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Council improve report published

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Pembrokeshire County Council has become the first local authority in
Wales to publish a Corporate Peer Challenge Report.

The report – compiled by the Local Government Association (LGA) –
will inform measures for the Council’s improvement in the future.
In the past decade around two-thirds of councils in England have
undertaken a Corporate Peer Challenge.

A small team of peer officers and councillors, compiled by the LGA,
spent a week with the Council in mid-February.

The process involved engaging with elected members, employees
and a wide range of people connected with the Authority to get views
and perspectives.

The report highlights a number of areas of good practice while also
identifying areas for improvement.

For instance, the peer team was impressed with the Council’s delivery
in relation to social care integration which the Authority’s partners
view as being ‘leading-edge’ within Wales.

Partners also pointed to an improved set of relationships with the
County Council.

The peer team found that the Cabinet’s Programme for Administration
provided increased clarity around priorities and noted delivery of the
vision.

Examples included removing the tolls on the Cleddau bridge; plans to
enhance digital infrastructure and related broadband connectivity
across the county and building new council housing.

The team complimented the Council on how it has addressed the
budget gap to date and the bold decisions taken – including raising
Council Tax – and noted the progress its transformation programme,
especially the technology element and the much-enhanced ability for
staff to work in more agile ways.

The report includes twelve recommendations including building on the
locality planning model used for health and social care; tackling
relationship issues and strengthening corporate processes including
decision-making, transformation, organisational development and
communication.

In a joint statement Council Leader, David Simpson, and Chief
Executive, Ian Westley, said: “We are both very grateful to the peer
team for facilitating and sharing the review and making
recommendations that they believe can improve how the Council is
run.
“We are as one in recommending to all senior leaders – members and
officers – that the report and its recommendations should be accepted
by the Council as a whole.

“The team noted the real commitment, extensive goodwill and huge
pride our employees have in serving their communities.
“The current crisis has underlined the dedication of employees and
elected members to Pembrokeshire and its communities. This
dedication, working alongside the resources of our public, private and
third sector partners, cannot be underestimated.”
The statement added: “The peer challenge and the resulting report
has held up a mirror to the Council and highlighted the need for it to
tackle some difficult issues. We know that Pembrokeshire County
Council can, and will, address the report’s recommendations.”
Councillor Neil Prior, Cabinet Member for Transformation and IT,
said: “I welcome the constructive challenge that the report brings and
the Council will develop a detailed action plan to address the report’s
recommendations.
“Of course, at the moment we must devote our efforts to tackling
Covid-19 and keeping all our communities safe but that doesn't stop
us from being absolutely committed to our improvement journey.”
A copy of the report is available at:
https://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/improvement-planning/how-do-we-
know-whether-or-not-we-are-improving

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Welsh Guards sergeant shot dead during Castlemartin live-fire training exercise

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A BRITISH ARMY sergeant was killed on Thursday night (Mar 4) in a shooting accident at Castlemartin Training Area, The Herald can confirm.

The solider was training with live ammunition, ahead of a planned deployment to Iraq this summer.

Five police cars and an ambulance were seen screaming through Pembroke towards the incident at approximately 10pm towards the incident.

A coastguard helicopter, CG187, was scrambled to the scene, and hovered near Bosherston for a while, but was stood down and returned to base.

The Herald has contacted the MOD for a comment, who said: “It is with great sadness we can confirm the death of a soldier on the 4th of March.

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this tragic time.

“The circumstances surrounding this death are being investigated and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”

THIS STORY IS UPDATING

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Pembrokeshire County Council bills Home Office for Penally camp costs

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THE COUNCIL has sent an invoice for more than £80,000 to the Home Office.

It is to cover some of the costs that the local authority has incurred in connection with the Penally Asylum Seeker Centre, near Tenby.

Following a question on the issue from Cllr Jonathan Preston at Full Council the Council have confirmed that a bill has been sent.

The Member for Penally ward asked: “Please can the relevant Cabinet Member provide a breakdown of all costs to this authority which have been incurred in providing staff, services and other associated resources to Penally camp since its re-purpose by the Home Office last September?”

Council leader Cllr. David Simpson confirmed that on February 22 Pembrokeshire County Council submitted an invoice for £83, 858 which includes £65,564 in staff costs, £12,799 of specialist support and £5,495 for works such as barriers.

Pembrokeshire County Council is currently awaiting payment, the Authority confirmed.

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Hospitality sector welcomes Budget boost

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IT HAS been so long it seems since we could stand at a bar and enjoy a well-earned pint, but now we are on the road back to normality, the Herald has spoken to some of those in the hospitality sector who have been asked to close. We wanted to know what the owners in businesses in these sectors locally thought of the budget and if Rishi Sunak had done enough to help them.

We first spoke to a Milford Haven restaurant business. Owner of Martha’s Vineyard in Milford Haven, Dan Mills said that the budget was not a silver bullet to fix all problems but said that the budget had gone a fair way to delivering what many in the Pembrokeshire hospitality sector have been calling for in recent weeks.

Dan Mills said: “The biggest risk many of us were facing was the cliff edge of a VAT increase, the end of the Furlough Scheme and a return to full business rates, I’m pleased that the Chancellor has recognised this and taken action on all fronts.

“With talk of the Welsh Government restricting us to outside trading for an initial period, the flexibility that the Furlough Scheme brings will be a huge help to ensure staff retain their jobs.

“I was also delighted to see that the Chancellor has provided funding to Wales to ensure that we benefit from a further 12 months of Business Rate Relief here in Pembrokeshire, that’s money that many of us can instead invest into restarting our businesses.

“I hope that the conversation that unfortunately began due to Covid between politicians and the Pembrokeshire hospitality and tourism sector can continue long beyond this crisis, it seems that through some open and honest feedback we are making real progress.

Award winning gastro-pub The Griffin Inn is well known throughout Wales and has received many national reviews. Their reputation puts them in a strong position once they are allowed to re-open. We spoke to Sian and Simon Vickers about the budget.

Simon Vickers, co-owner is also a director of Visit Pembrokeshire. He told The Herald: “I think the budget was very positive for the hospitality industry with the reduction in VAT being the biggest help.

“Overall I feel the government have supported the industry amazingly

In regard to tax on alcohol, Simon said: “Duty has been frozen It would have been nice to have seen a cut in it. Whether there’s a cut or not the breweries always increase their prices so in all honesty it never affects us.”

The ongoing financial support has been welcomed by industry group CAMRA, The Campaign or Real Ale, but the organisation said that the Chancellor had missed the opportunity to lower beer duty to save our pubs.

Their national chairman Nik Antona issued a statement to The Pembrokeshire Herald saying: “Freezing alcohol duty is obviously better than a rise. However, CAMRA had hoped to see the Chancellor announce a cut in duty on beer served on tap in pubs and social clubs to benefit consumers and help the great British pub recover and thrive in the difficult months and years ahead by being able to compete with supermarket alcohol.

“The Government’s commitment to review alcohol duties in the coming months is welcome. CAMRA will continue to call for a lower rate of duty for beer served in pubs – an option available to the Government now we have left the European Union.

“Reducing tax on beer served in pubs and social clubs would encourage responsible drinking in a supervised, community setting – as well as boosting jobs and local economies, helping consumers and benefiting pubs and licensees.”

On financial support announced, Nik commented: “Cutting VAT as pubs begin to reopen, and reducing it until April next year, means they can now start benefiting from that cut – but CAMRA believes this VAT cut should be extended to alcohol so that traditional locals that don’t serve food can benefit too.

“The extension of furlough until September and new grants of up to £18,000 are very welcome. However, pubs are unlikely to be able to fully reopen at pre-COVID trading levels due to outside space and then table service only indoors. The beer and pubs sector will need further support over the coming months, over and above new loans, to help them get back on their feet until there is a full and proper re-opening and they can trade at full capacity.

“Extending the business rates holiday until the end of June will help keep the wolves from the door for many English pubs, with the two-thirds reduction for the rest of the financial year a welcome step. However, given how tough it will be for many pubs we believe the 100% cut in business rates needs to be extended for a full 12 months as has already happened in Scotland.”

Picture: Simon Vickers, Griffin Inn, Dale

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