Please find below my monthly newsletter to update you on my work on your behalf in the Senedd and around Montgomeryshire.
I continue to work closely with my colleague and our Member of Parliament, Craig Williams MP, who also produces a regular newsletter so if you would like to receive a copy, please email Craig at email@example.com
My newsletter is also produced in Welsh as well as English so if you would prefer to receive it in the Welsh language, please let me know.
As always, if you have any comments or issues you would like to raise with me, please contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone by calling 01686 610887.
Russell George MS
Member of the Welsh Parliament for Montgomeryshire
Update on Covid-19
Self-isolation rules in Wales were cut to a minimum of five full days from last Friday (28th January) as long as you have two negative tests on day five and day six. The new rules bring Wales in line with changes in England and Northern Ireland.
I had called for the minimum self-isolation period to be shortened from seven days, in line with the changes in England two weeks ago, so am pleased that the Health Minister has now finally come to the same conclusion.
From last Friday, Wales also moved to alert level zero, the lowest level of restrictions which means that social distancing in businesses came to an end; nightclubs are also allowed to reopen, while rules limiting numbers allowed to socialise in pubs and restaurants have been scrapped.
However, people are still required to wear masks in most indoor public places, including shops, and Covid passes are still required for large events, cinemas, nightclubs and theatres.
Because of the changes to self-isolation rules, ministers will cut a payment for people on low pay who are self-isolating from £750 to £500.
Now that we have reached Alert Level 0, I believe that Welsh Government Ministers should set out a date to scrap all Covid-related laws, including the legal requirement to self-isolate. This would signal a return to normality.
I also don't believe that there is any need for:
- The vaccine passport scheme;
- All remaining business restrictions;
- Social distancing;
- Household mixing rules; and
- Mandatory face masks in schools.
The UK Government announced the scrapping of the legal requirement for those in England with Covid to self-isolate from March 24th, or even earlier if the data continues to trend in the right direction, so the Welsh Government should also set a roadmap for this to occur in my view.
The extraordinary success of the booster vaccination campaign shows that the people of this country and the virus are both behaving in ways that allow us to move back to normality.
This week, we saw the end of a year-long vaccination partnership between Freedom Leisure (Sport centre in Newtown) and Powys Teaching Health Board.
The North Powys Mass Vaccination Centre had been located at Newtown’s Maldwyn Leisure Centre since January 2021 and in that time, we have seen over 125,000 vaccine doses delivered, providing vital protection for people in the north of the county. With most adults in the county now having received their booster, the vaccination centre will now move to smaller premises back in Park Street, Newtown, where the North Powys vaccination effort first began in December 2020.
Vaccination continues to offer vital protection, reducing the risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19. Powys has the highest rates of vaccination of all health boards in Wales. This is only possible because of the amazing people of Powys taking up the offer, and the team of staff and volunteers delivering the programme.
We must give our thanks to all those public servants and volunteers for their efforts over the last two years and remember all those who have died and suffered because of this terrible virus and lockdowns.
Improvements needed to the Vaccine Pass
I've received several reports from residents who cannot access COVID passes because they’ve had jabs either in different parts of the UK or overseas.
This is frustrating for the people affected. The fact that the Wales NHS App is lagging behind other parts of the UK is a matter which I have taken up with the Minister. It is imperative that officials act quickly to make sure that this situation is fully resolved.
Mid Wales Growth Deal
It was back in November 2017 when the Senedd's Economy, Infrastructure & Skills Committee, which I chaired, recommended to both UK and Welsh Government that we should have a Mid Wales Growth Deal so I am delighted that this has finally come to fruition following the signing in recent weeks of the Final Deal Agreement of the Mid Wales Growth Deal by the Welsh Government, UK Government and the region’s local authorities, Ceredigion County Council and Powys County Council.
The Mid Wales Growth Deal will bring a combined investment of £110m from UK and Welsh Government, which is expected to lever in significant additional investment from other public and private sources maximising the impact in the Mid Wales region.
In addition, the programmes and projects supported by the Growth Deal will be expected to produce wider social and economic benefits, such as enhanced quality of life, creating business opportunities following the impact of COVID-19, decarbonisation in industry and consideration of climate change impacts.
The current shortlisted set of programmes and projects cover a range of investment proposals across a number of themes - digital, tourism, agriculture food & drink, research & innovation and supporting enterprise.
The proposals aim to create between 1,100 and 1,400 new jobs in Mid Wales generating £700 million for the Mid Wales Economy and £400 million of investment by 2032.
Debate on Montgomery Canal Restoration
I was delighted to have have been selected to deliver a short debate in the Senedd which I used to raise the importance of the restoration of the Montgomery Canal .
Significant funding has been granted by the UK Government to restore sections of the Montgomery canal with further funding likely from the Mid Wales Growth Deal.
During the short debate, which took place last week (Wednesday 26th January) and which you can view by following the link to YouTube (above), I outlined the achievements of local individuals, volunteers, and organisations, and spoke of the wider regeneration that the restoration of the canal will bring.
In the debate, I was able to highlight the rich history of the canal, and how it served communities such as Llanymynech, Welshpool, Garthmyl and Newtown. I also expressed the major benefits of the project such as increased employment opportunities from new and expanded businesses in the local area. This of course will be aided by the additional increase in tourism.
The canal offers further potential for boosting our local economy and preserving our heritage is a further added bonus and provides Mid Wales with a further unique selling point.
The Montgomery Canal Partnership and Montgomery Waterway Restoration Trust have been campaigning tirelessly for many years to restore sections. The Chancellor's £15.5 million Levelling Up funding announcement gave a boost to the campaign last November, and the agreement of the Mid Wales Growth Deal is now likely to provide funding to the rebuilding of two road bridges needed to bring the two restored sections together. As a result, we will now have the restoration of the canal from Welshpool close to the English border.
The ultimate aim is to restore the canal all the way to Newtown, and I ended the debate by talking about the momentum we now have to press on with plans to restore the canal to Newtown. I will continue to work closely with Craig Williams MP. Craig has made the restoration of the canal one of his top priorities.
A458 Golfa / Spring Bank Closure Survey
I remain very concerned by the total closure for almost 12 weeks of a very important trunk road, the A458 between Welshpool & Llanfair Caereinion.
Many use the road for shopping, visiting relatives and friends and taking children to school. For them, the 15 mile diversion in place can mean a doubling or more of the journey length and potentially hundreds of pounds of additional costs.
Local businesses, too, are concerned like me that the reopening of the road may be as late as just one day before Easter Friday and this could even be delayed by unforeseen circumstances which would undoubtedly harm local trade.
Having already taken this up with the responsible Minister, I would like the Welsh Government to work with contractors to implement through-the-night working on the site so that we can get back to the road being reopened as soon as possible. Whilst it is correct to complete the necessary works, the scale of local frustration shows that fast-tracking the rebuilding is essential.
I have set out a few questions in a survey, and I would be grateful if you could spare a few moments to answer. The responses will help me to further make the case to the Welsh Government, so we can demonstrate how the works are impacting you, your family, and your work so that I can share as many views with Welsh Government as possible.
You can take the survey here A458 Golfa / Spring Bank Survey
Solving GP problems to end NHS crisis
Sadly in Wales, we currently have the worst ever A&E waiting times, the longest treatment backlog, and slowest ambulance response times on record. In a number of recent contributions in the Senedd, I have put my own suggestions forward to the Welsh Government in terms of improving access to GPs and reducing the barriers which doctors face when doing their work.
In my capacity as Shadow Minister for Health, I have written an article to outline my analysis and these suggestions which you can read on my website here.
Council Elections 2022
In May, the people of Powys and Wales will elect a new set of Powys County Councillors, and town and community councillors.
Councillors are elected by people in our communities to represent them and make decisions on their behalf.
I was elected a town and county councillor myself before being elected to the Senedd. Being a councillor is rewarding, challenging and enjoyable and most of all, you can change people’s lives for the better.
I would encourage you to consider standing yourself for council if you care passionately about our local community, want to bring about change, and if you feel you are ready to be involved in challenging decisions.
I would be happy to discuss my own experiences as a councillor, and chat over what is involved, and what potential time you may have to commit to the role.
Why not stand for what you care about and become a local councillor?
Please do contact my office on 01686 610887 if you would like to make an appointment at any of my forthcoming surgeries in the following locations:-
Llansantffraid - Fri 4th Feb, 10am – 12pm – Llansantffraid Village Hall
Newtown - Fri 11th Feb, 10am – 12pm – 13, Parkers Lane, Newtown
Llanidloes - Sat 19th Feb, 1pm – 3pm – Llanidloes Community Centre
Llandrinio - Fri 4th March, 11am – 1pm, TBC