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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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Charity

Local Businesses help raise astonishing £10,000 for Cardio-Respiratory Ward at Bronglais Hospital

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THE ORGANISERS of the 2021 Aberystwyth Businesspersons’ Lunch have donated the £10,000 proceeds to the Cardio-Respiratory Ward at Bronglais Hospital.

Consultant Cardiologist Dr Donogh McKeogh; Aled and Rose Rowlands;

John Davies’ widow Ann; Frank Bridle; John’s daughter and son, Angharad

and Rhodri; and Iestyn Leyshon

The lunch last December was in memory of well-known local businessman, jeweller and musician John Davies, who had helped organise the annual lunch for many years but sadly passed away just a few months before.

“John was such a lovely man, a pillar of the town and so well thought of, that we decided it was fitting that the lunch should be in his memory and that the proceeds should go to the cardiac unit where he had been treated for so many years,” said Aled Rowlands, who organised the lunch along with Frank Bridle, Layla Mangan, Gary Pemberthy, Huw Bates and Iestyn Leyshon.

“It was a very successful day, with nearly 200 people enjoying a lunch, comedian, band, auction and raffle. It was a fitting tribute to John who was such a big part of the town.”

John Davies joined his parents’ business at T J Davies at the age of 16 where he worked for 64 years after leaving Llandaff Cathedral School. He passed away in August 2021, at the age of 80.

John’s wife Ann and children Angharad and Rhodri said: “We were delighted at the generous amount that was raised in his memory at the Businesspersons Christmas lunch.

“Charity work was important to John, through his membership of the Lions Club and it is fitting that the money raised went to a department where he personally received such care and attention from Dr McKeogh and his team.

“John will be remembered not only as a businessman but also as a keen and talented trumpeter, playing with Aberystwyth Town Band, Aber Jazz and Philomusica, to name but a few, as well as playing carols with the Town Band every Christmas Day around Bronglais Hospital wards and care homes in the town.”

Pictured at the cheque presentation at Bronglais Hospital are (from left) Consultant Cardiologist Dr Donogh McKeogh; Aled and Rose Rowlands; John Davies’ widow Ann; Frank Bridle; John’s daughter and son, Angharad and Rhodri; and Iestyn Leyshon.

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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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Prince and Princess of Wales to visit Wales

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THE PRINCE and Princess of Wales have planned a trip to Wales to visit a variety of communities across the nation and learn about the work of key charitable organisations. 

The Prince and Princess have a deep affection for Wales, having made their first family home in Anglesey, and have thoroughly enjoyed their previous visits and the warmth and kindness shown by the Welsh people. 

Their Royal Highnesses are looking forward to spending more time in Wales over the next few years, they hope to strengthen their relationship with communities in all parts of Wales. 

During their first engagement, Their Royal Highnesses will visit the RNLI Holyhead Lifeboat Station, where they will meet crew, volunteers and some people who have been supported by their local unit.

Holyhead is one of the three oldest lifeboat stations on the Welsh coast and has a remarkable history of bravery, having received 70 awards for gallantry. 

Their Royal Highnesses will then take a short walk to the Holyhead Marine and Cafe Bar, where they will meet local people, including representatives of small businesses and organisations, including the Coastguard and Sea Cadets. 

In their second engagement, the Prince and Princess of Wales are expected to visit Swansea. 

Their Royal Highnesses will visit St Thomas Church, a re-developed church in Swansea which supports people in the local area and across the City and County of Swansea. 

Over the last two years the church has been transformed into a thriving community hub and is home to a vast array of services, including:

  • A foodbank which supports over 200 people per week
  • Swansea Baby Basics which distributes essential items for vulnerable mothers across the city, such as toiletries and clothes
  • Facilities for the homeless including food, showers and toilets
  • A not-for-profit cafe and community training kitchen
  • A surplus food distribution network which collects food from supermarkets at the end of each day and distributes it from the church to prevent food waste and to help end food poverty

As part of their visit, Their Royal Highnesses will meet those volunteering at the church across different initiatives including Baby Basics and the foodbank. Their Royal Highnesses will also spend some time meeting members of the public gathered outside the church. 

The Princess of Wales has previously worked with Baby Banks and the in summer of 2020 brought together 19 British brands and retailers to donate over 10,000 new items to more than 40 baby banks nationwide, operated by Baby Basics, Little Village and AberNecessities. 

Her Royal Highness has visited a number of baby banks across the UK, including in London, Sheffield and West Norfolk where she has spent time speaking with families about their experiences of using their local baby bank services, as well as helping unload donations. 

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