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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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Scientists issue urgent appeal for help on ground-breaking Covid genetic study

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SCIENTISTS involved in a ground-breaking COVID-19 genetic research study are urgently asking people across Wales who caught the virus to donate a small amount of blood to their project.

To help encourage as many people as possible to join the study, volunteers are now able to quickly and easily book an appointment for a nurse to visit their home and donate a sample.

The unique GenOMICC COVID-19 Study, which is being delivered in Wales through Health and Care Research Wales, analyses the genes of people who have had the virus to discover why some experienced mild or no symptoms while others became extremely ill. The study is already contributing to the fight again COVID, with preliminary results helping identify possible new treatments.

study open to anyone who caught COVID but didn’t need hospital treatment

However, for the study to continue to make progress, the scientists urgently need to recruit 2,500 more people from all backgrounds. Along with seeking the help of members of Asian and Black communities, they’re also keen for more men to volunteer.

The home appointment system has already proved popular when the scheme was launched in Scotland and Bradford earlier this year – and with lockdown restrictions beginning to be eased in Wales, organisers are hoping for a similar response from people across the country.

“This study has one key objective – to help us understand why COVID-19 has impacted different groups in different ways,” said Dr Matt Morgan, Consultant in Intensive Care Medicine at the University Hospital of Wales and Specialty Lead for Critical Care at Health and Care Research Wales.

“Across the UK, a disproportionate number of people who ended up in hospital have been male as well as people with Asian and Black heritage – that’s why we need people from these groups in particular to join the study as soon as possible.”

“If you are eligible, please register and join the project. You’ll be making a direct contribution to helping improve our knowledge of the virus and discovering new ways of beating it.”

scientists issue urgent appeal for assistance to help them identify new treatments

Dr Kenneth Baillie, the study’s Chief Investigator, said: “We’re appealing for more volunteers from all walks of life to come forward and register. We need to find people who tested positive for COVID but experienced either mild or no symptoms and didn’t require hospital treatment. To maximise the study’s potential, it’s important these volunteers are similar in age, gender and ethnicity of those people who were severely affected and hospitalised.”

Professor Sir Mark Caulfied, Chief Scientist at Genomics England added: “The quicker this research can be completed, the faster we can solve the COVID-19 puzzle and protect vulnerable people.

Genetic research into COVID-19 is now playing an increasingly important role in our fight against the virus, enabling us to identify new forms of the virus and develop treatments.

“The findings from the GenOMICC COVID-19 Study will improve the treatment, care and outcome for those most at risk and lower the number of deaths.”

Dr Nicola Williams, Director of Support and Delivery at Health and Care Research Wales, said: “It’s vital we learn as much as possible about COVID-19 and to do that we need people to volunteer to take part in research. By introducing an appointment booking system, the GenOMICC COVID-19 Study is giving people the opportunity to contribute to potentially life-saving research from their own homes. These contributions can help provide the evidence we need to give all patients the best possible outcome.”

The research project is open to anyone who tested positive to COVID-19 but experienced mild or no symptoms and didn’t require hospital treatment – volunteers can register online here.

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A Llanelli household is hospitalised following reports of an “unknown substance”

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REPORTS of an “unknown substance” at a Llanelli property led to a multi-agency operation.

Police, ambulance and the fire service descended on a property in a village, just outside of Five Roads, Llanelli,  following reports of members of the household feeling unwell and the presence of an “unknown substance”.

Three members of the household in Five Roads, Llanelli, Carmarthenshire were taken to hospital as a precaution.

Emergency services were alerted to members of the household feeling unwell and the presence of an ‘unknown substance’ on Sunday, April 11 at 7.30am.

The ambulance service were first on the scene with one rapid response vehicle, four emergency ambulances and the Hazardous Area Response Team and were supported by police and the fire service.

A spokesperson for the Welsh Ambulance Service said: “We were called to a residential property in the village of Five Roads, Llanelli at 7.30am on Sunday, April 11 to reports of three people needing medical attention.

“We responded with one rapid response vehicle, four emergency ambulances and our Hazardous Area Response Team.

“Three patients were taken to Glangwili Hospital, Carmarthen, for further treatment.”

Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service (MAWWFRS) assisted the police and ambulance service, deploying a specialist officer and an Environmental Protection Unit to the property.

The service ventilated the property and remained on the scene until 5.29pm.

A MAWWFRS spokesperson said: “At 7:44am, crews from Llanelli were called to assist the ambulance service and police at an incident in a property in Five Roads, Llanelli.

“An unknown substance was found at the property and its occupants reported feeling unwell.

“The occupants were taken to hospital by the ambulance service.”

“The incident was contained to one property and there were no concerns for the wider community of Five Roads.”

A Dyfed-Powys Police Spokesperson confirmed the force assisted in the multi-operation incident.

A spokesperson said:: “Members of one household in the village were feeling unwell, and were taken to hospital for assessment.

“They were found to have no medical concerns.

“Following examination of the scene by a number of agencies, there was no cause for further investigation into the incident.”

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Everything you need to know about the current coronavirus restrictions in Wales

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THE GOVERNMENT guidelines in Wales are changing today (Apr 12).

There are major changes coming into force today across the country as the government coronavirus guidelines are starting to relax.

The changes affect household bubbles, non-essential retail, education and travel.

As of Monday, April 12, the following changes have come into force:

  • Six people from two different households (not counting children under 11) can meet and exercise outdoors and in private gardens
  • Households or support bubbles can holiday in self-contained accommodation – including hotels with en-suite facilities
  • All pupils and students can now return to school, college and other education
  • All shops and close-contact services can open
  • The ban on travelling in and out of Wales has ended
  • Driving lessons can resume and some driving tests (Remainder on April 22)

Non-essential retail are able to open up today for the first time since the country was put into a national lockdown with non-essential retail ordered to close in December of last year.

With infection rates falling and the national vaccine rollout success, the Welsh Government have set out a road map of restriction easing.

Unlike England, the hospitality industry in Wales will have to wait until April 26 to open their doors to customers, but only for those who can operate in an outdoor space such as beer gardens.

The current guidelines in force for Wales are as follows:

Meeting friends and family

From May 3:

  • Two families can once again form an “extended household” and meet indoors.

The following rules currently apply:

  • Six people from two different households (not counting children under 11) can meet up outdoors, including gardens.
  • If you are an adult living alone or you’re a single responsible adult in a household (a single parent, for instance), you can form a support bubble with one other household.
  • You can also end it and form another support bubble with a different household, as long as you leave a 10-day gap between.

Going to work

  • You must work from home if you can. The only exceptions will be critical workers and jobs where working from home is not possible.
  • Tradespeople can work in someone else’s private home, as long as it is managed in a safe way and both the worker and household members are well and have no symptoms of coronavirus.

Schools and nurseries

  • All pupils will return to face-to-face teaching at school from 12 April.
  • From that date all students can return to further education and training centres.
  • University campuses will be able to open for blended (face-to face and online) learning for all students.
  • Internal GCSE, A-level and AS-level assessments have been cancelled.

Leisure time

From April 26:

  • Outdoor attractions, including funfairs and theme parks, will be allowed to reopen.
  • Outdoor hospitality can resume, including at cafes, pubs and restaurants, but indoor hospitality will remain restricted.

From May 3:

  • Organised outdoor activities for up to 30 people can again take place.
  • Gyms, leisure centres and fitness facilities can reopen. This will include individual or one-to-one training but not exercise classes.

The following rules currently apply:

  • Self-contained holiday accommodation, including hotels with en-suite facilities and room service, can open to people from the same household or support bubble.
  • Outdoor sports facilities such as golf, tennis and basketball are open. A maximum of six people from two households can take part.
  • Organised outdoor sport for under-18s can now take place.
  • All gyms and leisure centres are closed.
  • Professional sports will continue but stadiums are closed to fans.
  • Bars, restaurants, cafes and pubs are closed – except for takeaway and delivery.
  • The outdoor areas of some historic places and gardens can reopen in a limited way.
  • Libraries and archives can reopen

Shopping

From April 12:

  • All shops can reopen.
  • All close contact services such as hairdressers or beauty salons can open, including mobile services.

The following rules currently apply:

  • Hairdressers and barbers are open for business – by appointment only.
  • Non-essential shops remain closed.
  • Garden centres are now open.
  • Alcohol cannot be sold in shops between 22:00 and 06:00 BST.
  • Face coverings must be worn by customers and staff.
  • Indoor shopping should be done alone, or with people in your household.

Other

From April 12:

  • You can travel anywhere in the UK or the Common Travel Area (Ireland, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands)
  • Outdoor canvassing for the Welsh elections can begin.
  • Driving lessons can resume and some driving tests (remainder on 22 April).

From April 26:

  • Weddings receptions can take place outdoors, but will be limited to 30 people.

The following rules currently apply:

  • Weddings and civil partnerships can take place at licensed venues, but receptions are not allowed.
  • Care home residents can receive one designated visitor.
  • You can travel anywhere within Wales.
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