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Councils’ budgets ‘war of attrition’

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The cost of cuts: Councils will lose 4.5% net

THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT settlement announced by Welsh Government continues an eight-year run of real term reductions to local government funding.

That’s according to the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) in response to Tuesday’s (Oct 10) announcement of the provisional budget for local government by Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford.

The Welsh Government claims the Budget will ‘protect key services’, as they continue to squeeze councils into devoting an ever-larger slice of an ever-diminishing budget to its core priorities.

‘COUNCILS PROTECTED FROM WORST OF CUTS’

While the Welsh Government claims that no council will have to cut more than 1% off its budget next year and 1.5% off the budget for 2019/20, when other costs are factored in all councils will be faced with a further significant cut above and beyond the headline claims. And taking Welsh government grants out of the final settlement suggests that cuts will be deeper still.

Announcing the provisional settlement, Mark Drakeford said: “Last year I told local authorities to prepare for the tougher times and harder choices that lay ahead as the flawed and failed policy of austerity continues to hit Wales hard.

“My priority, using a formula we have agreed with local government, is to try and protect councils from the worst of the cuts.

“Next year’s settlement might be difficult. We have done all we can to make it manageable. Councils must now use this time to plan ahead and ensure that funding goes to the services and people who need it the most.”

‘SERVICES HAVE BEEN PUMMELLED’

Professor Drakeford’s words got a stony welcome from the WLGA.

A statement from the body said: “In the context of ongoing and prolonged austerity, councils will view this as a very difficult and challenging settlement for supporting vital services that contribute to the education, health and well- being of our communities.

“Leaders across Wales have pushed for parity of funding and particularly sought new investment in a range of services, such as economic development, environmental health and transport, which have been pummelled by cuts.

“The headline reduction of 0.5% fails to recognise the full story; with service pressures that amount to £212m in 2018-19 alone, the sector will have to look for savings of nearly 4.5% of net budgets in the next financial year. This comes on top of cuts of over £1bn that have been made to date and 25,000 job losses across the sector. While the reduction is within the range predicted by the WLGA, local government is still bearing the heaviest burden of austerity.”

‘POSITION IS UNSUSTAINABLE’

Commenting on the draft settlement, Councillor Debbie Wilcox (Newport), WLGA Leader said: “The problem for local government is that we are now in a ‘war of attrition’. Services are wearing down to the point of collapse and the public are rightly growing frustrated in terms of paying council tax and yet seeing key community functions cut or closed.

“The whole position is unsustainable. Local authorities cannot go on to be expected to make the harshest of cuts whilst continuing to provide the same breadth and level of service; in short, something has got to give. “

‘WORKFORCE DESERVES A PAY RISE’

Councillor Emlyn Dole (Carmarthenshire), WLGA Plaid Cymru Group Leader said: “Welsh councils will still face severe financial pressures estimated to be over £200m for the next financial year alone due to demographic factors and workforce related pressures.

“I would urge the UK Government to use its Budget announcement in November to fully fund any relaxation of the pay cap. Every 1% increase in pay costs the public sector around £100m, and £35m of that is attributable to councils.

“Our workforce deserves a pay rise. In this context, local government funding must be more flexible and the transfer of nearly £100m of grants into the settlement is a positive step. I would urge Ministers to think about the other funding flexibilities for the other £700m in grants which put an additional administrative burden on the public services.”

UNDERFUNDED AND UNSUSTAINABLE

Councillor Hugh Evans OBE (Denbighshire), WLGA Independent Group Leader said: “The funding formula delivers a range of increases and decreases across the 22 local authorities. We need to make sure that the system takes account of the additional needs of providing services in communities with diverse needs and especially the additional costs of providing services in rural communities which are dramatically underfunded.”

Councillor Peter Fox OBE (Monmouthshire), WLGA Conservative Group Leader said: “Social services and education should be funded on equal terms with health, which means providing the £160m that both services need to stand still next year. There are also a range of preventative services within councils that will not survive unless the Welsh Government has a long hard look at the way it allocates money across the totality of public services. Ring-fencing small sums in the settlement for those services is like robbing Peter to pay Paul, as other services suffer.”

‘SERIOUS CASH INJECTION REQUIRED’

UNISON has also criticised the Welsh government’s budget for local authority spending as wholly inadequate. The trade union has warned thousands of jobs will be lost and local public services will be reduced or disappear completely because councils are under severe financial pressure.

UNISON also blasted Welsh Government’s failure to fund the implement of the Foundation Living Wage to lift thousands of council workers out of in-work poverty, something it says could have been achieved with a relatively modest injection of cash.

Dominic MacAskill, UNISON head of local government said: “Today’s news is grim indeed. People can’t understand why their library opening hours will have to be reduced or their youth club shut down in the name of austerity. Communities need quality local services otherwise they cease to be healthy and liveable places but councils are struggling to provide these and more – parks and leisure services, food hygiene and environment health services, on the meagre budgets Welsh Government has today granted.

“Savage spending cuts might be directed by Westminster Conservatives but the Welsh Government must see the lack of new money for local authorities in the announcement today will mean thousands more council jobs are lost and services at smaller councils might collapse altogether. Our warning couldn’t be starker: without a serious injection of cash, some councils will become unsustainable.”

Mr MacAskill added: “Public service workers will be incredibly frustrated their concerns are not being listened to. Welsh government has missed an opportunity to lift thousands of hard working council staff out of in-work poverty by failing to fund the Foundation Living Wage for all local government employees. They agreed this was necessary in the NHS and the Civil Service, why can’t they do it for all public service workers?”

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Politics

Senedd praise for Llanelli Youth Voluntary Group.

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Plaid Cymru’s Helen Mary Jones MS praised the work of Llanelli-based CYCA, Connecting Youth, Children and Adults in the Senedd.

The Mid and West MS took the opportunity of a 90 second statement in the Senedd to congratulate the organisation on 40 years of working in Carmarthenshire.

Plaid Cymru Shadow Economy, Transport and Tackling Poverty Minister Helen Mary Jones Mid and West MS said:

“It was my privilege last week to visit, with my colleague Adam Price, a wonderful Llanelli-based organisation, CYCA—formerly the Carmarthenshire Youth and Children’s Association, now Connecting Youth, Children and Adults.

“I have known of and supported CYCA’s work for almost 20 years, and it was really inspiring to see how they’ve gone from strength to strength supporting children, young people and families in these challenging times, and this year, they celebrate their fortieth birthday.

“It would be easier to list what CYCA doesn’t do in the field than what they do, such is the breadth of their work. They run nurseries and youth groups, education and training courses, they provide counselling and individual support, and support for families. We were particularly impressed with the stories of two young mothers who, through CYCA, had not only received support with the challenges of isolation and family life, but had also been able to get back into education; one starts her training as a midwife this week.

“And we were struck, too, by an innovative social prescribing scheme where GPs refer children and young people experiencing distress to CYCA. The team then work with the whole family, identifying support needs and providing whatever is needed—counselling, parenting support, support at school—and this support lasts as long as the children and family need it.

“It’s already proving very successful, with young people’s well-being greatly enhanced. One service user said to me many years ago, ‘The thing about CYCA is that they never give up on you’. And they don’t. CYCA never gives up on a child, a young person, a vulnerable adult or a family. We are lucky to have them in our town, our county and our community. Pen-blwydd hapus iawn, CYCA. I’m looking forward to seeing what you get up to in the next 40 years.”

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Llanelli thanked for all their efforts to help control the spread of Covid-19

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RESIDENTS in Llanelli are being thanked for all their efforts to help control the spread of Covid-19 – almost a week after new local restrictions were introduced.

A large part of Llanelli has been designated a ‘health protection zone’ following a large increase in Covid-19 cases in the area.

The temporary restrictions were introduced on Saturday, September 26 in a bid to halt the spread of the virus and to protect people’s health.

Council Leader Emlyn Dole has praised locals for changing their behaviour and adhering to the new restrictions.

However, it is still very early days and residents, not only in Llanelli, but across Carmarthenshire are being urged to please continue to follow the advice around social distancing, washing hands, face coverings, self-isolation and testing.

Anyone who has a positive Covid-19 result or has been in contact with someone with confirmed Covid-19 will receive a call from the Test, Trace Protect team on this number 02921 961133.  Residents are being urged to please answer the phone. If you do miss a call, the team will continue to try and reach you. Calls from this number are outbound only, so you will need to wait for a call back.

In the last week, the council’s enforcement team, with support from Dyfed-Powys Police, has visited more than 100 business premises to offer advice and support. The majority of businesses are compliant, however, there is a small minority of licensed premises who have failed to put appropriate measures in place. As a result, a total of seven closure notices and five improvement notices have been issued for breaches of coronavirus regulations.

Cllr Dole said: “I cannot thank residents enough for all they are doing to protect their loved ones, their families and friends. I can assure you that all your efforts and sacrifices will make a big difference.

“It is vital we keep on following the rules and do all we can to stop the spread, we all have a part to play in this, and together we will come through it.

“Please follow the advice on self-isolation and if you have any symptoms get a test; we are working closely with the health board and they have increased testing capacity in the town so there is no need to travel far. And those residents that do test positive, please work with our TTP teams so that we can trace anyone you may have come into contact with. This is now part of our ‘new normal’, and people should not be alarmed, but should listen carefully to their advice.

“As promised, we have increased our monitoring and enforcement and we are grateful to local businesses who, on the whole, are providing a safe environment for their customers. And where they have fallen short, action has been taken.

“We will continue to monitor the infection rates, the effectiveness of the measures that have been introduced and the compliance of residents and businesses, working closely with our key partners, Welsh Government and Public Health Wales.

“We know what we need to do to stop the spread, and together we will beat this and Keep Carmarthenshire safe.”

It will take some time before these restrictions have an impact on the number of cases in the area, so it is important residents do not become complacent.

They will be reviewed every two weeks. The main restrictions are:

  • people will not be allowed to enter or leave the defined area of Llanelli without a reasonable excuse
  • people will no longer be able to form, or be in, an extended household (sometimes called a “bubble”)
  • this means meeting indoors with anyone who is not part of your household (people you live with) is not allowed at the moment, unless you have a good reason, such as providing care to a vulnerable person
  • all licensed premises must stop serving alcohol at 10pm, and will have to close at 10.20pm
  • people must work from home wherever possible

Increased testing capacity for residents in Llanelli is available by appointment at the following locations:

  • Parc y Scarlets Car Park B, accessed via Trostre Retail Park, in Llanelli
  • The Ty’r Nant site (next to KFC), Trostre, Llanelli
  • The Carmarthen showground (signposted in both directions off the A40)

Tests should be booked via the UK Portal. Any Llanelli residents experiencing difficulty booking a test locally via the UK portal can instead email covidenquiries.hdd@wales.nhs.uk or by calling 0300 333 2222.

Visit carmarthenshire.gov.wales/localrestrictions for further information, including some Frequently Asked Questions and to find out if you live in the restricted area.

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Politics

The latest increase in coronavirus in Wales is ‘sobering’ says First Minister

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THE FIRST MINISTER, Mark Drakeford has criticised the lack of communication with the UK government as he gave a briefing on what he described as the “sobering” increase in coronavirus cases and hospitalisation in Wales.

The infection rate in Wales has risen to 23.6 infections for every 100k people as cases have spiked in areas including Merthyr, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Caerphilly and Newport.

Hospitalisations remain low but are rising, with five people currently in intensive care with Covid-19 and and 53 Covid patients on all hospital wards, according to the latest data from Public Health Wales from Sunday, September 13.

Mr Drakeford said that the number of people in hospital with coronavirus had risen to 41 with four people in intensive care.

He also said that the R number in Wales was almost certainly now above one – meaning the virus is spreading exponentially again. The latest estimate, he said, was between 0.7 and 1.2.

Mr Drakeford said: “In this most difficult week, there has been no meeting offered to First Ministers of any sort. Since the 28 May, there has been just one brief telephone call from the Prime Minister.

“This is simply unacceptable to anyone who believes that we ought to be facing the coronavirus crisis together.

“We need a regular, reliable, rhythm of engagement: a reliable meeting even once a week would be a start. I make this argument not because we should all do the same things, but because being round the same table allows each of us to make the best decisions for the nations we represent.

“There is a vacancy at the heart of the United Kingdom, and it needs urgently to be filled, so we can talk to each other, share information, pool ideas and demonstrate a determination that the whole of the country can face these challenges together at this most difficult time.”

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