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Our county the reason why Wales has to change

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WELSH Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews did not pull any punches when making the case for reform of local government. Highlighting events

Leighton Andrews: For reform of local government.

Leighton Andrews: For reform of
local government.

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.”

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Police release new CCTV image of murder suspect

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DYFED-POWYS POLICE has released a new CCTV image of Steve Baxter, who detectives are keen to speak to in connection with the murder of Simon Clark from Pendine, Carmarthenshire.

The image was captured in Glynneath on Saturday, September 29. He is believed to have traveled to the west Wales area shortly afterwards and is believed to be in the Haverfordwest area.

Baxter, also known as Steve Tidy, Steve Rowley, Wayne Tidy or William Tidy, is aged 52, 5’5” (1.65cm) tall and has tattoos on his forearms – the name Chez and entwined circles on his left arm and a serpent on his right arm.

He is bald, but was last seen wearing a hat and wig, as shown in this image. He may have made other attempts to alter his appearance such as growing facial hair or wearing glasses.

Detective Superintendent Huw Davies said: “We’re releasing this CCTV image from the latest confirmed sighting of Steve Baxter to give people the most up to date example of how he may be dressed and how he may currently look.

“Time is passing and we really need to speak to Steve Baxter to build a more accurate picture of what happened in Pendine.

“To anyone that may know where he is, please pass this vital information to police.”

The independent charity Crimestoppers is offering a reward of up to £5,000 for information leading to Steve Baxter being found. Information would be taken by the charity anonymously.

If you see Steve Baxter call Dyfed-Powys Police on 999.

If you have any information on the whereabouts of Steve Baxter call Dyfed-Powys Police on 101 immediately.

To pass on information anonymously, contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or through the non-traceable anonymous online form at www.crimestoppers-uk.org.

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David Davies Llandinam show comes to Tregaron

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THERE will be a special opportunity for the people of Tregaron to learn about one of Wales’ most successful industrialists, David Davies Llandinam with a performance by the drama company “Mewn Cymeriad”.

To celebrate David Davies’ link with the area, Cered: Menter Iaith Ceredigion, Cymdeithas Hanes Tregaron and Clwb Plant Capel Bwlchgwynt have organised a performance of the family friendly show “David Davies Llandinam”.

David Davies was born in Llandinam, Montgomeryshire but he had an influence across Wales. He built railways across the country including the Manchester and Milford Railway that connected Tregaron with Aberystwyth and Carmarthen by using a huge amount of Cardiganshire wool to lay the rails across Cors Caron.

In addition to being an astoundingly successful entrepreneur, David Davies Llandinam was the MP for Cardiganshire between 1874 and 1886. Nine years previously, he stood against one of Tregaron’s hero, Henry Richard to be the local Liberal Party candidate for the 1865 Election.

Councillor Catherine Hughes, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and Culture, “The history of David Davies Llandinam is very interesting. It’s wonderful to see organisations coming together to put on this show in Tregaron and Mewn Cymeriad following this character’s fascinating story.”

Mewn Cymeriad is a drama company that travels across Wales to present one actor shows full of fun and excitement to children about historic characters such as Barti Ddu, the Lord Rhys, Hedd Wyn and Owain Glyndŵr. The David Davies show was written by Mewn Cymeriad’s founder Eleri Twynog Davies and the show is performed by the actor Ioan Hefin who has starred in programmes such as Hidden, Gwaith Cartref and Teulu.

The free show of David Davies Llandinam will be shown at Bwlchgwynt Vestry, Tregaron on Monday, 29 October at 7pm. Come to see the actor Ioan Hefin present a lively and interactive show about the man who brought the train to Tregaron. It is an interactive show that is aimed towards children aged 6 to 11 however it is suitable for the whole family.

For further Information, contact Steffan Rees, Cered’s Community Development Officer on 01545 572 350.

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Visit to inspect new Active Travel works held

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SUSTRANS CYMRU director, Steve Brooks visited recent work to the Aberystwyth Active Travel Network on 26 September. The network of pedestrian, cycling and general accessibility improvements has been developed in partnership with the Welsh Government and Sustrans.

Mr Brooks met with Councillor Alun Williams, Ceredigion County Council’s Cabinet member responsible for Adult Services and the Council’s Sustainability Champion, as well as Council Officers. During the visit they discussed the work carried out so far and future work to improve the Active Travel Network in Ceredigion.

Councillor Williams praised the work undertaken to date, “It was a pleasure to meet with Sustrans colleagues and County Council officers. The excellent work that the County Council has done so far in Aberystwyth was showcased, with the aim of encouraging children to cycle, scoot and walk to school. The improvements do of course benefit everyone in the community by helping to encourage healthier and more active lifestyles whilst reducing traffic congestion and we had a useful discussion about further developing active travel initiatives across the whole of Ceredigion.”

Three towns in Ceredigion have been designated as Active Travel Settlements under the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013. The Council carried out a public consultation during 2017 to identify and prioritise future improvements. As a result, walking and cycling routes are being improved incrementally through various Welsh Government grants as funding permits and subject to physical constraint.

Steve Brooks said, “Plascrug Primary is one of many schools in Ceredigion where Sustrans’ Active Journeys Programme is delivered and it’s great to see the positive difference made at these locations, in conjunction with improved routes and new scooter and cycle shelters installed by the County Council following successful grant funding from the Welsh Government. The Programme includes classroom activities where pupils can help influence future grant bids and also embraces a range of engaging activities which helps to build the confidence, enthusiasm and skills needed to help form new active travel habits. These activities and lessons support schools’ efforts in achieving Eco-Schools and Healthy Schools awards as well as working towards Sustrans School Mark award which recognises excellence in sustainable travel.”

The Council is also improving active travel opportunities outside these three settlements, such as near schools, employment sites and key tourism destinations.

Image: Left to Right: Sioned Lewis, Sustrans Cymru; Plascrug Primary School Pupils; Councillor Alun Williams; Steve Brooks, Sustrans Cymru; Gari Jones, Ceredigion County Council.

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