November 8 2012

Juggling act

Cllr Simon Hancock's decision to abandon the county council's Labour Group, of which he had been a member since 1995, is the subject of a lively discussion over on That other website.
It is only natural that some of the comments refer to what has been said on the county's website of record, though as I have pointed out their accounts of what I have had to say on the subject are not always entirely accurate.
Firstly, rumours of Cllr Hancock's possible defection have been around for a long time.
When it became clear soon after May's election that Cllr Jamie Adams was struggling to persuade a majority of the 60 councillors to sign up for his Independent Political Group these rumours began to grow.
I happened to mention this to another member, who told me I was talking out of the top of my head.
He even offered to back his judgment with two bottles of Chilean merlot - an offer I was pleased to accept.
As it happened luck was on my side because, subsequent to this bet being struck, Jamie Adams offered Labour leader Cllr Sue Perkins a Cabinet post.
This was the game-breaker because once Sue Perkins accepted Labour became an "executive group" under the terms of the recently enacted Local Government Measure (LGM).
One of the provisions of the LGM was designed to prevent "executives groups" dominating the chairmanships of scrutiny committees, as had hitherto been the case with Pembrokeshire County Council.
Briefly, it provided that the executive groups' share of the chairmanships should be in line with their overall strength on the council and that, when making the calculation, fractions should be rounded down to the nearest whole number.
The IPG and Labour, together, held 40 of the sixty seats and there were four scrutiny committee chairs available.
So the calculation was 40/60 x 4 = 2.666 which rounded down gives 2.
Unfortunately, to offer one these two chairs to Labour would have caused uproar in the already diminished ranks of the IPG where Cllr Brian Hall was still withholding his signature in the hope of forcing his way back into the Cabinet.
Indeed, I was told that Cllr Hall was threatening to bring the house down by revealing what he knew about various past events.
As I remarked at the time, knowing where the bodies are buried is no great asset if you were involved in digging the holes.
Had not Cllr Perkins joined the Cabinet, the IPG would still have been entitled to two seats (31/60 x 4 = 2.06 = 2) with Labour and Plaid as the two biggest opposition groups holding the other two.
Simon Hancock was lined up to take Labour's chair.
Unfortunately, when Labour acquiesced in Cllr Perkins' elevation to the Cabinet, it hadn't realised that this would deprive them of the chair and the £8,700 Special Responsibility Allowance that goes with it.
Not only that, but being an "executive group" also deprived Labour of the status of largest opposition group which entitled its Leader to an SRA of £8,700.
That went to Plaid as the largest non-executive opposition group.
So Labour had gained £15,000+ (Sue Perkins' Cabinet SRA) and lost £17,500 (Scrutiny chair £8,700 and opposition leadership £8,700).
When Cllr Hancock realised he was being left empty-handed he decamped to the IPG where he was swiftly promoted to Cabinet rank and the accompanying SRA.
That still left Labour with a hole in its pocket and a scheme was hatched to effect a repair.
Before the Annual General Meeting was a proposal to increase the number of members on the four existing scrutiny committees from 12 to 15.
Up jumped Cllr Jamie Adams to propose an amendment to increase the number of scrutiny committees from four to five.
Of course, as the mathematicians among you will already have worked out, with five scrutiny committees the calculation for the executive groups becomes 40/60 x 5 = 3.33 = 3 so Labour could have its scrutiny committee chair after all
I will let the minutes tell the story.
They record:
"The Chairman of Council having ruled under the terms of Council Procedure Rule 10.4 that he considered it essential and conducive to the dispatch of business to allow the motion to be dealt with immediately at this meeting, Council considered a Notice of Motion submitted by Councillor P A Stock that the membership of the Planning and Rights of Way Committee, and of the four
Overview and Scrutiny Committees (excluding co-opted members), be changed to fifteen each.
During the course of the deliberations, the Leader of Council submitted an amendment that the membership of the Planning and Rights of Way Committee and the five Overview and Scrutiny Committees (excluding co-opted members), be changed to fifteen each; the additional Overview and Scrutiny Committee covering issues relating to Safeguarding."
Clearly, this amendment is a nonsense because it makes reference to a fifth scrutiny committee (safeguarding) that didn't actually exist.
I objected on a point of order that this was not an amendment as defined in the constitution, but a completely new proposal to bring into being, by stealth, a fifth scrutiny committee.
With regard to points of order the council's constitution provides that: "The Chairman's ruling on the matter shall be final" and the Chairman ruled that it was an amendment and that was that.
While I can see why it would be desirable to avoid lengthy disputes about the validity or otherwise of a member's point of order, I can't believe that, in a constitutional democracy under the rule of law, this gives the Chairman the power to interpret the constitution in any way he likes.
However that seems to be the way the ruling IPPG sees it, so the rest of us have to lump it.

Eternal vigilance

This morning I attended a citizenship ceremony in County Hall where eighteen new UK citizens from Nigeria, South Africa, the Filipinos, India, Bangladesh, Ukraine and other parts of the globe were sworn in.
As I have always considered it a huge privilege to be born into a liberal democracy, I found this ceremony; conveying the same democratic rights and freedoms on people, many of whom had not been so fortunate, very moving.
For someone who has never experienced anything else, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that democracy is the default position.
A quick look around the world should convince you that this is not the case.
A study of our own history also shows that democracy is not won without a struggle, and that we should be ever watchful that it isn't undermined.
"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance" as someone once put it.
And surprising as it may seem, it is elected majorities that are the biggest threat to democracy if only because they are usually the only ones with the power to subvert the constitution.
In his great book "The Third Reich" Professor Michael Burleigh gives a chilling account of Hitler's rise to power and his swift moves to dismantle of the German constitution.
In the section titled "The demise of the rule of law" Professor Burleigh describes the Enabling Laws which gave the Nazis the power to vary the constitution without the need for parliamentary approval.
"In democracies", he writes, "constitutional amendments are especially solemn moments; here they were easier than changing the traffic regulations".

Nice work . . .

The table below appeared in the reports to the county council's corporate governance committee on September 3.
As far as I am aware, despite the interesting information it contains, it has not yet made it into the pages of our local newspapers.
For myself, the most eye-catching figures are those under the heading Employer Pension Contributions - employer being the polite word for taxpayer.
It is a strange world, indeed, when we, as taxpayers, pay £25,000 (more than most people earn) into the pension pot of someone earning the best part of £170,000 a year, and the figures for the directors are no less impressive.
This represents 15% of salary, which, when rolled out across the authority, comes to a colossal sum of money.

I remember writing about this subject in the Mercury at the time of the 1997 election when Labour were accusing the Tories of planning a two-tier health system.
Seven days to save the NHS and all that.
As I observed, we seemed quite content to tolerate a two-tier pension system.
Since then the gulf between private and public pensions has become deeper and wider as more and more companies have abandoned their final salary arrangements in favour of more affordable defined benefits schemes.
Currently, a public sector worker on a salary of £100,000 with 40 years of service is entitled to a pension of £50,000 a year, which, as the mathematicians among you will already have worked out, comes to the best part of £1,000 per week - two-thirds of which will have been be financed by taxpayers, many of whom will not be able to afford to put money aside from their own pension.
Oh! and I nearly forgot, they also get a lump sum of one-and-a-half times final salary.

Supply and demand

Last week I wrote about the effects of the over-supply of retail space and golf courses on the economics of these activities.
This week, I read in the papers that the graduate premium - the amount a graduate can expect to earn over and above a non-graduate - has fallen by 20% over the past ten years.
I remember when tuition fees were first introduced the government (Labour as it happened) arguing that a university education was still worth the money because of the greater earning power of those with degrees.
At the same time Mr Blair was announcing the government's aim to raise the numbers attending university from 30% to 50% of the school leaving population.
It didn't need a Nobel winning economist to work out that this huge increase in supply might have a dampening effect on the price.

Party lines

A mole has provided me with the email of 11 May 2012 that was sent to all signed-up members of the IPG (as it was then known) by Cabinet member Rob Lewis.
In order to accommodate Cllr Simon Hancock, it has now become the Independent Plus Political Group (IPPG).(see 24 May below)
Not so much a case of taking the Pee, but adding one.
Attached to this email is a letter from IPG (as it then was) Leader, Cllr Jamie Adams, informing the Political Group's members of his decision to appoint Cllr Sue Perkins to his Cabinet.
My analysis follows the email and attachment.



Sent: Friday, 11 May 2012, 16:39
Subject: Confidential

Dear Group Member
The Leader has asked me to forward the attached to you all. As you will see at the moment the aforesaid letter is highly confidential and we would appreciate if you could treat it as such until such time as further notified.
Many thanks
Rob <<Dear Independent Group Member.doc>>
R M Lewis
County Councillor for the Martletwy Ward
&
Cabinet Member for Sport,Leisure,Tourism, Communities
and Cultural services.
Tel 01437 77 66 17
**************************************************************************************************************
This document should only be read by those persons to whom it is addressed, and be used by them for its intended purpose; and must not otherwise be reproduced, copied, disseminated, disclosed, modified, distributed, published or actioned. If you have received this email in error, please notify us immediately by telephone on 01437 764551 and delete it from your computer immediately. This email address must not be passed on to any third party nor be used for any other purpose.
Pembrokeshire County Council Website - http://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk
Please Note: Incoming and outgoing e-mail messages are routinely monitored for compliance with our IT Security, and Email/Internet Policy.
This signature also confirms that this email message has been swept for the presence of computer viruses and malicious code.
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Dim ond y sawl y mae'r ddogfen hon wedi'i chyfeirio atynt ddylai ei darllen, a'i defnyddio ganddynt ar gyfer ei dibenion bwriadedig; ac ni ddylid fel arall ei hatgynhyrchu, copio, lledaenu, datgelu, addasu, dosbarthu, cyhoeddi na'i rhoi ar waith chwaith. Os ydych chi wedi derbyn yr e-bost hwn trwy gamgymeriad, byddwch cystal a rhoi gwybod i ni ar unwaith trwy ffonio 01437 764551 a'i ddileu oddi ar eich cyfrifiadur ar unwaith. Ni ddylid rhoi'r cyfeiriad e-bost i unrhyw drydydd parti na'i ddefnyddio ar gyfer unrhyw ddiben arall chwaith.
Gwefan Cyngor Sir Penfro - http://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk
Sylwer: Mae negeseuon e-bost sy’n cael eu hanfon a’u derbyn yn cael eu monitro’n rheolaidd ar gyfer cydymffurfio â’n Diogelwch TG, a’n Polisi E-bost/Rhyngrwyd.
Mae'r llofnod hwn hefyd yn cadarnhau bod y neges e-bost hon wedi cael ei harchwilio am fodolaeth firysau cyfrifiadurol a chod maleisus.
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The Leader's letter

Dear Independent Group Member

I trust those of you who are new members are enjoying your first experience of life as a County Councillor
My reason for this confidential email is to inform you of one important decision I have made in terms of Cabinet positions
The critical post of Cabinet Member for Safeguarding was previously held by Cllr Anne Hughes who undertook the role with great dedication and empathy. Unfortunately we lost Anne’s company through the election process and so my thoughts have been prioritised to fill this critical role.
I have considered for some time that there is a need to cast a wide net to ensure that as Members we all understand that it is not somebody else’s responsibility to consider safeguarding but indeed a responsibility placed on us all. It is also paramount to ensure that this particular role is fulfilled by a Member who inspires confidence throughout the Authority and indeed beyond.
I have chosen a member who has had considerable experience in Council and in particular in the field of Children’s services as a long-standing member and latterly vice chair of Children and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee, and also contributed constructively on the Safeguarding Board This member represents a ward which covers a Communities First area and some of the most challenging environments in which to bring up children and young people in our County. It is unusual I know for a majority group leader to even consider appointing a Member from another group to Cabinet but I place such importance on this role that I am convinced that we must embrace the experience of Cllr Sue Perkins to undertake this demanding role.
I hope you feel that you can support me in this decision and I look forward to meeting with you all next week

Kind regards

Jamie

1. Though this is clearly an internal party matter, this email was sent from a county council computer.
2. It contains the standard county council warning about the email being only used for its intended purpose etc, though as it wasn't an official county council email these words had no force whatsoever.
3. It is signed by Cllr R M Lewis Cabinet member for Sport, Leisure, Tourism, Communities and Cultural Services, though it was actually sent by Cllr R M Lewis Chairman of the Independent Political Group.
4. The email is dated 11 May 2012, though it wasn't until 24 May 2012 that Cllr Jamie Adams was elected as Leader of the council. So, prior to the 24 May, he was in no position to appoint Sue Perkins, or anyone else, to the Cabinet.
5. The mailing list reveals that when the email was sent the IPG (as it was then known) had only 28 paid-up members - not enough to guarantee that Cllr Adams would be elected Leader of the council.
So his reference to himself as "a majority group leader" is clearly inaccurate. Cllr David Bryan, who was on the original list, subsequently resigned and Cllrs Brian Hall, Lyn Jenkins, Reg Owen and Tom Richards were later persuaded to sign up and, together with Cllr Simon Hancock, poached from Labour and rapidly promoted to Cabinet rank, provided the IPPG (as it is now known) with its present 32-28 majority.

What this seems to show is that the email's author, Cllr Rob Lewis, fails to understand the distinction between Cabinet and party business.
Further evidence of this confusion can be found on That other website where Cllr Lewis's electioneering activities are laid bare.
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