November 26 2009

 

Blame game

The row between county council Leader John Davies and Joyce Watson AM over the £67,000 cost of employing consultants to review car parking charges rumbles on in the pages of the Western Telegraph.
Last week, the paper reported Mrs Watson as having described the expenditure as "a waste of public money" to which Cllr Davies responded that she was the Leader of the county council's Labour Group when the consultants were engaged and had said nothing at the time.
As I pointed out (see Story telling), one explanation for Mrs Watson's silence might be the fact that, as far as I can discern, there is no public record of the decision to appoint consultants let alone that they would cost £67,000 .
So, short of telepathy, she had no reason to complain about the cost.
Having read this column Mrs Watson returned to the fray saying that rather than trying to pass the buck the Leader should face up to his responsibilities by admitting that he sanctioned the employment of these consultants.
Some hope!
Cllr Davies told the WT: "I would also point out that if the Cabinet decision hadn't been called in by opposition members, then the whole process would have progressed naturally. The policy would have been implemented and the council would not have needed to spend £67,000 on a consultants report."
This piece of sophistry is remarkable even by the Leader's high standards.
First, it takes a large degree of arrogance to describe the implementation of Cabinet decisions as a natural progression and to suggest, by implication, that the interruption of this process by a scrutiny committee call-in is somehow wrong.
As you might have guessed scrutinising cabinet decisions is what scrutiny committees are for, though in Pembrokeshire County Council, where the chairmen are hand-picked IPG stooges, it is a duty that is routinely neglected.
However my main objection to what the Leader has to say about this is that the version of events he is seeking to propagate is completely divorced from the truth.
Can this really be the same man who, on being appointed Leader back in 2004, told us he was "a good ol' north county Baptist boy" who would ensured that the council conformed to "the highest ethical standards".
Mind you, we shouldn't have expected too much because within an hour of giving that promise he announced the appointment of Cllr Brian Hall to his Cabinet.
What is true is that the scrutiny committee called in the Cabinet's decision to impose county-wide car parking charges.
But, contrary to the misinformation peddled by the Leader, the committee actually endorsed the Cabinet's decision, so there was absolutely no reason why the policy couldn't be implemented there and then.
What actually happened is that the Leader and his Cabinet were rocked by the public hostility to their proposals and with the election little over a year away they decided to kick the issue into the long grass.
So, at its meeting in February 2007, without any prompting by the scrutiny committee or anyone else, the Cabinet resolved to initiate a year-long review of parking charges.
There was no mention of consultants in that resolution, or how much they might cost, and, therefore, no reason for anyone to believe other than that the study would be carried out in-house.
And, as far as I can discover - and I am in the difficult position of trying to prove a negative - the contract with these consultants has never been reported to the cabinet as is required by the council's standing orders.
I understand written questions on this subject have been submitted to the next meeting of council, so we make get some clarity then.
But, given the Leader's capacity for long-winded obfuscation, don't hold your breath.


Public interest

 

Item 15 on the agenda for next Monday's county council Cabinet meeting is entitled "Bluestone Holiday Village".
Not very informative, but as item 14 says :"Exclusion of the public. To consider excluding the public from the meeting for the following item of business in accordance with section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972 as it involves the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in Paragraph 14 of Schedule 12A of the Act and that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information."
As an elected member I am privy to this information but the Code of Conduct forbids me to to tell you what it is.
What I can say is that my view on what is in the public interest differs from that of the author of the agenda.
Unfortunately, not being a Cabinet member, I, together with another 49 members of the council, will have no opportunity to vote on the matter, though I would remind members of the Cabinet that the relevant legislation merely says that the public may be excluded and that this is not to be interpreted as must.
However, an idea of what is going on can be gleaned from the local press where we read that Bluestone has undergone a restructuring involving the creation of a new company Bluestone Resorts Ltd and extra investment of £10 million.
It is not clear what legal status the former company's creditors enjoy under these new arrangements, though it is a matter of pubic interest because they include Pembrokeshire County Council which loaned the company £1 million and built it a new roundabout on the never never.
I will report on further developments as and when the Code of Conduct allows.

Hide the decline

Old Grumpy wonders whether the leaked emails from the University of East Anglia' Climate Research Unit, which seem to indicate that scientists there were prepared to manipulate data in order to support their own views on AGW (Anthropological Global Warming, since you ask), might have been given more prominence by the BBC and others if they had been hacked from the computers of a tobacco or oil company.
However, despite the establishment's best efforts to keep the lid on the story the cat is out of the bag on the blogosphere and the sceptics are having a field day.
I recommend the web sites Watts-up-with-that and Climate Audit to anyone interested in a full account.
Much of the leaked email traffic concerns the apparent anomaly that has seen greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere continue to increase, while the corresponding increase in temperature, predicted by the computer models on which much of the climate research is based, is nowhere to be found.
In fact global temperatures appear to have peaked in 1998 and there has been a small but measurable decline since then.
It seems that faced with the evidence that their models might be flawed the scientists at CRU preferred to modify, some would say manipulate, the data.
The question of how to "hide the decline", especially from sceptical scientists who question the whole basis for AGW, is the subject of several of these emails.
I'm afraid this is the inevitable result of the politicisation of science.
As Einstein said, a true scientist doesn't seek to prove his hypothesis, he seeks to test it, even to destruction.

Similarities?

 

Daily Mail columnist Stephen Glover's take on the EU's appointment of President Whatsisname and Baroness Who to the top positions created by the Lisbon treaty [constitution] was a masterpiece of invective.
To understand why two such nonentities had been handed the prize, he wrote: ". . . all we need to do is to look at the manner of the new appointments. The horsetrading behind closed doors, the petty manoeuvrings, the personal vanities, the shameless ambitions of mediocrities, the lack of anything resembling a manifesto. It was the very opposite of a democratic process."
Well, the Independent Political Group doesn't have a manifesto, indeed the election address of one of its leading members boasts that he is "not bound by any manifesto" though he doesn't explain how you might be considered to be carrying out the will of the people (another IPG claim) if you haven't explained to the electorate what you intend to do with power once acquired.
Unfortunately, the requirement in the Code of Conduct that I treat my fellow members of council with "respect" precludes me from commenting on any other similarities I might detect.

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