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If Dyfed is the answer, what was the question?

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dyfedLAST 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?

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Fire safety plea as dry weather puts countryside on high alert

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WEEKS of unusually dry weather have put the UK countryside at high risk of fires which could be started by careless visitors, warns NFU Mutual.

The leading rural insurer is making a plea for people visiting the countryside not to use disposable barbecues, and to take care to avoid starting fires by accidentally dropping matches in such arid conditions.

Following an exceptionally dry spring, many parts of the UK countryside are at high risk of fires started by barbecues and cigarette ends, the insurer warns. These fires can put people, farm animals and wildlife at risk, as well as destroying natural habitats.

Over the past two months, firefighters have tackled grassland fires across the UK – including in South West England, Scotland and Wales.

In late March, a gorse fire on Dartmoor led to the closure of the busy A386 as the fire sent clouds of smoke across the carriageway.

In Wales, an early April grassfire near Stormy Down, Bridgend, caused damage to an area equal to about 25 football pitches.

On Salisbury Plain, a grassfire fire in early May which destroyed a plantation of trees was traced to a fire pit which had been used as a barbecue.

Scotland too has suffered a number of fires including one near Dumbarton in late April which required 20 firefighters to bring it under control.

Rebecca Davidson, NFU Mutual Rural Affairs Specialist, said: “After a very dry spring, a dropped match or smouldering barbecue is all that’s needed to start a serious fire in our fields and forests.

“With more hot weather forecast, as many people are heading to the countryside, we’re urging visitors to take care to avoid starting a fire. All too often, disposable barbecues, which seem to have gone out, smoulder for hours and start fires which can engulf acres of growing crops and wildlife habitats.”

NFU Mutual claims statistics reveal the cost of farm fires totalled £69m in 2020 – a 40% rise from 2019.

NFU Mutual Countryside Fire Prevention Guide

Don’t drop used matches or cigarettes – they can smoulder and start a fire
Don’t use disposable barbecues on grass or moorland
Call 999 if you spot a grassland or moorland fire while out in the countryside
Avoid parking in country lanes where emergency services vehicle access could be blocked
Don’t drop litter – discarded bottles can focus sunlight and start a fire
Keep to footpaths when walking in the countryside
More information about safety in the countryside is available from NFU Mutual’s website: www.nfumutual.co.uk

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Education

Funding for music education trebled to the tune of £13.5m

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EVERY child will have the opportunity to benefit from music education as part of the Welsh Government’s plans for a national music service, which will help ensure no child misses out due to a lack of means.

As the National Plan for Music Education is published, the Minister for Education has confirmed funding will be trebled, with £13.5m being invested over the next three years.

The plan will make access to music education fairer and more consistent across Wales, with a particular focus on learners from low-income households and those with Additional Learning Needs. Support will be available for children and young people to access and progress with music tuition, with learners from disadvantaged and under-represented groups supported to join music ensembles.

The plan includes a number of key work programmes such as:

A review on music tutors’ terms and conditions, to ensure they are treated equitably and are recognised properly.
A ‘First Experiences’ programme to offer children in primary schools a minimum of half a term of musical instrument taster sessions, delivered by trained and skilled music practitioners.
A ‘Making Music with Others’ initiative, including opportunities for children and young people in secondary schools to gain industry experience through working alongside musicians and creative industries
A new national instrument and equipment library to support access to a resource bank to be shared across Wales.
These programmes will be rolled out from September 2022, supporting schools and settings to give all children and young people from the ages of 3 to 16 the opportunity to learn to play an instrument as well as singing and making music in our schools and our communities.

The National Music Service will operate as a ‘hub’, with the Welsh Local Government Association co-ordinating the Music Service’s programmes with a wide range of organisations. It will help schools and settings in their delivery of the Curriculum for Wales and provide more diverse opportunities for children and young people to experience music outside schools and settings.

First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford and the Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, visited St Joseph’s Cathedral Primary School in Swansea to see a cluster of primary school children taking part in a ‘Play Along’ session led by Swansea Music Service.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said:

“The establishment of a National Music Service for Wales is an important commitment in our Programme for Government and I’m delighted that we are delivering on this pledge.

“Learning an instrument was a formative part of my upbringing and a lack of money should not be a barrier to any young person who wants to learn to play music. We are fortunate in Wales to have a strong tradition of school, county and national ensembles, and we want to make sure that our children and young people are able to play a full part in these. This funding will support music services in schools and within the community to help nurture our young musical talent.”

The Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles said:

“Our vision is for all children and young people across Wales, regardless of background, to have the chance to learn to play an instrument. The plan we are publishing today, backed by funding, will help deliver that vision.

“For too long, the chance to learn an instrument and develop musical skills has been for those few whose families and carers who can afford tuition. I want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to access music tuition, and that’s why we’re making this significant investment to deliver a range of activities for our children and young people to learn and experience the joy of music.

“The development of the National Music Service will ensure that we nurture our next generation and continue to produce new talent and showcase Wales to the world.”

WLGA Chief Executive Chris Llewelyn said:

“We are proud to work with the Welsh Government on delivering this vital service to children across Wales. Many families in Wales can’t afford an instrument, and this funding will go a long way to opening doors to children across Wales to have the opportunity of learning an instrument.

“Playing an instrument and reading music is a very important skill for a child, and music brings enormous joy to children. Local authorities believe that children across Wales will have better access to instruments, and this plan will develop many future talented musicians, and support pupils to develop their musical skills.”

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Trailer for horror film ‘Protein’ which was shot in Swansea and Llanelli released

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PROTEIN is a 2022 British horror crime thriller filmed in west Wales. A couple of gym-obsessed serial killer who murders and eats an area drug supplier for his or her… protein, inadvertently sparking a brutal and bloodthirsty tit-for-tat turf conflict between rival drug gangs.

The movie is the work of Carmarthenshire-based production company Broadside Films, directed by Tony Burke and produced by Tom Gripper. Tom said: “The film is currently going through the post-production process but will be released sometime later this year. We’re hoping to do a festival run first before it goes to wider distribution, but we’re also hoping to have some local showings in Wales, particularly near where it was filmed.

The trailer: Features some of the scenes filmed in Gorseinon and Llanelli (Hand out)

“I’m really proud of it. Even before we cut it, it was really exciting. It is really well directed and really well performed, and thanks to the incredible crew, it is looking really good. I’m really excited for people to see it.

“The trailer features some of the scenes we filmed in Gorseinon and Llanelli so people will be able to recognise those. And of course we’re really grateful to the residents of Swansea and Carmarthenshire for their patience and putting up with us, as well as the crew at Sin City in Swansea, who were amazing and very accommodating, we’re super thankful to them.” These are all the TV and film projects being made in Wales in spring, 2022.

MORE ABOUT THE FILM

Directed by Tony Burke – making his function movie debut – from a screenplay co-written with Mike Oughton, primarily based on Burke’s 2014 in need of the identical identify.

The Broadside Films manufacturing stars Craig Russell (School of the DamnedNightshootersCanaries aka Alien Party Crashers), Steve Meo, Kai Owen, Ross O’Hennessy, Richard Elis, Gareth John Bale, Charles Dale, Andrea Hall, Richard Mylan and Kezia Burrows.

Cast and characters:

Craig Russell … Sion
Steve Meo … Kevin
Kai Owen … Dwayne
Ross O’Hennessy … Nik
Richard Elis … Big Tim
Gareth John Bale … Gary
Charles Dale … Stanton
Andrea Hall … Patch
Richard Mylan … Joe Llewelyn
Kezia Burrows … Katrina
Jamie Kenna … Fitz
Phil Deguara … Wilkes
Claire Cage … DCI Arning
Justine Jones … Leanne
Andrew Lennon … Carl
Alex Parry … Zef
Darren Swain … Yuri
Dean Lewis … Petr
Russell Daniels … Luan
Christopher Pegler-Lambert … Alexis
Oliver Coles … Lotan
Michelle McTernan … Sian
Derek Palmer … Guy
Ieuan Evans … Kid
Dhean Morris … Delivery Guy
Llew Roderick … Ryan
Julian Lewis Jones … DS Tom Warbler
Ceri Jones … DI Bryan Davies

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