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Plaid wins battle of the budgets

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THE REVENUE budget for 2016-17 was the subject of an at-times heated debate in this week’s Full Council meeting. After some considerable discussion, the budget put forward by executive member for resources Cllr Dai Jenkins was accepted over an alternative Labour budget which reversed cuts and increased investment in public services at the cost of an extra 2% council tax increase.

Introducing his budget, Cllr Jenkins acknowledged that ‘for a number of years the Local Authority had recognised the problems faced, and seen the need to do things differently’.

He added that, while this was a ‘more supportive and favourable’ settlement than had been predicted, it was forecast that future settlements would be negative.

However, this year’s settlement had allowed the Executive Board ‘to revisit some areas’.

As The Herald previously reported, the report recommended reversing proposed cuts to the education budget.

Cllr Jenkins pointed out that significant feedback had been provided during the budget consultation. “We hope that this demonstrates we are willing to listen,” he added.

Responding, Cllr Deryk Cundy (Lab, Bynea) remarked that for the second year running the Welsh Government had ‘taken the sting’ out of cuts imposed by the Westminster Government.

However, there were still many people in the county living in poverty.

Cllr Cundy also criticised the National Procurement Service and the Apprenticeship Levy ‘which we collect and never see again’.

Referring to the proposed reversal of cuts to the schools budget, he remarked that this still involved a real-terms funding reduction equivalent to the salaries of 30 teachers or 60 support staff.

“These are not surplus to requirements,” he added.

Cllr Cundy proposed adding £400,000 to the staffing budget, reversing a cut of £70,000 to support services for disabled pupils, and giving teachers faced with Early Voluntary Redundancy the option of moving to a different post within the local authority.

Describing Cllr Jenkins’ budget as ‘a curate’s egg – good in parts’ he claimed that it made ‘further cuts on those struggling to make ends meet’.

Other proposals included expanding the Beacon Bursary Scheme, putting £100,000 towards resolving the parking problems and improving the Park and Ride service at Glangwili Hospital, reversing a cut to the street scene budget, and investing an extra £55,000 towards employing multi-skilled grounds and maintenance staff and apprentices.

These changes would be funded through an increase in council tax of 4.5% – 2% more than that proposed by Cllr Jenkins.

“This does mean a slight increase in the council tax, but it will have benefits to those in need – the poorest in the community,” he added.

Labour Leader Cllr Jeff Edmunds pointed out that in opposition, Plaid Cymru had recommended taking £6m from reserves to put in the revenue budget, and added that this budget proposal was a fully costed alternative.

Responding, Cllr Jenkins somewhat pointedly remarked that he was aware that there was a Labour shadow member for the role he had held for the last two years, and it would have perhaps been helpful had someone talked with him during that time, rather than ‘showboating in the chamber’.

Addressing Cllr Cundy’s proposal for education funding, Executive Member Cllr Gareth Jones suggested that there was ‘too much duplication’ happening within schools, which needed to be addressed.

Veering off topic slightly, Council Leader Emlyn Dole suggested that ‘the Labour Party in Llanelli is in enough trouble already without straying into the land of make-believe’.

He added that, during the consultation, JAM (just about managing) families had said ‘something totally different’ regarding any increase in council tax.

Cllr Jenkins, while agreeing with Cllr Cundy’s sentiments regarding the National Procurement Service, pointed out that all Wales’ local authorities would have to agree to opt out – which has not happened.

He was less complimentary regarding the proposals to spend money on the hospital parking problems: “That is Hywel Dda’s problem,” he added, suggesting that it was ‘irresponsible’ to claim otherwise, and that local county councillors and the executive member for transport were working with the Health Board to resolve the issue.

Cllr Anthony Jones, referring to the money found for capital projects, remarked that he ‘could think of 20 million ways of dealing with budget pressures’.

He also pointed out that while the ‘burden on the council tax payer’ had been reduced, from a 3.8% increase even further to a 2.5% increase, it was predicted that council taxes would rise by 4% next year.

He added that not many opposition parties before had come into the chamber with a balanced alternative budget and explained how it could be achieved ‘not taking £6m out of the reserves’.

Cllr Cundy explained that the idea behind improving access to Glangwili was to reduce the pressure on the social services department by ensuring people attended necessary appointments.

“This is a linked budget – I’m not taking away from what you have done, but adding to it,” he concluded.

The Labour amendments were defeated by 19 to 41, and Cllr Jenkins’ original budget was carried.

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Plans for Cross Hands Health Centre to go before Welsh Government

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AN OUTLINE Business Case for the development of a Wellbeing Centre to be based in Cross Hands is to be resubmitted to Welsh Government, Hywel Dda University Health Board is pleased to announce.

The business case outlines our intention to develop an integrated health and social care network of services for the Amman Gwendraeth area and the construction of a Wellbeing Centre. If approved, the centre will provide a base for health and care services which will accommodate two local GP practices (Tumble and Penygroes), a library, family centre, community pharmacy and also community police support officers and voluntary sector groups.

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way we deliver some health and care services. Hywel Dda University Health Board has been working with partners and stakeholders to refresh the business case for the development to ensure that these continue to be fit for our population’s health and care needs both now and in the future.  It is anticipated that the Business Case will be resubmitted to Welsh Government in Spring 2022.

Rhian Dawson, Integrated System Director for Hywel Dda University Health Board and Carmarthenshire County Council, said: “I am delighted that we are now able to refocus on the development of the Wellbeing Centre in Cross Hands. This will not only be an asset for Cross Hands but will benefit Carmarthenshire as a whole. While it is unfortunate that the pandemic has delayed our progress, it has also demonstrated the importance of delivering services as close to home as possible.”

It is anticipated that the Centre could potentially be complete in 36 months from the approval of the Outline Business case. 

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Boris Johnson apologises over latest No.10 party revelations saying it was ‘work event’

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THE PRIME MINISTER says he thought party in March was a ‘work event’ but concedes he should have stopped the gathering on May 20, 2020.

In Prime Minister’s questions on Wednesday (Jan 12), he apologised to the public and said that “I wish that things had been done differently on that night.”

But Boris Johnson said that Labour will have to wait for the outcome of an inquiry to know the exact details of what happened that night.

Labour Leader, Keir Starmer said Matt Hancock resigned when he broke the rules, and Allegra Stratton resigned for laughing about rule breaking. Why does the PM think the rules don’t apply to him. Boris Johnson says that is not what he said.

Starmer said the PM originally said he had been assured there were no parties. Then the video landed, and he pretended he was sickened by the parties. Now it turns out he was at the parties. Starmer added that it was his opinion that the public think he is “lying through his teeth”.

Tory MPs objected, on the grounds that MPs should not accuse each other of lying. Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, defended Starmer, saying he is talking about what the public think.

Johnson said he does not accept that. He added a laywer should wait for the facts.

Keir Starmer said that he spoke last night to a woman, Hannah, whose father died last May. She met Johnson last year, and Johnson told her that he had done everything possible to protect her dad. Hannah now knows her father’s death certificate was signed on the day of the party. Does the PM understand how she feels?

Johnson said he understands how she feels. He wanted to apologise. But the government has been doing what it can to protect people. It has the most tested population in Europe. And it has had the fastest vaccine rollout in Europe, and one of the fastest in the world. Apologising again, the PM said: “Whatever mistakes have been made on my watch, for which I apologise, that is the work that has been going on in Dowing Street.”

Simon Hart MP: We have to get to the bottom of this

Simon Hart, the Welsh Secretary, and MP for South Pembrokeshire and West Carmarthenshire, has become the first cabinet minister to publicly express concerns about the latest partygate revelations.  Simon Hart said this morning: “We’re in the middle of an investigation, that was set up by the PM to get to the bottom and to get to the truth about what was reasonable at the time and what wasn’t. It’s frustrating to have to rely on the investigation and we must be careful to not pre-judge that or what the PM will say in a few minutes’ time.

“The one thing I’m not going to do is make light of something that is unquestionably something of a significant public concern.

“I don’t live on a different planet. The frustration and the hurt and indignation and the incredulity that emerging stories like this produce. I’ve got, like everyone, family and friends asking me these questions. We have to get to the bottom of this.

“Judgment will need to be made about what happens next.”

There is some excellent detail about the No 10 party on 20 May 2020 in the Times today. The paper reports that Martin Reynolds, who sent out the email invitation to around 100 staff as the PM’s principal private secretary, became “panicky” in advance of the event, because staff were concerned it was against the rules, but decided cancelling the event would make things worse. The paper reports: “That afternoon, staff began preparations. A row of tables was set up on one side of the garden to act as a bar. In the garden itself more tables were set up in a layout to encourage people to observe social-distancing rules.

“Officials and advisers began arriving shortly after 6pm. While many stayed away, about 40 came. Many took up Reynolds’ suggestion in his email that they should “BYOB” — bring your own booze — taking a trip to the Tesco Express next to Westminster station. The drinks table was well stocked with gin, rosé, red wine and white wine, and guests began to arrive and mingle.

“Two sources said that the prime minister attended, with one saying he was “wandering round gladhanding people”. His fiancée Carrie Symonds, whom he married last year, also attended and was said to have been drinking with Henry Newman, then an adviser to Michael Gove and now a senior figure in No 10.

“The Times has been told that one senior official at the event joked about the risk of surveillance by drones, which was viewed as a tacit admission that the rules were being breached.”

Police in England issued 118,419 fines for breaking lockdown rules between 27 March 2020 and 17 October last year. That included 800 fines in the week when the No 10 party was held on 20 May 2020.

In London 17,745 fines were issued between March 2020 and October last year, including 113 for holding illegal gatherings of more than 30 people.

Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, said: “Thousands of Londoners have been fined for flouting lockdown rules during the pandemic. It would be double standards of the worst kind for the police to turn a blind eye when those in No 10 have done the same.”

Carmarthen East and Dinefwr MP, Jonathan Edwards, questioned the British Government on the floor of the House of Commons this week with regard to the ongoing allegations facing the Prime Minister and his Cabinet.

Allegations of a party held by government members and officials during May 2020 continue to plague the Conservative administration, with pressure mounting on the British Government over the past few days.

With an investigation into these claims commissioned, Jonathan Edwards MP questioned the government on what they believed would be an appropriate political sanction should the investigation conclude that a party was held and that the Prime Minister, or other Ministers attended.

The response came that it was not appropriate to comment on this hypothetical situation, and that they would await the results of the independent investigation.

Speaking outside the Chamber, Mr Edwards said: “I have been contacted my several constituents in the past few days outlining their shock, their disappointment, and their anger at the current allegations that this Government faces.

The stories they have shared with me of enormous personal sacrifice, of funerals held over video calls, and of elderly family members unable to see their loved ones in the flesh, have been emotionally powerful, and I thank them for sharing those experiences with me.

Should the allegations of Government Ministers attending a party at this very same period prove to be true, it will fly in the face of the collective struggle that everyday people have endured for almost 2 years now, and it will finally confirm what many of us here in Wales have already theorised: that the political ruling class in Westminster do not care about the citizens that they represent.”

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Llanelli Police Station to temporarily close for improvement work

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LLANELLI POLICE STATION will be closed from Monday, 10th January 2022 and will reopen on Monday, 31st January 2022 for work to improve the building to be undertaken safely.

During this time alternative arrangements will be in place for normal service to continue.

The front office staff will be working from Llwynhendy police station during this period to deal with public enquiries.

The Neighbourhood Policing Team will continue to work from a building alongside the police station and will be accessible as they are now.

Response officers will be continuing to work from the old police station to answer calls for service and will also be utilising Burry Port and Llwynhendy police stations.

The Public Service Point outside the police station will also remain working.

Police can also be contacted online at https://bit.ly/DPP101Online or by email at 101@dyfed-powys.pnn.police.uk.

Inspector Mark Davies said, “This level of investment in Llanelli police station clearly demonstrates our commitment to keeping a local policing base in the town and our desire to ensure our facilities are fit for operational use for the future.”

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