The Chair Problem
I was woken at 6.30 one morning by a hammering on my back door. I quickly dressed and hurried downstairs to find Alun in an agitated mood.
“It’s the mainland council Jed,” he said, “they’re sending us a Chair.”
"Do they think we don't have chairs?" I said. The mainland council have a peculiar understanding of off-mainland life. They refer to us as if we were primitives who haven't yet encountered modern technology such as the wheel and fire - in spite of our annual Fire and Wheel Festival in which we celebrate those very discoveries.
"Not that sort of chair Jed, a committee chair kind of Chair, one of their bureaucrats in other words."
"A council official coming here? Why, what have we done?"
"It's all explained in this letter, Jed," he said, holding up a letter.
The letter was on official-looking mainland council paper and Alun read the relevant passage.
"The Council Chair will be visiting Happy island as part of the Open and Accountable Programme. This is your opportunity to find out how the mainland council spends your money."
"I thought all the money went on the biscuits and pastries for their council meetings," I said. I am friends with a biscuiteer who is one of the provisioners for council meetings and he's been able to build an extension on his island from the profits. And he just supplies the bourbon creams.
The next day the Council Chair arrived on a specially chartered yacht, as the morning boat is too early in the day for council officials, a fact that has helped keep this island as free as possible from their interference.
"I wonder how much that yacht cost to hire," I said to Alun.
"You can ask the Chair," Alun said. "After all, that's what the Open and Accountable Programme is all about."
The Chair was heavily decorated in official robes and chains of office. With her were three besuited minions in suits, ties and glasses. The first of the minions approached myself and Alun.
"I'm Geoff Minion," he said. "You must be ..." (he paused to consult a clipboard) "Alun and Jed."
"It's Jed and Alun actually," I said, billing is important in these stories. If you allow yourself to slip to second billing next thing you know you've been replaced by a minor character who had a walk on roll in an earlier story.
"I see," said the minion. He pretended to mark his clipboard. "Have you arranged a suitable facility for the Open And Accountable meeting to take place?" he said.
"We can use the Open and Accountable Meeting Hall in the Empty House," I said. The Empty House has dozens of rooms, some of which are only ever used for one story, which does seem a waste. It is an excellent facility which is available for hire to other writers and did feature recently in a recent biography of Jeremy Corbyn by a Daily Mail journalist, as the location for an entirely fictitious series of meetings Corbyn held with Russian spies, the IRA, Hitler, Stalin and the Devil himself.
After we had settled the Chair at her lectern with a nearby table of coffee, biscuits, pastries and emergency chocolate, the meeting began.
Following an opening speech about the importance of openness and engagement the Chair announced that she was ready to take questions.
Alun shot his hand up. "How much is this meeting costing?"
"We'll take the questions in turn," said the Chair.
"But that is the first question," said Alun.
"We have received a question online from a constituent who couldn't be present," the Chair explained.
"But the entire population of the island is here in the room," I said.
"100% turnout. Excellent. That just shows how far-reaching these engagement sessions are."
"That wasn't really my point," I tried to explain but it was too late, one of the minions was already reading out the online question.
"Is it true that the council has recently won awards for its openness and engagement."
"Yes indeed it is," said the Chair. "The council has recently won the prestigious 'Highly Effective Mainland Council Engagement' Award, and of course the highly important 'Accountability of Mainland Councils' Award, both of which the mainland council itself funds in order to encourage excellence.
Both myself and Alun kept our hands raised, waiting to ask a question, but we had to wait for a long list of online questions to be answered, all of which coincidentally celebrated the excellence of the mainland council and the effectiveness of its consultation process.
Finally, after a long wait, Alun was finally allowed to ask his question.
"How much is this tour costing?" he said.
"I’m not able to answer that I’m afraid," said the Chair. "It's part of the Open And Accountability Programme budget and that's not broken down into itemised expenditure."
"So how much does the Open and Accountable Programme cost altogether?" I asked.
"Those figures are unavailable to the public," the Chair said.
"I see," I said. "And are you aware of the irony of that fact?"
"It’s nothing to do with irony. It’s just that the Open and Accountable budget isn’t covered by the Open and Accountable programme, it sits in the Secret and Unaccountable budget."
Alun was allowed to ask another question.
"Is it true that the council has become bankrupt from it's excessive expenditure on biscuits, yachts and meaningless accountability tours?"
"I can's answer questions on that, it's beyond the remit of this programme."
"Perhaps if I ask the question in a different way," Alun said. "How are you planning to get home?"
"I'm sorry I don't understand the question."
"Only your yacht's just been repossessed."
At this news the three council officials ran out of the Empty House in panic. Nothing panics council officials more than the prospect of having to spend time with constituents outside of working hours.
"Well this is good news," I said to Alun. "A council caught being utterly incompetent with money. They'll be forced to resign and we'll end up with a better council."
"Yes Jed, or they'll just raise our taxes to pay off the debt. One of those. At least it means we won't have any more openness and accountability."