Please find below my monthly newsletter. I'm grateful to residents from across Montgomeryshire who took the time to complete my survey on recycling. Results are still coming in so I will be providing all those who respond to the survey with a detailed analysis of the results in due course.
I hope you enjoy reading this update on my activities in both the National Assembly and Montgomeryshire. As always, if you feel that I can help in any way, please don't hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 01686 610887.
National Assembly Member for Montgomeryshire
Reporting Back - Recycling Survey Results
Over the last month, hundreds of residents from across Montgomeryshire have completed a short survey on recycling facilities in Montgomeryshire. Surveys are still coming in but the results seem to indicate that there are mixed feelings from residents about the current household recycling collection.
Early results seem to suggest that over half of respondents would prefer to have a fortnightly collection and that there is overwhelming support for Powys' recycling centres to remain open throughout the week, and that no further recycling centres should be closed.
I don't feel that it is acceptable for sites in Newtown or Welshpool to operate for just three days a week and firmly disagree with the proposal to reduce opening hours. Both sites are very well used and this decision is a backward step. I am concerned at the long term impact this will have on our environment and recycling rates.
The final results from this comprehensive survey will allow me to present an accurate picture of residents' views, supported by evidence, and the results will be shared with Powys County Council so that they are able to design waste management policies which meet the approval of a majority of Montgomeryshire's residents.
The Welsh Government have the devolved levers available to them to reform business rates and put an end to a great deal of anguish for small business owners but regrettably they have chosen not to follow the UK Government’s lead.
Business rates have been partially devolved since April 2013, becoming fully devolved to the Welsh Government in April 2015. As of April, Business Rate Relief – essentially a full rebate – will be available to English businesses with a rateable value of up to £12k (tapered thereafter), whereas in Wales this will still only available to businesses with a rateable value of up to £6k placing Welsh businesses at a crippling disadvantage. In Scotland, the rate relief threshold is set to be even higher; businesses there with a rateable value of up to £15k will qualify for 100% relief.
Ever since my election in 2011, I have campaigned for the 100% relief threshold to apply to businesses with a rateable value up to £12k, to give small and medium enterprises the spare cash to grow. Small firms are the lifeblood of the Mid Wales economy, representing 99% of all registered businesses. I want to see Welsh business supported in the same way as business in other parts of the UK
Mid Wales Broadband Summit
As you know, I have long campaigned for improved broadband coverage in North Powys. In the near future, I am looking to convene a Mid Wales Broadband Summit at which community leaders and representatives from across Montgomeryshire will be able to question the Welsh Government’s Minister for Skills & Science, Julie James AM, who has overall responsibility for the Superfast Cymru fibre broadband scheme, which reaches its conclusion at the end of 2017.
In recent months, many areas have been connected, and are now able to access superfast broadband. However, it remains a significant concern to me that many rural communities across Montgomeryshire appear to be excluded from the fibre broadband upgrade or, at the very least, are at the back of the queue when it comes to receiving superfast speeds. The goalposts have been repeatedly moved and businesses have been unable to plan for the future so this Summit will be an opportunity for us to press the Welsh Government to bring forward a concrete timescale for the extension of superfast broadband to every property in Mid Wales.
NHS Future Fit Proposals for Shropshire & Mid Wales
Last month, NHS bosses in Shropshire and Mid Wales agreed to commission further work on the proposals from the Future Fit Programme Board, which were not accepted before Christmas. At a meeting in Shropshire on 7th February, there was unanimous agreement that work on the Future Fit proposals must continue. An independent report will be now compiled by health experts, to review the work carried out so far in developing long-term options for NHS services in Shropshire and Mid Wales. There will also be a review of the impact of the Future Fit proposals on Women's and Children's Services. This will reassure people that the proposals, which involved 300 clinicians, are the best solution for patients.
Earlier this year, I attended the Newtown Patients’ Health forum, and last month I attended the Patients’ Health Forums in Llanidloes and Montgomery. Please do contact me if you would like me to visit any group you are involved in to discuss local health services.
The Welsh Government subsidises the Cardiff to Cardiff Airport bus link to the tune of almost half a million pounds a year.
The T9 service, which runs from Cardiff to Cardiff Airport 34 times a day, is now attracting more passengers. As a result, I believe it should look to stand on its own two feet and that the Welsh Government should look at diverting the subsidy which the T9 service currently enjoys to those local bus services in Mid Wales which are struggling to remain financially viable.
Local routes have been reduced by Welsh Government cuts to the Bus Service Operators’ Grant whereas around £1.3 million has been spent on the Cardiff to Cardiff Airport T9 bus link over the last three years. You have to question the cost of this service when some local residents in Montgomeryshire don’t have the luxury of a regular bus service at all.
I raised this last week directly with the First Minister Carwyn Jones during First Minister’s Questions. My question and his response is here.
Cross Border Issues
In January, I established the Cross Party Group on Cross Border Issues, an all party group of Assembly Members which meets on a quarterly basis to understand more about the challenges of policy differences between Wales and England. In January, we discussed Cross Border Transport Issues. The next meeting, later this month, will discuss Cross Border Healthcare including the importance of health care providers in Wales and England to work in collaboration and the challenges of increasing policy divergence in the health systems of England and Wales. In June, the focus of the group will turn to agriculture issues to explore the reasons for the delays which border farmers have experienced with single farm payments.
One of our biggest industries in Mid Wales is Tourism, and supporting this sector is an important issue for me. As such I have attended a number of cross party meetings in the National Assembly.
I was pleased to attend the Lake Vyrnwy Tourism group a couple of weeks ago, held at the Lake Vyrnwy Hotel. We discussed a range of issues affecting the industry, and I have recently had confirmation that the Welsh Cabinet Secretary for the Economy and Infrastructure, Ken Skates AM, has agreed to attend a future meeting of tourism businesses with me in Montgomeryshire.
Next month, I will provide an update on the Newtown bypass, which remains on track for completion by the end of next year.
Last week I met with the UK Government Minister of State at the Department for Transport, John Hayes MP in Llanymynech. The meeting had been arranged by Shropshire MP, Owen Paterson. I was pleased that the Minister agreed to take a fresh look at moving the proposed Llanymynech/Pant bypass forward. This will need agreement from the Welsh and UK Government, and as this is a project that needs support from both governments, there have been issues with taking this potential project forward for many years.
Powys County Council Elections
In May this year, there will be county wide elections, and the Powys public will decide who they would like to represent them over the next 5 years. It is a challenging time for the County Council, as the Welsh Government has reduced the block grant awarded to Powys to a greater extent than urban based councils across Wales for the past decade.
A number of long standing County Councillors have announced they will not be seeking re-election in May. I would like to thank Cllr Barry Thomas, Leader of Powys County Council for his years of work for local Government in Powys. Cllr Barry is standing down in May and throughout his time as a Councillor, he has been a committed servant of Powys. I have always had a good working relationship with him and have found him to be approachable and willing to discuss Council issues with me on a constructive basis. Even when I have not agreed with his position, I know that he has always acted in a way in which he felt was in the best interests of Powys.
Being an elected representative in Powys has not been an easy job in recent years, and I should like to thank all councillors standing down in May for their public service, and wish them well for their futures.
Montgomeryshire Young Farmers
The Montgomery YFC County Drama Festival was very successful, attracting large audiences over 5 nights at Theatr Hafren, with over 400 members taking part from 17 different clubs. County winners went on to compete at the All Wales Festival and came away with 4 out of the 10 awards available, namely:
Gemma Owen won the Wales YFC Young Member competition
Llanfyllin YFC were winners of the English entertainment competition
Llanfair Caereinion YFC won the Best Technical performance shield in the Welsh competition; and their club member, Catherine Watkin won Best Actress.
Gemma will now go on to represent Wales in the National YFC Young Member competition; and Llanfyllin YFC in the National Entertainments competition which will be held during the National YFC AGM in Torquay in April.
I'm sure you would like to join me in congratulating all the winners and those who took part to make the Festival a great success.
Janos Arany - Freeman of Montgomery
Last week, I had the opportunity of making a short statement in the National Assembly which highlighted the posthumous award of Freeman of Montgomery to the Hungarian poet, Janos Arany, who wrote The Bards of Wales in 1857.
The Bards of Wales is a poem which can be recited by many Hungarians, but in Wales little is known of this poem. After refusing to write a poem celebrating the Emperor of Austria, Franz Joseph, following a failed revolution in 1848 against the empire, Arany wrote The Bards of Wales which recounts a legendary story of rebellion at which 500 Welsh poets were slaughtered by King Edward the First at Montgomery Castle after they refused to sing his praises as their conqueror.
While Arany’s 19th Century poem is still taught in all schools in Hungary, many living in Montgomeryshire have never heard of it.
Last Thursday, a special televised celebration of the life of the Janos Arany was held in Budapest to mark the anniversary of his 200th birthday, attended by the Hungarian President, at which Arany was presented with the posthumous honorary status of Freeman of Montgomery by the Mayor of the Montgomery.
Forthcoming Advice Surgeries
I hold advice surgeries in my Newtown and Welshpool offices most Fridays and I will also be in the following areas on the following dates. If you would like to meet with me, please contact me on 01686 610887 to make an appointment. I will also be holding surgeries in the following areas in the coming weeks, please contact me if you would like to discuss any matter with me.
Buttington – Friday 24th March
Llanbrynmair – Saturday 25th March
Caersws – Saturday 1st April
Churchstoke – Monday 3rd April
Welshpool – Tuesday 11th April