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Senedd backs review over watchdog ‘stitch up’

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A CALL by the Conservatives for an inquiry into the political impartiality of Wales’ public services watchdog has been backed by Senedd Members.

Sam Rowlands led a debate after the head of investigations at the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales stepped down over anti-Conservative comments online.

Mr Rowlands said the ombudsman’s office, which deals with complaints about councillors and public services, must be impartial and unbiased.

But he warned: “Unfortunately, we now know that this simply has not been the case.

“After revelations that the head of investigations had been, over a long period of time, making torrents of politically motivated, hostile, aggressive comments on social media, it’s clear that the ombudsman has a real problem.”

Mr Rowlands said non-Conservative politicians were also in the firing line with independents in Bridgend and Monmouthshire raising concerns about unfair treatment.

The Conservative MS for North Wales criticised the initial decision to appoint James Goudie KC, a barrister and former Labour council leader, to lead an investigation.

He told the chamber: “It’s almost beyond belief, but then you do remember we are in Labour-run Wales, where this behaviour is just par for the course.

“I am pleased that eventually the individual in question has been removed from this role.”

The former Conwy council leader urged the ombudsman, Michelle Morris, to reopen every investigation involving the former head of investigations.

Mr Rowlands made the case for a full and thorough investigation by a Senedd committee to understand the “exact extent of how deep the rot is” and restore credibility.

Peredur Owen Griffiths, who chairs the finance committee, said it is essential that the ombudsman investigates independently of political interference.

The Plaid Cymru MS, who represents South Wales East, urged caution in the Senedd considering operational matters within the ombudsman’s office

He said: “It is not our role to monitor the day-to-day running of the office, nor should we be challenging the ombudsman’s decision, as that would undermine the integrity of the office and investigations process.

“However, the ombudsman is ultimately accountable to the Senedd, and it is right for us to take action when serious concerns arise.”

Mike Hedges, a Labour backbencher, told the chamber the ombudsman provides an excellent service to the people of Wales in dealing with complaints about public services.

However, he argued the ombudsman is not suited to dealing with complaints about politicians as he called for the creation of an ethical standards commissioner.

The Swansea East MS warned: “Many complaints are politically motivated, and the number increases as you approach local elections.

“And they’re often by people standing against sitting councillors who then make complaint after complaint about them to try and muddy the water.”

Gareth Davies, the Conservative MS for Vale of Clwyd, said trust in the public services ombudsman has collapsed as he argued the watchdog should be replaced.

Llyr Gruffydd, for Plaid Cymru, told MSs that recent revelations around the ombudsman’s office have been deeply regrettable and damaging.

Mr Gruffydd, who represents North Wales, said upholding the highest possible standards is more important than ever in an age of declining trust.

He welcomed the ombudsman’s decision to rethink the appointment of Mr Goudie after the full extent of his Labour links came to light.

Mr Gruffydd criticised calls to wind down the public services ombudsman, saying: “I don’t think the best course of action is to rashly throw the baby out with the bath water.”

He paid tribute to the ombudsman’s hard-working staff “who have been dragged into this unfortunate episode” which has tarnished the office’s reputation.

Lesley Griffiths, responding for the Welsh Government, shared concerns about recent events but stressed that ministers would not advise the ombudsman on how she should respond.

Ms Griffiths, the newly appointed culture and social justice secretary, said public servants must behave with complete political impartiality in their responsibilities.

“This includes not doing anything in their lives outside of work that might cause that impartiality to be called into question,” she said.

The Conservative motion was agreed without objection, doing away with the need for a vote following the debate on April 17.

The Welsh Government had tabled a “delete-all” amendment and it is thought that Labour MSs allowed the Tory motion to pass in error.

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Pembrokeshire farm tent camping site plans backed

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Plans to expand a tent site at a Pembrokeshire farm which has diversified into tourism since the 1980s have been backed by councillors.

In an application before Pembrokeshire County Council’s May meeting of its planning committee, Mr and Mrs James sought permission to expand a tent site at South Cockett Caravan and Tent Site, Broadway, Broadhaven.

The application included a number of enhancements which would improve its visual appearance.

The Council Landscape Officer has raised no objection, advising that the additional hedgebank is to be encouraged.

Speaking at the meeting, agent Andrew Vaughan-Harris said three generations of the James family had been farming some 140 acres, in a mix of sheep, beef and cattle, and now had 70 touring caravan pitches on-site after diversifying in the 1980s.

“It’s a good news story over the last 30 years, it’s now up to 50 per cent of their income,” he told planners, adding the applicants had invested £180,000 on-site in the last couple of years.

“They still want to have a site for tents, now we have the application in front of us for a further field,” he added.

He finished: “This is helping sustainable farming; it is creating jobs.”

Members of the committee unanimously backed a recommendation to approve the scheme.

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General Election: Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion hopefuls for new seats

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WITH a July 4 date announced for the General Election, confirmed candidates for the two new seats in Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion will be gearing up their campaigns.

As part of constituency changes, Pembrokeshire’s current seats of Preseli Pembrokeshire and Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire have changed.

As part of the changes, parts of north Pembrokeshire – including St Davids – are joining the new Mid and South Pembrokeshire constituency, which will replace the Pembrokeshire parts of the current Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire.

The north of the county will be part of a new Ceredigion Preseli constituency joining parts of north Pembrokeshire – including Crymych and Maenclochog – with Ceredigion.

Current hopefuls for the Mid and South Pembrokeshire seat are Welsh Liberal Democrat Alistair Cameron, with Stephen Crabb for the Conservatives and Henry Tufnell for Labour.

Candidates confirmed to date in the neighbouring constituency of Ceredigion Preseli are Ben Lake for Plaid Cymru, Liberal Democrat Mark Williams, a former MP for Ceredigion, and Welsh Labour’s Jackie Jones, and  Conservative candidate Aled Thomas.

The constituancy changes follow a Westminster vote to cut the number of Welsh MPs from 40 to 32; each constituency  must contain between 69,724 and 77,062 voters, with the exception of Ynys Mon.

The new Ceredigion Preseli constituency has a road distance of nearly 75 miles from the extreme north to southwest of the new constituency.

The Boundary Commission for Wales made minor changes to previous proposals, removing St Davids, Solva and Letterston from the proposed Ceredigion Preseli constituency and including the Maenclochog ward instead.

Mid and south Pembrokeshire, under the changes, will have the largest number of electors of any of the constituencies in Wales, at 76,820.

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Sunak calls summer General Election – we vote on July 4

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THE UK goes to the polls on Thursday, July 4.

The Prime Minister announced the general election date in a sodden Downing Street at 5pm on Wednesday, May 22.

As the rain fell and “Things Can Only Get Better” blared over a nearby sound system, Mr Sunak set out his party’s key attack lines.

The Prime Minister attacked Labour for lacking a plan and Sir Kier Starmer for lacking principles.
Mr Sunak urged citizens to stay the course and trust his government to deliver stability and improvements.

The Prime Minister offered nothing new or inspirational, missing the chance to set a positive mood for the General Election campaign.

If one could detect a theme in the PM’s delivery, it appeared to be: “Things are going pretty badly; don’t let Labour ruin it”.

The weather matched the mood of the PM’s speech: wet. When Mr Sunak finished his speech and walked back into Number Ten, he was drenched.

Talking heads, the usual suspects, and the commentariat are already in overdrive.
Look! See! Scandal! Shock!

While the UK parties get ready for battle across key marginal seats and try grabbing headlines and favourable coverage, it’ll be easy to forget the importance of local issues in a General Election campaign.
There are three seats in South West Wales, all redrawn or renamed.

The key battlegrounds for Herald readers are Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Preseli Pembrokeshire, and Mid & South Pembrokeshire.

At the last UK General Election in 2019, Pembrokeshire’s working-class voters abandoned Labour. Our County returned two Conservative MPs. In 2021, our County returned two Conservative MSs. At the Council elections a year later, the Conservative vote held up even as it went into shrank drastically elsewhere.

It would not be surprising if Labour’s performance in West Wales were worse than in the rest of the country.

As at previous elections, Labour candidates in West Wales must overcome the Welsh Government’s reeking and widespread unpopularity.

Twenty-five years of devolution has delivered nebulous benefits for the Welsh people.

A quarter of a century of “the Welsh difference” has made little or no difference to Wales’s people.

Banging on about crises in education, transport, public services, housing, and the NHS could be fruitful in England. It would be astonishing if it weren’t. However, Labour is hamstrung by being responsible for those policy areas and their appalling condition in Wales.

Labour in Wales can’t rely on claiming things are much worse over the Severn Bridge any more than the Welsh Conservatives can claim they’re much better.
Unable to campaign on its record in the Welsh Government, Labour will have to fight on a broader battleground:

  • The cost-of-living crisis.
  • The feeling that fourteen years of a Conservative government in Westminster have not improved Welsh voters’ lives.
  • Pressing the case that the time has come for change.

As for Wales’s other political parties, the Liberal Democrats are nowhere, the Greens will take any protest votes on the left from those who confuse activism and virtue-signalling with politics, and Reform will take any protest votes on the right from those who think “Two World Wars and One World Cup” is a programme for government.

Plaid Cymru faces different problems, not least because it comprises several factions that loathe each other more than they dislike other parties.

A good night for Plaid Cymru would be three seats won. A great night would be four seats won. There are, however, thirty-two Welsh constituencies. Do the maths.

Plaid Cymru—like the SNP or DUP—could have considerable leverage in a hung parliament or a parliament where the governing party has a small majority. The problem is Plaid chaining itself to the

Labour Government in Wales. “Vote Plaid, Get Labour” could switch off voters Plaid must win over, whether or not Leanne Wood wants them.

Plaid would be functionally irrelevant in a parliament with a large Labour majority. They would have no more say than an independent MP or the departing Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas.
In addition, fewer seats in Wales (down to 32 from 40) will almost certainly mean fewer Plaid MPs. The tiny seats in North West Wales that Plaid usually won are gone, merged with other constituencies. Ceredigion has merged with Preseli Pembrokeshire. Carmarthenshire’s new seat boundaries exclude some strong Plaid-voting areas, and the local party is divided.
Despite New Labour’s anthem, “Things Can Only Get Better,” being played over Rishi Sunak’s speech on Wednesday, Sir Kier Starmer has not tapped into the public mood like Tony Blair did.
So far, Labour’s messaging offers only vague hope of undefined improvements.
Anyone for “Stuck in the Middle with You”?
It might be enough.

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