ON THE MORNING of Wednesday (Oct 19), all those people in Aberystwyth and Ceredigion who responded to PO Ltd’s consultation on ‘changes we were looking to make to your local Post Office’ received the decision.
In the event, PO Ltd ignored the strength of local objections and decided to go ahead with moving the Crown Post Office in Aberystwyth from Great Darkgate Street to within WHSmith on Terrace Road. For many people, this decision came as a shock and undermined any faith they had in the legitimacy of public consultation.
The lengthy letter, signed by Roger Gale, General Manager – Crown and WHSmith Network, acknowledges: “During the public consultation period we received 91 individual representations from customers and local representatives. A petition was also received along with 582 campaign cards and we were made aware of the protest against the relocation that took place. We also held a customer forum to talk about our plans and answer questions. In addition, the local MP chaired a public meeting.”
The letter attempts to address major concerns about ‘the size and capacity of the proposed new premises to cope with additional customers; accessibility into and within the proposed new premises, especially for disabled customers and car parking availability. We were also asked about the Welsh language provision at the new branch’.
With respect to space, PO Ltd make the bland assertion that: “When designing the branch, we will ensure there is adequate space within the WHSmith store to manage customer demand and have space for Post Office customers. This has been considered as part of the franchise planning for the branch.”
There is a conspicuous lack of detail on how the WHSmith premises will suddenly perform the spatial miracle of Dr Who’s Tardis. On access and parking, the letter simply concludes: “We have carefully considered ease of access to the new location and in conclusion, we remain satisfied that customers in Aberystwyth will continue to have good access to Post Office services.” Again, no substantive response to public concerns. PO Ltd also commit that: “Prior to the move, we’ll also be contacting local disability groups to take them through the layout of the new branch.” With respect to Welsh language provision, respondents to the consultation are assured that: “Externally, the store front will include clear bilingual Post Office signage and an opening hours board.” PO Ltd also promise that ‘Welsh speaking staff will be in branch to assist customers’.
SAME OLD, SAME OLD
It is the defining feature of PO Ltd’s decision that nothing has changed since the process of public consultation began: Their story remains exactly the same as it was at the outset. This has left a bitter taste in many mouths and led people to question the credibility of the consultation process, not to mention what now seems like the waste of time and money. PO Ltd’s letter promises that: “The same wide range of products and services will be available, including materials in Welsh. However, retaining the UKVI Biometric Enrolment Service at the new branch will be subject to Home Office checks and validation. We anticipate that there may be a short interruption to the availability of this service at the new location due to this; however, we will work with WHSmith and UK Border Agency to do all we can to reduce the length of time this service will be unavailable.” Once again, nothing has changed with respect to the issue of the UKVI Biometric Enrolment Service. This, despite its importance to a town with vital international connections, not least via the university, having been stressed by many respondents, including, in the strongest possible terms, Ceredigion MP Mark Williams.
On the vexed issue of the war memorial in the Great Darkgate Street premises dedicated to General Post Office workers, PO Ltd reiterated the commitment they have made throughout the so-called consultation process, without any tangible progress having been made: “We are working with Royal Mail to identify the most appropriate place to relocate the memorial so that members of the public can continue to pay their respects to those of our colleagues who sacrificed their lives.
“Please be reassured that we fully recognise the importance and significance of this war memorial and, once agreed, the relocation will be handled with due and proper care and sensitivity, including a re-dedication ceremony.”
‘A DONE DEAL’
Ceredigion Liberal Democrat MP Mark Williams has condemned the decision of PO Ltd to relocate the Post Office from its historic Great Darkgate Street site to WHSmith on Terrace Road. Mark Williams told The Herald: “Despite huge opposition to this plan, two well-attended public meetings, and a large number of representations, the Post Office have ploughed on regardless. It is hard to conclude anything other than the fact that the outcome was a done deal, regardless of the consultation. I remain concerned about the implications of this on our hard-working staff and the size and capacity of the new Post Office. We in Aberystwyth know just how congested the WHSmith shop can get, and indeed the narrow pavement outside.
“The questions I have raised with the Post Office remain unresolved; I am unclear what discussions the Post Office have had with the local branch of the Royal British Legion in regards to the location of the Post Office’s War Memorial. Whilst Post Office Ltd tell us that the new Post Office will retain a UK Visas and Immigration Biometric Enrolment Service, critically important for a university town such as Aberystwyth, they then tell us there will be an interruption in the provision of that service. Presumably, they think it is acceptable for my constituents to have to access the service in Port Talbot or Shrewsbury – at one of the last remaining Crown Post Offices. I remain very disappointed that Post Office Ltd have failed to listen to hundreds of representations from the people of Ceredigion, Aberystwyth, and their elected representatives.”
Ceredigion AM Elin Jones told The Herald: “I’m disappointed to hear that the Post Office has decided to move its branch in Aberystwyth to the WHSmith store. I, along with many people, have made my views known to the Post Office that I would much rather that it stayed at its current location on Great Darkgate Street. I will now be watching to see that all services are retained during the move, and that the residents of Aberystwyth continue to receive the high standard of service that is required from their local Post Office.”
The Herald has been following the campaign to save Aberystwyth Post Office closely since back in April, giving voice to community concerns about the privatisation of public services through the backdoor. The result of the public consultation, into which so much effort has been put by local campaigners, comes as severe blow. Although government and corporations riding rough shod over people’s concerns is logically what citizens have come to expect, they strive to retain a vestige of hope in processes that represent themselves as democratic. One of the Save Aberystwyth Post Office campaigners, Rachel Seabrook, commented that PO Ltd’s decision ‘shows up the consultation for the sham we knew it to be. They say that feedback was taken into account, but they clearly paid no heed to the public’s desire to keep the Post Office where it is, as a public service’.
Linda Ingram commented: “Obviously they have NOT taken account of comments from the public in Ceredigion.
“As far as they were concerned, it was a foregone conclusion. WHSmith is being bailed out by the taxpayer. Disgraceful!”
On Save Aberystwyth Post Office’s Facebook page, Morgan Commins posted: “Feeling disgusted and despondent.”
Roger Gale concludes his letter: “I’m satisfied that customer needs will be adequately met. Alongside this, we’ll monitor customer usage at the branch following the move and will work with WHSmith to make sure service standards are maintained.”
The people of Aberystwyth must now be wondering exactly what the point of such monitoring will be when public opinion clearly makes no difference at all to PO Ltd’s decisions. The Crown Post Office on Great Darkgate Street will close at 5.30pm on November 23. The new branch in WHSmith will open at 9am the following day.
Ben Lake MP stands up for Ceredigion’s hospitality sector in Parliament
A WESTMINSTER Hall debate, brought about by an online petition signed over 200,000 times, saw MPs on both sides come together to shine a light on the challenges currently faced by restaurants, pubs, bars, cafés and supply chain businesses across the UK.
During his contribution to the debate, Ben Lake MP emphasised the importance of the hospitality industry to Ceredigion’s local economy. Ceredigion is home to nearly 400 food and accommodation businesses, including 75 pubs, and together hospitality businesses employ 4,500 people in the county. This equates to over 16% of all employees, without accounting for the many supply chain jobs that are dependent on the sector, such as those found in breweries, food wholesale, and catering equipment hire businesses.
Figures published by UK Hospitality have shown that approximately 41% of hospitality businesses suggested that they would fail by mid-2021 and only one in five sector businesses have enough cash flow to survive beyond February.
Ben Lake MP said: “The vaccination programme of course offers some hope that we will see the level of Covid disruption reduce significantly this year, but hospitality businesses across Ceredigion tell me that they are deeply concerned about their immediate prospects for survival.
“I support calls for the Treasury to provide additional funds so that businesses can be supported to bounce back once restrictions have been eased, and to pause employer national insurance contributions for furloughed employees as a way of alleviating the burden on businesses that are still, in many instances, required by law to close. I also urged the Treasury to consider extending the business rates holiday for the forthcoming financial year, as well as extending the hospitality VAT reduction scheme into 2022.
“Not only would these support measures give businesses the support they require to see out this pandemic, it would also avoid the terrible situation whereby businesses that have previously received Government support are forced to close for good – leaving their employees without a job and previous Government support in vain.”
While there will be no direct action as a consequence of this Westminster Hall debate, it is hoped the result will put increased pressure on the UK Government to consider the proposal more seriously.
Lifeboat Operations Manager in New Year’s Honours list
Richard Llewelyn Griffiths the Lifeboat Operations Manager of Aberystwyth Lifeboat Station has been recognised for services to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in Wales.
He has been awarded a BEM.
Having served as a RNLI volunteer for an impressive 47 years, it is his role in the last 21 years as Lifeboat Operations Manager (LOM) which has earned him the most respect.
His local knowledge has provided reassurance to casualties and crews alike when launching in difficult conditions.
His operational decision-making and station management skills are outstanding, and he is greatly valued by crew, management, volunteers and coastal personnel both past and present.
He has contributed greatly towards Aberystwyth being recognised as a ‘benchmark’ Inshore Lifeboat Station, serving as an example to the whole institution of how a station could and should be run.
Richard said: ‘I’m very surprised but honoured to be receiving a BEM – the news still doesn’t feel real. My father was awarded a BEM in 1988 and I still have his medal at home, so to be awarded one myself for my work with the lifeboats is a great privilege. I’ve been fortunate to work with a number of characters during my time with the RNLI – both at Borth and Aberystwyth – and continue to volunteer alongside a good crew today.’
Nationally, a total of six Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) volunteers have been recognised for their vital role in helping the charity save lives at sea through the New Year’s Honours.
Mark Dowie, RNLI Chief Executive said: ‘Following a challenging 2020, it is particularly pleasing to see these RNLI volunteers recognised in the New Year’s Honours list. Together, they personify the RNLI’s ‘One Crew’ ethos, representing the variety and diversity of roles from a former full-time mechanic to shore crew and fundraisers to station managers, who collectively deliver a shared vision to save every one. On behalf of everyone at the RNLI, congratulations to you all for being recognised for your longstanding service, hard work and selfless commitment. And thank you for everything you do to help the RNLI save lives at sea.’
Temporary closure of Minor Injuries Unit in Cardigan confirmed
AS PART of its response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Hywel Dda University Health Board says it has temporarily closed the Minor Injuries Unit (MIU) in Cardigan in order to redeploy clinical staff to support the COVID 19 response within Ceredigion.
The MIU, which is based in Cardigan Integrated Care Centre and normally operates from Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm, will temporarily close with immediate effect. The situation will be under constant review and normal service will be resumed when it is safe and appropriate to do so.
In the meantime, minor injuries help and advice is available as follows:
– visit the 111 symptom checker (https://111.wales.nhs.uk/)
– visit your local pharmacy
– call 111
– please do NOT self-present to the GP reception in Cardigan Integrated Care Centre as they do not deal with minor injuries.
– for emergency care the A+E departments are as follows:
· Glangwili Hospital A+E Carmarthen SA32 2AF
· Bronglais Hospital A+E Aberystwyth SY23 1ER
· Withybush Hospital A+E Haverfordwest SA61 2PZ