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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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Last chance to have your say on National Park’s new Local Development Plan

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THE PEMBROKESHIRE Coast National Park Authority is seeking your views, having made amendments to its forthcoming Local Development Plan following the recent Examination Hearing Sessions.

These amendments are called Matters Arising Changes and any comments received will be passed on to the Inspector for consideration.

The relevant documents and representation form are available on the National Park Authority’s website: www.pembrokeshirecoast.wales/haveyoursay and in paper format at Oriel y Parc Gallery and Visitor Centre, St Davids and the Authority’s main office in Pembroke Dock.

Copies of the documents are also available for inspection free of charge on publicly accessible computers at local libraries during their normal opening hours.

Representations should be sent by 4.30pm on Friday 13 March 2020, either by email to devplans@pembrokeshirecoast.org.uk or in writing to:

Park Direction
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority
Llanion Park
Pembroke Dock
SA72 6DY.

For further information or assistance, email devplans@pembrokeshirecoast.org.uk or call 01646 624800 and ask to speak to someone in the Park Direction Team dealing with the Plan.

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Education

No opt-out for learning about religion, relationships and sexuality

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PARENTS will not be able to prevent their children from learning about religion, relationships and sexuality in the new curriculum.

Education Minister Kirsty Williams made the announcement this week, emphasising the need for ‘careful and sensitive implementation’ of the decision.

Education Minister Kirsty Williams told The Herald: “Our responsibility as a government is to ensure that young people, through public education, have access to learning that supports them to discuss and understand their rights and the rights of others.

“It is essential that all young people are provided with access to information that keeps them safe from harm.

“Today’s decision ensures that all pupils will learn about issues such as online safety and healthy relationships.

The announcement was made following an eight-week Welsh Government consultation on ensuring access to the full curriculum, including the teaching of Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) and Religious Education (RE).

Kirsty Williams added: “I recognise this is a sensitive matter and the consultation responses reflected a wide range of views.

“There is clearly a need for us to work with communities and all interested parties in developing the learning and teaching for RSE and RE – this work will be vital to enable everyone to have trust in how the change is implemented.”

The Minister outlined plans for implementation which include the creation of clear guidance, resources and professional learning for schools and the creation of a Faith/BAME Community Involvement Group to hold its first meeting this February.

The group will engage in the development of RSE guidance, develop a shared understanding of the new curriculum and address the concerns raised by faith and community groups during the consultation.

The Minister continued: “It is vital that we continue to work with communities across Wales to ensure parents have the right to develop, care for and guide their children into adulthood while allowing our schools to provide a broad and balanced education.  

We will build on the community engagement which accompanied the consultation with a long term investment in listening to our communities and finding ways to address the issues which concern them.

The Minister also confirmed plans to establish a new RSE Working Group that will oversee the refinement of the new RSE statutory guidance to form part of the new curriculum guidance.

The Minister added: “I want to take the opportunity in 2021 to test the approach for RSE prior to it being made statutory in the new curriculum.  

This will provide valuable intelligence to inform the refinement of our approach and will also enable learners, parents and carers and communities to see it working in practice and to feedback their views.”

Further details on this approach will be announced over the coming weeks.  The consultation also showed support for renaming the subject ‘Religious Education’.

The most popular choice from respondents was ‘Religion, Values and Ethics’ and, as a result, the Minister confirmed the subject name would change when the new curriculum comes into effect. The Terrence Higgins Trust said that the news was something they very much welcomed, and said that they have been campaigning for this for a number of years. The Trust said that Wales has very much lead the way on this one as the UK Government has resisted calls to remove the parental opt-out for lessons when RSE lessons become compulsory in England from September. Debbie Laycock, Head of Policy at the trust said: “By guaranteeing access to Relationships & Sexuality Education lessons for all pupils, Wales is leading the way. We’ve campaigned for compulsory RSE lessons for nearly four decades and until now far too many young people have learned about sex through whispers in the playground. 
“This decision by the Welsh Government will go some way to fixing this. It’s absolutely vital lessons are LGBT+ inclusive and have a strong focus on HIV and sexual health so all young people have the knowledge they need to form healthy and fulfilling relationships. We are now looking to the Welsh Government to continue leading the way by providing all schools with the resources and training they need to deliver these new lessons to the highest standard across the board.” 

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Business

Air Link Wales now flying from Haverfordwest

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AVIATION company Flitestar Private Air have launched their new Air Link Wales Programme connecting Haverfordwest, Caernarfon and Cardiff with other regional airports in the UK and Europe.

The company has opened an office in Menai Bridge on Anglesey – managed by James Blackler – and said it is particularly committed to improving air connectivity from North Wales.

The Air Link Wales network currently offers flight charter services from Caernarfon Airport to destinations such as Isle of Man, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Southampton as well as London for connections to and from Gatwick and Heathrow.

They believe Southampton will be particularly popular for passengers connecting to cruises who wish to avoid the long road or rail trip down south.A flight to the south coast for two passengers from Caernarfon would cost £1,820 per person on a Piper PA34 Seneca plane.

Neil Baines, CEO of the Chester based company, said: “As a resident of Wales myself, I’ve often been frustrated by the lack of air connectivity and we are pleased to start to address this through our new Air Link Wales Charter programme which is ideally suited to both leisure and corporate customers.“Flying private can save hours of travel time which is of particular value to Wales-based organisations.”

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