10 September 2002

Without prejudice

Old Grumpy has received a copy of an official-looking document which sets out the rules regarding council members' duties when dealing with planning issues, under the new Code of Conduct.
As regular readers will know this issue is one of Old Grumpy's favourite hobby horses.
The situation is that the determination of planning applications is a quasi-judicial function, which means, among other things, that the members have an obligation to consider all the evidence before coming to a decision.
Incidentally, this was the case even before the recent introduction of the new code, which is why I have frequently described the planning system in Pembrokeshire, where elected members routinely act as advocates for the applicant rather than as judges of the facts, as corrupt.
Clearly, such a judicial process requires that those involved do not prejudge the issue.
Some people I talk to seem to have difficulty with this idea, perhaps because influence-peddling by councillors for their own electoral ends is so commonplace that it has come to be regarded as normal.
But consider the other judicial process that most of us are familiar with: the Magistrates Courts.
Would anyone suggest that it was acceptable for the Magistrates to meet the day before the court and decide their stance on the cases coming before them, or for members of the bench to hold forth during the trial, for or against the defendant.
As the guidance says: "Members should avoid expressing any opinion which may be taken as indicating that the member has already come to a decision on the issue before he/she has the benefit of all the evidence and arguments."
That means, of course, that the secret group meeting of the Independent Political (sic) Group on July 17 when two planning applications were discussed and, I am reliably informed, voted upon, was totally illegal. (Out of the frying pan. 29 July)
In an effective political system, the opposition would be kicking up a stink about this blatant disregard for the law.
They might also be asking questions about the recent planning appeal on a site at London Road, Pembroke Dock, which, because of the Independent Group's contempt for planning law, landed the County Council with a substantial bill for costs.
Until quite recently, this appeal decision would have been reported to the Planning Committee (held today, Tuesday) as a matter of routine.
The decision of the Director, Mr Roger Barret-Evans, to abandon this practice, has raised not a whimper of protest from the opposition.

Overpaid and underworked

As regular readers will know, Old Grumpy takes a rather jaundiced view of the recently introduced arrangements for local government.
Take for example the grandly named Overview and Scrutiny committees.
These are, supposedly, modelled on the all-party Parliamentary Select Committees that play such a valuable role in holding the government to account.
As I have pointed out previously, the independence of these O and S committees was compromised before they were even set up because their £17,500 a year chairmen were selected by the very Cabinet whose activities they are supposed to monitor.
No doubt, if they step out of line, the Leader and his Cabinet will swiftly relieve them of their valuable sinecures.
This Thursday, the Environment and Transport O and S committee (Chairman: the serial expense fiddler - Alwyn "Monster Muncher" Luke) is due to meet for only the second time since it was instituted in May.
At its first meeting in June the committee took just 2hrs 20mins to dispose of the three items on the agenda.
Thursday's meeting is likely to be shorter still, because there are but two items to consider: the control of Japanese Knotweed and "Pembrokeshire Welsh Church Act Fund - Position Statement."
Missionary, presumably!
Reading the agenda and reports, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the primary purpose of this meeting is to find something for the old boys to do in order to justify their vastly inflated salaries.
Either that, or somebody in the County Council hierarchy has decided that it is preferable to have them employed in meaningless discussion about trivialities than hanging about on street corners frightening old ladies.
And if you visit the County Council's website (www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk) you will find that, since its inception in the middle of May, the Cabinet (Leader £35,000, Deputy Leader £25,000 and eight members at £22,500 each - total £240,000 a year) has met just twice, for a total of 2hrs 10 mins.
In fact the last time the Cabinet met was 11 weeks ago, on June 28.
Makes me wonder if Mr Parry-Jones's Chief Officers Management Board (COMB) has acquired its own rubber stamp.





Spellbound

 

The good news is that Alan is still alive and logging on to Old Grumpy's website (see Motes and beams. 3 September).
This week he emailed a fulsome confession of his previous crimes against the language, though he rather spoils the effect by trying to shuffle off the blame on Robert Nisbet (of the former Milford Grammar).
Alan also says that, as the h is silent, his rendering of Kazakhstan as Khazakstan is of no consequence.
Try telling that to the people of Dhuram, Clhapam and Chhatam.
Meanwihle, we can all look forward to the coming international season, particularly the clash between Whales v England, especially if there is a Tomhas or two in the team.
In his email, Alan hints that he spends his spare time playing golf, so, I suppose, I should make allowances for him because, I used to be a golfer myself, but I'm all right now.
Another emailer - nomme de plume "Professor" - has been in touch regarding the excuses offered for my own atrocious spelling (off school that week with chicken pox) and my ignorance of the rule: i before e except after c (measles).
"It's a good job you avoided mumps and rubella", Professor writes, "otherwise you would be totally illiterate."
Aside from that hurtful jibe, the Prof did have an interesting point to make.
"Just supposing that childhood infections do account for your ignorance of large chunks of grammar", he says, "could it be that the improvements in GCSE and 'A' level pass rates is nothing whatsoever to do with dedicated teachers, hard-working pupils or dumbed-down exams, but is simply the result of a more effective vaccination programme?"
Seems he's been reading a book on lateral thinking!

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