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’.
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>”
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.
Alerts issued ahead of Storm Brian
NATURAL RESOURCE WALES (NRW) is warning people that parts of the Welsh coast could see localised flooding as Storm Brian combines with high tides this evening and tomorrow.
The conditions could cause a storm surge, which in some areas could lead to overtopping of sea defences. Current predictions show that the worst affected areas are likely to be along exposed sections of the west coast of Wales from Southern Gwynedd to Llantwit Major.
High tides in these locations are expected to peak between 6am and 11am tomorrow (Oct 21).
NRW has already issued a number of flood alerts for the west coast, and is likely to issue flood warnings for Aberystwyth and Newgale later today. Further alerts or warnings for other areas will be issued as necessary.
24/7 Emergency response workers from NRW will be out at key areas of the coast over the next couple of day to monitor the high tides and condition of its sea flood defences.
NRW has also contacted its partner agencies such as local councils and the emergency services to ensure that appropriate responses are in place should the need arise.
Richard Hancox, from Natural Resources Wales said: “Conditions across the coastline are likely to be extremely dangerous this weekend and we urge people to stay clear, and avoid visiting the coast during this time.
“We know people are tempted to try and take photos of these storms, but it really isn’t worth putting your life at risk. Sea spray and flood water can knock you off your feet easier than you might think, and the large waves can send debris flying onto shore.
“If anyone is concerned about the risk of flooding to their home, please check to see if flood warnings are available in your area, and visit our website for advice on how best to prepare.”
Flood alerts and flood warnings are updated on the Natural Resources Wales website every 15 minutes.
Information and updates are also available by calling Floodline on 0345 988 1188. People can also register for free flood warnings either by calling the Floodline number or at NRW’s website.
Major bequests for Aber research
TWO major legacies to support postgraduate research have been announced at Aberystwyth University’s Founders’ Day held in the Old College on October 13.
The University revealed that Eleanor and David James had donated £2m to the institution where they both worked for 35 years, while former student Margaret Wooloff has bequeathed £400,000.
Both bequests will be used to fund postgraduate research at the University, in line with the wishes of the benefactors.
The legacies were announced as part of the University’s now annual Founders’ event, which echoes the celebrations held in the town back in October 1872 when the first students arrived at Old College.
The Vice-Chancellor of Aberystwyth University, Professor Elizabeth Treasure, said: “It is extremely fitting that these very special bequests have been the focal point of this year’s Founders’ Day event. They remind us how the University has been supported since its early beginnings by the generosity of the people of Wales and the wider world.
“Eleanor and David James, and Margaret Wooloff all dedicated their lives to the furtherance of knowledge and their valuable contributions to education in Wales will live on in their legacies. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.”
The Director of Development and Alumni Relations at Aberystwyth University, Louise Jagger, said: “There is a very strong bond between the University and our family of alumni across the world. Eleanor and David James and Margaret Wooloff were all active members of the Old Students’ Association during their lives and we are immensely grateful to them for their support over the years. Their generous legacies will now enable the scholars of the future to pursue their particular fields of expertise and undertake research with impact, which is integral to our mission as a leading University.”
Members of the local community joined staff and students at the Old College to mark Founders’ Day.
The guest speaker at the event was Ceredigion MP Ben Lake who said: “The story of how Aberystwyth University – or the University College of Wales as it was originally called – is one in which we can all take pride as a nation. Driven by the vision of its founders, the dream of establishing a college with University status in Wales was made possible thanks to the generosity of ordinary people. The roots and foundations of the University reflect our values in Wales and it is vitally important that we commemorate and celebrate this very special heritage.
“May I take this opportunity to congratulate Aberystwyth on being named recently as the University of the Year for Teaching Quality by the Good University Guide – a well deserved accolade which is testament to the dedication of all its staff.”
In July 2017, the Heritage Lottery Fund announced that it had earmarked £10.5m for ambitious plans to redevelop Old College in time for the University’s 150th anniversary in 2022.
Driving Wales to international skills success
AS SKILLS CHAMPION for Wales, Coleg Sir Gâr and Coleg Ceredigion principal Barry Liles is at the forefront of aspiring young people to develop high quality, world-class skills.
The vehicle used to drive this ambition are skills competitions, which are held on a Welsh, UK and international level.
Competitions in Wales begin with regional Welsh Government supported competitions which are events that culminate to find Wales’ top competitors who progress to take part in UKSkills national and WorldSkills international events.
This year, 36 competitors from the UK are competing at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi, four of which are from Wales, two of which represent Coleg Sir Gâr, which is an impressive percentage of UK representation. These competitors have undergone a rigorous training process by WorldSkills UK, supported by training providers and employers.
Coleg Sir Gâr students have been selected for Team UK since 2009 when carpentry student Cliff Williams made the team in 2009 competing in WorldSkills Calgary. He was followed by web designer David Bowen who competed for in WorldSkills London, 2011. Carpenter Gareth Jones won gold in EuroSkills in 2012 followed by Simon McCall and Eleni Constantinou who won two silvers at EuroSkills in 2014 for hairdressing and carpentry with Eleni progressing to represent the UK and Coleg Sir Gâr in hairdressing at WorldSkills, Sao Paulo in 2015.
Last year, the college was ranked joint third place in the UK for its medal success in the Skills Show – the UK final, for achieving three golds, one silver and one bronze award. The show, held at Birmingham’s NEC every year, brings together medal winners from all nations to compete and showcase their skills and to hopefully continue their journey to the international arena, representing the UK in Worldskills which brings over 50 competing countries together and is likened to the Olympic games.
Barry Liles, Skills Champion for Wales said: “To have an impact on the economy and raise Wales and UK’s GVA, we must raise the skills of the UK population and we’re trying to do this from a young age and we’re significantly targeting industries that are important to Wales’ economy.
“The anticipated result is hoped to impact on young people and help them raise their ambitions and to find highly skilled work.”
In Wales, to help achieve this ambition, is a Welsh-Government funded project called Inspiring Skills Excellence (ISE), which is providing a supportive infrastructure to enable competitors from Wales to achieve success at national and international level.
“Much of our work is supporting competitors across Wales in their participation, training and mentoring to help them achieve excellence in skills relevant to economic growth and delivering medal winning success at national and international competitions,” said Paul Evans, ISE pan-coordinator for Wales.
“Using state of the art equipment we also engage with schools, providing hands-on and exciting experiences for young people to raise awareness of careers and the pathways available to them.”
Barry Liles added: “Being Skills Champion for Wales is a long-held ambition perhaps because I came from a vocational engineering background, I am very passionate about it.
“Industry skills are vital in our economy and I don’t want Wales to be left behind, in fact in the last seven years we have helped drive the nation forward to being one of the leading and successful nations in UK skills competitions.”
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