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Driving tests on hold as instructors strike over safety fears

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A NUMBER of driving tests were cancelled this week after union members held a two-day strike, citing a refusal by the Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) to acknowledge the dangers of the new Driving test and a demand that staff work up to 90 minutes a day without pay.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) struck on Monday and Tuesday (Dec 4-5) amid concerns about the new tests. The new driving tests, introduced on Monday, include an element of testing learners on the use of a Sat-Nav, as well as other changes.

PCS members are also expected to travel from their homes to remote or distant test centres, without being paid for up to one and a half hours per day.

PCS Organising Officer Steve Donoghue said: “I have spoken to one member who lives in Carmarthen and usually covers the tests that are delivered there. He is regularly asked to cover driving tests in Aberystwyth. Whereas previously staff were paid for the time it took them to travel from their substantive place of work to these locations, they will now not be paid for the first 45 minutes each way. This is clearly a case of the DVSA trying to cut budgets at our members’ expense. The blame for this disruption lies squarely with the DVSA and the Department for Transport due to their insistence on imposing changes to terms and conditions on staff which have been rejected by the vast majority of staff in recent ballots.”

There was a picket line outside the Test Centre in Llanelli on Monday morning, which was supported by Unison, Llanelli Trades Council and the Llanelli Constituency Labour party. All tests booked for Monday and Tuesday were cancelled.

PCS Branch Treasurer Paul Dallimore said: “we regret any inconvenience caused to learners whose tests have been postponed. However, we are committed to making sure that our concerns over the Sat-Nav element of the new tests are properly Health & Safety checked before going live. Examiners have been told to put the Sat-Nav bag in the foot well whilst conducting the test, putting candidates, examiners and other road users at risk in an emergency if the said bag was to get trapped under the dual controls. In addition, local routes have been found to have serious flaws in the directions given by the Sat-Nav itself so examiners have to tell candidates to override the instruction as it is incorrect.”

Responding to the strike action, DVSA chief executive Gareth Llewellyn said: “The fact PCS is trying to undermine the launch of the new test by calling for strike action shows a shameful disregard for both road safety and learner drivers who have worked so hard to be ready to take their test.

“The new driving test has been designed to make sure new drivers have the skills they need to help them through a lifetime of safe driving. Rail fares to go up by 3.4% from the New Year ‘It is one step in helping reduce the number of people killed and seriously injured on Britain’s roads.

“During the last 3 years the changes – which are welcomed by most examiners, road safety experts, disability groups and instructors – have been developed and trialled extensively with a wide range of our staff, learners and other organisations. Over 4000 candidates were involved in the trial.

“I met with PCS on November 2 and they turned down my offer of mediation, although our offer still stands. This means that we cannot move forward together to resolve this dispute, for the sake of our staff and customers.”

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Drink driver hospitalised and arrested

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A MAN who was hospitalised after crashing his car on the B4310, Drefach, has also been arrested for drink driving.

The crash, which happened in the early hours of Sunday morning (Feb 18), destroyed the Mercedes he was driving.

He hit a van which was parked outside of a property, which was also damaged.

Dyfed-Powys Police, Welsh Ambulance Service, and Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service personnel attended the scene.

A spokesman for Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service said: “We were called to reports of a road traffic collision at 12.50am on Sunday morning on the B4310 in Drefach.

“We sent crews from Pontyates and Tumble at the scene and one male was cut out of a car using hydraulic cutting equipment and taken to hospital.”

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‘Connecting Carmarthenshire’ campaign takes a leap forward

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Making progress: Jonathan Edwards MP, Adam Price AM and Geraint Trello

EFFORTS to improve the availability of high speed internet and good mobile phone signal took a leap forward this week as EE sets about switching on new mobile phone masts and launches its 4G Home Broadband solution.

Representatives of EE came to Carmarthenshire this weekend to meet with Member of Parliament, Jonathan Edwards and Assembly Member, Adam Price who have led a ‘Connecting Carmarthenshire’ campaign.

Their meeting, which took place near the site of one of two new mobile phone masts near Abergorlech, focused on the upgrades and improvements the company is undertaking across rural Carmarthenshire, with a particular focus on EE’s new 4G Home Broadband solution which can provide superfast broadband via an antenna on the house – a solution EE says could help around 580,000 homes nationwide gain access to high speed connectivity.

The Plaid Cymru politicians said the new improved mobile signal was itself “a big advancement”, but said the launch of the 4G antenna was “a leap forward” for connecting rural Carmarthenshire communities.

Member of Parliament Jonathan Edwards said: “It was a pleasure to welcome EE to Carmarthenshire and continue our discussions on improving connectivity in rural Wales. One new mast will be switched on in Abergorlech in a matter of weeks, with another new mast for the Llansawel region with us later in the year.

“These new masts add to the 27 4G upgrades EE has carried out to existing sites in Carmarthenshire over the last 12 months, providing better coverage for rural communities including Llanybydder, Pencader and Llanarthne, adding to the upgrades from other mobile phone giants across the county.

“Perhaps the most impressive news this week is the launch of EE’s Home Broadband solution which, with the use of a small antenna on the home, can bring superfast broadband to the house. This looks like it could be the answer for many properties which have been left behind during the fixed line upgrades, or where they can only receive slower fixed broadband speeds.

“It’s not for an elected representative to promote a particular private company, but where there appears to be a solution for so many properties to get high speed internet, I have no problem in promoting the product – particularly because when it was trialed it delivered speeds over 100Mbps! This is a giant leap forward.

“Connecting Carmarthenshire is really starting to see positive results, but I’ll keep on working to ensure everyone I represent achieves good connectivity.”

Assembly Member Adam Price said: “The new sites in the Abergorlech area are the latest in a long time of upgrades in recent months, with the added bonus of those mobile signals being used for superfast internet in the home.

“Given that various grants for broadband solutions are available from the Welsh Government, we believe those who can’t get access to fixed broadband connections or receive a glacial pace connection may well be able to receive a grant to have products like 4G Home Broadband installed at their homes.

“I’d encourage anyone who is interested in a grant to cover the costs of delivering a step change in their broadband speeds to visit the Welsh Government’s website to check eligibility, or contact Jonathan and I where we can send information to them directly.

“More and more people across our Carmarthen East and Dinefwr constituency are seeing the benefits of good mobile phone signal and much faster broadband. We’ve still got a little way to go, but local residents are seeing big advancements. We’re delighted the Connecting Carmarthenshire campaign is delivering tangible results for the county.”

On the launch of EE’s 4G Home Broadband solution, Max Taylor, Managing Director of Marketing, EE said: “As our network continues to expand into some of the most remote parts of the UK, we’ve seen the amazing impact that 4G connectivity can have on rural communities. Our newest 4G home broadband router and antenna takes this one step further, ensuring thousands of families in rural areas across the UK could enjoy the benefits of superfast broadband inside their home for the very first time – whether video-calling the grandparents or streaming their favourite TV series.”

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4.4 magnitude earthquake felt across Wales

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AN earthquake of 4.4 magnitude has been felt across Wales and England this afternoon (Feb 17).

There are numerous reports of the earthquake being felt across west Wales, including Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion.

The earthquake originated near Swansea, where it is was felt strongest, at around 2:30pm.

However, the earthquake was felt across Wales, and many parts of England.

The EMSC, an independent monitor of earthquakes, said: “Latest update of the effects of the #earthquake in #Swansea region. Was felt up to 300 km from epicentre.”

Dyfed-Powys Police received many reports about the incident, but said that there was no need for concern, and that they felt it themselves in their control room.

The police force said: “We are receiving an extremely high call volume reporting some sort of earth tremor in the area – we are receiving reports from across the whole of Wales (we felt it in our control room too!). For now – it is unexplained – but there is nothing to worry about.”

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