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Council Leader issues statement regarding Authority’s dire finances

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ON THURSDAY evening (Feb 8) Pembrokeshire County Council’s Leader Cllr David Simpson has issued an open statement to all residents and businesses in Pembrokeshire warning of the unprecedented financial situation faced the Local Authority.

“Councillors will soon be faced with the difficult task of setting our budget for the following year, a budget that must ‘balance the books’ by law.

“Every year the Welsh Government allocates funding for each local authority, and for 2024-25 Pembrokeshire will only receive a 2.5 per cent increase in that funding against a 14.4 per cent increase in service costs.

“The Council has effectively dealt with the very same unprecedented cost of living issues that every householder and business in the county faces. 

“However, on top of this we have also been faced with an unprecedented increase in demand for both adult and children’s social care that has added more than £23million in pressures.

“Five years ago children’s social care costs made up 6 per cent of the overall budget but they are now more than 10.3 per cent, a 248 per cent increase in overall budget value.

“Social care and schools costs now make up 78 per cent of overall pressures with social care costs exceeding schools costs for the first time this year. In 2024/25 the budget for social care will be more than all other services combined (excluding schools.)

“There has also been a huge increase in the number of people needing temporary accommodation, from 78 in March 2019 to 507 in March 2023, resulting in a £1.145m pressure for 24/25, equating to a 78% increase on existing budget.

“As we set this difficult budget, we also have to decide the level of Band D Council Tax increase needed to maintain services. A potential range of increases from £4.20 per week to £5.40 per week are needed to balance the budget and bridge the £31million funding gap. And even this will still require significant cuts to some Council services.

“I, like all Councillors, do not want to raise Council Tax when so many residents are already finding it harder to make ends meet in Pembrokeshire.

“The Council Tax Reduction Scheme (CTRS) support available for those entitled to a reduced level of Council Tax remains, and I would urge anyone who thinks they may be eligible to find out more.

“We as a Council will strive to make sure the final Council Tax increase is as small as possible but we must all be aware that this coming year will certainly be tough, the hardest ever faced by the Council and the residents of Pembrokeshire.

“During the past decade, funding levels from UK Government to Welsh Government and on to Councils have not kept pace with the ever-increasing pressures.

“Due to this, we have had to make significant budget savings of £96.7 million over this time, supported by your suggestions in our annual budget consultation. We have always endeavoured to minimise the impact to service users, especially the most vulnerable in our communities.

“Pembrokeshire County Council has been running efficiently – that is providing services with a lower Band D Council Tax level than others in Wales – but this will be harder and harder to maintain.

“Our staff do a tremendous job in running our leisure centres, collecting the bins, in teaching and in caring. Despite the difficult decisions to come, the focus on ‘Working together, Improving lives’, will be at the forefront of our minds.”

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Community

Leading hospitality company Loungers announced for Western Quayside development

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL and Loungers, one of the UK’s leading hospitality companies, are pleased to announce they have agreed headline terms for Loungers to become the first tenant of the fantastic Western Quayside development in Haverfordwest.

Loungers intend to occupy the ground floor of the building which is an important element of the Council’s long-term regeneration plan for the County Town. 

Loungers was founded in 2002 and is famous for its family-friendly, welcoming atmosphere, eccentric and spectacular interiors and great food and drink offers.

The company runs Lounge café bars across the UK – including the Cofio Lounge at the Guildhall, Carmarthen – combining elements of coffee shop culture, the British pub and dining. 

Cllr Paul Miller, Pembrokeshire County Council Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Place, the Region and Climate Change, said: “I’m really pleased to be in a position to announce the first tenancy for Western Quayside. Loungers shares our ambition and potential for the Western Quayside development in the centre of Haverfordwest.

“Western Quayside will play a key role in improving footfall and vibrancy in Haverfordwest and Loungers fits perfectly into that vision.

“An important part of Loungers’ ethos is the community element of its neighbourhood café bars and commitment to work with local groups, charities, organisations and businesses and we look forward to that continuing in Haverfordwest.

“As a Council we have been clear that we will not just sit back and let our town centres decline and this is an important step forward. 

“We look forward to announcing further tenants in due course and of course to opening Western Quayside later in 2024.”

Gemma Irwin, Community Manager at Loungers, says: “We’re so looking forward to opening our Lounge in Haverfordwest later this year.  We hope our family friendly environment and top-notch food and drink offering will prove popular with local residents. 

“We’re passionate about integrating genuinely into the communities we serve so we’re looking forward to meeting everyone and to playing our part at the heart of Haverfordwest’s food and drink scene.  

“Anyone looking for a space to host events or groups should pop in once we’re open, we’d love to hear from them and see what we can do to help.”

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Oil worker’s dream to be a homeowner shattered by gazumping Council

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THOMAS SPIERS, a 55-year-old Operations Coordinator at Puma Oil Terminal and father of three, has been left without his dream home after Pembrokeshire County Council outbid him by £15,000. Mr. Spiers, a long-time resident of Milford Haven, had his heart set on a property at 63 Haven Drive, only to find his efforts thwarted by the council’s late intervention.

Mr. Spiers, who has been privately renting for a decade with aspirations of homeownership, stumbled upon what he believed was the perfect fixer-upper in January through RK. Lukas estate agents. Despite the property’s need for substantial work, he saw potential in the £100,000 ex-council house, which had been on the market for six months with two previous sales falling through. After viewing, Mr. Spiers promptly made an offer of £95,000, which was accepted by the seller.

The joy of this acceptance was short-lived. After proceeding with the necessary legal and financial preparations, including giving notice to his landlord and paying solicitor’s fees for property searches, Mr. Spiers was blindsided. Just days before the scheduled contract exchange, he was informed of a new £110,000 offer from Pembrokeshire County Council, effectively ending his purchase plans.

The council’s bid, coming after a property viewing in October 2023 and amidst a 16% hike in council tax rates, has raised questions about its timing and motives. Mr. Spiers, who found himself in a precarious position with his sons’ housing at stake, reached out to the council and local MP Stephen Crabb, he says only to be met with unfulfilled promises of callbacks and auto-replies.

The situation highlights the challenges faced by private individuals competing in an increasingly difficult housing market. Mr. Spiers voiced his frustrations over what he perceives as an injustice by the council, particularly in light of their late and significantly higher offer. Fortunately, his current landlord has allowed him to remain in his rental for now, stopping him from being made homeless, but leaving him out of pocket by approximately £1,000 in solicitor’s fees.

Stephen Crabb MP told The Herald: “Mr Spiers emailed me on Monday afternoon when I was speaking in the House of Commons chamber. He received the usual auto-reply message to show that his email had been received.

“The auto-reply makes clear that all emails from constituents who request my assistance with a casework problem will receive priority attention, which normally means within a few days. I receive around 200 emails each day and have to prioritise cases according to urgency.

“Whilst I am sorry to hear about the circumstances in which Mr Spiers’ house purchase fell through, there is actually nothing that a Member of Parliament could have done to prevent it.

“This is a private contractual matter and the questions that need to be asked are of Pembrokeshire County Council, and whether they have acted appropriately.

“It would be appropriate for Mr Spiers to contact his County Councillor who will be able to offer support with this.”

Pembrokeshire County Council have been asked to comment.

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Health

New X-ray equipment plan at Tenby Cottage Hospital revealed

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X-RAY services at Tenby Cottage Hospital are to receive a major boost thanks to an investment of £625,000 in brand new equipment which is being installed at the Hywel Dda Health Board-run site over the next few weeks.

The equipment, funded by Welsh Government, will allow the unit not only to provide the highest quality images but will also mean patients with reduced mobility or advanced clinical needs can be more easily accommodated.

However, in order to install the new equipment, x-ray services will be temporarily unavailable in Tenby Cottage Hospital until Friday, 19April 2024.

Over the next few weeks, imaging for GP patients will be provided on an appointment only basis at South Pembrokeshire Hospital in Pembroke Dock between 9-5pm.

Patients attending the Minor Injuries walk-in centre can still attend Tenby Cottage Hospital but may be sent to Withybush if an x-ray is required. Alternatively, patients can choose to attend Withybush Emergency Department directly.

John Evans, Pembrokeshire County Director for Hywel Dda said: “We are delighted that Tenby Cottage Hospital will be receiving brand new and up to date x-ray equipment thanks to this investment from Welsh Government.

“We apologise for any inconvenience caused over the short period of time while the equipment is being installed but look forward to providing an improved level of care for Tenby community patients into the future.”

Patients needing further help or information should contact the radiology departments at Withybush Hospital on 01437 773385 or South Pembrokeshire Hospital on 01437 774018.

The health board is reminding people not to attend busy A&E departments unless they have a critical, life-threatening emergency and asking people to choose their healthcare services very carefully, so that only people with urgent or emergency care needs are being seen in A&E. 

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