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County council hid £10m overspend



councilIN 2013/14 the council’s approved cost reduction target of £1.6m was said to have been achieved. This was accepted by Cabinet without query. However, a retired auditor, John Hudson, has revealed that there was actually a £10m overspend during that financial year. Our correspondent questions who is accountable for the way the Authority spends our money, and who is actually running the Council. MANY years ago, in 1995, I became aware of a significant spend on refurbishing the Garden Room at the Haverfordwest Community Learning Centre, with furniture and carpet way above the standards expected for a class room.

I naively thought that details of this project would have been reported to a committee of Councillors for approval. After considerable toing and froing, the then Education Officer, Gerson Davies, informed me that this £40,000+ project was an initiative of the newly installed Chief Executive of the new PCC. No report or Councillor approval was sought, or deemed necessary in order to spend our money. This room was apparently required as a temporary meeting room for the Council, before building of the new £10m County Hall.

Having been involved in budgeting and monitoring in a previous precomputer life, I became interested in the Council’s budget and financial monitoring processes and concerned at the lack of information and explanation provided to Councillors (and us) by officers in Budget and Monitoring Reports. Nevertheless, a lack of information has never affected the readiness with which the Cabinet have supported the officer’s proposed Budget recommendations to Councillors, or accepted monitoring reports without comment or question.

Some broad guidelines are appropriate:- The Council is responsible for approving the annual budget, income and expenditure, and for setting the Council tax, based on a report and recommendations made by the Cabinet.

• Directors of Services are responsible for ensuring the annual cash limited service budgets as set by Council are adhered to.

• The Cabinet is charged by the Council to undertake the monitoring of financial performance through the financial year on a quarterly basis against the approved annual budget by way of reports from the Chief Financial Officer. Reports are submitted to relevant to Overview and Scrutiny Committees for Scrutiny, with the opportunity to report back to Cabinet. (This has never happened).

• The Council’s budget position is long stopped by a Statutory duty placed on the Chief Financial officer by Section 151 of the LG ACT 1972 as amended, whereby he/she is responsible for ensuring that the Councils Budget is balanced, i.e annual expenditure is matched by annual income and is required to recommend remedial action if necessary. Officers and the Cabinet prefer to focus attention on the Council’s Net cost of Services.

Perhaps it is considered that the finer details of budget control are beyond the capabilities of comprehension of mere councillors and us, or perhaps it is an easier life for officers if the mystique and secrecy can be preserved with support by a supine Cabinet which requires no explanation of priorities or detailed changes to the levels of service provision bought by officers during the year as determined by events. As the following headline figures illustrate, the Council’s Revenue Net Cost of Council Services is an element of the whole financial picture.

Using the Actual expenditure and Income figures from the 2013/14 accounts and for comparison, this year’s Approved budget, an interesting picture emerges. The figures on the left show that the overall statutory required “ balanced” budget requirement for 2013/14, was more than met with an excess of Council Tax income that, in accordance with approved priority policy was allocated to the 21st Century Schools programme Reserve. Actual Net expenditure on providing services, £211,894,000, narrowly equalled the Budget amount of £211,845,000.

However, closer examination reveals that the Gross cost incurred in providing Council Services to us in 2013/14 was actually some £9.8m MORE than the original Council Approved 2013/14 budget. This increase in gross expenditure was mostly met by additional income of £9.5m. All this behind the Preferred Net reporting curtains, with councillors kept in the dark about how officers had “controlled” departmental expenditure within the Council approved budget. Here it must be said that the 2013/14 out-turn Monitoring report was only submitted to Cabinet, who “received” the report without comment and may not even have been made aware of the £10m overspend on providing services matched by income.

Contrary to the Council’s Standing Orders, the out-turn monitoring reports were never submitted to relevant scrutiny committees for investigation, comment or even information. What about the Council’s Annual Accounts? This weighty (and incomprehensible) document is only submitted to the Corporate Governance committee, in draft, pending formal Audit. The Audited accounts are submitted to this Committee and the Audit Committee. The majority of councillors, assuming they are remotely interested in what officers do with our money have no formal opportunity to consider the annual financial performance in committee or Council.


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Crime Commissioner continues to secure funding for organisations that support victims of domestic and sexual violence



THE POLICE and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed-Powys Police is again making the offer for organisations that support victims of domestic and sexual abuse to bid for additional funds.

Funding was made available last year, in light of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on organisations supporting victims of domestic and sexual violence.

It was part of a £76 million package of support made available by the UK Government.

Police and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn said: “Thanks to this additional funding, we can ensure that victims and survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence in Dyfed-Powys can access specialist services for support, at a time when they are needed the most.

“Unfortunately, we have seen a rise in domestic violence during the pandemic and victims need help now more than ever and I am grateful for the work of all the service providers across the Force area that help these men, women and families who are most in need.

“I want to reassure anyone who is in an abusive situation or relationship that you do not need to suffer in silence, and I urge anyone to report abuse to the Police on 101 or 999 in an emergency.

“This funding is open both to providers whom I currently commission and those that I do not currently fund. However, unlike the extraordinary Covid-19 funding provided in 2020/21, organisations do not need to be a registered charity, a charitable incorporated organisation, or a social enterprise to be eligible for this funding. They must, however, provide support services which have the purpose of helping victims of sexual violence or domestic abuse cope with the impacts of crime and, as far as possible, recover from the harm they have experienced. We would also encourage applications from small specialist organisations that support groups with protected characteristics.

“If you wish to submit a request for this funding, further guidance is available on my website, and can be requested via the office e-mail address.”

Closing date for submissions is close of play on Friday, March 12, 2021.

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Covid alert level lowered for whole of UK



THE COVID alert level for all four nations of the United Kingdom has been lowered to alert level 4.

The decision comes following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and in light of the most recent data.

In recent weeks, the R-rate and the number of covid cases has been on the decline.

Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Frank Atherton said: “Following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and in the light of the most recent data, the four UK Chief Medical Officers and NHS England National Medical Director agree that the UK alert level should move from level 5 to level 4 in all four nations.

“The health services across the four nations remain under significant pressure with a high number of patients in hospital, however thanks to the efforts of public we are now seeing numbers consistently declining, and the threat of the NHS and other health services being overwhelmed within 21 days has receded.

“We should be under no illusions – transmission rates, hospital pressures and deaths are still very high. In time, the vaccines will have a major impact and we encourage everyone to get vaccinated when they receive the offer. However for the time being it is really important that we all – vaccinated or not – remain vigilant and continue to follow the guidelines.

“We know how difficult the situation has been and remains to be for healthcare workers, we thank them for their immense effort, skill and professionalism throughout the pandemic.”

Under the Welsh Government’s Alert level 4 restrictions, schools and colleges, places of worship, community centres, playgrounds and public parks are among those that can be opened.

Theatres, entertainment venues, leisure facilities and outdoor visitors attractions are among the places that must remain close while the country is in Alert Level 4.

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Postmaster and politicians welcome Goodwick cash machine U-turn



GOODWICK post office will now be keeping its ATM, after a U-turn by Post Office Ltd.

The machine was due to be removed within months with the post master, Jon Moverley saying that it would be a disaster for the village.

If the ATM had been removed, there would have been just two 24-hour ATMs serving the whole of Fishguard and Goodwick in the short term and three when the Co-op renovations are completed.

Both politicians and local residents then got behind the campaign to keep the ATM

Pembrokeshire politicians Paul Davies and Stephen Crabb have welcomed the news that Goodwick post office is now set to keep its ATM facility. Following representations made by both politicians to the Post Office, it’s now been confirmed that Goodwick Post Office will be included in the rollout of ATM machines across the post office network.

Mr Davies said “This is really welcome news. I’m pleased that the Post Office has listened to the representations made by the local community and decided to retain the ATM at Goodwick post office. The facility is so important for local people and businesses and it’s great that that’s been recognised and the Post Office has committed to keeping it.”

Following the Post Office’s decision to invest in Goodwick’s ATM rather than remove it, Stephen Crabb MP, who campaigned for the ATM to stay, commented: “It’s great news that the Post Office has overturned its own decision and will be keeping an ATM machine in Goodwick.

“Access to cash continues to be incredibly important for a number of people and businesses and I’m pleased to have played my part in working with John from the Post Office in Goodwick, Paul Davies MS and the wider community to highlight the ATMs importance to the area. It shows what can be achieved when we work together.”

The postmaster described the news as ‘brilliant’. Mr Moverley thanked supporters.

He said “Many thanks to all of you who have used the machine and complained to POL about the removal. We were also supported by our MP, MS and mayor, the National Federation of Sub-postmasters and our Chamber of Trade.

“Everyone did their bit, and it says an enormous amount about the strength of the community.

“We are delighted that locals and so many other people have come together to save this essential facility in the village.”

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