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Minister wants ‘facts not fl annel’

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Meeting the minister: Dennis O’Connor & Graham Warlow

Meeting the minister: Dennis O’Connor & Graham Warlow

ON MONDAY (Nov 17) representatives of the national Coastguard SOS campaign group met UK Shipping Minister John Hayes in Westminster to discuss the controversial plan to close half of the UK’s maritime rescue coordination centres (MRCC’s). Local campaigners Dennis O’Connor and Graham Warlow made the trip to the Houses of Parliament, where they were joined by colleague Lynne Gray for the high-level meeting.

After the meeting we spoke with Coastguard SOS co-ordinator Dennis O’Connor, who expressed his gratitude to local MP’s Simon Hart and Stephen Crabb, who met the group in July along with local AM’s Paul Davies and Angela Burns: “Simon Hart has been so important in helping arrange our meeting with the Minister. He has taken a keen interest in our efforts. He knows, while we are proud of our efforts to ensure Milford Haven Coastguard Station remains operational, that this is a national issue that affects people’s lives and safety on a huge scale.”

Dennis explained that the meeting was ‘an opportunity for the campaign group to relay continued safety fears and discuss the way in-which the closure programme has been handled by the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA)’. Following the closure of stations at Forth, Clyde, Yarmouth, Solent, Portland and Brixham the meeting also presented the opportunity for the campaign group to ensure that the Minister, who has only been in post since the last cabinet reshuffl e, was given the opportunity to receive information that otherwise would not be given to him by the MCA or Department for Transport (DfT).

“We took the opportunity to provide Mr Hayes with an overview of how the service has suffered since the closure programme was announced four years ago,” said Mr O’Connor. “It’s unlikely that certain information would readily be disseminated by the departments who are answerable to him. There are always two sides to a story and we were of the firm opinion that as the Minister is now responsible for maritime affairs then he should be fully appraised in order to be able to manage his portfolio effectively.”

Representatives of the MCA and DfT were also present at the meeting and during a frank discussion the Minister gave assurances of his intent to carry out an indepth analysis of the closure programme, specifically the effects that the closure of stations has had so far. “Mr Hayes made it perfectly clear that he wanted all of the facts not fl annel from the MCA and DfT and we are pleased that he has underlined this” said Mr O’Connor. “We made it clear to the Minister that we feel strongly that neither the MCA or DfT could be relied upon to present balanced information to him and asked that information gathering be carried out independently of those organisations to ensure that he can take a balanced view of the process.

This would include receiving submissions from all stakeholders.” “It was evident that Mr Hayes appreciates that people have genuine concerns about the closure programme which need to be addressed. As with the campaign group, coastal safety is also his priority and he intends to ensure that the management of the closure programme is being conducted in an appropriate way which does not affect or undermine safety in any way.”

Concerns about the way the closure programme is being handled have increased since a recent freedom of information request revealed that the understaffing at stations across the UK has increased dramatically. Aberdeen Coastguard reached a peak of 97% understaffing during this year and Dover 92% other stations at Humber reached 83% and Swansea were up to 80% understaffed.

In September the MCA’s centralised centre at Fareham opened despite almost half of the staff being recent recruits with no search and rescue coordination experience. The continuing loss of experienced Coastguard offi cers has taken its toll on the service. During the meeting with the Minister, Keith Oliver, the MCA’s Head of Maritime Operations claimed that ‘there are no inexperienced officers at the Fareham centre and understaffing is not an issue because “a higher calibre of staff had now been recruited to replace those who have left the service’.

Campaigners insist that the statement by Mr Oliver is an obvious example of how the MCA are prepared to dismiss the value of its officers and the concerns of the wider public: Quite how the MCA can defend the loss of experienced Coastguards by stating that their replacements, despite having no SAR experience, are “experienced” and of a “higher calibre” is beyond comprehension” said Mr O’Connor.

“The new recruits just do not have the training, skills or service experience of those who have left therefore it is shameful for the MCA to make this statement when clearly the facts confl ict sharply with statements being made by the MCA about safety being their priority. You cannot replace years of experience overnight and it seems to suggest an element of ensuring that new staff, irrespective of their lack of experience, are being favoured because of their compliance within the future Coastguard set-up.

The statement by Mr Oliver also underlines concerns that this is not a transparent process. We welcome the decision by the Minister to take a fresh look at the closure programme. This will offer some reassurance that concerns are being addressed and it will force the MCA and DfT to fi nally admit that there have been failings in the way the process has been handled. The MCA has failed to offer any evidence to suggest that the process is safe or workable and without compelling evidence they should never have been allowed to proceed. We hope that the Minister will concur with previous concerns raised by the Transport Select Committee and fi nally emergency measures will be taken to ensure that the service is stabilised.”

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Pembrokeshire cottage letting agency offers free holidays to NHS heroes

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PEMBROKESHIRE-BASED holiday letting agency St Brides Bay Cottages has teamed up with its property owners and Operation Recuperation to offer free holidays to frontline healthcare workers. The family-run firm has announced the scheme to say thank you to the healthcare heroes who are risking their lives to keep the UK safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

The generous initiative will see healthcare professionals enjoy a well-deserved break in picturesque St Davids, Solva, Newgale or Porthgain, after the crisis is over. The scheme is part of Operation Recuperation, a UK-wide campaign launched to gift future stays in beautiful places to frontline healthcare providers.

Sam Sibbald, manager of St Brides Bay Cottages, based in Solva, said: “This is our way of showing our dedicated healthcare workers that we appreciate everything they’re doing in such difficult circumstances.

“I saw first-hand the pressure the NHS is under, when my dad had a stay in hospital last year. I could tell how pushed they were on a normal day-to-day basis, let alone with having COVID-19 to deal with. Now my dad is at home, needing carers every day, and I can see, more than ever, how much we rely on the people who look after us.

“We’re taking part in Operation Recuperation thanks to the generosity of our cottage owners. By gifting stays to these dedicated workers, we’ll be helping them to recover from the fight against coronavirus.”

Several cottage owners, whose properties are let by St Brides Bay Cottages, have come forward to donate stays in their holiday homes.

Among them is Sheila Morgan, who together with her husband Chris, owns The Anchorage, a two-bedroom apartment in Solva. She said: “As a retired nurse with medical staff in the family, I can fully appreciate the strains and stresses all NHS staff are going through at present. Thank you all for your sterling work. Hopefully the peace, quiet and Pembrokeshire air will aid recuperation.”

Debbie and Patrick Bowie-Moore, the owners of five-bedroom holiday home Mount Pleasant, in Solva, said: “The healthcare workers have offered their all, and it’s our privilege to give a family – who may have been kept apart – the opportunity to stay in Mount Pleasant as a massive thank you.”

Simon Baker, who owns Cefn y Mor, a four-bedroom property in Solva, said: “We are backing the Operation Recuperation project because we have family members on the frontline of the NHS, and know what risks they are taking, and what effort they are putting into saving lives. Our only effort is to stay at home and avoid infection. A small price to pay.”

Jim and Maureen Dale, whose three-bedroom holiday home, May Cottage, is situated on a grade II-listed farm, near St Davids, said: “Rarely do we get an opportunity to say thank you to the staff at the NHS – we tend to take the service so much for granted. Now the chips are down and there they all are, on the frontline looking after us all. Thank you all at the NHS.”

David and Judith James, who are offering a free stay at their converted watermill, Melin Llanrhian, near Porthgain, said: “We’re delighted to be able to support Operation Recuperation as a very small thank you to everyone in the NHS who has worked so hard in such challenging circumstances.”

Operation Recuperation is collecting donations – in room nights and cash – to give free stays to frontline healthcare staff, once the virus restrictions have been lifted.

Rachel Sherwood, who launched Operation Recuperation, said: “A huge thank you to St Brides Bay Cottages for proudly supporting Operation Recuperation and to the cottage owners who have donated stays in this stunning part of Wales, despite very challenging times.

“Sometime in the not-too-distant future, a number of our frontline healthcare staff will be enjoying long clifftop walks, fresh seafood, lazy days on the beach and cosy evenings in sea-view cottages.”

To find out more about St Brides Bay Cottages and Operation Recuperation, visit: https://www.stbridesbaycottages.com/, email enquiries@stbridesbaycottages.com or call 01437 720027.

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Council pays out £2.5m in business grants to date

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL has revealed that since Wednesday, 1st April, it has already paid out £2.5 million in grants to local businesses.

The Authority’s Cabinet Member for Economy, Paul Miller, said Council staff had been working hard to make the Covid-19 business grants payable as soon as possible

Explained Councillor Miller: “Payments started on Wednesday this week for those who qualify for grants linked to the National Non-Domestic Ratings (NNDR) system. We have already paid out around £2.5 million in grants to local businesses.

“Daily payment runs are being made in order that these can get into business bank accounts as soon as possible.

“We cannot unfortunately acknowledge receipt of applications but, once authorised, businesses will be emailed and the grant will be paid within two to three working days.”

Councillor Miller added: “If there are any issues with a grant application, or information is missing, a Council officer will be in touch to discuss the matter. A dedicated team has been set up to do this.”

For further business advice refer to the Council’s Business pages which can be accessed via the following link: https://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/business-advice-and-support

This will enable access to the application form for the above grants, provide answers to frequently asked questions and links to further sources of advice through HMRC, Welsh Government, Department of Work and Pensions, Public Health Wales and other organisations.

For further enquiries not answered through the business pages, email: covid19@pembrokeshire.gov.uk and an officer will respond. Please view the business pages first.

For those who don’t qualify for the grants, Welsh Government will soon be making details available of how business can access other funding through an Economic Resilience Fund.

Details will be available on the Council’s business pages as soon as they are released by Welsh Government.

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Man issued with two COVID-19 fines in 24 hours as police thank those following new legislation

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A man has been issued with two fines in 24 hours for flouting Coronavirus legislation, as police thank those who are following the new rules.

Dyfed-Powys Police officers in Carmarthenshire stopped the 22-year-old from Llanelli twice for being out of the house without a reasonable excuse.

A report was made on April 1 that three men were breaching the COVID-19 legislation by gathering in Llanstephan. A woman who had attempted to film the men reported that they had stolen her phone and driven away.

Officers quickly linked the car to a suspect and traced it driving towards Carmarthen and then Llanelli, and a roads policing unit was directed to the area.

The car was stopped, and the two occupants – a 22-year-old from Llanelli, and a 18-year-old from Carmarthen – were arrested on suspicion of theft. They were also both issued with tickets for COVID-19 offences.

T/Chief Inspector Tom Sharville said: “We are taking the new legislation seriously, and would like to thank the majority of people who are staying home to keep others safe.

“The measures are difficult to adapt to, but it is important that we stay at home to save lives.

“However, there is a minority out there who are under the impression the legislation does not apply to them, and are flouting the law.

“This was the second fine one of these men was issued with in 24 hours, after he showed a clear disregard for all guidelines.”

The men were arrested on suspicion of theft of a mobile phone, and were released under investigation pending further enquiries.

For information about the COVID-19 legislation, and answers to many frequently asked questions, visit https://bit.ly/DPPCovid19

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