Newsletter - February 2018

February 2018

Dear Resident,

In this month's newsletter, I wanted to provide an extended update on the situation in the aftermath of the Superfast Cymru fibre broadband programme which came to end on December 31st 2017. I have become increasingly frustrated about how many people in Mid Wales have been let down and in some cases misled by the Superfast Cymru scheme which was supposed to bring high speed broadband to Montgomeryshire.

I also want to provide an update on "out of hours" GP services; and news about improved Post Office services, and the potential for an increased mobile banking service. 

Later this week, First Minister Carwyn Jones will be in Montgomeryshire and taking questions from AMs. I have included details about this event if you would like to attend this meeting as a member of the public. 

I hope you find this monthly update useful and as always, please don't hesitate to contact me if you would like any further information or have any issue with which you feel I can help.

Russell George

Assembly Member for Montgomeryshire

 

Superfast Broadband

The Superfast Cymru project has undoubtedly been successful in delivering fibre broadband to many homes and businesses across Powys but the consequence of that improvement is that there's a deep sense of injustice that grows for those that are left behind, and this sense of injustice has been made worse by continual delays, poor communication and a lack of capacity that has left a significant minority of residents wondering whether they will ever get the upgrade that they have been repeatedly promised.

Essentially, Openreach have run out of time to complete all of the premises which were previously in scope for an upgrade as part of the Superfast Cymru project which ended on 31st December.

There was no contractual obligation to complete individual premises which exposes the significant weaknesses in the design of the original contract and the Welsh Government have repeatedly said that they did not "promise" any individual home or business a connection, and only say that it was "scheduled". I believe that this is a matter of semantics and many people feel that they have been misled and let down.

Openreach have requested a two month extension to the scheme so that they can complete the 2500 premises across Wales which were "very close to completion." Openreach has informed me that these premises are still listed as "In Scope" on the Openreach checker if they fall into this category and you can check the status of your property by clicking here.

If you're not one of the 2500 premises, it will be essential that you are automatically transferred over into the next contract, the procurement process for which was announced last week. I have asked the Welsh Government Minister for a detailed list and map showing which premises are included in the next scheme which will spend £80 million to enable a further 88,000 premises across Wales. 

However, it ought to be noted that even if you are on the list for the next scheme, the Welsh Government is unwilling to provide a cast iron guarantee for individuals, citing the usual caveats about “unforeseen engineering and technical challenges,” which the Welsh Government say make it impossible to provide absolute guarantees to the remaining individuals. I find this unacceptable as it provides little or no clarity to those who now find themselves left in the lurch.

This is an issue which is dominating my postbag at the moment and I am continually exerting pressure on both the Welsh Government and Openreach to provide us all with some clarity so that the people of Montgomeryshire know where they stand. I will continue to campaign for broadband connectivity to be universal for the people of Montgomeryshire and not a postcode lottery.

If you would like me to investigate your individual circumstances, please get in touch with me by email at russell.george@assembly.wales or by phone on 01686 610887.

 

Out of Hours GP services

Last month, I reported on the concerns about the current contract with Shropdoc coming to an end in the Spring. I have since had the opportunity of raising the matter directly with the First Minister in an effort to gain clear assurances that the people of Powys will continue to have outstanding ‘Out of Hours GP services’.

While there is no suggestion that there will be no provision of "out of hours" care for the people of Powys, I asked the First Minister to personally examine the emerging situation and provide the people of North Powys with a guarantee that if any change to the service took place, it would be of the same outstanding quality.

The First Minister correctly pointed out that Shropdoc has faced financial challenges but he was not able to offer the reassurance that I asked him to provide.

My view is that it isn’t necessarily important who runs the service or what the service is called. The important issue is that we have an excellent "out of hours" service in our area, and that we have assurances it will remain excellent going forward. It’s therefore crucial that the Health Board and GPs work closely together to come forward with a solution. I don't see why there shouldn't be an opportunity to have an "out of hours" service which can be Powys-based and takes into account our unique situation in Powys.

Powys Teaching Health Board have confirmed that they are currently working towards a position on implementing a new service (111 service). This will be a single free number for patients to call 24 hours a day for health information and advice. Out of hours call handling and initial triage will be through NHS 111 Wales, provided by the Welsh Ambulance Service NHS Trust. A Powys-specifc secondary triage and face-to-face service would then take place.

Over the past month, I have had a number of meetings with officials from Powys Teaching Health Board and with local GPs. I will keep you informed with any developments. 

 

Banking at the Post Office

After a series of high street bank closures across Powys in recent years, I was pleased that senior Post Office management agreed to visit Llanidloes (which has recently lost its last remaining high street bank) to discuss the banking services which it can offer to fill the gap.

While the Post Office is unable to offer all of the services which a bank provides, it offers more services than people realise from processing bill payments, ordering foreign currency and even dealing with personal and business banking transactions of virtually all banks.

It's often unnecessary for people to travel many miles passed the nearest post office to the nearest bank and with convenient opening hours, using the Post Office as a "one stop shop" could also make them more sustainable.

I was pleased that Post Office management committed to looking at what other services it may be able to provide in the future and they also agreed to look at some of the concerns people have relating to confidentiality, queuing, staffing hours and signage especially when Post Office facilities are housed in convenience stores such as in the Spar in Llanidloes.

I was also pleased that Llanidloes Town Council were involved in this positive meeting and in taking a proactive approach in ensuring that local banking services are maintained and strengthened via the Post Office.

Last month, I also had a meeting with a NatWest Bank official. Cllr Stephen Hayes (Montgomery), also attended the meeting with me. We asked the bank to consider basing a mobile facility locally, so NatWest’s mobile banking services can potentially be increased to more communities and stay longer in communities where it visits now. NatWest Bank officials are currently considering our request. 

 

Sunny side up for me and Glyn

It doesn't get any better than starting your day with a local farmhouse breakfast and I was delighted to join our MP, Glyn Davies to celebrate the FUW's Breakfast Week at Plas Du Farm in Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant.

At the end of January, Farmers Union of Wales County Chairman, Aled Roberts, hosted us with a locally-produced farmhouse breakfast, which aimed to highlight the importance of eating breakfast as part of a healthy lifestyle.

The delicious local breakfast produce was kindly supplied by Stanley Jones, Rhos (Bacon & Black Pudding); D&J Thomas, Rhos (Sausages); Lewis, Parc Isaf (Eggs) and from the Village Bakery (Bread).

In addition to raising the profile of Welsh farming, those who supported the breakfast helped the FUW raise money for charity. Money raised will be split, with 50% going to the Royal Welsh Show, as Montgomeryshire is this year’s feature county, and the other half will go to the FUW charities, Alzheimer’s Society Cymru and the Farming Community Network.

 

First Minister visiting Newtown

On Friday (16th February), the First Minister will be visiting Newtown and will be questioned by AMs (including myself) on the Food and Drink Industry in Wales.

The meeting will start at 11:30 in Hafren Theatre, and is open to members of the public to watch. To book your place at the meeting, please register by e-mailing contact@assembly.wales or over the phone by calling 0300 200 6565.

If you’re unable to attend, you will be able to watch the meeting live, or afterwards on www.senedd.tv

 

Forthcoming Advice Surgeries

If you would like to meet with me, I hold regular advice surgeries on Fridays in either my Newtown or Welshpool office. Please contact me if you would like to meet by email at russell.george@assembly.wales or on 01686 610887.

On Saturday 3rd March, I will be in Kerry area and if you would like to raise any issue with me, please don't hesitate to contact me.