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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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Cllr Kevin Madge elected as new county council Chairman

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THE new chair of Carmarthenshire County Council said he will work tirelessly during his term of office.

Cllr Kevin Madge, member for Garnant, takes the chain of office whilst celebrating 40 years as a councillor.

Taking the chair, Cllr Madge paid tribute to outgoing chairman Cllr Mansel Charles, member for Llanegwad, saying he had fulfilled his duties with passion.

Cllr Madge will chair the council for the next 12 months, with Cllr Ieuan Davies, member for Llanybydder, as his vice chair, and his wife Catrin as his consort.

“I’m very much looking forward to the year ahead, I will do my best for everyone. I will work tirelessly,” he said.

Cllr Madge has chosen the Trussell Trust, which supports a nationwide network of food banks and emergency food provision for people in crisis, as his Chairman’s Charity of the Year.

The Chair is the first citizen of Carmarthenshire County Council, and is elected at the Annual General Meeting.

Duties include chairing full meetings of the council, representing the council at formal and ceremonial occasions, welcoming visitors to the county, and attending and supporting events organised by local people and organisations.

Cllr Madge has been a county councillor since 1996, and a member of Cwmaman Town Council since 1979.

He also serves as chairman of the Royal British Legion Garnant branch, Garnant Family Centre and Cwmaman Meals on Wheels, and is a member of Amman Valley League of Friends.

He represents the county council on the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, and the Mynydd y Betws Wind Farm Community Fund, and is on the governing body of Ysgol Y Bedol.

A former pupil of Amman Valley School, Cllr Madge has worked in the Amman Valley throughout his life, most recently as agent and researcher to Dr Alan Williams MP until 2001.

A keen football supporter, he has served as chair and president of Cwmaman Football Club and spent 25 years as a Welsh League and Neath and District football referee.

He is married with two children and three grandchildren.

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‘UK Government should work with the Welsh Labour Government on Tata’

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LOCAL Assembly Member Lee Waters and Nia Griffith MP have called on the UK Government to work with the Welsh Labour Government to come up with a deal to protect steel making at Trostre, and across Wales and the UK.

Lee Waters AM met with representatives from Tata Steel on Wednesday to discuss the future for steel making at the plant following the reported collapse of the proposed joint venture with Thyssenkrupp.

During the meeting he stressed the need to protect the entire steel supply chain in Wales, including the high quality jobs at Trostre, and those that depend on its presence in Llanelli.

Lee Waters AM said “It’s clear that the support Welsh Government provided during the crisis of 2016 has been critical in getting extra investment into Port Talbot which will secure the works for years to come. However, Tata is a company run from India, and we simply don’t know what the board will decide about its future strategy. They may well be looking for a new joint venture partner, so we’ll have to vigilant about the implications for our local plants.”

“Tata has said it intends to continue with its existing business plan, and honor commitments made to the Trade Unions, so Nia and I will be keeping a close eye to make sure that happens.”

Welsh Government has been in active discussions with Tata steel following the collapse of the merger with Thyssenkrupp. In a written statement and during questions on Wednesday, the Welsh Government committed to invest in Welsh steel to protect its future and is looking at a range of measures to assist on energy costs, business rates and procurement of steel for public sector contracts.

Lee Waters AM said “The Welsh Government have given significant support to the steel industry here but it can’t do everything, and we now need the UK Government to work with them to ensure a future for skilled work in the steel industry in Llanelli and elsewhere in Wales.”

Nia Griffith AM said ““This latest news from Tata means yet more uncertainty for steelworkers. Their announcement about keeping Port Talbot is a start, but now we need real commitment from Tata on Trostre.

“We also need close cooperation from the company with the Trade Unions. Lee Waters AM and I will be urging the UK Government to follow Welsh Government in doing everything possible to secure the future of our steel industry.”

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MP and AM call for Trostre certainty after merger fails

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LOCAL ASSEMBLY MEMBER Lee Waters and Nia Griffith MP have called on the UK Government to work with the Welsh Labour Government to come up with a deal to protect steel making at Trostre, and across Wales and the UK.

Lee Waters AM met with representatives from Tata Steel on Wednesday to discuss the future for steel making at the plant following the reported collapse of the proposed joint venture with Thyssenkrupp.

During the meeting he stressed the need to protect the entire steel supply chain in Wales, including the high quality jobs at Trostre, and those that depend on its presence in Llanelli.

Lee Waters AM said “It’s clear that the support Welsh Government provided during the crisis of 2016 has been critical in getting extra investment into Port Talbot which will secure the works for years to come. However, Tata is a company run from India, and we simply don’t know what the board will decide about its future strategy. They may well be looking for a new joint venture partner, so we’ll have to vigilant about the implications for our local plants.”

“Tata has said it intends to continue with its existing business plan, and honor commitments made to the Trade Unions, so Nia and I will be keeping a close eye to make sure that happens.”

Welsh Government has been in active discussions with Tata steel following the collapse of the merger with Thyssenkrupp. In a written statement and during questions on Wednesday, the Welsh Government committed to invest in Welsh steel to protect its future and is looking at a range of measures to assist on energy costs, business rates and procurement of steel for public sector contracts.

Lee Waters AM said “The Welsh Government have given significant support to the steel industry here but it can’t do everything, and we now need the UK Government to work with them to ensure a future for skilled work in the steel industry in Llanelli and elsewhere in Wales.”

Nia Griffith AM said “This latest news from Tata means yet more uncertainty for steelworkers. Their announcement about keeping Port Talbot is a start, but now we need real commitment from Tata on Trostre.

“We also need close cooperation from the company with the Trade Unions. Lee Waters AM and I will be urging the UK Government to follow Welsh Government in doing everything possible to secure the future of our steel industry.”

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