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Cabinet backs 82p a week Council Tax rise

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CABINET Member for Finance, Cllr Bob Kilmister, delivered a blistering assessment of the ongoing row about the level of Pembrokeshire’s Council Tax on Monday, February 15.
Cllr Kilmister’s accused the Conservative group on the Council of playing electoral games ahead of May’s elections to the Welsh Parliament.

Bob Kilmister suggested that Conservative councillors were well aware of the financial issues their proposed 3% rise in Council Tax would cause. However, they were serving ‘their lords and masters’ higher up the political food chain.
The Cabinet member also attacked plans to raid the Council’s reserves to ensure a lower increase than he believes is needed.
Cllr Kilmister said: “Using reserves to reduce Council Tax, or as a sticking plaster for services, is a very dangerous route to go down. If you keep spending above your income by using your savings, you will inevitably face a crisis sooner or later.”
He said he could not recommend that course of action to his colleagues or to fellow councillors.
Bob Kilmister spelt out the difficulties the Council faces in setting its budget. He reminded his fellow Cabinet members that Pembrokeshire has a near £15m shortfall in the amount of money it should receive to the Welsh Government. That shortfall arises thanks to how successive IPG administrations depressed spending on services to keep its totemic ‘lowest Council Tax in Wales’ policy.
Pembrokeshire still has – by some distance, and by a gap which is likely to widen further – the lowest Council Tax in Wales.

Seconding the recommendation, Pembroke North County Councillor Jon Harvey said that approving 3% increase in Council Tax would be ‘disastrous’ for local services.
Cllr Neil Prior echoed his fellow Cabinet Member’s views and went further.
He pointed out that those who were the best-off had the most disposable income left due to the pandemic’s restrictions. Those with lower incomes had less money at their disposable. The people who would most directly benefit from a lower-than-needed Council Tax increase were those who could well afford to pay a 3.75% increase.
In Band I, Council Tax would rise by £1.92 a week for households.
“The people who need it most are the people who will be hurt the most if we do not raise Council Tax by 3.75%. We’re going to have to fund the services which will help people get back on their feet,” Cllr Prior concluded.
Cllr Phil Baker said that the budget process, using the challenge process to scrutinise Council’s Departments’ budget requests, was empowering and revealing in equal measure.
Cllr Michelle Bateman said that to close the funding gap adequately and meet the Council’s obligations, a 5.9% rise was needed to meet the budget strategy. The 3.75% rise would still leave a massive hole to be filled in the Council’s finances.
The Letterston councillor attacked the rationale behind a 3% increase: “I know it’s difficult. It’s in times like this you need to look to the long-term and get your head up above what’s happening now. A 3% rise now would set up a future Cabinet to fail. It would deny them the opportunity to invest in services, and it would be criminal for us to do that.
“When you explain local government finance person-to-person, they understand keeping Council Tax low hasn’t done us any favours.”

Director of Resources Jon Haswell said that although Pembrokeshire received a better than expected settlement this year, it still left the Council with a funding gap to bridge. Future years’ settlements were expected to be less generous, he said.
Jon Haswell continued: “The Council’s medium-term financial plan is based on a 5% increase in Council Tax. If Council Tax increases by 3.75% per annum, over five years will mean an extra £8.5m loss of funding. That will affect services. Services will be cut, the workforce will be cut. If we stick to 3% per annum, the loss is £13.8m. Members need to look beyond the short term.”

Cllr David Simpson pointed out demand was increasing for children’s services, He said that funding was imperative.
Cllr Tessa Hodgson said a 3% increase meant cutting services to those least able to absorb the loss. It meant the burden would fall on the most vulnerable; on those on the at risk register; on looked after children; and those most at risk of harm.
Cllr Hodgson made a heartfelt plea to councillors and the public backing a 3% raise, to look at the human cost of service cuts.
Those who were the most vulnerable, she concluded, who would pay the price of service reductions.

The Cabinet unanimously approved the recommendation for a 3.75% Council Tax increase.

FULL REPORT IN THE HERALD ON FRIDAY

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Join the Dyfed-Powys Police and Crime Panel as an independent member

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THE Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Panel is looking for two members to join them in their work to support and challenge the Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Commissioner.

The Panel is made of up of members nominated by Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Powys county councils along with at least two independent members.

Opportunities have now arisen for two independent members to join the Panel and carry out key statutory roles that will support the Commissioner exercise his role effectively.

Members will be expected to attend and take part in regular meetings and take part in decision making, creating reports and making recommendations to the Commissioner.

They will review the Commissioner’s annual draft Police and Crime Plan and annual draft budget, review and scrutinise his decisions and actions, and if necessary review the proposed appointment or removal of the Chief Constable and other senior police force appointments.

Applicants will need to demonstrate that they can take a balanced and objective approach in supporting the Panel and the Commissioner, make strategic and well-informed decisions, and interpret and question financial, statistical and performance related information.

They will also need to be able to act as a ‘critical friend’, challenging views or proposals for change constructively.

Applications close on May 31, and appointments to the Panel will be made until October 31, 2024. 

For further information, visit www.dppoliceandcrimepanel.wales

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Successful Fire Service and Health Board partnership to enhance COVID-19 vaccine roll out comes to end

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TUESDAY 11 May 2021 marked the end of a hugely successful partnership between Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service and Hywel Dda University Health Board, initiated to enhance the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine to the communities of Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire.

Since February, Community Safety Staff from Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service have transported 125 passengers over 9450 miles to ensure they were able to receive their COVID-19 vaccination.

Chris Davies, Chief Fire Officer for Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service said: “Recognising the configuration of our Service, the areas we cover and indeed the people we employee, this seemed an ideal opportunity for us to widen our response to the pandemic and support our partners in safeguarding our communities.

“Whilst we already collaborate with the Welsh Ambulance Service Trust, this opportunity enabled us to expand our assistance further within the health arena. This partnership with Hywel Dda University Health Board was the first of its kind for Fire and Rescue Services in Wales and paved the way for a number of similar partnerships for us and the other Fire and Rescue Services in Wales.

“I am extremely proud of our staff who have participated in this collaboration and have made a huge difference to the lives of so many people. Their contribution has without doubt had a positive impact on our response to this global pandemic”.

Mydrian Harries, Corporate Head of Prevention and Protection for Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, coordinated the Service’s response to this call for assistance.

“Our communities are at the heart of our core business. Knowing we were in a position to make an impact, we put in place a robust solution in record time, to not only ensure the safety and wellbeing of our staff, but to also safeguard those who were eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination, but may have had barriers preventing them from attending their appointments.

“Using this partnership as template within which we could expand, we have since been able to offer our assistance to other Health Boards across the Service area. Indeed, a group of 10 vaccine heroes from our Service have joined Powys Teaching Health Board’s vaccination team, playing their part in distributing vaccines at mass vaccination sites in Newtown and Builth Wells. This is another fantastic example of how working together has been vital in our ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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Brand new features unveiled at Scolton Manor Park

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ONE of Pembrokeshire’s best-loved family destinations has announced it will be unveiling several new attractions in June, ready for the summer holidays.  

Among the new features at Scolton Manor are an eco-explorer village, a 1.2km woodland cycle track, an outdoor pirate ship play area and a dedicated railway attraction complete with steam train locomotive ‘Margaret’ and ‘Scolton Express’ play train.

Mark Thomas, manager of Scolton Manor Park, said the team were looking forward to showing visitors the new attractions.

“We’re delighted with our new facilities and believe they will perfectly complement the attractions we have here already at Scolton,” he said.

The woodland eco-explorer village aims to give children more opportunities for outside play and spark their enthusiasm to discover more about the natural world.  

Cllr Paul Miller, Cabinet Member for Economy, Tourism, Culture and Leisure, said the village is perfect for all young explorers from toddlers right through to older children.

“Children love playing outside and we want to inspire them through their play to not only find out more about biodiversity and the environment but also how to care for it,” he said.

“As well as eco-explorer areas, games and activities there will be fun tips on how they can reuse, reduce and recycle more and protect the environment.”

The eco-explorer village is funded by a £50,000 grant from the Landfill Disposals Tax Community Scheme and £25,000 grant from Community Facilities Programme (Welsh Government), in partnership with the Pembrokeshire Beekeepers’ Association.

Mark Thomas said the current attractions at Scolton have also proved very popular since the outdoor areas at the park re-opened to the public earlier this spring.

As well as an adventure play area for older children which includes a 30-metre zip wire, a spinning climbing web and ‘super swings’,  younger visitors can enjoy the wooden playground, sensory musical play area and woodland play features.

“The many and varied attractions at Scolton enhance its role as a community facility while providing a wide range of countryside experiences at a lower cost,” said Mark.

“The new features in particular will also help to continue the development of the site into a must-visit tourist attraction within mid and North Pembrokeshire.”

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