Seven candidates contest county council seat in Cilycwm
See also the Carmarthenshire Herald, September 2nd 2016, p.4
Seven candidates are competing hard to replace the late Tom Theophilus as county councillor for Cilycwm, in north-east Carmarthenshire. The hotly contested by-election is on September 22, and the winner will have just seven months in post before campaigning starts all over again for the full council elections on May 4 2017.
The sprawling Cilycwm ward covers almost 50 square miles but has an electorate of only about 1,160 people, of whom between 40% and 50% are Welsh speakers. At the last election in 2012 the turnout was nudging 60%.
The ward has not a single open school, the last two – Llansadwrn and Llanwrda – closing in 2016, illustrating the withdrawal of public services from rural areas. Public services are apparently not ‘sustainable’, but their removal threatens the whole fabric of rural life. The seven candidates are all up for the challenge.
Plaid quick off the mark – Dafydd Owen Tomos
Plaid Cymru was quickly out of the blocks, selecting farmer Dafydd Owen Tomos of Penyfedw, Cilycwm, one of the directors of Cilycwm Community Association and former clerk to Cilycwm Community Council.
“I’m standing to be the next councillor for the communities of Cilycwm, Llansadwrn and Llanwrda as I believe I have the experience, the commitment and the passion to advance the needs of the area, and deliver tangible benefits to the residents of north Carmarthenshire,” he said, adding that in the past residents have “too often been ignored”. His priorities include faster broadband speeds and better mobile network coverage.
Conservatives back listening sportsman – Steven Andrew Holmes
The Welsh Conservatives have Steven Andrew Holmes, a keen runner and secretary of the Sarn Helen Running and Cycling clubs, from Nant y Llyn, Ffarmers. Steven, whose professional background is in hotel management, including at the London Hilton, and also as a health and fitness consultant, grew up in Northern Ireland, which he says has much in common with rural West Wales.
Aiming to be an approachable and effective bridge between local people and County Hall, “with a good listening ear”, Steven’s priorities include better access to healthcare and other public services, and infrastructure improvements such as broadband, mobile network coverage and transport, to aid rural businesses to invest for the future.
Social care critical for Labour – Maria Rose Carroll
Labour’s candidate is Maria Rose Carroll, whose daughter runs Llanwrda’s shop in the village centre. Maria, who has lived in Llanwrda for 12 years, trained as a nurse and was a council member of the Royal College of Nursing, and also a manager in the NHS responsible for a £300 million acute care budget. “We must engage the community in decision making,” she said. Maria is anxious to protect public services, and in particular to speed up and enhance the home care provided to elderly people so they do not have to languish unnecessarily in hospital, and to improve rural road safety and school transport.
Maria said she is appalled at the financial cuts to local government, and the lack of high-quality local jobs to keep young people in the area. She favours a National investment Bank to support business and entrepreneurship.
LibDems choose agriculture specialist – Catherine Nakielny
The Liberal Democrats are backing agricultural adviser Dr Catherine Nakielny, who lives at Blaennant, Talley. Catherine’s profile on the AgriPlan Cymru consultancy website says she is a technical specialist in sheep production, providing consultations to individual producers and to Innovis Ltd. She gives presentations, has delivered a winter forage cost calculator, and is engaged in estimating the reduction in methane emissions from genetic improvement of the Welsh national flock. Previously she was breeding programme manager at Innovis Ltd, Aberystwyth.
Whistle-blowing blogger represents People First – Jacqui Thompson
Llanwrda blogger and community councillor Jacqui Thompson, of Cae Brwyn, Hafod Bridge, is standing for People First – Fighting for the Community. Jacqui Thompson is no fan of the leadership style of county council chief executive Mark James. The two have an acrimonious history, the most recent chapter this year when Mr James asked Dyfed-Powys Police to investigate her for harassment and perverting the course of justice. The investigations have been dropped for lack of evidence. Jacqui Thompson’s blog, often critical of the council, has been both a finalist and a winner in the Wales Blog Awards.
“A long-time community campaigner, I am a strong, independent, determined voice, standing up for the best interests of local people. As a county councillor I will be easy to contact and hold surgeries. Most of all, I’ll listen to your concerns, be your champion and not take no for an answer,” is among her messages to voters.
Two independents joined the fray – farmer Thomas Arwel Davies, former chair and current vice-chair of Cilycwm Community Council, of Berrisbrooke Farm, Porthyrhyd, and barrister and Herald columnist Matthew Graham Paul, whose base is Penlan Farm, Siloh, Llandovery. Mr Paul has previously stood for election to Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, representing Welsh Conservatives.
Farming Independent seeks affordable housing for local people – Thomas Arwel Davies
Policy priorities for Thomas Arwel Davies – always called Arwel — include rural housing, road safety, and the planning system.
“I am particularly interested in understanding local housing needs, with the aim of ensuring that local people can afford to continue to live in their own communities,” said Arwel, who has lived in the ward for all of his 48 years.
He calls rural roads “extremely hazardous” and would like dangerous bends to be improved. As for the planning system, he argues that there is “growing resentment” over planning applications, because of the “very many instances” in which decisions favoured by community councils are overruled “despite the wishes of the local council-tax payers”.
Independent will campaign for local state education – Matthew Graham Paul
Barrister Matthew Graham Paul deplores the closure of local schools, and in 2012 represented the Ysgol Pantycelyn Action Group free of charge in the High Court and the Court of Appeal to try to keep Llandovery’s Pantycelyn comprehensive school open. “Cilycwm residents have unreasonably long journeys to school. I will campaign for secondary education to return to Llandovery, so that we can once again have a local state secondary school,” he says, adding that it is in Cilycwm’s interests for Llandovery as a town to succeed, and to help achieve this, the county council should allow two hours free parking in the car park.
He would work to achieve a county council which responds to local needs. “Carmarthenshire County Council too often overlooks or ignores the north-east of the county,” he says. “Whichever party is nominally in charge of the council, its elected members have completely failed to change the council’s culture.” Matthew feels that his work as a barrister is an asset. “I understand how local government works and how to resolve problems effectively,” he said. “I spend my professional life helping people sort out their difficulties with local authorities, and I have assisted a substantial number of Cilycwm residents for no charge.”
He plans to campaign for micro-generation and the expansion of hydro, solar and small-scale wind power (not large industrial wind turbines). He wants taxpayers’ money spent more effectively, lower council tax, and every effort to avoid wasteful use of resources. Planning decisions should “sustain the viability of farms and rural business, and permit future generations to live and work where they were brought up”. He would work to meet the needs of older Cilycwm residents, in dealing with care home admissions and the services delivered to people in their homes.
“Above all”, he says, “I believe that a councillor should have an open-door policy, and I will respond quickly to constituents’ concerns. I will be an effective, approachable and independent representative for local residents.”
I do not yet have photographs of Maria Rose Carroll, Catherine Nakielny or Matthew Graham Paul