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Simpson makes ‘right deal for County’

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PEMBROKESHIRE County Council’s Cabinet committed to the funding of the Pembroke Dock Marine Project at its meeting on Monday, November 4.
Council Leader David Simpson received the congratulations of Cabinet members for obtaining substantial concessions on the vexed question of who pays the interest on the borrowing needed for the project.
Cllr Simpson’s position on forking over Pembrokeshire Council Tax Payers’ money to fund borrowing for the project is well-known: he was vehemently opposed to paying penny one of a loan facility in which the Council acted as bankers for a third party.
The deal he has struck means that the County Council will meet one half of the maximum bill for interest, with the Port Authority paying the other half.
In a rare display of public exasperation, Cllr Simpson laid into former leader Jamie Adams over the interest question. At the last Full Council meeting when the Deal came before members, the IPG leader demanded that the Council should pay the full amount of the interest to ensure the Deal went ahead.

David Simpson

Council Leader, David Simpson: Succeeded in cutting Deal’s cost to Pembrokeshire


Cllr Simpson said he found Cllr Adams’ willingness to throw around public money ‘disturbing.’
He pointed out that, had he done as the former leader wanted, the interest cost to the Council would have been a fraction under £4m, as the interest rate charged on the lending required went up the same day as Jamie Adams’ plea, and the burden would have remained unshared.
Instead, Cllr Simpson said, holding firm had produced significant concessions. Firstly, the borrowing had been secured at the original and lower interest rate and secondly, the Port had agreed to pay half of the interest.
The Council Leader observed mordantly the Port Authority were about as happy with the deal struck as he was.
As things stood, the County Council would pay £1m plus a £420k top slice, while the Port Authority would pay £1.3m. David Simpson conceded that this was not the outcome he hoped for; he had not fulfilled his aim, to secure a nil interest cost to the Council. However, Cllr Simpson said he resented the way funding’s structure meant local authorities would be lumbered with significant debt.
On a more upbeat note, Cllr Simpson commended the members of the Cabinet and senior officers who had managed to structure funding for the interest so the Council’s future borrowing cap remained unaffected. This, he said, meant that the Council could achieve its own very ambitious investment objectives for the future.
He explained that Cabinet Member for the Economy, Paul Miller, had negotiated a funding grant which would meet the top slice of £420k, while funding of the £1m remainder had been obtained through other means.
Responding to Cllr Simpson’s comments, Paul Miller set out the importance of energy generation and the associated supply-chain industries to Pembrokeshire’s economy. He pointed out as carbon-based energy generation reduced, developing alternative forms of energy would become increasingly important. Pembrokeshire, he said, was well-placed to exploit the opportunities those represented.
Following Cllr Miller’s comments, Cabinet Member for Finance, Cllr Bob Kilmister, chided the Leader for selling his achievement short. He had delivered the best deal he could and a better deal than that which was initially offered.
He praised the ‘superb’ outcome of negotiations led by the Leader and assisted by other Cabinet members and senior officers. He noted a lot of work had gone into ‘a really terrific job’ hammering out a deal.
Like the Leader, Cllr Kilmister doubted whether 1,800 jobs would be delivered, as claimed. He said, however, that jobs would be created and that would be good for Pembrokeshire. The County, he said, needed a balanced approach and David Simpson had delivered a deal.
He concluded: “I would love to see it run. With our contribution, we help make sure it happens.”
Cllr Phil Baker, Cabinet Member for Infrastructure, observed: “It had to be the right deal at the right price. This is the right deal for the County.”
Director of Resources Jon Haswell explained how funding the interest payments would work. The funding secured by Cllr Miller covered the ‘top-slice’ payment needed. In the meantime, officers identified money held over from the financial year 2018/19 placed in an administrative reserve to meet the rest. That would be used, but only if needed.
Steven Jones, Director of Development, added that time-critical EU funding should now be secured. He noted the timeline remained very tight. Business case approval was needed before Christmas. However, he added, having got over this hurdle, the Council had a way through. The next stage, he advised, requires a WG panel to finally approve the business case.
Jon Haswell added that he hoped to improve the funding arrangements in a meeting with the Welsh Government and an officer from Carmarthenshire County Council on Thursday (Nov 7).
Cllr Simpson returned to address the question of interest payments: he wanted to reduce the amount of interest due for payment. To that end, he was still negotiating a shorter time frame for the funding’s delivery. The current funding is due over fifteen years. Cllr Simpson prefers a five-to-ten year period for delivery. If funding’s delivery was achievable over the shorter period, the amount due from the Council (and the Port Authority) in interest would fall. He re-iterated that the current provision for interest was the maximum and he would continue to work to reduce the bill to the Council.
The Cabinet unanimously approved the deal struck.
Everything is now out of the Council’s hands and depends on the willingness of the UK and Welsh Government to finally get their act together and come up with money often-promised but not yet delivered.

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Coastal car parks at beauty spots remain closed

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THE RECENT changes in regulations reinforce that movement is restricted to your local area.

This has been identified by the Welsh Government as an approximation of a five mile radius from your home.

Members of two separate households from the same local area (not travelling more than five miles) can now meet outdoors, as long as they maintain social distancing.

You should aim to meet another local household as close to your home as possible. Always take care to maintain social distancing and hand hygiene.

Pembrokeshire County Council car parks at attractions and beauty spots (including public toilets) currently remain closed so you should check before travelling.

They remain closed as a clear message that travel remains restricted, and associated tourism amenities remain closed.

A critical point for all to note is that lifeguards are not currently patrolling beaches and toilets and other facilities are not open.

Full details of the car parking facilities which remain open for the local community can be found on the Council’s website:
https://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/emergency-planning/service-changes

Councillor Phil Baker, Cabinet Member for Infrastructure said: “The emphasis is on careful, structured unlocking, and not to put in danger any of the recovery measures that relate to public health and not to undo the safeguarding that lockdown has delivered.

“We will continue to review and monitor this carefully and take cautious, measured steps only to provide the benefits of the eased regulations without putting our residents at risk.”

Motorists are reminded not to contravene parking restrictions – such as yellow lines – where they exist as parking enforcement is still being undertaken.

As with other service areas, car parks will be reviewed in line with current advice.

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Pembrokeshire County Council Leaders coronavirus update

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PEMBROKESHIRE County Council Leader, Councillor David Simpson, has provided a further coronavirus update for Tuesday, 2nd June, as follows:

‘I want to thank everyone for the continued support to myself, Elected Members and officers of the Authority.

‘We have all experienced many challenges over the years but this continued struggle is very testing for all. We continue collectively to work together to ensure we, in Pembrokeshire, remain safe and avoid catching Covid-19

‘It is clear that we still have to remain “local”. There is no remit for travelling outside our local community. You will have read and heard clear guidance on only travelling five miles from home.

‘As always and where you can, please exercise from your home. The more we can do to reduce the spread of the virus, the better we will all fare in the long term.

‘I want to highlight that today marks the 50 th anniversary of the collapse of the Cleddau Bridge. This was indeed a tragedy as lives were lost and it is a sad chapter in Pembrokeshire’s history.

‘As in any incident, people can, and do, rebuild and also learn lessons. After Covid-19 the new “normality” will look different from what we were used to. But we will all move forward and regain Confidence.

‘I’m sure, like you, I question how I should be tackling this issue. Should I be doing more? The answer is simple and direct – we need to ensure social distancing is maintained; wash our hands regularly and listen to the advice given by experts.

‘Remember: ‘Stay Strong and Stay Local.’

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‘Check in, Catch up and Prepare’ All school’s in Wales prepare to enter next phase

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ALL children will have the opportunity to “Check in, Catch Up, Prepare for summer and September”, the Education Minister Kirsty Williams announced today as she published details of the next phase for schools in Wales.

It is proposed that all schools will start the next phase on 29 June, with the term extended by a week, therefore ending on 27 July.

In the next academic year, beginning in September, the intention is that the autumn half-term break will be expanded to two weeks.

In each school there will be a phased approach. Year groups will be split into cohorts with staggered starts, lessons and breaks. It is expected that this will mean, at most, a third of pupils present at any one time, though schools may need time to reach this level of operation.

There will be much smaller classes, providing secure dedicated time with teachers and classmates. This time will include online and personalised classroom experience, getting children and teachers ready for a similar experience in September.

Next week, the Welsh Government will publish guidance to support schools, as well as further and higher education institutions. This will include information on managing their facilities and logistical arrangements, including buildings, resources, cleaning and transport.

The Government is also today publishing a paper from its COVID-19 Technical Advisory Group, representing the latest understanding of the virus with respect to children and education.

Further Education colleges are ensuring that appropriate measures are being taken to re-open for face-to-face learning from 15 June. They will prioritise those students requiring licence to practice assessments and vulnerable learners. This follows close working with Government and the joint trade unions.

Guidance for childcare providers will also be published in the next week, supporting them to increase the numbers of children in attendance alongside schools.

Kirsty Williams said:

“My announcement today gives schools three and a half weeks to continue preparing for the next phase.

“We will use the last weeks of the summer term to make sure pupils, staff and parents are prepared – mentally, emotionally and practically – for the new normal in September.

“29 June means there will have been one full month of test, trace and protect, which will continue to expand. I can also announce that teachers will be a priority group in our new antibody-testing programme. As we continue to keep Wales safe, this approach will be critical.

“The evolving science suggests that warm weather and sunlight gives us the best opportunity to ensure more time in school. Waiting until September would mean almost half a year without schooling. That would be to the detriment to the wellbeing, learning progress and mental health of our young people.

“This is and has been a worrying period for us all. I know that many will feel apprehensive. We have not rushed this work and this decision.

“The three and a half week period before the next phase also gives us time to keep watch on developments elsewhere and provides further check-points to review evidence and the roll-out of testing.

“This is the best practical option that meets my five principles which underpin my decision making.

“I am also convinced that it is only by returning to their own school that we will see increased attendance from our more vulnerable and disadvantaged children.

“Working together we will secure equity and excellence for pupils as they check in, catch up, and prepare for summer and September.”

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