Plaid Cymru’s Spring Conference took place at Theatr Ffwrnes in Llanelli on Friday (Mar 4) and Saturday (Mar 5).
The party faithful from across Wales gathered to hear from Plaid’s established politicians and those seeking election in May’s Assembly elections.
EMLYN DOLE: INVESTING IN THE FUTURE
The conference was opened by Plaid Cymru’s Carmarthenshire County Council leader Emlyn Dole, who told the conference that the council had invested in rural Carmarthenshire to tackle poverty and create opportunities.
Cllr Dole told a packed conference hall: “Significant investment is taking place to ensure that the county is well connected and at the forefront of the digital age. High levels of digital connectivity are now in place in Carmarthenshire for us to benefit from in both our home and work lives.
“The scale of the projects is hugely ambitious and transformational giving us the most ambitious capital programme of all the local authorities across Wales. We know that to be successful we have to think big and we have to work closely with the private sector which is what we are doing.
Mr Dole praised the hard work of council staff, saying: “They are people who work hard day in day out to ensure we remain one of the best performing councils in Wales.”
WG FAILS TO ACCESS STEEL FUNDS
Bethan Jenkins AM was up next and launched a blistering attack on the Welsh Labour Government’s failure to help save steel jobs in Port Talbot and help Tata to cut their energy bills. The Plaid Assembly candidate for Aberavon told the party’s spring conference in Llanelli that the Welsh Government had yet to access funds available from the European Commission.
Bethan Jenkins, who met EC officials in Brussels last week, said: “The Commission prizes environmental improvements, and Tata has planning permission for a new power station that would re-use the gases created in steel making to create electricity. Not only would this reduce emissions, it would also slash Tata’s energy bills.
“Tata themselves told me that supporting the company with the power plant would be a way forward. But this wasn’t enough for our First Minster. He poo-pooed the idea from the off.”
Bethan Jenkins also turned her fire on the UK Tory Government, saying that George Osborne and fellow Ministers were stalling on higher tariffs against dumped Chinese steel in Europe.
“Why is it happy to continue to court a country teetering on the economic edge at the expense of our steel industry – a foundation industry? Because if that industry goes, then what is left for manufacturing?”
The South Wales West AM said that the Tories were not even practising the capitalism they preached because they’re were “backing nationalised industry (Chinese) over private business (Tata).”
THOMAS CANES LABOUR ON EDUCATION
Plaid Cymru’s Simon Thomas AM wasted no time in telling the conference what he thought were the issues holding back the nation’s educational progress. In a forensic analysis of the Welsh Government’s record, he said: “We have had five years of holding the government to account and exposing the vacuity of Labour’s leadership and delivery in Wales. The arrogance of a party asking for a chance to have a decade of delivery when it already had had fifteen years of failure.
“It’s time to say “you’re fired” to Labour’s First Minister, and “you’re hired” to Leanne Wood and Plaid Cymru. And if we are hired, what a difference we could make.”
Making a link between poor education and poverty in Wales Simon Thomas continued: “There is no single proven more effective antipoverty measure than education. But a whole generation of our children has been educated under Labour education ministers; in a system described by one of those ministers himself as mediocre.
“We’ve seen standards slip and the economic prospects of our young people dashed. There’s no socialism in abandoning young people to the same fate as their parents and grandparents or tolerating lower educational standards in downtrodden, ex-industrial communities because ‘it’s always been like this’.
The Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire candidate claimed that the present education system under Labour was paralysing its professionals in a straight – jacket of accounting for everything and taking responsibility for nothing; however, he said that there were outstanding exceptions to this rule and many excellent examples of leadership and good teaching.
Setting out his ambitions for the creation of a world class professional education workforce, ranging from classroom assistants to teachers to lecturers and tutors, he continued: “A profession that sets its own standards – for training, for access to the profession and for on-going continuous professional development. Empowering teachers and workers to set professional standards and deliver them.”
If elected he said that Plaid Cymru plans to introduce a ‘teachers’ premium’ as an incentive to maintaining standards and training. Further promises included committing to an extra 50,000 apprenticeships over the next Assembly. Cutting the link to tuition fees and Westminster policy completely and in its place introducing the Wales Learning Bond, which he said will pay for tuition fees wherever a Walesdomiciled student studies. If, however, the student lives and works in Wales within five years of graduation, then Plaid would write off their student loans at a rate of £6,000 per year.
He concluded by telling the conference that it was a particular privilege to have been selected as the candidate for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire for 2016. He said:
“To stand in part of Gwynfor Evans’s old seat fifty years after his ground-breaking by-election victory gives me an enormous sense of history and pride.”
HELEN MARY CALLS FOR ‘A BOLD STEP’
The atmosphere at Y Ffwrnes was certainly warming up nicely in readiness for Plaid’s Llanelli AM candidate Helen Mary Jones, who was next to take the stage. This time it was the turn of the Health Service to come in for a proposed new brush or as Helen Mary put it, “A new Government is essential to improve local health services.”
In an impassioned speech, she told the conference that the continued decline in the Welsh NHS could be halted after May 5 if the people of Wales voted for change.
Developing her theme, Helen Mary Jones told a responsive audience: “Labour is letting our health service down. Staff are doing their best but they need support. Plaid Cymru has practical, costed policies that would bring 150 extra health professionals to the Llanelli area and break down the barriers between health and care, freeing staff from pointless bureaucracy.”
Focusing on Llanelli’s own economy, she said: “Back in our history Llanelli was a great generator of wealth. Our people gave their strength, their health and our beautiful natural environment – mostly to fill the pockets of others.
“Now is the time to harness all that energy, all the creativity that is in our communities. This part of Wales has a track record of making history, of believing in a future for Wales.”
Ms Jones told the conference that Plaid would establish a new Welsh Development Agency, a national commission on infrastructure and removing thousands of small businesses from business rates will be transformation for the Welsh economy.
Helen Mary finished the speech by calling on the people of Llanelli to take a bold step in two months’ time. She said:
“I am asking the people of Llanelli and the people of Wales to take a bold step and elect a Government that believes in Wales, a Government that is ambitious for Wales, a Government that has a vision for our nation and practical plans to deliver that vision.”
Clearly becoming emotional she concluded: “Friends, for too long we have lived under governments that have held us back and kept us down, tacitly accepting that poverty in Wales is inevitable, accepting that it is ok to provide us with public services that are ‘better than nothing’.
“Enough is enough. No more. We need to wake up on May 6 to a new Government, a Government to deliver the change Wales needs.”
WOOD URGES VOTERS TO BACK WALES
The main event on day one was the arrival on the stage of the Plaid Cymru Leader, Leanne Wood. She was introduced by 17-year-old Lucie Wiltshire who is one of Plaid Cymru’s newest members who told the conference that she had joined the party after meeting and being inspired by Leanne Wood and Helen Mary Jones.
Before taking to the stage Leanne Wood had been visiting Hydro Industries Ltd in Llangennech. Speaking about the visit she said that the success of businesses such as Hydro Industries in exporting its goods and services to the world was something that she wants to see replicated more often. Hydro Industries exports its products across the world, including to India and America.
The Plaid Cymru Leader said, “Plaid Cymru wants to sell Wales to the world, and we need to reverse the decline that we have witnessed in the value of Welsh exports.“
The achievements of Hydro Industries in exporting its electrobased technology around the world demonstrates that there is real demand for Wales’ goods and services on the global market. This is exactly the sort of exporting success, driven by our talented, home-grown businesses and entrepreneurs that we want to see replicated across other sectors in Wales.
“Plaid Cymru will do this by establishing a new WDA – Wales Development Agency to work globally and throughout the UK, to boost Welsh exports. Wales has a strong history as an exporting nation, and under Plaid Cymru’s plans to promote Wales, its products and ideas to the world – Wales can become an exporting nation once again.”
The key messages in Leanne’s speech to the conference revolved around the state of the NHS, education and employment.
She said: “This nation, the leading light of the last industrial revolution now lags behind in terms of wages GVA, business start-ups, in fact by almost every measure our economic performance is either stagnant or in decline.”
She asked the conference, Will they give Labour another five years to finish Wales off or will people vote to replace them with a team of people who believe in our country who want to rebuild it and strengthen it? With a team who believes in and wants to support our teachers and health workers.
“So many of you understand that our people have been taken for granted for far too long. You might have given a lifetime of loyalty to one party but you are now asking what you are getting back in return. I would call on all of those people who are feeling this way to get behind Plaid Cymru this time.”
The audience reacted by giving the Plaid leader a standing ovation before she left the stage to embrace the majority of the front row made up of Plaid’s existing and hopeful AMs.
Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, dies aged 99
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.”
MORE TO FOLLOW
Fire Chief’s pay being formally investigated
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.”
Drakeford outlines road to normality
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 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.”
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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