I hope you have been enjoying the Summer so far and the great weather which we have been having.
Whilst the Assembly is in recess over the Summer, this is always a good time for me to spend more time here in Montgomeryshire and get out and about around the area.
It was particularly good to chat to many people at the Royal Welsh Show a couple of weeks ago, and I will also be visiting local shows throughout August so if you would like to meet with me, please give me a call to make an appointment feel free to approach me for a chat.
Finally, if you would prefer to receive this update in Welsh, please let me know and I will note your preference and arrange for you to receive a copy on a monthly basis.
Assembly Member for Montgomeryshire
More Health Services should be delivered locally
As August begins, we are about to enter the final few weeks of the NHS "Future Fit" consultation, which will now end on 11th September.
The extension, by one week, will allow some additional events to be added including an exhibition event in Welshpool on 30th August 2018 from 4pm to 7pm in the Royal Oak. A team of doctors and nurses from Shrewsbury and Telford hospitals will be present to share information about the proposals and answer questions. Members of the public are welcome to drop in any time between 4pm and 7pm.
There will also be two smaller pop-up events in Newtown Bear Lanes Shopping Centre on 21st August between 10am and 1pm; and in Kerry at the Herbert Arms on 22nd August between 6pm and 8pm.
It's incredibly important that the people of Montgomeryshire take the opportunity to have their say in order to ensure that our voice is heard loud and clear amidst the views of the more populated areas such as Telford.
I have been unashamedly in favour of the preferred option which has been put forward by the Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin clinical commissioning groups. This option would see an Emergency Centre located in Shrewsbury which is centrally located to serve the healthcare needs of the wider region and those of us here in Montgomeryshire.
Under this proposed model, Telford’s Princess Royal Hospital would take on responsibility for providing planned care. Planned Care is treatment or surgery which is booked in advance and not an emergency. Patients are often referred for planned care by a GP.
It is crucial in my view that the Emergency Centre (as recommended) is located in Shrewsbury. However, this option would also mean than some planned care services would move further away from Mid Wales, moving to the Princess Royal in Telford. The planned surgery we receive at Gobowen is not affected, and nor are most of the out-patient appointments, out-patient procedures and scans which we currently receive at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital. But, more of our day case surgery and routine planned surgery, as well as endoscopy, would move.
I firmly believe that the proposed reconfiguration of services in Shropshire, help us in Powys to firm up our case for some planned care to be delivered locally in our local community hospitals in Llanidloes, Newtown, Welshpool and Machynlleth.
I think this could include local endoscopy facilities, more use of video and remote technology to prevent the need to travel out of county see a consultant, and even day-case surgical procedures such as cataract operations.
NHS services should be delivered as close as possible to home and I have previously called on the Welsh Government to allocate additional funding for minor injury units and develop a Community Hospital Development Fund to encourage the innovative use of community hospitals across rural Wales. I have raised this previously with both the First Minister and the Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Health and will be looking for the Welsh Government to revisit this suggestion following changes to healthcare across the border in Shropshire.
In my view, there’s absolutely no reason for patients to travel significant distances for some planned care procedures when this type of elective healthcare can be delivered locally, making community hospitals more sustainable. This is a golden opportunity for us to improve planned healthcare services in Mid Wales.
Please ensure you complete this consultation without delay. You can view the documents and complete the consultation online at https://nhsfuturefit.org/key-documents or call 0300 3000 903 so a copy of the consultation can be posted to you.
You can also complete my 2018 health survey by visiting www.russellgeorge.com/health
Concessionary Rail Cards
After a number of queries from residents, I have taken up the matter of Concessionary Rail Cards with Transport for Wales and they have confirmed that any concessionary fare schemes currently in place will continue under the new rail franchise.
Successor to Superfast Cymru
I'm very disappointed with the lack of progress with awarding the contract for the successor scheme to the Superfast Cymru project which is designed to mop up all of those who missed out from the original contract to provide fibre broadband to those otherwise unable to receive it through commercial means.
If you recall, in December 2017, Openreach asked for a two month extension to the Superfast Cymru project to complete as many premises as possible which were close to completion. This extension has clearly now expired and for those so-called “stranded premises” who have missed out from receiving an upgrade as part of phase 1 of the Superfast Cymru project, they have been left in the lurch as the Welsh Government goes out to tender for phase 2 of the project.
It has to be asked why the Welsh Government didn't ensure that there was a seamless transition between the two schemes to avoid what will be in excess of a six month delay?!
I raised the issues with the Leader of the House, Julie James AM, who is responsible for broadband related issues on behalf of the Welsh Government, to ask for an update, and was told that "work on the procurement exercise for the successor project has been complex with a number of unforeseen issues arising during the process", without providing any information on what these unforeseen issues or complexities have been.
Support is still available to residents and businesses respectively via the Access Broadband Cymru scheme and Ultrafast Connectivity Voucher Scheme and more information is available here: https://beta.gov.wales/go-superfast/not-available-get-help
However, when the Assembly returns in September, I will be looking for more concrete commitments from the Welsh Government and a timetable for when the £80 million successor scheme will be launched.
Economic Action Plan for Mid Wales
The Growing Mid Wales Partnership has commissioned consultants to help develop an economic action plan for Mid Wales. This follows on from the publication of the Welsh Government’s new economic action plan and the announcement of a potential Growth Deal for Mid Wales in the autumn budget. Mid Wales businesses and organisations are being encouraged to provide their views on the future of the region’s economy and what can be done to boost growth.
The work being undertaken aims to set out a clear vision and direction for the regional economy and the action plan will look to develop a programme of strategic projects and investments that will help transform the Mid Wales economy and support growth over the next 15 years. It is anticipated that these interventions will be delivered through a range of funding sources including the potential Growth Deal for Mid Wales.
Businesses and community organisations are invited to complete a short online survey to feed your views into the work using the following link:
Business Rates support needed for Tourism Sector
In my view, business rates in the tourism sector need to be reformed. The present position means that some local holiday let businesses receive no business rate relief at all, putting them at a disadvantage in comparison to organisations such as Airbnb and other major online booking sites.
Currently, a business with a cluster of cottages at a single location can receive no rate relief, whereas a second home owner with a number of online bookings or buy-to-let investments for example pay less tax.
This can't be right and is effectively a loophole that should be closed. Many of these cottages are genuine businesses who employ local people and use local services; have converted obsolete buildings, and provide additional facilities which enhance the quality of accommodation in areas such as Montgomeryshire.
I believe that the Welsh Government should look at this and I have raised this matter with both First Minister Carwyn Jones, and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Mark Drakeford. I will continue to raise these much needed reforms with the relevant authorities so we can guard against this potential threat to the small-scale tourism sector in Mid Wales.
I will be at the following events and I hope to see many of you there. Please contact me in advance if you would like to make an appointment to meet or just feel free to have a chat on the day.
You can also make an appointment with me in either my Newtown or Welshpool office.
You can contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01686 610887.
Guilsfield Show - 9th August
Llangurig District Show - 11th August
Llanfyllin Show - 11th August
Montgomery Show - 18th August
Carno Show - 18th August
Berriew Show - 25th August
Llanbrynmair Show - 27th August
Llanfair Caereinion Show - 1st September