3 October 2006

 

Self-selecting

Just over a year ago, I recorded my disquiet about the way my application for a position as a county council representative on the board of Milford Haven Port Authority (MHPA) had been handled (See - Foregone conclusion).
I was particularly concerned about the inclusion of county council Leader Cllr John Davies on the interview panel, especially as the interviews were held on the day after the council meeting where I had proposed, by way of a notice of motion, that the planning consent for a herdsman's cottage awarded to Cllr Davies company Cwmbetws Ltd should be revoked (See - Moreof the same).
Perhaps the fact that, in these circumstances, Cllr Davies felt it appropriate that he should be part of the interview panel, tells you all you need to know about his political philosophy.
And, it seems, it isn't only Old Grumpy who is concerned about what goes on at the bottom end of Gorsewood Drive because someone has sent me a copy of the minutes of a recent regional meeting of the Wales TUC and it seems that the brothers are not at all happy.
What seems to be exercising them is last year's appointment of Danny "Quango" Fellows for a third term as trades union representative on the MHPA board.
These appointments are, nominally, made by the Department of Transport (DoT) but, in reality, the DoT merely acts as a rubber stamp for recommendations made by MHPA, itself.
The DoT document "Modernising Trust Ports (MTP)", which governs the activities of MHPA, says that "Reappointment for a third term should be regarded as the exception rather than the rule" because it can lead to "cosiness and complacency" as "new blood with new ideas and skills essential for the healthy operation of a commercial organisation is often excluded".
Just so!
But what is really upsetting the trades unionists is that, having retired some years ago, Danny Fellows is no longer an active member.
In addition, it would appear that the TUC was not even consulted about this appointment even though MTP makes it abundantly clear that, when making such reappointments there should be the option ". . . to consider the incumbent against a wider selection of candidates through a more formal selection process."
Plainly, if the TUC wasn't consulted, it couldn't possibly nominate alternative candidates.
The brothers are certainly not mincing their words.
The minutes record: "This is the most overt snub ever received by the Wales TUC from a Labour Government and has caused outrage among Executive Members who have instructed the General Secretary to write to the Secretary of State [for Transport] seeking redress to the situation".
As it happens, the appointment of another county council representative is currently underway following the expiry of ex-Cllr Brian Howells' term of office.
In fact, it has been underway for rather a long time because interviews were held in early August.
There are, I understand, four runners in the race: Cllrs John Allen-Mirehouse, Rhys Sinnett, Henry Jones and Tom Richards.
Cllr Sinnett can immediately be ruled out because he is not a member of the Independent Political Group (IPG) and, although MTP calls for all appointments to be made "strictly on merit", no one from outside the ranks of the cronies' clique has ever been given the nod.
Another whose chances must be considered extremely slim is Cllr Allen-Mirehouse who, until his surprise resignation last year, had been a board member since 1979 - 26 years in all - well outside the limits set by the three-term-maximum rule.
Could it be that the purpose of his resigning and taking a year out before reapplying was merely an attempt to circumvent this rule by appearing to start with a clean slate?
There is also the small matter of Cllr Allen-Mirehouse's forthcoming appearance before the Adjudication Panel for Wales to answer the Ombudsman's finding that he breached the Code of Conduct by failing to declare an interest in a planning policy at a meeting of the National Park Authority.
If that should go against him, it would make his position on the board completely untenable.
Given all these circumstances, it is a measure of his self-regard that he bothered to apply at all.
That leaves Cllrs Richards and Jones.
Without going into too much detail, I would have to say that Cllr Jones - a semi-detached member of the IPG - is by far the better prospect.
A qualified civil engineer, who has worked all over the world, he would bring a wealth of useful experience to the board.
Unfortunately, in IPG terms, Cllr Jones has a serious psychological flaw in that he frequently votes against the party ticket.
I hope I am wrong, but I fear that these rather disturbing signs that he has a mind of his own might prove fatal to his chances.

 

Self-sustaining

 

Last week I attended a county council seminar on the local development plan (LDP) which is due to replace the joint unitary development plan (JUDP) in 2011 and will govern planning policy in Pembrokeshire until 2020.
As the JUDP, which took several years and large amounts of money , has only recently been adopted, this must be the bureaucrat's equivalent to painting the Forth Bridge.
Old Grumpy has an inbuilt aversion to state planning, which, as Professor F J Hayek has observed, depends on the "fatal conceit" that enough information is available to the planners for them to make accurate predictions about the future.
Of course, we all make plans, but while our plans are usually informal and flexible, those of the state tend to become set in stone so that the carrying out of the plan becomes more important than achieving the best outcome.
After all, which bureaucrat would want to concede that his expensively produced plan was load of tosh by agreeing to the wholesale changes that might be required by changing circumstances.
I lost count of the number of times the words "sustainable" and "sustainability" cropped up during the seminar.
These are the buzz words of the age, though nobody is quite sure what they mean, exactly.
The standard definition is to be found in the UN-commissioned Bruntland report (1987) which asserted: "sustainable development seeks to meet the needs and aspirations of the present without compromising those of the future".
This piece of "motherhood and apple pie" raises all sorts of interesting problems not the least of which is that we don't know, with any degree of certainty, either the nature of future needs or the means that may be available to meet them.
For instance, any activity involving the extraction of minerals is, by definition, unsustainable because such deposits must be finite.
So, do we leave the coal and oil in the ground for future generations?
And, if we do, shouldn't future generations do the same, ad infinitum?
Or should we consume them in the hope that our decedents will discover alternative sources of energy - nuclear fusion, perhaps?
And should we curb our present consumption for the benefit of future generations, who, if history is any guide, are likely to be considerably better off than ourselves?
While politicians and bureaucrats are keen to lecture us on the sustainability of our energy and land use, you hear rather less from them about the sustainability of the public sector pension deficit, which, if not tackled as a matter of urgency, is very likely to compromise the needs of my grandchildren.
Click on the link below for an article on this subject by Channel 4 economics editor Liam Halligan http://www.telegraph.co.uk/money/main.jhtml?xml=/money/2006/01/22/ccliam22.xml


Self-defeating

One of the tasks of any Local Development Plan is to try to match the supply of building land with the future demand for housing.
When, in a sparsely populated area like Pembrokeshire, fairly bog-standard building plots are fetching £100,000+ you would have to concede that their efforts so far have not been an outstanding success.
There was an interesting debate at the last meeting of county council when Cllr Malcolm Calver proposed that the authority should speed up the release of council-owned land in order to boost the supply of building plots.
Cabinet member for housing Cllr David Simpson claimed that there were more than enough plots ". . . but the problem is that they are too expensive."
If that is true, then we may as well pulp all the economics books ever printed because they all start with a chapter on the iron relationship between supply, demand and price.
If things are too expensive, it is because demand exceeds supply, and vice versa, if they are too cheap.
What is poorly understood is the effect of price on supply.
In classical (pre-Simpsonian) economic theory, high prices attract more suppliers into the market thus forcing prices down to their equilibrium level.
The reason this doesn't happen with building land is that planning restrictions ration supply, even if indirectly.
Of course, the planners will point out that the amount of land zoned for housing more than meets any likely demand.
However, this argument contains a flaw because the area zoned for housing is not the same as that available for building.
Before it can be built upon, the owner has to agree to sell it, and, with land values on a steep upward path, some landowners calculate that it is more profitable to hang on.
This is a risk-free strategy because they know there are no alternative source of supply poised to enter the market.
If there were no planning restrictions, whatsoever, landowners would jump at the chance to sell land (current agricultural value £3,000 per acre) for £10,000 per acre - less than £2,000 per plot.
Not that I am advocating a free-for-all; merely pointing out the effects of the present strict rationing system.
There are signs that central government is thinking along these lines and we could see a dramatic loosening of the planners' grip in the next year or so.

Self-sacrificing

The bantam chicks are now a month old and I have taken to giving them the run of the greenhouse during the day while returning them to their warm box in the evenings (see Men - a waste of space).
This means catching them twice a day; no easy task especially when they're dodging about among the tomato plants.
To overcome this problem I keep them short of food in the afternoons so they can lured out of hiding with a handful of chick crumbs.
What I have noticed is that this works better with the cockerel than the pullet, because a bit like President Gerald Ford, who said to be unable to walk and chew gum at same time, he becomes so engrossed in grabbing as much food in as short a time as possible, that he doesn't notice that I am about to grab him.
The pullet, on the other hand, seems to be able to eat and keep a look out, simultaneously, and has, on occasions, led me quite a dance.
There are certain members of my family who claim this is a typical example of superior female intelligence.
It is certainly on all fours with the theory of evolution which dictates that surplus males must fulfil some useful purpose - in this case by being dozy enough to fall victim to any passing predator while the more alert and biologically important females make good their escape.
Some writers claim that the physical differences in birds are some sort of sexual display.
So the gaudy male plumage is supposed to attract the female, much as a young man in a sharp suit driving a flash car might catch the eye of a girl
But that doesn't explain why male and female crows and seagulls are virtually indistinguishable.
What the sexual attraction theory overlooks is that, while mating is important, it is not much use if the resulting offspring fail to survive to mate in turn.
The reason male and female crows look the same is that both parents are essential to the rearing process.
In the case of the gallinaceous birds (Jungle fowl, pheasants, peacocks etc) except for needing the warmth and protection of their mother, the chicks are self-supporting almost from the moment they are hatched.
They have no need for quality time with their father, whose role is to offer indirect protection by going about making himself obvious to any passing fox.
So the female mates with a brightly-plumaged male, not because she fancies him, but because she has been programmed by natural selection to "know" that that is the best route to reproductive success i.e.to send her (and his) genes down through the generations.
I notice that the cockerel's plumage is already brighter than that of the pullet and that he has already begun to grow a conspicuous bright red comb.
That can't be anything to do with sex - not at his age, surely.

back to home page