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MP voices concern about free-to-use cash points

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LLANELLI’S MP has expressed concerns about the future of the UK’s network of free-to-use cash points, following a recent announcement by LINK, the ATM network, that the fees paid to operators of free cash points will reduce by 20% over four years.

Although LINK has promised to exempt ATMs one kilometre or more from the next free one and increase the subsidy available for them, there are fears that LINK’s promise to maintain ATMs in rural and deprived areas may be undeliverable.

The 1km cut-off may also mean that bigger villages and urban communities with very few cash points could see the number of ATMs reduced.

Nia Griffith MP explained: “The reality is that not everyone can rely on card payments. Although the use of cash for payments has been in decline in recent years, some 2.7 million people still depend on it. These people are often older or have low incomes, with many living in the rural communities where there is a dearth of free-to-use cash points.

“Research by Which? found that there are still over a hundred postcode districts that do not contain a single ATM. This comes after years of bank closures right across the UK, but particularly in rural areas like ours here in west Wales. Over 1,500 bank branches have closed in the last three years and banks were three times more likely to shut a branch in Wales than in the southeast or London.

“The community of Cross Hands is a good example of this downward trend in financial accessibility. In 2016, the last remaining bank branch in the village shut its doors, leaving nearly 5,000 people without access to a local bank. ATMs that charge a fee now outnumber free ones here by two to one, and because there are two within a 1km range here, either of them could be under threat.

“Under the last Labour Government, a programme of investment in free ATMs delivered hundreds of new cash points where they were most in need, including some parts of Carmarthenshire. A ‘financial inclusion premium’ was introduced to encourage people to install and keep ATMs in less well-off areas. This helped millions of people in lower-income areas access cash more conveniently.

“I very much hope that LINK can be trusted to deliver its promises on financial inclusion and that the threat to our cash point network from their changes is not as severe as many think it will be. I will be keeping a very close eye on this situation, and pressing LINK to live up to its promise of support for ATMs in our deprived and rural communities that rely on cash.”

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Demand for Christmas Toybox Appeal donations almost doubles

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MORE families than ever before have asked for support from Carmarthenshire County Council’s Christmas Toybox Appeal.

Families who have requested assistance are up 40 per cent on previous years, and despite more toys than ever before being donated to the appeal, co-ordinators are struggling to keep up with demand.

The deadline for donations has now been extended in the hope that more generous people will donate.

In particular, donations are being sought for older girls and boys. Anyone wishing to donate is asked to keep gifts unwrapped to allow for easier sorting.

All families who will receive support have been nominated by a social worker, family health visitor, or their school, and a strict process is in place to ensure help is given to those most in need.

The council’s Toybox Appeal is now in its 8th year, and was set up to prevent families going into poverty or turning to loan sharks to get through the Christmas period.

The Appeal also helps ensure that no child wakes up on Christmas morning without a visit from Santa.

Cllr Mair Stephens, Deputy Leader of the council, said: “It’s really very sad that we have seen such a huge increase in the number of families who have asked for, or been nominated to receive, support.

“Whilst we are amazed by the number of gifts donated this year, unfortunately, we do not have enough to meet the demand and we are appealing to the generosity of local people to help families who are less fortunate.

“We are still collecting donations, and in particular we are asking for gifts suitable for older children. We really are very grateful of all donations.”

To donate a gift, visit any of the below locations, or call Appeal co-ordinator Nia Thomas on 07814716380 to arrange collection

·         Customer Service Centre, 3 Spilman Street, Carmarthen

·         County Hall, Carmarthen

·         Natwest Bank, Carmarthen

·         Blas Myrddin at Parc Dewi Sant, Building 2, Carmarthen

·         Block 1, Parc Myrddin, Carmarthen

·         Cillefwr depot, Carmarthenshire County Council, Johnstown, Carmarthen

·         Nant y Ci, Carmarthen

·         Llandeilo Community Education Centre

·         Tesco Ammanford

·         Town Hall, Ammanford

·         Pontyberem Hall

·         Town Hall, Llanelli

·         Hub, Llanelli

·         Cathedral Hygiene, Unit 1, Dragon 24, North Dock, Llanelli

·         Burns Pet Nutrition, Kidwelly

·         Jennings Solicitors, Llanelli

·         Ffwrnes Theatre, Llanelli

·         Yr Atom, King Street, Carmarthen

·         Llanelli Library

·         Ammanford Library

·         Carmarthen Library

·         Leisure Centres at Llanelli, Carmarthen, Ammanford, Newcastle Emlyn, Llandovery, St. Clears

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Drakeford confirmed as First Minister

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MARK DRAKEFORD was confirmed as the new First Minister after a vote in the Welsh Assembly on Wednesday (Dec 12).

Carmarthen-born Drakeford succeeds Carwyn Jones as Welsh Labour leader, after Jones resigned on Tuesday.

Mr Drakeford, 64, has styled himself as a ’21st Century socialist’, and throughout his leadership campaign promoted continuity and stability as a candidate, having worked as a Welsh Government special advisor under Rhodri Morgan and being the only Welsh Government cabinet minister to support Jeremy Corbyn when he ran for the UK Labour leadership in 2015.

The AM for Cardiff West has been in the Assembly since 2011, becoming Health Minister in 2013 before becoming Finance Secretary in 2016.

Mr Drakeford grew up in Carmarthen, and was educated at the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School for Boys. He then went on to study Latin at the University of Kent, before working as a probation officer and Barnardos project leader in west Cardiff.

Mr Drakeford went on to pursue a career in academia, lecturing at Swansea University, and then becoming a professor of social policy and applied social sciences at Cardiff University.

His first experience of electoral politics was as a councillor on the old South Glamorgan County Council, before serving the Cardiff ward of Pontcanna between 1985 and 1993.

Mr Drakeford was one of the two candidates, alongside Eluned Morgan, to have produced a manifesto during the leadership campaign, setting out many of the policies he hopes to introduce. These include an extension of the smoking ban to outdoor areas such as restaurants and town centres, the cutting of emissions through greater emphasis on public transport and building on Superfast Cymru – a scheme to rollout 733,000 homes and businesses across Wales.

The manifesto also proposed installing drinking fountains across Wales, double allotments, and piloting a ‘baby bundle’ – similar to baby box schemes in other countries with a package of essential items.

Mr Drakeford also suggested introducing a committee to advise the Welsh Government on the Hinckley Point power plant in Somerset, as he has spoken of his scepticism regarding nuclear power.

The new First Minister has also backed proposals put forward by economist Gerry Holtham to fund elderly social care in Wales through a tax. An annual review of PFI contracts across the Welsh public sector would be introduced, and the 22 councils across Wales would be kept as they are.

One issue that has been subject to much debate is the potential for the M4 Relief Road, but Mr Drakeford’s manifesto does not mention it specifically. Instead, it states a commitment to dealing with congestion, citing the A40 in Mid and West Wales, the A55 in the North and the M4 in South Wales.

The other two leadership candidates, Vaughan Gething and Eluned Morgan, had both backed another referendum on whether the UK leaves the EU, yet Mr Drakeford is less set on another vote, saying he would only back it should the final deal fail to protect workers’ rights.

As Finance Secretary, Mr Drakeford has been in charge of much of the Welsh Government’s approach towards Brexit so far.

In Wednesday’s vote, Mr Drakeford was backed by 30 AMs, with 12 voting for the Conservatives’ Paul Davies and nine supporting Plaid Cymru’s Adam Price.

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Politicians welcome the creation of 85 jobs

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LOCAL politicians Nia Griffith MP and Lee Waters AM have welcomed the news that new investment in Calsonic Kansei, backed by the Welsh Government will create 85 new jobs in Llanelli.

The £4.4m investment will add to the 300 roles that already exist in the Llanelli plant, and will allow the site to develop and produce technology for Electric Vehicles and is an important part of ensuring a sustainable future for the plant.

Lee Waters AM said: “I’m really pleased that Welsh Government are investing to support companies in Llanelli meet the challenges of the future.

“We need to ensure our automotive sector is ready to make the most of the move to electric vehicles and this investment in Calsonic Kansei helps do that. One of the reasons given by Schaeffler closing is the fall in demand for the parts it makes for diesel engines is encouraging that Calsonic are adapting to the changing market.

“The Welsh Government has also used this opportunity to secure a number of commitments from the company – including to fair work and greener production. This reflects calls I’ve been  making for us to ensure that public money does more to deliver for the future of Wales.”

Nia Griffith MP added “This investment in technologies of the future is good news for Llanelli. It is a vote of confidence in our manufacturing base, and I welcome the 85 high-skilled jobs that will be created at the local plant.

“It is good to see the Welsh Government recognising the importance of Electric Vehicle technology and investing to make sure Wales leads in this area. This is key to ensuring we have a successful and sustainable automotive sector.

“Lee Waters and I will continue to work with the Welsh Government and those seeking work in this industry to ensure the benefits of this investment are felt as widely as possible.”

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