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MP champions helicopter in debate

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Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards

JONATHAN EDWARDS has secured a meeting with Minister for Policing Mike Penning after a debate in Westminster Hall on Tuesday (Jun 9) concerning the future of the Dyfed Powys Police helicopter.
Mr Edwards opened the debate with a speech stating that the Dyfed Powys Police Helicopter was essential in helping the constabulary deal with the ‘unique policing challenges’ faced by a force that covers half a million people and approximately half of Wales. He added that the helicopter was used for vehicle pursuits, gathering intelligence, and transporting specialist teams around the region, as well as casualty evacuation.
Pointing out that this was a Wales and England issue, Mr Edwards stated that had the police force in Wales been devolved, as it was in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and as his party has argued in favour of, ‘it is highly unlikely that we would be having this argument’.
The decision to downgrade from a 22 base model to a 15 base model also came under scrutiny, and Mr Edwards quoted an NPAS document stating that the 22 base model was ‘the right one to deliver the operational capability needed for the public in England and Wales, which was written three months before the 15 base model was imposed.
Highlighting the fact that ‘great swathes of the Dyfed Powys force area were only reachable after a minimum of 30 minutes travel time from St Athan and Bristol, he added: “You don’t have to be a detective to work out that this will significantly reduce the safety and service available to my constituents.” He also pointed out that this went against NPAS policy, which was to reach 97% of people within 20 minutes.
The Carmarthen East and Dinefwr MP also claimed that the decision was ‘on shaky ground.’ He advised Mr Penning, and the Home Secretary to read the minutes of February’s NPAS meeting and ‘satisfy themselves that the NPAS operational model was not open to judicial review,’ following the changes to the 15 base model, which Mr Edwards pointed out had happened without Dyfed Powys PCC Christopher Salmon, who signed in favour of the original model, knowing about it.
In what was later described by Mr Penning as ‘personal attacks on the Police and Crime Commissioner, Mr Edwards quoted Mr Salmon’s 2012 manifesto pledge to fight to keep the Dyfed Powys helicopter. “I want to put on record my deep sense of disappointment at Mr Salmon’s abject failure and apparent unwillingness to stand up for the best interests of the people of Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Powys, he said. “If the commissioner feels powerless, perhaps it is time for him to leave his job.”
JonathanEdwardsalsoquestioned the information published by NPAS on fixed-wing aircraft coverage as an alternative aircraft in the area: “For the [fixed-wing aircraft] maps to be accurate the aircraft would have to be constantly encircling Llandeilo, refuelled in mid-air when required, before being dispatched, which is plainly ridiculous”, he said. “In other words, the arguments being put forward by NPAS to justify its new enhanced coverage is purely hypothetical and deeply misleading”, he added.
Mr Edwards was supported by Ceredigion MP Mark Williams, who pointed out that Dyfed Powys Police have ‘expressed real concerns about the diminished service.’
Concluding his speech, Mr Edwards said: “The residents of Dyfed Powys have been failed by their police commissioner and ill-served by NPAS.” He added “If the Home Secretary is not prepared to order a similar review as she has done in the north of England, then I believe it will be seen, quite rightly, as if the residents of mid and west Wales are ignored by the UK Government.”
Responding, Mr Penning claimed that Mr Salmon was ‘trying to do the best job that he possibly can for the people he represents’. He was supported in this by the Conservative MP for Brecon and Radnor Christopher Davies. Mr Davies asked Mr Penning to point out how hard Mr Salmon had worked to get benefits from the NPAS model,’ without actually stating what these benefits were. He also pointed out that the Dyfed Powys helicopter had been grounded with gearbox problems for three weeks, and claimed that Dyfed Powys had no air cover at all during this period. He failed to mention that the South Wales Police Force helicopter was utilised during this period, and that this cover would in effect be what the NPAS model promises for the future.
He added that the coverage would be better because the new model offered 24 hour coverage rather than the twelve hours offered by the current model. He may have missed Mr Edwards’ earlier point, which was that in the last four years there have been a mere 13 calls for a helicopter outside of the twelve hour day.
“I think my honourable friend has been reading my speech – or perhaps he wrote it for me!” Mr Penning ‘joked.’
In terms of the cuts, he spoke in favour of moving away from traditional force boundaries to provide complete cover. Mr Penning referenced his work in moving the Coastguard service onto a national model, which he claimed had been a success.
He also said that it was not the role of the government to intervene in strategic decisions by NPAS. Mr Edwards intervened at this point, asking why, if this was the case, a review was being held concerning helicopter provision in the north of England. With refreshing candour, Mr Penning said that he didn’t know.
Mr Penning also championed fixed-wing aircraft, which have been tested in Dyfed-Powys with limited success, though the uses for them are open to interpretation. “I was counter-terrorism minister in Northern Ireland, and I have to be slightly careful what I say about how we used fixed-wing aircraft, but they are enormously useful,” he said. He also claimed that one of the more important uses for aircraft was tracking down cannabis growers.

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Llanelli lockdown looms

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PUBLIC HEALTH WALES have confirmed that Wales’ first town-only lockdown could happen after experts express concern at a spike in the level of positive Coronavirus cases in and around Llanelli.
Dr. Quentin Sandifer, Public Health Wales’ Medical Director confirmed that a ‘high level of concern’ exists at a virtual meeting of the Senedd’s Health, Social Care and Sports Committee this morning (Wednesday, Sept 23).
Dr. Sandifer was questioned by Assembly Member David Rees who asked: “How small an area could you go down to if you wanted local restrictions?”
The Public Health Wales representative replied by stating: “Looking at the position in Carmarthenshire, we do see quite a variation within that county area, with the highest figures of concern in the Llanelli area.
“That is where we are paying particular attention within Carmarthenshire. So we are able to go down to a sub-county, local level in terms of our considerations, and that is what we are actively doing.”
Dr. Sandifer went on to say that local lockdowns imposed early elsewhere, like Caerphilly, are “beginning to demonstrate some effect on infection rates.”
With the threat of a local lockdown hanging over Llanelli, a mobile testing unit has been set up at Parc-Y-Scarlets today and if you require a test, you can e-mail covidenquiries.hdd@wales.nhs.uk or call 0300 333 2222.

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Gemma runs 50 miles for air medics who attended her Dad

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A GRATEFUL Ammanford mum has raised £350 by running 50 miles for the Wales Air Ambulance after the Charity’s medics tried to save her dad’s life last year.

The air medics were first on the scene after Gemma Pritchard’s dad Gerry, suffered a major heart attack in February 2019. He sadly passed away in intensive care two days later.

Speaking of the care her dad received, the mum-of-one said: “The service they provided was out of this world. Every member of the crew kept us updated every chance they could. They worked tirelessly to save my dad and despite all efforts from the crew he sadly passed away a few days later. I will forever owe them my life for all the efforts that evening.

“Losing our dad was so hard after already losing my mother in 2011. We had to go through all the heartache of losing another parent.” 

Gemma, 30, who works in Jenkins Bakery and as a cleaner, completed the 50-mile challenge in 13 days. Running wasn’t something that came naturally to Gemma before the fundraiser. She was supported by her husband Owain and daughter Lillie-May, 5, to complete the challenge.

Owain did the last run with Gemma, which was 10 miles. She added: “I couldn’t run 10 seconds before the challenge he pushed me massively to achieve my goal.

“My first run I managed 3 miles then I upped it to 5 miles, then 6 and then I went straight in for the 10 miles. My poor feet still feel it now. I knew this would be a massive challenge to myself.”

This is Gemma’s first fundraiser and she is already thinking of different ways she can raise funds for the charity in future.

She said: “I’m overwhelmed at the funds I did raise, although I would’ve loved to raise a lot. I’m still very happy with what I have raised for my first of many fundraisers for such an amazing crew.

“I’d like to thank everyone who donated.  I’m so proud of completing my challenge.”

Mark Stevens, Wales Air Ambulance Fundraising Manager, said: “We are extremely grateful for the support Gemma has shown our charity. It is incredible to hear that despite Gemma’s loss she still wanted to show her support to our medics. It’s inspirational to hear that she picked a 50-mile fundraiser even though she couldn’t previously run before the challenge.

“Thank you to Gemma and everyone who has supported her. We’re delighted to hear that Gemma hopes to raise more funds in the future for our Charity.”

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The latest increase in coronavirus in Wales is ‘sobering’ says First Minister

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THE FIRST MINISTER, Mark Drakeford has criticised the lack of communication with the UK government as he gave a briefing on what he described as the “sobering” increase in coronavirus cases and hospitalisation in Wales.

The infection rate in Wales has risen to 23.6 infections for every 100k people as cases have spiked in areas including Merthyr, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Caerphilly and Newport.

Hospitalisations remain low but are rising, with five people currently in intensive care with Covid-19 and and 53 Covid patients on all hospital wards, according to the latest data from Public Health Wales from Sunday, September 13.

Mr Drakeford said that the number of people in hospital with coronavirus had risen to 41 with four people in intensive care.

He also said that the R number in Wales was almost certainly now above one – meaning the virus is spreading exponentially again. The latest estimate, he said, was between 0.7 and 1.2.

Mr Drakeford said: “In this most difficult week, there has been no meeting offered to First Ministers of any sort. Since the 28 May, there has been just one brief telephone call from the Prime Minister.

“This is simply unacceptable to anyone who believes that we ought to be facing the coronavirus crisis together.

“We need a regular, reliable, rhythm of engagement: a reliable meeting even once a week would be a start. I make this argument not because we should all do the same things, but because being round the same table allows each of us to make the best decisions for the nations we represent.

“There is a vacancy at the heart of the United Kingdom, and it needs urgently to be filled, so we can talk to each other, share information, pool ideas and demonstrate a determination that the whole of the country can face these challenges together at this most difficult time.”

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