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Virtual multi-agency meeting discusses concerns about Penally Camp

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A VIRTUAL meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council chaired by Cllr David Simpson JP took place on Wednesday at midday.

Cllr Jonathon Preston opened the meeting by saying there was a common theme was that the facility and location was unsuitable.

Next Dafydd Llywellyn, the Police and Crime Commissioner said: “It’s really important to us at a senior level to understand the decision-making notice.”
“How its suitable is beyond me!”

Mr. Llywellyn added: “For numerous reasons I cannot see how it would be suitable, and I will continue to make that view known. Having said that its also important that from a policing perspective that we support the local community.”
“We will also have mutual aid support from other sources. I am grateful that the Home Office have been able to attend and there has been a significant amount of cooperation from an inter-agency perspective especially in the last few weeks “
“Multi agency work has been outstanding between heath board, police and council,” he added.

NOT POSSIBLE TO CONSULT LOCALS

On behalf of the UK Government, Deborah Chitterden told the meeting that from a Home Office perspective its important to mention that they have a legal obligation to support destitute asylum seekers.
She said: “Because of Covid-19 the system came under pressure which led to a shortage for suitable accommodation. We had to do something fairly urgently.
Offers from MOD came in, one of which of course was Penally.
“It wasn’t possible to consult in the usual way due to the speed in which we had to act. I understand that this must have been hugely frustrating from the community on the ground.
“I am really pleased about the positive focus on meetings. It genuinely seems that everyone is here to find the best possible solutions.
“These asylum seekers are often highly educated and skilled people.
“They are not criminals, and they are not being detained.
“I think that this is understood by most, but I would just like to make that point.”

PENALLY WAS VIABLE AND IMMEDIATELY AVAILABLE

Answering a question from a member of the public about why the camp was chosen, Deborah Chittenden said: “When we looked across government to ask partners for available accommodation to support us in what was an urgent need the only viable (immediately available) options were the two sites offered by the Ministry of Defence we engaged.
“The sites were chosen out of necessity.
“To be very clear they are a temporary arrangement. We have agreed a lease or rental arrangement for up to twelve months.
“We will only use these for only as long as we need them.
“The reason we have an urgent need was that at the beginning of the pandemic we took an active decision not to move asylum seekers out of their accommodation so during the national lockdown numbers kept increasing.
“That than meant we had six months’ worth of blockage in the system when no one was moving out, but we had a steady stream of people coming into the system.
“You can imagine what this did to the system.
“We have continued to see an influx to the system.
We have begun to start ceasing support for those we have decided not to provide asylum for.
“Once we are through the blockage we will remove the temporary measures we have put in place.
“The site will only house single male asylum seekers.
“We made a decision not to house families or single females in these sites.
“We only decided to house those who were healthy and not in any vulnerable categories.
“We took a lot of care to select those to make sure they were not in any vulnerable categories.
“If issues are identified with mental health or any other issues we can deal with these rapidly.
Any person brought to the camp will have spent at least 14 days insolation at on of our other camps to ensure that they are Covid-free when they arrive.
Obviously, we cannot guarantee that they will not get Covid as they interact with members of society.

NOT DESIGNED FOR THE PURPOSE

Dr Phil Kloer from Hywel Dda University Health Board said: “The site wasn’t designed for these circumstances. It makes social distancing difficult. However, we have been working closely with all agencies to support the safety of people at the site but also members of the local population. We undertook a detail comprehensive risk assessment with our professional experts and developed a plan for prevention of all infections including Covid. Plan included advice on isolation, disinfection and hyenine measures and also operation support. We continue to work with Clearsprings and all other agencies involved in the call today and of course the local population as well.

Steve Lakey from Clearsprings, which is the private company working on behalf of the Home Office to provide accommodation to asylum seekers, thanked the health team and partners for all their hard work.
In relation to a question regarding additional funding for local services he said: “In terms of services on site we have a visiting nurse at the site. There is sports equipment, TV, WIFI, various difficult activities. There has been a wonderful raft of offers of help on the site. Migrant Help is coordinating it.
“We are looking for a local coordinator at the moment. Food and all the items needed day-to-day are provided on site. People can go to the shop; they do have a small amount of money to spend.
“There is vehicles on site to take people to shops if required.”

DAILY PROTESTS, VARYING IN VOLATILITY

Police Superintendent Anthony Evans told the meeting that the last two weeks have seen daily protests, varying in volatility.
“Sadly, there has been some incidents of criminality and arrests have been made. Where we are aware of criminal offences, we have recorded those and they have been investigated,” he said.

Anthony Evans added: “Throughout this period we have brought in additional police resources.
“On occasion protests have become disorderly and we have used resources to ensure visitors to the site have been able to enter and exit freely.
“We know the community have been concerned by both the service users and the protestors.
“In the short term in many cases the protestors have been the greater short-term concern.
“We have ensured we have clear lines of communication between police and residents.”

“Of course, community safety is not just a policing matter. We have been working with other agencies such as the council and health board to ensure that we respond to the concerns of the community and that this community ad a voice into police and other partner. I hope that gives a flavour of what the police is doing to reassure the community since the inception of the asylum centre.”

LOTS OF OFFERS OF HELP

Juliet Halstead from Migrant Help said: “We help via a telephone service with full translation services. We are issuing SIM cards to people to help them get access to our services for access of help and advice.
“We are working with the accommodation provider to ensure that the centre is as comfortable as it can be for people. We are helping service users access legal support. We are making daily welfare calls to those in the camp who are worried about the situation, especially the protestors.”

Steve Lakey added that those with mental health issues will be screened out and those individuals will be taken back to core accommodation centres where there are health teams which can deal with that.

Juliet Halstead spoke again to the meeting and said there have been so many offers of support.
She told the conference: “I would like to say a huge thank you. We have been asked to coordinate all of those kind offers of help.
“We are working to ensure we can do that.
“We are trying to understand that service users’ issues and priorities are at the moment.
“If you can send offers of help, we will come back to you at penally@migranthelpuk.org”

Cllr David Simpson JP asked Simon Hart MP and Cllr Jonathan Preston, member for Penally, to close the meeting.
Cllr Preston said that the meeting gave more of an idea of “where we are”.
He said: “its good to hear that there are opening for volunteering and getting involved with the camp.”

WE DESERVE PROPER ANSWERS, SAYS MP

Simon Hart MP said: “That has been a useful round up of questions and answers – divided into operation activity and the implementation element on the ground. The other around policy decisions. We have had lots of answers on the former not the latter. Everyone does deserve proper answers around the process that was pursued.”
“Deborah has set up the background, but we have not quite got to the bottom of and the manner and speed in which engagement took place – if it took place at all -is something we absolutely want to understand. Not just for Penally but anyone else who may end up in this situation.”

Councillor Simpson said afterwards that he thought the meeting had been extremely useful in answering some of the concerns raised by Penally residents and many others.
He said: “I understand the webcast was viewed live by around 400 people so hopefully it addressed some of the myths and wild speculation that has surrounded the presence of the asylum seekers in our community.”
A list of questions and the panel’s responses will be published on the Council’s website in due course.
On the panel were:

• Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire MP)
• Deborah Chittenden (Director, Borders, Immigration and Citizenship System, Home Office)
• Superintendent Anthony Evans (Local Commander, Dyfed-Powys Police)
• Dafydd Llewelyn (Dyfed-Powys Police and Crime Commissioner)
• Steve Lakey (managing director, Clear Springs Ready Homes Ltd)
• Juliet Halstead (Deputy Director of Asylum Services, Migrant Help)
• Dr Phil Kloer (Deputy CEO and Medical Director for Hywel Dda University Health Board)
• Jon Preston (Penally County Councillor)
• Ian Westley (Chief Executive, Pembrokeshire County Council).

The webcast will shortly be available to view at: https://pembrokeshire.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcasts

News

Welsh Conservatives appoint new Senedd Leader

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IT HAS been announced that Andrew RT Davies MS has been appointed as the new Leader of the Welsh Conservative Group in the Welsh Parliament.

Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd, Andrew RT Davies MS said: “Becoming leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd once again is a great honour and privilege, and I’m pleased to enjoy the unanimous support of my colleagues to take us forward after a difficult few days for us all.

“On behalf of the Group I want to pay tribute to Paul Davies for his service as leader. Paul is not only a colleague but a trusted friend, who has served his constituents and party with distinction, and will continue to do so.

“There is urgent work in front of all of us and our immediate focus will be continuing to hold the Labour administration in the Senedd to account on vital issues such as the vaccine rollout, and fighting May’s election alongside our excellent slate of candidates and dedicated volunteers.

“We are in a moment like no other, and the COVID-19 pandemic has sadly only served to shine a spotlight on the challenges in people’s everyday lives; challenges that have been made all the harder by twenty of Welsh Labour Government failure.

“From our fragile economy to ever increasing NHS waiting lists, people in Wales have been badly let down by successive Labour administrations. Let me be clear; devolution isn’t the issue, it is the socialists in the Labour Party, and Wales deserves better.

“In just over 100 days, the Welsh public will head to the ballot box to decide on the future they want for our country and in the coming weeks and months the Welsh Conservatives will put forward a positive plan to get Wales moving again and build back our country better than ever.

“This will be in tough election during a tough time for our country and whereas other parties want to use this period to divide and separate, we’ll seek to unite our country and deliver a strong voice for Wales, in a strong United Kingdom.”

Chairman of the Welsh Conservative Group in the Senedd, Janet Finch-Saunders MS said: “Following a meeting of the Welsh Conservative Group in the Senedd this morning, I’m pleased to confirm that Andrew RT Davies has been endorsed unanimously as our new leader in the Senedd.

“As Chairman of the Group, I want to say thank you to Paul Davies for his immense efforts in the post since 2018. Paul played a key role in our record-breaking General Election in 2019, whilst setting the groundwork ahead of May’s Senedd election.

“Our attention now turns to May and taking the fight to the Labour Party.”

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Health

Health Board makes vaccination U-turn after queue-jumping complaints

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HYWEL DDA UHB today (Jan 23) announced a U-turn on its vaccination policy and will stick to the national priority scheme.

The move came after allegations it allowed Pembrokeshire County Council employees and other non-front-line workers to jump the queue for inoculations against Covid-19.
While surgeries in Pembrokeshire are still waiting for vaccines to inoculate its most eligible patients, the Health Board’s approach to delivering vaccinations breached Government guidance.

Yesterday (Friday, Jan 22), Ros Jervis, Director of Public Health at Hywel Dda University Health Board told The Herald: “The decision was made this week to extend the vaccine invitation to staff groups critical to the COVID response, without which we would not be able to run essential COVID response services.

“Many of these staff are currently redeployed from the frontline and patient-facing roles and employed by the health board, social care services, independent or third sector care services and fall within the JCVI’s priority group 2.”

The Welsh Government’s strategy is to inoculate frontline staff and then Over 80s. People in those categories are JCVI Priority Group 1.

However, this afternoon the Health Board issued the following statement: “In the past week, after offering frontline staff the opportunity to book vaccination, we expanded our eligibility criteria.

“We have reviewed the guidance and will now not be able to offer or vaccinate this group of staff currently. This is because it is increasingly difficult to draw the line around which staff should be included in this group and because we risk vaccinating before they are eligible.
“We must stay within the JCVI guidance which permits us only to vaccinate frontline health and social care staff, to protect patients and service users, at this point.
“We know that many other groups who are not part of the health and social care workforce are also critical to the wider COVID response and therefore it would be inequitable.
“We are so grateful to all key workers. We have throughout the pandemic continually strived to do the best for our staff and population, and we apologise for any confusion there has been around this issue over the past few days.”

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Paul Davies MS quits as Leader of the Conservatives in the Senedd

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PRESELI Pembrokeshire MS Paul Davies quit as Leader of the Conservatives in the Senedd this morning.

The Conservatives’ Chief Whip also quit his frontbench role.

The dramatic move comes only 24 hours after Mr Davies got the Conservative Senedd Group’s unanimous backing.

However, later yesterday (Friday, Jan 21) – as criticism poured in – the Welsh Conservatives’ Executive met. In that meeting, Constituency Chairs reported widespread disbelief and anger among the Party’s members. Conservative Party Chair, Lord Davies of Gower, received particular criticism for a lack of leadership. Simon Hart, Secretary of State for Wales, also attended the meeting and was left in no doubt of the strength of feeling within the Party.

In a statement issued via the Conservative Senedd media office, Mr Davies said: “I am truly sorry for my actions on the 8th and 9th December. They have damaged the trust and respect that I have built up over 14 years in the Welsh Parliament with my colleagues and the wider Conservative Party but more importantly with the people of Wales.
“Whilst using the Senedd facilities at all times my colleagues and I maintained social distancing. There was no drunk or disorderly behaviour. We did not have to be escorted out of the building as some reports have suggested. What we did was to have some alcohol with a meal we heated up in a microwave, which was a couple of glasses of wine on Tuesday and a beer on Wednesday.
I broke no actual Covid-19 regulations.

“For the last 10 months of the pandemic, I have followed the Covid-19 regulations to the letter. As with everyone across Wales, I have not seen family members or friends, I’ve not eaten at my favourite restaurants and, like you, we enjoyed a subdued Christmas compared to other years. I will continue to follow the Welsh Government’s Covid-19 Regulations and I would urge everyone to play their part in defeating this virus so that we can all return to normality.

“My priority as Leader of the Welsh Conservative Group in the Welsh Parliament has always been to bring the Conservatives into government in Wales. Our main focus as the Welsh Conservatives must always be on challenging and removing a failing Labour government.

“I am grateful for the support of colleagues in the Welsh Conservative Party for their support in this difficult time, and especially to my wife Julie and my Senedd colleagues who have offered empathy, trust and advice. They have treated me with the same courtesy and decency I hope I have always extended to others.

“Over the last couple of days, I have been speaking with colleagues in the Senedd and the wider Conservative Party. Whilst they have confirmed they do not wish to see me step down, I believe that my actions are becoming a distraction from holding this failing Welsh Labour-led Government to account, not just on their rollout of the Covid-19 vaccines but from more than 20 years of their dither, delay and failure. Yesterday I indicated to the Conservative group in the Welsh Parliament that I wished to resign, but they urged me to reflect further, and we agreed to meet again on Monday. However, for the sake of my party, my health and my own conscience, I simply cannot continue in post.

“Therefore, I am stepping down as Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Welsh Parliament with immediate effect.”

“It is for the group to decide how best to choose a new leader, but I hope that process will be seamless and speedy, and I pledge my support to whoever becomes leader.”

Darren Millar blamed ‘wildly inaccurate and unfair reports’ and said:

“There was a member of catering staff present in the tea room for a short time after my arrival on the 8th December but she did not serve me a drink, nor did I request one. In fact, I encouraged the member of staff to go home and close up the counter as it had been a long day for her. No members of catering staff were present on the 9th December and the counter was closed for the whole evening.

“While I am advised that I did not breach coronavirus regulations I am very sorry for my actions, especially given the impact of the tough restrictions that people and businesses are enduring.

“For this reason, and given that Paul Davies has resigned as Welsh Conservative Group Leader in the Senedd, I have decided to step down from my front bench role in the Welsh Parliament.

“I am cooperating fully with ongoing investigations and will continue to do so.”
Whoever replaces Paul Davies, the role is likely to an interim appointment ahead of a vote of the Party membership after the Senedd election.

Commenting on the latest developments, William Powell, Welsh Liberal Democrat Senedd Candidate for Brecon and Radnorshire and former AM for Mid and West Wales said: ‘Paul Davies & Darren Millar have now done the correct thing in stepping down, to allow due process to take place, both within Cardiff Council and within the Senedd.
‘While they both need to reflect and learn from recent events, the Welsh Conservatives must now be given the opportunity to select an interim leader to take their party forward into the upcoming Senedd elections.
‘Schadenfreude is one of the unattractive features of our current politics and I want no part of it. I will simply work with my Welsh Liberal Democrat colleagues to hold Welsh and UK Government to account on the management of the pandemic.
‘My own journey of Covid-19 illness and recovery is a reminder that we should unite to double down on the virus, support our NHS and other key workers and endeavour to do the right thing.’

Welsh Labour Senedd Candidate for Preseli Pembrokeshire has called out Paul Davies over his involvement in his apparent disregard of COVID rules in the Senedd and has expressed her concern that no actions have been taken to suspend him by his Party.

Commenting on the Welsh Conservative Group not taking any action against Paul Davies, Jackie Jones said: “I am flabbergasted that the Tory party is sitting on his hands and failed to recognise the public concern at the events described this week. The latest revelations suggest that he didn’t’ just breach the rules once but maybe twice. Now that this information has come to light, it is only right that the Tories look again at the decision they have taken today.

“As Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd he should be setting an example, not flouting the strict pandemic rules by supposedly drinking till 2 am on Senedd premises. Paul Davies constantly criticises the First Minister and Health Minister for implementing rules that are there to protect all of us, but here he is reportedly drinking till who knows when – maybe on two occasions – totally hypocritical.”

Ms Jones added that “I’m sure the constituents of Preseli will be equally annoyed by his behaviour, when they have had to abide by the rules, not going to pubs, not seeing loved ones for months at a time. It is completely out of order.”

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