AT AUDIT Committee on Tuesday (March 22), County Councillor Bill Thomas said that the report on leisure the Audit Committee were being presented was very small, but that the issues were large.
Expressing dissatisfaction with the report’s brevity and lack of detail, Cllr Thomas asked point blank: “Is there any fraud involved?”
Councillor Thomas continued by enquiring what the precise ‘historic issues’ referred to in the report and asked whether there was any evidence of either maladministration of mismanagement.
Councillor Thomas also wanted to know if senior management had been aware of the issues in the report and, if so, for how long they had been aware.
Councillor Thomas pressed on with his questions asking officers: “How did you find out about these issues?”
Suggesting that the review was not the end of the matter, he observed: “This needs to be referred somewhere to be investigated. What has happened to raise these issues? Has it lost us any money and can we recover that money?”
Decrying the lack of detail in the report before the Audit Committee, Cllr Thomas suggested: “If we don’t know what has been happening we don’t have a chance. Within this report it indicates there are problems. Who is going to investigate after all this has been identified? It needs to be looked at by a third party and we demonstrate we are looking after public money and not paper over the cracks.”
Sir David Lewis observed: “The report states the obvious. What we need is an action plan. It is unhelpful to have a report structured in this way. Should something happen we would be dead in the water.”
County Councillor John James expressed strong misgivings: “The report is vague. It tells us what is wrong. What worries me is the mismanagement and the health and safety risks.”
Concerned about what even the puny report before the Committee revealed, Cllr Emlyn Williams asked: “If it is not fraud it is a total lack of system, is that what you are telling us?”
Executive Board member Hazel Evans also wanted answers: “It is a shame continuing issues come up. What has been put in place?”
Responding to questions Ian Jones, Director of Leisure and Regeneration, and Phil Sexton expressly denied that any fraud had taken place.
Mr Jones told the committee that, following the departure of the previous Director (David Gilbert OBE, who is now a member of the Swansea Bay City Region Board), staff had been asked to look at a number of issues. However, Mr Jones failed to expressly identify what those issues were or how they had arisen in the first place.
Mr Jones went on to claim that what the report had picked up on were ‘exceptions’ and that whatever the ‘historic issues’ were, they were not the norm across all sites.
The Director of Leisure and Regeneration claimed that the authority was a victim of its own success and change within his department. He cited challenges the authority had faced with staff leaving and with unidentified and unexplained ‘complicated Human Resource issues’.
Mr Jones said that areas needed to be strengthened and improved, while failing to identify why improvement was required, or at least how the circumstances giving rise to improvement’ necessity had arisen.
Phil Sexton, the council’s head of audit, risk and procurement said: “It was made clear to the Audit Committee that no fraud had been identified. In terms of the review of the leisure facilities at Pembrey Country Park and the Millennium Coastal Park, which had been undertaken at the request of the Director of Communities, the committee was made aware that the weaknesses identified were being addressed and officers would continue to work closely with the audit section.
“Members were advised that an Action Plan was being prepared in respect of the issues in question and it was agreed that this should be brought to the committee at its next meeting. It was then resolved by the committee that, for monitoring purposes, an Action Plan be submitted to the next meeting detailing as to how the concerns raised following the review of the leisure facilities at Pembrey Country Park and the Millennium Coastal Park would be addressed.”
Speaking to Herald reporter Alan Evans, the Executive Board Member for Finance, Cllr Dai Jenkins, said: “The audit committee have done their work and there is going to be an action plan to look into it further. If the allegations are as bad as they seem to be and are found to be true and if there are loopholes in the system they will be removed. The audit committee is only a tool of the full council as are all scrutiny committees.
“There is no hiding place. I don’t see any way shape or form that there can be a cover up. We will look at the review in full detail and report to full council accordingly.”
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.
Carmarthenshire’s sensory garden: why locals should embrace this wellness trend
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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