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Ken Skates to Parc Howard’s rescue

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Around the grounds: Lee Waters and Ken Skates get the grand tour

Around the grounds: Lee Waters and Ken Skates get the grand tour

THE DEPUTY Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism Ken Skates AM visited Parc Howard on Monday (Mar 14) accompanied by Labour’s Llanelli AM candidate Lee Waters.

The Deputy Minister said that he wanted to see what a fantastic place Parc Howard was.

We asked the minister what his plans for the park were and he told us: “There are many opportunities to bring people together and decide what the common purpose is and then deliver. There are capital investment grants available for places like this. The role of community leaders is crucial in bringing people together. The key first step to take is to decide what it is that we want this park for.”

The Herald asked if private ventures would be considered in the future for the park. Lee Waters said: “It is important that this park remains the property of the people. It has been handed down for the people of the town. It is really important that whatever mechanism we come up with that people feel that this is their park.

“I wanted Ken Skates to come here and see for himself because we have discussed the potential many times and there is huge potential and that is the frustration. The council went behind people’s backs to talk to private developers. It is not the principle of thinking of new purposes for the house that is the problem. It is the transparency in doing it and bringing the people with you. There is a problem with Carmarthenshire County Council in that they are not good at bringing people with them.”

The Labour AM candidate for Llanelli was critical of the County Council’s chopping and changing regarding the fate of the park.

He continued: “I think it is important that the community is part of it. The council gave the impression that they wanted to wash their hands of it and leave it to volunteers to take it over. It is not for volunteers to do that. Volunteers add value.

“They cannot be the ones driving it. They may not have the time or professional skills. The town has paid for this place. The council need to come to the table and say what partnership we can launch and come up with a new model for keeping the park public and reaching its potential.

Ken Skates agreed that there was huge potential for the park saying: “Parc Howard is an ideal place for a whole number of activities. It is a great area for leisure activities. It is perfect for park runs, street games and other physical activity. It is a great place for reading, outdoor classrooms. It is a superb place potentially for acquiring new skills.”

The Herald asked Ken Skates if the Welsh Assembly Government would provide funding for Parc Howard. He replied: “Any request for support will be administered by us. This place has enormous potential. As Lee said, we need a council that is listening to people and a council that is responding to people’s calls for action. We need a council that is able to gather people together in a very constructive way and to be able to come to the table for any further requests for support.”

Given the nature of Carmarthenshire County Council cuts and the threat to local libraries and museums like the one at Parc Howard we asked the minister whether councils are breaching the Libraries Act by closing them:

“As of yet, no, “ he answered, “There is the final sanction available to us to take over library services but we have not had to use that final sanction. It has been an incredibly difficult time because of austerity.

“Austerity is something that no government or council in Wales would which to have to impose on the tax payer but sadly it is being determined by Westminster and we are living through a sustained periods of austerity. How we have responded in Wales is quite unique. We have those standards which protect those core services that libraries are able to deliver. We have backed it up with £14m of investment to transform 100 community libraries.

By transforming them they have become more sustainable. As far as we are aware not a single one of those libraries we have invested in has closed. There are ongoing challenges for libraries and that is why I have commissioned an expert panel review to look into the sustainability of local libraries and another panel to at the sustainability of local museums. The work is being completed.

We are implementing some of the recommendations. The future is challenging because of austerity but at least now we have those expert’s recommendations to be able to make sure that our libraries and our museums that people value so much are able to survive into the future.”

The Herald asked if there was a risk of looking at Welsh heritage, history, and preservation only as part of a tourism strategy, as commodities, instead of valuing them for their own sake. Ken Skates told us: “At the moment tourism is part of the portfolio that I have. I don’t think you should separate them out because libraries and museums are so important to the visitor economy. A lot of people will visit Wales to access a museum, not just a big museum either. A lot of people are searching for the records of their families so they will come to local museums, likewise libraries are important.”

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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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