November 27 2007


Making mischief

We should all be concerned that HM Revenue and Customs appears to have mislaid two computer discs containing the personal details of the 25 million people who qualify for Child Benefit - Family Allowance, as was.
If they can pop that information in the post and lose it, what else is at risk.
I have an interest in this matter because, from my own experience, I know that the Inland Revenue's computer records contain false information.
A couple of weeks ago I received the slightly menacing letter (reproduced below) from the Inland Revenue's Orwellian-sounding Section 10 .

As I had no recollection of ever writing to them, I telephoned to find out what it was about.
I was told it concerned the requirement that all UK taxpayers should disclose their offshore bank accounts to the revenue by 22 June 2007, and that my letter dated 30/9/07 had missed the deadline.
I asked for a copy of this letter and was sent the following:

Now, this might be the work of a practical joker with a perverted sense of humour, but more likely, I suspect, it is an attempt by someone without our best interests at heart to cause trouble.
A feeble attempt, it must be said, because neither Grumpette or I have ever put as much as a penny in any offshore bank account.
We wrote to the Inland Revenue pointing out that this letter was bogus.
Firstly, the only people who call me Michael are my mother and Grumpette (when she's angry with me).
Secondly, neither of us is under the impression that the Isle of Man is included in the Channel Islands, and, lastly, we both know how to spell our own surname.
Though this business leaves a nasty taste in the mouth it is reassuring to know that my enemies are even dimmer than I had thought.


You may have noticed a letter in last week's Western Telegraph, written, allegedly, by Grumpette and me, in which we drew attention to the paper's misleading account of the events leading up to the arrest of two IRA men at Newgale.
Well, at least they spelt our name correctly.
Otherwise the letter bore little resemblance to what we originally wrote.
While I accept that newspapers have the right to edit readers' letters, I am not so sure about the ethics of doing a complete rewrite especially when the finished article is stripped of the original meaning.
This is not the first time I have been subject to this treatment by Wales' biggest selling weekly snoozepaper.
In the aftermath of Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse's appearance before the Adjudication Panel for Wales the Telegraph rang me for a comment (Two sides to every story and Simple explanation).
As this was a complex matter, and being alive to the paper's tendency to take the establishment view, I responded with an e-mail which ended "Please print this in its entirety, or not at all."
That seemed perfectly clear to me, but it didn't prevent the Telegraph from publishing a garbled version which omitted the main point I was trying to make.

Retiring kind

The sudden retirement of Chief Constable Terry Grange in the middle of a Independent Police Complaints Authority (INCA) investigation is yet another example of the establishment looking after its own.
For those who haven't been keeping up, Mr Grange was being investigated for financial irregularities (a criminal matter) and misuse of police computers (an internal disciplinary matter).
Last week a hastily convened meeting of the police authority urgency committee accepted Mr Grange's request for immediate early retirement which means that, as he is no longer a member of the force, the internal disciplinary proceedings have hit the buffers.
From what I can gather, the urgency committee was told that as Mr Grange was over 55 and had more than 30 years service under his belt, they had no option but to let him retire.
That is no doubt true, but it would be amazing if someone in such a senior position had the right to retire at a moment's notice.
Succession planning, and all that.
And if there was a period of notice required, were the members of the authority made aware of it?
Or, even more interesting, did any of them think to ask?
Of course, if Mr Grange was presently serving out his notice, the investigation in the alleged computer offences would still be in train.
How convenient, then, that he was allowed to go at the drop of a hat.
By the way, you might be interested to know who represents you on the police authority and how they got there.
Pembrokeshire County Council has the right to nominate three members and because of the requirements for political balance two are from the ruling Independent Group and one from Labour.
Membership of the police authority is one of the most sought after positions; bringing in £6,500 a year plus very generous travelling allowances.
Labour's representative is Cllr Tony Wilcox.
The Independent Political Group's two members - chosen by the the Leader Cllr John Davies under his delegated powers - are former Chief Superintendent Cllr Don Evans and up, er Cllr Davies himself.
Whether a former senior officer of the force, whatever his qualities, is the best person to represent the layman's interest is a moot point.
As for Cllr Davies' appointment of himself to this lucrative position is concerned, filling your boots is the term that springs to mind.

Jobs for the boys


The fact that Cllr John Davies has the sole power of appointment to membership of outside bodies with the exception of the fire authority, police authority and National Park Committee, where the political balance rules restrict him to the appointment of members of his own party, raises an interesting legal point.
According to the county council's constitution, the power to appoint members to outside bodies is delegated to the Cabinet.
At its very first meeting the Cabinet resolved to further delegate this power to the Leader.
Now, in administrative law there is an important principle that goes by the Latin tag Delegatus non potest delegare which roughly translated means that a delegate cannot delegate.
So, whether the Cabinet had the power to pass its responsibilities to the Leader is at least open to doubt.
What is certain is that control over he 150 or so positions on outside bodies plus 23 Cabinet posts, committee chairmanships and vice chairmanships that carry special responsibility allowances gives the Leader the sort of patronage that no healthy democratic system should tolerate.
For example the county council has nomination rights for the Port of Pembroke liaison committee which, I am told does a nice line in slap up lunches.
Out of four members that represent Pembroke Dock, three are Labour.
Yet, despite the fact that the port is in Pembroke Dock and therefore its activities are more likely to affect their constituents than anyone else, none are thought suitable by the Leader to serve as members of this liaison committee.
Instead it is stuffed with his IPG cronies from as far afield as Martletwy and Angle.
The one Pembroke Dock member who does get a look in is of course our old friend Cllr Brian Hall

Picking up the pieces


The jigsaw (not jig saw as my favourite pedant informs me) is slowly creeping across the coffee table like one of those alien creatures from outer space commonly found in 1960s science fiction.
This progress is mainly down to Grumpette who informed me last Saturday evening that, in the previous week, she had placed 28 pieces to my six.
And who said women weren't competitive?
Rising above this childish interspousal rivalry, I resisted the temptation to point out that the better test was to divide the number of pieces by the time spent, in which case my strike rate was far superior to hers.
However, I happened to wake early on Sunday morning and, on passing the jigsaw on my way to the kitchen to make a cup of tea, a thought occurred to me.
Being round, the jigsaw's pieces are arranged in concentric circles which decrease towards the middle.
That means the pieces close to the centre have a distinctive shape and, having collected them together, it didn't take me long to fill in the whole central area.
As a result, when I took her ladyship's cuppa upstairs at 6.30 am, I was able to inform her that the score now stood at 32-28.
She was not amused and I have now been banned from interfering with the jigsaw without her express permission.
By the way, whoever took the puzzle to the charity shop can call off the search for the piece reported missing in last week's column because it has now turned up.
A typical case of men never looking for anything properly, according to Grumpette.
Instead, could they please check that the top of the red hat belonging to the girl in the bottom right of the picture hasn't slipped down between the floorboards.