September 12 2006


Last week, I asked if anyone could translate: "B’riferenza ghall-korrispondenza numru 46/3131/01/I is-Sindku Joe Zammit informa lill-Kunsill li fil-granet li ghaddew kellu laqgha ma’ Dr. Michael P. Ryan li huwa l-Economic Development Consultant tal-Pembrokeshire County Council. Il-Kelliem qal li waqt din il-laqgha gie diskuss kif il-Kunsill Lokali Pembroke ikun jista’ jibbenefika minn fondi ta’ l-Unjoni Ewropeja ghal zviluppfil-lokal" which I came across on the website ( of Pembroke town council in, of all places, Malta.
Thanks to my multi-talented readership, I can now reveal that it says "With reference to correspondence No 46/3131/01/I the mayor J.Z. informed the local council that in the past days he had a meeting with M.P.R. who is the Economic Development Consultant for P.C.C. The speaker(J.Z.)said during this meeting it was discussed how Pembroke(Malta) Local Council could benefit from EU funds for local development."
This meeting took place just a few months after Hall and Ryan (see Ryan-Hall) went into business together and at about the same time as the twinning arrangements between Pembroke/Pembroke Dock and Pembroke, Malta were being negotiated.
I had always thought it unlikely that Ryan chose Hall as a partner because of his business expertise.
After all, what would you expect a former Pennar filling station operator to know about "Corporate business and due diligence audits"; "Human resources search, selection and training"; "ISO Audit, Certification and training services (ISO/HACCP, EFQM/NBNQA, and environmental/health and safety and QA Office 2000" or any of the other 11 "international standard" services outlined in the company's business plan.
Much more likely that Hall's role was to use his position as a county councillor to pull strings and open doors on "Dr" Ryan's behalf.
The good doctor must have thought his ship had come in when he discovered that his new chum's influence reached as far as Malta (see It's a small world).

Playing for time

Translation services are again required this week following the publication of the Project Board's non-recommendations on the reorganisation of hospital services in Pembrokeshire.
There is likely to be a lengthy consultation process (until after the Welsh Assembly elections are safely out of the way) before any concrete proposals are put before the public.
"In the meantime," the published document tells us, "the organisational and service integration will serve to progress the service improvement agenda and provide reassurance to all stakeholders regarding the concept of the single service framework to deliver clinically sustainable services."
Though this is, ostensibly, written in the language I've been speaking for more than 60 years, it may as well be in Maltese for all the sense I can make of it.
What I am reasonably sure about is that "organisational" integration refers to the intention to merge the three Dyfed trusts into a single unit.
This is a rather surprising proposal because, at the consultation meeting that I attended, there was a unanimous rejection of such a merger.
And, I am told, the outcome was precisely the same at all the other meetings.
Of course, Options 1 and 2, which would have seen Withybush downgraded and services concentrated either in Carmarthen or a new hospital at Whitland/St Clears, met with an equally fierce rebuff.
Faced with this overwhelming weight of public opinion the Project Board had no alternative but to back off.
But, rather than admit outright defeat by adopting the Community Health Council's alternative proposal (The People's Choice), which, incidentally, doesn't get a single mention in the document, they have staged a tactical retreat and are now regrouping and planning to take the cidadel by stealth.
The first move in this strategy is to merge the three trusts - a move my colleagues on the county council foolishly endorsed just recently (see Lack of Trust) - to create what is in effect a Trojan Horse.
Once the merged trust is inside the city walls there will be nothing to stop the NHS bureaucrats subjecting Withybush to death by a thousand cuts.
To deal with the more immediate problem of what to do about the rejected reform proposal, a Planning Forum (aka the long grass) is to be set up with a remit "to identify a service model that meets the requirements set out in the Case for Change.
As the requirements of Case for Change led the experts to put forward Options 1 and 2, it is difficult to see why they should reach a different conclusion the second time around.
Whatever conclusions the Forum does reach there will be a further opportunity for consultation if any of the participating Local Health Boards or Community Health Councils considers it necessary.
However as the document says: "Any supplementary consultation would need to be conducted on a collegiate basis for the overall strategic benefit of the whole population of the three counties."
In short, if Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion approve the proposals, Pembrokeshire can take a running jump.
Having read the document, I was rather surprised to find Tamsin Dunwoody AM telling the Western Mail: "Today's decision is a victory for common sense and the power of the public voice. I am delighted to hear that Withybush is safe and will be subject to further detailed scrutiny before any further changes are made to the acute services sector."
As fine an example of wishful thinking as you are ever likely to come across!
Certainly there is a direct connection between the safety of Withybush and the safety of Ms Dunwoody's seat in the Welsh Assembly, but I can't see the Pembrokeshire public being fooled by what is simply a ploy to take the political heat out of the situation in the run up to the Assembly elections.
And, if Withybush is absolutely safe, what is this "detailed scrutiny before any further changes" business all about?

Silver lining

Because of the Welsh Assembly's hybrid electoral system, one person who stands to benefit if the our two Labour AMs are brought low by unpopular changes at Withybush is Cllr Joyce Watson.
The Welsh Assembly is comprised of 60 members; 40 of whom are elected by first-past-the-post (fptp), plus 20 off the party list.
Electors have two votes - one for a specific candidate and one for a party.
To determine who gets elected from the list you take the number of seats gained by fptp + 1 and divide it into the number of votes cast for each party.
The party with the highest number of votes takes the first list seat.
The process is then repeated using the number of seats (now including any won by the list system) + 1 and so on until all the list seats are filled.
Clearly, the smaller the initial divisor, the better chance of winning a list seat.
For instance in SW Wales, at the last Assembly elections, the Tories won zero seats in fptp so their initial divisor was 0+1 whereas say Labour had taken 4 seats its divisor would have been 5.
Political anoraks remember the first Assembly election when Alun Michael was parachuted in at the top of the Labour list and it was only late into the night when Plaid won Llanelli (or was it Carmarthen East), thereby reducing the Labour divisor, that he was ensured of a seat.
Joyce Watson is second on the list so, if there is a Labour rout next May, who knows?

Code breakers

Over the past few weeks, the councillors' Code of Conduct has been taking a bit of a beating in the Daily and Sunday editions of the Telegraph.
Now I see that the Western Mail's Denise Robertson - "the nation's favourite agony aunt" - is also having a pop.
According to Denise, during this year's local elections in England, candidates were warned by council officers not to mention controversial issues during their election campaigns because, if elected, they would be disbarred from taking part in debates on these issues.
Denise says: "I can't believe that is true, and if it is, it is disgraceful".
What sort of journalism is that?
Surely, she should have checked whether or not it was true before rushing in to print.
The Sunday Telegraph has carried a string of lurid stories about council monitoring officers preventing elected members from attending council meetings.
I am not sure any of them are true because, as I understand it, the monitoring officer can advise a member not to attend but has no power of compulsion.
Clearly, if a member who was found to have breached the Code of Conduct had ignored the monitoring officer's advice it would count against them when it came to deciding on a punishment.
Similarly, a member who had sought the monitoring officer's advice, and been mistakenly given the all clear, would be able to use that in mitigation.
The first consideration is whether a member has a personal interest in the matter under discussion.
So, if I was present at a meeting where a road improvement scheme for Liddeston was being debated, I would have to declare an interest and leave the meeting.
The same rules would apply if it was a matter affecting a relative or a friend or some organisation of which I was a member.
There are also some complicated rules that needn't detain us regarding membership of organisations to which the member has been appointed by the council
The question of whether a member has an interest to declare as a result of his campaigning activities hinges on whether the decision to be taken is quasi-judicial rather than purely political.
So, if they had been campaigning for more money to be spent on education/social services, or whatever - a political issue - that wouldn't prevent them taking part in the budget debate.
But, if a member had been campaigning against a planning application for a mobile phone mast, they would be in breach of the Code of Conduct if they attended a meeting as a member of the planning committee where the application was debated.
This is because they would be considered to have prejudged the issue before hearing all the evidence, thus denying the applicant the right to a fair hearing.
What must always be remembered is that the purpose of the Code of Conduct is to uphold the integrity of the democratic process by ensuring that councillors are seen to take decisions in the public interest rather than their own - to head off the frequently heard allegation that "they're all in it for themselves".
Even if that sometimes means having to declare an interest on what might seem rather trivial grounds, it is a price worth paying.

Born naturals

The poultry flock is thriving (both of them).
Chickens, even bantams, grow amazingly quickly and, at just over a week old, they have fully developed wing feathers and can fly over the side of the box in which they are kept.
I can assure you that I have not been running up and down the shed flapping my arms about so, the next time you are watching a wildlife programme and you hear the commentator describing how the parents are teaching the young birds to fly, you know they are talking through their hat.
Chickens are hard wired to fly, to scratch for food and all manner of other activities.
No doubt they learn certain things, like where best to find food and roost, but most of what they "know" is pure instinct.

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