IN THE FIRST month of the new police helicopter provision alone, there were three incidents when air support was not available according to data unearthed by Plaid Cymru.
In early January, following the retirement of the police helicopter, Dyfed-Powys Police made fourteen requests for air support. Two of these resulted in a helicopter responding and on three occasions there was no response for what was described as ‘other reasons’ by a recent media release from the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office. However, Plaid Cymru launched a blistering attack on Police and Crime Commissioner Christopher Salmon, after their Freedom of Information request showed that the requests for air support were refused due to no assets being available, insufficient flying time to be able to attend and due to NPAS already being committed in Gwent.
The Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office released the combined figures for January and February, meaning that it is impossible to analyse how many requests were cancelled due to bad weather, or the incident being resolved by officers on the ground. A Plaid Cymru source told The Herald that while no information concerning response times had been provided, it was likely that a proportion of incidents had been resolved on the ground because it had taken ‘much longer’ for air support to be despatched. Reference was also made in the Police and Crime Commissioner’s statement to a ‘counter-terrorism exercise in Milford Haven’ as one of the incidents where the NPAS helicopter attended.
The only comparable incident mentioned in January/February was a preplanned combined-forces training exercise at the Port of Pembroke on January 7. If this was the exercise referred to, it would mean that an NPAS helicopter attended one out of thirteen unscheduled incidents. Last year the Police and Crime Commissioner, Christopher Salmon, signed up the local police force to a centralised National Police Air Service (NPAS) – a move which saw the dedicated helicopter for Dyfed-Powys scrapped on January 1 this year. Commissioner Salmon had justified his support for a centralised service as a way to save money and to have more resources available to the force.
He hailed the benefits of a 24-hour service despite Dyfed-Powys only needing helicopter support ‘after hours’ just 13 times in four years – a point raised by local MP Jonathan Edwards in a Westminster Hall debate. Mr Salmon recently reiterated the benefits of the 24-hour service, stating that: “Air cover is there 24 hours every day of the year where previously we had just 12 hours a day.” However, in January, the NPAS helicopter responded to one out of six requests for assistance made between 8pm and 8am. The former Principal Crime and Intelligence Analyst for Dyfed Powys Police and Plaid Cymru’s candidate for Police Commissioner in May’s election, Dafydd Llywelyn, launched a ruthless attack on Commissioner Salmon. He said the concerns raised by Plaid Cymru during the campaign led by Jonathan Edwards MP have been realised within weeks of our dedicated helicopter being scrapped.
Dafydd Llywelyn said: “Let’s be under no illusion – this revelation is damning. With the current air support service hailed by Police Commissioner Salmon, Dyfed-Powys force and the residents it serves are receiving a worse service than the one we had before he took office. “As Plaid Cymru warned throughout last year, our force and our communities are playing second-fiddle to the needs of more urban Wales. Now we have confirmation that resources have been refused to our force because they are either busy elsewhere or because it would take too long to get to us. “In its first month 86% of requests for air support were not honoured. 83% of requests for air support after 8pm were not honoured. Christopher Salmon staked his reputation on a 24-hour service which we now know hardly exists. “We’re being told that some air support has been stood down because officers on the ground have resolved the situation. This suggests response times are increasing significantly. I’m also being told that front line officers know that air support is now less likely to be available and are not minded to put in requests.
That is deeply worrying indeed. “The information speaks for itself. By selling-off our dedicated helicopter and failing to oppose the centralisation agenda of his Conservative party colleagues, Christopher Salmon has failed the people of Dyfed-Powys and their police force.” Member of Parliament Jonathan Edwards led the campaign to helicopter. Last week he received a Grassroots Diplomat Award nomination for his campaign. Commenting on the lack of air support he said: “When it comes to police air support there is no joy whatsoever in being proved right. Every concern I raised in Parliament regarding resources not being available has been realised within the first four weeks of the service. “For the Police Commissioner to issue a press statement last week claiming the air service was ‘delivering’ is an absolute disgrace. It was nothing more than an attempt to mask the abject failure and damning results of his party’s centralisation agenda. He should make a public apology for his disingenuous statement.
“Christopher Salmon has presided over a catalogue of failures. If Dyfed Powys residents want a Police Commissioner that is going to stand up for their services they need to elect Dafydd Llywelyn on May 5.” Current Commissioner Christopher Salmon has already agreed to sell-off the Dyfed-Powys helicopter. Plaid Cymru officials say they have since submitted a further request for information on police air support throughout the month of February, and will continue to seek information for every month in order to expose the record of failure of the new service agreed by Christopher Salmon. Last week, following the release of the January/February figures, Mr Salmon said: “In January last year our own helicopter was out of action 10 days for maintenance. Other than during bad weather, as was the case with the previous service, I’m pleased that figures show the new arrangement is meeting our needs so far. “I am keeping a close eye on it to ensure that it delivers what we need. “It costs us £275,000 less too, with further savings of £75,000 from April this year.
I am determined to put that towards frontline officers to keep people safe.” Data for January 2015 shows that out of 24 requests for air assistance, 10 were attended. However, given that the Dyfed- Powys helicopter was out of action for 10 days for repairs, it is unclear which forces responded to the calls. The Herald asked Mr Salmon whether, given that over a comparative period only two calls were attended, whether the service was ‘meeting the needs’ of Dyfed-Powys residents. In his response, Mr Salmon prioritised the savings made possible by the new arrangement: “We now have 24-hour helicopter coverage for £275,000 less,” he said. “That money has helped me put more officers on our rural beats for more hours of every day. “Crime and antisocial behaviour have fallen further and faster in Dyfed-Powys than anywhere else in Wales. “Our rural areas are safer than ever.
“At two months old, this air service is still new. It is too early to say definitively how NPAS is performing but so far it appears to be meeting our needs. The Chief Constable and I will keep a very close eye on it to make sure it does.” The difference between the two statements, issued a week apart, is notable. In the first, Mr Salmon claimed the figures showed that ‘the new arrangement is meeting our needs so far.’ In the second, the Police and Crime Commissioner backtracked somewhat, claiming that it was ‘too early to say’ how the service was performing, but it ‘appears’ to be meeting the needs of Dyfed- Powys. As Mr Salmon belatedly said, a full analysis of the efficacy of the NPAS provision will take more than two months to develop. What is certain, however, is that the service will be u nder close scrutiny from all directions, especially with the approach of the Police and Crime Commissioner elections.
Alerts issued ahead of Storm Brian
NATURAL RESOURCE WALES (NRW) is warning people that parts of the Welsh coast could see localised flooding as Storm Brian combines with high tides this evening and tomorrow.
The conditions could cause a storm surge, which in some areas could lead to overtopping of sea defences. Current predictions show that the worst affected areas are likely to be along exposed sections of the west coast of Wales from Southern Gwynedd to Llantwit Major.
High tides in these locations are expected to peak between 6am and 11am tomorrow (Oct 21).
NRW has already issued a number of flood alerts for the west coast, and is likely to issue flood warnings for Aberystwyth and Newgale later today. Further alerts or warnings for other areas will be issued as necessary.
24/7 Emergency response workers from NRW will be out at key areas of the coast over the next couple of day to monitor the high tides and condition of its sea flood defences.
NRW has also contacted its partner agencies such as local councils and the emergency services to ensure that appropriate responses are in place should the need arise.
Richard Hancox, from Natural Resources Wales said: “Conditions across the coastline are likely to be extremely dangerous this weekend and we urge people to stay clear, and avoid visiting the coast during this time.
“We know people are tempted to try and take photos of these storms, but it really isn’t worth putting your life at risk. Sea spray and flood water can knock you off your feet easier than you might think, and the large waves can send debris flying onto shore.
“If anyone is concerned about the risk of flooding to their home, please check to see if flood warnings are available in your area, and visit our website for advice on how best to prepare.”
Flood alerts and flood warnings are updated on the Natural Resources Wales website every 15 minutes.
Information and updates are also available by calling Floodline on 0345 988 1188. People can also register for free flood warnings either by calling the Floodline number or at NRW’s website.
Major bequests for Aber research
TWO major legacies to support postgraduate research have been announced at Aberystwyth University’s Founders’ Day held in the Old College on October 13.
The University revealed that Eleanor and David James had donated £2m to the institution where they both worked for 35 years, while former student Margaret Wooloff has bequeathed £400,000.
Both bequests will be used to fund postgraduate research at the University, in line with the wishes of the benefactors.
The legacies were announced as part of the University’s now annual Founders’ event, which echoes the celebrations held in the town back in October 1872 when the first students arrived at Old College.
The Vice-Chancellor of Aberystwyth University, Professor Elizabeth Treasure, said: “It is extremely fitting that these very special bequests have been the focal point of this year’s Founders’ Day event. They remind us how the University has been supported since its early beginnings by the generosity of the people of Wales and the wider world.
“Eleanor and David James, and Margaret Wooloff all dedicated their lives to the furtherance of knowledge and their valuable contributions to education in Wales will live on in their legacies. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.”
The Director of Development and Alumni Relations at Aberystwyth University, Louise Jagger, said: “There is a very strong bond between the University and our family of alumni across the world. Eleanor and David James and Margaret Wooloff were all active members of the Old Students’ Association during their lives and we are immensely grateful to them for their support over the years. Their generous legacies will now enable the scholars of the future to pursue their particular fields of expertise and undertake research with impact, which is integral to our mission as a leading University.”
Members of the local community joined staff and students at the Old College to mark Founders’ Day.
The guest speaker at the event was Ceredigion MP Ben Lake who said: “The story of how Aberystwyth University – or the University College of Wales as it was originally called – is one in which we can all take pride as a nation. Driven by the vision of its founders, the dream of establishing a college with University status in Wales was made possible thanks to the generosity of ordinary people. The roots and foundations of the University reflect our values in Wales and it is vitally important that we commemorate and celebrate this very special heritage.
“May I take this opportunity to congratulate Aberystwyth on being named recently as the University of the Year for Teaching Quality by the Good University Guide – a well deserved accolade which is testament to the dedication of all its staff.”
In July 2017, the Heritage Lottery Fund announced that it had earmarked £10.5m for ambitious plans to redevelop Old College in time for the University’s 150th anniversary in 2022.
Driving Wales to international skills success
AS SKILLS CHAMPION for Wales, Coleg Sir Gâr and Coleg Ceredigion principal Barry Liles is at the forefront of aspiring young people to develop high quality, world-class skills.
The vehicle used to drive this ambition are skills competitions, which are held on a Welsh, UK and international level.
Competitions in Wales begin with regional Welsh Government supported competitions which are events that culminate to find Wales’ top competitors who progress to take part in UKSkills national and WorldSkills international events.
This year, 36 competitors from the UK are competing at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi, four of which are from Wales, two of which represent Coleg Sir Gâr, which is an impressive percentage of UK representation. These competitors have undergone a rigorous training process by WorldSkills UK, supported by training providers and employers.
Coleg Sir Gâr students have been selected for Team UK since 2009 when carpentry student Cliff Williams made the team in 2009 competing in WorldSkills Calgary. He was followed by web designer David Bowen who competed for in WorldSkills London, 2011. Carpenter Gareth Jones won gold in EuroSkills in 2012 followed by Simon McCall and Eleni Constantinou who won two silvers at EuroSkills in 2014 for hairdressing and carpentry with Eleni progressing to represent the UK and Coleg Sir Gâr in hairdressing at WorldSkills, Sao Paulo in 2015.
Last year, the college was ranked joint third place in the UK for its medal success in the Skills Show – the UK final, for achieving three golds, one silver and one bronze award. The show, held at Birmingham’s NEC every year, brings together medal winners from all nations to compete and showcase their skills and to hopefully continue their journey to the international arena, representing the UK in Worldskills which brings over 50 competing countries together and is likened to the Olympic games.
Barry Liles, Skills Champion for Wales said: “To have an impact on the economy and raise Wales and UK’s GVA, we must raise the skills of the UK population and we’re trying to do this from a young age and we’re significantly targeting industries that are important to Wales’ economy.
“The anticipated result is hoped to impact on young people and help them raise their ambitions and to find highly skilled work.”
In Wales, to help achieve this ambition, is a Welsh-Government funded project called Inspiring Skills Excellence (ISE), which is providing a supportive infrastructure to enable competitors from Wales to achieve success at national and international level.
“Much of our work is supporting competitors across Wales in their participation, training and mentoring to help them achieve excellence in skills relevant to economic growth and delivering medal winning success at national and international competitions,” said Paul Evans, ISE pan-coordinator for Wales.
“Using state of the art equipment we also engage with schools, providing hands-on and exciting experiences for young people to raise awareness of careers and the pathways available to them.”
Barry Liles added: “Being Skills Champion for Wales is a long-held ambition perhaps because I came from a vocational engineering background, I am very passionate about it.
“Industry skills are vital in our economy and I don’t want Wales to be left behind, in fact in the last seven years we have helped drive the nation forward to being one of the leading and successful nations in UK skills competitions.”
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