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Tories feared PM Boris Johnson would die from Covid



Simon Hart said Mr Johnson in hospital showed "nobody was out of reach" of Covid

SENIOR politicians were afraid Boris Johnson could die when he was admitted to intensive care after getting Covid, the Welsh Secretary Simon Hart has said.

He said there was “a real feeling that we could wake up the next morning and find he was dead” when Mr Johnson was ill in April 2020.

Hart also said he thought “this wasn’t in the script,” when he heard the Prime Minister was unwell. He added it had shown him that “nobody was out of reach” from Covid.

In the days prior to being admitted, the prime minister tried to “soldier on” despite being very clearly ill, Mr Hart told the BBC’s Walescast podcast.

He said that although Mr Johnson was looking “quite cheerful”, he could recall telling a colleague they needed to finish the meeting soon because he was “looking rough”.

The Welsh secretary also defended his boss from accusations that he responded too slowly or missed key government meetings during the early stages of the pandemic.

Instead, he credited the “unbreakable optimism” and “extraordinary stamina” of a leader who was determined “to try to save as many lives as we can.

“It was a very sobering moment [when Mr Johnson was in intensive care] for all concerned – because it just reinforced that this thing knew no boundaries and nobody was outside its reach.”

The drama of last spring seems a long way from the interview at Pendine Sands holiday park, in Mr Hart’s Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire constituency.

He won the seat, where he and his wife Abigail raised their two children, at the 2010 General Election.

However, he had operated in political circles before that, and as chief executive of the Countryside Alliance he lobbied against Labour’s ban on fox hunting.

He said that battle’s “days are gone” and that “nobody wants to re-engage in that”.

As a backbencher during Brexit, he voted to remain, but under Theresa May campaigned and cajoled Remainers and Eurosceptics to try to get a deal through Parliament.

Boris Johnson then appointed him to the cabinet after his predecessor Alun Cairns resigned shortly before the 2019 General Election.

From Pendine’s famous beach, which has been busy with visitors since lockdown restrictions in Wales have eased, Mr Hart said the furlough and vaccination programmes show how the union of the UK has underpinned Wales’s response to the pandemic.

But his views on preserving that union clash with those of first minister Mark Drakeford, who has accused the UK government of putting the union at risk and of undermining the powers of the Senedd.

Mr Hart counters by accusing Mr Drakeford of “talking up devolution endlessly.

“I think talk of constitutional conventions and all sort of academic claptrap frankly to me doesn’t seem to be in tune with the guys trying to run this camp.”

Nevertheless, the Welsh secretary said he thinks he has a “reasonable” relationship with the first minister, who he sometimes spots on the seaside in his constituency.

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Redhill’s Pembrokeshire Primary Chess Tournament hailed a success



THIS WEEK the first Redhill Pembrokeshire Primary Chess Tournament took place at Redhill Prep School in Haverfordwest.

We have this report from the school: “Well what an incredible day!

“The points were so close that we had to play an extra round to determine the winner! We are very proud to announce that our very own Redhill pupil, Henry Burton, won the tournament, closely followed three second place awards which went to Genula Wickramaarachchi from Prendergast CP school, Huw Holliday (Redhill) and Harry Hayden (Redhill) The ‘David Pinch Award’ for excellent sportsmanship went to Ellie Dean from Saundersfoot CP school!

“Congratulations to all the schools that attended.

“We very much look forward to inviting you all back on Saturday 23rd March!

The school added: “Lastly a huge thank you to all the parents who helped out, Ian Eustis (Junior Director of the Welsh Chess Union), Fide Master Alexis Harakis, Scott Hammett and Gwyn.”

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Fantastic Lanterns light up Cardigan for a Giant Christmas Celebration



THOUSANDS gathered for the revival of this year’s major event created by Cardigan-based Small World Theatre to mark the start of the festive season. Cardigan’s mayor Sian Maehrlein and the mayor’s escort David Maehrlein were in attendance. Musicians and giant lanterns led hundreds of people through the town and into Cardigan Castle to the delight of thousands of spectators.

This year ‘upmarket’ Cardigan was named by The Times as one of the prettiest towns for Christmas shopping. Last weekend saw the switch-on of the Christmas lights and Cardigan’s independent cafes, shops and galleries transformed their windows into winter wonderlands to welcome shoppers.

“We’re all delighted to see the Cardigan Giant Lantern Parade return.’ said Councillor Elaine Evans. “It is the cherry on the cake for this bustling town, and for a lot of people this will be the highlight of their Christmas. Congratulations to Small World Theatre and the community.”

Fifteen giant paper and willow lanterns were inspired by the ‘Fantastical Beast’ theme including a minotaur, griffin, boar, phoenix, rainbow, dove, and a life-size baby elephant puppet made by Small World Theatre. With Space to Create artists lending a hand at the event and creating a beautiful swan and a unicorn. Other large lantern creatures were made by Ysgol Uwchradd Aberteifi’s sixth formers as well as a beautiful show of pyramid lanterns by pupils from Ysgol Gynradd Aberteifi.

In the run up to the event, the parade received funding from Cardigan Town Council, Ceredigion County Council, Leafed Through community bookshop and a public fundraising campaign.

“Let’s hope that the resounding success of this year’s Parade is recognised, and we get the support we need to make this an annual event” said Small World Theatre’s director Ann Shrobree. “Thanks to everyone who helped; stewards from Cardigan Show and Barley Saturday Committees, Cardigan Castle, Cardigan Town Council, Cardigan’s traders, musicians, performers, volunteers, St John’s Ambulance and so many more.’ “Well done everyone – you were all stars!”

(Photos: Jennie Caldwell)

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Economic forum discusses regional development success



SUPPORTING rural businesses remains one of the most important challenges in realising the potential of Mid and West Wales, Senedd Member Eluned Morgan told a group of industry leaders who gathered in Pembrokeshire recently.

The meeting updated on the progress made since the publication of Senedd Member Eluned Morgan’s influential Time to Meet the Challenge rural development strategy. Published in 2017, the document set several priorities to propel the economy of rural Mid and West Wales, whilst meeting the unique challenges that impact our coastal and rural communities.

The 2017 report set out a 6-point plan addressing a number of issues:


Over the last 6 months, Eluned Morgan and her team have reviewed progress against the proposals of the original report. The meeting held at Blackpool Mill near Pembrokeshire’s Bluestone resort was attended by some of the prime contributors to the original report, including William McNamara (Bluestone), Eirwen Williams (Menter a Busnes), Elinor Williams (Ofcom) and Stephen Thornton (Milford Haven Enterprise Zone) to take stock of delivery and assess where the next focus for delivery needs to be set.

Significantly, economic and political factors such as the upheaval of leaving the European Union, the shift in resourcing to manage the Covid-19 pandemic, more recent higher interest rates and massive inflationary pressures have had a detrimental impact on making as much economic headway, as hoped.

However, against a backdrop of economic uncertainty, Eluned Morgan MS reported that in spite of these challenges, the delivery review showcased substantial achievements in infrastructure, skills and productivity improvement, business nurturing, agricultural promotion, and harnessing the potential of the foundational economy and tourism.

Eluned Morgan said “Despite the fact that the economy of rural Wales has been battered by strong economic headwinds, it is heartening to find that there are countless examples in the updated document, which set out how economic transformation is underway in rural Wales.”

In 2017, there were hardly any Electric Vehicle chargers, but today, thanks to a multi-million pound investment by Welsh Government, there now 670 in the Mid and West Wales region. The development of a uniquely Welsh free port in south west Wales, underpinned by a £26 million investment by Welsh Government will create new jobs and investment opportunities at an important time for securing Wales’ position in offshore renewable energy generation.

William McNamara, CEO of Bluestone National Park Resort, said: “We were very pleased to welcome the committee to Black Pool Mill for such an important meeting. Businesses in rural Wales are a crucial part of Wales’ overall economy. They not only support jobs, they are the backbone of the rural economy and communities.

“Quite often our voice is lost amidst the urban areas of South Wales and so having a chance to highlight our views and discuss the economic matters that affect businesses and communities in rural Wales is vitally important.”

Since 2019, the Rural Bursary has helped to nurture young entrepreneurs in rural Wales. Mentoring support enables young people to find their feet in establishing their own business, ensuring that we retain next generation in our villages and small towns. For those seeking to study, financial assistance is in place to support students for their degree-related expenses, this year £100,000 has been awarded to students from rural areas.

The Welsh Government’s Transforming Towns programme is providing flexibility to local authorities to prioritise support for towns in need, leading to significant benefits for seaside towns. Moreover, the Welsh Government’s response to the discontinuation of the UK Government’s Coastal Communities Fund involved allocating £6 million over two financial years (2021-23) to bolster economic development and regeneration in coastal areas, focusing on job creation, protection, and high street rejuvenation.

In 2022, the Welsh Government announced a £1million investment in the Food and Drink Development Centre to support the development of the hydroponics industry in Wales with backing for projects in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire.

The Welsh Government has also offered funding for the development of extra care facilities and care hubs in rural areas. As an example, the Tŷ Gwyn Extra Care Facility in Ceredigion. Community housing organisations receive support and funding from the Welsh Government to take a lead role in developing these facilities.

The 2017 document laid the foundations for Welsh Labour’s Rural Manifesto published in the lead up to the 2021 election which placed a focus on supporting the rural economy across all departments and which has formed part of the current programme for government.

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