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What future for Pembrokeshire?



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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Delight as foundation phase learners return to class



PEMBROKESHIRE Headteachers have reported very positive returns to school for Foundation Phase Learners.

All Foundation Phase Learners returned to schools on Monday, March 1st and attendance has been reported at almost 90% since.

The Council’s Director for Education, Steven Richards-Downes, said: “A wide range of council services have worked together to ensure that Foundation Phase pupils have been able to return
safely to school.

“I am particularly grateful to all school staff and families for ensure that learning is now available for our youngest learners face to face.”

Headteachers remarked how schools have filled with smiles and laughter following the safe and phased return of Foundation Phase learners.

Cora O’Brien, Headteacher at Waldo Williams School in Haverfordwest emphasised how quickly learners have settled back in to a routine.

“It has been an absolute joy to hear their laughter in the playground and to observe their love of learning face to face once again. I thank everybody in the Waldo Williams School
community for working so hard to ensure that the transition went smoothly.”

Vicky Hart-Griffiths, Headteacher of Ysgol Hafan y Mor in Tenby, said: “It has been wonderful to welcome all our Foundation Phase learners back to school. They are thriving, being amongst
friends and back to a school routine.  

“All the pupils have spoken about how happy they are to have returned and it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome them back and we can’t wait until we have all our pupils back in school.

“The school feels alive again and there’s a positive buzz and laughter once again echoing throughout the school.”

Gareth Lewis, Headteacher at Broad Haven CP School said children had returned “with real enthusiasm, and have been very keen to meet up with their friends.”

Mr Lewis added: “Our parents have been very supportive and positive about the return, and those with older children are very much looking forward to a wider return to schooling.”

Mr Richards-Downes said plans were now turning to more learners returning to schools in the near future.

“We are looking to the next phases of the re-opening of schools on the 15th of March as long as the government guidelines allow.”

Further details will be released in due course.

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Pembrokeshire County Council: This week’s Leader’s coronavirus update



PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL Leader, Councillor David Simpson, has provided a further coronavirus update for Friday, 5th March as follows:

‘Welcome everyone to my weekly update.

“It is with rather a heavy heart that I tell you that it’s almost 12 months since my first statement on the coronavirus pandemic.

“On 9th March 2020, I addressed our Cabinet meeting with the following words:

“Further to the news yesterday that two people in Pembrokeshire had tested as positive for the Covid 19 virus, I am sure you will join me in wishing them both a speedy and full recovery.

“I can reassure you that our services will continue as usual, and all our employees can continue to attend to their work, appointments, schools and services as they normally would.

“We should all help protect ourselves and our communities by following Public Health Wales advice, particularly around washing hands and using a tissue for symptoms associated with cold and flu and then safely disposing of it.

“I am grateful to the co-operation and hard work of all of our staff and we will provide further updates and information when we have them.

“In the meantime I can confirm that detailed planning arrangements, both internally, with partner agencies and through the Dyfed Powys Local Resilience Forum, are well underway to ensure that the Council and Pembrokeshire are as well placed as possible for whatever challenges we may face. Thank you.”

“I am sure you will join me while I take a moment now to remember all those people in Pembrokeshire and further afield, who, very sadly, passed away since I made that announcement.

“I continue to be incredibly grateful, as I’m sure you are, to everyone who is helping to beat this pandemic, working so very hard now for over a year.

“We are fortunate now to be in a position where the vaccine programme is protecting older members of our community and starting to roll out among one of the biggest groups – the over 65s and those with underlying health conditions.

“This time next week (12th March) the Welsh Government will have notified us of their plans for the next three weeks.

“In the meantime, we remain in Alert Level 4 and the stay at home message continues to be more important than ever as we reach the threshold of better times.

“I wish you all a good weekend and thank you once again to the vast majority of wonderful Pembrokeshire residents who are doing the right thing and waiting patiently at home for restrictions to lift.

“We do really appreciate your efforts and determination to help bring this pandemic to an end.”


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Sergeant Hillier ‘died doing the job he loved’, says his heartbroken father



THE ARMY SERGEANT who died after being injured in a live firing exercise, has been named locally.

The incident occurred at Castlemartin Training Area, and led to the death of Sgt Gavin Hillier, who was in the Welsh Guards.

In a post on social media, his father wrote: “Absolutely devastated to be writing this post, probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

“At 3.45am this morning I received a phone call that will forever change my life. My eldest son Gavin Mark Hillier was in a fatal accident yesterday in the army (the job he loved).

“Sleep tight & rest in peace son. I’m so proud of you. Goodnight and god bless, love your heartbroken dad.”

An Army spokesperson said: “It is with great sadness we can confirm the death of a soldier on March 4.

“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 any further.”

It is understood that Sergeant Hillier, who served as part of the Welsh Guards’ motor transport platoon, was due to be deployed to Iraq and had previously been awarded a Long Service and Good Conduct medal by Prince Charles, the regiment’s Colonel in Chief, in 2019.

The tragic incident is the latest in a number of accidents at Castlemartin.

In 2017, The Herald reported that two soldiers died in a tank explosion, which a coroner ruled was due to a design flaw.

The following year, an Army captain was jailed in July 2018 after a 21-year-old soldier was killed by a stray bullet during an exercise at the range in 2012.

An investigation has been launched into the death of a soldier at Castlemartin RAC Range following a military exercise.

Police were called to the site at just before 10.45pm on March 4.

Sadly, a man was pronounced dead shortly after. Our thoughts are with his family, who have been informed of the incident and are being supported by specialist officers.

An investigation is underway led by Dyfed-Powys Police. Officers are liaising with the Health and Safety Executive and MoD.

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