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Proud of the past, looking to the future

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Robert Lloyd

Robert Lloyd

ROBERT LLOYD is the former editor of the Llanelli Star and the Carmarthen Journal. He was also deputy editor at the Evening Post. His career as a journalist started when he walked into the office of the Carmarthen Journal and asked for a summer job. Although he achieved grades for university Robert opted for an apprenticeship with the Journal and eventually became the editor. The Herald caught up with him in his recording studio where he produces the talking newspaper for the partially sighted and the blind.

We asked Robert if there was difference to his life now that he has retired from life as a newspaper editor and he told us: “There is a huge difference, I spent 32 years in journalism. When I turned 50, I got out of it.

“I now run my own marketing and PR Company RLloyd PR. I am also part time project officer for the Llanelli Railway Goods Shed. We are hoping to bring it back to life as a community hub. I am the chair of the talking newspaper association. We have a team of 25 volunteers who turn up here and record programmes once a fortnight for blind and partially sighted people. It is a nice rewarding job we do here and help people who are unable to read the local papers and we are looking to develop an online version. The news programme we produce here also gets used on Llanelli Hospital Radio. The news is very localised and we tell people what is going on in their community.

“One of the things I found when I left newspapers was that I could do different things and I had more of a licence to roam. I have worked for the Welsh Government and I covered the Para Olympics interviewing world-class athletes. I was also able to go over on an aid mission to Kosovo with Val Newton. There are pressures and deadlines still but it is a different sort of pressure.”

Given Robert’s long and successful career in journalism the Herald wanted to ask him if it was important for reporters to research their articles before they were placed on the editor’s desk. Calling on his vast experience Robert said, “It is crucial and it is something I used to drill into my reporters. Many of the journalists I trained went on to work for the Guardian and the BBC. You have to get your facts right and if you do it correctly the editor has confidence. People used to ask if I read every word before it went to print, I didn’t. You are bound to get errors because it is a human process but getting your facts right is important.”

Many of the journalists Robert worked with are now ensconced in the press department of Carmarthenshire County Council. We asked Robert if this was worrying in any way given the relationship the council has with those newspapers today.

The wily former editor called upon his years of experience and responded: “I am old enough to remember when Dyfed’s press department was one person and a secretary. It became slightly comical watching my staff being poached to work in local government. Some of those staff were very good at scrutiny of local officers so I guess it was one less person for them to worry about in the world of newspapers. They have a bigger department than most of the local papers.”

With instances of planted puff pieces in some local press, we asked Robert if it was possible for people to exert their influence over newspapers in order to get their own message across.

His response was forthright and got to the heart of the knotty issue of what makes a local newspaper: “What I tend to see is that there are weaknesses in newspapers and it isn’t the fault of staff as such. I was lucky enough to work with an experienced team of journalists and the papers may not have that kind of benefit today. It is possible for people to throw a bit of smoke and throw mirrors in front of them. Local reporters wouldn’t deliberately set out to hoodwink the local public but there are some very clever people out there.”

The Herald asked Robert if he ever felt like allowing his own personal feelings run amok in the newspaper. He was very firm in his response and said: “I’d have to say no because I was there as the editor not to reflect my own personal views but as a litmus paper test for the community. Frequently I published things I disagreed with but I wanted to get it out there to get it talked about.

Continuing, he drew attention to one particularly knotty story: “I am thinking about the debate over Stradey Park when they left there. The Scarlets were keen for positive coverage but there was an undercurrent and people had negative thoughts so we aired both sides and there were some sparky moments. It was our duty to present both sides of the story and let people make up their own minds.”

He continued: “There were times when I had to write on something in Carmarthen and that might say what great news something was for Carmarthen and then drive to Llanelli and write the same thing but say it was terrible news for Llanelli. Personal preferences have to be set aside.”

It was too good an opportunity to miss and we asked Robert what he thought of the new kid on the block, the Llanelli and Carmarthenshire Herald. He was extremely generous in his response and told us: “I take my hat off to the Herald management. I have been observing what they have done in Pembrokeshire and it’s been very impressive. They actually asked the questions and took on the local authority where mainstream didn’t. I was keen to give the manager of the Herald a slap on the back really for being bold enough to take what they are doing in Pembrokeshire and transfer that into Carmarthenshire. It is a bit of a breath of fresh air.”

He continued to highlight the risks to independent local newspapers: “There is a danger sometimes that if you have a one-newspaper town it becomes complacent. I am also glad to see it is under local ownership. Large corporations who have no affinity with Wales own Welsh papers. They are profit driven for shareholders and that doesn’t stay in Wales. Print isn’t dead and I think there is room for a good, well run local newspaper, which gives people cause to talk about things in the street. The Journal and the Star were set up by a small group of people and they were slightly philanthropic. It wasn’t seen as a cash cow.”

We asked Robert if he had seen an erosion in local democracy. He said, “It’s been there as a story for a good many years. People are frustrated by the lack of transparency in the local council. Perhaps things will change now that Plaid Cymru is in partnership with the independents. What happens in terms of regime will be interesting to follow.”

He was, however, cautious about the influence individual councillors can exercise: “I have seen new councillors starting out and they are full of good intentions and they want to change the world and bit-by-bit they have the stuffing knocked out of them. There isn’t enough oomph coming from the councillors themselves to say that this is our council and we will run this as we see fit rather than being told by chief officers for example. There is still a suspicion that Carmarthenshire is too much of an officer led council.”

Speaking about the differences between the towns of Llanelli and Carmarthen Robert told us, “Llanelli has suffered more in terms of its shopping profile than Carmarthen. Carmarthen has had the investment. The development of the shopping centre in Carmarthen has affected the shops in King Street. When Tesco moved out of Llanelli you are left with a donut. When they left there were codicils, which said that the place could not be used for retail.”

Looking at the malign effects of recent developments, Robert articulated some deeply held concerns: “We have had the Eastgate development, which was structured to be a store with, shops around it. It is now council offices with one or two shops and a pub around it. When Stradey moved out another retail park was created in Trostre. There was no linkage to encourage people back into town. There isn’t much wrong with it, it is flat, easy to walk; some of the fringes are suffering. They haven’t integrated Eastgate and the town centre. The plans showed linked wooden walkways but that hasn’t happened. The simplest level would be free car parking. We should compete with Trostre and Pemberton. Some investment may go into the empty shops but I believe it is only a million pounds so it won’t go far. If we could find ways of getting these properties back into use that would be good for Llanelli.

The Herald asked Robert what he would do if he had a pot of money equal to what had been spent in places like Parc Y Scarlets. In true community spirited generosity and with the vision of a man who loves his home town he replied, “I am involved in the goods shed project and that speaks to everybody in the community. It is in an area of town that hasn’t had a lot done for it.”

On the pull of the Scarlets, he was clear as to the advantages and disadvantages of one big attraction: “Rugby speaks to certain people. I think the figures for tourism regarding the Scarlets have been overstated. There is a huge community need for that area and it will be an attraction and a heritage site and have everything from music studio, café there is land around it so we could have gardens, farmers markets, boot sales.”

He continued: “You can invest in projects like the Scarlets but not everyone is a rugby fan. Sometimes I think that not enough of the positive work is reported on. Llanelli community partnership is a group of various organisations wanting to make Llanelli a better place to live. There is a huge army of volunteers working hard to improve the town. The Goods shed is about asking the community what they want and providing a place where community groups can set up, social enterprises and business start-ups. Llanelli needs investment and the communities help.”

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Health

Those eligible for the Spring Covid-19 booster should get jabbed by end of June

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ALL those eligible for the Spring Covid-19 booster are being urged to take up their offer of the vaccine before the end of next month.

A deadline of 30 June has been introduced to ensure all those eligible for the spring booster will have a long-enough interval between this and the autumn 2022 booster, if they are also eligible.

An announcement by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) about which groups will be eligible for the autumn booster is due to be published shortly.

The JCVI has advised that people over-75, older care home residents and all those aged 12 years and over who are immunosuppressed are eligible for the spring booster.

Those who are 75 on or before 30 June, can get their booster at any point up to the deadline.

Health Minister Eluned Morgan said: “It is important we continue our very high take up levels of the vaccine to help protect us against the risk of serious illness from Covid-19. I would urge everyone who is offered a spring booster vaccination takes up the invitation.”

If someone eligible for a spring booster has had a Covid infection recently, they will need to wait 28 days from the date they tested positive before they can be vaccinated. They will still be able to get vaccinated after 30 June as part of this campaign if they have to postpone their appointment.

All those eligible for spring boosters will be invited by their health board or GP.

It is not too late for anyone who needs a primary dose (first, second or third) to be vaccinated.

Please check for local arrangements.

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Health

Young people in Wales being failed when moving from child to adult mental health services

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MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES are failing young people when they move from child to adult services, says a mental health charity.

Mind Cymru is calling for Welsh Government to make urgent changes to improve the system.

Nia Evans, Children and Young People Manager at Mind Cymru, said: “Young people have told us that their needs, thoughts, and feelings about moving to adult services are often unheard, or ignored.

“Welsh Government must support Local Health Boards to make sure this doesn’t happen, change the way services are run and make sure our young people are being heard and properly cared for.”

Mind Cymru has published a report, in ate the result of interviews with young people about their experiences of moving from Specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services – (SCAMHS) to AMHS.

They highlighted five key areas where services are failing young people:
– Poor information offered to young people, particularly on their rights
– Inconsistent use and follow through of care and treatment plans
– High thresholds for SCAMHS and AMHS referrals to be accepted
– Feeling abandoned / cut off from SCAMHS
– Age still dominates decision making process for moving from SCAMHS to AMHS

Nia Evans said: “Any one of these issues could make the process of moving from children’s services to adult services difficult for our young people. But often, more than one is happening at any one time.”

“Our young people have a right to care and support from a mental health system that has been put in place to help them recover. Action must be taken immediately to make sure support systems are robust and doing the job they were designed to do.”

Mind Cymru is asking people to email their Member of the Senedd (MS) and amplify the voices of these young people whose experiences are often unheard, and use the #SortTheSwitch hashtag on social media.

The full report is available here, including what a good move from SCAMHS to AMHS would look like for young people, and where the current system could improve.

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Business

Average UK price of diesel hits record of more than £1.80 a litre

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LESS than two months after Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a 5p a litre cut on the average price of fuel – diesel prices have reached a record high price of 180.29p a litre.
The previous high of 179.90p was recorded on March 23rd 2022 – the day of the Spring Statement from Sunak.

In recent weeks, the UK government has tried to move away from its reliance on importing Russian oil, following President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Worryingly for drivers of petrol cars, the price per litre is fast approaching the record levels of 167.3p per litre set on March 22nd.

This latest price rise adds another challenge to UK households, as the cost of living crisis continues to impact families across the country.

RAC fuel spokesperson Simon Williams said: “Sadly, despite the Chancellor’s 5p a litre duty cut the average price of a litre of diesel has hit a new record high at 180.29p.”

“Efforts to move away from importing Russian diesel have led to a tightening of supply and pushed up the price retailers pay for diesel.”

“While the wholesale price has eased in the last few days this is likely to be temporary, especially if the EU agrees to ban imports of Russian oil.”

“Unfortunately, drivers with diesel vehicles need to brace themselves for yet more pain at the pumps. Had Mr Sunak reduced VAT to 15% as we call on him to do instead of cutting duty by 5p, drivers of diesel vehicles would be around 2p a litre better off, or £1 for every full tank.”

“As it is, drivers are still paying 27p VAT on petrol and 29p on diesel, which is just the same as before the Spring Statement.”

“The average price of petrol is also on the rise having gone up nearly 3p a litre since the start of the month to 166.65p which means it’s less than a penny away from the all-time high of 167.30p set on 22 March.”

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