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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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Applications open for emergency financial support from Economic Resilience Fund

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Eligible businesses can apply for grants of between £2,500 to £25,000

BUSINESSES in Wales impacted by the rapid spread of the Omicron virus can now apply for emergency financial support from the Welsh Government’s Economic Resilience Fund (ERF).

Economy Minister Vaughan Gething previously said £120 million would be available for retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism business and their supply chains affected by the move to alert level 2 announced by the First Minister on Wednesday 22 December.

Eligible businesses can apply for grants of between £2,500 to £25,000, with grants dependent on their size and number of employees.

The application window will be open for two weeks, with payments starting to reach businesses within days.

Vaughan Gething

Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething, said:

“Following positive engagement with businesses, trades unions and other partners, we recently changed the eligibility criteria for the ERF support. The ERF grant is a Wales-only top up payment that currently supports eligible businesses who have seen a 60% drop in their income between December and February compared with the same period two years ago. The new criteria means that businesses in these sectors who have seen a 50% reduction in their turnover will now also be able to access the ERF.

“This means more businesses will receive more support from the Welsh Government.”

Non-essential retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism businesses in Wales can also receive support from the Non Domestic Rates (NDR) linked grant which is being administered by local authorities. Businesses will be entitled to a payment of £2,000, £4,000 or £6,000 depending on their rateable value.

Local authorities are also administrating a discretionary fund for sole traders, freelancers and taxi drivers and businesses that employ people but do not pay business rates. Last week this was doubled to £1,000.

The Welsh Government has provided in excess of £2.5bn funding to Welsh businesses since the start of the pandemic. Focused particularly on backing small businesses and Welsh communities, it’s targeted approach has helped protect in excess of 160,000 Welsh jobs which might otherwise have been lost.

Apply for Economic Resilience Fund support here:

COVID-19 Support for Business | Business Wales (gov.wales)

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Plans for Cross Hands Health Centre to go before Welsh Government

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AN OUTLINE Business Case for the development of a Wellbeing Centre to be based in Cross Hands is to be resubmitted to Welsh Government, Hywel Dda University Health Board is pleased to announce.

The business case outlines our intention to develop an integrated health and social care network of services for the Amman Gwendraeth area and the construction of a Wellbeing Centre. If approved, the centre will provide a base for health and care services which will accommodate two local GP practices (Tumble and Penygroes), a library, family centre, community pharmacy and also community police support officers and voluntary sector groups.

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way we deliver some health and care services. Hywel Dda University Health Board has been working with partners and stakeholders to refresh the business case for the development to ensure that these continue to be fit for our population’s health and care needs both now and in the future.  It is anticipated that the Business Case will be resubmitted to Welsh Government in Spring 2022.

Rhian Dawson, Integrated System Director for Hywel Dda University Health Board and Carmarthenshire County Council, said: “I am delighted that we are now able to refocus on the development of the Wellbeing Centre in Cross Hands. This will not only be an asset for Cross Hands but will benefit Carmarthenshire as a whole. While it is unfortunate that the pandemic has delayed our progress, it has also demonstrated the importance of delivering services as close to home as possible.”

It is anticipated that the Centre could potentially be complete in 36 months from the approval of the Outline Business case. 

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Boris Johnson apologises over latest No.10 party revelations saying it was ‘work event’

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THE PRIME MINISTER says he thought party in March was a ‘work event’ but concedes he should have stopped the gathering on May 20, 2020.

In Prime Minister’s questions on Wednesday (Jan 12), he apologised to the public and said that “I wish that things had been done differently on that night.”

But Boris Johnson said that Labour will have to wait for the outcome of an inquiry to know the exact details of what happened that night.

Labour Leader, Keir Starmer said Matt Hancock resigned when he broke the rules, and Allegra Stratton resigned for laughing about rule breaking. Why does the PM think the rules don’t apply to him. Boris Johnson says that is not what he said.

Starmer said the PM originally said he had been assured there were no parties. Then the video landed, and he pretended he was sickened by the parties. Now it turns out he was at the parties. Starmer added that it was his opinion that the public think he is “lying through his teeth”.

Tory MPs objected, on the grounds that MPs should not accuse each other of lying. Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, defended Starmer, saying he is talking about what the public think.

Johnson said he does not accept that. He added a laywer should wait for the facts.

Keir Starmer said that he spoke last night to a woman, Hannah, whose father died last May. She met Johnson last year, and Johnson told her that he had done everything possible to protect her dad. Hannah now knows her father’s death certificate was signed on the day of the party. Does the PM understand how she feels?

Johnson said he understands how she feels. He wanted to apologise. But the government has been doing what it can to protect people. It has the most tested population in Europe. And it has had the fastest vaccine rollout in Europe, and one of the fastest in the world. Apologising again, the PM said: “Whatever mistakes have been made on my watch, for which I apologise, that is the work that has been going on in Dowing Street.”

Simon Hart MP: We have to get to the bottom of this

Simon Hart, the Welsh Secretary, and MP for South Pembrokeshire and West Carmarthenshire, has become the first cabinet minister to publicly express concerns about the latest partygate revelations.  Simon Hart said this morning: “We’re in the middle of an investigation, that was set up by the PM to get to the bottom and to get to the truth about what was reasonable at the time and what wasn’t. It’s frustrating to have to rely on the investigation and we must be careful to not pre-judge that or what the PM will say in a few minutes’ time.

“The one thing I’m not going to do is make light of something that is unquestionably something of a significant public concern.

“I don’t live on a different planet. The frustration and the hurt and indignation and the incredulity that emerging stories like this produce. I’ve got, like everyone, family and friends asking me these questions. We have to get to the bottom of this.

“Judgment will need to be made about what happens next.”

There is some excellent detail about the No 10 party on 20 May 2020 in the Times today. The paper reports that Martin Reynolds, who sent out the email invitation to around 100 staff as the PM’s principal private secretary, became “panicky” in advance of the event, because staff were concerned it was against the rules, but decided cancelling the event would make things worse. The paper reports: “That afternoon, staff began preparations. A row of tables was set up on one side of the garden to act as a bar. In the garden itself more tables were set up in a layout to encourage people to observe social-distancing rules.

“Officials and advisers began arriving shortly after 6pm. While many stayed away, about 40 came. Many took up Reynolds’ suggestion in his email that they should “BYOB” — bring your own booze — taking a trip to the Tesco Express next to Westminster station. The drinks table was well stocked with gin, rosé, red wine and white wine, and guests began to arrive and mingle.

“Two sources said that the prime minister attended, with one saying he was “wandering round gladhanding people”. His fiancée Carrie Symonds, whom he married last year, also attended and was said to have been drinking with Henry Newman, then an adviser to Michael Gove and now a senior figure in No 10.

“The Times has been told that one senior official at the event joked about the risk of surveillance by drones, which was viewed as a tacit admission that the rules were being breached.”

Police in England issued 118,419 fines for breaking lockdown rules between 27 March 2020 and 17 October last year. That included 800 fines in the week when the No 10 party was held on 20 May 2020.

In London 17,745 fines were issued between March 2020 and October last year, including 113 for holding illegal gatherings of more than 30 people.

Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, said: “Thousands of Londoners have been fined for flouting lockdown rules during the pandemic. It would be double standards of the worst kind for the police to turn a blind eye when those in No 10 have done the same.”

Carmarthen East and Dinefwr MP, Jonathan Edwards, questioned the British Government on the floor of the House of Commons this week with regard to the ongoing allegations facing the Prime Minister and his Cabinet.

Allegations of a party held by government members and officials during May 2020 continue to plague the Conservative administration, with pressure mounting on the British Government over the past few days.

With an investigation into these claims commissioned, Jonathan Edwards MP questioned the government on what they believed would be an appropriate political sanction should the investigation conclude that a party was held and that the Prime Minister, or other Ministers attended.

The response came that it was not appropriate to comment on this hypothetical situation, and that they would await the results of the independent investigation.

Speaking outside the Chamber, Mr Edwards said: “I have been contacted my several constituents in the past few days outlining their shock, their disappointment, and their anger at the current allegations that this Government faces.

The stories they have shared with me of enormous personal sacrifice, of funerals held over video calls, and of elderly family members unable to see their loved ones in the flesh, have been emotionally powerful, and I thank them for sharing those experiences with me.

Should the allegations of Government Ministers attending a party at this very same period prove to be true, it will fly in the face of the collective struggle that everyday people have endured for almost 2 years now, and it will finally confirm what many of us here in Wales have already theorised: that the political ruling class in Westminster do not care about the citizens that they represent.”

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