A WARNING has been given ahead of merger talks between troubled housing provider Cymdeithas Tai Cantref and the Welsh Government’s favoured suitor for its operation – Mid and West Wales Housing Association.
In April, Carmarthenshire County Council was one of the unsuccessful bidders to take over Cymdeithas Tai Cantref, after the Housing Association found itself in difficult circumstances following an excoriating review of its management and financial structure. After the review by Campbell Tickell, which has never been fully published by the Welsh Government, the Chief Executive of Tai Cantref, Lynne Sacale, and Board Chair, David Wilcox, left their posts.
Ms Sacale had previously welcomed the enquiry on the basis that ‘any findings will be to the benefit of the association going forward’.
No public explanation has been given for either Ms Sacale’s or Mr Wicox’s speedy departures. However, the Welsh Government says the report shows evidence of mismanagement.
Hilary Jones , of Bro Myrddin Housing Association , and Doug Elliott, a former head of regulation in the Welsh Government, were parachuted in to temporarily run the Association, prior to the appointment of Kevin Taylor as interim chair.
Now, with merger talks imminent, a housing group based in Ceredigion has raised significant fears over the reorganisation of Tai Cantref, including expressing fears about the effect on the local economy, the Welsh language, and job losses within the Association.
Ble ti’n Mynd i Fyw – an independent housing group in Ceredigion – have urged stakeholders to vote against the proposed merger of the two companies.
In a letter to the Housing Association, Ble ti’n Mynd i Fyw stated that the housing group expressed fears that Tai Cantref’s local identity would be eroded by the deal.
Ble ti’n Mynd i Fyw have highlighted that ten jobs have already been lost leading up to the prospective merge r and have also underlined their concern that they feel that Cantref’s commitment to provide a Welsh language service to both tenants and staff would be undermined should the merger proceed. Ble ti’n Mynd i Fyw points out that internal meetings have already started to be held in English only and have brought to Cantref’s attention issues surrounding both tenant and non-tenant applications to become stakeholders being refused with no explanation in recent months.
Cantref have historically supported local contractors for maintenance and building works , which has supported many businesses locally. Ble ti’n Mynd i Fyw believe that this is unlikely to continue following the merger, as Wales and West have their own internal maintenance services, reducing the need for local suppliers and businesses. They express serious concern relating to job losses within the county and the risk those losses pose to communities in West Wales.
Those fears, which were expressed at the time and once the identity of the successful bidder was known, would have been addressed by Carmarthenshire County Council’s promise to ensure the maintenance of the Welsh language’s position and NO job losses at the Association’s Newcastle Emlyn HQ.
Whether the Council would have maintained in-house maintenance staff is not known, but it is likely that – bearing in mind the geographical spread of the properties owned by Tai Cantref – that local contracts would have been necessary.
The 1,400-home housing association needs to secure votes in favour from 75% of its shareholders in order for it to go ahead and fears have been expressed that the Association has deliberately withheld the names of shareholders in order to prevent them being canvassed to oppose the merger.
In June, Inside Housing reported that that opposition among some residents and board members means it is unlikely to win the vote.
Local opposition to the merger is rooted in 9,500-home Wales and West’s larger size, the fact that it is not based locally and a perception that it is less committed to the Welsh language than other local associations.
In a joint statement earlier this year, Cantref and Wales and West said: “Merger discussions are progressing in a positive and timely manner and these talks are taking place with the full support and engagement of all appropriate lenders.”
Council’s plan to expand bilingual education will be a gradual journey over 10 years
CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council’s vision to increase bilingual education in Carmarthenshire will be a gradual journey over 10 years.
The Cabinet met yesterday (Monday, July 4) to discuss the Welsh in Education Strategic Plan (WESP), and emphasised that it was important to give all children and young people the opportunity to develop their Welsh language skills.
However, members stressed that families will still have a choice on the language in which their children will be taught over the next decade and after 2032.
The plan sets out how the council will develop Welsh language provision in schools based on the outcomes and targets set by the Welsh Government.
All councils across Wales have to submit 10-year Welsh language education plans to the Welsh Government in order to meet its target of one million Welsh speakers by 2050.
The outcomes include more nursery and reception children being taught through the medium of Welsh; more young people studying for qualifications in Welsh as a subject, and subjects through the medium of Welsh; increasing provision for learners with Additional Learning Needs; and increasing the number of teachers able to teach Welsh and through the medium of Welsh – with continuing support to develop staff through a comprehensive and flexible training programme.
The Cabinet said it was important for the council to provide more opportunities to be bilingual and referred to the various benefits it brings – from educational attainment to employability and health.
Cabinet Member for Education and Welsh Language, Cllr Glynog Davies said the aim was to meet and exceed the target set by Welsh Government on the percentage of Carmarthenshire pupils receiving their education through the medium of Welsh by 3032 (10-14%).
It included changing the language provision at 10 schools over the next 10 years creating an opportunity for a further 300 learners to be educated in Welsh.
He said: “We want to build on the progress made in early years education provision, and my ambition is clear – equal opportunities across the county.
“It is worth noting that we have the largest percentage 57.5 percent of nursery age children taught through the medium of Welsh. Immersion education is key to the strategy, and it is important that we continue to see an increase in the percentage of children transferring from the Meithrin groups to Welsh-medium education in the Foundation Phase.
“These early years are so important, the children are like sponges, absorbing information and absorbing a new language.
“We must then continue to see an increase in numbers in our reception classes, we say this even though we are the authority with the largest percentage (62.5 percent) of children receiving their education through the medium of Welsh.
“Children must continue to improve their Welsh when going from one school phase to another, and we need to make sure all children have the opportunity to pursue their secondary education through the medium of Welsh.
“At the same time, we need to give children and young people the confidence to use Welsh, in school and in the community. That’s what we want to see isn’t it, more and more using Welsh, hearing Welsh on the street. We need to develop and build on skills and confidence.”
Cabinet Member for Rural Affairs and Planning Policy, Cllr Ann Davies said: “I am extremely pleased to see this document and have a pleasure in supporting it. Working with young children, that is children under three-years-old, I can say that children pick up language very quickly, they absorb it, and the process is very different to learning a language. As they get older the process in the brain is completely different. I am pleased to see that there is an emphasis on early years, that is when we need to start.”
Cabinet Member for Resources, Cllr Alun Lenny said: “It is very important to state that there are many advantages to learning a language, obviously for careers, especially in health and social care where patients and clients must have a choice of language, it’s important particularly for older people, and young children, and people with dementia.
“The Chief Constable of Dyfed-Powys Police has stated he is keen for all his staff to speak a certain level of Welsh, so we have a duty here to support that.
“The advantages of being bilingual are multiple, socially and in the world of work, and this strategy is very much welcomed.”
The WESP has come back to the cabinet for discussion following feedback from the Welsh Government, mainly to include some additional data and detail. It will now be submitted to the Welsh Government for final approval. A public consultation was held last year.
Warning of serious disruption on M4 and M5 today due to fuel prices protest
POLICE have warned of “serious disruption” to drivers using the M4 and M5 on Monday 4 July due to a planned protest.
Protesters intend to block the Prince of Wales Bridge from 7am until 7pm as part of a nationwide campaign against rising fuel prices.
The protest is due to start at the M4 Magor services at junction 23A eastbound and the Clevedon Interchange at junction 20 of the M5 westbound.
It is also expected to cause disruption to the M48 Severn Bridge and the M32.
Drivers are being urged to avoid the area or plan alternative routes.
Bristol Airport has issued a warning urging travellers to allow extra time if heading to or from the airport.
Police said additional officers will be brought in to ensure the protest is carried out legally.
Drivers have been advised by Gwent Police to work from home where possible and avoid the area between 7am and 7pm, with protestors planning to block parts of the road between M4 Magor services, junction 23A eastbound, and Junction 20 of the M4 between those hours.
Chief Superintendent Tom Harding said: “Gwent Police, and Avon and Somerset Police, are working jointly with neighbouring police forces and partner agencies to ensure emergency and critical services continue and to reduce disruption to both road users and local communities, however we are preparing for serious disruption throughout the day.
“I would encourage drivers to reconsider their journey, consider working from home and avoid the area where possible.
“The right to protest under UK law must be balanced with the rights of the wider community who may be affected. We have additional officers and support in place on Monday to ensure the protest is carried out in accordance with the law.”
The planned protest is thought to have been organised by the Facebook group Fuel Price Stand Against Tax, and has attracted both criticism and support online.
The latest travel disruption comes following the closure of the Severn Bridge for a second consecutive weekend, as well as the Severn Tunnel rain line which will be out of use until July 10 due to essential work. Motorists will be unable to cross the M48 Severn Bridge until 6am on Monday as it is undergoing essential work for eight months.
The bridge was first shut last weekend as painstaking work to repair and replace corroded suspension cables began. Traffic on the bridge is likely to be very heavy on Monday due to the fuel protest.
Police have told protesters banners must be tightly secured to vehicles and nobody should be walking around on the bridge during the demonstration. Protesters will stay inside their vehicles or stand beside them.
An organiser said: “We will now only be doing it on the Prince of Wales Bridge. We have to keep in mind everyone’s safety and if we block the bridge totally and there is an emergency there would be hell. Yes it means only one bridge but [due to the amount of traffic caused] there will still be a massive impact.”
Two weeks ago one of the initial M4 bridge protest organisers Ashley Fowler said : “We’re all car enthusiasts and we have all been worried about fuel prices and when I saw the post about blocking the bridges we began talking about it. Then people started asking me to make an event so we could update each other.
“I made the event because I run a car club in Cardiff which I started on social media during the pandemic lockdowns to help people’s mental health. When we can we go out to car parks and just meet up and have a chat but during the pandemic we weren’t able to do it so I made the group.
“Now we can’t meet up so much again because of the cost of fuel. I know some of them can’t drive so much because they need to feed their kids. It’s serious. People are getting really depressed about it. One of the boys in the group has actually sold his car due to fuel price rises.”
Ascona Group announces new Car and Truck wash facilities
ASCONA GROUP, one of the UK’s fastest-growing forecourt operators, is pleased to announce two new vehicle washing partnerships as part of improvements to its unique roadside retail proposition across its forecourt estate.
As part of a new partnership with the American based PDQ Manufacturing, a leader for in-bay automatic vehicle washing facilities, Ascona Group will be the first in the UK to install the ‘Laserwash 360 Plus’, a touchless car wash system for its customers.
The partnership will initially expand the wash options at the Hinton Service Station, with a view to roll out the system to other sites under the Ascona Group’s brand, ‘Charlie’s Express Car Wash’ later this year. The partnership is a significant investment for Ascona and demonstrates its commitment to ever improving the experience for customers.
Ascona Group is also delighted to announce a strategic partnership with WashTec UK that will see Ascona introduce a ‘First of its Kind’ truck washing facility at the Tenby Road site on the A40 Eastbound in Carmarthenshire, which offers the very best technology available to HGV drivers.
The truck wash employs a fully ‘closed loop’ total water recycling system, the first of its kind in Wales, which recovers all water used within the wash process, filtering it for reuse with little or no water entering the mains drainage system. This system ensures Ascona not only has the best commercial wash in South Wales, but also offers customers one of the more environmentally friendly approaches in operation.
Commenting on the announcement, CEO Darren Briggs said: “From the very beginning, we knew that our sites must present our customers with a unique and compelling offer which is why we are constantly seeking new and innovative ways to improve our roadside retail facilities.
“These two new partnerships further demonstrate our focus on creating industry-leading propositions and we are really excited to be working with PDQ Manufacturing USA and WashTec UK. Together, we are keen to continue to build on the success of these new operations and we are actively reviewing multiple opportunities across the Ascona portfolio to roll out more units such as these.”
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