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‘Illegal’ budget amendments voted down

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Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 13.31.42A YEAR ago, a coalition-led Carmarthenshire County Council voted against an alternative budget proposed by the opposition party, which aimed to avoid cuts to frontline services by taking money from specified earmarked reserves which were perceived to contain a surplus.

This year, Cllr David Jenkins was the person presenting the council’s revenue budget strategy, while former Council Leader Jeff Edmunds, who was the Executive Board member for finance in 2015, proposed the use of reserves to mitigate cuts – specifically to education.

Cllr Jenkins said that the proposed budget ‘reflected the economic climate in the country today.’

He stated that the original planning had been based around a 3.3% reduction in the Welsh Government grant, and that planning had been hampered by the lack of any medium term plan by the WG.

“Once again we only received a scheme for one year, but the expectation is that the unprecedented reduction in local authority spending will continue,” he added.

“All commentators suggest the reductions will continue – austerity will be the norm for the future.”

Cllr Jenkins said he was pleased the cuts had been less than expected, but pointed out that each percent by which the WG funding was reduced amounted to £2.5m.

He explained that certain areas were recommended for reconsideration by the Executive Board as a result. This included removing proposed reductions in flood defence spending, cleansing services and environmental enforcement, and the deferral of home to college transport charges until 2018-19. An increase to the cost of Meals on Wheels was also phased over three years, and a proposed £50,000 reduction in short breaks and respite for disabled children and young people was withdrawn.

In addition, £50,000 was made available to youth services for safeguarding work, and it was agreed that £200,000 would be used for borrowing, which would fund £2.4m of infrastructure work.

Cllr Jenkins also said that proposed cuts to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau had been withdrawn until a third sector review had been completed.

“It is important to have continuity of CAB services in the short term,” he added.

A 3.85% increase in B and D council tax was also recommended.

When introducing his proposed amendments, Labour leader Jeff Edmunds said that even in times of austerity ‘it doesn’t have to be all about cuts and reductions – we need to think outside the box.’

Introducing his amendments, Cllr Edmunds said that councillors should vote ‘with their consciences and principles.’

One of the most significant amendments suggested was the proposed ‘cuts’ to the Delegated School Budget, which he suggested be deferred for one year.

Cllr Edmunds said: “I am not prepared, and the Labour group is not prepared, to put at risk the education of our children.’ “This cut would be devastating, we should not be looking at the next election,” he added, suggesting that it would create unemployment.

“I am sure that most of you in this chamber are school governors and have been tasked and faced with these cuts and the impact it’s going to have on our children,” he added.

Cllr Edmunds also suggested that certain services, including grounds maintenance, be brought back inhouse and refigured.

“We have five grounds maintenance areas, we need this brought to one area, then economies of scale will come into play,” he added.

He also said that the workforce could be ‘upskilled’ to include tackling road repairs in winter, when the grass stopped growing.

His third proposal was that reserves should be spent in a ‘prudent’ way. Cllr Edmunds claimed that if £10m was taken from reserves, it could be spent on building 130 new council homes, using in-house staff, which would create revenue through rental.

Responding, Cllr Jenkins queried what the impact on the council tax precept would be if these plans were introduced – something Cllr Edmunds didn’t mention.

He said that as a governor of two schools, he was aware that management teams had been working in the assumption that there would be a 3.3% cut, rather than a ‘standstill’ budget, and added that the education and finance departments had been working closely with headteachers.

Cllr Jenkins also said that school budgets had been ‘protected for a number of years.’

“Between 2010 and 2017, the schools budget increased by 8% in real terms; at the same time the highways budget was reduced by 27%,” he added.

He was in ‘total disagreement’ about Cllr Edmunds’ capital plan, and in terms of grounds maintenance, pointed out that the problem had existed since the Labour/ Independent administration was in charge.

Chief executive Mark James pointed out that a ‘standstill budget’ was being proposed for education. However, this was later queried by Cllr Sian Caiach, who pointed out that it amounted to a £3.4m real-terms cut.

Cllr Alun Lenny took exception to Cllr Edmunds’ description of the capital programme as ‘vanity projects.’

“Is a new care home in Llanelli a ‘vanity project?’” he asked, before listing many of the proposed works, including the renovation of Glanamman Industrial Estate and the Carmarthen-Llandeilo cycle route.

“These are example of Carmarthenshire looking to the future,” he added.

Executive Member for Housing Councillor Linda Edwards asked how 130 homes could be created for around £75,000 each.

“It is a great pity you didn’t consider this when building bungalows in Kidwelly which cost £160,000 each, she added.

Cllr Edmunds was asked how he would fund the schools budget amendment. After suggesting that, when Expected Voluntary Redundancies (EVR) were factored in, then the savings would only amount to around £1.9m, he suggested a 10p per week band D council tax raise in addition to using some of the £7 . 5m ‘saved’ by the WG grant. He also suggested taking £0,5m out of other departments’ budgets, and suggested that saving in certain areas, including grounds maintenance, could be made this year.

He emphasised that the ‘cuts’ to the school budget were only being deferred for a year to assess how they affected education.

“At the end of the day, if all else fails, take it out of reserves –it’s a oneoff,” he added.

However, Chief Finance Officer Chris Moore said that the budget must be balanced: “ The budget must be very precise about what it contains. If we were to pass this [Cllr Edmunds’ amendments] we wouldn’t be able to come up with a balanced budget.

Mr Moore pointed out that EVR money was overspent this year, but there were no concrete figures. However, assuming that this would cost between £500,000 and £1m, this would not be nearly enough, and the council tax increase would bring another £400,000.

Mr Moore added that ‘any comment about using reserves is unsustainable on determining a medium term plan’

“There are substantial sums we couldn’t fund from balances, and at the moment you haven’t brought forward alternatives that balance, and I would not advise we support it, because it is illegal,” he added.

This echoes what was said to Cllr Jenkins in 2015, when Mr Moore said: ““the above proposal could only achieve a one-off saving, as reserves could only be applied once and would merely delay until Year 2.

“The impact of having to deliver the necessary savings required which could lead to a potential Council Tax increase in excess of 10% to achieve a balanced budget in year two.

“The Council’s Medium Term Financial Business Plan would therefore become unsustainable unless further use for the savings was identified.”

Cllr Edmunds’ amendments were defeated by 17 votes to 44, with the original budget being approved by around the same majority.

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Councillors campaign to ditch single-use plastics

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TWO Llanelli councillors have put aside party politics to press the Town Council to ditch single-use plastics, which includes products like plastic bottles, coffee cups and lids, plastic cutlery, straws and plastic stirrers.

Cllr Siôn Davies, a Conservative, and Cllr Sara Griffiths, an Independent, have submitted a joint motion to Llanelli Town Council to do away with single-use plastic products, encourage plastic free initiatives and ensure recycling routes are available to capture plastic waste.

Cllr Sara Griffiths, who represents the Lliedi ward, said:

“Single-use plastics are only used once before they’re thrown away.

“They’re not biodegradable and if they end up in a landfill, they can release toxic chemicals which can make their way into our food and water supply.

“It’s obvious we need to use less plastic and move towards more sustainable alternatives.

“It would be fantastic if Llanelli Town Council could lead the way and remove single-use plastics from our premises and encourage plastic free initiatives.”

The motion, which has been put forward to the July meeting of Llanelli Town Council, will need to be passed by a majority of the council’s 22 members.

If passed, Llanelli Town Council will also boycott plastic ‘food-on-the-go’ packaging, plastic bags, plastic drinking cups and condiment sachets.

Cllr Siôn Davies, who represents the Elli ward, said:

“Llanelli Town Council has a golden opportunity to lead by example.

“We have the chance to inspire others – local businesses and community organisations – to take similar action.

“Cutting out single-use plastics could go a long way to encourage local groups and organisations to ditch single-use plastics themselves.

“What we want, and what I think most of the general public want, is for us to work together cross-party to take action and solve the problems facing Llanelli.”

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Logic festival is back with a bigger and better line up

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FANS of dance music in South Wales are in for a real treat this year as Logic Festival is returnins to Swansea on Saturday September 7.

The festival is now in its fourth year, and this time its bigger and better with bigger name DJs, more arenas and three licenced bars to keep you refreshed and ready to party. New for 2019 there are also six arenas of which one is a chill out area and the bigger name DJ’s make this the best event that Wales has to offer, without a doubt.

For those of you that know the Logic Festival history it will come as no surprise that the owners have gone all out for 2019 to bring a diverse line up of world class DJs playing alongside the best that Wales has to offer in DJ talent, with some returning names that had such a great time in 2018 that they just had to come again and witness the legendary Logic Festival atmosphere for themselves, first hand.

Returning this year are headliners in the both the Trance and Hard Dance arena’s, Judge Jules and Darren Styles. Making first appearances in the Trance Arena are Dance Anthems legend Dave Pearce, German superstar Scot Project and all the way from Israel is BLiSS the DJ/ guitarist who jams along to his own tracks! Not to be outdone the Hard Dance arena features sets from UK hard dance legend Andy Whitby and flying in from Germany is the infamous Uberdruck. He will be playing alongside two Italian Hardstyle titans Technoboy and Francesco Zeta who again have flown in specially for Logic Festival 4.

And completely new for 2019 is the Clubland Classix arena where revellers can hear some of the biggest and best dance anthems ever made being played by the likes of: Ian Van Dahl who will be performing a live PA, and DJ sets from N – Trance, 4 Strings, Flip and Fill, Breeze and Scott Brown. This is a welsh festival exclusive so don’t miss out on the only chance you will get in 2019 to see so many heroes of Clubland all under one roof.

With a bigger line up, comes a higher capacity and more amenities for the public like two extra bars that have been custom built to stop the bottleneck effect that the extra numbers will bring with the event, more toilets on site so that queuing can be avoided and for the first time ever, a proper chill out arena has been added playing laid back vibes all day which has been inspired by the Balearic sound of ibiza, the party capital of Europe.

When asked to comment on all of the new improvements, the festival organiser and Logic brand owner Jason Pufal said: “No expense has been spared this year to make Logic Festival 4 the best event it could possibly be, as a thank you to all of the loyal customers who come every year and make the event so special.”

“In preparation for the bigger crowd that we are expecting this year, due to the fact that we have in effect supersized Logic Festival 4, everything about the event will be improved for 2019 and we are greatly looking forward to opening the gates for 12 hours of solid dance music based entertainment.”

So if you want to witness the best in dance music in six fully covered arenas in 2019, there is only one destination to head for and that is: Logic Festival 4, Ynysforgan Farm, Morriston, Swansea on Saturday September 7th, with the gates opening at 11am. We hope to see you there amongst a crowd of thousands!

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Innovative Llanelli school’s quality recognised by major award

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CLOSE to a year after its official opening, a state-of-the-art Llanelli school has been recognised for excellence.

Ysgol Pen Rhos, a £10.2 million primary school in the Seaside area of the town, was highly commended in the school project of the year category at the prestigious Education Buildings Wales Awards.

Officially opened in June 2018, the school features facilities including a flying start nursery, solar panels and classroom terraces for outdoor lessons.

A 3G pitch has also been made available for school and community use, as well as hard and soft landscaping areas. Features including brickwork and pitched roofs have been incorporated to reflect the industrial heritage of a neighbouring terrace of houses, alongside the use of more contemporary features like metal and wooden cladding. The project also delivered community benefits including training and local employment.

Ysgol Pen Rhos was funded by Carmarthenshire County Council’s Modernising Education Programme and the Welsh Government’s 21st Century Schools initiative.

The school was initially developed and then delivered and project managed by Carmarthenshire County Council’s in-house Property Design Team, working with HLM Architects. Ysggol Pen Rhos was constructed by T Richard Jones (Betws) Ltd.

Created from the merger of the former Copperworks Infant Nursery School and Lakefield Primary School, Ysgol Pen Rhos caters for 420 pupils and 60 nursery children.

Cllr David Jenkins, Carmarthenshire County Council’s Executive Board Member for Resources, said: “Receiving an award for the quality of the school’s design and build is worthy recognition for an outstanding team effort that involved the council and its partners, as well as staff and pupils.

“The inclusion of environmentally friendly features also means the school will be sustainable for many years to come, with the availability of outdoor learning and landscaped areas sure to inspire pupils now and in future.

“This work has led to a facility that provides a world class learning environment, while celebrating Llanelli’s rich industrial heritage.

“Ysgol Pen Rhos is among many completed or planned projects in Carmarthenshire that show how seriously we take our commitment to providing the county’s children and communities with top quality facilities that meet the needs of the 21st century.”

Joe Cudd, Head Teacher of Ysgol Pen Rhos, said: “This award recognises the hard work of an exceptional team of people. Ysgol Pen Rhos is a wonderful place to learn.

“Our school is at the heart of the Seaside community and a place where we can realise our children’s dreams. We hold 480 futures at Ysgol Pen Rhos in a building that inspires, nurtures and is filled with the voices of the future.”

Ysgol Pen Rhos is located on the regenerated site of the former Copperworks Sport & Social Club and the Draka wire factory.

Other schools in the Llanelli area which are expected to be on the move in future include Ysgol Heol Goffa, which is relocating to a new facility at an adjoining site to Ysgol Pen Rhos.

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