May 14 2010

 

My apologies for going AWOL last week but I was rather knocked out of my stride by a letter from the Ombudsman informing me that he had received a complaint about the content my website from the chairman of Manorbier Community Council Cllr Ray Hughes.
Cllr Hughes claims that I brought Manorbier Community Council into disrepute by publishing articles in which I described what I considered to be his abuse of his chairman's powers as "fascist tactics" (Abuse of power) (Above criticism).
The Ombudsman is currently considering whether Cllr Hughes' complaint merits investigation.
I also understand that the county council's standards committee has received a report from the Ombudsman which concludes that the content of Cllr Malcolm Calver's website (Manorbier.com) constitute a breach of the Code (Above criticism).
As the Ombudsman's report is not yet in the public domain the exact nature of the breach(es) is not known.
These developments raise serious questions about freedom of expression and I will report further in due course.


Interestingly, all this in the very week that Cllr Hughes appeared before the standards committee to answer the Ombudsman's finding that he had breached the Code by being present during meetings to appoint a new clerk even though he had a prejudicial interest in the matter.
I should try to explain the rather blurred dividing line between personal and prejudicial interests.
The Code provides (10(2)(c)(i)) "You must regard yourself as having a personal interest in any business of your authority if a decision upon it might reasonably be regarded as affecting your wellbeing or financial position, or that of a person with whom you live, or any person with whom you have a close personal relationship."
Members must disclose such an interest but are not barred from participating in the meeting.
However if you personal interest is such that "a member of the public with knowledge of the relevant facts would reasonably regard as so significant that it is likely to prejudice your judgement of the public interest" then you have a prejudicial interest which requires that, in addition to disclosure, you must withdraw from the meeting while the business is under discussion.
To most people this is what lawyers call a distinction without a difference because if the matter might affect a member's "wellbeing or financial position" (a personal interest) then it would seem to follow that it is likely to "prejudice your judgement of the public interest" (prejudicial interest).
In Cllr Hughes' case the interest arose because one of the applicants for the post of clerk was the tenant of a property owned by Cllr Hughes who was also godfather to one of the candidate's children.
In addition the applicant had printed Cllr Hughes' election address for the 2008 county council elections.
The Ombudsman concluded that this interest was so significant that it constituted a prejudicial interest and though Cllr Hughes had declared a personal interest his failure to withdraw from the selection committee meetings constituted a breach of the Code.
Clearly, locating the boundary between a personal interest and a prejudicial interest is a matter of fine judgment and members are wise to adopt the old adage "if in doubt, get out".
Members of Manorbier Community Council certainly seem to have been confused by this distinction because several of their witness statements seem to indicate that they believed that as Cllr Hughes had only declared a personal interest he was free to participate in the selection process.
That can't be right because the test is not the member's belief but that of "a member of the public with knowledge of the relevant facts".
For example, a member who participates in a planning committee meeting where his own application is being considered doesn't avoid having a prejudicial interest by merely declaring that he has a bare personal interest.
In Cllr Hughes' case the standards committee found that he had breached the code by failing to withdraw from the meeting but that, as there was no evidence that he had tried to influence the selection process, no further action was required.
As a potential recipient of the standards committee's judgement (see above) it might be rash of me to say so, but in my opinion, the committee got this round its neck.
The whole point of the requirement that the member should withdraw is that their very presence might influence the actions of the other members.
Indeed, I recall reading a case that came before the Standards Board for England where the interested member was censured for sitting in the public gallery during the proceedings.


Grumpette and I had a bet on the election result: she said Lib Dem support would collapse handing the Tories an outright majority. I predicted a hung Parliament.
The only thing missing from this bet was any mention of a stake.
Not that I care - in some situations, just being right is reward enough.
However, the indecisive election result has led to some huge bets being placed in the markets.
Unfortunately the weight of money is not expecting a happy outcome with Sterling and bonds both heavily marked down.
No doubt there will be those who ask why we should be at the mercy of markets, or the Gnomes of Zurich as Harold Wilson called them during one run on the pound.
The answer is quite simply that if you want to spend more than you earn you can only legally finance it by borrowing.
Understandably, people who lend you the money are keen to have it paid back in due course.
The interest rate they demand reflects the risk of you failing to cough up.
Simple as that.

The past week has seen the near-implosion of the Euro as the problems in Greece threaten to spill over into Portugal and Spain.
I remember back in the late 90s there was a tremendous row when, faced with an unsustainable boom in the south east of England, the Bank of England raised interest rates putting further unwelcome pressure on the struggling manufacturing industries in the Wales, Scotland, the Midlands and the north of England.
As the, then, Governor Eddie George explained, it is almost impossible to set interest rates at a level that suits everyone simultaneously.
As was pointed out at the time, if this is true of a small currency union like the UK, how much more difficult it must be for a currency union encompassing such widely different economies as Germany, Spain and Portugal.
Greece was eventually admitted to the club, but only after it brought itself within the Maastricht criteria by lying about the state of its finances.
The fact is that there has never been a successful monetary union that wasn't preceded by political union
In his book The Rotten Heart of Europe, former EU monetary expert Bernard Connolly, who was sacked for voicing his doubts about the single currency , claims that constructing a monetary union without attending to the political foundations was a deliberate policy of the European political elite which calculated that, if the Euro project could be got off the ground, the political union required to make it work would automatically follow.
This week we have seen proposals from the President of the European Commission that the budgets of member states should be subject to prior approval by the Commission.
Or put another way, if the northern European economies, especially that of Germany, are going to be called upon to foot the bills of their profligate southern neighbours, then they want a say in how the money is spent.

I notice that the Western Telegraph has given Princess Anne a well deserved promotion..
According to the paper "The Princess Royal is the patron saint of the Farms for City Children charity."
Here in Hakin we had long anticipated this development and already have St Annes Road, St Annes Place and St Annes Drive.

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