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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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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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