1 October 2002


Webysmal!

Old Grumpy has been exploring Pembrokeshire County Council's inward investment website www.ChoosePembrokeshire.org.uk.(try it yourself)
The reason for my interest is an invoice I came across during my trawl through the County Council's books this time last year.
On asking for a copy of the order relating to this payment, I received a document sent to a firm called Golley Slater (Order No. 0257661) dated 9 March 2001 which reads: " Design and implementation of Inward Investment Website as per your tender and subsequent meetings. Website £15,970. Promote £20,000".
Golley Slater must have cracked on with the job because scribbled on the order form is a note: "part invoice received 2/4/01 for website development".
Indeed Golley Slater seem to be endowed with telepathic qualities because I notice on visiting the site of the Internet names registration body, Nominet, that Golley Slater registered the name ChoosePembrokeshire in December 2000, some three months before they had the order for the job.
About a month ago, I decided to take a tour of this website to see what we got for our thirty-six grand.
Not much, I would have to say!
On clicking on "useful links" I was offered direct access to the Welsh Development Agency's website.
Unfortunately the web address given, www.WDA.com, got me through to Wesley Day Advertising who promised "creative solutions".
The links to the Financial Times and The Best of Rural Wales simply didn't work.
And a potential inward investor attempting to find out about "skills and training", "latent labour supply" or "wage rates" through the links displayed on ChoosePembrokeshire's homepage will find himself confronted by an error message.
Indeed half the links on this homepage failed to work.
Being a fair-minded sort of fellow, I decided not to rush into print about what might, after all, have been a temporary blip.
But, having monitored the site on a weekly basis for the past month, I have concluded that these faults are permanent or semi-permanent, at least.
One link that does work is that to "Pembrokeshire news" though it is debatable whether the title would satisfy the requirements of the Trades Descriptions legislation because the last update is February 2001, more than 18 months ago.
There it is reported that "A new business partnership between Manpower and 7C is set to bring 700 new jobs to West Wales".
And commenting on this success story The Leader, Cllr Maurice Hughes, is quoted as saying that "the Ondigital Customer Contact Centre is operating very successfully and a second centre is nearing completion."
What any serious inward investor, who will surely know that Ondigital went bust some months ago, will make of this is anybody's guess.
He or she is hardly likely to believe the boast under "Skilled labour force", one of the few links that actually works, that Pembrokeshire is "Equipped with modern skills - especially the skills required for e-commerce."
Fearing that my inability to navigate this site was due to my own lack of e-competence, rather than faults in the site, itself, I consulted a computer expert.
Having visited the site, he e-mailed me to confirm that all the shortcomings I had identified were caused by faulty site construction.
A case of the white heat of technology being turned into a white elephant in the hands of the county council, he observed.

Mills and Boon

The County Council's Standards committee meets on Thursday to decide the case of Folland v Mills.
This follows a complaint to the Ombudsman by former Social Services chairman Roy "six-foot-under" Folland (Ind) that Cllr Terry Mills (Lab) had used information obtained at a briefing on a Social Services review "to score political points and to damage the reputation of the County Council".
The Monitoring Officer's report appears to exonerate Cllr Mills.
I will report, next week, on the outcome.
For the moment, I will concentrate on the complaint that Cllr Mills sought to damage the Council's reputation.
This sounds a bit like football's "bringing the game into disrepute" or Stalin's "crimes against the people" and perfectly illustrates the Independent Group's totalitarian mindset.
Councillors are not elected to defend or uphold the reputation of the authority, but to look after the interests of their constituents.
And, if the Council has embarked on a policy that a member feels is detrimental to those interests, he/she has a DUTY to speak out even if it paints the Council in a bad light.
The truth is that the interim joint review of the County Council's Social Services Department was, shall we say, less than complimentary.
Naturally, such a bad report does nothing to enhance the Council's precious reputation.
But the fault does not lie with Cllr Mills but with Cllr Folland, as Chairman, and his Independent Political (sic) Group cronies on the Social Services committee who failed in their duty to ensure that the service was properly funded and effectively managed.


Creative accounting

Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs) are in the news.
Old Grumpy has written extensively about this subject (see June 18 2001 and Jan 8 2001) and I share the Trades Unions' concerns.
Take our own little PFI - Project Phoenix - involving the construction, by a private company, of an £8million school in Pembroke Dock.
According to the report of the Director of Finance this will be paid for by 30 annual payments of £1.15million.
As the mathematicians among you will already have worked out, that comes to £34.5 million - probably more like £45 million, as the payments are index-linked, compared to the £12 million it would have cost if the Council had borrowed the money.
Unfortunately, it is not as simple as that because the deal involves the company providing cleaning, maintenance and other services and, as it is difficult to separate the costs of financing the building from the service charges, it is virtually impossible to reach an exact comparison between the cost of the PFI and the public borrowing route.
However, even John Prescott admitted at the Labour Party conference that PFIs are more expensive, and during the (very short) debate on the issue in the County Council the Director of Finance told members that he would not be recommending Project Phoenix if it was not for the fact that the Welsh Assembly was picking up the bill.
It is not without significance, I think, that the constituency members voted solidly in favour of PFIs at the party conference.
These are the local councillors who are currently getting a pat on the back from their constituents for providing a new school.
What those constituents don't realise is that PFIs are an example of Enron style accounting designed to keep the cost off the Chancellor's public sector balance sheet.
This allows the Chancellor to boast on Budget Day that he has reduced the National Debt while failing to mention that the government has taken on £22 billion in extra commitments through PFIs - all of which will have to be paid for in the fullness of time.
We have long grown used to politicians bribing us with our own money; now they have hit on the brilliant wheeze of bribing us with that of our grandchildren.
By the time the bills come in the current crop of politicians will be long gone.
A classic case of counting your chickens before they come home to roost?

 

Creative counting

I notice in the Western Mail that, according to the recent census, the population of Pembrokeshire now stands at 112,901 - 1.6% less than the 114,700 on which the County Council's current Revenue Support Grant is based.
If, as the Western Mail predicts, the Welsh Assembly cuts grants to local authorities in line with the movement in population this could cost Pembrokeshire County Council up to £1.5 million.
Were that to happen, the betting is that the ruling Independent Group would raise Council Tax to make up the shortfall.
Old Grumpy has thought of a way to, at least, ease the pain.
So it was off down the shed to look for a document entitled: "Calculation of population for [Chief Executive's] salary calculation."
For once my filing system was up to the task
This showed three population/salary bands, only two of which, 100,000-150,000 and 150,000-300,000 with corresponding salary bands of £50,789 - 70,926 and £52,554 - 73,251 need concern us.
Clearly it was worth a few bob, to both the Chief Executive and those whose salaries are linked, if the magic 150,000 could be achieved.
The calculation, which is set out below, is a mixture of creative accounting and inspired guesswork.

 Resident population 1996. Based on Registrar Generals mid year estimates 1993 uprated to take account of the population increase anticipated in the County Structure Plan    117,700
 Fluctuating population
Tourist bed spaces (inc friends and relatives)Based on Welsh Tourist Board survey of accommodation used by domestic visitors
 115,145  
 Maximum day visitors on any one day. Based on welsh Tourist Board and West Wales TEC publications with enhancement to reflect peak visitor numbers on a Bank Holiday  13,085  
 Armed forces (Brawdy)  1,000  
 Total fluctuating population  129,950 x 25% = 32,487  32,487
 Total population for salary purposes    150,187 (Phew!)

So, for the purposes of this calculation, a family of four from outside the county which makes a day trip to Tenby counts the same as a full-time resident.
Now that we know that the resident population is far less than the 117,700 guesstimate used back in 1995 (and probably was at the time) can we expect Mr Parry-Jones's salary to be cut to reflect the current situation - back dated, of course, to the moment when the "population for salary purposes" fell below the critical 150,000 mark.
Dream on!

Back to home page