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Election hopefuls battle it out

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CONSERVATIVE candidate Simon Hart was the only representative of the country’s last coalition government to attend an all-

Delyth Evans talking to PPF member Andy Martin

Delyth Evans talking to PPF member Andy Martin

Pembrokeshire day of hustings on Friday (Apr 17).

The morning session saw Stephen Crabb and Nick Tregoning pleaded other commitments, while in the South Pembrokeshire and Carmarthen West hustings, Liberal Democrat ‘challenger’ Selwyn Runnett joined Plaid Cymru’s Elwyn Williams and John Atkinson of UKIP on the absentee list.

However, as the seat has been something of a two-horse race between red and blue since 1997, it could be argued that the presence of Mr Hart, along with Labour candidate Delyth Evans, allowed people to see the contrast between different probable futures for the constituency. The Green Party’s Gary Tapley, attending the second hustings of his political career, was also in attendance.

The event, held in the Albany Hall, Haverfordwest, was organised by Pembrokeshire People First, a charity set up to enable and empower people with learning disabilities. PPF coordinator Karen Chandler started the ball rolling with a brief summary of what the group have achieved, before introducing the candidates.

Many of the questions asked referred directly to changes in the country’s benefit system over the last five years. In response to a question which pointed out that under changes to the Disability Living Allowance 1 in 5 people may not be able to live independently any more, Mr Hart stated that the policy was not designed to make people miss out, and blamed delays in processing, as well as less-than-perfect communication. “Nobody in this room who needs support should fall foul of the system,” he added.

Ms Evans said that when dealing with vulnerable people it was ‘more important to get things right,’ and added that one of the priorities for a Labour government would be ‘clearing the backlog’ of claims waiting to be processed ‘so people know where they stand.’ She also criticised the negative language used to describe recipients of benefits. Mr Tapley disagreed with the use of private companies ‘with targets to meet’ for assessments.

Mr Hart was also the only candidate across two constituencies who spoke out in favour of the ‘bedroom tax’ on the day, saying that he had witnessed extreme levels of overcrowding in council accommodation due to a shortage of available properties.  His assertion that discretionary payments could be made by the local council to make up the shortfall was challenged by Ms Chandler, who pointed out that in Pembrokeshire those payments were only issued for a maximum of 6 months.

Ms Evans said that the Labour party promised to scrap the tax. “It penalises people who can’t help their situation and hasn’t solved the problem,” she said. Mr Tapley concurred, saying that it was ‘awful to mess with things without a solution in place’.

The Herald spoke to Sophie Hinksman, co-chair of the Learning Disability Advisory Group after the hustings: “I can understand Simon Hart’s point about overcrowding,” she said, “but the bedroom tax should be scrapped. It’s a bad idea, and it’s not fair to everyone.”

Another issue that PPF members felt strongly about was the Human Rights Act.  In response to a question from Chairman Jeremy DeWilton regarding their promises to protect the act, Mr Hart claimed that it had ‘run its natural course’, and should be replaced by a Bill of Rights.  “The Human Rights Act has been used by lawyers to protect the undeserving,” he added.

Ms Evans pointed out that the last Labour government had signed the UN Charter of Rights, and that her party had no plans to alter the act.  “It is more important to make sure that it is put into practice – to make sure organisations like the County Council understand you have human rights,” she added.

Mr Tapley, whose face bore the expression of a schoolboy who has turned up at his science lesson with meticulously completed art homework, admitted that he was unsure of the party stance on the issue, but said that personally he was in favour of keeping the act. “People focus too much on what a few bad people do, rather than what it is for,” he said, and looked relieved when he was told that maintaining the Human Rights Act was in the Green Party manifesto.

In response to a question from vice chairman Ed Lewis asking ‘how can we trust you to do the things you say you will do?’ Mr Tapley was more forthright. “I keep my word – that’s who I am.  Doing this won’t change me, if I’m voted in my duty is to you,” he declared.

Describing trust as ‘very important,’ Ms Evans said that the current lack of trust in politicians saddened her.  “Most politicians are not liars,” she commented, before saying: “I try not to say things I don’t think I can do.”

Mr Hart agreed with the low public opinion regarding politicians. “They seem to be ranked with estate agents and journalists,” he joked. This remark, hopefully not a slur on Lib Dem candidate Mr Runnett, led me to wonder where the estate agent connection came in.  Surely not the ubiquitous identical signs scattered across the south county?

Further questions were addressed to Ms Evans and Mr Tapley, after Mr Hart was forced to leave early.

The Herald spoke to the chair of PPF afterwards. Mr DeWilton said that he was impressed by the way candidates answered the group’s question: “Hopefully they’ll stick to what they said they want to do,” he said.

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Police urge visitors to ‘check the rules’

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POLICE in Powys are reminding people to check the rules before they travel, as tourists from the Midlands, London and Bristol continue to visit despite lockdown restrictions.

Last weekend more than 1,000 cars were turned around by police in the Brecon Beacons after visitors attempted to access the area around Ystradfellte known as ‘waterfall country’.

Many of those stopped claimed they thought the rules around travel were the same as in England, while others had deliberately flouted them.

Seventy-two per cent of people reported for breaches of Covid-19 restrictions in Powys since March 27 have been from outside the police force area.

“I would like to thank the communities of Powys for their cooperation in recent months in complying with requirements of the Covid 19 legislation and also reassure them we are still working hard with our partners to police the restrictions that remain in place across Wales,” said Superintendent Steve Davies.

“Our officers have worked hard to engage with the public at every opportunity throughout these unprecedented times by explaining what we are doing and why, and encouraging people to make the best choices to protect public health in Wales.

“But where people have clearly flouted the rules we have dealt with them appropriately and issued fines.”

He said officers will continue to conduct stop checks throughout Powys and across the force area this weekend.

In England, people can now travel an unlimited distance for exercise and to access so-called ‘beauty spots’.

But the Welsh Government has said people must remain local – ideally not travelling further than five miles from their home – for exercise or limited leisure pursuits, and this also applies to anyone travelling across the border.

Wales’ three national parks – which include popular sites such as Snowdon, the Elan valley and the Pembrokeshire coast – currently remain closed to the public, as do all National Trust car parks and properties.

The latest Welsh Government advice is available at gov.wales/coronavirus.

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Coastal car parks at beauty spots remain closed

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THE RECENT changes in regulations reinforce that movement is restricted to your local area.

This has been identified by the Welsh Government as an approximation of a five mile radius from your home.

Members of two separate households from the same local area (not travelling more than five miles) can now meet outdoors, as long as they maintain social distancing.

You should aim to meet another local household as close to your home as possible. Always take care to maintain social distancing and hand hygiene.

Pembrokeshire County Council car parks at attractions and beauty spots (including public toilets) currently remain closed so you should check before travelling.

They remain closed as a clear message that travel remains restricted, and associated tourism amenities remain closed.

A critical point for all to note is that lifeguards are not currently patrolling beaches and toilets and other facilities are not open.

Full details of the car parking facilities which remain open for the local community can be found on the Council’s website:
https://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/emergency-planning/service-changes

Councillor Phil Baker, Cabinet Member for Infrastructure said: “The emphasis is on careful, structured unlocking, and not to put in danger any of the recovery measures that relate to public health and not to undo the safeguarding that lockdown has delivered.

“We will continue to review and monitor this carefully and take cautious, measured steps only to provide the benefits of the eased regulations without putting our residents at risk.”

Motorists are reminded not to contravene parking restrictions – such as yellow lines – where they exist as parking enforcement is still being undertaken.

As with other service areas, car parks will be reviewed in line with current advice.

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Pembrokeshire County Council Leaders coronavirus update

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PEMBROKESHIRE County Council Leader, Councillor David Simpson, has provided a further coronavirus update for Tuesday, 2nd June, as follows:

‘I want to thank everyone for the continued support to myself, Elected Members and officers of the Authority.

‘We have all experienced many challenges over the years but this continued struggle is very testing for all. We continue collectively to work together to ensure we, in Pembrokeshire, remain safe and avoid catching Covid-19

‘It is clear that we still have to remain “local”. There is no remit for travelling outside our local community. You will have read and heard clear guidance on only travelling five miles from home.

‘As always and where you can, please exercise from your home. The more we can do to reduce the spread of the virus, the better we will all fare in the long term.

‘I want to highlight that today marks the 50 th anniversary of the collapse of the Cleddau Bridge. This was indeed a tragedy as lives were lost and it is a sad chapter in Pembrokeshire’s history.

‘As in any incident, people can, and do, rebuild and also learn lessons. After Covid-19 the new “normality” will look different from what we were used to. But we will all move forward and regain Confidence.

‘I’m sure, like you, I question how I should be tackling this issue. Should I be doing more? The answer is simple and direct – we need to ensure social distancing is maintained; wash our hands regularly and listen to the advice given by experts.

‘Remember: ‘Stay Strong and Stay Local.’

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