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Grand Union Trains promises five daily trains between Carmarthen and London

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A NEW train service between west Wales and London could be launched within three years.

Prospective operator Grand Union Trains (GUT) said it wants to run five daily return services between Carmarthen, south-west Wales and London Paddington from 2025.

It has applied to the regulator, The Office of Rail and Road, for permission to run the services on an open access basis in competition with Great Western Railway.

The Government issues contracts for most train services on Britain’s railways, but there are four open access operators, which do not receive subsidies from the Department for Transport.

GUT’s bid involves building a new station at Felindre – next to the M4 motorway to the north of Swansea – which would reduce journey times from Carmarthen and Llanelli to Cardiff and on to London by around 20 minutes.

A fleet of new bi-mode trains which can be powered by electricity or diesel would be used.

Passengers would benefit from “best experience in the market” with bigger seats, more legroom, increased luggage space and a buffet car on every service, according to GUT.

The project is being developed in partnership with European investment company Serena Industrial Partners and Spanish train operator Renfe.

GUT managing director Ian Yeowart said: “We have been pleased to work on promoting this important service which will, for the first time, deliver significant new infrastructure as part of the application process.

“For this goal, we have been proud to work alongside colleagues at Serena and Renfe whose vision for improved services is close to our own and has enabled us to put forward this ambitious project to the ORR.”

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£3m funding scheme for marine, fisheries and aquaculture projects announced

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A £3 MILLION funding scheme to support the fisheries, marine and aquaculture sectors is now open for expressions of interest, Minister for Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths has announced.

The funding is available over two years and replaces the previous European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.

The aim of the Welsh Marine and Fisheries Fund is to support seafood producers, coastal communities and the marine environment to thrive, by investing strategically for the long-term benefit of the sector.

In this first funding round of the scheme the focus is on assisting with finding new markets for fishery and aquaculture products, promote the quality of products and help businesses to market their products.

Expressions of interest are also invited to support research to improve energy efficiency and mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change within the marine and fisheries sector.

Further details on how to submit an expression of interest for the Welsh Marine and Fisheries Fund is available through Rural Payments Wales (RPW) Online.

Later this week a further £800,000 challenge fund will open to build capacity in coastal communities. Funding support is provided to improve environmental outcomes and potentially increase demand for local seafood with strong sustainability credentials. The pilot scheme, to be managed by the Wales Council for Voluntary Action as part of the Local Nature Partnership network aims to enhance skills on a local level and encourage partners to work together.

Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths said: “I’m pleased the Marine, Fisheries and Aquaculture support scheme is now open for expressions of interest. Our fisheries, marine and aquaculture sectors in Wales are facing many challenges following our departure from the EU and the cost-of-living crisis. I hope this fund will go some way to help support them in marketing their business, and also finding ways to deal with the climate emergency.

“The separate £800,000 funding will help build capacity in coastal communities for groups to work together on important projects to support sustainable growth, diversification and nature recovery. It is often people working locally who can deliver real change in their area, and this funding will support them to do that.”

Further details on Coastal Capacity Building and registering for an information seminar being held on 12 December is available by contacting Local Nature Partnerships at lnpcymru@wcva.cymru

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Pembrokeshire Mortgage Centre fined £2.3m for ‘woeful pensions advice’

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THE FINANCIAL CONDUCT AUTHORITY (FCA) has fined Pembrokeshire Mortgage Centre Limited, which was based in Saundersfoot, £2,354,331 for unsuitable advice to consumers to transfer out of the British Steel Pension Scheme (BSPS) and other defined benefit pension schemes.

The FCA’s view is that most people should keep the guaranteed income provided by a DB pension.

Pembrokeshire Mortgage Centre advised 420 consumers, nearly two-thirds of whom were BSPS members, on whether to transfer out of their defined benefit scheme – 93% were advised to transfer, and as a resulting PMC earned over £2m in transfer and ongoing advice fees.

Mark Steward, executive director of enforcement and market oversight, said: “Pembrokeshire Mortgage Centre advised hundreds of consumers to give up valuable defined benefit pensions without any adequate justification or rationale, using generic, templated advice not tailored to the specific circumstances of their customers while earning fees in doing so.

“The quality of advice seen here was woeful.”

As of 30 November 2022, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) has upheld 213 pension transfer claims against Pembrokeshire Mortgage Centre and paid out more than £13.3m in compensation.

Many of the people advised were in a vulnerable position due to the uncertainty surrounding the future of the British Steel Pension Scheme and the short timescale they had to make a decision.

But the regulator found that 60% of people did not receive the quality of advice they needed to make an informed decision.

However, the FCA said they did not receive the quality of advice they needed to make an informed decision.

The regulator said they needed clear, objective and expert advice. Instead, Pembrokeshire Mortgage Centre gave unsuitable advice in 60% of cases, even higher than BSPS as a whole.

The failings included the provision of generic suitability reports that were not tailored to the circumstances of individual consumers and contained contradictory, misleading and confusing statements.

The FCA said Pembrokeshire Mortgage Centre also failed to have adequate resources to deal with the increase in cases caused by BSPS, further impacting the quality of advice provided.

Many consumers, according to the regulator, were advised to transfer out even though they were relying on the guaranteed income to fund their retirement and could not afford to bear the risk of transferring out.

This included those who needed the money to provide for dependents needing long-term care.

Steward added: “The failings were particularly egregious in the context of the British Steel Pension Scheme, where customers were in an unusually vulnerable position.

“The FCA’s investigation into the involvement of others in these matters remains ongoing.

“Any consumers who were advised to transfer should contact the Financial Services Compensation Scheme to see if they are owed redress.”

Pembrokeshire Mortgage Centre Limited is currently in liquidation, The Pembrokeshire Herald understands.

The said that it would FCA will give preference to creditors (some of whom may be consumers), ahead of its financial penalty, to maximise funds available for redress – meaning it is unlikely that the fine would ever be paid.

The FCA has said that it continues to progress around 30 ongoing enforcement investigations into firms and individuals relating wholly or partly to BSPS advice, all of which are at a very advanced stage, and some are in litigation.

A former director

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Police and Crime Commissioner: Stark financial pressures facing the force

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THE POLIC AND CRIME COMMISSIONER, Mr Llywelyn has launched a public consultation on police funding, giving the public the opportunity to have their say on the police precept level for the next financial year.

Police and Crime Commissioners are responsible for setting the police precept which is the amount that local council taxpayers contribute towards policing.

The Commissioner’s overall budget for 2022/23 is £127.4m with £60.7m of funding coming from UK/Welsh Government and £66.7m from local council tax precept. Currently, a Band D Council tax payer in Dyfed-Powys pay £290.16 through their Council Tax to support policing.

In launching the precept consultation for 2023/24, Mr Llywelyn has warned of stark financial pressures and resultant operational risks which could threaten the continued safety of our communities.

Mr Llywelyn said: “Deciding on the precept level is always a challenging process but this year sees unprecedented challenges given the severe financial landscape.

“Inflation, rapidly rising costs and uncertainty about how much money forces will receive from the Government for the next financial year through the Police Grant Settlements, has put policing in an incredibly difficult position.

“There are also additional pressures arising from both the increase in volume and complexity of crime, which we must take into consideration as we look to the future.

“Given the scale of all the challenges, the Chief Constable initiated a Force Review during the summer to critically assess all areas of activity seeking efficiencies, savings and transformational opportunities.

“I am painfully aware of the pressure the cost-of-living crisis is putting on people across Wales and indeed locally.

“Sadly, these challenges and rising costs are hitting emergency services too, and we need to act now to protect our vital service to the public.

“Despite careful financial planning by the force, we will have to make increasingly difficult decisions over the next few years, but my priority is to ensure we can continue to run an efficient and effective Police force to continue to keep our communities safe.

“All options being put forward within this precept consultation rely on the force making efficiency and savings of between £4.1m and £5.9m in the next year.”

As he appealed to the public to complete the short consultation, Mr Llywelyn concluded: “It is a very challenging year, but it is very important for me to hear people’s views, therefore I am urging our residents and businesses to have their say through this consultation.”

The survey will remain open until 8 January 2023, and can be accessed here:

https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/R2WY8HV

Other formats of the survey are available on request from the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office by emailing OPCC@dyfed-powys.police.uk or calling 01267 226440.

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