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Carwyn Connects in Carmarthen

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carwyn122CARWYN JONES, the First Minister was in Carmarthen on Thursday (Nov 19) as part of his Carwyn Connect tour.

The free event was a chance for members of the public to contribute questions to the First Minister.

Chairing the event was Sulwen Thomas who began with a question about Trident. He asked if in the light of circumstances in Paris would the Welsh Government make any representations for Trident to come to Wales.

The First Minister said that the Welsh Government had not made any representations for Trident to come to Wales: “It is not something we would pursue. He asked: “What is Trident for in the 21st Century?” He explained that the question needed to be debated as to whether the UK needed to be renewed or not and that he would not have the power to stop Trident coming to Wales: “I am not saying the UK government will listen to what I have to say but certainly, I will be looking at the issues and coming to my own conclusions.”

The First Minister faced a question from Cathy Start who raised the issue of scallop dredging in a Special Area of Conservation in Cardigan Bay. The First Minister said that National Resources Wales would be the authority to look at all the evidence and offer advice to the ministers. It was for them to assess the affect on the SAC and also the affect on other species as well as the scallops. He said it was for the minister involved, Rebecca Evans. Mrs Start suggested that the First Minister looked into the matter as a matter of urgency. She said: “The consultation process asks if you agree or disagree with dredging for scallops. If you put no every other question cannot be answered as they deal with the permit. It is flawed if not corrupt.”

Asked if he could deal with the flaws in the consultation, the First Minister said: “I will write to you. Everyone gets a response.”

One Carmarthenshire resident, Bill Hyde asked the First Minister if financial reserves held by councils would be used? Mr Hyde said: “It is estimated that Carmarthenshire County Council (CCC) have £130m to £300m in reserves and the public face £30m in cutbacks over the next four years.”

He continued: “The council tell us that they can’t touch it because they are earmarked. We can’t get any sense out of them. The new administration who promised they would use the reserves have gone back on their word. The Wales Audit Office has told CCC that they must use their reserves. Your own ministers from the Assembly also say they must use the reserves. I am wondering whether this will be a cash cow for the c hief e xecutives in Wales that have their own severance schemes. It is an issue for Carmarthenshire County Council to resolve. They run their own budgets. They have to explain why they wouldn’t use part of their reserves and it is up to them to explain that ahead of the next local elections in 2017. “

Mr Hyde said: “It seems that the Welsh Assembly or the Wales Audit Office is not saying anything about the issue. They are letting the chief executives rule the roost and whether you like it or not they are officer led and that is one of the big problems.”

Chairman Sulwen Thomas asked the First Minister if he was washing his hands of this. The First Minister replied: “No we can’t force them to spend money. We can encourage them. It is up to them as a democratically elected bodies to explain why they take the financial decisions they do. I think it is important for any council to demonstrate that it is the councillors who run the councils. I don’t think that has been true of some authorities in Wales. When you think that a local authority not too far from here was employing a Chief Executive on £190,000 per year plus a Porsche.”

Chairman Sulwen Thomas cut in and said: “And you couldn’t do anything about it? The First Minister replied: “No!” “Because they employ people independently. That may well have to change in the future. We can’t have a situation where if you are the Chief Executive of a local authority that you earn far more than if you were the top civil servant in Wales. That doesn’t make sense to my mind.”

Sulwen Thomas challenged the First Minister and said: “Is the Welsh Assembly strong enough to implement these changes. There is a strong objection to change?”

The First Minister replied: “We want to push ahead with mergers, fewer councils. Having said that what I want to do is is look at what powers we can give to community town councils. At the moment the reality is that they haven’t got much power.

Sulwen Thomas moved on: “The big talking point here in Carmarthen is that in the County Council only a few people have any sort of authority. Only the cabinet members have any authority. Ordinary councillors have no impact about what goes on most of the time. Would you like to change the emphasis of what goes on in County Councils after the election?”

The First Minister replied: “We have a cabinet system in local government but it isn’t quite a cabinet system in our terms in the Welsh Assembly. I answer questions every week publicly for 45 minutes. Ministers answer questions once a month on average as well. I think the same thing should apply in local government. I don’t see why that should be any different.”

The issue of clean and renewable energy was brought up by Robert Start. He asked what steps are being taken to ensure clean energy production. He wanted to know if the Welsh Government were investing in battery storage technology or hydrogen technology.

The First Minister addressed the question: “I think this is the way of the future. There are buses running on hydrogen. The hydrogen cell was conceived in Wales by a Welsh inventor so we have a proprietary interest in it. In terms of renewable energy generally we control very little in terms of energy production. That is going to change and we will have more power in the future. My view is that we have entered a period where the UK Government is just not interested in renewables anymore. Where do I think that energy has potential in Wales in the future? Marine energy. We have such potential for marine energy. Our southern coast has got the second highest tidal reach in the world. We’ve got the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. It is all set ready to go. My strong suspicion is that the treasury will scupper it because they are not prepared to pay for it. Energy security is one of the most important issues that we face over the next few years. Extending our reliance on energy that is imported is the wrong option.”

Last Friday (Nov 20) the Herald reported on the case of Pontyates businessman Clive Hughes and his accusation that the Welsh Assembly prefers to invest in Chinese plans for bio mass plants in Wales as opposed to investing in his bio mass plant.

At the public meeting, Mr Hughes put his question directly to the First Minister. He outlined his plans for a bio mass plant at Kidwelly and Swansea and said that there was no interest from the Welsh Assembly even though his plant was clean energy. The First Minister replied asked him if he had spoken to officials in the Welsh Government and Mr Hughes informed him that he had made a request to meet with him personally. “The best thing for me to do would to go back and look at this for you and get a letter out to you. The minister responsible for this is Edwina Hart. I need to look into what correspondence has been received and I will write to you” said the First Minister.

Other questions asked at the event included whether St Clears railway station could become a request stop. What steps the Welsh Assembly were taking to improve provision for carers in Wales. Rural high speed broadband, rural transport, farming issues, disability issues and parking on pavements were also issues raised by members of the audience. Following the event the The First Minister conceded that it was not a great turn out but said that he had enjoyed the variety of questions and that it was all about going around Wales and listening to the people.

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Alerts issued ahead of Storm Brian

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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.

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​Major bequests for Aber research ​

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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.

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Driving Wales to international skills success

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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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