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Neath Port Talbot

£4m council surplus to be reinvested into key services to get Covid recovery underway

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Councillors in Neath Port Talbot have agreed to reinvest more than £4m back into local services from a projected budget underspend to underpin the process of recovery from the pandemic.

At a meeting of Cabinet on 24 November, members were presented with a budget monitoring report which outlined the current position and set out a number of proposals for reallocating £4m from the predicted end-of-year surplus.

Half of the money will go into creating a £2m “service resilience reserve”. This will help restore services affected by the pandemic, enable the council to meet the additional service demands that it is facing as a result of the pandemic and begin to respond to priorities identified by residents through the Let’s Talk engagement campaign. 

The Leader of Neath Port Talbot Council, Cllr. Ted Latham said: “Throughout the pandemic the council has worked with partners and our communities to protect vulnerable people, protect services and protect the NHS. 

“Pressure on our services is now more intense than at any time since the pandemic began, a position shared across the public sector.

“Whilst the situation is very tough, our employees remain motivated and committed to delivering services for Neath Port Talbot.

“The creation of a ‘service resilience reserve’ will enable us to increase the size of our workforce to ensure we have more people available to provide care and support to elderly and vulnerable residents; that we catch up on our neighbourhood services and ensure we have a resilient response for the winter period when typically we see an increase in flooding and inclement weather. The reserve will also ensure we can continue to support our schools and that we can continue to support the NHS and Public Health Wales.”

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Cllr. Carol Clement-Williams, Cabinet Member for Finance added: “Like all councils, we went into 2021/22 with an unprecedented level of uncertainty. It wasn’t possible to predict how Covid-19 would develop or affect the council’s service delivery, costs and income. 

“The Welsh Government Hardship Fund due to end in September 2021, was extended until the end of March 2022. To put this in context, during 2020/21 we benefited from £24m of financial support from this fund.

“In addition, there are a number of ‘one-off’ situations, for example staff vacancies contributing to a Social Services underspend of £2.4m. 

“It is important that we use the underspend to the best benefit for the county borough. A big part of that will be to build service resilience. The funding will enable us to create a number of jobs across service areas and for the first time in many years we are in a position to recruit externally. I would encourage anyone who would like to be part of our drive to help communities recover from this pandemic to come forward and join Team NPT.”

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Coronavirus

Community pharmacists boost the Covid booster vaccine campaign

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The drive to deliver Covid booster vaccines across Swansea Bay as rapidly as possible has itself been boosted by community pharmacies.

All 49 GP practices in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot joined the health board to deliver the first two doses of the vaccine.

But as they are now busy delivering flu vaccines on top of their usual services, community pharmacies have stepped up to help ensure the booster is available locally as well as in the main vaccination centres.

Their involvement follows a successful pilot earlier this year which saw four of them help deliver the first two doses.

Thirteen in the Swansea area, along with Vale of Neath Pharmacy in Glynneath, have now responded to the health board’s call for expressions of interest to take part in the booster programme.

One of the first to receive their booster in a pharmacy was Nigel Godfrey (pictured above), who lives near the Vale of Neath Pharmacy.

“It was fantastic,” said Mr Godfrey. “I was working from home so I could pop down to the pharmacy on my lunch break.

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“It was local, five minutes away. A lot more convenient than having to go to one of the mass vaccination centres.

“There was no waiting, I was in and out within five minutes.

“The pharmacist put me at ease and we went into a private room. There were no problems whatsoever.”

Mr Godfrey, aged 44, is entitled to the booster because of an underlying medical condition.

“But it will also protect my friends, family and colleagues, whoever I come into contact with,” he added.

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“It’s doing the right thing, not just for myself, but also those around me and the community.”

People eligible for the booster will be contacted directly with an appointment either in one of the pharmacies or in a health board vaccination centre.

Appointments are being sent out in chronological order, at least six months after the date people received their second dose.

Six months is the threshold at which those in priority groups become eligible for the booster, not an absolute date it must be given by.

Although there are no drop-in sessions, the health board has started a reserve list for people who are aged 40 or over, who had their second dose at least six months ago.

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They must also be available to attend one of the mass vaccination centres at short notice – within two hours.

As well as the MVCs, the health board employs local vaccination centres, converted shipping containers which can be taken into communities to save people who might otherwise struggle to get to an MVC.

With the pharmacies also on board, every effort is being made to ensure as many of those who are eligible for a booster can receive it as close to their home as possible.

“However, we appreciate that will not be the same for everyone,” said Swansea Bay’s Vaccine Equity Manager, Maxine Evans.

“We send invites to people living within a certain radius of the pharmacies to begin with and, if we have slots still available, we go further out.

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“We are flexible and if people cannot get to the pharmacies because they live too far away and do not have transport, they can phone the booking office to change the appointment.

“But when we have been to the pharmacies and spoken to patients, they were really grateful and happy with the fact that it was local and easy for them to get the booster there.”

Pharmacists too say they are happy to be involved with the booster programme.

Niki Watts of Vale of Neath Pharmacy said: “We decided to take part because we believe it’s important to help the health board get the population fully vaccinated as quickly as possible.

“We are located at the heart of the community so the patients find it easy to access.

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“We have good facilities, including a nice big car park right outside so the patients don’t have to walk very far, and our own dedicated consultation rooms where the vaccinations can take place in private.”

Eligibility for booster vaccines is determined nationally. It includes all adults aged 40 and over; frontline health and social care workers; people aged 16-49 with underlying health conditions putting them at higher risk of Covid-19; adult carers; and adult household contacts, aged 16 and over of anyone who is immunosuppressed.

Top of the eligibility list are people living in residential care homes for older adults. Swansea Bay has concluded its first sweep of 70 homes in the health board area – delivering more than 1,200 boosters to residents.

For various reasons, some were unable to receive the booster when the vaccinators were present, so return visits to each of the homes are now being arranged.

Georgina Assadi, health board Covid vaccine programme assistant service manager, said many of the vaccination team had not worked in the community before.

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“It was all new to them and some were a little anxious to begin with. But they all really enjoyed it because they knew they were providing protection to the most vulnerable people,” she added.

Lead image: Nigel Godfrey is given his booster by Niki Watts of Vale of Neath Pharmacy (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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Margam

Margam Country Park among UK’s top ten – again

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The top ten rating comes after a UK-wide “People’s Vote” organised by environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy to find the country’s ten best Green Flag Award-winning parks and green spaces.

The Green Flag Award scheme is the annual international quality standard for parks and green spaces. 

Following this year’s awards, in which Margam Country Park was once again the recipient of a prestigious Green Flag, members of the British public were invited to take part in the “People’s Choice” vote for their favourite park with tens of thousands joining in. 

Margam Country Park emerged as the only park in Wales to be voted into the country’s top ten. It follows a similar outcome of last year’s People’s Choice vote in which Margam also made it into the UK’s prestigious top ten parks and green spaces list.

Since the start of the pandemic, parks have played an important role for communities the length and breadth of the UK. Research conducted by Keep Britain Tidy earlier in the year showed that more than nine in ten people (93%) think that parks and green spaces are extremely important to their local community.

Now, those communities have spoken with the announcement of the winners in the 2021 People’s Choice Awards, the voting for which was held during October 2021.

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Cllr Peter Rees, Neath Port Talbot Council’s Cabinet Member for Education, Skills and Culture, said: “Thanks to the tireless work of our amazing staff and volunteers, Margam Country Park is a great place for recreation, sports, play, and relaxation and has yet again been shown, by a public vote, to be one of the very best in Britain.

“I’d like to thank everyone who voted for Margam Park and I am delighted it has once again been recognised in the Green Flag People’s Choice Awards. The park is such an important landmark both for our local residents and visitors and this award shows just how much people value it.”

Joining Margam Park in the People’s Choice ten most popular parks and green space are:

  • Victoria Park, Tower Hamlets
  • Cassiobury Park, Watford
  • Eoropie Park, Isle of Lewis
  • Strathaven Park, South Lanarkshire
  • University of Essex Wivenhoe Park, Colchester
  • Valentines Park, Ilford
  • Warley Woods, Smethwick
  • Telford Town Park, Telford
  • National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire

Commenting on the result, International Green Flag Award Manager Paul Todd said: “Congratulations to our ten worthy winners!

“The Green Flag Award includes some of the country’s best-known and iconic parks as well as community green spaces and university campuses.

“To be voted one of the nation’s favourite parks is a real achievement and testament to all the hard work done by the thousands of parks staff and volunteers up and down the country who work tirelessly to make their parks fantastic places that everyone can enjoy.”

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Lead image: Margam Castle (Image: Neath Port Talbot Council)

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Environment

Grab a spade to help woodland charity plant largest community woodland

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The Woodland Trust in Wales are calling for communities to help plant a new native woodland in its industrial heartland.

On 4 December 2021, The Woodland Trust; or Coed Cadw as it’s known in Wales; will host a community tree-planting event at Brynau in Neath, with the aim of creating the largest ever native woodland to be undertaken by the charity. 

The Community Tree-planting day will follow National Tree week, whereby school children from across South Wales will have already started planting this new woodland with their classmates. 

Sophie Thomas, Engagement Officer for Coed Cadw said that the event was “a great way to work together to combat climate change and the nature crisis”.

“We know that many people in Wales are worried about the environmental challenges we’re currently facing and are looking for ways to make a difference”, she said.

“By helping us plant a new native woodland at Brynau, we can all do our bit to combat the climate and nature crisis, whilst providing a tranquil retreat for the community at the same time”. 

Community tree planting at Brynau Wood. in Tonna, Neath (Image: Coed Cadw)

Miss Thomas continued, “Planting and protecting woods and trees is essential. Trees are a natural way to help combat the climate emergency– we just need more of them”. 

Earlier this month, the world was focused on the outcomes of COP26 which showed that Wales is at risk of failing to meet its carbon net zero ambitions unless woodland is created and restored and the state of trees, woods and hedges is improved. 

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Brynau wood was secured for the future thanks to public response to an urgent appeal; once completed, new woodland added to the site will be the size of some 100 rugby pitches. Brynau is also designated Plant! site, meaning there is a tree planted for every child born or adopted in Wales as part of a scheme introduced by the Welsh Government. 

Brynau Wood in Tonna, Neath (Image: Coed Cadw)

In 2021, The Woodland Trust’s State of the UK’s Woods and Trees report highlighted some stark warnings on the health of the UK’s trees and woods.

It found ancient woodland is rare in Wales, covering only 4.5% of the land surface. The ancient woods of Wales also include Celtic rainforest, an ecosystem of national and international importance as a home to rare plants and wildlife.

Since 1999 Coed Cadw has recorded a total of 584 ancient woodlands potentially threatened by development in Wales. Of those 584 cases, 337 have been saved, 98 have been lost or damaged, and 149 are currently under threat.

Only 2% of non-native woodland in Wales is in good ecological condition, and only 9% of native woodland. Those in poor ecological condition are characterised by low levels of deadwood, low diversity of age and species, and few open woodland habitats.

Two thirds of the woods in Special Areas of Conservation in Wales are in unfavourable condition.

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Between 2006 to 2013 some 7,000 large trees were lost. Between 2009 and 2013, 159 out of our 220 towns showed an overall decline in tree cover.

In Wales, a quarter of all hedgerows were removed between 1984 and 1990, and 78% of remaining Welsh hedgerows are in an ‘unfavourable condition’.

Just over 99% of all woods in Wales exceed nitrogen pollution levels. This has damaging effects for woodland plants and wildlife.

(Lead image: Coed Cadw)

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