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Leanne and Helen: ‘There is a better way’

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Visiting Llanelli: Candidate and leader at Calsonic

Visiting Llanelli: Candidate and leader at Calsonic

THINGS are hotting up in Wales, as politicians from every party begin courting the media in order to try and convince the public that they really are the best people to run the Welsh Assembly Government.

Llanelli has seen numerous visits from party leaders in recent weeks including a right Welsh punch up on BBC’s Question Time with Nigel Farage thrown in for good measure.

A few days after her much-praised appearance on the BBC’s flagship programme, The Herald caught up with Plaid leader, Leanne Wood and the Llanelli Plaid Cymru AM candidate Helen Mary Jones following their visit to the Calsonic Kansei factory.

HOW MUCH POWER FOR WALES?

Plaid have launched their manifesto. They want Wales to get same powers as Scotland and also similar funding an additional £1.2billion each year. We asked just how much control of its own affairs Plaid Cymru wants for Wales.

Leanne Wood told us, “There are many aspects of our lives which are under devolved competence but there are still a lot of areas which are not devolved to Wales. It makes sense for us to have as much control over our own affairs and to take as many decisions that affect our lives as possible. Plaid Cymru will use every opportunity to push to maximise powers for Wales.”

Helen Mary Jones said that Plaid had to be more creative with powers. She said: “As well as trying to maximise the control we will have it is also about being creative about the powers we already have and looking at how we can mitigate against some of the worse of the damage.”

Helen Mary Jones continued: “None of us like what the Conservative government is doing, but rather than just complain about it, which I am afraid we have seen too much of from the current leadership of the Welsh Assembly Government, we should be thinking about what we can do differently.”

THE SYSTEM NEEDS TO CHANGE

Plaid’s manifesto also supports scrapping the Bedroom Tax. Helen Mary Jones told us: “One of the big issues in Llanelli is the benefits system and the changes it is undergoing.

“There are things devolved governments can do to protect people against those benefit changes and the example for me is the action the Scottish Government took over the bedroom tax. They said they could not stop Westminster imposing the bedroom tax but they could tell local authorities and housing associations that they would never have to evict anybody because of it and we will top up your budgets to make sure you don’t.”

Plaid Cymru has not shied away from targeting the wealthy in order to find additional funding to support their plans. Their manifesto calls for a restoration of the 50p income tax rate for earnings above £150,000, an increase in National Insurance contributions for higher earners and a tax on sugary drinks.

Tax dodgers also come in for scrutiny and Leanne Wood gave an overview of how she believes that the biggest fraudsters are getting away with tax avoidance. She said, “I think an awful lot of emphasis to date has been on benefit fraud and there has not been enough emphasis on the tax fraud by major corporations and the very wealthy. I would much prefer the HMRC to go after those people to close those tax loopholes and to do everything possible to enable small businesses to be free to do as much as they possibly can.”

CHANGES TO LOCAL SERVICES

We asked if changes needed to be made at local authority level in Wales away from perceived officer led authorities. Helen Mary Jones homed in on the recent Welsh Audit Office (WAO) report on Carmarthenshire County Council and said: “We have just seen the recent WAO report that says the new administration is making a difference in the way Carmarthenshire is spending its money and prioritising. That shows we are beginning to move away from an officer led authority.”

Plaid’s Llanelli candidate continued: “There are always going to be huge challenges and there are always going to be restraints. There is money you can spend on capital and you can’t spend on revenue. If you put money from reserves into revenue this year that is great but what do you do the next year. One of the things we are able to do is bring together executive board members together with people in the community who are facing challenges.

“It is a bit like trying to turn round an oil tanker. It is not going to change overnight. I think that the WAO report shows that we have started to travel in the right direction as an administration.”

EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION

Plaid Cymru are scheduled to launch their election campaign this week and so we asked about education in Wales, one of the key issues.

We began asked Leanne Wood why Wales seemed to be lagging behind in some surveys: “I think it is because the government we have had have been complacent. We have had the same party in government for 17 years, although there have been coalitions as well.

“If you look at the Pisa results we are way behind. That affects not just children’s individual life chances but employers of the future whether they make a decision to come to Wales or not. Improving our education is essential.”

Leanne Wood continued: “Plaid Cymru will be launching our election campaign this week. There is a great emphasis on education from cradle through career. We are investing in the very early years but also making sure people have a range of choices when they get to fourteen, fifteen and sixteen so that the academic route is not the only option but that there are serious vocational options as well. We also want to invest in teachers because we believe the excellence in our education system will be provided by those who are the experts in the system; that is, the teachers.

“At the moment they have so much pressure on them to perform through inspection systems that don’t work. That is another area of our educational policy. We want to reform the way that schools are inspected. When Plaid Cymru was in the One Wales government we put forward a policy that every school would have access to a nurse so that children’s health and well being and mental well being was to be a major part of their schooling experience. That is something that can be built on and in terms of mental health there is room for enabling the school to support children. School has the potential to identify problems early on. All of this requires investment and prioritisation.”

Giving her reasons for the apparent deficit in Welsh education’s performance against international measuring criteria, Helen Mary Jones told us: “I think it is because successive Welsh Governments have taken some steps but they haven’t been followed through.

Helen Mary continued: “The innovative early learning models that were introduced were the right things to do but it was not followed through. The teachers have not all been properly trained. Not all the schools have the physical facilities for the children to be able to be learning through play. All political parties at the Assembly signed up for that because the evidence was there that that kind of innovative teaching young children is what delivers the best learners. You can’t learn if you are unhappy.

“A proper delivery of the early years curriculum starts with the child being warm comfortable happy and well and it goes fro there. The principals are all there but there has been a failure to deliver. It is the story of this Labour administration. When it comes to delivering it hasn’t happened.”

NO! TO UKIP COALITION

UKIP are on the rise and their candidates cannot be ruled out of getting some seats. We asked Leanne Wood if she would consider a coalition with UKIP if they did win a number of seats.

Leanne Wood answered with an emphatic ‘No! Not under any circumstances whatsoever!”

The Plaid leader observed: “I think they will take some seats because the electoral system enables that. It makes it more likely for them to gain seats. With the backdrop of the European referendum debate that is territory that is helpful to them.”

On the positive aspect of campaigning, Leanne Wood rallied her candidates and supporters: “It is up to us as Plaid Cymru to put our message across. We are working very hard in all communities making sure our candidates are out knocking doors explaining why a vote for Plaid Cymru is in their interests much more than a vote for UKIP which is a vote that will work against them in the long run.”

Asked for her thoughts on UKIP’s chances in Llanelli Helen Mary Jones took the long view: “Plaid may have been a political party in the past that people who wanted to protest against the mainstream system had gone to.

She continued: “It comes back to what Leanne said and it is about talking to people and convincing them that something better is possible. I have never heard anybody saying they are voting for UKIP because I like this about them. It is all about what people don’t like or what they are frightened of.

“I don’t know how well they will do in the first past the post in this constituency. It will be a tight fight between us and Labour. UKIP may pick up regional votes and it is up to us to make sure that happens as little as possible.”

LABOUR’S HEALTH APPROACH ‘FLAWED’

We asked Leanne about Labour’s handling of the health service: “Our view has been that the Labour’s NHS centralisation programme is deeply flawed. It does not take account of the distances people have to travel or the low car ownership and the problems we have had with the ambulance service. That is not to denigrate ambulance workers it is a lack of investment in all health services that has got us to the place we are in.

“It is why Plaid Cymru has spent so much time putting forward proposals to attract extra doctors and to train extra doctors. The government tell us that centralisation has been driven not by a lack of money but a by lack of staff. It is Welsh Labour’s inability to have planned and organised that staff over many years that has left Wales in a position where we have fewer doctors per head of population than all but three other EU countries.

“Investment in our staff is the key in terms of health services. What Plaid Cymru has said is that when we have enough staff to ensure safe services then we will reopen those services that have been lost in our hospitals.”

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Police appeal for witnesses after 20-year-old pedestrian tragically killed on A40

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DYFED-POWYS POLICE is appealing for witnesses to a fatal road traffic collision on the A40 west of Carmarthen on Saturday (Sept 26) in which a 20-year-old man, a pedestrian, lost his life.

The police have asked The Pembrokeshire Herald to publicise this appeal.

A spokesman for the police told this newspaper: “At around 9.40pm, a white VW Transporter was in collision with a pedestrian on the A40 westbound, near the junction of Llangynog, Carmarthen.

“The pedestrian, a 20-year-old male, died as a result of his injuries.

“It appears the pedestrian had left his vehicle, a black Seat, following a single-vehicle collision further along the westbound carriageway shortly before.

The police have asked that if anyone has any information on either or both collisions, or may have been travelling along the A40 at the relevant time, please contact the serious collision investigation unit, quoting reference DPP-20200926-339.

This can be done by email: contactcentre@dyfed-powys.pnn.police.uk, by phone on 101 or by text: If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908.

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Llanelli becomes a Covid-19 ‘health protection zone’

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RESIDENTS in a large part of Llanelli are being put under new local restrictions in a ‘health protection zone’ following a rapid increase in Covid-19 cases in the area.

The town is seeing a concentrated spread of cases compared with other parts of Carmarthenshire – in the last seven days, 85 positive cases have been identified in Llanelli (151.6 per 100,000 of the population) compared to 24 cases in the rest of Carmarthenshire (18.1 per 100,000 of the population).*

Public Health Wales officials are expecting numbers to continue rising over the coming week.

Carmarthenshire County Council and Hywel Dda University Health Board have worked with the Welsh Government and Public Health Wales to agree the temporary restrictions at sub-county level to try and halt the spread of the virus.

As of 6pm on Saturday September 26, 2020, residents living in defined parts of Llanelli will not be able to visit anyone else’s home, or accept visitors into their home, unless they have a ‘reasonable excuse’ such as providing care for a vulnerable person.

They should not arrange to meet indoors with anyone who they don’t live with, and travel in and out of the ‘health protection zone’ will also be limited – people should not leave the area or travel into the area unless it is essential. Travelling in and out of the zone for a holiday is not considered a reasonable excuse.

People are being asked to wear face coverings anywhere where they cannot maintain a two-metre distance from other people, including collecting children from school, in addition to the rules which already require them to wear a face covering in indoor spaces like shops and on public transport.

All indoor and outdoor visits to residential care homes have also been suspended.

Students may still travel into and out of the ‘health protection zone’ to go to school or college.

People living in the defined area of Llanelli must work from home, and employers must take all reasonable steps to support staff to do so.

Indoor public spaces such as leisure centres should only be used by people living in the defined area.

Shops will remain open, but people living outside the defined area of Llanelli should avoid travelling to visit them and shop in their own locality wherever possible.

The specific wards covered in the defined area of Llanelli are:

  • Bigyn
  • Bynea
  • Dafen
  • Elli
  • Felinfoel
  • Glanymor
  • Hendy
  • Hengoed
  • Llangennech
  • Lliedi
  • Llwynhendy
  • Tyisha
  • Swiss Valley

Although the pattern of increased positive cases is overwhelmingly concentrated in the Llanelli area where the restrictions have been strengthened, the whole of Carmarthenshire has now been put on alert, with a warning that the tighter restrictions may be extended if cases continue to spread.

Everyone – including those in the defined areas of Llanelli – is being urged to follow the national guidance around social distancing, good hygiene, self-isolation, testing and face coverings.

Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council, Cllr Emlyn Dole, said: “It is worrying to see how sharply the number of positive cases has risen in the Llanelli area, and action has had to be taken to help stop the spread and break the chain of infections concentrated in this area to prevent a whole county lockdown.

“We must all do the right thing, follow the advice and protect each other. In parts of Llanelli, we’re asking people and businesses to make even greater sacrifices – we fully appreciate the impact this will have, but there is no other way. We must stop the spread.”

A mobile testing unit has been set up in Llanelli to manage the increased demand by local residents who have any of the Covid-19 symptoms – either a high temperature, a change or loss to taste or smell or a new continuous cough.

Reporting of positive cases in the town is fully expected to rise during the next two weeks with the increase in more targeted testing. But this is a positive indicator that cases are being identified and control measures put in place.

Chair of Hywel Dda University Health Board Maria Battle said: “Our local community has given us such tremendous support during the past few months. To protect the health of our people, including the most vulnerable, and to ensure our NHS resources are available to provide people with the care they need; we need the help of our Llanelli population and wider community now more than ever before. Whilst hospital admissions have not yet increased again for COVID cases, we have seen a sharp rise in positive cases in the community, and in time this is likely to have an impact on hospital admissions. The very best way we can support each other and those we love, is to follow local restrictions, minimise our contacts, practice good hygiene and self-isolate and book a test if we have any COVID-19 symptoms.”

Increased testing capacity for residents in Llanelli is available by appointment at the following locations:

  • Parc y Scarlets Car Park B, accessed via Trostre Retail Park, in Llanelli
  • The Ty’r Nant site (next to KFC), Trostre, Llanelli
  • The Carmarthen showground (signposted in both directions off the A40)

There should be no reason for Llanelli residents to travel excessive distances for a test, as there will be tests available in Llanelli and Carmarthen. Tests should be booked via the UK Portal. Any Llanelli residents experiencing difficulty booking a test locally via the UK portal can instead email covidenquiries.hdd@wales.nhs.uk or by calling 0300 333 2222.

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Tir Coed build outdoor classroom for Cross Hands Primary

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The local charity Tir Coed teamed up with Cross Hands Primary School to design and install a locally grown woodland shelter to enable primary school pupils to benefit from outdoor lessons-even when
the rain pours!

Last year Cross Hands Primary School received funding from Carmarthenshire is Kind for their intergenerational project. The project brought the schoolchildren together with older people in the community. Through intergenerational activities, everyone involved increases social connectedness, reduces social isolation, learns from one another and has a great time!

Before the lockdown, Tir Coed was contracted to lead a group mainly made up of parents from the school on a shelter-building course. The attendees would gain knowledge and skills and the children and the older people would be able to use the shelter, a third generation now included in this
fantastic project. The plans, however, had to change due to restrictions and in an effort to have it ready for the children when they returned to school, three intrepid Activity Leaders braved the wet August weather to build the beautiful shelter .

Studies have shown that being in the outdoors significantly reduces the risk of spreading the Corona Virus. With this addition to their already impressive outdoor area, it is hoped that more learning can
take place outside the classroom. Deputy Head, Emma Walters said, “It looks amazing! I am very impressed with the shelter and I cannot thank Tir Coed enough for organising this. Additional covered space in the outdoors will mean that we can take more learning into our lovely nature
area.”

If you would like to find out more about the work of Tir Coed or have a project you would like our help with you can contact Nancy, the Carmarthenshire Coordinator: carms@tircoed.org.uk

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