members of executives in leader and cabinet executives
Band 4
Chairs of Overview and Scrutiny Committees
Leader of the Largest Opposition Group (as defined in the
2002 Regulations)
Chairs of planning committees
Chairs of licensing committees
Band 5
Vice-chairs of scrutiny committees
Vice-chairs of planning committees
Vice-chairs of licensing committees

The Panel has recommended maximum SRAs for the various bands in group C as follows.
The SRAs currently paid by PCC are in the third column.

 Group C Recommended  present  increase  %
 Band 2  £34,597  £28,104  £6,493  23%
 Band 3  £17,299  £14,052  £3,247  23%
 Band 4  £10,378  £8,431  £1,947  23 %
 Band 5  £6,918  £5,620  £1,298  23%


Furthermore, the Panel says: "We feel strongly that the role of the councillor across Wales should be respected as a professional one. In the interests of equity and consistency the Panel encourages all councils to pay the maximum SRAs we have set for their population grouping."
"Professional" is nicely ambiguous because, as councillors are paid, they are not amateurs, but, as regards its other sense i.e. being qualified in some way, it is not exactly the first adjective that springs to mind.
And as for equity, the situation where the Leader of a council serving a population of 110,000 is paid the same as one serving 200,000 would not accord with most people's idea of fairness.
But, when the matter came before a recent county council meeting, the Leader, possibly fearing a political backlash if members voted for such huge increases when staff were being asked to settle for 2.5%, proposed that the Panel's recommendation that the maximum be paid should be ignored and members voted for an increase in allowances in line with staff salaries.
I am told that these pay increases led to a lively debate at the IPG's secret group meeting with a sizeable number of members wanting to take the money - after all, the next election is more than three years away - but the Leader stamped his authority on the proceedings and not a peep was heard out of any of them at the following day's council meeting.
But they are not likely to remain long disappointed because I notice that the Panel is to ask WAG to change the law so as to ". . . provide the Panel with the ability to prescribe levels of allowances, rather than to set maximums."
This request is unlikely to be refused, so next year, when this issue comes up again, the Leader will be able to hold up his hands and say: "We have no choice but to accept these increases imposed on us by the Panel."
PS What was not reported in the Western Telegraph was that Cllr Malcolm Calver voted against the 2.5% increase and asked that any extra money due to him (£300 approx) be forwarded to the Paul Sartori Foundation.


Well fed

 

While on the subject of equity, could I bring you up to speed with a report on luncheon clubs that recently came before the county council's older persons, health and wellbeing scrutiny committee.
Luncheon clubs, as you may know, are designed to enable older persons to get out and socialise with their friends. - a worthy aim.
To encourage such activities the county council spends just over £40,000 per year on subsidising these clubs which are attended by over 1,000 people county-wide.
Naturally, as public money is involved, there are rules.
Briefly, these stipulate a subsidy of £1.50 per meal for the first two years of the clubs existence, though nobody seems to have given consideration to the fact that the frequency with which they meet might be of some importance.
It seems that these rules have been widely ignored with the subsidy per meal ranging from 90p (Llandysilio - monthly) to (£2.50 St Ishmaels - fortnightly).
The result is that there are huge variations in the total subsidy per person per year with St Dogmaels heading the list at £170; Llandysilio way down the league with a meagre £5, and nine clubs receiving no subsidy at all.
As I understand it, in order to claim the subsidy, the organiser/secretary of the club has to submit a form to county hall giving details of the number of people who attended on a particular day.
This rule seems to have been completely ignored in the case of Crymych where the only information that the county council seems to have is that £6,130 was paid out for an unspecified number of meals provided to an unspecified number of members.
That is almost double the £3,240 claimed by Pembroke Dock in second place.
And Pembroke Dock is not without its problems because its 50 members, meeting weekly, subsidy £1, each managed by some miracle of arithmetic to claim £64.80 - a 130% attendance record.
Inevitably, conspiracy theorists have jumped to the conclusion that some more influential members have been using luncheon clubs as a means of gathering votes.
They point to the fact that there are no fewer than five luncheon clubs (Angle, Hundleton, Bosherston, Castlemartin and Stackpole) in Cllr John Allen Mirehouse's ward with 153 members claiming a total of £5,390, while the whole of Milford Haven only receives £570.
Much as I am attracted by this theory, the facts are against it because the 80 members of the Simpsons Cross club; in the ward of the other deputy leader Cllr Jamie Adams, don't receive a penny.
In any case, using public money to butter up the electorate would be illegal - just ask Dame Shirley Porter.

No cold turkey

As the financial/economic crisis gathers momentum, tax cuts have become the flavour of the month as the method best suited to boosting the economy.
Major public works projects, which might have the same effect, take too long to get off the ground, so putting money directly into consumers' pockets is now thought to be the best way to get them back in the shops.
Even Gordon Brown, who used to tell us that cutting taxes could only be achieved by way of a slash and burn policy towards the public services, is rumoured to be a convert.
And the same Gordon Brown, who used to preach that "unfunded unaffordable tax cuts" were a sure route to economic perdition, is now telling us that these tax cuts will be (un)funded by a huge increase in government borrowing.
The truth is that we have become addicted to cheap credit and, fearing the impact that a spell of cold turkey might have on his electoral prospects, Mr Brown has decided to put us on the monetary equivalent of methadone.
Put simply, our regular pushers, the banks, have been almost driven out of business so Messrs Brown and Darling are busy arranging for us to get our next fix courtesy of our grandchildren, who suffer from the disadvantage of not having the vote.
At the height of the financial crisis, the mantra with regard to bankers' bonuses was "No rewards for failure".
Judging from Mr Brown's recent opinion poll ratings, the same doesn't apply to politicians.


Minority rights

 

Old Grumpy has been watching the recent spat between Cllrs Eric Harries and Rhys Sinnett over the Welsh language with interest.
As an Englishman, I have to be careful about what I say on this subject, but, as I have lived in Wales for longer than at least half the population, and my taxes go towards funding bilingual policy, I feel I have some standing in the matter.
You may be surprised to learn that Welsh language policy causes me no serious concerns because I believe it provides an object lesson on how minority rights should be treated in a democracy.
Of course, if you believe in crude majoritarianism, the case can be made that the majority shouldn't be coerced into paying for what is a minority sport.
But simply counting heads doesn't reflect the true depth of feeling on any given subject.
And, while I might be largely indifferent to the Welsh language, I also know that, to a significant minority of my fellow citizens, it is a matter of the highest importance.
That said, I have to agree with Eric Harries that to impose an expensive Welsh language scheme on a small community council like Milford Haven is a bridge too far.
In the more than forty years that I have lived in Wales, the language has made great strides and campaigners, some of whom have unattractive authoritarian tendencies, should seek to consolidate their gains by being sensitive to the fact that majorities also have rights.

Multiple perspectives

 

I notice that, in the culture section of one the quality papers that I (obviously) read, a dispute has broken out at the Tate Modern over the hanging of a David Rothko painting.
Regular readers will know that Rothko's paintings, one of which recently sold for £42 million, are composed of broad stripes of colour (Earning you stripes)
Apparently, the experts at the TM are unable to agree on which way the painting should be hung - stripes vertical or horizontal..
Presumably, a case can also be made for hanging it upside down or back to front, always presuming, of course, that you know which is the top and which is the bottom.
That would make four paintings for the price of one.
And if the suggestion put forward by a reader of the Daily Telegraph: that the most aesthetically pleasing way to hang these pictures is facing the wall, is adopted, then, given the up-down, left-right combinations mentioned above, that makes it Buy One - Get Seven Free.
Or just a shade over £5 million each - an unmissable bargain.


What the Romans did for us

 

A council in England is threatening to ban Latin.
I would advise against this as officers will be unable to invoke sub judice when they want to close down discussion on a controversial subject.
For myself, I would be reluctant to forgo the Latin phrases I picked during my days as a law student and which I like to trot out from time to time as a badge of learning.
Where would I be without De minimis non curat lex (the law doesn't concern itself with trifles) quid pro quo (this for that) nem com (nobody against) post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, so because of this) delegatus non potest delegare (a delegate cannot delegate) and my all-time favourite: Nec vi, nec clam, nec precario (without force, without secrecy, without permission).which sets down the rules for obtaining adverse possession (squatter's rights) by continuous trespass.
Actually, having attended an ancient, traditional grammar school, I had the opportunity to receive a solid grounding in this ancient, dead language.
Unfortunately, Latin lessons were mostly spent gazing out of the window, or projecting paper pellets across the room with an elastic band.
Though it is now more than 50 years since I sat in 'Chippy' Wood's class mechanically chanting amo, amas, amat and bellum, bellum, bellum, I still have perfect recollection of the classic Latin verse:
Caesar et sum jam for te,
Brutus et erat,
Caesar sic in omnibus,
Brutus sic in at.

And, of course, there is my motto: Non illigitimo carborundum est which roughly translated means Don't let the bastards grind you down.
As I always say, however irrelevant it might seem at the time, education is never wasted.

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