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Minister drops in on Bigyn resident

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DSC05897ON MONDAY (Mar 7) The Natural Resources Minister Carl Sargeant visited Llanelli to look at the work being carried out on a groundbreaking ‘Arbed’ fuel poverty programme. The Welsh Government-backed Arbed 2 project is run by Melin Homes.

Welsh Labour’s Warm Homes Arbed and Nest programmes have continued to provide energy improvements and advice. During 2013/14 alone improvements were made to over 9,000 homes through the Welsh Labour Government schemes, giving each household estimated savings of up to £500 a year on their energy bills.

In addition they are creating jobs, apprenticeships and partnerships across Wales, resulting in an impressive return for the Welsh economy. Despite the huge contribution home insulation makes to curbing climate change and improving people’s well-being, the Tories now spend only £3.52 per household in England compared to £31.31 per household invested by the Welsh Labour government.

We asked the Minister what the purpose of his visit to Llanelli was.

He explained: “What we are doing here is seeing great opportunities not just for local people but for the broader community and local economy. Employing local people, supply chains helping to support this initiative. I am actually speaking to residents who will benefit from this work in the long term.

We are tackling issues around climate change. It isn’t just about insulation it is about the whole green growth economy for Wales. We have to make clever investments. We have to do things differently. It isn’t just about insulating homes, this will boost the economy. Green Growth Wales is a very important opportunity.”

During his visit the minister called in on Bigyn resident Dianne Rudall to chat about what affect the work being carried out on her home was having on her life. Mrs Ruddall told the Minister that she suffered from a heart condition and always found the house to be cold and had to have the heating on for most of the time.

She said: “It helps me with my bills and it is good for the area. As soon as the chance to have the work done came available I went for it.”

Carl Sargeant told us, “Mrs Ruddall was very happy and she was telling us how the guys were operating locally on the work on the homes and she is looking to it being finished so that she can stay warm in her own home.”

We asked the Natural Resources Minister what the future of the project would be if Labour did not get into power at the elections.

His response was uncompromising: “I don’t recognise the issue should Labour not get in because we are very positive that we are out to win all the seats and we are fighting very hard with Lee Waters in this area. All schemes are at risk if Labour does not get back in because we know that the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru have different views on what we should be investing in.”

The Herald asked the Minister about the issue of importing materials into Wales to burn rather than looking at home grown alternatives. He replied: “What we are doing here is that we have a really great environmental credential. We have just introduced an environment bill and groundbreaking legislation alongside the Wellbeing and Future Generations Act for making sure we are protecting the environment.

“I was part of the COP21 discussions in Paris in December where we made our commitment in changing the way we deal with issues around the environment. It is up to everybody to make their own little piece of Wales better.”

We reminded the Minister of Plaid Cymru’s claim that the Labour Government were not doing enough to help British Steel in reducing their energy costs and asked what could be done to help.

The Minister told us: “The U.K. Government have to come to the table with answers for TATA Steel and particularly in Port Talbot. The issue there about energy pricing is something they should address. Edwina Hart, with Carwyn Jones, is taking the fight to the U.K. Government.

Asked about what Labour’s plans were for future renewable energy and whether Wales needed its own biomass plants, Mr Sargeant declined to give a direct answer. Instead he re-affirmed Labour’s commitment to ostensibly green power: “We are already pro renewable energy in Wales. Whereas the UK Government are promoting fracking. We have introduced a moratorium here in Wales.”

Mr Sargeant concluded: “We know where we want to be with our energy opportunities. There is something about micro generation and community generation as something that we should be exploring for the future.”

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Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, dies aged 99

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The Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen’s ‘strength and stay’ for 73 years, has died aged 99.

Prince Philip’s health had been slowly deteriorating for some time. He announced he was stepping down from royal engagements in May 2017, joking that he could no longer stand up. He made a final official public appearance later that year during a Royal Marines parade on the forecourt of Buckingham Palace.

Since then, he was rarely seen in public, spending most of his time on the Queen’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk, though moving to be with her at Windsor Castle during the lockdown periods throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and where the couple quietly celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary in November 2020. He also celebrated his 99th birthday in lockdown at Windsor Castle.

The duke spent four nights at King Edward VII hospital in London before Christmas 2019 for observation and treatment in relation to a “pre-existing condition”.

Despite having hip surgery in April 2018, he attended the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle a month later and was seen sitting beside the Queen at a polo match at Windsor Great Park in June. He and the Queen missed Prince Louis of Cambridge’s christening in July 2018, but he was seen attending Crathie Kirk near Balmoral in August, and driving his Land Rover in the surrounding Scottish countryside in September.

It is expected that flags on landmark buildings in Britain will be lowered to half-mast as a period of mourning is announced.

The First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford has expressed his sadness on the news of the death of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh and offered condolences to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal family on behalf of the Welsh Government.

He said: “It is with sadness that we mourn the death of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh. Throughout his long and distinguished life, he served the crown with selfless devotion and generosity of spirit.

We offer our sincere condolences to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, his children and their families on this sad occasion.

He will be missed by the many organisations that he supported as Patron or President over many decades of service”.Andrew RT Davies, the Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd, has led tributes to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, whose death was announced today.

In light of the sad news from Buckingham Palace, campaigning has been paused with immediate effect.

Mr Davies said: “This is a very sad day for the United Kingdom.
“The Duke of Edinburgh led a remarkable life, excelled himself with his career in the Royal Navy, was the strength and stay to Her Majesty The Queen, and has left a legacy to the nation through the Duke of Edinburgh Award.

“Dutiful, devoted, and diligent, his like will never be seen again, and Welsh Conservatives offer their deepest condolences to The Queen, and the rest of the Royal Family.”

Adam Price, leader of Plaid Cymru said: “On behalf of Plaid Cymru, I send my condolences to Her Majesty the Queen and her family. Many young people in Wales will have benefited from the Duke of Edinburgh’s award scheme, a reflection of many decades of his public service. Thoughts are with the Royal Family at this time.”

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Fire Chief’s pay being formally investigated

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THE TERMS and salary of the re-employment of a Chief Fire Officer for Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service (MAWWFRS) are being formally investigated, The Herald can reveal.

We have previously reported on the re-employment of Chief Fire Officer Chris Davies following his retirement.

Cllr Gordon Walker, a former firefighter and Fire Authority member, officially raised a complaint with The Welsh Fire Minister and Auditor General for Wales regarding the terms of re-employment for the Chief Fire Officer and has been calling for an investigation since last year.

Mr Walker had written to the Fire Authority and MAWWFRS on numerous occasions asking for a review on the situation, however after failed attempts, Mr Walker sent his concerns to the Auditor General for Wales.

The issues that have been highlighted relate to the Chief Fire Officer’s pay and the policy regarding re-employment following retirement.

Chief Fire Officer Chris Davies, who retired from the service a number of years ago, has since been re-employed by Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service in a more senior role.

Due to legislation in accordance with the Authority’s Policy on Re-employment of Retired firefighters, following voluntary retirement employees may be re-engaged and have their pensions abated.

However, this will not normally exceed a one year fixed term contract to retain specialist skills or knowledge, this will not normally exceed a one year fixed term contract.

Stating section 4.4 of the policy it clearly states ‘An individual will be re-employed on the same level of basic pay pertaining to the role they hold on retirement’.

A source within the fire service told us how Chief Fire Officer, Chris Davies, despite taking voluntary retirement and receiving a lump sum payment, has been re-employed by MAWWFRS on a salary that is almost £20,000 higher than his former basic pay.

Despite government legislation that says they should be re-employed for no longer than a one year contract, Chris Davies has been re-employed in his current role for five years.

As of now there is still no succession plan in place to replace Chris Davies with MAWWFRS.

The Auditor General for Wales have confirmed that they will be running a full investigation into the salary and the terms surrounding the re-employment of Chris Davies as Chief Fire Officer.

Speaking to The Herald, Gordon Walker said: “I have put my complaint in and I can confirm that we are awaiting the results of the investigation.”

Gordon has been campaigning relentlessly to have more transparency on the re-employment of retired fire service employees, especially those re-engaged on a rank senior to that on which they left.

A spokesperson for MAWWFRS said: “Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service is aware of the allegations made by a Member of our Fire and Rescue Authority and we can confirm that we are currently working with Audit Wales as part of their investigation.

“It would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”

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Drakeford outlines road to normality

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PUBS and restaurants can reopen outdoors on April 26, the Welsh government has said.

Outdoor attractions can also open from that date.

The changes will come into force provided coronavirus cases remain low.

Non-essential retail and all other close contact services will also reopen on April 12, as well as travel between Wales and the rest of the UK.

The announcements come before a planned review from First Minister Mark Drakeford on Thursday (Apr 1), which is being held a day early because of the Easter weekend.

He is also expected to say that gyms can re-open sometime in May, alongside allowing up to 30 people to take part in outdoor sport.

Outdoor attractions are set to reopen April 26 and ministers could also allow gyms and leisure centres to open for individual training “by early May”, alongside organised outdoor activities for up to 30 people.

Both the Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru said gyms should be allowed to reopen immediately.

Mr Drakeford will set out a “series of measures” to take Wales into Level 3 by 17 May, “subject to public health conditions remaining favourable”.

Pubs, bars and restaurants have been pleading with ministers to give them dates so they can prepare to reopen.

While parts of Wales’ lockdown have eased quicker than elsewhere in the UK, the Welsh government has been reluctant to set out a full list of when different sectors will reopen.

It has been critical of the London Government for aiming to end all rules on social contact by 21 June at the earliest – Mr Drakeford has said that was ‘very optimistic’.

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies

Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies said: “Welsh Conservatives believe gyms across Wales should be reopened for the good of people’s mental and physical well-being.

“Two months ago, Labour said it would be a priority when it came to easing restrictions, but it’s been another broken promise from ministers. This should be corrected.

“And given the progress we’ve made on case rates and vaccination, we also believe consideration should be afforded to the reopening of outdoor hospitality in Wales.

“Labour ministers have lifted travel restrictions, but it’s created other issues such as a lack of public toilets, littering and anti-social behaviour.

“Some of the scenes over recent days have been concerning and ministers should see licensed, regulated businesses as part of the solution, instead of the problem.

“Welsh Conservatives have provided a detailed roadmap for families, workers and businesses across Wales and Labour should listen to our calls and do the same.”

Adam Price: Labour must explain why they’ve taken so long to give businesses certainty

Plaid Cymru’s Leader, Adam Price MS, said: “The Labour Government must explain why it has taken them so long to provide businesses with greater certainty on when they can expect to reopen. Having been closed for so long, the least they deserve is more time to prepare.

“While this news offers hospitality a glimmer of hope, it will be a while yet before the sector can fully re-open. Labour has a duty to provide extra financial support to help those businesses to get back on their feet – increasing the pot of cash that’s available to businesses.

“Time and again, hard-working Welsh businesses that form the backbone of our economy have been let down and left behind by this Labour government – the very least they can do is to dig deep and support key sectors of the Welsh economy.

“Meanwhile, gyms should be able to safely re-open now – not least to help with people’s wellbeing and mental health which has suffered so much during the last few months.”

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