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Will local councils merge?

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• ‘No way’ says CeredigionPembs-CC
• ‘Maybe’ says Pembrokeshire

IN RESPONSE to a Welsh government consultation, the councillors voted to keep Ceredigion Council as a distinct Local Authority body to be able to ensure local accountability and democracy. First Minister Carwyn Jones supports The Williams Commission which earlier this year said the number of Welsh councils should be cut. This involves replacing the 22 current Welsh authorities with 12. The Welsh Government’s White Paper was published by then Local Government Minister Lesley Griffiths in July. This was basically the beginning of the legal process plotting how everything will happen which then paved the way mergers of councils willing to do so voluntarily.

October 1 is closing date for responses. Ceredigion Council Leader Ellen ap Gwyn has made it clear that the authority are sending a clear message to the government: “Merging with any other authority would weaken local accountability. Enlarging wards and reducing democratic representation will militate against good local delivery of bilingual services in a rural area. There is no cultural or linguistic affinity with with the proposed enlarged local authority area.” Ceredigion Council are among many but is the most recent authority to reject a voluntary merger. Newport has also voted against saying they do not want to merge with Monmouthshire whilst Wrexham has shown willing to join with Flintshire.

Conwy and Denbighshire are still evaluating their options. It has been said by Conwy’s Deputy Leader Ronnie Hughes that the merger would give the authority more control over its future than if it waited and was forced into the merge in two years time. Although Leighton Andrews, minister of public services has said that the Welsh Government will support councils with early mergers, including using ‘existing funding streams’ and identifying ‘appropriate financial resources’, Caerphilly has rejected to merge with Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen whilst Anglesey has similarly objected to merging with Gwynedd. In light of the recent statements by the Public Services Minister, the Leader of Pembrokeshire County Council, Councillor Jamie Adams, has announced his intention to commence formal discussions regarding the future of local government in Pembrokeshire.

“It is now clear that the Welsh Government intend to legislate to force reorganisation upon us” he said. “While I do not agree that local government reorganisation is necessary, it would be foolish to ignore the fact that it is likely to happen. “With this in mind, I intend to establish a cross-party working group of Councillors to consider the merits of a voluntary merger with Ceredigion County Council.

“I understand that Ceredigion Councillors are opposed to a merger, and I respect their point of view. However, I do not think this is an issue that we can, or should, ignore. “We have spent too long recently looking in at ourselves. It is high time that we raised our heads and started to plan for what’s coming down the track towards us.” While Ceredigion has rejected a council merger with Pembrokeshire, it seems that Welsh Minister for Public Services Leighton Andrews is prepared to force through change in the teeth of resistance from Wales’ local government sector. It seems as though Council Leader Jamie Adams has taken a view of the future and decided to argue Pembrokeshire’s case for independence in local government less forcefully than before.

Speaking to The Herald after Monday’s Corporate Governance Committee, Cllr Mike James told us that Mr Andrews told representatives at a recent meeting of the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) that ‘they hadn’t seen nothing yet.’ Last week, Leighton Andrews issued a press release saying: “We cannot continue to operate with 22 local authorities. There will be change, voluntary or not, and I am offering a unique opportunity to those who are willing. I want local authorities themselves to make fundamental and lasting change to create modern and effective Local Government in Wales.

I hope they seize this opportunity since those who agree to merge voluntarily will determine their own future and will not face elections until May 2018.” The promise of initiating new primary legislation to delay Council elections for those authorities willing to merge might be a significant incentive for existing councillors to extend a stay in local government that could otherwise be curtailed by the electorate a year earlier. Bribing councillors to do as the Welsh Government wishes, ahead of the completion of the work of a supposedly independent and unbiased consultation, raises questions about the integrity of the Welsh Government’s whole approach to the question of how to reorganize Welsh local democracy.

In response to Leighton Andrews’ statement, a vote of Ceredigion County Council unanimously rejected calls to merge its operations with Pembrokeshire. Ceredigion Council Leader Ellen ap Gwyn said: “A business case does not exist to support a merger between Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire. Everyone agreed that the proposal does not make geographical sense and grave concern was expressed regarding the cultural and linguistic difference between the two counties,” she added. The council is the latest authority to reject a voluntary merger.

Newport has also said it does not want to merge with Monmouthshire while Wrexham has signalled it is unwilling to join with Flintshire Striking a more conciliatory note than hitherto used in his public statements, Council Leader Jamie Adams said: In light of the recent statements by the Public Services Minister, the Leader of Pembrokeshire County Council, Councillor Jamie Adams, has announced his intention to commence formal discussions regarding the future of local government in Pembrokeshire. Ahead of releasing the statement to the press, he told Monday’s Corporate Governance Committee: “It is now clear that Welsh Government intend to legislate to force reorganisation upon us” he said.

“While I do not agree that local government reorganisation is necessary, it would be foolish to ignore the fact that it is likely to happen. With this in mind, I intend to establish a crossparty working group of Councillors to consider the merits of a voluntary merger with Ceredigion County Council. I understand that Ceredigion Councillors are opposed to a merger, and I respect their point of view. However, I do not think this is an issue that we can, or should, ignore. We have spent too long recently looking in at ourselves. It is high time that we raised our heads and started to plan for what’s coming down the track towards us.” Whether Jamie Adams will be able to deliver consensus across his increasingly bitterly divided council is likely to be a major test of his and his party’s resolve in the face of widespread public support for Pembrokeshire’s autonomy.

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Ceredigion hometown heroes & lockdown legends sought for 2020 National Lottery Awards

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The National Lottery Awards 2019 winners on stage, including Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson from Wales, the first ever recipient of The National Lottery's Lifetime Achievement Award.

THE National Lottery is searching for your ‘hometown hero’ or ‘lockdown legend’ as part of the 2020 National Lottery Awards.

This year the annual search for the UK’s most popular National Lottery funded projects will, for the first time, honour individuals who have made an extraordinary impact in their community, especially those who have adapted during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

New figures reveal more than £2.8 million of National Lottery funding has been invested in good causes in Ceredigion in 2018/19 alone.

A total of 108 National Lottery grants were awarded in the region during the previous financial year, providing vital support to arts, sports, heritage and community projects.

From today, The National Lottery are calling for nominations of people who have done amazing things with the help of National Lottery funding and are an inspiration to us all.

Winners in each category will receive a £3,000 cash prize for their organisation and a coveted National Lottery Awards trophy.

Jonathan Tuchner from The National Lottery is encouraging the people of Ceredigion to make their nominations.

He said: “The National Lottery continues to have a positive impact on life across the UK. Thanks to National Lottery players thousands of projects are making an incredible difference to their local communities.

Now, more than ever, people have rallied together, and individuals are performing inspirational acts and extraordinary endeavours to help in cities, towns and villages up and down the country.

Thanks to National Lottery players, up to £600 million has been made available to support communities throughout the UK amid the coronavirus crisis. People have used National Lottery funding in amazing ways during these challenging times. We want to honour them as part of this year’s National Lottery Awards and recognise their selfless dedication and thank them for their fantastic work.”

Encompassing all aspects of National Lottery good causes funding, the 2020 National Lottery Awards are seeking to recognise outstanding individuals in the following sectors:

Arts
Education
Health
Environment
Sport
Heritage
Community / Charity

And there will be a special Young Hero Award for someone under the age of 18 who has gone that extra mile in their organisation. All nominees must work or act for a National Lottery funded organisation or have received National Lottery funding.

To make your nomination for this year’s National Lottery Awards, tweet @LottoGoodCauses with your suggestions or complete an entry form through our website www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/awards . Entries must be received by midnight on 19th August 2020.

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Chancellors economic update includes VAT cut for hospitality sector, and customer discounts

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The Chancellor had set out his coronavirus recovery package today.

Rishi Sunak set out the measures in his summer economic update in the House of Commons on Wednesday (Jun 8), as he faces pressure to assist those who are most vulnerable to the financial crisis.

The Chancellor said he will cut VAT from 20% to 5% for food if people eat out to help those businesses which he said had been hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The chancellor announced discount to encourage people to eat out in August.

He says restaurants, pubs, bars and hotels as well as other attractions will be able to claim the money back within five days. It had been reported he was considering giving all UK adults a £500 voucher to spent with companies hit by coronavirus, but the Chancellor has decided not to go ahead with that proposal.

Instead Sunak announced a discount worth up to £10 per head for eating out in August. He said his final measure has never been tried in this country. It is an “eat out to help out scheme”, offering customers as discount worth up to £10 per head when they eat out from Monday to Wednesday in August.

Speaking in the Commons today, he said: “Our plan has clear goals, to protect, support and retain jobs.”

Regards furlough scheme, he said it must wind down, adding: “flexibly and gradually supporting people through to October” but that he is introducing a bonus for employers who bring staff back from furlough.

Employers who bring someone back from furlough and employ them through to January, paying them a minimum of £520 a month, will receive a £1,000 bonus.

He says that “in total we have provided £49bn to support public services since the pandemic began”.

He added: “No nationalist can ignore that this help has only been possible because we are a United Kingdom.”

Mr Sunak says the UK economy has already shrunk by 25% – the same amount it grew in the previous 18 years.

He also announced:

A £2bn kickstart scheme paying employers to take on unemployed 16 to 24 year olds for a minimum of 25 hours a week – he says the Treasury will pay those wages for six months plus a sum for overheads. He says there is no cap. This will apply in England and Wales.

VAT on food from restaurants, cafes, pubs and hotels will be cut until January 12 from 20% to 5%
Funding for apprenticeships and traineeships in England, there will be a separate announcement for Wales.

£1bn for the DWP to support millions of people back to work through Job Centres. A £2bn green homes grant in England to cover two thirds of the cost, up to £5,000, for energy efficient home improvements. Again the Welsh Government will have their own proposals on this given time.

A temporary cut to stamp duty in England and Northern Ireland.

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Safe zones in Ceredigion town centres

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Plans are being put into place to create safe zones for pedestrians in Ceredigion town centres.
Most of the county’s towns have a historic street layout with narrow footways and traffic running through them so as businesses re-open and visitors return to these areas there is insufficient space for people to keep a safe distance from one another.

Our towns will look different to how they did a few months ago but changes will mean businesses can re-open safely whilst also ensuring residents’ and visitors’ health and safety can be maintained.

The plans being developed by council officers include closing off roads to traffic during the day to create more space for shoppers to walk safely, particularly as large numbers of tourists and students return to the county. It’s also aimed at helping businesses too by creating more outdoor space for retailers and the hospitality sector to trade. It is important that the Council acts quickly to put arrangements in place as quickly as possible and these initial arrangements will be continually reviewed.

To do this, spaces for traders will be re-defined, some roads will be closed to traffic, pavements will be de-cluttered by removing street furniture (and other items), visitors will be asked to park away from the town centres for free and signage will be introduced to help visitors maintain safe distances.

These changes will protect the community and people’s health whilst ensuring businesses can still trade.

Further information on the safe zones will follow.

Keep Ceredigion safe.

Information related to the Coronavirus can be found on the Council’s website, www.ceredigion.gov.uk/Coronavirus

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