madaxeman

December 17, 2014

Ah – TV Licensing…

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 12:43 pm

I keep seeing people online asking about how to deal with TV Licensing when they are “legally license free”, trying to do something about TV Licensing’s unreasonable habit of hounding perfectly law abiding people as though there were no tomorrow. I thought therefore that it might be helpful to some if I shared my own experience…

When I bought my current house, I wrote to TV Licensing and explained that as I would only be using the television set to watch pre-recorded DVDs, I wouldn’t be purchasing a license. They admitted that my position as described was perfectly legal, but then insisted that they would send an “enforcement officer” round to my property to check. The justification for this is that “when we go on-site, we sometimes find people didn’t properly understand their position, and do indeed require a license”. Unlikely, given I had been a part of a campaign against the license online for a number of years…

Still, they insisted. I wrote back and told them no, they couldn’t come over, and that until such time as I they were able to present me with some actual evidence of law breaking (they constantly claim in the popular press that they have the technology to do this), then I thought matters between us were concluded. However, TV Licensing weren’t done yet – oh no… I could be served with a “Magistrates Warrant” if I didn’t comply! Scary eh?

Well actually, no – not scary at all. For one thing since I wasn’t breaking the law at all, I had nothing to fear, save the inconvenience of the inspection. Amusing thought it would doubtless have been to watch them ferret around trying to justify their intrusion into the private life of an innocent man, they also have a habit of turning up with police officers in tow. I’m not scared of them either, but I wouldn’t want someone robbing an old granny down the street whilst the county’s finest were getting rather bored in my living room – so something had to be done.

Here’s the thing about Magistrates Warrants – they are only supposed to be given once a number of conditions have been satisfied. I would like to discuss a couple of those conditions…

Evidence

Evidence has to be laid before the magistrate that demonstrates that it is likely an offence has taken place. Now, in practice it seems a lot of magistrates don’t pay much attention to this one – either granting warrants without any further thought, or accepting things that appear to be evidence, but really aren’t. For instance, “I observed flickering lights from the suspect’s living room, and as I walked down the garden path I noticed huge TV playing with several people watching…”. Indeed – they were watching a DVD… See – evidence of nothing.

The point here is that, if you do find yourself dealing with a Magistrate’s Warrant, always go back and challenge the evidence upon which it was granted. This serves two purposes – firstly it allows you to show that TV Licensing are acting improperly, but far more importantly it just might wake up a few magistrates to what is going on.

Reasonable Access

Another condition of granting a Magistrates Warrant is that TV Licensing have no other alternate “Reasonable Access” – and it’s this condition that I used to get them to shut up once and for all. I wrote to them and told them that they could come round whenever they liked, totally at their convenience and with no requirement for advance notice, so long as they brought with them a receipt for a £20 donation to the local children’s hospital. If they did that, guided tour, otherwise they could continue to sod off. A few days later, I got a letter from TV Licensing stating that they accepted that I wasn’t breaking the law, and that was the last I heard of them.

Of course, this tactic only works if you’ve got the confidence to risk a magistrates warrant, which if you are truly legally license free, you should have. I never needed to worry about it, but there are also a couple of things you should think about in terms of preparation for a warrant visit.

First of all, record the visit. Modern mobile phones are quite good enough for this task, but you want a video record of the entire visit. If they claim to have found something later, you want to be able to get out the video and demand “Where?”. There have been cases where TV Licensing appear to have presented fake evidence to the court (see the Shakespear case), so a good solid video is in the interest of both yourself and justice!

Next, TV Licensing are very keen on their 178 form, which details any problems they claim to have found within your property. It is essentially an admission of guilt. I propose that you should really equip yourselves with a “Confirmation of Innocence” form. It should have space for the TV Licensing staff to record anything they find of concern, but otherwise should contain the provision that “No evidence of an offence being committed has been discovered during our visit”, and a nice space for the TV Licensing Representative to sign. Why is this needed? Well, sadly it seems that in a minority of cases TV Licensing staff haven’t been above just inventing evidence on their forms. Having a declaration that all is well, and the chance to challenge it should they not agree, is a massive protection here for the householder…

Withdrawl of Implied Right Of Access (WOIRA)

There has been much debate online about the efficacy of this tactic for people who are generally license free, with the commonly held view being that:

  • TV Licensing staff do not respect it, and
  • It only serves to flag you up as a person of interest to them.

Personally, I have mixed feelings. I suspect both of the above are true, but didn’t really have a problem with being “brought forward” for the magistrates threats etc. As I mentioned before, my set up was totally legal, and I had nothing to  fear from magistrates. Being “brought forward” just brought things to a head sooner, which was a bonus for me. You might well feel differently though, and might well be nervous about having magistarate’s warrants served against you – which is perfectly understandable. If that is the case though, then WOIRA is not for you…

In conclusion, you should not allow yourself to be intimidated by TV Licensing or the tactics that they employ. Fight back! Don’t take this crap lying down… You can try and be nice with them, let them know your situation etc, but it won’t make any difference at all because they’ll not believe any information you provide and will insist on sending someone out to inspect your home. Personally, I was offended by the notion that I should be required to prove my innocence – that’s not how the law works here… I won’t play those games.

If you want any further advice on dealing with TV Licensing, my all means leave a message in the comments and I will see what I can do…

November 14, 2014

A Life Less Ordinary…

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 12:04 pm

Ever think that our lives are a little humdrum, run of the mill periods with few meaningful achievements?

Well, this morning as I drove into work I caught “Desert Island Discs” on the radio, and, it being their 3000th programme, they’d put a little effort into finding someone worthy of the honour…

Step forward one Captain “Winkle” Brown… I had the pleasure of listening to an interview with this chap last year, so I had some idea of what I was getting.

Amongst Brown’s achievements in his life:

* In 1937, he’s taken up in a plane, and told he has the temperament to become a fighter pilot – by a former World War 1 fighter ace. On Germany’s side!

* When Britain declared war in 1939, he was an exchange student – in Germany. He was arrested by the SS, who escorted him to the border, and let him keep his sportscar!

* In 1941 he joins HMS Audacity as a naval pilot. Audacity is sunk by a German U-Boat, leaving only two survivors. He’s one of them.

* He then gets involved in testing and researching carrier landings – commonly regarded in aviation as one of the riskiest manoeuvres there is. By 1943, he’s performed over 1,500 of them on 22 seperate carriers. He still, even now, holds the record for the most carrier landings a pilot has ever achieved.

* In 1943 he gets involved in training Canadian pilots in carrier landings, though not on carriers. He arranges a return favour where they take him along on actual fighter missions in return… BALLS OF SOLID GRANITE!

* Despite everything else he was doing, he also found time to involve himself in a minor little skirmish known as “The Battle Of Britain”!

* He then gets involved in evaluating captured enemy aircraft. Being wartime, he gets by without the luxuries – like training… He just makes do with whatever manuals he finds lying around in the aircraft!

* His superiors are so in awe of his performance that he’s immediately sent off to become a test pilot. In his first month alone, he flies 13 different *types* of aircraft.

* He performs the first ever landing of a twin-engined aircraft on a carrier. The stall speed of the aircraft is 30 knots above the maximum landing speed for the carrier. Not a problem – Winkle’s on the stick!

* He becomes the chief naval test pilot…

* Test pilots like pushing the envelope, and Winkle is no exception. He gets involved in high velocity projects, and flies at Mach 0.86! Don’t think that’s remarkable? He didn’t use a jet! This guy did it in a spitfire! Wood and canvas for heaven’s sake…

* Diverted to RAF Cranwell in bad weather, he accidentally meets Frank Whittle – inventor of the jet engine. Frank knows a good thing when he sees it – and asks Winkle how the jet engine can be improved for naval use!

* In September 1943 he performs a carrier landing without the arrester hook in position (down to a faulty indicator light, not down to Winkle). The resulting crash into the crash barrier shears off the undercarriage and shreds the propeller. Winker himself of course is made of sterner stuff, dusts himself down, and walks off UNSCATHED!

* In February 1945 he’s shown a helicopter, and taken up as passenger. A few days later he’s sent to RAF Speke to collect one. Of course, this being Winkle, there’s no need to bother with any of that tedious “Learning to fly a helicopter” malarky. The mechanics throw him a “large orange-coloured booklet” to read, and off he goes – IN FORMATION!

* As the European war is winding down, he’s sent off to a German airbase in Denmark to collect some enemy aircraft to look at. Sadly, the allied troops who are supposed to be liberating the base get delayed, so as Winkle touches down, this is a fully operational German airbase. The German commander does the only sensible thing, and surrenders to Winkle immediately!

* As a German speaker, and has someone who isn’t exactly known as a shrinking violet, he interrogates several of the officers at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp following its liberation…

* He’s quite an effective interrogator – so much so that after the war he also “interviews” Wernher von Braun and Hermann Göring. Of course, he still needed to get around – so he takes Himmler’s personal aircraft…

* When Geoffery DeHaviland is killed testing his DeHaviland 108, someone needs to recreate the powered dive at close to Mach 1 he was performing at the time. Sensibly enough, they decide to ask if Winkle might be free… Winkle is cheerfully getting on with the business of performing a power dive, at Mach 0.88, at only 4’000 feet when all hell breaks loose – the aircraft shuddering so violently that Winkle’s chin is banging off his chest. This would kill a regular mortal – but Winkle sees the Lord by appointment only – so he recovered the aircraft!

* When the navy decided to perform the world’s first ever landing of a jet aircraft on a carrier, there was no way they would even consider giving to job to anyone else…

* You know the steam catapult that the Americans use for flinging aircraft aloft from their carriers? Who do you suppose showed them how it worked?

* When it came time to resurrect German naval aviation, Winkle was sent over to supervise and provide guidance. The navy only had one plane that was exclusively for their use. They gave it to Winkle…

* When we wanted to persuade the Americans of the concept of an angled flight deck on aircraft carriers, we sent Winkle. Nine months later, the Yanks built it.

* He wasn’t just a stick jockey either – rising to become a naval captain in 1967, taking command of HMS Fulmar, followed by naval air station (and later RAF) Lossiemouth.

* In his career, he has flown 487 different types of aircraft – and it’s important that we now define what a “type” is. For example, he flew fourteen different versions of the Spitfire and Seafire – but these are only regarded as one type. Also, the 487 count only includes flights where he was “Captain In Command”. Co-pilot doesn’t count.

* Obviously, he holds the record for the highest number of types of aircraft flown by a single individual. It’s generally accepted throughout the aviation industry that this record will stand until the end of time.

A truly amazing man, and I’m struck by the fact that I only learned of him last year, when I happened to be listening to “iPM” on Radio 4 one Saturday evening… The kids need to be learning about folks like this at school!

November 11, 2014

I don’t like what’s happening to VB.Net…

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 11:19 pm

When I started this blog, although I thought I’d end up covering a certain amount of politics and civil liberty matters, I actually thought that a good many of my posts would concern the day job – I work as a software developer writing software using the “Microsoft Stack”. As events have occurred, rather than trying to post a set number of technical articles within a set period, I’ve pretty much only blogged whenever something has annoyed me enough – or if I’ve had information to impart concerning #TwitterJokeTrial, #DaftArrest, or the fortunately inimitable Nadine Dorries MP…

My career as a software developer has basically come in three stages – initially I was writing software using Visual Basic 6, then I was writing VB6 but occasionally getting to dabble with VB.Net, and these days I code almost exclusively in C#.

Why do I work in C#? Well, it would be perfectly reasonable to say that both my current and previous employer require developers to be able to work with C#, so if I were being lazy I could claim to have been pushed into it – but the truth is I deliberately sought out positions which would allow me to move away from VB.Net. Why? Well, the writing appeared to be on the wall… Most serious developers can adapt to use another language when they have to, and a lot of people were making the move away from VB.Net to C#. The syntax was more concise (ever tried writing LinQ queries in VB?), employers were paying slightly more for it, and although Microsoft has maintained a commitment to both languages, having lived through the process of VB6 being taken out back and shot, invalidating vast swathes of work as they did so, I didn’t want to nail my colours too firmly to the mast of what seemed like an increasingly leaky ship…

Unfortunately, VB.Net developers now seem required to operate under a sort of stigma, as second class citizens in the .Net development world. It shouldn’t be so – some wonderful things have been written in VB.Net by some wonderful people – the language is every bit as capable as C# (though not as nice!). There are a lot of big systems out there that depend on VB.Net, so I was rather alarmed as I drove to the office the other day to discover commentators including it on a list of “five dead languages”. Even with my C# hat on, that seemed a little unfair… Now I discover that SharpDevelop, an open source IDE I have used for years, has decided to no longer support VB.Net development in it’s latest version… That speaks volumes for what some very well connected people in the industry think of VB’s medium term prospects…

Perhaps the writing is indeed on the wall again for Visual Basic developers – and if this is indeed the case, then it is a tragedy. It shows that, as an industry, we have learned nothing… Once again we will have major business systems out there in the wild with an ever dwindling pool of developers prepared to maintain them. It’s a particularly cruel blow given that a lot of people who got shafted at the end of VB6 chose to migrate their systems to VB.Net – and are now going to have to consider migrating again.

My advice to anyone (and I have a number of former colleagues from earlier in my career who fit the bill) still working exclusively in VB.Net is to start learning C# now. Today. It’s not because you’re uncool, or smell of wee, or old timers – it’s because I’d like to think you’ll all still be employed five years from now. It’s not that hard, so come on in, the water’s lovely…

October 29, 2014

Utterly shameful

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 12:15 am

It seems that the government has decided, on behalf of all of us, that Search and Rescue operations in the Mediterranean to rescue migrants making the crossing from Africa to European shores should no longer be supported. Apparently the possibility of rescue only encourages more and more migrants to make the crossing…

You know, every once in a while, just now and then, I am ashamed to be British…

The migrants on these boats are desperate. They have no resources whatsoever, having been cleaned out of anything that they did have my the organised gangs that run this “trade”. Even having paid up, and boarded a hopelessly overcrowded vessel, they risk being sunk by the very people they paid to take them over the water. Why would they do this? Simple – drowning isn’t as bad as what lies behind them. They are desperate.

To decide not to engage in Search and Rescue efforts, to allow people to drown in an attempt to influence the migration figures in the direction you want them do go is utterly, utterly shameful. It is not an act worthy of a civilised country. There can be no excuse for it, and no justification, whatsoever.

Moreover, it is illegal. The right to life is the most basic right in the European Convention on Human Rights. It is a human right – an absolute, intended for all human beings everywhere, and not merely those standing on the correct side of some arbitrary line drawn on a map.

My predictions, made now on 29th October 2014, are that within five years we will have a case European citizens being left to perish at sea because they were mistaken for immigrants. Time will tell…

There are babies on those boats. I don’t want to be a baby killer, I don’t want the government to kill babies on my behalf, and I sure as hell will not vote for any party that supports baby killing as a means of budget control.

October 9, 2014

Carmarthenshire County Council – Are you £ucking kidding me?

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 1:07 am

Following the events of #DaftArrest I continue, to the annoyance of many at Carmarthenshire County Council no doubt, to keep abreast of the latest happenings over in the People’s Democratic Republic of Carmarthenshire – and this month’s full council meeting contained a bit of a doozie!

Last month, we started seeing Councillors ask questions in the full council meeting. The format is very simple – a member asks a pre-prepared question, and the leader responds with an equally pre-prepared answer.

Now, in most public forums, having asked a question, the questioner is afforded the right to ask a supplementary question – usually used to respond to information provided in the initial answer. There are a lot of good reasons for this, and somewhere near the top of the list is that it “gets things done” – you don’t have to wait until the next meeting to be able to respond to the information provided. This prevents many items of business from being discussed over the course of several meetings, which of course brings benefits in terms of the speed of decision making. Decisions taken early can mean cost savings through a lack of uncertainty…  It also, from a transparency point of view, puts whoever is proving the answer in the position not being able to have an evasive response pre-prepared. Many people would consider this practice therefore to be a good thing.

Sadly, the ruling junta at the Council appear to take a somewhat different view – that being that since the standing orders don’t state that supplementary questions are allowed, they therefore are not allowed. Now, to be clear, the standing orders make no pronouncement either way – they are simply being interpretted, in common with many dictatorial regimes around the world, as meaning that “something is only ever allowed if we say it is.”. Followers of the #DaftArrest case might find this eerily familiar, as the whole case started with powers that be deciding that filming Council meetings was prohibited on the same grounds.

As I pointed out in the comments of one of the local blogs, there is nothing in the standing orders that entitle the Chief Executive to attend the meeting if he has failed to strip off first and paint his body blue like a smurf – though somewhat mercifully it seems that common sense can be applied in this case. Why not in others then?

But I’ve saved the best until last – because at this month’s meeting of the council, the councillors themselves took a vote on whether or not they should be able to ask supplementary questions – and voted NO! This wasn’t about such questions being mandatory – merely “should we have the right to ask them?”.

The Council is ran by a coalition of the Labour Party and the “Independents” – effectively a party themselves. Someone needs to be asking the Labour Party, a party which after all would like us to seriously consider the prospect of offering them the opportunity to form the next government, just what the holy fuck they are doing here – because their councillors supported this vote not to allow supplementary questions. On what grounds? When, as a councillor representing your electorate, is it a bad thing to be able to ask a question? The answer seems to be when the ruling cabal might find said questioning and the scrutiny it brings inconvenient.

Is this not, as a councillor, precisely when you damn well SHOULD be asking questions?

June 27, 2014

We have a little problem out the back of the office…

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 10:33 pm

I’ve noticed an equipment failure at work, and thought it would be serve as a nice illustration of some of the problems we regularly experience in IT.

What convoluted software based menace lies at the heart of our troubles? Well, none – this is a hardware issue actually – we can’t change the toilet roll on the toilet roll holder in the gent’s toilet. It’s not because we’re thick – we are by the very nature of the job we do creative souls who aren’t afraid to sit around and dream up both cunning and elegant solutions to the problems in our lives. It’s not for lack of trying – because it turns out most of us have encountered this issue, noted the problem, but only recently did we come together and face our collective shame.

Here’s the problem – some idiot, when they designed the toilet role holder, did so in such a manner that the centre piece that should be removable to enable it to be placed through the toilet roll tube is fastened into the assembly using hex bolts at both sides. End result, if you don’t bring a hex key with you, you’re not changing that roll.

My first thought here was to laugh at the engineer who designed it, who quite clearly had not ran his/her product through User Acceptance Testing for more than a couple of days, in which time the problem would have become self evident. It’s important, whenever you deploy any new system / feature, to keep the specification in mind, and to keep in contact with your users to make sure things pan out as they ought. If you don’t talk to your users, sure, you’ll still shift a few thousand units of your bog roll holder – but someone else will come along with new “Easy change” technology and take over your whole party. That sucks.

So I was feeling quite glad about the fact that some Buisness Analyst / Tester out there had dropped a bit of a clanger, when I started thinking a little more professionally. How had the engineer who designed the thing managed to get so absorbed (pun intended) in the problem of holding a toilet roll that they never stopped to consider how it might be changed? Had they become so set in their bunker mentality that they genuinely thought all office cleaners carry hex keys? For that matter, did they believe that the roll is always changed by cleaners – because it rarely is. How close was the engineer to the problem – did they really take the time to understand how their little contribution truly slotted into the whole “office based lavatorial services” system?

There are parallels to be drawn here between designing toilet roll holders and designing software – and as professionals we should not be above a little impartial self evaluation and criticism. Do we truly understand the customer, what they need to achieve, and how best to achieve it. We shouldn’t be afraid of saying “No” – there’s value to that and we can learn from it. Passing unit tests is not the same as passing THE test, and we need to pay a little more respect and attention to our colleagues in Quality Assurance when they tell us that although we’ve met the acceptance criteria, they just “don’t like it”. If our own people have reservations, what’s the customer going to think?

Another lesson here, pointed out by one of my colleagues actually, is that the engineer is not necessary to blame for toilet-roll-gate. Who’s to say that we haven’t ordered a product that is actually quite deliberately designed to be difficult to change? I’d imagine such toilet roll holders are common place in prisons for instance – who says we haven’t mistakenly ordered the wrong product? Slipping back to the parallel universe of software design, that’s something else we have to be careful of – Is what the customer is asking us to build really the best solution for all their problems? Can we do better? Can we engage with the customer, make improvements to the product, but still not have to make a version covered in blinking LEDs and switches just because they said they wanted it? Do they REALLY want it?

It turns out, we all have value in the process of software development. BAs, testers, developers, customers and the people who actually change their bog rolls (in other words, the users) all have an important contribution to make. Who would have guessed?

There’s something else to be considered here as well – because despite the fact that all our talented BAs, testers and developers in the office are now aware of the problem, no-one has tried to fix it. No “Easy change” roll holders have been ordered, and the people who have the power (of which we might only dream) to do that were not included in the conversation. Instead, we’ve agreed on our own little workaround procedure – we leave a few rolls on top of the cistern. How many systems out there in the field also contain such well intentioned modifications, and no longer function quite how their designers, their responsible managers, and their users actually expect? How much is that costing IT every year?

 

 

Blindsided on a Tuesday morning…

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 9:52 pm

I won’t go into details at the moment, but these are stressful times for my family right now. My step mother is being held on intensive care, and at the start of matters a couple of weeks ago, things were so serious that we had to consider the possibility of losing her. Thank deity of choice that hasn’t happened – and although she is still on Intensive Care, things are hopefully on the right path. She has a long recovery ahead of her, is unlikely to be out of the hospital for literally months, but she WILL be coming out.

Life has a way of throwing experiences at us that we can learn from, that challenge how we think, and make us reassess what’s important in our lives. For a son, it’s not easy to hear your father so upset- and I suspect not easy for a father to know he witnessed it, but it showed how someone I thought so unflappable can be dealt a massive blow by an instant change in fate. I’m not knocking my Dad either – he’s coping “alright” – but if you or I think we would handle the situation any better, we’re fooling ourselves. There is no way, three weeks ago, that we could even conceive of the situation we are in now.

For the record Dad, don’t sweat it – you’re human, so am I, and you’re entitled. I’m bloody proud of the fact that you’ve held it together, especially in front of the grand kids, but also that you care so deeply for your wife. That’s a strength, not a weakness. We might not agree on everything, but never doubt for a moment that I KNOW you have her best interests at heart.

We’re just coming out of the scary phase, but the truth is that the real challenges are likely to come once my step mum returns home. There are going to be massive obstacles to overcome, and it’s not going to be a picnic, but she’s better off than a lot of people when it comes to the people around her. So here’s the deal Jill – do your bit. You pull through, so will we…

 

 

 

 

 

May 23, 2014

And the results are, erm, not in…

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 4:21 pm

So – I’ve been having a look at the results for my local council ward (Bentley, Doncaster).

Results

Ok, let’s try and work out how many people turned up at the polling station, but did not actually cast a vote that was counted. We’ll call this figure x:

ElectionWorkings

So, that’s very close to the 1,333 votes held by the elected councillor, Mr. Jackson.

Am I the only person who is a little concerned that the in effect the second most popular choice – to turn up at the polling station but not to actually vote – is not even recorded? Furthermore, although I believe the overwhelming majority of these cases will be people who consciously decided that they would not support any candidate, the truth of the matter is that we have no metric to seperate such people (who hold a definite view) from others who merely spoiled their vote inadvertently.

This should not be acceptable in a modern democracy, and it is time that all of us demand a “None of the above” option on the ballet – the use of which should be counted and reported along with the figures for the candidates.

Democracy is supposed to be representative – so I ask you, how did those 1129 people feel? The truth is, we don’t know – and that’s not healthy.

 

February 2, 2014

No ifs, no buts…

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 10:12 pm

If anyone is in any doubt as to the contempt Carmarthenshire County Council has for the auditor from the Welsh Audit Office, and, by extension, the people who voted them in, then you really have to look no further than the following…

At the end of the public interest reports, the auditor points out that the council are no obliged to discuss the matters being reported on within one month of the date of the reports (30th January 2014). He states this is because of section 25 of the Public Audit (Wales) 2004 Act.

The relevant but is sub section 4, which reads:

If this section applies, the body must consider the report or recommendation at a meeting held by it before the end of the period of one month starting with the day on which the auditor sends the report or recommendation to it.

Rumour has it that this meeting is currently going to be held on 7th March, rather more than a month after 30th January then, and a flagrant breech of the law that the auditor has even been so kind as to explicitly call out for them.

“Best run council in Wales”.

Says who? The mafia?

 

Sorry I’m late…

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 9:48 pm

Sorry I’m late to the party – I was lucky enough to be blessed with a new daughter on 3rd January, and what with her needs and work, well, I’ve not had much time for blogging. Still, events in Carmarthenshire right now really shouldn’t be allowed to simply pass by without comment.

Basically, it’s been an interesting few days in Carmarthen, which have seen the Welsh Audit Office issue two “Public Interest Reports” into events at the council. A Public Interest Report is basically a mechanism by which, when the auditor finds something he / she considers out of place, provides a mechanism to inform the public at large.

The first report concerns arrangements that were made to pay the Chief Executive, Mark James, monies in leiu of pension contributions under the Local Government Pensions Scheme. The Executive Board of the Council have seemingly been misinformed that senior officers would have to leave the original scheme, and one has to wonder why this might be the case. Speculation is rife that this might be because the officers concerned wish to make their own, more “tax efficient” arrangements for their pensions. Whilst I would consider that to be immoral, it wouldn’t actually be illegal in and of itself. Unfortunately though, there were various “mistakes” made throughout the decision process, and it seems that the eventual decision to pay the money is actually unlawful.

Where that leaves the officers involved remains to be seen – and frankly subjustice means I perhaps shouldn’t add to speculation. It’s certainly not a happy place though, and when the dust settles and the revolution has swept the old adminstration aside, the newly reformed council might well consider how it might go about recovering this money – estimated to be more than £27,000 by the BBC – so we’re hardly dealing with pocket change…

The second report however is by far the more interesting to me, in that it concerns the council having provided the chief executive with an indemnity to cover his costs in pursuing a legal action against local blogger Jacqui Thompson, of #DaftArrest fame. This indemnity has been found unlawful in two regards.

Procedural

It seems Mr. James as present at the meeting where the decision to extend an indemity was made, and failed to declare an interest.  The council have responded claiming that the members of the Executive Board were properly briefed in a “pre-meeting” held before the official one, but this is irrelevant. Even if it did have relevance, no formal record exists as what was said, or indeed who said it. Clearly there are massive issues of transparency and public accountability raised by this – made all the worse by the fact that the Council was actually deciding to support action against a woman who has consistently brought the Council to account herself.

The public are entitled to three days notice of such discussions, but it seems that this was not done in this particular case. The Chairman apparently decided to admit the matter as an item of urgent business as it had to be addressed before the next meeting of the Executive Board. What’s interesting here is that the last information of relevance (the Council’s advice on the prospects of success for the Counter Claim) was received late on 17th January 2012, and the meeting itself called for the 23rd, to meet a deadline of the 24th for registering the counter claim. This meant that the public could should have been notified on the 18th – but this didn’t happen. Instead, the public were left unaware of what was going on.

These points in themselves are more than sufficient to render the decision to fund the libel counter claim unlawful, but it gets better…

The Law.

The law is very clear that a local authority is not able to bring an action against a member of the public, or indeed to support such an action by one of its officers. For a start, we have the “Derbyshire Agreement” – and more in Wales we have very specific law from the Welsh Assembly that forbids this – Articles 6(3) of the Local Authorities (Indemnities for Members and Officers) (Wales) 2006 Order, Look it up…

The Council however claim that they can support the counter claim, because section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972, they feel, gives them the power to do anything “which is calculated to facilitate, or is conducive or incidental to, the discharge of any of their functions”.

This is of course complete Tosh – the 2006 Order clearly overrides it. Even if it didn’t, can the council really do anything conducive to any of it’s functions? The council is supposed to protect the local economy – does this mean they can raise an army, jump on coaches for a daytrip to sack Cardiff and take out the local Tescos? Clearly not.

The Council have been well and truly caught – and the repercussions of this will be ongoing for months.

As to what effect this has on the counter claim brought against Jacqui Thompson, time will tell. It’s becoming harder and harder for even the post ardent of Jacqui’s critics to deny that her case as the distinct smell of a miscarriage of justice about it now…

 

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