November 14 2013

Sabotage

For the fourth Thursday in succession, Old Grumpy's computer has slowed down to a near stop.
My statistical consultant tell me the probability (she says "odds" is not the correct way to describe it) of this only happening on four consecutive Thursdays is 1/7 x 1/7 x1/7 x 1/7 or 1/2401.
It is actually worse than that because it only happens on Thursday afternoons when I am putting the finishing touches to my blog post.
So, she says, if you divide the day up into four quartiles (preferred to quarters, I am told) it is 1/28 x 1/28 x 1/28 x 1/28 or 1/614,656 - in horse racing parlance six hundred and fourteen thousand, six hundred and fifty six to one.
Without labouring the point, it can be concluded that this is probably no coincidence.
So, who would want to sabotage Old Grumpy's website?
Lack of proof prevents me from coming to any firm conclusion, but I have my suspicions.
And I know where he lives.
I hope the journey to Glangwili following the closure of orthopaedic services at Withybush doesn't cause his visiting family too much inconvenience.
I have also been reading two excellent Carmarthenshire blogs - what a pity Pembrokeshire has to rely so heavily on my efforts - which give a valuable insight into the unfolding pension scandal in that part of the world.
They can be found here and here
Considering that the issues surrounding the pension arrangements for both authorities are virtually identical they make interesting reading.
It seems that Carmarthen has stolen a march on us by getting its system for broadcasting council meetings up and running already.
It can' t be too long before the cameras are connected up in county hall - must remember to get a hair cut.
Unfortunately, with only a month to go to the December meeting of council, it might be too late for a face-lift.
I hear that other website may have some up-to-date news (for a change) on this matter.

Simon's silence

Another week and another Western Telegraph front page headline about the threatened downgrading/closure of Withybush Hospital.
This has been Hywel Dda Health Board's (HDHB) policy for years as witnessed by anyone who attended the series of public "consultation" events on the document Agenda for Change where we were constantly told that "the status quo is not an option".
The softening up process has been protracted, but I sense they are now moving in to deliver the KO punch.
One thing that amazes me about all this is the complete silence of our elected member on HDHB, and the failure of the local press to ask him any questions
In case you are unaware of this person's existence, he is Cllr Simon Hancock, who you will recall was elected unopposed to the county council on Labour ticket in 2012, but swiftly defected to the IPPG where he was, coincidentally,of course, elevated to the Cabinet, giving him a total stipend of £28,000 a year.
Earlier this year, following the resignation of Cllr David Wildman, Cllr Hancock became his successor as local authority representative on the HDHB - allowance £13,000 p.a.
He is the only member of HDHA who is directly accountable to the electorate and it is rather surprising that the local press hasn't seen fit to seek his views on these changes to the hospital service.
Mind you, it may be that they are aware that his position on HDHB is merely a piece of democratic window-dressing and his presence as a token elected member makes no difference whatsoever to the final outcome of the board's deliberations.

Supreme leader

Another example of this tokenism is to be found in the county council's five scrutiny committees.
These toothless tigers are supposed to modelled on the Parliamentary Select Committees which from time to time produce scathing reports on one aspect or another of government policy.
Don't expect anything like that from your scrutiny committees, all of which have a IPPG majority.
I haven't been keeping an exact count, but I'd be surprised if these watchdogs have called-in more than half a dozen Cabinet decisions in the more that ten years of their existence.
And, even if they were minded to challenge the Cabinet, their ability to make changes is strictly limited.
The council's constitution Part 4/Page 43, 16 (f) and (g) set out the situation.
(f) If, having considered the decision, the Overview and Scrutiny Committee is still concerned about it, then it may refer it back to the Executive [Cabinet] for reconsideration . . ., and
(g) If referred to the Executive, the Executive shall then consider the matter at its next meeting and make a final decision which shall not then be subject to the call-in procedure.
So the scrutiny committee's powers are restricted to delaying the implementation of decisions for a couple of weeks.
Some watchdog!
That leaves all important decisions in the hands of the Cabinet which is under the control of the Leader who can appoint and sack its members at will.
With fifteen grand of SRA on the line, it doesn't leave much room for argument.
The result is that ordinary members of the council are mere spear-carriers.
My constituents find it hard to believe that, when the final decision comes to be made on the amalgamation of Hubberston VC and Hakin Community schools, the two elected members who represent the area, Grumpette and myself, will not have any right to take part in the debate, or vote on the matter
That will all be down to the Cabinet, and ultimately the Leader who pulls its purse strings
It makes Putin's Russia look like a model democracy.

Unsolicited information

PCC's freedom of information disclosure log has reappeared on the council's website, and it still contains the proviso that only those responses that the council considers to be in the "wider public interest" will be published (See Selective disclosure).
The two disclosures posted up so far are dated 23 October 2013.
I have had three responses on or after that date, none of which it appears come up to the mark when the wider public interest is taken into account.
It is not clear which criteria are used to determine this wider public interest, or who has the power to make the determination.
However, what is clear is that this power could be used to censor responses that the council finds embarrassing.
For instance, it is possible that the council might not want it to be widely known that its idea of openness is to respond to a request for the tender for a contract with an information-free sea of black ink. (see Painting the town red)
Way back in April, I submitted the following request to Pembrokeshire County Council under the Freedom of information Act.
"Could I please request:
1. A copy of the tender report with regard to grant application for 25 Dimond Street (Agenda item 23 cabinet 3 Sept 2012 refers).
2. Copy of the tender submitted by G & G builders (Agenda item 23 cabinet 3 Sept 2012 refers).
3. Copy of minutes of the Historic Commercial Property Grant Scheme Panel meeting (date unknown) where this grant application was agreed."

In response, PCC provided me with a copy of the tender reports with the names of all the unsuccessful bidders blacked out; a copy of G&G Builders' tender with all the financial information redacted and the minutes (item 3).
I made several other requests over the summer all of which were only partially met.
When I appealed I was told that third parties (presumably the developer, architect and builder) had asked that this commercially sensitive information be withheld.
So I put in a request for copies of these third party representations.
This was also refused.
"The information requested was provided by third parties with the expectation that this information would remain confidential. Disclosure of this information could constitute an actionable breach of confidence. Having considered the risk of harm disclosure of the requested information could cause to the businesses concerned the Council has reached its decision that the information requested is exempt.
Furthermore, section 40(2) is engaged as release of the information requested, to the public, is considered to be unfair and likely to cause damage and distress to the third parties involved."
Earlier this week, I received an email from the council informing me that one of the parties had relented and had now given consent for the disclosure of their letter of objection.
Attached was an email dated May 17 from a company, Hook Construction Partnership Ltd (HCPL), which had also tendered for the contract at 25 Dimond Street. The email stated:
"This commercially sensitive information, if in the public domain would have a major negative impact on our business as it contains all our builders rates"
What is strange is that, as can be seen from my initial request (above), I never asked for any information regarding HCP's builder's rates.
I can only assume that someone organised a letter writing campaign in order to bolster the case for non-disclosure.
I have submitted another FoI request in an attempt to find out who it was.

P.S. When I checked a few minutes ago, the disclosure log had redisappeared again.

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