Friday, 30 October 2009

Welcome for gas project

The plans to extend the supply of mains gas into Upper Brynaman have been welcomed by local Plaid county councillor, Helen Wyn. Carmarthenshire County Council have agreed to support a scheme which will not only extend the gas main into the area, but will also include an energy efficiency programme for the area.

Cllr Wyn said, "People in the area have to date been limited in their choice of fuel to oil and solid fuel, both of which are less convenient and frequently more expensive than gas. A scheme which not only brings mains gas into the area, but also helps people to make the most efficient use of energy will be a huge step forward in terms of providing affordable heating to the community. Fuel poverty - where people spend more than 10% of their income on fuel - is a real issue for many, and I am delighted that there is a serious proposal to start to tackle the issue.

“It is important though that we do not stop at Upper Brynaman. There are other areas in my ward which would also like to have the benefit of mains gas, and I will do whatever I can to ensure that further improvements are made to the network."

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Major concerns over business tax

Plaid Cymru have called for a major re-think about the ways in which businesses are assessed for tax, following reports that many businesses are facing serious financial problems.

John Dixon, Plaid’s parliamentary candidate for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, said this week, “One of the biggest expenses faced by many town centre businesses is the rates bill. This is a particularly unfair form of taxation, since the level of charge bears no relationship to the profitability of the business.

“This means that two very similar businesses in similar locations will pay similar levels of rates – even if one of them is making a good profit and the other is making a loss. This can be the final straw for some businesses, and the economic recession is not helping. The tax also provides a direct disincentive to businesses who want to improve or extend their premises to improve their services to customers. Any business that does so will find that they are liable to get hit with an even bigger rates bill as a result. It is time for us to abolish this tax and replace it with a fairer tax which is related to the profits made by the business.”

The call was backed by one of the party’s councillors in Carmarthen Town. Cllr Alan Speake said, “I’ve been speaking to a number of business people in the centre of Carmarthen. They are telling me that they are having great difficulty in keeping their heads above water. The current town centre redevelopment isn’t helping either – many businesses are telling me that their takings have been down since St Catherine Street was closed and traffic into and out of town has got worse. They are worried that some customers may not return at all when the road re-opens.”

Plaid’s group leader on the county council, Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, said that he had written to the council’s executive board asking them whether there was any way that they could give some temporary exceptional rate relief to town centre businesses. He said, “We all know that things have been particularly difficult during the current redevelopment programme, and I think that it would be helpful if the council could consider any possible way of helping. After all, if businesses close, we’ll get no rates at all from them – it’s surely better to try and lower their costs and keep the businesses for the long term than to continue as things are and perhaps risk losing much more income.”

Sunday, 25 October 2009

More Essex than Carmarthen

The programme of events organised by Carmarthenshire County Council to celebrate the re-opening of Carmarthen’s Lyric Theatre is more suited to Essex than to Carmarthen, according to Plaid’s leader on the council, Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths. The Theatre has been closed for six months during which time a substantial investment of funds has seen it re-furbished. The public and backstage facilities have been improved and upgraded, and the Theatre is a centrepiece for performing arts in the county.

Cllr Hughes Griffiths said, “I am delighted that the theatre is to re-open, and was very pleased at the level of investment which has been put into the improvements. The whole of the town has been looking forward to the re-opening, and I was expecting an exciting programme of events to mark the occasion. We have a wealth of talent in the county, able to perform in both languages, yet that talent has been completely ignored, and the programme of events is one which could have been arranged in any English town. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, which has any Welsh or local feel to it, and I am amazed and shocked that the county council could have thought for one second that the series of events was in any way appropriate.

“Instead of celebrating local talent and Welsh talent in general, what do we have? A screening of Rocky, a silent movie from 1923, and a trio of Scottish tenors! Of course there is a place for all of these events and others like them in a year long programme for a top-class venue such as the Lyric – but as a celebration of a re-opening? Of course not. Even had they ensured that one event of the three had a local or Welsh flavour to it, it would have been an improvement. I simply cannot understand how anyone could have thought that this was an appropriate or sensible way of marking the re-opening.”

Monday, 19 October 2009

Call for full disclosure over TV costs

Plaid Cymru leaders in Carmarthenshire have called for a full disclosure of all likely costs of the TV channel which the county council and other public bodies locally are proposing to launch. Plaid’s leader, Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, said, “The more questions we ask, the less clear things seem to become. We know that the council has agreed to provide up to £30,000 and that the Local Services Board has agreed to pay a further £10,000, but it seems that a number of other public bodies have also been approached for contributions.

“This is a completely unacceptable way of proceeding. Each of the public bodies concerned is being asked to contribute a sum of money, but none of them seems to know the total cost of the project. Clearly, the final cost will depend on a proper competitive tendering process, but it really does seem to me as though decisions are being made ‘in the dark’. I think that the public should at least know which public bodies have been approached and how much each has been asked for – and ideally, we should all have at least some idea of the final total cost. I am seriously concerned about the possibility that the final cost will end up being very much larger than any of the individual contributors initially realised.”

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Last week for Lammas Street Petition

As the period for signing Plaid’s petition against the introduction of parking meters in Lammas Street comes to an end, the party set up a stall in the centre of Carmarthen last week to enable even more members of the public to support the campaign.

Cllr Arwel Lloyd, who has been leading the campaign, was supported by Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths and Plaid’s parliamentary candidate, John Dixon. Cllr Lloyd said, “We have had tremendous support for this campaign, with most of those people to whom we have spoken being only too willing to sign our petition. The petition is also available in a number of shops in Lammas Street itself. We will be closing the petition in another week so that it can be presented to the council – I’d urge anyone who wants to sign it to do so in one of the shops most affected by the proposal, or to contact me direct.”

Introducing charges for parking in Lammas Street would be a serious blow to business in Carmarthen Town Centre, according to John Dixon. He said, “At a time of recession, many businesses are already suffering severely. The last thing they need is another deterrent to people using local shops. We know from what local traders tell us that large numbers of people use the free short term parking in Lammas Street to make a quick visit to just one or two shops at a time – this sort of trade is likely to be eliminated completely by the council’s proposals. We need thriving vibrant town centres, but the council seems to be willing to sacrifice some of the town’s businesses in exchange for the fees which it will collect for parking.”

Last year, Plaid councillors succeeded in persuading the council to delay the introduction of charges for one year, but warned at the time that winning a delay was not the same as preventing the scheme completely. Plaid’s leader on Carmarthenshire county council, Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, said, “The one year’s stay of execution will soon come to an end, and it is vital that we all put as much pressure as possible on the county to abandon these ill-thought out plans. We will shortly be presenting the completed petition to the council, but we would also urge people from the town to express their views by writing to the council. It will be too late to speak up once the plan has been implemented.”

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Bus company under fire

It has emerged this week that First Cymru buses are pulling out from the provision of a number of services in Carmarthenshire. The company has the contract from Carmarthenshire County Council following a tender process, but are now saying that they are withdrawing from the contract, and that the council will have to make other arrangements with another company.

Among the services affected by the company’s decision is the service to Glynderi, Tanerdy. Ward Cllr, Peter Hughes Griffiths has expressed his dismay at the situation.

“The county council’s officers are working to try and find another company willing to take over the contract,” said Cllr Hughes Griffiths. “I know that people who have difficulty getting out have come to rely on this service and others like it, and I very much hope that the council will be able to find an alternative supplier.”

But Cllr Hughes Griffiths had some harsh criticism for the company and for the system which allows them to withdraw services like this. “It is unacceptable,” he said, “that a company can tender for a service, win the contract and then simply walk away. They bid for the contract, under which they receive public money to provide a service. But it seems that they can simply tear up the contract at any time of their choosing.”

Monday, 12 October 2009

Short termism

One of Plaid’s councillors in Carmarthenshire has expressed his concern over what he described as a ‘very short term view’ being taken over staffing in a vital department. Cllr David Jenkins was responding to information that the Procurement section has been undermanned for at least 9 months.

Cllr Jenkins said, “The procurement section has done a superb job over the past few years in reducing the council’s costs, and has beaten the target which was set for it. But we were told recently that savings had been made by keeping one post unfilled for 9 months and another filled on only a part time basis for three months. Whilst it is true that leaving these posts unfilled does save the council some money in the short term, a properly staffed section can save the council even more in the longer term. I believe that it is short-sighted in the extreme not to fully staff this department in order to ensure larger and more genuine savings for the council over the longer term.”

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Call for rethink on school sale proceeds

Carmarthenshire County Council's Executive Board have been urged to think again after they refused to make any contribution from the proceeds of selling Llanarthne's former school to the local Community Association. The school has been closed under the council's Modernising Education Porgramme, and the county gave the local community an opportunity to put together a business plan for community use. The response from the local community has been that they already have a hall, but would like to extend it further rather than take on the additional building, so they asked instead for a contribution from the sale proceeds. This was unanimously refused by the Council's Executive Board - one of whose members is the local Independent Party councillor, Wyn Evans.

Plaid Cymru's group leader, Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths has called for a rethink. Cllr Hughes Griffiths said, "I believe that the request from the Community Association should have received more sympathetic consideration from the council. Far too many villages have lost their schools under the council's programme, and this can often be a serious blow to the community. It is right and proper that the community should have some direct benefit from the sale of former schools, to help the community to recover form the loss and to find other ways of strengthening community activity. The executive board decided to help the community find alternative sources of finance, and this is a reasonable first step, but I believe that the council should be prepared to reconsider the application if necessary to make up any deficit in funding from those other sources."

Monday, 5 October 2009

More questions raised over Carmarthenshire TV

Local Plaid politicans have raised further questions about the use of taxpayers' money to fund a television station on the internet in Carmarthenshire. The proposal has been agreed by the county council's Executive Board, led by Cllr Meryl Gravell, and by the Local Service Partnership, both of which have agreed to provide substantial amounts of money from public funds. The County Council has agreed to pay up to £30,000, not counting the time cost of officers which is likely to be substantial, and the Local Service Partnership Board has agreed to pay £10,000. The total cost has not been declared publicly, but the county council have claimed that most of the funding is coming from the Assembly Government. It is understood that other public bodies are also expected to decide to make substantial further contributions to the total cost.

The proposal to launch such a channel came from a private company based in the county who approached the various public bodies with the idea, after some councils in England launched similar schemes. Kent County Council, for instance, launched a trial service which cost a total of £1.2 million for the first two years, and a further £400,000 for the third year. Questions have now been raised by Plaid Councillors about the way in which the proposal has been developed.

Plaid's leader on the council, Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, wrote to the Assistant Chief Executive asking why a formal tendering process had not been followed. He said, "For almost everything the council does, we have to go through a formal tendering process, so that a range of suppliers have an opportunity to offer their services, and so that the council can obtain best value for money. Yet, in this case, it seemed to me that there had been no attempt to ascertain whether there are other companies which could provide the service. The impression given was that the contract had simply been awarded to the first company which suggested the idea. I am pleased to hear that this impression is in fact completely erroneous. Although one particular company approached the council suggesting the idea, I have been reassured that, should all the relevant bodies decide to go ahead with the scheme in principle, there will then be a competitive process to decide which company is awarded the contract.

“We as a group think that the whole idea is badly flawed, and is a waste of taxpayers' money; but if the council is determined to get involved in this scheme, they should, at the very least, follow their own normal processes of competitive tendering. Apart from anything else, that gives us all a further opportunity to try and prevent the council from participating in this scheme. And one key question which should be answered, but has not been answered to date, is what the total cost of this scheme is, to be paid from public funds, from all the different bodies involved."

Questions have also been raised about the funding from the Welsh Assembly Government. Nerys Evans, Plaid's regional AM for the area said that she would be raising questions with the Assembly Government on this matter. "At a time when there are likely to be cuts in local government spending, it seems very strange to me," said Ms Evans, "that the Assembly Government should be diverting funds from front line services into a television service. I am asking the relevant ministers how much money is being provided, which budgets it is being taken from, and how the contracts will be awarded."

Friday, 2 October 2009

Glanymôr needs ignored

The needs of the Glanymor area of Llanelli are being ignored according to local Plaid councillor, Winston Lemon. Cllr Lemon said, "The people of Glanymor are fed up of hearing year after year that Glanymor is the most deprived Ward in Carmarthenshire, when acres and acres of ex-industrial land are being reclaimed for private housing, as factories and other buildings are closing down, leading to the loss of real jobs in the area. I am constantly being approached by local tax payers who are amazed at the number of office blocks being built.

"Far too many Council properties are left empty, only to deteriorate and add to costs because of repairs to damage caused by vandalism, Also there are some properties that are used for fly tipping. I am also concerned about the plan to put a school on Crown Park as 98% of residents stongly object to the plan. Not only would it take away the people's treasured leisure facilities it will also add to the problems with the drainage and sewerage which is causing major concern not only in Glanymor, but all along the Estuary.

Cllr Lemon ended by saying, "It is about time the private developers took a back seat and let the public see some of their hard earned cash put back into their local communities."