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Huge 12.5% council tax hike backed by cabinet

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL’S Cabinet has recommended that Council Tax should go up by 12.5% at its meeting on Monday (Feb 12).

At the meeting, councillors unanimously supported the rise which would see the council achieve a balanced budget.

A 12.5% rise would equate to an extra £2.11 per week or £110 per annum.

The Council has been holding a number of consultation exercises including two Facebook Live sessions to gauge the views of the public.

It was also pointed out that they had received over 1300 responses to its consultation, whereas it only received just over 100 to its previous exercise.

Cllr Bob Kilmister reminded members that the funding gap for 2018/19 was £16.4m and that of that they had identified cost reductions of £10m.

The 60 members of Council will meet on Thursday 8th March to make the final decision on whether to approve the Cabinet’s recommendation of 12.5%, or alternative increases of 5.1% or 8.1%.

The meeting of Council on 8th March will also consider the proposed 2018-19 budget, and the ongoing public consultation to consider the proposed 5%, 8% or 12.5% Council Tax increases. The consultation closes on February 16th.

The financial pressures on the Authority were detailed in a report to today’s Cabinet meeting by the Director of Finance, Jon Haswell.

His report read: “Due to Pembrokeshire having the lowest Band D Council Tax in Wales since 1996, it was £15m worse off in 2017-18 than it would have been if its Council Tax was at the average level for Wales.

“Pembrokeshire has the largest shortfall between its actual
spending and what Welsh Government predicts it needs to spend to deliver services, its Standard Spending Assessment (SSA).”

The report continued: “The Welsh average Band D Council Tax for 2017-18 was £1,162 – £279 more than Pembrokeshire at £883.”

Cabinet members heard that a 12.5% increase for Band D properties (equating to a rise of £110.39) would still mean that Pembrokeshire would have the lowest Council Tax in Wales – even if all the other Authorities had no rise in their Council Tax.

Cllr Kilmister said: “If we go with a council tax increase of 12.5% there would be a £5.7m contribution from council tax and that would give us a balanced budget.

“There is £1.3m that has come out of the cost reduction figures in terms of the schools budget.

“People will see that there is a change and that’s because there is a constantly moving scene in terms of the budget, it almost moves by the day and we’ve had decisions by Cabinet on the IT strategy, alterations to the council tax reduction scheme and we’ve made alterations to the schools budget which is why the original figure of £11.2m in cost reductions has now gone down to £10m.

“In terms of where we are, the budget has been debated at all the Overview and Scrutiny Committees and the majority view from those was that 12.5% or option 3 was the correct choice. There was one committee were two members voted for 8% and for some reason nobody else took part so it wasn’t a unanimous decision.

“We’ve also conducted four finance seminars to members across the year and I honestly believe there has been more scrutiny and more information has been provided to members than ever has been before.

“We’ve conducted two Facebook live sessions since the last Cabinet meeting which were extremely useful and the numbers viewing those has been quite exceptional and I think we learnt an awful lot from doing them and very valuable.

“We’ve still got a public consultation which is carrying on that doesn’t end until February 16, and that’s going to be much more meaningful than we’ve ever had in the past.

“As of Friday night (Feb 9), we’d had over 1320 responses to that consultation, the last consultation produced 135 so I’m looking forward to seeing what that consultation says.

“I’m determined that we should do the right thing and not dodge the issue. We have to make a step change on our council tax levels.”

Cllr Kilmister stated that they either needed to do something or services would be reduced to a level that most people would see as unacceptable.

He moved the recommendations and added that option 3 (12.5% rise) should be put to the next meeting of full council.

Cllr Phil Baker said it was ‘not going to be easy’ to sell the 12.5% rise but added that in his ward people would prefer to see the rise rather than cuts to services.

Cllr Neil Prior added there was a ‘grudging acknowledgement’ that this was what they needed to do while Cllr Paul Miller said he could not see ‘any other option’ for them to take.

The Cabinet unanimously supported the recommendation from Cllr Kilmister that a 12.5% council tax increase be suggested to full council.

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Police call for vigilance to report illegal raves

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DYFED-POWYS POLICE is asking farmers and local landowners to be on the alert over the next few months for warning signs of any illegal gatherings planned for their land over the summer.

Gatherings – such as illegal raves – can cause considerable anxiety to the community and if they are not dealt with swiftly, they are difficult to stop or otherwise control, due often to the sheer numbers of persons involved and the safety aspects surrounding breaking up such an event.

Superintendent Robyn Mason said: “There is little doubt that these type of events are very well planned, organised and that local knowledge is important in drawing down the main group to a particular ‘vulnerable’ field, or area of land which has been targeted previously as a suitable venue.

“Farmers, landowners and local communities are encouraged to report any suspicious activity immediately to the Police; this may be an unusual numbers of vehicles, especially camper vans, vans or trucks in the locality, illegal trespassers who may be doing ‘recce’ of sites in advance of the event.

“I can assure local communities that Police will take the appropriate action to deter illegal gatherings and deal robustly with any criminal offences discovered or disclosed.”

Members of the public are also urged to be vigilant of persons who approach landowners or enquiring for land, in the guise of hiring for apparently acceptable activities such as gymkhanas and scouts/guides events.

Please contact Police on 101 with reports on any suspicious activity.

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Discover Coast and Cleddau boat trips launched at Milford Waterfront

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A NEW way to appreciate the spectacular Pembrokeshire coast has been officially launched at Milford Waterfront.

Discover Coast and Cleddau offers two exciting boat trips; ‘Discover Coast’ takes passengers on a guided tour around Skomer Island to see the array of wildlife while ‘Discover Cleddau’ explores the more tranquil waters around Benton, Cosheston Woodlands and Lawrenny.

Both trips celebrate the rich history of the Waterway. Suited to all ages from five upwards, what makes these trips unique is that all passengers are seated comfortably inside a heated cabin.

Director of Property and Tourism at the Port of Milford Haven which owns and operates the vessel, Clare Stowell, said “There is so much to see within the Milford Haven Waterway and out towards the islands that we’re confident both trips will be really popular. The trips form part of our wider strategy to transform Milford Waterfront into a vibrant destination where visitors will enjoy a memorable leisure experience.”

As well as the regular boat trips, a number of special tours will be publicised throughout the summer such as photography expeditions.

Excursions can be booked by calling the Skipper Gareth Light on 01646 696370; tickets are £25.00 per person with the boat departing from Mackerel Quay at Milford Marina.

For the latest information on Discover Coast and Discover Cleddau please follow Milford Waterfront on social media.

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Man who gets ‘a sexual buzz’ from touching bottoms avoids prison

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A HAVERFORDWEST man who cannot stop grabbing women’s bottoms has today (Jun 22) received a suspended prison sentence.

John Robert Hancox told police he could not understand where the urge had come from at the age of 66.

Hancox, of Hanover Court, was arrested on May 15 for touching the bottoms of two women in the town. Police cautioned him and released him.

Helen Randall, prosecuting, told Swansea Crown Court that just eight days later Hancox said hello to a 23-year-old woman walking along Milford Road and then grabbed her bottom.

The following day he approached a 16-year-old girl who was clearly wearing a school uniform in the car park at Tesco, Haverfordwest and did the same to her.

Miss Randall said her friends spotted a police van and alerted the officers, who happened to be looking for Hancox for the offence the previous day.

Hancox admitted sexually assaulting two females.

During police interviews he said he got ‘a sexual buzz’ out of touching his victims and felt embarrassed.

His barrister, Carina Hughes, told the court: “These urges are recent in his life and he is crying out for help.”

The judge Mr Recorder Peter Griffiths told Hancox he presented a problem to the court as the public needed protecting but he needed help.

Hancox was jailed for two months, suspended for two years, and placed under supervision for two years coupled with an order to complete up to 30 days of a rehabilitation activity designed by the probation service.

He was also made the subject of a sexual harm prevention order under which he must not approach girls aged under 18.

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