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Calls to support off-grid Ceredigion households facing rocketing heating bills

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Cefin Campbell, Plaid Cymru Member of the Senedd for Mid & West Wales has called on the Welsh Government to provide additional support for off-grid households in Ceredigion to help them with their heating bills following the Westminster government’s “disastrous” mini-budget.

Speaking during First Minister’s Questions, Cefin Campbell highlighted that across Ceredigion an estimated 74% of households are not connected to the mains gas grid – which compares with a Wales average of 19%, and as low as 2% in more urban local authority areas such as Caerphilly and Rhondda Cynon Taff.

Mr Campbell highlighted that unlike electricity and gas, heating oil was not subject to a price cap – with households vulnerable to fluctuating prices. In particular, Mr Campbell cited the experience of one constituent from that had seen the price for a 1,000 litres of heating oil skyrocket from £269 in October 2020 to £939 at the end of September 2022.

During his mini-budget on 23 September, Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng MP, revealed proposals for a £100 payment to be support households reliant on heating oil – however, Cefin Campbell MS has criticised this describing the payment as “a pittance that won’t do anything other than scratch the surface for these kinds of households.”

Last month, the Welsh Government announced a Fuel Support Scheme, which offers £200 for eligible households to meet the pressures of the cost-of-living crisis. However, with eligibility reliant on qualifying benefits, Mr Campbell expressed concerns that areas of Mid & West Wales may be disproportionately under-qualify for the fund, compared to more urban areas. Mr Campbell subsequently called on the First Minister to consider committing to a further support package to aid off-grid households in rural areas.

Speaking after the First Minister’s Questions, Cefin Campbell said:

“It’s common knowledge that homes across Ceredigion are disproportionately reliant on off-grid fuel sources such as oil and biomass than other parts of Wales.

With heating oil prices skyrocketing as the cost-of-living crisis intensifies, current support made available both in the Tories’ disastrous mini-budget, and the existing Welsh Government scheme falls disproportionately short of meeting the unique circumstances of many Mid & West Wales households.

As winter approaches, many families across my region are already facing the unenviable choice between heating and eating, and therefore it’s vital that the Welsh Government looks to step-in where the careless Conservatives in Westminster have failed, and better support our off-grid rural communities.”

Responding to Cefin Campbell MS’ question, First Minister, Mark Drakeford said:

“I do recognise everything that the Member has said about the situation in west Wales, and how much people rely on different ways to heat their homes and who aren’t having any support from the Westminster Government.

We are doing many things already. We have extended the discretionary assistance fund to give more help to people who depend on that as a way to buy their fuel or energy, in the way that Cefin Campbell set out. We have a new scheme and that was opened at the end of September, with £4 million to the Fuel Bank Foundation. That’s going to provide support to people who depend on prepayment meters, but also will provide support to those buying oil in the way the Member described. And also, of course, we have provided funding to local authorities, on top of the funding that they’ve had to distribute to every household who pay council tax, funding that they can use in the appropriate way for their areas.”

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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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