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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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Newgale: New £30m road proposed to combat coastal damage

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL has revealed a preferred new route for a road around Newgale today (Sept 25) at an event in Roch.

The new stretch of road would begin at Pencym and end at a new roundabout near Roch.

A new route is needed due to fears about road closures during high tides and winds, as well as coastal damage caused by global warming.

Reports have suggested that the current Newgale road may not exist in 20 years times.

The new route could cost up to £30m – compared to £40m a proposed viaduct would cost – and would need funding from the Welsh Government.

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “Transport officials will continue to work closely with the authority as they progress with their studies and firm up their proposals for addressing the current problems with the A487.

“Welsh Government is open to consider an application for funding to move forward the development work.”

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MP calls on Welsh Government to explain broadband delays

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STEPHEN CRABB has called on the Welsh Government to come clean over broadband rollout delays.

Minister Julie James AM, whose responsibilities include digital infrastructure and inclusion, has been urged to explain the reasons for delays to the rollout of superfast broadband to rural properties across Wales.

Last year, the Superfast Cymru scheme saw BT receive £425m in return for connecting the vast majority of premises in Wales to next-generation broadband.

When the contract ended, 90,000 mainly rural properties still had not been connected. Further details of another scheme to complete the work were due to be announced in July, but at the start of August, Julie James AM suddenly announced that ‘unforeseen issues’ were causing delays which could not be further discussed because of ‘commercial confidentiality’.

Stephen Crabb, MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, said: “It’s simply unacceptable for the Minister responsible to announce delays to the next stage of Broadband rollout but refuse to explain why. Access to reliable, fast broadband is of increasing importance to businesses, large and small, in Pembrokeshire and I have worked with many across the constituency to improve their broadband access.

“However, the digital divide continues to exist with rural communities in Pembrokeshire suffering again. It is an inescapable fact that delivery of broadband infrastructure is devolved to the Welsh Government and Julie James AM should now come forward and explain the reasons for these delays.”

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Air ambulance lands at ‘serious’ crash scene

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THE WALES AIR AMBULANCE has landed at the scene of a serious crash this morning (Sept 25) between the Sentry Cross and Honeyborough roundabouts on the A477.

Posts on Facebook from witnesses at the scene say a man is being treated by paramedics.

Police have said one car was involved in the incident.

In addition to the helicopter, Dyfed-Powys Police, the Welsh Ambulance Service and Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service are at the scene.

The road is currently closed with diversions in place.

A police spokesperson said:  “Dyfed-Powys Police is at the scene of a serious RTC between the Sentry Cross and Honeyborough roundabouts, Pembrokeshire.

“The A477 stretch between those roundabouts is currently closed while emergency services deal with the incident. One car is involved; the driver has received serious injuries.

“No further information is available at this time.”

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