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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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Permit applications open for Tenby pedestrianisation scheme

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL is now accepting applications for vehicle access during this year’s Pedestrianisation of Tenby.

The scheme, which is due to start on Monday, July 5 and conclude on Friday, September 10, will again see the walled town divided into three ‘zones’, each having varying degrees of vehicle access.

Whilst all necessary plans are being put in place for it to start and finish on the above dates, the scheme will remain under constant review in light of Government guidance relating to Covid-19, and the Council will provide any updates as necessary.

Possession of an ‘access permit’ does not provide any exemption from Government restrictions, and any regulations relating to travel and the occupation of holiday accommodation or second homes must be observed at all times.

Following the success of last year, the permit application process will continue online, with paper application forms and guidance notes no longer being delivered to residents and businesses.

The application form and guidance notes are available from pembrokeshire.gov.uk/tenby-pedestrianisation

Residents and business within Tenby are encouraged to complete the application process as soon as possible, to ensure that there is sufficient time for the application to be processed.

Permits will be issued approximately 7-10 days prior to the start of the scheme.

For enquiries, e-mail tenby.pedestrian@pembrokeshire.gov.uk

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Join the Dyfed-Powys Police and Crime Panel as an independent member

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THE Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Panel is looking for two members to join them in their work to support and challenge the Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Commissioner.

The Panel is made of up of members nominated by Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Powys county councils along with at least two independent members.

Opportunities have now arisen for two independent members to join the Panel and carry out key statutory roles that will support the Commissioner exercise his role effectively.

Members will be expected to attend and take part in regular meetings and take part in decision making, creating reports and making recommendations to the Commissioner.

They will review the Commissioner’s annual draft Police and Crime Plan and annual draft budget, review and scrutinise his decisions and actions, and if necessary review the proposed appointment or removal of the Chief Constable and other senior police force appointments.

Applicants will need to demonstrate that they can take a balanced and objective approach in supporting the Panel and the Commissioner, make strategic and well-informed decisions, and interpret and question financial, statistical and performance related information.

They will also need to be able to act as a ‘critical friend’, challenging views or proposals for change constructively.

Applications close on May 31, and appointments to the Panel will be made until October 31, 2024. 

For further information, visit www.dppoliceandcrimepanel.wales

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Successful Fire Service and Health Board partnership to enhance COVID-19 vaccine roll out comes to end

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TUESDAY 11 May 2021 marked the end of a hugely successful partnership between Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service and Hywel Dda University Health Board, initiated to enhance the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine to the communities of Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire.

Since February, Community Safety Staff from Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service have transported 125 passengers over 9450 miles to ensure they were able to receive their COVID-19 vaccination.

Chris Davies, Chief Fire Officer for Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service said: “Recognising the configuration of our Service, the areas we cover and indeed the people we employee, this seemed an ideal opportunity for us to widen our response to the pandemic and support our partners in safeguarding our communities.

“Whilst we already collaborate with the Welsh Ambulance Service Trust, this opportunity enabled us to expand our assistance further within the health arena. This partnership with Hywel Dda University Health Board was the first of its kind for Fire and Rescue Services in Wales and paved the way for a number of similar partnerships for us and the other Fire and Rescue Services in Wales.

“I am extremely proud of our staff who have participated in this collaboration and have made a huge difference to the lives of so many people. Their contribution has without doubt had a positive impact on our response to this global pandemic”.

Mydrian Harries, Corporate Head of Prevention and Protection for Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, coordinated the Service’s response to this call for assistance.

“Our communities are at the heart of our core business. Knowing we were in a position to make an impact, we put in place a robust solution in record time, to not only ensure the safety and wellbeing of our staff, but to also safeguard those who were eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination, but may have had barriers preventing them from attending their appointments.

“Using this partnership as template within which we could expand, we have since been able to offer our assistance to other Health Boards across the Service area. Indeed, a group of 10 vaccine heroes from our Service have joined Powys Teaching Health Board’s vaccination team, playing their part in distributing vaccines at mass vaccination sites in Newtown and Builth Wells. This is another fantastic example of how working together has been vital in our ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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