A STUDENT group has criticised the cost of a ‘Garden Party’ farewell for departing Aberystwyth University Vice Chancellor Professor April McMahon. Making a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, the group learned that Aberystwyth University spent £843.65 on refreshments, with university staff serving and preparing the party.
The group, calling themselves ‘Ffrindiau Pantycelyn’ (Friends of Pantycelyn), campaign for re-opening Pantycelyn halls and on other university matters. A spokesperson for the group, Jeff Smith, told The Herald: “After the university insisted that money was scarce and this would endanger the re-opening of Neua dd Pantycelyn (Pantycelyn Hall of Residence), it defies all common sense that the university has paid nearly a thousand pounds to hold a farewell party for a Vice-Chancellor who has driven the university to the abyss. This is concerning for anyone who wants to see the university thrive, and we call on the university to invest wisely and keep to its true financial priorities, such as re-opening Neuadd Pantycelyn.”
Professor McMahon’s tenure as VC was controversial. According to Ffrindiau Pantycelyn, it was fraught with ‘accusations of bullying, sackings and a culture of fear’. The group contest that her tenure also coincided with a number of steep declines in the university’s rankings in league tables, along with a decline in the number of students applying to the university. Professor McMahon’s tenure officially ended this summer, with Professor John Grattan becoming the Acting Vice- Chancellor. Interviews for a new Vice- Chancellor are expected to be held on December 5 and 6.
Responding to Ffrindiau Pantycelyn on the subject of Professor McMahon’s farewell party, Aberystwyth University told the Herald: “When a senior member of staff leaves, it is normal practice to hold an event like this to mark the occasion and give colleagues an opportunity to bid a formal farewell. The university monitors all spend closely and these costs were in line with the institution’s guidelines.”
No photographs of the private party were available.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
Freedom of Information (FOI) requests have changed the landscape of civil society activism across the board in the UK in recent years. We asked Friends of the Earth’s Guy Shrubsole to explain them. Guy told us that FOIs can be a powerful tool to hold government and others to account. Famously, in 2010, an MP’s expenses scandal was uncovered through an FOI request. Other examples include the FOIs that exposed Defra’s redacted shale gas report, which warned of fracking ‘industrialising the countryside’; FOIs that revealed that climate sceptic, former Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson had turned down a briefing on climate science from the Met Office; FOIs showing that oil giant Exxon have been lobbying the Department for Transport against electric vehicles. After the 2015 general election, the Government set up a panel to review the FOI Act, seemingly with a view to ‘gutting it’. After a public outcry, that threat to the FOI Act receded.
However, Guy Shrubshole told us: “There are other threats to freedom of information – not least the civil service’s desire and ability to actually deliver it. Since Brexit, I’ve noticed a real slowdown in responses to my FOIs. An investigative journalist told me the same. Maybe it’s the added workload of Brexit, or maybe it’s the fact that government remains unwilling to fully embrace a culture of openness.
They maintain plenty of ‘exemptions’ to disclosing information they consider sensitive. Another threat to freedom of information may come from Brexit itself.
Thanks to the EU, since 2004, we’ve had a powerful set of Environmental Information Regulations (EIRs) that allow for particular access to information on pollution, the environment and emissions. It’s unclear whether Brexit will see those regulations slashed or kept.”
NEW VC MUST SPEAK WELSH
Getting back to tensions between Aberystwyth University and Welsh-speaking students, Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society) are demanding that the new Vice Chancellor needs to be able to speak Welsh fluently in everyday work, and to understand the Welsh-speaking community in the university.
They contest that, although learning Welsh is a condition of appointment, April McMahon did not do so. Acting Vice Chancellor John is not fluent in Welsh. Elfed Wyn Jones, Chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s Pantycelyn cell, said: “The only way to ensure that the next Vice-Chancellor is fluent in Welsh is to demand that fluency in Welsh is essential when advertising the job. There is no reason why the Welsh language should not be an essential skill to this job and others.” Cymdeithas yr Iaith students are also question the cost of the recruitment process for which, they claim, Aberystwyth University are unnecessarily using a head-hunting company.
Ceredigion gritters prepare for Winter with a visit from ‘Goldie’
AS WINTER maintenance training preparations continue, a specially-painted golden gritter named ‘Goldie’ visited Ceredigion on 2 October to mark Econ Engineering, UK’s biggest manufacturer of gritters, 50th anniversary.
‘Goldie’ is spending the autumn visiting local authorities across the UK as they prepare for the winter ahead.
Ceredigion County Council prepares for winter all year round; salt replenishment starts in early June to ensure that by the time winter begins stock levels are up to approximately 10,000 tonnes. This is the amount of salt that gives Ceredigion the resilience it needs if it cannot secure additional salt supplies during the winter season in a timely manner.
The winter service fleet is operated by 51 qualified gritter drivers and maintained by 9 mechanics who all work on a rota basis over the winter period. There are 10 primary gritting routes covering 437km of Ceredigion’s roads, including the Trunk Road network.
One of the first tasks for the winter service team is to ensure that over 400 Grit bins across the county, which are for the motorist to use, are filled and any damaged bins replaced. Depending on the severity of the winter and the availability of resources, these bins may need to be replenished again during the season.
Councillor Dafydd Edwards is the Cabinet member responsible for Highways and Environmental Services and Housing. He said: “Although autumn has just begun, our staff have been preparing for winter for many months already and now are taking the next step to ensure our winter fleet is ready for any frosty occurrence. Training is being completed and maintenance checks are being carried out on the gritters. Our fleet consists of 10 frontline gritters, 5 situated in each of the north (Glanyrafon) and south (Penrhos) depots and 7 reserve gritters.
“The decision as to whether gritters are deployed depends on what information is received from MetDesk, our weather forecast provider. Each day during October through until the end of April, the council will receive three forecasts a day. This information is analysed by a group of experienced duty officers, who are on duty 24hrs a day, to determine whether a gritting run is required or not.
“Having Goldie here has been a timely reminder that winter is on the way and the council is doing everything it can to minimise disruption to travelling over the winter. If you are a motorist, it’s also time for you to be mindful of how you should prepare for winter too – in the way you drive during icy conditions.”
Andrew Lupton Econ Engineering Sales Director said, “Econ Engineering has worked with Ceredigion for many years now and we’re delighted that Goldie has been able to make a guest appearance as preparations for winter get into full swing. Ceredigion has always shared Econ’s own belief in the important role that technology and innovation can play in keeping winter roads safe and the council has taken great care to specify that their Econ vehicles are fitted with the most up-to-date technology. We have fitted the fleet of gritters with high-tech kit including navigation aids for the drivers, which ensure gritting routes are treated accurately across the region, both maximising road safety and minimising the impact of salt on Ceredigion’s environment.”
For more information on Highways During Winter and advice on driving in Winter go to https://www.ceredigion.gov.uk/resident/travel-roads-parking/highways-during-winter/
Trains could be opening from Carmarthen to Aberystwyth
THE REOPENING of the Aberystwyth to Carmarthen railway is not only possible, it’s now on the cards. This was the message of a meeting at Plaid Cymru’s Annual Conference in Swansea, arranged by Ben Lake MP, Elin Jones AM and Traws Link Cymru.
The meeting came after the publication of the Welsh Government’s rail strategy document, ‘A Railway for Wales – Meeting the needs of future generations’, in which the Welsh Government states that it wants to ‘improve connectivity on the nation’s key corridors – especially the western corridor from Ynys Môn to Aberystwyth, Carmarthen and Swansea Bay.’
Over the years, Plaid Cymru has secured commitments by the Welsh Government to invest in scoping, feasibility and technical studies. It has also made several manifesto pledges to reopen the line.
The inclusion of the rail route in the Welsh Government’s rail strategy document is a major step as it lists, for the first time, that the re-opening of the line is part of the Welsh Government’s overall transport plan for Wales.
Ben Lake MP said:
“I am grateful to Mike Walker and Geraint Blayney for preparing such a detailed presentation, and indeed to the entire campaign for working so diligently to ensure that this important proposal receives the attention and consideration it deserves.”
Elin Jones AM said:
“It’s great to see that the campaign to reopen has now for the first time been given official status within a Government transport strategy.
“Whilst Welsh Government had commissioned both a scoping study and a full technical feasibility study for the reopening in recent years, it is only now that they have included the line as part of its future thinking.
“It will be for Westminster Government under the current devolution settlement to fund new rail infrastructure, but Welsh Govenrment has a role in ensuring that it is high on the agenda for rail investment.”
Mike Walker, a campaigner for Traws Link Cymru said:
“Following the Feasibility Study into the re-opening of the Aberystwyth to Carmarthen railway that was published in 2018, and which showed that there are no insurmountable engineering problems associated with the re-establishment of the line, Traws Link Cymru is further encouraged by the recent document released by the Welsh Government “A Railway for Wales: Meeting the needs of Future Generations’.
“This outlines future Strategic Corridor Developments for Wales including enhanced connectivity from Ynys Mon, through Dolgellau, Aberystwyth and Carmarthen, to Swansea and South West Wales. For the first time, the Welsh Government has publicly acknowledged the need for a north-south rail corridor, a key element of which is the Aberystwyth to Carmarthen line that has been the focus of the Traws Link Cymru campaign.
“The onus is now on the Welsh Government to accept that the re-opening of this railway line is a transport priority for Wales, and to seek funding from Westminster to deliver the project.”
Hate Crime Awareness Week 2019
NATIONAL Hate Crime Awareness Week will take place from October 12 – 19 this year. Ceredigion County Council is highlighting the campaign by reminding residents of what is a Hate Crime and signposting people to the necessary support; whether they may be a victim or a witness to a hate crime incident.
Ellen ap Gwynn is Leader of Ceredigion County Council and Members’ Champion for Equalities. She said: “We will not tolerate any form of Hate Crime in Ceredigion. Everyone should be respectful of each other’s individual characteristics and beliefs. This national week of raising awareness is an important reminder to us all that we need to live in harmony with each other to make our communities safe and prosperous places for our residents to live in without fear.”
Hate crimes may be physical or verbal attacks, threats or insults that are motivated by the victim’s age, disability, ethnicity, religious belief or non-belief, sex or gender identity or sexual orientation.
Hate crimes can be any criminal action that is perceived by the victim or any other person as being motivated by prejudice and hatred.
Kay Howells is the Mid and South West Wales Community Cohesion Coordinator. She said: “Hate crimes often go unreported, leaving offenders free to commit further offences. If you or someone you know has been the victim of a hate crime, please make sure that it gets reported. By reporting these offences a picture of the number, type and range of incidents taking place in Ceredigion can be recorded, enabling resources to be targeted in order to deal with them.”
If you are in immediate danger call the Police by dialling 999 (non-emergencies 101).
You can make a report online using the Victim Support website, http://www.reporthate.victimsupport.org.uk/ this can also be made anonymous if that’s better for you.
Alternatively, you can call Victim Support directly 24 hours a day on 03003 031 982. If you would like support they can arrange this at the same time as making the report.
Visit the council’s Hate crime page for more information: http://www.ceredigion.gov.uk/your-council/strategies-plans-policies/equality-diversity/hate-crime/
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