October 25 2005
Round pegs . . .
Announcing his decision to sack Cllrs Bill Roberts and Jim Codd from his Cabinet, the Leader, Cllr John Davies, told Thursday's meeting of the county council that the changes were ". . . a response to the changing national agenda in the way services are delivered".
You have to hand it to the Leader: he has a practiced mastery of this sort of waffle.
The truth is to be found in what I wrote two weeks ago (see Balancing act), as Cllr Davies came close to admitting, when he told council that two-tier Cabinet membership had caused difficulties, as Old Grumpy predicted it would.
Can you imagine any self-respecting person being prepared to do the same job as Cllr Peter Stock for two-thirds the pay?
Old Grumpy remembers Cllr Davies telling us in July 2004 that, in order to match Cabinet members and Chairmen of scrutiny committees to their roles, he had asked them to submit their CVs.
I assume that was why Cllr David Simpson who, the register of members' interests reveals, is a director of Glamorgan Cleaning Co Ltd, was made Cabinet member with responsibility for small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
These latest changes see Cllr Simpson switched from that position into Bill Roberts' job as minister for council housing.
Did Cllr Simpson's CV also reveal some expertise in this particular field?
If we go back to Cllr Davies' reasons for the introduction of assistant Cabinet members, we see how intellectually incoherent is the whole business.
Then we were told that three of the cabinet members: Cllrs David Simpson, Sian James and Rob Lewis needed assistants because of their inexperience.
That wouldn't wouldn't pass muster in the case of Cllr Bill Roberts because he had already been Cabinet Member for housing for more than two years.
So the reason given for him having his hand held by Cllr Anne Hughes was that the housing portfolio was "too big" for one person to handle.
What was not explained at the time was why Cllr Roberts should have one-third lopped off his pay.
Now Cllr Simpson has been handed this "too big" portfolio, together with the additional responsibility for licensing.
And Cllr Simpson's former parcel has been passed to Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse.
Are we to assume that Squirehouse was not previously fully employed?
As I wrote two weeks ago (see Balancing act), these cabinet changes are all to do with redistributing the gravy in order to keep the peace in the Independent Political (sic) Group.
I said then that it was like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
On reflection, I have concluded that repositioning the dummies in the dress-shop window is a more apt analogy.
Before last Thursday's council meeting, there was an extraordinary meeting to discuss the recently published critical report on the investigation by the Wales Social Services Inspectorate (WSSI) into the authority's provision of children's services.
The ruling group have a three-pronged strategy for dealing with unfavourable reports.
Firstly, they use the fact that there is a considerable time-lag between the investigation and the publication of the report to claim that things have improved considerably in the intervening months.
This was the tactic used on the occasion of the less than complimentary joint review into Social Services in 2002.
As the most recent report states: "Despite the willingness of the authority to acknowledge deficits in practice [identified in the 2002 review] there had been little progress during the past two years."
So, if these claims for improvement were false in 2002, why should we believe them now?
The second string to their bow is to trawl through the report looking for anything vaguely positive which they can then quote selectively to bolster their case.
It takes intellectual dishonesty of a high order to put any sort of positive gloss on a report which concludes that, out of seven indicators; labeled "poor - inconsistent [a euphemism for unsatisfactory or weak] - mainly good - excellent", six fall into the inconsistent category.
And, when these first two legs fell off their stool, they resorted, as they always do, to personal abuse and moral bullying.
On this occasion it was Cllr Bill Philpin who caught the flak for describing the reports findings as proof that the council was providing "a lousy service" to the county's vulnerable children.
That brought the Cabinet member for children, Cllr Islwyn Howells to his feet with the accusation that this sort of talk from Cllr Philpin would undermine morale among social work staff.
Of course, as Cllr Howells well knew, what Cllr Philpin was referring to was the evidence of weak management and the lack of political leadership [from Cllr Howells and his predecessor as Cabinet member for children, the Leader Cllr John Davies] that runs like a thread through the report.
What the Independent Political (sic) Group should try to understand is that the idea that anyone who dares criticise the ruling clique must be acting against the public interest, has a long and disreputable pedigree.
Victory for meritocracy
At the battle of Trafalgar, the British fleet was led by Horatio Nelson, the son of a Norfolk rector.
The French were commanded by Admiral Pierre-Charles-Jean-Baptiste-Silvestre de Villeneuve, a scion of the French aristocracy, and their Spanish allies by Admiral Federico Carlos Gravina y Napoli, son of the Duke of San Miguel.
Is it not an indication of the pig-headed stubbornness of our continental neighbours that, even today, two-hundred years later, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown feel it neccesary to lecture them on the benefits of the Anglo-Saxon model of meritocratic, flexible labour markets?
I doubt there has so much fuss about a dead parrot since Monty Python was a lad.
It is of course always possible that some deadly form of flu will arise in the Far East and wipe us all out, but I can't help but think that the amount of hysteria generated so far is well over the top.
Before we find ourselves in serious danger, this avian flu virus will have to mutate into a form that is easily transmittable from human to human.
And it is always possible that, in undergoing such a mutation, the strain will lose some of its virulence.
Failing that we will have to hope the wonders of medical science can come to the rescue.
That said, I see no reason why we should run the risk, however small, posed by the import of wild birds from exotic places around the globe.
And it came as something of a shock to learn that we have surrendered so much of our national sovereignty that the British Government is powerless to ban such imports without the approval of the European Union.
Law and politics.
One evening early last week, I received a phone call from Val Saunders, the former Pembrokeshire Conservative party agent.
Mrs Saunders was "ringing round" trying to whip up support for the Lambston residents' campaign against the caravan site for LNG workers in Sutton, near Portfield Gate.
It would be surprising, having rung me, if Mrs Saunders didn't also contact some of her conservative friends on the council.
The caravan proposal had been approved by the planning committee on the recommendation of the officers but, because it was contrary to the policy on developments in the open countryside, it had to go before Thursday's full council for ratification.
Old Grumpy noticed that two of the top Tories, Cllrs Peter Stock and David Wildman, spoke out strongly against the application, which went down to a heavy defeat despite being almost unanimously approved by the planning committee.
Members are being constantly told that planning committees, and full council when discussing planning issues, are quasi-judicial bodies and that we should listen to the evidence and base our decisions on planning policy and any other material considerations that are relevant.
Clearly, the number of friends an applicant or objector has on the committee/council is not a material consideration.
Indeed, if someone rang up members of any other judicial body canvassing support for one side or the other they would more than likely be locked up for contempt of court.
Yet, this seems to be perfectly acceptable when it comes to planning.
Unfortunately, as presently constituted the planning system is a toxic mixture of law and politics.
This is in direct conflict with the doctrine of the separation of powers that underpins the rule of law, and it is hard to think of a to bring local government into disrepute with the public.
As people say with every justification: "It's not what you know, but who you know."
County council Leader, John Davies, has now replied to my email regarding Cllr Brian Hall's non-visit to the site of the proposed LNG workers' accommodation in Waterston .
According to Cllr Davies, Cllr Hall has assured him that his visits to Waterston were in connection with other "potential developments" and not the LNG site.
I have written back pointing out that, if Hall is telling the truth - a heroic assumption, given his past record - there must either have been another Taylor Woodrow/Coast to Coast Caravans LNG hostel site in Waterston for which planning consent was being sought, or Cllr Hall claimed traveling expenses for journeys that were never made (see In denial).
This is not the first time Cllr Hall has come up with highly improbable explanations for his activities.
When a fence was constructed without the required planning permission at the industrial unit he leases from county council, he blamed an over-enthusiastic contractor (see Phantom fencer) and, when questioned by the District Auditor about the two companies in Ireland that he had recorded in the members register of interests, he claimed the entry had been made in error (see Licensed to lie).
During the auditor's investigation into his corrupt relationship with Dr Michael Ryan, Hall produced a copy of a "private letter" dated 20 September 2000 that he had written to Cllr Maurice Hughes in which he is supposed to have told the, then, Leader of his intention to go into business with the council's Irish-based economic development consultant. Interviewed by the auditor, Dr Ryan said that he first met Hall on 12 October 2000.
So, we must add the gift of prophecy to his already impressive list of talents.
And when Old Grumpy enquired about the £51 Hall had claimed for Chinese nosh in London (maximum allowed £8.50) on 31 January 2001 I was told that this was not expenses in the normal sense of the term but an allowance for entertaining a potential inward investor (see Singing for your supper). Unfortunately, no record has been kept of Cllr Hall's contacts with this person (see Off the record).
And, of course, we mustn't forget Cllr Hall's high-speed dash the following day, 1 February 2001, by happy coincidence Old Grumpy's birthday (see The Time Lord).
Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, I now have a copy of the Director of Finance's signed statement to the police about that little episode, including the claim that Cllr Hall's expense claim ". . . is correct in every detail." (see Misinformation).
And so the ship of lies sails on, buoyed up by the votes of the 38 members of the ruling Independent Political (sic) Group.
Whether, that was what the people of Pembrokeshire had in mind when they voted for these people in June 2004 is another question.
It is also interesting to note that, the last time I checked the register of members' interests, about half of the of the IPG claimed membership of assorted churches and chapels; including a churchwarden and several parochial church councillors.
Perhaps those entries were made in error, too.
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