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The Welsh Government: ‘Inconsistent’ on councils



leightonLEIGHTON ANDREWS’ apparently haphazard approach to ramming through radical change to local government in Wales has come under heavy criticism from opposition AM’s.

Preseli Pembrokeshire AM Paul Davies told The Herald: “Leighton Andrews’ Local Government white paper is certainly looking to make some bold and interesting changes. There’s certainly a need for fresh blood and greater diversity in local government, but a ban on some candidates standing again may not be the fairest or most effective way to introduce younger candidates. Indeed, it’s a bit rich that the Welsh Government with some of the world’s longest serving ministers is proposing a limit on cabinet tenure of 10 years.”

Mr Davies continued: “However, there are some reforms which are also welcome. Pay levels for the most senior officers in Welsh councils have been raging out of control for some time now, at taxpayers’ expense and without any intervention from the Welsh Government to exercise restraint.”

He concluded: “A change in Labour’s local government culture is well-overdue and I, along with my colleagues at the Assembly will be monitoring the proposals in this white paper very carefully.”

Plaid Cymru Local Government spokesperson Rhodri Glyn Thomas observed: “Attempts to address the issue of senior officer pay in Local Government are long overdue and Plaid Cymru welcomes the Labour Government’s decision to heed Plaid demands for action. The wider issue of reorganisation of Local Government should be focused on improving the delivery of services and enhancing democratic accountability. I look forward to considering these proposals in more detail.

Sounding a note of caution, he concluded: “There is a danger that we see the Minister for Public Services jumping from one thing to another. First we had the Williams Commission, then he called on Local Authorities to propose voluntary mergers, they were turned down, now we are given a new introduction to look at management performance. This Labour Government needs to offer a clear vision of the future of Local Government and the delivery of public service delivery in Wales.”

Angela Burns said: “The Local Government White Paper raises some interesting proposals which will need rigorous scrutiny. However my concern is that it is yet another raft of potential changes on top of the Williams Review of boundaries and the many other initiatives currently set in train by Labour. I am not sure that the White Paper have time to be turned into a draft Bill then final Bill before the next Assembly election so it will be another costly exercise resulting in nothing.”

She suggested, however, that Labour and other parties were Johnny-come-latelies on pay restraint: “I thought it was ironic that one of the ambitions in the White Paper is to give Welsh Government tighter controls on the remuneration of Chief Executives and other Chief Officers. Given the scandals that have rocked Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire that is to be welcomed. However the Welsh Government, Labour backbenchers, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats all voted down a Welsh Conservative amendment to the 2013 Local Democracy (Wales) Bill which could have protected the Taxpayer from such behaviour.”

She concluded: “I find their current protestations and their actions inconsistent!”

Among the more startling proposals is the prospect of the Welsh Government time-limiting the time that Chief Executives for Welsh Councils can stay in post. A senior Pembrokeshire councillor has suggested that the idea is a non-starter and that far from broadening the diversity of the pool from which senior management can be drawn it would significantly constrict it, not least as such a policy inherently assumes that it is only older managers within local government would look to occupy such a post on such terms.

Former Pembrokeshire Chief Executive Bryn Parry-Jones, who is perhaps not the best example to rely upon, was in his mid-30’s when appointed to the post of Chief Executive of the then Llanelli Borough Council in 1991.

WLGA spokesperson Bob Wellington responded: “The WLGA recognises and supports the need to tackle the widespread challenges around diversity and disengagement in democracy generally in Welsh society. The principle of extending more power and a greater say to local people will be central to democratic renewal in Wales.”

Mr Wellington continued: “We need consistency across public services in Wales and equal treatment within the democratic sphere. The WLGA wants to see the difficult role of councillors properly valued.”

He concluded: “Any future changes to the role of local government must acknowledge the hugely challenging financial climate it operates within. Councils will also push to ensure local communities are offered a full say when it comes to developing a shared vision for the future of local public services in Wales.”

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‘We don’t want it’: councillors object to HGV tanker park plans



PEMBROKE DOCK town councillors have objected strongly to plans to build a HGV tanker park in the town.

The tanker park would be located on the south-western side of Criterion Way, behind the ASDA petrol station.

However, at a meeting of the town council’s Planning Committee on Tuesday, April 13, councillors were in agreement that it would create more problems for the town.

Councillor Jonathan George said: “I’ve noted the public input on this and they don’t seem very happy about where it’s going to be put.

“It is close to a small park area and I don’t think it’s suitable to put this here. I won’t be supporting this.”

Cllr George Manning added: “There are many aspects of this which are totally inappropriate for Pembroke Dock. There are many other sites available but they haven’t looked at any of them.

“This does not do anything for the Future Generations act and it will bring more disruption to the town.

“This does not bring about any improvements to the existing transport infrastructure. There are lots of things about this, we don’t want it. I don’t think they have looked into it in enough detail.”

Cllr Gordon Goff said that the impact it would have on the public and wildlife would be ‘astronomical’.

He went on to say he was not happy with one of the statements in the application and said they ‘don’t want to be blackmailed’.

One of the documents submitted with the application states that if the development was not approved it would mean that the applicants, Certas, ‘will either have to find a different site’ or ‘will have to cease operating in the area’.

Cllr Terry Judkins said that the Port Authority wanted to ‘use Pembroke Dock as a dumping ground’ and added that he could not support it.

Cllr Maureen Colgan added that she was ‘totally against’ the application and said that the area should be kept for leisure and be developed as an area where people can sit and enjoy themselves.

The application is due to be decided by Pembrokeshire County Council at a later date.

Cllr Paul Dowson has already called in the application for it to be debated by the County Council’s Planning Committee.

In his request he states that it is too near habitation, it is within the Pembroke Dock conservation area and that children have been using the area near the bandstand as play area for over 20 years.

The area had also previously been the subject of an application for a marina and other leisure facilities but that investment was written off in 2017.

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Trial of Haverfordwest primary school teacher starts at Swansea Crown Court



A HAVERFORDWEST primary school teacher who is accused of sexually abusing eleven children thinks he is a victim of a witch hunt by the police, a jury has heard.

But at Swansea Crown Court on Monday (Apr 12), the Clare Wilks for the prosecution said that the defendant had “abused the trust of parents and staff” by sexually touching children in his care.

James Oulton, denies 30 charges of sexual assault against the eleven children who were aged eight or nine years old at the time.

The alleged offences took place between 2012 and 2018.

The jury heard how the pupils, now aged between 11 and 17, claimed he touched them sexually.

But the court was also told that Mr Oulton claimed he received cards at the end of term, and he believed letters sent by Pembrokeshire council to parents encouraged false complaints and collusion between pupils.

Oulton, 34, of Richmond Crescent, Haverfordwest, told the court he had behaved appropriately.

The jury heard how the alleged abuse occurred while Mr Oulton was working at a primary school in Haverfordwest.

Clare Wilks, prosecuting, said some of the children alleged that they had been assaulted on a daily basis, while others had had given statements to say it only happened the one time.

The trial continues.

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Kill the Bill protest to take place in Haverfordwest on Saturday



INDIVIDUALS and activists from local groups, including Extinction Rebellion Pembrokeshire, Stand Up to Racism West Wales, Pembrokeshire People’s Assembly and Reclaim These Streets Pembrokeshire are campaigning against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and are to hold a demonstration against the Bill at 1pm this Saturday April 17, in Haverfordwest.
One of the organisers told  The Herald: “This is an enormous piece of draconian legislation that includes significant expansion in police powers to curtail the right to protest. The right to peacefully assemble and protest are a fundamental part of any democracy; empowering people to have their voices heard, in addition to holding the Government to account. These rights are universal –they protect peaceful and legitimate protest whatever the cause.
“The events at the Clapham vigil and at demonstrations over the last few weeks are a dangerous indication of what the future of protest will look like if the police powers bill gets through parliament.”
A local campaigner, a mother and grandmother said “We are in the process of losing a fundamental part of our democracy, It is important we protect it for future generations. We have messed up so much of their future already-we need to hold the Government to account”.
Aspects of the Bill include:
  • The power for Police forces to shut down protests that they deem too disruptive at their own discretion.
  • Up to a 10-year sentence for demonstrators considered to be causing a “public nuisance”.
  • The power for police forces to impose start and end times on static protests of any size.
  • The power to expand stop and search powers, which already discriminate against marginalised communities. If you live in the Dyfed Powys police area, you are 5 times more likely to be stopped and searched if you are black than white.
  • Up to 10-year sentences for damage to public monuments’ Police powers will be expanded and custodial sentences increased to “protect” women.
  • These measures are not sufficient to prevent violence and are troubling, considering some police officers’ involvement in cases of violence against women. Significant restrictions on where protests around Parliament may take place.
  • The elevation of trespass from a civil offence to a criminal offence, meaning police and courts can give harsh sentences to Travellers.
  • Increased power of police to seize vehicles and homes from Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities and demanding proof of permission to travel.
  • The bill will criminalise a way of life for these communities.
A peaceful, Covid-compliant march and rally will be taking place in Haverfordwest on Saturday April 17 , assembling at Picton Fields at 1pm.
People will be asked to wear masks and keep to social distancing regulations.  It is one of a number of protests being organised nationally on the same day against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill.

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