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Severn tolls pledge prompts Cleddau calls

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A COMMITMENT to scrap tolls on the Severn Bridge has been welcomed by Preseli Pembrokeshire candidate, Stephen Crabb.

Prime Minister Theresa May pledged to abolish tolls on the Severn Crossings earlier this month ‘to ensure that our economic progress is shared across the United Kingdom’.

The Severn Bridge will pass into public/Government ownership next year.

Motorists currently have to pay to cross the Severn when travelling westbound. Standard toll prices for a vehicle with up to nine seats stands at £6.70.

In response to Mrs May’s pledge, Mr Crabb said: “Theresa May’s commitment to end the Severn Bridge tolls will provide a welcome boost to industries along the M4, including Pembrokeshire businesses such as haulage firms.

“Pembrokeshire’s economy is reliant on tourism, and no tolls will hopefully increase the number of holiday makers into the area.”

He added: “We now need Pembrokeshire County Council and the Welsh Assembly to follow the Prime Minister’s lead and end the tolls on the Cleddau Bridge to encourage businesses both sides of the Cleddau River to grow and work together.”

This view is also shared by Plaid Cymru AM Simon Thomas, who, following the Conservative party’s announcement to scrap Severn Bridge tolls, once again called for an end to the tolls on the Cleddau Bridge.

Speaking in the Senedd chamber last week, Mr Thomas said: “I am glad all the main parties have agreed to abolish the tolls on the Severn Bridge, but it leaves one bridge and one bridge only in Wales with tolls, and that is Point Cleddau.”

Although managed by Pembrokeshire County Council, the Welsh Government has trunking rights over the road, as well as the authority to end the tolls on the crossing between Pembroke Dock and Burton Ferry.

Mr Thomas added: “Abolishing the tolls would mean freeing up trade, shedding time off people’s commutes, and allowing tourists to the area to travel freely.

“If we’re calling time on the tolls on the Severn, it’s time to call time on the tolls at Cleddau Bridge.”

The Government minister responded by promising to bring the issue to the attention of Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, Ken Skates, with a view from the government on the way forward.

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Education

Exciting visit to France for Pembrokeshire school pupils

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LAST week, 60 children and 16 teaching staff visited the Bassin d’Arcachon in France as part of a Taith funded project. 

The children, representing Pennar Community School, Neyland Community School, Prendergast Community School, Ysgol Penrhyn Dewi and Haverfordwest High School, engaged in a week of activities with French school children. 

They visited lessons, took part in dancing, art, maths and playground games, all with the aim of developing modern foreign language skills, exploring cultural similarities and differences as well as having an overarching theme of sustainability in schools and caring for the environment. 

The children explored the Dune de Pilat, the largest natural sand dune in Europe, and Biscarosse beach where they undertook beach and environmental studies.

The town of Neyland has had a twinning connection with the town of Sanguinet for more than ten years and this trip allowed these friendships to develop further and pave the way for a return visit by up to 20 French children next year.

The group was hosted by the twinning committee and the mayor at a reception in the town hall where the children had the opportunity to sample local dishes.

The children and staff were excellent ambassadors for their schools and for Pembrokeshire, laying the foundations for future collaborations.

Taith is Wales’ international learning exchange programme, with taith being Welsh for journey.

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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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Community

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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