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Protestors lay empty plates outside local MPs’ offices following school meals vote

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THE PEMBROKESHIRE PEOPLE’S ASSEMBLY has staged an ‘Empty Plates’ protest outside the constituency offices of both Stephen Crabb MP and Simon Hart MP following what The People’s Assembly describes as “The scandal of their free School Meals votes”

Due to current Covid restrictions, the protests were carried out by just two protestors at each location “who lived locally enough to each office to enable them to carry out the demonstrations whilst on their daily exercise round or while out purchasing essential items”, organisers said

The messages written on each of the plates were all sent in by local ‘would be’ protestors following a call out on social media.

Pembrokeshire People’s Assembly told us: “We have had a huge amount of support for this demonstration and under normal circumstances would have called for a conventional style demo on the streets to go along with the ’empty plates’ stunt. With the level of support that we have received and the visceral anger that is out there following Crabb and Hart’s votes, we know that this would have been very well attended, however, these are not normal times so this called for a more creative Covid-appropriate response.

The protest comes following a flurry of announcements from pubs and restaurants around Britain stating that they have barred Tory MP’s following their votes against protecting free school meals during School holidays, including two pubs in Fishguard who have now banned both Crabb and Hart for life.

A spokesperson at PPA told us: “The Tories, as ever, are determined to make the poorest and most vulnerable in society pay for the crisis. This latest move shows the utter contempt that the Conservatives hold for those people who work all hours to keep our society afloat in times of crisis. The vast majority of those who claim free school meals are those families who are working yet on low incomes, this is an issue of poverty pay, not benefits.”

“Simon Hart voted against the amendment which would have protected free School meals during holidays for children in England.”
Stephen Crabb, who was himself brought up on benefits, and who has almost never voted against his Party whip and certainly never voted against austerity ‘abstained’ from the vote -he says “in protest”, however, a true ‘protest vote’ would have been to vote against the government not just sit on the fence and pretend to have a backbone. In our eyes, Crabb’s abstention is actually a worse indictment of his character as it shows he will not stand by any political convictions he claims to hold!”

“Fortunately for the children living in Crabb and Hart’s own constituencies, the Labour led Welsh Government has ensured that children will get free School meals over the holidays.”

“Empty plates protests have taken place outside the offices of Tory MPs all around Britain and we expect to see many more, there is also a growing movement of Pub owners barring Tory MP’s from their premises’ which we think sends a clear message of disapproval to the Government and a clear warning to the MP’s who voted to keep children hungry over the School holidays.”

Máiréad Canavan, NEU National Executive member for Wales, added: “As an educator, I know first-hand how poverty limits the life chances of children and significantly affects their educational experience and outcomes in school. As coronavirus continues to impact families across the UK, It is reprehensible for any MP to vote against or abstain from a vote to allow children in need to access free school meals.

Empty plates outside Stephen Crabb’s office in Haverfordwest on Saturday (Oct 31)

Marc Tierney – former Labour Party parliamentary candidate for CWSP said: “Time and again both local MPs have voted to cut the help available to those who need it most. Consistently, Simon Hart fails to recognise the extent of poverty in our communities. He has put his Party and now his government job ahead of those who may have voted for him.

Thanks to the Welsh Labour no child will go hungry in Hart’s constituency because our Welsh government has already extended free school meals during the holidays. But poverty blights the lives of millions across Britain. If our MPs are blind to this, we must remind them that it is their duty to do more to help the 31% of children in Pembrokeshire and 29% of children in Carmarthenshire living in poverty today.”

Philippa Thompson, Labour Police and Crime Commissioner candidate for Dyfed-Powys, and former Parliamentary candidate for Preseli Pembrokeshire said: “No child should go hungry at any time, and it’s essential we help especially during this crisis. Over a million people have signed Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford’s petition, which shows the strength of public opinion. Ensuring the continuation of free school meal provision has been a key priority for the Welsh Labour Government, in stark contrast to the Tory vote against struggling families in England”.

Alistair Cameron – former Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for CWSP said: “Simon Hart has shown a callous neglect for struggling families. Whilst Kirsty Williams in the Senedd has been ensuring that poverty should not mean hunger for our most disadvantaged children, our MP has chosen to deny children across the border the funding that could stop them from going hungry.”

Cris Tomos former Plaid Cymru parliamentary candidate for Preseli said: “The issues associated with increasing levels of child poverty in the 21st century is a sad and worrying reflection on our society and the lack of priority that the current Conservative government is placing on children’s wellbeing. Children should not have to go hungry in any of the 4 nations of the UK, but as we see increasing levels of rents and mortgage repayments hitting household budgets form one month to the other the amount remaining for the weekly food shopping is falling to worrying low levels. The levels of working families that are now experiencing food shortages is totally unacceptable and there needs to be a complete rethink of how wealth is distributed within the UK. The cost of living will only become notably tougher as we see the onslaught of Brexit increasing the costs of our groceries and food supply chain increases. Action needs to be taken now to protect our most vulnerable children from experiencing the devastating effects of hunger.”

Simon Hart said on his Facebook page: “Free school meals, a debate that impacts only England. The “opposition motion” last Wednesday was seeking an extension to the free school meal programme into the holidays was non-binding and even if passed would not have changed anything.

“The frustrating thing about these motions is that they are nothing more than political theatre.

“For what it’s worth, it was the this Government that extended FSM’s in Easter and Summer holidays in the first place but which has now decided that families in greater need are best served through increasing benefits over a whole year, not just via food vouchers in the holidays. I do understand how this looks in the media though (which is exasperating for all of us) but it’s not as straightforward as just removing something without trying to offset the consequences.”

Stephen Crabb MP, abstained from voting on the bill – a decision he says was done in protest to let his government know he did not agree with their views.

Mr Crabb has spoken previously of his background. He came from a single parent family, was raised in a council house and receivws free school meals.

Many social media users took Crabb’s decision not to vote as a decision that was just as bad as voting with the government with some branding him a hypocrite.

Taking to his Facebook page, Crabb defended his decision.

He told his constituents: “I took a decision to abstain on the vote, which is a well-recognised form of protest. I have made it very clear to the Government that I do not agree with them on this issue.”

Even though Crabb abstained, he told his followers that the free school meal provision wasn’t the way to tackle the problem of child poverty.

He added: “I am supportive of the holiday provision of free school meals but I think we also need to be looking at solutions that go beyond just vouchers. The main poverty charities I speak to have different views about whether vouchers are effective or not.
“I did not like the nature of the Labour Party’s debate in the Commons last Wednesday and I think some of the abuse being thrown around is appalling. The vote last week would have had no material impact on provision even if it had passed.”

Mr Crabb added: “More widely, whilst the issue of free school meals is important, ultimately we should be aiming to lift people out of poverty so that they no longer need this support. I have spent much of the last few months working hard on the campaign to keep the temporary £20 uplift to Universal Credit.
“The UK Government introduced a much welcome per-week increase in UC at the start of the crisis but this measure will expire in April, unless the Government commits to an extension.”

Mr Crabb assured his Pembrokeshire constituents he will continue to try and tackle child poverty.

He added: “I have spent a large proportion of my time in Westminster over the last few months campaigning on the issues of child poverty and pushing for more support for families on low incomes. I will continue to make this a priority.”

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Simon Hart MP says that First Minister is ‘reckless’ to say that the UK is ‘as it is, over’

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THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WALES, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire MP Simon Hart, said that the First Minister for Wales, Mark Drakeford is wrong to suggest that the United Kingdom has had its day in its current form.

The First Minister’s exact words were “the UK as it is; is over”.

Mr Drakeford’s has said a new union should be created to reflect a “voluntary association of four nations”.

In his conference speech, the Welsh Labour leader called for “home rule for Wales in a successful United Kingdom”.

In a strong rebuke of Mark Drakeford’s comments Simon Hart MP said on the BBC’s politics Wales programme on Sunday (Mar 7) that his suggestion was “reckless” and “an overt act of flirtation with Plaid Cymru.”

Mr Hart added: “I think he realises if he wants to remain first minister he has to do a deal with Plaid, it’s the only option on the table. He hasn’t denied that, I’ve heard.

“In order to do that he has to start making noises about the union that has to appeal to his Plaid Cymru colleagues. I think it’s quite a reckless thing.”

Mr Hart explained that the UK “benefits” Wales and that the UK-wide procurement of Covid-19 vaccines proves this. He added: “It demonstrates just one example that the UK is a positive influence but it doesn’t mean that some of the other arguments are not valid”.

Plaid Cymru wants to hold a referendum on Welsh independence if it wins May’s Senedd election, but the power to do so lies at Westminster.

There has been a growing interest in more independence for Wales in the last few years, with a huge surge in membership of the non-political Yes Cymru group since the start of the pandemic.

Plaid leader Adam Price, speaking on the same programme, said: “We sincerely believe that independence is ultimately the only sustainable way whereby Wales can achieve its incredible potential as a nation that isn’t being delivered at the moment and whereby we can achieve social and economic justice for everyone that lives in Wales.”

Giving evidence to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee on Thursday, which The Herald was invited attended via a Zoom, Mr Drakeford explained said his idea of home-rule meant “the powers we have, and the devolution settlement we develop, would be guaranteed and would not be interfered with in the way we have seen so vividly in recent months”.

Mr Drakeford said: “I do think the effect of the pandemic and last 12 months has been to polarise opinion in Wales about how Wales should be governed.

“There are some people who take a lesson that we would be better off handing Wales back to Whitehall, there are some Conservative candidates standing in the Senedd elections who apparently take that view.

“It has undoubtedly strengthened interest in those people who believe Wales should be taken out of the United Kingdom altogether.”

The company which runs The Pembrokeshire Herald, Herald News UK, has recently launched a national news website for Wales which is sympathetic to Welsh independence.

This is something which could not have happened without a shift in feeling by many in Wales that as a nation it should have more autonomy.

Speaking on ITN’s News at Ten on Thursday (Mar 4), Herald.Wales South and West Wales Editor, Tom Sinclair said: “From our test marketing we can see that there certainly is a huge appetite for news that is about Wales, made in Wales, and owned by a company which is actually Welsh.”

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Education

Delight as foundation phase learners return to class

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PEMBROKESHIRE Headteachers have reported very positive returns to school for Foundation Phase Learners.

All Foundation Phase Learners returned to schools on Monday, March 1st and attendance has been reported at almost 90% since.

The Council’s Director for Education, Steven Richards-Downes, said: “A wide range of council services have worked together to ensure that Foundation Phase pupils have been able to return
safely to school.

“I am particularly grateful to all school staff and families for ensure that learning is now available for our youngest learners face to face.”

Headteachers remarked how schools have filled with smiles and laughter following the safe and phased return of Foundation Phase learners.

Cora O’Brien, Headteacher at Waldo Williams School in Haverfordwest emphasised how quickly learners have settled back in to a routine.

“It has been an absolute joy to hear their laughter in the playground and to observe their love of learning face to face once again. I thank everybody in the Waldo Williams School
community for working so hard to ensure that the transition went smoothly.”

Vicky Hart-Griffiths, Headteacher of Ysgol Hafan y Mor in Tenby, said: “It has been wonderful to welcome all our Foundation Phase learners back to school. They are thriving, being amongst
friends and back to a school routine.  

“All the pupils have spoken about how happy they are to have returned and it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome them back and we can’t wait until we have all our pupils back in school.

“The school feels alive again and there’s a positive buzz and laughter once again echoing throughout the school.”

Gareth Lewis, Headteacher at Broad Haven CP School said children had returned “with real enthusiasm, and have been very keen to meet up with their friends.”

Mr Lewis added: “Our parents have been very supportive and positive about the return, and those with older children are very much looking forward to a wider return to schooling.”

Mr Richards-Downes said plans were now turning to more learners returning to schools in the near future.

“We are looking to the next phases of the re-opening of schools on the 15th of March as long as the government guidelines allow.”

Further details will be released in due course.

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Pembrokeshire County Council: This week’s Leader’s coronavirus update

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL Leader, Councillor David Simpson, has provided a further coronavirus update for Friday, 5th March as follows:

‘Welcome everyone to my weekly update.

“It is with rather a heavy heart that I tell you that it’s almost 12 months since my first statement on the coronavirus pandemic.

“On 9th March 2020, I addressed our Cabinet meeting with the following words:

“Further to the news yesterday that two people in Pembrokeshire had tested as positive for the Covid 19 virus, I am sure you will join me in wishing them both a speedy and full recovery.

“I can reassure you that our services will continue as usual, and all our employees can continue to attend to their work, appointments, schools and services as they normally would.

“We should all help protect ourselves and our communities by following Public Health Wales advice, particularly around washing hands and using a tissue for symptoms associated with cold and flu and then safely disposing of it.

“I am grateful to the co-operation and hard work of all of our staff and we will provide further updates and information when we have them.

“In the meantime I can confirm that detailed planning arrangements, both internally, with partner agencies and through the Dyfed Powys Local Resilience Forum, are well underway to ensure that the Council and Pembrokeshire are as well placed as possible for whatever challenges we may face. Thank you.”

“I am sure you will join me while I take a moment now to remember all those people in Pembrokeshire and further afield, who, very sadly, passed away since I made that announcement.

“I continue to be incredibly grateful, as I’m sure you are, to everyone who is helping to beat this pandemic, working so very hard now for over a year.

“We are fortunate now to be in a position where the vaccine programme is protecting older members of our community and starting to roll out among one of the biggest groups – the over 65s and those with underlying health conditions.

“This time next week (12th March) the Welsh Government will have notified us of their plans for the next three weeks.

“In the meantime, we remain in Alert Level 4 and the stay at home message continues to be more important than ever as we reach the threshold of better times.

“I wish you all a good weekend and thank you once again to the vast majority of wonderful Pembrokeshire residents who are doing the right thing and waiting patiently at home for restrictions to lift.

“We do really appreciate your efforts and determination to help bring this pandemic to an end.”

 

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