News in brief: Second home owners in Pembrokeshire back cut in council tax premium
Katy Jenkins, local democracy reporter
The majority of respondents to Pembrokeshire County Councils public consultation on second home premiums in the county have backed a 50% reduction in the council tax premium.
Overall there were 1,373 responses to the consultation which also included long term empty properties, and the most popular option overall was a council tax premium of 25 per cent – half the current 50 per cent premium – which was supported by 638 of all respondents, and 599 respondents who own a second home.
Of those who did not own a second home the most popular option was a 100 per cent premium, supported by 275 respondents.
Pembrokeshire County Council’s policy and pre-decision overview and scrutiny committee is due to examine the results of the public consultation on second home premiums, as well as working group conclusions on Thursday (September 23).
The council tax working group discussed the consultation earlier this month and were happy with how it had been carried out, recommending to cabinet that it “maximise the revenues available to the council and to ring fence any additional funds for affordable housing.”
Following scrutiny this week the matter will be referred to cabinet on October 4 before a full council decision is made later that month.
The consultation was launched in April following concerns that the number of second homes in the county were pricing locals out of the area.
Two months later a Notice of Motion was put forward by Labour councillors to increase the second home council tax premium to 100 per cent this financial year but that wasn’t adopted.
There are currently 3,641 homes subject to the second homes council tax premium of 50 per cent – which is to be spent on housing and the Enhancing Pembrokeshire grants scheme – and raising it to 100 per cent would generate an additional £2.3million, according to the council.
Covid deaths hit six-month high
Covid deaths in Wales have hit their highest total for six months, according to the latest figures released by the Office for National Statistics.
According to the ONS there were 65 deaths recorded in Wales over the seven days ending 10 September, an increase from 25 deaths the previous week but it warns the rise in deaths could also be higher than usual because of an increase in registrations following the the Summer Bank Holiday the week before.
There were 667 deaths from all causes in Wales registered over the week covered by the latest report, 115 deaths (20.8%) over the fire year average. Overall, 9.7% of all deaths registered in the week mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate.
Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020 the ONS calculates the number of deaths in Wales from all causes is 55,030, of these, 8,111 deaths (14.7%) mentioned Covid, 5,451 deaths above the five-year average.
Public Health Wales has reported seven further deaths in today’s update, taking the total number of deaths recorded to 5,821.
The daily figures released by Public Health Wales include the deaths of a hospital patients or care home resident where Covid-19 has been confirmed with a positive laboratory test and the clinician suspects this was a causative factor in the death.
Deaths counted by the ONS are when Covid-19 is mentioned by doctors on the death certificate and which occur in all settings – including hospitals, care homes, hospices and people’s homes.
Four of the newly recorded deaths reported today were in the Betsi Cadwaladr health board area and Cwm Taf Morgannwg recorded three patients had died due to the virus in the last 24 hours.
PHW also reported 2,576 new cases of the virus since yesterday’s report as case rates continued to increase across Wales over the last three days, reversing six consecutive days of falling rates last week.
The weekly rate in Neath Port Talbot is currently the highest in Wales and second highest in the UK after increasing from 808.7 to 835.2 per 100,000 people since yesterday’s report. The national rate has also risen, from 514 to 527.4 since yesterday’s update.
Government accused after suicide of mental health patient
Plaid Cymru has accused the Welsh Government of taking Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board out of special measures too soon, following the death of a patient from suicide in April of this year.
A letter seen by Plaid Cymru from an anonymous whistle blower reveals that senior staff have been moved from posts following the death at the controversial Hergest Unit, a specialised mental health hospital situated within the grounds of Ysbyty Gwynedd run by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB).
These allegations have been confirmed by Jo Whitehead, the Chief Executive of BCUHB, who was subsequently alerted to the anonymous letter by Healthcare Inspectorate Wales (HIW).
In a letter dated 21st June 2021, Ms Whitehead confirmed to HIW that the West Head of Operations and the West Head of Nursing had been “relocated” to take up “alternative” duties, and that an external investigation would commence following the death of a patient by suicide in the Hergest Unit.
Eight years ago, staff raised concerns about patient care at the unit, prompting an investigation led by Robin Holden.
The findings from Holden’s report preceded another damning report at another mental health unit in the BCUHB, which led to the health board being placed in special measures in June 2015.
BCUHB was taken out of special measures in the run up to the Senedd elections, but Plaid Cymru’s health spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS says “questions must be asked” over this decision.
“The continued scandals must be urgently addressed, and my heart goes out to all the families that continue to be affected by these tragedies,” Mr ap Iorwerth said.
“Questions must be asked how Betsi Cadwaladr was able to come out of special measures when serious problems within mental health units clearly persist.”
“Staff members have told me in recent days that problems of underinvestment and under resourcing still haven’t been addressed. Enough is enough. Leadership arrangements have once again been highlighted as a weakness – both by the staff that I’ve been speaking to, and in the letter from the Chief Executive.
“Welsh Government must accept responsibility for addressing these long running and deep-rooted issues. If no decisive action is taken, these tragic episodes will continue, leaving an ever-growing list of bereaved families with unanswered questions.”
Key agricultural schemes extended until 2023
Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths has confirmed more than £66 million of funding is being made available by the Welsh Government, following the extension of key agricultural schemes.
The Glastir Advanced, Commons and Organic contracts are being extended until December 2023 and the Minister also revealed the Basic Payment Scheme will continue until 2023, subject to the UK Government’s comprehensive spending review.
Over 1.3m hectares of Welsh agricultural land come under a Glastir contract which requires the contract holder to conserve and enhancing wildlife and biodiversity, improve soil and water resources and restore peatland habitats.
The Minister also announced a further £7m to extend the Farming Connect programme, which provides business support to thousands of farmers and foresters across Wales, through to March 2023.
“The programme is crucial in supporting our farmers and this extension will help us further enhance our understanding of the impact of Glastir actions and interventions and contribute to the development of the future Sustainable Farming Scheme,” Ms Griffiths said.
“I am also pleased a further £7m funding will see Farming Connect through to March 2023.
“This will ensure support for a more professional, profitable and resilient land based sector, as we deal with multiple challenges and opportunities, including reducing all greenhouse gas emissions to Net Zero by 2050 and the ever-changing trading environment for the industry.
“From visiting farms the length and breadth of Wales, I have seen first-hand the positive impact Farming Connect has on the livelihoods of our farmers and I look forward to seeing more benefit thanks to today’s announcement.”
Welsh organisations receive over £500,000 from UK’s replacement for Erasmus
Cardiff Council and International Links (Global) are to receive £501,941 from the newly established Turing educational programme.
The scheme is the UK Government’s programme to support pupils and students to study and work overseas and was set up after it withdrew from the EU’s Erasmus programme following Brexit.
Cardiff Council will receive £245.938 following a successful application on behalf of ten schools and International Links (Global) Ltd (ILG), made two successful consortium applications to the scheme, securing £206,003 to fund 162 pupils from a cross-section of 16 Welsh schools to participate in learning opportunities in Germany, the USA, Cyprus, Spain, France, Sweden, Iceland and the Czech Republic.
Out of these, 108 pupils come from disadvantaged backgrounds and 42 are Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) pupils.
“We are extremely excited about the opportunities learners in Cardiff will be able to enjoy through our Turing Scheme project, Amanda Morgan, international linking officer for Cardiff Council, said.
Developing outward-looking schools and collaborating locally and globally is an important part of Cardiff Council’s strategic plan for education, ‘Cardiff 2030’, and we strongly believe that introducing an international context to education will help schools successfully meet the opportunities and challenges of the new curriculum for Wales.”
Overall, Wales will receive £5,170,829 from the Turing Scheme for 12 organisations that successfully applied for funding. This includes seven higher education institutions and five schools and Further Education and Vocational Education organisations.