It has been my privilege to represent you in the Senedd over the last five years. I will be the Welsh Conservative Candidate for Montgomeryshire standing in the Senedd election. The Senedd and Police & Crime Commissioner Elections will take place in just 4 weeks time on Thursday 6th May.
These are an important set of elections as we continue to deal with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and look towards our economic and societal recovery.
TO VOTE BY POST
If you would like to apply for a postal vote, please contact Powys County Council by clicking here to fill in a postal vote application form. Please note that application forms must reach the Elections Office by 5pm, at least 11 working days before Polling Day. You can send it to Powys County Council, County Hall, Llandrindod Wells, Powys, LD1 5LG.
I'm available for a conversation if you would like to ask a question, pass on your views or require support so please contact me by telephone on 01686 610887 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can find a mutually convenient time for us to speak.
Russell George MS
Member of the Welsh Parliament for Montgomeryshire
Review of Covid-19 Restrictions
As always, if you have symptoms and need a coronavirus test, options are available here.
Last Friday, the First Minister announced a tentative plan for reopening society which will see the following changes (Covid permitting). For more information, please visit the Welsh Government's Coronavirus website here. I have listed the main changes and relevant dates, and further in my email, I have listed my own views on the recent announcement.
Monday, 12 April
- Travel into and out of Wales from the rest of the UK
- Students return to face-to-face education
- All remaining non-essential retail and close contact services, like beauty salons, allowed to reopen
Monday, 26 April
- Outdoor hospitality, including cafes, pubs and restaurants
- Outdoor attractions, including funfairs and theme parks
Monday, 3 May
- Organised outdoor activities for up to 30 people
- Outdoor wedding receptions attended by no more than 30 people
Monday, 10 May
- People will be allowed to form extended households again, allowing two households to meet and have contact indoors
- Gyms, leisure centres and fitness facilities can reopen. Individual and one-to-one training will be allowed, but not exercise classes
Monday, 17 May
- Children's indoor activities
- Community centres
- Organised indoor activities for adults, limited to a maximum of 15 people. This includes exercise classes
- Consider enabling indoor hospitality and remaining visitor accommodation to reopen in advance of the Spring Bank Holiday
The Need for a Roadmap to Recovery
I am pleased that we in Wales and across the UK now have a strong and world leading vaccination programme in place. The UK Vaccination programme is allowing the nations of the UK to open up our economy and society again.
My own view is that I would have preferred a number of measures to have been opened up sooner than the Welsh Government timetable above. I have been asking the Welsh Government to bring forward a roadmap out of lock down for some time, so I am pleased that we did get a roadmap up to a point last Thursday, but I would have preferred dates further into the summer, similar to what the other UK nations have in place. The publication of a detailed roadmap out of lockdown will provide the much-needed clarity businesses seek.
As you can see above, travel into and out of Wales from the rest of the UK will be permitted from 12th April. In my view, this is not an appropriate restriction on travel across the Wales-England border. It is ridiculous that one can travel 200 miles from Cardiff to Holyhead but can't travel a few miles up the road from Llanymynech to Pant for example unless there is a ‘reasonable excuse’. I had already asked for clarification from Welsh Government Ministers on this issue. In Powys, we share a long border with our neighbours in England and this should have been given consideration.
I would have also liked to have seen gyms across Wales reopened now for the good of people’s mental and physical well-being given the progress which we have made on case rates and the vaccination.
I also believe consideration should be afforded to the reopening of outdoor hospitality in Wales. The tourism sector is vital to Mid Wales’ economy and the entire sector is eager to return to normality as quickly as possible. But, with that said, tourism businesses will need as much notice as possible so they can prepare for any potential re-opening. That’s why it’s crucial that Welsh Government Ministers provide the detail with urgency.
Financial Support for Businesses
Both the UK and Welsh Governments have been providing specific support for businesses throughout the pandemic. Over recent weeks I have had many businesses asking for urgent clarity with regards to the latest financial support.
Hospitality businesses and others have said that the Welsh Government has "moved the goalposts" on Covid business support. Specific support packages were supposed to provide eligible businesses with funding to help cover costs up until March 31st but, according to another Welsh Government website, the date has now been shifted to May which has prompted concerns as it puts local jobs and businesses at risk. I have asked the Economy Minister to provide urgent clarification, and if you or your business are in this position, please do get in contact with me.
Invitations have now been issued to everyone aged 55 and over. If you have not yet received your invitation then you can use the Priority Access Form to let Powys Teaching Health Board know, and the team will fast-track you to an appointment.
Everyone aged 50-54 is being invited now, and you can join the reserve list to help fill any cancellations. Invitations have also started going out to those in the 40 year old age group (I’m aware of this as I had my invite letter this week!)
Everyone aged 40-49 can also join the secondary reserve list: Reserve Lists - Powys Teaching Health Board
This means that Powys are on schedule to offer everyone in Priority Groups 1 to 9 an appointment by the middle of April. This is Milestone 2 in the national vaccination strategy.
You can find detailed information about the current position and next steps for each Priority Group on the Health Board's website.
UK supplies will reduce during April. It will mean that the pace of first dose appointments will fall from their current peak, before they rise again later in the spring when supplies increase once more. Peaks and troughs in supply are very much expected as part of such a major vaccination programme. They remain on schedule to offer vaccination to everyone aged 18 and over by the end of July. This is Milestone 3 in the national vaccination strategy.
Second dose appointments are not affected by the change in supplies. You should still expect an invitation for an appointment 11-12 weeks after your first dose. Some supplies of Pfizer/BioNTech for second dose appointments arrived sooner than had originally been anticipated, which means that some second dose appointments with Pfizer/BioNTech have taken place earlier than 11-12 weeks.
Information about second dose appointments is available from the website, including an online form if you do not receive an invitation for a second dose appointment 11-12 weeks after your first dose.
Already over 86% of people in Priority Groups 1-9 have received their first dose, and over a quarter have double dose protection. This also means that over 60% of the total adult population in Powys have had their first vaccination.
Senedd Election Campaign gets under way
The Welsh Parliament election campaign is now well under way. Each party and candidate will be setting out their positions. I like to try and keep my monthly newsletters as non-party political as possible, but it would of course be unusual for me not to mention some key policy positions from myself. Working with my Welsh Conservative colleagues last week, we have brought forward targeted proposals to make sure that Mid Wales doesn’t just recover – but that it thrives long into the future.
My and our proposals include:
👩⚕️ Guaranteeing we get the healthcare we deserve by upgrading our hospitals.
🌻 Creating a £250m Rural Road Fund to tackle the state of our roads, so we can repair potholes and damage.
🛣️ More investment in our main roads in Mid Wales so we are better connected, and making travel quicker and safer.
🧑💼 Bringing back the best of the WDA & Development Board for Rural Wales to help our small & large businesses in Mid Wales grow.
🚜 Scrapping the Welsh Government's NVZ rules
✨ Introducing a Tourism Towns Fund to grow local economies, attract new visitors, and create jobs.
👮♂️ Working with the Home Office to establish a National Rural Crime Taskforce for Wales.
Each of the main parties will be setting out their positions shortly. My own party will be bringing forward our full manifesto commitments next week, but the above gives a flavour of what will be included.
There are a significant number of new developments being built in Churchstoke. Powys County Council must take this into consideration. Pictured here with Ella who interviewed me and she reported for the school's news.
Powys Education Proposals
I've been talking to many parents and local communities, and recently visited Churchstoke School to gain views on Powys County Council's proposals.
Powys County Council will be carrying out public consultations on each of its proposals as their plans progress. I have made the point that consultations must be genuine and as these consultations may take place during the Covid-19 pandemic, the County Council must ensure that all residents’ views are listened to before decisions are made, including those residents who may not be able to engage through electronic/remote meetings.
It is important that Powys County Council takes the time to listen to all parents and schools which may be impacted by these proposals. They must listen to the concerns raised by residents in order to ensure their proposals address the needs of all learners, including those pupils who thrive in small school settings.
Over recent months, I have had virtual meetings with parents from schools that have been proposed for closure and I have spoken with many residents via my virtual advice surgeries. There have been a number of fair points of concern raised with me about some of the schools proposed for closure, and I believe it is important that Powys County Council's decision makers listen and act on concerns raised.
I will be actively encouraging as many people as possible to engage with the consultations and I will be responding to the Local Authority myself based on views that have been presented to me.
I would welcome conversations with parents and communities on Powys' plans so please do let me know if you would like to safely meet or have a telephone conversation.
Moratorium on Buttington Incinerator?
At the end of February, an official application for the large scale incinerator in Buttington was lodged by developers with the Welsh Planning Inspectorate.
Over the past two years, County Councillor Amanda Jenner and I have been calling for a moratorium on the development of any new large scale waste incinerators in Wales and the Welsh Government has finally announced a change in their policy approach in their Beyond Recycling strategy.
They will place a moratorium on any future large scale energy from waste developments but clearly, we would like to get absolute clarity that the Buttington development will now not proceed. I held a community meeting on this matter two weeks ago but please get in touch if you would like to know more.
Commemorative Woodland in Mid Wales
The First Minister has announced that the Welsh Government is to create commemorative woodlands in South and North Wales in memory of those who have died from Coronavirus, so I asked for a similar woodland in Mid Wales and questioned why Mid Wales doesn't have a similar scheme where we would also be able to reflect on the pandemic and the huge impact it has had on all our lives.
It is now over a year since the first person in Wales sadly died from Covid-19 and the people of Mid Wales haven't been immune from the devastating effects of the virus. I believe that it would have been appropriate for communities in Mid Wales to also have been included to ensure that we have a natural space for quiet reflection and where families and friends can come together to remember loved ones.
Therefore, I asked the First Minister to suggest that he also considers a location in Mid Wales and have offered to assist him in suggesting appropriate sites for a commemorative woodland in Powys.
20th Anniversary of Wales Air Ambulance
I was pleased to be able to make one of my last contributions in the Senedd before the May elections to mark the 20th Anniversary of the Wales Air Ambulance.
The Charity’s founder and first Chair of Trustees was the late Robert Palmer. From his vision, the Wales Air Ambulance has grown from a one-helicopter operation based at Swansea Airport to what is now the largest air ambulance operation in the UK, with four helicopters, including one in Welshpool.
I want to thank everyone who has contributed to this life-saving service over the years, for their commitment, enthusiasm, and dedication to the people of Wales.