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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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Business

Castell Howell Foods highlights sector concerns over Covid recovery

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THE HOSPITALITY sector may be opening up, but transport and supply issues are hampering the industry’s recovery – according to Castell Howell Foods.

One of the UK’s largest independent food wholesalers, Castell Howell, has taken the step of contacting customers to highlight the significant challenges faced by the sector as it recovers from the pandemic.

While there is relief at easing lockdown and optimism for a busy summer with bookings for UK ‘staycations’ and leisure activities, pressing issues remain.

Shortages of key staff and problems faced by some suppliers have resulted in the Welsh wholesaler being forced to make some “uncomfortable” decisions and changes to its operation, including having to pass on some supply chain price increases.

In particular, a shortage of qualified delivery drivers has meant the Cross Hands based business has had to be resourceful to maintain its delivery frequency to its customers. To help bridge the gap in the short term, other Castell Howell staff who hold an HGV licence have been temporarily redeployed to the transport department. Among them are area sales managers.

Castell Howell Sales Director, Kathryn Jones, said “Unfortunately, due to the drastic reduction in sales in 2020, our workforce decreased by over 100 colleagues. Whilst we now need most to return to the workplace, many have found alternative employment; this is a common theme across the supply chain.

“We have been actively advertising and recruiting for several months. However, as highlighted in the press, there are over 75,000 vacancies across the UK for HGV drivers alone.

“We too are currently short of drivers, especially Class 2 HGV. Driving a multi-drop vehicle for Castell Howell is a very different proposition to driving a limited drop schedule. Consequently, as you can imagine, it has been challenging to fill these vacancies.”
Stock availability is also an issue, as some suppliers struggle to manufacture under new social distancing rules. Delivery to Castell Howell from suppliers is also being affected by the UK-wide shortage of haulage drivers.

Kathryn Jones said, “To build up buffer stocks, we are increasing our volume of orders, especially for commodity lines. We aim to mitigate future stock shortages the best we can. We are constantly seeking substitute products from manufacturers who have the capacity to deliver. However, this is becoming increasingly more difficult.”

Castell Howell has made changes to its ordering process to improve its own deliveries, with earlier cut-off times.

“These changes go against the grain and were extremely difficult decisions to take. However, it is imperative to implement these in order to continue operating under these difficult circumstances whilst still maintaining a high level of service. We are very grateful to our customers for their support, patience and understanding.”

For Castell Howell, the difficulties arising from the pandemic were exacerbated by the loss of business with SA Brain & Co. This loss occurred following the Welsh company’s deal with brewery giant Marston’s to operate SA Brains pubs from January 2021.

Before that date, Castell Howell had been the sole supplier to SA Brain since 2008, including supplying 80 of the Welsh brewery’s managed public houses.

Kathryn Jones said, “However, despite the challenges in the supply chain and deliveries, we remain optimistic that the sector in the UK will work together to navigate through these unprecedented times and have a successful summer.”

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Port boss: Pembroke Dock development full permission an ‘important step’

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THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE of the Port of Milford Haven has welcomed a decision of “non-intervention” by the Welsh Government over plans to re-vamp Pembroke Dock’s historic port facilities.

The redevelopment scheme, approved by Pembrokeshire County Council’s Planning Committee in May, will see some areas such as a dock covered with sand and “infilled”.

Plans also include the demolishing of some buildings, erection of buildings and ancillary works.
Despite planning being granted at council level, full authorisation to go ahead with the development was not to be issued until the Welsh Government made its decision regards the matter.

More about the planning application can be read here: https://www.herald.wales/west-wales/pembrokeshire/major-marine-project-causes-concern-about-visual-impact-and-heritage-loss/

Now that the Welsh Government has decided not to interfere with Pembrokeshire County Council’s grant of planning permission, the Port’s boss, Andy Jones, expressed his delight, saying: “This marks an important step forward in the development of Wales’ clean energy centre at Pembroke Dock.

“It will provide sustainable opportunities for the many people who rely on the activity along the Milford Haven Waterway for employment.

CEO: Port Authority’s Andy Jones (Pic MHPA)

“Pembroke Dock Marine will unlock new opportunities for young people to enter the maritime, renewable and engineering sectors, build resilience within Pembrokeshire’s business community, and make a positive contribution to our natural environment as we transition to a low carbon energy generation.”

Tim James, head of commercial and energy at the Port of Milford Haven called the project a “once in a generation opportunity to improve Pembrokeshire’s economy for years to come”.

Objectors had complained that the plans were too large and would damage the historic dockyard, as well as having a visual impact on the dock.

The was opposition from local heritage campaigners, with complaints over the size of two huge proposed hangars which the project’s critics said would impact adversely the landscape.

The economic benefits of the £60 million marine energy “far outweigh” any impact on the historic environment, a report earlier this year to council planners said.

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Medical evacuation from LPG tanker off St Ann’s Head

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ANGLE Lifeboat was launched on service at 12:59pm on Thursday afternoon (Jun 10) to assist in a medical evacuation from a LPG tanker 13 miles SSW off St Ann’s Head.

The coastguard helicopter from Newquay in Cornwall was also on route. With the poor visibility due to fog, Angle all-weather lifeboat was to stand by the vessel to provide an alternative route for evacuation if needed.

After a choppy route in the poor visibility the RNLI volunteers arrived on scene at 2:07pm.

At the time of their arrival, the paramedic from the coastguard helicopter was aboard the vessel preparing the casualty to be winched to the helicopter.

In less than ten minutes the casualty was winched up to the helicopter and flown to hospital, at which point the lifeboat and crews were stood down and headed back to the station.

After rehousing shortly after 3:30pm the lifeboat was washed fuelled and made ready for service shortly after.

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