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‘Greater scrutiny’ needed for council budget

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County Hall

County Hall

THE PAIN of the council’s budget settlement has been the subject of a press briefing, seminars for council members and public consultation. The headline figures are stark and staggering. Pembrokeshire County Council has to find savings amounting to a quarter of its overall budget over the next few years. With education and social care budgets ‘protected’, the way in which our local authority will deliver future services is bound to change. Services cut previously to the bone, will be sliced to the marrow. All of these cuts are also scheduled to take place against the background of threatened forced reorganization of local government and the end of local democracy in Pembrokeshire. In a time of deep and savage cuts to their budgets, the Welsh Government is expecting local authorities to fund the tens of millions of pounds it will cost to merge authorities out of their own resources.

Cardiff Bay claims there will be great savings to be made but has not produced one single shred of evidence to support that contention. Indeed, earlier this year this newspaper interviewed Kevin Madge, Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council, who told us: “Any new structure will take five to eight years to ‘bed in’ and it could take eight to ten years for a new authority to fully get to grips with things. Things won’t improve overnight. Reorganization is not a magic wand.” With budgets squeezed and pressure being applied from Cardiff to stifle local democracy it is imperative that councillors take every step to scrutinise what Pembrokeshire County Council is doing with the money under its control.

Only in that way can it be shown that our councillors are fit for purpose and have a clear grasp of the council’s finances. The Pembrokeshire Herald has been looking at the systems the council has in place in relation to its finances and how spending priorities are set. That investigation has shown that figures produced by officers are being approved without interrogating the data or assumptions that underpin the financial forecasts produced and routinely approved without query or inquiry by the Cabinet and the majority of councillors. For example, the public and the council are routinely told that the council’s annual budget is around £200m. But that is only the nett figure. The gross council budget is significantly higher.

Assumptions made about income and expenditure are often adjusted before figures are present for democratic scrutiny, so that members are always presented with a balanced budget, even when forecasts are wrong or overtaken by events. For example, the budget approved at the beginning of the coming municipal year contained assumptions about the closure of Narberth Pool and income to be derived from charging for day services for the elderly. Both of those assumptions were overtaken by events. However, such is the opaque nature of local government finance that councillors have practically no way of properly interrogating the information given to them by officers and reaching a balanced and informed conclusion on the authority’s true financial position and future plans. This summer Pembrokeshire County Council organised a series of budget seminars for councillors to try and tackle this knowledge gap and address concerns that councillors were being asked to make uninformed judgements on future service provision.

At a media briefing in October, Jamie Adams told journalists: “We are at a tipping point in local government finances.” Speaking subsequently about the council’s public consultation on the budget, Jamie Adams told Jon Coles, this newspaper’s deputy editor: “Matters which councillors think are important to the public are not always those that people find important. By and large what has come across clearly are concerns about senior officers’ pay and councillors’ remuneration. There is a commitment to look at the whole cost of senior management. In terms of where we go, the opportunities to trim around the edges is no longer there, we are going to have to look more dispassionately at the services we provide and what communities can provide.”

With a six-month review of the council’s financial performance due to be discussed in the near future, we asked Pembrokeshire Alliance leader Bob Kilmister, whose party is engaged in drawing up an alternative budget, for his view on the challenges councillors face in trying to make sense of complex financial information. He told us: “My experience is that Local Government finance is made extremely complicated and much more difficult to understand than it needs to be. I like to think that I can follow balance sheets especially those of stock market listed companies but trying to work out the complexities of my local Council often leaves me totally bemused. “Councillors have been given very little training in this area and most take very little interest at all.

In my experience very few questions if any are asked when scrutiny is supposed to take place in cabinet or on committees. I have the greatest respect for the Officers and the Authority always appears to be on track financially despite Councillors taking such little interest. Government lays down the way this is carried out and I think it is time they took a long hard look at this and urgently brought in reforms to simplify matters. I am sure this would result in savings but more importantly it could lead to greater scrutiny by elected representatives.”

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Health

Proposed locations for new hospital site to be reviewed

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HYWEL DDA UNIVERSITY HEALTH BOARD (UHB) will this week undertake a review of potential sites as part of the ongoing process to identify a suitable location for a new hospital.

Eleven sites will be assessed on Friday 22 October, including those identified by members of the public during the six-week engagement exercise, which took place earlier this year.

This stage of the process is intended to lead to the creation of a shortlist of sites. This will be subject to further detailed appraisal with significant public and wider stakeholder involvement. The final decision about the chosen site will be made by the health board, in agreement with Welsh Government.

Steve Moore, Chief Executive of Hywel Dda UHB, said: “The building of a new hospital is a major long-term project, which is why we place great emphasis on being open and transparent about the process involved.

“The process we are following includes developing a programme business case to support our strategy for community and hospital-based health and care. As part of the process to apply for funding from the Welsh Government, we will submit the programme business case, and then individual outline business cases, then the final business cases for the new infrastructure we will need. The health board will therefore engage with the public on a regular basis between now and the submission of the final business cases to ensure your views are fully considered.

“I understand and recognise there are passionate feelings about a new hospital, but we strongly believe a new facility is essential for urgent and planned care in the south of the Hywel Dda area. It will provide trauma care and be the main emergency department for the south of our area.

“I can also reassure the public that we have no plans or intention to close either Glangwili or Withybush hospitals. We will engage further on how these hospitals could work alongside the proposed new hospital.”

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Unprecedented demand on health and social care services in local area

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Joint statement by Hywel Dda University Health Board, the Welsh Ambulance Service NHS Trust, Pembrokeshire County Council, Carmarthenshire County Council and Ceredigion County Council

The urgent statement we have asked to publish is as follows:

THERE is currently an unprecedented demand on health and social care services across Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire, which is leading to significant delays in care provision. Put simply, the difficulty in discharging medically-fit patients from hospital – many of whom have complex personal circumstances and needs – is leading to significant bed shortages, and consequently, lengthy ambulance waits at the ‘front door’ of A&E departments, which mean that paramedics are unable to respond to other 999 calls in the community.Social care and Health teams are doing everything possible to support people who are well enough to leave hospital but need ongoing care. Priority is being given to the most vulnerable, and alternative health and care packages are being offered as a short-term measure. More carers and health staff are also being recruited to support people in need.

If you have a relative or loved one in hospital who is well enough to go home, but is waiting to be discharged with homecare and community health support, you may be able to help them to get home more quickly if you and your family are in a position to support them at home. If your relative is waiting for a formal package of care, you may be able to offer support and care on a short term, temporary arrangement or you might want to consider whether your loved one could be supported in a temporary residential or nursing care setting. If you feel that this is an option that you could consider, please speak to the ward manager or your social worker to explore further.

Spending as little time in hospital is better for patients and means that NHS beds can be freed up for others with urgent care needs. Supporting older patients to get home from hospital efficiently is an important part of their recovery and it also protects them from negative consequences of hospital admission, such as hospital acquired infection, falls and a loss of independence.  You can find out more about the hospital discharge process and guidance here: Inpatient information – Hywel Dda University Health Board (nhs.wales)

Your support not only helps your loved one, but it is a huge support to the NHS and social care services as well.

Thank you.

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News

Child taken to hospital following collision with car outside school

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AN EARLY morning collision outside Ysgol Harri Tudor school, Pembroke, has seen a child taken to hospital.

The collision happened between a child and a car on Pembroke Road, Pembroke, at approximately 9am this morning.

A secondary school pupil has been taken to hospital via ambulance for what is said to be minor injuries.

Police and ambulance service were on the scene and were helped by school staff to manage the incident.

A police spokesperson said: “Dyfed-Powys Police attended a road traffic collision involving a car and a secondary school pupil this morning, 21st October 2021. The collision occurred on Pembroke Road, Pembroke at approximately 9:00am.

“The Ambulance Service also attended and escorted the teenage boy to hospital with what are believed to be minor injuries.”

A Pembrokeshire County Council spokesperson said: “We can confirm that there has been an incident outside Ysgol Harri Tudur in Pembroke this morning where a pupil came into contact with a car. 

“The police and ambulance have been on the scene and were assisted by school staff. We are not able to release any further details at present.”

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