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Badger goes to the farm

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potofgoldHELLO READERS! WELL, just when you thought that the aff airs of Pembrokeshire County Council could not slip any deeper into the realms of Whitehall farce (keep your trousers on, Huw!), we had the fi nal act in the saga of ‘A Funny Th ing Happened on the Way to the Dole Queue’, which Badger can only describe as not only being beyond parody but almost beyond belief. Back when Badger wrote his last column, our hero – Bryn Parry-Jones – was on his way out of County Hall, borne aloft on the narrow shoulders of the IPPG along a path strewn with palm fronds and rose petals, while Unison members sobbed with laughter. And then there was a surprise last minute twist of the type beloved by fi lm directors like Alfred Hitchcock, David Fincher and Peter Rogers (the last being an auteur of the genre, being behind classic crime thrillers like Carry on Constable).

Rather like Banquo’s ghost rocking up at the feast, the Auditor made an appearance and threw over the council’s ‘best off er’ possible deal. Now, readers, to understand this you have to ask yourself a very straightforward question based upon events at County Hall over the last calendar year. Let us swift ly recap the situation, readers: • In September 2013, this newspaper exposed the fact that Bryn Parry- Jones had entered into a scheme designed to help him avoid tax on his seven-fi gure pension pot.

Instead, Mr Parry-Jones would receive the grossed up equivalents of the council’s contribution to his pot for him to invest as he wished for his retirement. • In January, the Assistant Auditor for Wales ruled that the payments handed to Bryn Parry-Jones in lieu of pension contributions were unlawful.

• In February, the council held an extraordinary meeting at which the council agreed to stop making the payments. • In May the Chief Executive was invited to repay the pay supplements.

• In July, the Chief Executive said, through his representatives, that not only would he not pay back the money he had received but that he was considering his position about suing the council to make it continue the unlawful payments.

• In August, the Chief Executive took a ‘period of absence’ aft er this paper revealed how he subjected two councillors to a tirade of abuse for not voting in accordance with his wishes and interests in relation to his repayment of the unlawful payments. • On October 16, the council agreed a £330K settlement package. Crucially, that settlement package included compensating the Chief Executive in respect of the unlawful payments he had not received since February and the unlawful payments were taken into account when calculating other elements of the compensation package. Several councillors parroted the view that, while it was a lot of money, the £330K was a triumph for tough negotiating and was the best the council could do.

• Last Tuesday, the Assistant Auditor for Wales stepped in and pointed out the logical fl aw in Baldrick Adams’ cunning plan. Can you guess what the Wales Audit Offi ce thought of compensating an offi cer for unlawful payments made to him? I bet you can, readers! But, apparently, the assembled brainpower of the council, its own legal team and their external advisors had not considered the Auditor might look askance at the prospect. For a few desperate hours, the carefully laid plans of mice and men (well, readers, certainly those of rodents) lay in tatters all about them. Contrary to the spin the council tried to put on events, this was not a case of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s to the Auditor’s satisfaction. Th e Auditor made it clear that there was no agreement between him and the council to sign off on a deal which contained elements he had earlier this year ruled unlawful.

Drawing a comparison with modes of travel: it appeared as though that the council was in a small canoe on a well known brown and smelly waterway without a means of propulsion. Several issues arose: if the agreement was not signed, would Bryn return? Put another way: How could Bryn return when the leader of council, in an earlier interview, had related how much better things were now he had gone? More to the point, would the council need to call councillors together to vote on any revised deal? (Almost certainly) And what were then the risks of no deal being approved? Would the council allow the Investigatory Committee to meet and to potentially suspend Bryn to avoid him appearing at County Hall on Monday (Nov 3), like a cross between last night’s dodgy curry and Fu Manchu? But a deal was announced on Friday (Oct 31).

The council had appeased the Auditor by shaving the unlawful elements out of the deal. Bryn had taken a hit of £52K and would now receive a paltry £280K for piloting the council to public ignominy and to levels of ridicule that s u c c e e d e d in giving the impression that the council were to government what Laurel and Hardy were to piano moving. Now, readers, Badger has it from an impeccable source that his Royal Bryness’ opening gambit in negotiations was for a settlement around £550K in value. In the end, he has copped just over half that fi gure. And here, readers, here is the big question that arises from all of this?

If – on short notice – the former CEO of our council was prepared to shed over £50K from his pay off , what confi dence can we have that this was best settlement possible? Because the fact Bryn accepted over £50K less than the council agreed on October 16 suggests that, unless the council put another sweetener on the table to sugar taking £50K off the settlement, the £330K plus deal agreed originally was signifi cantly more than he would have settled for. The question for the thinking councillor is not whether or not they should have had the chance to scrutinise the lower deal, but rather whether they can have any faith whatsoever in the bland and blithe assurances of the council’s leadership that everything necessarily is as they are being told.

It is remarkable, readers, that a supposed group of independent councillors can come together – without whipping or direction – and as one not only back “the best deal possible” but churn out the same line of re-assuring drivel, self-justifi catory nonsense, and abuse of those who questioned whether £330K was the best deal possible. Pull the other one. It’s got bells on. No doubt another magnum opus from the council’s own Beria, former PC Rob Summons, is headed for the pages of another local newspaper explaining how – rather like the desperate propaganda put about by Squealer in Animal Farm – black is really white and that Boxer really was only taken to the hospital and not to the knacker’s yard. If Orwell shone the same light as on the Kremlin on the Cleddau, which animal would represent your councillor, readers?

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Charity

Fishguard RNLI celebrates first female Coxswain in Wales, as charity marks 200th year 

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ON MONDAY, March 4, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) will celebrate 200 years of saving lives at sea. Fishguard RNLI Lifeboat Station is celebrating being both the oldest lifeboat station in Wales, as well as being the first Welsh station to have a female Coxswain. 

On the day the charity turns 200, the RNLI is revealing its volunteer lifeboat crews and lifeguards in west Wales have saved an incredible 3,891 lives during its two centuries of lifesaving.  

Since the charity was founded in 1824, its volunteer crews in west Wales have launched the lifeboats 14,872 times, saving 3,776 lives, while its lifeguards – who became part of the RNLI’s lifesaving service in 2001 – have responded to 8,865 incidents, saving 115 lives*.  In total across the UK and Ireland, 146,452 lives have been saved by the RNLI – this equates to an average of two lives saved every day for 200 years.  

Since 1824, the four lifeboat stations in Ceredigion have launched 4,848 times and saved 1,238 lives. In Pembrokeshire, the five stations have launched 8,563 times and saved 2,395 lives. Burry Port station in Carmarthenshire has launched 1,461 times and has saved 143 lives.  

Fishguard Lifeboat Station on the far west coast of Pembrokeshire was the first lifeboat station to be established in Wales. Originally established in 1822, Fishguard’s first lifeboat was built by locals. In 1855, local inhabitants requested that the RNLI take over the station. 

The station has also made RNLI history by being the first station in Wales to appoint a female Coxswain – Gemma Gill. Gemma has recently passed out as Coxswain and is thoroughly enjoying her new role.  

Gemma joined the RNLI in 2001 serving as a volunteer for North Berwick and Aberystwyth RNLI before becoming a full-time staff member.  

Gemma said:  ‘The first person to take me to sea on a lifeboat was a woman called Rhona, and she told me “don’t let other people decide what you’re capable of,” which has always stuck with me. 

‘While I believe it’s a matter of skills and experience rather than gender, I recognise the significance of this milestone. 

‘We’ve come a long way from the image of a lifeboatman in his oilskins, and, as the first woman to become an RNLI coxswain in Wales, I hope to inspire other women and girls to join the lifeboat crew.’ 

Although not officially part of the early lifeboat crews, women have always played an active role in the work of the RNLI, from the ‘lady launchers’ who played key roles at lifeboat stations assisting in the launching and recovery of vessels, to fundraisers such as Marion Macara who helped to organise the first recorded charity street collection in Manchester in 1891.  

Throughout its history, Fishguard lifeboat station has been awarded 28 medals. One gold, 18 silver and nine bronze. Today the station operates a D-class inshore lifeboat Edward Arthur Richardson as well as a Trent class Blue Peter VII.   

While much has changed in 200 years, two things have remained the same – the charity’s dependence on volunteers, who give their time and commitment to save others, and the voluntary contributions from the public which have funded the service for the past two centuries.  

Jo Partner, RNLI Head of Region for Wales says:  ‘I am immensely grateful to everyone who is involved with the charity across Wales – our volunteers, supporters and staff. Today is a hugely significant day in our history and an occasion we should all be very proud of. I know there are lots of events being planned across Wales to mark this very special day and I hope people enjoy being part of this special piece of history.   

 ‘I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to all those who play a part in making the RNLI the proud organisation is it today – which really is a cause for celebration.’   

RNLI Heritage Archive and Research Manager, Hayley Whiting, says: ‘The RNLI’s founder, Sir William Hillary, witnessed the treacherous nature of the sea first-hand when living on the Isle of Man and he wanted to take action. His first appeal to the nation in 1823 did not have the desired result but, thankfully, he persevered and gained the support of several philanthropic members of society, who put their names to the charity at a meeting in the City of London Tavern on 4 March 1824.  

‘Twelve resolutions were passed at that meeting, the core of which still stand as part of the RNLI’s Charter 200 years later. This shows how the RNLI’s values and purpose have remained unwavering for 200 years, despite the social and economic changes and challenges of the past two centuries.  

‘Hillary’s vision was ambitious and forward-thinking, and no doubt he would be extremely proud to see the charity he founded still going strong today, and to see how much it has achieved.’ 

The charity has a history of innovation, and adapting to challenging circumstances, such as: 

Lifejackets: In 1861, Whitby lifeboat crew launched six times to rescue stricken vessels in a storm, but on their sixth launch a freak wave capsized the lifeboat and all but one of the crew were lost. The sole survivor was Henry Freeman, who survived because he was wearing a new design of cork lifejacket. After this event, the cork lifejacket became more widely adopted by lifeboat crews.  

Fundraising: In 1886, 27 lifeboat crew members from Southport and St Annes lost their lives while trying to rescue the crew of the Mexico. A public appeal was launched, driven by local man Charles Macara. An 1891 appeal raised £10,000 in two weeks. On 1 October, Charles and his wife Marion organised the first Lifeboat Saturday. Bands, floats and lifeboats paraded through the streets of Manchester, followed by volunteers collecting money. More than £5,000 was taken on the day, which was the first recorded example of a charity street collection. 

Lifeboats: In 1914, over 140 people were saved when the hospital steamship Rohilla was wrecked. The ship had been en route to Dunkirk to help wounded soldiers but was broken up when it ran aground on rocks near Whitby.  Five lifeboats battled terrible seas to reach the ship.  A motor lifeboat (the first of its kind) from Tynemouth, took the last 50 people on board. In total, 144 people were saved by the crews, who worked for over 50 hours in atrocious conditions. The motor lifeboat proved its capabilities and became more widely accepted by lifeboat crews after this event.  

Wartime: When the First World War broke out, many lifeboat volunteers were called away to fight. The average age of lifeboat crews at home increased to over 50. During 1914-18, RNLI lifeboats launched 1,808 times, saving 5,332 lives.  In 1939, young lifeboat volunteers were called away again to war. By the end of the Second World War, RNLI crews had saved 6,376 lives around the coasts of Britain and Ireland.  

In 1940, 19 RNLI lifeboats were used to evacuate troops from Dunkirk. Two had RNLI crews onboard, while the others were crewed by the Royal Navy. The lifeboats and their stand-in crews saved thousands of lives while being shelled and bombed for days.  

Throughout its bicentenary year, the charity is running events and activities to remember its important history and celebrate the modern lifesaving service it is today, while hoping to inspire generations of future lifesavers and supporters.   

A Service of Thanksgiving to mark 200 years of the RNLI will take place at Westminster Abbey on 4 March 2024 at 11.30am. It will be attended by representatives from RNLI lifesaving communities around the UK and Ireland.  

For further information about the RNLI’s 200th anniversary, visit RNLI.org/200

*Statistics from RNLI Operational Data from 4 March 1824 to 31 December 2023 inclusive. A life saved shows how many of the people helped by the RNLI would have lost their life had the RNLI not been there.  

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News

Unwelcome Caller: Pembrokeshire’s looming Council Tax dilemma

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AS WE HAVE reported, Pembrokeshire County Council faces a contentious decision as it considers a recommended inflation-busting 16% increase in council tax to balance its budget.

Councillor Mike Stoddart, known for his critical blog posts as ‘Old Grumpy,’ is voicing strong opposition to the proposed hike, highlighting the intricate challenges and pressures facing the council in these financially strained times.

The recommendation for this substantial increase comes as the council grapples with a tight financial situation, prompting a series of budget-setting seminars aimed at aligning council members on the path forward. Stoddart, who previously voted against last year’s 7.5% increase, remains a staunch opponent, citing a lack of compelling justification for the new rate and expressing concerns over the methods used to secure consensus among council members.

The crux of Stoddart’s argument lies in the perceived manipulation of council members through what he describes as ‘psyops’—psychological operations—intended to sway their votes in favour of the budget proposals. He criticises the shift from informative seminars on local government finance to pressure-laden presentations forecasting dire consequences should the council fail to approve the tax increase. This, according to Stoddart, transforms a complex decision into a dichotomy of distributing “pain” between taxpayers and service users, a decision he argues should remain in the political realm, subject to public scrutiny and debate.

Adding to the complexity are communications from the council’s finance chiefs, setting strict guidelines for proposing alternative budgets. These guidelines effectively place a veto power in the hands of the s151 officer, the council’s finance chief, over any alternative budget proposals. This move has sparked concerns over the democratic process within the council, with Stoddart highlighting the inherent conflict of interest in having one’s proposals judged by an officer whose original budget they aim to challenge.

The narrative took a more dramatic turn with the involvement of Max Caller CBE, a figure introduced to underscore the grave consequences of failing to set a balanced budget. Stoddart’s recounting of Caller’s seminar paints a picture of stark warnings against the backdrop of potential misconduct charges, a tactic Stoddart views as fearmongering designed to quell dissent.

Despite the pressures, Stoddart’s resolve remains unshaken. The veteran councillor is calling for greater transparency and accountability, suggesting that recordings of key seminars be made public to allow constituents a clearer understanding of the deliberations leading up to the budget decision.

His stance reflects a broader concern for democratic integrity within the council.

You can read ‘OLD GRUMPY’ by clicking HERE.

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Health

Senior doctors in Wales vote to strike over pay

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  • A 48 hour strike will take place from Tuesday 16 April

CONSULTANTS and SAS (specialist, associate specialist, and speciality) doctors have voted to strike as part of a dispute with the Welsh Government over their pay, which has been cut by almost a third in real terms since 2008/9.

The results of the ballots, which ended at midday today (Monday 4 March), for doctors working in both branches of practice in Wales saw 86% of consultant voters and 94% SAS doctor voters cast their ballots in favour of industrial action.

A significant 70% of consultants and 58% SAS doctors eligible to vote in Wales had responded to a call to take part in industrial action which will take place from Tuesday 16 April.

Consultant and SAS doctors make up over half (54%) of the hospital-based medical workforce combined, with 3,137 Consultants and 1,088 SAS doctors working in hospitals across Wales. *

The BMA is now calling on all consultants and SAS doctors in Wales to participate in a 48 hour strike, except for those providing ‘Christmas day’ cover.

This level of cover will ensure doctors can provide emergency care, but all elective or non-emergency work will be postponed during this period.

BMA Cymru Wales is working with NHS employers on precise staffing levels that are appropriate and will provide guidance to members in advance of any strike days.   

Dr Stephen Kelly, chair of the BMA’s consultants committee in Wales, said: 

“This has been an incredibly difficult decision. No doctor wants to strike, but the conditions now faced in the workplace caused by the extreme pressures on the service and unsafe staffing levels have left doctors with no choice.   

“Fewer doctors now want to develop their careers in Wales with some health boards reporting vacancy rates of over third for senior doctor posts.  

“Colleagues are now choosing to retire early, reduce their hours or move out of Wales where pay is competitive, and wards better staffed. 

“Unless doctors are better valued for the work they do, more and more doctors will leave an NHS already under severe pressure in Wales”. 

Dr Julie Jones, Deputy chair of the BMA’s SAS doctors committee in Wales added: “Doctors are burning out from covering significant gaps in the workforce and patient safety is at risk. With this result our members have chosen to take a stand for the profession and for patients.

“People are waiting for treatment for longer than ever before, resulting in poorer outcomes and more time in the hospital and we all deserve better.

“This result represents a profession that is not ready to give up on the NHS and its patients in Wales”.

The decision to ballot members was taken after the BMA rejected the Welsh Government’s first and final pay offer for the 2023/24 financial year for those working in secondary care.

For consultants and SAS doctors on closed contracts the offer was 5%; SAS doctors on more recent contracts received as little as 2.5%. This final offer left BMA Cymru Wales with no choice but to enter a trade dispute and ballot for strike action.  

Over the last 15 years, consultants and SAS doctors in Wales have experienced a pay cut of almost a third since 2008/9. They received another sub-inflationary pay offer from the Welsh Government for 2023/24 which is below the recommendation made by the DDRB and is the worst offer in the UK. 

The BMA is calling on the Welsh Government to provide sufficient funding to enable discussions around an uplift in senior doctor pay that will retain existing doctors and ensure that we are able to recruit more.

Consultant and SAS doctor strike action will take place from 7am, Tuesday 16 April to 7am, Thursday 18 April.

Junior doctors in Wales will begin their third round of strike action a 96-hour full walkout from 7am Monday 25 March in pursuit of a fairer deal for their service**

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