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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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Large emergency service mobilisation to assist driver who went over cliff near oil refinery

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POLICE, ambulance, coastguard, and RNLI and two helicopters were all involved in the extraction of a casualty from a vehicle which had gone over a cliff and landed on the beach at Popton Fort very near to Valero Oil Refinery on Thursday morning.

The emergency call came just after 6.30am, with a large number of rescuers arriving quickly to assist the driver of the vehicle.

Valero oil refinery confirmed that the incident did not involve their facility.

RNLI Angle posted on social media saying the following: “Our crew were paged at 6:37am to a vehicle over the cliff near Popton Fort.

“A vehicle had left the road and fallen onto the beach below.

“Police, ambulance, the fire service and St Govans and Tenby coastguard rescue teams were already on scene, however the lifeboat was requested to assist with evacuating the casualty due to the difficult location.

“Following assessment and stabilisation by paramedics, it was decided that the casualty’s injuries were potentially too severe for transfer by sea, but not ruled out completely due to the incoming tide.

“With this, a request was made for the air ambulance to attend.

“With the air ambulance paramedics now on scene, their assessment was that evacuation by helicopter would be the most appropriate, therefore a further request was made for the a coastguard rescue helicopter to attend and evacuate the casualty.

“With the option of evacuation by lifeboat still a possibility, the all-weather lifeboat stood off should it be required.

“With the coastguard helicopter now on scene, the casualty was handed over into the helicopter for onward transfer to hospital.

“The lifeboat was stood down to return to station, arriving back at 8:30am.”

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National Park Trust supporters take a walk on the wild side

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SUPPORTERS of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Trust were treated to a dazzling display of wildlife during a recent guided walk through Skrinkle Meadow.

The event, which took place against a backdrop of glorious summer weather, was arranged as a way of expressing thanks to Trust supporters and highlighting the importance of meadows and the Trust’s Make More Meadows campaign.

The Make More Meadows campaign has been running since April 2019, and seeks to reverse a dramatic national decline in wildflower meadows over the last 75 years. So far, it has raised enough money to support 13 meadow sites, covering a total of 132 hectares and providing vital habitats for pollinators and other wildlife.

Director of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Trust Jessica Morgan said: “The Walk and Talk event at Skrinkle was an excellent opportunity to showcase the colourful results of meadow restoration, and our thanks go to National Park Authority Ranger Service Manager Libby Taylor, whose expertise turned this into a thoroughly enjoyable visit. National Park Authority Wardens have worked for years to improve biodiversity at Skrinkle Meadow, and seeds from the meadow have been used to create other wildflower meadows in the Park.

“On this occasion, six-spot burnet moths stole the show, but in previous years Skrinkle Meadow has provided some of the best orchid displays and richest variety of wildflowers in the county.”

The meadow regeneration theme was of particular interest to many of the attendees, who either have meadows of their own, or are considering establishing new ones.

To learn about the work of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Trust and exclusive supporter events like this, sign up to the newsletter at https://pembrokeshirecoasttrust.wales/

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Paddleboarder with suspected wrist fracture assisted by Fishguard RNLI

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ON SATURDAY (Aug 13), a female paddleboarder, who decided to take a swim when located at Aber Bach, unfortunately fractured her wrist when diving from a nearby rock. Her female companion called for assistance which resulted in Fishguard RNLI’s inshore lifeboat being tasked to the scene, located between Fishguard and Dinas Head.

The inshore lifeboat, with three crew members, launched at 2.20pm and arrived on scene at 2.40pm. Her injury was assessed by a crew member, who is a practicing doctor, and she and her companion were transferred to Pwllgwaelod beach where their car was located and they drove to Withybush Hospital for further treatment.

The lifeboat then returned to base at 3.00pm.

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