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Llanelli residents affected by Thomas Cook collapse

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MANY people from Llanelli have been adversely affected by the collapse of Britain’s oldest travel firm.

Founded in Market Harborough in 1841 by businessman Thomas Cook, the company organised railway outings for members of the local temperance movement. 178 years later, it had grown to a huge global travel group, with annual sales of £9bn, 19 million customers a year and 22,000 staff operating in 16 countries.

But all that came to an end on Monday (Sept 23), the Civil Aviation Authority announced that Thomas Cook was to cease trading.

Sheree Jenkins’ family, Thomas Cook customers, are left stranded out in Turkey with no end in sight to their troubles. Speaking to the Herald, she said ”My family are in Turkey, my partner and 3 kids, and are due home Thursday but no flights are labelled as ‘go ahead’.

“8 days into the holiday and being told to pay £1170 to stay in the hotel or they will be kicked out. They are ATOL protected but feel they have no help at all and no one cares for them. They had already paid £3588 for the holiday and the children are distressed and crying.

“We are so stressed it’s unreal, my children are currently sitting outside with tears running down their faces absolutely heartbroken because we have been thrown out. The sun is beaming on us all in 32-degree heat .

“If it was me and my partner, I wouldn’t care but my kids are distraught and so stressed here along with heartbroken. All they want to do is go home and never want to go on holiday again.

“With this being our first family holiday too hearing that from my kids has made me feel absolutely terrible. It is a disgrace”.

The modern Thomas Cook was in stark contrast to what the company used to be. The firm’s fate was sealed by a number of factors including financial, social and even meteorological issues.

As well as weather issues – a super hot summer meaning people were more likely to have a staycation – and stiff competition from online travel agents and low-cost airlines, there were other disruptive factors, including political unrest around the world and many holidaymakers had become used to putting together their own holidays and not using travel agents’ package deals.

In May, Thomas Cook reported a £1.5bn loss for the first half of its financial year, with £1.1bn of the loss caused by the decision to write down the value of My Travel, the business it merged with back in 2007.

It is believed that Brexit was also a key factor in the disruptions with customer bookings as they awaited the fate of their country’s travel policies.

The airline company was then forced to be put up for sale in the hope that they could attain some much-needed funds to keep the company afloat.

Surprisingly, the airline company had seemed to have acquired a deal with Chinese company Fosun but the creditor banks issued a last-minute demand that the company find an extra £200m which proved too costly in the end to find a solution for Thomas Cook.

The Government was asked for a bailout of £250m, which was denied.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said this on the Today programme: “I fear it would have kept them afloat for a very short period of time and then we would have been back in the position of needing to repatriate people in any case. The company’s large debts and High Street-focused business made it a poor candidate for survival”.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said the company had “ceased trading with immediate effect” and it has also triggered the biggest ever peacetime repatriation, aimed at bringing more than 150,000 British holidaymakers’ home.

The tour operator’s failure puts 22,000 jobs at risk worldwide, including 9,000 in the UK and many from Pembrokeshire.

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First two cases of coronavirus in Carmarthenshire confirmed

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THE FIRST two cases of coronavirus have been found in Carmarthenshire, the Welsh Government announced today.

The two patients in the Carmarthenshire local authority area had recently returned together from northern Italy.

It comes as the Hywel Dda Health Board which serves the area opened two centres to test for coronavirus, one in Cardigan and one in Carmarthen.

The health board announced it had opened the testing centres to “help protect the health of our communities”, while also saying that centres could be opened in other areas across the health board.

The Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Frank Atherton, confirmed that a total of nine patients in Wales had tested positive for coronavirus (COVID -19) today, bringing the total to 15.

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Council unveils ambitious housing plan

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CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council has unveiled major plans to build more council homes and further improve its existing housing stock, including an ambition to move towards ‘carbon neutral homes’.

Executive Board approved an impressive Carmarthenshire Homes Standard (CHS+) business plan this week (February 24, 2020) in a commitment to build on a £286million programme it has already delivered to bring council homes in the county above the Welsh standard for social housing.

Pending Full Council approval in March, the council has outlined its intentions to commit £49million to continue the CHS+ programme whilst developing a new standard to further improve the energy efficiency of their homes, aiming to cut and off-set carbon emissions to ensure homes are warm, cheap to run, and easily adapted to cater for people’s changing needs.

As part of this vision, the council is planning to improve the fabric of houses so that they become more energy efficient. It will also harness off-grid sustainable energy solutions, such as wind and water, and has committed to planting 1,000 trees to off-set carbon emissions.

The council has also made a new commitment to invest £52million building more homes over the next three years as it works towards returning its housing stock to levels last seen in the 1990s.

The new programme will link to the council’s wider strategic regeneration initiatives, including developments in the Tyisha area of Llanelli, town centres and key rural towns.

The administration’s previous promise to deliver 1,000 more affordable homes is just 15 homes short of the target it set itself for 2021, including the completion of its first major new-build development since the 1970s in Pembrey, and the phase-one completion of a second development in Bynea.

Cllr Linda Evans, Executive Board Member for Housing, said the investment would not only improve living conditions for existing tenants and provide more quality affordable homes for local people, but will also contribute to providing employment and training opportunities in the local construction industry.

“The plan is very ambitious – we are building new homes and working with tenants and key partners to ensure Carmarthenshire is at the forefront of the decarbonisation agenda,” she said. “Carmarthenshire is one of three authorities working with Welsh Government to look at measures to decarbonise our homes, and this work will start in the next few months.

“The fact that we have been able to invest in our homes, we’ve been able to build suitable homes and adapt homes for people and their families is very impressive – there’s more to do, but we are ready to take the challenge. It’s a very exciting time.”

Delivery of the council’s ambitions depends on an average rent increase of 2.7 per cent, working out at roughly £87 a week for a two-bedroom home – the second lowest rent level for social housing in Wales and significantly lower than private rented accommodation.

The council will also seek £6.1million from the Welsh Government’s major repairs allowance fund.

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Llanelli: Notice of Motion follows school transport concerns

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A NOTICE OF MOTION will be discussed at Llanelli Town Council on Wednesday (Mar 4) following the concern of many parents over the loss of school transport for their children.

The motion will be proposed by Shahana Najmi, Town Council Leader and Councillor for the Lliedi Ward and seconded by Sean Rees, Llanelli Town Councillor for the Glanymor Ward.

The motion reads as follows: “Recent changes to UK legislation have led to the cancellation of many paid-for school transport with the consequence that many Llanelli school children are now expected to walk many miles often along unsuitable routes to get to School.

“This has only highlighted the need for change to how school transport is delivered. We believe that all children whether they pay or not should be able to access safe and effective school transport to enable them to get to and from school to a point safe and a reasonable distance from their home.

“We therefore write to the Ministers for Transport and Education at the Welsh Government to ask them to support a new School Transport Policy here in Wales that complies with UK legislation and ensure that children here in Llanelli are not expected to walk miles to school in often adverse weather conditions and often on unsafe and unsuitable walking routes.

“We also write to Carmarthenshire County Council to ask them to do all in their power to ensure that children in Carmarthenshire have access to appropriate school transport and consider all options available to them to ensure acceptable provision.”

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