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three years, and a proposed £50,000 reduction in short breaks and respite for disabled children and young people was withdrawn.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Cllr Jenkins also said that proposed cuts to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau had been withdrawn until a third sector review had been completed.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.
Covid-19 vaccination venues and timeline announced for everyone locally over 50
EVERY person in JCVI priority groups 5 to 9 will be offered a COVID-19 vaccination by 18 April, Hywel Dda University Health Board has confirmed.
While the health board’s vaccination programme has the capacity to offer a vaccine to everyone in groups 5 to 9 by the original target date of 4 April, the delivery plan has had to be adjusted based on confirmed vaccine deliveries.
Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, and Pembrokeshire residents in priority groups 5 to 9 can expect to receive their vaccine as follows:
- Group 5, people aged 65 – 69 years – delivered by GP practices between 15 February and 12 March
- Group 6, people aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions and unpaid carers – delivered by GP practices between 22 February and 4 April
- Group 7, people aged 60 – 64 years – delivered by mass vaccination centres starting 8 March
- Group 8, people aged 55 – 59 years – delivered by mass vaccination centres starting 22 March
- Group 9, people aged 50 – 54 years – delivered by mass vaccination centres starting 5 April
The health board currently has mass vaccination centres located in Aberystwyth, Cardigan, Haverfordwest, Tenby, Carmarthen and Llanelli.
Group 6 is significantly the largest cohort to be vaccinated to date and we understand that many in this group will be anxious to receive a vaccine. Please do not contact your GP or the health board to ask about your appointment, you will be contacted directly when it is your turn and we thank you for your patience.
People in groups 7, 8 and 9 will receive a letter with an appointment date and time. Please arrive as close to your appointment time as possible. The letter will include a phone number to contact the health board should you need to rearrange or cancel your appointment but please make every effort to keep your allocated appointment time.
Steve Moore, Chief Executive of Hywel Dda UHB, said: “While our programme has had to slow due to supplies, we want to reassure everyone in groups 5 to 9 that our amazing teams of vaccinators and GP practices have the capability and flexibility to deliver our vaccine supplies as they arrive into the region.
“Vaccine supplies will start to increase again from mid-March, and we are confident that everyone living in our three counties in the top 9 priority groups will be offered a vaccine by mid-April.
“In Hywel Dda we have an older population compared to some other health boards and so over 50% of our adult population will have been offered a vaccine by milestone 2.
“To be able to say that as we approach the anniversary of the first national lockdown is nothing short of extraordinary.
“And again, I must say thank you to everyone living in our three counties who continue to come forward in substantial numbers for the vaccine. Uptake remains remarkably high and we hope to see this continue through groups 5 to 9 and into group 10.”
People are asked, wherever possible, to use their own private transport to attend an appointment. Lifts can be accepted from someone in their household or support bubble, but not from anyone else due to the risk of transmission of the virus.
The health board has put in place transport support for anyone who may have difficulty attending their vaccination appointment. If you have no other means of travel, please contact the health board on 0300 303 8322 and we will be happy to assist.
Everyone in priority groups 1 to 4 should have received an offer of a vaccination. If you have not been contacted, or have changed your mind, please contact your GP at the earliest opportunity. No one will be left behind.
Covid alert level lowered for whole of UK
THE COVID alert level for all four nations of the United Kingdom has been lowered to alert level 4.
The decision comes following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and in light of the most recent data.
In recent weeks, the R-rate and the number of covid cases has been on the decline.
Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Frank Atherton said: “Following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and in the light of the most recent data, the four UK Chief Medical Officers and NHS England National Medical Director agree that the UK alert level should move from level 5 to level 4 in all four nations.
“The health services across the four nations remain under significant pressure with a high number of patients in hospital, however thanks to the efforts of public we are now seeing numbers consistently declining, and the threat of the NHS and other health services being overwhelmed within 21 days has receded.
“We should be under no illusions – transmission rates, hospital pressures and deaths are still very high. In time, the vaccines will have a major impact and we encourage everyone to get vaccinated when they receive the offer. However for the time being it is really important that we all – vaccinated or not – remain vigilant and continue to follow the guidelines.
“We know how difficult the situation has been and remains to be for healthcare workers, we thank them for their immense effort, skill and professionalism throughout the pandemic.”
Under the Welsh Government’s Alert level 4 restrictions, schools and colleges, places of worship, community centres, playgrounds and public parks are among those that can be opened.
Theatres, entertainment venues, leisure facilities and outdoor visitors attractions are among the places that must remain close while the country is in Alert Level 4.
Wife completes 50-mile running challenge to raise money for charity after husband suffers stroke
A 39-YEAR-OLD woman from Pwll, Llanelli, has raised over £8,000 for the Stroke Association, after she completed a 50-mile running challenge.
Katie Fry’s husband Dale, 36, had a major stroke in July last year, in the middle of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and she wants to raise awareness of stroke and how it can happen at any age and at any time.
Dale did not have any symptoms of a stroke, he went to work, played with his children and went for a run but had a headache in the evening so went to bed, when he woke up in the early hours of the next morning he had left sided weakness, headaches and slurred speech.
Katie acted FAST and Dale was admitted to hospital for tests where it was found that Dale had a severe stroke so he was airlifted to Bristol for a thrombectomy, 24 hours later he had life saving brain surgery and remained in Intensive care for days, Dale was repatriated back to the stroke ward in PPH where he remained before being transferred to Neath Port Talbot hospital for his rehabilitation in September.
Dale is transferring to the BIRT (Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust) early March where he will continue his rehab for 12 weeks.
Katie said: “Dale was fit and well, the stroke came out of nowhere and it was really unexpected. It has been a hard six months as Dale has remained in hospital for his rehabilitation but due to Covid-19 we have been unable to visit him much at all.
“The pandemic has had a huge impact on Dale’s recovery as resources have been limited and Dale is now on a ward with recovering Covid-19 patients and had limited interaction and support. We communicate via video calls but it’s not the same, this has had a huge impact on Dale’s mental wellbeing.’
Katie and Dale have been married for 10 years and have two young children, “I am so proud of my husband as he is working so hard with his rehabilitation and I love to see the videos of him getting a step closer in his recovery. Dale inspires me every day and I hope he and we as a family can inspire other families going through the same journey as us.”
Katie decided to fundraise for the Stroke Association with a 50 mile running challenge as she was determined to do something positive, “It has been a release for me to get out running. It was a way of raising awareness for the charity but also to help me navigate through this difficult time. I have two young children so it has been a very stressful time with home-schooling as well as helping Dale with his recovery. I can’t thank my friends and family enough for their help and support and for everyone who has donated.”
Katie Chappelle, Associate Director, Wales at the Stroke Association said:
“Thank you to Katie for raising an amazing £8000.00. These are vital funds as with the support of people like Katie we can help more stroke survivors and their families as they look to rebuild their lives.
“A stroke can happen to anyone at any time and it turns lives upside down as it has with Dale and his family.”
To sponsor Katie or keep up to date with Dale’s progress please visit: https://www.facebook.com/donate/740852340189430/
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