Please find below my monthly e-newsletter for December.
I would like to wish you all a Happy and blessed Christmas. My 2018 Christmas Card (shown below) was designed by Madison Davies, aged 6.
Last month I reported on plans Powys County Council have to move Welshpool Library. Please click here to read my response to the consultation.
This week, Carwyn Jones AM, stood down as First Minister. I have written an article about his legacy and the new First Minister, Mark Drakeford. Please click here to read this article.
As always, I hope you enjoy reading the newsletter and please don't hesitate to get in touch if you have any comments, or if I can help in any way, either by telephone on 01686 610887 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Russell George AM
Assembly Member for Montgomeryshire
Montgomery Canal Partnership
At the end of last month, I met with the Minister for Tourism, Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM, at the Royal Oak in Welshpool to discuss the Montgomery Canal Partnership, which brings together all groups with an interest in the Canal.
Led by the Canal & River Trust, the partnership, which includes Shropshire and Powys County Council, is committed to working together to complete the restoration of the Montgomery Canal and in doing so bring about a sustainable regeneration of the canal corridor.
The meeting allowed representatives from the Montgomery Canal Partnership and the Canal & River Trust to outline the vision which is to restore the Canal in four phases, initially completing the section from Llanymynech to Arddleen enabling navigation through to Refail (South of Welshpool), the end of the isolated navigable section. This fits with the ambitions of Welshpool Town Council to restore the Canal to Welshpool and so obtain the economic benefits of restoration. Phase 4 will be from Refail to Newtown, in line with objectives of Newtown Town Council.
The first three phases are achievable in 10 years, subject to funding, with the last part targeted for 2029.
Local Government Funding
At the end of November, I called for the Welsh Government to change next year’s controversial local authority financial settlement, and to review the formula that allocates cash to councils.
In a Senedd debate, put forward by the Welsh Conservatives, I highlighted how the settlement will result in inequitable funding between local authorities in urban and rural Wales. Regrettably, the motion was voted down by other political parties.
Powys will face a very challenging settlement with the Leader of Powys County Council, Rosemarie Harris, warning that they will still have to find a £14 million gap in funding in the next financial year and £20 million in each of the three years after that.
In a recent letter to Assembly Members, Cllr. Harris rightly recognised that Powys has had the poorest or joint poorest budget settlement in nine of the last ten years and between 2010 and 2020 and that Powys would have taken £100 million out of their budget - an unsustainable situation which will inevitably affect the delivery of essential local services.
For me, the funding formula simply doesn't recognise the different challenges of delivering vital public services over large rural areas of Mid Wales. The current system provides councils in urban south Wales with far more attractive financial settlements while the largest, most rural councils such as Powys are among those with the worst cash settlements. This exposes a fundamental weakness in the funding formula which has been in much need of reform for many years.
The formula doesn't adequately reflect the fact that Powys has a relatively small, disproportionately elderly population which is dispersed across a wide area, placing pressure on the delivery of essential local government services. The efficiencies which all councils have made by reducing senior staff, cutting back office functions and improving processes through automation will just not be enough to shield council tax payers from significant increases in council tax while having to accept cuts to services which they value.
In the end, people will be paying more for less which is why the Welsh Government must review and increase the 2019-20 local government settlement. I will of course continue to raise this issue.
Small Business Saturday
I was pleased to support Small Business Saturday on 1st December - encouraging people to take the '£10 pledge'; a promise to spend £10 with a local business.
Last year, Small Business Saturday saw an estimated £748 million spent in small businesses across the UK and this grassroots not-for-profit campaign is considered to be the UK's most successful small business campaign.
Small Business Saturday is a wonderful opportunity to champion the key role played by small firms across Montgomeryshire.
If you have not yet started or completed your Christmas shopping, please consider supporting our local independent and small shops.
Growing Mid Wales Trade Delegation
On 31st January, the Leaders of both Powys County Council and Ceredigion County Council will come to the Senedd as part of the Growing Mid Wales Trade Delegation which I am pleased to be sponsoring.
This is an exhibition of the industries and artisan businesses from the region. It's a showcase of what is unique to Mid Wales. The event will demonstrate the wide support for growing prosperity in the region amongst existing businesses in the area.
The main purpose of the event is to raise awareness of the Mid Wales region, to support the Welsh Government initiative to develop the Growing Mid Wales Partnership and the framework for action to grow productivity, innovation and jobs across Mid Wales.
Also attending will be the Development Bank of Wales, Business Wales, Visit Wales, The Federation of Small Businesses and Mid Wales Manufacturing Group, all of whom will be available to network and offer valuable business advice and guidance.
Over the lunchtime, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport, Ken Skates AM will address the event.
It would be great to see as many businesses as possible at the event so please contact Lisa Griffiths, Powys County Council's Regeneration & Business Change Manager at email@example.com if you would like to attend.
Cancelled Rail Services
We were promised by the Welsh Government immediate improvements to Welsh rail services as a result of the new franchise but the mood amongst commuters at the moment is that services are actually getting worse.
In October 2018, Transport for Wales (the newly formed body responsible to the Welsh Government) and their contractor, KeolisAmey, took over the operation of the Welsh rail franchise from Arriva Trains Wales. This brought to an end to a long and complex procurement process and with a total public investment estimated at about £5 billion over 15 years, this will be the biggest contract awarded in Wales. Public expectations are therefore high.
However, in contrast to promises of "enhanced services; enhanced comfort and service quality; a transformed experience on the train; improved ticketing, technology and fares; improved stations; and environmental benefits", there has been standing room only on many services, and services significantly delayed. One morning service between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury was cancelled 4 times, which affected students travelling to Wrexham and Shrewsbury.
In my capacity as Chair of the Economy & Infrastructure Committee, I have recently had the opportunity of questioning both Ken Skates AM, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, and James Price, the Chief Executive of Transport for Wales, as to why cancellation rates on a Mid Wales morning service was running at 80% at one point last month, whilst cancellation rates on the Valley Lines ran with less than a 1% cancellation rate.
The difficulties for passengers are greater where infrequent services are cancelled than where services are frequent. It's unacceptable that morning services on the Cambrian line had such a high cancellation rate last week when the Valley Line services were not affected, especially when you consider that there are more frequent bus services in this area.
While I recognise that bad weather has affected the network, it is clear that rail passengers here in Mid Wales are also justifiably expecting the franchise to deliver improved value for money and put right the shortcomings in services that have afflicted rail users in Mid Wales for years.
They are certainly not expecting a worse service and it is vital that we see rapid and significant improvements here in Powys on the both the Cambrian and Heart of Wales lines with immediate effect.
The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Ken Skates AM, and the Chief Executive of Transport for Wales, have said that they expect services to be running back to the level which you and I would expect by the beginning of next week. Time will of course tell.
If you have a question or concern, you can contact Transport for Wales directly by phone on 0333 3211 202 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by all means copy me in to your correspondence.
I will be holding the following advice surgeries in December. Please call my office on 01686 610887 or email email@example.com if you would like to make an appointment.
Monday 17th December - 13 Parker's Lane, Newtown
Friday 21st December - 20 High Street, Welshpool
13 Parker’s Lane, Newtown
Montgomeryshire, SY16 2LT
Telephone: 01686 610887
20 High Street, Welshpool
Montgomeryshire, SY21 7JP
Telephone: 01938 552315