THE WELSH GOVERNMENT is to press ahead with its controversial proposals to merge Welsh councils, after it struck a deal with Plaid Cymru to allow the deadlocked bill to proceed.
The same bill had been pulled by the Labour government a fortnight ago, due to lack of support. It had been suggested that the Government required opposition support as it had failed to convince even its own AM’s of the case to advance the unpopular measure.
Plaid Cymru’s decision not to oppose the bill has been criticised by other opposition parties in the Assembly, but stoutly defended by the party itself.
Welsh Conservatives were first out of the traps, with an excoriating statement that castigated Plaid Cymru for its reversal of policy.
Welsh Conservatives oppose the Bill. The party tabled an amendment calling for referenda to decide on mergers – giving local people the final say.
Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Local Government, Janet Finch-Saunders AM, said: “Barely 72 hours after criticising Labour, Plaid’s leader has happily cosied up and done a deal with them.
“We should’ve expected nothing less than this astonishing hypocrisy. You’d be hard pushed to make it up.
“Thanks to Plaid and Labour, local people won’t get a say on the future of our councils.
“Thanks to them, councils could now be forced to merge. Vote Plaid – Get Labour. It’s that simple – and this disregard for Welsh communities is concrete evidence.
“We believe local people should have a say and local authorities should be able to demonstrate how a merger will benefit communities.”
While the Welsh Conservatives’ position – particularly their repetition of the ‘vote Plaid – get Labour’ is scarcely surprising, an altogether more personal note was struck by Welsh Liberal Democrats.
The Liberal Democrats pointed out that, only a couple of weeks ago, Simon Thomas stated that he believed the Welsh Government’s Local Government bill was “taking the p*ss”, while their spokesperson, Peter Black, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Local Government Minister, said: “This is humiliating stuff. Only weeks after one of Plaid’s Assembly Members made clear he would be voting against the bill, his party is now stating that they will support it. They are in an absolute mess.
“Plaid have sold out, but received absolutely nothing in return. It’s bizarre.
“Their embarrassing u-turn is based on smoke and mirrors. They have achieved literally nothing. There is no commitment for a fair voting system and it was always the case that mergers were not going to happen before the Assembly election.
“The Welsh Liberal Democrats will not support any local government reform that doesn’t bring power closer to people by devolving powers and introducing a fairer voting system. If councils are going to be larger, then it is essential that they reflect the people that voted for them.”
Plaid Cymru offered a stout defence of their change of tack, claiming that it had stopped Labour from forcing through its centralisation agenda for Welsh local government without a mandate.
Plaid stated that concessions it had secured ‘mean no work will be able to start on implementing reforms until after the next Welsh election – allowing people to choose which party’s vision they wish to see delivered after May.’
Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said: “Plaid Cymru has stopped Labour from enforcing their map for local government reorganisation through the back door before plans are put to people. Large scale changes to Local Government structures should not be decided by politicians with no mandate but should be decided by people in an election.”
However, given the continuing deadlock in the Assembly, it is difficult to see what, if anything Plaid has achieved, other than hand over a significant hostage to fortune sure to be exploited by its political opponents.
Ms Wood continued: “The demands made by Plaid Cymru will mean that all parties can present their individual proposals in their manifestos and seek a mandate to implement them, without being bound by the current government’s preferences.
“It will allow a Plaid Cymru government to implement the changes that we want to see to the structure of Local Government, by retaining the existing 22 Local Authorities making them work together as combined regional authorities.
“Plaid Cymru has also ensured that we will have the ability to introduce proportional representation for local councils to allow for fairer voting systems like STV.
“The Party of Wales has acted in the best interests of the people of Wales, giving them the say on how they want their local councils to be elected and structured in future and halting the centralisation plans of Labour. We now seek a mandate for our proposals for localism and empowering Wales’ communities in the election to the National Assembly next May.”
Simon Thomas AM, who featured prominently in the Liberal Democrat response to Plaid’s decision, said: “The Party of Wales have secured the future of Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire for the time being by this agreement with the Welsh Government.”
Mr Thomas continued: “Plaid Cymru has stopped Labour from enforcing their map for local government reorganisation through the back door. It is now up to the people of Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire to decide on the various visions of different political parties. Plaid Cymru has its own policy on creating regional combined authorities. The extent to which we will be able to implement this vision, or to which we will have to co-operate with other parties, will be decided by the people of Wales in next year’s elections.”
Following the passage of Stage 4 of the Local Government (Wales) Bill the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) has recognised that no further progress can be made on local government reorganisation until after May 2016. It has restated its previous call for all parties and local government leaders to be involved in important national talks following the May 2016 National Assembly for Wales elections to determine the future shape of public services in Wales.
The call came after the agreement was struck between Labour and Plaid Cymru to pass the Local Government (Wales) Bill.
A WLGA spokesperson said: “Continued speculation around local government reorganisation is making life intensely difficult for local councils who are trying to plan and reform local services in the face of major financial pressures. It also impacts on the morale of hundreds of thousands of local government workers who are being adversely affected by the insecurity such ongoing speculation causes. This is taking place in a wider context within which the key issue facing local councils is not a distant restructuring in 2020, but the impact of the UK Spending Review where cuts to local services ranging from between 25-40% are being explored at Westminster.
“With the Labour-Plaid agreement, it is essential that the Welsh public is fully involved in any plans to reorganise and reform local councils. As such it is vital that these should be fully explained in party manifestos which can be scrutinised and judged by the electorate as part of next year’s Welsh elections.
“Local council leaders will seek to work with the next Welsh Government to make sure we get this right by creating a system of local government that is effective and sustainable well into the future, and one that stresses the importance of local democracy and ensures that localism is at the heart of Welsh public policy.”
Local Government leaders in West Wales have repeatedly made it clear that they want no truck with the proposals coming from Cardiff Bay. Former Carmarthenshire Leader Kevin Madge made his opposition to reorganisation clear and the Council under his leadership was all but unanimous in expressing its opposition to any proposed merger or dismemberment of the authority.
It appears that his successor, Plaid’s Emlyn Dole, who waxed lyrical about the importance of retaining Carmarthenshire in its current form as a unitary authority, has recently changed his tune. When the Welsh Government was forced to withdraw its proposals a fortnight ago he told The Herald: “I am in favour of local government reorganisation. I am happy with the decision taken to postpone the debate because it will give time for people to give due consideration and have meaningful discussions on this issue. It has to be done on a consensual basis where form follows functions.”
Pembrokeshire Council Leader, Jamie Adams, has been consistent and critical in his response to the proposals for reorganisation, stating repeatedly that the Welsh Government has shown no value to the change, no service improvements attributable to it, and no sign of how mergers and reorganisation will be funded. He has also warned of inevitable job losses at the sharp end of service delivery.
With some within Plaid still quietly critical of their party’s tactics towards Labour in last May’s Westminster elections, there is concern that the Conservatives – in particular – and potentially UKIP could exploit Plaid’s decision not to oppose the Bill at next May’s elections.
Pembrokeshire County Council Leader, Jamie Adams, said: “This news will obviously will please County Councillor Michael Williams from Tenby North who is Leader of the Plaid Cymru group on Pembrokeshire County Council.
“However it appears at odds with the views of the Council leaders of Carmarthen and Ceredigion, both of whom have stated clearly that they are against any proposals for council mergers.
“For me, it’s a further demonstration of political parties at Cardiff Bay being out of touch with communities.
“They are creating a map without any understanding of how services operate. Neither are they demonstrating to the public how they expect services to be improved or money saved just because councils become bigger.
Cllr Adams added: “The evidence is that larger authorities do not perform as well.”
Global Litter Charity has announced the date of its next Welsh litter picking event
THE UOCEAN Project, part of the Vayyu Foundation, which has set itself the target of removing 1 billion kilos of waste from the world’s oceans by 2030, will be holding its next litter collection taskforce event at Pembrey Country Park in Carmarthenshire.
Everyone is invited to join The UOcean Project volunteers and to make a difference by collecting litter, especially plastics, which are polluting our environment and ending up in the world’s oceans. The UOcean Project has highlighted the dramatic increase in litter from plastic bags to face masks since lockdown restrictions were lifted, making it even more important to clean-up and reduce waste pollution.
Chris Desai, head of The UOcean Project commented. “Picking up one plastic bottle or single use face mask may not appear to be significant, but at each event we are collecting many kilos of plastic because more and more individuals are joining our litter picking teams.
The combined collections here and overseas are the only way to make a difference and start fighting back against pollution.”
The UOcean Project organises litter pick-up teams who work across the UK, especially around coastlines, as well as internationally. By organising volunteers into Chapters and providing them with the tools and equipment to pick up litter, they have already collected 53,000 kilos of waste which would have ended up in the seas.
All volunteers are provided with the equipment needed to safely pick up litter so that it can be disposed of in the right way. For more information about The UOcean Project please go to the website www.theuoceanproject.com
Warning! Dangerous Valium circulating in Llanelli
Warning! Dangerous Valium circulating in
POLICE are warning drug users in Llanelli to take extra care following information received that dangerous valium is circulating in the area.
A Dyfed-Powys Police spokesperson said: “We have reasons to believe that the drugs being distributed and used in the Llanelli area at present could be extremely dangerous for anyone taking them.
“We would also appeal to drug users to seek medical attention immediately should they become unwell.
“Please share this information with anyone that you believe could come into contact with these drugs.”
To seek advice and support, visit https://barod.cymru/where-to-get-help/west-wales-services/ddas-dyfed-drug-and-alcohol-service/
Please be aware that some services may operate an automated service outside office hours.
In an emergency, or if you think someone’s life is at risk, always dial 999.
Parents warned to look out for respiratory illness in children
RESPIRATORY Syncytial Virus (RSV) is circulating amongst children and toddlers in the Hywel Dda area (Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire)
Hywel Dda UHB Medical Director and Deputy Chief Executive Dr Philip Kloer said: “Because of the COVID restrictions, there have been few cases of RSV during the pandemic, but this virus has returned and in higher numbers now people are mixing more.
“RSV is a common respiratory illness which is usually picked up by children during the winter season, and causes very few problems to the majority of children. However, very young babies, particularly those born prematurely, and children with heart or lung conditions, can be seriously affected and it’s important that parents are aware of the actions to take.”
Parents are being encouraged to look out for symptoms of severe infection in at-risk children, including:
*a high temperature of 37.8°C or above (fever)
*a dry and persistent cough, difficulty feeding, rapid or noisy breathing (wheezing).
The best way to prevent RSV is to wash hands with soap and water or hand sanitiser regularly, dispose of used tissues correctly, and to keep surfaces clean and sanitised.
Most cases of bronchiolitis are not serious and clear up within 2 to 3 weeks, but you should contact your GP or call NHS 111 if:
- You are worried about your child.
- Your child has taken less than half their usual amount during the last two or three feeds, or they have had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more.
- Your child has a persistent high temperature of 37.8C or above.
- Your child seems very tired or irritable.
Dial 999 for an ambulance if:
- your baby is having difficulty breathing
- your baby’s tongue or lips are blue
- there are long pauses in your baby’s breathing
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