Friday, 20 November 2009

Change rate collection system

A Plaid councillor in Carmarthenshire has called for a change in the way water rates are paid by council tenants. Cllr Marion Binney said that she has been dealing with a number of cases where council tenants are in arrears not because they haven’t paid their rent, but because they haven’t paid their water rates. The county council itself pays the water rates before collecting the monies from the tenants, and Cllr Binney argues that this adds an unnecessary step to the process, and can put tenants in danger of losing their homes because of debts which are really to a third party, not the council.

“I think that council tenants should pay their own water rates directly,” said Cllr Binney. “This would avoid the council chasing tenants for debts to an outside body. It would also put council tenants in the same position as any other householders – responsible for paying their own water bills directly to the water company. This would help both the tenants and the council.

“I understand that it would also enable some families to apply for various rebate schemes available through the water company for which they are ineligible if the council collects and pays their rates. For instance, a family with three under 19s and on benefits, or if there are certain medical conditions and on benefits, will qualify. I suspect that the council is paid a commission of some sort by the water company for collecting the rates on their behalf, but that sort of arrangement should not over-ride the best interests of tenants; and it certainly shouldn’t be a basis for tenants to face the possibility of losing their homes for arrears which are owed to a completely separate organisation.”

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

County likely to miss target

Carmarthenshire County Council is likely to miss its own target for providing affordable homes, according to Plaid Cllr John Edwards. Cllr Edwards was speaking after attending a meeting of the council’s scrutiny committee during which it became apparent that there were a number of problems with meeting the target.

Cllr Edwards said, “We are seeing fewer and fewer affordable houses being provided under section 106 agreements, where the council makes planning consent conditional on providing such homes. Developer after developer is coming back after gaining consent, and reducing the proportion of affordable homes. In addition to that, the financial situation means that mortgages are getting harder to come by, with lenders insisting on higher levels of initial deposits.

“To make things worse,” added Cllr Edwards, “it seems as though some lenders are objecting to the re-sale condition attached to these homes, and would prefer that they could be sold on the open market so that they, the banks, have more security in lending the money. But the resale condition is vital in making sure that the homes remain available to local people. It is completely unacceptable that the policy of proving affordable homes for local people should be undermined by banks for their own commercial purposes.”

Monday, 16 November 2009

Residents unhappy over name change

The residents of Alltwalis are unhappy with the proposed renaming of the wind farm which has been erected in their area, according to local Plaid county councillor, Linda Evans . The wind turbines are currently in the process of being erected at Blaengwen, and the company behind the project is proposing to rename the development as Alltwalis Wind Farm. There are only around 40 houses in Alltwalis itself, and local residents have collected signatures from almost all of those houses protesting against the proposal.

Cllr Evans has presented the petition to the company concerned, and said this week, "The company clearly want to change the name, but I and local residents don't understand why they want to name it after one of the villages in the area. They consulted with local residents in all the villages, asking which of the villages should lend its name to the wind farm. It's true that the largest number supported the name Alltwalis, but it seems as though the votes for that name came from everywhere except Alltwalis itself. It is wrong that the name of one village should be used as a result of the views of other villages.

"Why not hold an open competition, for people to suggest a new name rather then suggesting the names of villages? Or even ask children in local schools to come up with some good Welsh names? That would be far better than the exercise which has been conducted by the company to date."

Friday, 13 November 2009

Sunday Stealth Tax

There has been strong reaction from Plaid Cymru in Carmarthen to a suggestion that the Labour/Independent Party administration at county hall is poised to introduce parking charges at all the town’s car parks on Sundays in the near future. Although charges are currently made for parking on Monday to Saturday between 8:00am and 6:00pm, it has long been the case that all the car parks could be used for free during evenings and on Sundays.

John Dixon, Plaid’s parliamentary candidate for the area, said, “This move would affect hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people who currently park free on a Sunday. It would affect all of those who drive to the town centre’s churches and chapels, as well as all those who come into the town centre on a Sunday to shop or for other reasons. It’s a Sunday stealth tax – charging for something which has been free to date, and another deterrent to those who prefer to use our town centre instead of out-of-town centres. What next? Charging for evening parking as well? The Labour and Independent Parties seem to view everything as money-raising opportunities for the county council rather than looking at the needs of the county’s people and businesses. Plaid will do all that we can to prevent this from being implemented.”

Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, Plaid’s leader on the county council, said, “When I first heard the rumour that this was being considered, I simply could not believe what I was hearing. Yet, when I asked the council what was happening, they confirmed that this is one proposal being actively considered. It is a mean-spirited suggestion which is simply designed to extract more money from the pockets of local residents. This will be a charge on those coming into town on a Sunday to worship. This is something which the council should not even be countenancing.”

The two were strongly supported by Cllr Arwel Lloyd, who has led the party’s campaign against the plan to charge for parking in Lammas Street. “Our campaign has drawn huge support,” he said. “After seeing the strength of opposition to the proposals for Lammas Street, I find it incredible that they could even consider charging for parking on Sundays – something which will affect even more people than the Lammas Street proposals. The people in Carmarthen will be up in arms at the very idea – I can promise them that they’ll have another fight on their hands if they try and implement this proposal.”

Plaid’s other county councillors for Carmarthen Town, Gareth Jones and Alan Speake, also pledged their full support for the campaign to stop this proposal.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Flawed consultation exercise

The exercise undertaken by Carmarthenshire County Council to assess parental preference for the language of education in the Gwendraeth and Dinefwr parts of the county was seriously flawed according to the Plaid group on the council. According to a report on the outcome of the survey which was sent to all councillors, less than half of all parents responded to the questionnaire. Plaid’s group leader, Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, said that this was a wholly inadequate basis on which to make any assessment of parental demand in the area.

Plaid had previously criticised the questionnaire for being badly explained and rushed, and said that the county did not even follow their own policy in the way that the question was presented. They now claim that the views which they expressed at the time have been entirely vindicated, and have called on the council, once again, to undertake a proper and thorough assessment.

Cllr Hughes Griffiths said, “Firstly, the council refused to undertake any survey of parental demand at all, and even passed a resolution in the council rejecting our call for a survey. Then, under pressure form the Assembly Government, they rushed out a flawed questionnaire which did not properly present the options to parents – many parents were completely unclear as to the question being asked. It is no surprise at all to find that only 40% of parents had responded.

“The county council claims that it encourages parents to choose a Welsh-medium education for their children; but the documents sent to parents made no attempt whatsoever to implement that policy. Not only was there no attempt at all to promote the council’s own policy, but the options given to parents were not even fully or properly explained. The result is a meaningless set of figures whose only proper place is the recycling bin.”

Cllr Hughes Griffiths also drew attention to recent Estyn reports in the county, saying, “The council seems determined to push ahead with a discredited model of ‘bilingual’ schools. In one report recently, Estyn drew specific attention to some aspects of the language policy of one of these schools. The simple truth is that the approach to bilingualism adopted by the council in most of its secondary schools is a complete failure, and has been shown to be so time and again. It has been rejected by many other counties across Wales which have recognised that fully Welsh-medium schools is the only effective way forward. The council claims to support the Welsh language in education, but that claim has been shown to be a sham in large areas of the county.”

Plaid have called for a complete rethink of the county’s approach, and have said that they will do everything they can to prevent the council’s damaging proposals from being implemented. Cllr Hughes Griffiths concluded, “We have said from the outset that we need to properly establish the true level of demand for Welsh-medium education in the county. It seems as though every other county in Wales knows that demand exceeds supply and is continuing to grow. Carmarthenshire seem to be trying to hide and suppress the demand by using a fundamentally flawed approach to assessing it. They are not serving the county or the nation of Wales, and we will fight every inch of the way to reverse their proposals.”