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Politics

Last-minute council tax lowering to come under spotlight

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A CLAIM at last-minute use of reserves was used to lower Pembrokeshire’s council tax increase to avoid senior councillors being defeated during the setting of the council’s annual budget is to come under the spotlight later week.

Pembrokeshire County Council was facing a 16.3 per cent council tax increase when setting the council budget for 2024-’25 in March; that figure dropping to 12.5 per cent after an 11th-hour alternative budget proposal by deputy leader Cllr Paul Miller was narrowly backed.

That drop in the council tax rise was made by using additional reserves of £1.5m, as well as £1m target for council efficiency savings.

Members of the council’s Governance & Audit Committee are, at its April 18 meeting, to consider concerns raised by Councillor Huw Murphy about the budget process following that meeting, along with assurances provided responding to his concerns.

A report for members states: “On March 25 Councillor Murphy raised concerns to the Chair of the Governance & Audit Committee regarding the council’s budget setting process for the 2024-25 budget, and associated issues, which council considered and set at their meeting on March 7.

“The Chair of the Governance & Audit Committee asked the Chief Executive to review those concerns and report to the Committee to provide assurance that there were no procedural failures in the budget setting process.”

Cllr Murphy has written: “An email was sent out on behalf of the Director of Resources on Feb 1 making it clear that no alternative/amendment budget could be presented after Feb 14. However, on March 7 at full council this is exactly what occurred.”

He has raised concerns about why an alternative budget proposal was allowed after February 14, and has asked whether there was sufficient time for the accepted alternative budget to be analysed.

He says his political group advanced a potential budget alternative to use £750,000 in reserve, which was refused, with a maximum of £375,000 offered, along with a later proposal refused, claiming Cllr Miller’s £1.5m proposal may have been submitted just 18 hours before the budget D-day.

In his lengthy document raising his concerns he states: “I am also aware that some ruling group councillors arrived at County Hall very early on March 7 to possibly refine the amendment that was then put before council.

“I form my opinion on becoming aware of a councillor having been contacted repeatedly in an effort to ‘persuade’ him in the weeks before full council to support a council tax of 16.31 per cent who was contacted on two to three occasions on the morning of March 6 and bravely refused to relent and made it clear he could not support a CT of higher than around 12 per cent.

“This councillor is in the ruling group and, in my opinion, his refusal and the refusal of others on the ruling group to buckle to a CT rise of 16.31 per cent caused panic in a Cabinet now facing imminent defeat at full council the next day and as a result they drafted a last-minute alternative/amended budget to appease ruling group councillors who had rebelled.”

The report for members concludes: “There is no evidence of procedural failings in the budget setting process and the legal budget setting procedures have been adhered to. There was sufficient time for officers to properly assess the alternative budget proposed and for the S151 Officer to make a properly informed statement at Council on March 7.”

It is recommended members consider the concerns raised by Cllr Murphy and notes the assurance provided in response to those concerns, and the committee notes that there were no procedural failures in the council’s budget setting process.

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Politics

Council to discuss £3.5m housing acquisition in upcoming Cabinet meeting

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HOUSING worth more than £3.5m has been purchased in Pembrokeshire by the council, senior councillors will hear next week.

Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet, meeting on May 20, will receive an update on acquisitions and disposals of land and buildings in the county.

In accordance with the council’s constitution, Cabinet is to receive a report biannually, on the acquisition or disposal of land and/premises by the authority since the last report, where the acquisition or disposal was for a sum in excess of £100,000.

The report lists 16 acquisitions by the council, in areas including Milford Haven, Haverfordwest, Neyland, Cilgerran, Pembroke Dock, Lamphey, and Broad Haven, for a total of £ 3,502,000, in line with the HRA (Housing Revenue Account) business plan.

The report before members also lists one disposal, the former Ship and Anchor, High Street, Fishguard, at £170,000.

The report ads: “It should also be of note that some temporary additional resource has been obtained to enable capital receipts from the disposal of any surplus property where appropriate so there should be an increase in sales over the next 12–18 months.”

The May 20 meeting wil be the first Cabinet headed by new council leader Cllr Jon Harvey.

Members are recommended to note the acquisitions and disposals, with six-monthly updates to continue.

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News

Gething crisis: Tory Leader signals no-confidence motion in First Minister

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IN a bold assertion that could intensify the political instability in Wales, the Conservative leader in the Senedd, Andrew RT Davies, has indicated that a motion of no confidence against First Minister Vaughan Gething is increasingly likely. This comes in the wake of recent revelations and internal disputes within Welsh Labour that have put Mr. Gething’s leadership under severe scrutiny.

The controversy escalated following the dismissal of Hannah Blythyn, the minister for social partnership, who was accused by Mr. Gething of leaking confidential text messages to the press—an allegation she firmly denies. The leaked texts were reportedly from a pandemic-era group chat, which Mr. Gething admitted to deleting, details of which were first reported by Nation.Cymru.

This incident is part of a broader series of challenges facing Mr. Gething, including scrutiny over the substantial donations made to his leadership campaign. It was disclosed that his campaign had received £250,000, with a notable £200,000 contribution from a company led by a businessman previously convicted of environmental crimes. Mr. Gething announced he would be returning £31,000 to Labour from the campaign funds amidst this controversy.

In crisis: First Minister, Vaughan Gething

Adding to the upheaval, Mr. Davies criticised the First Minister’s leadership on BBC Radio Wales, questioning Mr. Gething’s transparency and ability to govern effectively. He emphasised the urgent need for Mr. Gething to justify his actions, particularly the sacking of Ms. Blythyn, to restore public trust in the government.

On Thursday, in an interview with ITV Wales, Mr. Gething defended his decision, highlighting the importance of trust and confidentiality among ministers and maintaining that his team was aligned on government priorities. He underscored the challenges faced by his administration and the need to focus on issues crucial to the Welsh populace.

Despite the turmoil, any formal motion of no confidence is not expected to be tabled immediately, owing to procedural and logistical considerations. With Labour holding half of the seats in the Senedd, the success of such a motion would hinge on cross-party support or abstentions from within the Labour ranks.

As tensions mount, the political landscape in Cardiff Bay remains fraught with uncertainty, with the potential for significant shifts in governance depending on the developments in the coming weeks.

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Business

Johnston holiday lodges expected to be approved

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PLANS for 20 self-catering holiday lodges in the Pembrokeshire village of Johnston are expected to get the go-ahead next week.

An application before the May 21 meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council’s planning committee by Peter Rawsthorne seeks permission for the short-stay lodges and associated works on land behind The Larder, Vine Road.

The application, sited near a collection of single storey buildings associated with Silverdale lodge which are currently in use as temporary emergency accommodation, is recommended for delegated conditional approval.

A report for planners says: “The application seeks full planning permission for the siting of 20 short-term stay holiday lodges.  The lodges would be positioned on concrete bases either side of a central access road running through the length of the site.

“Comprising of either two or three bedrooms, each unit would have the benefit of an associated car parking space and raised veranda to provide access into the unit and an external amenity area.  The lodges will be finished with timber or timber effect cladding to the walls under a shallow dual pitched roof of metal sheeting with a UPVC framed fenestration and rainwater goods.”

It adds: “The proposal will generate some noise, odours and artificial light nuisance in comparison to a currently vacant site.

“Given the close proximity, at the southern end of the application site, to existing residential in Silverdale Close and Acorn Drive the Head of Housing and Public Protection has advised that a Noise Impact Assessment (NIA) should be required prior to the determination of the application to allow for the assessment of all noise emissions from the proposed development and for this to set out proposed measures of how to attenuate any noise nuisance.

“Consideration has been given to whether requiring such an assessment would be reasonable or necessary to make the development acceptable.

“It is acknowledged that the nature of the use of the site as proposed could generate some noise and disturbance, and that there is likely to be a heightened awareness to this for existing occupiers when the site is first occupied, compared to the current vacant use of the site or its previous use as an informal garden space for occupiers of the Silverdale lodges.

“However, the residential occupation of the space, albeit by short-term visitors who may have less regard for existing permanent residents, is a use typical of and expected in this service centre sized settlement and could be satisfactorily absorbed.

“Excessive noise and anti-social behaviour are matters which can also be dealt with by other legislative controls.”

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