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Council’s cabinet meets

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Council Tax to rise by 4.5%

Rattling through the agenda: Jamie Adams moved matters quickly on

Rattling through the
agenda: Jamie Adams
moved matters quickly on

THE IPPG CABINET nodded through a financial report on Monday, January 5, which contained details of a 4.5% rise in Council

Tax. The proposed rise for 2015/16 would raise Council Tax for a Band D property to £801.44 per year. A meeting of the Cabinet at County Hall on a Monday morning is, perhaps, not the best way to revitalise yourself after a fairly long Christmas break. A heavy agenda loomed, including receiving a report from the Welsh Social Services Inspectorate (CSSIW) on the Council, an interim financial statement setting out the challenges caused by an ever more constrained budget, car parking changes, a new housing finance settlement, and a new location for the County Library. As agendas go, it was weighty: detailed enquiry – particularly on departmental budgets and cuts to them – could have been expected.

Positive steps in Social Care

No comment on cuts to its budget: Simon Hancock

No comment on cuts
to its budget: Simon
Hancock

First up was a presentation of the type you might reasonably expect any person to like. Significant progress had been made by the

Council in meeting the requirements of CSSIW in relation to social care. Where concerns lingered, they were few, compared to the overwhelming number of positives to be drawn from the presentation by Lesley Stubbs, Area Manager for CSSIW, and the report accompanying it.

Cabinet members Sue Perkins and Simon Hancock, responsible for the portfolios covered by the report, expressed their pleasure with the report and praised staff for achieving a high standard. Ms Stubbs reported that CSSIW had been greatly assisted in the preparation of the report by the stability among the officer cadre and service heads who managed social care and children’s services.

She was hopeful that the current situation, in which key officers – including the former Head of Children’s Services, Jake Morgan – had left the authority would be addressed, so as to ensure progress achieved could be maintained.

Rents rise, but more money for housing

Concerned: Rob Summons was unhappy with planning proposals

Concerned: Rob Summons
was unhappy with planning
proposals

In the coming year, the Council will revolutionise the way it manages its social housing. To comply with Welsh Government legislation it will begin the process of raising council rents to harmonise with other authorities across Wales. The Council has been forced into this step by the Welsh Government, which has insisted on mandatory rent rises of inflation plus 1.5% for the next four years, plus a further £2.

The Council has cushioned the blow as best it can by reducing the £2 surcharge to £1.50 for the year 2015/16. The change means that Council tenants paying a weekly rent of £70 will be £4 a week worse off from April 6. Tenants in sheltered properties will be required to contribute to sheltered warden costs. Other service charges linked to communal areas in Councilowned properties will follow in April 2016.

While the authority exits the existing financial arrangements with the Welsh Government for social housing, it will have additional monies made available to it as a result. The additional money will be used by the authority to improve its existing housing stock and develop new social housing schemes in the County. The Council’s aim is to deliver initially ten additional properties for social housing a year in each of the next five years, initially by acquiring properties in strategic locations around the County.

No questions about budget cuts

Agenda Item 5 was the medium term financial plan for the next two years. Describing the financial settlements for the current and preceding year as “the two most difficult financial settlements since the Council’s inception in 1996”, the report made grim reading.

Over £2m to be cut off the education budget, just under that amount off adult social care, almost £1m off social care for children, and hefty cuts from already slashed budgets for highways, culture and leisure, and environmental services. A total of over £12m in cuts coming up in 2015/16 and no end in sight for the foreseeable future.

The details behind the headline figures were equally startling: residential care is to be reviewed with a projected saving of £1/4m and a review of commissioned services for adults with a projected saving of over three times that amount. The figures are challenging, to say the least and it is clear that having trimmed low-hanging fruit from the budgetary vine, more serious root and branch surgery is on the way.

The Cabinet, however, possibly stricken by the bleakness of the financial picture, raised not one question on the figures. Nobody offered even a murmur before the topic was closed and the next agenda item addressed.

Concern over planning reforms

The Council gave a frosty response to the Welsh Government’s consultation on a proposed new planning regime. Expressing concerns that the policy did nothing to address the importance of protecting the Welsh language in areas that might be affected by future housing development, Pembrokeshire County Council echoed views expressed both by Carmarthenshire County Council and Cymdeithas yr Iaith Cymraeg.

The Cabinet collectively endorsed the view that so-called ‘front-loading’ of the planning process would produce problems, especially when combined with what was described as ‘an overly-prescriptive’ initial approach to the planning process. The response reflecting those concerns, and prepared by officers was unanimously endorsed.

Cabinet debates Riverside library

Back in three months: Keith Lewis wants fast library decision

Back in three months: Keith Lewis wants fast library decision

By far the longest discussion of the day was devoted to the relocation of the County Library from its current temporary accommodation to new premises. As revealed in last week’s Pembrokeshire Herald, the current Riverside market site has emerged as a strong favourite for the development. While some concerns were expressed about the current stall holders in the market, those were swept aside as a wave of enthusiasm for the site swept around the Cabinet.

The possibility of regenerating Bridge Street by relocating business sited in the market was nodded about with every sign of approval. The fact that those businesses, each of them with leases and some with the benefi t of goodwill and locationrecognition built up over many years, had not been consulted about the grand scheme was rather brushed under the carpet. This was a chance not only to do something but to be seen to do it. The disclosure in the discussion documents that the vacant offi ces at Cherry Grove, acquired only recently by the authority, needed structural work to the floors was all forgotten about.

The thought that they had brought this on themselves by moving the library with NO clear or properly-costed plans for an alternative location, similarly did not engage their notice. ‘Back in three months with a fi rm proposal’, was the call from Councillor Keith Lewis. Having nodded through everything else, his fellow Cabinet members nodded along with that.

Best of the rest

Having managed the rare feat of keeping the platitudes going for almost an hour and a half, the last few items on the agenda were clattered through at a fearful rate. The opportunity given to the Development Directorate to mismanage yet more public money was dealt with on the nod; library opening hours littledetained the Cabinet, save for Neyland councillor Simon Hancock mentioning Neyland library and Pembroke Dock member Sue Perkins doing likewise for Pembroke Dock’s.

A swift trot through car-parking charges, including a brusque disposal of Pembroke Town Council’s objections to charging for coaches on the Commons Road, and the fi nal item on the agenda arrived. Perhaps chastened by the realisation that there had been decidedly little actual debate, there was a marginally more detailed discussion about the Council’s plan to charge a £10 fee for Blue Badge applications.

The fact that Pembrokeshire Council was one of the last hold-outs to charging has done the Council great credit; the fact that they have been compelled to move to charging by legislative changes further up the political food chain is a matter for regret. In a concession, the Cabinet agreed that it would look at ensuring that those on the lowest incomes would not be adversely affected by the charge.

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Judith Rhead murder investigation – Detectives given more time to question suspect

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POLICE have been given more time to question a 43-year-old man arrested on suspicion of murder.

The man has been in police custody since Saturday night, after being arrested over the death 68-year-old Judith Rhead.

She was found in a residential property in Market Street.

The police now have until Thursday afternoon (Feb 25) to question the suspect.

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All people eligible for vaccination will get theirs by end of July

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PEOPLE eligible for the coronavirus vaccine will get theirs by the end of July, the Health Minister has said.

Wales achieved its target of getting everyone in the first four priority groups vaccinated by the middle of February and is now working on offering the vaccine to those in groups 5 to 9.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has set out that people with severe or profound learning disabilities or with a mental illness will be among priority group 6.

Mr Gething said that they were would make sure that no one is left behind.

The latest figures from Public Health Wales show that 878,506 people had received their first dose of the vaccine.

59,279 people have received both doses of the vaccine.

Vaughan Gething, Minister for Health and Social Services, said: “We have achieved our first milestone of offering everyone in the first four priority groups vaccination by mid-February.

“We are now making progress in achieving our next milestone, which is to offer the vaccine to all individuals in priority groups 5 to 9.

“The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has set out that people with a severe/profound learning disability and individuals with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, or any mental illness that causes severe functional impairment, should be invited for vaccination as part of priority group 6.

“There are challenges with identifying individuals within these groups, particularly given the JCVI language is not generally in use in Wales, and we are working hard to make sure that no one is left behind. Today we have published guidance on identifying eligible individuals in these groups and on how to support them to take up their vaccine offers.

“The JCVI has also said that some of our invaluable unpaid carers should be included in priority group 6.

“Today we have also published guidance on identifying those unpaid carers eligible for vaccine prioritisation and the process around this. I am grateful to the national carers’ organisations for their support with this work.”

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Council want your help to keep Pembrokeshire active

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL is asking residents to give their views on local walking and cycling routes.

The Council aims to make journeys on foot and by bicycle easier, safer and more enjoyable for everyone.

In order to design a network that works for all, the Council would like to get the views of as many people as possible, particularly those who don’t currently walk or cycle. This will help ensure the routes built for walking and cycling work for the whole community.

The consultation focuses on the main towns and villages in Pembrokeshire which have been selected by Welsh Government as the designated localities in the County. These are:

  • Fishguard & Goodwick
  • Haverfordwest
  • Johnston
  • Milford Haven
  • Neyland
  • Pembroke Dock
  • Pembroke
  • Tenby
  • Saundersfoot
  • Narberth

Pembrokeshire Council is currently undertaking an Active Travel Network Map consultation (ATNM) which will run in 3 stages

Consultation 1: Residents can take part in the consultation exercise online, hosted by Commonplace at https://Pembrokeshire.commonplace.is/

The interactive map allows participants to flag issues, problems and successes on a plan of the active travel settlement and add comments. Such points could be for example, a pavement that is too narrow or a newly built cycle route that is regarded as a success.

The first stage of the consultation will close on 31 st March 2021.

Consultation 2: Following this, the second step of the consultation will see the Council share the initial findings and ask people what they think of the plans
proposed as a result of the feedback received.

Consultation 3: The third stage of the consultation will give members of the public a final say on the Active Travel Network Maps before they are sent to Welsh Government for approval. These maps will have been produced taking into account public feedback and ideas from consultations 1 and 2.

By upgrading facilities and creating new walking and cycling routes, the Council plans to make Active Travel the popular choice for local journeys, to increase the attractiveness of local communities as places to live and work, improve health and well-being, and help tackle air pollution.

Cllr Phil Baker, Pembrokeshire Council’s Cabinet Member for Infrastructure, said: “This consultation exercise will produce an Active Travel Network Map which will be a plan of routes the Council will use to inform where improvements to walking and cycling should be made in Pembrokeshire.

“It will help to make journeys on foot or by bicycle easier and safer for everyone, particularly those who don’t currently walk or cycle often and people who use mobility aids and will build on the increased level of walking and cycling that we have seen over the last 12 months during the pandemic.”

See more information on Active Travel at: https://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/fitness-and-well-being/active-travel

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