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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three years, and a proposed £50,000 reduction in short breaks and respite for disabled children and young people was withdrawn.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Cllr Jenkins also said that proposed cuts to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau had been withdrawn until a third sector review had been completed.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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Laugharne Luxury Lodge plan hits pothole

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THE OWNERS of a luxury lodge development in Laugharne face potential enforcement action from Carmarthenshire County Council. The company is alleged to have built a substantial roadway across fields near the development without planning permission.
Milkwood Spa, due to launch this autumn, is located on a site with a chequered planning history. It is located in a prominent position overlooking Carmarthen Bay and the village of Laugharne.
The current developers, UK Luxury Lodges, acquired the site from its previous owners after their attempts to get development going on the site stalled.
UK Luxury Lodges says the development will be the first resort of its kind in the region; welcoming guests after an investment upwards of £30 million.
Laugharne and nearby Pendine are popular tourist destinations, but with a track record of insecure, poorly paid employment. Speaking to us earlier this year Sharon Hurley, a director of the company behind the project, told us that she hoped the lodge and spa development would help create up to 110 new jobs in the area.
Past developments and proposals for developments have run into problems concerning their environmental impact and their effect on the local landscape.
A previous owner obstructed and extinguished a public footpath. The footpath was not relocated. No enforcement action took place over its loss.
Concerns also exist about the disturbance to a nearby scheduled monument and the area around the lodges and spa. Ironically for a project using the ‘Milkwood’ brand, developers have received local criticism for removing a significant number of mature trees to facilitate the development and damaging the landscape which is one of the locality’s chief selling points.
Issues of traffic, local parking solutions, heavy plant using residential roads, and blocked footpaths also exercise some residents.
Before we published our original article in August, we carried out an extensive search of the site’s planning history.
The County Council’s planning portal recorded no objections to the location’s development either when initial outline planning was granted for developing the location by its previous owner, or when it was acquired by the current owners in 2013 when reserved matters were dealt with under application number W/30157.
Concerning the wider conservation questions, one letter, about the linked application number W/33378, is blank on the Planning Portal.
We are assured, however, objections were raised.
A conservation area application had been submitted and approved and that the statutory consultees Cadw, Dyfed Archaeological Trust raised no objections to the development in so far as it affected the scheduled monument on the site.
When we questioned Ms Hurley about those prior concerns about development, she told us: “Creating a property that honours and celebrates the existing natural environment is so important to me and the team is working closely with local planning authorities to ensure the conservation of the surrounding historic environment.”
However, earlier this week, The Herald received a series of photos which show a permanent roadway being dug out across green fields. Machinery still being used on the works is plainly visible in some of the photos, as is the extent of the hardcore base and gravel laid over the top in some sections.
No planning permission exists for such development. Whether Carmarthenshire County Council, Cadw or the Dyfed Archaeological Trust would have been quite so supportive had they been aware of plans to dig a roadway across a green-field site in a prominent and sensitive landscape is open to question.
We asked Carmarthenshire County Council to comment on the roadway’s construction.
Head of Planning Llinos Quelch said: “We have been alerted to potentially unauthorised works on this site and we are dealing with it as an enforcement matter. Investigations will continue and appropriate action taken.”

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Zoe Evans, Llanelli painter and decorator, is British Apprentice of the Year

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Zoe Evans, a 21 year old painter and decorator from Llanelli, has been named the GB Apprentice of the Year and Welsh Apprentice of the Year at the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB)
Apprenticeship Awards.


The CITB Apprenticeship Awards celebrate the achievements of apprentices and employers across the UK for their commitment and dedication to construction.


The winners were presented with their awards at a ceremony hosted by broadcaster and property entrepreneur, Sarah Beeny. The ceremony took place at Merchant Taylors’ Hall in London (7 November).


Zoe completed a level 2 apprenticeship in painting and decorating, to go onto achieve her Advanced level 3. With her artistic flair, Zoe enjoys the creative aspects of her trade and plans to take a career route in interior design. Zoe’s amazing commitment to being the best she can, has attributed to her becoming an ambassador for women in construction and being the face of the posters across her college, Coleg Sir Gar.


Zoe said: “I’ve loved every single part of my apprentice journey, from the classroom learning to the practical application and the more creative aspects of the job. I want to thank my mentor, Ken MacKay and my employer Ian Williams Ltd. It’s a really good feeling to know that I’ve been
recognised in this way. I’d definitely recommend an apprenticeship to anyone willing to work hard, have goals and go full out to achieve them.”

Jon Davies, CITB Apprenticeship Officer, said: “When Zoe started her apprenticeship we saw her potential so we fast tracked her from level 1 to level 2. It was important for me to make sure she had the right support to reach the heights she is capable of, and she is doing just that. Zoe makes work a brighter place for everyone around her. Her positive attitude and ability makes her a perfect ambassador for women in construction, and I am really pleased this has been recognised with her award.”

Kevin Mcloughlin, CITB board member and founder and Managing Director of Mcloughlin Decorating, said: “Congratulations to Zoe, a clearly dedicated apprentice – it’s great to recognise her hard work. Apprenticeships provide a fast track route into the construction industry. With so many rewarding careers opportunities in construction there is something out there for everyone. I wish Zoe all the best in her career in construction.”

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Police difuse hostage situation in Cae Glas

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AT APPROXIMATELY 10.10pm on Wednesday (Nov 6) police were requested to attend at a property in Cae Glas, Felinfoel, in respect of threats being made by a man within the property to harm himself and a woman inside with a knife.

Officers were deployed immediately, and to ensure the safety of everyone at the scene firearms officers were also deployed.

Chief Inspector Stuart Bell said: “A specialist negotiator worked with the man for a number of hours, bringing the incident to a close at about 1.45am this morning, when the man surrendered himself and was arrested for an outstanding warrant.

“A woman at the scene was also arrested for obstructing police officers. No injuries have been reported.

“There is no threat or danger to anyone outside of the property in the area, and we can reassure residents that there is no need to be concerned as this was an isolated incident.”

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