Connect with us
Advertisement
Advertisement

News

‘Greater scrutiny’ needed for council budget

Published

on

County Hall

County Hall

THE PAIN of the council’s budget settlement has been the subject of a press briefing, seminars for council members and public consultation. The headline figures are stark and staggering. Pembrokeshire County Council has to find savings amounting to a quarter of its overall budget over the next few years. With education and social care budgets ‘protected’, the way in which our local authority will deliver future services is bound to change. Services cut previously to the bone, will be sliced to the marrow. All of these cuts are also scheduled to take place against the background of threatened forced reorganization of local government and the end of local democracy in Pembrokeshire. In a time of deep and savage cuts to their budgets, the Welsh Government is expecting local authorities to fund the tens of millions of pounds it will cost to merge authorities out of their own resources.

Cardiff Bay claims there will be great savings to be made but has not produced one single shred of evidence to support that contention. Indeed, earlier this year this newspaper interviewed Kevin Madge, Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council, who told us: “Any new structure will take five to eight years to ‘bed in’ and it could take eight to ten years for a new authority to fully get to grips with things. Things won’t improve overnight. Reorganization is not a magic wand.” With budgets squeezed and pressure being applied from Cardiff to stifle local democracy it is imperative that councillors take every step to scrutinise what Pembrokeshire County Council is doing with the money under its control.

Only in that way can it be shown that our councillors are fit for purpose and have a clear grasp of the council’s finances. The Pembrokeshire Herald has been looking at the systems the council has in place in relation to its finances and how spending priorities are set. That investigation has shown that figures produced by officers are being approved without interrogating the data or assumptions that underpin the financial forecasts produced and routinely approved without query or inquiry by the Cabinet and the majority of councillors. For example, the public and the council are routinely told that the council’s annual budget is around £200m. But that is only the nett figure. The gross council budget is significantly higher.

Assumptions made about income and expenditure are often adjusted before figures are present for democratic scrutiny, so that members are always presented with a balanced budget, even when forecasts are wrong or overtaken by events. For example, the budget approved at the beginning of the coming municipal year contained assumptions about the closure of Narberth Pool and income to be derived from charging for day services for the elderly. Both of those assumptions were overtaken by events. However, such is the opaque nature of local government finance that councillors have practically no way of properly interrogating the information given to them by officers and reaching a balanced and informed conclusion on the authority’s true financial position and future plans. This summer Pembrokeshire County Council organised a series of budget seminars for councillors to try and tackle this knowledge gap and address concerns that councillors were being asked to make uninformed judgements on future service provision.

At a media briefing in October, Jamie Adams told journalists: “We are at a tipping point in local government finances.” Speaking subsequently about the council’s public consultation on the budget, Jamie Adams told Jon Coles, this newspaper’s deputy editor: “Matters which councillors think are important to the public are not always those that people find important. By and large what has come across clearly are concerns about senior officers’ pay and councillors’ remuneration. There is a commitment to look at the whole cost of senior management. In terms of where we go, the opportunities to trim around the edges is no longer there, we are going to have to look more dispassionately at the services we provide and what communities can provide.”

With a six-month review of the council’s financial performance due to be discussed in the near future, we asked Pembrokeshire Alliance leader Bob Kilmister, whose party is engaged in drawing up an alternative budget, for his view on the challenges councillors face in trying to make sense of complex financial information. He told us: “My experience is that Local Government finance is made extremely complicated and much more difficult to understand than it needs to be. I like to think that I can follow balance sheets especially those of stock market listed companies but trying to work out the complexities of my local Council often leaves me totally bemused. “Councillors have been given very little training in this area and most take very little interest at all.

In my experience very few questions if any are asked when scrutiny is supposed to take place in cabinet or on committees. I have the greatest respect for the Officers and the Authority always appears to be on track financially despite Councillors taking such little interest. Government lays down the way this is carried out and I think it is time they took a long hard look at this and urgently brought in reforms to simplify matters. I am sure this would result in savings but more importantly it could lead to greater scrutiny by elected representatives.”

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

News

Brand new features unveiled at Scolton Manor Park

Published

on

ONE of Pembrokeshire’s best-loved family destinations has announced it will be unveiling several new attractions in June, ready for the summer holidays.  

Among the new features at Scolton Manor are an eco-explorer village, a 1.2km woodland cycle track, an outdoor pirate ship play area and a dedicated railway attraction complete with steam train locomotive ‘Margaret’ and ‘Scolton Express’ play train.

Mark Thomas, manager of Scolton Manor Park, said the team were looking forward to showing visitors the new attractions.

“We’re delighted with our new facilities and believe they will perfectly complement the attractions we have here already at Scolton,” he said.

The woodland eco-explorer village aims to give children more opportunities for outside play and spark their enthusiasm to discover more about the natural world.  

Cllr Paul Miller, Cabinet Member for Economy, Tourism, Culture and Leisure, said the village is perfect for all young explorers from toddlers right through to older children.

“Children love playing outside and we want to inspire them through their play to not only find out more about biodiversity and the environment but also how to care for it,” he said.

“As well as eco-explorer areas, games and activities there will be fun tips on how they can reuse, reduce and recycle more and protect the environment.”

The eco-explorer village is funded by a £50,000 grant from the Landfill Disposals Tax Community Scheme and £25,000 grant from Community Facilities Programme (Welsh Government), in partnership with the Pembrokeshire Beekeepers’ Association.

Mark Thomas said the current attractions at Scolton have also proved very popular since the outdoor areas at the park re-opened to the public earlier this spring.

As well as an adventure play area for older children which includes a 30-metre zip wire, a spinning climbing web and ‘super swings’,  younger visitors can enjoy the wooden playground, sensory musical play area and woodland play features.

“The many and varied attractions at Scolton enhance its role as a community facility while providing a wide range of countryside experiences at a lower cost,” said Mark.

“The new features in particular will also help to continue the development of the site into a must-visit tourist attraction within mid and North Pembrokeshire.”

Continue Reading

News

Public engagement exercise over new hospital between St Clears and Narberth

Published

on

HYWEL DDA is asking the people of Pembrokeshire to help it further shape and deliver future services by taking part in a six-week engagement exercise.

Since the publication of its strategy, A Healthier Mid and West Wales: Our Future Generations Living Well in 2018, the health board has worked with partners to provide care and develop services. However, the coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on health and care services. As a result, the health board now wants to learn from the public about how the pandemic has affected their health and care, and access to it.

This week, Hywel Dda UHB has been distributing a discussion document for the public to consider, along with a questionnaire for completion.

Hywel Dda UHB is also asking for the public’s feedback in relation to its long-term strategy to develop and build a new hospital in the south of the Hywel Dda area, somewhere between and including St Clears, in Carmarthenshire, and Narberth, in Pembrokeshire.

This location is the most central for most of the population in the south of the Hywel Dda area, and it was determined through the public consultation held in 2018.

The public is also being asked to nominate sites for a new hospital based four criteria:

The nominated site must be within the zone between and including St Clears in Carmarthenshire and Narberth in Pembrokeshire. This location is the most central to most of the population in the south of the Hywel Dda area.

The nominated site should be a minimum of 35 acres of reasonably developable land.

The nominated site should have realistic prospects of obtaining planning permission for a new hospital.

There should be appropriate transport infrastructure for a major hospital site.

Steve Moore, Chief Executive of Hywel Dda UHB, said: “The global pandemic has had a major impact on all areas of our lives so it’s crucial that the health board considers, reflects and learns from this extraordinary period. This engagement exercise will allow the public to tell us in their own words how COVID-19 has affected their health and care, and access to it.

“I would encourage as many people as possible to participate because the feedback we receive will play a major role in helping shape future services. This in turn will allow us to deliver on our long-term commitment for a healthier mid and west Wales.

“I would also stress that this engagement exercise is part of an ongoing process. Over the coming months and years, we plan to engage with the public, stakeholders and partners on a wide variety of issues, such as service models. Everyone will have their chance to give their views and opinions because we are committed to continuous engagement with the public to ensure we provide the best possible care.”

The engagement exercise will run until Monday June 21.

Continue Reading

News

Paul Sartori taking action to support climate with National Lottery grant of nearly £14,000

Published

on

LOCAL hospice at home charity, Paul Sartori Hospice at Home, is taking action to support the climate with the installation of solar panels at its main head office in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire.

The charity which delivers end of life care services across Pembrokeshire, has been awarded a grant to fund the purchase and installation of solar panels at Paul Sartori House, Winch Lane. This investment is part of an ongoing commitment to address the climate emergency and the charity joins many others who are taking action. Paul Sartori was one of 35 community groups, who were selected to take part in the Climate Action Boost scheme, funded by The National Lottery Community Fund.

Working alongside Renew Wales, a partner in the initiative, the group explored methods to help tackle the causes and consequences of climate change, and to operate more sustainably. A number of options were discussed to reduce their impact on the environment and Renew Wales helped the charity to develop an environmental action plan, which is to be implemented over the coming months. The scheme available to cover a variety of environmental reduction activities, including renewable energy, reducing consumption, local food and reduced or less impactful travel.

Paul Sartori Hospice at Home wouldn’t normally be associated with environmental activity. Through regular consultation over many months, the charity has been really encouraged by what they have learnt.

“We have invested a lot of time in developing the plan; discussed a number of alternatives along the way, but feel that the solar panel installation will have the biggest impact for the charity in the long term”, said Sandra Dade, Charity Manager. “The National Lottery Climate Action Boost has really inspired our charity to minimise our impacton the environment and we will continue this journey,” added Sandra.

Jemma Nurse, Funding Manager at The National Lottery Community Fund said, “The climate emergency is everyone’s business, which is why The National Lottery Community Fund is acting to support and inspire communities to minimise their own impact on the environment. We are proud to be a significant funder of environmental projects and Paul Sartori Hospice at Home, along with the other groups participating in Climate Action Boost, will play a valuable part in building our knowledge so we can share our learning with other funders across Wales and the UK.”

The services provided by the Paul Sartori Hospice at Home enable people in the later stages of any life-limiting illness to be cared for and to die at home with dignity, independence, pain free and surrounded by those they hold most dear, if that is their wish.

All of the services are free of charge, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, thanks to the generosity of the Pembrokeshire Community. Further information on the charity and its services can be obtained by visiting their website www.paulsartori.org, or by phoning 01437 763223.

Continue Reading
News1 day ago

Public engagement exercise over new hospital between St Clears and Narberth

HYWEL DDA is asking the people of Pembrokeshire to help it further shape and deliver future services by taking part...

News1 day ago

Police looking for a couple with a dog after teenage girl bitten in Haverfordwest

POLICE hunting for the owners of a ‘pitbull’ type dog which bit a teenage girl in Haverfordwest last month. Dyfed-Powys...

Business2 days ago

An experimental nuclear fusion reactor could be built in Pembrokeshire

PEMBROKESHIRE could be the location of an experimental nuclear fusion reactor, which could produce abundent clean energy, if the council...

News2 days ago

Graffiti damages area of scientific and historical interest in Pembrokeshire

GRAFFITI painted on stones of historical and environmental importance at Pembrokeshire Coast National Park has caused environmental damage that could...

News3 days ago

Plaid’s Dafydd Llywelyn re-elected as Police and Crime Commissioner

THE NEW Police and Crime Commissioner for the Dyfed Powys Area has been announced. Incumbent, Dafydd Llywelyn, of Plaid Cymru...

News4 days ago

Mark Drakeford says: ‘Thank you Wales for going red’

LABOUR is staying in power in Wales after matching its best-ever Senedd election result. It won exactly half of the...

News5 days ago

Conservatives hold on to Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire seat

THE CONSERVATIVES have held on to their Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire seat despite Labour closing the gap. Sam Kurtz...

News5 days ago

Paul Davies re-elected as Conservatives hold Preseli Pembrokeshire

PAUL DAVIES has been re-elected to represent the Preseli Pembrokeshire constituency. He won with 12,295 votes, while there were 10,895...

News5 days ago

Dyfed-Powys Police criticised for failing to record thousands of crimes

A SHOCKING new report says that Dyfed-Powys Police failed to record thousands of crimes, despite being told to improve two-and-a-half...

News7 days ago

Milford Haven: Mount estate death not being treated as suspicious say police

POLICE have confirmed that following a welfare visit to a property in Mount Estate, they discovered a male occupant, in...

Popular This Week