LET THE PUBLIC DECIDE January 2015
You will remember how exactly a year ago the hard-working volunteers who run our community association squared up against the hard-working volunteers who serve on the community council and demanded a share of the money the councillors take off us hard-working council tax payers. And the community association lot got £750 with strings.
Well last night we had the second leg. In the intervening twelve months both teams had been practicing their arguments and thinking dark thoughts. The councillors had decided they weren’t giving the community association another grant because they hadn’t been provided with a “business plan”. And the community association had decided that the councillors didn’t do much for the community and were a waste of time. You will be delighted to know that both parties decided that the only way out of the deadlock was for you the public to decide. You are all invited to a special meeting on 23rd March when you can sit on the new blue seats and have your say.
There was a real shock when we came to setting the figure for how much money the council would need in the next financial year (the precept). Last year it was £4,500 but because for various reasons we didn’t spend all that so this year we’re only going to need £1,500 the lowest figure for seven years. And perhaps come December we might have a little bit to spare for grants. Perhaps some of you know of a deserving local charity.
The useless unworkable stand pipe has been repaired at a cost of £300 but the councillors don’t know where to put it. Any suggestions? Somewhere temporary will do because wherever it goes somebody will soon nick it for its scrap value.
Sue in her county councillor’s report had one bit of worrying news – the 70 odd community councils in Carmarthenshire might be reduced to 10 and we might finish up with just one councillor sitting in a big council at St Clears. Mind you there might not be a Carmarthenshire county. The Welsh Assembly want to halve the number of county councils. Sue reported no news on the wind turbine or the 106 money for those solar panels or the village road speed check but Cwmfelin Boeth might get some crash barriers alongside the slippery road bit.
The next exciting council meeting will be on 19th March when we might get Chris the community police officer with or without his truncheon.
Our thoughts at this time are with the families of the murdered Charlie Hebdo journalists. The tragic events in Paris remind us how precious is freedom of speech.
VOICE OF THE PEOPLE December 2014
Recently there have been mutterings about whether we could get rid of our community council. It takes some £2500 of our money every year and uses most of it just to maintain itself in being. All it gives back to the community is something for lighting; £100 for a Welsh newspaper; £100 for the air ambulance and £70 for our local newsletter.
But the community council is not just about money. Tonight all the councillors turned up to show us another side of their work.. They were being asked their views on important matters. Our councillors are regularly asked by all kinds of bodies to speak up and express what we as a community think. Quite a responsibility to be the voice of the people.
First the police commissioner wanted to know how much money to take off us next year. Less than this year said our councillors. Concentrate on improving technology they said and if there’s any spare money use it to cut our contribution.
Then came the main reason for the special meeting – the county planners wanted comments on proposals to do things to a derelict Grade Two Listed Building which had once been an important farm and vicarage. Our councillors studied in detail the plans which included turning a barn into a holiday cottage. They talked about the bats. Finally they decided to raise no objections but to say they were pleased to see the building being restored to its former glory.
If you want to decide whether having a community council is a good thing or not, come to the next meeting on January15th when the councillors will amongst many other things be deciding how much money to take off us in council tax and how to spend it.
KNIGHTS OF THE TRUNCATED ELLIPSE TABLE November 2014
We all sat round a very smart new table which Chairman Dave said was not oval but a truncated ellipse. There was a bit of tut tutting over councillors who don’t turn up and don’t send apologies.
In correspondence we half heartedly agreed to support a plan for a railway from Carmarthen to Aberystwyth which might have trouble crossing Tregaron Bog. We heard that all the county archive documents had turned mouldy and had to be sent away to be dried out. In the new Local Development Plan there appeared to be no new development in our community. And our wonderful councillors had no plans to ask for any pay or claim any expenses.
On the finance front we have £2223 in the bank including a mysterious gift of £30 from the Welsh Audit Office reserves! Next year we plan to give the Air Ambulance £100, the newsletter £70 and the Cardi Bach welsh newspaper £100. But after a long discussion a grant for the Community Association was turned down because the hardworking volunteers had failed to provide our councillors with a business plan. Our councillors also have this queer idea that they can’t make decisions about the Community Association without knocking on everybody’s door to see what we think (government by referendum). But they don’t ask us if we mind £100 of our money being spent on a welsh newspaper only two of us read. The Clerk is going to get a measly 2% increase on her salary – the first increase in three years. We worked out ways of stopping the clerk running off with all our money and to our amazement we learnt that we have £5724 in assets including a filing cabinet, 2 benches, 7 street lights and a projector screen.
County Councillor Sue had lots to say. The glare from the sun off the acres of solar panels was causing problems at neighbouring houses. The county bureaucrats are still holding on tight to the £98,000 we’re supposed to be getting for the solar panels but Sue has managed to drag £500 out of them for a feasibility study. Somebody has crashed their car into the doctor’s surgery and messed up the kids’ waiting room. We have a new community police officer – Pc Chris. He’s been given a car but we don’t know whether he’s got his whistle and truncheon yet. We’re inviting him to a meeting. The county Council tax next year is likely to be extra £5%. Whitland Town Council has got a grant for a very nice sculptural seat in the park.
We heard the chairman’s neighbour from hell had dumped tons of earth in his garden and that somebody’s car that was blocking an exit was picked up by a front end loader and chucked into the owner’s garden. We’d had a flood in the village but no houses had been affected – just drives and gardens
.And finally we confirmed that we were willing to spend £300 on a broken conduit. Not you understand so that it would work again but so that it would look pretty.
HELP SAVE THE POLAR BEARS September 19th 2014
Steve Hack, boss of Seren Energy, came on Thursday to talk about his application to build a 67 metre high wind turbine in our back yard. He failed miserably to convince us that it was worthy of our support. 17 members of the public had come to join six councillors and the clerk in the tiny meeting room. They ridiculed his claim that his wind turbine would help save the polar bears. He was wearing his Friends of the Earth hat at the time and talking about the climate crisis. You’re just interested in making a profit he was told. He was closely questioned on errors in his application, the effect on local properties and the dodgy photos his firm had provided.
After Steve had been evading questions for ninety minutes in an open session the public were told to shut up while our councillors delivered their verdict. They decided that most of the public complaints were irrelevant and concentrated on the likely effect on the viability, jobs and people’s health of the farms and businesses round about. They decided that the proposed wind turbine would have a very bad effect and decided for once in their lives to actually oppose an application. The clerk had to stay up past her bed-time emailing the decision before the midnight deadline.
The protesters went home happy. But what happens next? On the last wind turbine application (now up and turning for everybody to see) the county council planners said no but were overturned by an inspector.
COUNCIL/FOOTBALL CLASH 9th September 2014
Some clever person changed the council meeting date so it clashed with England’s important football match with Switzerland and somebody insisted on having the windows open to let in the cool autumn evening air. Some of us weren’t pleased.
The meeting started with a report from Christine, the council’s rep on the Park Trustees, taking time off from cake making. Not enough kids in the village she said and not enough things to do in the park. She’d like an assault course but there’s no money.
Next we heard how Simon our lovely MP had chivvied our wonderful county council road men into providing more gullies for flood water and raising the kerbs so that floods had less chance of rushing into buildings. The kerbstones are just the right height to catch people’s car exhausts but you can’t have everything. We’re now waiting for some heavy rain to test the system.
The Wales Audit Office is giving us £30 but nobody told us why. Another set of auditors who actually look at our accounts said they were happy and charged us £96 for the privilege of knowing they were happy. Another £1500 of your precept money had arrived in our bank account to ensure a healthy balance at year end and annoy the internal auditor who doesn’t charge £96 for telling us he’s unhappy. The councillors aren’t going to think about financial risk until November.
Chairman Dave reported that MP Simon’s mobile phone scheme was a non-starter and we would have to carry on standing on a chair in the north-west corner of our bathroom to get any sort of signal.
The 106 money that’s supposed to be coming our way because of that ugly solar park outside Whitland got a good airing. There’s about £98,000 to be shared between us and Whitland Town Council and it’s got to be spent on an energy producing scheme (perhaps a water wheel in the River Taf). One problem is that some greedy official in County Buildings has got hold of the money and won’t release it. Sue, our county councillor, is stalking him.
Following complaints from residents lots of speed measuring things across the road are going to be installed. Chairman Dave thinks vehicles aren’t getting faster – they’re just getting noisier and bigger.
Sue gave us a nice short report on her life as a county councillor. If you have surgical or neonatal problems don’t go Wythybush hospital they’ll just pack you off to Carmarthen. Whitland Town Council have finally got round to thinking about writing to Pobol Y Com about the nasty remarks about Whitland in the TV programme. Some big cheese fire commander is coming to investigate the fires at the solar park. By the way if the fire in your house needs a fire engine with a big ladder the one at Haverfordwest is broken so they’ll have to bring one all the way from Swansea. It’s a good job most of us live in bungalows.
Finally there was a query about the progress of the business plan for the Community Association. No actual progress apparently but a grant has been received for nice furniture so there was hope of more bookings.
At least there was an 8.30 finish to the meeting so some of us could watch England score two winning goals in the second half before going for lemonade in the pub.
DOOM, GLOOM & SOLAR PANELS July 2014
Did Windy Miller face opposition when he built his windmill in Camberwick Green all those years ago? The local farmer who has just scarred the landscape with his fields full of solar panels is not popular with people in the parish with his new design for a great big wind turbine. They turned up at our council meeting last night to complain about it being stuck right by where the holiday makers stay and how it will frighten the horses. The farmer hasn’t even applied for planning permission yet.
Next we got an hour of chairman Dave wading through correspondence. There were a few highlights including the opening of a free pack from Western Power full of things you need in a power cut including a phone and a battery radio. It took Bryan hours to get everything back in the box. He also got lumbered with the job of sorting out in order of importance the 12 things to consider when punishing offenders (no mention of lashing or the rack). Simon Hart, our lovely MP, had sent a couple of long letters detailing all the hard work he had undertaken to get us nothing to help with flooding and poor mobile phone reception. Surprisingly our councillors agreed to have some annual training so perhaps they don’t know everything after all. The letter about changes to the hospitals in our area had missed being sent to councillors. Fewer complaints about naughty councillors were being sent to the ombudsman and small community councils might be stuck together to make bigger ones.
But amongst all the letters pouring in from faraway places there was one plaintive little cry from a local resident about the speed of traffic in the village and drinkers not using – or even knowing about – the pub car park. The community police officer is going to be sent for and the pub is going to put up a sign.
We turned for light relief to our county councillor but Sue’s report was full of doom and gloom. There had been two fires causing enormous damage to those dreadful solar panels; the surgery is not moving to the dairy site; there had been a nasty reference to Whitland in the welsh soap Pobol Y Cwm; and a judge had changed the rules about people in care being deprived of their liberty with county councils (and us council tax payers) having to fork out loads in court costs. The only joy Sue could offer us was that school busses wouldn’t be allowed to clog up North Road in Whitland and we might get some 106 money from the solar panels if we went to a meeting on 18th August.
After a long two hour meeting we were all pleased to get to the pub to drink our lemonade.
WAS IT WORTH IT? May 2014
We had the excitement of an AGM followed by an ordinary meeting last night but it all went a bit flat. For a start the AGM was over in the blink of an eye and the rest didn’t last long. The meetings started at 7pm and soon after 8 everybody was in the pub sipping lemonade and wondering whether it had been worth turning out.
The same old faces got appointed to be chair, vice and internal auditor but after that there was a strange reluctance to volunteer for anything. Certainly nobody seized the chance to serve the community by sitting in the council’s vacant chair at the community council trustees’ meetings. And no councillors wanted to go on the code of conduct training sessions laid on for them by the county council. They also turned down the chance of going to the County Liaison Forum organised by One Voice Wales, but then they always refuse to have anything to do with anything One Voice Wales lays on.
There were brief mentions of BT broadband, the community council website, Whitland Railway Station and a nicer windmill for Cwmfelin Boeth but no actual decisions were made all night. In the absence of County Councillor Sue who was off gallivanting in Ireland it was left to the ancient internal auditor to inject a bit of life into the proceedings.
The old codger had a bee in his bonnet about the amount of money unspent at the end of each year. £1366 was the amount he said had been taken off the council tax payers and not used. And this amount had been ignored when setting the precept so in the current financial year the council had about £6000 to spend and was likely only to spend £4000. He forecast riots in the streets. The councillors tried to defend themselves with talk about the money set aside to repair the unworkable and unusable stand pipe from which we used to collect our water in days gone by. But that is only going to cost £300 and the councillors agreed they must in future watch the pennies more carefully.
If you want a longer meeting come to the next on 17th July – that is if you’re not too busy getting ready for the fete two days later.
LET’S HEAR FROM THE PEOPLE IN THE STICKS March 2014
The innocent-looking item on the agenda “6. Precept Review” caused quite a rumpus. At the last meeting our councillors said that before they gave any more money next year to the Community Association they wanted to see a business plan and also evidence that the public were happy about giving money to the organisation which amongst other things runs the hall.
Some bright spark had come up with the idea of catching everybody as they came out from voting in the Euro elections in May and asking them about how their money should be spent. This idea got kicked into touch when councillors realised that the odd few who came to vote were hardly representative of the general public. Bryan thought the councillors should go and knock on the doors of our 200 houses. Clive had grave doubts about the decision to give away £750 this year and was reluctant to do it again next year. He thought the Association trustees had no idea how to run a business and had failed miserably over the last 14 years since the hall was opened. Anyway the people in the sticks don’t use the hall and had no interest in what the Association does.
The internal auditor was allowed to prattle on about how councillors are there to make decisions and don’t need to keep asking the public, and that they should ask themselves whether the community needs a hall and what they could do to support it.
The finance section revealed that the Council had not spent £1366.36 during the year and this money was going into a mysterious reserve fund. It means that the Council will have £5808 in the next financial year but only intends to spend £3702. Let’s hope they watch every penny.
Sue’s county councillor report revealed that she had been successful in having the Whitland public toilets being kept open 24 hours a day 365 days a year. The problems of setting up the huge solar park between us and Whitland was discussed. There might be some money coming our way to compensate for its abysmal ugliness. Sue was quizzed about the debate in Council about the bung of £28,000 to the Chief Executive to add to his pension. The debate was televised live and we were not impressed with the standard of debate. We agreed you get a better standard at our community council meetings.
By the way Wales’s first organic tannery has got planning permission. Order your goatskins now.
CALENDAR GIRLS, GOATSKIN RUGS AND THE MEANING OF LIFE January 2014
As forecast the January meeting of our community council proved a classic. Six councillors were lined up against six members of the public for a long and serious debate about the future of village life and the part played by our millennium hall. The trustees with responsibility for the hall and many more things felt it was time everybody in the area coughed up something via the council tax. Graham eloquently put their case. Clive the vice was the main spokesman for the councillors with Dave the chair banished to outer darkness once he had declared an interest. Clive wanted evidence that the public loved the hall and were prepared to put their hands in their pockets. Eventually the councillors agreed to Bryan’s suggestion for the trustees to get £750 provided they came up with a good business plan and kept the councillors in the picture. The tax payers who find themselves paying about £5 a year to fund this £750 are asked to let their councillors know what they think. They might also ask why the precept was set at a record high of £4500 nearly £1000 more than the council thinks it will need.
The meeting was livened up by goatskins being passed around the room. Dr Steve, our clever world travelling industrial chemist, wants to slow down and start up Wales’s first organic tannery using mimosa instead of nasty smelly chemicals. The county planners can’t make up their minds whether it’s agriculture of industrial development but our councillors are quite happy to let Dr Steve carry on.
Sue’s county council report had some routine stuff about 600 council employees losing their jobs because of a gap in European funding, new shops in Whitland, and a suspected underground tunnel at the abbey. But she had brought along the calendar produced by the Whitland Ladies Rugby Team. If the photos are anything to go by record crowds will be turning up at their next games. Miss October looks a big strong girl. The ref might find it difficult to tell the teams apart.
Other matters on the agenda in a fun packed evening were sponsorship for the newsletter, a token £50 donation to the Eisteddfod, the need for a joined up plan to stop flooding in the road, and a final admission that the green tarmac was a waste of time and money and can we have some red tarmac please
Click On To The Council Website November 2012
The Welsh Assembly Government in its wisdom is giving our community council £500 to set up a website so that Joe Public will know what the council is doing. Great. We in this newsletter office have been trying to do that for the last 12 years and it’s an uphill struggle trying to get Joe to show some interest in the meetings of his council.
Last night our councillors gave webmaster Jamie 50 valuable minutes of their time as he explained how the website would look. From January Joe will be able to log on to the council’s own dedicated site and find interesting stuff on agendas, minutes, planning etc. There might even be room for these newsletters. There will also be a link to the other local website for news about all the other organisations.
Two other website matters of interest. One will be the ongoing cost. Us council tax payers including Joe will have to find £180 a year to keep the thing going. And what about Welsh readers? The planned website is in English. The thought of having to find £500 for another website all in Welsh and thousands on translation costs was too much for our councillors and they decided to leave that problem for Gethin and other welsh speakers to deal with another day.
They turned next to 24 items of correspondence in which lurked some menacing requests for money. Each one was fobbed off by deciding to deal with it at the January meeting when the precept for the following year is decided (how much money to steal off us council tax payers). So come along on 16th January if you want know how much you are going to give to the Urdd youth eisteddford; the costs of a Service of Commemoration to mark the start of World War 1; Marilyn’s Wednesday craft group, and the community association which thinks it’s high time everybody helped pay for community things.
In the Finance slot councillors decided to give away some of this year’s money. £100 went to the Air Ambulance, £100 to the Helgorn Taf Bugle, and £10 a month for clerk’s expenses instead of the measly £6.25.
Finally we had Sue’s county council report. She started off in skittish mood telling us about calling out the firemen to deal with a screen blown onto a car parked illegally at the railway station; and how the sheep at the cattle market were getting a new roof to keep the rain off; and how people in Whitland now had a footpath to walk to the tip with their blue and black bags. But then she remembered a recent seminar she had attended which had scared her witless. Apparently come the year 2050 life won’t be worth living. Half the county will be flooded, there will be no oil, not enough food and all kinds of disasters. Only China has the right idea. It has started using Africa as a back garden cos there isn’t enough room in China to grow the food for its millions. So those of you who think you have 37 Christmases left start thinking seriously about sustainability.