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Flying the flag

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screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-10-48-15AT THE LAST meeting of the County Council, there was a lot of talk about ‘semantics’, the way in which words are used, abused, and misunderstood.

Chief Executive Mark James CBE picked up on one such ‘misunderstanding’ by Cllr Anthony Jones. Cllr Jones, Mr James averred, had become confused between the meaning of the word ‘endorsed’ and conflated it with ‘approval’. Approval, Mr James pointed out, in the case in point, had already taken place. The Executive Board had endorsed that earlier decision, not made it itself.

Carmarthenshire County Council’s flag policy attracted the attention of Herald columnist Cadno in August.

He noted that the Rainbow Flag, adopted the world over by the LGBT movement as a symbol of their pride, did not flutter over Gaol Hill for LGBT History Month in February of this year.

When we raised the question at the time, our reporter was told that Carmarthenshire ‘had a procedure’ regarding the flying of flags from public buildings, as the authority received so many requests to participate in special events that it had decided that indiscriminate flag flying required regulation.

After Cadno’s article (‘The Power of Love’) appeared in August, a Herald reader made a Freedom of Information Act request to Carmarthenshire County Council, seeking to establish just how many requests the Council had received in respect of its policy and how many it had received in the years preceding the policy’s adoption.

THE COUNCIL’S REPLY

Jimi Reid of Ammanford received the following response to his request:

“In the newspaper, I have seen a reference to a flag policy you have adopted, in which there is a procedure for making requests to fly flags from council buildings.

1. Please confirm when that policy was adopted by the council.

A. July 10, 2015.

2. Please confirm how many requests have been made and by whom under the provisions of that policy to fly flags from council buildings.

A. There have been two requests. One from a community group called CETMA (Community Engagement, Media, Technology & Arts) and the other from Seafarers UK.

3. Please confirm how many requests were made and by whom for flags to be flown from council buildings in the three years before the policy was put in place.

A. We do not hold this information.

4. In both instances, where the policy was in place and in the three years before the policy was put in place, please let me know how many of the requests made have been rejected and why they were rejected.”

A. The two requests received since the policy has been in place were refused. We do not hold information prior to the introduction of the policy.

CETMA’S REQUEST

Our attention was attracted by the inclusion of CETMA in the very short list of the ‘many’ applications the council had received in relation to flying a flag from County Council buildings. Among the projects with which CETMA is engaged are several relating to LGBT projects and LGBT Pride.

We contacted CETMA and asked them why their request had been rejected.

CETMA provided us with their request, made to Mark James CBE, Carmarthenshire Council’s CEO.

CETMA’S LETTER

Dear Mr James,

I am contacting you to see whether the County Council would fly the Pride Flag during the week of Monday 1st to Sunday 7th August 2016.

The reason for this is that we have a project called Llanelli LGBT Support and we will be holding Llanelli LGBT day on Saturday 6th August. The day is about everyone coming together to raise awareness about how far Carmarthenshire and Wales has come and how far it has to go in regards to equality and to celebrate achievements in the areas of LGBT.

Having the flag flying from Llanelli Old Town Hall on the day and during the week would be brilliant. We did try last year but we’d left it too late.

If you would like more information, then please let me know.

MR JAMES’ PERSONAL RESPONSE

Thank you for letting me know about the project that you are intending to run in August. As you may know, the council has been keen to promote diversity in the workplace and beyond. We have worked with organisations such as Stonewall to look at how we support employees and ensure that we are a welcoming employer. We were very pleased to have been placed in the top 100 employers in the Stonewall annual rankings and we will continue to work to promote diversity as an a employer.

With regard to the issue of flying flags, we get many requests from campaign groups and organisations to participate in their events and, whilst we are often happy to assist with those events at a community level, WE HAVE TAKEN A VIEW THAT THIS DOES NOT EXTEND TO FLAG FLYING AT CIVIC BUILDINGS (emphasis added). As I am sure that you will understand, if we agree to do so for one group, we would find it difficult to refuse another and this might lead to administrative or other difficulties. We have, therefore, in the past declined to use flagpoles at civic buildings in this way.

I wish you every success with your events in August. Please do let us know if there is anything else we might be able to assist with.

THE QUESTION OF TIMING

An examination of council meetings, agendas and minutes dated before the policy’s adoption shows no indication that the policy was EVER discussed by County Councillors. Indeed, the policy’s introduction in July is, entirely coincidentally, within 28 days of LGBT Pride Week. Any application made by CETMA after July 15, 2015 would have been caught by the adoption of a procedure which did not exist beforehand and which received scant – if any – publicity.

We contacted CETMA again and were told that, as LGBT Pride takes place at the beginning of August, the request to fly the flag in 2015 was made at the beginning of the July.

That means that the request to fly the LGBT Rainbow Flag from Llanelli Town Hall was made – entirely coincidentally – either before or at the time the flag policy was adopted.

A policy for which the council can provide no evidence for necessity .

Moreover, the rational underpinning the adoption of the policy, ‘introduced due to the increasing number of requests being received, and the cost implications’ is not only highly questionable, based on the limited number of requests made since the policy’s adoption, but impossible to verify because the council simply did not retain records. How the council can state that a policy was introduced on the grounds of ‘cost implications’ when it does not even hold the data relating to the requests – IF ANY – actually made, is even more questionable.

Since the policy’s adoption, the council has flown the Rainbow Flag once, in response to the Orlando nightclub massacre.

As it stands, on the face of Mr James’s words, the policy is redundant. Mr James will never give permission to fly any flag. On the basis that nobody will get permission, of course, the policy cannot be said to be discriminatory in any way.

Which, of course, it isn’t.

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Welcome for rail investment pledge

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TRANSPORT FOR WALES has announced the details of the £194 million investment plan to improve all 247 railway stations across Wales.

The Station Improvement Vision highlights what improvements customers and communities can expect to see at their local stations over the next fifteen years.

The ambitious programme will deliver free WiFi, improved shelters, CCTV, improved provision for cycle storage and improved passenger information, at every station.

Where possible, Transport for Wales will also create new retail facilities, presenting opportunities for local businesses and work in partnership to develop community spaces at stations.

The improvements include expanding the Secure Station Accreditation programme, a UK accreditation in conjunction with the British Transport Police, which will make stations safer and more welcoming for customers.

Demonstrating their commitment and supporting Welsh Government’s plans to create a more sustainable Wales through deduction in carbon emissions generated through transport, TfW will create at least 1,500 additional car parking spaces across the network, making it easier for people to leave their car and use public transport.

The Vision also highlights how accessibility will be enhanced across the network with the delivery of eleven Access for All schemes by 2024, with the installation of footbridges with lifts or ramps, partly funded by the UK Department for Transport.

As part of their plans to reinvest into the communities they serve, TfW has held events and workshops aimed at small and medium enterprises in Wales, providing opportunities for them to bid for work linked to the Station Improvement Vision.

James Price, Transport for Wales CEO said: “Transport for Wales is transforming transport throughout Wales and the launch of our Station Improvement Vision indicates the start of a £194 million investment programme. This investment into all our 247 railway stations will improve the way they look, make them safer and provide more commercial and community opportunities.

“We want to improve the overall customer experience and also work collaboratively to develop partnerships with local businesses and communities.”

Ken Skates, Minister for Economy and Transport said: “I warmly welcome Transport for Wales’ Station Improvement Vision, which will see a £194 million investment in railway stations the length and breadth of Wales and the Borders. Over the next 15 years, this huge investment will vastly improve important gateways to our cities, towns and villages.

“The vision has been launched in Swansea – as it celebrates its 50th year as a City – where it will contribute to the development of a metro system ready to meet the transport needs of the future. There are ambitious plans to deliver an improved railway and public transport network across all of Wales and the investment announced today will be a significant step towards that.”

In July this year, Carmarthenshire County Council leader Emlyn Dole welcomed the announcement of a new parkway station at Felindre.

Speaking at the time, Cllr Dole said: “This is very welcome news, which will benefit Carmarthenshire businesses and residents. An initial 14-minute reduction in journey times to Cardiff and onto London will make a significant difference to passengers travelling that route.

“New infrastructure, with supporting additional rail journeys to West Wales, is essential to boost the regional economic prosperity. And with traffic continuing to grow on key trunk roads across West Wales, an improved offer from rail both in journey time, frequency and quality of service is vital to help tackle congestion and improve connectivity.

Labour Assembly Member, Eluned Morgan also welcomed the investment.

Ms Morgan said: “This is an ambitious plan from the Welsh Government and Transport for Wales to improve the passenger experience at railway stations across the Welsh network. There is a sharp focus on making railway stations cleaner and safer for passengers.

“Lighting is already being upgraded at many stations including Clunderwen and new litter bins and local area maps will be coming – in an answer to calls made to improve Pembroke Dock station.”

Carmarthen station, earmarked as an ‘interchange station’, will benefit from new retail facilities, information screens and accessible toilets for all.

Marc Tierney, Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire added: “The announcement today is positive for communities across the area, bringing them up to date and maximising their potential as transport hubs in the heart of our towns and villages. There is also the prospect of a brand new station at St. Clears.

“The Welsh Government feasibility study into reopening a railway station at St. Clears has put plans for the station through to the next stage.

“Re-opening a station at St. Clears would complete a missing piece in the network in West Wales. I trust the UK Government will make the necessary funding available as soon as possible.”

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Pencader couple put their stamp on charity

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A CARMARTHENSHIRE couple has collected over half a million stamps in support of an RNIB fundraising appeal.

Rhian and Kevin Rowcliffe, both from Pencader, started collecting stamps for the charity nearly three years ago.

They decided to support RNIB Cymru after their son Mathew was registered blind aged 21. Mathew was diagnosed with Lebers Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, a condition that causes sudden loss of central vision.

Mathew, now 25, received legal advice and employment support from RNIB following his diagnosis. He has since raised over £9,000 for the charity through taking part in a skydive and running both the London Marathon and the Cardiff Half twice with his brother Huw as a guide.

Rhian and Kevin initially aimed to collect 10,000 stamps but lost count after reaching the half a million mark.

The couple first asked friends and family to donate stamps from their Christmas cards in 2016, but word soon spread as people from across Wales began sending their stamps to help. The Young Farmer’s Club, of which Mathew was a member, donated over 150,000 stamps to the cause.

Mathew’s other siblings Tom, Shon and Hanna have also helped their parents to collect stamps.

Rhian said: “We were all devastated when Mathew lost his sight. We didn’t know where to turn as a family, but the RNIB helpline and team was a lifeline for all of us. We wanted to do something to give back and lots of people in Pencader wanted to help too.

“The support we have received from friends, family and the community has been amazing. It got to the point where I would arrive at work and find bags of stamps on my desk. Some people bring me five or six, some people bring thousands, but every stamp counts.

“Collecting stamps has been an easy and fun way to raise funds for a charity that has offered us so much help and support throughout Mathew’s journey and we are so grateful to everyone who has donated.”

The RNIB stamp appeal helps RNIB to make a real difference to the lives of blind and partially sighted people across the UK. Stamps are sold by weight and the charity raises £20 per kilogram.

RNIB Cymru’s Director Ansley Workman said: “We’re so grateful to the Rowcliffe family and everyone who has been involved in their stamp collecting mission, it is a huge achievement.

“The money they’ve raised with help blind and partially sighted people across Wales and beyond to live a life without barriers. If anyone is looking for a way to help fundraise for RNIB then collecting stamps is a great way to get involved and make a real difference.”

To find out more about RNIB’s Stamp Appeal visit: http://bit.ly/StampRNIB

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Hundreds attend 50+ Forum event

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HUNDREDS of people have come together to discuss health, wellbeing and the growing use of technology as part of Carmarthenshire’s annual 50+ Forum.

The popular event brings together a wide variety of people and over 30 organisations and provides an opportunity to reflect positively on ageing as well as focusing minds on the needs of the county’s older people.

It was held on Thursday, September 12, at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, where guest speakers included Dr Charles Musselwhite and Allyson Rogers of Swansea University’s Centre for Innovative Ageing, and Julie Morgan AM, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services.

This year’s key themes reflected what the forum’s 600 strong membership say is important to them.

On‐line technology, mobility and access to transport were high on the agenda, with keynote speakers touching on these points.

Members also had the chance to take part in a series of workshops focusing on digital health monitoring, banking, shopping, communication and research, as well as spotting and avoiding scams.

There were also wellbeing workshops, tasters and demonstrations in arts and crafts, exercise and ageing well.

Wyn Llewellyn, Chair of the 50+ Forum, said: “Carmarthenshire 50+ Forum successfully reached out to many communities this year, clarifying the key challenges being faced and providing a focus for the 50+ Annual Event. In 2019-20 we want to engage more with communities and seek volunteers across the county to be local contacts for 50+. The aim is to improve our service to the community and bring 50+ Forum a stronger, more credible voice on their behalf. Come and help us – together we are stronger!”

The annual event is supported by Carmarthenshire County Council and Welsh Government.

Carmarthenshire County Council’s 50+ Champion, Cllr Linda Evans, added: “Today’s event was well attended and well received with a common voice from people in our communities on a range of important issues.”

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