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Crime candidates questioned by traders

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A HUSTINGS held in Carmarthen on Wednesday (April 13) gave an opportunity for the candidates for the upcoming Police and Crime Commissioner election to explain their priorities and policies for Carmarthenshire.

Organised by the Carmarthen Chamber of Trade and Commerce, the event was well attended by members of the local business community, who took the opportunity to grill both candidates for the P&CC role and the Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire seat.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, business policies and issues affecting town centres played a prominent role in the debate, with CCTV and business rates the major issues for Police and Crime Commissioners and Assembly candidates respectively.

The Herald will be covering a hustings for the Carmarthen West constituency next week, so the main focus this week was the police and Crime Commissioner elections.

The Current Police and Crime Commissioner, Christopher Salmon, began by describing his achievements over the last four years.

He claimed to have ‘got more officers on the street in spite of saving money’ as a result of IT investment. He also said that incidents of crime and anti-social behaviour were dropping faster than anywhere else in Wales, and pointed out that he had avoided any rise in the council tax precept.

Mr Salmon also expressed pride in the improved service for victims of crime. Possibly picking an example which would resonate with his audience, he described a visit to a shop in the Dyfed Powys area which had an annual turnover of around £2m.

He said that he had initially been surprised when they said that low-level shoplifting was a major problem for them, until the business explained that it had led to a £25,000 stock shortfall at the end of the year. “That is potentially someone’s job,” he added.

“We cannot neglect the small things, and must make sure that businesses do not bear the cost of crime.”

Describing his ‘three part plan’ for safer homes, communities, and businesses, the Police and Crime Commissioner said that businesses were included in this partly due to the rise in online crime.

Defending his record, Mr Salmon said that ‘you will hear a lot of griping about decisions I have made’.

However, in a thinly-veiled dig at his rivals, he remarked that the role of P&CC was ‘a big job,’ and the winner would appoint the next Chief Constable, as well as being responsible for a £100m budget.

However, the questions directed at Mr Salmon focused on policing at a much more local level. One stallholder at Carmarthen Market asked why, since the Greyfriars Police Station was put up for sale, there had been a dramatically reduced PCSO presence in the market. She pointed out that traders were asked to notify the police when known thieves or fraudsters entered the market, but often were unable to locate an officer to do so.

Mr Salmon promised to look into the matter, but stressed that as the station was still in operation, there should be no change to police provision. He defended the decision to sell the police station, on the grounds that the building needed a ‘huge amount of investment.’

Another businessman asked when Mr Salmon had last been on patrol in the town, and was told that it had been ‘last year.’ In response, Mr Salmon was told that ‘I have never seen you in the town.’

He added that as a recent victim of crime, he had not noticed foot patrols in his area of the town. Mr Salmon assured him that police and PCSOs were on regular patrols, and claimed that the amount of time officers spent on the street had increased since he had introduced hand-held devices which saved officers from having to return to the station to write up every incident.

“In this job, you have to make decisions to make the best of what you have,” he added.

Next up was the Plaid Cymru candidate, Dafydd Llywelyn. Mr Llywelyn, a former resident of Carmarthen who currently lives in Llandysul, described his background in the private sector before working as a criminologist for Dyfed Powys Police, and currently lecturing on the subject at Aberystwyth University. “I like to think I know a bit about crime and criminals,” he added.

One of Mr Llywleyn’s major policy planks was the reintroduction of manned CCTV to town centres to ‘create a more secure atmosphere for businesses in Carmarthenshire towns.’

He specified that he wanted to introduce a more modern CCTV system to the county, and pointed out that if the Met could manage to implement this ‘across the sprawl of London’ it should be feasible in Dyfed-Powys.

Another pledge made was to increase the number of police support staff, to cover the 200 positions he claimed had been cut since Mr Salmon took office.

However, Mr Llywelyn pledged to cut the staff of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office, including the position of Deputy P&CC – an unelected role which he said cost around £50,000 per year.

Mr Llywelyn also criticised the decision taken by Mr Salmon to freeze the council tax precept – a move which he said saved each household around £10 per year, but took around £1m out of the force budget. He pledged to increase the precept to less than a real-terms 2010 equivalent, which he claimed would still create enough money to pay more support staff and fund manned CCTV.

“In terms of funding, it is perplexing that we are in a time of austerity, but the precept has been cut,” he pointed out. “I would pay £10 extra to get a proper service.”

A question from the audience about the ‘measurable impact’ of manned CCTV led to a brief dispute. Mr Salmon quickly said that it made ‘no impact’ on violent crime levels. However, Mr Llywelyn then asked him to continue reading from the same report, which said that the system was more effective in reducing, for example, theft from vehicles.

Mr Llywelyn also queried the P&CC’s claim that crime rate had fallen, citing a recent report which showed crime levels had increased by 9% and crimes against the person had risen by 28% in the last year.

Responding, Mr Salmon said that in terms of the P&CC’s office staff, there was no need to make further savings, because savings of 5.7% had been made since the Dyfed Powys Police Board was abolished.

Defending the decision to cut and freeze the precept, he pointed out that Dyfed Powys Police had £40m in reserves.

Mr Salmon also claimed that the rise in the crime figures was both indicative of a national trend and a sign that more crimes were being reported. He pointed out that in this respect, an increase in the number of reported domestic violence incidents, for example, could be construed as a positive, because it meant that more crime victims were receiving the support they needed.

Former leader of Carmarthenshire County Council and Labour candidate Kevin Madge referred to his extensive experience in the public and private sector, both as the owner of a bedding company and as a town and county councillor. He told the audience that his career as an elected representative began in 1979 – the same year as Margaret Thatcher – and that his time as leader of Carmarthenshire County Council had taught him ‘how to make tough decisions.’

Wandering slightly off topic, Mr Madge discussed the achievements of the council under his leadership, including a new care home, and the modernisation of the housing stock.

Returning to the P&CC job, he acknowledged that Mr Salmon had ‘done his best’ and said that some of the cuts ‘handed down by central government’ were ‘going too far.’

However, he said that certain cuts, notably the dedicated police helicopter, had ‘left a lot of people angry.’ Mr Madge added that when he was a member of the Police Authority, the Pembrey base had been built to provide full-time helicopter cover in the Dyfed Powys region, and he referenced a recent case where a helicopter from Exeter was drafted in to a search near Glanamman as an example of the NPAS model’s failings.

Mr Madge also pledged to review CCTV provision, and suggested that town and community council could help fund the service.

However, Mr Madge also pointed out that poverty was a major cause of crime in Dyfed Powys, as was drug use. “Visit our estates now and there are people who can’t afford to turn the heating on,” he added, warning that increased social deprivation would lead to an increase in crime and anti-social behaviour.

However, the former council leader came unstuck when he agreed with Mr Salmon about spending some of the force’s reserves – something the council he led was reluctant to do. After describing the £40m of police reserves as ‘a scandal’ an audience member swiftly asked him how much money Carmarthenshire County Council held in reserves.

Mr Madge said that some of the money held was earmarked reserves, for particular projects, and acknowledged that Plaid Cymru had found £20m which could be made available. However, he claimed that had he still been leading the council, he would also have allocated that money wisely.

Pressing on the matter of reserves, Conservative Assembly candidate Angela Burns asked whether the council held around £130m in reserves. Mr Madge acknowledged this was the case, but said that some of that money was for building new schools.

“You need reserves, but you have to spend them wisely,” he added.

Mr Salmon also questioned Mr Madge over his CCTV pledge, pointing out that he had been council leader when the council withdrew their funding.

The remaining candidate present, Edmund Davies (Ind), made no bones of his belief that political parties and policing do not mix.

He pointed out that two of the parties standing for the position believed in the abolition of the role, which he referred to as akin to political euthanasia.

Mr Davies also disagreed with Mr Salmon about the efficacy of CCTV. “It may not prevent crime, but by God it will deter crime,” he claimed.

He reserved special criticism for the way in which the closing of the St Clears police station had been handled, claiming that it had been deliberately run down, and the town council had not been properly consulted.

He also asserted that police morale had dropped dramatically on Mr Salmon’s ‘watch.’

If elected, Mr Davies pledged to return manned CCTV, and to increase the police force’s morale by meeting with all ranks. He also suggested that the P&CC should liaise regularly with town and county councils.

CCTV coverage led to a further spat between Mr Salmon and Mr Madge. After the former claimed that ‘cameras on sticks’ were less necessary in an age where people routinely filmed crimes on their phones, Mr Madge referred to their earlier discussion on funding, and claimed that Mr Salmon had announced that he would be withdrawing the £44,000 police funding first, leaving the council unable to fund the whole of the coverage.

In addition, Mr Madge claimed, Dyfed Powys Police had received £28,000 for the maintenance of police buildings from the council, and in return had only spent £3,000 on maintaining CCTV cameras. “These are now breaking down, putting our children at risk,” he added.

Mr Llywelyn agreed, pointing out that ‘prevention was better than cure’.

THE VERDICT

All of the candidates made reference to their experience in both the public and the private sector – something which may well have been tailored to the audience. Mr Salmon gave a confident performance, although his opponents were able to find arguments to counter most of his claims.

Mr Llewelyn took a rather combative approach, criticising both Mr Salmon’s administrative work and certain policies, although he was surprisingly quiet on the topic of the police helicopter. Mr Madge, other than an ill-advised comment about spending the reserves, basically implied that in many respects he wanted to improve rather than dramatically alter what had gone before, and highlighted his experience in bringing different organisations together to reach a common goal.

Mr Davies, while not really engaging in the discussion beyond setting out his own manifesto, nevertheless made some valid points, and landed a couple of telling blows on the current incumbent.

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Llanelli: Stop notice issued for school planning application

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A CONTROVERSIAL planning application for a new 480-spaced school in Llanelli has been issued a stop notice by the Welsh Government.
Carmarthenshire County Council is proposing to build a new £9.1m school on Llanerch Fields in Llanelli and were looking to determine the planning application in the coming weeks. Welsh Government will now decide whether to call in the application or not.
The new school would accommodate 420 primary and 60 nursery pupils, set over two floors with larger classrooms with integrated IT facilities, a multi-purpose hall and specialist provision for pupils with additional learning needs.
Over recent years there has been much debate in the area on the choice of site for the new school with campaigners arguing that they support a new school, but object against Llanerch fields being built upon. Last year an attempt to get the land designated as a village green was turned down.
In 2017, Ysgol Dewi Sant as the first Welsh medium primary school to be provided by a local authority celebrated its 70th birthday.
Councillor Rob James, local member for Lliedi, stated “From day one I have raised concerns that the Council’s site choice and planning process opened the Council up to the possibility of the Welsh Government calling in the planning application. It is clear that these concerns were not misplaced and there is now a really chance that it will be. 

“As a local Councillor, a school governor and a parent, I am passionate about the need for a new school for the pupils of Ysgol Dewi Sant and it is important that local pupils get the benefits of a 21st century school.
“I will now be working with Council Officers to ensure that contingency plans are prepared in case the Welsh Government state that the planning application does not comply with national planning policy.
“I will also work with parents, pupils, residents and interested parties are able to engage with the Welsh Government during this process.”

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Third annual Burry Port Raft Race is eagerly awaited

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THE THIRD ANNUAL BURRY PORT RAFT RACE, organised by Burry Port couple, Craig and Isabel Goodman, will be held on Saturday (July 27).

The event which is held in Burry Port Harbour, raises much needed funds for both Burry Port RNLI and a children’s football academy and primary school the couple support in The Gambia.

The day launches at 12pm with stands, food stalls and children’s inflatable games and rides and these will be available until 5pm. You’ll also have a chance to meet the crews, who’ll be busy putting the final touches to their rafts.

Rafts launch at 3pm, followed by a presentation ceremony, including prizes for first raft over the line, first raft to sink and best dressed raft.

Craig said: ” A huge thank you goes to all our sponsors, including overall sponsor Dawsons, along with continued sponsorship from Celtic Couriers, Parker Plant Hire, Burns Pet Nutrition, Burry Port Co-Op, Llanelli Star, LBS Builders Merchants, Burry Port Marina, First Choice Flooring and Pembrey and Burry Port Town Council.

For any further information about the event, please contact 07825 842981.

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Compensation offered after FSCS declares Llanelli firm in default

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CONSUMERS could get back money they have lost as a result of their dealings with a failed regulated firm in Llanelli, Carmarthenshire. The firm is Hayden Williams Independent Financial Services Limited formerly Assura Protect, Room 1, 7 Meadows Bridge, Parc Menter, Cross Hands, Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, Wales SA14 6RA.

The firm was declared in default in June 2019 by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS).

FSCS is the UK’s statutory compensation scheme that protects customers of authorised financial services firms that carry out certain regulated activities. A declaration of default means FSCS is satisfied a firm is unable to pay claims for compensation made against it. This paves the way for customers of that firm to make a claim for compensation with FSCS.

Alex Kuczynski, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at FSCS, said: “FSCS steps in to protect consumers around the UK when authorised financial services firms go bust. This vital service, which is free to consumers, protects deposits, insurance, investments, home finance and debt management. We want anyone who believes they may be owed money as a result of their dealings with this firm to get in touch, as we may be able to help you.”

Since it began in 2001, FSCS has helped more than 4.5m people, paying out more than £26bn in compensation.

If you wish to make a claim with FSCS against Hayden Williams Independent Financial Services Limited, you may be able to do so using FSCS’s online claims service at https://claims.fscs.org.uk Or you can contact its Customer Services Team on 0800 678 1100 or 020 7741 4100

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