November 13 2007

In the money

The Taxpayers' Alliance has caused quite a stir with its latest revelations on the pay of top public sector workers.
Last March the alliance published some equally interesting figures on the upward surge in the pay of senior local government officers. The results of the alliance's researches can be found at figures for Wales page 59.
What they reveal is that Pembrokeshire apparently has the highest paid chief executive in Wales (£139,999) and that, true to their reputation for meanness, the neighbouring Cardis pay nobody more than £100,000.
I say apparently because one feature of the list is the number of Welsh local authorities that refused to disclose the information.
In fact, on my calculations, the alliance has underestimated Mr Parry-Jones' pay packet by the odd five grand .
The process by which the chief executive's pay has risen from £63,000 to £145,000 (130% - more than four times the rate of inflation) in the 10 years since his appointment is an interesting one (Nice little earner).


Eddie's last word?

Old Grumpy's eye was caught by a letter from former county councillor Eddie Setterfield which appeared in the Mercury under the heading "Cut councillors down to size".
Eddie says, with some justification, that there is no need for 60 councillors "now that just 15 of them run the council".
If, as I suspect, he is referring to the Cabinet the correct figure is 10, though the point he makes is not invalidated by mere arithmetical inexactitude.
In fact, the Cabinet doesn't run the council - that is the province of the chief executive and his Chief Officers Management Board (COMB).
The Cabinet's role is to apply a coat of democratic gloss to whatever COMB decides.
There are some issues that only full council can decide in which case the leader tells his 39 members how to vote at the Independent Political Group's secret pre-meeting meeting and it is they who then wield the paint brush.
Unfortunately, Eddie's case is somewhat weakened by the fact that he was an ultra-loyal component of the IPG's block vote prior to his less than successful encounter with the ballot box in the May 1999 elections.
This is ex-Cllr Setterfield's second letter to the Mercury in the space of a few weeks.
His previous epistle was a lament about the infrequency with which people wash their hand after visiting public toilets.
It was not clear whether his evidence for this was empirical or anecdotal, though he should be warned that, if the former, the habit of hanging around public toilets observing the activities of users can lead to misunderstandings.
When I saw this second letter I immediately jumped to the conclusion that Eddie was trying to grab attention ahead of next May's local elections.
However, it seems, my cynicism is misplaced because near the end of his latest offering he states, quite categorically: "I will not be standing for any local authority again."
This is a pity because it reduces the need for me to remind readers of some of the stories I wrote about him in the Mercury and which, no doubt, contributed to his electoral downfall.
However, one incident will serve to show that Eddie is no great loss.
It was Christmas 1998 and I had attended the county council's meeting as a reporter.
As was traditional, the chairman invited all and sundry to his room for a festive drink.
While I was enjoying a sausage roll and a can of beer, Cllr Thomas Tudor came over and told me of a conversation he had overheard in the room next door in which Eddie had been telling his IPG colleagues that this would be a good chance to get at me by informing the police that I was drinking and driving.
I suspect it was no coincidence that, when I started to climb out of the Mercury van on my return to the office, I found my way blocked by a burly policeman who had been lying in wait in the street outside.
Fortunately, a can of beer being nothing on a big ship, the breathalyser test was negative.
And so was the reaction of the people of Milford after I described these events in my column in the Mercury.
"Sneaky litle s---" was one of the more complimentary responses - a verdict that was reflected in the following May's election results.

Fine distinctions

An IPG member of the planning committee, who has asked to remain anonymous, has e-mailed to take me to task over my article on the touring caravan site near Pembroke (Planning games).
He points out that the wording of the policy on touring sites - that they should be "well related to settlements" - is different to that for static caravan sites which uses the phraseology 'the site must fall within or be adjacent to a settlement'.
That being the case he argues the officer's definition in the report to planning committee 'to be well related to a settlement in must be physically very close to the settlement in question - really immediately adjacent to the built up area where the land is as part of the same landscape as the settlement' is misleading.
As, in his opinion, the site in question was well related to several settlements he voted for approval.
I am not sure I agree with this interpretation.
This seems to me to be one of those cases where the plural encompasses the singular.
For example the injunction: husbands shouldn't beat their wives doesn't just apply to polygamists.
But the greatest weakness in his argument is to be found in his own words where he says: "The applicant site must be well related to more than one settlement not the restricted individual settlement which was the wish of the officer."
If that was true, it would raise the possibility that a site could be well related to a settlement in the the officer's terms but still fail to meet the criteria because it was not well related to a second, third or fourth settlement.
I find it difficult to believe that is what the policy means.
Still, it is heartening to know that at least one member of the planning committee is studying the fine print of the policy.
Perhaps he would like to revisit the agricultural planning consent given to his Leader back in May 2005 (Size matters).
If he reads the Technical Advice Notes (TAN 6) issued by the Welsh Assembly he will find that such permissions should only be granted when there is "a clearly established existing [WAG's emphasis] functional need".
As the functional need existed in May 2005, one might expect that the house would now be built and occupied by this essential full time worker.
Is it?

Crossed wires

It's "battle of the boiler" time in the Grumpy household. Although we were both brought up in the austere 50s, Grumpette remains more frugal in her ways than myself. Hence, when I turn on the central heating, she surrreptiously turns it off unless we're in the middle of an arctic blizzard.
Hearing a recent report that old people; unable to afford rocketing fuel bills, are confined to one room of their house during the winter, Grumpette harrumped that that was exactly how her gran managed through the winter months. And granny lived to be over 80.
It was, of course, how most of us got by in the 50s - a coal fire in the living room, a quick dash up to an icy bedroom at night, and, in the morning, after scraping the ice from the inside of the window, finding your clothes and getting dressed under the still-warm blankets.
Grumpette still can't abide central heating in the bedroom. We must be one of the few households in Pembrokeshire whose bedroom radiators have never been turned on..
When I complained of nighttime starvation Grumpette winked and said she knew of a better, greener and more natural way of warming the marital bed on cold winter nights than burning fossil fuels.
Who am I to argue, I thought, but as it turned out we were on different wavelengths, though I must admit that the new winter-weight duck-down duvet is extremely snug.


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