September 18 2007


Waiting for judgment


It is now more than two months since the Adjudication Panel for Wales cleared Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse of any wrongdoing in respect of his failure to declare an interest during a National Park debate on the controversial "Homes for locals" policy, and the written, reasoned judgment still hasn't made an appearance on the panel's website. (Whitehall farce) (Two sides to every story) (Simple explanation).
Old Grumpy can understand why putting the findings into writing might cause some head-scratching because the panel's decision would appear to drive a coach and horses through the councillors' Code of Conduct.
From what I could gather during the hearing, the panel based its decision on the evidence of a National Park officer that, had the "Homes for locals" policy been implemented, it would not have depressed the value of building land in the park area.
It is difficult to understand what exactly was the purpose of the proposed policy if not to make building land more affordable i.e cheaper, by avoiding the situation where local people are priced out of the market by rich incomers.
In any case, as the Ombudsman's investigator told the panel, whether or not Cllr Allen-Mirehouse stood to lose or gain from the proposed policy was entirely beside the point because paragraphs 13(f) and 16(2) of the code make no mention of such matters.
Following a lengthy investigation, the Ombudsman had concluded that Cllr Allen-Mirehouse had breached 13(f) of the Code which states that ": "Members must [my emphasis] regard themselves as having a personal interest in a matter to the extent that it relates to: (f) any land in which the member, or a member of the member's family has a beneficial interest"
Such an interest triggers 16(2) which states "A member who has a personal interest in a matter specified in Paragraphs 13 or 14 [i.e. 13(f)] and who attends a meeting of the authority at which the matter is discussed must [my emphasis] disclose the existence and nature of the interest at the commencement of that discussion or when the interest becomes apparent. In such a case, that member must [my emphasis] withdraw from consideration of the matter unless granted a dispensation by the authority's standards committee."
The panel rejected the Ombudsman's conclusions, outright.
One peculiar aspect of this case which was never mentioned at the Panel hearing is what happened at the meeting of the county council in February 2002 when the National Park's "Homes for local policy" was discussed.
Cllr Allen-Mirehouse was present at that meeting and did not declare an interest.
During the Ombudsman's investigation the council's then Monitoring Officer Mr Huw James said that Cllr Allen-Mirehouse had sought his advice prior to the county council meeting and he had told him that that, because it was a general policy, rather than a specific area of land that was under discussion, he had no need to declare an interest.
I am not sure the Code of conduct allows for any such distinction, but, in any case, this is difficult to reconcile with what took place at that meeting.
I wrote about this at the time (Self interest) and it is not easy to see why Cllr Pat Griffiths, though not Cllr Allen-Mirehouse, should be required to declare an interest and leave the meeting during this general policy discussion.
I did write to the Adjudication Panel expressing my willingness to testify to these events (including a copy of the council's minutes which record Cllr Griffiths declaration of interest and the reason) , but this supposedly truth-seeking tribunal declined to take up my offer.

Independent or independent?


I understand from the Western Telegraph that David Owen the independent candidate in Pembroke St Michael by-election has said that, if elected, he will not become a card carrying member of the Independent Political (sic) Group.
That must mean either that he has had a change of mind, or that my highly placed mole (HPM) , who told me that Mr Owen had been recruited by the IPG to contest the seat, and had visited county hall in the company of prominent party members David Neale and Robert Lewis (Cabinet minister for sport and culture), must have got it wrong.
I have no idea which of these alternatives represents the truth, though I must say HPM has an unblemished record when it comes to the accuracy of information provided.
It occurs to Old Grumpy that the IPG may not be all that popular in Pembroke St Michael - having used their block vote to defeat an opposition proposal to have a damning Ombudsman's report on recent events in that ward debated by full council (Uncontrolled development).


Rocky finances


A few weeks ago I wrote about "moral hazard" in respect of uninsured flood victims who were demanding government compensation for damage to their homes (Ship of fools).
Today the term is on everyone's lips with regard to an entirely different class: the country's highly paid bankers.
Moral hazard occurs whenever people are protected from the consequences of their own foolishness - the hazard being that this only encourages them to act even more foolishly in the future.
The question that is exercising the financial community is whether the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, was right to let the banks stew in their own juice when America's sub-prime mortgage crisis spilled over into the world's financial markets.
Some say that the Bank should have followed the example of the European and American central banks by injecting money into the system to ease the current squeeze.
Mr King took the view that bailing out the banks would only store up even more trouble for the future.
Now he has been effectively overruled by the Chancellor who has given a government guarantee that savers' deposits in Northern Rock are safe.
So much for the Bank of England's independence!
The fact is that Northern Rock is so big that if it had been allowed to go to the wall there was a risk of the contagion spreading to the rest of the banking system.
A variation on the old saying that if you owe the bank £100 that you can't repay, you have a problem. If you owe the bank £1 million that you can't repay, the bank has a problem.

Madam Butterfly

In front of me as I sit at the computer is a document which says simply "Account closed 10 September 2007"
This refers to Grumpette's account with Northern Rock, and, as this was before the run on the bank went out of control, she didn't have to queue to get her money out.
Grumpette's take on this is that someone in the City got wind of the fact that she had baled out and soon it was being whispered in every pub and eatery in the Square Mile that if she'd pulled the plug things must be pretty serious.
When I pointed out that the country's top bankers, who aren't interested in numbers with less than seven noughts on the end, were hardly likely to get excited about her £5173.58p all she said was "A butterfly flapped its wings in Liddeston."

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