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Council’s cabinet meets

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Council Tax to rise by 4.5%

Rattling through the agenda: Jamie Adams moved matters quickly on

Rattling through the
agenda: Jamie Adams
moved matters quickly on

THE IPPG CABINET nodded through a financial report on Monday, January 5, which contained details of a 4.5% rise in Council

Tax. The proposed rise for 2015/16 would raise Council Tax for a Band D property to £801.44 per year. A meeting of the Cabinet at County Hall on a Monday morning is, perhaps, not the best way to revitalise yourself after a fairly long Christmas break. A heavy agenda loomed, including receiving a report from the Welsh Social Services Inspectorate (CSSIW) on the Council, an interim financial statement setting out the challenges caused by an ever more constrained budget, car parking changes, a new housing finance settlement, and a new location for the County Library. As agendas go, it was weighty: detailed enquiry – particularly on departmental budgets and cuts to them – could have been expected.

Positive steps in Social Care

No comment on cuts to its budget: Simon Hancock

No comment on cuts
to its budget: Simon
Hancock

First up was a presentation of the type you might reasonably expect any person to like. Significant progress had been made by the

Council in meeting the requirements of CSSIW in relation to social care. Where concerns lingered, they were few, compared to the overwhelming number of positives to be drawn from the presentation by Lesley Stubbs, Area Manager for CSSIW, and the report accompanying it.

Cabinet members Sue Perkins and Simon Hancock, responsible for the portfolios covered by the report, expressed their pleasure with the report and praised staff for achieving a high standard. Ms Stubbs reported that CSSIW had been greatly assisted in the preparation of the report by the stability among the officer cadre and service heads who managed social care and children’s services.

She was hopeful that the current situation, in which key officers – including the former Head of Children’s Services, Jake Morgan – had left the authority would be addressed, so as to ensure progress achieved could be maintained.

Rents rise, but more money for housing

Concerned: Rob Summons was unhappy with planning proposals

Concerned: Rob Summons
was unhappy with planning
proposals

In the coming year, the Council will revolutionise the way it manages its social housing. To comply with Welsh Government legislation it will begin the process of raising council rents to harmonise with other authorities across Wales. The Council has been forced into this step by the Welsh Government, which has insisted on mandatory rent rises of inflation plus 1.5% for the next four years, plus a further £2.

The Council has cushioned the blow as best it can by reducing the £2 surcharge to £1.50 for the year 2015/16. The change means that Council tenants paying a weekly rent of £70 will be £4 a week worse off from April 6. Tenants in sheltered properties will be required to contribute to sheltered warden costs. Other service charges linked to communal areas in Councilowned properties will follow in April 2016.

While the authority exits the existing financial arrangements with the Welsh Government for social housing, it will have additional monies made available to it as a result. The additional money will be used by the authority to improve its existing housing stock and develop new social housing schemes in the County. The Council’s aim is to deliver initially ten additional properties for social housing a year in each of the next five years, initially by acquiring properties in strategic locations around the County.

No questions about budget cuts

Agenda Item 5 was the medium term financial plan for the next two years. Describing the financial settlements for the current and preceding year as “the two most difficult financial settlements since the Council’s inception in 1996”, the report made grim reading.

Over £2m to be cut off the education budget, just under that amount off adult social care, almost £1m off social care for children, and hefty cuts from already slashed budgets for highways, culture and leisure, and environmental services. A total of over £12m in cuts coming up in 2015/16 and no end in sight for the foreseeable future.

The details behind the headline figures were equally startling: residential care is to be reviewed with a projected saving of £1/4m and a review of commissioned services for adults with a projected saving of over three times that amount. The figures are challenging, to say the least and it is clear that having trimmed low-hanging fruit from the budgetary vine, more serious root and branch surgery is on the way.

The Cabinet, however, possibly stricken by the bleakness of the financial picture, raised not one question on the figures. Nobody offered even a murmur before the topic was closed and the next agenda item addressed.

Concern over planning reforms

The Council gave a frosty response to the Welsh Government’s consultation on a proposed new planning regime. Expressing concerns that the policy did nothing to address the importance of protecting the Welsh language in areas that might be affected by future housing development, Pembrokeshire County Council echoed views expressed both by Carmarthenshire County Council and Cymdeithas yr Iaith Cymraeg.

The Cabinet collectively endorsed the view that so-called ‘front-loading’ of the planning process would produce problems, especially when combined with what was described as ‘an overly-prescriptive’ initial approach to the planning process. The response reflecting those concerns, and prepared by officers was unanimously endorsed.

Cabinet debates Riverside library

Back in three months: Keith Lewis wants fast library decision

Back in three months: Keith Lewis wants fast library decision

By far the longest discussion of the day was devoted to the relocation of the County Library from its current temporary accommodation to new premises. As revealed in last week’s Pembrokeshire Herald, the current Riverside market site has emerged as a strong favourite for the development. While some concerns were expressed about the current stall holders in the market, those were swept aside as a wave of enthusiasm for the site swept around the Cabinet.

The possibility of regenerating Bridge Street by relocating business sited in the market was nodded about with every sign of approval. The fact that those businesses, each of them with leases and some with the benefi t of goodwill and locationrecognition built up over many years, had not been consulted about the grand scheme was rather brushed under the carpet. This was a chance not only to do something but to be seen to do it. The disclosure in the discussion documents that the vacant offi ces at Cherry Grove, acquired only recently by the authority, needed structural work to the floors was all forgotten about.

The thought that they had brought this on themselves by moving the library with NO clear or properly-costed plans for an alternative location, similarly did not engage their notice. ‘Back in three months with a fi rm proposal’, was the call from Councillor Keith Lewis. Having nodded through everything else, his fellow Cabinet members nodded along with that.

Best of the rest

Having managed the rare feat of keeping the platitudes going for almost an hour and a half, the last few items on the agenda were clattered through at a fearful rate. The opportunity given to the Development Directorate to mismanage yet more public money was dealt with on the nod; library opening hours littledetained the Cabinet, save for Neyland councillor Simon Hancock mentioning Neyland library and Pembroke Dock member Sue Perkins doing likewise for Pembroke Dock’s.

A swift trot through car-parking charges, including a brusque disposal of Pembroke Town Council’s objections to charging for coaches on the Commons Road, and the fi nal item on the agenda arrived. Perhaps chastened by the realisation that there had been decidedly little actual debate, there was a marginally more detailed discussion about the Council’s plan to charge a £10 fee for Blue Badge applications.

The fact that Pembrokeshire Council was one of the last hold-outs to charging has done the Council great credit; the fact that they have been compelled to move to charging by legislative changes further up the political food chain is a matter for regret. In a concession, the Cabinet agreed that it would look at ensuring that those on the lowest incomes would not be adversely affected by the charge.

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Covid-19 vaccination venues and timeline announced for everyone locally over 50

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EVERY person in JCVI priority groups 5 to 9 will be offered a COVID-19 vaccination by 18 April, Hywel Dda University Health Board has confirmed.

While the health board’s vaccination programme has the capacity to offer a vaccine to everyone in groups 5 to 9 by the original target date of 4 April, the delivery plan has had to be adjusted based on confirmed vaccine deliveries.

Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, and Pembrokeshire residents in priority groups 5 to 9 can expect to receive their vaccine as follows:

  • Group 5, people aged 65 – 69 years – delivered by GP practices between 15 February and 12 March
  • Group 6, people aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions and unpaid carers – delivered by GP practices between 22 February and 4 April
  • Group 7, people aged 60 – 64 years – delivered by mass vaccination centres starting 8 March
  • Group 8, people aged 55 – 59 years – delivered by mass vaccination centres starting 22 March
  • Group 9, people aged 50 – 54 years – delivered by mass vaccination centres starting 5 April

The health board currently has mass vaccination centres located in Aberystwyth, Cardigan, Haverfordwest, Tenby, Carmarthen and Llanelli.

Group 6 is significantly the largest cohort to be vaccinated to date and we understand that many in this group will be anxious to receive a vaccine. Please do not contact your GP or the health board to ask about your appointment, you will be contacted directly when it is your turn and we thank you for your patience.

People in groups 7, 8 and 9 will receive a letter with an appointment date and time. Please arrive as close to your appointment time as possible. The letter will include a phone number to contact the health board should you need to rearrange or cancel your appointment but please make every effort to keep your allocated appointment time.

Steve Moore, Chief Executive of Hywel Dda UHB, said: “While  our programme has had to slow  due to supplies, we want to reassure everyone in groups 5 to 9 that our amazing teams of vaccinators and GP practices have the capability and flexibility to deliver our vaccine supplies as they arrive into the region.

“Vaccine supplies will start to increase again from mid-March, and we are confident that everyone living in our three counties in the top 9 priority groups will be offered a vaccine by mid-April.

“In Hywel Dda we have an older population compared to some other health boards and so over 50% of our adult population will have been offered a vaccine by milestone 2.

“To be able to say that as we approach the anniversary of the first national lockdown is nothing short of extraordinary.

“And again, I must say thank you to everyone living in our three counties who continue to come forward in substantial numbers for the vaccine. Uptake remains remarkably high and we hope to see this continue through groups 5 to 9 and into group 10.”

People are asked, wherever possible, to use their own private transport to attend an appointment. Lifts can be accepted from someone in their household or support bubble, but not from anyone else due to the risk of transmission of the virus.

The health board has put in place transport support for anyone who may have difficulty attending their vaccination appointment. If you have no other means of travel, please contact the health board on 0300 303 8322 and we will be happy to assist.

Everyone in priority groups 1 to 4 should have received an offer of a vaccination. If you have not been contacted, or have changed your mind, please contact your GP at the earliest opportunity. No one will be left behind.

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Nolton Haven: Man hospitalised after getting into difficulties in sea

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A MAN was taken to hospital after getting into difficulties in the sea off Nolton Haven on Friday.

Emergency services were alerted at 2.40pm on February 26 by a 999 call to the control centre.

The Little Haven RNLI lifeboat, Broad Haven Coastguard, an ambulance crew and a Coastguard rescue helicopter assisted police in the operation.

The male casualty was stabilised on the beach and shortly before 4.30pm, was then transported to Withybush Hospital.

A police spokesman told The Herald: “We were called to a male who had got into difficulties in the water at Nolton Haven shortly before 3pm.

“He was taken to hospital by ambulance.”

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Cyclist killed on A40 was serving police officer, force confirms

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A CYCLIST who died after a crash with a van on the A40 in Carmarthenshire was a serving police officer with Dyfed-Powys Police, the force has confirmed in a statement to Herald.Wales.

The driver of the van involved in the crash, which happened on Thursday (Feb 25) has been arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving, it was confirmed on Friday (Feb 26).

Police are investigating the fatal collision, which caused the road to be closed for 12 hours, and are asking for any witnesses to come forward by calling 101.

37-year-old Lynwen Thomas, who is a former student at Ysgol Bro Myrddin, Croes-y-Ceiliog, Carmarthen, was a sergeant and a very well-respected member of Dyfed-Powys Police.

A spokesperson for the police said in a statement: “Our thoughts are with her family, friends and colleagues, who have all been offered specialist support. We ask that family members are given the privacy they need at this difficult time.”

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