News in brief: Government criticised over pharmacy vaccine roll-out
The Welsh Conservatives have accused the government of failing to engage with pharmacies over the delivery of the Covid vaccine, as a pilot scheme in Gwynedd launched today.
Fifty people are due to get their first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine at the pharmacy near Pwllheli, Gwynedd and hundreds of pharmacies across Wales will offer the jab over the next two weeks.
However, Community Pharmacy Wales says only one of Wales’ seven health boards have approached pharmacies about administering jabs, and in an open letter to Health Minister Vaughan Gething it said there is an “urgent need” to use pharmacies in Wales to help roll out the vaccine.
The letter from the sector’s representative body observed just one health board “has even asked for expressions of interest from community pharmacists who wish to participate” in the vaccination service.
“To date, none have been commissioned. CPW strongly believes that there is an urgent need to pick up speed,” it added.
Andrew RT Davies MS, Conservative Shadow Health Minister, described the letter as a “damning indictment” of the Labour administration’s approach to managing the pandemic and said delays in the distribution of the vaccine “could cost lives”.
“Pharmacies in England are joining the fight against the virus and starting to play their role in the rollout of the vaccination programme, and here in Wales there is great enthusiasm from pharmacies to do just the same,” Mr Davies said.
“Community pharmacies are a trusted and friendly face on the high street and need to be deployed as soon as possible to expand the vaccination roll out across Wales.
“It is worrying they have yet to be commissioned and engagement has been so minimal, and this could be another example where the Welsh Labour Government is forced to play catch-up.
“This dither and delay could cost lives and livelihoods and it’s now imperative the First Minister eases the pressure on the health minister and appoints a dedicated vaccinations minister to deliver the rollout at rapid speed.”
The Welsh Government said: “We welcome the appetite from CPW for pharmacies to deliver the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
“More pharmacists – and other primary care contractors, such as dentists and opticians – are being invited to help the huge effort to vaccinate people against coronavirus in the weeks and months ahead, subject to sufficient supplies of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.”
Another 54 Covid deaths in Wales as figures show decline in new cases
A further 54 people have died with coronavirus and 1,808 new cases of the virus have been confirmed in today’s update from Public Health Wales.
The number of people to receive a first dose of vaccine across the country has increased to 126,375, up 13,402 on yesterday’s total.
Of the newly recorded deaths, 18 were in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board area, 11 in Swansea Bay and 10 in Aneurin Bevan. Betsi Cadwaladr health board reported six and there were five in Cardiff and Vale and three in Hywel Dda. One death was also reported in Powys.
Cardiff (172) had the highest number of new cases, followed by Wrexham (157) and Flintshire (137).
Wrexham continues to have the highest weekly case rate in Wales at 867.8 per 100,000 people, down from 922.4 yesterday. It also has the highest positive test proportion over the last seven days at 28.8% per 100,000 tests, down from 29.9% yesterday.
The rolling seven-day total for the week ending 10 January records 11,715 new cases across Wales, compared to 14,713 for the previous week. The Wales-wide weekly case rate has also dropped from 466.7 to 371.6 and the positive test proportion is down from 23.9% to 18.8%.
Merthyr Tydfil councillors set to appoint a new leader next week
Anthony Lewis, local democracy reporter
Merthyr Tydfil councillors are set to appoint a new leader next week in place of the suspended Councillor Kevin O’Neill.
A special full council meeting on Wednesday, January 20 is expected to confirm deputy leader and cabinet member for education Councillor Lisa Mytton as leader while Cllr O’Neill is suspended.
Councillors are being asked to progress to fill this essential post to “ensure the stable running of the council.”
Cllr O’Neill was handed a seven month suspension for breaching the code of conduct after a tribunal held in December.
The Adjudication Panel for Wales found six breaches relating to his personal interest in a property at Luther Lane and his conduct towards the former chief executive of the council.
His suspension started on December 23 but he announced his intention to appeal the decision.
After the ruling was revealed he said: “I was shocked by the tribunal’s decision and surprised it has been picked up by the press before I have been given the reasons for it.
“My motivations during my time in office have been (and will always be) doing right by the people of Merthyr Tydfil.
“I don’t believe that commitment has ever been questioned during this process.
“I will be scrutinising the reasons closely with my legal team as soon as they’re received.
“My firm wish is to appeal so I can return to public service as soon as possible.
“If and when the time is right, I will give my full explanation on the matters which were the subject of the complaint against me.
“The decision has now led to a situation which has stopped me in leading my local authority in working tirelessly to support the community at a time of an unprecedented health crisis.”
Lid Dems want more support for struggling businesses
Welsh Liberal Democrats have called for more government support for businesses struggling due to the impact of the latest lockdown and have accused First Minister Mark Drakeford of a lack of urgency in introducing new measures.
In a WalesOnline interview published earlier in the week, M Drakeford confirmed that no new announcement of support was imminent but said the Welsh Government was still in discussions with the Treasury and “will definitely be looking to see where we can extend support”.
“Welsh businesses need help, and they need help now,” Jane Dodds, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats said.
“What’s been offered so far isn’t enough to sustain Welsh businesses facing an open-ended lockdown with the same level of Government support as for last autumn’s two-week firebreak.”
“Businesses can ill afford any more uncertainty. The First Minister needs to act, and he needs to act fast.”
Staggering amount of court summonses sent for unpaid council tax during pandemic
Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter
The staggering amount of court summonses sent by the Vale of Glamorgan council for unpaid council tax during the pandemic has been revealed.
The Vale council stopped chasing people for unpaid council tax debt when the first coronavirus lockdown began in March last year, due to concerns of the economic impact of the pandemic — but then carried on in September.
The first court hearing since the pause had been scheduled for Thursday, January 14. But this was postponed until March 10 due to the current level four lockdown.
A recent freedom of information request has now revealed that, since September, the Vale council has sent 69 court summonses to people who haven’t paid council tax.
A court summons for unpaid council tax means the council asking a magistrate to order those in debt to pay back what they owe in full, plus court costs too.
The Vale council website lists “invalid defences” debtors can make to a magistrate when in court: “You can’t afford to pay; you have applied for council tax benefit, discount or exemption; or you have not received the notices sent to you.”
After court, some unpaid debts are then sent to bailiffs, who have the power to enter the homes of people who can’t pay council tax and sell their possessions to make up the money owed.
Since last September, the Vale council referred 161 unpaid debts to bailiffs, according to the freedom of information request. The council doesn’t employ its own bailiffs but contracts out the work to the Merthyr-based bailiffs Swift Credit Services.
The costs of hiring the bailiffs are also added to the total debt each individual owes to the council.
A liability order issued by a magistrate can also force those in debt to give details of their income to the council, who can ask employers to deduct the debt directly from wages or salaries and send money to the council. A similar process is in place for people on benefits.
A Vale of Glamorgan Council spokesperson said: “The summons received were issued before Wales returned to a national lockdown on December 19. Once national measures were reintroduced, all court cases were adjourned until March 10, when we hope restrictions will have been eased.
“Enforcement agent action was suspended during the first lockdown. This has now restarted, but only in relation to debts incurred before last March when restrictions were first introduced.
“These payments are now a further 10 months overdue. Paying council tax is not optional. This is a vital revenue stream that helps the authority provide a range of services on which residents rely.
“Issuing a court summons or taking enforcement action is always a last resort and such methods are used only where customers have persistently defaulted on payments and rejected all other attempts at resolution.”