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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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Fishguard RNLI launch to attend injured fisherman 13 miles offshore

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FISHGUARD’s RNLI’s all-weather lifeboat launched early on Monday (Jan 17), with a full volunteer crew, to rendezvous with an Irish scalloper fishing boat which had an injured crew member aboard. The 14-metre fishing boat ‘ Golden Fleece’ had requested assistance by making radio contact with HM Coastguard. 

The lifeboat launched at 7.30am in calm conditions and headed to the fishing boat positioned approximately 13 miles north of Cemaes Head. Once on location the injured fisherman, who had suffered a significant finger injury, was transferred to the lifeboat. No further medical assistance was necessary from the lifeboat crew but he was kept under observation during the return journey to Fishguard where he was transferred to an awaiting ambulance upon arrival at 8.30am.   

 

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Brains’ £100 million sell-off plan includes local pubs in Pembrokeshire

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SA BRAINs is close to completing a £100m deal which will see the sale of 100 Wales pubs, including Pembrokeshire locals, it has been reported.

It is reported that Wales most prominent brewers will sell the freeholds to 100 of it’s pubs to a consortium.

Brains currently has a portfolio of 200 pubs across Wales and the South West.

Sources within the pub industry said that the transaction could be signed in the next few days.

The deal is to be made with Song Capital and Cerberus Capital Management, the former owner of Admiral Taverns.

The deal, which is thought to be around the £100m mark, is expected to be used by the Brains’ family shareholders to pay down debt.

The hospitality sector has been hit severely by the Coronavirus pandemic, being forced to close for long periods at a time and then reopening with strict restrictions.

In 2020, Brains struck a deal with Marston’s to operate 141 of its pubs, under the Welsh brewers brand, following financial pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Six Pembrokeshire pubs are earmarked to be included in the transaction; The Ferry Inn, St Dogmaels, Crown Inn, Tenby, Grove Hotel, Narberth, Waterman’s Arms, Pembroke, Harbour Inn, Solva and The Galleon, Broad Haven.

The sale will see the Brains pub estate as a family-owned brewer with a small residual pub portfolio.

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St Clears’ McDonald’s opening delayed for a week

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McDonald's sign

THE OPENING of the new 100-seater McDonald’s in St Clears has been delayed by a week. 

The restaurant, which will be built along the main approach road to Pembrokeshire, aimed to open its doors on Wednesday, January 19. 

However, the company has confirmed that the opening has been postponed until Wednesday, January 26. 

The new McDonald’s will join Haverfordwest and Pembroke Dock McDonald’s as the only members of the company located west of Carmarthen. 

It hoped to provide over 80 full and part time jobs due to being open around the clock. They hosted a recruitment day in December 2021. 

The original applications had previously stated that the McDonald’s would be open 24 hours a day. A premises licence application is currently being made to the County Council for the “provision of late-night refreshments” which, if accepted, would allow the restaurant to be open 24 hours a day.

It will open on the opposite side of the road to Travelodge and Starbucks, which replaced the Little Chef restaurant in 2017.

The restaurant was initially going to include a separate building which would have accommodated a Costa Coffee. However, it will now host a Greggs. 

Alongside this, planning permission has been granted separately for a petrol station with six electric charging points.

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