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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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Education

Funding for research on unarmed civilian protection in conflict areas

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South Sudan women peacekeeping team (copyright - non-violent peaceforce)

AN INTERNATIONAL research network led by Aberystwyth University is offering funding for research projects focusing on unarmed civilian protection in areas affected by conflict.

The Creating Safer Space network works with communities in conflict-affected regions to enhance and strengthen civilians’ capacities to protect themselves and others. It also aims to create safer spaces in which communities can build infrastructures for sustainable peace and development.

Berit Bliesemann de Guevara, Professor in International Politics at Aberystwyth University explains:  “According to the UN Refugee Agency, there are now a record high of 82.5 million people forcibly displaced by violent conflict, and most deaths in conflicts are of civilians. The protection of civilians from physical harm in contexts of war and other political violence is therefore a pressing humanitarian issue of our time.

“Our Creating Safer Space research network focuses on the protection of civilians by civilians without the use or threat of force. Supporting and enhancing nonviolent protection provided by unarmed civilians has the potential to break cycles of violence and thus contribute to longer-term peacebuilding.

“As a research network, we are excited to be in the position to be able to invite applications for funding for research projects which will enhance our understanding of unarmed civilian protection and self-protection as effective civilian-to-civilian protection strategies; and how these practices can be strengthened to create safer space for more people living in conflict.”

The Creating Safer Space network intends to fund 15-20 research projects, ranging from £20,000 to £100,000 and varying in duration from 6 to 16 months. Projects must be led by organisations in the UK or in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs).

Further information about the grants, and how to apply is available at: 

Creating Safer Space

The deadline for applications is 15 April 2022.

The Creating Safer Space network works with communities in conflict-affected regions in Colombia, Myanmar, the Philippines, South Sudan and elsewhere in the Global South. It also brings together a number of stakeholders including national and international unarmed civilian protection organisations, academics, artists, journalists and filmmakers, and the wider international policy community.

Creating Safer Space is led by Aberystwyth University in collaboration with the University of Antioquia (Colombia), Chulalongkorn University (Thailand), City University of New York (USA), Durham University, Leeds Beckett University and Strathmore University (Kenya).

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Business

Applications open for emergency financial support from Economic Resilience Fund

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Eligible businesses can apply for grants of between £2,500 to £25,000

BUSINESSES in Wales impacted by the rapid spread of the Omicron virus can now apply for emergency financial support from the Welsh Government’s Economic Resilience Fund (ERF).

Economy Minister Vaughan Gething previously said £120 million would be available for retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism business and their supply chains affected by the move to alert level 2 announced by the First Minister on Wednesday 22 December.

Eligible businesses can apply for grants of between £2,500 to £25,000, with grants dependent on their size and number of employees.

The application window will be open for two weeks, with payments starting to reach businesses within days.

Vaughan Gething

Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething, said:

“Following positive engagement with businesses, trades unions and other partners, we recently changed the eligibility criteria for the ERF support. The ERF grant is a Wales-only top up payment that currently supports eligible businesses who have seen a 60% drop in their income between December and February compared with the same period two years ago. The new criteria means that businesses in these sectors who have seen a 50% reduction in their turnover will now also be able to access the ERF.

“This means more businesses will receive more support from the Welsh Government.”

Non-essential retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism businesses in Wales can also receive support from the Non Domestic Rates (NDR) linked grant which is being administered by local authorities. Businesses will be entitled to a payment of £2,000, £4,000 or £6,000 depending on their rateable value.

Local authorities are also administrating a discretionary fund for sole traders, freelancers and taxi drivers and businesses that employ people but do not pay business rates. Last week this was doubled to £1,000.

The Welsh Government has provided in excess of £2.5bn funding to Welsh businesses since the start of the pandemic. Focused particularly on backing small businesses and Welsh communities, it’s targeted approach has helped protect in excess of 160,000 Welsh jobs which might otherwise have been lost.

Apply for Economic Resilience Fund support here:

COVID-19 Support for Business | Business Wales (gov.wales)

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Health

Same Day Urgent Care at Cardigan Integrated Care Centre

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CARDIGAN’S Minor Injuries Unit (MIU) and Same Day Urgent Care service (SDUC) will once again open for walk-in appointments this weekend (22/23 January 2022) after providing care and treatment for nearly 30 patients who would otherwise have gone to A&E or their GP.

As part of a new trial to help relieve pressures on our hospital A&E departments, the nurse-led services – which are based in Cardigan Integrated Care Centre – opened for weekend walk-ins without prior appointment between 15 and 16 January, with our staff seeing and treating a number of patients over the two days.

The services are led by Advanced Nurse Practitioners who can assess, diagnose and treat walk-in patients who are then able to return home the same day, with a plan of care involving referrals to other services if necessary.

Our hospitals are currently dealing with unprecedented demand, which is leading to significant delays in care provision and long waits in A&E. If you have a condition which could be seen and treated at Cardigan’s Integrated Care Centre, we would strongly encourage you to attend as you can be seen more quickly, as well as helping to relieve pressure on the hospital system.

The type of conditions our Advanced Nurse Practitioners can see and treat include:

  • Chest Infections
  • Wound Infections
  • Urinary Tract Infections
  • Tonsillitis / sore throat
  • Ear Infections
  • Minor Chest/Hip/Pelvic/Back injuries – Patient must be able to mobilise
  • Minor Head Injury
  • Non-cardiac chest pain
  • Skin complaints including rashes, infections, and sunburn
  • Sprains, strains & soft tissue injuries
  • Hay fever, Mild allergic reactions
  • Minor injuries – cuts, wounds
  • Minor eye injuries, complaints and irritations requiring irrigation, and Chemical eye injury
  • Emergency contraception
  • Suspected fractures and injuries to knee, lower leg, ankle, and feet
  • Suspected fractures and injuries to arms
  • Animal, insect, or human bites
  • Minor burns & scalds
  • Removal of foreign bodies from eyes, ears, nose & skin

In patient feedback given to our nurses over the weekend of 15 and 16 January, all patients agreed or strongly agreed that staff had explained the service; that they were satisfied with their treatment plan, and that they had the opportunity to raise questions or concerns.

Patients also reported feeling more confident about managing their symptoms and being satisfied with the service to the point of recommending it to others. 

Sian Lewis, Clinical Lead Nurse for Ceredigion Community, said: “Our Advanced Nurses were really pleased to be able to see and treat so many patients last weekend – particularly given that many of them would have otherwise faced long waits in A&E for the type of conditions that our teams here are well equipped to deal with.

“Please give us a call, or come down to the Integrated Care Centre in Cardigan if you need care and you think we can help – you don’t need an appointment, we can provide a quick service and you can be on your way home on the same day with a care plan if you need it.”

Cardigan Integrated Care Centre is located at Rhodfa’r Felin, Cardigan SA43 1JX. If you would like to speak with a triage nurse at the centre first to discuss your condition, please call 01239 803 075. 

If you have a more urgent care need or in a medical emergency, please dial 999.

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