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Rural communities ‘starved of essential services’

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RURAL communities are being starved of essential services, with people in rural areas increasingly left without access to banks and healthcare services, according to Plaid Cymru.

Plaid Cymru’s Rural Affairs spokesperson, Ben Lake MP, says rural communities are being let down by both the Welsh Government and Westminster, who have allowed banks – including those in which the public have a majority stake – to abandon rural towns across Wales.

Since 2011, 20 community post offices have closed across Wales, 15% of which were in Ceredigion; and 39 local banks have closed in 2017 alone. With rural Wales also suffering from some of the poorest provision of broadband and mobile data infrastructure, the combined effect is that residents and businesses are forced to travel a significant distance to access essential services, which is made all the more difficult due to the poor provision of public transport.

The Ceredigion MP has also highlighted the failure of the Welsh Government to ensure rural areas have adequate access to healthcare, resulting in people in rural areas being at higher risk due to the time required for emergency services to reach them, and to then reach the medical facility.

Mr Lake has called for both the Welsh Government and the Westminster Government to recognise the challenges being faced by rural communities and ensure that residents and businesses are able to access essential services in their own communities.

Commenting, the Plaid Cymru MP, Ben Lake, said: “Rural communities have been neglected for far too long by both the Welsh Government and the Westminster Government.

“Rural areas are being starved of essential services with post offices and banks disappearing at an alarming rate and healthcare services increasingly stretched.

“By now 84% of people in Wales are deprived of a local dental practice, and both banks and post offices are fast becoming just as hard to find. Both the Westminster Government and the Welsh Government are idle as these vital amenities are disappearing, and abandoning our rural towns and villages.

“The Labour Welsh Government has failed to protect local healthcare services, meaning those living in rural communities are forced to travel significant distances to access services. With our transport system in its current state, that is no simple task either. In this regard, residents of rural areas are disadvantaged for no other reason than the fact that they do not live in a city.

“Meanwhile, Westminster has allowed banks – in which the public hold a majority stake – to turn their backs on rural communities, despite the public bailing them out a decade ago.

“We cannot expect rural towns and villages to thrive if banks and post offices disappear, forcing residents and businesses to leave. The Welsh Government should consider creating a public bank, owned by the people and rooted in our communities.

“Both the Welsh Government and the Westminster government need to recognise these challenges, stop sitting on their hands, and start taking action to protect our rural communities.”

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Council tax reduction supports people on low incomes

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A COUNCIL Tax Reduction Scheme is in place to help people who are on a low income. The council administers the scheme on behalf of the Welsh Government for people who are liable to pay Council Tax and who live in Ceredigion. With the recent decision to raise Council Tax by 7%, residents on low incomes are being urged to find out if they are entitled to some help towards paying their Council Tax.

People can be eligible for the reduction if they are on a low income, working or unemployed, cannot work because of illness, retired or are caring for someone. The amount of the reduction depends on a person’s circumstances and how much Council Tax they need to pay.

Councillor Gareth Lloyd is the Cabinet member responsible for Financial Services. He said, “We made the difficult decision to raise Council Tax by 7% to reduce the amount of cuts we have to make to council services. The reality is that the council is getting less money from the Welsh Government at a time when costs and demand for services are rising.”

“We want to urge anyone who is on a low income to consider if they are eligible for Council Tax Reduction. Tax increases can add pressure onto people’s budgets, and although this increase is vital to keep quality services in Ceredigion, we want to make sure that anyone who is eligible for help gets it.”

For more information on eligibility and how to claim council tax reduction, email revenues@ceredigion.gov.uk or call 01970 633 252.

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7% council tax increase to protect education funding

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THE COUNCIL TAX in Ceredigion for 2019-2020 will increase by 7%. The increase was agreed by councillors to reduce the impact of cuts to the Council’s budget and, in particular, to protect education spending. The decision was made in a Council meeting on 21 February 2019.

2% of the 7% increase will be used to protect education spending. Schools budgets have been under severe stress after years of needing to make savings. Costs have increased yet again following the agreement of new teachers’ salary increases together with increased pension contributions. This extra 2% uplift will enable school budgets to be kept flat.

The council tax rate increase is set by three key components, the County Council’s tax, the precept of Town and Community Councils and the Police precept. Increases set by the Police and Town and Community Councils result in a combined increase of 7.56%.

Councillor Ellen ap Leader of the Council, said, “We had no option but to ask Council to increase Council Tax by 7% in order to reduce the impact of the cuts we have had to make across council budgets. A successful Ceredigion in the future needs well-funded and well run schools. We want to invest in the future of our children and our county.”

“The reality is that the council is getting less money from the Welsh Government at a time when costs and demand for services are rising. The uplift of teachers’ salaries and pensions has not been fully funded by Welsh Government to date. If council tax had not increased, we would have to make deeper cuts.”

In 2018-2019, the average Council Tax Band D property was £1,226.48. The increase means that the same property will pay £1,312.33 in 2019-2020. The council’s budget has been cut by £39m or 25% in the last seven years. The Council will still need to save another £6m in the coming financial year.

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Information management policies updated to improve security

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THREE key information management policies have been updated by Ceredigion County Council. The policies were updated because of new laws and the need make sure that they are effective in a changing technological environment.

The updated policies were approved by the council’s Cabinet in a meeting on 19 February 2019.

The three policies that have been reviewed are:

· Data Protection/GDPR Policy
· Information Security Policy
· Information and Records Management Policy

The Deputy Leader of Ceredigion County Council and Cabinet member responsible for Governance, Councillor Ray Quant MBE said, “The council needs to keep information and data to carry out the many service we provide. Because of this we have to make sure we’re up to date on data and information protections laws. This decision means that we have approved the hard work done to update the policies and make sure that they are fit for use.”

The policies are essential to manage digital and paper records of the council.

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