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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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Pembrokeshire County Council bills Home Office for Penally camp costs

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THE COUNCIL has sent an invoice for more than £80,000 to the Home Office.

It is to cover some of the costs that the local authority has incurred in connection with the Penally Asylum Seeker Centre, near Tenby.

Following a question on the issue from Cllr Jonathan Preston at Full Council the Council have confirmed that a bill has been sent.

The Member for Penally ward asked: “Please can the relevant Cabinet Member provide a breakdown of all costs to this authority which have been incurred in providing staff, services and other associated resources to Penally camp since its re-purpose by the Home Office last September?”

Council leader Cllr. David Simpson confirmed that on February 22 Pembrokeshire County Council submitted an invoice for £83, 858 which includes £65,564 in staff costs, £12,799 of specialist support and £5,495 for works such as barriers.

Pembrokeshire County Council is currently awaiting payment, the Authority confirmed.

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Hospitality sector welcomes Budget boost

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IT HAS been so long it seems since we could stand at a bar and enjoy a well-earned pint, but now we are on the road back to normality, the Herald has spoken to some of those in the hospitality sector who have been asked to close. We wanted to know what the owners in businesses in these sectors locally thought of the budget and if Rishi Sunak had done enough to help them.

We first spoke to a Milford Haven restaurant business. Owner of Martha’s Vineyard in Milford Haven, Dan Mills said that the budget was not a silver bullet to fix all problems but said that the budget had gone a fair way to delivering what many in the Pembrokeshire hospitality sector have been calling for in recent weeks.

Dan Mills said: “The biggest risk many of us were facing was the cliff edge of a VAT increase, the end of the Furlough Scheme and a return to full business rates, I’m pleased that the Chancellor has recognised this and taken action on all fronts.

“With talk of the Welsh Government restricting us to outside trading for an initial period, the flexibility that the Furlough Scheme brings will be a huge help to ensure staff retain their jobs.

“I was also delighted to see that the Chancellor has provided funding to Wales to ensure that we benefit from a further 12 months of Business Rate Relief here in Pembrokeshire, that’s money that many of us can instead invest into restarting our businesses.

“I hope that the conversation that unfortunately began due to Covid between politicians and the Pembrokeshire hospitality and tourism sector can continue long beyond this crisis, it seems that through some open and honest feedback we are making real progress.

Award winning gastro-pub The Griffin Inn is well known throughout Wales and has received many national reviews. Their reputation puts them in a strong position once they are allowed to re-open. We spoke to Sian and Simon Vickers about the budget.

Simon Vickers, co-owner is also a director of Visit Pembrokeshire. He told The Herald: “I think the budget was very positive for the hospitality industry with the reduction in VAT being the biggest help.

“Overall I feel the government have supported the industry amazingly

In regard to tax on alcohol, Simon said: “Duty has been frozen It would have been nice to have seen a cut in it. Whether there’s a cut or not the breweries always increase their prices so in all honesty it never affects us.”

The ongoing financial support has been welcomed by industry group CAMRA, The Campaign or Real Ale, but the organisation said that the Chancellor had missed the opportunity to lower beer duty to save our pubs.

Their national chairman Nik Antona issued a statement to The Pembrokeshire Herald saying: “Freezing alcohol duty is obviously better than a rise. However, CAMRA had hoped to see the Chancellor announce a cut in duty on beer served on tap in pubs and social clubs to benefit consumers and help the great British pub recover and thrive in the difficult months and years ahead by being able to compete with supermarket alcohol.

“The Government’s commitment to review alcohol duties in the coming months is welcome. CAMRA will continue to call for a lower rate of duty for beer served in pubs – an option available to the Government now we have left the European Union.

“Reducing tax on beer served in pubs and social clubs would encourage responsible drinking in a supervised, community setting – as well as boosting jobs and local economies, helping consumers and benefiting pubs and licensees.”

On financial support announced, Nik commented: “Cutting VAT as pubs begin to reopen, and reducing it until April next year, means they can now start benefiting from that cut – but CAMRA believes this VAT cut should be extended to alcohol so that traditional locals that don’t serve food can benefit too.

“The extension of furlough until September and new grants of up to £18,000 are very welcome. However, pubs are unlikely to be able to fully reopen at pre-COVID trading levels due to outside space and then table service only indoors. The beer and pubs sector will need further support over the coming months, over and above new loans, to help them get back on their feet until there is a full and proper re-opening and they can trade at full capacity.

“Extending the business rates holiday until the end of June will help keep the wolves from the door for many English pubs, with the two-thirds reduction for the rest of the financial year a welcome step. However, given how tough it will be for many pubs we believe the 100% cut in business rates needs to be extended for a full 12 months as has already happened in Scotland.”

Picture: Simon Vickers, Griffin Inn, Dale

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Milford Haven-bound ‘flying oil tanker’ hits the national news

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A MILFORD HAVEN bound oil tanker has made the national news, after a photograph taken off the Cornish coast made it look like the ship was flying.

An optical illusion caused the ship to appear as though it was floating above the horizon

The ship is believed to be the Hafnia Malacca Oil/Chemical Tanker which is heading to Pembrokeshire from Primorsk, Russia via the English Channel.

David Morris, from the hamlet of Gillan, near Falmouth took a photo of the ship near Falmouth, Cornwall, the BBC have reported.

On the BBC news website, meteorologist David Braine said the “superior mirage” occurred because of “special atmospheric conditions that bend light”.

He said the illusion is common in the Arctic, but can appear “very rarely” in the UK during winter.

Mr Morris said he was “stunned” after capturing the picture while looking out to sea from the hamlet of Gillan

Mr Braine said: “Superior mirages occur because of the weather condition known as a temperature inversion, where cold air lies close to the sea with warmer air above it.

“Since cold air is denser than warm air, it bends light towards the eyes of someone standing on the ground or on the coast, changing how a distant object appears.

“Superior mirages can produce a few different types of images – here a distant ship appears to float high above its actual position, but sometimes an object below the horizon can become visible.”

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