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Councils respond to budget cuts

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Jamie Adams: Budget balance must be redressed

WEST WALES’ local authorities have cried ‘foul’ over the funding arrangements announced for the next financial year by the Welsh Government. In common with all rural councils in Wales, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, and Pembrokeshire have all been told that their budgets will be cut to a greater extent than those of more urban councils. In addition, critics of the settlement have not been slow to point out that not only is the smallest budget cut for an individual local authority Cardiff’s, but that the largest sums per head of population in terms of local government expenditure are concentrated on Welsh Labour’s Valleys heartland. In an unusual turn of events, West Wales’ councils were already consulting on their budgets for next year before their own financial settlements from the Welsh Government were announced.

This has caused some confusion among members of the public, who now appear to be responding to their own individual council’s proposals on a basis that has been superseded by the Welsh Government announcement. The Welsh Government’s budget was delayed by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s decision to delay the Autumn Statement and tie it in with announcements on Government expenditure. Among one off budget pressures already factored into this year’s local authority budget forecasts are the introduction of the National Living Wage, changes to National Insurance, and alterations to pension rules. The cuts to the Revenue Support Grant, which funds local authority expenditure, do not take account of those measures’ impacts on Council budgets. Pembrokeshire: ‘Substantial budget pressures’ Meanwhile, members of the public are being encouraged to comment on potential changes to local services on Pembrokeshire County Council’s social media pages. Over £25m in savings have already been made in the past few years but substantial savings will also need to be made in the next three to four years. Around 40 budget reduction ideas are being considered as part of a consultation on the budget for 2016 – 2017 and beyond, which the Council is currently running on its website. Cllr Jamie Adams, Leader of Pembrokeshire County Council, said: “We will be facing substantial budget pressures in 2016 – 2017, which means we need to look at making changes to services that many people use regularly.

“It is important that local people take advantage of the opportunity to give their feedback in order to help inform the tough decisions that Council will have to make in the coming months. “Encouraging debate and feedback via social media is not something that we’ve tried to this extent before and I think that it provides a fairly easy way for people to comment on potential changes to important local services.” On the Welsh Government’s financial settlement for the next financial year, in which Pembrokeshire face a 2.6% cut, Jamie Adams, said: “As a rural local authority, we seem to be particularly badly hit, with just three Councils suffering worse settlements than Pembrokeshire. “I look forward to some discussions with the Welsh Government to try and redress some of the balance.” Carmarthenshire: ‘better than anticipated’ Carmarthenshire County Council Deputy Leader and Executive Board Member for Resources Cllr David Jenkins said: “The settlement from Welsh Government of £251,685m for next year equates to a 1% decrease on the amount received last year on a like for like basis. We were planning for a 3.3% decrease, bearing in mind that every 1% increase / decrease equates to £2.5m.

“Whilst the headline figure is better than we anticipated, we need to accommodate the particular pressures placed on us including validation such as inflation and more specifically this year a £4.1m increase in National Insurance payments.” Even though the cut to Carmarthenshire was not as deep as had been feared, Cllr Jenkins nonetheless sounded a warning note: “As good as the news is it still represents a cut in the authority’s overall budget and bearing in mind there was a £2.1m shortfall in our current budget cut proposals we will still be looking for savings from relevant departments which we are currently consulting on with the public. “We are also still awaiting the full details from Welsh Government in terms of protection for education and social services. “The settlement is more favourable than we were planning but that said we still need to deliver efficiency savings of £12m.”

Ceredigion: Councillors will have to make difficult decisions Ceredigion County Council will see a cut of 3.5% to its funding from Welsh Government for the financial year 2016-17 – one of the highest to any local authority in Wales. The announcement will mean that savings in the region of at least 6% in the Council’s budget are required, as expenditure increases have to be met whilst funding levels have decreased. The Council has already made savings of £20m over the last three years, and was working towards making savings of £25m over the next three years.

However, this cut will potentially mean the Council will need to find significant additional savings over the next three years. Leader of the Council, Councillor Ellen ap Gwynn said: “Yet again, rural communities are suffering compared to urban ones. The Council is suffering one of the largest cuts to any local authority budget for 2016-17, which will result in massive pressure on Councillors to make very difficult decisions.” The money from Welsh Government has been shared among Councils according to population size and age, and deprivation levels within that local authority. A major restructure and a programme of service transformation aimed at changing how the Council is organised and works has been in place since 2013.

Despite this, further cuts to services is now inevitable, as the scope to make more efficiency savings gets harder to achieve year on year. We must avoid England’s fate: WLGA The Deputy Leader of the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA), Cllr Aaron Shotton said: “We are also still awaiting the full details from Welsh Government in terms of protection for the system used to fund local councils in Wales is based on a complex array of grant arrangements and while many Welsh councils will today cautiously welcome the Welsh Government’s draft budget for its focus on preventative public services such as social care, we await further detail of how the budget can help to alleviate some of the mounting pressures on critical local services. “We have been clear that there is a need to rewrite the rulebook on how our councils are funded if we are to avoid a similar situation to that in England, where local public services have been cut to the bone and a number of councils face the very real possibility of being unable to meet even their most basic statutory duties. The budget announcement offers a glimmer of hope that a different reality can be written for vital local public services in Wales.”

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No action at Cardiff Airport over virus

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THERE were no checks or screening at Cardiff airport this morning (Jan 23) as international concern continues to grow about the coronavirus which has killed 17 people and infected hundreds in a central Chinese city.

A Herald journalist landing at 5:30am on a flight from Doha, said that passengers arriving from China or other Southeast Asian were not questioned or screened, despite other airports including Heathrow taking action.

The twice daily Doha flight, which was launched with the help of the Welsh Government two years ago, connects travellers from many destinations from South East Asia, including from China. A connection between Beijing and Cardiff is offered with a 10 hour stop over at Hamad International Airport in Qatar.

The outbreak of the virus is centred on the city of Wuhan. Travellers from Wuhan change at Beijing. At this time of year there is an increased number of travellers between China and the UK due to the Chinese New Year celebrations’

The Guardian reported today (Jan 23) that a sense of panic has spread in the central Chinese city of Wuhan as the city of 11 million was put on lockdown in an attempt to quarantine a deadly virus believed to have originated there.

Today, Chinese authorities banned all transport links from the sprawling city, suspending buses, the subway system, ferries and shutting the airport and train stations to outgoing passengers.

Nearby Huanggang also suspended its public bus and railway system by the end of the day.

In Wuhan, it has been reported that supermarket shelves were empty and local markets sold out of produce as residents hoarded supplies and isolated themselves at home. Petrol stations were overwhelmed as drivers stocked up on fuel, exacerbated by rumours that reserves had run out. Local residents said pharmacies had sold out of face masks.

The incubation period for the virus is said to be five days according to experts.

The Welsh Government has been asked for a comment.

Spencer Birns, Chief Commercial Officer at Cardiff Airport, told The Pembrokeshire Herald: “Cardiff Airport is closely following guidance provided by the relevant authorities in relation to screening procedures for Coronavirus. Port Health advice as of 1200 on 23rd January 2020 is to operate business as usual, with no additional screening. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and will update our customers as required.

“The safety and security of our team and customers is our number one priority.”

A spokesperson told The Herald that Chinese nationals arriving in Cardiff on international flights are not being asked if they originated in Wuhan despite the crisis.

“We have not been told to do different to normal,” the spokesperson said.

Pictured above: Regular flights: Qatar Airways plane at Cardiff Airport this morning • Peter Sinclair from Milford Haven lives in China and taking precautions

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Elin Jones congratulates Ceredigion Talking Paper in National Assembly

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AM marks 50 years of service by local news service for the blind

Elin Jones AM has congratulated the Ceredigion Talking Newspaper in a statement in the National Assembly for Wales, marking 50 years of service to blind people in Ceredigion and beyond.

In her statement on Wednesday the 20th of January, Elin Jones said:

“Fifty years ago, in January 1970, an innovative charity was established in Ceredigion for blind people, offering the first service of its kind in Wales and the United Kingdom – a service that would enable the blind people of Ceredigion to hear the latest local news in the press.

“That innovative scheme was the Ceredigion Talking Newspaper.

“The talking newspaper was set up by Ronald Sturt, a lecturer at the College of Librarianship in Llanbadarn. Initially, the recordings of local voices reading articles from the local press were on tape cassettes and provided to 18 people.

“Nowadays, the recordings are on a USB, and there are over a hundred regular listeners of the talking newspaper and more than 60 volunteers contributing regularly. The recordings are published weekly and the coverage includes the Cambrian News, Golwg and Y Cymro.

“One reader, Eileen Sinnett, has volunteered continuously for fifty years. What a contribution she has made!

“I would like to congratulate the Ceredigion Talking Newspaper for breaking new ground in 1970, for 50 years of service and for bringing the news, in both Welsh and English, to those who cannot see or read it in Ceredigion and beyond.”

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Young People raise money for local charities

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On 10 December 2019, young people from Ysgol Henry Richard’s Cooking Club hosted a Christmas Fayre stall, selling cakes and donated bakes from the local community to raise money for young people receiving care at Angharad Ward, Bronglais Hospital and West Wales Domestic Abuse Service. The club was led by Ceredigion Youth Service and raised over £400 for the charities.

The young people learnt how to make and produce different products, sell and raise money for charity. This gave the young people the opportunity to feel a sense of achievement by giving to others.

Ruby Cook from Ysgol Henry Richard’s Cooking Club said, “Our Cooking Club is made up of young people from Ysgol Henry Richard who attend the after school cooking club. The club focuses on cooking and leaning new life skills. It also gives young people an opportunity to socialise with their friends. We had a great time working on this project, where we baked cakes and had fun in the Christmas Fayre selling them. We would like to thank the local businesses which also donated to our stall. With your support we were able to raise more funds and give more young people gifts this Christmas.”

Mrs Ffion Davies, Ysgol Henry Richard said, “It was a lovely evening seeing the Cooking Club members have fun while making and selling cakes for worthy causes. The enthusiasm the young people showed when giving up their own time to help others at what can be a vulnerable time of year for some was inspiring. Thank you and well done to Ceredigion Youth Service and the Cooking Club members.”

Councillor Catrin Miles is the Cabinet member responsible for Learning Services. She said, “I want to congratulate the Cooking Club for their hard work and great achievement. I’m delighted that they not only raised a good sum for charity, but had fun and learnt at the same time. I’m grateful to the Ceredigion Youth Service for their continued good work and support of young people in the county.”

Ceredigion Youth Service is the designated Service for young people aged 11-25 in Ceredigion, dedicated to supporting young people’s personal, social and educational development through specialised support and open access provision. Provision includes School Based Youth Work, Outreach Youth Work and Youth Clubs. For more information or to find out what opportunities are available to you, head over to their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages at @GICeredigionYS.

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