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Council ‘finding its way’ on public questions

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Flashpoint: Last week’s Council meeting provoked a strong response

SOME of the sharpest comments following the Council meeting on January 13 were reserved for the way in which Council Chair Peter Hughes-Griffiths handled questions put by members of the public. 

Shadow Secretary of State for Wales Nia Griffith said: “It does not help when people are trying to speak on behalf of others, possibly with no experience of public speaking and this type of meeting. Every effort should be made to accommodate the opportunity for them to ask questions and I would like to see a much more positive tone in council meetings rather than trying to close down all kinds of dialogue. A one word answer is unacceptable.”

Issues arose at the meeting when members of the public were asked to stick to their questions and not make speeches or provide a preamble to them.They were also told that any supplementary questions should be relevant to the response they received from their first question. During the meeting, County Councillor Anthony Jones called a point of order and suggested that the chair was being over zealous in his dealings with the public who had come to the meeting to ask questions.

We asked Councillor Jones what prompted him to call a point of order – he told The Herald: “I have chaired meetings where the public have come in to address committees. You have to show some sympathy to those who are taking their own time to come in and articulate their views or the views of their organisation. I think there should be some leeway whilst maintaining protocol. I found them being unjustly treated. The issue is that councillors or officers who need to reply have to take the public’s comments on board.”

However, Cllr Jones continued: “If people have accusations to make, councillors have to respond to them. Some may call it preambling I have found them helpful because they provide some background. There are lessons to be learned from Wednesday. There are protocols, which need to be explained. It can’t be sanitised to the extent where they can ask a question but where people have no idea what the question is relating to.

“There has to be a bit of give and take and the council may have to revisit this part. We need to take on board that we are used to being shouted at public speaking and some of those people are not. I admire them for what they did and I would like to apologise from a personal perspective for the way they were treated. They should not have been interrupted in the way they were interrupted and it came to a head when I said enough is enough. Let’s treat these people with a bit of sympathy and let them have their say. We are there to answer them.”

County Councillor Bill Thomas who also challenged the chairman said: “The Chairman has managed to turn people of integrity who could be described as worker bees working for their community totally unpaid, intent on trying to represent their own people many of who are children for the benefit of Society, into a hornets’ nest of resentment.”

County Councillor Tegwen Devichand has also expressed her concerns saying: “Speaking as a past chair of Carmarthen County Council I was disappointed by the lack of respect shown to members of the public who attended Carmarthen County Council yesterday. After the governance review it was proposed by full council to encourage questions from the public. This was put in place so the council could be seen conducting its business in an open transparent and accountable way.

Following the meeting, Mike Bassett claimed: “We were treated unfairly, we weren’t allowed to give the reasoning behind our supplementary questions. I was ordered to sit down because my supplementary question didn’t have any relevance to my first question. I thought it did and still do think it did.”

Opinions were also exchanged on the Herald’s Facebook page between Mike Bassett and Alun Lenny. Mike Bassett commented: “The attitudes of Peter, David, Emlyn and Linda yesterday have led us to forming our own party to fight for seats in the next election. We will place a candidate in every area that has Parks, Playgrounds and Playing Fields whose existence is threatened.

The Herald contacted County Councillor Alun Lenny to get his view on the chairman’s dealings with members of the public. Councillor Lenny said: “This is a provision that has been made by the council for the public who genuinely want to ask questions not a public forum for debate.

“If people want debate then we will have to provide a different platform for that. The chair was in a difficult position because the questions were written down and the person submitting the question has to keep to what they submitted. People should make use of a democratic system, the elected members who represent their ward.

“The previous day there was a meeting about Parc Howard where interested parties go together with the leader. I have suggested that Mark Evans from UNISON that he could be invited to meet with Plaid to discuss his concerns. As an elected member I would be able to ask a question as long as I put it in beforehand. I would not be allowed to start a debate. I understand people’s frustrations because people feel strongly. They are questions and for better or for worse, that is the protocol. It is a County Council meeting not a public meeting to discuss a specific issue. There may be a need to have another meeting for that. Looking at the asset transfer the deadline is 2018 so it isn’t like anything needs to be decided this month.”

The Herald contacted Peter Hughes Griffiths to find out what his perspective was on how he dealt with the people asking the questions. The Chairman of Carmarthenshire County Council defended his handling of members of the public who asked questions at the full council meeting by saying: “They (the questioners) were aware of the protocol. I double checked that with democratic services. What it is really, it is quite simple It is the same rules for members of the council.

“If you noticed, Tegwen Devichand asked a question and she received an answer. The subsidiary question relates to the reply. Members have to confine to the rules. Members would take advantage of it if I didn’t keep a fairly tight rope on it. I have to have the same rules for members of the public.

“I am glad members of the public are coming and asking questions. The issue arose when it was clear they had prepared the question in advance but also began to make other points after having a reply. The Chief Executive clarified the rules. There is no time limit to the agenda, that was not the issue. They have to stick to the rules. The point of order is called not on what is going on but relating to the rules. I could accept that because he was referring to our rules. Bill Thomas got up and gave his views. Anybody could get up and say point of order but it must be within the confines of the rules. Anthony had a point and once he and Mark James had read out the rules we were clear on procedure.”

Speaking about the council’s efforts to embrace openness and accountability, Peter Hughes Griffiths said: “The public can speak to their elected representatives and ask them to lobby on their behalf. I think they were misplaced in what they could say and do, even though they were sent the rules in advance.

“Looking back on it I have decided that what I will do now is to meet the questioners beforehand on the day and make sure everyone understands each other so we don’t have to face that situation again. There are no specific rules regarding the member’s reply but it must be within reason. As a matter of fact, as chairman, I am reviewing that as well.”

Mr Hughes-Griffiths continued: “There were no public questions at Council meetings for years, so it is a novel situation that we have had. Where there are questions perhaps they could be addressed at a separate meeting. You could arrange a meeting with council representatives and get answers. Perhaps sometimes the reply from the member could be ‘this is my reply today but I will arrange a meeting with you and listen to you’. That might be the next step perhaps.”

Expressing his confidence in the way forward, the veteran councillor told The Herald: “We are finding our way, but we are finding the best way. We don’t want slanging matches. It doesn’t serve anyone any good. I still feel that it is important for the public to put their case to us; but I must be clear, the rules are the rules and, as Chair, I have to be strict on them.”

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Health

Werndale Hospital recognised for outstanding patient care in national award

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STAFF at Werndale Hospital near Carmarthen have been recognised for the quality of their patient care. 

The prestigious ‘Private Hospital Group of the Year’ award is presented to an organisation that has shown excellence in its delivery of care, commitment to the community and innovation within healthcare.

Werndale Hospital was also recognised for their initiatives to support staff in their career progression and wellbeing.   

The latest statistics show, 98% of patients at Werndale Hospital were satisfied with their overall level of care, 98% of patients would recommend their care to family and friends, and 98% of patients rated the nursing staff as excellent or very good. 

In addition, independent analysis of Circle hospitals’ hip and knee procedure outcomes of health improvement shows that Circle scored 8.4 versus an independent sector average of 7.8 in the hip category, and a score of 15.4 versus an independent sector average of 13.9 in the knee category.   

The award presented to Circle Health Group, owners of Werndale Hospital, in London in June, also noted the extraordinary contribution the teams at the hospital had made to the community. 

In 2021 alone, Werndale Hospital partnered with Air Ambulance Wales and raised £1,205 to support the charity’s work in the community.  

In addition to the charitable work, Werndale Hospital was recognised for it’s commitment to support staff through a series of wellbeing initiatives and career development opportunities. The judges were particularly impressed with the launch of the ‘Be Heard’ survey at the hospital.   

The survey looks to empower staff to feedback on everything from the working environment at the hospital through to their own career ambitions. Building directly on the feedback from this survey, the ‘Grow Your Own’ campaign was launched which supported staff to work towards specific qualifications from nursing degrees with partnered universities through to bespoke management programmes and MBA qualifications.   

As a direct result of this support for staff at what is a challenging time for healthcare workers, Werndale Hospital and Circle Heath Group were recognised as being a Top 20 Best Large Company to work for.   

At the heart of Werndale Hospital’s approach to treating patients is a commitment to the community they serve.  

 Paolo Pieri, CEO of Circle Health Group, said:  “The award is a testament to what an amazing year 2021 was for Werndale Hospital with considerable investment into the facilities and services on offer to patients in west Wales. I couldn’t be prouder of what our staff and doctors have achieved.”  

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News

Aberglasney Gardens delighted to win 2022 Trip advisor Travellers’ Choice Award

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ABERGLASNEY Gardens is thrilled to have been recognised by Tripadvisor as a 2022 Travellers’ Choice Award winner for being in the top 10% of attractions worldwide.

The Award recognises businesses that consistently deliver great service with the Gardens being rated ‘Excellent’ by 342 visitors.

The award celebrates businesses that have received great traveller reviews from around the globe on Tripadvisor over the last 12 months. As challenging as the past year has been, Aberglasney stood out by consistently delivering positive experiences to visitors.

Aberglasney’s Director of Operations Jim Stribling said: “We are delighted to have once again won an award from Tripadvisor. It is fantastic recognition for the team’s hard work and dedication. To rank among the top ten percent of those listed on Trip Advisor as one of the best places to visit is outstanding.

“We are grateful to all those who take the time to leave us a review after visiting. It is no cliché when I say all the team, be it in the gift shop, the gardeners, the tearooms and the administrative team, all take the reviews on board to help make a visit to Aberglasney the best possible experience for everyone.”

Tripadvisor, the world’s largest travel guidance platform, helps hundreds of millions of people each month become better travellers, from planning, to booking, to taking a trip. Travelers across the globe use the Tripadvisor site and app to discover where to stay, what to do and where to eat based on guidance from those who have been there before.

With more than 988 million reviews and opinions of nearly eight million businesses, travellers turn to Tripadvisor to find deals on accommodation, book experiences, reserve tables at restaurants and discover great places nearby.

As a travel guidance company available in 43 markets and 22 languages, Tripadvisor makes planning easy no matter the trip type.

“Congratulations to the 2022 Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice Winners,” said Kanika Soni, Chief Commercial Officer at Tripadvisor. “The Travellers’ Choice Awards recognise the best in tourism and hospitality, according to those who matter most: your guests.

“Ranking among the Travellers’ Choice winners is always tough – but never more so than this year as we emerge from the pandemic. Whether it’s using new technology, implementing safety measures, or hiring outstanding staff, I’m impressed by the steps you’ve taken to meet travellers’ new demands. You’ve adapted brilliantly in the face of adversity.”

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Education

Council’s plan to expand bilingual education will be a gradual journey over 10 years

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Carmarthenshire County Council

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.

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