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Cuts leave Pembrokeshire County Council facing grim choices

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A 0.5% cut in funding to Pembrokeshire County Council will result in significant and potentially devastating cuts to public services.
This week, the Welsh Government announced its budget settlement for Welsh local government.
While that settlement shows ‘only’ a 0.5% cut in the Pembrokeshire’s Revenue Support Grant, the reality behind that headline figure is grim.
And there is little comfort to be taken in the news that Pembrokeshire’s cut is smaller than that inflicted on neighbouring Carmarthenshire. Pembrokeshire’s budget is far smaller in proportion to Carmarthenshire’s. Our County’s resources are stretched to breaking point following years of the folly of the ‘lowest Council Tax in Wales’ policy in twenty-two years of rule by the ‘Independent’ group, most lately under Jamie Adams.
While money was washing around local government that policy was sustainable. However, once systemic cuts came in 2008 – and persisted for ten years and rising – there was no fat to trim and cuts are now deep into the bone of frontline services.
The Welsh Government funding takes little or no account of the Council’s obligation to pay wage increases negotiated centrally which far outstrips the money provided to meet them, changes in National Insurance, changes to teachers’ pensions, the effects of inflation, and the impact of regulations affecting buildings’ maintenance.
Hit seven ways from Sunday by a barrage of deep cuts to its budget delivered year-on-year for the last decade and in the teeth of the fallout of a Council Tax policy which has left the Council’s cupboard bare, there is no way for the Council to resolve its financial position without making even deeper cuts than those already contemplated and revealed exclusively in this newspaper last week.
The social care budget’s ‘protection’ by the Welsh Government has left all Councils floundering; because Pembrokeshire has a high proportion of older residents, it has been hit hard. The Council has even less money to spend on other services as the proportion of a smaller revenue ‘pie’ is taken up by protected budgets.
The devastation being wreaked by cuts is unsurprising. In 2014 dire warnings were given about the cumulative effects of continuing cuts before that year’s budget. Almost five years’ on, the situation is even worse than predicted.
With the Cabinet unwilling to ask for a further large Council Tax increase for next year, real savings will be hard to find. The timing of a request for increased pay by Directors of Service could scarcely be more ill-timed. They are, however, paid less than their equivalents across most of Wales and are mindful of slipping further behind in light of nationally negotiated pay settlements. Pay settlements over which the Council, again, has no control.
Something somewhere has to give. The hard choices are getting even harder. Cabinet Member for Finance Bob Kilmister says those councillors wishing to keep a stand-still budget are living in Cloud-Cuckoo land and ‘frankly deluded’.
The choices are stark. Increasing Council Tax will only put a sticking plaster on a haemorrhage. Maintaining the status quo is not an option. That leaves deeper cuts into public services as the only option. The only questions left is where and how much (see this week’s Politics section).
The only hope is that the UK Government actually delivers real relief from austerity instead of tinkering at the edges.

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Alec Don resigns as Chief Executive of Port Authority

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MILFORD HAVEN PORT AUTHORITY has confirmed that Alec Don, Chief Executive, is ‘stepping down’ from the role.

The Port said that with the support of a great team Alec has set a vision for the business, securing planning consents for the development of Milford Waterfront and establishing Pembroke Dock Marine as a core component of the Swansea Bay City Deal.

In a statement the Port said: “The business has been shepherded through some challenging times, with the closure of Murco, but it has a strong balance sheet and is now more than ready to proceed with a phase of substantial investment and growth.”

Commenting on the resignation Chris Martin, Chairman of the Port, said: “Alec is a person of the highest integrity and is one of the Port’s and the region’s greatest advocates.  We have in front of us a fantastic opportunity to develop the Port’s position in some exciting new markets and this change gives us the opportunity to refresh and develop our skill sets to take the organisation forward into the next phase of its development.  For his part Alec has himself expressed the wish to seek new and fresh challenges.  I personally have greatly enjoyed working with him and we all wish him well for the future.”

Alec Don said in an official statement: “It has been nothing but a privilege and honour to work for the Port of Milford Haven and I most genuinely wish the Board and all colleagues at the Port every success going forward.  For my part I feel more than ready for a new challenge and look forward to the future with relish.”

The Port said they would not comment further on the development.

Alec Don has been the Chief Executive of the Port since 2010.

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Mount Estate: Man arrested after gas explosion threat

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Armed police: In the Mount Estate (pic. Herald)

ARMED POLICE have arrested a man on the Mount Estate in Milford Haven this afternoon (Oct 16) after responding to reports of a man who is threatening to set a fire using the gas supply in his flat.

The windows of the first floor flat, in Birch Mead, were smashed and a man was shouting to officers below threatening to cause an explosion.

Threatening: To cause an explosion (pic. Herald)

A Herald reporter at the scene had counted at least a dozen Dyfed-Powys Police vehicles, including vans and undercover cars.

Nearby residents have been evacuated and a cordon has been set up.

Emergency services: Gathered by the flat (pic. Herald)

Police asked residents and a Herald reporter at the scene to move back further after the arrival of the armed officers.

Mid & West Wales Fire and Rescue, as well as specialists from the gas board, are also at the scene.

Watching: Locals were evacuated (pic. Herald)

A large crowd has gathered by the cordon.

MORE TO FOLLOW.

Armed officers: Locals were asked to move back upon their arrival (pic. Herald)

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Work goes on for NRW in aftermath of storm

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AFTER a weekend of heavy rain and floods which hit South West Wales particularly hard, the clear up has begun.

For Natural Resources Wales officers this means inspecting flood defences and other assets to assess and repair any damage caused by the high river levels and volumes of water.

Jeremy Parr, NRW Head of Flood and Incident Risk Management said:

“Our sympathies go out to anybody impacted by these floods and Storm Callum, it is an unwelcome reminder of the damage that severe weather can do.

“While some communities were significantly affected, for many the flood defences did their job and reduced the worst of the impacts.

The weekend storm caused 80 properties to flood across south west Wales and led to major disruption of businesses and transport across the whole of the country.

The River Teifi at Llandysul reached its highest level since records began in 1971 and the Towey above Carmarthen was at its highest since 1987.

NRW officers were on duty around the clock ensuring defence structures were sound, operating flood gates, erecting temporary defences and clearing trash screens.

In Abergwili, in the Tywi Valley, the flood gates were closed and prevented flooding despite the water level rising to within 180mm of the top of the gate, just short of the evacuation trigger of 150mm.

More people than ever visited NRW’s website to check the latest flood warning information. Before and during Storm Callum NRW’s flood pages received more than half a million-page views, while warning and informing messages on social media reached over 110,000 people.

Jeremy added: “After any major flooding event there are lessons to be learned and Storm Callum is no exception, so we will review what took place and how we responded to identify where improvements can be made.

“As is usual after any flood event, we now have our people out and about checking our defences for any damage, and to ensure they can continue to help protect people and property.”

“We won’t just look at the flood defence network, but also at our incident response and our warning and informing before, during and after the incident.

“While there were significant impacts in some areas, the initial indications are that these elements worked well.

“We will be working with our partners in local government and the emergency services to ensure we continue where possible to reduce the impacts of incidents like this.”

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