Thursday, 26 March 2009

Confusion over play equipment

There is a lack of adequate facilities for children in the Llwynhendy area, and the situation is exacerbated by a lack of communication between the company responsible for the Pemberton development and the county council, according to local Plaid councillor, Meilyr Hughes. There was a skateboard ramp and seats on the site prior to the development, but they have been removed and not replaced despite over twelve months having passed.

Cllr Hughes has been trying to get to the bottom of the matter for some time, and said this week, “We are getting two very different stories here, and it’s hard to know what is or is not true. Costain say that they removed the equipment at the request of the county council, and put it to one side for the county to collect. The county council took almost a year to come and collect it, and then took only the skateboard ramp, and left the seating behind.

“However, according to the council, the developer refused to release the equipment to the county council. These two stories cannot both be true, but the result is that both parties seem to be saying that the other is responsible and should pay compensation or provide new equipment.”

Cllr Hughes said that, in reality, his main concern was not about who was or was not telling the truth, but about getting proper equipment provided for the children in the area. “It’s the children who are losing out,” he said. “It’s all very well for the adults to have an argument about this, but it’s the children of the area who’ve lost the facility, and been without it for over a year. I will continue to press for a resolution to the problem.”

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

London rule stops housebuilding

Welsh councils are efffectively being prevented from building new council houses by rules imposed by the Treasury in London, according to Plaid Cymru. And Plaid Councillors in Carmarthenshire are calling for a change in policy so that councils can start building houses again. Cllr John Edwards, Plaid's Housing spokesman on the council, said, "The rules applying to councils and housing associations are quite different. The effect is that it is more cost-effective to give social housing grants to housing associations than to give them to councils, and this deters councils from building houses.

"The Prime Minister has recently spoken about encouraging councils to build more new houses, and I would welcome that. It would help us to meet local housing needs and provide a boost to the local economy. But, at this stage, it's the rules laid down by his government which prevent that from happening. And we know who was Chancellor of the Exchequer for most of the past 12 years."

Monday, 16 March 2009

Plaid launch counter proposals

Plaid Cymru's councillors in Carmarthenshire have published their response to the county council's proposals for reform of secondary education in the county. The group's leader, Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, said that he had formally submitted a copy of the group's comments to the Director of Education. In a comprehensive rejection of the county council's approach, the Plaid group have called for an immediate halt to what they describe as a 'fundamentally flawed' process.

Cllr Hughes Griffiths said, "The council seem determined to proceed full pelt with a scheme which ignores key elements of the advice which the Assembly Government have given them. Specifically, they have been asked for a scheme for the whole county, yet have prepared a scheme for only part of the county; they have been asked to consider possible cross-border arrangements and have chosen not to do so; and they have been asked to consider all potential partners, such as Coleg Sir Gâr, but again, have chosen not to do so. As if that was not enough, they have ignored their own scheme for Welsh medium education, have refused to waith until the Assembly Government's own proposals on Welsh medium education are published, and have even refused to carry out a survey to assess the true level of demand for Welsh-medium education.

"All in all, the result is that their proposals are rushed, badly thought through, and seriously defective. They have caused a great deal of unnecessary concern throughout the area affected, and include a series of proposals with which many parents are deeply unhappy. We cannot support these proposals as they stand and have urged the county council to halt the process now, and draw up a comprehensive plan, on the basis of a meaningful level of consultation with all parties.

"It is completely unacceptable to leave an area such as Llandovery as some sort of 'educational desert' at secondary level, as the county seems to be planning. And leaving the whole of the Dinefwr area with no Welsh-medium provision at secondary level is to ignore the linguistic character and history of the area. Even when they plan to protect and expand Welsh-medium provision, such as in Cwm Gwendraeth, their plan fails to address the issues which arise from attempting to accommodate the hundreds of children currently receiving a wholly or predominantly English-medium education in the area. They have managed to get to a situation where, by trying to rush things through, they have pleased almost nobody."

The Plaid councillors held their own, highly successful, series of consultation meetings on the issue. "We didn't go into those meetings," said Cllr Hughes Griffiths, "the way the county council went into theirs, with a series of options which limited the discussion. We went in with a blank sheet of paper; we went to listen, not to tell. We found people were open and ready to debate, but what they do not like is having what looks like a fait accompli foisted on them by the council. Even at this stage, we are urging the council to think again, and produce a plan which addresses all the issues in the whole of the county, not just some in a part."

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Call for urgent action over sunbeds

"Sunbeds should be removed immediately from Carmarthenshire County Council's Leisure Centres", said one councillor this week. Cllr Gareth Jones, Plaid Cymru spokesman on Leisure on the council, said he was extremely concerned to learn that Carmarthenshire was now one of only four councils in the whole of Wales which was continuing to operate sunbeds, despite recent incidents highlighting the dangers.

The county council has said that the beds will be removed in the next financial year, but this is not good enough, according to Cllr Jones. "There is a proven danger from the use of these beds, as a recent horrific incident in Barry showed. I want the council to cease operating the beds immediately, and have also asked for a report on this at the next meeting of the Scrutiny Committee."

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Plaid oppose tax rise

At last week's meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council, the Plaid Cymru group attempted to reverse the inflation-busting rise in council tax which was proposed by the ruling coalition between the Labour Party and the Independent Party. The coalition is proposing a 3.3% increase in council tax for the coming year, despite the fact that inflation is forecast to fall to zero, or even lower, over the next year.

Plaid's Group Leader, Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, said, "The economic situation in which we find ourselves is wholly exceptional. It appears that it isn't just a recession of the type we see periodically, but something much worse. At this stage, no-one seems to know how deep it will be, nor how long it will last. In such a situation, it is right and proper that the council should act in a wholly exceptional fashion in order to respond to the crisis, and for that reason, I and my group argued that we should be aiming, for this year at least, to keep the increase as close to zero percent as possible. We put forward a number of suggestions as to how that might be achieved, but unfortunately, the ruling coalition was unwilling to listen to our arguments."

One suggestion put forward by the group was that the council should take account of the £1.9million extra grant which is expected from the Assembly Government. Cllr Gwyneth Thomas said, "The Council has been notified that it will receive an extra grant from the Assembly Government, but has chosen to ignore this money completely in preparing its budgets. There are certain conditions which will need to be met before the council can receive the whole of the grant, and there may be some small costs involved in meeting those conditions. But I am confident that most of the money will be available to the council - and even if they only counted half of it, they'd have enough for a significant reduction in the planned rise. Instead, it seems that they plan to simply ignore this money, and ask the council tax payers to pay extra."

Cllr David Jenkins drew attention to the council's dramatic success in recent years in making savings on its costs of purchasing goods and services. He pointed out that the council had achieved the targets it set for itself well ahead of target, and was still achieving further savings. Cllr Jenkins said, "These extra savings are not included in the budgets put before us, yet the council knows that it will be achieving these further savings. These savings should be passed on to the public in the form of lower council tax, this year of all years. Costs are likely to continue to fall over the coming year, yet the council's budget seems to ignore that fact in order to justify an excessive increase in council tax."

The group made a last minute appeal to the council's Executive Board to think again about its proposals, and to take into account the points which had been made by Plaid's councillors. Cllr Hughes Griffiths said after the meeting, "I felt that we put forward a reasoned and sensible argument to the council, but Labour and Independent Party members chose to ignore the points which we were making. It was clear from some of the comments of members of the ruling coalition that their minds have been made up, and that they simply do not understand the financial pressures which will be faced by ordinary people over the coming year."

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Lack of Democracy

Carmarthenshire County Council has been accused of acting undemocratically by a Plaid member of the Council after the Executive Board ignored a request for further information by one of its Scrutiny Committees. The Council's Cabinet proposed to close the restaurant in County Hall because of the level of losses which it was making. When the issue was discussed by Scrutiny Committee, the Committee decided to request more information first on possible alternative courses of action, such as better publicity for the service.

Cllr Gwyneth Thomas said, "There was a clear majority in the Scrutiny Committee for a delay whilst alternatives were considered. But after the meeting, it was discovered that, without waiting for any comment from Scrutiny or anyone else, the Council's Executive Board had already rushed out redundancy notices to the staff. This undemocratic approach undermines the scrutiny process, and highlights how the Council's ruling Labour/Independent Party coalition believe that they can ride roughshod over any opposition to their plans."

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Jobs should be here first

Concern was expressed by Plaid Cllr Mari Dafis at a meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council about the government’s strategy for putting people on training programmes. Cllr Dafis felt that if we didn’t know which jobs were coming and when, there was a danger that we would either provide the wrong training, or else that the training would be out of date before it could be put into practice.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Dafis said, “I very much welcome the government’s expansion of the Modern Apprenticeships Scheme for instance, and I am delighted that the county council is endeavouring to make more use of it. But unless we know that there are going to be permanent jobs available at the end of this sort of scheme, there is a danger that the schemes just hide the true extent of unemployment.

“For the young people concerned, it can be very frustrating spending time learning skills which they are never able to apply. It’s almost as bad when they complete their training and then find that it’s so long before they get a job that the training is out of date, and further training is needed.”