October 21 2008


Cut down.

Old Grumpy is pleased to report that the Western Telegraph has finally got round to letting its readers know about Cllr Wyn Evans' appearance before the county council's standards committee (Overtrained).
Better late than never!
The newspaper quotes Cllr Evans as saying: “This has highlighted to me and many of my colleagues a very grey area, and I urge them to take the extra training that is on offer."
I wrote to the editor, who, true to form, has rewritten my letter in such a way as to deprive it of most of its sense.
For the purpose of comparison the original version is reproduced below.
"I am writing in response to the Western Telegraph's report on the recent meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council's standards committee which found that Cllr Wyn Evans had breached the Code of Conduct by failing to declare an interest during two debates on a planning application submitted by one of his friends.
Cllr Evans is quoted as saying: "This has highlighted to me and many of my colleagues a very grey area, and I urge them to take the extra training that is on offer."
The Ombudsman found that, by failing to declare an interest in the planning application, Cllr Evans had breached sections 10 and 16(3) of the Code.
Section 10 requires that: "Members must in all matters consider whether they have a personal interest, and whether the Code requires them to disclose that interest."
When asked by the Ombudsman if he had considered whether his relationship with the applicant might mean he had an interest to declare, Cllr Evans answered "No".
Section 11 of the Code states: "A member has a personal interest in a matter if that member anticipates that a decision upon it might reasonably be regarded as likely to benefit or disadvantage (a) the member, one of the member's family or any person with whom the member has a close personal association ..."
And, if a member has such a personal interest, Section 16(3) requires that the member "... must disclose the nature and existence of the interest at the commencement of the discussion ... If that personal interest is such that a member of the public might reasonably conclude that it would significantly affect the member's ability to act purely in the public interest on the merits of the case if the member were to take part in that discussion of the matter, the member must also withdraw from consideration of that matter ..."
When challenged by Cllr Michael Williams at the county council meeting on 1 March 2007 about his relationship with the applicant and whether it meant he ought to declare an interest in the debate on his planning application, Cllr Evans replied: "Herons Brook [the applicants] are friends of mine, that's what comes from living in a small community. I'm delighted to call them friends of mine."
That seems pretty black and white to me.
Finally, if Cllr Evans "and many of his colleagues" have not already grasped the basic principle that they are not on the council to promote the interests of themselves, their families or their friends, then no amount of "extra training" is likely to make much difference."
Why the editor of the Western Telegraph thinks she is better qualified than I am to put my case is not clear, especially as the paper opened its report on the matter with the words "A Pembrokeshire county councillor who spoke out in support of a friend’s planning application has been rapped over the knuckles by his bosses."
In fact, it was the council's standards committee; acting on a report by the Ombudsman, which administered a tap on the wrist to Cllr Evans not his "bosses".
Insofar as he has a boss, that would be Cllr John Davies; Leader of the Independent Political (sic) Group of which he is a member.
And despite promising on taking up the leadership that the council would operate under "the highest ethical standards" Cllr Davies appears to see nothing wrong with allowing Cllr Evans to continue to serve on the planning committee which is hardly reassuring to anyone hoping that their planning application will be dealt with impartially.
And had the Western Telegraph found the time to properly research the story it would have found that Cllr Evans had told the Ombudsman's investigator that he had not received training in the Code of Conduct.
If it had then consulted the appendix at the back of the report to the standards committee it would have found details of at least two training events attended by Cllr Evans at which members' obligations under the Code was specifically discussed.
The evidence seems to indicate that Cllr Evans didn't tell the truth when questioned by the Ombudsman; a matter in which any newspaper worth its salt might be expected to take an interest.

Action man

The other day, while discussing Cllr Evans case with a local government officer, he told me an amusing story about a conference he attended some years ago where a veteran Labour councillor from the Valleys defended his right to wangle a council house for his daughter with the words: "If I can't get a house for one of my own family, my constituents won't think much of my ability to get things done for them."

Tory twit

Shadow Chancellor George Osborne has not had a good financial crisis.
His near-invisibility during the dramatic events of the past few weeks prompted the Tory-supporting Daily Telegraph to carry a piece by Jeff Randall headlined: "If anybody can find George Osborne, tell him his country needs him".
Now boy George has run into a storm over an an allegation that he tapped up Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska for a £50,000 donation.
According to the Daily Telegraph, this all happened last summer while Mr Osborne's was on holiday in Corfu.
Corfu seems to be the place to be if you want to rub shoulders with the rich and famous because the cast also includes Rupert Murdoch, Nathaniel Rothschild and Peter Mandelson.
The first we heard about this was when an unnamed Tory - now identified as George Osborne - leaked a story to the press about a conversation he had had with the recently restored Peter Mandelson during which the Prince of Darkness had "dripped pure poison" about Gordon Brown.
The Sunday Times took up the story and discovered that during, his sojourn in Corfu, Mr Mandelson, then European Trade Commissioner, has met Mr Deripaska.
The newspaper also claimed that Mr Mandelson had been instrumental in promoting changes to the EU's tariff regime that had benefited the Russian's aluminium business to the tune of £50 million, giving rise to questions of conflict of interest
At first Mandelson claimed that his only contact with Mr Deripaska had been a brief visit to his yacht for drinks, but he was later forced to admit that he had enjoyed an overnight stay.
It later emerged that he had also twice enjoyed the Russian's hospitality during visits to Moscow.
At the centre of this web of influence is billionaire hedge fund operator, Nathaniel Rothschild, scion of the famous banking family and friend of Mr O, Mr M and Mr D, who introduced them to each other.
In response to the attacks on Mandelson, Nat, as he likes to be called, had decided to dish the dirt on Osborne - Mandelson is in the Cabinet while Osborne is only hoping to be in the Cabinet and a bird in the hand and all that - by claiming that Osborne solicited a donation from Deripaska.
Osborne has put out a long statement denying these allegations, but such is the public's mistrust of politicians that nobody believes him, and, despite David Cameron's words of support, he seems likely to go the way of those football managers who find themselves clearing their desks only days after the club chairmen has issued a press statement expressing his "total confidence".

Sleeping beauties


At the county council's AGM the Leader changed the constitution to allow the leaders of the Labour, Plaid and Tory parties to share the Special Responsibility Allowance (circa £8,500) due to the leader of the principle opposition party (Quick change artist).
This raises an interesting anomaly because the rules also allow for the payment of a lesser allowance to the leaders of minor opposition parties but only if they hold at least 10% of seats on the council.
With five seats each on the 60-member council, the three opposition parties all fall below this threshold.
So we have the strange situation where failure to qualify in second place has been rewarded with promotion to joint first.
There are of course good reasons why opposition party leaders should receive some form of payment; not the least of which is that it is supposed to help them to hold the ruling group to account.
I don't know what they have been spending the money on, but it clearly has a soporific effect because 21 of the 22 questions (15) and notices of motion (7) put down for Thursday's meeting of full council have been submitted by the Lib Dem and independent independent members.

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