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Council tax rise fears as Pembrokeshire faces £3.6m overspend

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COUNCIL tax levels in Pembrokeshire may have to rise to the Welsh average long term, alongside a continued halt on non-essential council expenditure, despite a reduction in the council’s predicted overspend of more than £1m.

Members of Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet, meeting on November 6, heard that, on the second quarter of the financial year projections for the 2023-24 budget, the council was currently on course for an overspend of £3.6m on a previously-agreed budget of £287.6m.

The budget position for the second quarter is better than the previous quarter one figures released in September, which saw a predicted overspend of £4.8m.

A report for members, presented by Cabinet Member for Corporate Finance Cllr Alec Cormack said the council still faces budget pressures, including a projected £8.4m overspend in School ALN provision, Children’s Services, Adult Services and Homelessness, reduced from £8.7m in quarter one, which was also partly offset by a projected underspend of £3.5m in Capital Financing Costs and Investment Income.

The moratorium “on all nonessential expenditure” introduced during quarter one would continue, Cllr Cormack told Cabinet members “until the projected outturn returns to a balanced budget position”.

Quoting a report from the council’s Director of Resources Jon Haswell, Cllr Cormack said the reduction in overspend was welcomed but “more must be done to reduce this still further and avoid the need to utilise our limited reserves to fund the shortfall”.

It added: “It is clear from recent announcements from Welsh Government that there will not be late grant funding received during 2023-24, as has been the case in many previous years, especially in schools, enabling an improved financial position in the latter months of the year.

“Whilst the moratorium on all non-essential expenditure remains in place, we must accelerate the speed at which it is addressing the projected overspend where possible.”

A report for members again highlighted a bleak longer-term picture for council finances, with an indicative budget gap of £27.2 million for 2024-25 and £47.6 million across the period of the Medium-Term Financial Plan.

The current MTFP assumes an annual council tax increase of 7.5 per cent, with the remaining funding gap being bridged with budget reductions / reduction in service delivery and income generation.

“The financial challenge for 2024-25 and throughout the Medium-Term Financial Plan is almost certain to be the greatest challenge ever faced by the council,” members were told.

They were warned that Pembrokeshire, which historically had one of the lowest average council tax rates in Wales, may have to move closer to the rest of the county.

“There are going to be some extremely hard decisions that have to be made, and it is virtually inevitable that in order to balance the budget and ensure financial sustainability for 2024-25 and beyond, the council will have to move its Band D council tax level to at least the average level in Wales, whilst also making significant budget savings across virtually all council services.”

Cllr Cormack, who stressed Pembrokeshire wasn’t alone in facing significant challenges, moved the budget monitoring report be approved, including the continuation of the moratorium, and for him to work alongside senior officers in identifying savings to address the budget gap.

Members unanimously agreed to note the report and support the recommendations.

Crime

Youth set to appear in court over serious sexual offences

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A 19-YEAR-OLD MAN from Milford Haven, will appear in court charged with a string of serious sexual offences.

Nathan John, of Richard John Road, Milford Haven, will face the bench at Haverfordwest Magistrates’ Court later today (Jul 12), accused of committing multiple crimes on October 2, 2022.

The court will be told that John is accused committing two counts of rape. Additionally, the defendant is accused of committing sexual assault, and causing a female over 13 to engage in penetrative sexual activity against her will.

The court also heard that John created indecent photographs of children and possessed extreme pornographic images featuring animals.

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Health

10-mile trek raises £1,000 for stroke unit

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A TEAM of 18 from CARA Wales took on a 10-mile trek and raised £1,000 for the Stroke Ward at Withybush Hospital.

The team from CARA Wales, an agricultural and rural consultancy and advice organisation, walked across the Preseli Mountains from Foel Drygan to Foel Eryr on 17th June 2023.

Mererid Sandbrook, who works for CARA Wales, said: “The walk started in Crymych and continued along the Golden Road up to Foel Eryr, the highest point of Preseli Mountain. It was a really enjoyable day.

“We were all really pleased to have raised such a great amount of money. We would like to thank everyone who donated money towards our challenge.”

They also raised £1,000 for Stroke Association.

Nicola Llewelyn, Head of Hywel Dda Health Charities, the official charity of Hywel Dda University Health Board, said: “We’d like to say a big thank you to CARA Wales for taking on the 10-mile trek in aid of the Stroke Ward.

“The support of our local communities enables us to provide services over and above what the NHS can provide in the three counties of Hywel Dda and we are extremely grateful for every donation we receive.”

Your donations are making a positive difference to the health, wellbeing and experience of NHS patients, service users and staff. For more details about the charity and how you can help support local NHS patients and staff, go to www.hywelddahealthcharities.org.uk

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Charity

Calls for help over VHF radio may have been a hoax, say RNLI

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THE ANGLE All-Weather Lifeboat was requested to launch on service at 10:23am this morning, Monday (July 22).

Following a call to the Coastguard from Milford Haven VTS, the crew were tasked after the VTS operators overheard a female voice calling for help on VHF channel 12.

After narrowing down the transmission to having been received on the Pembroke aerial site, the crew were requested to conduct a search.

Launching at 10:30am, the lifeboat made best speed to the moorings at Hazelbeach, and a hasty search was requested by the Coastguard of any moored vessels. The crew began making their way amongst the moorings, heading up to the moorings off Neyland. With nothing untoward sighted, the crew proceeded to search the moorings off Hobbs Point, Barnlake Point, Burton, Llanion and Rudders Boat Yard.

With nothing found, the Coastguard requested that the crew continue their search up river to Picton Point. The lifeboat continued searching up the western shore encompassing Llangwm before altering course just past Landshipping and searching the eastern shore back down the river, calling in to Lawrenny on the way to check any vessels moored there.

The RNLI said that the search continued back down as far as the Cleddau Bridge.

On Facebook the organisation posted :”Following a thorough visual, communications and radar search the crew were subsequently stood down when no further information or calls had been received.

“The tasking was therefore deemed to be a hoax call.

“The lifeboat was back alongside and readied for further service by 1pm.”

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