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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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Pembroke: Attacker who laughed while raping his victim jailed

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A LAUGHING rapist from Pembroke who urinated on his victim has been jailed for 12 years.

Michael McNamara, aged 32, hit the teenager and knocked her onto a bed before ripping off her jogging bottoms and knickers.

“He raped her… while laughing at her,” said John Hipkin, prosecuting, “and in a final degradation he urinated over her.”

Shortly afterwards she told friends what had happened but did not want to go to the police.

McNamara had been due to go on trial at Swansea Crown Court accused of a number of offences.

But at the last moment he admitted raping the girl and also sexually assaulting a second woman years later.

McNamara lived in the Pembroke area at the time but since June, 2017, has been on no fixed address because he has been in prison awaiting trial.

Mr Hipkin said the second attack was on a woman who had passed out after taking the horse tranquilliser ketamine.

She woke on a bed to find she was naked and that McNamara, also naked, was lying on top of her.

She managed to push him away.

McNamara’s barrister, Frank Phillips, said he had abused drugs over a number of years.

Judge Paul Thomas said it was significant that both victims had been much younger than McNamara and that he appeared to want to taunt and belittle them.

And he noted that he had been fined and cautioned when he was younger for exposure and indecent assault.

Judge Thomas warned McNamara that he was on his way to being defined by a court as a dangerous offender as defined by law.

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New hedgerows introduced at Bluestone to help wildlife

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NEWLY connected hedgerows will provide better pathways for wildlife across Bluestone National Park Resort.

It comes after Bluestone teamed up with Keep Wales Tidy as part of the Long Forest project.

The project was developed by the environmental charity in partnership with the Woodland Trust, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

The idea is to plant 100,000 trees and improve around 120,000m of hedgerow across Wales.

Although Bluestone has planted over 37,000 trees in the last 10 years, the Long Forest project identified an area where it could better connect and improve and extend its hedgerows.

Planting 500 plants containing a mix of Hawthorn, Hazel, Field Maple, Crab Apple, Holly and Dog Rose over a 100 metre gap will connect up roughly 1500 metres of hedgerow from Black Pool Farm all the way up to Bluestone’s Arrivals Centre.

Bluestone Sustainability Manager Ged Davies, said: “I’m grateful to the help from Keep Wales Tidy. Hedgerows are not just important habitats in their own rights, supporting birds, mammals and insects, but also help wildlife move across the resort. The mix of plants will provide a range of flowers,  berries and shelter as they grow.”

Mari Williams from Keep Wales Tidy said: “The wildlife corridors that have been created will help local bat colonies which use the hedges for navigation, foraging and protection from predators. They also create habitat opportunities for important wildlife species.”

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Welsh Secretary emphasises importance of City Deal to Pembrokeshire’s future

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Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns: Meeting with Port of Milford Haven's CEO Alec Don and Wavetricity's CEO Simon Gillett

WELSH SECRETARY Alun Cairns has visited some of Pembrokeshire’s leading marine renewable tech firms to underline his support for the sector and highlight the importance of the UK Government’s City Deal to future economic growth in the region.

The Secretary of State was joined by Alec Don, Chief Executive of the Port of Milford Haven which is leading the £76m Pembroke Dock Marine project.

The project was successful in its bid for the UK Government’s City Deal funding as it seeks to create a world-leading centre for the development and testing of wave and tidal energy devices here in Pembrokeshire.

The development will also extend beyond renewables creating facilities that have application for multiple blue economy industries.

Mr Cairns caught up with the progress of Marine Power System’s WaveSub and Bombora’s mWave, just two of the innovative devices being developed in Pembrokeshire which are hoped to generate clean, low cost electricity.

Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns said: “The UK Government’s Swansea Bay Region City Deal investment offers Pembrokeshire the chance to make a large, once in a generation investment in its own economic future. As one of the UK’s leading energy ports the Milford Haven Waterway already boasts excellent infrastructure and an outstanding supply chain, with talented companies serving domestic and international clients in shipbuilding, oil and gas.

“We want this region to be in the best position possible to compete with other port-centred regions across Europe, and to be a destination of choice for the fast-growing marine renewable energy industry. The City Deal funding, alongside investment from the Port of Milford Haven and others will play a vital role in helping to attract that industry to Welsh shores.

“Pembrokeshire is undoubtedly a wonderful place to live. Through the City Deal, the UK Government wants to make sure there are more opportunities for school leavers to benefit from local career opportunities, and to work in rewarding, skilled industries. The marine renewables industry clearly has the potential to provide those jobs of the future.”

Chief Executive of the Port of Milford Haven, Alec Don said: “We are grateful for the support of the UK Government in this project. Pembroke Dock Marine has the potential to fundamentally reshape Pembrokeshire’s future, and public funding is a critical part of achieving our united goals.”

“Combined with private investment, City Deal Funding will be a rare boost in a region that is heavily reliant on so few, typically seasonal, industries as well as the nationally important fuel industry. We believe the City Deal will help create new opportunities that will secure existing jobs and create new rewarding employment for the people of Pembrokeshire.”

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