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New Post Office performs poorly, as predicted

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A disgruntled queue: In the Post Office in Aberystwyth’s WHSmith (Pic. Nicki Wilkins)

A disgruntled queue: In the Post Office in Aberystwyth’s WHSmith (Pic. Nicki Wilkins)

ON MONDAY (Dec 12), The Herald began receiving reports of pandemonium in the newly opened Post Office in WHSmith on Terrace Road in Aberystwyth.

Texts, tweets and Facebook posts reported ‘angry people’, ‘not pleasant’, and ‘epic fail Post Office!’ One eye-witness, Nicki Wilkins, told The Herald that she waited more than 20 minutes in a queue of at least 18 people: “One elderly lady was not happy at having to stand so long to get her pension. A member of the public helpfully fetched her a chair. In the queue, there was lots of complaining, tutting and raised eyebrows. Some people walked in then straight back out again after seeing the queue. I overheard someone say: ‘How is this an improvement? The other one was spacious; this is cramped’.”

Refusing to blame the queue and delays on a Christmas rush, Post Office counter staff agreed that it was ‘always like this in here’. They told customers that they simply do not have enough counters to serve from. Helpful as they are, the counter staff inevitably bear the brunt of people’s anger when they are forced to wait for so long.

Counter staff told customers that the Post Office at WHSmith were considering installing a self-service counter for buying stamps and posting parcels. One Save Aberystwyth Post Office campaigner said: “We, the citizens, worked bloody hard to get Smiths to listen to us and we predicted that it would be awful.”

As campaigners to keep the Crown Post Office on Great Darkgate Street open forecasted, The Herald understands that the UKVI Biometric Enrolment Service is not currently available at the Post Office in WHSmith on Terrace Road. The service is essential in a town with vital international connections, not least Aberystwyth University. Foreign nationals from outside the European Economic Area often need to apply for a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP). A BRP proves the holder’s right to stay, work or study in the United Kingdom. Contrary to the reports that we have received, however, the Post Office website claims the BRP service is available in the Post Office in WHSmith on Terrace Road. As The Herald goes to press, we have not managed to get an answer from the Post Office in WHSmith about the availability of the BRP service. Herald readers, please do write in and let us know about your experiences with the BRP and other Post Office services in WHSmith.

UK-WIDE INDUSTRIAL ACTION

The pandemonium in Aberystwyth will be matched in Post Offices across the UK next week when workers take industrial action. Post Office Ltd state that they expect industrial action to affect ‘a small number of our branches’ on Monday (Dec 19) and Tuesday (Dec 20). They expect that ‘strike action will affect less than three hundred of our branches, and 97% of our 11,600 branches will be operating as normal. Royal Mail also expects its services to ‘be operating as normal’.

The Communications Workers Union (CWU) plan to stage five days of strikes in the run-up to Christmas. A long-running dispute over jobs, pensions and branch closures lies behind the walkout, which is expected to include Christmas Eve. CWU previously took industrial action in September this year and again in October. Staff and management are in dispute over the closure of a final salary pension scheme, job losses and the franchising of Crown Post Offices, mostly to WHSmith. Crown Post Offices are larger branches, such as the former Great Darkgate Street branch, which offer a full range of services. Traditionally, Crown Post Offices are sited on high streets in the heart of the town and community.

Dave Ward, CWU’s General Secretary, said his members were being ‘forced into fighting to save their jobs and this great institution from terminal decline’: “We didn’t want to be in this position but, unless we stand up now, the Post Office as we know it will cease to exist. We are defending the very future of the Post Office in this country.

“We want a Post Office that works for everyone; for communities, for small and medium-sized businesses, and for the people who serve them – our hard working members – but the people running the Post Office have no serious plan other than further closures and managed decline, and we won’t accept that.”

The CWU accuses Post Office Ltd of launching ‘an unprecedented attack on the jobs, job security and pensions of thousands of hard-working and loyal Post Office workers’. The union claims it is Post Office Ltd which is dictating a ‘path of conflict and industrial disputes’.

It is not known whether the Post Office in WHSmith will be affected by any of the days of industrial action. To be on the safe side and to avoid the delays that are already causing pandemonium in WHSmith, Herald readers are advised to access Post Office services in Penparcau, Waunfawr or villages that have been fortunate enough to retain sub Post Offices. So, post early for Christmas – or maybe send an email and use a parcel courier!

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Changes to bus services in Ceredigion confirmed by local authority

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THERE will be changes to local bus services in Ceredigion from Tuesday 3 January 2023.

The tenders received as part of a procurement process for operating several services have shown significant cost increases. This has resulted in substantial increases in subsidy levels being requested at a time when public finances are under tremendous pressure. The higher costs are largely reflective of particular challenges affecting the bus industry currently which includes considerable increased operating costs, lack of qualified and available drivers, uncertainty around future funding mechanisms as well as declining passenger numbers and changing travel behaviours.

Bus passenger numbers have been in decline across Wales and essentially halved in the period between 1982, where there were 181 million passenger journeys and 2019/20 where there were 91 million passenger journeys. This has been severely compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw a drop to 26 million passenger journeys in 2020/21, that has further impacted on the viability of local bus services.

The 22T (Aberystwyth-Devil’s Bridge), 27T (Penrhyncoch-Penbontrhydybeddau) and T29 (Tregaron Circular) demand responsive services will stop at the end of December 2022. This is due to the significant costs associated with providing them and the very low level of usage, which equate to unviable levels of public subsidy per passenger journey.

There will be changes to the timetables on the 525 (Aberystwyth-Ponterwyd), 526 (Aberystwyth-Penrhyncoch) and 585 (Aberystwyth-Tregaron-Lampeter) services. The timetables for these services, subject to submission by the operators and approval by the Traffic Commissioner, are attached. These timetables are based on proposals provided by the local bus operators and reflect what is operationally deliverable with the resources available, in terms of buses and drivers, at this time.

The T21 (Aberystwyth-Llanafan-Tregaron) and 552 Cardi Bach (New Quay-Cardigan) services will continue as currently.

All these contracts have been awarded on a 6 month basis to allow for a wider review.

Councillor Keith Henson, Cabinet Member for Highways and Environmental Services and Carbon Management said: “I would like to thank the local bus companies for their ongoing engagement in what is very challenging operating environment. We continue to work with them and in partnership with the other key stakeholders including the Welsh Government and Transport for Wales, seeking possible solutions and a way forward. Bus services and networks are dynamic and subject to change. Further changes are likely as the reality is that, in addition to the sparsity of resources, the amount of subsidy now required to provide the services is unaffordable, unjustifiable and unsustainable in the current financial climate.”

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Urgent police appeal for missing Ceredigion man

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POLICE in Ceredigion are appealing for help to find Dyfed who is missing from the Talybont area.

He was last seen at his home address in the Ceredigion village at around 10.30pm or 11pm on Saturday, 3 December.

Dyfed is described as being 5ft 10ins, of medium build, with short mousey brown hair with short ginger beard, and was wearing grey waterproof trousers over jeans, a blue-check padded shirt and woolly hat and wellies.

Have you seen Dyfed, or do you have info that might help us find him? Please, let us know:

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New Rural Health Economics Professor builds on University healthcare provision

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AN ACADEMIC who played a key role in decision-making in the adoption of medicines in NHS Wales and NHS England has been appointed as Professor of Rural Health Economics at Aberystwyth University.

Professor Murray Smith, an expert in the use of economics and statistics to predict outcomes in health and health-related behaviours, joins Aberystwyth Business School.

His recent research has centred on the quality of use of pharmaceutical medicine, with one project exploring the use of an inhaled analgesic for acute pre-hospital trauma pain, and others on topics that have spanned medicine use across a number of chronic disease areas.

After beginning his career in Australia, Professor Smith moved to the United Kingdom in 2007 and has worked at the universities of Aberdeen, Nottingham and Lincoln.

Professor Smith said: “I am delighted to join Aberystwyth Business School. Health economics is a vital subject because it provides methods and tools to help decision makers in the choices they face when trying to deliver high quality healthcare in a modern resource-limited economy.

“I am excited about adding to Aberystwyth Business School’s existing portfolio of expertise in research and to being given the opportunity to continue to use my skills to help the NHS to identify and deliver cost-effective healthcare and services to the people of mid Wales.”

Professor Elizabeth Treasure, Vice-Chancellor of Aberystwyth University said: “It is vital as a society that we continue to innovate in our approaches to healthcare and Aberystwyth University is stepping up to the challenge with the launch of our first ever nursing degrees in September 2022 and through interdisciplinary research into combating diseases, using artificial intelligence to improve patients’ health, and exploring new techniques to improve human health through diet.

“The appointment of Professor Smith demonstrates our continuing commitment to developing and delivering high quality healthcare education and research at Aberystwyth. His expertise will focus on the economic aspects of healthcare, and his teaching and research will benefit our students and beyond.”

Professor Smith’s appointment coincides with the awarding of Honorary Professorships to three executives from Hywel Dda University Health Board, further strengthening Aberystwyth University’s expertise in healthcare as well as building on its partnership with the local health board.

Dr Helen Munro, Consultant in Community Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare at the Board; Dr Leighton Phillips, the Board’s Director of Research, Innovation and University Partnerships, and Huw Thomas, its Director of Finance collectively have decades of expertise in the health sector in the United Kingdom.

Steve Moore, Chief Executive of Hywel Dda University Health Board, added: “On behalf of the Board I would like to offer my warmest congratulations to Helen, Leighton and Huw on their appointment as Honorary Professors at Aberystwyth University. Our partnership with Aberystwyth University continues to go from strength to strength and we look forward to continuing our vital work together in the future.”
Professor Elizabeth Treasure added: “I am delighted to welcome our new Honorary Professors, who together will bring decades of experience to our research and teaching. Their expertise will further contribute to the role we have to play as a University in helping improve healthcare provision for everyone.”

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