September 19 2013

Sound advice

The WLGA has circulated some useful hints to councillors about the use of social media.
For instance: "Don’t tweet or post on Facebook when you are “tired”. It’s probably sensible to turn off your phone at any time when you think your judgement may be impaired."
Whoever put tired in inverted commas is probably a reader of Private Eye where "tired and emotional" is used a euphemism for being over-excited through excessive alcohol intake..
This has striking similarities my own advice posted here some months ago: Never press the send button after 8.00 pm, or two glasses of red wine, whichever is the earlier.
The guidance on electioneering may also be of interest to some members: "Remember that although it is acceptable to make political points or canvass votes via your own social media accounts this will not be permissible if you are using this via council supplied computer equipment."
Old Grumpy wonders where this leaves the IPG's election co-ordinator Cllr Rob Lewis who appears to have used the Cabinet room computers in county hall to produce election material in April and May 2012 (Party Games) (The plot thickens).
Much as it pains me to admit it, that other website had the most comprehensive coverage of this issue at Partygate
But what really caught my eye was the advice on children's photo's: "As with your own leaflets or newsletters, always ask permission before taking a picture that you intend to use. NEVER [WLGA's emphasis] take photos of children without the express permission of their parents based on an understanding of what you intend to use the picture for. Your council will have a policy on taking pictures of children, take advice on this before taking or using pictures."
This immediately reminded me of the famous tarmac video posted on Facebook by the then Cabinet member Huw George during the 2012 election campaign.
Unfortunately it was removed from You Tube because Cllr George dubbed it with the music "What a wonderful world" without permission from the copyright owners.
If whoever has a copy reads this, could they please repost it - we need a bit of jollity in these time of austerity.
It also contained several pictures of children including a photograph taken in a local primary school during a visit by Cllr George in his capacity as Cabinet member for education.
I very much doubt that either the parents of these children, or the school, ever gave their permission for this picture to be used as an election puff.
Having worked on newspapers, I was well aware of the sensitivities surrounding the publication of children's photos.
And there was also the issue of Cllr George using a photograph obtained by virtue of his position as Cabinet member for personal political purposes.
So I took the matter up with the county council.
I was told: "The photographs were taken to publicise the achievement/events, with the school’s participation, and were in the public domain, whether taken personally by the councillor or by others. . . . there is no Code of Conduct requirement that could be a relevant issue [nor any that] is covered by any of the “Principles of Public Life”. Prior to an election campaign, any councillor can avail themselves of “photo opportunities” but cannot compel the participation of others involved."
So the WLGA must be wrong about needing to make clear the use to which the photo is to be put.

Wrong again!!

It seems that being wrong is becoming something of a habit because a report by the county council's internal audit service to next Monday's audit committee has given a clean bill of health to the grant system in Pembroke and Pembroke Dock.
Nothing for it now, I suppose, but to sit at home and wait for the writs to arrive.
Mind you, that might be no bad thing because I will have full access to the documents which the county council has so far kept from me.
At least I will know where my reasoning I went astray.
One of the problems with my thinking was that I didn't take into account the Five Case model.
This involves five tests:
Strategic Case: the case for change and fit with relevant strategies
Economic Case: optimising value for money from scarce resources
Commercial Case: the “deal”; the attractiveness of the proposal to suppliers
Financial Case: the affordability test
Management Case: achievability and successful delivery.
Only the economic and commercial cases need concern us here.
As the auditor's report puts it:
The principle behind all European funding is that the grant offered must be the lowest possible that will still allow the project to proceed. If the lowest grant comes from a tender other than the lowest tender then we would have to expect the applicant to accept a tender that is more costly than the lowest one. The applicant would quite reasonably expect to be able to use the lowest tender and, without some other reason, would be unlikely to accept the grant if he or she could not do so. In this case it is self-evident that basing the grant offer on the tender with the lowest eligible costs does not provide the lowest grant that allows the project to proceed, which is the whole point of the exercise.
"In other words, if the grant was based on a tender that that the developer would be unlikely to accept then the likelihood of sealing the deal would be reduced or thwarted, and that is the commercial reality recognised by the method used to assess CPGS grant offers".
As my old chemistry master Geoffrey 'Solomon' Beaumont used to say: "Everything that's worth knowing is difficult to understand", though he was always quick to point out that it didn't necessarily work the other way round.
Of course, if, as I've suggested previously, the tenders were exclusively for work eligible for grant assistance, the lowest tender will always attract the lowest grant.
If, however, grant eligible work is allowed to be intermingled with ineligible (private) work that relationship breaks down.
Suppose we have two tenders one of which prices the eligible work (50% grant) at £70,000 and the ineligible work at £29,000 (total cost £99,000) and the other £50,000 and £50,000 respectively (total £100,000).
According to the council's formulation the applicant should be able to choose the lowest tender even though it costs the taxpayer £35,000 in grants as opposed to £25,000 for the higher bid.
As the auditor's report says: "The applicant would quite reasonably expect to be able to use the lowest tender"
What is rather less clear is whether it is reasonable to expect the taxpayer to fork out an extra £10,000 just so the applicant can save £1,000 by insisting on taking the lowest tender.
This seems to allow the applicant to set the level of the grant rather than the rules.
He could simply say that the grant on offer wasn't enough and the funding body would have to offer more in the interests of "sealing the deal".
And, of course, whatever result this Five Case model comes up with, there is no hint in anything I can read in the auditor's report that would allow the applicant to claim grant funding on work that hasn't actually been done.
That is what happened at Coronation School Pembroke Dock and, I've no doubt, several places elsewhere.
It is interesting to note that the auditor's report is restricted to generalities.
Perhaps they should take a trip to Pembroke Dock and have a look at the rebuilt chimneys (not) at Coronation School (cost £14,000 inc. scaffolding) (see Weed Control).
I have published a table at the end of this posting which may provide food for thought.

Holiday market

The county council is clamping down on the practice of children being taken out of school in term time for family holidays.
From now on such absences will be regarded as unauthorised.
During my 20 years as a school governor, I raised this issue several times when absenteeism was discussed at meetings.
Attendance figures provided to governors divided absences into two categories: authorised and unauthorised.
Family holiday absence with the school's permission were included in the first category.
I argued that governors would have a clearer picture of what was going on if family holidays were put in a class of their own.
My fellow governors were not convinced.
It appears that this latest move has generated some anger among parents who, according to the press release, have been "venting their frustration with increased holiday costs during the vacation."
Also, "Education leaders are calling on the government to crack down on travel companies and airlines 'immorally" cashing in on school holidays"
Eifion Evans, Lead Director of the South West and Mid Wales Education Consortium, (who he-Ed?) which is responsible for the new rules, is quoted as saying "This [higher charges during school hols] is totally unjustified and immoral and is something we should urge the government to look into."
Market forces, I'm afraid, old chap.
Same as the ones that make holiday cottages in Pembrokeshire more expensive during July and August.
And it isn't just those chiselling profiteers in the private sector.
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority charges more for car parking in the summer.
Ditto the National Trust.
And they have less of an excuse because they are virtual monopolies.
All the result of the laws of supply and demand that mean I can't afford to have an original Van Gogh hanging on my living room wall.

Fashion victim

Earlier this week I was accosted on Tesco's car park by a foreign gentleman waving a large road map.
He said he was lost and asked for directions back to Haverfordwest and the high road to London.
Once he had me engaged in conversation he invited me over to his car where he introduced himself.
"Me Italiano - work for Armani" he said.
"You know Armani?" he asked.
I thought to explain that I was a great fan of Italian tailoring (Sartori, Barnado (see Joining the dots) ) but I didn't think his English was up to it.
His story was that he was in the UK on a sales trip and had some samples left over which he wanted to dispose of to save paying excess baggage on the plane home.
Well I've heard worse, but not often.
He produced a light brown leather jacket from the boot of the car.
"Should be £350 - you can have it for a hundred" he said.
"Not really me", I replied.
"You have wife?" he asked.
I owned up.
"She like this!" he said conjuring a shiny black leather coat from inside the car.
"£500 - to you one-fifty".
I already suspected I was in the company of a con man, and having now clocked up £600 in excess baggage charges, I was completely convinced.
Of course, I could have walked away at that point, but good manners kept me rooted to the spot.
So I lied instead.
"Too small", I said, simultaneously holding my hands wide apart and shrugging my shoulders to indicate the extent of the wife's girth.
He smiled sympathetically.
"What about this for you?" he asked offering me a three-quarter length suede coat.
I could see he was losing heart, so I applied the coup de grace.
I thrust my hand deep in my pocket and pulled out all the cash I had on me.
As I opened my hand to reveal 42p, I said to him "Look! no money"
"Sorry" he said as he retrieved the map from the front seat of the car and went off in search of another victim.

 

Food for thought

 Project Tender price  Grant awarded  Retail space refurbished (sq metres)  Grant cost per sq metre refurbished floorspace
 10 Meyrick St (PD)*  £114,275  £71,333  not available  ----
 29 Dimond St (PD)*  £188,371  £81,073  50 s.m.  £1621
 31 Dimond St (PD)  £66,485  £35,590  98 s.m.  £363
 Club Martello (P)  £31,522  £21,781  500 s.m.  £43
 83-83 Main St (P)  £48,867  £32,733  50 s.m.  £654
 24 Main St (P)  £54,008  £34,714  86.5 s.m.  £401
 13 Main St (P)  £12,471  £8,729  142 s.m.  £61
 50 Dimond St (PD)*  £382,000  £122,920  141 s.m.  £871
 27 Dimond St (PD)*  £224,821  £70,413  72 s.m.  £977
 25 Dimond St (PD)*  £227,418  £64,842  35 s.m.  £1,852
 2 Castle Terrace (P)  £28,448  £15,578  226 s.m.  £68
 3 Castle Terrace (P)  £29,544  £16,404  55 s.m.  £468
 50 Main St (P)  £42,650  £23,350  126 s.m.  £185
 6 Westgate Hill (P)  £43,518  £19,716  400 s.m.  £49
 18 Main St (P)  £128,262  £44,829  135 s.m.  £332
 16 Meyrick St (PD)  £16,074  £9,264  96 s.m.  £96
 40 Dimond St (PD)  £78,645  £39,025  77 s.m.  £506

* Projects involving Mr Cathal McCosker, Kinver Kreations and G & G Builders.

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