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‘Stark’ choices for Pembrokeshire

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Cllr Jamie Adams: Simpson says he is 'a capable boy with bad judgement'

Cllr Jamie Adams: Simpson says he is ‘a capable boy with bad judgement’

A MEDIA meeting on Friday Oct 3) allowed media to quiz Council Leader Jamie Adams about the council’s public consultation of its services and budget planning. In conjunction with the council’s Finance Director, Jon Haswell, Cllr Adams delivered a ‘stark’ assessment of the choices facing local government in Pembrokeshire. Jamie Adams told the press that the effect of cuts on the grant to local government will mean around 25% of funding will disappear over the next four years.

With Pembrokeshire’s annual budget running currently at about £207m a year, that figure will shrink to £150m by 2017/18. According to Jon Haswell: “It is difficult to see how previously protected services such as education can retain their ‘protected’ status.’ ‘Protected’ elements of the budget amount to – arguably – £170m, while other services have been cut.” Jamie Adams continued by remarking that he regarded the current grants system as inefficient and bureaucratic, particularly with regard to specific grants given for defined projects.

Calling on government ministers to ease the bureaucratic burden, Cllr Adams suggested that the time had come for specific grants to be included in the total grant settlement to prevent duplication of work and waste of scarce cash. Cllr Adams stated that he was keen to strip away excess costs from the delivery of services and pointed out that he was keen to communicate that buildings were separate entities from the services provided within them. “Year on year I am pleased to have been able to announce that we are one of the few authorities without resorting to compulsory redundancies. I can no longer give that guarantee now. We are at a tipping point in local government finances.

We will consider all options, and will be looking to flexible opportunities to reduce some staff hours. We have to look at that in relation to service provision. “But I have to praise staff for the willingness and skills in delivering services outside their comfort zone, for example at Fishguard Library, where several services are delivered and more hours are now devoted to individual services than was previously the case.” He added: “Costs associated with buildings are impacting upon the level of service, in that they drain the budget.

We are looking at a rationalisation of buildings which hopefully will not mean a rationalisation of services but that the same number of services will be delivered from fewer building. “We are at a fundamental juncture in local government where we need to significantly reduce the costs of the services we provide. Taking the Youth Service as an example, 40%-50% of the cost of providing that service is tied up in the specific building. Those buildings provide nothing. People provide the service. The family centre, youth centre, older persons’ centre, adult education centre become one and instead of being used, perhaps, sixteen hours a week, they are used sixteen hours a day.

What you have in communities is an attitude that the building is the service. But that is not the case. Luncheon clubs, for example, meet in specific buildings but why not elsewhere. We need to focus our expenditure on services and people, not on maintaining buildings. It is a difficult argument to get across. I hope more communities will step forward and follow the example of Fishguard at Theatr Gwaun, and become involved in delivering services and taking on funding of them their selves. I want to be clear, however, that we will not allow communities to take on providing services which they cannot afford to maintain.”

He went on to explain: “Look at Narberth Pool: there is great enthusiasm to retain Narberth Pool within that community. I hope and think they will get there and show they have the financial capacity to maintain the Pool as a going concern.” “There will be inevitably be services which are delivered at low cost now, which will attract a higher cost in the future. Some things that are provided free, will be charged for in order to retain services. There are different ways to deliver services; there is a huge capacity in the third sector, but there is also a chance of losing uniformity across the whole county.”

Speaking about secondary education, Cllr Adams told the meeting: “There are eight secondary schools in Pembrokeshire with 1,000 empty places. In five years time there will be 2,000 empty places. Maintaining schools that are not at or near capacity is a wasted resource. “21st Century Schools is an opportunity to rebuild the school estate and provide more efficient buildings to reduce the costs of running school buildings.” In relation to the pressure being applied to Welsh councils to merge, Jamie Adams said: “We are prepared to look at the advantages for Pembrokeshire of some sort of formal arrangement with another Council.

We are to discuss this in Council on October 16. But I have not seen any evidence that larger councils to perform well financially, in fact the largest council in Wales is not doing very well at all. “Partnership working is already happening. We are already working with Carmarthenshire on elements of the education service. But there is the important matter of democratic oversight;

there is a risk of the creation of a democratic deficit if councils become too large and services too remote. “In terms of the financial carrot offered by the Minister, I have seen no detail and I suspect that councils might find it a very mouldy carrot indeed, especially if they have to find the money to fund mergers themselves out of existing budgets. “That said, I do see an opportunity for councils to become commissioners of services, rather than providing all those services themselves.

Legal services are provided via a consortium-type arrangement. “I have no problem commissioning a service from another council or another provider but I think it is important that people and councillors can hold me to democratic account about the decisions I make. “It would be quite comfortable, I think, being the head of a large authority. You can avoid direct engagement, in a way that I seem unable to at the moment!”

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Welsh Conservatives appoint new Senedd Leader

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IT HAS been announced that Andrew RT Davies MS has been appointed as the new Leader of the Welsh Conservative Group in the Welsh Parliament.

Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd, Andrew RT Davies MS said: “Becoming leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd once again is a great honour and privilege, and I’m pleased to enjoy the unanimous support of my colleagues to take us forward after a difficult few days for us all.

“On behalf of the Group I want to pay tribute to Paul Davies for his service as leader. Paul is not only a colleague but a trusted friend, who has served his constituents and party with distinction, and will continue to do so.

“There is urgent work in front of all of us and our immediate focus will be continuing to hold the Labour administration in the Senedd to account on vital issues such as the vaccine rollout, and fighting May’s election alongside our excellent slate of candidates and dedicated volunteers.

“We are in a moment like no other, and the COVID-19 pandemic has sadly only served to shine a spotlight on the challenges in people’s everyday lives; challenges that have been made all the harder by twenty of Welsh Labour Government failure.

“From our fragile economy to ever increasing NHS waiting lists, people in Wales have been badly let down by successive Labour administrations. Let me be clear; devolution isn’t the issue, it is the socialists in the Labour Party, and Wales deserves better.

“In just over 100 days, the Welsh public will head to the ballot box to decide on the future they want for our country and in the coming weeks and months the Welsh Conservatives will put forward a positive plan to get Wales moving again and build back our country better than ever.

“This will be in tough election during a tough time for our country and whereas other parties want to use this period to divide and separate, we’ll seek to unite our country and deliver a strong voice for Wales, in a strong United Kingdom.”

Chairman of the Welsh Conservative Group in the Senedd, Janet Finch-Saunders MS said: “Following a meeting of the Welsh Conservative Group in the Senedd this morning, I’m pleased to confirm that Andrew RT Davies has been endorsed unanimously as our new leader in the Senedd.

“As Chairman of the Group, I want to say thank you to Paul Davies for his immense efforts in the post since 2018. Paul played a key role in our record-breaking General Election in 2019, whilst setting the groundwork ahead of May’s Senedd election.

“Our attention now turns to May and taking the fight to the Labour Party.”

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Health Board makes vaccination U-turn after queue-jumping complaints

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HYWEL DDA UHB today (Jan 23) announced a U-turn on its vaccination policy and will stick to the national priority scheme.

The move came after allegations it allowed Pembrokeshire County Council employees and other non-front-line workers to jump the queue for inoculations against Covid-19.
While surgeries in Pembrokeshire are still waiting for vaccines to inoculate its most eligible patients, the Health Board’s approach to delivering vaccinations breached Government guidance.

Yesterday (Friday, Jan 22), Ros Jervis, Director of Public Health at Hywel Dda University Health Board told The Herald: “The decision was made this week to extend the vaccine invitation to staff groups critical to the COVID response, without which we would not be able to run essential COVID response services.

“Many of these staff are currently redeployed from the frontline and patient-facing roles and employed by the health board, social care services, independent or third sector care services and fall within the JCVI’s priority group 2.”

The Welsh Government’s strategy is to inoculate frontline staff and then Over 80s. People in those categories are JCVI Priority Group 1.

However, this afternoon the Health Board issued the following statement: “In the past week, after offering frontline staff the opportunity to book vaccination, we expanded our eligibility criteria.

“We have reviewed the guidance and will now not be able to offer or vaccinate this group of staff currently. This is because it is increasingly difficult to draw the line around which staff should be included in this group and because we risk vaccinating before they are eligible.
“We must stay within the JCVI guidance which permits us only to vaccinate frontline health and social care staff, to protect patients and service users, at this point.
“We know that many other groups who are not part of the health and social care workforce are also critical to the wider COVID response and therefore it would be inequitable.
“We are so grateful to all key workers. We have throughout the pandemic continually strived to do the best for our staff and population, and we apologise for any confusion there has been around this issue over the past few days.”

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Paul Davies MS quits as Leader of the Conservatives in the Senedd

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PRESELI Pembrokeshire MS Paul Davies quit as Leader of the Conservatives in the Senedd this morning.

The Conservatives’ Chief Whip also quit his frontbench role.

The dramatic move comes only 24 hours after Mr Davies got the Conservative Senedd Group’s unanimous backing.

However, later yesterday (Friday, Jan 21) – as criticism poured in – the Welsh Conservatives’ Executive met. In that meeting, Constituency Chairs reported widespread disbelief and anger among the Party’s members. Conservative Party Chair, Lord Davies of Gower, received particular criticism for a lack of leadership. Simon Hart, Secretary of State for Wales, also attended the meeting and was left in no doubt of the strength of feeling within the Party.

In a statement issued via the Conservative Senedd media office, Mr Davies said: “I am truly sorry for my actions on the 8th and 9th December. They have damaged the trust and respect that I have built up over 14 years in the Welsh Parliament with my colleagues and the wider Conservative Party but more importantly with the people of Wales.
“Whilst using the Senedd facilities at all times my colleagues and I maintained social distancing. There was no drunk or disorderly behaviour. We did not have to be escorted out of the building as some reports have suggested. What we did was to have some alcohol with a meal we heated up in a microwave, which was a couple of glasses of wine on Tuesday and a beer on Wednesday.
I broke no actual Covid-19 regulations.

“For the last 10 months of the pandemic, I have followed the Covid-19 regulations to the letter. As with everyone across Wales, I have not seen family members or friends, I’ve not eaten at my favourite restaurants and, like you, we enjoyed a subdued Christmas compared to other years. I will continue to follow the Welsh Government’s Covid-19 Regulations and I would urge everyone to play their part in defeating this virus so that we can all return to normality.

“My priority as Leader of the Welsh Conservative Group in the Welsh Parliament has always been to bring the Conservatives into government in Wales. Our main focus as the Welsh Conservatives must always be on challenging and removing a failing Labour government.

“I am grateful for the support of colleagues in the Welsh Conservative Party for their support in this difficult time, and especially to my wife Julie and my Senedd colleagues who have offered empathy, trust and advice. They have treated me with the same courtesy and decency I hope I have always extended to others.

“Over the last couple of days, I have been speaking with colleagues in the Senedd and the wider Conservative Party. Whilst they have confirmed they do not wish to see me step down, I believe that my actions are becoming a distraction from holding this failing Welsh Labour-led Government to account, not just on their rollout of the Covid-19 vaccines but from more than 20 years of their dither, delay and failure. Yesterday I indicated to the Conservative group in the Welsh Parliament that I wished to resign, but they urged me to reflect further, and we agreed to meet again on Monday. However, for the sake of my party, my health and my own conscience, I simply cannot continue in post.

“Therefore, I am stepping down as Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Welsh Parliament with immediate effect.”

“It is for the group to decide how best to choose a new leader, but I hope that process will be seamless and speedy, and I pledge my support to whoever becomes leader.”

Darren Millar blamed ‘wildly inaccurate and unfair reports’ and said:

“There was a member of catering staff present in the tea room for a short time after my arrival on the 8th December but she did not serve me a drink, nor did I request one. In fact, I encouraged the member of staff to go home and close up the counter as it had been a long day for her. No members of catering staff were present on the 9th December and the counter was closed for the whole evening.

“While I am advised that I did not breach coronavirus regulations I am very sorry for my actions, especially given the impact of the tough restrictions that people and businesses are enduring.

“For this reason, and given that Paul Davies has resigned as Welsh Conservative Group Leader in the Senedd, I have decided to step down from my front bench role in the Welsh Parliament.

“I am cooperating fully with ongoing investigations and will continue to do so.”
Whoever replaces Paul Davies, the role is likely to an interim appointment ahead of a vote of the Party membership after the Senedd election.

Commenting on the latest developments, William Powell, Welsh Liberal Democrat Senedd Candidate for Brecon and Radnorshire and former AM for Mid and West Wales said: ‘Paul Davies & Darren Millar have now done the correct thing in stepping down, to allow due process to take place, both within Cardiff Council and within the Senedd.
‘While they both need to reflect and learn from recent events, the Welsh Conservatives must now be given the opportunity to select an interim leader to take their party forward into the upcoming Senedd elections.
‘Schadenfreude is one of the unattractive features of our current politics and I want no part of it. I will simply work with my Welsh Liberal Democrat colleagues to hold Welsh and UK Government to account on the management of the pandemic.
‘My own journey of Covid-19 illness and recovery is a reminder that we should unite to double down on the virus, support our NHS and other key workers and endeavour to do the right thing.’

Welsh Labour Senedd Candidate for Preseli Pembrokeshire has called out Paul Davies over his involvement in his apparent disregard of COVID rules in the Senedd and has expressed her concern that no actions have been taken to suspend him by his Party.

Commenting on the Welsh Conservative Group not taking any action against Paul Davies, Jackie Jones said: “I am flabbergasted that the Tory party is sitting on his hands and failed to recognise the public concern at the events described this week. The latest revelations suggest that he didn’t’ just breach the rules once but maybe twice. Now that this information has come to light, it is only right that the Tories look again at the decision they have taken today.

“As Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd he should be setting an example, not flouting the strict pandemic rules by supposedly drinking till 2 am on Senedd premises. Paul Davies constantly criticises the First Minister and Health Minister for implementing rules that are there to protect all of us, but here he is reportedly drinking till who knows when – maybe on two occasions – totally hypocritical.”

Ms Jones added that “I’m sure the constituents of Preseli will be equally annoyed by his behaviour, when they have had to abide by the rules, not going to pubs, not seeing loved ones for months at a time. It is completely out of order.”

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