LAST week Leighton Andrews, Public Services Minister for Wales, published the Welsh Government’s preferred plans for redrawing the map of local government in Wales. The plans unveiled had been well trailed and boil down to recreating the large unitary authorities that were part of the Welsh civic and political landscape for 22 years up to 1996.
In Wales’ fiercely independent west, the vision presented by the Welsh Government means recreating Dyfed. It appears, however, that the Welsh Government faces not only an uphill battle to get its reorganisation plans accepted by grassroots councillors, but also a stiff challenge to the prospect of even getting them on the statute book at all.
Council l eaders speak out
The issue highlighted by all of West Wales’ council leaders is that of cost and the threat to local accountability.
Cllr Ellen ap Gwynn, Leader of Ceredigion County Council, said: “Ceredigion County Council has previously voted unanimously against any merger proposals; this stance remains unchanged. Merging with any other authority would weaken local accountability, and so it is in the county’s citizens’ best interests to retain the sovereignty of Ceredigion. As the WLGA has recommended, local accountability would be best served by employing a combined authority model, which would consist of Ceredigion, Powys and Carmarthenshire cooperating on common strategic matters – an arrangement which would also negate any democratic deficit. Ceredigion remains committed to cooperate with other Councils to share resources and expertise in order to secure the most efficient and effective services possible. Bearing in mind that the Council has already made savings of £25 million over the past three years and needs to make similar savings over the next three years, concentrating on these proposals does not offer any benefits for the people of the county. It would be much better to see the estimated £268m cost of these proposals being spent on local services, rather than taking an empty, expensive step back in time.”
In a press statement last week, Cllr Emlyn Dole, Leader of Carmarthenshire, offered a more poetic view of the situation: “We have in Carmarthenshire a distinctiveness in culture, language and heritage – these are precious, and ours to retain and nurture. To that end, I firmly believe that Carmarthenshire should stand alone as a local authority in any future reorganisation of local government. One of my last acts as leader of the opposition on Carmarthenshire County Council, before becoming Leader, was to put down a motion on notice making this very point. I also put to council that maintaining our status as a county and an area authority offers us the best opportunity to safeguard and improve our services, and enables us to continue with the regeneration of our local economy. I was pleased to see cross party support, with all members – bar one – giving their full support. Having said that, I am not an inflexible Leader, and I will listen to all arguments for and against – indeed I do merit regional working arrangements.”
Cllr Jamie Adams, Leader of Pembrokeshire, was equally keen on retaining the distinctiveness of his county: “Seeing the maps for the first time, it is difficult to comment without some explanation of the rationale behind it. My position has always been: will the change improve the services we deliver to the public while at the same time reducing costs? If it doesn’t tick those two boxes, I think it is right to question the validity of this exercise. Apart from the obvious loss of local decision-making and accountability, I also have concerns about the real damage reorganisation could do to a very successful brand. I am referring to the Pembrokeshire name which is instantly recognisable to those living far outside our County and even beyond Wales. A large number of local businesses in tourism, agriculture, food and energy depend on, and identify strongly, with brand Pembrokeshire for their livelihood. I fear they will inevitably suffer if amalgamation goes ahead and in these trying times I believe it would be foolish to gamble with the health of our local economy.”
Big is beautiful ,but not always
There is no doubt that bigger authorities are better able to administer some key local government services. Strategic planning and transport, education and social services all demand scale. Size can bring vision, specialist expertise and economy and flexibility in the use of resources. For these services, big is beautiful and a reduction in the number of local authorities is right. It might even be that 8 or 9 authorities are too many, particularly in respect of strategic planning and transport.
But sometimes small is beautiful as well. Local authorities ought to be more than just the deliverers of services, and councils that don’t obviously connect with the places they serve struggle to be civic leaders and place-makers. The performance of Wales’ biggest councils also shows that big isn’t necessarily better.
Despite the clarion calls of the city-region lobby, most of Wales consists of small towns and villages, and we ignore the governance and provision of services in these communities at our peril. It remains to be seen if the proposed role for town and community councils will fill this gap.
Plaid Cymru has tapped into this picture with its own proposals for reorganisation. Plaid’s response is to create regional consortia to deliver the services identified above, while retaining a direct link with the local electorate by retaining other services at the existing county level. In a debate in the Senedd, Carwyn Jones di smi s sed this plan as ‘creating seven new quangos’, but Plaid’s policy seems to bear remarkable similarities to that favoured by the Welsh Local Government Association.
Cllr Bob Wellington CBE, Labour leader of Torfaen and head of the WLGA, says: “The sustainability of authorities in Wales is in question over the next three years and it is time to examine all options for reforming public services across the board. This means looking at greater integration of health and social care, freeing up authorities from Government bureaucracy and regulation and also empowering local communities through their councils.”
As Mike Hedges AM, presciently wrote in a paper for the Bevan Foundation: ‘The last 40 years have seen two reorganisations, the creation of the National Assembly for Wales and services such as water, post-16 education and Magistrates’ courts being taken out of local authority control. After almost a hundred years with a stable structure, Local government in Wales was reorganised into county and district Councils in 1974 and further reorganised into 22 unitary authorities in 1996. If we continue changing local government structures every 22 years then we are due an Act in 2016 and a new structure in place by 2018’.
The case for reform
Not all visions of reorganisation are as apocalyptic as those offered by local government leaders. Wales Politico carries an article which cites two unnamed senior council officials as accepting that the need and case for reorganisation is overwhelming. The article quotes a South Wales officer as saying: “Everyone in local government knows it is the correct decision. But obviously we can’t say that publicly, because so many jobs will go – including our own.”
Writing in Click on Wales, Geraint Talfarn Davies goes as far to say that: “Fewer larger counties should entail a rejuvenation of this bottom tier, in ways that would encourage really local action. It has been the missing dimension in the debate. Those who want to see real local engagement should opt for fewer councils at the top and genuinely local entities at the very bottom, even more local than the existing councils. The message from a public that seems increasingly more concerned by quality of delivery than by democratic form is, for God’s sake get on with it, do it better, get results.”
Describing the progress of the reforms as ‘snail-paced’ and ‘ham-fisted’, The Daily Wales observed: ‘The reality is that just as turkeys will never vote for Christmas, local authority leaders will never vote for their own abolition’.
Whatever the future holds for Welsh local government, it seems that – with no hope of getting legislation through before 2016’s Assembly elections – the debate is going to run and run.
The question is, who will blink first?
Llanelli choir in fine voice with £6,677 fundraiser for lifesaving charity
A SUCCESSFUL Llanelli choir has presented the Wales Air Ambulance with a cheque of £6,677 after nominating them for their charity of the year.
Côr Curiad Choir are no strangers to raising funds for charity – since their musical director Alex Esney took over in 1996/97 the ladies have raised over £105,000 for charity. Some of the good causes that have benefitted from the kind fundraising events include Teenage Cancer Trust, Marie Curie, Ty Bryngwyn Hospice, and the breast cancer unit at Prince Philip Hospital, Llanelli.
The choir, which consists of 46 females and a solitary male – accompanist Craig Oldham and musical director Alex, welcomes people of all ages. The youngest member is in her twenties and the eldest is 91. This includes mothers, daughters and sisters who all sing for Côr Curiad. They even have members who live outside of Wales.
Spokesperson for the choir Pat Hogson, said: “Now that Covid rules have started to relax a little we have been able to return to more outdoor events, but it will be so good to get back to the ‘new’ normal and do what we love most – to sing and entertain people and to start to raise money for charity again.
“We are able to do as much as we do for charity with the wonderful support of our families and friends and a solid group of supporters who come along to all our events.”
The choir’s music has been described by Pat ‘as varied as their age range’, they sing traditional Welsh and English pieces to Bohemian Rhapsody and songs from Disney, Lord of the Rings, Snow Patrol, Abba and Adele.
Wales Air Ambulance offers advanced critical care and is often described as a ‘Flying ED’.
The on-board consultants and critical care practitioners are highly skilled and carry some of the most pioneering medical equipment in the world. They can deliver blood transfusions, administer anaesthesia and undertake emergency operations at the scene of the incident, before flying the patient directly to specialist care.
Now operational 24/7, the Charity needs to raise £8 million every year to keep the helicopters flying.
Last year saw the ladies held their first-ever virtual Christmas concert, which was a huge success in aid of the Wales Air Ambulance.
Katie Macro, Campaigns Manager for the Wales Air Ambulance, said: “Thank you to everyone at Côr Curiad Choir who despite the challenges that Covid presented to them, they found ways to raise funds for our lifesaving charity. Your support is much appreciated, and every donation is vital and goes towards keeping our helicopters in the air – for the people of Wales, when they need us most. Thank you to the choir’s supporter, friends and family who continue to support and enjoy their charity events.”
There are several ways that the public can continue to support the Wales Air Ambulance.
These include online donations, signing up to the Charity’s Lifesaving Lottery or by coming up with their own innovative ways to fundraise at home. Further information can be found via www.walesairambulance.com.
Alternatively, a £5 text-message donation can be made by texting the word HELI to 70711.
Four UK forces are piloting a new service to report sexual assault online
THE NEW online Rape and Sexual Assault reporting service is now live on the websites of British Transport Police, Merseyside Police, Dyfed Powys Police and Leicestershire Police.
It was created by the National Police Chief’s Council’s (NPCC) Digital Public Contact Programme (DPC) and launched on Tuesday 30 November.
The pilot will run for six weeks.
People wishing to report sexual offences have until now been directed to phone police forces, text 61016 in the case of British Transport Police, or dial 999 in an emergency.
If they do not require immediate police assistance, people – regardless of age or if they want to report the crime – will be directed online via their local force website.
They will find advice and details of charities and other organisations that can help. The forces will ask, if the person is willing, for details of what has happened. There is an option to report the offence anonymously. If reported anonymously, the police will only contact that person if there is believed to be an immediate threat to their life.
Det Ch Insp Sarah White from British Transport Police said: “We know from extensive research that there are a number of reasons why survivors and witnesses are not comfortable in reporting sexual offences to the police.
“One of the common factors remains the unwillingness to provide personal details. We understand this and have been working to look at how we can invite greater reporting, which can help us prevent further crimes and bring offenders to justice.
“Every report provides us with valuable information. And if people aren’t comfortable with making that report, then we want them to know how they can get the support and help they need.
“This new service in not only innovative in the way it has been designed – from the ground up in consultation with more than 40 organisations (including Rape Crisis, End Violence Against Women and the Survivors Trust) – but also in the way it is being deployed – online where people, especially younger people, increasingly are.”
When visiting the websites of those forces, options are available to report a sexual offence themselves, on behalf on another person, or as a witness. People can choose to report in English or Welsh.
If the pilot is successful, it will become a permanent reporting feature and will be available for other forces to adopt nationally.
Det Ch Insp White added: “We’re absolutely committed to ensuring our railways are a safe place for people to travel and we hope this is just another tool in our armoury against sexual offending.”
British Transport Police has also been accredited by White Ribbon, committed to ending violence against woman and girls. It recently signed a pledge encouraging all men within the organisation to make a promise to never commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women.
Detective Superintendent Jayne Butler, Dyfed-Powys Police, said: “As a White Ribbon accredited organisation, committed to ending violence against woman and girls, protecting vulnerable people is a priority for Dyfed-Powys Police and we know how traumatic being the victim of a sexual offence is.
“We encourage victims to come forward to report incidents of this nature so we can thoroughly investigate the crimes whilst ensuring that all victims have the opportunity to be referred for specialist support. The ability to report a sexual offence online will provide another avenue for victims to come forward so we can help them and bring offenders to justice.”
New videos launched to support care for children and young patients
PARENTS, carers of children and young people are being reminded that they can still access 24/7 minor injury care for children at Withybush General Hospital, or during daytime hours at Tenby Walk-in Centre and Cardigan Integrated Care Centre.
Hywel Dda University Health Board has created a series of new information videos explaining the types of care that we are currently able to provide for children and younger patients following the temporary move of the Paediatric Ambulatory Care Unit (PACU) at Withybush.
Minor injury units can treat adults and children over 12-months of age, with minor injuries such as the following:
Minor burns or scalds
Minor limb, head, or face injuries
Foreign bodies in the nose or ear
Minor injury units are run by an experienced team of highly skilled specially-trained emergency nurse practitioners, triage nurses and health care support workers. Some are located on main hospital sites, which have emergency departments as well, and others are in community-based health care centres.
Bethan Thomas, an Emergency Nurse Practitioner in the Minor Injuries Unit at Withybush General Hospital, said: “Part of my role frequently involves treating children and young people with minor injuries, and we can do this quite quickly in the emergency department at Withybush so that those patients can return home having been seen and given care.”
Children with serious illnesses or injuries will be seen at Glangwili General Hospital in Carmarthen or Bronglais General Hospital in Aberystwyth. In an emergency, please dial 999.
In the videos, which are available to view on the Health Board’s website, and on social media, Consultant Paediatrician Dr Didi Ratnasinghe also explains what parents need to be aware of and how to access care if their child has a respiratory illness, while fellow Paediatrician Dr Prem Kumar gives an insight into what to expect if your child needs to stay in hospital for treatment.
Emergency medicine Consultant Dr Nicola Drake provides an explanation of other childhood medical emergencies, and when parents need to call 999 for an ambulance to take a child to Glangwili or Bronglais.
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