September 10 2001

Unreliable mole

Over the years old Grumpy has often had reason to be grateful for the nuggets of information provided by my moles in County Hall.
However, it seems that one of my spies has fallen below the high standards of accuracy expected.
Early last week, this mole rang me to say the Roger Barrett-Evans had been ordered not to wear his trademark brightly-coloured handkerchief in his top pocket.
This seemed an unlikely story.
After all Roger Barrett Evans, a £70,000 year director, is one of the authority's top guns.
Only one person: the head of paid service, also known as Bryn Parry-Jones, would have the authority to issue such an order but, though tales of the Chief Executive's iron control of council staff abound, it hardly seemed likely that he would be bothering his head with the director of planning's fashion sense.
This mole has always been very reliable and the past, but something told me to check the story out, particularly as he had recently confessed to me that he had developed a partiality for that mind-altering substance, Chilean Merlot.
So, last Thursday, I toddled along to the planning committee in search of evidence.
Imagine my disappointment when in walked Mr Barrett Evans with what look like a yellow pillowcase dangling out of his top pocket.
This means that I must take all the other pearls provided by this mole with a large pinch of salt.
For instance, it cannot be true that Mr Barrett Evans has been told by the chief executive that he could be " spending more time with his family '' unless he defuses the fast-developing row over the new entrance to Fishguard School (of which more at a later date) which has all the makings of a first-rate fiasco to rival Enfield.

Solomon keeps his powder dry

I did not, of course, drive all the way to Haverfordwest just a check-up on Mr Barrett Evans' attire. There were two rather interesting applications on the agenda involving proposals to build in the open countryside, both, by happy coincidence, in the ward of Councillor Desmond " Solomon "Codd, the most talented bungalow farmer of his generation.
Indeed according to some experts, the greatest ever.
I do not intend to enter into a was-Stanley-Matthews-better-than-George-Best type of debate, because such questions are basically unanswerable, but if ever there was a more accomplished bungalow farmer then Solomon he must have been pretty impressive.
Needless to say, in both cases, the planning officer had recommended refusal because the proposals contravened policy.
Like all good generals, Solomon has decided to fight at a time of his own choosing. So he deployed that most reliable of delaying tactics: the site inspection.
I look forward to the outbreak of real hostilities at the next meeting.
After all, Enfield is in Solomon's ward, and the first time that came before the committee Chief Planning Officer David Lawrence told members that it was "crystal clear" that it was against policy and should be refused.
A couple of months later after a bit of arm-twisting by the bungalow farming brotherhood Mr Lawrence declared that a revised proposal submitted by the applicant constituted a mere "technical breach" and could safely be passed.
When a Welsh Office Inspector was eventually called in to determine the application, he found that the second application was actually further outside policy than the original.
Old Grumpy waits, fascinated, to see what heroic feats of twisted logic and syntax Solomon comes up with this time around.

Pricey pint

Readers may remember the case of the three county council refuse collection workers: suspended from duty for slipping into the Bristol Trader for a quick pint at the end of their shift.
This was, no doubt, a silly thing to do, especially as the pub is directly under the watchtowers of County Hall.
Looking through some old minutes on Sunday afternoon, I came across a report on a meeting held on June 18th, 2001 to hear their appeal against sentence.
Employees 02 7224 (the driver) had been docked two week's pay and demoted to loader ''as a penalty for gross misconduct ''.
In addition he recieved '' a combined first and final warning (to be held on file for three years) "
His mates, employees number 0027132 and 029220, were also deducted two weeks' pay and given a first and final written warning (to be held on file for two years) "
I suppose it is difficult to demote a loader.
The minutes record that, following the hearing of the case the men and their representatives withdrew from the chamber ''while the sub-committee deliberated, served by their head of personnel, as secretary to the appeals committee ''.
Needless to say, their appeals were dismissed.
Presumably, the head of personnel had nothing whatsoever to do with setting the original punishment, otherwise any appeal procedure in which he was involved would be in breach of the fundamental principle of Natural Justice: that a man cannot be the judge in his own cause

Bad example

Old Grumpy reads that the electoral commission, concerned about the low turnout (59 per cent) at the general election, is minded to recommend that party political broadcast should be scrapped.
Apparently, whenever we hear the words " this is a party political broadcast on behalf of - - - ", we reach for the off button and head for the kitchen to make a cup of tea.
As an alternative, we are to be treated to 10-second sound bites (not enough time to pick up and aim the zapper) on the American model
The only snag with this is that at the last US presidential election, the turnout was, um, er, 49 per cent.

Fair shares

Mr Blair is running into heavy flak over his proposals to involve private companies in the provision of public services.
Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison has warned of strike action unless his members are allowed to retain their present terms and conditions of employment.
Presumably, this means he fears the private sector will offer his members a less attractive deal.
This is bad news for the 65 per cent of us who eke out a living in the non-nationalised industries.
Not only are we being screwed by our wicked, profit-seeking bosses, but we are also expected to cough up extra taxes so that Mr Prentis's members can be paid more than market rates.
If Mr Prentis believed in social justice for all, he would be calling for the restoration of Clause Four - the public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange - so that we might all benefit from the state's largesse.

Running scared

Old Grumpy hears that the ruling Independents are in a blue funk over the possibility that Pembrokeshire might have an elected mayor.
While many of them are not the sharpest knives in the drawer, they have concluded, correctly in my view, that if the electorate are given the opportunity to choose a mayor it will not be one of them.
And a mayor, looking for talent with which to populate his or her Cabinet, will not be over thrilled by much of what is on offer on the Independent benches.
That being the case, many of them could find themselves joining Old Grumpy in the ranks of "yesterday's men ".
I have even heard a rumour that a prominent member of the Independent Political (sic) Group has been running around encouraging members of staff to sign up for Option 2 (Leader with Cabinet).
I can only assume that this is another mole whose brain has become addled with cheap red wine because such action would be entirely improper.
However, given the Independents' less than total enthusiasm for the rule of law, my mole's tale is not entirely unbelievable.
Some of them will stop at nothing to maintain their grip on power.
If there is anyone in County Hall who can confirm this story - in complete confidence of course - then Old Grumpy would be more than pleased to hear from them.

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