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Crime candidates questioned by traders

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A HUSTINGS held in Carmarthen on Wednesday (April 13) gave an opportunity for the candidates for the upcoming Police and Crime Commissioner election to explain their priorities and policies for Carmarthenshire.

Organised by the Carmarthen Chamber of Trade and Commerce, the event was well attended by members of the local business community, who took the opportunity to grill both candidates for the P&CC role and the Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire seat.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, business policies and issues affecting town centres played a prominent role in the debate, with CCTV and business rates the major issues for Police and Crime Commissioners and Assembly candidates respectively.

The Herald will be covering a hustings for the Carmarthen West constituency next week, so the main focus this week was the police and Crime Commissioner elections.

The Current Police and Crime Commissioner, Christopher Salmon, began by describing his achievements over the last four years.

He claimed to have ‘got more officers on the street in spite of saving money’ as a result of IT investment. He also said that incidents of crime and anti-social behaviour were dropping faster than anywhere else in Wales, and pointed out that he had avoided any rise in the council tax precept.

Mr Salmon also expressed pride in the improved service for victims of crime. Possibly picking an example which would resonate with his audience, he described a visit to a shop in the Dyfed Powys area which had an annual turnover of around £2m.

He said that he had initially been surprised when they said that low-level shoplifting was a major problem for them, until the business explained that it had led to a £25,000 stock shortfall at the end of the year. “That is potentially someone’s job,” he added.

“We cannot neglect the small things, and must make sure that businesses do not bear the cost of crime.”

Describing his ‘three part plan’ for safer homes, communities, and businesses, the Police and Crime Commissioner said that businesses were included in this partly due to the rise in online crime.

Defending his record, Mr Salmon said that ‘you will hear a lot of griping about decisions I have made’.

However, in a thinly-veiled dig at his rivals, he remarked that the role of P&CC was ‘a big job,’ and the winner would appoint the next Chief Constable, as well as being responsible for a £100m budget.

However, the questions directed at Mr Salmon focused on policing at a much more local level. One stallholder at Carmarthen Market asked why, since the Greyfriars Police Station was put up for sale, there had been a dramatically reduced PCSO presence in the market. She pointed out that traders were asked to notify the police when known thieves or fraudsters entered the market, but often were unable to locate an officer to do so.

Mr Salmon promised to look into the matter, but stressed that as the station was still in operation, there should be no change to police provision. He defended the decision to sell the police station, on the grounds that the building needed a ‘huge amount of investment.’

Another businessman asked when Mr Salmon had last been on patrol in the town, and was told that it had been ‘last year.’ In response, Mr Salmon was told that ‘I have never seen you in the town.’

He added that as a recent victim of crime, he had not noticed foot patrols in his area of the town. Mr Salmon assured him that police and PCSOs were on regular patrols, and claimed that the amount of time officers spent on the street had increased since he had introduced hand-held devices which saved officers from having to return to the station to write up every incident.

“In this job, you have to make decisions to make the best of what you have,” he added.

Next up was the Plaid Cymru candidate, Dafydd Llywelyn. Mr Llywelyn, a former resident of Carmarthen who currently lives in Llandysul, described his background in the private sector before working as a criminologist for Dyfed Powys Police, and currently lecturing on the subject at Aberystwyth University. “I like to think I know a bit about crime and criminals,” he added.

One of Mr Llywleyn’s major policy planks was the reintroduction of manned CCTV to town centres to ‘create a more secure atmosphere for businesses in Carmarthenshire towns.’

He specified that he wanted to introduce a more modern CCTV system to the county, and pointed out that if the Met could manage to implement this ‘across the sprawl of London’ it should be feasible in Dyfed-Powys.

Another pledge made was to increase the number of police support staff, to cover the 200 positions he claimed had been cut since Mr Salmon took office.

However, Mr Llywelyn pledged to cut the staff of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office, including the position of Deputy P&CC – an unelected role which he said cost around £50,000 per year.

Mr Llywelyn also criticised the decision taken by Mr Salmon to freeze the council tax precept – a move which he said saved each household around £10 per year, but took around £1m out of the force budget. He pledged to increase the precept to less than a real-terms 2010 equivalent, which he claimed would still create enough money to pay more support staff and fund manned CCTV.

“In terms of funding, it is perplexing that we are in a time of austerity, but the precept has been cut,” he pointed out. “I would pay £10 extra to get a proper service.”

A question from the audience about the ‘measurable impact’ of manned CCTV led to a brief dispute. Mr Salmon quickly said that it made ‘no impact’ on violent crime levels. However, Mr Llywelyn then asked him to continue reading from the same report, which said that the system was more effective in reducing, for example, theft from vehicles.

Mr Llywelyn also queried the P&CC’s claim that crime rate had fallen, citing a recent report which showed crime levels had increased by 9% and crimes against the person had risen by 28% in the last year.

Responding, Mr Salmon said that in terms of the P&CC’s office staff, there was no need to make further savings, because savings of 5.7% had been made since the Dyfed Powys Police Board was abolished.

Defending the decision to cut and freeze the precept, he pointed out that Dyfed Powys Police had £40m in reserves.

Mr Salmon also claimed that the rise in the crime figures was both indicative of a national trend and a sign that more crimes were being reported. He pointed out that in this respect, an increase in the number of reported domestic violence incidents, for example, could be construed as a positive, because it meant that more crime victims were receiving the support they needed.

Former leader of Carmarthenshire County Council and Labour candidate Kevin Madge referred to his extensive experience in the public and private sector, both as the owner of a bedding company and as a town and county councillor. He told the audience that his career as an elected representative began in 1979 – the same year as Margaret Thatcher – and that his time as leader of Carmarthenshire County Council had taught him ‘how to make tough decisions.’

Wandering slightly off topic, Mr Madge discussed the achievements of the council under his leadership, including a new care home, and the modernisation of the housing stock.

Returning to the P&CC job, he acknowledged that Mr Salmon had ‘done his best’ and said that some of the cuts ‘handed down by central government’ were ‘going too far.’

However, he said that certain cuts, notably the dedicated police helicopter, had ‘left a lot of people angry.’ Mr Madge added that when he was a member of the Police Authority, the Pembrey base had been built to provide full-time helicopter cover in the Dyfed Powys region, and he referenced a recent case where a helicopter from Exeter was drafted in to a search near Glanamman as an example of the NPAS model’s failings.

Mr Madge also pledged to review CCTV provision, and suggested that town and community council could help fund the service.

However, Mr Madge also pointed out that poverty was a major cause of crime in Dyfed Powys, as was drug use. “Visit our estates now and there are people who can’t afford to turn the heating on,” he added, warning that increased social deprivation would lead to an increase in crime and anti-social behaviour.

However, the former council leader came unstuck when he agreed with Mr Salmon about spending some of the force’s reserves – something the council he led was reluctant to do. After describing the £40m of police reserves as ‘a scandal’ an audience member swiftly asked him how much money Carmarthenshire County Council held in reserves.

Mr Madge said that some of the money held was earmarked reserves, for particular projects, and acknowledged that Plaid Cymru had found £20m which could be made available. However, he claimed that had he still been leading the council, he would also have allocated that money wisely.

Pressing on the matter of reserves, Conservative Assembly candidate Angela Burns asked whether the council held around £130m in reserves. Mr Madge acknowledged this was the case, but said that some of that money was for building new schools.

“You need reserves, but you have to spend them wisely,” he added.

Mr Salmon also questioned Mr Madge over his CCTV pledge, pointing out that he had been council leader when the council withdrew their funding.

The remaining candidate present, Edmund Davies (Ind), made no bones of his belief that political parties and policing do not mix.

He pointed out that two of the parties standing for the position believed in the abolition of the role, which he referred to as akin to political euthanasia.

Mr Davies also disagreed with Mr Salmon about the efficacy of CCTV. “It may not prevent crime, but by God it will deter crime,” he claimed.

He reserved special criticism for the way in which the closing of the St Clears police station had been handled, claiming that it had been deliberately run down, and the town council had not been properly consulted.

He also asserted that police morale had dropped dramatically on Mr Salmon’s ‘watch.’

If elected, Mr Davies pledged to return manned CCTV, and to increase the police force’s morale by meeting with all ranks. He also suggested that the P&CC should liaise regularly with town and county councils.

CCTV coverage led to a further spat between Mr Salmon and Mr Madge. After the former claimed that ‘cameras on sticks’ were less necessary in an age where people routinely filmed crimes on their phones, Mr Madge referred to their earlier discussion on funding, and claimed that Mr Salmon had announced that he would be withdrawing the £44,000 police funding first, leaving the council unable to fund the whole of the coverage.

In addition, Mr Madge claimed, Dyfed Powys Police had received £28,000 for the maintenance of police buildings from the council, and in return had only spent £3,000 on maintaining CCTV cameras. “These are now breaking down, putting our children at risk,” he added.

Mr Llywelyn agreed, pointing out that ‘prevention was better than cure’.

THE VERDICT

All of the candidates made reference to their experience in both the public and the private sector – something which may well have been tailored to the audience. Mr Salmon gave a confident performance, although his opponents were able to find arguments to counter most of his claims.

Mr Llewelyn took a rather combative approach, criticising both Mr Salmon’s administrative work and certain policies, although he was surprisingly quiet on the topic of the police helicopter. Mr Madge, other than an ill-advised comment about spending the reserves, basically implied that in many respects he wanted to improve rather than dramatically alter what had gone before, and highlighted his experience in bringing different organisations together to reach a common goal.

Mr Davies, while not really engaging in the discussion beyond setting out his own manifesto, nevertheless made some valid points, and landed a couple of telling blows on the current incumbent.

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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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