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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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Judge dismisses appeal in ‘truly disturbing’ animal neglect case

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A CROWN court judge has upheld a judgement of a case which saw the neglect and death of 58 cows. In his judgement, the judge described the offence as ‘truly disturbing’. The west Wales case related to the conviction of David Davies, and Evan Meirion Davies of Penffynnon Farm, Bangor Teifi, near Newcastle Emlyn.

They had both pleaded guilty to 13 charges of animal neglect in February 2019. They later appealed the Magistrates Court’s sentence banning them from keeping animals for five years. The brothers had frustrated the appeals process by securing adjournments in seven appeal hearings. Another request to adjourn the eighth hearing on Monday 2 December was not granted.

They also sought to appeal the guilty verdict despite pleading guilty to the charges earlier in the year.

The prosecution followed a visit by Animal Health Officers and Animal and Plant Health Agency vet to the farm in April 2018. Officers found 58 cattle carcasses in various states of decay in the cattle sheds and surrounding fields. The remaining cattle were housed in terrible conditions with no food, water or dry lying area.

The vet confirmed that the cattle were being caused unnecessary suffering, and that the dead cattle had succumbed to the horrendous conditions found in the sheds, and died of neglect.

The vet had to euthanize two cows to stop further suffering during visits to the premises. This is one of the worst cases of animal welfare neglect seen by the Animal Health team of Ceredigion County Council. Alun Williams is Ceredigion County Council’s Corporate Lead Officer responsible for Policy and Performance. He said, “We had no doubt that the judge would uphold the judgement of the Aberystwyth Magistrates Court.

Although we have been frustrated by the delay caused by the appellants, we are satisfied with the result. “The vast majority of Ceredigion farmers take excellent care of their animals and uphold high standards of animal welfare. We will make sure we pursue the small minority who do not.

We will not hesitate to prosecute in such devastating cases of animal neglect.” Their initial sentences were upheld.

They were sentenced to 16 weeks imprisonment suspended for 12 months, and were disqualified from keeping any animals for five years. The brothers will be allowed 28 days to dispose of the herd.

They were ordered to pay costs to the council of £420.

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New Integrated Care Centre opens

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Services together in one place: The Cardigan Integrated Care Centre

CARDIGAN’s brand new Integrated Care Centre will open its doors to the public on Monday, December 9.
Hywel Dda University Health Board says the new Centre will bring joined-up care to local communities for the first time.
The opening of the centre follows hot on the heels of the launch of a similar initiative in Aberaeron. It represents a decisive change of direction in the way the Board delivers health and social care services to a largely rural area.
The new centre was developed with £23.8m of Welsh Government funding
The centre will provide a modern, fit for purpose healthcare service – including a GP practice, dental service, and pharmacy. It will also host a range of other clinics and services delivered by Hywel Dda, the third sector, local authority. and partner organisations.
Those services include:
• A nurse-led minor injuries walk-in service with telemedicine links to the emergency department
• Radiology and diagnostics
• Phlebotomy service
• Outpatient suite with consulting rooms and clinical treatment facilities for pre-assessment and outpatient consultations by visiting clinicians and social workers
• Disease-specific services for heart failure, motor neurone disease clinics, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease services
• Enhanced telemedicine equipment in clinical areas, providing remote access to specialists from across the professions
• Rehabilitation services, providing opportunities for intensive and slow stream rehabilitation to restore function and improve independence, supported by therapists, nurses and social care staff within the Community Resource Team
• Mental health and learning disabilities services
• A base for the local Community Resource Team in south Ceredigion, including the Acute Response and District Nursing teams
Steve Moore, Chief Executive of Hywel Dda University Health Board, said: “This is an ambitious step forward for our health board, which embodies the strategy we agreed last year to shift our focus to community and primary care. It has taken many years of planning and there have been challenges along the way. We’ve had to work very hard to make sure that we’ve got it right the first time.
“In particular, the hard work and commitment from our staff, and the support of many stakeholders – particularly our local communities – has been a critical part of our journey. It is with these groups in mind that we begin delivering on our ambition of providing safe, sustainable, integrated care for our local population.”

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Ceredigion success at Welsh Indoor Rowing Championships

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THERE was success for Ceredigion at the Welsh Indoor Rowing Championships bringing home nine medals.

Held on Friday and Saturday, 22 and 23 November at the Channel View Leisure Centre in Cardiff, this was the 20th anniversary of the event. The aim in Ceredigion is to grow indoor rowing and to promote the local Sea Rowing Clubs.

On the Friday, 14 children from Aberaeron Comprehensive School and Ysgol Bro Teifi, Llandysul took part in the school event. Some had competed last year for the first time, while others were rowing in the competition for the first time. The standard was exceptionally high, with schools from both Wales and England, with 9 records being broken within the 20 races that were held on the day.

Three medals were won in the school event. Beri Tomkins, Ysgol Bro Teifi; Finley Tarling and Dylan Gwynne Jones, Ysgol Gyfun Aberaeron each won a gold medal. 10 of the children achieved their own personal best times with Beri and Finley even broke national records.

On the Saturday, the club races were held where two junior medals and four senior medals were won. Dylan Gwynne Jones won a gold medal for 4min row under 16. Beri Tomkins won a gold medal with a new personal best of 543 metres rowed in two minutes. Beri now holds four records – year 6 school and Welsh record; and year 7 school and Welsh record.

In the adult event, Leo O’Connor won a bronze medal for 60+years 500m; Hannah Lodder won two gold medals for Ladies 40+ years 500m and Ladies 40+years 2km; and Sam Owen won silver medal for Ladies 40+years 2km.

There are weekly Indoor Rowing sessions held at Ysgol Bro Teifi, Llandysul; Aberaeron Comprehensive School; and Bro Pedr School, Lampeter. These sessions are supported by CRIW which are the indoor rowing group within Ceredigion. CRIW also run sessions on a Monday evening at Aberaeron Leisure Centre.

Rhidian Harries, Active Young People Officer, said, “The Young Rowers from Ceredigion have done fantastically well at this national competition. The event was very well organised, and many English schools that are recognised as rowing schools attended. However, the children from Ceredigion showed that they could compete against anyone. It’s a great credit for them and also for CRIW, who have been working tirelessly to grow the sport in the area. Their support and enthusiasm has been crucial, and they should take great pleasure in the success and the performances of these young rowers.”

CRIW will be running their own Indoor Rowing Competition at Teifi Leisure Centre, Cardigan on Saturday, 28 March 2020. Search them on Facebook for more information.

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