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No monopoly of wisdom or compassion, says MP

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no monopolyIT’S FUNNY how a spontaneous comment on Facebook can get picked up and played back, but that is what happened to a few words of mine about benefit reform and its impact on Pembrokeshire. And I am glad that it did.

In a thread of comments responding to the local charity PATCH I said that “no Government or Party has a monopoly of wisdom or compassion, and that none were evil either”. I thought no more about it but thanks to the Herald, I am now.

One of the things that I find frustrating about my job are the claims that there is only ever one cause of the nation’s concerns (them) and only one solution (us). If only it were so easy. The reform of the benefit system was largely seen as essential by all parties, but we differed on the detail. For me benefits are there for people in need; for that time when life goes wrong, when you lose your job or your health; for old age or some other unexpected hardship. They should not be a lifestyle choice, or a cosy alternative to work if work is available or possible.

And I think it is right that the way in which benefits are handed out are as fair to the people paying for them (you and me) as they are the recipient. If that means being reassessed from time to time then so be it. This is taxpayers money and billions of pounds of it.

Did you know that if over your lifetime you earn on average £32,000 or less per year you actually take more out of the state than you put in? I didn’t either, nor did I know that 30% of the UK’s income tax comes from just 1% of people paying it. What this means is that every working family is spending a huge proportion of their cash on benefits for other people – we are all happy to do that if we know those benefits are vital for that person’s quality of life.

By reforming the system like this we get other advantages too. Health and social problems, as well as crime can often be associated with a workless environment or extreme poverty. By changing the system to enable more people to get back to work and stay there we take huge pressure off our NHS, Police, and other services. And the numbers really are looking up. We have more jobs on offer in the region, lower unemployment and lower youth unemployment. New figures show that treatment for drug addiction is getting better. And as for housing I see nothing fair in keeping families in overcrowded conditions if their next door neighbour has two empty spare rooms. Surely we owe it those families to make better use of our housing stock?

Nevertheless I recognise one flaw in this otherwise positive picture. How can we apply these ‘one size fits all solutions’ to a nation which is clearly not one size? How can we make assessments as fair for someone with a mental condition as we do for someone with a limited physical one? Or encourage people to opt for a smaller house if no such houses are available?

This is where fairness comes in and where the nucleus of the problem lies. To be honest I think the Work Capability Assessment has fallen well short of expectations, especially for mental health sufferers. I have highlighted this point in Parliament – but I support the overall aims. The spare room subsidy is perfectly fair, but I regret that we did not have a longer transition period for Councils to work within. (It is of interest that in some councils the “discretionary housing fund” – used to help those facing a spare room subsidy cut – is denied to anybody with a Sky subscription or who smokes)

And it is a source of profound concern that anyone should genuinely face a choice of feeding their families or heating their house or flat. But I support the plans to move, by lots of carrot or a tiny bit of stick, people out of a benefit-dependent lifestyle.

Here in Westminster we mix with members of other Parties much more than the press would ever have you believe. I know and respect my opposition colleagues and in the main our differences are not as pronounced as all that. Strange though it may seem, we all strive to make our home areas that little bit better. The idea that there are any sections of society, young or old, rich or poor for whom we have
nothing but hatred or contempt is simply ridiculous.

This is why MP’s should be entirely non-judgmental when it comes to our constituents. You can love us or loathe us, you can vote for ‘us’ or ‘them’ or for no one at all, but in the end we are here to represent you and to use our judgment in doing so. We don’t always get it right, which is why I used those Facebook words in the first place.

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Ethiopian sailor absconds from ship docked at Valero

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A SEARCH is underway for an Ethiopian sailor who has failed to return to his vessel after taking shore leave from a ship berthed in Pembrokeshire.

The male, who is understood to be a cadet in his twenties, was a crew member on the Perseus-N; a chemical products ship.

He failed to return to the ship on Tuesday night after 9pm (Aug 20).

The Liberian tanker has already left Milford Haven without the missing member of crew.

The Herald understands that the missing man was with a group of other sailors from the ship in the Milford Haven Marina leisure facilities.

The group then headed to Tesco in Milford Haven, where all went in to the store except the missing sailor who slipped away, according to CCTV which was checked by police.

Border Force have been contacted for a comment in relation to the incident.

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Former Chequers nightclub to reopen

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AN APPLICATION for a new premises licence for the former Chequers night club succeeded at a meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council’s Licensing sub-committee on Thursday (Aug 22).

The former nightclub closed its doors for the last time in 2003, when it ran as a private members’ club, having had an application for a full on-licence rejected.

After failing in an attempt to close the club on that occasion, Pembrokeshire County Council became the only local authority in Wales to classify mobile homes as permanent residences in an effort to shut down the club once and for all.

The new applicant, Mrs Carmen Clemas applied for a new premises licence in respect of the club, which will be renamed the Queen of Clubs.

The Committee heard objections to the licence from local residents and heard representations from both the Police and Fire Service which pointed out that the building would need significant remedial works to it before it could re-open.

While Penally Community Council objected on the basis of events and problems at the premises almost twenty years ago, neither the Police nor Fire Service had an objection to the Club’s re-opening in principle.

Both emergency services emphasised that, even though they had no objections, they had concerns that had to be addressed.

The Committee granted the application, refusing permission for licensable activities at the Club on Sundays, apart from Sundays before Bank Holidays, and imposing strict noise control measures.

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St Davids RNLI to feature in new series of a popular TV documentary

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THE volunteer lifeboat crew of St Davids RNLI will be taking to the small screen next week as they will feature twice in the first episode of the BBC TV series Saving Lives at Sea.

Now in its fourth season the documentary series, which showcases the lifesaving work of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), will be aired on BBC Two on Tuesdays at 8 pm, as well as being available on the BBC iPlayer following the broadcast. The new 10-part series features real rescues carried out by the charity’s volunteer lifeboat crews and lifeguards around the UK and Ireland – including St Davids RNLI.

Each programme gives a unique insight into the lives and work of the charity’s lifesavers who are needed more than ever before, rescuing thousands of people and saving hundreds of lives around our coastline and on inland waterways every year. The new series features more dramatic real-life rescue footage, accompanied by emotive testimonials from the volunteer crews, lifeguards and the people they rescue and their families.

This forthcoming episode, on 27 August, sees St Davids RNLI launch to a crashed plane in one shout, and tow a yacht stranded in a shipping lane in another. These shouts are shown alongside rescue stories from their colleagues at other stations and beaches around our coasts.

Judd Kohler, Station Mechanic at St Davids Lifeboat Station, said: “The first episode of Saving Lives at Sea shows two very different shouts that St Davids RNLI responded to. The programme is a great chance for RNLI supporters to catch a glimpse of the work that their kind donations go towards. We want to say a huge thank you to supporters of the RNLI, who help us to save lives at sea.”

Filming took place over the past year, with lifeboat crews and lifeguards carrying special cameras and welcoming film-makers into their day-to-day life. Rescues from the RNLI’s archives are also revisited, and we get a glimpse into the everyday lives of the thousands of men and women who give up their time to save lives.

Last year alone, RNLI lifeboat crews around the UK and Ireland rescued 9,412 people, saving 211 lives, while the charity’s lifeguards aided 32,207 people and saved 118 lives on some of the UK’s busiest beaches.

Saving Lives at Sea begins on Tuesday 27 August at 8 pm on BBC Two, and will continue throughout August, September and October.

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