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.”