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Lib Dem focus on ‘getting public services right’

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Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 11.46.47SPEAKING in advance of her party’s Spring Conference in Cardiff, Kirsty Williams, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said the party has listened to the people of Wales’ concerns, which is why its clear and concise policy platform will ‘put people first’.

In the forthcoming election, Ms Williams said, the Welsh Liberal Democrats will be relentlessly focused on giving people what they want by getting Wales’ public services right:

“This Labour Government is tired and bankrupt of ideas. It’s lost touch with what people need and want,” she added.

“People don’t expect much from a government, yet Labour has failed to even get the basics right and is failing to provide decent public services.

“In the forthcoming election, the Welsh Liberal Democrats will show that we have listened to people’s concerns. Our vision for a future Welsh parliament is one that finally gives people what they want – good schools, good hospitals and a vibrant economy. We will be relentlessly focussed on getting public services right.

“People want NHS staff to have the time to properly support their loved ones, which is why we will deliver safe staffing levels, ensuring more nurses on hospital wards.

“People want teachers to have the time to properly teach their children, which is why we will deliver smaller class sizes.

“People want a vibrant Welsh economy with good job opportunities, which is why we’ll tear down the barriers that stop businesses from expanding.

“Our priorities are the same as those of people across Wales. A vote for the Welsh Liberal Democrats will be a vote that puts people first.”

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News

Minister for Social Justice strengthens ties with Ireland during St David’s Day trip

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MINISTER Jane Hutt has reaffirmed Welsh Government’s commitment to the Ireland-Wales Shared Statement during a trip to Dublin to mark St David’s Day.

The Ireland-Wales Shared Statement has six areas of co-operation and includes a commitment from both countries to learn from each other and share best practice.

The Minister met the Irish Government’s Joe O’Brien, Minister of State at the Department of Rural and Community Development and the Department of Social Protection, to discuss how relations between the Welsh and Irish Government could continue to be strengthened.

In a two-day visit to Dublin, Jane Hutt, Minister for Social Justice and Chief Whip, attended several cultural and business events.

This included a St David’s Day reception with partners from across government, industry, education and culture in Ireland, as well as the Welsh diaspora community.

During her time in Dublin the Minister met with the National Youth Council of Ireland and two of their Climate Youth Delegates, Oileán Carter Stritch and Jennifer Salmon, who are seeking to build a relationship with the Future Generations Commission team in Wales.

She also met with senior executives from the leading clinical research organisation ICON, which has been investing in Wales and expanding its workforce in Swansea.

The company has been growing its Swansea office over the last four years and is forging stronger links with universities in Wales, as it bids to take on more graduates and fill highly skilled roles in the life sciences sector.

Minister Jane Hutt also met Conor Falvey Assistant, Secretary General with responsibility for Arts and Culture, and Nadia Feldkircher, Lead Researcher on the Irish Government’s Basic Income for the Arts pilot, to discuss the strengths and challenges of such schemes.

Each pilot scheme has a different target audience in each respective country.

The Welsh Government’s Basic Income for Care Leavers in Wales pilot scheme has been targeted at a cohort of around 630 care leavers and is due to conclude in 2025.The formal enrolment period for the pilot ran for a year and ended on 30 June 2023.

Evaluation of the pilot scheme is ongoing. A statistical breakdown of the cohort enrolled was published last year, whilst the first evaluation report was published last month.

The Irish Government’s Basic Income for the Arts pilot scheme will examine, over a three-year period until April 2025, the impact of a basic income on artists and creative arts workers.

Payments of €325 per week are made to 2,000 eligible artists and creative arts workers who were selected at random and invited to take part.

The Minister and lead official discussed the strengths and challenges of Basic Income schemes, as well as what could be learnt from each other about the respective initiatives.

Minister Jane Hutt said: “It has been a privilege to reaffirm our commitment to the Ireland-Wales Shared Statement and Joint Action Plan 2021-25 during my time in Dublin.

“St David’s Day has been a perfect opportunity to showcase our culture overseas and engage with our Welsh diaspora community.

“We are committed to learning from each other and sharing best practice, including through the likes of Basic Income schemes and the Future Generations Commission.”

Minister Joe O’Brien said: “The celebration of St David’s Day here in Dublin, and that of St Patrick’s Day in Cardiff later this month, show the warm and growing relations built on the deep historical and cultural ties between our two peoples.

“We are committed, including through the Ireland Wales Shared Statement, and today’s visit by Minister Hutt, to bringing Wales and Ireland closer together, deepening our cooperation and strengthening connections.”

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News

Vandal-blighted house cannot be demolished without application

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AN OFFICIAL application needs to be made before a deteriorated vandal-blighted house in Haverfordwest may be demolished by a social housing provider, county planners have said.

Social housing provider Ateb Group Limited recently gave county planners prior notification of its plans to demolish The Grove, St Thomas Green.

In its application, it stated: “The building has been unoccupied for several years and its physical condition has deteriorated significantly over that time. It has become prone to vandalism and trespass and is becoming difficult to manage and secure.

“Its demolition will allow the structure and resultant debris to be removed, improving the visual amenities of the locality. It will also enable the site to become readily available for a sensitive redevelopment in association with the adjacent Meyler House.”

It added: “The cleared site will become part of the adjoining Meyler House site, with proposals being prepared to redevelop and construct affordable elderly persons apartments and associated parking facilities.”

Ateb has said it expected the demolition works to take several weeks, starting this April.

Agent Evans Banks Planning Limited, in a supporting statement said The Grove, adjoining Ateb’s head offices at Meyler House, received permission back in 2009 for the “Demolition of existing dwelling and replacement with apartments, houses and landscaped grounds.”

Conservation Area Consent was also granted at that time.

“Those permissions were not implemented and have long since lapsed, but nevertheless indicate that the principle of demolishing The Grove was deemed acceptable at that time to the local planning authority,” said Evans Banks Planning Limited.

“A pre-application enquiry has recently been presented before the local planning authority which seeks to reignite such redevelopment proposals but on a much larger site, incorporating Meyler House and its grounds into a comprehensive redevelopment scheme to create elderly persons apartments.”

It added: “This current submission seeks to renew that 2009 Conservation Area Consent given that the existing former dwellinghouse has now reached a physical state where its deterioration is causing concern.”

County planners determined that prior approval is needed before any demolition works take place, with details of tree protection while the works take place needed, along with a suitable method statement to minimise noise, dust and a strategy for dealing with hazardous materials should they arise during the demolition.

A similar application by Ateb, for demolition works at the town’s former learning centre, near to the former county library, was recently made subject to broadly similar conditions.

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Pembrokeshire council tax rise ‘highest in Wales in 20 years’

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A UK campaign group is to target Pembrokeshire ahead of the county facing what the group says would be the largest council tax increase in England and Wales in more than a decade.

At the February meeting of the county council’s Cabinet, members backed a council tax increase in Pembrokeshire of 16.3 per cent.

The proposed increase, which will be decided by full council at its March 7 meeting, would see the basic council tax level – before town/community precepts and the police precept are included – rise by £219.02 for the average Band D property, taking it to £1,561.98.

It is expected to be the highest percentage rate in Wales, on top of previous Pembrokeshire increases of 12.5 per cent, 9.92 per cent, five per cent, 3.75 per cent, five per cent and 7.5 per cent.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) has launched a campaign against the proposed increase, and will be in Milford Haven on Thursday, February 29, and Friday, March 1, delivering leaflets and speaking to residents about the proposed increase.

TPA research says that if the tax rise is agreed, it will be the largest in England and Wales since 2012-13, when referendum principles were agreed.

England differs from Wales in having a cap, needing a referendum for any rate above five per cent for the 2024-25 financial year.

Taxpayers Alliance says Pembrokeshire’s proposal would be the largest percentage increase in Wales since 2000-01 and the third largest since 1997-98.

The only larger rises were in 2000-01 and 1998-99, when Monmouthshire and Powys county councils increased their council tax by 23.15 per cent and 17.5 per cent respectively, the group says.

At the February meeting of Pembrokeshire’s Cabinet, potential rises of 18.94 per cent, and an eye-watering 20.98 were mooted, which would have placed the county in second place.

The TPA is calling on residents in Pembrokeshire to write to the leader of the council, Cllr David Simpson, expressing their opposition to the proposals.

Benjamin Elks, grassroots development manager of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “This record-busting rate rise would deal a devastating blow to household finances in Pembrokeshire.

“Local taxpayers face being punished for the council’s failure to find efficiencies, cut down on waste and balance the books.

“Councillors should show some backbone, stand up for their residents and say no to this ruinous tax hike.”

Pembrokeshire, currently facing a projected funding gap of £31.9m, has historically had the lowest council tax in Wales.

For comparison, the current 2023-’24 average Band D base council tax – before police and town/community council parts of the overall bill are included – for Pembrokeshire is £1,342.86, compared to Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire at £1,553.60 and £1,490.97 respectively.

If the council had Ceredigion’s level of council tax for 2023-24, it would have had an additional £11.758m income and if it had Carmarthenshire’s it would have had an additional £8.264m.

Pembrokeshire Cabinet Member for Corporate Finance Cllr Alec Cormack said: “For 2024-25, Pembrokeshire County Council is facing additional demand pressures in statutory services (adult and children’s social care, homelessness and education).

“This means we need an extra £17m to provide these services next year – this alone is equivalent to an increase of over 26 per cent on council tax. Additionally, we face inflationary pressures of £22.8m.

“Our funding gap, after the AEF money we’ll receive from Welsh Government, is £31.9m.

“We are legally required to balance our budget – to match the amount of money coming in against what we spend to provide services. We are planning to make savings on our spending of £12.2m, as well as utilising some council tax premiums to enhance the sustainability of our communities.

“This has allowed us to limit the council tax rise to 16.31 per cent. This weighs up the need to limit council tax rises on residents against the need to preserve services used by many of the most vulnerable people in the county.

“The demand pressures, particularly in social care, are affecting all councils in Wales, but particularly Pembrokeshire, since we have had the lowest council tax in Wales for decades.

“Based on current information, we expect Pembrokeshire to still have one of the lowest council tax levels – probably 18th out of the 22 Welsh local authorities.”

Neighbouring Ceredigion is recommended to back an 11.1 per cent increase at its full council meeting of February 29.

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