16 September 2003


Luke the nuke

It was back in February 1998 that Pembrokeshire County Council discussed an invitation to affiliate to the Wales Forum of Nuclear Free Local Authorities (annual subscription £1,233).
I well remember the debate because several members of the Independent Political Group spoke out against membership - perhaps thinking it was a front organisation for CND.
One of the most vociferous opponents was Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse, the Laird of Angle.
Squirehouse, as he is affectionately known, declared the whole thing a complete waste of money.
Ex-Cllr Eddie Setterfield claimed that nuclear-armed American B52 bombers regularly crossed the skies of Pembrokeshire, though whether this meant he was for or against the proposal wasn't entirely clear.
Anyway the Independent Group had not developed their iron party discipline at that stage and sufficient of their number, reasoning, perhaps, that one or other of them would get to be the council's representative, allowing them to drive around the county at 50p a mile, voted with the opposition to get the proposal through.
I am not sure who was the council's original representative on this body but after the 1999 election the baton passed to Cllr Alwyn "Two Lunches" Luke.
Another change that appears to have occurred is that the council also became members of the UK-wide Association of Nuclear Free Local Authorities, which greatly extended Luke's opportunities for taxpayer-funded travel.
Over the past three years he has journeyed to Rotherham, Newcastle (County Down), Manchester, and Slough, as well as numerous trips to more local venues such as Torfaen, Swansea, Neath and Cardiff.
But his best effort, by far (literally), was the 980-mile round trip to Glasgow which, with the added cost of an overnight stay, set us back well over £500.
I estimate that subscription fees and Luke's expenses over the past four years have cost in the region of £10,000 including the occasion when he drove all the way to Manchester and back for what was scheduled to be a two-hour meeting.
And, when I read the agenda for this Manchester meeting, I had reluctantly to concede that, for once, Squirehouse had got it absolutely right.
The meeting included reports on "Threatened use of Nuclear Weapons"; "Nuclear Testing"; "Missile Defence and Arms Control Developments", and was extended for half an hour so that the members could receive an emergency presentation on "the Kashmir nuclear crisis".
While all this might serve to boost Luke's mileage claims, and his already over-developed sense of self-importance, I cannot for the life of me see what it has to do with providing services for local people.
What chance that some bright member will propose that the County Council withdraws from this useless, pompous body and divert the money saved to the provision of school text books and home helps?
Not much, I fear!


Empty threats

Old Grumpy looks on enviously as the Hutton Inquiry meanders towards its conclusion.
What is fascinating is that the version of events we were being fed pre-inquiry fell way short of the the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
For instance, Alastair Campbell provided the Foreign Affairs Select Committee with a list of 11 changes he had requested in the Joint Intelligence Committee's September dossier.
But, when he appeared before Lord Hutton, he admitted to making 15 such requests and, crucially, one of the undeclared quartet concerned the famous 45 minute claim which was altered at Mr Campbell's behest from "may be able to deploy" to "are able to deploy".
Unfortunately, we are unlikely to get a Hutton-style inquiry into the sleazy activities inside Pembrokeshire County Council.
My best hope is that someone will finally pluck up the courage to make good their threat to sue me for libel.
But, though I have received dozens of angry solicitors' letters, not a single writ has yet landed on the doormat.
The most recent threats came from solicitors representing Cllr Brian Hall's business partner Dr Michael Ryan.
This followed a familiar format: if I didn't retract the remarks in my column of May 25 (see Getting warm) and issue an apology, their client would have no alternative but to commence legal action.
I have neither retracted nor apologised but so far the threatened writ has failed to materialise.
I hope Dr Ryan was not deterred by the information I forwarded to his solicitors from the "Code of Professional Conduct" which I downloaded from the website of the Institute of Management Consultants of Ireland (IMCI) of which he boasts membership.
Under the heading "Disclosure" the Code states: "A member will disclose at the earliest possible opportunity any special relationship, circumstances or business interests which might influence or impair, or could be seen by the client or others to influence or impair, the member's judgement or objectivity on a particular assignment."
According to documents supplied to me by the County Council under the Audit Commission Act 1998 Dr Ryan neither disclosed his interest in Euro-Ryall Ltd to the Council nor the fact that a leading County Councillor (laterly Cabinet member) was the company's only other director and shareholder.
I will shortly be writing to the IMCI apprising them of these facts.
Then there is the question of Hall and Ryan's plans to trade in Prembrokeshire, to which I have previously alluded in this column.
This is by far the most serious charge I have made because it shows that the two of them were willing to abuse their respective positions as councillor and council-employed consultant to line their own pockets.
Surprisingly, given the speed with which both have reacted in the past, these allegations have not brought forth the expected solicitors' letters.
Perhaps, they think if they keep their heads down the problem will go away.
I can assure them, I won't.

Avoiding the question

Another keeping his head down is His Leadership, Cllr Maurice Hughes.
Readers will remember that, way back in January, Wales' First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, held an open question and answer session at Pembrokeshire College.
During the proceedings, a question was raised about the secrecy and backstairs dealings within the County Council.
His Leadership caused much mirth when he jumped up and claimed that Pembokeshire County Council was as open as any other and drove home the point by promising to hold an open mic session where members of the public could turn up and ask him questions.
Eight months have now passed and still the Leader has not kept his promise.
This is a pity because it has deprived me of the opportunity to ask him why he has failed to answer my emails of last November (see Snail mail) concerning the wholly misleading press release he issued regarding the tie-up between Hall and Ryan.

Blissful ignorance

Last Friday I went along to Pembrokeshire College for a Darwin Festival lecture given by one of the county's leading authorities on electomagnetic radiation, Prof Tony Baker.
A large part of the lecture was taken up by the dangers - or lack of dangers - posed by radiation from mobile phones and base stations.
The siting of base stations is a hugely contentious political issue, locally, so it was something of a surprise to note that not a single county councillor was present.
Still, I suppose, ignorance has never deterred them from expressing an opinion in the past.



The price of justice is eternal publicity (Arnold Bennett)

Back to home page