October 15 2002



Pay more for less

When I spent a couple of days in County Hall recently, inspecting planning files that had attracted my attention, I stumbled on some interesting new information on the infamous Enfield application (see a cunning plan) ( unanswered questions) and a fully illustrated report will follow, once the evidence collected has been thoroughly evaluated by my lie detector.
In the meantime, all I can say is that, since the restoration of Pembrokeshire County Council, there has been a dramatic deterioration in the service provided to members of the public wishing to inspect planning files.
In the good old days of Preseli Pembs D C you could walk into Cambria House and request any file and it would be produced within ten minutes.
Now you have to wait up to two days.
On top of that the prices for photocopying documents in the files (£1.50 for the first copy and 50p for each subsequent copy) is nothing short of extortion.
Especially considering that those money grabbing, profiteers in Tesco only charge 5p a sheet


Every October for the past ten years Old Grumpy has made a point of scrutinising the accounts of successive local authorities during the three weeks when they are open for public inspection.
Last year I drew attention to Cllr Bill Hitching's long standing practice of claiming 24 miles for the return trip from Ashdale Lane to Haverfordwest whenever he caught a train to London, whereas the actual distance is only 12 miles.
Possibly somebody in authority has had a quiet word with Hitchings and told him that this is behaviour unbecoming of a £22,500 a year Cabinet Minister because he has recently taken to claiming for the correct distance.
Alternatively, it may be that, now that he is picking up £450 a week, he no longer feels the need to fiddle the taxpayer out of £5.88 every time he swans off to the Great Wen for some vastly important meeting.
Whatever the reason for this decision to tread the path of righteousness, the past overclaims remain .
I have an extensive collection of councillors' expense claims going back to 1993 so, if Cllr Hitchings wants to wipe the slate clean, I can provide him with copies.
At the same rate as his council's planning department, of course.

Old story

Old Grumpy has been keeping a close eye on the County Council's inward investment website www.choosepembrokeshire.org.uk. (see Webysmal and Self-correcting).
I am pleased to report that there has been some progress in sorting out the various glitches - misdirected and non-functioning links - on the site, though it still falls some way short of perfection.
For instance, when I first logged on to the site in early September the most up to date piece under "Pembrokeshire News" was dated February 2001.
Well, the site was eventually updated last week and now I read that: "An exciting vision for Pembroke Dock's town centre waterfront is being promoted this month through the UK's commercial property and yachting publications
"The prospect of a marina type development to hold 400-500 boats behind a sea wall, stretching from the Front Street Martello Tower to the Celtic Sea Jetty is the heart of the proposal", and so on, and on, and on, and on.
As soon as I read this stuff, I knew I'd had this feeling of déjà vu before, and, sure enough, when I consulted my library of Western Telegraph back numbers there was the same story, word for word, in the edition dated 3 July 2002 - more than three months ago.
The anatomy of this story is interesting, in itself, because it demonstrates the cosy relationship between the County Council and certain sections of the local press.
The Telegraph's story is a regurgitated County Council press release, and what now appears on the choosepembrokeshire website is that same press release retrieved from a word processor and published unedited.
So, we have an article, supposedly published in October, which includes the words "The first stage of the campaign asks interested developers to make submissions to the consortium by the end of August".
I have been conducting some further research into the cost of this website.
Two weeks ago I reported that an invoice I turned up during last year's inspection showed that www.choosepembrokeshire.org.uk had been designed by Cardiff media consultants Golley Slater at a cost of £15,970, with another £20,000 thrown in to promote the site.
During my recent trawl through the County Council's books I have come across another order for promotion of this website (no 0386457 dated 3/3/02 "cost TBA[to be agreed]".
Agreement must have followed swiftly because, on 8 March 2002, Golley Slater submitted an invoice for £34,524.
What is strange about this last invoice is that it is stamped "paid 28 March 2002", though by far the majority of the adverts did not appear in the papers until well after that date - the last of them on 28 April.


The end of the Muncher

It is with some reluctance that I have decided to strip Cllr Alwyn Luke of the title "Monster Muncher" after another less than impressive year in the County Hall canteen.
I knew in my bones a year ago that the writing was on the wall when I reported a dramatic decline in his intake of taxpayer-funded grub from 107 meals in 1999/2000 - itself down from 145 in 1998/1999 - to a mere 24 in 2000/2001.
I had hoped that this was a temporary loss of form but, when I came to inspect the most recent set of accounts, it came home to me that the Scleddau gourmand is a spent fork.
What these latest accounts reveal is that he dined only eight times in County Hall in the whole 12 months and the Treasurer's department refused to pay for two of those because he had failed to provide receipts.
If this trend continues he'll be taking out a franchise for Slimmers' World.
He is, not to put too fine a point on it, all noshed up and good for nothing but the snacker's yard.
However, as reported last week, his appetite does seem to perk up once he gets away from the restrictive confines of the Kremlin on Cleddau.
Take for instance his trip to Llandrindod last February to attend a meeting of the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA).
On the way home that afternoon he seems to have been overtaken by hunger at Letterston where, according to his claim form, he stopped off at "S'things Cooking" and tucked into fourteen-pound-sixty-five-pence worth of fish and chips.
Unfortunately for our hero, an alert member of the Treasurer's staff, no doubt having been warned to keep a sharp eye out for the former Monster Muncher's nefarious expense claiming practices, noticed that the agenda for the WLGA meeting included buffet lunch.
And, not unreasonably, members are not allowed to claim for lunch when it is provided free of charge.
In any case they are not allowed to claim £14.65 - the maximum allowance being £6.89.
But there is something rather curious about the receipt provided by the bold Luke because it is a copy of a credit card slip which appears to have been signed by an L Luke and over the L has been written, in rather conspicuous blue biro, A C, which, for those of you who don't already know, stands for Alwyn Cadwallader.
Next week: You can't keep a good man down - "Luke the Nuke's" 900 mile round trip to Glasgow to attend a meeting of the Association of Nuclear Free Local Authorities

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