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Carmarthenshire

Union accuses Council of playing ‘Russian Roulette’ with residents safety on second day of gritter strike

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GMB union has accused Carmarthenshire Council of playing ‘Russian roulette’ with residents’ safety over a gritter strike.

The claims came as the council issued their own message reassuring residents that contingency arrangements are in place to ensure the safety of the travelling public while winter maintenance staff take industrial action.

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The strike on 5 and 6 January 2022 comes as the union accuses the council of failing to adhere to a collective agreement signed with gritting staff back in 2020. 

Trade unions asked their members not to carry out gritting on roads out-of-hours on January 5 and 6. Two further periods of industrial action are also planned between January 17 and 21, and January 24 to 28.

Unions agreed with the Council to undertake emergency cover, however this means the majority of Carmarthenshire’s Road network will remain ungritted during the dispute.

Council staff picketed at depots across Carmarthenshire, with further picket lines due to take place.

According to the council the county is heading for colder weather over the next few weeks, with a real risk of icy conditions, sleet and snow. The union claims this means there is a real risk to the safety of residents undertaking travel on all but major roads. 

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Peter Hill GMB organiser said: “Right now the council is playing Russian Roulette with the safety of Carmarthenshire residents. 

“Large chunks of the road network were not gritted last night, and it will remain the case for the next 48 hours.  

“Our members are also Carmarthenshire residents and we’re advising our families and friends to avoid the roads over the next 48 hours as many will not be gritted.  

“Rather than brandishing an agreement to deal with essential emergency work, they should be advising residents to avoid travelling unless utterly necessary”.

A picket at one of Carmarthenshire’s depots (Image: GMB union)

The council rejects the comments made by GMB in relation to the agreement, and has also put forward a revised offer.

They say the agreement, which was put in place in 2020, recognises the valuable contribution council employees make and provided them with a remuneration package which is one of the highest in Wales. 

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The package provides employees with a retainer payment for committing to the rota throughout the winter period to cover gritter driving.

Carmarthenshire Council say that in a typical winter they will schedule 310 shifts across 158 days. Employees are stood down on 201 shifts (65%) out of the 310, instructed to grit on 83 shifts (27%) and where there is uncertainty in a forecast drivers are retained on 26 shifts (8%). Employees are paid the retainer for all 310 shifts regardless of whether they need to work or not work.

The council say they have always adhered to the terms and conditions of the agreement, and in order to avoid industrial action and to secure the service, the council has put forward a revised offer, which unfortunately the union has chosen not to present to its members but have decided to ballot and implement industrial action.

Cllr Hazel Evans, Cabinet Member for Environment, said: “The council recognises and values the contribution of our employees in helping to ensure the road network is treated during the winter months to provide a safe road network for the public, businesses and the emergency services.

“The council made a formal agreement with the trade unions in 2020 to cover winter maintenance duties. The agreement recognised the valuable contribution our employees make and provided them with a remuneration package which is one of the highest in Wales.

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“The council has adhered to the terms and conditions of the negotiated agreement and has always worked to support our employees to provide a safe road network for our communities, businesses and emergency services, as far as reasonably practicable.  

“An increased offer was put to the trade unions to help secure the winter maintenance service. The offer is considered very reasonable and at the level of what the council can afford. Unfortunately, trade union colleagues have chosen not to present this offer to their members but have decided to ballot and implement a period of industrial action at this difficult time.

“These are extremely challenging times as COVID continues impact on communities and employee resource.

“The offer remains available to our employees and on the negotiating table with our trade unions. We hope that in the wider interest of our communities, our employees will give the offer due consideration.

“In the interim the council will implement its contingency plan to undertake gritting on a reduced resilient network.”

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Carmarthenshire County Council say their winter maintenance service ensures, so far as is reasonably practicable, that safe passage along the highway is not endangered by snow or ice. To fulfil this duty, the council normally treats a primary network of 17 gritting routes along our main highways ahead of freezing weather, including 13 gritting routes along county roads (23% of network) and four trunk road routes. The resilient network includes the four trunk road routes. 

Residents are being reminded to be prepared and to drive responsibly during the winter months, and in particular to be mindful of changing weather conditions.

(Lead image: GMB Union)

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Carmarthenshire

Carmarthenshire proposes 4.4% council tax increase

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Carmarthenshire Council have announced a proposed 4.4% increase in council tax, around £1.15 a week more for the average Band D property.

Despite the proposed increase, the Council must still find and deliver £11.7million of savings over the next three years.

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Council Tax raises around £105million a year and contributes to around a quarter of the total annual budget.

Councillors must also find a way to manage the increasing demand for certain services, such as social care, and inflationary pressures – including the rising cost of energy bills and increasing costs of paying the foundation living wage – as well as delivering day to day services and schemes that will benefit and grow the county’s economy.

The council say they continue to feel the impact and uncertainty from the Covid-19 pandemic, with increasing pressure on several service areas and the prospect of Welsh Government’s hardship funding coming to an end.

Cllr David Jenkins, Cabinet Member for Resources, said: “Unfortunately Welsh Government’s funding to councils has not kept pace with rising costs and increasing demands for our services, which is creating a budget shortfall every year.

“The settlement figure we’ve recently received appears healthy on the face of it, but with the Covid-19 hardship fund expected to come to an end, the settlement will have to contribute to the extra costs that we continue to face as we respond to the pandemic.

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“We also face rising inflationary costs at the same time as increased demand on our services.

“We will continue to do the best we possibly can, identifying savings proposals that will have minimal impact on frontline services, but difficult decisions will need to be made.

“We truly appreciate the financial hardship that people are facing, and now more than ever we encourage people to get involved in our budget setting process.

“The more people that respond the better as we will have more feedback on which to base our decisions.”

The council’s budget consultation has now opened allowing people to view the proposed draft budget and have their say.

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Councillors will consider the views expressed in the consultation when the budget is finally approved by Full Council in March.

People can share their views online at www.carmarthenshire.gov.wales/consultations or by emailing consultation@carmarthenshire.gov.uk.

(Lead image: Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

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Ammanford

£500,000 for the love of Franks’ Gelateria

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It was in 1922 that Francesco Dallavalle first started selling his ice cream around the Amman Valley on a horse and cart.

The Italian art of making ice cream has since been passed through the generations with grandsons Renaldo and Giulio Dallavalle, Directors of award-winning Frank’s Ice Cream, having now opened a new gelateria and innovation centre alongside the company’s existing manufacturing site in Capel Hendre.

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Funded by a £500,000 loan from the Development Bank of Wales, the new purpose-built facility houses the latest in ice cream making machinery and technology. Built by lead contractors Malpross Services of Cross Hands, the 4,300 square foot building features a product development centre and an ice cream parlour specialising in artisan gelato and semifreddo deserts that will be open to the public along with an open viewing and tasting area. Interactive classes will be available in a bespoke visitor room that will also host school visits.

Up to 12 new jobs are expected to be created in the new facility, which includes a short-run manufacturing unit that will improve efficiency by enabling the creation of specific one-off flavours and occasion ice creams.

Having been awarded their first major supermarket contract in 1990, Franks Ice Cream opened their first manufacturing site in Capel Hendre in 1993. The company went on to launch a diabetic range of ice cream with Morrisons before investing £1.5 million to increase production capacity and then beginning to export to the Middle East in 2019. They now supply dairy ice cream, vegan ice cream and ice cream for diabetics to a range of UK supermarkets and global brands.

Director Giulio Dallavalle said: “Our story is almost 100 years old. Since the early 20th century, my family has worked hard to grow our business with the same passion and integrity we use to create our award-winning ice cream.

“Our love of great-tasting, high quality, ice cream desserts is now shared by customers throughout the world. Our new innovation centre will allow us to stay ahead of the competition with rapid product developments as well as giving our loyal customers a place to enjoy our ice cream here in the community.

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“The funding from the Development Bank has helped us to begin the next chapter of our story; creating jobs and further enhancing our offering in this highly competitive market. We couldn’t have asked for better support which is why we now very much consider them as part of our Frank’s family.”

Giulio Sallavelle, Director Frank’s Ice Cream, Alun Thomas, Development Bank of Wales

Alun Thomas of the Development Bank of Wales said: “Franks’ is a long-established manufacturing business. This latest development enables the family to go back to their roots and sell ice cream direct to the public while also showcasing the very best innovation in the Welsh food sector. They’re a lovely family with a great business making the very best Italian ice cream. We wish them every success with their latest venture.”

Funding for Frank’s Ice Cream came from the £204 million Wales Business Fund. Financed by the European Regional Development Fund, the Welsh Government and the Development Bank of Wales, the fund offers loans, mezzanine finance and equity investments from £50,000 to £2 million for small and medium-sized businesses (those with fewer than 250 employees) based in Wales, or willing to relocate to Wales. Terms range from one to seven years with finance prioritised for businesses in economically deprived areas of Wales.

Lead image: Giulio Sallavelle, Director Frank’s Ice Cream, Alun Thomas, Development Bank of Wales 

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Carmarthenshire

Work starts on new £8.25m primary school for Pembrey

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Work has started on building a new £8.25million primary school for Pembrey.

The new school building is being constructed on the recreation ground/playing field immediately adjacent to the existing school site on Ashburnham Road.

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It will provide high-quality teaching facilities to improve the overall learning experience for learners, as well as benefitting the local community.

The new school will have capacity for 270 primary pupils, 30 nursery pupils and will incorporate a Flying Start facility which is currently located in a mobile classroom on the current school site.

Headteacher Helen Jacob said: “We are looking forward to having our brand-new school building at Pembrey where we can continue to provide quality educational opportunities and experiences for our children.

“Everyone is excited at the prospect of learning in a modern purpose-built school that will be at the heart of the community.”

The project is part of Carmarthenshire County Council’s Modernising Education Programme which aims to give every child in the county access to first class accommodation and facilities.

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It is being jointly funded by Welsh Government through its 21st Century Schools initiative.

The new school building has been designed by the council’s own architects and the work is being carried out by local contractor TRJ Ltd.

The estimated completion date is the autumn term of 2023.

Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services Cllr Glynog Davies said: “I am delighted that building work has started on the new school for the community of Pembrey. Building it on the adjacent recreation ground means that we can reduce disruption as much as possible.

“The council is committed to investing in our children’s futures, and the new school building will provide the very best educational facilities for both pupils and staff and accommodation fit for 21st century teaching and learning.”

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Local member Cllr Hugh Shepardson said: “I am delighted that we are making a start on the new Pembrey Primary School. The facility, which I understand will be completed next year, will provide state-of-the-art teaching facilities for our children at Pembrey and will allow our children to be taught in a modern and welcoming environment.

“I am grateful to the Education department’s Modernising Education Programme team and the authority’s Cabinet for their diligence and hard work in making the completion of the new school a reality.”

To date, the Modernising Education Programme has invested more than £300million in Carmarthenshire schools, including the building of 12 new primary schools, two new secondary schools, and 48 major refurbishments and extensions.

(Lead image: Carmarthenshire Council)

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