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‘Illegal’ budget amendments voted down

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Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 13.31.42A YEAR ago, a coalition-led Carmarthenshire County Council voted against an alternative budget proposed by the opposition party, which aimed to avoid cuts to frontline services by taking money from specified earmarked reserves which were perceived to contain a surplus.

This year, Cllr David Jenkins was the person presenting the council’s revenue budget strategy, while former Council Leader Jeff Edmunds, who was the Executive Board member for finance in 2015, proposed the use of reserves to mitigate cuts – specifically to education.

Cllr Jenkins said that the proposed budget ‘reflected the economic climate in the country today.’

He stated that the original planning had been based around a 3.3% reduction in the Welsh Government grant, and that planning had been hampered by the lack of any medium term plan by the WG.

“Once again we only received a scheme for one year, but the expectation is that the unprecedented reduction in local authority spending will continue,” he added.

“All commentators suggest the reductions will continue – austerity will be the norm for the future.”

Cllr Jenkins said he was pleased the cuts had been less than expected, but pointed out that each percent by which the WG funding was reduced amounted to £2.5m.

He explained that certain areas were recommended for reconsideration by the Executive Board as a result. This included removing proposed reductions in flood defence spending, cleansing services and environmental enforcement, and the deferral of home to college transport charges until 2018-19. An increase to the cost of Meals on Wheels was also phased over three years, and a proposed £50,000 reduction in short breaks and respite for disabled children and young people was withdrawn.

In addition, £50,000 was made available to youth services for safeguarding work, and it was agreed that £200,000 would be used for borrowing, which would fund £2.4m of infrastructure work.

Cllr Jenkins also said that proposed cuts to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau had been withdrawn until a third sector review had been completed.

“It is important to have continuity of CAB services in the short term,” he added.

A 3.85% increase in B and D council tax was also recommended.

When introducing his proposed amendments, Labour leader Jeff Edmunds said that even in times of austerity ‘it doesn’t have to be all about cuts and reductions – we need to think outside the box.’

Introducing his amendments, Cllr Edmunds said that councillors should vote ‘with their consciences and principles.’

One of the most significant amendments suggested was the proposed ‘cuts’ to the Delegated School Budget, which he suggested be deferred for one year.

Cllr Edmunds said: “I am not prepared, and the Labour group is not prepared, to put at risk the education of our children.’ “This cut would be devastating, we should not be looking at the next election,” he added, suggesting that it would create unemployment.

“I am sure that most of you in this chamber are school governors and have been tasked and faced with these cuts and the impact it’s going to have on our children,” he added.

Cllr Edmunds also suggested that certain services, including grounds maintenance, be brought back inhouse and refigured.

“We have five grounds maintenance areas, we need this brought to one area, then economies of scale will come into play,” he added.

He also said that the workforce could be ‘upskilled’ to include tackling road repairs in winter, when the grass stopped growing.

His third proposal was that reserves should be spent in a ‘prudent’ way. Cllr Edmunds claimed that if £10m was taken from reserves, it could be spent on building 130 new council homes, using in-house staff, which would create revenue through rental.

Responding, Cllr Jenkins queried what the impact on the council tax precept would be if these plans were introduced – something Cllr Edmunds didn’t mention.

He said that as a governor of two schools, he was aware that management teams had been working in the assumption that there would be a 3.3% cut, rather than a ‘standstill’ budget, and added that the education and finance departments had been working closely with headteachers.

Cllr Jenkins also said that school budgets had been ‘protected for a number of years.’

“Between 2010 and 2017, the schools budget increased by 8% in real terms; at the same time the highways budget was reduced by 27%,” he added.

He was in ‘total disagreement’ about Cllr Edmunds’ capital plan, and in terms of grounds maintenance, pointed out that the problem had existed since the Labour/ Independent administration was in charge.

Chief executive Mark James pointed out that a ‘standstill budget’ was being proposed for education. However, this was later queried by Cllr Sian Caiach, who pointed out that it amounted to a £3.4m real-terms cut.

Cllr Alun Lenny took exception to Cllr Edmunds’ description of the capital programme as ‘vanity projects.’

“Is a new care home in Llanelli a ‘vanity project?’” he asked, before listing many of the proposed works, including the renovation of Glanamman Industrial Estate and the Carmarthen-Llandeilo cycle route.

“These are example of Carmarthenshire looking to the future,” he added.

Executive Member for Housing Councillor Linda Edwards asked how 130 homes could be created for around £75,000 each.

“It is a great pity you didn’t consider this when building bungalows in Kidwelly which cost £160,000 each, she added.

Cllr Edmunds was asked how he would fund the schools budget amendment. After suggesting that, when Expected Voluntary Redundancies (EVR) were factored in, then the savings would only amount to around £1.9m, he suggested a 10p per week band D council tax raise in addition to using some of the £7 . 5m ‘saved’ by the WG grant. He also suggested taking £0,5m out of other departments’ budgets, and suggested that saving in certain areas, including grounds maintenance, could be made this year.

He emphasised that the ‘cuts’ to the school budget were only being deferred for a year to assess how they affected education.

“At the end of the day, if all else fails, take it out of reserves –it’s a oneoff,” he added.

However, Chief Finance Officer Chris Moore said that the budget must be balanced: “ The budget must be very precise about what it contains. If we were to pass this [Cllr Edmunds’ amendments] we wouldn’t be able to come up with a balanced budget.

Mr Moore pointed out that EVR money was overspent this year, but there were no concrete figures. However, assuming that this would cost between £500,000 and £1m, this would not be nearly enough, and the council tax increase would bring another £400,000.

Mr Moore added that ‘any comment about using reserves is unsustainable on determining a medium term plan’

“There are substantial sums we couldn’t fund from balances, and at the moment you haven’t brought forward alternatives that balance, and I would not advise we support it, because it is illegal,” he added.

This echoes what was said to Cllr Jenkins in 2015, when Mr Moore said: ““the above proposal could only achieve a one-off saving, as reserves could only be applied once and would merely delay until Year 2.

“The impact of having to deliver the necessary savings required which could lead to a potential Council Tax increase in excess of 10% to achieve a balanced budget in year two.

“The Council’s Medium Term Financial Business Plan would therefore become unsustainable unless further use for the savings was identified.”

Cllr Edmunds’ amendments were defeated by 17 votes to 44, with the original budget being approved by around the same majority.

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Carmarthenshire County Council cracks down on fly-tippers

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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.

This includes:

  • £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

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Wales stands firm in support for Ukraine

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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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Carmarthenshire’s sensory garden: why locals should embrace this wellness trend

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WITH ‘#sensorygarden’ 499.1k views on TikTok – locals have the advantage of experiencing a sensory garden on their doorstep at the National Botanic Garden of Wales. Wildlife experts explain why you should visit.

Wildlife expert Sean McMenemy shares how sensory gardens can do wonders for our wellness whilst providing a safe haven for wildlife and encourages Carmarthenshire locals to visit their local sensory garden this autumn.

A sensory garden is an outdoor space that stimulates the five senses of sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste, and can be created in your own garden. Sensory gardens at home remain relatively rare, but the trend is growing with the TikTok hashtag ‘#sensorygarden’ amassing 499.1k views*. 

Carmarthenshire, dubbed the Garden of Wales, has a huge array of beautiful green spaces to explore. It’s home to the National Botanic Garden of Wales which spans a huge 568 acres, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The stunning Great Glasshouse features a sensory trail that explores the largest single-span greenhouse in the world! From fluffy flowers from South Africa to a strongly scented Australian plant, it’ll engage all your senses. 

Having recently gifted King Charles with a beautiful oak sapling, the National Botanic Garden of Wales care deeply about the nation’s natural heritage. For those visiting the garden, the paths are wheelchair accessible with manual wheelchairs available on site. Open 10am – 6pm every day of the week.

Wildlife expert and founder of bird food provider Ark Wildlife, Sean McMenemy, explains the benefits of sensory gardening: “Sensory gardens provide a great deal of physical and mental benefits for different people and purposes. From getting vitamin D from sunlight to improving physical fitness by maintaining a garden, there are several physical benefits. Mentally, you can benefit from a mood boost and relaxation by spending time surrounded by calming stimulation.

“Sensory gardens can also have huge benefits for children, older people, those with learning disabilities and those who struggle with their physical and mental health. You can also create a sensory garden for your pets and garden wildlife!”

Top tips for creating your own sensory garden

If you do have the outdoor space, creating your own sensory garden is therapeutic in itself and doesn’t need to be a complicated process. The most important thing is to ensure that the garden engages all five senses. 

Melody Estes, landscape design gardening supervisor, says: “Whether you’re new to gardening or a seasoned pro, you can always improve your garden by adding some sensory elements.” 

Here are some tips from Melody for creating a sensory garden:

Sight – Plant colourful flowers that change with the seasons.

Sound – If you have a fountain or water feature on your property, consider adding some relaxing music to play alongside it. You could also place chimes near your front door to welcome people in.

Smell – Use scent. Consider planting scented flowers or herbs like lavender, rosemary and thyme that will give off a lovely aroma when they bloom.

Touch – Mix textures. The texture of plants can be as important as their colour and shape. Try using plants with soft leaves like ferns or grasses that are texturally different.

Taste – Planting herbs, fruits and vegetables not only provide tasty treats, but is a sustainable source of food.

Sean McMenemy adds: “Sensory gardens are an easy way to engage with wildlife and the outdoor environment. Growing your own plants and vegetables provides countless ways to learn about the natural world.

“You can bring your sensory garden to life by using bird feeders to attract beautiful feathered friends into your garden. They’ll bring the sound element to your sensory garden naturally. Fragrant flowers will attract colourful butterflies and other pollinators to your garden, giving you something to observe whilst helping nature to thrive.”

Some people may not have the time, money or space to create their own sensory garden. However, those with balconies and window ledges can still plant colourful, sweet-smelling flowers and edible plants. This mini sensory garden can still provide the benefits and satisfaction of an outdoor garden.

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