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Withybush baby unit future in doubt

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CONSERVATIVE politicians have reacted angrily to the news that Mark Drakeford, Minister for Health in the Welsh Labour Government, has endorsed the “underlying model” set out in a health review that looks certain to result in the closure of the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) in Withybush Hospital.

The Scrutiny Panel Report on service change proposals to neonatal services across three hospitals, which looks likely to be fully endorsed by the Welsh Government, recommends that ‘the provision of neonatal special care facilities across all Hywel Dda hospitals is neither safe nor sustainable, given the low volume of patient throughput’.

Just this week, speaking with the BBC, Labour leader Ed Milliband, praised the Welsh Government’s handling of the NHS, stating that they were doing an ‘excellent job’ and blaming ‘cuts’ on Westminster. The Labour run Welsh Government has chosen, controversially, not to protect the health element of its budget, in contrast to the UK government’s policy in England. The health element of the Welsh Government’s budget amounts to 40% of its overall expenditure, as opposed to 18% in the UK overall.

Stephen Crabb, MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, which is the constituency in which the Withybush hospital resides, commented on the Labour decision to adopt the Scrutiny Panel Report, saying,

“I was very disappointed by the Minister’s statement. Although no firm plans were confirmed, it is clear that the Welsh Government will be centralising specialist baby care services at one site in the Hywel Dda region. This leaves SCBU in Withybush Hospital in the same uncertain position. Although the Minister explained that he would make a final decision after Christmas, having asked for more information, this announcement will be unsettling for local people. As a longstanding campaigner to save this vital service for our community, I remain anxious that the decision has effectively been taken to close the unit at Withybush. I hope that the further information he receives will convince the Minister not to push forward with such a closure.”

The Assembly Welsh Conservative Group claim that Carwyn Jones’s Labour Government will cut the Welsh NHS budget by over £800 million, in real terms, over five years, which they say equates to £5 a second.

However, Joyce Watson, Labour AM for Mid and West Wales, denied that a cost cutting exercise was to blame for the imminent closure of the SCBU. Speaking with The Herald she said that, “This is not about cost; it is about sustainable care for now and the future.”

In a statement released by her office she stated that, “We want the best for patients in Wales. Clearly what we want is an improvement on the present state of affairs. Those of us who have fought for the maintenance of the existing provision at these hospitals are not stick-in-the-muds. If what is proposed is better, we’ll have it”.

She told The Herald that she had sought assurances from the Minister that Withybush would be able to deal with emergency births where the mother/child needed immediate care, which he had confirmed to be the case. When pressed on what that would mean if the current SCBU were to be closed she said that, “A stabilisation unit will remain in Withybush”, that would, “provide adequate care in case of an emergency”.

The Conservative Shadow Minister for Health, Darren Millar, did not share the Labour AM’s optimism, saying, “Labour has confirmed more hospital downgrading in Wales, despite previous assurances that this would not happen”

Preselli Pembrokeshire AM, Paul Davies, said, “It seems it’s clear that calls to save Withybush Hospital’s SCBU have fallen on deaf ears. This Labour Government still appears to advocate a closure that many believe would be both dangerous and unsafe. There are deep concerns surrounding the potential axing of this unit; not least the effect it will have on an already strained ambulance service, the lack of suitable transport services within our communities, and the knock-on effect on other services at the hospital”.

Angela Burns, AM for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire issued a statement to The Herald saying, “The Minister must remember the recommendation made by the CYP (Children and Young People) Committee into Neonatal Care that spoke of the need to ensure adequate transportation systems if everything is to be dragged eastwards. We have a fairly poor road network in Pembrokeshire with a great many single carriageways, an overstretched ambulance service, and it is not advised that premature babies go anywhere by helicopter. My overall view is that this is a long kick into the deep grass but what it leads to is more worry and uncertainty for the public, for staff, for recruitment and for doctors and nurses thinking of training in Hywel Dda”.

The Herald invited further comment from local Councillor and leader of the County Council’s Labour Group, Paul Miller. He said he was unable to comment and directed all enquiries to Joyce Watson or the Labour Health Minister.

Pembrokeshire residents must now wait to see if there is any hope of a change of heart by the Welsh Government before a final decision is made on the future of the Special Care Baby Unit at Withybush.

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Conservatives in plea for rate reduction ahead of Small Business Saturday

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WELSH CONSERVATIVES have reiterated their calls for Labour ministers to slash business rates for next year as we work to bounce back from the pandemic.

The party’s renewed plea comes as we mark Small Business Saturday tomorrow (Dec 4) which encourages people to shop local.

The annual event, now in its ninth year, saw 15.4 million people across the UK support their local shops, spending a huge £1.1 billion.

Small Business Saturday is a chance to celebrate the fantastic work they do such as creating jobs for local people and supporting our communities.

The Welsh Conservatives believe this year is more important than ever for people to shop in their local small businesses as they work to bounce back from the pandemic.

There are 265,340 micro, small and medium sized businesses across Wales employing nearly 740,000 people and turning over £46 billion a year.

Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for the Economy, Paul Davies MS, said: “From corner shops to cafes, small businesses are the backbone of our economy and the beating heart of local communities up and down Wales.

“Businesses have taken a huge hit because of the pandemic and with our economy still recovering, it is vital we do all we can to help our traders get back on their feet.

“We can help by shopping local, but Labour ministers in Cardiff Bay can also play their part by matching the UK Government’s pledge to slash business rates by 50% for next year – or even more.

“It is important now more than ever to shop local and help our small businesses bounce back and I hope the Labour government will step up to the plate as well and provide them with much-needed economic support so they can flourish and grow.”

Welsh Liberal Democrats are also calling for aSupport Package for Small Businesses 

Ahead of Small Business Saturday, the Welsh Liberal Democrats have called for more action to support more small businesses across Wales.

Small Business Saturday UK is a grassroots, non-commercial campaign, which highlights small business success and encourages consumers to ‘shop local’ and support small businesses in their communities and takes place on the first Saturday in December each year. 

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have stated that not enough is being done to support small businesses across Wales given the adverse few years they have just had to face, adapting to post-Brexit trading agreements and coping with the long-lasting fallout of the pandemic.  

Among the measures the party is calling for are: reform of business rates, improved broadband speeds and access, further investment in towns regeneration and a windfall tax on global giants like Amazon.  

Commenting on the calls Mid & West Wales Senedd Member Jane Dodds stated: “Small businesses are the backbone of the Welsh economy. With over 60 per cent of Welsh employment being provided by small and medium businesses, they will be the driving force behind our recovery from the pandemic.  

“It is for this reason, it is absolutely vital they are properly supported over the coming years with real tangible ideas. The Welsh Liberal Democrats would ease the pressure of business rates, invest in public transport, broadband and mobile phone signal, and make sure that big online business pay their fair share. 

“The Labour-Plaid Cymru deal is bereft of ideas to support small businesses and the Conservatives are busy undermining business in London. The Welsh Lib Dems have small businesses and jobs at the top of our agenda.   

“At the forefront is our call the reform of business rates. Business rates represent an enormous on our local shops and enterprises. An analogue tax in a digital age, rates give a competitive advantage towards online retail giants while punishing our local shops that actually employ local people and pay all their taxes.

“If the Labour-Plaid Cymru administration is considering reforming council tax, reforming business rates should also be at the top of their agenda. At a UK Government level we continue to call on the Conservatives to implement a windfall tax on online giants such as Amazon where the funds raised can go into improving high streets across the UK.

“We also want the Government to consider more support for a towns regeneration fund. We are proposing a £500 million towns regeneration fund over the next five years to invest in the physical and digital infrastructure of our towns. In rural regions like my own, digital connectivity is still a major barrier to the success of some small businesses.

“Its also important to recognise the impact that leaving the EU has had on many small businesses across Wales. Increased trading barriers and red tape have left many struggling to continue exports to EU customers, with the costs of increased bureaucracy putting them at a competitive disadvantage compared to companies in Northern Ireland and other EU states. The Welsh Liberal Democrats are continuing to call for an improved trading deal with the EU as well as the return of freedom of movement.

“We can do more to support our small businesses, we just need key players to find the political will to do so.”

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New funding for Pembroke regeneration scheme welcomed

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL has said it is proud to announce the success of its bid to the UK Government Levelling Up Fund for its regeneration project at South Quay in Pembroke.

This £4.1million LUF award will enable the Council to develop phase 2 of the South Quay plans.

“The announcement has given us a welcome opportunity for a progress update on phase 1, and to share our plans for phase 2 of the project,” said Rachel Moxey, Head of Economic Development and Regeneration.

As part of its wider regeneration work across Pembrokeshire, the County Council embarked on an ambitious programme earlier this year to redevelop the historic and prominent South Quay site next to Pembroke Castle.

The work involves the restoration and re-use of three dilapidated Grade II listed buildings on the site, as well as enhancing the surrounding environment and improving access between the town centre, castle and the waterfront.

The first phase of work aims to create a new attraction celebrating the town’s legacy as the birthplace of the Tudor dynasty. The second phase will provide a new community hub for social care, continued education and supported employment. Together, the developments will provide a diverse and sustainable mix of new uses in the town.

Phase 1:

The first phase of works is taking place at numbers 4, 5 and 6 Castle Terrace (the road between Pembroke Castle and the junction to Main Street).

The scheme will provide:

  • a new Henry Tudor visitor centre, library and café
  • landscaping of the medieval ‘burgage’ gardens to provide tranquil and restful areas in the historic heart of the town
  • major improvements to the public realm

“We were under no illusions that this was a very complex scheme, and as is often the case with such projects, a number of challenging issues have arisen as the preparatory works continue,” said Steve Jardine, Regeneration Manager.

Issues have included a roof collapse and clearance of contaminated debris, providing additional support to the existing structure and designing for additional demolition works identified during the enabling stage.

Recent work has included providing a protection system to the vaulted medieval cellars of No.4 Castle Terrace and strengthening the property at basement level, to allow for a safer working area within the front third of the building.

The next stage will attempt to make the building safer, in order to allow further investigation and inspection works to finalise the design of the regeneration scheme. This will include the installation of scaffolding to support the front façade during demolition of some of the walls.

A revised timeline will see the remaining demolition and re-build completed by the end of August next year, followed immediately by the start of the construction of the new heritage centre, café and library, with completion planned for early 2024.

In common with many other schemes taking place at the current time, Brexit and the unforeseen impact of Covid have created time and financial implications for the project. The Council is nonetheless committed to staying on track to deliver on the overall scheme as an essential element of its strategy to breathe new life into Pembrokeshire’s towns.

Phase 1 has benefited from Welsh Government ‘Transforming Towns’ funding and investment from Pembrokeshire County Council.

Cllr Paul Miller, Cabinet Member for Economy, Tourism, Leisure and Culture, said: “Repurposing and transforming our key town centres is one of the core elements of our economic development strategy. We are committed to regenerating the South Quay site into an attractive, sustainable and thriving development, of which Pembroke and Pembrokeshire will be very proud.”

Phase 2:

The second phase of development involves the completion of South Quay’s regeneration scheme and is centred on numbers 7 and 8 Northgate Street. It will provide:

  • a community hub over three storeys, including a space for day opportunities , space for digital media, art and heritage craft activities, and learning and skills areas to support independent living for people of all ages
  • environmental enhancements, including the restoration of the buildings, a new sunken garden and improvements to the parking area at South Quay
  • improved access between the Henry Tudor visitor centre and the waterfront

The development would enable the consolidation of adult social care in South Pembrokeshire, providing a modern, better-integrated, community focussed and more sustainable, inclusive day opportunities model in the heart of the town, and yielding savings to the public sector through the closure of existing, poorer quality facilities.

It will also support employment opportunities, which will be integrated within the operation of the new facility.

Jason Bennett, Head of Adult Social Care, said: “This innovative project is representative of our ambition to modernise social care, by offering inclusive services in the heart of our communities, helping people and families remain connected to their local area.”

Cabinet member for Social Care, Cllr Tessa Hodgson said it was ‘fantastic to see this substantial investment in Pembroke’. 

“South Quay is a really innovative scheme designed to benefit all members of the community and is a result of the ambition and drive of Cabinet and the hard work and vision of the regeneration and social care teams at Pembrokeshire County Council,” she said.

Cllr Aaron Carey, County Councillor for Pembroke St Mary South which includes the South Quay site, added: “By introducing an additional offering to the town we can move towards our full potential and offer people, local and visitors alike, reasons to stay in our beautiful town for longer.”

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Extreme pornographic images case to be dealt with at Swansea Crown Court

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A MILFORD HAVEN man who denies three charges of making indecent images of children and of possessing an extreme pornographic image portraying sexual interference with a corpse, has been sent to Crown Court for trial.

Markus Whatling, 38, of Waterloo Square, denies a further charge of possessing a prohibited image of a child.

The offences are alleged to have occurred between May 2, 2010 and February 25, 2021.

Whatling was released by Haverfordwest magistrates this week on conditional bail, the condition being that he does not have any unsupervised contact with anyone under the age of 18.

The case was heard on Tuesday.

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