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If Dyfed is the answer, what was the question?

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dyfedLAST week Leighton Andrews, Public Services Minister for Wales, published the Welsh Government’s preferred plans for redrawing the map of local government in Wales. The plans unveiled had been well trailed and boil down to recreating the large unitary authorities that were part of the Welsh civic and political landscape for 22 years up to 1996.

In Wales’ fiercely independent west, the vision presented by the Welsh Government means recreating Dyfed. It appears, however, that the Welsh Government faces not only an uphill battle to get its reorganisation plans accepted by grassroots councillors, but also a stiff challenge to the prospect of even getting them on the statute book at all.

Council l eaders speak out

The issue highlighted by all of West Wales’ council leaders is that of cost and the threat to local accountability.

Cllr Ellen ap Gwynn, Leader of Ceredigion County Council, said: “Ceredigion County Council has previously voted unanimously against any merger proposals; this stance remains unchanged. Merging with any other authority would weaken local accountability, and so it is in the county’s citizens’ best interests to retain the sovereignty of Ceredigion. As the WLGA has recommended, local accountability would be best served by employing a combined authority model, which would consist of Ceredigion, Powys and Carmarthenshire cooperating on common strategic matters – an arrangement which would also negate any democratic deficit. Ceredigion remains committed to cooperate with other Councils to share resources and expertise in order to secure the most efficient and effective services possible. Bearing in mind that the Council has already made savings of £25 million over the past three years and needs to make similar savings over the next three years, concentrating on these proposals does not offer any benefits for the people of the county. It would be much better to see the estimated £268m cost of these proposals being spent on local services, rather than taking an empty, expensive step back in time.”

In a press statement last week, Cllr Emlyn Dole, Leader of Carmarthenshire, offered a more poetic view of the situation: “We have in Carmarthenshire a distinctiveness in culture, language and heritage – these are precious, and ours to retain and nurture. To that end, I firmly believe that Carmarthenshire should stand alone as a local authority in any future reorganisation of local government. One of my last acts as leader of the opposition on Carmarthenshire County Council, before becoming Leader, was to put down a motion on notice making this very point. I also put to council that maintaining our status as a county and an area authority offers us the best opportunity to safeguard and improve our services, and enables us to continue with the regeneration of our local economy. I was pleased to see cross party support, with all members – bar one – giving their full support. Having said that, I am not an inflexible Leader, and I will listen to all arguments for and against – indeed I do merit regional working arrangements.”

Cllr Jamie Adams, Leader of Pembrokeshire, was equally keen on retaining the distinctiveness of his county: “Seeing the maps for the first time, it is difficult to comment without some explanation of the rationale behind it. My position has always been: will the change improve the services we deliver to the public while at the same time reducing costs? If it doesn’t tick those two boxes, I think it is right to question the validity of this exercise. Apart from the obvious loss of local decision-making and accountability, I also have concerns about the real damage reorganisation could do to a very successful brand. I am referring to the Pembrokeshire name which is instantly recognisable to those living far outside our County and even beyond Wales. A large number of local businesses in tourism, agriculture, food and energy depend on, and identify strongly, with brand Pembrokeshire for their livelihood. I fear they will inevitably suffer if amalgamation goes ahead and in these trying times I believe it would be foolish to gamble with the health of our local economy.”

Big is beautiful ,but not always

There is no doubt that bigger authorities are better able to administer some key local government services. Strategic planning and transport, education and social services all demand scale. Size can bring vision, specialist expertise and economy and flexibility in the use of resources. For these services, big is beautiful and a reduction in the number of local authorities is right. It might even be that 8 or 9 authorities are too many, particularly in respect of strategic planning and transport.

But sometimes small is beautiful as well. Local authorities ought to be more than just the deliverers of services, and councils that don’t obviously connect with the places they serve struggle to be civic leaders and place-makers. The performance of Wales’ biggest councils also shows that big isn’t necessarily better.

Despite the clarion calls of the city-region lobby, most of Wales consists of small towns and villages, and we ignore the governance and provision of services in these communities at our peril. It remains to be seen if the proposed role for town and community councils will fill this gap.

Plaid Cymru has tapped into this picture with its own proposals for reorganisation. Plaid’s response is to create regional consortia to deliver the services identified above, while retaining a direct link with the local electorate by retaining other services at the existing county level. In a debate in the Senedd, Carwyn Jones di smi s sed this plan as ‘creating seven new quangos’, but Plaid’s policy seems to bear remarkable similarities to that favoured by the Welsh Local Government Association.

Cllr Bob Wellington CBE, Labour leader of Torfaen and head of the WLGA, says: “The sustainability of authorities in Wales is in question over the next three years and it is time to examine all options for reforming public services across the board. This means looking at greater integration of health and social care, freeing up authorities from Government bureaucracy and regulation and also empowering local communities through their councils.”

As Mike Hedges AM, presciently wrote in a paper for the Bevan Foundation: ‘The last 40 years have seen two reorganisations, the creation of the National Assembly for Wales and services such as water, post-16 education and Magistrates’ courts being taken out of local authority control. After almost a hundred years with a stable structure, Local government in Wales was reorganised into county and district Councils in 1974 and further reorganised into 22 unitary authorities in 1996. If we continue changing local government structures every 22 years then we are due an Act in 2016 and a new structure in place by 2018’.

The case for reform

Not all visions of reorganisation are as apocalyptic as those offered by local government leaders. Wales Politico carries an article which cites two unnamed senior council officials as accepting that the need and case for reorganisation is overwhelming. The article quotes a South Wales officer as saying: “Everyone in local government knows it is the correct decision. But obviously we can’t say that publicly, because so many jobs will go – including our own.”

Writing in Click on Wales, Geraint Talfarn Davies goes as far to say that: “Fewer larger counties should entail a rejuvenation of this bottom tier, in ways that would encourage really local action. It has been the missing dimension in the debate. Those who want to see real local engagement should opt for fewer councils at the top and genuinely local entities at the very bottom, even more local than the existing councils. The message from a public that seems increasingly more concerned by quality of delivery than by democratic form is, for God’s sake get on with it, do it better, get results.”

Describing the progress of the reforms as ‘snail-paced’ and ‘ham-fisted’, The Daily Wales observed: ‘The reality is that just as turkeys will never vote for Christmas, local authority leaders will never vote for their own abolition’.

Whatever the future holds for Welsh local government, it seems that – with no hope of getting legislation through before 2016’s Assembly elections – the debate is going to run and run.

The question is, who will blink first?

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Ceredigion County Council remembers the Holocaust on International Holocaust Day

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THIS year Ceredigion County Council, along with many other Local Authorities across the United Kingdom, will illuminate two of Aberystwyth town’s most iconic buildings in a show of solidarity, respect, and honour to all victims of genocide. From Friday 22 through to Thursday 28 January, the Bandstand on Aberystwyth’s seafront and the Alun R Edwards Centre will be lit up purple.

Holocaust Memorial Day is an international event which takes place annually on January 27, the purpose of the day is to encourage remembrance of all victims of genocide world-wide, including honouring the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, the millions of people killed under Nazi Persecution and in the genocides that have happened since in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

The theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2021 is Be the light in the darkness. It encourages everyone to reflect on the depth’s humanity can sink to, but also the ways individuals and communities resisted that darkness to ‘be the light’ before, during and after genocide.

Aberystwyth Bandstand

Holocaust Memorial Day is for everyone. Each year across the UK, people come together to learn more about the past and take action to create a safer future. Although this year we are unable to hold any actual events in person due to the ongoing pandemic, this does not mean that we cannot mark this extremely important day.

Ceredigion County Council Leader, Councillor Ellen Ap Gwynn, said: “On Holocaust Memorial Day let us all take the opportunity to reflect on the atrocities committed in the past and to shine a light to lead us to a more humane way of treating our fellow citizens of the world, whatever their colour or creed, in future.

“It is vital to remember and raise awareness that the Holocaust threatened the fabric of civilisation, and genocide must still be resisted every day.

“Our world often feels fragile and vulnerable and we cannot be complacent. Even in the UK, prejudice and the language of hatred exist and must be challenged by us all.

“Together we bear witness for those who endured genocide and honour the survivors & all those whose lives were changed beyond recognition.”

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Paul Davies MS quits as Leader of the Conservatives in the Senedd

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PRESELI Pembrokeshire MS Paul Davies quit as Leader of the Conservatives in the Senedd this morning.

The Conservatives’ Chief Whip also quit his frontbench role.

The dramatic move comes only 24 hours after Mr Davies got the Conservative Senedd Group’s unanimous backing.

However, later yesterday (Friday, Jan 21) – as criticism poured in – the Welsh Conservatives’ Executive met. In that meeting, Constituency Chairs reported widespread disbelief and anger among the Party’s members. Conservative Party Chair, Lord Davies of Gower, received particular criticism for a lack of leadership. Simon Hart, Secretary of State for Wales, also attended the meeting and was left in no doubt of the strength of feeling within the Party.

In a statement issued via the Conservative Senedd media office, Mr Davies said: “I am truly sorry for my actions on the 8th and 9th December. They have damaged the trust and respect that I have built up over 14 years in the Welsh Parliament with my colleagues and the wider Conservative Party but more importantly with the people of Wales.
“Whilst using the Senedd facilities at all times my colleagues and I maintained social distancing. There was no drunk or disorderly behaviour. We did not have to be escorted out of the building as some reports have suggested. What we did was to have some alcohol with a meal we heated up in a microwave, which was a couple of glasses of wine on Tuesday and a beer on Wednesday.
I broke no actual Covid-19 regulations.

“For the last 10 months of the pandemic, I have followed the Covid-19 regulations to the letter. As with everyone across Wales, I have not seen family members or friends, I’ve not eaten at my favourite restaurants and, like you, we enjoyed a subdued Christmas compared to other years. I will continue to follow the Welsh Government’s Covid-19 Regulations and I would urge everyone to play their part in defeating this virus so that we can all return to normality.

“My priority as Leader of the Welsh Conservative Group in the Welsh Parliament has always been to bring the Conservatives into government in Wales. Our main focus as the Welsh Conservatives must always be on challenging and removing a failing Labour government.

“I am grateful for the support of colleagues in the Welsh Conservative Party for their support in this difficult time, and especially to my wife Julie and my Senedd colleagues who have offered empathy, trust and advice. They have treated me with the same courtesy and decency I hope I have always extended to others.

“Over the last couple of days, I have been speaking with colleagues in the Senedd and the wider Conservative Party. Whilst they have confirmed they do not wish to see me step down, I believe that my actions are becoming a distraction from holding this failing Welsh Labour-led Government to account, not just on their rollout of the Covid-19 vaccines but from more than 20 years of their dither, delay and failure. Yesterday I indicated to the Conservative group in the Welsh Parliament that I wished to resign, but they urged me to reflect further, and we agreed to meet again on Monday. However, for the sake of my party, my health and my own conscience, I simply cannot continue in post.

“Therefore, I am stepping down as Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Welsh Parliament with immediate effect.”

“It is for the group to decide how best to choose a new leader, but I hope that process will be seamless and speedy, and I pledge my support to whoever becomes leader.”

Darren Millar blamed ‘wildly inaccurate and unfair reports’ and said:

“There was a member of catering staff present in the tea room for a short time after my arrival on the 8th December but she did not serve me a drink, nor did I request one. In fact, I encouraged the member of staff to go home and close up the counter as it had been a long day for her. No members of catering staff were present on the 9th December and the counter was closed for the whole evening.

“While I am advised that I did not breach coronavirus regulations I am very sorry for my actions, especially given the impact of the tough restrictions that people and businesses are enduring.

“For this reason, and given that Paul Davies has resigned as Welsh Conservative Group Leader in the Senedd, I have decided to step down from my front bench role in the Welsh Parliament.

“I am cooperating fully with ongoing investigations and will continue to do so.”
Whoever replaces Paul Davies, the role is likely to an interim appointment ahead of a vote of the Party membership after the Senedd election.

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Aberporth mum praised by police following sea rescue

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POLICE have praised the quick-thinking and immense bravery of an Aberporth woman who saved an injured man from the sea.

Dyfed-Powys Police Inspector Owen Williams has commended mother-of-three Cora Thomas for her actions when she feared a man was in trouble off the coast at Ogof Llidw.

Cora was walking along the coastal path with her family on January 9, when she saw a group of people she suspected to have been drinking jumping from the rocks into the sea.

Immediately sensing the danger of the situation due to the combination of extremely cold weather, the possibility that they were drunk, and the fact it was getting dark, Cora stayed back from her family to keep an eye on the group.

But when they left, she feared someone had been left behind.

“It looked like they were having a party on the rocks, and when they saw me watching them they must have been worried I was going to report them,” Cora said.

“They walked off, but this one man had gone to the Ogof rocks, and the only way to get there and back is to swim – they had left him behind.

“I decided to stand there and watch, and I saw him get into the water, but he didn’t come back up.”

As Cora headed down the coastal path to get a closer look, she bumped into two men she knew, and explained what had happed.

The pair had not seen anyone, but as they looked down the cliff, they could see a pile of clothes on the rocks.

“I started screaming down to ask if anyone was there,” Cora said. “I did panic, but I thought I was going to see a body washing past us.

“After a minute or so, we saw him coming out of the water and he was clinging onto the cliff.

“He was so cold he was slurring, and couldn’t tell us his name.”

Dazed and confused, the man was wearing just underwear, had cut his foot and was struggling to speak, such was the cold he had been exposed to.

Realising they needed to warm him up as quickly as possible, Cora and the two men got him dressed, giving him a jacket to keep out the cold.

“He was slipping and sliding all over the place – we had to drag him up the cliff,” Cora said.

“He kept saying he was tired, and I was really worried if he fell asleep he could have fallen into a hypothermic coma. We had to try and keep him calm, and stop him from walking away or he could have slipped back into the sea.”

Police and Coastguard arrived at the scene shortly after, carrying the man by stretcher to an ambulance.

After hospital treatment, he was discharged and is understood to have recovered.

Looking back, Cora described the incident as “totally unexpected”.

“I’ve never been in that sort of situation before, and it was one of the scariest things I have ever been through,” she said.

“I’m glad I stopped when I did – I genuinely think that would have been the end of him if we hadn’t been there.”

Praising the emergency services for their response, Cora also highlighted the use of the WhatThreeWords app, which pinpointed her location to the police.

“Even though I’m local, I couldn’t explain where we were,” she said.

“It was a mixture of panic and not knowing how to describe it. We downloaded the app, which gives you three words to tell the call handler – when they said ‘we’ve got your location and we’re on our way’ it was a huge sense of relief.

“Everyone should download it – you never know when you might need it, and it could save valuable time in an emergency.”

Inspector Owen Williams, of Cardigan police station, commended Cora and the two men for their actions.

“Had Cora not kept a close eye on the group jumping in the water, the man would have been left behind and in severe danger of being swept out to sea or suffering from hypothermia.

“Undoubtedly, her concern and prompt actions – as well as the invaluable help of the two men involved – contributed to preventing a tragedy that evening.”

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