Thursday, 1 July 2010

Threat to starter farms

The small farms owned by the county council in Carmarthenshire may be under threat of a sell-off according to Plaid Cymru. As part of its review of assets across the county, the council is considering the future of a number of small farms which are intended to help people enter the farming industry. When pressed at a recent council meeting, the county’s leader, Independent Party councillor Meryl Gravell refused to give an assurance that the farms would not be sold.

Speaking for the Plaid Group, Cllr Tyssul Evans said later, “The council has owned a small number of starter farms for very many years. They are a vital element of the help available to people to enter the farming industry, and many farmers have benefited from them over the years. It would be a tragedy for an agricultural county like Carmarthenshire to lose this vital facility. It would be an even bigger tragedy if they were sold off for development.”

Friday, 18 June 2010

Library Closure Mystery

Carmarthenshire County Council has closed Penygroes Library suddenly, with no warning and no consultation according to local councillor Siân Thomas. Cllr Thomas had previously sought reassurances from the council and had been explicitly told that there were no plans to close the library and that it was not even on any list of possible closures. But on Friday 14th May, the council closed it anyway, and has replaced it with a twice monthly mobile service.

Cllr Thomas said, “As the local ward member, I would have expected to be at least advised in advance of the proposal to close the library, especially after having raised the question with the relevant officers on a number of occasions. I was given very clear assurances that the council had no intention of closing this library, and that the library was not even on any list for potential closure.

“When I raised the matter again after the event, I was told that the closure had been effectively agreed when the council’s budget was passed. But having looked at the minutes, they simply state that “6 poor performing small libraries to be replaced with increased mobile provision” and don’t name the affected libraries at all. And having asked my fellow councillors on the Education Scrutiny Committee, they weren’t aware of the list either.

“I am extremely disappointed and angry at the way this has been handled. It is just another example of the undemocratic way that the Labour and Independent Party councillors are running the council.”

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Parking meter cost revealed

The scheme to introduce parking meters in Lammas Street will cost around £24,000, the county council has revealed this week. In a letter to Plaid Cllr Arwel Lloyd, the council quoted this figure as being the total cost, including the legal and advertising costs of making the necessary Orders as well as the cost of purchasing and installing the machines themselves.

Cllr Arwel Lloyd responded by saying, “This is a significant cost to the council, and I wonder how many years it will take before the income has covered the cost of installation, let alone the costs of administering and monitoring the scheme. The whole scheme is unnecessary and unpopular. As we have said on a number of occasions, the current arrangements work well, and there is no need for change, especially a change which is likely to impact on a number of businesses in Lammas Street. We are calling on the council, once again, to abandon this plan.”

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Paying for nothing

Carmarthenshire Council is imposing service charges on tenants for services they do not receive, according to Plaid Cllr Siân Thomas. Cllr Thomas drew attention to the problem last year, pointing out that tenants in Maes y Gors, Penygroes were being charged £2.17 extra each week for services which the council was not providing to them, such as a communal laundry room and a door entry system.

Cllr Thomas said, “I raised this issue with the council’s officers last year, and drew attention to the fact that tenants were being charged for services they were not receiving. I have received further complaints this year, because not only are the tenants still not receiving these services, but the amount which they have to pay for them has been increased. And all they get in communal service is one light bulb in the shared stairwell.

“The council say that they are undertaking a thorough and comprehensive review of the service charges, but it seems that any changes will not come into effect until at least next April – a full two years since I first raised the problem. This really isn’t good enough.”

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Further concern about 'uniformed youth'

Following the provision of further information by the county council, Plaid’s leader on the county council has expressed renewed concern about the nature of the ‘Young Dragons’ organisation. The organisation has been set up at a national level, “to increase the number of young people involved in our uniformed youth organisations and also to increase the number of volunteers who help to run them”. A local steering group has been set up to implement the scheme in Carmarthenshire. Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths initially raised questions about the matter in a council meeting some months ago.

Cllr Hughes Griffiths said this week, “The idea of co-ordinating youth organisations across the county is certainly worthwhile, and I welcome the commitment given by the county council’s officers that they will seek to include other youth groups such as the Urdd and YFCs. I just do not understand, however, why the terms of reference of the group specifically and repeatedly stresses that it is for ‘uniformed’ organisations, and the list of member organisations at national level includes only those youth organisations whose members wear uniforms.

“It seems a completely unnecessary constraint, and I cannot understand why our National Assembly has signed up to such a narrow focus either. As well as including other organisations locally, I believe that the county council should be pressing for changes to the Terms of Reference to make the whole project more inclusive.”

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Floating Support

Concern has been expressed over whether there are adequate resources being provided in Carmarthenshire to support people in need. Plaid’s Cllr Emlyn Dole raised the matter in a meeting of the full council when a detailed strategy was under discussion.

Cllr Dole drew attention in particular to the increased use of ‘floating’ rather than dedicated resources, and said, “I understand the need for the council to use its resources as flexibly as possible, but I am concerned as to whether the total amount of resources available is equal to the need. It seems to me that if resources are committed to particular individuals, it is easier to see where the gaps are. On the other hand, if the same resources are trying to help a large number of people, it can be a lot harder to ascertain whether all those involved are getting the whole range of services which they need. I am not against the council trying to be more flexible, but I think that we need to ensure that we do not leave any gaps as a result.”

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Unnecessary cuts

Carmarthenshire county council is making deeper cuts in services than is necessary, according the opposition Plaid Cymru councillors. The council is expecting to receive a grant of £1.9 million from the Assembly Government, but has decided to simply ‘not count’ that money as part of its income for the coming year, and to press on with a series of cuts in services. At the budget-setting meeting, Plaid Cymru’s members attacked a number of the cuts, and Plaid’s leader, Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths proposed an alternative approach.

“For the last two years,” said Cllr Hughes Griffiths, “the council has deliberately decided to ignore this particular grant from the Welsh Government, because they claimed that they could not be certain of receiving it. In fact, they received it in full each year, and simply placed it into the council’s reserves. We are confident that the full amount will be received again during the next year, and we argued that it should be counted as part of the council’s projected income, and used to offset some of the cuts in services being proposed by the council. One of the arguments against was that the council hasn’t received the money yet, but of course, the same is true of all the money projected to be received next year. Deciding whether or not to include this money is a matter of judgement – and we think they’ve made the wrong judgement.”

After the Plaid Cymru proposal was defeated by the councillors from the Labour and Independent Parties, the Plaid Group voted to reject the entire budget, but that proposal was also defeated.

Cllr Hughes Griffiths said, “We could not, in all conscience, accept a budget which included so many unnecessary cuts in services. As a group and as a party, we will continue to argue for the protection of vital services.”

Monday, 22 March 2010

Kicking and Screaming

The Assembly Government is proposing new legislation which would allocate responsibilities for county council scrutiny committees on the basis of the numbers of councillors in each party. This would represent a major change in Carmarthenshire, where the ruling Labour and Independent parties have systematically excluded the 29-strong Plaid Cymru group from any positions of influence. In a meeting of the council, Plaid’s Cllr Emlyn Dole referred to the impending legislation, and urged the council’s leaders not to wait for it to be passed.

Cllr Dole said, “I made it clear to them that, if they don’t implement the change now, then they are going to be dragged kicking and screaming into implementing a more democratic system in the council when the law changes. I asked them if that was what they really wanted. The answer I got was basically yes – they made it clear that, as far as they are concerned, democracy will only come to Carmarthenshire when the law forces them to introduce it. It is a very sad reflection on the two ruling parties.”

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Rushing the development of Llandeilo

Carmarthenshire County Council have produced a design guide for a major expansion to the town of Llandeilo, but it has attracted a large number of comments and questions from the public. It is clear that there are serious concerns about some aspects of the development, and Plaid Cymru’s councillors attempted to have these concerns incorporated into the council’s decision. Members of the Labour and Independent parties however, voted against the amendments put forward by Plaid’s group leader, Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths.

Cllr Hughes Griffiths had called for there to be no development until after the proposed Llandeilo by-pass has been built, due to serious concerns about traffic problems. He also suggested that there should be adequate school provision in place before the number of children increases, that steps should be taken to ensure that the numbers and types of houses were decided on the basis of meeting local need, and that there should be an agreed proportion of affordable housing.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Hughes Griffiths said, “I believe that it is utterly irresponsible of the council to be encouraging the building large numbers of new houses before the infrastructure is in place to support the growth, and without ensuring the development serves local needs first and foremost. Llandeilo is an ancient town, and its expansion needs to be handled with care, not rushed.”

Cllr Siân Thomas added, “The council has already recognised the serious problem of air pollution in the main street through Llandeilo. Any new development will inevitably add to the traffic, including construction traffic whilst it is being built. There is little point in the council going to the trouble of assessing which are the worst areas for pollution if it is then simply going to add to the problem by its own decisions.”

Sunday, 14 March 2010

No democracy allowed

Carmarthenshire County Council has been slammed for a lack of democracy by Plaid Cymru over the way in which school changes are being forced through in the Dinefwr and Gwendraeth areas. The council recently engaged outside consultants to review the possible sites, but has declined to allow councillors any say in the final decision. The council’s leaders have also refused to allow the council as a whole any say on any aspect of the proposed re-organisation plans.

Plaid’s leader, Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, said, “I have asked for the council as a whole to be given the opportunity to vote on the reorganisation proposals, but that request has been refused. We will not be allowed to vote on the category of the schools, on whether schools are merged or closed, or on where the schools are sited. We will not be allowed a vote on the submission to the Assembly government setting out the council’s proposals either.

“In fact, I have been told that the only matter on which we will be allowed a vote will be later this year, on whether to spend the money or not. This is completely undemocratic – all the important decisions will have been taken by then.”

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Paying for transport is 'not on' say Plad

Carmarthenshire county council chiefs have put forward a proposal to withdraw free school transport for all children over the age of 16 as a money-saving measure. Although the council is obliged to provide transport for qualifying pupils up to the age of 16, there is no obligation after that point. Most councils, however, opt to do so.

Plaid Cymru councillor, Phil Williams, expressed his concern at the council’s proposal, saying, “This would be a serious additional cost for many parents, particularly at a time of recession. It might even lead to some children leading school after GCSE instead of staying on to do A levels, or opting to go to colleges which do provide transportr and weakening the sixth forms in our schools. I believe that the county should continue to provide this transport.”

He was supported by Cllr Siân Thomas, who added, “The government is forever telling us that developing the skills of our young people is a key element in building a more secure economic future for all of us. We should not be doing anything which undermines the drive the develop a better trained and more highly-educated workforce, and the council should drop this proposal.”

Monday, 22 February 2010

Use power as landlord to insist on use of Welsh

Carmarthenshire County Council has been urged to use its power as a landlord to ensure that businesses and others operating on its premises abide by the council’s own policy on the Welsh language. Cllr Mari Dafis from Plaid Cymru said this week, “The council has a policy of ensuring that all its signs and literature are bilingual. However, when it lets businesses or other organisations operate from its premises, they are currently allowed to ignore the council’s policy completely. In most cases, it would be a small and simple matter to translate the signs, and in the case of catering concessions, the menus. Perhaps the council could even allow the organisations concerned limited use of the council’s translation facilities to assist them. It would be a small step, but it is completely incongruous to have two very different policies operating in the same buildings.”

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Wasting money and misleading people

Carmarthenshire County Council has wasted thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money by engaging consultants to carry out an evaluation of possible school sites in Dinefwr, according to Plaid. The council had asked the consultants to evaluate 14 sites for a new secondary school to serve the Dinefwr area. The new school would replace two existing schools, at Tre-gib in Llandeilo, and Pantycelyn in Llandovery. However, the guidance given to the consultants seems to have ignored the question of parental choice over the language of education, which according to Plaid makes the results completely meaningless.

Plaid’s leader on the council, Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, said, “We have pressed the county council time and again to listen to what the parents are saying about the demand for Welsh-medium education, but they seem determined to ignore our call. In the process, they are also ignoring the council’s own policies and the guidance given by the Welsh Government, both of which say that parental choice should be respected, and that parents should be positively encouraged to choose a Welsh-medium education.

“The council gave the consultants a brief about the size of the school and the numbers of pupils likely to attend it which is based on an assumption that all of the parents in the area will opt for the new school, and that none of them will demand a Welsh-medium education. This is patent nonsense; but the conclusions of the study are rendered completely invalid as a result. In short, the council has wasted thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money.”

Plaid also say that the council has deliberately misled people in the north of the county over the possible location of a new school. “When they carried out their flawed ‘consultation exercise’”, said Cllr Hughes Griffiths, “they told people in the Llandovery area that any new school would probably be built in the Llangadog area, about half way between the two schools. I know for certain that many parents indicated their support for the idea of a new school, based on that assumption about its location.

“It was the only possible location suggested at the time by the county council, and to now say that they are instead planning to build the new school to the south of Llandeilo will not only be a serious shock to the parents, but it also invalidates any conclusions from the survey of parents.”

Cllr Hughes Griffiths concluded by saying, “What is becoming increasingly clear is that the council decided what to do first and that all consultation and debate has been little more than a sham. They will press ahead with their plans regardless of what is best for the education of our children, or for the Welsh language. We in Plaid will continue to do everything in our power to ensure that we have a genuine consultation process, and that parental wishes are respected.”

Monday, 25 January 2010

Who's taking the decisions?

Carmarthenshire’s Plaid Councillors have demanded to know who’s taking decisions in the county and when. This follows the apparent implementation of a decision by the council’s leaders before the decision was actually taken. Plaid Cllr Marie Binney asked in the council meeting on 9th December whether free parking would be allowed in council-run car parks during the run up to Christmas, as had been the case in previous years.

Cllr Binney said, “I was delighted to be told that the council’s leaders had agreed to provide free parking again this year, starting on the 10th December for two weeks. Then, just after Christmas, I read the minutes of the Executive Board for their meeting on 14th December, and discovered that the decision wasn’t actually taken until that meeting. Put simply, the decision appears to have been implemented four days before it was actually taken!

“I then discovered that the decision was reported in the latest edition of the Council’s propaganda sheet, Community News. Now that paper went to print on 25th November, and I understand that items have to be ready some 10 days before that, so that they can be translated and set out etc. So, who actually took the decision and when? On whose authority was the story included in Community News, and on whose authority did the council stop charging for car parking on 10th December?

“Whilst I think the decision taken was the right one, I am seriously concerned that the council has either acted illegally by implementing a decision in advance of the meeting, or else has acted illegally by taking decisions in secret without proper notice. Plaid have expressed our concerns to the Chief Executive and asked for a full explanation.”

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Missing the obvious

Carmarthenshire county council is failing to properly plan for the increasing costs of an ageing population, claimed Plaid Cllr David Jenkins. Cllr Jenkins has raised a series of detailed questions about the council’s financial position, including the reasons for a significant overspend on services for the elderly.

Cllr Jenkins said, “There is plenty of data available indicating that the population is ageing, but the council appears not to have adequately allowed for that in its budget. When I queried this, I was told that the council did indeed try to estimate for this, but had underestimated the costs. Worst of all, they actually told me that they have got it wrong every year for the past few years – they seem not to be learning from previous mistakes.

“The fact that the council has regularly and consistently under-estimated the growth of the elderly population in the county is also relevant in the context of their proposals to close care homes. It is crazy to talk about reducing the provision of care homes when they have effectively admitted that they do not really know how many people will need them, but

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Council unprepared for winter weather

Plaid Cymru in Carmarthenshire have strongly criticised the county council over the lack of preparedness for the recent snow and ice. Rural areas in particular have been badly hit as the council has concentrated all its efforts on the county’s main roads, and completely ignored other routes.

Plaid’s group leader, Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, said, “Carmarthenshire is a very rural county; most of the county’s road network is in rural areas. Yet the council seems to have had little or no concern for the needs of people in those rural areas, and roads through villages across the county have been ignored, making life extremely difficult for local residents. Of course there’s a cost involved, but in principle, it’s a fairly simple matter to grit minor roads as well as major ones. The county seems to be interested only in looking after the towns and ignoring the villages. I am calling for a complete review of the council’s policy on gritting, with a view to doing more to keep rural roads passable during periods of snow and ice.”

Monday, 18 January 2010

Forcing change on the council

Carmarthenshire County Council is likely to be compelled to change the way in which it appoints chairs of its committees under a new Measure proposed by the Welsh Government. The Government has been telling authorities for some years now that these posts should be allocated across political parties on a proportional basis, but the ruling Labour/ Independent Party has to date insisted on taking more than its share of posts. The Government is also likely to insist that the chair of the audit committee should be an opposition member, another step which Carmarthenshire has refused to take.

Cllr Gwyn Hopkins from Plaid, said, “It seems as though the council’s Independent and Labour Parties will only change their approach when they are forced to do so. Democracy, of a type implemented in most councils across Wales, will only come to Carmarthenshire when the ruling parties are faced with a statutory requirement. Plaid have consistently argued for many years that posts within the council should be shared out on a fair basis, giving all parties a chance to influence the decision-making process, but Meryl Gravell and her clique have been determined to keep as much power as possible to themselves, and lock Plaid councillors out of all the decision-making processes. We have given them a number of opportunities to follow the advice which the Government has given them, but they have refused on every occasion. Now it seems as though they are going to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into a more democratic and open approach.”

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Call for more detail on youth scheme

Plaid’s councillors in Carmarthenshire have called for more information about a new scheme to encourage children and young people to join “uniformed youth organisations”. The scheme, called Young Dragons, is being piloted in two parts of Wales, namely Blaenau Gwent and Carmarthenshire, but there is currently very little information available.

Plaid’s leader on the council, Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, said, “I have asked that more information be presented to the relevant scrutiny committee so that councillors can discuss the scheme. I was told that the council is seeking to include other organisations in the scheme, including the Urdd and the YFCs, and that is a very important point. Those are two of the most important youth organisations in the county – and unlike many other organisations, they operate bilingually as well. That is vitally important in Carmarthenshire. I do not understand why there is an emphasis on ‘uniformed’ organisations, and I have a number of misgivings about that emphasis.”