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Leanne and Helen: ‘There is a better way’

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Visiting Llanelli: Candidate and leader at Calsonic

Visiting Llanelli: Candidate and leader at Calsonic

THINGS are hotting up in Wales, as politicians from every party begin courting the media in order to try and convince the public that they really are the best people to run the Welsh Assembly Government.

Llanelli has seen numerous visits from party leaders in recent weeks including a right Welsh punch up on BBC’s Question Time with Nigel Farage thrown in for good measure.

A few days after her much-praised appearance on the BBC’s flagship programme, The Herald caught up with Plaid leader, Leanne Wood and the Llanelli Plaid Cymru AM candidate Helen Mary Jones following their visit to the Calsonic Kansei factory.

HOW MUCH POWER FOR WALES?

Plaid have launched their manifesto. They want Wales to get same powers as Scotland and also similar funding an additional £1.2billion each year. We asked just how much control of its own affairs Plaid Cymru wants for Wales.

Leanne Wood told us, “There are many aspects of our lives which are under devolved competence but there are still a lot of areas which are not devolved to Wales. It makes sense for us to have as much control over our own affairs and to take as many decisions that affect our lives as possible. Plaid Cymru will use every opportunity to push to maximise powers for Wales.”

Helen Mary Jones said that Plaid had to be more creative with powers. She said: “As well as trying to maximise the control we will have it is also about being creative about the powers we already have and looking at how we can mitigate against some of the worse of the damage.”

Helen Mary Jones continued: “None of us like what the Conservative government is doing, but rather than just complain about it, which I am afraid we have seen too much of from the current leadership of the Welsh Assembly Government, we should be thinking about what we can do differently.”

THE SYSTEM NEEDS TO CHANGE

Plaid’s manifesto also supports scrapping the Bedroom Tax. Helen Mary Jones told us: “One of the big issues in Llanelli is the benefits system and the changes it is undergoing.

“There are things devolved governments can do to protect people against those benefit changes and the example for me is the action the Scottish Government took over the bedroom tax. They said they could not stop Westminster imposing the bedroom tax but they could tell local authorities and housing associations that they would never have to evict anybody because of it and we will top up your budgets to make sure you don’t.”

Plaid Cymru has not shied away from targeting the wealthy in order to find additional funding to support their plans. Their manifesto calls for a restoration of the 50p income tax rate for earnings above £150,000, an increase in National Insurance contributions for higher earners and a tax on sugary drinks.

Tax dodgers also come in for scrutiny and Leanne Wood gave an overview of how she believes that the biggest fraudsters are getting away with tax avoidance. She said, “I think an awful lot of emphasis to date has been on benefit fraud and there has not been enough emphasis on the tax fraud by major corporations and the very wealthy. I would much prefer the HMRC to go after those people to close those tax loopholes and to do everything possible to enable small businesses to be free to do as much as they possibly can.”

CHANGES TO LOCAL SERVICES

We asked if changes needed to be made at local authority level in Wales away from perceived officer led authorities. Helen Mary Jones homed in on the recent Welsh Audit Office (WAO) report on Carmarthenshire County Council and said: “We have just seen the recent WAO report that says the new administration is making a difference in the way Carmarthenshire is spending its money and prioritising. That shows we are beginning to move away from an officer led authority.”

Plaid’s Llanelli candidate continued: “There are always going to be huge challenges and there are always going to be restraints. There is money you can spend on capital and you can’t spend on revenue. If you put money from reserves into revenue this year that is great but what do you do the next year. One of the things we are able to do is bring together executive board members together with people in the community who are facing challenges.

“It is a bit like trying to turn round an oil tanker. It is not going to change overnight. I think that the WAO report shows that we have started to travel in the right direction as an administration.”

EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION

Plaid Cymru are scheduled to launch their election campaign this week and so we asked about education in Wales, one of the key issues.

We began asked Leanne Wood why Wales seemed to be lagging behind in some surveys: “I think it is because the government we have had have been complacent. We have had the same party in government for 17 years, although there have been coalitions as well.

“If you look at the Pisa results we are way behind. That affects not just children’s individual life chances but employers of the future whether they make a decision to come to Wales or not. Improving our education is essential.”

Leanne Wood continued: “Plaid Cymru will be launching our election campaign this week. There is a great emphasis on education from cradle through career. We are investing in the very early years but also making sure people have a range of choices when they get to fourteen, fifteen and sixteen so that the academic route is not the only option but that there are serious vocational options as well. We also want to invest in teachers because we believe the excellence in our education system will be provided by those who are the experts in the system; that is, the teachers.

“At the moment they have so much pressure on them to perform through inspection systems that don’t work. That is another area of our educational policy. We want to reform the way that schools are inspected. When Plaid Cymru was in the One Wales government we put forward a policy that every school would have access to a nurse so that children’s health and well being and mental well being was to be a major part of their schooling experience. That is something that can be built on and in terms of mental health there is room for enabling the school to support children. School has the potential to identify problems early on. All of this requires investment and prioritisation.”

Giving her reasons for the apparent deficit in Welsh education’s performance against international measuring criteria, Helen Mary Jones told us: “I think it is because successive Welsh Governments have taken some steps but they haven’t been followed through.

Helen Mary continued: “The innovative early learning models that were introduced were the right things to do but it was not followed through. The teachers have not all been properly trained. Not all the schools have the physical facilities for the children to be able to be learning through play. All political parties at the Assembly signed up for that because the evidence was there that that kind of innovative teaching young children is what delivers the best learners. You can’t learn if you are unhappy.

“A proper delivery of the early years curriculum starts with the child being warm comfortable happy and well and it goes fro there. The principals are all there but there has been a failure to deliver. It is the story of this Labour administration. When it comes to delivering it hasn’t happened.”

NO! TO UKIP COALITION

UKIP are on the rise and their candidates cannot be ruled out of getting some seats. We asked Leanne Wood if she would consider a coalition with UKIP if they did win a number of seats.

Leanne Wood answered with an emphatic ‘No! Not under any circumstances whatsoever!”

The Plaid leader observed: “I think they will take some seats because the electoral system enables that. It makes it more likely for them to gain seats. With the backdrop of the European referendum debate that is territory that is helpful to them.”

On the positive aspect of campaigning, Leanne Wood rallied her candidates and supporters: “It is up to us as Plaid Cymru to put our message across. We are working very hard in all communities making sure our candidates are out knocking doors explaining why a vote for Plaid Cymru is in their interests much more than a vote for UKIP which is a vote that will work against them in the long run.”

Asked for her thoughts on UKIP’s chances in Llanelli Helen Mary Jones took the long view: “Plaid may have been a political party in the past that people who wanted to protest against the mainstream system had gone to.

She continued: “It comes back to what Leanne said and it is about talking to people and convincing them that something better is possible. I have never heard anybody saying they are voting for UKIP because I like this about them. It is all about what people don’t like or what they are frightened of.

“I don’t know how well they will do in the first past the post in this constituency. It will be a tight fight between us and Labour. UKIP may pick up regional votes and it is up to us to make sure that happens as little as possible.”

LABOUR’S HEALTH APPROACH ‘FLAWED’

We asked Leanne about Labour’s handling of the health service: “Our view has been that the Labour’s NHS centralisation programme is deeply flawed. It does not take account of the distances people have to travel or the low car ownership and the problems we have had with the ambulance service. That is not to denigrate ambulance workers it is a lack of investment in all health services that has got us to the place we are in.

“It is why Plaid Cymru has spent so much time putting forward proposals to attract extra doctors and to train extra doctors. The government tell us that centralisation has been driven not by a lack of money but a by lack of staff. It is Welsh Labour’s inability to have planned and organised that staff over many years that has left Wales in a position where we have fewer doctors per head of population than all but three other EU countries.

“Investment in our staff is the key in terms of health services. What Plaid Cymru has said is that when we have enough staff to ensure safe services then we will reopen those services that have been lost in our hospitals.”

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Alcohol seized and teenager arrested as police deal with antisocial behaviour

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POLICE seized large amounts of alcohol and arrested a teenager as they continued to deal with antisocial behaviour over the weekend.

Dyfed-Powys Police had proactive plans in place to deal with ongoing issues of groups of youngsters gathering in Carmarthenshire following rising reports of alcohol-related antisocial behaviour over the past two months.

Dispersal orders were in place across Llanelli and Burry Port, giving police the powers to move anyone believed to be causing a nuisance, harassment or distress out of the area.

Officers patrolling the rail network in Carmarthenshire on Saturday noticed a large amount of young people getting off the train at Ferryside, where an additional dispersal order was put in place and alcohol was seized.

Officers were also required to deal with children trespassing on the railway tracks.

Sergeant Gemma Davies said: “We had received reports of children with alcohol running across the tracks, which posed a huge danger to themselves and others, and had to be stopped as a priority.

“One boy who was detained became abusive towards officers and could not be reasoned with. Officers had no choice but to arrest him for his own safety and to prevent further offences from being committed.

“This incident goes to show that the kind of behaviour we are dealing with goes beyond groups of young people meeting to have a good time, and is putting people in highly dangerous situations.”

A 17-year-old boy was arrested on suspicion of trespassing on the railway and using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour to cause harassment, alarm or distress.

He has been released under investigation pending further enquiries by British Transport Police.

Early intervention was taken in the Trostre area of Llanelli, where officers noticed groups of children meeting on Saturday.

Sgt Davies said: “More than 60 young people were moved on from both locations and a large amount of alcohol was seized.

“Out of these groups, four notices were issued to those causing the most trouble in the Trostre area which prevented them from returning, and each of these youngsters were taken home.

“This swift action was a deterrent to other young people who were planning on joining the groups and were still travelling to the area.”

“We will continue to put plans in place each weekend and over the summer holidays to deal with antisocial behaviour, using all powers available to us to put a stop to it.”

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Coronavirus cases in Wales still lowest in UK says Health Minister

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WALES continues to have the lowest rate of coronavirus cases in the UK, Welsh Health Minister Eluned Morgan said today. 

The minister said the number of confirmed cases in Wales is currently 9.3 per 100,000 people. 

Eluned Morgan said: “The number of people in hospital with coronavirus is at the lowest level since the start of the pandemic.  We have recently seen a period of 10 days where no new deaths from the virus were recorded – sadly Public Health Wales reported one death yesterday.

“These achievements reflect the hard work of people throughout Wales to keep themselves and their families safe.

“Over recent weeks we have however seen very troubling developments in relation to the so-called India variant of concern – or as the World Health Organisation has re-named it, the delta variant.  This is further proof that coronavirus has not gone away. 

“We have been carefully monitoring this new variant, which appears to be spreading in many parts of England.   We have identified a growing number of cases here in Wales, including a large cluster of cases in Conwy which is under close investigation.  

“This delta variant has the potential to become the next dominant strain of the virus in the UK.  We hope we can contain cases and prevent this variant spreading further but we expect the number of cases in Wales will continue to increase.

“Whilst the public health situation therefore remains good in Wales, the delta variant brings a new level of uncertainty.  It was in this context the most recent review of the coronavirus restrictions took place on 3 June. 

“Whilst Wales is moving to alert level one as previously signalled, we will now do this in a phased way.  

“Changes to the regulations from 7 June therefore focused on easing restriction on outdoor events and activities.  The risk of transmission is much lower outdoors and these changes will allow people to take advantage of the summer.”

Up to 30 people can now meet outdoors, including in private gardens, outdoor hospitality and public places.

Larger outdoor organised gatherings and events for up to 4,000 people standing and 10,000 people seated can also now take place.  This includes concerts, football matches and sporting activities, like organised running groups. All organisers must undertake a full risk assessment and put in place measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, including social distancing.

Finally, provision now allows for extended household to be made up of three households who can meet and have contact indoors.  This is an increase from two households previously. 

We will consider further changes to the regulations on indoor activity later in the month, if public health conditions allow.   In line with the coronavirus control plan, at alert level one this would mean the rule of six would apply for meeting indoors in private homes and in holiday accommodation.

We will also consider increasing numbers for indoor organised gatherings and restarting indoor events.

This phased approach will provide time for more data on the impact of the delta variant to become available.  It will also allow time for more people to be vaccinated, which remains our best route out of the pandemic.

I am extremely grateful to Health Board vaccination teams, local partners and the many volunteers across the country for the incredible progress of our vaccination programme. 

At this rate, and subject to supply, we expect to have offered all adults 18 and over their first dose by early next week and to have hit our 3rd milestone of an uptake of 75% in all of the age ranges by the end of June, a month earlier than expected.  In reality, the percentage of people who have taken up their offer of a vaccine is far higher, which was always our aim.

We are currently recognised as the world Leader amongst countries over 1 million inhabitants.  We have vaccinated more than 86.5% of the adult population with their first dose and nearly half have completed the two-dose course.

Yesterday I published an update to our COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy. 

The updated strategy looks back at what has been achieved to date and sets out preparations for what comes next, potentially including a booster for our most vulnerable citizens and a vaccine for children and young people. We are also planning to reoffer the vaccine to those who did not take up the original offer. The roll out of second doses will also continue.

To underpin this delivery, an online system will be established in the Autumn to allow people to book appointments convenient for them. This system could potentially be used for other vaccinations moving forward.

Wales’ successful Test, Trace, Protect service was established a year ago.  The Welsh Government has allocated an additional £32m to health boards and local authorities to extend contact tracing until the end of March 2022. This increases the total Welsh Government investment in contact tracing this financial year to £92m.

On 2 June we also published a refreshed Test, Trace, Protect strategy setting out how the service will adapt and respond to the pandemic in the months ahead.   This includes strengthening and enhance the tracing of variants of concern, as well as the management and quarantine of people returning to Wales from red and amber-list countries.

On 20 May I set-out plans for a £100m investment to kick-start the health and care system’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. This money will provide for new equipment, staff, technology and ways of working to help health boards increase capacity and cut waiting times. 

As we begin resuming non-emergency care following the pandemic we have an opportunity to create a health and care system fit for the future.

Following the three week review of the restrictions on international travel, we are following the same traffic-light approach to international travel as the rest of the UK.

From today Portugal has been moved from green to the amber list. This decision follows increased concern in the spread of variants, including a mutation of the Delta variant, and the risk posed of bringing these back to the UK if people are not required to quarantine. 

Seven countries have also been added to the red list, including Egypt and Sri Lanka.

I have today described some of the most recent developments in our ongoing efforts to tackle coronavirus.   It remains vital we continue to work together to keep each other safe and to keep Wales safe.

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Strength of Police evidence led prolific drug dealer to admit possession with intent to supply

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THE strength of evidence gathered by police within hours of a man being arrested on suspicion of possessing drugs with intent to supply led to an immediate guilty plea and a prison sentence.

Dyfed-Powys Police officers worked swiftly following the arrest of Sanjit Sanghera, from Llanelli, putting together a file of evidence proving the defendant had been involved in the supply of illegal substances in Carmarthenshire since 2018.

Officers trawled the 21-year-old’s phone after cannabis and cocaine with a potential street value of up to £10,000 were found during a warrant at his home in School Road, Morfa.

Detective Sergeant Andrew Clatworthy said: “Thorough digital enquiries uncovered reams of messages in which senders asked for availability and prices of specific substances.

“When printed, there were 32 pages of messages, all of which suggested the user of the phone was involved in the supply of cocaine and cannabis from September 2018 to May 2021, with messages as recent as the day before the warrant was executed.

Drugs seized by Dyfed-Powys Police

“These messages gave us clear evidence that Sanghera has been a prolific dealer in the area for a number of years. Coupled with the amount of substances seized from his house, they led to an immediate admission from the defendant.”

Officers raided Sanghera’s home on Wednesday, May 19 as part of an investigation into wider drug supply in Carmarthenshire.

Bags containing cannabis and cocaine were found in the garden shed, where it was established the defendant had been running his supply business.

Further substances were found hidden in biscuit jars in kitchen cupboards.

DS Clatworthy said: “A full search of the property resulted in over £4,000 in cash, along with more than half a kilo of cannabis and around 41g of cocaine being seized.

“This is well in excess of what we would expect to find for someone’s personal use.”

The substances were tested within hours of the warrant, and all proved positive for cannabis and cocaine.

Sanghera was charged with possessing class A drugs with intent to supply, possessing class B drugs with intent to supply, and acquiring, using or possessing criminal property – namely £4,227.

He admitted all three offences when he appeared at Llanelli Magistrates’ Court the following day, and was sentenced to 26 months in prison at Swansea Crown Court on Friday, June 5.

DS Clatworthy said: “Excellent work from a number of departments resulted in a very early guilty plea thanks to the strength of evidence obtained while Sanghera was in custody.

“I would like to thank all officers involved for their efforts, and for the part they played in disrupting an organised crime gang operating in Carmarthenshire.”

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