THE WELSH GOVERNMENT is to press ahead with its controversial proposals to merge Welsh councils, after it struck a deal with Plaid Cymru to allow the deadlocked bill to proceed.
The same bill had been pulled by the Labour government a fortnight ago, due to lack of support. It had been suggested that the Government required opposition support as it had failed to convince even its own AM’s of the case to advance the unpopular measure.
Plaid Cymru’s decision not to oppose the bill has been criticised by other opposition parties in the Assembly, but stoutly defended by the party itself.
Welsh Conservatives were first out of the traps, with an excoriating statement that castigated Plaid Cymru for its reversal of policy.
Welsh Conservatives oppose the Bill. The party tabled an amendment calling for referenda to decide on mergers – giving local people the final say.
Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Local Government, Janet Finch-Saunders AM, said: “Barely 72 hours after criticising Labour, Plaid’s leader has happily cosied up and done a deal with them.
“We should’ve expected nothing less than this astonishing hypocrisy. You’d be hard pushed to make it up.
“Thanks to Plaid and Labour, local people won’t get a say on the future of our councils.
“Thanks to them, councils could now be forced to merge. Vote Plaid – Get Labour. It’s that simple – and this disregard for Welsh communities is concrete evidence.
“We believe local people should have a say and local authorities should be able to demonstrate how a merger will benefit communities.”
While the Welsh Conservatives’ position – particularly their repetition of the ‘vote Plaid – get Labour’ is scarcely surprising, an altogether more personal note was struck by Welsh Liberal Democrats.
The Liberal Democrats pointed out that, only a couple of weeks ago, Simon Thomas stated that he believed the Welsh Government’s Local Government bill was “taking the p*ss”, while their spokesperson, Peter Black, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Local Government Minister, said: “This is humiliating stuff. Only weeks after one of Plaid’s Assembly Members made clear he would be voting against the bill, his party is now stating that they will support it. They are in an absolute mess.
“Plaid have sold out, but received absolutely nothing in return. It’s bizarre.
“Their embarrassing u-turn is based on smoke and mirrors. They have achieved literally nothing. There is no commitment for a fair voting system and it was always the case that mergers were not going to happen before the Assembly election.
“The Welsh Liberal Democrats will not support any local government reform that doesn’t bring power closer to people by devolving powers and introducing a fairer voting system. If councils are going to be larger, then it is essential that they reflect the people that voted for them.”
Plaid Cymru offered a stout defence of their change of tack, claiming that it had stopped Labour from forcing through its centralisation agenda for Welsh local government without a mandate.
Plaid stated that concessions it had secured ‘mean no work will be able to start on implementing reforms until after the next Welsh election – allowing people to choose which party’s vision they wish to see delivered after May.’
Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said: “Plaid Cymru has stopped Labour from enforcing their map for local government reorganisation through the back door before plans are put to people. Large scale changes to Local Government structures should not be decided by politicians with no mandate but should be decided by people in an election.”
However, given the continuing deadlock in the Assembly, it is difficult to see what, if anything Plaid has achieved, other than hand over a significant hostage to fortune sure to be exploited by its political opponents.
Ms Wood continued: “The demands made by Plaid Cymru will mean that all parties can present their individual proposals in their manifestos and seek a mandate to implement them, without being bound by the current government’s preferences.
“It will allow a Plaid Cymru government to implement the changes that we want to see to the structure of Local Government, by retaining the existing 22 Local Authorities making them work together as combined regional authorities.
“Plaid Cymru has also ensured that we will have the ability to introduce proportional representation for local councils to allow for fairer voting systems like STV.
“The Party of Wales has acted in the best interests of the people of Wales, giving them the say on how they want their local councils to be elected and structured in future and halting the centralisation plans of Labour. We now seek a mandate for our proposals for localism and empowering Wales’ communities in the election to the National Assembly next May.”
Simon Thomas AM, who featured prominently in the Liberal Democrat response to Plaid’s decision, said: “The Party of Wales have secured the future of Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire for the time being by this agreement with the Welsh Government.”
Mr Thomas continued: “Plaid Cymru has stopped Labour from enforcing their map for local government reorganisation through the back door. It is now up to the people of Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire to decide on the various visions of different political parties. Plaid Cymru has its own policy on creating regional combined authorities. The extent to which we will be able to implement this vision, or to which we will have to co-operate with other parties, will be decided by the people of Wales in next year’s elections.”
Following the passage of Stage 4 of the Local Government (Wales) Bill the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) has recognised that no further progress can be made on local government reorganisation until after May 2016. It has restated its previous call for all parties and local government leaders to be involved in important national talks following the May 2016 National Assembly for Wales elections to determine the future shape of public services in Wales.
The call came after the agreement was struck between Labour and Plaid Cymru to pass the Local Government (Wales) Bill.
A WLGA spokesperson said: “Continued speculation around local government reorganisation is making life intensely difficult for local councils who are trying to plan and reform local services in the face of major financial pressures. It also impacts on the morale of hundreds of thousands of local government workers who are being adversely affected by the insecurity such ongoing speculation causes. This is taking place in a wider context within which the key issue facing local councils is not a distant restructuring in 2020, but the impact of the UK Spending Review where cuts to local services ranging from between 25-40% are being explored at Westminster.
“With the Labour-Plaid agreement, it is essential that the Welsh public is fully involved in any plans to reorganise and reform local councils. As such it is vital that these should be fully explained in party manifestos which can be scrutinised and judged by the electorate as part of next year’s Welsh elections.
“Local council leaders will seek to work with the next Welsh Government to make sure we get this right by creating a system of local government that is effective and sustainable well into the future, and one that stresses the importance of local democracy and ensures that localism is at the heart of Welsh public policy.”
Local Government leaders in West Wales have repeatedly made it clear that they want no truck with the proposals coming from Cardiff Bay. Former Carmarthenshire Leader Kevin Madge made his opposition to reorganisation clear and the Council under his leadership was all but unanimous in expressing its opposition to any proposed merger or dismemberment of the authority.
It appears that his successor, Plaid’s Emlyn Dole, who waxed lyrical about the importance of retaining Carmarthenshire in its current form as a unitary authority, has recently changed his tune. When the Welsh Government was forced to withdraw its proposals a fortnight ago he told The Herald: “I am in favour of local government reorganisation. I am happy with the decision taken to postpone the debate because it will give time for people to give due consideration and have meaningful discussions on this issue. It has to be done on a consensual basis where form follows functions.”
Pembrokeshire Council Leader, Jamie Adams, has been consistent and critical in his response to the proposals for reorganisation, stating repeatedly that the Welsh Government has shown no value to the change, no service improvements attributable to it, and no sign of how mergers and reorganisation will be funded. He has also warned of inevitable job losses at the sharp end of service delivery.
With some within Plaid still quietly critical of their party’s tactics towards Labour in last May’s Westminster elections, there is concern that the Conservatives – in particular – and potentially UKIP could exploit Plaid’s decision not to oppose the Bill at next May’s elections.
Pembrokeshire County Council Leader, Jamie Adams, said: “This news will obviously will please County Councillor Michael Williams from Tenby North who is Leader of the Plaid Cymru group on Pembrokeshire County Council.
“However it appears at odds with the views of the Council leaders of Carmarthen and Ceredigion, both of whom have stated clearly that they are against any proposals for council mergers.
“For me, it’s a further demonstration of political parties at Cardiff Bay being out of touch with communities.
“They are creating a map without any understanding of how services operate. Neither are they demonstrating to the public how they expect services to be improved or money saved just because councils become bigger.
Cllr Adams added: “The evidence is that larger authorities do not perform as well.”
Police appeal after river death in Ystradgynlais
DYFED-POWYS POLICE is appealing for witnesses following the death of a man in Ystradgynlais.
At around 10am this morning (16 January 2020), a man aged in his 60s was seen entering the River Tawe near Gorsedd Park.
He was rescued from the water near Trebanos Rugby Club, but despite the best efforts of paramedics, was sadly pronounced dead at the scene. His next of kin and HM Coroner have been informed.
His death is not being treated as suspicious, or linked to the adverse weather.
Our thanks go out to all who assisted in the response to this tragic incident, in very difficult weather conditions.
Anyone with information is urged to contact police in Ystradgynlais online by calling 101. If you are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908. Use reference: DP-20200216-217
New Body Cameras for Transport for Wales Staff
Last year alone, saw over 350 reported accounts of physical or verbal abuse against staff on trains in Wales and whilst this is a small number in terms of the overall passenger journeys, TfW are keen to further reduce this number as any incident should not be tolerated.
Antisocial figures in Wales show an improving trend in comparison with the rest of the UK and TfW has previously committed to providing CCTV at every station across the Wales and Borders network and already introduced additional security staff.
This trial is another step forward in reducing this type of behaviour and is being delivered in partnership with the British Transport Police.
The trial will include four different type of cameras, and after a review period, one company will be selected to supplying 300 across the network.
Ken Skates, Welsh Government Transport and North Wales Minister, said:
“Everyone has the right to work or travel on our network without the fear of abuse or threats. The rail staff there to help us are no different to our family and friends. They are working hard to get us from A to B, often in difficult circumstances.
“We must stamp out anti-social behaviour and do everything we can to support staff to do their jobs and let passengers make their journeys in a safe and pleasant environment.”
Daniel Hopkin, a frequent rail passenger on the Neath to Cardiff line added:
“It’s great that Transport for Wales are fitting their staff with cameras. I regularly travel between Neath and Cardiff on the train and I think that any improvements in safety will benefit customers.
“The railway station can be really hectic and the fact that staff will have body cameras should act as a deterrent to some of the occasional bad behaviour. Transport for Wales seem to be considering different ways to improve things for the customer and I find that encouraging as a passenger.”
Marc Clancy, Transport for Wales Conductor said:
“We have to deal with a range of people daily and most of our customers are grateful and polite. We work extremely hard to give our customers the best possible experience when using our services, however at times staff and passengers do experience occasional antisocial behaviour and abuse.
“The introduction of these cameras should act as a deterrent to antisocial behaviour, support assault prosecutions and boost public confidence in safety.
“They will provide our front-line staff with more confidence when dealing with difficult situations and abusive customers.”
BTP Superintendent Andrew Morgan, said:
“The safety of passengers and our rail industry colleagues is our absolute priority and we do everything we can to protect them.
“We fully support the introduction of body worn cameras for Transport for Wales’ frontline staff – we know from experience that body worn video is a fantastic piece of kit that helps us in securing convictions against those who target staff with unnecessary violence or abuse.
“We hope the introduction will deter anti-social behaviour and provide reassurance to rail staff as well as passengers.
Fortunately, these types of incidents are few and far between, however if anyone has any concerns while travelling, they can text us on 61016.”
Police appeal following fatal road traffic collision
“Dyfed-Powys Police is appealing for witnesses to a single vehicle road traffic collision which occurred on an unclassified road eastbound between Afon Dulais and Pantygwyn, Capel Dewi around 3pm on Saturday 8th February 2020.
Sadly the 50-year-old female driver passed away at the scene.
The vehicle involved was a 64 plate Grey Nissan NV200 Acenta.
If anyone has any information on this incident please contact Carmarthenshire serious collision investigation unit on the 101 number quoting reference 185 for the 08th February
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