Thursday, 18 December 2008

More than a meeting place

“Small rural schools are much more than just meeting places to their local communities,” according to Cllr Eirwyn Williams. Cllr Williams, Plaid’s Education spokesperson on Carmarthenshire County Council, was responding to a report by a committee of the National Assembly. “They fulfil a much more important function than that, and are often right at the centre of community activity.”

In publishing the report of his committee, the Labour AM who chairs it had said that some campaigners were trying to keep schools open just so that communities had somewhere to meet, but Cllr Williams said that this was a very serious misrepresentation of the concerns of local communities and indicated that the Labour AM was out of touch with rural Wales.

However, there were some key points in the report which made a lot of sense, according to Cllr Williams. “The report makes it very clear that each school should be looked at entirely on its merits,” said Cllr Williams. “This is exactly the point that we as a Plaid group have been making in Carmarthenshire in recent months. The Labour/Independent Party coalition are following a centralising agenda driven by an overall central plan – they are neither considering nor responding to local needs and concerns, and they are certainly not considering each school on its merits.

“In the light of this latest report, the council should think again.”

Monday, 8 December 2008

Council not responding to demand for Welsh medium education

In the November meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council, Plaid councillors from the Llanelli area launched a strong attack on the county council’s Executive Board for not doing enough to meet the demand for Welsh-medium education in the Llanelli area.

Cllr Huw Lewis said, “There is a serious crisis in Welsh medium education in the Llanelli area. Children are not getting the education that their parents want for them, and are having to appeal regularly against the education department’s decisions. I know that the capacity is being increased, but it not increasing fast enough to meet the ever-growing demand.

“Looking ahead to next September, Ysgol Dewi Sant has already received 128 applications for only 60 places. The situation is becoming critical, and parents requesting Welsh-medium education for their children are just not getting fair play. It is completely wrong that parents have no difficulty at all securing a place in English-medium education, but have to fight every step of the way for Welsh-medium places. That is not what a bilingual policy should mean.”

His call for urgent action was supported by Cllr Gwyn Hopkins, who drew attention to the low proportion of children receiving Welsh-medium education in Llanelli, compared to the rest of the county. “In Llanelli area,” he said, “only some 25% of the children are receiving Welsh-medium education, compared to 60% in the rest of the county. That statistic highlights the huge discrepancy in the provision being made by the council, and underlines the need to treat Llanelli as a special case.

“The policy adopted by the council a few years ago is being overtaken by events as the demand grows much faster than expected, and that means that the plans currently being implemented by the council are a case of too little too late.

“In Llangennech alone, where there are separate English and Welsh streams we are seeing continuous growth in the Welsh stream and a continuous fall in the English stream. The council must respond to the demand more quickly than is happening at the moment, and that means, at an absolute minimum, planning for a complete new school over and above everything else which is being done.”

Friday, 28 November 2008

No new parking charges!

The county council is proposing to introduce charges for on-street parking in Lammas Street in Carmarthen. I and my fellow Plaid Councillors have already resolved to fight the proposal, which will remove any opportunity for people to park free of charge in the town when on a quick visit.

Lammas Street offers only limited parking, but it is the only place that people can park free of charge when they have a specific need requiring a short visit to the town centre. Introducing charges will either increase the cost of such visits or else deter people from making them. In the current economic climate, we should not be doing anything which either places unnecessary additional charges on households or threatens the income of local businesses.

We believe that the existing system of limited period free parking works well and should be continued. One of the biggest problems at present is with people 'double-parking' - that is likely to increase under the council's proposals as people seek to avoid paying the charge.

Cllr Arwel Lloyd, Carmarthen Town South

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Support for Gelli Onn Businesses

I am deeply concerned for the business people in Lliedi Ward who have been subjected to a substantial loss as a result of the work at Gelli Onn - especially at Thomas Street.

The impact of the Gelli Onn development has resulted in unexpected and unprecedented difficulties along with financial loss to these traders. It has resulted in potential customers following two other routes into the town avoiding Thomas Street and these routes continue to be used following completion of the work.

Part of the reason is the narrower pavement which again adds to the difficulty of unloading - especially of glass- and I am told that when a business complained of this difficulty they were threatened with parking prohibition!

In view of the financial loss I believe that the County Council has a moral responsibility and a duty of care to recompense these businesses and provide all the support possible to enable them to continue trading.

I have therefore appealed to the Chief Executive - along with the Council Leader, legal and financial Heads - to meet with these people to discuss their needs and explore every possible avenue of support available. These measures may well require the Authority to go beyond statutory requirements, but it is our duty of care to respond sympathetically and effectively with discretionary payments and measures that will revive the small local businesses which are the backbone of our economy.

They need to be heard, and the Authority, through its' officials, should listen. I have suggested that a meeting be arranged with these ends in view as soon as possible.

Cllr Huw Lewis, Lliedi

Monday, 17 November 2008

Who's running the council?

In theory at least, Carmarthenshire County Council is run by the councillors who sit on the Executive Board. But I sometimes wonder.

Take the latest meeting of the full council as an example. One of the most significant items on the agenda was a report on the follow-up inspection of the county’s Social Services. The report was a good one, showing a lot of progress has been made since the last inspection, although in the area of Adult Services in particular, the council was starting from quite a low base, having had a less than glowing report in the past.

The report was introduced by Executive Board member, Labour Cllr Kevin Madge. After a few generalities about how wonderful the council was and how much good work had been done, he sat down, and members were given the opportunity to raise questions.

Four Plaid councillors raised a series of questions on different aspects of the report. One would have expected the Executive Board member to have responded to those questions – after all, he is the person who is responsible and accountable for the what the council does; to say nothing of receiving a special responsibility allowance for doing so. Not a hope.

Each and every question was answered by someone else, mostly by the Director, with the assistance of the Chief Executive and the Council’s Leader, although her main contribution was no more than a bit of political point scoring, trying to shift the blame on to the Labour Minister in the Assembly Government. Only at the very end, when it was time to close the debate, did the councillor actually say anything further – and then, it was another attempt to blame the Plaid Cymru opposition councillors for a decision of a Labour Assembly Minister.

It seems that Cllr Madge is responsible in name, but is either unwilling or unable to respond to any detailed questions on the services for which he is responsible. Or perhaps the Leader is just afraid that he might give the ‘wrong’ answer?

Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, Group Leader

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Labour Leader attacks Labour Minister

In yesterday's meeting of the full council, the leader of the Labour group strongly attacked the actions of the Labour Minister for Local Government in the Assembly Government. He complained bitterly about the way in which the Assembly Government has imposed a 1% cut on all council budgets, insisting that the councils can make efficiency savings to at least this level.

Later during the meeting, the Leader of the Council, Meryl Gravell, a member of the Independent Party on the council, joined in the attack, claiming that the Labour Health Minister had been slow to release extra funds for the council's programme to tackle Delayed Transfers of Care (bed-blocking).

The interesting aspect of this was that, in attacking the decisions of Labour ministers, both leaders seem to think that Plaid Cymru AMs are in some way responsible for the decisions! It shows a remarkable lack of understanding about the difference between the Assembly and the Assembly Government - a lack of understanding that runs through much of what both leaders have to say on a range of issues.

Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, leader of the Plaid Group, has now asked one of Plaid's local Assembly Members to press the ministers concerned to answer the complaints which the Labour and Independent party leaders have doubtlessly submitted.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Letter to the Executive Board

I have been asked by the Plaid Cymru Carmarthenshire County Councillors to write to you on an increasingly pressing matter. The current economic crisis looks as though it will get worse before it gets better. World food prices are rising. There is concern about food miles. People wish to eat healthier food and many would like the opportunity to grow their own.

We strongly support the provision of allotments and other means to release land to allow many more Carmarthenshire residents to grow their own food. There is increasing interest and demand. Provision of traditional allotments and other plots should be encouraged, from new allotments to temporary land use agreements and garden share agreements. We are fortunate in Carmarthenshire that we are not short of fertile land . We feel that the County should take the lead in facilitating this self -sufficiency demand by giving advice and encouragement.

All aspects, from the provision of suitable land for permanent allotments, the legal advice for public and private landlords to lease land under short-term contact, liaison with allotment societies and gardening associations , garden -share arrangements where unused garden space can be lent or leased to others, and education for all in the cultivation of food crops suitable to the Carmarthenshire climate. Advice on small scale livestock husbandry may also be appropriate.

We affirm that the growing of food by individual citizens is already an important and healthy pastime for many. However, few have sufficient plots to grow enough vegetables to meet a significant amount of their families’ needs. Others need education on how to grow food and many need encouragement and help to find suitable land management schemes to address the demand.

May I request that yourself and the Executive Board consider this issue and the many aspects in which we can help this movement. We can not only assist in identifying the current scale of demand but and provide land where appropriate but also, by facilitating the short term use of private and public land , a developers’ land bank, an area we own and might someday develop , to a neglected garden on a council estate or a resident who wishes to lease part of their garden to help others grow food, all of these sources should be considered.

Cllr Siân Caiach

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Devolve Policing Now!

I went to the quarterly meeting of the Police Authorities of Wales (PAW) on 17th October where we received a detailed report, written by the Chief Executive of PAW, about the Government’s Green Paper on the future of Police Authorities.

It was quite obvious to me, and I think to most people there, that the London government – and in particular the Home Office – goes about its business pretending that Wales doesn’t exist. They even imply that the police services in Wales should be delivering services from a fund that is only available in England. Moreover, there’s no Welsh input at all regarding this funding because the Welsh Local Government Association is not invited to discussions about it.

There is a growing frustration with the way in which the differences between Wales and England are ignored by the Home Office, so much so that the report contained the statement: ‘The Home Office is not seen to respect diversity in Wales and is actively seen to undermine devolution’.

I know that I’m not the only one who came to the conclusion that responsibility for policing in Wales should be passed to the Assembly as soon as possible. After all, the governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland – and even those of the tiny states of Jersey, Guernsey and The Isle of Man – all run their own police services, so what possible justification could there be for Wales being denied this responsibility?

Cllr Gwyn Hopkins, Llangennech

Call for review of funding decisions

Two Plaid Cymru members of Carmarthenshire County Council have written to all members of the Council’s Executive Board urging them to abide by promises previously given about the funding of a school. Ysgol Carreg Hirfaen, which is dispersed over three sites at Cwm-ann, Ffarmers and Llanycrwys, has been left with little choice but to propose closure of two of the sites following the county council’s decision to over-ride promises given previously. The letter has been sent by Cllrs Eirwyn Williams and Fiona Hughes.

Cllr Eirwyn Williams, whose ward covers both Ffarmers and Llanycrwys, said, “When the schools were federated in 2000, the National Assembly gave a clear commitment that the school would continue to be treated as three schools for the purposes of the funding formula. Had it not been for this clear promise, the governing bodies would never have agreed to form the federation, since it was clear that the funding would be inadequate.

“Further, the county council decided to protect the salaries of the headteachers, and committed to funding that additional cost. The recent changes to the way the county council funds schools are effectively tearing up the promises given, and we are therefore calling on the Executive Board to reverse its decisions”

Cllr Williams added, “The Council has a policy of reducing the numbers of children taught in temporary accommodation. Yet, the result of their decisions in this case will be to close two permanent buildings and move the children into temporary buildings at the site of the third school. This is directly contrary to the council’s own policy, and is surely a good reason for making an exception to the new funding rules. The children should be allowed to continue to study in their current buildings.”

Monday, 20 October 2008

Concerns over Marine Life in Burry Estuary

Serious concerns have been expressed about water quality in the Carmarthen Bay area by a number of Plaid councillors in Carmarthenshire. Cllr Siân Caiach said, “There has been a lot of public mention of the effect on the cockle beds, but what has become clear is that there is a range of other marine life in the estuary which is also suffering adverse effects. Sand eels, lugworms and wading birds such as oystercatchers which feed on sand-dwelling animals are also suffering, in addition to there having been large scale mortality amongst the cockles.

“A range of specific pollutants has been identified which are causing the problems, but it is quite clear now that the fundamental problem is with discharges of raw or even treated sewage. The sewage system in the area is wholly inadequate to deal with our needs and must be upgraded as a matter of urgency.”

Cllr Winston Lemon, who has also been actively progressing the issue, added, “When I attended a recent meeting of the Llanelli Flood Forum, I was astounded to hear that we don’t even know precisely where the sewerage and land drains are running, or where they are convergent. Without this information, it is hard to see how any really meaningful action can be taken to address the problem.”

Both councillors expressed concerns about the way development was continuing without addressing the issue. Cllr Caiach said, “We have a really serious problem here which seems not to be being properly addressed. Yet, while we know we have a problem, and we know it isn’t being corrected, we are continuing to allow new developments, not just in Carmarthenshire, but also in Swansea, all of which are going to make the problem worse.”

The councillors have been working closely with local AM Helen Mary Jones, who has urged the Environment Minister in the One Wales government to arrange for an investigation by an independent body.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Call over allotments

I've had a number of approaches from people asking about the possibility of having an allotment in the area. With the rising price of food and increasing concern about food miles, more and more people seem to be developing an interest in growing their own food. I think that the county council should be willing to respond to the demand, but as a first step, I want to assess the level of demand.

Providing allotments is a simple way of helping people to grow their own healthy food, and reduce the county's carbon footprint. It also helps keep people active and healthy undertaking simple enjoyable physical exercise. But we do need to assess the level of demand properly.

I am co-ordinating this campaign on behalf of Plaid in the county - anyone who would be interested in having an allotment is urged to contact me on: 01554 741461 or via e-mail at

Cllr Siân Caiach, Hengoed

County gets highest settlement

Everyone knew that this year’s settlement was going to be a difficult one for all councils in Wales. But the figures announced by the One Wales government this week give Carmarthenshire an extra 4.2% - the highest of any council in Wales, and well above the all-Wales average of 2.9%.

With inflation figures reaching 5.2% this week, it is of course less than ideal, but no-one expected a particularly generous settlement this year. Given the comparatively high level of the award to Carmarthenshire, we expect the Labour / Independent Party coalition running the county council to be able to concentrate its attention on safeguarding the county’s services, rather than complaining about the level of the settlement.

Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, Group Leader

Monday, 13 October 2008

Dismay over Hendy Pool Decision

The announcement that Hendy Pool is to finally close has been greeted with dismay by Plaid Cymru in Carmarthenshire. Deputy Leader of Plaid’s group on the county council, Cllr Dyfrig Thomas said, “Former Plaid Councillor for Hendy, WIB James, fought over many years to keep this pool open, and it is a great pity that the county council has now decided that it should close.

“I am particularly concerned that, yet again, the council has taken this important decision so undemocratically. This isn’t a decision taken by the full council, or even by a committee – it’s a decision taken by a single councillor as a member of the Executive Board. It underlines once more the need to re-democratise Carmarthenshire.”

Plaid’s parliamentary candidate for Llanelli, Myfanwy Davies, added, “I’ve been knocking doors in Hendy recently and many people are concerned and disappointed that the decision on developing Hendy park was made by a single councillor behind closed doors.

“I have previously attended presentations and exhibitions of the developers’ potential plans for the park and I find it astonishing that having spent considerable amounts of money on presenting options for the park, the council did not see fit to discuss the plans in full council and subject them to a vote. Re-opening the pool would have been a difficult decision to make given health and safety concerns, but the people of Hendy deserve better than this secretive and arrogant attitude on the part of the Labour-Independent group.”

Monday, 6 October 2008

Federating rural schools

The Assembly government has recently produced new proposals which will allow rural schools to join together rather than facing closure. I'm sure that many parents and governors will be pleased to hear that there is, after all, a viable alternative to the policy of Carmarthenshire County Council, which has been to try and close many of these schools.

We need to persuade the majority who currently control the county council (Independent Party and Labour Party councillors), that they should be willing to change their approach. The county council knew that this new advice was about to be published, but has refused to halt the closure programme in order to consider it.

I hope that parents and governors, in schools across the county, will now start to make use of the new power that the One Wales government is planning to give them from early next year to insist that the county council gives proper consideration to the other alternatives. I and my fellow Plaid councillors will be happy to work with parents and governors to ensure that the pattern of schools in the county matches the needs of communities.

Cllr Fiona Hughes, Llanybydder