PATRICIA DODD RACHER, a Plaid Cymru member and blogger attended the first hustings for the marginal seat of Carmarthen East & Dinefwr. She writes:
A Llandovery College sixth-former highlighted a UKIP policy fog when he probed candidate Norma Woodward’s views during the Carmarthen East and Dinefwr constituency’s first hustings of the general election campaign, held in the college yesterday.
The student, Gwion Jones, made the point that West Wales, as a relatively poor region, benefits substantially from European Union funds – and so stands to be a big loser if, as UKIP proposes, the UK exits from the EU.
Ms Woodward, the UKIP parliamentary candidate for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, could answer only in the most general terms; that the UK paid more into Europe than came back the other way. Ms Woodward hinted at ending the Barnett Formula which modestly increases public spending per head in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
There is still plenty of time in the campaign for Norma to clarify UKIP’s policy on the Barnett Formula, but for the moment I’m not at all certain (a) if it exists or (b) if it does exist, how it would impact on West Wales in general and Carmarthen East and Dinefwr in particular. Removal of the Barnett Formula would certainly disadvantage areas like West Wales, where support is needed
Five of the apparent six parliamentary candidates for the constituency were in Llandovery College to answer questions from sixth-formers – taking their politics very seriously — and the general public, in an event genially and efficiently chaired by journalist Gaina Morgan.
Jonathan Edwards, for Plaid Cymru, was joined by barrister Matthew Paul, standing for the Conservatives; Labour’s trainee barrister and county councillor Calum Higgins; Ben Rice for the Green Party, and Norma Woodward, whose status as a UKIP candidate was recently the subject of much confusion.
The Liberal Democrats were absent. Their candidate, according to their website, is Sara Lloyd Williams, a former chair of Liberal Youth Wales who is currently studying for a master’s degree in archive administration at Aberystwyth University.
As well as probing the implications of leaving the EU, questioners asked for candidates’ views on the campaign to re-open the Carmarthen to Aberystwyth railway, on how to enthuse young people about politics, and about funding for the National Health Service, repaying the national debt, cutting regulations for small businesses, and reducing expenditure on defence. Views were pretty much as expected. Virtually everyone supported re-opening the railway, in principle at least.
Everyone professed to love the NHS but differed over how they would fund it.
Calum Higgins favoured lobbing in the proceeds of a mansion tax (which would not alienate many voters in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, where few if any homes are worth as much as £2 million, the proposed threshold for the tax).
Matthew Paul also criticised Labour for cutting funding to the NHS in Wales, omitting to say that there has been more of an effort in Wales to protect funding for social services. In England spending on social services fell 11.5% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2014-11, but in Wales the reduction was far less at 0.8%.
Matthew Paul and Calum Higgins disagreed over the time frame for eliminating the deficit
Matthew Paul, who has faith that the deficit will have been eliminated by the end of the next Parliament, favours public spending cuts over tax rises. Calum Higgins wants to eliminate the deficit but over a longer time.
Norma Woodward thought that coming out of the EU would solve the debt problem. For the Greens, Ben Rice proposed a clampdown on tax avoidance and evasion, and argued that the better-off must pay more tax.
Plaid Cymru’s Jonathan Edwards looked to investment in sustainable industries and infrastructure, which the Green Party also supports. The Plaid MP also advocated abolishing higher-rate tax relief on pension contributions and raising the upper limit for National Insurance contributions, which together could raise about £20 billion a year, a combined total of £100 billion over a five-year Parliament.
One of the most interesting questions, put by a college sixth-former, asked if the candidates had a personal policy which was not in their party’s manifesto.
Labour hopeful Calum Higgins differed sharply from the line promulgated by Carwyn Jones and the UK Labour Party. He would prefer not to renew Trident, he said.
Matthew Paul had two personal policies to offer, to allow fox hunting again and to bring ‘free schools’ into Wales.
The schools idea is not in the Westminster parliament’s gift, because education policy is devolved to the Welsh Government, but it is hard to disagree with Matthew’s point that Labour/ Independent-controlled Carmarthenshire County Council’s diktat to close the Llandovery’s state secondary school was wrong-headed and is creating major, long-term economic problems.
Norma Woodward would bring back grammar schools, something else that is not within the power of the UK government because of devolution. Ben Rice would give the Welsh Government the power to ban fracking.
Jonathan Edwards made the decisive point for me when he said he would be – continue to be — ‘Carmarthenshire’s voice in Westminster’, rather than Westminster’s voice relayed westwards.
Ben Lake MP stands up for Ceredigion’s hospitality sector in Parliament
A WESTMINSTER Hall debate, brought about by an online petition signed over 200,000 times, saw MPs on both sides come together to shine a light on the challenges currently faced by restaurants, pubs, bars, cafés and supply chain businesses across the UK.
During his contribution to the debate, Ben Lake MP emphasised the importance of the hospitality industry to Ceredigion’s local economy. Ceredigion is home to nearly 400 food and accommodation businesses, including 75 pubs, and together hospitality businesses employ 4,500 people in the county. This equates to over 16% of all employees, without accounting for the many supply chain jobs that are dependent on the sector, such as those found in breweries, food wholesale, and catering equipment hire businesses.
Figures published by UK Hospitality have shown that approximately 41% of hospitality businesses suggested that they would fail by mid-2021 and only one in five sector businesses have enough cash flow to survive beyond February.
Ben Lake MP said: “The vaccination programme of course offers some hope that we will see the level of Covid disruption reduce significantly this year, but hospitality businesses across Ceredigion tell me that they are deeply concerned about their immediate prospects for survival.
“I support calls for the Treasury to provide additional funds so that businesses can be supported to bounce back once restrictions have been eased, and to pause employer national insurance contributions for furloughed employees as a way of alleviating the burden on businesses that are still, in many instances, required by law to close. I also urged the Treasury to consider extending the business rates holiday for the forthcoming financial year, as well as extending the hospitality VAT reduction scheme into 2022.
“Not only would these support measures give businesses the support they require to see out this pandemic, it would also avoid the terrible situation whereby businesses that have previously received Government support are forced to close for good – leaving their employees without a job and previous Government support in vain.”
While there will be no direct action as a consequence of this Westminster Hall debate, it is hoped the result will put increased pressure on the UK Government to consider the proposal more seriously.
Lifeboat Operations Manager in New Year’s Honours list
Richard Llewelyn Griffiths the Lifeboat Operations Manager of Aberystwyth Lifeboat Station has been recognised for services to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in Wales.
He has been awarded a BEM.
Having served as a RNLI volunteer for an impressive 47 years, it is his role in the last 21 years as Lifeboat Operations Manager (LOM) which has earned him the most respect.
His local knowledge has provided reassurance to casualties and crews alike when launching in difficult conditions.
His operational decision-making and station management skills are outstanding, and he is greatly valued by crew, management, volunteers and coastal personnel both past and present.
He has contributed greatly towards Aberystwyth being recognised as a ‘benchmark’ Inshore Lifeboat Station, serving as an example to the whole institution of how a station could and should be run.
Richard said: ‘I’m very surprised but honoured to be receiving a BEM – the news still doesn’t feel real. My father was awarded a BEM in 1988 and I still have his medal at home, so to be awarded one myself for my work with the lifeboats is a great privilege. I’ve been fortunate to work with a number of characters during my time with the RNLI – both at Borth and Aberystwyth – and continue to volunteer alongside a good crew today.’
Nationally, a total of six Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) volunteers have been recognised for their vital role in helping the charity save lives at sea through the New Year’s Honours.
Mark Dowie, RNLI Chief Executive said: ‘Following a challenging 2020, it is particularly pleasing to see these RNLI volunteers recognised in the New Year’s Honours list. Together, they personify the RNLI’s ‘One Crew’ ethos, representing the variety and diversity of roles from a former full-time mechanic to shore crew and fundraisers to station managers, who collectively deliver a shared vision to save every one. On behalf of everyone at the RNLI, congratulations to you all for being recognised for your longstanding service, hard work and selfless commitment. And thank you for everything you do to help the RNLI save lives at sea.’
Temporary closure of Minor Injuries Unit in Cardigan confirmed
AS PART of its response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Hywel Dda University Health Board says it has temporarily closed the Minor Injuries Unit (MIU) in Cardigan in order to redeploy clinical staff to support the COVID 19 response within Ceredigion.
The MIU, which is based in Cardigan Integrated Care Centre and normally operates from Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm, will temporarily close with immediate effect. The situation will be under constant review and normal service will be resumed when it is safe and appropriate to do so.
In the meantime, minor injuries help and advice is available as follows:
– visit the 111 symptom checker (https://111.wales.nhs.uk/)
– visit your local pharmacy
– call 111
– please do NOT self-present to the GP reception in Cardigan Integrated Care Centre as they do not deal with minor injuries.
– for emergency care the A+E departments are as follows:
· Glangwili Hospital A+E Carmarthen SA32 2AF
· Bronglais Hospital A+E Aberystwyth SY23 1ER
· Withybush Hospital A+E Haverfordwest SA61 2PZ