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Reforms challenge local democracy

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A WHITE PAPER setting out how councils will deliver some of their services together will be unveiled this week by Local Government Secretary Mark Drakeford.

The White Paper, which is out for consultation until the beginning of April, is the result of months of discussions between the Welsh Government, local authorities and others on how to strengthen council services in the face of future challenges. It seeks views on proposals for mandatory regional working to deliver a range of services, address workforce issues, and implement electoral reform, including allowing voting at 16. It also calls on members of the public to become active participants in local democracy and in the design and delivery of services.

Amongst the proposals are a mandatory economic development footprint that would also cover certain planning functions and transport.

Councils would have some flexibility over what footprint they use to share responsibilities for other mandated services including education improvement, social services, additional learning needs, public protection and promotion of the Welsh language.

Councillors would make up the membership of new, enhanced joint committees which would oversee these services and make decisions on behalf of their respective councils. Funding arrangements would work on the existing practice of pooled budgets.

The local government workforce is an essential part of these proposals and the Welsh Government will consider, through the Workforce Partnership Council, how to support the transition over to the new arrangements, using statutory guidance where necessary.

Councils would still have the option of merging under the new plans and, where there is local agreement for this, the Welsh Government would work with them to make it a reality.

The White Paper also calls for a different and more equal partnership between people and the public services they use. This would see the development of a new set of principles recognising people as the best experts in how to manage their own lives and putting in place small interventions earlier to resolve issues before they escalate further.

The proposals strike a new balance between clear and unavoidable objectives for local government with flexibility for councils to determine how those shared objectives are best delivered locally. Thus the White Paper proposals provide councils with powers to choose between operating a Cabinet or Committee system and to decide how the activities of councillors are best reported to the electorate. Similarly, views are invited on enabling local authorities to adopt either ‘first past the post’ or ‘single transferable vote’ election systems. Following passage of the Wales Bill, further conversation will take place on a wider set of measures to reform electoral arrangements in Wales to improve both voter registration and turn out at elections.

In line with the new proposals, the Cabinet Secretary also announced that he would be considering how the wider local government finance system could be reformed – ensuring a fairer and more sustainable system to support local authorities in the future.

Setting out the proposals for consultation, the Local Government Secretary said: “This White Paper is not about change for change’s sake. Our councils are working against a backdrop of extraordinary austerity and some services are facing a great deal of pressure. Local government reform is essential if we’re to make these services stronger and more resilient to cope with the demands of the future.

“The new regional arrangements will bring councils together to work more effectively in the interests of people and their communities.

“We want to see a new relationship between councils and their communities where public services support people to live independent lives and intervene only when necessary and only for as long as is required.

“We also want a new relationship between the Welsh Government and our councils; one that is based on mutual respect for the important, and different, roles we each play.

“Underpinning all of these new arrangements will be effective scrutiny and accountability, where councillors act as the champion, advocate and guide for people who elect them.

“I want to thank local authority leaders and others for their help in forming a serious and credible set of proposals. I look forward to working alongside them further following the local government elections in May.”

Economic development footprints would be based on the WLGA regions of South-East Wales, North Wales and Central and South-West Wales. The shape of these regions fits with the economic development areas already in place; namely the Cardiff Capital and Swansea Bay city regions, the North Wales Economic Ambition Board and the Growing Mid Wales Partnership.

Crucially, however, there is no election to the quangos the Welsh Government has decided will direct local economies, with members of each being appointed by a variety of public and third sector bodies. Quite how those arrangements will advance and protect local democracy and accountability is a significant question, especially when considering the catalogue of disasters unleashed by similar arrangements in the past.

In particular, there are concerns that key local authority functions, such as oversight of major local planning projects, will end up being determined – either directly or indirectly – by unelected regional boards made up of place-men and women, failed local government bureaucrats, and appointees made up of what – in Welsh political circles – amounts to ‘the usual suspects’.

The consultation will close on April 11 and is available to view on the Welsh Government’s website: consultations.gov.wales.

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Politics

Senedd praise for Llanelli Youth Voluntary Group.

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Plaid Cymru’s Helen Mary Jones MS praised the work of Llanelli-based CYCA, Connecting Youth, Children and Adults in the Senedd.

The Mid and West MS took the opportunity of a 90 second statement in the Senedd to congratulate the organisation on 40 years of working in Carmarthenshire.

Plaid Cymru Shadow Economy, Transport and Tackling Poverty Minister Helen Mary Jones Mid and West MS said:

“It was my privilege last week to visit, with my colleague Adam Price, a wonderful Llanelli-based organisation, CYCA—formerly the Carmarthenshire Youth and Children’s Association, now Connecting Youth, Children and Adults.

“I have known of and supported CYCA’s work for almost 20 years, and it was really inspiring to see how they’ve gone from strength to strength supporting children, young people and families in these challenging times, and this year, they celebrate their fortieth birthday.

“It would be easier to list what CYCA doesn’t do in the field than what they do, such is the breadth of their work. They run nurseries and youth groups, education and training courses, they provide counselling and individual support, and support for families. We were particularly impressed with the stories of two young mothers who, through CYCA, had not only received support with the challenges of isolation and family life, but had also been able to get back into education; one starts her training as a midwife this week.

“And we were struck, too, by an innovative social prescribing scheme where GPs refer children and young people experiencing distress to CYCA. The team then work with the whole family, identifying support needs and providing whatever is needed—counselling, parenting support, support at school—and this support lasts as long as the children and family need it.

“It’s already proving very successful, with young people’s well-being greatly enhanced. One service user said to me many years ago, ‘The thing about CYCA is that they never give up on you’. And they don’t. CYCA never gives up on a child, a young person, a vulnerable adult or a family. We are lucky to have them in our town, our county and our community. Pen-blwydd hapus iawn, CYCA. I’m looking forward to seeing what you get up to in the next 40 years.”

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Llanelli thanked for all their efforts to help control the spread of Covid-19

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RESIDENTS in Llanelli are being thanked for all their efforts to help control the spread of Covid-19 – almost a week after new local restrictions were introduced.

A large part of Llanelli has been designated a ‘health protection zone’ following a large increase in Covid-19 cases in the area.

The temporary restrictions were introduced on Saturday, September 26 in a bid to halt the spread of the virus and to protect people’s health.

Council Leader Emlyn Dole has praised locals for changing their behaviour and adhering to the new restrictions.

However, it is still very early days and residents, not only in Llanelli, but across Carmarthenshire are being urged to please continue to follow the advice around social distancing, washing hands, face coverings, self-isolation and testing.

Anyone who has a positive Covid-19 result or has been in contact with someone with confirmed Covid-19 will receive a call from the Test, Trace Protect team on this number 02921 961133.  Residents are being urged to please answer the phone. If you do miss a call, the team will continue to try and reach you. Calls from this number are outbound only, so you will need to wait for a call back.

In the last week, the council’s enforcement team, with support from Dyfed-Powys Police, has visited more than 100 business premises to offer advice and support. The majority of businesses are compliant, however, there is a small minority of licensed premises who have failed to put appropriate measures in place. As a result, a total of seven closure notices and five improvement notices have been issued for breaches of coronavirus regulations.

Cllr Dole said: “I cannot thank residents enough for all they are doing to protect their loved ones, their families and friends. I can assure you that all your efforts and sacrifices will make a big difference.

“It is vital we keep on following the rules and do all we can to stop the spread, we all have a part to play in this, and together we will come through it.

“Please follow the advice on self-isolation and if you have any symptoms get a test; we are working closely with the health board and they have increased testing capacity in the town so there is no need to travel far. And those residents that do test positive, please work with our TTP teams so that we can trace anyone you may have come into contact with. This is now part of our ‘new normal’, and people should not be alarmed, but should listen carefully to their advice.

“As promised, we have increased our monitoring and enforcement and we are grateful to local businesses who, on the whole, are providing a safe environment for their customers. And where they have fallen short, action has been taken.

“We will continue to monitor the infection rates, the effectiveness of the measures that have been introduced and the compliance of residents and businesses, working closely with our key partners, Welsh Government and Public Health Wales.

“We know what we need to do to stop the spread, and together we will beat this and Keep Carmarthenshire safe.”

It will take some time before these restrictions have an impact on the number of cases in the area, so it is important residents do not become complacent.

They will be reviewed every two weeks. The main restrictions are:

  • people will not be allowed to enter or leave the defined area of Llanelli without a reasonable excuse
  • people will no longer be able to form, or be in, an extended household (sometimes called a “bubble”)
  • this means meeting indoors with anyone who is not part of your household (people you live with) is not allowed at the moment, unless you have a good reason, such as providing care to a vulnerable person
  • all licensed premises must stop serving alcohol at 10pm, and will have to close at 10.20pm
  • people must work from home wherever possible

Increased testing capacity for residents in Llanelli is available by appointment at the following locations:

  • Parc y Scarlets Car Park B, accessed via Trostre Retail Park, in Llanelli
  • The Ty’r Nant site (next to KFC), Trostre, Llanelli
  • The Carmarthen showground (signposted in both directions off the A40)

Tests should be booked via the UK Portal. Any Llanelli residents experiencing difficulty booking a test locally via the UK portal can instead email covidenquiries.hdd@wales.nhs.uk or by calling 0300 333 2222.

Visit carmarthenshire.gov.wales/localrestrictions for further information, including some Frequently Asked Questions and to find out if you live in the restricted area.

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The latest increase in coronavirus in Wales is ‘sobering’ says First Minister

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THE FIRST MINISTER, Mark Drakeford has criticised the lack of communication with the UK government as he gave a briefing on what he described as the “sobering” increase in coronavirus cases and hospitalisation in Wales.

The infection rate in Wales has risen to 23.6 infections for every 100k people as cases have spiked in areas including Merthyr, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Caerphilly and Newport.

Hospitalisations remain low but are rising, with five people currently in intensive care with Covid-19 and and 53 Covid patients on all hospital wards, according to the latest data from Public Health Wales from Sunday, September 13.

Mr Drakeford said that the number of people in hospital with coronavirus had risen to 41 with four people in intensive care.

He also said that the R number in Wales was almost certainly now above one – meaning the virus is spreading exponentially again. The latest estimate, he said, was between 0.7 and 1.2.

Mr Drakeford said: “In this most difficult week, there has been no meeting offered to First Ministers of any sort. Since the 28 May, there has been just one brief telephone call from the Prime Minister.

“This is simply unacceptable to anyone who believes that we ought to be facing the coronavirus crisis together.

“We need a regular, reliable, rhythm of engagement: a reliable meeting even once a week would be a start. I make this argument not because we should all do the same things, but because being round the same table allows each of us to make the best decisions for the nations we represent.

“There is a vacancy at the heart of the United Kingdom, and it needs urgently to be filled, so we can talk to each other, share information, pool ideas and demonstrate a determination that the whole of the country can face these challenges together at this most difficult time.”

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