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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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Business offer Welsh Government help in ‘non-essential’ shopping row

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THIS morning (Tuesday, October 27), the Wales Retail Consortium, CBI Wales and Association of Convenience stores presented the Welsh Government joint recommendation to resolve the confusion over non-essential items.

The three industry bodies’ statement expresses the hope that the Welsh Government, ‘will agree to these recommendations and the people of Wales can refocus all their energies on respecting the Fire Break’.

The recommendations come in response to confused and confusing messaging from the Welsh Government, which allowed its public health message to be drowned out over the weekend by rows over whether toasters, Lee Childs novels, and size 16 jeans were essential items for customers. The confusion was not helped by a mistaken tweet by supermarket giant Tesco which claimed women’s period products were not essential items when they are and always have been.

The WRC, CBI Wales and ACS believe their recommendations will fulfil retail’s role in tackling the spread of the virus while allowing for discretion to be used on an individual basis – as recommended by Health Minister Vaughan Gething in a tense press conference yesterday, http://pembrokeshire-herald.com/61929/welsh-health-minister-defends-retail-restrictions/.

The business bodies recommend:

  • To limit the spread of the virus and allow for individual discretion, retailers will prominently display Welsh Government approved signage in front of known non-essential items and in communal areas. The signage will make clear the government’s regulation and the need to abide by it.
  • This message will be reinforced through in-store announcements and social media messaging. Advising customers to put off non-essential purchases
  • We recommend the individual customer is trusted to make their own decision as to whether a product is non-essential or not, taking into account the notices displayed throughout the store and their immediate needs
  • If the customer goes ahead with the purchase of the item the final liability ought to rest with the customer
  • Retailers will remove special in-store promotional displays of non-essential items in order to minimise browsing and avoid triggering a non-essential purchase.
  • These recommendations would mean non-essential items are not removed from shelves – or cordoned off in stores – but large notices are placed in front of the products and in communal spaces informing customers of the Welsh Government’s regulations and the Welsh public are trusted to make the right decision.

They also say they ‘look forward to engaging with Welsh Government again this morning and we hope consensus can be reached’.

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Llanelli Christmas Carnival goes online

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Preparations are underway to host the first ever virtual Llanelli Christmas Carnival. 

The carnival will go digital for the first time in its 42-year history due to the Covid-19 pandemic and in line with current Welsh Government guidance and increasing concerns about the spread of coronavirus linked to large gatherings. 

Whilst there won’t be the usual street parade, people will be able to get into the festive spirit from the comfort of their own home. 

The online celebration will be hosted as an event on Discover Carmarthenshire’s Facebook page on Friday, November 13. 

Over the years, thousands of people have been involved in the Llanelli Christmas Carnival – either dressing up to enter a float in the parade, volunteering, or simply enjoying the atmosphere with generations of their families. 

They can still get involved this year by sharing photos and video to help people celebrate good memories and help others reminisce about carnivals gone by. 

There will be a broadcast of music from talented local performers who would usually sing from the main stage, and people will still be able to countdown to the switch-on of the town’s Christmas lights. 

The largest Christmas carnival in Wales, Llanelli’s festive celebrations are a joint effort by Carmarthenshire County Council, Llanelli Town Council, Llanelli Rural Council and Llanelli Round Table. 

Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, Carmarthenshire County Council’s Executive Board Member for Culture, Sport and Tourism, said: “It’s very unfortunate that we can’t hold Llanelli Christmas Carnival this year, but we’re determined to keep the spirit of the carnival alive. Let’s come together and celebrate one of the biggest events in Wales from the comfort of our homes – celebrate with generations of memories and look forward to a bigger and better carnival next year.” 

Sign up to attend Llanelli’s first virtual Christmas carnival – visit facebook.com/discovercarmarthenshire 

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Free Community Crime Prevention Kits to be distributed in Llanelli area

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OVER the coming weeks, residents from both the Ty Isha and Glanymor areas in Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, will receive free crime prevention kits that will aim to deter offenders and make both communities safer.

The prevention kits have been purchased through funding that was secured from the Home Office’s Safer Street Fund by Police and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn.

The funding of £195,673 that was secured by Mr Llywelyn will go towards measures proven to cut crime, and will include employing two Community Wardens; purchase of SelectaDNA kits, Community crime prevention activity support, Environmental improvements and Community Crime Prevention kits.

SelectaDNA kits and Bike register kits are two of the Community Prevention kits that will be distributed to residents within the local communities over coming weeks.

The SelectaDNA kits are property marking kits that include a unique formula of DNA, UV tracer and microdots, which people can use to mark their valuable household items, so that if stolen, police are able to trace them. 

Similarly, the bike register kits include stickers, frame markings and microdots to uniquely identify a bike.  Users can add descriptions and photos to ensure that in the event of a theft, their bicycle can be easily identified and returned by Police through the BikeRegister Scheme.

Dafydd Llywelyn, Police and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed-Powys said, “I am delighted that both these crime prevention kits have been purchased through the Safer Streets funding that I secured earlier this year.  Hopefully, as they are distributed over the coming weeks, we will see that they will have a positive impact within the area.  Criminals know that DNA is the police’s most powerful weapon in convicting criminals therefore the DNA fear-factor is highly understood and acts as a huge deterrent.

“I have invested significantly in the area over recent years with community grants I made available in addition to the new CCTV system that is in place across the town. These new crime prevention kits that have been purchased through the new additional Safer Streets funding will further build upon my work over recent years and I hope the residents will feel a positive difference in their communities.

Both Ty Isha and Glanymor areas are considered to be two of the most deprived areas in Carmarthenshire according to the Welsh Government’s Index of Multiple Deprivation. The funding secured will focus on tackling all acquisitive crime such as burglary, vehicle theft and robbery within the identified areas.

PCC Llywelyn added, “Ensuring the security and safety of residents is a priority of mine – everyone deserves to live safely, and free from harm. Acquisitive offences are the crimes that the public are most likely to encounter, and they are estimated to cost society billions of pounds every year. There is strong evidence that these crimes can be prevented by tactics that either remove opportunities to commit crime or act as a deterrent by increasing the chances of an offender being caught. I now look forward to continue working closely with all partners that have supported us with our bid, to tackle these crimes in both areas and to ensure that they become safer environments for community residents.”

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