4 October 2005
Cash is King
Two observant readers have emailed to highlight an interesting aspect of Cllr Brian Hall's expense claiming practices.
On July 19, I published a list of county councillors 'expenses (see King of the road) in which I referred to way Cllr Hall boosted his claims by constantly shuttling across the Cleddau Bridge between Pembroke Dock and County Hall.
As I pointed out, each of these return journeys cost the taxpayer £10 (20 miles at 50p) + £1.50 in toll charges.
However, my two emailers inform me that the amount claimed in toll charges could be significantly reduced if Cllr Hall bought bridge tickets by the book at the discounted price of 60p each.
It is inconceivable, says one of my correspondents, that Cllr Hall who, as Cabinet Minister for Transportation, runs the bridge, is not aware of this charging regime.
Old Grumpy has been doing some empirical research into the matter and I find that during the financial year 2004-2005 the transport supremo crossed the bridge on no fewer than 533 occasions at a cost to the taxpayer of some £400.
Buying tickets at 60p a shot would have saved us £80, admittedly not a fortune in the great scheme of things, but as the old lady said "every little helps" and in the words of the proverb: "Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves".
Or was it the other way round? I'm never sure.
And, of course, tickets are so much more convenient than fiddling round in your pockets looking for change.
Can anyone offer an explanation for Brian's preference for cash?
Following last week's piece on LNG, my attention has been drawn to the website timrileylaw.com where I read that: "The energy content of a single standard LNG tanker (125,000 cu m) is equivalent to seven-tenths of a megaton of TNT or about 55 Hiroshima bombs."
"Don't you think this is something to be taken seriously?" my correspondent asks.
Well, yes and no.
This statement is a classic example of the oldest rhetorical trick in the book: talking about two different things in the same sentence with the intention of giving the reader the impression they are the same.
The truth is that the energy content of a substance and its explosive power are two separate matters.
For instance the energy content of that pound of lard in your fridge is nine times that of an equivalent weight of TNT.
And the energy locked up in two six kilo blocks of Plutonium is exactly the same as that in a single 12 kilo block.
The only difference is that the six-kilo blocks are both sub-critical masses which will release their energy over several hundred years, while the 12 kilo block is an atom bomb with an energy-release time measured in thousandths of a second.
Pedalling paradise - parking nightmare
Old Grumpy notices that yet another cycle track is under construction, alongside the road between the Horse and Jockey and Thornton.
This to go with the recently (nearly) completed section between Sentry Cross and Steynton and that from Johnston to Haverfordwest via Dredgeman's Hill.
If it goes on like this, Brian Hall will be able to dispense with the car altogether.
While the recreational routes from Neyland Marina to Johnston, and Johnston to the Old Hakin Road, are moderately well used, I have yet to spot anyone cycling down Dredgeman's Hill.
As a councillor, what annoys me is that, while resources can be found for these sort of fripperies, whenever I try to get something done about the chronic lack of parking on the council estates in my ward, I am told there is not enough money in the budget.
Indeed, I am told that the total cash available this year to address council estate parking issues across the whole of the county is £150,000 - just a few bob less than the Chief Executive is paid in salary, car allowance and pension contributions.
Ah! I hear you say: "But it is up to our elected representatives to set these priorities."
And in anything resembling a democracy you would be right.
But this is Pembrokeshire County Council and the way capital spending is prioritised is set out in the "Corporate Asset Management plan", the full text of which can be found by logging on to the council's website and following the links to your council/council documents/ corporate assets management plan in the a-z.
For those of you who lead full and interesting lives, I reproduce the more relevant sections below.
Bids for capital funding are considered at the monthly meetings of the Capital Programme Monitoring Group and entered into the draft capital programme, put on a reserve list, or rejected.
The accepted and reserve projects will be put into the fixed year one programme, or the outline programmes for years two and three.
The draft capital programme is then put forward for COMB [Chief Officers Management Board] approval each November.
The Director of Transportation and Environment leads the Capital Programme Monitoring Group (CPMG) which consists of Directors and Senior Officers responsible for the delivery of Capital Schemes.
The work is co-ordinated by the Chief Executive via structured reports to Chief Officers Management Board, setting out programme progress, and expenditure, to profiled budget.
What you will notice is that nowhere is there any mention of anyone whose name you ever put a cross behind, though you might think it should be one of the most important functions of your elected representatives to set spending priorities on their constituents' behalf.
Unfortunately, when I tried to raise the issue of funding for council estate parking at last February's budget-setting meeting, I was told that it was too late to make changes.
I have put forward several Notices of Motion designed to modify the council's constitution with a view to giving more power to the democratically elected members (your democratically elected representatives) but on every occasion the Independent Political (sic) Group has voted them down.
Of course, the county council has all the trappings of a democracy: elections, meetings and the rest, but what we have, in fact, is what a book I read recently describes as "a silent dictatorship".
What is really sad is that the majority of the members seem more than happy for it to stay that way.
I suppose if such matters are not your responsibility you can't be expected to take the blame.
Can it really be true that the Tory leadership contest still has two months to run?
I am already bored to sobs by the whole sorry business.
Would it make any difference if they just drew a name out of a hat?
Just in case it would, I'll have my two-pennyworth.
Below are the runners and riders in descending order of preference.
5. Ken Clarke. Far too enthusiastic about Europe. Far too old (enough of this ageism, he's not as old as you. Ed). As for his boast that he is the only candidate who can return the Tories to power, wasn't he Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time of the 1997 debacle?
4. Malcolm Rifkind. Scottish. And, by the time the next election comes round, the English, who ultimately decide these things, will have had enough of tartan rule.
3. Liam Fox. Ditto.
4. Whatsisname Davis. Grammar-school-educated, council-house-reared son of a single mother. Should press all the right buttons for a working class boy like Old Grumpy, but is a rather dreary, uninspiring fellow.
5. David Cameron. Young with a dishy wife. Even cracked a joke at the launch of his campaign. Main drawback: educated at Eton. My personal experience of Old Etonians is that they are insufferably arrogant, overbearing and not terribly bright. Admittedly, this assessment is, statistically, of doubtful validity because I've only ever met one of them.
The axe man cometh
A mole in the Kremlin-on-Cleddau tells me that a Cabinet reshuffle is underway.
Details are hard to come by as I go to press, but I understand that my prediction of 1 March this year (see no answer ...) that Bill Roberts was for the axe has now, belatedly, come to fruition.
How the various portfolios will be shared out is a matter of much rumour and speculation, but my mole informs me that there is absolutely no truth in the story that Brian 'Biker' Hall has been put in charge of Community Safety - a role that involves, among other things, identifying suitable candidates for anti-social behaviour orders.
Mr Blair seems intent on pressing on with the use of private sector providers to supplement the NHS.
This causes intense hostility among the unreconstructed dinosaurian left in the Labour party, who regard any dealings with the private sector as some sort of Faustian pact.
Though I dare say that most people needing an operation couldn't care less who pays the surgeon's salary.
One delegate at the Labour Party conference raised a huge cheer when he pointed out that these private companies are in it for profit and that any money taken out to pay shareholders' dividends must, of necessity, reduce the amount available for treating patients.
Arithmetically, this seems an impeccable argument, which, if it was true, would justify the nationalisation of the supermarkets and the collectivisation of the farms.
Then we could all have cheaper food courtesy of the profits forgone by Tesco, Asda and all those greedy farmers.
As the people of the former Soviet Union will tell you, such a system has already been tried and what resulted were queues, malnutrition and a thriving black market.
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