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Challenging the status quo has ‘cost us dearly’

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Councillors must lead: Jeff Edmunds

Councillors must lead: Jeff
Edmunds

WHEN the former leader Kevin Madge was challenged the labour party selected Bigyn councillor Jeff Edmunds as his replacement. However, Labour’s former coalition partners, the Independents, did a deal with Plaid Cymru and elected to appoint Emlyn Dole as the new leader instead.

In an explosive interview Cllr Edmunds told The Herald:

  • He believes that his agenda for direct control by councillors contributed to Labour’s loss of power;
  • Kevin Madge had lost the confidence not only of his own group, but also the leader of the Independents;
  • Plaid Cymru were manoeuvring to replace Labour long before Labour lost its share of power

Challenging Mark James

The Herald suggested to Councillor Edmunds that the public perception of Carmarthenshire County Council is one of an officer-led council. We asked if councillors believed this was the case.

He provided a robust reply: “I am sitting here because I challenged the officers in executive board meetings. I challenged the decisions other people were making including Kevin Madge.

“My background is in management so I understand finance and management. I challenged everything I thought needed challenging.

“Openness and transparency should come into play. When your paper was putting events at Parc Howard under the microscope, I questioned it and I was told the holder of the portfolio (Cllr Meryl Gravell) knew all about it!”

Warming to his theme, Jeff Edmunds told our reporter: “I told Mark James that there would be a different direction to this council if I became leader. I told him that the policy would be directed by me and that he would be appraised bimonthly on how he would be delivering on the objectives that the Executive would be setting. It is the councillors who should be running this council and they should then hand it over to the officers to deliver on the policies they decide upon. We have to get the councillors to get the officers to deliver.

He continued: “I want executive board meetings to be open and transparent. Let’s have debates in the chamber. Let’s give councillors the opportunity to have their say in the decision-making. It gives the public the chance to see and hear what is being said. Decisions will not perceived to be being made behind closed doors. That is what I would do if I become leader”

And on openness and transparency he was forthright: “We have got opportunities for the public to ask questions but we should expand it and engage more with the people who elect us. You have to put your own bias aside you represent the people. We don’t use councillors enough. Councillors should be there to do as much as possible.

“At the next election, I will try to demonstrate that to the public that councillors will be responsible for the future of this authority. I said at the annual general meeting that I wasn’t afraid of challenging officers. I have and I will.”

OUSTING OF A LEADER

During a turbulent period for the Carmarthenshire Labour party and what appeared to be disharmony between the independents and the ruling Labour councillors, there was a sudden leadership change, regarded in some quarters as Kevin Madge being ousted.

The Herald asked Councillor Edmunds if he could clarify the events, which led up to Kevin Madge losing his title as leader of the council and Labour losing power at County Hall.

He told the Herald, “It wasn’t an ‘ousting’.

“We have an annual general meeting each May. I might not be re-elected next year!

“I was asked to stand in 2014, but didn’t. I was told that this year another Labour member was going to stand against Kevin. That had been rumoured for some time. I asked the member named to me if the rumour was true. He told me that he had been in to see Kevin Madge and that he would be standing for the leadership.”

Setting the scene for his own decision to seek the leadership, Cllr Edmunds told us: “In April I went to see Kevin and I told him what I had heard about this person standing. At that stage I told Kevin I would have to stand.”

Jeff Edmunds continued and laid bare the discontent within the Labour group: “He wasn’t bringing the group along with him. The majority of Labour group members were not happy with him. He was losing the respect and support of the group. His time was up.”

Responding to suggestions that he had been in some way disloyal to Kevin Madge, Jeff Edmunds said: “I have been slated for backstabbing. There was no backstabbing. It was a three horse race.”

He then proceeded to lay bare the behind the scenes manoeuvrings involving the Independent group, Labour’s coalition partners, and suggested that Plaid Cymru’s involvement predated Kevin Madge’s failure to gain re-election: “On February 27 the leader of the Independent group (Cllr Pam Palmer) told me that she could no longer work with Kevin Madge. She told me that Plaid Cymru had approached the Independents and offered them 5 seats on the executive in exchange for taking over Labour’s role in the coalition.

“The truth has to come out! Kevin was losing the support of his group and the coalition was beginning to fracture. I believe he would have been unable to continue as council leader whatever happened.”

“If you look at the Plaid constitution and rules Plaid could not have gone into coalition with anyone until such a proposal had gone before their national executive. The earliest they could have asked for dispensation to go into coalition would have been the beginning of April.”

The Herald has separately checked the provisions of the Plaid constitution and have confirmed Cllr Edmunds’ account fits in with it.

JOBS FOR LOCAL PEOPLE

The Herald asked Councillor Edmunds what he would do for Carmarthenshire if he were to become leader.

He told us: “I would like to grow the economy. We should be giving more work to local people and we should look at taking back services in-house.

“We need to think of different models on how we employ staff. We are spending millions of pounds on contractors when these jobs could go to local people. Look at how much money we spend externally on grass cutting. When I brought this up the executive board said that this was seasonal. I would like to see people trained and upskilled to do these jobs.

“We could have a multi-skilled, multi-tasking workforce and create the jobs for them.”

PROACTIVE RESPONSE TO ALCOHOL AND DRUGS

There are pockets of poverty in Carmarthenshire and there are issues surrounding the misuse of drugs and alcohol as well as a rise in the number of people who are homeless or sofa surfing. The Herald wanted to know if Councillor Edmunds had any ideas on what could be done to address these social issues.

Reflecting on the way in which he believes that the Council could make a difference, Jeff Edmunds said: “I made a presentation to the Labour group about these problems and how it costs us ten times more to be reactive rather than preventative.

“We need to be educating our children. Why are they doing this? Is it because they are jobless and homeless? Why don’t we give over some of our land so that people can get involved in growing their on food again, instead of putting horses to graze on it? We could involve communities in this instead of seeing people going to food banks.

He concluded: “We need a proactive approach to drugs and alcohol problems. It is not unique to Llanelli and there needs to be a joined up approach to this. We have people stealing because they have no other way of funding their habit.”

PLAID’S ‘RUDE AWAKENING’

Plaid Cymru have been in opposition for many years and their criticism of the Labour/Independent coalition was relentless.

We wanted to know now how Councillor Edmunds thought the new leader was doing now that Plaid were in power and Labour had an opportunity to take them to task.

“Emlyn Dole has had a rude awakening.

“He started his leadership by saying he was going to get rid of the Mercedes. But if you look back in the press you will see that it was I who first suggested that.

“He made a lot of noise about finances. He now realises the reality he faces with the budget.

“The unions were unhappy about what he said he would do before he became leader. They are even unhappier with him now.”

Speaking of himself, Jeff Edmunds said: “I am not happy about what he said in the press about me. A lot of it was untrue and he knows it.”

Looking at what he felt Plaid should be doing, Jeff told us: “What I would like to see is that they fulfil a lot of what we put in the budget, especially for those who are ill, disabled and getting on in age.

“I don’t know how he will handle the budget. I can see that property is up for sale in Trostre. But that is going to suck the life out of Llanelli town centre.

He continued: “We need to have a clear sight for Llanelli town centre. We need to control who buys that land and for what purpose.”

On the vexed issue about what happens to land sold by the Council for development, Jeff Edmunds said: “My whole ethos is about supporting businesses. When it comes down to it, if the council sells its interest in land, there is nothing to stop the buyers selling it on. We don’t have control of that; we can, however, contribute to the success and growth of businesses in Llanelli.

“I believe in social equality and I want to try and make a difference in Carmarthenshire.”

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Carmarthenshire County Council cracks down on fly-tippers

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CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council handed out a total of £4,350 in fixed penalty notices (FPN’s) related to fly-tipping last month.

17 FPN’s were issued as a result of CCTV footage at Carway recycling facility, resulting in a total of £2,675 in fines being given.

This includes:

  • £125 FPN issued to a Carway female for depositing a bag
  • £400 FPN issued to a Carway male for depositing black refuse bags, blue recycling bags and paint pots at the site on several different occasions
  •  £125 FPN issued to a Carway female for depositing a bag
  • £400 FPN issued to a Carway resident for depositing blue recycling bags and other items

Fixed penalty notices issued at other locations in the county include:

  • £125 FPN issued to a female for depositing a black refuse bag at Red Roses recycling facility.
  • £300 FPN issued to a Gorseinon resident who failed in his duty of care when he had his household waste removed by a person not registered as a waste carrier.
  • £400 FPN issued to a Llanelli resident for fly tipping after CCTV footage provided by a member of the public led to his identification.  The male was seen driving along the rear lane between James Street and Swansea Road in Llanelli where he was seen throwing a blue recycling bag from his moving vehicle into the lane.
  • £300 FPN issued to a Llanelli resident who failed in their duty of care after their waste was found in an overgrown verge/hedgerow in the rear lane of their street.  The resident claimed to have paid a male to dispose of their waste but failed to provide their details.
  • £300 FPN issued to a Llanelli business for failing to produce waste transfer notes after waste produced by the business was found illegally deposited in Swiss Valley, Llanelli. The business was issued a notice requiring them to produce waste transfer notes within 7 days which they failed to do. The business was also issued a legal notice to ensure any waste from the business is disposed of correctly in the future.  

Cllr Aled Vaughan Owen, Cabinet Member for Climate Change, Decarbonisation and Sustainability said: “The introduction of CCTV at Carway recycling facility has enabled us to clamp down on the unlawful dumping of waste at this site. I hope this serves as a reminder that all waste deposited at our recycling facilities must be placed in the correct container, with all bags and boxed removed from the site.”

“The Council’s CCTV strategy will be extended to other recycling facilities in the county in the coming months to help combat instances of fly tipping in these areas.”

“I would urge anyone who needs to dispose of waste to do so responsibly. We have recycling centres at Nantycaws (Carmarthen), Trostre (Llanelli), Wernddu (Ammanford) and Whitland as well as a bulky waste collection service and weekly household waste collections. When paying for rubbish to be disposed of, please use a licensed business and ensure that you are given a valid waste transfer note when waste is collected.”

For more information on disposing of waste please visit Carmarthenshire.gov.wales/recycling

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Wales stands firm in support for Ukraine

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IN THE latest update on the Ukraine crisis, Wales’s Minister for Social Justice Jane Hutt thanked all those households across Wales who have come forward to offer their homes to Ukrainians fleeing the War and encouraged more households to provide this vital support.

APPEAL FOR MORE HOST FAMILIES

The Minister for Social Justice said: “I’m delighted to say that over 5,650 people from Ukraine, sponsored by the Welsh Government and Welsh households, have already arrived in the UK.
“More than 8,200 visas have now been issued to people from Ukraine who have sponsors in Wales, so we expect the number of arrivals to continue to grow in the coming weeks.
“Thousands of Welsh households sponsored Ukrainians to arrive in Wales and committed to hosting them for at least six months.
“As we move into the autumn, we approach the end of that initial period.
“We hope hosts and Ukrainians will agree to extend many of those placements, but we need additional hosts to support those who cannot continue living where they are.
“To ensure a warm welcome to Wales, I’m inviting households across Wales to come forward and open their homes to welcome those seeking sanctuary.
“We’re immensely thankful to all those across Wales acting as hosts to Ukrainians, but more households must come forward.
“I completely understand that there are those who want to help but may not have the resources to do so, given the circumstances we’re all facing with the cost-of-living crisis.”

WALES WILL STEP UP TO THE PLATE

Jane Hutt continued: “What we all know, and has been proven countless times, is that the people of Wales are one of the most generous across the globe, and I’m sure we will step up to the plate once again.
“The idea of hosting can be daunting. That’s why we have funded Housing Justice Cymru to provide a Host Support service which includes expert and reliable information, training, advice, and guidance for people hosting, or those considering hosting, Ukrainians in Wales.
“More information on sessions and training can be found on the Housing Justice Cymru website. We also publish regularly updated guidance for hosts and sponsors at gov. wales/ukraine.
“We still need many more households to consider whether they could provide a home for those in need. This would normally be a commitment to hosting for 6 to 12 months.
“If anyone is considering this, we encourage them to register their interest at gov.wales/offerhome, and to attend one of the ‘Introduction to Hosting’ sessions, facilitated by Housing Justice Cymru. You won’t need to continue the process if you decide it is not for you.
“We have also partnered with Airbnb.org to ensure very short-term emergency placements can be provided to prevent homelessness.
“If you cannot host for more than 6 months but you could offer your property for up to 30 days at a time, you may also be able to contribute. Visit gov.wales/offerhome and follow the link to the Airbnb.org platform.”
Finally, the Minister stated: “We will continue to communicate with those who host Ukrainians, with updated guidance and information to support the valuable role you are undertaking.
“To all those that are already hosting and to those that are considering hosting, thank you, we owe you all a huge debt of gratitude.”

WESTMINSTER MUST BACK HOSTS
DURING COST-OF-LIVING CRISIS

Conservative MS Mark Isherwood raised how the cost-of-living crisis affects Ukrainian refugees.
Where families had taken in those fleeing Russian aggression, he noted a risk of sponsorships not continuing beyond six months because the hosts cannot afford the rise in fuel costs.
He asked the Minister what discussions she’d had with the UK Government about increasing the £350 contribution to households who’d taken in Ukrainian refugees.
The Minister agreed with Mark Isherwood that ending a specific ministerial post dealing with refugees was regrettable.
She noted a lack of information from the UK Government over the summer months and since Liz Truss replaced Boris Johnson as head of the Conservative Government.
Ms Hutt said: “We asked for an increase at least to £500, or up again, doubling to £700 per month. An urgent decision is needed regarding this as they reach the end of their six-month period.
“That period is underway, so we’re writing to all hosts to see if they will continue.”

UK GOVERNMENT URGED
TO PICK UP THE PHONE

The Minister thanked Mark Isherwood for introducing her to a charity offering support in North Wales, Link, and hoped that he and his colleagues would bring pressure to bear on their Westminster colleagues to ensure those in need from Ukraine and those in Wales helping them received support.
She added: “I look forward perhaps that we might have some telephone calls from the Prime Minister and other Ministers to us in Government. We must engage with them and follow this through.
“There is a huge job of work to be done here. We’re taking responsibility in the way I’ve outlined, funding our welcome centres and paying thank-you payments to hosts if they support a family who initially arrived in Wales under the Ukraine family scheme.
“That’s not happening in England. The commitment that we’re making is considerable.
“I hope everyone will join us today, saying that we need to press for those answers in terms of financial support.”

THE THREAT OF HOMELESSNESS

Sioned Williams of Plaid Cymru raised the spectre of Ukrainian refugees becoming homeless in Wales due to a lack of financial support and the end of existing hosting and housing placements.
The Minister praised the work of local authorities across Wales supporting refugees.
She said: “There are very imaginative programmes. That includes a whole range of issues like repurposing empty buildings.
“Local authorities are really coming up with a whole range of ways in which we can support people, perhaps, from a welcome centre, or a host family, into that intermediate accommodation, and then on to other longer-term accommodation.”
Pembrokeshire currently houses around 200 Ukrainian refugees, with the demand for assistance outstripping the availability of suitable accommodation.

NOT ONE PENNY FROM WESTMINSTER
TO SUPPORT FAMILIES FLEEING WAR

Responding to a question from Mabon ap Gwynfor about problems housing family groups, Jane Hutt hit out at the lack of support from the UK Government and how it’s u-turned on a commitment to help families.
“The UK Government has never given a penny towards the family scheme.
“The former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, in one of his last PMQs, actually said that he thought the Ukraine family scheme should get the same funding and support as the Homes for Ukraine scheme. It’s never happened.
“We have provided thank-you payments to people who are hosting Ukrainian families. It’s all Welsh Government money; it’s not UK Government, because they don’t provide a penny. And also, the British Red Cross—£246,000—who are actually supporting Ukrainian families who are hosting family members under the Ukrainian family scheme.”
On Wednesday, September 28, Eluned Morgan, Wales’s Health Minister, announced the continuation of free healthcare in Wales to Ukrainian residents displaced by the ongoing conflict.
The exemption will continue to apply unless there’s a significant change in circumstances in Ukraine.

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Carmarthenshire’s sensory garden: why locals should embrace this wellness trend

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WITH ‘#sensorygarden’ 499.1k views on TikTok – locals have the advantage of experiencing a sensory garden on their doorstep at the National Botanic Garden of Wales. Wildlife experts explain why you should visit.

Wildlife expert Sean McMenemy shares how sensory gardens can do wonders for our wellness whilst providing a safe haven for wildlife and encourages Carmarthenshire locals to visit their local sensory garden this autumn.

A sensory garden is an outdoor space that stimulates the five senses of sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste, and can be created in your own garden. Sensory gardens at home remain relatively rare, but the trend is growing with the TikTok hashtag ‘#sensorygarden’ amassing 499.1k views*. 

Carmarthenshire, dubbed the Garden of Wales, has a huge array of beautiful green spaces to explore. It’s home to the National Botanic Garden of Wales which spans a huge 568 acres, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The stunning Great Glasshouse features a sensory trail that explores the largest single-span greenhouse in the world! From fluffy flowers from South Africa to a strongly scented Australian plant, it’ll engage all your senses. 

Having recently gifted King Charles with a beautiful oak sapling, the National Botanic Garden of Wales care deeply about the nation’s natural heritage. For those visiting the garden, the paths are wheelchair accessible with manual wheelchairs available on site. Open 10am – 6pm every day of the week.

Wildlife expert and founder of bird food provider Ark Wildlife, Sean McMenemy, explains the benefits of sensory gardening: “Sensory gardens provide a great deal of physical and mental benefits for different people and purposes. From getting vitamin D from sunlight to improving physical fitness by maintaining a garden, there are several physical benefits. Mentally, you can benefit from a mood boost and relaxation by spending time surrounded by calming stimulation.

“Sensory gardens can also have huge benefits for children, older people, those with learning disabilities and those who struggle with their physical and mental health. You can also create a sensory garden for your pets and garden wildlife!”

Top tips for creating your own sensory garden

If you do have the outdoor space, creating your own sensory garden is therapeutic in itself and doesn’t need to be a complicated process. The most important thing is to ensure that the garden engages all five senses. 

Melody Estes, landscape design gardening supervisor, says: “Whether you’re new to gardening or a seasoned pro, you can always improve your garden by adding some sensory elements.” 

Here are some tips from Melody for creating a sensory garden:

Sight – Plant colourful flowers that change with the seasons.

Sound – If you have a fountain or water feature on your property, consider adding some relaxing music to play alongside it. You could also place chimes near your front door to welcome people in.

Smell – Use scent. Consider planting scented flowers or herbs like lavender, rosemary and thyme that will give off a lovely aroma when they bloom.

Touch – Mix textures. The texture of plants can be as important as their colour and shape. Try using plants with soft leaves like ferns or grasses that are texturally different.

Taste – Planting herbs, fruits and vegetables not only provide tasty treats, but is a sustainable source of food.

Sean McMenemy adds: “Sensory gardens are an easy way to engage with wildlife and the outdoor environment. Growing your own plants and vegetables provides countless ways to learn about the natural world.

“You can bring your sensory garden to life by using bird feeders to attract beautiful feathered friends into your garden. They’ll bring the sound element to your sensory garden naturally. Fragrant flowers will attract colourful butterflies and other pollinators to your garden, giving you something to observe whilst helping nature to thrive.”

Some people may not have the time, money or space to create their own sensory garden. However, those with balconies and window ledges can still plant colourful, sweet-smelling flowers and edible plants. This mini sensory garden can still provide the benefits and satisfaction of an outdoor garden.

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