THE NATIONAL Botanic Garden of Wales has had what could be described as a ‘tricky’ twelve months.
This time last summer, the Garden was in the throes of controversy regarding its approach to the Welsh language; at the end of December, Dr Rosie Plummer stepped down as Director citing continuing cuts in funding from the Welsh Government and Carmarthenshire County Council; even the appointment of new director, Huw Francis, received some criticism from those fearing the Garden would become over-commercialised.
Bearing in mind Dr Plummer’s observations on ‘short-sighted’ cuts to the Garden’s budget and the calls for it to be more self-sustaining, it is clear that some people are unable to make up their minds as to what they want from the West Wales showpiece destination.
Now, as the cut to the Garden’s funding from Carmarthenshire County Council to £30,000 a year comes into play, we posed a series of questions regarding its future and recent difficulties.
THE WELSH LANGUAGE
We began by tackling the issue that propelled the Garden into (unwanted) attention last year: the Welsh language and the Garden’s approach to it.
Noting that the local authority has expressed dissatisfaction in the past about the Garden’s approach to the Welsh language, we asked whether it was satisfied that, working in partnership with the Council and Menter Cwm Gwendraeth Elli, it was addressing those concerns.
The Garden responded: It’s probably worth knowing that we (the Botanic Garden) have been working with Menter Cwm Gwendraeth Elli (MCGE) for several years. In fact, we have a Service Level Agreement (SLA – a sort of mutual-agreement-contract regarding our working together on numerous levels) with them.
MCGE supply translation services to us, we are working with them on a special event here at the Garden this summer to help celebrate their 25th anniversary this year and a special ‘Carolau yn yr Ardd’ event at Christmas, among other things.
We are also working with them around the issue of the Welsh Language Standards and making sure we continue to excel with our Welsh language provision.
To be frank, we take the view that the only people who criticise the Garden’s approach to the Welsh language are those not in possession of the true picture because they’ve never been here. It’s easy, isn’t it, to take political point-scoring pot-shots at a nearby national institution, in the comfort of the council chamber, or as a keyboard warrior.
A senior Visit Wales official (and Welsh speaker) recently described the “Croeso Cynnes” they received on arriving at the Garden as “Very Welsh – almost too Welsh”! And we weren’t doing anything special for them – that’s just the way we roll.
Also, even by the most conservative metric you care to measure it by, the Garden contributes somewhere in the region of £8m to the local economy so the return on the county council’s investment in the Garden of £50,000 in 2016-17 is pretty staggering in those terms!
CUTS AND MORE CUTS
We asked what effect the cut would have and what other sources of funding were available to the Garden:
I’m sure you can guess what effect the reduction in funding will have on the Garden. And, don’t forget, we have also suffered an 11% cut in funding from government as well as having to make provision for the National Living Wage and other increasing costs and charges.
We are the only national botanic garden in the world that raises two-thirds of its own income.
Kew is funded to the tune of 60-65% and Edinburgh 80-85% and Glasnevin is 100% funded. But, just like these other older, more famous and well-established institutions, we are changing the world.
RESEARCH & EDUCATION
We carry out vital research on plants, bees, pollination and the health-giving properties of tea and honey. We protect some of the world’s most endangered plants.
Our Head of Science (our only scientist!) recently led a project that saw Wales become the very first country in the world to DNA barcode all its native flowering plants. And we helped reintroduce a very rare flower into the wild which was had become extinct in Wales.
We have some 20,000 education visits a year and provide 40 curriculum-linked courses in English and Welsh; we were recently awarded a prestigious national award for its provision in learning outside the classroom.
The science and education doesn’t come cheap and, while it does wonders for our reputation and reach, it doesn’t turn us a buck, as it were. So we have to pedal hard and fast on the commercial front to make ends meet.”
We have built a brand new playground – complete with zipline and trampoline – we have water zorbing activities in our water zorbing pool, we are (at this very moment!) building a straw-bale maze (in time for half term) and we will be holding more than 100 days of fun family activities. This is all to try and tempt a larger slice of the family market to our door – and it is starting to work! And we about to launch Plas Pili Pala – our brand new Tropical Butterfly House . . .
We don’t have a wide variety of funding options open to us, so we are focusing on the task of broadening our appeal and growing our audience to increase footfall and, therefore, improving our ‘gate’ revenue and secondary spend performance at the various catering and retail outlets around the Garden.
But it is definitely worth saying recent reports of us suffering a £300,000 “loss” are a grossly unfair and distorted picture of the Garden’s finances. The figures quoted were not “last year” either. They were from three years ago.
And this was a ‘book’ assessment i.e. the £10m ‘value’ of the Great Glasshouse has depreciated over time so, according to the accountants, it is now worth less. But, if your car was worth £5,000 last year and is only worth £1,000 now, does that mean you have actually “lost” £4,000.
No. It doesn’t.
THE REAL FIGURES
So, just for the record, here are some ‘real’ and up-to-date figures that should be taken into account – the sort of thing that is rarely, if ever, reported:
Despite incredibly difficult conditions and against a backdrop of reduced funding from our key stakeholders, we have had a cash surplus in the past two financial years; 2014/15 & 2015/16 (and these figures are much more recent that anything in the public domain)
- For 2015/16, we recorded visitor numbers of 145,000 of which the leisure visitors (114,420) were the highest since 2011/12.
- Membership levels are at an all-time high and income from membership topped the £100k mark for the first time ever
- Legacy donations of £75k from 3 separate estates – recognising & supporting the wonderful work we are undertaking here…
- Plant sales up are 15% on last year with a focus on being able to buy our own Botanic Garden-grown plants now really exciting our visitors
- Improving (up 2%) spend this year – both primary and total secondary spend in the Garden.
We would urge people to come and see how much we’ve changed. There’s loads going on and plenty to do across our 568-acre site and we are open from 10am to 6pm seven days a week, 363 days a year – so there’s plenty of opportunity to come and enjoy this fabulous, incredible, beautiful, awe-inspiring, amazing garden.
We are confident about the future and bullish about our achievements.
Can we do better? Yes.
Are we trying our hardest? You bet.
Council end contract with Plas Y Bryn Care Home
FOLLOWING significant concerns with its financial position and an inability to pay their staff and creditors, Carmarthenshire County Council has had to give notice on its contract to provide care with Plas Y Bryn Care Home, Cwmgwili.
The residents at Plas Y Bryn are being supported by the council to find new homes by a dedicated team of social workers and managers.
Whilst this has come as a great disappointment to the Council, we have been providing significant financial support to ensure that the care company can meet its financial obligations and that care is not impacted. This has included bringing regular payments in advance to enable the company to pay staff salaries.
As a result, the council has had to take the difficult decision to give notice to the care company. The decision has not been taken lightly and we share the deep concerns that the people living and working in the care home will have.
There have been continued attempts to work with the operators to understand their financial position. A variety of alternative options have been considered but, unfortunately, due to the legal and financial circumstances that surround the care company, there are no viable solutions that can be found at this time.
We would like to recognise and thank the staff within Plas Y Bryn Care Home for their commitment to delivering high-quality care and highlight that the quality of care has at no point been a contributing factor to this difficult decision.
Cllr. Jane Tremlett, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Services, Carmarthenshire County Council, said:
“The welfare of the residents at Plas Y Bryn is of the utmost importance and we have acted quickly to support the care home to continue to provide excellent care of its residents.
“We are supporting residents along with their families and next of kin, during what is a very difficult and distressing situation, to find suitable and adequate accommodation for them to find new homes.
“On behalf of the council, I would like to express my gratitude to the staff at Plas Y Bryn for their invaluable work at the care home. We are also supporting them during this hard period as they continue to provide care to the residents.”
Ahead of the contract coming to an end, the council will be working with people and their families over the coming weeks to find new homes where they can receive the care and support that they require. Wherever possible, we will do our best to ensure that people are supported to move to locations of choice. Residents are also being provided with access to advocacy services to support them through this difficult time.
Carmarthenshire County Council cracks down on fly-tippers
CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council handed out a total of £4,350 in fixed penalty notices (FPN’s) related to fly-tipping last month.
17 FPN’s were issued as a result of CCTV footage at Carway recycling facility, resulting in a total of £2,675 in fines being given.
- £125 FPN issued to a Carway female for depositing a bag
- £400 FPN issued to a Carway male for depositing black refuse bags, blue recycling bags and paint pots at the site on several different occasions
- £125 FPN issued to a Carway female for depositing a bag
- £400 FPN issued to a Carway resident for depositing blue recycling bags and other items
Fixed penalty notices issued at other locations in the county include:
- £125 FPN issued to a female for depositing a black refuse bag at Red Roses recycling facility.
- £300 FPN issued to a Gorseinon resident who failed in his duty of care when he had his household waste removed by a person not registered as a waste carrier.
- £400 FPN issued to a Llanelli resident for fly tipping after CCTV footage provided by a member of the public led to his identification. The male was seen driving along the rear lane between James Street and Swansea Road in Llanelli where he was seen throwing a blue recycling bag from his moving vehicle into the lane.
- £300 FPN issued to a Llanelli resident who failed in their duty of care after their waste was found in an overgrown verge/hedgerow in the rear lane of their street. The resident claimed to have paid a male to dispose of their waste but failed to provide their details.
- £300 FPN issued to a Llanelli business for failing to produce waste transfer notes after waste produced by the business was found illegally deposited in Swiss Valley, Llanelli. The business was issued a notice requiring them to produce waste transfer notes within 7 days which they failed to do. The business was also issued a legal notice to ensure any waste from the business is disposed of correctly in the future.
Cllr Aled Vaughan Owen, Cabinet Member for Climate Change, Decarbonisation and Sustainability said: “The introduction of CCTV at Carway recycling facility has enabled us to clamp down on the unlawful dumping of waste at this site. I hope this serves as a reminder that all waste deposited at our recycling facilities must be placed in the correct container, with all bags and boxed removed from the site.”
“The Council’s CCTV strategy will be extended to other recycling facilities in the county in the coming months to help combat instances of fly tipping in these areas.”
“I would urge anyone who needs to dispose of waste to do so responsibly. We have recycling centres at Nantycaws (Carmarthen), Trostre (Llanelli), Wernddu (Ammanford) and Whitland as well as a bulky waste collection service and weekly household waste collections. When paying for rubbish to be disposed of, please use a licensed business and ensure that you are given a valid waste transfer note when waste is collected.”
For more information on disposing of waste please visit Carmarthenshire.gov.wales/recycling
Wales stands firm in support for Ukraine￼
IN THE latest update on the Ukraine crisis, Wales’s Minister for Social Justice Jane Hutt thanked all those households across Wales who have come forward to offer their homes to Ukrainians fleeing the War and encouraged more households to provide this vital support.
APPEAL FOR MORE HOST FAMILIES
The Minister for Social Justice said: “I’m delighted to say that over 5,650 people from Ukraine, sponsored by the Welsh Government and Welsh households, have already arrived in the UK.
“More than 8,200 visas have now been issued to people from Ukraine who have sponsors in Wales, so we expect the number of arrivals to continue to grow in the coming weeks.
“Thousands of Welsh households sponsored Ukrainians to arrive in Wales and committed to hosting them for at least six months.
“As we move into the autumn, we approach the end of that initial period.
“We hope hosts and Ukrainians will agree to extend many of those placements, but we need additional hosts to support those who cannot continue living where they are.
“To ensure a warm welcome to Wales, I’m inviting households across Wales to come forward and open their homes to welcome those seeking sanctuary.
“We’re immensely thankful to all those across Wales acting as hosts to Ukrainians, but more households must come forward.
“I completely understand that there are those who want to help but may not have the resources to do so, given the circumstances we’re all facing with the cost-of-living crisis.”
WALES WILL STEP UP TO THE PLATE
Jane Hutt continued: “What we all know, and has been proven countless times, is that the people of Wales are one of the most generous across the globe, and I’m sure we will step up to the plate once again.
“The idea of hosting can be daunting. That’s why we have funded Housing Justice Cymru to provide a Host Support service which includes expert and reliable information, training, advice, and guidance for people hosting, or those considering hosting, Ukrainians in Wales.
“More information on sessions and training can be found on the Housing Justice Cymru website. We also publish regularly updated guidance for hosts and sponsors at gov. wales/ukraine.
“We still need many more households to consider whether they could provide a home for those in need. This would normally be a commitment to hosting for 6 to 12 months.
“If anyone is considering this, we encourage them to register their interest at gov.wales/offerhome, and to attend one of the ‘Introduction to Hosting’ sessions, facilitated by Housing Justice Cymru. You won’t need to continue the process if you decide it is not for you.
“We have also partnered with Airbnb.org to ensure very short-term emergency placements can be provided to prevent homelessness.
“If you cannot host for more than 6 months but you could offer your property for up to 30 days at a time, you may also be able to contribute. Visit gov.wales/offerhome and follow the link to the Airbnb.org platform.”
Finally, the Minister stated: “We will continue to communicate with those who host Ukrainians, with updated guidance and information to support the valuable role you are undertaking.
“To all those that are already hosting and to those that are considering hosting, thank you, we owe you all a huge debt of gratitude.”
WESTMINSTER MUST BACK HOSTS
DURING COST-OF-LIVING CRISIS
Conservative MS Mark Isherwood raised how the cost-of-living crisis affects Ukrainian refugees.
Where families had taken in those fleeing Russian aggression, he noted a risk of sponsorships not continuing beyond six months because the hosts cannot afford the rise in fuel costs.
He asked the Minister what discussions she’d had with the UK Government about increasing the £350 contribution to households who’d taken in Ukrainian refugees.
The Minister agreed with Mark Isherwood that ending a specific ministerial post dealing with refugees was regrettable.
She noted a lack of information from the UK Government over the summer months and since Liz Truss replaced Boris Johnson as head of the Conservative Government.
Ms Hutt said: “We asked for an increase at least to £500, or up again, doubling to £700 per month. An urgent decision is needed regarding this as they reach the end of their six-month period.
“That period is underway, so we’re writing to all hosts to see if they will continue.”
UK GOVERNMENT URGED
TO PICK UP THE PHONE
The Minister thanked Mark Isherwood for introducing her to a charity offering support in North Wales, Link, and hoped that he and his colleagues would bring pressure to bear on their Westminster colleagues to ensure those in need from Ukraine and those in Wales helping them received support.
She added: “I look forward perhaps that we might have some telephone calls from the Prime Minister and other Ministers to us in Government. We must engage with them and follow this through.
“There is a huge job of work to be done here. We’re taking responsibility in the way I’ve outlined, funding our welcome centres and paying thank-you payments to hosts if they support a family who initially arrived in Wales under the Ukraine family scheme.
“That’s not happening in England. The commitment that we’re making is considerable.
“I hope everyone will join us today, saying that we need to press for those answers in terms of financial support.”
THE THREAT OF HOMELESSNESS
Sioned Williams of Plaid Cymru raised the spectre of Ukrainian refugees becoming homeless in Wales due to a lack of financial support and the end of existing hosting and housing placements.
The Minister praised the work of local authorities across Wales supporting refugees.
She said: “There are very imaginative programmes. That includes a whole range of issues like repurposing empty buildings.
“Local authorities are really coming up with a whole range of ways in which we can support people, perhaps, from a welcome centre, or a host family, into that intermediate accommodation, and then on to other longer-term accommodation.”
Pembrokeshire currently houses around 200 Ukrainian refugees, with the demand for assistance outstripping the availability of suitable accommodation.
NOT ONE PENNY FROM WESTMINSTER
TO SUPPORT FAMILIES FLEEING WAR
Responding to a question from Mabon ap Gwynfor about problems housing family groups, Jane Hutt hit out at the lack of support from the UK Government and how it’s u-turned on a commitment to help families.
“The UK Government has never given a penny towards the family scheme.
“The former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, in one of his last PMQs, actually said that he thought the Ukraine family scheme should get the same funding and support as the Homes for Ukraine scheme. It’s never happened.
“We have provided thank-you payments to people who are hosting Ukrainian families. It’s all Welsh Government money; it’s not UK Government, because they don’t provide a penny. And also, the British Red Cross—£246,000—who are actually supporting Ukrainian families who are hosting family members under the Ukrainian family scheme.”
On Wednesday, September 28, Eluned Morgan, Wales’s Health Minister, announced the continuation of free healthcare in Wales to Ukrainian residents displaced by the ongoing conflict.
The exemption will continue to apply unless there’s a significant change in circumstances in Ukraine.
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