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What future for Pembrokeshire?

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andrew-rt-daviesWhen the Welsh Government commissioned former NHS Wales CEO Sir Paul Williams to report on public governance in Wales, it made a low key announcement of what now appears to be a scheme for the root and branch reform of the way councils and other public bodies deliver services. In January, when the Williams Commission delivered its draft report, it recommended that the number of local councils in Wales be cut, claiming that there would be massive cost savings in reducing the number of Welsh authorities from 22 to 12 or fewer. At the time, even Labour AM’s were taken aback by the scope of the reorganisation. Lynne Neagle, who represents Torfaen, which would be merged with Blaenau Gwent and Caerphilly under the plans, said in January: “For me, the overriding question that remains unanswered, is where the reducing the numbers of local authorities, particularly at this time, is the panacea for delivering that kind of change – especially when on reading this report, it often feels like the Commission started from the point of saying we need to cut the numbers of councils and then worked backwards, rather than keeping all options on the table.” Having published its response to the Williams Commission on July 8, it is certain that the Welsh Labour Government is determined to plough on and accept the Williams Commission’s recommendations whether or not there is cross-party consensus – or even consensus within Welsh Labour – as to their implementation. As First Minister Carwyn Jones made clear before ramming through the reorganisation of the Welsh NHS in the face of widespread public opposition: “No change is not an option.” After publishing its White Paper, the Welsh Government now seeks public responses to its threat to tear up local government in Wales and impose a new structure, the Pembrokeshire Herald asks whether its public consultation on the proposals is just a sham – a fig leaf to cover their embarrassment when the public realise what changes will entail. Announcing the Welsh Labour Government’s endorsement of the Williams Commission’s recommendation, the First Minister said: “The Commission’s report presented a number of options in terms of a map of merged authorities, but made it clear the decision was for the Welsh Government. I currently believe the first model described by the Commission, which suggests 12 local authorities, provides a coherent overall approach and strikes a balance between building organisational capacity and ensuring local democratic responsiveness. “It is my view that the Commission made a convincing argument that the boundaries of merged local authorities should align with health board and police force boundaries in order to best support collaborative service delivery on that basis. There would have to be exceptional circumstances in order to move away from this principle.” In Pembrokeshire, fears have been expressed that the proposals will lead to a return to the old Dyfed County Council. We spoke to veteran Carmarthenshire Council leader Kevin Madge who asked: “Why go back to what didn’t work? People thought that Dyfed was too far away, too remote from them and their communities. The Welsh Government has not got agreement from local government leaders on this at all and there’s a lot of water to pass under the bridge first. “We have a general election next year, Assembly elections in 2016 and a round of local government elections in 2017. Elections are unpredictable things and I would say that the reorganisation the Welsh Government want is not a done deal. “I am deputy leader of the Welsh Local Government Association, and I would say that the only way forward is to have a proper dialogue between the 22 leaders of local government in Wales and the Welsh ministers. So far, we have not had that. “Let’s look at the suggestion that costs will be cut and savings made. Well, I suppose there might be savings at top levels, but people still need their councils to deliver important daily services. I am concerned that service jobs, which are already under pressure, will be cut and councils will no longer be able to deliver vital services to its communities. “The cost of reorganisation will be £300m to £400m. How will that be funded? That’s the question. I do not think that the people will accept that money being taken out of the budget to deliver services to them.” He pauses a moment and responds to a question about service reductions: “The cuts we are having now are deeper than any of those we experienced in the 80s and 90s under Thatcher. But the cuts now being imposed are on a much smaller base than those were. Things are tough already and it is difficult to see where further cuts can be made without damaging frontline services.” On Council Tax, Mr Madge had even more misgivings: “Pembrokeshire has low Council tax. The rates of Council tax would have to be brought into line across merged authorities. How could that be done? In current higher Council Tax areas, would it go down? If so, how would you make up the shortfall? In lower Council Tax areas, it would need to go up. It’s a minefield to sort out. Frontline services will suffer.” “As for savings, I was a Councillor in 1996 when the last reorganisation took place. Any new structure will take five to eight years to ‘bed in’ and it could take eight to ten years for a new authority to fully get to grips with things. Things won’t improve overnight. Reorganization is not a magic wand.” On the opposite side of the political fence, there is agreement with Kevin Madge’s position. Simon Hart MP told us: “I have got pretty serious misgivings about losing a local authority for Pembrokeshire. After all, we were all relieved when we reverted from Dyfed County Council. However it should be possible to share costs, some services and purchasing contracts (as is the case already in certain parts of London) with other authorities, without losing our County identity and knowledge. The more local the Council, the more accountable we can make it.” And his views were echoed by local AM Paul Davies: “I have some serious concerns that local identities of areas across Wales will be swallowed up in mergers and so any tinkering with local authorities’ boundaries must be fully consulted upon and they need to incorporate an accurate cost/benefit analysis. “Pembrokeshire residents currently enjoy low council taxes and if we returned to the old Dyfed model, as suggested by the Williams Commission, I’m given to understand that council tax could rise by 26%. This would undoubtedly worry my constituents and so any moves to change boundaries must take on board the effects of council tax rises for hard-pressed people living in Pembrokeshire. “The Pembrokeshire brand is synonymous across the globe with tourism and food produce. We need to do everything we can to protect the Pembrokeshire brand, which could be lost under these merger plans. Many people fought long and hard against the old Dyfed model and so we must not lose Pembrokeshire in the Welsh Government’s drive to centralisation across Wales.” Welsh Conservative Leader Andrew R T Davies told the Herald: “Welsh Labour made no reference to these plans to restructure local government in their 2011 Assembly manifesto and have no democratic mandate to do so. “We will closely monitor any proposals that Welsh Labour bring forward and fight to ensure that small authorities retain a strong voice in local government. “Ultimately it would be a very sad day for democracy in Wales if local government reform leads communities to feel greater disconnect with their councils.”

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Pembroke Dock: Two in hospital following Fort Road car accident

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EMERGENCY SERVICES dealt with what has been described by a witness as a “horrific car accident” in the Pembroke Dock area on Wednesday night (Jun 12).

A 23-year-old woman, driving a black BMW, travelled down Fort Road at speed, hit a low wall, catapulting the vehicle some considerable distance across a picnic area. The vehicle ended up irreparably damaged on the beach – which was luckily not in use at the time – landing next to the old Cambridge Gun Tower.

No other vehicles seem to have been involved, police said.

The driver has been arrested but remains in hospital, one passenger is in a critical but stable condition, in Cardiff, and a second passenger sustained only minor injuries.

A spokesperson for Welsh Ambulance Service spokesperson said: “We were called at 10.45pm on Wednesday night (Jun 23), to reports of a road traffic accident near the Fort Road car park in Pembroke Dock.

“We attended the scene with one rapid response vehicle, two emergency ambulances and our Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Service.

“Two people were taken to University Hospital Wales, Cardiff for further treatment.”

The police are appealing in the media for information following the crash.

An official statement from the police reads as follows: “We were called to Fort Road, Pembroke Dock, at around 10.45pm on Wednesday night to reports of a single-vehicle collision. Ambulance and fire service also attended.

“A 19-year-old man was taken to the Heath Hospital in Cardiff and remains in a critical but stable condition.

“A second passenger attended hospital for minor injuries but has since been discharged. A 23-year-old woman was arrested, and currently remains in hospital.

“Anyone who witnessed the collision but who has not yet spoken to us should get in touch by emailing 101@dyfed-powys.pnn.police.uk, visiting our website, or calling 101.

UPDATE: 24.06.2021, 15:47HRS

On Thursday (Jun 24) said that the female who was arrested was de-arrested because of the need for medical treatment, and is “no longer under arrest at this time.”

The police also added that their investigation was “still active”.

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Pembrokeshire call handler helps deliver Llanelli couple’s new baby

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A 999 CALL HANDLER from Pembrokeshire has helped deliver a Llanelli couple’s baby.

Father-of-two Chris Bassett, from Hook, answered the call from the Trust’s Clinical Contact Centre in Carmarthen, and whose instructions on loudspeaker enabled the pair to deliver their 8lb 1oz new arrival safely.

Thanks to Chris, Troy Smith, 34, and partner Abigail Jones, 33, delivered baby Arabella Dilys Smith in the bedroom of their Llanelli home.

Troy said: “I’ve never felt adrenaline like it but I knew I had to focus on the situation for Abigail and the baby’s sake.

“It all happened so quickly, but Chris’ voice on the other end of the phone kept us calm.”

Abigail, a teacher at Ysgol Carreg Hir in Briton Ferry, went into labour at around 10.00pm on Thursday, June 3, and made a trip to hospital, where nurses confirmed she was in the early stages.

The couple returned to their Pwll home, but their soon-to-be daughter had other ideas.

Troy said: “At around 4.30am, Abigail developed a lot of pain and said she had an urge to push.

“I thought, ‘Right, this is happening’ and phoned an ambulance because I knew I’d be delivering the baby right there and then.”

It was Chris, a former RAF Aerospace Systems Operator, who picked up the call in the early hours of Friday, June 4.

The 29-year-old, who has been with the Welsh Ambulance Service for 18 months, said: “As soon as I answered the call, it was obvious that Troy and Abigail were in distress, as anyone would be in that situation.

“The priority was to get Abigail in a comfortable position to deliver the baby safely.

“For me, it was about giving them clear instructions while trying to keep them both calm.”

Troy added: “I just did what came naturally. When you’re in that situation, you just do it.

“As soon as Arabella came, I felt this wave of relief and I just couldn’t believe how gorgeous she was.

“Chris was so professional and handled the situation really well.

“He gave us all the information and kept us calm.”

Ambulance crews arrived soon after, and took Abigail to Carmarthen’s Glangwili General Hospital, where she was treated for shock before being discharged the following day.

Abigail said: “The whole thing was petrifying because I just never expected to be having the baby at home, but we’re so grateful to Chris for helping us to deliver Arabella safely.”

Chris added: “In your role as a 999 call handler, you’re helping people in their darkest hour, but I’m just glad this call had a happy ending.

“This is the third baby I’ve helped to deliver during my time at the ambulance service, but the first one I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.”

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Covid causes partial school closure at Haverfordwest High VC

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A PARTIAL school closure is in force today at Haverfordwest High VC school after a pupil in year 9 has tested positive for coronavirus.

All students in year 9 must stay at home , isolate and await further instruction while the school completes all of the necessary Track and Trace processes.

In a statement released by the school, they said: “We have been informed that a Year 9 pupil has tested positive for COVID-19.

“We wish them a speedy recovery.

“As a precautionary measure and to enable us to complete all of the necessary Track and Trace processes, the school will be closed to Year 9 Pupils today.

“The school remains open to all other year groups.

“Until further notice, Year 9 students should stay at home and isolate until further instructions are given. Lessons for all other year groups will continue as usual. Unless your child is in Year 9 they should attend school.”

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