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Council tax could go up by 12.5% [UPDATED]

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RESIDENTS in Pembrokeshire could see an increase of up to 12.5% in council tax if the Council is to maintain a number of its services.

Cabinet members were presented with a draft budget at a meeting today (Nov 27), but Cllr Bob Kilmister said if they did not raise the council tax, they could see cuts to a number of important services.

Cllr Kilmister highlighted the areas of Adult Social Care and Education which make up 67% of the entire budget and said he could not make the budget without hitting those areas.

He said: “We’re in a really difficult position, whatever we do, if we increase council tax by these very large figures, we are going to hurt large sections of the community within this county, I have no wish to do that whatsoever, the working poor in particular, will be damaged by that.

“The alternative is that we hit the most vulnerable and the most important in our society with cuts and that is something that all members of this council are going to have to consider.”

Pembrokeshire has historically had a low council tax base but Cllr Kilmister said they were paying the price for that and added that their council tax was 30% lower than that of Ceredigion and Carmarthen.

If Pembrokeshire’s Council tax was the same as those two, they would have an additional £15m.

He went on to say that at the next Council meeting on December 14, they would have to effectively present two budgets, one showing what they would need to balance the books on 5% council tax and the other showing what it would be like if they raised the council tax to 12.5%.

Cllr Kilmister, who jokingly described himself as becoming the Cabinet Member for doom and gloom, said: “Currently, we have asked all services to provide a 5% cut. It is essential that we start to deliver transformation services rapidly.

“I am more confident that we now have a very good plan starting to come into fruition and it is essential that it is in place to actually deliver our Medium Term Financial Plan.

“The Capital programme will also impose financial demands on the revenue budget and whilst borrowing is currently very cheap we still have to pay this back.

“The new Capital programme, as detailed, may not be affordable, drawing attention to the Swansea Bay City Region Deal, 21st Century Schools and economic regeneration budgets. All these projects provide us with opportunities but also huge pressures in terms of what it does to the revenue budget.

“Currently, on next year’s budget, after asking for the 5% cuts from the various departments, we have a shortfall of £3.64m and we still need to identify where those savings are going to come from.

“That’s based on other things that Cabinet and Council will have to determine is whether or not we make further cuts which I fear could be draconian in terms of the effect on the £3.64m or whether we impose a higher council tax above the 5%.

“That is something that, at the present moment, we are going to have to do.”

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Ongoing incident closes busy Haverfordwest road

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A MAJOR road in Haverfordwest has been closed due to a police incident this afternoon (May 5)

A man was seen holding onto the outside railings of a bridge, talking to police officers.

The police said: “We are dealing with an ongoing incident, with concern for the welfare of a male, which has meant the A487 between Cartlett Road and Thomas Parry Way in Haverfordwest has been closed.

“Motorists are asked to avoid the area and find alternative routes.

There are reports of long queues for motorists in and around Haverfordwest with some drivers messaging The Herald saying “Town is gridlocked.”

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James Oulton found not guilty of 30 counts of sexual assault against 11 ex-pupils

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JAMES OULTON, 34, the primary school teacher who was accused of 30 charges of sexual assault against pupils has been found not guilty of all charges at Swansea Crown court today, following a lengthy trial (May 4).

The charges, now dismissed, had related to his time as a Haverfordwest primary school teacher, between 2012 and 2018.

Mr Oulton had described the accusations as a “witch-hunt”.

He confirmed he had made a formal complaint against one officer involved.

Speaking after the verdict, James Oulton said: “I am glad two years and eight months of hell for my family, colleagues and friends has come to an end.”

“I’m just glad it’s over and that the jury came to the right verdict.”

The press was only able to report on the prosecution case, but not the defence case – because Oulton him self via his barrister had made an application to the court for a press restriction.

The Herald feels that this press restriction on the reporting of both sides of the case, once granted, was unlawful, and is appealing to the Court of Appeal on a point of law.

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Nineteen arrests and weapons seized during knife crime action week

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NINETEEN people were arrested and a number of weapons were seized as police took part in a national week of action against knife crime, police have said.

Dyfed-Powys Police has released its results from Op Sceptre, which ran from April 26 to May 2, during which officers across the force took part in activity to crack down on crime involving blades.

The week was led by the force’s roads policing units (RPU), with a focus on targeting operations in key areas throughout the four divisions.

Neighbourhood policing teams were instrumental in engaging with shopkeepers, creating educational videos for communities on social media, and working with RPU on joint patrols in crime hotspots.

Inspector Andrew Williams said: “There have been some excellent results forcewide  from this year’s Op Sceptre, and as a result of the increased proactivity in key areas, there has also been a vast amount of other offences detected.

“This was thanks to some outstanding work by roads policing units, neighbourhood policing teams, the joint firearms unit and response officers.

“Our approach was to educate our communities on the laws around carrying and selling knives, and the dangers associated with having a blade on your possession, which was backed up with operational activity across the force.

“This has been very well received, and will be continued during the next operation.”

During the week 20 stop searches were carried out, resulting in seven arrests and numerous weapons being seized.

Twelve people were arrested for drug driving following stop checks on vehicles, one of which led to the discovery of a cannabis cultivation in the Cardigan area.

Traffic offence reports were issued to 41 drivers, and two people will be dealt with for failing to stop for officers when requested.

Neighbourhood policing activity saw engagement with 95 shop owners and community leaders, with officers and PCSOs reassured to find that most businesses were complying with the Challenge 25 policy. Those who were not will be dealt with accordingly.

Insp Williams said: “Our work to tackle knife crime will continue as we consider intelligence logs that were submitted during the operation and develop targeted plans to deal with concerns in our communities.

“We would also like to remind people that while our knife amnesty has now concluded, the best way to dispose of an unwanted blade is to take it to your local recycling centre.”

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