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Former AM handed suspended sentence for child sex images and videos

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FORMER Assembly Member, Simon Thomas, was handed a suspended prison sentence this afternoon (Oct 31) after pleading guilty to three counts of making indecent images of children.

Appearing at Aberystwyth Magistrates’ Court, the former Plaid Cymru AM admitted making hundreds of indecent images of children.

He was found with more than 600 images and video of children.

94 images and 56 videos were in the most serious category A, with 87 and 16 in category B, and 354 and five in category C.

The judge said that there was no evidence he produced or distributing the material, only possessing them.

Defending the former AM, Richard Williams said that since his arrest, Thomas’ family had been strained and he was ‘anxious’ to address his issues.

Following his guilty pleas, he was handed a 26-week prison sentence, suspended for two years, and he must also sign the sex offenders register for the next seven years.

An NSPCC spokesperson said after the sentencing: “Within these images are young victims of abuse and by possessing them, Thomas has fuelled the demand in this awful trade. It is not a victimless crime.

“His actions betrayed the trust placed in him by the communities he represented at Cardiff Bay and Westminster and it’s now extremely important that he receives appropriate rehabilitation as part of his sentence.

“Ridding images like these from the internet must be a priority for tech companies, government and law enforcement.”

 

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Reports damning for City Deal management

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THE PUBLICATION of two reports on Friday, March 15, has shone a light into corners of the Swansea Bay City Deal.

The first report released, prepared on behalf of the UK and Welsh governments, written by Actica

Consulting, suggests a combination of concerns over funding and of the “much-publicised concerns on the wellness village (Delta Lakes, Llanelli, the single largest project) could cause a loss of confidence within the region”

In the meantime and, The Herald understands, over the anguished objections of the Regional Office/Carmarthenshire County Council, the second report – an internal review – was circulated to county councillors in Pembrokeshire this morning.

The second report makes for grim reading.

The report lays bare the amount of distrust between the City Deal partners, particularly between Neath Port Talbot and Pembrokeshire councils on the one side, and Carmarthenshire County Council on the other.

Each report highlights deficiencies in the management of the Deal, which Carmarthenshire County Council and its controversial CEO Mark James are meant to lead.

Familiar to those who have kept a close watch on the activities of Carmarthenshire County Council are complaints of a lack of transparency and openness in the way the City Deal has been managed to date.

Particular criticism is made of two key aspects of the project: that under Mr James’ leadership the Deal has failed to consider the City Deal as a truly regional opportunity and focussed on building individual, local projects of limited regional value; the second major criticism is the failure of leadership given to the project and an abject lack of clear financial processes and accountability.

In spite of an attempt to spin the ‘success’ of two elements of the deal, Swansea Waterfront and Yr Egin, it is worth noting that Yr Egin was only tacked on to the City Deal when already underway because UWTSD revealed it couldn’t afford to complete the project on its own as it had promised.

Cllr Rob James, the Leader of the Labour Group on Carmarthenshire County Council told The Herald late on Friday afternoon: “I am pleased that this review has highlighted many of the concerns that we have raised on governance.

“Frankly, the report validated our actions to date.

“Trust has broken down between partners and public confidence in one of the projects, in particular, has taken a big hit.

“There are clear lessons that need to be learnt and this report highlights several of them. I now hope that the administration in Carmarthenshire consider the review in full and ensure that radical changes on governance are delivered immediately.”

Cllr Rob Stewart, Chairman of the Swansea Bay City Deal Joint Committee, said: “This review was carried out alongside the UK and Welsh Government’s independent review of the City Deal programme and sought to assure that it will deliver full economic benefits for the region.

“The findings and recommendations of the internal review will be formally considered by the SBCD Joint Committee at the next meeting.

“Looking to ensure governance is as robust as possible reflects that we’re still in the very early stages of a 15-year programme, but we’re ready to support any recommendations that would benefit the region’s economic prosperity in future by speeding up the City Deal’s delivery.”

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Review recommends immediate approval of two City Deal projects

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TWO major projects forming part of the £1.3 billion Swansea Bay City Deal should be immediately approved, an independent review has found.

The review – carried out by Actica Consulting for the UK Government and Welsh Government – says project business cases for ‘the Yr Egin’ creative digital cluster in Carmarthen and the City and Waterfront Digital District in Swansea are ‘fit for purpose’.

Senior UK Government, Welsh Government and local authority officials should now aim to bring these project approvals to a swift conclusion, the review says.

A 3,500-seat digital indoor arena and digital plaza at the LC car park site is among the features of the £168.2 million Swansea City and Waterfront Digital District. Other project features include a 100,000 square foot digital village for tech businesses on Kingsway, as well as a 28,000 square foot ‘box village’ and 64,000 square foot innovation precinct development for start-up companies at the new University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) campus in SA1.

Once the project’s business case is approved, a City Deal contribution of £50m from both governments will follow.

Already close to full occupation and with S4C’s newly-relocated headquarters at its heart, phase one of the 4,000 square metre ‘Canolfan S4C Yr Egin’ creative industry development at UWTSD’s Carmarthen campus was officially opened late last year.

A second phase of work is also planned, adding a further 4,250 square metres of commercial floor space for creative sector businesses.

City Deal funding worth £5 million would contribute to an overall £24.3 million project cost.

Cllr Rob Stewart, Chairman of the Swansea Bay City Deal Joint Committee, said: “We welcome the findings of the independent review and the continued support of both governments for the Swansea Bay City Deal.

“We will now look to agree and implement the review’s recommendations, which is evidence of our ongoing commitment to deliver an investment programme worth £1.8 billion and over 9,000 jobs to South West Wales.

“Work on the digital indoor arena and digital plaza elements of the Swansea City and Waterfront Digital District is due to start this summer, so we agree with the review’s finding that commitment of City Deal funds in the short-term is critical to ensure the financial exposure of local authorities remains manageable.

“We also welcome the call to imminently approve City Deal funding for the ‘Canolfan S4C Yr Egin’ project in Carmarthen. This development has been an outstanding success story since opening last autumn, but there’s much more to come thanks to a second phase of work that’s planned.

“We stand ready to meet with UK Government and Welsh Government officials as soon as possible to get these two exciting projects over the finish line.

“These approvals will be the first of many that will benefit residents and businesses in all Swansea Bay City Region communities.”

A further recommendation of the review says there should be flexibility in the City Deal programme to allow some projects to be potentially replaced by other new projects in future. The review says this recommendation would guard against the City Deal stagnating, while enabling the chance to explore new opportunities.

It’s also being recommended that an independent programme director is appointed to provide a dedicated additional resource to help speed up the City Deal’s delivery. This recommendation is echoed by an internal City Deal review.

Cllr Stewart said: “Although the City Deal was first signed in March 2017, the need for a detailed legal agreement to be drafted and approved by the UK Government, the Welsh Government and all four regional councils meant Joint Committee’s first formal meeting only take place at the end of August last year.

“So given the City Deal is still at an early stage, Joint Committee commissioned our own internal review to run in parallel with the independent review to ensure our governance is sufficiently robust.

“Both reviews are recommending the appointment of an independent City Deal programme director, which would provide an additional dedicated resource and support for partners to enable work on projects across the region to be progressed more quickly.

“We also welcome the recommendation for the City Deal programme to be more flexible. This aligns with our consistent request to bring new projects into the City Deal if they’re good for the region.

“Throughout these reviews, work on all City Deal projects has been ongoing. The City Deal hasn’t been on hold in any way, although we’re now in a position to make much more progress in coming months.”

The Swansea Bay City Deal is led by the four regional councils – Carmarthenshire, Neath Port Talbot, Pembrokeshire and Swansea – in partnership with the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Swansea University, Hywel Dda University Health Board and Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board.

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Wales ranked third in the world for recycling

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AS we celebrate Global Recycling Day, Wales has been recognised as the third highest recycling rates in the world beaten only by Singapore and Germany.

Recycle for Wales is striving to get Wales to the highest ranking recycling country in the world.

A survey conducted on behalf of Recycle for Wales has revealed that nearly three quarters (73%) of adults in South West Wales would be likely to actively support an ambition to recycle more and help Wales reach number one in the World Recycling League.

Of adults surveyed in South West Wales, only 39% were aware of Wales’ third place ranking, although 57% said knowing this made them feel proud.

The survey also found that one third of adults in South West Wales (32%) said they would recycle to preserve the environment for future generations, while 37% said they would recycle because they thought it’s the right thing to do.

Welsh households already recycle 63% of their waste (1), so small changes could make a big difference in helping Wales get to number one.

Carl Nichols, Head of WRAP Cymru which runs the Recycle for Wales campaign, said: “It’s no surprise that the majority of adults surveyed want to help Wales become the best recycling nation in the world. We want to preserve our beautiful country for generations to come, we’re already amongst the best in the world in recycling, and we’ve already come such a long way. That’s why we’re confident Wales can get to first place in the World Recycling League if we all play our part.

“Making small changes can make a big difference. From putting tea bags and fruit and vegetable peels in food caddies instead of the bin to recycling from all the rooms in our homes – not just the kitchen. Even remembering to recycle aerosol cans and household cleaning bottles, as well as the obvious things like paper and card, glass bottles and cans, can help us get to number one.”

To find out more about what you can do to help get Wales to number one, see what else you can recycle in your local area: www.recycleforwales.org.uk/local-recycling

*This refers to municipal waste – i.e. waste which is collected by local authorities or taken to a household waste recycling centre

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