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Now we are 6 (months): Part II – The Empire Strikes Back

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Assistant editor Jon Coles continues his countdown of the Herald’s Top Ten Stories since its launch in July 2013.

Having read the paper back and forth while preparing this countdown, I was struck by how many articles make it in to each copy of the Herald. My colleagues on the Courtroom beat have covered cases ranging from offences ranging from rape and serious assault to ones involving car-clocking and mitigation offered more in hope than expectation. Those stories are told with humanity and – where appropriate – with wit. The one that sticks in my mind is the one of the relieved young lady who, on leaving Court, told the District Judge “loves ya, babes!” There are truly some things that cannot be made up.

There is an aphorism that it is bad news that sells papers, but our experience at The Pembrokeshire Herald has been that for every instance of scandal and allegation of sharp practice, there is plenty of evidence that Pembrokeshire’s people are a far closer and warmer community than perhaps even we appreciate. The stories we have carried about acts of charity and kindness are ones that show how much people care about their communities and about other people. One of those makes my personal top five.

I was delighted to be asked to give a speech to the Ladies’ Circle in Walwyn’s Castle, the members’ friendly interest in current affairs was bracing and I hope they enjoyed the evening as much as I enjoyed the comments of one of our publisher’s former teachers who happened to be in the audience that night! Dearie, dearie me… It seems appropriate, somehow, to start this week with one from our publisher’s alma mater

5. Government probe school’s ‘anti-gay’ policy

government probeWe led our eighth edition with the revelation that Tasker Milward School, Haverfordwest had placed a policy document on its website that breached the terms of the Equality Act.

The policy statement echoed the notorious Section 28 brought in by the Thatcher government in 1988. The policy had remained on the School’s website despite the repeal of Section 28 in 2003. The school stated that the policy dated from 2008 and was one that had not been in operation at the school. The school withdrew the policy statement without explaining how a document posted in 2008 referred directly to legislation repealed in 2003.

The news unfolded as part of a larger national story on a controversy that engulfed 45 schools across England and Wales which were discovered to have unlawful policies breaching the Equality Act, either in operation or present on their websites.

We received a strong response to this article, most but not all critical of the school; we had a few (very few) criticising Tasker Milward for taking down the policy when the matter came in to the public eye.

4. Summer Events

summer eventsBUT WHAT A SUMMER OF EVENTS of events in Pembrokeshire it was. Of course, I take full credit for launching the paper at the height of the summer months to enable us to capture the best that summer in Pembrokeshire had to offer, and I am not the person who advised a launch date later in the year…

Iron Man hit our county’s roads, as competitors pushed themselves to the limit in pursuit of the prize.

While Ironman and Red Bull’s Cliff Diving World Series are relatively new to Pembrokeshire, the cornerstone of the Pembrokeshire Summer is Pembrokeshire County Show. This year the best of Pembrokeshire was on display from livestock to fresh produce, crowds flocked to Withybush Showground to see it all. The smaller local shows and carnivals also enjoyed bumper crowds.

BY THE TIME the last splash had faded at Abereiddy after the cliff diving, the glorious summer had already begun its long descent into damp autumn.

3. Walk on Wales

walk walesAs reported extensively in this newspaper, 11 teams of four people have carried a silver baton around the Welsh coast which has been inscribed with the names of 50 Welsh Guardsmen who have lost their lives in conflicts around the world since WWII. The walk began and ended on the steps of the Senedd in Cardiff Bay, after taking in the breath-taking scenery along the length of the Welsh coast. Intrepid walkers raised money for the Welsh Guards Afghanistan Appeal and Combat Stress. 870 miles and 61 days after starting, the last group of walkers reached Cardiff.

We were lucky to have regular updates from our columnist Dennis O’Connor throughout the event. Dennis, who walked and then hobbled his way along the route around the south of our county and then on to Carmarthenshire. But good natured ribbing of our columnist should not obscure the importance of the causes for which Walk on Wales raised money.

Dennis wrote: “Spending time in the company of quiet, dignified veterans of conflicts fought in places such as Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Bosnia, The Falklands and Iraq has been a humbling experience. Being privy to conversations about their experiences of war and conflict, listening to them speak of their fallen comrades and witnessing their frankness about their own mental scars has left me with a long lasting perspective of the ravages war and of those who defend our country.”

2. What next for Witybush?

what nextThe future of health service provision in Pembrokeshire has been the subject of impassioned argument for some years. Each successive quango appointed to run the show has lurched from one crisis to the next while services have been salami-sliced away, all the diminishing the range of health care in Pembrokeshire.

At least Hywel Dda LHB cannot be accused of saying one thing and doing another: they said they wanted to close minor injury units at South Pembs and Tenby and they closed them. They said they wanted a Level 2 special care baby unit at Carmarthen and – by gum – they now “aspire” to have one (whatever that means).

Our old friend, Badger, has expressed fairly trenchant views elsewhere in this paper: none of what he says, however, could be half as trenchant as some of the views expressed at the Picton Centre on 21st November this year, when a packed meeting expressed no confidence in the Health Board and vowed to fight any move of SCBU, maternity and paediatric services from Withybush Hospital, Haverfordwest to West Wales General, Carmarthen.

The fallout from local Welsh Labour AM’s failure to support a Senedd motion calling to secure the future of core services at Withybush and for an unambiguous statement from the Local Health Board on Withybush’s future, is not yet quantifiable. The opinion expressed at the time was that, with both Pembrokeshire seats being key Westminster marginals, AM’s votes on the party line may cost their party candidates valuable votes come May 2015.

1. Bryn’s pension

bryns pensionLET’S make no mistake about it: the big story in Pembrokeshire this year has been about Bryn Parry-Jones’ pension pot. As I write this piece, the Wales Audit Office has still not disclosed what it intends to do next with a decision on next steps likely to be given early in New Year.

One thing is certain though, Carmarthenshire County Council has rowed back from the brink of open confrontation with the Audit Office. Sulking and grizzling it may well be, but the tax free bunce it doled out in lieu of pension contributions for its Chief Executive has ceased.

Pembrokeshire County Council’s ruling group are being uncommonly secretive about what their intentions are. Perhaps they are drawing straws to see who will be brave enough to approach their CEO and ask for the money back.

The whole argument is about a decision reached in a meeting in the Chief Executive’s own office to pay him a large wodge of tax free cash to enable him to avoid tax on the very large pension he has built up at Council Tax payers’ expense. That decision was challenged by the Wales Audit Office and that has had the Council reaching for their very expensive briefs. The IPPG Cabinet have said they made the decision to ensure the retention of the Council’s top staff. Bearing in mind that the decision to ensure Bryn had a happy finish to his career was reached at the height of the scandal affecting Pembrokeshire’s education system we can only guess how difficult it was to persuade Bryn to accept the money.

Jon Coles writes: In 2014 I would be surprised if there was not even more on Withybush Hospital and the Local Health Board. A storm is brewing about local health care in Pembrokeshire and there will be plenty of thunder and lightning. With challenging decisions in the offing about local education, that is a fair bet for extensive coverage. The Welsh Government is rumbling about reorganizing the whole apparatus of local government and education in Wales and I do not doubt there will be a great deal of heat and very little light in that argument. In the meantime, the activities of Pembrokeshire County Council’s ruling group seem to be the news gift that keeps on giving.

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Business

UK inflation falls to 2.3%, raising questions over interest rate cuts

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UK inflation has dropped to 2.3% in April, marking its lowest level in nearly three years. However, the decline fell short of analysts’ expectations, dampening hopes for an imminent interest rate cut by the Bank of England.

City analysts had anticipated a reduction to 2.1%, closer to the Bank’s 2% target. This discrepancy led markets to adjust their forecasts, now predicting that the Bank’s current rate of 5.25% may not be reduced until August, rather than next month as previously speculated.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that the decrease from March’s 3.2% was primarily due to lower energy and food costs. The last time inflation was this low was in July 2021. Significant contributions to the drop included a record 27% fall in electricity and gas prices over the past year and a modest 2.9% annual rise in food and soft drink prices, the smallest increase since November 2021.

Illustrating the ongoing strain on household budgets, furniture retailers reduced prices by 0.9% between March and April, while overall goods prices dropped by 0.8% month-on-month. However, annual services inflation, reflecting inter-company charges, remained stubbornly high at 5.9%, only slightly down from March’s 6%.

Despite the overall fall in the consumer prices index (CPI), the ONS noted that higher property rents and mortgage costs kept the alternative CPIH measure, which includes housing costs, elevated at 3% year-on-year. Petrol and diesel prices rose last month, although the price of Brent crude has recently stabilised around $83 (£65) per barrel.

KPMG UK’s chief economist, Yael Selfin, suggested that the chance of an interest rate cut next month had diminished. “Falling inflation nears the Bank of England’s target but may not suffice for an early rate cut,” she stated. Echoing this sentiment, Paula Bejarano Carbo of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research noted that core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, remains high at 3.9%. Combined with robust wage growth, this persistence could compel the Bank’s monetary policy committee to maintain rates.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak heralded April’s CPI figure as a “major moment for the economy, with inflation back to normal,” asserting that it validated the government’s economic strategy. Conversely, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves argued that it was premature for the Conservatives to celebrate, highlighting the ongoing pressures of soaring prices, mortgage bills, and taxes.

In the eurozone, inflation held steady at 2.4% in April.

Separate ONS data indicated a larger-than-expected rise in public borrowing for April, with the monthly deficit reaching £20.5bn. Despite a decrease in debt payments, the high cost of servicing government debt exceeded expectations, potentially ruling out pre-election tax cuts.

Economic adviser Martin Beck from the EY Item Club described the public finance figures as disappointing, suggesting that continued higher borrowing costs would likely prevent any significant fiscal easing before the next general election.

Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Economy and Energy, Samuel Kurtz MS, praised the inflation drop, attributing it to the UK Conservative Government’s effective economic policies. He called on the Welsh Labour Government to support the economy by fully implementing business rates relief and reforming growth taxes.

Paul Butterworth, CEO of Chambers Wales South East, South West, and Mid, noted that while the reduction in inflation was significant, it remained above the Bank of England’s target. He expressed hope that the continued downward trend might prompt an interest rate cut soon.

Meanwhile, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) warned that despite the fall in inflation, the cost of living crisis continues to severely impact mental health. Their recent survey revealed that 74% of respondents felt their mental health was worsened by the crisis, with particularly high impacts on those with pre-existing conditions, women, ethnic minorities, and lower-income households.

BACP’s Director, Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard, emphasised the need for government action to address these mental health challenges. The BACP has proposed a 13-point action plan to improve access to mental health services, stressing the importance of funding and support for vulnerable populations.

As the nation grapples with economic and mental health pressures, the government’s response to these intertwined issues will be crucial in the coming months.

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Fleet Air Arm veteran donates ‘a lifetime’s research’ to heritage centre

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A CENTENARIAN Fleet Air Arm Veteran has made a nostalgic return to Pembrokeshire to donate documents, photographs and books – a lifetime of research – to Pembroke Dock Heritage Centre.

Hugh Langrishe, who recently celebrated his 101st birthday, lived in Pembrokeshire for 25 years – initially at Llanfallteg and then at Saundersfoot – with his late wife, Pam, who died last year. Since 1994 he has lived at Bromyard, Herefordshire.

He was joined by his son Jack and partner Julie Cavanagh, and friend Cliff Morris.

Hugh served as an engineering officer in the Fleet Air Arm during World War II and was attached to Royal Navy squadrons at air stations in Australia which supported the British Pacific Fleet. This prompted his research into many aspects of aviation history. When living locally he was a very active member of the Pembrokeshire Aviation Group.

This was his first visit to the Centre and he commented: “I did not expect to find such a professional museum. Everyone involved has done a job which is absolutely outstanding. The result is better than many a professional museum or collection I have seen. It deserves any award it might fetch.”

John Evans, of the Heritage Trust, added: “We were honoured to welcome Hugh back to the county and to be entrusted with his archive which includes a remarkable photographic collection.”

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Business

First drive-thru Starbucks in Pembrokeshire approved

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PEMBROKESHIRE is to get its first drive-thru Starbucks coffee shop after a scheme was backed by county planners today, May 21.

An application – expected to create 20 jobs – by Magic Bean Company Ltd to site an Electric Vehicle (EV) charging station and drive through Starbucks coffee shop on land adjoining Days Garage, Fishguard Road, Haverfordwest, was recommended for conditional approval when it came before the May meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council’s planning committee.

A report for planners said: “There are two principal elements to the proposed development. The provision of an EV charging station with eight charging points and a drive through coffee shop, which will provide 20 full time jobs.

“A further 13 parking spaces are provided to serve the development, including two spaces for people with disabilities. The coffee shop will be situated at the western end of the site opposite the proposed EV charging station, which is centrally located within the site. “

It added: “The coffee shop building will be single storey with a ‘tower’ feature in the west elevation where the customer collection point will be located beneath a timber finished pergola.”

The report said the proposal represented a more effective use of the application site than its current car parking use.

10 representations from members of the public raised concerns about the proposal, issues including: no need for additional coffee shops locally, adverse impact on existing small local coffee shops and that the planning authority should not be supporting “multinational businesses,” and littering and highway issues.

While Starbucks was not mentioned in the planning documents, Magic Bean Company Ltd, on its website, says: “Established in 2014, The Magic Bean Company opened our first store and became the first licensee to open a Starbucks Drive Thru.

“Since then, we have gone on to become Starbuck’s only national growth partner covering England and Wales, developing our green electric vehicle Starbucks platform.”

Speaking at the May 21 meeting, Magic Bean Company Ltd agent Matthew Gray said the drive-thru coffee shop would be a Starbucks, adding: “The application is driven by the requirement for Days to diversify, following a slowing of vehicle sales across the UK.”

He added: “It’s pretty well reported that car sales are slow in the UK in the past few years, this is an opportunity to boost the viability of their [Days’] own operation.”

He said the eight EV charging units would be provided by Ionity, one of Europe’s largest charging providers, with a need for more such facilities in west Wales.

After Cllr Alistair Cameron raised concerns from members of the public about potential littering, Mr Gray said Starbucks had a standard approach to litter management, with staff maintaining the area, and coffee outlets having a lower level of litter than some other drive-thrus.

Concerns were raised by Councillor John Cole on highways grounds, fearing the combination of the drive-thru and a nearby school, along with the nearby annual County Show, could create “havoc” with parents stopping off for a coffee.

Following an approval call by Cllr Brian Hall, members unanimously backed the application.

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