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.”
Vaccine roll-out ‘within days’
THE FIRST COVID-19 vaccine has been given the go-ahead and the roll-out across Wales will start within a matter of days, the Chief Medical Officer announced on Tuesday, December 2.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has now authorised the first vaccine as safe and effective on the basis of detailed independent expert review of evidence from large scale clinical trials.
The Pfizer Biontech vaccine has become the first to receive MHRA clearance in the UK and 40 million doses of the vaccine will shortly be available for delivery across the UK, with Wales getting its allocation based on population.
The effects of the vaccine may not be seen nationally for many months and the advice on keeping Wales safe remains the same for everyone; keep contacts with other people to a minimum, keep a 2 metre distance from others, wash hands regularly, wear a face covering where required and avoid touching surfaces others have touched, wherever possible.
Approval from the MHRA is the first step of Wales’ roll-out plan, which has seen preparations on-going since May. There are still a number of stages which need to happen before the vaccine reaches those in highest need and is ready for use, but this process is expected to happen over the next week.
These stages include:
· The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) finalising and publishing their guidance for the whole of the UK
· Finalising training materials for staff and patient information leaflets
· Training of experienced immunisers for this particular vaccine
· Final legal frameworks to allow registered health professionals to administer the vaccine to patients need to be authorised by each Health Board in Wales.
· The vaccine – which needs to be administered in 2 doses – will initially be prioritised and available for those aged 80 and over, care home staff and residents and those working within health and social care.
Pfizer Biontech vaccine needs to be stored at ultra-low temperatures. These centres have already been decided by Health Boards and are in the process of being stood-up.
As further supplies become available and additional vaccines receive MHRA approval, a staged approach will see other groups be offered the vaccine, based on risk of serious complications and deaths.
Individuals in the priority groups for a COVID-19 vaccine will receive an invitation from their employer or health board providing information about the COVID-19 vaccines, telling them where to go and what to do on the day of their appointment.
People are urged to wait to be invited, which will happen through NHS systems. Please do not ask your pharmacist or GP.
There are plans in place for people who are housebound and for care homes to be vaccinated as soon as safely possible, with the approved vaccine being safely taken to them using a mobile service, once cleared for this purpose.
The development process for coronavirus vaccines has been as stringent as any other but the process in the face of the pandemic has been sped up by prompt, world-wide funding and a reduction in paperwork. The length of the trials have not been shortened, and the usual safety measures remain in place.
The vaccine will not be mandatory and people will be able to choose whether they take up the vaccine or not. Information will be provided to people before vaccination to reassure them about patient safety and robust consent processes will be in place.
The Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Frank Atherton, said: “It is fantastic to finally say that the first COVID-19 vaccine has been given the green light. We know now that we have a safe and effective vaccine for use across the UK – this is the positive news I and so many across the country have been waiting for.
“All our NHS organisations across Wales have embraced the challenge presented to them and are at the advanced stages of planning for the arrival of a vaccine. We have tested distribution and storage arrangements to ensure we can get vaccine safely to every part of Wales.
“There’s still a few stages we need to work through but once all these safeguards are in place, vaccination can begin. There will only be relatively small amounts of the vaccine at first, those who have been advised as most needing the vaccine first, through approved delivery mechanisms. A full announcement around the timetable for roll-out in Wales will follow in the next few days.”
The First Minister, Mark Drakeford, said: “Today’s news is a small glimmer of light at the end of what has been a long and dark tunnel.
“We know some people within our communities are much more at risk than others from the serious complications of COVID-19, which is why the new vaccine is being prioritised to protect them first.
“Whilst these first doses are given at fixed sites and occupational settings, and to protect our NHS and social care services, we must all continue to do our bit to prevent the spread of coronavirus: regular hand washing, social distancing, and wearing a face covering where required to protect yourself and others.”
Andrew RT Davies MS – the Shadow Minister for Health said: “This is positive news in the battle against Covid but, as ever, the devil is in the detail of delivery.
“And so, today the Health Minister must today address a number of vital issues including:
· The ability of NHS Wales to start the vaccination process and when this will happen
· How many doses will be available to Wales in the first tranche and how they will be distributed
· Who the first recipients will be
· How, when other vaccines become available, NHS Wales will cope with the different procedures
“It will also require a strong public health campaign around take up of the vaccine.
“The people of Wales need this information to give them some confidence in how the programme will be handled here.”
Mr Davies’ remarks allude to one substantial issue regarding the vaccine’s distribution.
Both Wales and Scotland have a higher proportion of their respective populations in vulnerable groups. However, thus far, the UK Government has targeted Covid support on a per-head basis and not by need.
Vice-chair of the COVID-19 Vaccine Programme Board, Richard Roberts from Public Health Wales, said: “It is a significant achievement that only 9 months after WHO announced the global pandemic that we now have the first safe and effective vaccine available for use in Wales, and other vaccines to follow.
“Everyone has been preparing for months to deliver the COVID-19 vaccine programme, and it is very exciting that we will be able to begin, once the final steps have been put in place so that the programme can be delivered safely.”
Pubs closed and fined for breaching Covid-19 rules
TWO licensed premises in Carmarthenshire have been handed £1,000 fines for staying open beyond the current 10.20pm closing time.
The operators of the Coopers Arms in Betws and Betws RFC were issued with the fixed penalty notices for breaching the current Covid-19 regulations.
Around 200 licensed venues have been visited by Carmarthenshire County Council officers in the last fortnight to check for compliance with regulations and to offer necessary advice.
As well as issuing two FPNs, the council has had to take action to close three premises where there were significant shortfalls in measures to ensure the safety of their customers.
They were the Biddulph Arms in New Street, Llanelli; the Greenfield Inn, Llanelli, and the Wheaten Sheaf in Abergwili.
They will now have to demonstrate a range of improvements before being allowed to re-open.
Several other premises have been served improvement notices, and will be re-visited, but the vast majority of businesses are operating well and have been commended for their efforts.
Council officers will continue making proactive visits to licensed and business premises, particularly offering support in light of new restrictions on the hospitality industry coming into force in Wales at 6pm on Friday, December 4.
The new regulations will mean pubs, restaurants and cafes cannot serve alcohol and will have to close to customers by 6pm, only being permitted to stay open later for takeaways of food or non-alcoholic drinks.
Cinemas, bowling alleys, bingo halls, museums and galleries must also close from Friday.
Cllr Philip Hughes, Executive Board Member for public protection and enforcement, said: “This is an exceptionally difficult time for our hospitality industry, in particular in light of the new regulations that come into force on Friday.
“Our officers have been working incredibly hard to support the industry and I want to thank the majority of businesses for making every effort to look after their customers and staff.
“That said, it has been disappointing to see a small number either recklessly or purposely ignoring the rules and by doing so, putting their customers at risk.
“We have made it very clear from the start that where we see premises falling significantly short of the standards, and where there are premises that are not operating within the rules, we will not hesitate to take action – make no mistake about it.
“As well as ensuring customers can meet and socialise safely, we must also ensure a level playing field for all businesses – most of which are trying hard to meet the regulations.”
There are serious concerns about the spread of Covid-19 in Carmarthenshire, with local hospitals and care homes now heavily impacted.
Welsh Government regulations make it clear that social gatherings should be minimised.
Hospitality venues, including licensed premises such as pubs, clubs and restaurants, must ensure that customers can safely social distance at all times and strict cleansing routines must be in place.
People can meet in maximum groups of four, but if they are from different households every effort should be made to support social distancing.
Table service must be provided, with no customers allowed to congregate around the bar. Customers must remain seated, and wear a face covering at all times other than when they are seated.
Contact details of all customers must be checked and recorded as part of Test, Trace, Protect procedures.
Any business owner or landlord unsure of the rules is urged to check they know and understand the regulations – they are available online at www.gov.wales.
Further information, advice about steps to take and free downloadable resources are available on www.carmarthenshire.gov.wales where businesses can also sign up to receive regular business news updates.
Jail for man who live streamed himself speeding and dangerous driving
A MAN who live streamed himself on Facebook while speeding and driving dangerously has been jailed.
Justin Dean Jones, of Panteg in Llanelli, filmed himself driving at grossly excessive speeds and racing other cars on a number of occasions over the summer.
He then posted the videos to Facebook, which were sent to the Go Safe Road Harm and Casualty Reduction Enquiry Team by a concerned member of the public.
Dyfed-Powys Police PC Roger Jones investigated three videos filmed between July 2 and July 14, which clearly showing Jones using his mobile phone to film himself at the wheel.
The footage showed him speeding in a Vauxhall Astra and a BMW X5 in a 30mph zone on Glyncoed Road, Llandafen Road and Gelli Road in Llanelli, and reaching speeds of up to 120mph on the A484 Loughor link road, while overtaking other drivers.
In one video, the 30-year-old was seen overtaking other vehicles on pedestrian crossings in broad daylight, putting road users at a significant risk of harm.
Jones, who was holding the phone in one hand while driving, can be heard on the videos boasting about the performance of the vehicle.
As members of Road Safety Support (RSS), Go Safe sought the help of Steve Callaghan, the not-for-profit company’s forensic video analyst, to examine the footage.
Mr Callaghan conducted a thorough review of the evidence and was able to calculate the exact speeds that were driven in the incidents.
Jones was charged with three counts of dangerous driving, and was sentenced to 25 months in prison. He was also disqualified from driving for 62 months.
An anti-social behaviour destruction order has also been granted for the Astra and the BMW and is pending.
Sergeant Ian Price, of Go Safe, said: “The sentence of just over two years in prison and a five year ban from driving shows the high risk he poses to other road users.
“It is a clear message that this type of behaviour is unacceptable and ensures the removal of a dangerous driver from society and we hope that it gives him enough time to reflect on his actions in prison.
“We would like to thank Road Safety Support for helping us in this matter and ensuring this individual is no longer a danger to society over the next two years.”
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