September 19 2006


Cross party games

Easily the most touching thing I read last week was the report in the Western Telegraph that Steve Crabb MP and local councillor Umelda Havard had called a joint meeting to discuss the problem of anti-social behaviour in Cllr Havard's Merlins Bridge ward.
Mr Crabb is of course a Tory and Cllr Havard is Labour.
And the lion shall lie down with the lamb! though it is not easy to say which is which in this scenario.
Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with politicians putting aside partisanship if it can serve to better the lives of those they represent.
However, there is another angle to this story because it was Cllr Havard who unseated the then council leader Maurice Hughes at the last election.
At a conservative estimate, Cllr Havard's victory will have cost Mr Hughes some £150,000 by the time the next elections come round - not to mention the massive blow to his not inconsiderable sense of self-importance.
I am told that friends of Maurice avoid mentioning Umelda's name when in his company in case he has a seizure.
Old Grumpy has also noticed that Maurice has made a couple of appearances in the Western Telegraph recently; leading me to believe that he might be planning a comeback.
So Umelda cuddling up to Steve Crabb (figuratively speaking, of course) can't be very helpful.
It will be interesting to see, come the next General Election, whether a "Vote Steve Crabb" board is seen peeping over the wall of Maurice's abode on the corner of Merlins Avenue, in full view of all those potential Tory voters from the Llangwm/Hook/Burton area queuing for their turn on the roundabout (see The blueshirts).


Private matter

The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) is conducting a survey, and forms have been sent to all elected members of Pembrokeshire County Council inquiring as to their ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, gender and state of health.
I will not be responding, mainly because I can't see that it's any of the WLGA's business.
In any case, what is the WLGA proposing to do if results indicate that there is a preponderance of chronically sick, Welsh-speaking, Chinese lesbians among our number?
Clearly, as anyone can stand for election, and people can vote however they choose, the answer is nothing.
Which makes this a totally pointless exercise.
Neither was Old Grumpy reassured by the confidentiality statement on the survey, which reads: "All information supplied is anonymous and will be treated with the strictest confidence. Information on individual councillors will not be passed back to the authority."
Surely, if the survey is anonymous, it automatically follows that there will be no information on individual councillors to pass on to anyone.
And, if it is truly anonymous, why are the return envelopes that accompany the survey forms all individually numbered?

Hung out to dry

A huge modernisation programme has just been completed at the Grumpy homestead with the construction of a large paved patio outside the resource centre ( kitchen/utility) door.
Unfortunately, this development requires a reconfiguration of the decontaminated garment demoisturising services (DGDS).
The status quo is not an option because the site of the previous washing line has been paved over and, because of the impracticality of having a rotary clothes line in the middle of the patio, arrangements will have to be made to work up a relocation programme in accordance with the spatial plan and the position paper Designed for Drying..
A project board (Me, acting chief executive cum chairman) has been set up to oversee these changes, which are aimed to providing a world class facility fit for the 21st Century.
As promised, there has been extensive consultations with the principle stakeholder group (Her).
After a good deal of thought, I was able to offer two options: Option 1; a completely new system involving an old-fashioned washing line and Option 2; a relocation of the existing rotary clothes line to a site about three times further away in the vicinity of the greenhouse.
Of course, I met with the usual resistance to change. The stakeholder wanted to know whether had I carried out a technical appraisal to deliver a safe, accessible, sustainable solution.
She claimed the old-fashioned washing line (Option 1) would look unsightly and Option 2 would cause problems of accessibility (greater distance from the house) resulting in inadequate emergency provision
As she patiently explained: in the case of a sudden downpour - not an unusual event in this part of the world - even a few seconds can mean the difference between slightly damp, and sodden, laundry.
Of course, the problem with these stakeholders is that they always think they know better than the experts and she has come up with an Option 3 - a tumble dryer.
As I pointed out, this alternative is outside both the parameters set by budgetary constraints (If she thinks I'm forking out 300 quid for one of those, she can think again), and the environmental requirement to minimise electricity consumption in order to reduce the carbon footprint.
Consultations are ongoing, but I am confident she will get her own way in the end.


Hospital pass


Despite an outright rejection by the public at all the consultation meetings, Pembrokeshire Local Health Board decided at last Thursday's public meeting to support the merger of the three NHS trusts in the former Dyfed area.
From what I can gather, all the stakeholders - CHC and Pembrokeshire County council among them - are happy with the caveats that went with the merger decision.
One of these caveats, proposed by Cllr David Wildman, is that there should be parity and equality between Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion on the new trust.
This, I'm afraid, is intellectually incoherent because parity and equality, in this context, are utterly meaningless.
We have parity and equality on the county council - one member one vote - but that doesn't prevent Cllr Wildman's Independent Political Group, with control over 38 of the 60 seats, getting its own way.
As George Orwell put it: all are equal but some are more equal than others.
Presumably, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion will also want "parity" which means that Pembrokeshire will always face the risk of being outvoted.
In any case, the people who sit on these these boards are appointed by the Welsh Assembly, so the idea that the Pembrokeshire contingent will be going in to bat for the county's interests, rather than those of the Minister, is pure fantasy island.
Once we have a single Trust there will nothing to prevent the NHS bureaucrats reconfiguring the services, over time, to meet with their preferred plan.
We may have avoided being mugged by Options 1 and 2, but I fear we are about to have our pockets picked by this single trust.
The Plaid Cymru candidate hit the nail on the head when he said that by agreeing to the merger we have "sold the pass".

Distinctions with a difference


A gentleman describing himself as my "Tenby mole" as written to accuse me of "double-standards" because, while I badmouth (his term, not mine) Cllrs Jim Codd and Anne Hughes for breaking their election promises, I have nothing to say about Cllr Michael Evans who told voters in Tenby that he had "no political alliance" but then joined the Independent Political Group within a few days of the election.
As someone who regards the right to equal treatment as an article of faith (see Equality before the law), I take these allegations of bias very seriously, indeed .
However, in my defence, I would say the three cases are distinguishable and I am grateful to my "Tenby mole" for providing me with the opportunity to explain just what those differences are.
In the case of Cllr Codd (see Party animals), he put an advert in the Tenby Observer just before the 2004 elections, in which he stated: "I am a truly Independent candidate - having no affiliations to any party or group."
That was a misrepresentation of an existing state of affairs because Cllr Codd had been a member of the Independent Political Group since 28 June 2001 - the day after the bye-election at which he won his seat.
In Cllr Hughes' case, she told the electorate the she was a true independent (three times) and and stated in bold type, with added capitals to drive home the point: "I am standing as a true Independent with no political allegiance to any party. I WILL NOT abide or be controlled by party policy". (see No free lunch and Slippery definitions).
That was a promise regarding her future conduct and although breaking a promise is a serious matter it is not the same as making an untrue statement about a presently existing situation.
It may well be that, when Cllr Hughes wrote those words, she had every intention of being a true Independent, and some intervening event, like the offer of a special responsibility-bearing position, caused her to change her mind.
Less easy to explain is why she told the Mercury that she was still considering whether to join the Independent Political Group several days after she had actually signed the papers (see Slippery definitions ).
That was a misrepresentation of an existing state of affairs which puts her in her same boat as Cllr Codd.
With regard to Cllr Evans, he made a statement about his political affiliations at the time of the election campaign.
Clearly, at that time, he couldn't be a member of the IPG because he hadn't yet been elected.
Of course, the electorate might be forgiven for reading this to imply that he intended to stay unaffiliated, but on a strict interpretation this is not what he said.
Here I would draw a parallel between John Major's promise during the 1992 election campaign that the Tories had "no plans" to increase the rate of VAT.
When, a few weeks after the election, his government raised VAT from 15% - 17.5%, Mr Major was able to claim that he hadn't misled the electorate because there had been no such plans at the time he made the statement.
Nobody believed him, of course.

Carried away

There was an excellent article in the Daily Telegraph's business section which might explain why the Hungarian Prime Minister felt it necessary to lie about the country's economy.
Apparently, Hungary is headed for the rocks because of something called the "carry trade".
For those unfamiliar with this term it means borrowing in currency with a low interest rate and lending in a country with a high interest rate.
As Arthur Daley would say: this can be a nice little earner.
Unfortunately, as Milton Friedman said: there's no such thing as a free lunch, and these carry trades have been recently become a nice little loser.
First to feel the cold wind of economic reality was Iceland which was heavily into borrowing Yen when Japanese interest rates were close to zero.
It seems that Hungarians have followed the same stony path by borrowing Swiss Francs at 1.75% and investing in their homeland at rates in excess of 10%.
This seems like a licence to print money, which, up to a point, it is.
Unfortunately, every silver lining has a cloud and these carry trades are subject to what are known as exchange rate shocks. i.e. if the borrowed currency suddenly appreciates, you find yourself having to pay back more than you original borrowed - wiping out all your gains and more.
Some experts predict that unwinding these carry trades could destabilise the entire global financial system.
Be warned - it could be coming to a mortgage near you.

Harms length relations


Tuesday's meeting of the county council's licensing committee considered a request from the police for a review of the licence for Eddie's Snooker Bar in Haverfordwest.
According to the police, the owner had admitted at a licensing committee on 13 January 2006 that the plans submitted in support of the licence did not reflect the actual layout of the premises.
The committee instructed the owner to provide accurate, up to date plans to all the relevant authorities.
The police received these plans on 17 January, but, they claim, these plans did not accord with the planning consent for the club.
The owner was instructed by the planning department to reinstate the layout to comply with the original consent.
But, say the police, since then further work has been carried out to change the layout in the vicinity of an emergency exit and to increase the area available for the sale of intoxicating liquor, all without the consent of the licensing committee.
And who is the person with this apparently cavalier attitude to planning and licensing regulations?
Well, none other than Cllr Mark Edwards the Independent Political Group member for Prendergast, who also happens to be vice-chairman of the planning committee whose instructions he blithely ignores.
In its wisdom, the government has abandoned the principle of the separation of powers by transferring the licensing function from the hands of the magistrates and into those of the county council, which means that this case stands to be decided by a three-member panel made up of Cllr Edwards' fellow councillors.
And, to make matters even worse, Tuesday's meeting, when the matter was adjourned, was chaired by Cllr Edwards' IPG colleague Cllr Bill Hitchings, who also happens to be chairman of the planning committee.
How is the public supposed to have faith that such an incestuous business can deliver justice?
If this sort of thing happened in Russia or Zimbabwe, we would be talking about the breakdown of the Rule of Law