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.
Wales stands firm in support for Ukraine
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.
Prince and Princess of Wales to visit Wales
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.
Elin Jones raises a mug in support of Macmillan’s coffee morning
ELIN JONES MS joined the Macmillan Cancer Support in Wales team at the Senedd in Cardiff Bay to mark the charity’s annual Coffee Morning fundraising event.
The event also offered an opportunity to find out more about how Macmillan in Wales is supporting people living with cancer, as well as research from the charity on how people living with cancer are being affected by the cost of living crisis. Macmillan’s annual Coffee Morning usually sees millions of pounds donated to help support people affected by cancer.
The money raises vital funds for Macmillan services to make sure people living with cancer can get the physical, emotional and financial support they need. This is the 32nd annual Macmillan Coffee Morning but as with so many charities, Macmillan saw a huge fall in its fundraising income as a direct result of the impact of Covid-19 and the cost of living crisis.
Elin Jones MS said: “We know that a cancer diagnosis can turn someone’s world upside down. One in two of us will face cancer, and the money raised by hosting a Macmillan Coffee Morning will help people with cancer to live their life as fully as they can. Macmillan, alongside our NHS and other partners, works tirelessly to do whatever it takes for people with cancer. The demand for Macmillan’s services and support is high, while its income is down.
“I’m very proud to help support Macmillan’s coffee morning, and to help let people know that this important fundraising event. I would encourage anyone to get involved, and to sign up to organise a Coffee Morning or contribute to a local coffee morning in the way that suits them best.”
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