May 21 2010

Making allowances

The Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales (IRPW) which makes recommendations on the level of councillors' allowances has ruled that the payment of Special Responsibility Allowances for committee vice-chairmen should cease.
And, contrary to what you may have read in the local papers, at its meeting last week, the county council agreed to implement the IRPW's recommendations, though it will be applying for a dispensation with regard to the three joint vice-chairmen of the licensing committee because of that body's heavy workload.
The good news is that this reduces the leader's bloated payroll vote by five, but, sadly, it also means that Cllrs Rhys Sinnett, Myles Pepper, David Neale, Simon Hancock and Aden Brinn will have to get by without the £5,902 vice-chairman's SRA.
So, if you see any of these gentlemen in the pub, the least you can do is put your hand in your pocket a buy them a pint.
Another who might be feeling the pinch is the county council's official photographer, Martin Cavaney, because I can't help noticing that, in the four weeks since I drew attention to Cllr Huw George's frequent appearances in the Western Telegraph (Picture post), the paper's pages have not been graced by the cabinet member for education's film star good looks.
Ah! the power of the press.
What is not always made clear is that these SRAs are in addition to the £12,973 basic allowance paid to all councillors.
So when you read that the leader "is eligible for just £29,513, his two deputies £15,493 and cabinet members £14,756" you have to mentally add thirteen grand to get the full amount.
Even that doesn't give the complete picture because, for instance, the leader also gets another £6,000+ for being a member of the police authority and another £5,000 as leader of the WLGA.
In the past anyone wanting to know the actual amounts received from various public bodies had to trawl through several sets of accounts.
Now thanks to the IRPW councils are to required to publish the allowances of members from all sources.
Should make interesting reading.


No vote


A couple of weeks ago, I hinted that there might be a challenge for one of the scrutiny committee chairmanships from inside the ruling Independent Political Group (Palace coup) and that we might be privileged to have an election.
Unfortunately, this was only half correct.
The true bit is that Cllr Myles Pepper had decided to try to oust Cllr Arwyn Williams from the chair of the economic development committee.Whether he was driven by the impending loss of his vice-chairman's SRA (see above) - chairmen get £8,854 - or some more public spirited motive, one cannot tell.
However, the leadership of the IPG decided to deny us an open election by conducting its own secret poll to determine who would be the party's official candidate.
The result persuaded Cllr Pepper to withdraw from the contest - what's the point of standing if the block vote, including some of those who voted for you first time round, is behind your opponent.
The upshot is that members of the opposition were effectively disenfranchised.
Why couldn't both men be allowed to put their names forward and a free vote of all 60 members been allowed to decide the matter.
I'm afraid this rule by the majority within the majority is a classic example of what the late Lord Hailsham called "elective dictatorship".
This manoeuvre, designed to ensure that the IPG leadership maintain control, has its origins back in the days when Maurice Hughes was leader when there were three candidates for the council chairmanship: Cllrs Rosemary Hayes, Pat Griffiths and George Grey.
Under previous practice all three names would have gone forward at the AGM where a ballot of all 60 members would have taken place.
Instead the IPG organised a postal ballot.
All three candidates got more than ten votes but Cllr Griffiths, in third place, was eliminated.
Cllr Hayes narrowly won the run-off and became the party's official candidate.
The result was that the majority of the IPG group ended up endorsing a candidate who wasn't their first choice and the opposition were frozen out completely.

And with a bound . . .

According to Manorbier Community Council (MCC) chairman Cllr Raymond Hughes the recent decision by the county council's standards committee to take no further action over the Ombudsman's findings that he had breached the code of conduct means he now has "a clean bill of health".
Its always sad to rain on someone's parade or whatever it is you do to their bonfire but I'm not not too sure that Cllr Hughes' bullishness about his position is justified.
The standards committee didn't overturn the Ombudsman's central conclusion that Cllr Hughes had failed to declare his prejudicial interest (a close personal relationship with one of the applicants) and withdraw from the meeting when MCC interviewed candidates for the post of clerk.
It seems that one of the reasons for the committees forbearance was that the other three members of the selection committee all gave evidence that he had not attempted to influence the decision.
As I said last week (May 14), simply being present is influence enough.
By happy coincidence, the Ombudsman's recently issued guidelines on the operation of code seems to bear this out.
The guidelines advise members: "You must not make any representation or have any involvement [my emphasis] with decisions in which you have a prejudicial interest . . ." and ". . . where the public may be allowed to sit in the public gallery to observe the meeting, you will be required to leave the room during the debate and vote."
As the Ombudsman puts it in his report on Cllr Hughes' case "While there is no evidence that he actively promoted Mrs M Hughes over and above the other candidates , Cllr Hughes is chairman of the council and the close association between him and one of the candidates was known to all members of the staffing sub-committee. The evidence suggests therefore on the balance of probabilities that this would have created an advantage for Mrs Hughes and a disadvantage for the other candidates."
One of the reasons there was "no evidence" is contained in a letter to the Ombudsman from acting clerk and Cllr Hughes' fellow member of the staffing sub-committee Cllr Anne Gourlay in which she claims "Acting on the advice of County Hall, all papers and interview notes relating to the recruitment, selection and appointment of the council clerk were destroyed on completion of the process."
I find it difficult to believe that anyone in county hall would give such advice, especially as the flawed recruitment process might be subject to legal challenge by one of the unsuccessful candidates, though I am told by Grumpette, who observed the standards committee proceedings, that no attempt was made to get to the bottom of this.
As is often the case, the questions that aren't asked often reveal more than the ones that are.

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