A 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three years, and a proposed £50,000 reduction in short breaks and respite for disabled children and young people was withdrawn.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Cllr Jenkins also said that proposed cuts to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau had been withdrawn until a third sector review had been completed.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.
Police appeal following Llanelli assault allegation
“Dyfed-Powys Police is investigating an allegation of assault which occurred on the afternoon of July 19th 2020 on Lon yr Ysgol, Llanelli.
It is alleged that a male, described as white, thin build, approx. 6 foot tall, and in his 20’s. forcibly dragged a female into and along the street.
The female is described as white, long brown hair, thin build, approx. 5’5” tall, approx 30 years of age,
Anyone with information that could help officers with their investigation is asked to report it to PC 1009 Aled Davies either online at: http://bit.ly/DPPReportOnline, by email at: email@example.com, or by calling 101. If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908. Quote reference: DPP/0005/20/07/2020/01/C.”
Carmarthenshire students congratulated on A / AS level results
CONGRATULATIONS to students across Carmarthenshire who are celebrating their A and AS level results.
Despite an extraordinary year and very challenging circumstances due to the coronavirus pandemic, students have been rewarded for all their hard work.
A total of 98.6% of A level students in Wales achieved A* – E grades and there was also a small increase in the number of students awarded A* with 10.8% of learners receiving this grade.
At AS level, 22.2% of all grades awarded were A in Wales this year; and 91.4% of candidates achieved A* – E grades.
The results are broadly similar to previous years according to the WJEC, despite no examinations being held.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams yesterday (August 12) announced that a student’s final A level grade cannot be lower than their AS grade. This means some students may have to wait for revised grades to be reissued by the WJEC.
The commitment and dedication shown by students in Carmarthenshire has been praised by Carmarthenshire County Council’s education chiefs.
They are also commending teaching staff who this year with the cancellation of the summer examinations, have had to produce assessment grades based on a range of evidence such as classwork, homework, mock exams and non-exam assessments.
Cllr Glynog Davies, Executive Board Member for Education, said: “I would like to congratulate all our students on their AS and A level results; all their achievements and hard work has paid off and they are well prepared for their future goals and aspirations.
“It has been an exceptional year; however, it is important to remember that grades awarded this year are valued the same as in any other year and on behalf of the council, I would like to wish all our students every success for the future, whichever path they choose to follow.
“I also want to praise our schools for the high-quality support and guidance they give to our students which continues to impact positively on progress and standards. This year in particular, our teaching staff have had an even harder job, and we thank them for all their extraordinary effort.”
Director of Education and Children’s Services, Gareth Morgans, added: “Our students should feel very proud of their achievements. These results reflect their positive work ethic and dedication to their studies, and they can now progress with confidence to continued education, training or employment. I would like to sincerely congratulate them on all on their success.
“I would also like to thank our schools, our inspirational teachers and all our hard-working staff for all that they do to support and develop our students and prepare them for their future studies and careers. These results are testament to all their work and commitment.”
Burry Port RNLI Malfunction On Recovery vehicle
A busy and eventful weekend at Burry Port RNLI, with a major mechanical failure on one of our launch vehicles, we were tasked to six serious incidents on Saturday evening, a major equipment recovery on Sunday, with a few minor incidents occurring when recovery was complete.Starting Saturday, at 5.30 pm we were tasked for both boats to assist in a major search for a missing swimmer in Rhossili Bay area of the Gower. Both boats were launched and quickly on their way, when a major failure occurred on our County Tractor launch and recovery vehicle, left it in 6 foot of water, undriveable, with a fast incoming tide, with the recovery trailer still attached. Our driver had made a safe evacuation from the vehicle and was unhurt. Both boats arrived on scene at Rhossili and the swimmer was found safe and well, so both boats returned to Burry Port.
The decision was made to abandon the Tractor and trailer, anchor and bouy them for safety. At this point we received another tasking from Milford Haven UK Coastguard, for a missing person with 2 children, last seen in the water at Pembrey Country park Beach. A search was commenced, but the 3 casualties were again found safe and well, so both boats returned to Burry Port.
Whilst continuing to make safe our stricken vehicle, our Atlantic 85 lifeboat was re-tasked to search for 2 persons, cut off by the fast incoming tide at Worms Head on the Gower. The lifeboat arrived very quickly on scene, located the 2 casualties, and took them to the safety of the beach, handing them to the Rhossili Coastguard team.
At this point, a group of people were seen on the sandbank at Pembrey old Harbour, completely cut off by the tide, so our smaller D class ILB was sent to pick them up and ferry them to safety, and handed them to Burry Port UK CG team.Our Atlantic Lifeboat was moored in the harbour overnight, as we had no recovery vehicle, and our D class was recovered and stored for the night.
By 9.00am Sunday morning, a specialist recovery team and vehicle were en route to Burry Port, and a spare tractor was also despatched.Sunday was spent planning and preparing for the recovery, with low tide at 4.45 pm, both lifeboats were placed in positions to be used if called on, and at 3.00pm the recovery operation began, with the Tallus caterpillar tracked recovery vehicle, and the RNLI specialist team, and some assistance from our D class lifeboat crew, the stricken vehicle was recovered at 4.15pm, replaced by the replacement vehicle and both lifeboats were made available for service.
Minutes later the D class was assisting people trying to cross from a sandbank to the Lighthouse, and then to a vehicle bogged down in soft sand, before all boats, trailers and vehicles were back in the safety of the Lifeboat Station.Grateful thanks to the RNLI team, and the transport driver who replaced our stricken vehicle with a serviceable tractor. Great respect to all our team, who even in adverse conditions and problems, still managed to carry out all their taskings, and assist in the recovery of the vehicle. A great team effort.
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