WELSH Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews did not pull any punches when making the case for reform of local government. Highlighting events
in Pembrokeshire as an example of why reform was needed, the minister heavily criticised the authority over the size of former chief Bryn Parry- Jones’s remuneration package and was scathing about the perks doled out to the man dubbed ‘Pensioner of the Year’ by Private Eye. Leighton Andrews gave a hint that he anticipated movement from the UK Labour Party on the controversial Barnett formula, by which public funds are distributed across the UK.
Responding to a question about the commitment in the 2011 Assembly Manifesto to redress the balance of public funding between the different parts of the UK, the Minister told The Herald: “Ed Milliband has made it clear that he wants to see a fair funding formula for Wales and he will, I am sure, have something to say about this at this weekend’s Welsh Labour conference.”
He also said that he was open to the idea of reforming Dyfed as a local authority area, from which Pembrokeshire gained hard-fought independence only eighteen years ago. Visiting Pembrokeshire to discuss local government reform and council leadership, the Minister said: “We want to see a very clear distinction between the role of leader of the council and the role of the Chief Executive. In many authorities in Wales, there is clarity and people understand their roles and the difference between the political leadership and the executive leadership of the authority. Other authorities, however, we regard as being officer-led.
I think councillors have been afraid to challenge senior officers and we have, I’m afraid, seen some evidence of this in Pembrokeshire.” On the issue of the Chief Officer’s remuneration he was equally forthright: “I do not think it is acceptable for any chief executive to have a car allowance that is over twice the basic pay of other council employees, or that it can be considered appropriate for a council chief executive to be offered a luxury car, like a Porsche, by the local authority.
I think that the situation we have seen here, in Pembrokeshire, has demonstrated that things have got completely out of hand. We have taken measures to tackle this by establishing an Independent Remuneration Panel to assess senior officers’ pay. In the White Paper, we speak about an Appointments Commission for Wales for senior council staff.
I think that is a proposal that is worthy of consideration.” Highlighting a policy area that will strike accord with opposition parties at County Hall, the Minister detailed proposals to ensure that councillors are accountable to their electorate: “We have a lot to say about the political leadership in the White Paper; including the way in which we think leaders should present a manifesto so that they can be held to the promises they make.”
Mr Andrews did not underestimate the size of the task he faces or the magnitude of the test ahead: “I would say on balance that most council leaders would prefer the status quo. But I do not think that is a viable option. We have seen over recent years, service failures in social services and in education services. When I was education minister, of course, I had to intervene in Pembrokeshire. We have seen a lot of stories about the perks and payoffs of Chief Executives, not least in Pembrokeshire and the scandal of the Porsche.
I think that the public are getting fed up with what has been going on with local government in Wales. I don’t think that anybody in an ideal world would have created a system with 22 councils.” He continued: “I don’t think it will be an easy sell. There will be widespread public debate on the issue and the discussions that are ongoing will not be finished by the time of the next Assembly elections in 2016. There will need to be a consensus to move forward in the Assembly and that will require at least one other party to come on board with the Welsh Government, in my view.”
The Herald pointed out that, on the basis of what Carmarthenshire Council Leader Kevin Madge, a Labour member, had told it last year, that there was not even consensus within the Labour Party on local government reform. Acknowledging the point with good humour, Mr Andrews told us: “There is division in every political party within Wales, based on the conversations I’ve had. I think that is inevitable. Change of this nature needs a lot of discussion and, let’s be honest about this, there are a lot of vested interests involved in the process. There has been a lot of conversations over the last twelve months and those discussions will continue.”
We asked the minister about the prospect of forcing councils to merge, pointing out that Ceredigion had declined the chance to discuss merger with Pembrokeshire when it was the Williams Commission’s preferred option: “I am going to meet the Ceredigion leader later. While the Williams Commission suggested a merger with Ceredigion, it also set out the option of reforming Dyfed as a local authority area. So, there is more than one option to consider going forward.”
We asked how the reorganization would be funded, bearing in mind that councils are feeling the effect of Westminster’s cut in funding to the Welsh Government, which then has to pass on those cuts to local authorities under its control: “These are tough times, and tough times for everybody within local government. There is a cost to merging and a cost to not merging. We have given councils the opportunities to collaborate better together, to look at appointing officers together and save council tax payers’ money.
They have failed to do that and the opportunity costs of not merging are sometimes overlooked.” It seemed from his answer that the minister thought that the savings made would fund the costs of mergers. We asked whether that was really the case: “Ultimately I think that will be true. We have seen a number of estimates of the level of savings that will be made. A review commissioned by the Welsh Local Government Association suggested that savings of £65m a year could be made.
Those are very substantial savings. We will look at all of the costings as we look at our proposals.” One particular proposal that has attracted a lot of comment is that of term limits on service both as a councillor and as a member of a council’s cabinet. We asked whether the Minister would lobby for term limits for AM’s, as well: “I’m relaxed about that. We don’t have a government policy on it. However, we don’t have the powers to set term limits for Assembly Member: that is reserved to the UK government.”
Llanwrda bookshop in the running to be named Britain’s Best Small Shop of 2020
AN appointment only bookshop in Llanwrda, Carmarthenshire, which offers a beautifully curated collection of books as well as cards, wrapping paper and Fair Trade gifts, has been named on the shortlist of retailers in the running to be named Britain’s Best Small Shop of 2020.
Books At The Dragon’s Garden says it “aims to make a visit to our shop an experience”. The shop runs a loyalty scheme for customers and offers promotions throughout the year. In addition, in its base at the market garden it uses organic compost, seeds and freshly picked vegetables and flowers. It only uses paper bags and has planted lots of pollinators in the garden to increase biodiversity.
The Best Small Shops competition is managed by the Independent Retailers Confederation (IRC), whose member trade associations represent approximately 100,000 independent retailers throughout the UK between them. The competition celebrates the commitment and creativity of independent retailers on the UK’s High Streets and the central role they play in their local communities. It is sponsored by Maybe*, an engagement platform that helps make social media work for independent retailers. The winner will be announced next month.
In addition to the main award, Books At The Dragon’s Garden has also been shortlisted for a special award to be given to the independent retailer that has demonstrated specific innovation to combat the impact of COVID-19. This award is sponsored by booost, the loyalty, gifting and promotions app.
“It was impossible to make my previous shop both safe and financially viable, so I had a radical rethink and a conversion of two old stables at my market garden meant I was able to move the entire shop to a rural location,” explains owner Mandy Tomos.
In the interim I continued to promote the business on social media and sold online via the website. I received an award as a “Local Hero” for continuing to supply my local community during lockdown. As the shop is now appointment only, it is very safe for both customers and staff, numbers are low and social distancing is easy. Contactless payment is taken outside under cover. I used social media to maintain contact with my customers and wrote a chatty book suggestion column in our local free paper every month.”
“This has been a particularly challenging year for small, independent retailers and many have come through to this point through innovation, quality of product and service, a commitment to serve their local communities and a large dose of determination,” explains Mark Walmsley, Chair of the IRC.
“As more and more people have been forced to stay home and work from home, we have seen just how much we all value local independent shops and want to see them not just survive, but also thrive. These shops offer choice, diversity and genuine customer service. And, after what has been a rather dark year, that has to be worth celebrating.”
The annual competition highlights the best of Britain’s independent retail sector, celebrating the commitment and creativity of independent retailers and the central role they play in their local communities. Previous winners have included Bristol-based delicatessen Papadeli, the 2019 winner, and The Mainstreet Trading Company, a combined bookshop, café, deli & homeware shop based in St Boswells, in the rural Scottish Borders, which won in 2018.
Safe Zone arrangements during firebreak
FOLLOWING the announcement by First Minister Mark Drakeford that introduced a ‘fire break’ across Wales, Ceredigion County Council will not be closing the roads daily within the safe zones between 6pm on Friday, October 23 and 11am on November 9.
Some aspects will remain where changes are in place 24/7 or temporary parking restrictions apply. Council owned public car parks will remain free during this period for residents and visitors alike.
Safe Zone – Recent amendments
Further minor amendments have come into effect this week, they are:
· In Aberaeron, on street parking will return between Cadwgan Place and Market Street junction.
· In Aberystwyth, there is controlled blue holder access to Eastgate from Portland Street as well as controlled access to Chalybeate Street from Terrace Road.
· In Cardigan, there will be controlled blue badge holder access along High Street.
Safe zones are reviewed fortnightly in line with the infection rate and available evidence. A further announcement will be made before 09 November.
More information can be seen on the safe zones Council web page: www.ceredigion.gov.uk/SafeZones
Two week national ‘Firebreak Lockdown’ announced for Wales from 6pm on Friday
MARK DRAKEFORD, The First Minister of Wales has announced a two week ‘fire break’ lockdown from Friday October 23 at 18:00 HRS, to last until Monday November 9 at 00:01 HRS
Mr Drakeford said: “This firebreak is the shortest we can make it. It must be sharp and deep in order to have the impact we need it to have on the virus.”
All non essential businesses, including tourism businesses will be told to close.
Businesses have been told that they will be given £1000 each automatically to help with the economic impact of the shutdown.
Mr Drakeford added that children will be the priority and that childcare facilities will open as normal. Primary schools will open after half term.
Secondary schools will be closed for a week after half term to help control the virus.
Universities will offer a mixture of face-to-face learning and learning via video link. Students must stay at their university accommodation during the lockdown.
Responding to the Welsh Government’s announcement of a Wales-wide lockdown, Paul Davies MS, the Leader of the Opposition in the Welsh Parliament, has called the lockdown “not-proportionate” and is calling on the Welsh Government to be “open and transparent” on the evidence to support a lockdown and if the First Minister is committing Wales to rolling Wales-wide lockdowns every month.
Paul Davies MS said: “Sadly, the First Minster has failed to get public support for this second Wales-wide lockdown, failing to be open and transparent about the evidence to justify this lockdown and what his actions will entail for the future.
“The Welsh Government also has to be honest that this road they are taking us down is committing Wales to rolling Wales-wide lockdowns. This is not a two-week break to solve the pandemic, it is likely that we will see regular lockdowns across the rest of the year. The Welsh Government must be clear what actions they are taking during the lockdown to prevent further Wales-wide lockdowns which will have a significant impact on people’s lives and livelihoods.
“However, the main concern is that this national lockdown is not proportionate. The impact on businesses in areas such as Powys, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, who have the lowest rate of Covid-19 cases in Wales, will be severe at a time when they are desperately struggling to recover from the pandemic so far this year.
“The First Minister needs to urgently come to the Welsh Parliament and answer these questions, to face effective scrutiny by elected representatives and not run his government by media.”
Preseli Pembrokeshire MP, Stephen Crabb told The Herald: “The evidence to support an all-Wales lockdown is weak and I am sceptical that this so-called ‘fire-break’ will tackle the situation in those parts of Wales where infection rates have been out of control. The key issue for Welsh Government to address is what will be done differently after the firebreak ends in those parts of Wales where infection rates have spiralled out of control. Otherwise the whole of Wales risks being dragged back into a series of rolling lockdowns.
“As we saw earlier in the year, lockdowns come with huge costs in terms of harm to the economy and to people’s emotional and mental wellbeing. With the Welsh Government asking UK Government to fund this lockdown, I hope that as many businesses as possible get support they need quickly. Pembrokeshire’s hospitality businesses will be hit particularly hard by these latest restrictions and I will be fighting hard again to see that they are protected as the lockdown kicks in.”
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