7 September 2004
Not me guv
Under the headline "Council opposed to tax hike" last week's Mercury carried a story about the revaluation of properties for the purposes of the dreaded Council Tax.
In the article the Leader Cllr John Davies is quoted as saying: "While we will not be able to predict exactly what the new council tax charges will be, we have to assume that most of us in this county and throughout Wales will be paying more for services next year."
However, according to the WLGA "... Average council bills will not change as a result of the Valuation Office Agency's review ..." and "Two thirds of Welsh homes will be unaffected or will benefit from the revaluation."
As Aristotle would have pointed out, both these propositions can't be true.
Of course, those who find their properties moving up a band or two will have to pay more.
But, all other things being equal, the winners and losers should exactly cancel out.
The difficulty is that this rebalancing will not only occur between households in the same authority but between authorities across Wales.
So, if properties in Pembrokeshire have increased in value at a faster pace that the all-Wales trend, it is probable that the Revenue Support Grant (RSG); the money received from the Welsh Assembly, will be correspondingly reduced.
That would place a greater tax burden on Pembrokeshire households, generally, and not just those which have moved to a higher band.
I cant see what the problem is with this.
After all, for good or ill, Council Tax is based on property values so what can be wrong with rebalancing the scheme to ensure a fair share is paid by those, whether on a local or national level, whose houses have gone up in value at a faster rate than the average.
The Independent Political (sic) have been quick to claim credit for low council tax in the past, though, in reality, they have probably been more to do with the generosity of the RSG settlement than any financial wizardry on their part.
Now that the pendulum looks as if it might be swinging the other way the Leader and his spin doctors are making a preemptive strike to shift the blame elsewhere.
I have made an effort to explain how the system works at (Council Tax).
Let me know if you think you understand (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
I thought I did before I started to write the piece.
Licensed to lie
Last week, I visited County Hall and inspected the register of members' interests.
It contains a declaration by Cllr Brian Hall dated 13 October 2000.
I referred to this declaration in my column last week but I can now provide the complete text.
According to the auditor's report on his investigation into the relationship between Hall and Dr Ryan: "Cllr Hall declared a business interest in Ireland on 13 October 2000 but this is not in his declaration dated 11 January 2002. Cllr Hall informed us that he owns property in Ireland but has never had any other businesses in Ireland. He could not explain this other than the original declaration was a mistake."
How on earth can a deliberate act such as this be called a "mistake".
It seems clear to me that either Hall made a false statutory declaration on the form, or he lied to the auditor.
Either way, I can't see what place he has in the Cabinet of Cllr John Davies who promised at the AGM that, under his leadership, the council would operate to the "highest ethical standards".
But what is truly amazing is that the auditor should faithfully record this absurd explanation in his report without batting an eyelid.
It would seem that Cllr Hall has immunity from these provisions because I notice that he made a declaration on 15 April 2003 that the company Euro-Ryall LTD (sole shareholders and directors Brian Hall and Dr Michael Ryan) had "been dissolved under the terms of sectionn 652A of the Companies Act 1985." when, in fact, the company was not dissolved until nine months later on 6 February 2004.
If he was nine months early with that declaration, he was correspondingly late when he registered Euro-Ryall's formation.
That event occured on 29 December 2000 and, though the legislation requires such changes to be disclosed within 28 days, he didn't actually get round to registering his interest until 12 March 2002 - more than 14 months later.
And only then because he was tipped off that I was on the case.
The appliance of science
Not a lot of people know this, but a youthful Old Grumpy spent four years at one of the country's better universities studying chemistry and biology.
Unfortunately, most of what I learned about the magical properties of the carbon atom, the laws of thermodynamics and the genetics of Drosophila Melanogaster has long disappeared into the deeper recesses of my brain.
However, I do retain a sound grasp of the principles of the scientific method which involves the collection of data; the detection of patterns; the devising of hypotheses to explain these apparent patterns; and the testing of those hypotheses to see if they hold up.
So, back in July 2002, when a mole told me of the instructions that had gone out from the high-ups in County Hall that, in order to persuade a sceptical public of the importance of the recently appointed Cabinet members, council press releases should be accompanied by a taxpayer funded photo of one or other of them, the scientist stirred.
Sure enough, on checking the back numbers of the Telegraph and Mercury, I discovered no fewer than 34 pictures of cabinet members for the period 1 May 2002 - 24 July 2002.
My antennae were set a-twitching when a photo appeared in the Western Telegraph of Cllr Bill Hitchings sitting with a group of children at Neyland Junior School.
As Hitchings was the Cabinet member with responsibility for the aged and, infirm and represented Llangwm, there seemed no obvious reason why he should feature in the photo other than that my informant was on to something.
It also occurred to me that the frequency of the various members' appearances might tell us something about who was in and who was out, in much the same way as Kremlinologists used to deduce the pecking order in the politburo by studying photographs of the May Day parade to see who was standing nearest to Stalin as the intercontinental ballistic missiles rolled through Red Square.
After much careful research (half-an-hour in the library) I collected the data which enabled me to construct the table below.
Unfortunately, once I published the table, the practice ceased - probably because I also pointed out that it is illegal to use public money to promote a particular political party (all the Cabinet were members of the Independent Political (sic) Group).
So, I was left with a rather small data set with which to test my hypothesis.
However, the correlation between my table and last June's election results is, I would suggest, quite startling and significant.
At the foot of the table, I asked two questions: How long before John Davies supplants Maurice as Leader? Will Folland last beyond Christmas?
Now we know the answers.
John Davies' position in the council now corresponds exactly with that in the table.
Clearly, someone in County Hall had decided that the talents of Martin Cavaney (the official Court photographer) would be wasted on the likes of Roy Folland and Brian Howells.
Sure enough both went down the tubes at the last election.
Bill Roberts managed to avoid tripping over the ballot box, but now finds himself downgraded to Cabinet member second class with a £4,800 cut in salary, while mid-tablers Pat Griffiths and Maurice Hughes - his score* has been adjusted downwards to account for the fact that he was Leader - both failed to clear the electoral hurdle.
There is one serious anomaly that could undermine the hypothesis - Peter "The Platitude" Stock, equal third from bottom had the biggest vote of any member at June's elections, and is still a leading member of the Cabinet.
Which just goes to show that, whatever the wonders of science as an aid to understanding the physical universe, certain aspects of human behaviour are beyond rational analysis.
Name Telegraph (10 pts) Mercury (5 pts) Points John Davies 8 --- 80 Brian Hall 5 1 55 Allen-Mirehouse 3 --- 30 Maurice Hughes 5 --- 50 (25)* Bill Hitchings 1 2 20 Pat Griffiths 2 --- 20 Peter Stock 1 1 15 Bill Roberts --- 3 15 Brian Howells 1 --- 10 Roy Folland 1 --- 10
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