September 24 2009


Worse to come

When I wrote my gloomy piece about the economy last week I wasn't to know that the very next day the Government would announce that public borrowing in August, at £16.1 billion, had broken all previous records (No laughing matter).
No matter, the CBI has said this week that it expects the economy to grow in the third and fourth quarters of the year bringing the recession to an end.
However, a word of caution is in order because, as I said last week, unemployment is a lagging indicator and is set to grow until at least the middle of next year.
Also the government can't go on borrowing to fund public spending forever and when that particular music stops who will take up the tune?
And it worth remembering that all the end of recession means is that we no longer have negative growth.
But, as the Governor of the Bank of England has said, the end of the recession doesn't mean the end of the misery.
Imagine you bought £10,000 worth of shares at £10 each on 1 Jan this year
The share price went into decline (recession) and after two quarters (end June) they stood at £7 each.
Then salvation, the shares began to grow again so by the end of the year they were worth £9 each.
You are now £2,000 better off than you were at the end of June, but, before cracking open the champagne you have to consider that you are £1,000 worse off than if you'd never bought the shares in the first place.
That is the position the British economy finds itself in.
Most of the growth in the next few years will only serve to make up for past losses.

Could've been worse


At my age, I have lived through several economic downturns, though I doubt if any of them have been anything like as serious as the present one will eventually turn out to be.
I first went into business on my own in the late 1960s and the first contract I ever won was from the, then, Narberth RDC for the construction of the Coppet Hall sewer system.
This involved connecting all the properties in Coppet Hall to the main sewer and building a pumping station to pump the effluent along a rising main in the tunnel to join the main Saundersfoot system in the Strand.
Most of the excavation was in running sand, a material I had no experience of save for playing on the dunes at Beckfoot.
Harold Wilson's government was in deep financial trouble and the pound had to be devalued.
Public spending had to be slashed and one of the victims was the Coppet Hall sewage scheme.
I was fortunate enough to win a contract building some council houses in Hook for Haverfordwest RDC and I have often wondered, given what I have since learned about the difficulties in working in running sand, whether that particular credit crunch didn't save me from a brush with the official receiver.
It's an ill wind, and all that.


Strictly for the fairies


My attention has been drawn to a report published by the exotically named Councillor Commission Expert Panel for Wales (CCEPW).
This panel was established to consider the the findings of the "Councillor Commission(CC) in a Welsh context
The Councillor Commission was set up by the Westminster government in 2007 to study the role of local councillors.
These bodies speak a language that, while sounding profound, is essentially meaningless.
For instance, in the introduction to its report the CC says: "Councillors are most effective as locally elected representatives when they have
similar life experiences to those of their constituents".
How does that statement sit with the desire to encourage more candidates from ethnic minorities and the disabled to stand for election.
Almost by definition, their life experiences will be different from those of most of their constituents though that doesn't mean they can't be effective councillors
And would a professional person, say a doctor or solicitor, be less well able to represent a working class area than a manual worker.
The CCEPW's first recommendation is that: "As part of their statutory duties, local authorities should undertake equality monitoring amongst candidates standing for election and all newly-elected councillors. The same should be done for community and town councillors and in the meantime the census of county councillors should also be extended to community and town councillors."
But, as local authorities have no say over who chooses to stand for election, what would be the point?
I have no idea how much this all cost but it it is to be hoped that one of the positive spin-offs from the forthcoming age of austerity will be an end to this sort of nonsense.

Through the looking glass


The foreword to the CCEPW report by chairman Sophie Howe contains some gems
For example: "Today’s councillors are performing an incredibly difficult job as leaders, negotiators, influencers, advocates and innovators. They are at the coal face of balancing local community interests with wider government agendas and balancing budgetary constraints with improved service delivery. Their commitment and leadership is central to ensuring improved services and efficient management of multi million pound businesses."
Anybody who believes that probably has fairies at the bottom of their garden.
And "I am also aware that despite the dedication to public service that I have seen from the councillors I have come into contact with, that the public perception of them is confused at best and at worst based on an assumption that they have little power influence or purpose and are in it for self gain.
This view is misguided and needs to be challenged so that the public are aware, as I am, of the ordinary backbench councillor who keeps a shovel in her car to clear the problem drain which gets blocked and floods but is rarely maintained . . ."
Grumpette and I were thinking of getting "his" and "her" shovels but we decided that, on balance, if drains are blocked because of poor maintenance the job of the councillor is to promote policies and allocate resources to ensure they are regularly cleaned.

Propaganda on the rates

Last week, Grumpette went to a seminar on the subject of "Working smarter with your communities".
We have developed a system whereby she attends these events and then cascades, as they say, the info down to me.
This one was all about "community leadership".
A couple of years ago, I attended a health and wellbeing seminar where we were told that we councillors should take a leading role in persuading our constituents to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
I explained that, as an overweight, 50-a-day man with a taste for red wine, it was not my intention to add hypocrisy to my list of faults.
Since then, of course, I have lost a couple of stone and packed in the fags so perhaps I'll take a stroll through Hakin and ask my constituents if they're getting their five-a-day.
One of the "smarter" things this latest seminar was told about was the urban council that had employed in excess of 20 PR people to get its message across.
The result was that customer surveys showed much greater approval ratings than neighbouring authorities even though the services were no better.
That employing taxpayer funded propagandists to persuade people they are getting a better service than is actually the case, can be promoted as a good thing, tells you all you need to know about local authorities.


More threats


Another letter, recorded delivery, has arrived from Cllr Ray Hughes Chairman of Manorbier Community Council (MCC) regarding what I wrote on August 6 (Above criticism) (Abuse of power).
Cllr Hughes claims that he read out letters at the MCC meeting because Cllr Calver insisted that he should and he has sent me a copy of minutes to "prove" it.
While the minutes support this assertion in respect of the letter from the Ombudsman (Above criticism) they certainly don't back his claim where the letter from Mr Charles Cochrane is concerned (Abuse of power).
According to the minutes letters were read out from Pembrokeshire County Council (carbon reduction commitment); Mr Cochrane (offer to publish MCC minutes and agendas on his website); National Park (supplementary planning guidance); the Ombudsman (informing Cllr Gourlay that a complaint against her had been dismissed); and Mr Cochrane (criticising Clr Calver and demanding that he should donate his councillor's allowance to MCC)
Only then, according to the minutes, did Cllr Calver asked if there was other correspondence that had not been read out at which point do the minutes record that "the clerk confirmed that she had one other letter from the Ombudsman which Cllr Calver then insisted she read out."
So, if the minutes are correct, the offensive letter from Mr Cochrane (Abuse of power) was read out before Cllr Calver's intervention.
In any case, the minutes say that the reason the clerk gave for not previously reading out letters from the Ombudsman notifying the council that he was launching an investigation into one of its members was that they were "personal and confidential".
That being so, no amount of pressure from Cllr Calver, or anyone else, could justify putting them in the public domain.
I am also heartened by something I read recently about councillors' personal interests which seemed to support my own view that such an interest can arise from enmity as well as friendship.
So, should Cllr Hughes carry out his promise to report me to the Ombudsman, I will be ready with my defence (Under threat).

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