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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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Milford Haven: Three residents win in Postcode Lottery

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THREE people in Milford Haven got a lovely surprise this morning (Jan 22) after waking up to the good news that their bank accounts will be boosted by £1,000 each, all thanks to their lucky postcode.

The Roebuck Close neighbours landed the lolly when SA73 1AS was announced as a Daily Prize winner with People’s Postcode Lottery.

People’s Postcode Lottery ambassador Judie McCourt sent her congratulations and said: “What a terrific Tuesday for our players in Milford Haven who have picked up a prize today! I hope they treat themselves to something special with the windfall.”

A minimum of 32% of ticket sales goes directly to charities and players of People’s Postcode Lottery have raised £382 million to date for 5,500 good causes across Great Britain and internationally.

Many good causes local to the winners have benefitted from the money raised, and the next opportunity to apply for funding will be on the 6th of February.

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Two men arrested following discovery of illegal slaughterhouse

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TWO men were arrested on Monday (Jan 21) after a multi-agency response to an illegal slaughterhouse in west Wales.

Police say that live animals were found living amongst carcasses.

As the investigation is ongoing, police have refused to comment where exactly the site of the illegal slaughterhouse was discovered.

Warning: Shocking image below.

A spokesperson for Dyfed-Powys Police’s Rural Crime Team said: “Rural Crime team attended a call with multi-agencies to a report of an illegal slaughterhouse in West Wales.

“Live animals found amongst carcasses.

“Two males were arrested and enquiries are ongoing.

“At this early stage of the investigation we are not prepared to release further information.”

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Llangwm: Solicitor jailed for six years for £1m fraud

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A PEMBROKESHIRE solicitor who overcharged clients by almost £1m has been jailed this week for six years.

Edgar Stephen Thomas, aged 58, charged one client at the rate of £20,000 a week without doing any work at all.

Another was charged at £12,000 a week and went on to lose a total of £100,000.

Thomas, of Stephen’s Green, Deerland Road, Llangwm, admitted 23 offences of fraud and theft, which stopped only when his firm of Steve Thomas and Co was closed down by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority.

Jim Davis, prosecuting, told Swansea Crown Court that Thomas got away with the frauds by deducting monies from the estates of deceased people without telling the beneficiaries.

“He grossly overcharged and then deducted the payments directly from the estates of deceased people,” he said.

“He helped himself without telling them what he was doing.”

The overcharging began in 2005 when he was asked to handle the estate of Richard James Rogers. He charged the estate £41,800 plus VAT but internal documents showed that as the work decreased his bills increased.

Thomas agreed overcharging that estate by £12,000.

Thomas went on to plunder many more accounts.

The most outrageous example, said Mr Davies, related to the estate of Audrey Williams, who died in 2013.

Thomas charged £127,250 plus VAT, sometimes raising–but not posting–two invoices a day. He agreed he had overcharged by £100,000.

Mr Davis said Thomas’ offending did not stop there. His firm was hired by Vaughan’s Radio, an electrical store in Haverfordwest, to handle the purchase of a business in Aberystwyth.

Thomas simply kept for himself £50,000 of the purchase price.

Mr Davis said Thomas had worked for Eaton Evans in Haverfordwest, rising to becoming a partner, before leaving to form his own firm in 2005.

His accounts had to be audited and as a result the SRA were alerted to fears that he was overcharging.

A detailed forensic examination of his accounts was carried out and the fears were confirmed, along with the discovery of a shortfall in his client’s accounts of £144,326.

There was then an administrative error at the SRA and the initial report was not acted upon until June 2014, when a second financial investigation revealed more fraud and he was later struck off.

In February 2015 Thomas was declared bankrupt.

Mr Davis said the SRA had reimbursed those who had lost because of Thomas’ fraudulent behaviour, but there remained the question of costs and whether he could be made to repay any of the money. An investigation under the Proceeds of Crime Act is underway.

Thomas’ barrister, Ian Ibrahim, said his client was now broke and all the money had gone on keeping his business afloat.

“His fall from a high place has been dramatic. His remorse is complete and utterly without qualification.

“He has lost everything and knows that he will go to jail today.”

Judge Keith Thomas said those who worked in the legal profession had to demonstrate the highest level of integrity because the public put trust in them, sometimes at the most stressful times of their life.

“Your victims have described your behaviour as disgusting and despicable.

“You were struck off in 2016 and have had to wait a long time for the process to be complete, but that is partly because you were not willing to admit the extent of your offending,” he added.

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