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Politics

Pembrokeshire election hopefuls face off at college hustings

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CANDIDATES for the new Westminster seat of Mid and South Pembrokeshire outlined why they should have your vote at an electoral hustings last week.

The joint Planed/Pure West Radio general election hustings was held at Pembrokeshire College on June 27, with six of the candidates for the Mid and South Pembrokeshire seat attending.

Those attending were: Alistair Cameron (Welsh Liberal Democrats); Stephen Crabb (Welsh Conservative); Stuart Marchant (Reform UK); Vusi Siphika (Independent); Cris Tomos (Plaid Cymru); and Henry Tufnell (Welsh Labour), with Hanna Andersen (Women’s Equality Party) and James Purchase (Green Party) unable to attend.

The candidates initially outlined why they should have your votes before a series of question and answer sessions.

Stephen Crabb said: “My promise at this election is the same as every single time I’ve been elected, to be the very best for Pembrokeshire.”

Vusi Siphika said: “It’s a real honour to be here as an independent to put myself forward; there is a choice, there is a word we’ve used, having a love for each other, not very often used in politics, it can be used for the betterment of people.”

Cris Tomos told members he was standing for “activism and localism”: “I’m a fifth-generation dairy farmer, it’s great to be part of a community; I’m standing for activism and localism, we can do great stuff, now is the time grasp these natural resources, starting from the grass roots upwards.”

Alistair Cameron, a county councillor, said: “As liberal Democrats we want to do a lot for job opportunities, particularly in floating offshore wind, and in social care, an enormous challenge for the county council at the moment.”

Reform’s Stuart Marchant said: “I think our best days lay ahead of us; there are so many opportunities in Pembrokeshire; it needs a member of parliament that will shout and scream and draw out the best of the community.”

Labour’s Henry Tufnell said: “It’s tough out there, there’s a cost-of-living crisis; next week we have a fantastic opportunity for change, I want Pembrokeshire to be at the forefront of that change.”

In a submitted statement, James Purchase said his party was “the only party talking about the climate crisis”.

A question about “the crisis in social care” as a “consequence of generational underfunding,” by the Rev Neil Hook, who later said the biggest crisis was around the elderly, but also included the vulnerable in society, was asked.

Alistair Cameron said: “The biggest challenge faced by the council is how to pay for it, and treat people with dignity. Pembrokeshire is an aging county, I think it’s beyond the county, it needs Welsh Government and UK Government support.”

Vusi Siphika, a carer himself, said: “I have been through every step of the crisis,” saying there was a need for “a radical approach”.

“We’re battling to ensure dignity, it’s on a wing and a prayer at the moment,” adding: “We have to fight tooth and nail for our elderly and give them back their dignity.”

Henry Tufnell said the Conservatives had “played fast and loose with public services,” adding: “We’re struggling with where the money comes because of what Liz Truss did; this is one of the greatest issues we face.”

Stephen Crabb reacted to Mr Tufnell’s comments: “It’s an enormous challenge, there’s threadbare social care and a lot of loneliness with people retiring here without family support.

“It trivialises the importance to say three months of Liz Truss led to these consequences, for decades the government in Cardiff has failed.

“Until we take party politics out of this, we can’t have a grown-up decision.”

Stuart Marchant said the system needs serious reform, adding: “It’s not fit for purpose”.

“What Reform would do is restructure a dedicated department, partially through tax reform, making things less bureaucratic, throwing money at a broken system will never work.”

Cris Tomos said there was a need for greater resources, with a reform of capital gains.

“The money is there but we’ve got to be brave to go after the money and care for our elderly people and give them a quality of life as they get older in Pembrokeshire.”

The candidates were also asked what they would do to address housing in rural areas, “other than just building social housing”.

Cris Tomos said Plaid would ensure there was a bill of rights, adding: “Everyone deserves a first home”.

Mr Marchant said: “I have the pleasure of renting a few homes around Carmarthenshire which are affordable, I try to keep the rents as low as possible.

“Developers need to be making full use of brownfield sites; we need to reform planning laws to allow people to build on brownfield sites.”

On a supplementary question on the issue of tourism vs local housing, he said: “Both are very important to Pembrokeshire; a lot of farms are diversifying to have a holiday home, I think that’s something we should be encouraging, tourism is very important to Pembrokeshire.”

He said there was “a balance to be had” over second homes and holiday homes.

Mr Crabb said: “Unfortunately we need to build more homes, there’s not normally like enough one and two-bed starter home in Pembrokeshire.”

He said there was a need for shared equity schemes and local covenants; with one of the major issue on housing the number of empty properties.

On a supplementary question on absentee landlord, he said he had “some sympathy” in closing down “second homes loopholes,” adding there were powers with local authorities to require landlord to keep properties in good order.

Vusi Siphika said: “The private sector has control; councils need to use the powers they have in planning law for the benefit of people.

“We can’t be in a society where house prices are rocketing.”

Henry Tufnell said: “It’s important to acknowledge there is a housing crisis.

“The second homes council tax and the 182 days rule, both of these are steps in the right direction; Broad Haven and Little Haven are both hollowed-out communities; it does really come down to supply, you need to build more affordable housing.

“It’s really positive the council is starting to build council housing again, really huge. Get that aspiration back, homelessness is not acceptable.”

Candidates were also quizzed on funding for green energy projects.

Vusi Siphika said there was a need for cross-party agreement to present a strong case to Westminster for renewables.

Cris Tomos said it was “vitally important” to address the issue, with an opportunity to devolve the crown estates in Wales, with revenue opportunities in Pembrokeshire.

Stuart Marchant said a cheaper option than renewables would be “small nuclear reactors built near cities around our country, adding: “We believe that is actually the right way to go, and funding jobs around our country; we don’t believe our children should pay for our mistakes and believe we should be nuclear.”

Alistair Cameron said off-shore green energy had “a massive potential for Pembrokeshire,” with a potential to power a third of the households in the UK, adding: “If it’s going to be successful it’s got to have the support of UK Government.”

Mr Tufnell said: “We need Pembrokeshire to be at the forefront of this.”

He said he would be “cheer-leading from the front” over green energy.

Mr Crabb said: “We don’t get many big individual opportunities like this, it’s a once in a 30-year opportunity; we’ve got to do everything we can to seize it with both hands.”

The general election is being held today, Thursday, July 4.

Politics

Complaints against Senedd members leap by 167%

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THE STANDARDS commissioner received 190 complaints against Senedd members in 2023/24 – an annual increase of more than 167% and 331% over two years.

Douglas Bain, who investigates complaints against misbehaving members, said the number of complaints received is the highest since 2020/21.

In his 2023/24 report, which was published this week, Mr Bain put the avalanche partly down to two unnamed Senedd members – who were subject to 58 complaints between them.

He added that one member of the public made a further 26 complaints.

“Nonetheless, it is clear that even without these individual contributions there was a very significant increase,” he warned.

“I do not believe that this increase in the number of complaints received indicates any reduction in the generally high standard of conduct of Members of the Senedd.”

Mr Bain, who was appointed in 2021 after a stint as acting commissioner, pointed out that the number of inadmissible complaints was the highest in the past four years at 84.

He wrote: “On one view, the increase in the number of complaints is to be welcomed as demonstrating a greater public interest in and closer scrutiny of the work and conduct of MSs. That public scrutiny plays an important part in our democratic process.”

Mr Bain received 53 complaints relating to conduct on social media, three on misuse of resources, 17 on the standard of services and 24 on the register of interests.

The commissioner also dealt with 29 complaints on ministerial conduct or behaviour in plenary with 64 complaints classified as “other”.

Mr Bain, who is based in Northern Ireland, said: “Comments made by Members on social media were … by far the most common subject for complaints.”

The commissioner said many were inadmissible but he urged Senedd members to take great care when posting, sharing or liking anything on social media.

He told the Senedd a high proportion of his time was taken up by a complaint against Rhys ab Owen and grievances surrounding the change to a 20mph default speed limit.

Mr ab Owen, who sits as an independent, was given a 42-day suspension in March for breaching the code of conduct by bringing the Senedd into disrepute.

The commissioner said he received a complaint that a “very drunk” Mr ab Owen twice called a woman a bitch after leaving the Wetherspoons in Cardiff Bay on June 30, 2021.

Mr Bain said the complainant said the former Plaid Cymru MS placed his hand on her thigh near her groin in the back of a taxi – an allegation Mr ab Owen denied.

He wrote that Mr ab Owen raised concerns about the fairness of the complaints process, claiming the investigation contravened his human rights.

Mr Bain said he received 30 complaints relating to the 20mph default speed limit, evenly split between people opposed to the new limit and those in favour.

The standards commissioner cleared Andrew RT Davies – leader of the Tory group in the Senedd – of breaching the code of conduct for describing 20mph as a “blanket” policy.

He was satisfied that the “blanket” description was “imprecise and inaccurate” but he concluded that that is not synonymous with being untruthful.

Calling for more powers, Mr Bain raised concern about the rules governing the standards commissioner which have not been updated in 15 years.

“During that period a number of deficiencies have been identified,” he wrote. “Amongst the most important of these is the absence of a provision empowering the commissioner to initiate an investigation without the need for a complaint.”

He warned this renders rules around lobbying the commissioner and making frivolous, vexatious or manifestly unfounded complaints of little value.

Mr Bain said: “Whilst I appreciate the pressures on Senedd time, I do not consider that reform of the measure should remain on the ‘back burner’.”

In the annual report, the total cost of the standard’s commissioner’s office was £133,992 in 2023/24 – a near-25% increase on 2021/22.

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Community

Petitions against Pembrokeshire day care centre closures to be discussed

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TWO PETITIONS calling on Pembrokeshire County Council to reverse its decision to close day care centres in Pembroke Dock, Crymych and Narberth are to be heard at County Hall later this week.

The two petitions, on the council’s own e-petitions webpage, drew nearly 3,400 signatures between them.

Earlier this year, senior councillors backed plans to close two of the county’s centres for older adults and those with learning disabilities, Portfield SAC, Haverfordwest, and Avenue SAC, Tenby; service users moving to other centres in the county.

The county council is currently changing care provision for older adults and those with learning disabilities, and fears have been raised recently that Pembroke Dock’s Anchorage day care centre is to close.

A series of engagement events have taken place at The Anchorage recently, outlining the reasons and the options in continued service.

One parent, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “One young woman who attends ran out of the first meeting sobbing when she was told it was going to close.

“Another, at the second meeting, tried to address the meeting, but was so choked up at the thought of not seeing her friends any more she could hardly speak.”

It now is feared Narberth’s Lee Davies Day Care Centre and Crymych’s Bro Preseli Day Centre could also close, with concerns it is due solely to budgetary reasons.

An e-petition on the council’s own website, by John Llewellyn of Living Memory Group, entitled against the closure of the Lee Davies and Bro Preseli day care centres.

The two petitions, which have now both closed, attracted 1,701 and 1,675 signatures respectively.

As they have both met the threshold for debate at council, they will both be heard at the July 18 meeting of full council.

Peter Welsh, in his petition for Pembroke Dock’s The Anchorage, says: “We call on Pembrokeshire County Council to reverse its decision to close the Anchorage Social Activity Centre based in Pembroke Dock as part of the council’s reduction in services being imposed following the recent budget approval.”

Mr Llewellyn’s petition for the Lee Davies and Bro Preseli day care centres reads: “We call on Pembrokeshire County Council to Review the closure of the Lee Davies Day Care Centre at Bloomfield’s and the Bro Preseli Day Centre at Crymych.

“Staff at both Day Care Centres were informed in Mid-March that both facilities would be closing due to PCC budget cuts. Both centres are an essential outlet for the well-being of the attendees and their families.”

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Politics

Council slammed for pension funds invested in companies connected with Israel

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A CALL is to be made for Pembrokeshire County Council to end its involvement in a pension fund that has invested millions with companies connected with Israel, which objectors say makes the authority “complicit in the genocide in Gaza”.

At the July 18 meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council, two related, submitted, questions will be asked by members of the public.

Both are asking for the council to divest its involvement in the local government pension scheme the Dyfed pension fund, which they say has more than £60m invested in companies connected with Israel.

In a question which includes a statement written by Palestine Solidarity Campaign with full details, Suzanne Radford-Smith will ask: “I am writing to draw attention to the fact that Dyfed pension fund has £64m invested in companies that are connected with Israel and to ask that Dyfed pension fund divests from these companies.

“Many of these companies are making arms and weapons being used by the Israeli army in the war on Palestine which makes them complicit in the genocide in Gaza.

“I believe this makes PCC also complicit in that genocide.

“Will Pembrokeshire County Council divest the pension fund from these companies?”

A similar question by Marjorie Hawkins will ask: “I receive a pension from Dyfed Pension Fund and have recently found out that Dyfed pension fund has £64m invested in companies that are connected with Israel.

“Many of these companies are making arms and weapons being used by the Israeli army in the war on Palestine which makes them complicit in the genocide in Gaza.

“I am very dismayed to find out this information and feel that this makes PCC (as one of the county councils in Dyfed Pension Fund) also complicit in that genocide.

“I spent over 10 years working as a social worker in Pembrokeshire. 10 years before this I was a social worker in Swansea and also worked for the NHS previously. I chose to work in jobs that were not involved in making profits or exploiting other people. I am very upset and outraged to find that the pension I receive is complicit in a genocide that is ongoing and we witness daily.

“Will Pembrokeshire County Council divest the pension fund from such companies that are complicit in this genocide?”

Both questions, and their call, will be heard at the full meeting of Pembrokeshire County council today (July 18).

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