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Council agrees fossil fuel fund move

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CARMARTHENSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL voted to back a motion calling on the Dyfed Pension Fund to divest itself of fossil fuel funds.
Councillors voted on Wednesday to divest from fossil fuel companies within two years.


The motion called on the £2.5bn Dyfed Pension Fund to divest from fossil fuel companies, the most ambitious plan for a Welsh local authority.


Before the debate, a large number of councillors had to exit an already underpopulated chamber, due to their personal and familial interests in the Fund as beneficiaries.


A similar motion calling on Cardiff & Vale Pension Fund to divest from fossil fuels within five years was passed by Cardiff Council in July.


The motion coincides with environmental protests in central London where thousands of activists are seeking to pressure the UK Government to tackle Climate Change.


During the meeting, Carmarthenshire Energy Chair, Greg Parker, outlined an alternative to funding fossil fuels through a question to the Chair of the Dyfed Pension Fund Committee, noting that investing in solar and battery capacity could result in energy independence within twelve years, with a significant return for policyholders.


Speaking in the debate, Labour Leader, Cllr Rob James stated “You can’t declare a climate emergency and carry on investing in the very companies that are responsible for the climate crisis.


“It is important to note that the Pension Fund policyholders will not suffer as a result of this bold agenda. We believe they will be financially better off.

Lancashire County Council has invested £12 million in the UK’s largest community-owned solar farm, with a projected 11% annual return.


“Carmarthenshire Council have just a few levers to pull to support the effort in tackling climate change. This is the biggest and most important one. We must put our money where our mouth is.


“We must take radical action before we face the full, and devastating force of a climate catastrophe.”


The motion will now go before Dyfed Pension Fund Committee for consideration.


However, the path to the agreement was difficult and there was strong dissent from attempts to politicise an issue upon which there had previously been cross-party harmony.


Members’ moods on the Plaid and Independent benches were not improved by a social media message from Labour leader Rob James, who suggested that Plaid Cymru was seeking to thwart his blockbusting climate change agenda.


His motion called for the Dyfed Pension Fund to divest itself of all investments in fossil fuel funds within two years.


An amendment proposed by Cllr Carys Jones called on the Fund to divest itself as soon as possible.


On such wording, arguments turn.


Introducing the motion, Cllr James reminded councillors that they declared a climate emergency earlier this year. He felt progress had been slow and recounted how, over the summer, he had been influenced by Extinction Rebellion protestors and their demand for action on climate change. Having spoken to the protestors, Rob James said that his motion was a call for action now.


The Labour leader explained his vision for the pension fund to invest widely in renewable energy-based locally. He said the opportunities for that investment were present and in Carmarthenshire now and that it was an opportunity to get out in front and invest in the energy of the future and not in the past.


Seconding the motion, Cllr Deryk Cundy, said this was a case where ‘Mammon could help Gaia’. He noted that investment in renewables outside Wales already formed a small part of the pension fund’s investment portfolio. He wanted to bring those funds back to invest in renewable energy industries based in Wales.


Cllr Carys Jones moved her amendment to the motion. Cllr Jones said she supported Cllr James’ motion’s aims but questioned whether such a substantial divestment was possible in the timeframe set out in it.


She said that Plan B, the investments in renewables, had to be ready to roll before Plan A, the investments in fossil fuels were dropped. Carys Jones said that she did not know whether enough viable local opportunities existed for investment in renewable energy. She also explained that the fund held a financial responsibility to those who were scheme members to maximise the return for their pension investments.


Aled Vaughan Owen spoke strongly in favour of the motion. The Plaid councillor, who proposed the climate emergency motion in February, explained that the pension fund also had the chance to divest itself of investments on ethical grounds. He highlighted the interlocking legislation which enables the pension fund to move rapidly to get rid of investments in fossil fuel investments.


Cllr Owen explained that he looked at the investment record of the Dyfed Pension Scheme. From 2009 to 2017, the amount the fund held in fossil fuel-related funds had risen inexorably; the fund no longer published the figures underpinning those investments, it only recorded them as a percentage of the whole fund. He set out that one fund in which Dyfed Pension Fund invested was the Blackrock fund relating to fossil fuels which had plummeted in value over the last few years. He said retaining that investment was bad for the fund, bad for its beneficiaries, and did nothing to tackle the climate emergency the Council unanimously declared.


Cllr Jeff Edmunds rejected the partisan political note introduced into the debate and said that this was too important an issue for political game playing. He questioned the possibility of meeting the two-year time limit set out in the motion. He supported the motion’s intent but queried the speed at which the action called for could be taken.


He said that there were no figures behind the motion and, while he supported its intent, he felt without some concrete financials behind it, it was difficult to support.


Cllr Giles Morgan picked up on the point raised by Cllr Edmunds. ‘Putting his audit head on’, he felt the lack of investment data and an indication of which local businesses would benefit from the divestment and whether they were ready for the size of investment suggested were issues that councillors needed to bear in mind.


As Cllr Cefin Campbell started to address the issue, the sound on the webcast faded out making contributions impossible to follow in either Welsh or English.


When the sound returned, as Cllr Gareth Thomas concluded his contribution to the debate, Cllr John Prosser said his experience as a member of the Pension Board was that divestments could be made quickly and that they had been previously.


Cllr Darren Price raised an interesting point for the debate. He noted that the Fund held investments on behalf of 50 separate member organisations. The Council could ask the Dyfed Pension Fund to divest its interests in fossil fuels, but regardless of its status as lead authority, the decision on divestment would ultimately be down to the Pension Fund’s Board. Who could, as he pointed out, say ‘no’.


Picking up on Cllr Price’s remarks, Cllr Carys Jones asked for clarification as to whether the motion was a request or an instruction. She noted that officers, who were absent from the Chamber because of their interests as potential beneficiaries of the fund, were unable to assist. In the absence of their guidance, Kevin Madge in the Chair said it was up to Councillors. Darren Price again pressed the point that the motion ‘called’ on the Pension Fund to act.
Carys Jones said, such being the case she would withdraw her amendment.


However, in an effort to pluck defeat from the jaws of certain victory, Cllr Rob James – who appeared to have prepared for debate of a different tone and with a different conclusion – said that the motion both instructed the fund and called upon it to divest itself of fossil fuels. He then made a mess of his position by saying that the two years in his motion was a target for the fund and open to review at the end of the period if divestment had not been achieved.


With the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin growing rapidly, Cllr Jones took the motion at its face and withdrew her amendment.


The motion passed with no opposing votes and five abstentions.

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Health board provides assurance to local residents following Llanelli lockdown restrictions

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Following the introduction of temporary lockdown measures in the Llanelli area the health board is moving to reassure local communities that they can still access hospital and community healthcare services, including urgent care.

The health board is continuing to focus on providing these essential services and patients should access Prince Philip Hospital if they have an urgent care need or a scheduled clinic appointment.

Planned operations continue to be prioritised based on clinical urgency (including patients with cancer and other urgent care needs) and people should attend these if they have a confirmed admission date.

These measures apply to people with appointments at Prince Philip Hospital (regardless of where you live), and for people living in the Llanelli restricted zone. Arrangements are also continuing with access to primary care services – please phone your doctor’s surgery, dentist or optometrist to find out more and follow instructions at your community pharmacist.

All GP practices and a number of community pharmacies are continuing to offer the flu jab by appointment – again please check arrangements with these providers locally and make sure you keep your appointment if you’ve been offered one.  If you do not have an appointment arranged and you are in one of the “at risk” categories, please contact your GP Practice to check on the arrangements for this year.

Visiting continues to be restricted at all Hywel Dda University Health Board hospitals and these must be pre-planned and agreed with the sister/charge nurse. 

The exceptions to this arrangement are:
One parent/guardian at a time to visit their child
For birthing mothers – only one birthing partner
Patients considered to be at the end of life or receiving palliative care. 

We have also introduced local exemptions to this where you can visit if you are supporting someone with a mental health issue such as dementia, a learning disability or autism, where not being present would cause the patient to become distressed. 

In all cases we are urging patients to continue to follow infection prevention and control guidance, as well as use of face coverings and maintaining social distance.  Further information and updates about local lockdowns can be found on the Welsh Government’s website here.

Mandy Rayani, Director of Nursing, Quality and Patient Experience at Hywel Dda, said: “It’s really important that people living in areas affected by the new lockdowns know that they can still access services in the same way as they have been able to for the last few months.

“At the same time, it’s also important that people choose the right healthcare service for their need so that our hospitals can manage the extra demand that we always face at this time of the year.

“We will continue to prioritise urgent and emergency care, including planned operations based on clinical urgency, and I’d also like to remind people that arrangements are in place at a local level for community services such as GPs, pharmacies, optometrists and dentists.

“If you do need to attend a healthcare setting please remember to follow guidance on hand hygiene, face coverings and social distancing and please contact the senior sister or charge nurse if you want to find out about visiting relatives in hospital.

“Remember, COVID-19 is a serious disease which is sadly having real and tragic consequences for many people and families. We will endeavour to do all that we can to keep our communities safe and we’d like to thank the public for their patience and understanding as we continue to work through these new arrangements.”

Remember – if you or any member of your household develop symptoms of COVID-19 it is important that you self-isolate and do NOT attend any appointments or visit our sites.

If you have symptoms (raised temperature, new persistent cough OR loss or change of smell or taste) please book a test as soon as possible. You can do this via the UK Portal here

Any Llanelli residents having problems booking a test can contact us on 0300 333 2222 or via covidenquiries.hdd@wales.nhs.uk
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Police appeal for witnesses after 20-year-old pedestrian tragically killed on A40

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DYFED-POWYS POLICE is appealing for witnesses to a fatal road traffic collision on the A40 west of Carmarthen on Saturday (Sept 26) in which a 20-year-old man, a pedestrian, lost his life.

The police have asked The Pembrokeshire Herald to publicise this appeal.

A spokesman for the police told this newspaper: “At around 9.40pm, a white VW Transporter was in collision with a pedestrian on the A40 westbound, near the junction of Llangynog, Carmarthen.

“The pedestrian, a 20-year-old male, died as a result of his injuries.

“It appears the pedestrian had left his vehicle, a black Seat, following a single-vehicle collision further along the westbound carriageway shortly before.

The police have asked that if anyone has any information on either or both collisions, or may have been travelling along the A40 at the relevant time, please contact the serious collision investigation unit, quoting reference DPP-20200926-339.

This can be done by email: contactcentre@dyfed-powys.pnn.police.uk, by phone on 101 or by text: If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908.

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Llanelli becomes a Covid-19 ‘health protection zone’

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RESIDENTS in a large part of Llanelli are being put under new local restrictions in a ‘health protection zone’ following a rapid increase in Covid-19 cases in the area.

The town is seeing a concentrated spread of cases compared with other parts of Carmarthenshire – in the last seven days, 85 positive cases have been identified in Llanelli (151.6 per 100,000 of the population) compared to 24 cases in the rest of Carmarthenshire (18.1 per 100,000 of the population).*

Public Health Wales officials are expecting numbers to continue rising over the coming week.

Carmarthenshire County Council and Hywel Dda University Health Board have worked with the Welsh Government and Public Health Wales to agree the temporary restrictions at sub-county level to try and halt the spread of the virus.

As of 6pm on Saturday September 26, 2020, residents living in defined parts of Llanelli will not be able to visit anyone else’s home, or accept visitors into their home, unless they have a ‘reasonable excuse’ such as providing care for a vulnerable person.

They should not arrange to meet indoors with anyone who they don’t live with, and travel in and out of the ‘health protection zone’ will also be limited – people should not leave the area or travel into the area unless it is essential. Travelling in and out of the zone for a holiday is not considered a reasonable excuse.

People are being asked to wear face coverings anywhere where they cannot maintain a two-metre distance from other people, including collecting children from school, in addition to the rules which already require them to wear a face covering in indoor spaces like shops and on public transport.

All indoor and outdoor visits to residential care homes have also been suspended.

Students may still travel into and out of the ‘health protection zone’ to go to school or college.

People living in the defined area of Llanelli must work from home, and employers must take all reasonable steps to support staff to do so.

Indoor public spaces such as leisure centres should only be used by people living in the defined area.

Shops will remain open, but people living outside the defined area of Llanelli should avoid travelling to visit them and shop in their own locality wherever possible.

The specific wards covered in the defined area of Llanelli are:

  • Bigyn
  • Bynea
  • Dafen
  • Elli
  • Felinfoel
  • Glanymor
  • Hendy
  • Hengoed
  • Llangennech
  • Lliedi
  • Llwynhendy
  • Tyisha
  • Swiss Valley

Although the pattern of increased positive cases is overwhelmingly concentrated in the Llanelli area where the restrictions have been strengthened, the whole of Carmarthenshire has now been put on alert, with a warning that the tighter restrictions may be extended if cases continue to spread.

Everyone – including those in the defined areas of Llanelli – is being urged to follow the national guidance around social distancing, good hygiene, self-isolation, testing and face coverings.

Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council, Cllr Emlyn Dole, said: “It is worrying to see how sharply the number of positive cases has risen in the Llanelli area, and action has had to be taken to help stop the spread and break the chain of infections concentrated in this area to prevent a whole county lockdown.

“We must all do the right thing, follow the advice and protect each other. In parts of Llanelli, we’re asking people and businesses to make even greater sacrifices – we fully appreciate the impact this will have, but there is no other way. We must stop the spread.”

A mobile testing unit has been set up in Llanelli to manage the increased demand by local residents who have any of the Covid-19 symptoms – either a high temperature, a change or loss to taste or smell or a new continuous cough.

Reporting of positive cases in the town is fully expected to rise during the next two weeks with the increase in more targeted testing. But this is a positive indicator that cases are being identified and control measures put in place.

Chair of Hywel Dda University Health Board Maria Battle said: “Our local community has given us such tremendous support during the past few months. To protect the health of our people, including the most vulnerable, and to ensure our NHS resources are available to provide people with the care they need; we need the help of our Llanelli population and wider community now more than ever before. Whilst hospital admissions have not yet increased again for COVID cases, we have seen a sharp rise in positive cases in the community, and in time this is likely to have an impact on hospital admissions. The very best way we can support each other and those we love, is to follow local restrictions, minimise our contacts, practice good hygiene and self-isolate and book a test if we have any COVID-19 symptoms.”

Increased testing capacity for residents in Llanelli is available by appointment at the following locations:

  • Parc y Scarlets Car Park B, accessed via Trostre Retail Park, in Llanelli
  • The Ty’r Nant site (next to KFC), Trostre, Llanelli
  • The Carmarthen showground (signposted in both directions off the A40)

There should be no reason for Llanelli residents to travel excessive distances for a test, as there will be tests available in Llanelli and Carmarthen. Tests should be booked via the UK Portal. Any Llanelli residents experiencing difficulty booking a test locally via the UK portal can instead email covidenquiries.hdd@wales.nhs.uk or by calling 0300 333 2222.

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