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Council goes ahead with 12.5% council tax rise

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PEMBROKESHIRE residents will see a rise of 12.5% in council tax after Councillors gave the go-ahead on Thursday (Mar 8).

A recorded vote was called for by Cllr John Davies after a lengthy debate and the 12.5% rise was supported by 40 votes with 18 voting against.

Thursday’s Full Council meeting was tasked with making the difficult decision of increasing Council Tax by 5%, 8% or the unpopular 12.5%.

Lengthy consultation has been carried out on the proposed rise with the Council hosting live Facebook sessions and the Budget has also been before all Overview and Scrutiny Committees.

A Facebook Group, entitled ‘Reject the PCC Council Tax rise’ was also set up and gained over 8000 members in just a couple of days.

Of the three options, the 5% rise would generate an extra £2.2 million but would still result in further cost reductions of £3.5 million.

The second option of an 8% rise would generate a further £3.6 million and would also result in further cost reductions of £2.1million.

The final option of 12.5% would generate an extra £5.7 million but there would be no need for further cost reductions.

At a meeting of the Cabinet in February, members unanimously voted in favour of the 12.5% tax rise and Cllr Bob Kilmister, Cabinet member for Finance, stated that they either needed to do something or services would be reduced to a level that most people would see as unacceptable.

On Thursday, Cllr Kilmister said: “Which politician would be prepared to propose such a rise? Well, I am and I am prepared to face the consequences in the future. I believe it is the right thing to do. If you ignore my advice, you will also be ignoring the advice of officers and, more importantly, the facts. If we don’t we will face the same situation in future years.

“We have to do something and we have to do it very quickly. We are too large an organisation and we have to reduce in a planned manner to make us stronger.

“We are doomed to fail unless the magic money tree arrives in the nick of time. We must be the most efficient Council in Wales.

“The response rate is far too large to ignore. There was a considerable amount of criticism for making the decision before the consultation had ended. Today is the final decision. There were 1992 responses online and by post. We had two Facebook live sessions which were viewed by 5887 individual users and we had 308 comments. We will be using this method again.

“I want to start going forwards and at a pace, 2018/19 is going to be a critical year and in 12 months time I want to show hard evidence that the plans are working.”

Cllr Tessa Hodgson added: “If we do not agree to the 12.5% we will have to find even more cuts and they will affect the most vulnerable.

“This time last year we were hoping to get elected or re-elected, no one came in looking to increase Council Tax but if we don’t we will not be able to deliver services. We simply have no choice, this is the reality of the situation we face.”

Cllr Tony Baron said they had a legal and moral duty to the Well-being of Future Generations Act to ensure that young people across the county are given the best start they could possibly have.

He went on to say: “I cannot see how, if we don’t go for 12.5%, we would be able to avoid redundancies and cutbacks in opportunities for young people, that is unacceptable.”

A number of councillors commented on how the council had been running for a number of years with the lowest council tax in Wales and Cllr Reg Owens said that they needed to look amongst the authority before they thought about asking the people to pay more money.

Cllr David Bryan said he had asked constituents in his Priory Ward who, to his surprise, were in favour of the 12.5% rise if it meant that services would be kept.

Cllr John Davies suggested a compromise of 8% adding: “We need to do what we can, we are here to make difficult choices and 8% is a bridge that can be built.”

Former Council Leader Jamie Adams stated he had ‘some difficulty’ in supporting the 12.5% rise and suggested going with a 5% rise this year before going for a larger rise the following year. He added: “We are simply proposing to consume more of the public’s money.”

Cllr Josh Beynon said he could see no other option but to go for the 12.5% rise while Cllr Neil Prior said the current position was ‘not sutainable’ adding that the 12.5% rise was the ‘right thing to do’.

Council Leader David Simpson said: “Not one of us in this room wants to give 12.5%. Do we need it? Yes. We are £14.8m adrift, we do need the extra money.”

Cllr John Davies proposed that a recorded vote be taken on the proposed rise and that was supported.

Forty councillors voted in favour of the 12.5% rise with just 18 voting against it.

In a statement, Pembrokeshire County Council said: “Pembrokeshire County Council approved a Council Tax rise of 12.5 per cent for the financial year 2018/19 at a meeting of Full Council earlier today.

“This means that Band D Council Tax levied by the County Council will be £993.54.

“This represents an increase of £2.11 a week or £110 a year.

“The final amount which Council taxpayers will be required to pay will include sums for the Police and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed Powys and their local town or community council.”

Council Leader, David Simpson, said after the meeting: “Despite this big increase, Pembrokeshire will still have the lowest Council Tax in Wales and indeed the third lowest in all of England and Wales.

“By voting through this rise, Elected Members have enabled the Authority to close a critical £16 million funding gap and therefore protect from cuts essential services such as education and social care.

“If we had voted for either a five of eight per cent increase in Council Tax – which were also options – then those services would have been badly hit, consequently affecting the most vulnerable members of our society.

“I would remind our householders that Pembrokeshire remains one of the leanest and most productive local authorities in Wales and we actually currently deliver services at £14.8 million less than the Welsh Government say we should.

“I firmly believe that Council today has made the right decision. It allows us to continue with our transformation programme and to deliver services in the most cost-effective way.”

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Pembroke Dock: Former nurse jailed for 18 months

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A FORMER nurse from Pembroke Dock who lied to an inquest about the death of a vulnerable patient has been jailed for 18 months.

Lorraine Stevens, aged 62, told the hearing she had prepared a risk assessment on John Shelley, a mentally ill man prone to drinking harmful substances.

But she fabricated the assessment only after he drank a bottle of Fairy Liquid and died the following day.

Stevens admitted perjury.

Swansea Crown Court heard how Mr Shelley, aged 68, had been brain damaged at birth and needed constant care.

Mr Shelley’s brother Martin was told he was about to be transferred to 10 Church Close, in Begelly near Tenby, west Wales, a four bedroom bungalow for mentally ill patients.

Mr Martin Shelley, an engineer familiar with risk assessments, visited the premises and became alarmed at the lack of internal locks.

In particular, he didn’t want his brother having unsupervised access to the kitchen where he might find something harmful to drink.

Stevens, of Kitchener Close, Pembroke Dock, should have completed a risk assessment but didn’t.

Catherine Richards, prosecuting, told Swansea Crown Court that on July 13, 2013, a kitchen window had been left open on the hottest day of the year and Mr Shelley reached in and drank from the Fairy Liquid bottle.

Stevens, the team leader and the only qualified nurse on duty, told staff to give him plenty of water to drink and, later, to give him ginger biscuits and milk.

Stevens left work early. The staff who took over became concerned and he was taken to Withybush Hospital in Haverfordwest.

But his condition deteriorated and he died the following day through multiple organ failure.

Martin Shelley told the authorities he had not seen a risk assessment and Stevens suddenly produced one, assuring him that staff would have been shown it.

The report was produced at an inquest into Mr Shelley’s death held in 2014. Stevens told the coroner the four page report, which addressed Mr Shelley’s access to the kitchen, had been prepared on April 14, 2013.

Mr Shelley became suspicious because it had been signed only by Stevens herself when all staff should have signed to confirm they had read and understood it.

Police became involved and seized a computer from 10 Church Close which showed the report had been compiled on July 18, 2013, four days after the fatality.

After her arrest, Stevens maintained the report was genuine and dated accurately.

When she was told later about the computer findings she declined to answer any more questions.

Stevens’ barrister, Jon Tarrant, said she would live forever with the guilt and remorse she felt over Mr Shelley’s death, but described it as a tragedy without intention.

It was difficult to know, he added, if a proper risk assessment would have avoided the fatality.

Mr Martin Shelley was allowed to address the court and said he believed his brother might not have died if all staff had understood how important it was to keep him away from harmful liquid substances.

The bungalow, he said, housed four mentally ill patients but had not been purposely built for someone with his brother’s difficulties.

“I was assured that a risk assessment would be carried out before he moved in, particularly in relation to the lack of internal locks.

“He was let down in his hour of need.

“His death, pain, suffering and distress could have been avoided,” he added.

The court heard that Stevens had been struck off as a nurse.

Judge Keith Thomas told Stevens she had fabricated the report and then lied about it to avoid criticism.

“You did this to cover up the fact you had not made proper provision for the challenges posed by Mr Shelley.

“I am not dealing with you for causing the death but for you did cause additional distress and anxiety to his family.

“You were deceitful and your lies were persistent,” he added.

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Pembrokeshire Lottery player wins brand new car

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PEMBROKESHIRE LOTTERY held their long-awaited Big Birthday Draw to celebrate their 25th anniversary. The lucky player who won the prize of a Fiat 500 from PMS Cars in Haverfordwest was Diane Boucher from Pembroke.

The draw was aired on 102.5 Radio Pembrokeshire and presenter Tommo rang Diane live on air to break the happy news.

Diane, who works at Hafal Crossroads in Haverfordwest didn’t realise it was the special birthday draw and thought she’d won the usual £2,000!

A couple of days later, Diane met Pembrokeshire Lottery Manager Abigail Owens and was handed the keys to her brand-new car. PMS owner John Green, who very generously upgraded the car to a top of the range Lounge model, was on hand to congratulate Diane in person.

The Big Birthday Draw comes as the Lottery’s special year of celebrations nears its end, but there are still extra prizes in December plus the £10,000 Christmas Superdraw.

If you don’t play yet, ring the Pembrokeshire Lottery on 01646 690800 to join and help them to assist more businesses in Pembrokeshire and create even more jobs. You could be a lucky winner too!

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Allied Healthcare to ‘minimise disruption’ as it looks to sell and transfer services

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ALLIED HEALTHCARE, who provide care services across Pembrokeshire, is exploring a range of options which include ‘the sale or transition of care and support services’, the Herald can reveal.

An employee from the troubled firm, who wished to stay anonymous, has shown the Herald a letter which has been sent to all employees this afternoon (Nov 16).

In the letter, the company says that the firm is looking to ‘minimise disruption to continuity of care’.

They go on to add that ‘our absolute priority will be to maintain continuity of care for our service-users and minimise disruption to you, our employees’.

In a letter to the employees, Narinder Singh, the Chief Executive Officer of the company, said: “As you know, early last week, CQC Market Oversight – the Regulator that monitors large social care providers in England – issued what is known as a Stage 6 Notification to our Local Authority customers in England. This type of notification is intended to inform Commissioners that a Company is at risk and therefore Local Authorities or CCGs should consider making plans to ensure continuity of care.

“Unfortunately, I am writing to you today to inform you that, because of the impact of the Stage 6 notification on our business, and because the upcoming winter period is when ensuring continuity of care is most challenging, we have taken the decision to actively explore a range of options in order to minimise disruption to continuity of care.

“This will include the sale or transition of care and support services on a regional or contract-by-contract basis to alternative providers best placed to deliver care at a local level. This process will be conducted in close cooperation with all our customers.”

The letter goes on to reassure employees that they are ‘likely’ to be transferred to a new provider.

“It is our intention to transfer all of our Contracts to other providers.  This will mean that you are likely to transfer out to a new provider. When arranging the transition of our services to alternative providers, our absolute priority will be to maintain continuity of care for our service-users and minimise disruption to you, our employees.

“We will continue to trade safely while this transition process is underway and, during this period, there will be no changes to the terms of employment, salary or benefits of our employees. To reiterate, this means that you will continue to be employed by the Company and receive pay and benefits while the transition of our care services is arranged.

“I understand that this news will come as a surprise to you and may be unsettling. Please be assured that we will continue to do all we can to support you throughout this period and will respond to any concerns or questions you have throughout the process.

“On behalf of the Executive team and myself, I would like to offer our most sincere thanks for the continued support and efforts you have shown to the business during this very difficult time. We continue to remain committed to supporting you, our employees and Allied.”

A spokesperson for Allied Healthcare said: “The Stage 6 notification has negatively impacted Allied Healthcare, leading a number of customers to transfer care services to alternative providers, and disrupting staff retention and recruitment.

“These developments have intensified the impact of the challenging environment within which we operate and come immediately prior to the Christmas period, when pressures on care providers are at their highest. This has also meant that we have had to re-evaluate our long-term business plan.

“We are therefore actively exploring a range of options in order to minimise disruption to continuity of care, including the sale or transition of care and support services on a regional or contract-by-contract basis to alternative providers best placed to deliver care at a local level. Such sales or transitions will involve the transfer of staff. This process will be conducted in close cooperation with our customers.

“We continue to trade safely while this process is underway. RBS as our existing lender has agreed to extend our current credit line by up to three weeks beyond 30 November, enabling us to deliver safe continuity of care whilst we explore and implement these options.

“We will work closely with the CQC and all commissioners of care to ensure that there is minimal disruption to the care that we provide across the UK whilst this transition takes place. Continuity of care is our number one priority.”

Pembrokeshire County Council said it would like to reassure Allied Healthcare service users and their families that it has robust contingency plans in place ‘to ensure the continuity of care for customers of Allied Healthcare’

“Those plans will now be implemented”, a spokesman said.

In a statement, the Authority added: “County Council officers and staff at Allied Healthcare will continue to work closely with each other and with health colleagues and the Welsh Government to
ensure that continuity of care is maintained through this challenging time.

“We will continue to keep service users and their families briefed as the situation unfolds.
If customers do have any concerns over the weekend, they are advised to contact Allied Healthcare.”

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