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Committee stalls on council tax rise as Covid-19 impacts discussed

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A PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL committee has decided not to commit to giving their preference on the rise of council tax in the county because of the knock on effect of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Councillors have been discussing the potential rise in council tax as part of their budget setting process for 2021-22.

Cabinet member Cllr Bob Kilmister explained that the settlement they had been expecting from the Welsh Government had been ‘better than anticipated’.

Prior to Christmas the council was looking at a funding gap of £25m but after the settlement from Cardiff, they were looking at a gap of £14.5m.

It was suggested that the improved figure could help the council alleviate the pressure felt by families when it came to paying their council tax.

Around 3% of the population are exempt from paying council tax but Cllr Kilmister added that they did not want to hit those people again by reducing the services that they used.

The council’s interventions with looked after children has also gone up by 50% as a result of the pandemic.

Rises of 3% and 5% have been put forward but the council’s Policy and Pre-Decision Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which met on Tuesday, January 19, decided not to commit to giving their preference.

Councillors said they were cautious about imposing a 5% increase as families across the county had been hit hard by the pandemic.

Cllr Tony Baron asked if a 3% increase in council tax could be fully costed adding: “We see a very dramatic improvement in the position we had before Christmas.

“Perhaps it would be useful to consider whether a fraction of that improvement should be used to take pressure off residents in the form of council tax increases.”

Cllr Tom Tudor added: “I am cautious about increasing council tax by 5%. Pembrokeshire has the second highest percentage of furloughed workers in Wales and that does not include those who are not eligible for the furlough scheme.”

“If we are in a better position than we were predicted I am rather cautious about taking on an increase of 5% at this point in time and I think families who have been affected by the pandemic have been, I think Bob said, in ‘dire straits’.”

Cllr Kilmister went on to say that he was ‘extremely confident’ that the council’s board that was set up to look at the budget would be able to deliver on its challenges.

Speaking on child poverty, Cllr Mike James said that there was poverty throughout Pembrokeshire and added that there would need to be a lot more debate on the rise in council tax before a decision could be made.

Cllr Kilmister added: “I don’t want to put up council tax. The poorest people who are not paying council tax are the ones who are using our services more. If you lower the budget you are affecting them again.

“Child poverty is huge, our interventions with looked-after children has gone up by 50% this financial year as a result of the pandemic.

“There are massive challenges. We have to make sure that those who have been affected badly aren’t affected even more.”

Committee chair Cllr Josh Beynon said: “If we don’t increase council tax and we cut services instead, what happens to those looked after children in twenty years’ time?”

Cllr Rhys Sinnett proposed that the committee should not commit to giving a preference to a rise in council tax.

Seven members voted in favour while two, Cllrs Tim Evans and Josh Beynon, voted against.

The council’s Cabinet will make a final decision on the budget on February 15.

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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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