23 September 2003
Last week I penned some mild criticisms of Pembrokeshire County Council's membership of Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) and, in response, I received the following email. It is not my usual practice to give in to demands by bureaucrats seeking to violate the independence of the columnar territory but, as NFLA's email presents so many soft targets, I have decided to make an exception.
Nuclear Free Local Authorities
Please add the following statement at the foot of your account about
nuclear free local authorities currently displayed on your website:
"Pembrokeshire County Council joined the Nuclear Free Local Authorities as
part of its campaign, widely supported within the county, to prevent
development of the former Naval arms depot at Trecwn for radioactive waste
Cllr Luke has taken every opportunity through meetings of the Nuclear Free
Local Authorities to rally local government support against Trecwn
development as a radioactive waste storage site. This included our annual
conference in Glasgow in 2001 to which you refer and our joint conference
with Irish local government in Cork earlier this year.
In Spring 2002 Pembrokeshire hosted a joint meeting of UK and Irish
councils in Tenby which included a visit, arranged by Cllr Luke, to the
The general opposition in both the UK and Ireland, by local governments
concerned that Trecwn development could result in more radioactive waste
shipments through the Irish sea or across Britain, has no doubt contributed
to the demise of the Trecwn proposal. Cllr Luke has been central to this
You point out a number of matters that have been addressed at Nuclear Free
Local Authority meetings querying what they have to do with Pembrokeshire
without referring to those agenda items that are very relevant to
Pembrokeshire e.g. national radioactive waste management policy. Other
agenda items that you identify have all been addressed in the context of
their impacts on communities in Britain and the local authorities that
To which I would reply:
Firstly, NFLA was not aware of the existence of my website, so I assume they were alerted to what I had written by someone in county hall.
And, as NFLA was hardly likely to be familiar with the minutiae of county council business, that the bit about the council joining NFLA to fight off the threat of nuclear waste disposal at Trecwn is probably the product of the council's spin machine aka The Marketing and Communications Department (MCD).
Another thing that points me in the direction of the MCD is that it is that it has little or no connection with the truth.
These people should really try to get it into their heads that most of us are not so easily duped as your average Independent Group Councillor.
After spending less than half an hour in the shed, consulting my vast library of County Council minutes, I can reveal that Pembrokeshire County Council passed a formal resolution to join the Nuclear Free Local Authorities at the meeting of the Policy and Resources Committee of 12 February 1998.
The minutes for the cycle of meetings leading up to the October meeting of full Council record that the Chairman, who happened to be Luke at the time, made an emergency statement to the Policy and Resources Committee of 8 October 1998 about Omega Pacific's proposal to store nuclear waste at Trecwn, which, according to the minutes, "had just been made known".
As the mathematicians among you will already have worked out, that is eight months after the Council agreed to join up to NFLA.
Therefore, in the absence of 20/20 foresight, the decision to join NFLA couldn't possibly have been motivated by the desire to fight the Trecwn proposals (I put that last bit in for the benefit of certain members of the Independent Group who are a bit slow on the uptake).
Unfortunately, in common with all the other pocket-liners who attend these boondoggles, Cllr Luke never reports back to the council on what has transpired, so I am not in a position to pass an opinion on his contribution to their, no doubt, weighty debates.
However, following an extensive search of the minutes, I can find no trace of any policy decision in respect of either Nuclear Testing, Missile Defence and Arms Control Developments, or the Kashmir Nuclear Crisis, so it is difficult to see what authority Cllr Luke has to speak and vote on these subjects on our behalf.
One thing I will say is that the NFLA has been refreshingly open in responding to my emails.
Last week, the organisation kindly sent me a list of meetings Cllr Luke had attended in the past 12 months, including a trip to Cork on 20-21 March this year.
Normally I would have had to wait until October 2004 for details of this to emerge during the public audit process, so it is a bonus to know about it 13 months early.
The trip to Cork interested me for two reasons. Firstly, Luke was due to go there on NFLA business in 2001 but that particular jolly was called off because of the foot and mouth disease crisis, but not before the council had booked his ferry ticket, the invoice for which I came across during my annual trawl through the books in October 2001.
This raised certain issues and I fired off some questions to the DMC (see Waiting for Godot) I still await their reply.
This most recent visit to Cork involved a meeting of the Irish/UK Standing Conference on Nuclear Hazards which Luke attended, but, I notice, he tendered his apologies for the NFLA steering committee held on the 21st.
This may be because he was mentally and physically exhausted after being bombarded with neutrons the previous day, or, as a sceptic might conclude, after getting his name on the attendance sheet for the Standing Conference, and his travelling expenses virtually in the bank, he found a more agreeable way to spend a nice spring day in the lovely city of Cork.
His previous, chronicled in this column over several years (see Lunchgate, Out to munch, Crooked road, Self-service, The end of the Muncher, may help waverers to make up their minds, one way or the other.
And, whoever it was in the upper reaches of the County Council decided to draw NFLA's attention to the contents of my website has done me a favour by allowing me to reach a wider audience.
Oh, and I nearly forgot, can anybody tell me whether sending Luke on these expensive trips around the British Isles is a better use of public money than hiring home helps or buying books for schools?
How would the public vote if they were given the choice?
PS. I emailed NFLA at 3.30 this afternoon asking them to identify the source of their information about the link between joining the NFLA and the Trecwn furore - now 8.00 pm and no reply.
A highly placed mole tells Old Grumpy that some of the Independent Political (sic) Group's senior citizens are becoming rather restless.
It seems that those who now find themselves as bog standard councillors under the new Cabinet arrangements fear their power and influence is being quietly stripped away.
The most recent mutterings in the corridors of impotence concerns the appointment of the new Director of Highways with one of the old boys being heard to complain that the first he knew about it was when he saw it in the Western Telegraph.
Under normal circumstances, Old Grumpy would be sympathetic to anyone - especially an elected representative - who finds themselves excluded from the democratic process, but in this case all I can offer is "serves you right".
The reason they no longer participate in the appointment of staff, senior or otherwise, is to be found in the council's constitution where it is stated that in respect of the appointment of chief officers (other than the Chief Executive, who will be appointed by the whole council) the chief executive will draw up the shortlist for interview by a senior staff committee with "delegated power to appoint".
Appointments to all other posts "shall be the responsibility of the Chief Executive ..." the constitution reads.
This new constitution, which I have been boring on about ever since it was unveiled in February 2002, transfers huge amounts of power away from elected members and into the hands of unelected, unaccountable officers, the Chief Executive in particular.
However, when this crucially important document was debated in council, the only contribution I heard from any of the Independent Political (sic) Group stooges was an accusation of time-wasting against those members of the opposition who were trying to inject some democracy back into the system.
It has been a very busy week for my moles (an old countryman once told me they were at their most active around the equinox) with another reporting in on a meeting in County Hall between Pembrokeshire County Council, Welsh Assembly Transport Minister, Andrew Davies and his Irish counterpart Seamus Brennan to discuss, among other things, the dualling of the A40.
What is interesting about this meeting is that it was, apparently, arranged by Cllr Brian Hall's business partner, Dr Michael Ryan.
This smacks of a County Council-inspired PR campaign to show that the £450-a-day Dr Ryan is good value for the £75,000 he has, so far, cost the council, and I can't wait to get my copy of tomorrow's Telegraph to see what sort of spin the council's press office (prop. Dai "Spin" Thomas) puts on it.
The last time I got involved in the prediction game was two weeks ago when I mused about who might follow the farmers and the businessmen in the Telegraph's we're-all-for-Bluestone campaign; suggesting as possibilities WIs for Bluestone or vicars for Bluestone.
In the event there was nobody for Bluestone in the following day's paper, though I was partly vindicated when Tamsin for Bluestone appeared in last week's rag.
There was a similar publicity blitz when I first revealed details of Cllr Hall's 100 mph dash from Magor to Pembroke Dock, with his taxpayer funded picture appearing in the papers several times over a few weeks, including, with no sense of irony, one of him standing in front of a large poster bearing the words: "SPEED KILLS".
I suppose Dr Ryan is ideally placed to arrange meetings with Mr Brennan because the latest accounts of his company ORA International deposited with the Irish Company Records Office show it made political contributions of 1,000 Euro to Finna Fail and 500 Euro to Mr Brennan, himself.
Interestingly, I notice that among Dr Ryan's expense claims for last year; collected during my recent trawl through the county council's books, were two for driving from Limerick to Dublin to meet Mr Brennan.
It was not easy to see what these visits to Dublin had to do with Dr Ryan's work for the County Council.
One wag suggested the good doctor must have been short of the readies and had had to pay the baksheesh in two instalments.
Now we know.
No representation without taxation
I am not a great fan of the Liberal Democrats who seem to tailor their policies to suit the marketplace in which they are operating but, if local government is to to be saved from drowning in a sea of apathy, their idea of a local income tax should be implemented forthwith.
Pembrokeshire, for instance, raises about 15% of its revenue from Council Tax, the rest coming from business rates and central government.
So, if it had to raise all its money from local taxpayers (and voters) rather than it being sent round the loop: taxpayer-government-local council, someone with a £500 Council Tax bill would have to pay £3,333 a year.
Imagine picking up your weekly wage packet and finding, under deductions, "local income tax - £65.00" or, if you are on a monthly salary, the even more dramatic "local income tax £260.00".
In those circumstances, how many of the present incumbents would you entrust with the running of the council's affairs.
The present system allows councils to hide behind the government's skirts - taking all the credit for small increases in Council Tax and blaming Government parsimony for any sharp hikes.
The only reason the present system persists is because the Government wishes to retain some means of controlling local government, while local government bangs on about wanting more independence but, in the final analysis, is, to quote Hillaire Belloc, afraid of letting go of nurse, for fear of finding something worse.
I fancy that, if others follow the example of pensioners in the south west of England, who are threatening to go to jail rather than pay massive council tax increases, we may see the Labour Party undergo a rapid change of heart on this issue.
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