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Park and Ride service saved

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Saved: 503

ABERYSTWYTH’S Park and Ride service, which is a vital link between the town and Bronglais Hospital, has been saved – for now. 

A County Council press statement confirmed that a new service would start on Thursday (Sept 1), following an eleventh hour deal with Mid Wales Transport to continue running it until the end of December this year.

This new service will serve all stops on what was the 503 Park and Ride Service contract, which ended on Wednesday (Aug 31).

The circular service will run every half an hour from Aberystwyth Bus Interchange, with the first one of the day departing at 9am and the last one at 2.30pm. The service will operate Monday to Saturday except Bank Holidays.

All those wishing to park at the car park located on Boulevard St Brieuc will continue to pay the appropriate charge, which is currently £1.40 a day. Anyone wishing to use the bus services serving the stop adjacent to the car park, including the new 503, will pay the appropriate fare or, where applicable, show their valid concessionary fare pass.

Councillor Alun Williams, Cabinet Member with responsibility for Transport, said: “I’d like to thank council officers who initiated successful discussions with the service provider at the request of the Cabinet and to Mid Wales Travel for their help and co-operation. It’s good to see that locally we can work together to explore alternative, cost-effective ways of maintaining services.”

Information regarding what happens as of January 1, 2017 will be provided in due course.

However, the good news has been tarnished by Aberystwyth councillor Ceredig Davies, claiming that service users had been ‘worrying for months’.

COUNCIL CRITICISED 

The announcement may have been made in the nick of time; however, it is far from the whole story, with claims made by the council regarding the number of service users and the cost of providing the service thrown into doubt.

When The Herald approached the council following a critical meeting of its Cabinet, the local authority – understandably – played things close to its chest – only confirming ‘officers will be meeting with the current service provider very shortly and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage’.

But it is the way the council arrived at that point which has caused concern.

At its meeting on June 28, 2016, the Cabinet agreed to defer the decision relating to the Park and Ride service in Aberystwyth in order to give the Thriving Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee an opportunity to consider the matter.

A Special Meeting was held on July 14, 2016, to consider the report and recommendations were then presented to the Cabinet on July 19. That decision was to realise savings by not extending or renewing the contract when it ended on August 31.

However, the matter was called in by Cllrs Dai Mason, Gareth Davies and Paul James, and the Thriving Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee met on August 9 to consider the decision of the Cabinet meeting in relation to the Park and Ride Service in Aberystwyth.

The grounds for the call in and subsequent recommendation were startling and bear repeating in full: “It’s possible that councillors have been misled by anecdotal information re the number of people using the Aberystwyth Park and Ride scheme. According to the information presented, very few people use the facility whilst the council’s official figures prove otherwise, with over 60,000 using the service last year, and 15,000 of those using the service to Bronglais hospital.

“This situation needs to be a ‘call in’ based on the fact that the true facts have not been presented. It’s possible that councillors have been misled about the running cost of the Park and Ride scheme in Aberystwyth. No financial accounts re the scheme have been presented to date, and thus no decision can be made based on loss or profit made from the Park and Ride scheme.”

In light of that, the committee recommended that: ‘Should the operator serve notice to the Transport Commissioner to terminate the route, then the council seeks tenders to provide a new service for a period of 12 months>”

FALSE PREMISE 

If the reasons for the call in above were not damning enough, a report from the Health Board regarding the works due to be carried out on Caradog Road show the extent to which the situation had been misunderstood.

Apart from the issue of realising a saving, in June, Cabinet members had been told that changes planned to the access at Bronglais Hospital would render the current route unworkable and usage of the service is modest, as are actual numbers using the service to access Bronglais Hospital.

While the issue of usage numbers was effectively scotched by the Thriving Communities Committee in July, a report from the Health Board has since confirmed that access to Caradog Road would not be continuously obstructed, and that any break in access would be only ‘sporadic’.

The council confirmed that claims Caradog Road would be unavailable for the Park and Ride service were incorrect.

Hywel Dda Health Board confirmed to The Herald that Bronglais Hospital’s Caradog Road entrance would be closed from Monday (Sept 5) to Tuesday, September 13. Other periods when Caradog Road would be inaccessible are dependent on the progress of other works over a period ending in May 2017.

Phil Jones, Hospital Director at Bronglais Hospital, said: “The hospital staff at Bronglais are optimistic that this vital service will be supported for the benefit of our patients who often have a long journey in mid Wales to reach Bronglais hospital. The support of the council in these difficult financial times is appreciated.”

SCRUTINY SYSTEM WORKS 

At the outset of the process leading to the original decision to discontinue the Park and Ride Service, some Cabinet members are noted as expressing concerns about the short period of time before the contract’s end. In addition, reservations were expressed about the paucity of concrete data. Notwithstanding those concerns, the Cabinet was ultimately persuaded to end the service on what turned out to be at least partly fallacious bases: user figures were not as bad as suggested; the access to Bronglais would not be lost for nine months; no revenue figures to back a contention of loss were produced.

However, it is to the Cabinet’s credit that it both recognised the initial problems, remitted it to the Thriving Communities Committee, and were later prepared to take on board the observations and recommendations made by members of that Committee. The effectiveness of the Scrutiny Committee system, in those circumstances, show robust examination of the decision-making process.

Of more concern is how the council reached the point – that it was only two months before the end of a key contract that the matter was brought to Cabinet and, as importantly, how on earth the Council came to rely on information and data that was proven to be no more than anecdotal (at best) and wrong (at worst).

Councillor Alun Williams’ thanks to officers for sorting out a situation of council officers’ own making cannot obscure the failings in the council’s internal processes. While the scrutiny system seems to have worked, the reasons that led to its involvement are certain to be closely examined.

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Mark Drakeford named next First Minister

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THE NEXT First Minister of Wales will be Mark Drakeford, it has been announced this afternoon (Dec 6).

Mr Drakeford, a Cardiff West AM, was named as the winner of the Welsh Labour leadership contest at the Principality Stadium.

The contest was triggered when Carwyn Jones, the current First Minister, announced he was stepping down.

Mr Jones will officially step down on Tuesday (Dec 10).

Mr Drakeford will then be officially confirmed as the new First Minister of Wales by the National Assembly next week.

In the first round of voting, the results were:

Mark Drakeford – 46.9%
Vaughan Gething – 30.8%
Eluned Morgan – 22.3%

Eluned Morgan’s votes were then redistributed on voters’ second preferences, with the following results:

Mark Drakeford – 53.9%
Vaughan Gethin – 46.1%

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Met Office issue yellow weather warning for Friday morning

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THE MET OFFICE has warned of strong winds and heavy rain across South and West Wales as they have issued a yellow weather warning for rain on Friday (Dec 7).

Between 1am and 9am, spells of rain, heavy at times and accompanied by windy weather, are likely to produce 20-40mm of rain.

Coming after some recent wet weather, this rain is likely to lead to some temporary flooding impacts before the rain clears early Friday morning.

The Met Office are warning people that flooding of a few homes and business is likely, bus and train services, as well as roads, will probably be affected, with journey times taking longer.

Natural Resources Wales also has a flood alert in place in Pembrokeshire. Due to restrictions at the tidal outfall, river levels in the River Ritec in the Salterns area of Tenby are likely to remain high for a number of days.

River levels are rising slightly as each high tide arrives. The combination of ground conditions, existing river levels and forecast rainfall quantities gives a high risk of flooding of low-lying land during the next couple of days.

This comes a week after Yellow Weather Warnings were issued across Wales as Storm Diana brought extreme winds and heavy rain to the country.

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PCSOs celebrated in police campaign

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PCSO Iona Jones-Kenny

A campaign recognising Police Community Support Officers and the value they add to policing in Wales is being celebrated for its second year next week (Dec 10-14).

Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) work on the front line providing a visible and reassuring presence on streets throughout the country.

The campaign, called #ThoseInBlue, is being supported by Dyfed-Powys Police, South Wales Police, Gwent Police, North Wales Police and British Transport Police. All week they will be showcasing the work of their PCSOs and recognising the vital role they play.

PCSOs are the eyes and ears of police in communities – building trust and gathering information that is crucial to tackling crime and antisocial behaviour.

Dyfed-Powys Police’s Temporary Deputy Chief Constable, Richard Lewis, leads the portfolio for PCSOs in Wales.  He said: “PCSOs are an integral part of the police family. It is different to being a warranted Police Officer, and is a job in its own right.

“PCSOs are not only the eyes and ears in our communities, but also help tackle problems which cause the most concern for people living in Wales.

“PCSOs bring a wide range of skills and experience to the role and in the Dyfed-Powys area we have specialist PCSOs tackling rural crime, cyber crime and antisocial behaviour, and crime reduction experts.

“This Christmas, PCSOs will be a reassuring presence for some of the most vulnerable people living in towns, cities and villages across Wales.”

As part of the campaign, Dyfed-Powys Police Chief Officers will be heading ‘back to the floor’ – going on patrol with PCSOs working across Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Powys.

All week PCSOs across Wales will be using #TweetMyWeek on Twitter to showcase the work they do every day that helps keep people safe. Follow the hashtag or keep up with the campaign on Dyfed-Powys Police’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

If you have concerns about crime or antisocial behaviour in your community speak to a PCSO or call 101.

MEET CEREDIGION’S PCSO

Name: PCSO Iona Jones-Kenny

Where you’re stationed: Lampeter

Length of service: Five months

Why did you join: I wanted a new challenge and feel I have a lot of previous experience to bring into the new role.

Best moments: No two days are the same and each day brings up a new challenge.

Interests outside of work: Spending time with the family, walking the dogs, and pool and sea swimming.

Aspirations: To build good links within the community and continue helping people.

Speciality: Working in schools and young people.

Previous experience: Working with children and young people and children in school.

PCSO Matthew Kieboom

Name: PCSO Matthew Kieboom

Where you’re stationed: Out of Cardigan Police Station, covering the rural villages and along the coast – probably one of the most beautiful parts of Cymru.

Length of service: 5 years, six months.

Why did you join: Several reasons:  I live in the middle of the community that I support. When I first moved here it became very obvious that there were strong communities and my wife Debbie and I were quickly welcomed. I wanted to help support and improve/protect those communities. With a uniformed background, when I saw the job advertised, it just called out to me.

Best moment: Hearing the stories from members of my communities who had nominated me for the #WeCare awards – that was very emotional. We go out and do the best we can to support and protect people and often we don’t really know if we are getting it right.

Interests outside of work: Very limited due to having a smallholding! My dogs mean the world to me. I also love kayaking out at sea, swimming and hiking and generally being outdoors enjoying the beautiful area we live in. There is something very mindful about being outside in west Wales, no matter what the weather.

Aspirations: The work a PC does is immense and their opportunities to specialise in different roles and go up the ranks of promotion does appeal, but I have had a successful career in the British Army already and am getting a bit long in the tooth to be competing directly against people half my age or less! I am really content with the difference I am currently making as a PCSO and the support in my role that the communities give me.

Speciality: First Aid instructor with experience of dealing with trauma – there’s nothing I can’t do with a spoon! I’m a Blue Light Mind Champion, LGBT Liaison Officer and Major Incident trained, specialising in Major Medical Incidents.

Previous experience:  Management Degree at Lancaster University followed by British Army Officer for 12 years. I’ve been on numerous Operational Tours specialising in major medical incidents, helped build refugee camps and provided Military Aid to a Civil Authority in York Floods in 2000 and Foot and Mouth Crisis in 2001. Many of the incidents I commanded at either both Bronze or Silver level, providing advice and planning to Gold where appropriate.  Following medical discharge from the Army I had the pleasure of working at Help for Heroes as they first formed as volunteers and were a large part of my recovery process. It took me some 5 years before I was ready for full time employment.

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