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At what price a free press?

Thomas Sinclair

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County Hall has ‘attempted to deter investigative journalism’: Jacqui Thompson.

County Hall has ‘attempted to deter investigative journalism’: Jacqui
Thompson.

THE REVISED Press and Media Protocol for Carmarthenshire County Council is to be discussed by the Executive Board on Monday. This has been an ongoing exercise which officially began in January 2014 but which has been called for long before that.

County Hall has, for years, deliberately compromised the ability of the local press to report negative stories, it has attempted to deter investigative journalism, even adding that unique clause (currently suspended) to its constitution to provide funds to sue should anyone get too critical. The Council has even abused its position to ‘persuade’ reporters not to pursue Freedom of Information Act requests.

The nonsense of threatening to withdraw advertising funding from local papers as punishment for negative stories has gone on for years and, in the past, both the Carmarthen Journal and the South Wales Guardian have been in their sights; blackmail, in other words.

Late in 2012 a leaked email from the council press office gave overwhelming proof that a mildly critical story published by the South Wales Guardian had led to the withdrawal of advertising.

The Plaid opposition brought forward a Motion for full council to respect the freedom of the local press. The chief executive decided that this wasn’t going anywhere near full council and kicked it into touch.

Then opposition leader Peter Hughes-Griffiths said: “It is very alarming that a motion asking Carmarthenshire County Council to support press freedom has itself been censored. Elected members have been barred from discussing a matter of public concern by the Chief Executive. It is exactly this kind of obstruction to democratic debate that gives this council such a bad name.”

The matter was dealt with behind closed doors.

2012 also saw the long running saga over the Sainsbury’s press release, for which the leader, Kevin Madge, had his knuckles rapped by the Ombudsman for using the council press office for political attack.

The offending article had been signed off by the chief e xecutive.

Things also took a turn for the worse with the publication of the Wales Audit Office reports in January 2014 with the press office again galvanised into action to attack the auditor, politicians and anyone who disagreed with the Mark James world view.

Many controversial ‘press releases, including demands for the auditor to retract his opinions over his ‘unlawful’ findings have been attributed to unnamed spokespersons, this even breached the old protocol.

The emphasis on reputation management has been of paramount importance to County Hall, and readers of this, and Cneifiwr’s blog will know that the press office has not been called the Ministry of Spin without good reason. The first thing to suffer is always the truth. Internal emails show that defensiveness and damage limitation are the priority.

Another bizarre example, last year, saw the chief executive rejecting opposition budget proposals in the pages of the Carmarthen Journal.

Not only is the press office one of the most generously funded in Wales, recent figures unearthed by opposition councillors show that the wages bill for technical services (emptying your bins etc) has fallen by nearly 10% since 2009. The wages bill for the press office, on the other hand, has risen by nearly 13% in the same period.

Over the years numerous calls have been made to end the publication of the council propaganda free sheet the ‘Carmarthenshire News’. The decision to reduce publication from six to four editions per year has meant even more drivel and pictures of officials in hard hats has to be packed into each issue.

You’ll always be hard pushed to find a mention of an adverse report anywhere on the council website, let alone in the ‘media’ section. The link to the recent public report from the ombudsman was there for exactly the time required by law – three weeks. However, the nauseating press release announcing that the chief executive was staying, signed-off by Kev and Pam is still lingering as ‘news’, like a bad smell, more than six weeks after it first appeared.

The very recent WLGA governance review recognised the enormity of the problem and said that the council ‘will not seek to suppress or censor the activity of an independent press and media’.

The trouble is, leopards don’t change their spots and whilst a few tweaks to the protocol might tick boxes, the toxic culture remains alive and well, for now. It will take the continued determination of the local media, including bloggers to play their part in exposing the spin, pushing for change and making the local authority accountable.

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Four charged with conspiracy to supply class A drugs

Carli Newell

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FOUR people have been arrested and charged as part of an investigation into an organised crime gang supplying class A drugs from London to Aberystwyth, Llanelli and Swansea.

Dyfed-Powys Police, with support from The Met Police, carried out warrants at four addresses on July 21, resulting in four arrests.

Mohammed Osman, aged 23, Yonis Mohammed, aged 20, Salman Mohamoud, aged 23 – all from Islington – and Amy Simmons, aged 21, from Dulwich were charged with a total of 12 offences:

  • Mohammed Osman: Two counts of conspiring to supply class A drug heroin, and two counts of conspiring to supply class A drug crack cocaine,
  • Yonis Mohammed: Two counts of conspiring to supply class A drug heroin, and two counts of conspiring to supply class A drug crack cocaine.
  • Salman Mohamoud: Conspiring to supply class A drug heroin, and conspiring to supply class A drug crack cocaine
  • Amy Simmons: Conspiring to supply class A drug heroin, and conspiring to supply class A drug crack cocaine.

All four appeared at Llanelli Magistrates’ Court on Friday, July 23, where they were remanded in custody. They are due to appear at Swansea Crown Court for their next hearing on August 20.

The investigation is being carried out by the Ceredigion Serious and Organised Crime Team, Aberystwyth CID and the Operation Orochi command of the Met Police.

Detective Sergeant Steve Jones said: “These four arrests and charges are the result of a coordinated approach to target an organised crime gang we believe is running a county lines operation into the Dyfed-Powys Police force area.

“We will continue to work diligently to disrupt gangs of this kind, to prevent the supply of illegal substances into our community.

“I would like to thank all officers involved, as well as the Met Police for their part in the operation.”

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New children’s play area in Bryn as part of new council housing development

Carli Newell

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A NEW children’s play area has opened in time for the summer holidays in Bryn, Llanelli as part of a new £5.9million council housing development.

Carmarthenshire County Council is building 32 new homes on land close to the Dylan housing estate in Bryn.

The scheme will be made up of 22 two-bedroom homes, four two-bedroom bungalows and six four-bedroom homes and is part of the council’s ongoing drive to deliver more affordable homes across the county. It has been part funded through the Welsh Government’s Affordable Housing Grant.

The development also includes a new children’s play area, funded by the council in partnership with Llanelli Rural Council, which will take over the running and maintenance of the play area on completion.

Executive Board Member for Housing Cllr Linda Evans said: “I am delighted the park has been completed in time for the summer holidays for the local children to enjoy.

“We are committed to delivering more affordable housing across Carmarthenshire and this development will benefit dozens of families in Llanelli, as well as proving much needed facilities for the local community.

“I would like to thank the rural council for collaborating with this us on this and I hope the children are thrilled with it.”

Before designing the play area, the rural council liaised with local schoolchildren to find out what play equipment they wanted at their new park.

Llanelli Rural Council Chairman Cllr Tegwen Devichand said: “The council is delighted to be working in partnership with Carmarthenshire County Council to provide this wonderful new play area for the community.

“The opening of the play area couldn’t have been better timed to coincide with the school holidays. I hope the local children will enjoy the range of challenging play equipment on offer and that they have lots of fun using it over the summer.”

The housing development is due to be completed by the beginning of 2022.

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Burry Port Harbour lighthouse overhaul tops council’s £2million investment

Carli Newell

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A £2MILLION investment in Burry Port Harbour is nearing completion, topped off with the iconic lighthouse getting a fresh lick of paint.

Carmarthenshire County Council is behind a range of improvements to maintain and restore the historic harbour which is one of the county’s most loved and well visited beauty spots.

Restoration of the Grade II listed harbour walls, undertaken under the guidance of CADW, will conclude within the next few weeks.

The council has also been working alongside The Marine Group, which operates the harbour, to improve mooring facilities. They are working closely with fishermen to bid for funding for new commercial pontoon infrastructure.

It will add to investment made over previous years which saw the council spend almost £1.5million on new pontoons, and over £300,000 in maintaining the harbour railings and bridge.

A local operator has agreed a lease for a cafe and public toilets on east side of Harbour, and the refurbishment of the old RNLI harbour office has recently started by The Marine Group (TMG) to create a harbour-side coffee house.

TMG has also invested in a state-of-the-art dredger which arrived at the harbour last autumn. Dredging is well underway and will continue until targeted depths are reached.

Boat lifting equipment and new fuelling points are also planned.

The council has introduced community safety officers to patrol the harbour assisting tourists and local people during the summer months, especially to advise around Covid regulations, as part of a tourism hotspot plan to take care of issues such as parking, litter, street cleansing, enforcement and signage.

Temporary car parking surfacing has also been laid on the east side along with new pay and display facilities ahead of a wider multi-million regeneration plan that will transform the harbour with a mix of housing, commercial and leisure space covering around 13 acres of prime development site.

Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, Executive Board Member for Culture, Sport and Tourism, said: “We are proud of our continued investment in Burry Port Harbour. We are spending millions restoring and maintaining historic features that are much-loved by local people and visitors who come from far and wide to enjoy what the harbour has to offer.

“We continue to work closely alongside The Marine Group and Pembrey and Burry Port Town Council to plan and prioritise works and ongoing maintenance. We are as keen as everyone else to ensure it is well-maintained and continues to be a place people can enjoy.

“We appreciate that there has been some upheaval during these improvement works but we ask people to understand that our investment will make Burry Port Harbour an even better place for the future.”

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