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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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Man ‘fit for work’ collapses and dies at job centre

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A 65-YEAR-OLD man has collapsed while waiting for an appointment in a job centre in south Wales. He was found slumped in his chair at 9.30am on Friday in Llanelli.

The DWP said: “Our thoughts and those of the staff at Llanelli Jobcentre are with the family and friends at this time.”

The Llanelli Herald understands that he was waiting for an appointment to discuss Jobseeker’s Allowance after being declared fit for work earlier this year.

Staff and customers rushed to help, but they were unable to get a response so lay him on the floor.

They started CPR and an ambulance was called while the job centre was evacuated, but paramedics declared him dead at the scene. A witness told The Metro newspaper: “I didn’t know him myself, but the man who was sat next to me told me that he had grown up with the guy.

“The man next to me told me that the poor guy had diabetes and had been declared fit for work by the job centre earlier in the year but he was obviously ill.

“The ambulance came but he sadly died and they had to take his body out of the job centre, it was awful.

“We were all very shook up; it was a horrible situation that should have never happened. The job centre is all shut down now.’

The Welsh Ambulance Service confirmed to The Herald: “We were called on Friday November 15 at approximately 9.33am to reports of a person needing urgent medical attention on Stepney Street in central Llanelli. ‘We responded with one rapid response vehicle, one specialised medical vehicle and one emergency ambulance.’

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£100k funding boosts local food production

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LOCAL AM, Lee Waters has announced £100,000 of funding for a project to transform local food production and boost the economy across Carmarthenshire.

The project by Carmarthenshire Public Service Board will provide business opportunities for locally or regionally-based companies and bring environmental benefits by lowering food miles and associated carbon costs. It has been funded as part of a £4.6m package to boost the foundational economy.

The foundational economy approach is being adopted by cities and regions across the world, but Wales is the first country in the world to embrace it on a national scale. The foundational economy is made up of the everyday goods and services we all need and use with estimates suggesting it accounts for four out of every 10 jobs and £1 in every three we spend.

Lee Waters, who is also the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport in the Welsh Government, said,

“I came into politics and Government with the aim of helping the communities where I grew up and those like them.

“Supporting the Foundational Economy is a key way to do this. This is a vitally important part of the economy which makes a big difference to the livelihoods of many people as well as our cities, towns and villages.”

The announcement was made alongside the First Minister Mark Drakeford at an event at University of Wales Trinity St David.

Another project to be awarded funding is being led by Cyfle Building Skills Ltd. It will receive £86,500 to work with construction employers and provide opportunities for apprentices to receive valuable work experience placements throughout the industry in Carmarthenshire.

Lee Waters added “It’s been great to join the First Minister in Carmarthen to learn more about what it potentially a very exciting project and one which will change the way food is procured locally for the benefit of area’s communities.

“The Foundational Economy Challenge Fund is a clear demonstration of our commitment to supporting people in all parts of Wales today, tomorrow and into the future.”

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15 charges following clamp-down on quad bike thefts

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A MAN has admitted 15 offences including Burglaries and thefts of quad bikes following a police clamp-down.

Jeffrey Wayne Bevan, aged 50 of Swansea, appeared at Llanelli Magistrates’ Court on Friday, November 15, where he pleaded guilty to all the offences including five counts of burglary, four counts of theft of vehicles, one count of criminal damage, and one theft from a vehicle.

Bevan was arrested following a number of enquiries by Dyfed-Powys Police, which culminated in a substantial quantity of stolen property being recovered during searches carried out in the South Wales Police area.

Detective Inspector Andrew Cotterell said: “The Carmarthenshire division was hit by a spate of thefts overnight on October 28, with farms being targeted.

“Tools and a horse box were reported as stolen from four properties, and suspicious activity was reported at two others during the night.

“Because of the number of reports, we started looking for connections between the offences, and Rural Crime Team PCSO Helen Fender was instrumental in identifying linked offences. This resulted in a targeted operation being expedited, and suspects from the South Wales Police area being considered.”

Bevan and one other male was arrested and a number of properties searched in the Swansea area. They were arrested on November 13 and Bevan charged to appear at Llanelli Magistrates’ Court. He will next appear at Swansea Crown Court on November 29.

A second man was released on bail pending further enquiries.

DI Cotterell said: “The theft of quad bikes and other equipment has a huge impact on the farming community, and we are doing all we can to bring those responsible to justice.

“We are actively targeting these offenders, while also working with the farming community to disrupt criminal activity of this kind.”

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