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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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Warning as courier fraud scammers trick people into handing over gold

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SCAMMERS are continuing to target people in new ways, with victims now being asked to buy gold to hand to a courier working for the police.

Last week an elderly woman in West Wales fell victim to courier fraud after being conned into believing she was working with police to prevent fraud. She was tricked into buying £25,000 of gold and handing it over to scammers.

DC Gareth Jordan, from Dyfed-Powys Police’s cybercrime team, said the recent crimes had seen victims called by someone purporting to be a police officer from Paddington Police Station.

DC Jordan added: “The fake police officer tells them about fraudulent activity on the persons bank card, or tells them that they need to transfer money to another account due to suspicious activity.

“It is the prelude to courier fraud, where someone comes to pick up the bank card, after extracting all the details such as PIN from the victim, or getting the person to go to the bank to withdraw money that can then be collected or sometimes transferred into other accounts.”

Since October the force has received complaints of 62 courier fraud calls. Thankfully 52 of the potential victims realised it was fraud, with a further five prevented when the bank intervened.

Sadly, five people fell victim to the criminals – two handed over gold, while three gave cash.

Their total losses were £63,000.

“We are working to make bank staff to look for the tell-tale signs of this, and contacting their branch managers to ensure staff are aware,” said DC Jordan.

“We are asking PCSOs to visit banks that are open on their patch and ask bank staff to inform any customers withdrawing money or transferring money about this scam.

“This scam is often aimed at the older generation, who have a respect for the police and may fall for the story that much more readily.

“What is worrying is that it can be just the start of further fraudulent activity including phoning the victim up stating they are the bank and getting the victim to transfer money to another account in the deceitful belief that their own account is now at risk due to fraudulent bank card use. The third part is investment fraud and gold purchases.”

The three phases of courier fraud

The scam begins with a person, usually male, phones the victim pretending to be a police officer. The bogus police officer explains that the victim’s bank accounts are under threat from fraudsters.

He convinces the victim to participate in a fictitious undercover police operation to catch the fraudsters and safeguard their funds.

They are told not to inform anyone, including their bank, as bank staff are equally under suspicion. Often the bogus police officer discloses private financial information about the victim, which is used to encourage the victim to trust them.

First phase: To influence the victim, the suspect asks about his/her bank account balances and overdraft facilities in place. The victim is then instructed to withdraw a small amount of cash (depending on victim’s bank balance). Victim is instructed to hand over the cash to a courier who must confirm a password/pin number provided by the suspect. Victim is later called on the phone and told most of the cash was identified as counterfeit.

Second phase: Once the victim trusts and believes the suspects’ instructions, he/she is provided with several bank account numbers (mule accounts). Victim is instructed to move a large amount of their money (often £100,000 to £300,000) into what is purported to be “safe” accounts, which are actually the mule accounts. Often the holders of the beneficiary accounts are third parties (patsy) who are unaware of the sources of the credit in their account. The money is quickly dissipated from the beneficiary accounts into accounts outside UK jurisdiction. Monies in the beneficiary account may simply be withdrawn from any UK ATM.

Third phase: Victims are instructed to either buy gold bars or high-valued watches. Again these items are handed to a courier who confirms a password given to the victim over the phone by the suspect.

DC Jordan said the order of the phases changes from victim to victim.

He said: “The suspects invest a considerable amount of time and effort in building a rapport with the victim.

“They usually instruct the victim not to divulge any details to anyone because the ‘operation’ must remain covert. Victims are coached with a cover story for bank staff, if their transactions (unusual) are flagged by the banks safety measures.”

Please remember – and tell others . . .

  • The police, or your bank, will never ask you to withdraw money or transfer it to a different account.
  • Your bank will never send a courier to your home
  • Your bank and the police will never collect your bank card
  • Your bank and the police will never ask you to reveal your full banking password or PIN
  • If you receive one of these calls, end it immediately
  • Do not click on links or attachments in unexpected or suspicious texts or emails.
  • Confirm requests are genuine by using a known number or email address to contact organisations directly.

If you think you, or someone you know, may have been targeted by scammers, please report it to us online: 

https://www.dyfed-powys.police.uk/en/contact-us/report-an-incident/, by email 101@dyfed-powys.pnn.police.uk or call 101.

Always call 999 if you feel you are in immediate harm or danger.

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Welsh vaccine plant evacuated after receiving suspicious package

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A PLANT where doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine are produced and stored has been evacuated after receiving a suspicious package.

Police have confirmed to Herald Wales that officers were at Wrexham Industrial Estate in Ash Road, Holt.

John Roberts, who runs CMS Wrexham Ltd, next door to the plant, said he heard a “big bang” at about 11:35 HRS.

Wockhardt UK has confirmed that the plant has been evacuated after receiving a suspicious package.

A statement on its Twitter account said: “Wockhardt UK in Wrexham this morning received a suspicious package.

“Relevant authorities have responded and upon expert advice we have partially evacuated the site pending a full investigation.

“The safety of our employees and business continuity remain of paramount importance.”

A technician at the plant, Ian Hunter, said that the bomb disposal experts from the Royal Logistic Corps had arrived on scene.

Mark Drakeford said: “We are working with local police and the military to find out more about this incident. Thank you to the security personnel who are on-site to protect lives and ensure
the safety of our vaccine supply. This highlights the vital role they play in keeping us all safe. Diolch.”

On Thursday last week Wrexham council leader Mark Pritchard said teams had worked to ensure the vaccine was not lost in the floods.
The Welsh Government said there had been “no adverse effects” on the coronavirus vaccine roll-out.

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New Quay and Aberystwyth RNLI lifeboats tasked to grounded fishing vessel

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Yesterday before sunrise (Monday 25 January) New Quay and Aberystwyth RNLI lifeboats were requested by HM Coastguard to assist a fishing vessel that had run aground south of Aberystwyth at Morfa Bychan. As the day went on the RNLI volunteer crews found themselves at sea for many hours in freezing temperatures. 

The pagers first sounded early on Monday morning with the Mersey class all-weather lifeboat from New Quay and the Atlantic 85 inshore lifeboat from Aberystwyth both launching on service at 6am into the darkness to a report of a fishing vessel aground.

Aberystwyth RNLI lifeboat arrived first and found the casualty vessel, a 40 tonne, 12m whelk fishing vessel which had run aground on the beach at Morfa Bychan. Aberystwyth lifeboat initially attempted to veer down but to no avail.

New Quay RNLI Coxswain, Daniel Potter said, “We made good speed up to Aberystwyth in slight to moderate sea conditions but freezing temperatures. Arriving on scene we worked with Aberystwyth lifeboat and assessed that everyone was safe on board. It was so cold that Aberystwyth lifeboat had to return to station for a crew change.

“By now the tide had dropped and there was no water around the vessel. It was therefore decided the crew would be evacuated onto land and we would return to station.”

Both lifeboats returned to station by 10am, with the Coastguard unit on the ground keeping an eye on the fishing vessel.

In the afternoon both New Quay RNLI’s all-weather and inshore lifeboats were tasked to return to the scene as the tide was beginning to turn and the vessel’s owners were onboard to attempt to refloat the vessel. New Quay RNLI lifeboats were launched shortly after 2pm with Aberystwyth RNLI’s inshore lifeboat launching at 3.30pm to assist.

Mr Potter continued, “Returning on scene we had to assess how we could ensure the safety of those onboard and prevent the vessel being pushed further up the beach by the waves. This was made more difficult by the shallow water and large boulders. However, the inshore lifeboat was able to access the shallow water to assess the situation and pass our towline to the casualty.

“After setting up the tow we held the vessel steady until she started to float at high water. With excellent team work between Aberystwyth’s and our inshore lifeboat we were able to extract the stricken vessel and tow her into deeper water. We then escorted the vessel into Aberystwyth in case of any damage to her hull or steering.”

Simon Rigby New Quay RNLI helm added, “It was the longest and coldest shout I’ve ever done on the inshore lifeboat, seven hours at sea and 32 miles covered.”

With the casualty vessel safely berthed in Aberystwyth marina, both lifeboats returned to station and the crew were stood down at 9:30pm, over 15 hours after the first launch.

Roger Couch, Lifeboat Operations Manager added, “This was a great example of excellent teamwork and seamanship, putting many hours of training to good use. We would like to thank our colleagues at Aberystwyth for their hard work in freezing conditions and their assistance in providing expert local knowledge.

“Over the last three days our all-weather lifeboat, The Frank and Lena of Stourbridge has been very busy, being launched on service three times. The volunteer crews have worked hard with strict Covid restrictions and guidelines. Remember we are on call 24/7 so if you see anyone in trouble on the coast please call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.”

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