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AM petitions Government to overturn Royal Mail sale

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THE PRIVATISATION of Royal Mail will mean higher prices and a poorer service for rural communities, Assembly Member Joyce Watson has warned.

The Labour AM for Mid and West Wales has written to business minister Vince Cable MP urging him to ditch the £3bn sell-off.

Mrs Watson says a privately owned service would not maintain the unprofitable parts of the business leading to higher prices and worse services in rural Wales.

“This sale is all about securing a short-term win for the Treasury not the Royal Mail’s future. It is bad enough that the Tories are selling the family silver, but they are flogging it cheap. Royal Mail’s assets are worth billions and the quality of the service it provides to isolated communities is priceless. I have been inundated with messages from constituents who are furious that another British institution is being sold off. The UK Government must listen to the public outcry and drop these plans now.”

The Pembokeshire Herald can being you the letter in full:

The Rt. Hon. Vince Cable MP

Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

Dear Dr Cable,

I have received concerns from many of my constituents regarding the proposed privatisation of the Royal Mail by the UK Government. Any such privatisation could have a significant impact on the towns and rural communities of Mid and West Wales that I represent.

Until 2012 stamp prices were subject to regulatory control which meant that individuals and businesses were protected from excessive price rises. However, the price of a first class stamp rose from 46p to 60p. As a private company, focused on increasing shareholder returns, it is likely that the Royal Mail will want more significant price increases.

Many businesses are dependent on the Royal Mail. The delivery of letters and parcels to any address in the UK is a service we cannot do without. For many small businesses, especially those in rural areas there is often no alternative to the Royal Mail. While these businesses are already suffering from high overhead costs, they can ill afford to see the cost of using the postal service rocket.

The Royal Mail delivers where competitors refuse to go. In my region of Mid and West Wales I see little evidence of private companies seeking to compete. My constituents understand that it costs more than the price of a stamp to deliver a letter to a rural address. That is why, despite assurances to the contrary, the postal services regulator is working to determine the real cost for deliveries to rural areas. It has also looked recently at how it can reduce the daily delivery service to addresses in the countryside. A privately owned Royal Mail will not want to maintain this non-profit making service. It is difficult to see how the government might be able to compel a private enterprise to continue to provide this service.

The local post office is a focal point for the life of so many small towns and villages across Mid and West Wales. Where pubs and other shops have disappeared, the post office has remained. But when that goes, I fear that the life of these communities will also disappear. This would have a significant impact on the elderly, disabled and those who cannot travel – already the most vulnerable members of these communities.

Many small post offices have a fragile existence and rely upon Royal Mail for business to survive. Yet the 2001 Postal Services Act fully separates the Post Office Counters’ network from Royal Mail. The government will point to a recently signed business agreement between the two. But that cannot guarantee that a new, private owner, free to do as they choose, will honour that agreement in the long-term. For example, they may wish to re-negotiate its terms or move more of its business to other retail outlets.

Many of my constituents will also miss the traditional red liveried vehicles, the use of Her Majesty’s head on stamps and the distinct pillar boxes are all part of the rich history of Royal Mail and a feature of our towns and countryside. While we must always look to the future, it would be a great shame if this heritage would disappear following privatisation.

I would be grateful if you would consider the concerns of my constituents and review your decision to privatise the Royal Mail.

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Proposal to give firefighters a council tax discount to go to Cabinet

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PEMBROKESHIRE on-call firefighters could enjoy a reduction in council tax “in recognition of the vital work performed” by them if a call is backed by senior councillors.

At the July 18 meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council, a Notice of Motion submitted by Newport and Dinas county councillor, and leader of the Independent Group, Cllr Huw Murphy was heard.

Cllr Murphy’s call stated: “There is currently a significant and severe shortage in suitable applicants coming forward to be on-call fire fighters (retained) for the Mid & West Wales Fire Service.

“Currently there are vacancies for on-call fire fighters at all fire stations throughout the region, which impacts considerably upon the safety of both residents and visitors who may need the assistance of the Fire Service. Pembrokeshire is heavily reliant on our on-call firefighters.

“In recognition of the vital work performed by our on-call fire fighters (retained not full time employees of the service) and to encourage others to consider undertaking this vital role within our communities this Notice of Motion proposes that Pembrokeshire County Council offers every retained fire-fighter working and living in Pembrokeshire a 10 per cent reduction in the council tax they pay after achieving a qualifying period of service annually, to be determined by the Chief Fire Officer.”

At the July 18 meeting, members agreed Cllr Murphy’s call be considered by the council’s Cabinet at a later date.

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Newly elected Labour MP reveals how she was raped, age 15

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NEWLY elected Labour MP Natalie Fleet has bravely revealed how she was raped at the age of 15.
In a harrowing GBNews.com interview to be broadcast this Sunday (July 21), Ms Fleet says she still has “weekly nightmares” about what happened two decades on from the attack.
After being raped, Ms Fleet fell pregnant but says the daughter she gave birth to is now the “love of her life”.
Sitting down with GB News’ Gloria De Piero in an exclusive interview she explains that she’s decided to speak about what happened because the actions of her attacker – who told her to have an abortion – were “not ok”.
Ms Fleet also fears many women are suffering and unable to get the support they need.
That’s why she plans to use her platform in Parliament to use her teenage experiences, which also saw her spent a period homeless, as a catalyst for change.
Reflecting on what happened to her two decades ago, Ms Fleet, now a mother-of-four, said: “Today, 23 years later, I look back and I think, it wasn’t ok. That was an older man. I didn’t know we were having unprotected sex. I was a child and (it) is statutory rape. At the time this isn’t something that we were talking about. It’s not how I saw myself. I still have weekly nightmares about it.
“I have a huge privilege and advantage to be in Parliament and I’m thrilled to be here. But what happened in my childhood still has a massive impact on me, which is why I’m so excited about what the next Labour government is going to do.
“At 15, you definitely think you’re old enough to do all these things. I wanted to give my daughter the best life. But another thing that I can do now I’m in Parliament is I want to be a voice for all of those people, all of those women that have children in far from ideal circumstances.
“That’s why I wanted to talk about where my daughter came from and about what happened. It was really difficult for me to say to her, ‘I don’t think this was entirely consensual, and I think I might have been groomed, and I don’t think this is an appropriate relationship’. She took it really well. I Googled in advance f0r some tips, just a fact sheet or ‘how to deal with this’ and I found nothing.
“I found absolutely nothing. I found there were fact sheets about rape being used as a war crime. But there was nothing else. There’s no acknowledgement that it happens in the UK. And the more research I’ve done, I’ve found that there are over 3,000 conceptions every year from rape. But there’s no charity to support those women.
“There’s no help, advice, or support helpline that you can go to. No help on ‘how do I tell my child, that I love, that is everything to me, that this is where they came from?’”
Explaining why extra support in this area is so desperately needed she continued: “It is biologically very clear what happened to me because I was 15 years old, and he was older. I can prove where she came from, so that’s statutory rape. But there are so many women that this happens too who don’t speak about it.


“They dare not speak about it because they know they won’t be believed. And then even if by some miracle, we move to a society where women are believed, once you say this is your child, then that man can come and have access to that child.
“Even if you prove it’s rape, that man can have access to that child and help bring it up. And that’s absolutely terrifying. This is a perpetrator that has hurt the mother, who can then have access to the child.
“He told me to have an abortion at the time. He’s never met her. He never wanted anything to do with it. And he was very dismissive. He told me many times that he knew lots of ways that he wouldn’t have to pay a penny towards her, because all his friends had already evaded the CSA.”
Describing the relationship she now has with her daughter, Ms Fleet said: “So she’s 23 now and is the absolute love of my life. I am so proud of everything she is. I am thrilled. She makes me proud every single day. But at the time, when I was 15, I felt full of shame and guilt and responsibility. And all I was determined to do was make sure that she had a life that was as good as she would have had to any age parent. That was what I was determined to do.”
Outlining how she plans to use her role as an MP to push for change, she said: “I am a product of the last Labour government. It wasn’t a perfect Government, but it changed my life and it was transformational. When I was younger, things were tough and I had a Labour government.
“When we were homeless, the Labour government made sure that there was enough housing stock for us to be rehoused. And then when I had my first child at a very young age, I could send her to a Sure Start nursery. I could carry on, go to university with a first in the family scholarship.
“I could work in a minimum wage job. I could send my children because I’d got two by then, to a Sure Start nursery, and it just felt like I needed the support of the state. And my God, I got it.
“And, before I became an MP, I worked for a trade union and I was absolutely desperate to give back to my teachers. My teachers had invested in me. The Labour government made sure that my teachers had time to teach me and look after me, and I then saw that I was paying taxes and they weren’t being invested in young children like me or teachers. That’s why we needed a new Government?”
“On my estate, the estate where we were rehoused, I looked around and people struggled. And I see now there are people that I was close to when I was younger who are now suffering with addiction and poverty scars.
“What poverty has done to me has meant that I work and work and work and work and work. If somebody knocks on my door, I won’t answer it because I’m still scared it’s the bailiffs. That’s what happens to you in your childhood, it stays with you. In areas of Bolsover it’s absolutely heart-breaking.
“But I could either be angry about what’s happened over the past 14 years, sad and feel powerless, or I could come into Parliament and try and do something about it. I mean, what an honour.”

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Second home numbers in Pembrokeshire drop after council tax hike

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THE NUMBER of second homes and self-catering holiday properties in Pembrokeshire has declined year-on-year, while those seeking council tax exceptions have, in one class, gone up 255 per cent.

A call for an update on Pembrokeshire County Council’s position on a potential relaxation of the ‘182-day’ rule, allowing self-catering accommodation to avoid paying a council tax premium was heard at the July meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council.

Last year, the rules on holiday lets in Wales changed; Welsh Government criteria saying holiday lets must be filled for 182 days a year – up from a previous 70 – in order to qualify for business rates rather than pay second homes council tax.

In Pembrokeshire, second homes, and self-catering businesses not meeting the criteria, are now paying a 200 per cent council tax premium in the county, effectively a treble rate of council tax.

At the July 18 meeting of full council, a question was submitted by Cllr Huw Murphy was heard, a follow-up from a previously unsuccessful notice of motion where he had called for a relaxation in the ‘182-day’ rules in the county down to 140 days.

After that notice failed last year, it was agreed the position be reviewed in 12 months, with Cabinet agreeing to write to Welsh Government to highlight concern over the 182-day occupancy rule.

In his question, Cllr Murphy said: “Can council be provided with an update of what data has been obtained since Dec 2023 to examine the impact of the 182-day occupancy rule for self-catering properties in advance of a review to be completed by December 2024 prior to any decision over what level of second home council tax to be levied for 2024/25 as it may be necessary to consider a reduction to support an industry under pressure?

“Have PCC received a reply from WG with regards to the concerns raised with regards to the 182-day rule and its impact on the Pembrokeshire tourism industry?”

In response, Cabinet Member for Corporate Finance and Efficiencies Cllr Joshua Beynon said a decision on future council tax premiums would be made by full council at its October meeting, after earlier committee discussions, adding that the council is currently undertaking a consultation on the second homes and long-term empty property premiums and has included questions on using its discretion on properties which did not meet the 182-day rule.

“In the interim, the Revenues team are monitoring the movement in second homes and self-catering units and the number of properties receiving an exception to paying the council tax premium,” he told members.

Members heard, as of July 1, the main increases in the level of exceptions related to Class 1 exceptions, properties that are up for sale, which had increased by 97 in the last 12 months, a rise of 255 per cent, and in Class 6 exceptions, properties that have a planning condition prohibiting year-round occupancy, which had increased by 78, or 21.6 per cent, with an overall increase in the seven classes of exemptions of 37.45 per cent.

Councillors were told the number of second homes had dropped year-on-year on that date from 3,364 to 3,271, roughly a 2.7 per cent drop; self-catering units dropping from 2,621 to 2,425, roughly 7.47 per cent.

Members heard, in response to Cllr Murphy’s second question, the-then leader Cllr David Simpson had received a response in May.

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