west*wales*news*review

West Wales News Review — analysis with a sustainability slant

How Sustainable is Our NHS?

Questions from an amateur

Here in Wales, can we still afford the National Health Service on which so many of us depend? Is it really sustainable in the hard-up future to which we seem to be speeding?

All the time that the Welsh Government depends on financial allocations from Westminster to fund the NHS, every year the answer edges closer to ‘No’.

Take the Hywel Dda University Health Board, looking after the NHS in West Wales — Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire. Hywel Dda is in the middle of an intense series of consultations about its planned reorganisation. A main purpose of the proposed changes is to reduce over-spending.

Three proposals are on the table. Here’s a short summary of plans for the main hospitals, but the detailed options, at www.hywelddahb.wales.nhs.uk, are well worth reading and responding to, before the deadline of July 12th 2018.

Proposal A

Two main hospitals – the existing Bronglais, Aberystwyth, and a new-build for urgent and planned care, somewhere on or just off the A40 trunk road between St Clears (Carms) and Narberth (Pembs). Withybush at Haverfordwest, Glangwili at Carmarthen and Prince Philip, Llanelli, would be downgraded from general to community hospitals, without accident and emergency or acute admissions.

Proposal B

Three principal hospitals – Bronglais, the proposed new hospital in the Carmarthenshire-Pembrokeshire borderlands, and Prince Philip.

Proposal C

As B, except the new hospital would be for urgent care only, and Glangwili would be a centre for pre-planned operations and procedures.

Anxiety and agitation

Community and town councillors at a consultation evening in Carmarthen on April 25th were far from quietly accepting the plans. They worried about long journeys to A&E, distant down the A40 (between 30 and 40 miles for my community in north-east Carmarthenshire, depending on the eventual site). They agitated that ambulances would get stuck in traffic jams, especially at holiday times. They praised the Wales Air Ambulance, but knew that it operates for 12 hours a day, not 24, and depends entirely on voluntary fund-raising. They were concerned that public transport services are, and will continue to be, inadequate to take patients and visitors to and from a new hospital.

At the same time, I sympathise with Hywel Dda, squeezed between the rock of rising demand and the hard place of not enough money, and so far unable to attract enough highly skilled, permanent medical staff. The upshot is that the board spends heavily on agency and locum staff, which as well as being more expensive than permanent personnel, can deny continuity of care to patients.

West Wales can feel quite remote, which is an attraction for holiday-making visitors but not necessarily for medics with partners wanting to work and children needing education, because in West Wales there isn’t much choice of schools or employment, and until the mainline railway is electrified, the region will not feel well connected to urban South Wales or onward to England. But in 2017 Prime Minister Mrs May vetoed the electrification plan.  Could it be that the money had to feed the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland instead?

For mature consultants with grown-up children, it may be that West Wales is attractive for its landscapes and tranquillity, but younger medics often have different priorities. Hywel Dda knows this, of course, and the intended ‘Wellness Village’ at Llanelli could be a step towards raising the medical profile of the region…. if, and a very big if, there is enough investment from the private sector.

Frayed shoestring

The health board’s budget for 2017-18 was £743.95 million, but that was not enough – an extra £69.6 million was spent, a total of £813.55 million. This was almost £2,119 for each of the 384,000 people living in the Hywel Dda area. The budget limit was £1,937 per head.

We are trying to run an advanced, comprehensive health service on a frayed shoestring that will soon break. All the time that Wales depends on largesse (or stinginess) from the UK Government, and the present Welsh Government continues its uninspired administration, this depressing state of affairs is set to remain. Yet if Wales were independent, would the Minister for Health have enough taxation revenue to channel more resources into a next-generation NHS? Given Wales’ relative poverty – gross disposable household income per head of £15,835 in 2016 compared with £19,878 for England as a whole and £27,151 for London (1) – the answer looks negative. Household members with an average of £15,835 left after taxes and National Insurance have been deducted, and with social security benefits added, are not likely to have had much tax liability in the first place.

Take as an example the median remuneration of the 8,053.7 full-time-equivalent employees at the Hywel Dda health board, which in 2016-17 was £26,483 (2). Just for illustration, in 2018-19 income tax on this nominal amount would be £2,926.60 and National Insurance, £2,167.08, leaving £21,389.32 before other deductions such as student loan repayments and pension contributions. That doesn’t leave much leeway for higher taxes.

Better elsewhere? Not really

It could be time to change expectations of what the NHS does for us. Costs of healthcare per head in the UK are already low compared to other ‘rich’ countries – in Switzerland the amount is 90% more, and in Norway almost 60% more, to take just two examples. The USA’s hugely expensive and far from universal system costs nearly two-and-a-half times more per head (and could be forced on the UK in a post-Brexit trade deal!).

New Zealand spends, per head, about 85% of the UK total. How efficient is their system, and could we adopt it? In New Zealand there are charges to see a GP, and a two-tier system with usually much longer waiting lists for publicly funded treatments than for private appointments. How about Spain, spending around 77% of the UK amount per head?  That’s a creaking system too. As Pablo Avanzas, Isaac Pascual and César Moris write in ‘The great challenge of the public health system in Spain’ (3):

“In all EU countries (including Spain), during most of the second half of the 20th century, health expenditure has been growing faster than national income. The same is happening in all member countries of the OECD, so this situation calls into question whether the economic sustainability of healthcare systems, most of which were created and developed in times of greater prosperity, will be guaranteed in the future. In the context of a worldwide economic crisis, the impact of financial difficulties of healthcare systems has become particularly evident in Spain, where unemployment rate is one of the highest in the European Union.”

They also said:

“There are basically three ways to guarantee the financing of a quality public health system with universal coverage and free of charge: to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the health provision system, prioritize health spending in relation to other public policies and/or increase income taxes for that purpose.”

In Wales, even if there were freedom to do so, there is very little scope to raise universal taxes, because of the country’s relatively low incomes.

Hywel Dda health board cannot prioritise health spending over other public policies, because health is its remit. The Welsh Government could do so only to a very limited extent, because in essence it is a distributor of monies authorised by the UK Treasury. The present Westminster Government has shown no interest in assisting Wales. So Hywel Dda is tackling the only available option, to increase efficiency.

There comes a point when ‘increasing efficiency’ means the system is too emaciated to work at all, but Hywel Dda could give itself a little breathing space if more permanent staff could be attracted to West Wales, to cut the £4 million plus a month or so costs – amounting to some £50 million a year – for ‘variable pay’ to agency personnel and locums, and for staff overtime.

Over the longer term, though, the questions will be even harder, and a new hospital between St Clears and Narberth is unlikely to be the answer. It will be new, and as such attractive to accountants (low maintenance costs) and recruiters (a magnet for staff) only for a very short time.

Surely the emphasis has to be on turning the system inside out from a focus on cures to prevention of illness, accompanied by infrastructure improvements – such as rail electrification – to help diversify and expand the economy of West Wales.

If that does not happen, when we are ill or injured the likelihood of receiving the most effective treatment will diminish, and rationing for those who cannot pay will become the order of the day.

 

(1) ONS Statistical Bulletin, Regional Gross Disposable Household Income 1997-2016, May 2018.

(2) The full-time equivalent was 8,053.7 people, 6,202.12 female and 1,850.58 male. The total headcount was 10,975 – 8,574 female and 2,401 male. Hywel Dda University Health Board annual report for 2016-17.

(3) Journal of Thoracic Disease, May 2017, 9 suppl 6, S430-S433.

PDR

 

Advertisements

Calon Cymru Minds the Housing Gap

From ‘Affordable Homes and Sustainable Livelihoods in Rural Wales’, report for community interest company Calon Cymru Network, 2017 (slightly amended).  The full report, focused on the Llandovery area, is here. The ongoing introduction of Universal Credit, replacing other benefits including Housing Benefit, does nothing to increase the supply of dwellings but cuts the ability of many lower-income households to afford a home at all. 

Right to Buy and the housing shortage

Each year there are more renters and fewer owner-occupiers. Owner-occupation in the UK peaked in 2008 at 18.184 million households but by 2014 was down to 17.712 million.[1] The fall in owner occupation, and the rent subsidy from public funds in the form of Housing Benefit, both reflect the affordability crisis. In 2015-16 £24.244 billion was distributed as Housing Benefit in the UK: £5.972 billion went to local authority tenants in rent rebates, £9.489 billion to tenants of housing associations and other registered social landlords, and £8.783 billion to tenants of private landlords.

The benefit is payable only to tenants paying rent, not to owner-occupiers, and in 2015-16 there were 4.777 million claimants – people whose incomes were insufficient to pay commercial rents.[2] The claimants amounted to almost one tenant in every two, and their average annual benefit was £5,075.

A significant proportion of all the local authority homes sold under Right to Buy (RTB) were, by 2016, calculated to be in the hands of private landlords:

“It is clear that a significant number of properties sold under the statutory RTB are now in the private rental sector. In August 2015 Inside Housing published an analysis based on Freedom of Information requests to 91 councils, which found that almost 40 per cent of ex-council flats sold through the statutory RTB were now in the private rented sector. There is a similar pattern in Scotland; Dr Mary Taylor from the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations explained that many of the properties sold through RTB ended up “in the private rented sector at rents approximately 50 per cent higher than social rents for the exact same properties, in worse conditions. That has impacted on our ability to manage the assets of social landlords, and on the public purse in terms of the housing benefit bill, and has constrained access for aspiring tenants and for those needing to move.” (Housing Associations and the Right to Buy, report from the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee, January 19 2016, Section 4, paragraph 45)

Rents charged by private landlords are normally higher than social rents for equivalent properties. This means that more housing benefit is required. The Communities and Local Government Committee said:

“We note also the finding from our commissioned research of increased housing benefit costs of over £1,000 per year per claimant in the private rented sector rather than in social housing.” (paragraph 46)

Why did former tenants who became homeowners, or their descendants, decide to sell? Diverse reasons, including cashing in and spending the money, moving to another area, or worry about the cost of maintaining their homes, or after their death having the house sold to pay care fees and/or legacies.

Under Right to Buy, central government prevented local authorities from using the proceeds of sales to build replacement homes. Now, when they can afford to, authorities are buying homes on the open market to try and ease their waiting lists, which are exacerbated by the UK’s rapidly rising population. It took 34 years from 1971 to 2005 for the total population to rise from 55.928 million to 60.413 million, and only ten years from 2005 to 2015 to expand from 60.413 million to 65.110 million. The Office for National Statistics estimates that by 2025 there will be 69.444 million people living in the UK, a figure predicated on net migration remaining at 185,000 a year from 2020 (compared with 313,000 in 2014, 332,000 in 2015 and 248,000 in 2016).[3]

The Wales population, mid 2015, was 3.099 million. Since 1971 it has grown by 13%, compared with almost 16.5% for the UK as a whole.

 

No more Right to Buy in Carmarthenshire

Carmarthenshire County Council was the first Welsh local authority to suspend Right to Buy, making the announcement in January 2015, thereby signalling the intention to protect its social housing stock of 9,036 homes.

Carmarthenshire County Council’s housing stock

As at June 5 2017

Type of dwelling Number
Bedsit, ground floor 4
Bedsit, mid floor 15
Bedsit, upper floor 3
Bungalow 2,182
Flat, ground floor 981
Flat, mid floor 56
Flat, upper floor 867
House 4,888
Maisonette, ground floor 15
Maisonette, upper floor 25
Total 9,036

Source: Carmarthenshire County Council

The county council has a strong housing department and officials committed to providing decent homes. Even so, the waiting list signifies a mismatch between homes required and homes available. The waiting list for the Llandovery area at the end of March 2017 was 277, including 128 single people and 36 couples. There is substantial unmet demand for 1-bedroom homes, with 164 applicants on the list, and only 15 suitable properties, all housing association stock. Sixty-six applicants were waiting for a 2-bedroom home, of which there are 97 (80 council-owned and 17 housing association dwellings).

Llandovery has empty private-sector buildings. Fifty were advertised on Rightmove for sale in and within a mile of Llandovery, on June 16 2017. Only five of these properties were under £100,000, and the cheapest home was £77,500 for a 2-bedroom house, with one bedroom leading off the other.  This, and no more, is just about affordable for an individual earning £20,000 a year and with a £15,500 deposit.[4]

The gap between house prices — and private rents — and what local people can afford, is a space where social landlords and not-for-profit groups like Calon Cymru can work.

 

Policy ideas to increase the number of affordable homes

But if land prices do not fall relative to incomes, the crisis of insufficient rural homes will deepen. Abrupt policy changes have the potential to generate severe unintended consequences as well as the desired outcomes, so a gradual approach is safer but results are slow to appear.

Policy changes worth considering include:

  • Introducing a Community Right to Build policy in Wales. Community councils convinced of the need for development in their area could override restrictions in the LDP.
  • Compulsory purchase regulations, requiring full market prices to be paid, have become a brake on provision of affordable homes. Local authorities and partner not-for-profit community organisations should be able to compulsorily purchase land for affordable housing, where there is clear evidence of need, at less than development value. The price ceiling on land zoned for development could be set at half the difference between agricultural and development value. On Rural Exception Sites outside development boundaries, a lower ceiling could apply. The Welsh Government’s role in compulsory purchase is currently unclear because the devolution settlement is silent on the matter – compulsory purchase is neither reserved by the UK Government nor devolved to Wales. However, under the Wales Act 2017, powers to determine compensation would be entirely a matter for the UK Government.[5]
  • Despite the forthcoming absence of power to vary compulsory purchase regulations, the Welsh Government’s new authority over land taxation might be applied to a scheme to persuade landowners to accept less than full market price for compulsorily purchased land in return for exemption from tax liability. Such a policy change could reduce the cost of land for social housing and other essential development.
  • Restrictions on planning permission renewals, so that more land with permission is developed without delay.
  • Planning policy alterations to
    • increase solar energy capture
    • incorporate more green open space in housing developments
    • promote orchards, allotments and wild planting within developments
    • include more live-work homes in new neighbourhoods.
  • Exempting sales of land for Rural Exception housing from tax liabilities.

PDR

 

[1] Housing chart 5-v2, from Department for Communities and Local Government table 101, in ‘UK Perspectives 2016: housing and home ownership in the UK, ONS Digital, May 25 2016.

[2] Department for Work and Pensions benefit expenditure and caseload tables 2017, Office for National Statistics.

[3] Population estimates, 2014-based population projections and provisional long-term international migration estimates, accessed June 5 2017.

[4] Data from an affordability calculator.

[5] See Compulsory Purchase by Katy Orford, The Planning Series 15, Research Briefing, National Assembly of Wales.

Gardens All In A Row

It’s a small cottage, built as one-up, one-down with a back scullery under the catslide roof. The back door of the stone cottage, in a terrace in a north Carmarthenshire village, opens onto a common access path, from which a walled path leads to the gardens. The garden of the cottage, which is now majority owned by a close relative, lies behind a line of outside privies and the gardens of three other cottages in the row. Behind all the gardens is a row of sheds, formerly one for each cottage.

Sheds belonging to different cottages, in a row behind the final garden. 

The privies are rather the worse for non-use, but have doors in different, now faded colours.

The arrangement of gardens, sheds and privies, serving an eclectic row of six cottages, is a survival from Victorian (and earlier) times of a more communal way of living.

Old privies behind a terrace of cottages. 

Gardens are on either side of a path leading down to a a row of sheds. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can We Really Afford Free News?

The West Wales quartet of Herald newspapers – Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Llanelli and Ceredigion, the latter now digital only – angered several contributors who were not paid.  The less said about my experience of administration at the Herald, the better. The management appeared to me to regard paying bills as completely unnecessary.  And, as I discovered, the Herald’s* financial performance is as transparent as a stone wall.

But financially challenged newspapers are are two-a-penny,  and many that are well-run have disappeared.

The journalism trade paper Press Gazette said, on March 31st 2017, that “Estimates vary, but at least half the UK local newspaper journalism jobs in the UK are believed to have gone over the last decade.

“There has been a net loss of around 200 local newspaper titles since 2005 (around 1,000 are left).

“In some areas, typically the poorer ones, there are no professional journalists at all left to hold politicians and others to account.”

A dearth of probing journalism is not an immediately obvious lack, unlike empty supermarket shelves. It’s not obvious until corruption is flourishing and the local environment has been trashed. Independent journalism is important, but it costs, and in this age of social media people want to read their news for free.

The BBC is concerned enough to fund 150 ‘local democracy’ reporters, but the money goes mainly to the most powerful media companies – such as Trinity Mirror, Newsquest and Johnston Press, the trio which control local news gathering in England, Scotland and Wales. The West Wales contract, to cover Swansea, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire councils, went to Trinity Mirror’s South Wales Evening Post.  Three of the four contracts for Wales went to Trinity Mirror, the fourth to Newsquest. The BBC’s decision to subsidise large commercial groups was disappointing for small independent firms, and for the National Union of Journalists, which is anxious about the depressing toll of redundancies.

Commenting on 49 new redundancies at Trinity Mirror , the NUJ said on February 10th 2018 that “ Whilst Trinity Mirror are orchestrating these brutal cuts to their own workforce, they are also receiving public money, paid out via the BBC licence fee and known as the ‘local democracy reporters’ scheme. The union is extremely concerned that Trinity Mirror may be using this public subsidy to plug the gaps created by getting rid of their own employees.”

Meanwhile, local news coverage is left increasingly to voluntary bloggers, who are not paid by anyone at all.

* Companies House applied on February 27th 2018 to strike off and dissolve Herald Newspapers plc.  Paperwork is overdue. The last accounts, to December 31st 2016, are for a dormant company carrying out no trading activity.

PDR

Company Backing Llanelli ‘Wellness Village’ is Broke

Kent Neurosciences Ltd, the company which Carmarthenshire County Council signed up in 2016 as a partner for the Llanelli ‘Wellness Village’ project, is in the process of being struck off by the Registrar of Companies.

Striking off results in the company being dissolved. If any assets are left, they pass to the Crown.

It was on May 23rd 2016 that the county council’s Executive Board entered into an exclusivity agreement with Kent Neurosciences Ltd “with a view to ensuring the aspirations of the Wellness and Science Village within Carmarthenshire.” See here for the background story. It appears that the county council quietly shelved the partnership deal in 2017.

The directors of Kent Neurosciences Ltd, which is based in Maidstone, Kent, applied for voluntary dissolution on January 31st 2018. The last published accounts, for the year to July 31st 2016, show that there were no funds attributable to shareholders, only a deficit of £128,917.

Sister company Kent Neurosciences Property Ltd is under threat of being struck off, and has overdue accounts.

PDR

Thriving Local Food Scene

West Wales is now an important  centre for sustainable food, and to celebrate that the Llandeilo Local Food Guide tries to record important participants. The guide would appreciate both suggestions for new firms to include, and notifications of any mistakes  made.

A strong network is developing, with wholesalers, retailers and restaurants buying from local producers, and some producers selling direct to the public.

Added today: Carreg Cennen Tearoom, Dryslwyn Community Shop, Rhosyn Farm Produce, The Castle Hotel, The Warren, and Watson and Pratt.

See the Llandeilo Food Network / Rhwydwaith Bwyd Llandeilo page on Facebook — something new added most days.

Resilient Response to Weather Woes

3Mar2018 snowing WP_20180303_17_09_08_Pro

Snowing, outside my window

Sitting in our village this week, watching news broadcasts from all over the UK, showing snowdrifts, travellers stuck on trains and in cars for hours on end, panic buying of bread and milk, intrepid reporters standing in blizzards telling people to stay at home, first of all I thought ‘Why aren’t we better prepared?’ and then ‘How can we always be prepared in unpredictable times?’

We haven’t seen a gritting vehicle on our minor roads, but funding cuts have forced local government to slash services, and they can’t be everywhere. Many of us keep enough food for a week or more, but going out to restock is depressing when shelves have been emptied of essentials.

Our unfathomable weather poses problems that we don’t know how to solve, but it’s not a new dilemma. A book called Agricultural Records, by J M Stratton, published in 1969 and updated in 1978, has weather data from AD 220, although the earliest records are somewhat anecdotal. In 220, a “great frost in England is said to have lasted five months”, and ten years later it was recorded that the river Thames froze over at London for six weeks.  Floods, frosts, snow, storms and droughts reoccurred, interspersed with years when crops grew well. Between 950 and 1000, scribes recorded serious weather disasters in 14 of those years, including four in the final decade of the century. In 993 and 994 the people of Britain experienced extreme heat and drought, but in 998 the Thames froze for five weeks.

William the Conqueror’s arrival in 1066 did not pacify the weather. The winter of 1069 was exceptionally hard and J M Stratton reported that a “great famine occurred throughout much of England but especially in the North, where there was heavy mortality”.  The 1080s seem particularly unpleasant, with seven years of cold, heavy rains and storms. Not a great time to have been a peasant farmer.

By the 17th century records were much more detailed. We learn that in 1684 – the year before King Charles II died – “The exceptionally severe spell of cold weather which began in December 1683 continued for the first eight weeks of 1684. John Evelyn [the famous diarist] gives details of the frost in London. The river was quite frozen over by the 9th January and streets of booths were set up on the Thames. By the 16th the shopping streets stretched from bank to bank, and horses, carts and coaches crossed over on the ice. Printing presses were set up to print, as souvenirs, cards giving the name of the person who bought them, the date and the year, and the fact that they were printed on the ice on the Thames”.

The freeze affected much of Europe and was followed by a drought, with sharp cold returning in November and a blizzard in which many people died.

Maybe a run of fairly benign years has lulled us into thinking that it’s perfectly OK  to have just-in-time food deliveries, public transport lacking emergency preparedness, and local government without the resources to provide shelter for those in need. Our long history of violent weather extremes – extreme for humans, at any rate – should surely persuade us to give far greater priority to resilience, to how to cope when the weather makes life hazardous, and should economic and social systems fail.

Resilience could mean changes such as making regions more self-sufficient, maintaining emergency stores, building and adapting homes to make them suitable for home working so that people need to travel less, and devolving more responsibility to community councils for ensuring that local services and infrastructure are adequate.

Yet come the first sunny day, and we are likely to forget.

PDR

Swansea Bay City Deal: Hot on Advertising, Cool on Facts

What’s in the Swansea Bay City Deal for you?

This week I have been trying to find out, but struggled to reach beyond the glossy advertising.

The big accountability problem with public-private deals like this is ‘commercial confidentiality’, which means that often elected councillors let alone the general public, don’t know how sensibly our money is being spent.

First stop, the Swansea Bay City Region website, www.swanseabaycityregion.com. Oh! Nothing there but this message:

Our site has moved!

Please visit our new site:
www.swanseabaycitydeal.wales

So I click through, to a website which conveys aspirations as facts.

£1.3 billion investment!

£1.8 billion boost to the economy!

10,000 jobs!

11 high spec projects!

The exclamation marks are mine, but justified, I think, to indicate the lack of explanation on this website about how the figures were calculated.

The home page has four headings above these claims: Economic Acceleration; Energy; Life Science and Well-being; and Smart Manufacturing.

Under ‘Economic Acceleration’ we have buzz words like ‘state of the art’, ‘centre of excellence’ and ‘next generation services’. It’s about ‘digital’, the aspiration that the Swansea Bay region – Neath Port Talbot, Swansea, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire – becomes a digital nirvana. I read that a transatlantic fibre optic cable will come to Oxwich Bay on Gower and a cloud-based Data Centre at the Port Talbot Waterfront Enterprise Zone will be developed. When? Who is paying for them? No data on that.

S4C’s new HQ at Yr Egin in Carmarthen is included under ‘Economic Acceleration’. I have no issue at all with S4C having a presence at the University of Wales Trinity St David, but could it be that the city deal vision is too heavily based on the construction of buildings? According to the website, for example, in Swansea there will be ‘flexible and affordable’ office space, ‘incubation space and co-working areas’, and ‘conference facilities and major event space’.

At Baglan, the aspiration is for a centre with a ‘range of laboratories and office space’ for the scientific community and industry. The centre ‘will bring together a range of technical and commercial experts to bridge the gap between research and application of ideas to industry. As a result, the centre will be a vehicle for turning world class data into commercial opportunities, increasing the ability to launch, develop and grow commercial systems and solutions’. Sounds exciting!

Ignoring the Energy and Smart Manufacturing strands for today, we arrive at Life Science and Well-being. This proposes new campuses at Morriston and Singleton hospitals, and a Life Science and Well-being village at Delta Lakes close to the coast in Llanelli, to deliver ‘transformational social and economic benefits’. There is mention of open market housing, a ‘high end hotel’ and a leisure centre as well as a life sciences institute, a care home and sheltered housing.

I’d like to find out more, but here the website falls considerably short. I cannot find any contact details on the site’s main pages. No names, street addresses, telephone numbers, or email addresses. Must be one somewhere, surely? Under ‘About’ there is a recruitment advert, for private-sector representatives on the Swansea Bay City Deal Economic Strategy Board. I click through to the application form, which does have an email address:

citydeal@carmarthenshire.gov.uk

So if you are a potential private-sector representative, there is a route to finding out more, but none for the general public.

The information for applicants says that the total investment of some £1.3 billion would be over a period of 15 years. There would be £241m from UK and Welsh Governments; £396m from ‘other public sector funding’ (such as county councils, health boards and universities, I assume) and £637m from the private sector.

The hoped-for £637 million from the private sector suggests to me that the City Deal is a new incarnation of the PFIs (Private Finance Initiatives) and PPPs (Public Private Partnerships) which led to expensive debt weighing down the public sector. ‘Why weren’t the drawbacks obvious at the time?’ one might ask. I’m sure numerous questions were asked, but suggest that confidentiality rules often prevent full answers from being given.

Here’s hoping that the website http://www.swanseabaycitydeal.wales will soon contain more real information so that we the public can discover whether our taxes are being spent effectively. Swansea Bay’s £241 million from governments and £396 million from other public sources is half the almost £1.3 billion for the ‘deal’, and is about 92p for every one of the 693,000 or so adults, children and babies living in Neath Port Talbot, Swansea, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire. Not a vast amount per head, admittedly, but a substantial total, too large to be wholly obscured by confidentiality regulations.

If private-sector investment falls short, as it might, then will the public purse be expected to make up the difference? We ought to know that too.

PDR

Pembrokeshire Council Burns Cash on Fuel for Under-Occupied ‘Innovation Centre’

The Bridge Innovation Centre in Pembroke Dock has modern workshops and offices but too few tenants, and that has landed Pembrokeshire County Council, the owner, with extremely high annual utility bills – around £50,000 for gas and £23,000 for electricity for this one centre, said independent councillor Tessa Hodgson (Lamphey).

“Perhaps we should turn the heating down,” she told Cabinet members on February 12th, reminding them that the workshop space had never been fully occupied.

Such high bills for empty space are hard to swallow when the county council is considering a 12.5% increase in council tax, which would take a Band D property from £883.15 to £993.54 – a rise of almost £110. And that excludes the police and crime precept, which in 2017-18 is £213.87 for Band D.

The county council is advertising workshops to let in The Bridge Innovation Centre, from £8,136 a year for 1,356 square feet to £17,616 for 2,936 square feet. The council says: “Occupiers are responsible for paying their own utilities and Business Rates and a basic rental of £6 a square foot. With the prior agreement of Pembrokeshire County Council, tenants may undertake interior alterations which can provide a full first floor which effectively doubles the floor area of the workshop. This effectively reduces rent to £3 a square foot and can create a large office space, computer rooms, clean rooms or other types of laboratory space.”

Paying for the utilities on top could be pricey, considering the burden they currently impose on the county council, but the rents appear reasonable. So why is the centre under-occupied? There is a gap between businesses which the council would like to see – high-margin digital enterprises and precision engineering firms, for example – and the businesses which do often prosper in West Wales, sole traders and micro firms in industries such as construction, food processing and vehicle repair, which have specific work and storage requirements.

Each workshop at The Bridge has an office, “generous” workspace and a plant room which houses a gas boiler, utility meters and the main power distribution board. Could it be that the space is too smart, and thus too expensive, for typical new businesses in Pembrokeshire?

PDR

Llandeilo Bypass Route — Unsafely Close To Ysgol Bro Dinefwr?

The Llandeilo bypass could be squeezed between Ysgol Bro Dinefwr and houses in Ffairfach. 

TUESDAY FEBRUARY 13th, 2pm to 7pm in Llandeilo Civic Hall, Crescent Road — there is a public consultation about the construction of a Llandeilo bypass.

If you want to know more, you can contact Llandeilo’s county councillor, Edward Thomas, on 07842 649261, email egthomas@sirgar.gov.uk.

A leaflet delivered locally draws attention to air pollution within about 30 metres of Ysgol Bro Dinefwr, and to fears that “heavy, fast-moving traffic will threaten the safety of children travelling to and from the school”.

Talk of a Llandeilo bypass, which began in 1939, has resurfaced amid rising worry about dangerous numbers of heavy vehicles, and illegal levels of air pollution, along the A483 Manchester to Swansea trunk road where it slices through the centre of the town.

All the possible routes considered so far have drawbacks – and the lately built Ysgol Bro Dinefwr, at Love Lodge Farm, Ffairfach, could cause new and expensive complications.

The Welsh Government’s budget, agreed with the Plaid Cymru opposition in October 2016, includes a commitment to explore ways of bringing forward construction of a Llandeilo bypass.

The bypass project, which would improve air quality and road safety in the town, but would damage historic landscapes regardless of the route selected, has been prepared for dusting off a number of times, but remained shelved. In 2013 Edwina Hart, then the Welsh Government’s Minister for Economics, Science and Transport, gave a start date of 2016. Welcoming the news, Carmarthenshire County Council’s Executive Board member responsible for transport at the time, Pontamman’s Colin Evans, said the bypass would be likely to cost over £40 million.

Several routes have been proposed over the years. The Outer Western Route, not a preferred option, would slice right through the protected landscape of Dinefwr Park and the new £30 million, 1,200-pupil Bro Dinefwr school, and so is off the table.

The Inner Western Route and the Inner Eastern Route would both require a roundabout where the eastern boundary of the school meets the A476 road to Cross Hands, which is used by much traffic bound for the A48 and M4.

The Outer Eastern Route avoids going anywhere near the new school, but it also avoids meeting the A476.

The prospect of a large roundabout in the cramped space between Ysgol Bro Dinefwr and Ffairfach raises issues of risks to pedestrians and of too-close proximity to the vehicle entrance to the school, which is just yards further along the A476.

During construction works, building a roundabout between the school and Ffairfach would impede and slow down access to the school for vehicles and pedestrians.

The Welsh Government, though, said late in 2016 that it had no concerns about fitting in a roundabout between the new school and Ffairfach.

A spokesperson said: “The proposed route of the Eastern Bypass of Llandeilo has been protected for a number of years and pre-dates the construction of Bro Dinefwr comprehensive school. When the local planning authority was developing proposals for the school they consulted with our transport department to ensure that the school was positioned to take into account the proposed bypass route.”

There is less space, though, than that occupied by the A40-A483 roundabout on the eastern side of Llandeilo, and the far larger numbers of pedestrians who would need to cross the bypass roundabout would surely require wide paths, taking up even more room.

PDR

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: