Plaid Cymru’s Spring Conference took place at Theatr Ffwrnes in Llanelli on Friday (Mar 4) and Saturday (Mar 5).
The party faithful from across Wales gathered to hear from Plaid’s established politicians and those seeking election in May’s Assembly elections.
EMLYN DOLE: INVESTING IN THE FUTURE
The conference was opened by Plaid Cymru’s Carmarthenshire County Council leader Emlyn Dole, who told the conference that the council had invested in rural Carmarthenshire to tackle poverty and create opportunities.
Cllr Dole told a packed conference hall: “Significant investment is taking place to ensure that the county is well connected and at the forefront of the digital age. High levels of digital connectivity are now in place in Carmarthenshire for us to benefit from in both our home and work lives.
“The scale of the projects is hugely ambitious and transformational giving us the most ambitious capital programme of all the local authorities across Wales. We know that to be successful we have to think big and we have to work closely with the private sector which is what we are doing.
Mr Dole praised the hard work of council staff, saying: “They are people who work hard day in day out to ensure we remain one of the best performing councils in Wales.”
WG FAILS TO ACCESS STEEL FUNDS
Bethan Jenkins AM was up next and launched a blistering attack on the Welsh Labour Government’s failure to help save steel jobs in Port Talbot and help Tata to cut their energy bills. The Plaid Assembly candidate for Aberavon told the party’s spring conference in Llanelli that the Welsh Government had yet to access funds available from the European Commission.
Bethan Jenkins, who met EC officials in Brussels last week, said: “The Commission prizes environmental improvements, and Tata has planning permission for a new power station that would re-use the gases created in steel making to create electricity. Not only would this reduce emissions, it would also slash Tata’s energy bills.
“Tata themselves told me that supporting the company with the power plant would be a way forward. But this wasn’t enough for our First Minster. He poo-pooed the idea from the off.”
Bethan Jenkins also turned her fire on the UK Tory Government, saying that George Osborne and fellow Ministers were stalling on higher tariffs against dumped Chinese steel in Europe.
“Why is it happy to continue to court a country teetering on the economic edge at the expense of our steel industry – a foundation industry? Because if that industry goes, then what is left for manufacturing?”
The South Wales West AM said that the Tories were not even practising the capitalism they preached because they’re were “backing nationalised industry (Chinese) over private business (Tata).”
THOMAS CANES LABOUR ON EDUCATION
Plaid Cymru’s Simon Thomas AM wasted no time in telling the conference what he thought were the issues holding back the nation’s educational progress. In a forensic analysis of the Welsh Government’s record, he said: “We have had five years of holding the government to account and exposing the vacuity of Labour’s leadership and delivery in Wales. The arrogance of a party asking for a chance to have a decade of delivery when it already had had fifteen years of failure.
“It’s time to say “you’re fired” to Labour’s First Minister, and “you’re hired” to Leanne Wood and Plaid Cymru. And if we are hired, what a difference we could make.”
Making a link between poor education and poverty in Wales Simon Thomas continued: “There is no single proven more effective antipoverty measure than education. But a whole generation of our children has been educated under Labour education ministers; in a system described by one of those ministers himself as mediocre.
“We’ve seen standards slip and the economic prospects of our young people dashed. There’s no socialism in abandoning young people to the same fate as their parents and grandparents or tolerating lower educational standards in downtrodden, ex-industrial communities because ‘it’s always been like this’.
The Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire candidate claimed that the present education system under Labour was paralysing its professionals in a straight – jacket of accounting for everything and taking responsibility for nothing; however, he said that there were outstanding exceptions to this rule and many excellent examples of leadership and good teaching.
Setting out his ambitions for the creation of a world class professional education workforce, ranging from classroom assistants to teachers to lecturers and tutors, he continued: “A profession that sets its own standards – for training, for access to the profession and for on-going continuous professional development. Empowering teachers and workers to set professional standards and deliver them.”
If elected he said that Plaid Cymru plans to introduce a ‘teachers’ premium’ as an incentive to maintaining standards and training. Further promises included committing to an extra 50,000 apprenticeships over the next Assembly. Cutting the link to tuition fees and Westminster policy completely and in its place introducing the Wales Learning Bond, which he said will pay for tuition fees wherever a Walesdomiciled student studies. If, however, the student lives and works in Wales within five years of graduation, then Plaid would write off their student loans at a rate of £6,000 per year.
He concluded by telling the conference that it was a particular privilege to have been selected as the candidate for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire for 2016. He said:
“To stand in part of Gwynfor Evans’s old seat fifty years after his ground-breaking by-election victory gives me an enormous sense of history and pride.”
HELEN MARY CALLS FOR ‘A BOLD STEP’
The atmosphere at Y Ffwrnes was certainly warming up nicely in readiness for Plaid’s Llanelli AM candidate Helen Mary Jones, who was next to take the stage. This time it was the turn of the Health Service to come in for a proposed new brush or as Helen Mary put it, “A new Government is essential to improve local health services.”
In an impassioned speech, she told the conference that the continued decline in the Welsh NHS could be halted after May 5 if the people of Wales voted for change.
Developing her theme, Helen Mary Jones told a responsive audience: “Labour is letting our health service down. Staff are doing their best but they need support. Plaid Cymru has practical, costed policies that would bring 150 extra health professionals to the Llanelli area and break down the barriers between health and care, freeing staff from pointless bureaucracy.”
Focusing on Llanelli’s own economy, she said: “Back in our history Llanelli was a great generator of wealth. Our people gave their strength, their health and our beautiful natural environment – mostly to fill the pockets of others.
“Now is the time to harness all that energy, all the creativity that is in our communities. This part of Wales has a track record of making history, of believing in a future for Wales.”
Ms Jones told the conference that Plaid would establish a new Welsh Development Agency, a national commission on infrastructure and removing thousands of small businesses from business rates will be transformation for the Welsh economy.
Helen Mary finished the speech by calling on the people of Llanelli to take a bold step in two months’ time. She said:
“I am asking the people of Llanelli and the people of Wales to take a bold step and elect a Government that believes in Wales, a Government that is ambitious for Wales, a Government that has a vision for our nation and practical plans to deliver that vision.”
Clearly becoming emotional she concluded: “Friends, for too long we have lived under governments that have held us back and kept us down, tacitly accepting that poverty in Wales is inevitable, accepting that it is ok to provide us with public services that are ‘better than nothing’.
“Enough is enough. No more. We need to wake up on May 6 to a new Government, a Government to deliver the change Wales needs.”
WOOD URGES VOTERS TO BACK WALES
The main event on day one was the arrival on the stage of the Plaid Cymru Leader, Leanne Wood. She was introduced by 17-year-old Lucie Wiltshire who is one of Plaid Cymru’s newest members who told the conference that she had joined the party after meeting and being inspired by Leanne Wood and Helen Mary Jones.
Before taking to the stage Leanne Wood had been visiting Hydro Industries Ltd in Llangennech. Speaking about the visit she said that the success of businesses such as Hydro Industries in exporting its goods and services to the world was something that she wants to see replicated more often. Hydro Industries exports its products across the world, including to India and America.
The Plaid Cymru Leader said, “Plaid Cymru wants to sell Wales to the world, and we need to reverse the decline that we have witnessed in the value of Welsh exports.“
The achievements of Hydro Industries in exporting its electrobased technology around the world demonstrates that there is real demand for Wales’ goods and services on the global market. This is exactly the sort of exporting success, driven by our talented, home-grown businesses and entrepreneurs that we want to see replicated across other sectors in Wales.
“Plaid Cymru will do this by establishing a new WDA – Wales Development Agency to work globally and throughout the UK, to boost Welsh exports. Wales has a strong history as an exporting nation, and under Plaid Cymru’s plans to promote Wales, its products and ideas to the world – Wales can become an exporting nation once again.”
The key messages in Leanne’s speech to the conference revolved around the state of the NHS, education and employment.
She said: “This nation, the leading light of the last industrial revolution now lags behind in terms of wages GVA, business start-ups, in fact by almost every measure our economic performance is either stagnant or in decline.”
She asked the conference, Will they give Labour another five years to finish Wales off or will people vote to replace them with a team of people who believe in our country who want to rebuild it and strengthen it? With a team who believes in and wants to support our teachers and health workers.
“So many of you understand that our people have been taken for granted for far too long. You might have given a lifetime of loyalty to one party but you are now asking what you are getting back in return. I would call on all of those people who are feeling this way to get behind Plaid Cymru this time.”
The audience reacted by giving the Plaid leader a standing ovation before she left the stage to embrace the majority of the front row made up of Plaid’s existing and hopeful AMs.
Llanelli High Street shortlisted for prize
LLANELLI HIGH STREET has been shortlisted in the Government’s Great British High Street Awards, in proud partnership with Visa, putting them in the running for up to £15,000.
After a rigorous selection process led by a panel of independent judges, the high street has been shortlisted for the Rising Star category, which celebrates high streets which are taking the lead to adapt and diversify.
The bid by Ymlaen Llanelli follows research commissioned by Visa in April 2019 demonstrating the positive impact that the local high street has on communities. The research found that nearly three quarters of consumers (71%) in Wales say that shopping locally makes them feel happy, with nearly half (45%) citing supporting local shops and knowing where their money is going as the main reason. Spending time with friends and family (25%) and offering a sense of community (18%) were other reasons cited for why high streets make people feel happier. The research also reveals that half of consumers (50%) feel that their high street gives them a sense of pride in their local community.
High Streets Minister Jake Berry MP said: “Congratulations to Llanelli for being shortlisted for the Rising Star Award for this year’s Great British High Street Awards.
“Llanelli high street is a hive of activity, with food festivals, childrens’ days and community get-togethers all part of the local calendar. A great example of how high streets can bring a renewed energy to communities.
“People are happier when they can see their hard-earned cash support local businesses. That is why we are celebrating those that go above and beyond to keep their high streets thriving for generations to come.”
Sundeep Kaur, Head of UK & Ireland Merchant Services at Visa, added: “We’ve seen some fantastic entries for this year’s Great British High Street Awards across both the Champion High Street and Rising Star categories. In particular, the desire to innovate stands out amongst this year’s entries, with high streets adapting to the challenges presented by a rapidly changing retail environment to find ways to thrive at a local level.
“As our research shows, high streets play a vital role at the heart of communities, so this is a great opportunity for those communities with shortlisted high streets to show their support by placing their votes on the Great British High Street website.”
Llanelli High Street is one of the 28 high streets that have been shortlisted for the Rising Star category, identifying high streets which are taking the lead to adapt and diversify. 12 high streets have been shortlisted in the Champion High Street category, which recognises the UK’s best high streets. All 40 high streets are now in the running to win a prize of up to £15,000 to be dedicated to a local high street initiative.
Head Teacher at Primary school in Llanelli suspended
THE HEAD TEACHER of a Welsh primary school has been suspended, it has been confirmed.
Catherine Lloyd-Jenkins, who is head at Ysgol Gymraeg Ffwrnes in Llanelli, has been suspended from her duties at the school with immediate effect.
Governors at the school have been unavailable for comment, but Carmarthenshire Council confirmed the news this morning.
It is understood that the chair of the governing body is currently out of the country, and the council would not comment further on the circumstances surrounding the suspension.
The council’s director of education, Gareth Morgans, said: “School staffing is a matter for the Governing Body, however, we can confirm the headteacher of Ysgol Ffwrnes has been suspended.
“It is not appropriate to comment further.”
Mrs Lloyd-Jenkins has worked at Ysgol Gymraeg Ffwrnes for 23 years, taking up a post at the school in 1996.
She has been the headteacher there for almost 20 years, taking over the role in 2000. She has also worked as a peer inspector at Estyn, the education and training inspectorate for Wales confirmed.
According to one local councillor, ‘serious concerns’ have been raised about the school in recent months.
“Local residents and parents have approached us raising serious concerns about the school in question,” said Carmarthenshire councillor Rob James.
“We are in dialogue with senior council officers to assert whether the allegations are credible and what action the council and governors have taken in response to these allegations.”
Dyfed-Powys Police numbers at record low, say Labour
POLICE officers based across the Dyfed-Powys area are now at their lowest levels in the last decade, with over 300 officers being lost across the region, claim Carmarthenshire Labour.
According to a freedom of information request by Carmarthenshire Labour, police officers based across Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion are down 42% and are at record lows in both Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion.
The figures published by Dyfed-Powys Police show that Carmarthenshire has lost 160 officers in the last ten years, Pembrokeshire is down 107 officers and Ceredigion has lost 56 bobbies on the beat.
These figures come off the back of a poor report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary that shows the force has gone backwards in the last year, with crime also on the increase.
HMIC’s recent PEEL (Police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy) report noted concerns about Dyfed-Powys Police’s performance in keeping people safe and reducing crime and specifically warned of failures to assess all incidents of domestic abuse.
Carmarthenshire Labour Leader Cllr Rob James claims that the figures show that the current Police and Crime Commissioner is now performing worse than their predecessor.
Rob James stated: “These figures that show a dramatic decrease in police numbers are extremely worrying and reinforce what communities are saying across Dyfed Powys – there are simply not enough police officers in our areas.
“The fact that we now have lower police numbers in the three counties compared to the end of the last Police and Crime Commissioner’s term with crime now on the rise illustrates that the Plaid Cymru Commissioner is failing in his duty to protect our communities.
“We need urgent action to make our communities safe once more, as there is a clear link between the loss of youth provision and cuts to officer numbers, and the rise of crime in our communities.
“There is little evidence that our Commissioner has grasped the nettle over the last three years in tackling this important issue.”
These claims however, have been slapped down by Police and Crime Comissioner, Dafydd Llewellyn. He said that said that Cllr James had misunderstood or misrepresented the information provided to him.
The Carmarthen data have a significant rider attached to them.
The explanatory note reads: ‘It should be noted that the figures for Carmarthenshire police division between 2008 and 2018 are not comparable as the structure of Carmarthenshire division in 2018 has altered to that of 2008 which has impacted upon the figures provided’.
That explanation is expanded upon concerning the Ceredigion data. Regarding them, an explanatory note warns that: ‘[T]he structures between 2008 and 2019 are not comparable as some sections that were recorded divisionally now come under the HQ remit, e.g. the Road Policing Unit, CID, etc.’.
Dafydd Llewelyn pointed out that note in his response to The Herald: “As outlined in the response to the Freedom of Information request, structures between 2008 and 2019 are not comparable as some sections that were recorded as divisionally based are now recorded under the HQ remit, for example, Roads Policing Unit, CID.”
Dafydd Llewelyn continued: “Since taking up my role as the elected person to represent the many communities across the four counties served by the force, I have increased the overall resource available by 4%. I have ploughed funding into dedicated teams to support front line officers and have invested in resources to support the most vulnerable in our communities.
“I have commissioned services specific to their needs – be that as victims of domestic abuse or young people choosing to leave their homes for reasons unknown to authorities. I will continue to do this. I will not be held to account by numbers on paper alone, but by the difference I can make to individuals’ quality of life.
“I will also use the opportunity I have to campaign for services appropriate to the very specific needs an area the size of Dyfed-Powys Police has and will work with the force to adapt according to those needs.”
He concluded by pointing out: “Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Powys remain the safest counties nationally and I’m proud to be driving a service that is willing and able to flex and respond, despite the financial challenges faced day-in-day-out.”
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