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Chopper service ‘not delivering’ for Dyfed-Powys

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Blistering attack: Dafydd Llywelyn

Blistering attack: Dafydd Llywelyn

IN THE FIRST month of the new police helicopter provision alone, there were three incidents when air support was not available according to data unearthed by Plaid Cymru.

In early January, following the retirement of the police helicopter, Dyfed-Powys Police made fourteen requests for air support.

Two of these resulted in a helicopter responding and on three occasions there was no response for what was described as ‘other reasons’ by a recent media release from the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office.

However, Plaid Cymru launched a blistering attack on Police and Crime Commissioner Christopher Salmon, after their Freedom of Information request showed that the requests for air support were refused due to no assets being available, insufficient flying time to be able to attend and due to NPAS already being committed in Gwent.

The Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office released the combined figures for January and February, meaning that it is impossible to analyse how many requests were cancelled due to bad weather, or the incident being resolved by officers on the ground.

A Plaid Cymru source told The Herald that while no information concerning response times had been provided, it was likely that a proportion of incidents had been resolved on the ground because it had taken ‘much longer’ for air support to be despatched.

Reference was also made in the Police and Crime Commissioner’s statement to a ‘counter-terrorism exercise in Milford Haven’ as one of the incidents where the NPAS helicopter attended. The only comparable incident mentioned in January/February was a preplanned combined-forces training exercise at the Port of Pembroke on January 7.

If this was the exercise referred to, it would mean that an NPAS helicopter attended one out of thirteen unscheduled incidents.

Last year the Police and Crime Commissioner, Christopher Salmon, signed up the local police force to a centralised National Police Air Service (NPAS) – a move which saw the dedicated helicopter for Dyfed-Powys scrapped on January 1 this year.

Commissioner Salmon had justified his support for a centralised service as a way to save money and to have more resources available to the force. He hailed the benefits of a 24-hour service despite Dyfed-Powys only needing helicopter support ‘after hours’ just 13 times in four years – a point raised by local MP Jonathan Edwards in a Westminster Hall debate.

Mr Salmon recently reiterated the benefits of the 24-hour service, stating that: “Air cover is there 24 hours every day of the year where previously we had just 12 hours a day.”

However, in January, the NPAS helicopter responded to one out of six requests for assistance made between 8pm and 8am.

The former Principal Crime and Intelligence Analyst for Dyfed Powys Police and Plaid Cymru’s candidate for Police Commissioner in May’s election,

Dafydd Llywelyn, launched a ruthless attack on Commissioner Salmon. He said the concerns raised by Plaid Cymru during the campaign led by Jonathan Edwards MP have been realised within weeks of our dedicated helicopter being scrapped. Dafydd Llywelyn said: “Let’s be under no illusion – this revelation is damning. With the current air support service hailed by Police Commissioner Salmon, Dyfed-Powys force and the residents it serves are receiving a worse service than the one we had before he took office.

“As Plaid Cymru warned throughout last year, our force and our communities are playing second-fiddle to the needs of more urban Wales. Now we have confirmation that resources have been refused to our force because they are either busy elsewhere or because it would take too long to get to us.

“In its first month 86% of requests for air support were not honoured. 83% of requests for air support after 8pm were not honoured. Christopher Salmon staked his reputation on a 24-hour service which we now know hardly exists.

“We’re being told that some air support has been stood down because officers on the ground have resolved the situation. This suggests response times are increasing significantly. I’m also being told that front line officers know that air support is now less likely to be available and are not minded to put in requests. That is deeply worrying indeed.

“The information speaks for itself. By selling-off our dedicated helicopter and failing to oppose the centralisation agenda of his Conservative party colleagues, Christopher Salmon has failed the people of Dyfed-Powys and their police force.”

Member of Parliament Jonathan Edwards led the campaign to safeguard the dedicated police helicopter. Last week he received a Grassroots Diplomat Award nomination for his campaign. Commenting on the lack of air support he said: “When it comes to police air support there is no joy whatsoever in being proved right. Every concern I raised in Parliament regarding resources not being available has been realised within the first four weeks of the service.

“For the Police Commissioner to issue a press statement last week claiming the air service was ‘delivering’ is an absolute disgrace.

It was nothing more than an attempt to mask the abject failure and damning results of his party’s centralisation agenda. He should make a public apology for his disingenuous statement.

“Christopher Salmon has presided over a catalogue of failures. If Dyfed Powys residents want a Police Commissioner that is going to stand up for their services they need to elect Dafydd Llywelyn on May 5.”

Current Commissioner Christopher Salmon has already agreed to sell-off the Dyfed-Powys helicopter.

Plaid Cymru officials say they have since submitted a further request for information on police air support throughout the month of February, and will continue to seek information for every month in order to expose the record of failure of the new service agreed by Christopher Salmon.

Last week, following the release of the January/February figures, Mr Salmon said: “In January last year our own helicopter was out of action 10 days for maintenance. Other than during bad weather, as was the case with the previous service, I’m pleased that figures show the new arrangement is meeting our needs so far.

“I am keeping a close eye on it to ensure that it delivers what we need.

“It costs us £275,000 less too, with further savings of £75,000 from April this year. I am determined to put that towards frontline officers to keep people safe.”

Data for January 2015 shows that out of 24 requests for air assistance, 10 were attended. However, given that the Dyfed- Powys helicopter was out of action for 10 days for repairs, it is unclear which forces responded to the calls.

The Herald asked Mr Salmon whether, given that over a comparative period only two calls were attended, whether the service was ‘meeting the needs’ of Dyfed-Powys residents. In his response, Mr Salmon prioritised the savings made possible by the new arrangement:

“We now have 24-hour helicopter coverage for £275,000 less,” he said.

“That money has helped me put more officers on our rural beats for more hours of every day.

“Crime and antisocial behaviour have fallen further and faster in Dyfed-Powys than anywhere else in Wales.

“Our rural areas are safer than ever.

“At two months old, this air service is still new. It is too early to say definitively how NPAS is performing but so far it appears to be meeting our needs. The Chief Constable and I will keep a very close eye on it to make sure it does.”

The difference between the two statements, issued a week apart, is notable. In the first, Mr Salmon claimed the figures showed that ‘the new arrangement is meeting our needs so far.’

In the second, the Police and Crime Commissioner backtracked somewhat, claiming that it was ‘too early to say’ how the service was performing, but it ‘appears’ to be meeting the needs of Dyfed- Powys.

As Mr Salmon belatedly said, a full analysis of the efficacy of the NPAS provision will take more than two months to develop. What is certain, however, is that the service will be u nder close scrutiny from all directions, especially with the approach of the Police and Crime Commissioner elections.

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Llanelli bus depot to close after 100 years

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THE LLANELLI HERALD understands that the Llanelli Bus Depot at Inkermans Street will be closing its gates for good. 

The Bus Depot has served the local community for approximately 100 years, Drivers will now be sent to work from depots in Carmarthen, Swansea and Tycroes. 

All services will remain in the the town, this newspaper can confirm, and our reporter was told that there will not be any redundancies. 

One bus driver told us that he and he co-workers were “not completely happy”, but the unnamed source added “At least we still have jobs to go to.” 

Further updates are expected on this developing story.

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Two week national ‘Firebreak Lockdown’ announced for Wales from 6pm on Friday

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MARK DRAKEFORD, The First Minister of Wales has announced a two week ‘fire break’ lockdown from Friday October 23 at 18:00 HRS, to last until Monday November 9 at 00:01 HRS

Mr Drakeford said: “This firebreak is the shortest we can make it. It must be sharp and deep in order to have the impact we need it to have on the virus.”

All non essential businesses, including tourism businesses will be told to close.

Businesses have been told that they will be given £1000 each automatically to help with the economic impact of the shutdown.

Mr Drakeford added that children will be the priority and that childcare facilities will open as normal. Primary schools will open after half term.

Secondary schools will be closed for a week after half term to help control the virus.

Universities will offer a mixture of face-to-face learning and learning via video link. Students must stay at their university accommodation during the lockdown.

Responding to the Welsh Government’s announcement of a Wales-wide lockdown, Paul Davies MS, the Leader of the Opposition in the Welsh Parliament, has called the lockdown “not-proportionate” and is calling on the Welsh Government to be “open and transparent” on the evidence to support a lockdown and if the First Minister is committing Wales to rolling Wales-wide lockdowns every month.

Paul Davies MS said: “Sadly, the First Minster has failed to get public support for this second Wales-wide lockdown, failing to be open and transparent about the evidence to justify this lockdown and what his actions will entail for the future.

“The Welsh Government also has to be honest that this road they are taking us down is committing Wales to rolling Wales-wide lockdowns. This is not a two-week break to solve the pandemic, it is likely that we will see regular lockdowns across the rest of the year. The Welsh Government must be clear what actions they are taking during the lockdown to prevent further Wales-wide lockdowns which will have a significant impact on people’s lives and livelihoods.

“However, the main concern is that this national lockdown is not proportionate. The impact on businesses in areas such as Powys, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, who have the lowest rate of Covid-19 cases in Wales, will be severe at a time when they are desperately struggling to recover from the pandemic so far this year.

“The First Minister needs to urgently come to the Welsh Parliament and answer these questions, to face effective scrutiny by elected representatives and not run his government by media.”

Preseli Pembrokeshire MP, Stephen Crabb told The Herald: “The evidence to support an all-Wales lockdown is weak and I am sceptical that this so-called ‘fire-break’ will tackle the situation in those parts of Wales where infection rates have been out of control. The key issue for Welsh Government to address is what will be done differently after the firebreak ends in those parts of Wales where infection rates have spiralled out of control. Otherwise the whole of Wales risks being dragged back into a series of rolling lockdowns.

“As we saw earlier in the year, lockdowns come with huge costs in terms of harm to the economy and to people’s emotional and mental wellbeing. With the Welsh Government asking UK Government to fund this lockdown, I hope that as many businesses as possible get support they need quickly. Pembrokeshire’s hospitality businesses will be hit particularly hard by these latest restrictions and I will be fighting hard again to see that they are protected as the lockdown kicks in.”

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Drakeford to make decision on ‘fire-break’ lockdown in Wales by Monday

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WALES is facing a national lockdown lasting at least two weeks in plans described as a “fire-break” by the first minister.

He said a decision was likely to be made on Monday, while talks continue with health officials, scientific advisors and councils over the weekend.
“Doing nothing is not an option,” he said.

Responding to the speculation First Minister, Mark Drakeford, is set to announce a ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown in Wales, Welsh Conservative health spokesperson, Andrew RT Davies MS said: “I implore the First Minister to think again before heading down this path.

“The decision to lockdown Wales once again will have devastating consequences – from an economic and public health perspective – and should be the last resort.

“Only yesterday, the former director of communicable diseases at Public Health Wales, Dr Roland Salmon, said a circuit-breaker is likely to fail and the Welsh Labour Government should listen carefully to his warning.

“Earlier this week, Welsh Conservatives called for the urgent resumption of shielding in Wales with a substantial package of support to ensure the financial, physical and mental well-being of those most at risk is protected.

“This should be the immediate action taken by ministers along with prioritising PPE and testing in the problem areas in Wales such as hospitals, care home, universities and meat factories.

“It’s not too late for the Labour Government to reconsider and choose a different approach in Wales.”

Mr Drakeford warned that 2,500 people were now being infected with coronavirus every day in Wales, with critical care units in hospitals full.

“A successful fire-break would re-set the virus at a lower level,” he added.

Together with a new national set of rules for the whole of Wales after the fire-break period we would have slowed the virus down enough to get us through to Christmas.”
Plaid Cymru has been calling on Mr Drakeford to introduce the circuit-breaker without delay, while Labour at Westminster says a similar approach should be adopted in England.

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