JAMIE ADAMS is confident and well-briefed – if a little tired after a night looking after his young twins.
Discussing the Welsh Government’s plans to scrap smaller authorities and merge them he offers a robust critique and criticism of Cardiff Bay’s plans. “While the process has been going on for some time, it seems like the Welsh Government has now come to a snap decision. Very often the justification for it is the fact that they consider small authorities are unable to meet their statutory obligation.
The First Minister has pointed out that six authorities have been in special measures. But the credibility of his position is somewhat undermined by the recent good news in Pembrokeshire and also in Anglesey and Rhondda Cynon Taf. “The obvious person to consult with when you are considering change is the person affected by the changes you propose. The Welsh Government has set out its stall and its aspiration. I do not for one minute think that is the finished article. The Welsh Government will have to give evidence to justify its position. “With respect, the Welsh Government has to understand the pressures and complexities of local government. I pay tribute to the staff of local government who deliver critical services to the people of their counties.
Against that, I set the fact that apart from a few direct services, such as the Trunk Road Agency, the Welsh Government delivers no direct services. If you take an overarching view like the WG has done, it is difficult to understand the detail of the processes you are trying to change. “The Welsh Government has a tendency to categorise councils in one of two ways. We are badged as a rural authority but we have pockets of urbanization and real deprivation. Nevertheless we are obliged to deliver services over a wide geographical area.
The details of service delivery are not well understood by Welsh Government.” And in Pembrokeshire? “Pembrokeshire is unique in many ways and we are often accused by the WG of being different. I don’t mind being different. We are very resilient as a county and as a people. We have a sense of community spirit and identity that is second to none. “I would fight in the last ditch for Pembrokeshire.
I believe we have the ability and talent within this authority and within Pembrokeshire to deliver local services for Pembrokeshire. We have had a glowing report from the Wales Audit Office on our progress and performance this year, education is moving forward. “But it is not only about the administrative side of things, this Council. It is something more than that. The brand of Pembrokeshire, for tourism, business, agriculture and produce is extremely strong. In most parts of the UK the Pembrokeshire name is synonymous with those and it is hard to think of another county with such a strong brand identity.” Is Williams a challenge to local democracy? “The proposal from Welsh Government does not include a proposal for district councils and there is a danger of making decision-making too remote from the people we serve.
There would be real issues with that. Look at newspapers, for example, if the decisions are made miles away how are you going to be able to hold the decision-makers to account? “We have sixty councillors who are out, about and contactable within their communities. They can be held to account. There is a considerable advantage to the fact that if you make a decision you believe to be right but is unpopular then you can be voted out. So, if I thought I did the right thing and lost an election, I would not be delighted but I could at least say that I did the right thing as I saw it. “But many professional politicians are in the position that they want to cling to their livelihoods.
We have an increasing number of democratic representatives who have not worked outside of politics and they are remote from those they represent. Increasing numbers of Assembly Members in Cardiff Bay is something we need to be wary. I question the need for additional assembly members. “Having said that, there are in my opinion too many county councillors. It was very strange thing to go so far down the process of re-assessing the number of county councillors and then changing direction. Discussing the complexities of local government funding, Jamie Adams believes that economies can be made by reducing bureaucracy: “My outlook is simple.
I want to deliver the best services we can within the budget we have. “There is a need for the process of funding services to be streamlined by the Welsh Government. There are around 120 grants for education from the Welsh Government. Now those schemes may have been set up with the best of intentions, but it increases the burden of bureaucracy. You have people in councils applying for these grants and another tier of people at the Welsh Government administering them.
So much of the funding that should flow down is instead being filtered down and sticking to the sides. “Local Government is far better placed to understand the needs of their communities and address those needs as we can provide a little bit of initiative or entrepreneurship rather than just follow a prescription from Cardiff Bay. In a way, I am frustrated by what can appear like box-ticking, but I know there have to be checks and balances to ensure we provide value for money. “The relationship with Welsh Government must be developed to build trust to allow them to consider more bespoke ways of delivering services with the funding provided.
The governance arrangements could be simplified. The simplification can begin between the WG and us, and the WAO could oversee and verify the process to ensure our services are continually improving.” Addressing the challenge of potential further administrative upheaval, Jamie Adams responds: “I think Williams has been a long time in the coming from Welsh Labour. It is a reaction to some very disappointing results for Labour in 2008’s elections. We are now in a different place in the local government family.
We don’t have that many disagreements, really and Labour functions in coalition in councils across Wales. “The proof of the pudding is the fact that no other parties in the Welsh Government are signing up to Williams. It is untested that Welsh Labour’s proposals will either improve services or reduce costs. And I am not convinced that it is best to sign up to a process that can show neither of those things. “That said, I am not afraid of change. I am very relaxed that in the future a council such as Pembrokeshire will not provide all of the services we do at the moment. But in terms of being held to account for their delivery, you have to have a touchable, reachable democratic body. As a council, perhaps we do not need all the tools in the box.
Greater fluidity about service delivery might be a way of reducing costs or delivering them more efficiently. “We already work in consortia with other councils to support improvements in our schools. We work on support and challenge with Carmarthenshire for our schools and we are already grouping together with five other counties within ERW, the regional education authority. We are already working together. But strangely, the Welsh Government broke down the transport service back to individual authorities and that seems inconsistent with what it is now saying about wanting to join things together to save money.
“It’s a very difficult thing to resolve as no evidence has been put forward to support what is simply an assertion made by the WG. The Williams Report provides NO cost/benefit analysis for anything and to proceed without it is pure folly. It grabs the headlines to reduce the number of CEO’s. As an easy sell, what could be better? But it is an argument that is not followed through. With Dyfed previously we ended up with a lot of substructures and increased bureaucracy and any savings could be swallowed up by that factor.
“Looking at Williams: we are potentially facing a 9 to 12% rise in Council Tax depending on whether we are merged with Ceredigion or a reconstituted Dyfed. People in Pembrokeshire are worried about the potential rise in Council Tax and do not see why they should pay more for their services. And I agree with them.” Looking at the number of controversies involving it, is Pembrokeshire County Council worth saving? “I appreciate that people are frustrated with what is reported in the papers about the Council. Some of our problems have arisen from the way we have dealt with issues in the past and a lot of them have arisen from the last term of council. “In terms of the evidence, I can say look where we were in 2012 and where we are now.
We have had a great outcome from Estyn and a very positive annual assessment from the WAO. We have renewed confidence in our governance arrangements and in scrutiny to hold the executive to account. “We have the ability to plan for the future. In that future, we will not look as we do now. We will have to change to reflect the cuts in budgets that are likely to continue for some time ahead. But in terms of our ability to deliver good quality services, we are beyond a doubt well placed to do that. “Where we have to work hard is to develop trust amongst ourselves: between councillors and officers and amongst councillors. We have to ensure our focus is on managing the budget, delivering services and not scoring political points for the sake of it. With that in mind, I am confident for the future of Pembrokeshire.”
Police say ‘stop protecting’ murder suspect Steve Baxter
JUST over two weeks ago Simon Clark, aged 54, was found dead at Grove Caravan Park in Pendine, Carmarthenshire.
Dyfed-Powys Police is continuing its manhunt for Steve Baxter, who is wanted on suspicion of Simon’s murder.
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 has connections in the West Wales, South Wales, South West and North England areas of the UK.
Officers and staff are working round the clock to follow all possible lines of enquiry.
The independent charity Crimestoppers is also offering a reward of up to £5,000 for information leading to the arrest of Steve Baxter and he has been added to the Most Wanted section of their website. Information would be taken by the charity anonymously.
Detective Superintendent Huw Davies said: “It’s over two weeks since Simon Clark was murdered at Grove Caravan Park, Pendine.
“The manhunt for Steve Baxter is ongoing and I must stress to the public that officers and staff are working round the clock to investigate all possible lines of enquiry that could lead us to him.
“I urge anyone with information of Baxter’s whereabouts to come forward. If you do not want to speak to police directly, you can speak to the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously, which is also offering a reward of up to £5,000 for information leading to his arrest.
“Someone knows where he is or has been in the last two weeks. Please stop protecting him. Simon Clark’s family deserve to see all those involved in his death brought to justice.”
Four people have been charged in connection with the murder: Jeffrey Stephen Ward, aged 40, from Pendine, has been charged with murder; Linda Mary Rowley, aged 52, from Pendine, has been charged with assisting an offender (murder); Kirston Macklin, aged 52, from Newport, Gwent, has been charged with assisting an offender (murder) and Julie Louise Harris, aged 46, from Tonypandy, has been charged with assisting an offender (murder).
If you see Steve Baxter call Dyfed-Powys Police on 999. Do not approach him.
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 100 per cent anonymously on 0800 555 111 or through the non-traceable anonymous online form at www.crimestoppers-uk.org.
National Adoption Week – Can you give a child a home?
HAVING a caring family and a place they call home is what a lot of children take for granted; however, there are children in Ceredigion who are still looking for a home of their own. As part of National Adoption Week, which is happening between 15 and 21 October, people are being asked to consider opening their homes and their hearts to those waiting for a family.
An information evening is being held in The Atom, 18 King Street, Carmarthen, on Friday, October 19 from 6pm-7.30pm. The Cabinet Member with responsibility for Learning Services and Lifelong Learning and Champion for Children and Young People Councillor Catrin Miles said, “This is a great opportunity for prospective adopters to find out more about the process of adopting children in the county who are waiting for loving, permanent and stable homes. It will also be a chance to meet other prospective adopters.”
Adoption Mid and West Wales has adoption teams covering the four local authorities of Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Powys. Their aim is to make sure that children grow up as part of a permanent, loving family from childhood through to adulthood.
Sara*, from Ceredigion has spoken of her experiences of going through the adoption process and welcoming two children into her loving home, “Just two years after submitting our application to adopt, two little hurricanes arrived at our house and turning it into a noisy, happy home full of fun. The first stage of the application was to attend three days of training, over a period of 6 weeks. The training was important and an eye-opener for all kinds of reasons but it was perfect for focusing the mind to make sure we really wanted to adopt. We had excellent support from our social worker, but the process itself was long and challenging and we had to wait and wait while legal processes were going on. Although it was so difficult at that time, looking back it was worth every minute. The hardest thing for us was that there were months between seeing the children for the first time and receiving confirmation that they would come to us to live. This was an exception, the process is usually quicker.”
“In our experience creating and maintaining a good relationship with the foster family is crucial. They are a source of information and support. Before the children came to live with us, we needed over a week of presentations in the foster family’s home – this time is key but full of weight, pleasure, tiredness and emotion. That was months ago and now the children are happy and bubbly with us in their new home and enjoy being part of a loving group of family, friends and relatives. They enjoy going to the local school and Welsh learning was not a problem for them, they even dream in Welsh now!”
“Adoption is a great journey that is sometimes easy and sometimes difficult and it is important to understand and accept that before venturing on the journey. It is also important to take advantage of all support, training and advice on offer. There are many challenges ahead, a lot of disappointment and tears but more importantly, much laughter, love and happiness fills our lives now and in the future. Go for it.”
In the last year (2017-18), 29 adopters were approved through Adoption Mid and West Wales. These include married couples, unmarried couples, single people and same-sex couples. There is always the need for more adopters to come forward as demand for adoption placements has increased this year.
For more information, visit www.adoptionmwwales.org.uk. You can also follow Adoption Mid & West Wales on their Twitter page, @adoptmw_wales.
Residents sought for involvement into Pen Dinas project
RESIDENTS are being sought for involvement in the Pen Dinas Hillfort project.
Grant funding for improvements to Pendinas Hillfort has been successfully secured by Ceredigion County Council and as part of the project, the Council is seeking for local residents to express their interest if they would like to be involved in the work. One of the Council’s Community Access Officers will be on hand to talk further about the project on Saturday, 20 October at the Hub, Penparcau Community Centre between 10:30am and 1pm.
The project will provide greater access to a site of historical importance namely Pen Dinas Hillfort, Local Nature Reserve and Scheduled Ancient Monument. It will also improve links to the Ystwyth/Rheidol Cycle Trails, the Ceredigion and All Wales Coast Path and other local amenities and attractions. Improving the path width and surface will increase access to a wider cross-section of residents and visitors and target current barriers to the countryside.
Councillor Rhodri Evans, Cabinet Member with responsibility for Economy and Regeneration said, “The news that we’ve been successful in securing this bid is fantastic and on behalf of the Council, I thank all the residents who submitted feedback to the application. We are looking for anyone who has an interest in the site and would like to be involved with how this project progresses. This is the perfect opportunity for residents to be part of something that will make a big difference to both residents and tourists alike.”
To express an interest to be involved in the project or to receive further information, email Eifion.Jones@ceredigion.gov.uk or call 01545 570881.
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