We enter the Summer as the Covid-19 pandemic continues. It has been an extraordinarily difficult time for us all, one which I'm sure none of us will ever forget or want to repeat.
While there is now light at the end of this dark tunnel, for the families of the 2,200+ people known to have died in Wales while infected with the virus, there is likely to be no light and no comfort, for some time to come.
Since my last monthly update, so much has happened - many "non-essential" shops have reopened; children have returned to schools; the five-mile travel restrictions (which in my view were totally unfit for purpose for rural Montgomeryshire) have been relaxed; we are now allowed to form "social bubbles" with one other household to see family or friends which we haven't seen for over three months; and the hospitality industry will begin to reopen its doors from 13th July.
Thankfully, the public health crisis caused by Covid-19 is likely to pass, but the economic crisis which it has wrought will likely last far longer, but parallel to this time for reflection, is also a time for action.
While Government's original focus was rightly on saving lives and protecting the NHS, we must now re-open at the earliest opportunity in a safe and measured way, so that we can put our economy back on track to save livelihoods as well as lives.
I hope that the Welsh Government will follow the UK Government's lead in relaxing the two-metre social distancing rules and the ability to use indoor spaces so that trading becomes viable for more businesses.
The relaxation of social distancing rules from two metres to one metre would be a significant game changer for us here in Mid Wales. Countless businesses, transport operators, and other enterprises across Montgomeryshire are simply not viable with a two-metre social distance rule, but a one-metre plus rule would throw them a lifeline.
I have also been a vocal proponent of a more unified and aligned approach to handling the pandemic with the rest of the UK. We, in Powys, have a long border with England and it will do untold damage to our economy if a slate curtain is drawn across our border.
I hope that you find this month's e-newsletter useful. Please stay safe and well as I hope we continue to emerge from the Covid-19 crisis.
Russell George MS
Member of the Welsh Parliament for Montgomeryshire
Coronavirus - Useful Links & Frequently Asked Questions
Advice from Powys County Council is available here.
Information and Support for the Third Sector is available from the Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations (PAVO) here.
The Business Wales website is a good point of reference, which is updated regularly for those who want advice about business support.
Specific guidance for tourism and hospitality businesses is available here.
Further information about the removal of the "five mile rule" restrictions can be viewed here.
The symptoms of Coronavirus are a high temperature, a new, continuous cough and a loss of smell or taste. To view more advice on what to do if you think you have symptoms, please click here.
Public Health Wales provides a daily update about the number of cases of coronavirus in Wales. It is available here.
If you can help the effort to produce PPE in Wales please click here.
Want to know when and where to wear a face mask? Please click here.
Want to make your own face covering? Click here to find out how.
Thank you to all our Key Workers
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society and Community Pharmacy Wales wrote to me to highlight what community pharmacies have been doing across Wales during the current crisis. They have been on the frontline in supporting patients and the NHS.
I was pleased to be accept an invitation to visit and meet, at a social distance, with the staff at Llanidloes Pharmacy last month to discuss the difficulties which they have been facing during the Covid-19 pandemic and to learn about what services which they have been continuing to offer.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all of our key workers who have kept Montgomeryshire moving during these difficult times.
Support for Laura Ashley staff
During a recent virtual session of the Senedd, I asked the First Minister to leave no stone unturned to support redundant Laura Ashley staff.
The job losses at Laura Ashley – an iconic and major employer in the Newtown area – would have been headline news if it weren’t for the current pandemic. It is devastating news that retail and manufacturing operations will cease. This news couldn’t have come at a worse time.
I am imploring the Welsh Government to do all it can at this very final opportunity to save this internationally-renowned company which has a long history of employing whole families in Montgomeryshire.
I was pleased that the First Minister committed to working with the UK Government to support the highly-skilled and loyal staff of Laura Ashley and all of those in the wider supply chain who have been adversely affected by this news, but this remains deeply concerning for all the families affected.
Craig Williams MP, Newtown Mayor, Cllr. David Selby, and I have a further meeting with Welsh Government and Powys County Council officials tomorrow, as we seek reassurance and support for the many people who have been affected.
The UK Government and Welsh Government have worked together, to double the value of broadband vouchers to help rural communities.
Over 10,000 rural homes and businesses in Powys are now eligible to apply for topped up vouchers. The vouchers subsidise the costs of installing next-generation, gigabit-capable broadband.
The scheme helps people with funding to cover the upfront costs of installing new gigabit-capable internet connections.
Vouchers worth up to £3,500 for rural SMEs and up to £1,500 for rural residential premises have been available in Wales since May 2019. The Welsh Government is now working with the UK Government to provide an additional £3,500 for SMEs and £1,500 for homes. This means that the maximum funding available through each voucher has doubled and is now £7,000 for SMEs and £3,000 for residential premises.
The Covid-19 pandemic has illustrated how dependent we are on digital connectivity, whether it is working from home or home schooling, so I welcome the announcement that the Welsh and UK Government are working together to help homes in Montgomeryshire access digital connectivity which other parts of the country take for granted
Some residents and businesses have received eye-watering estimates for bringing fibre broadband to their homes so I'm hoping that the additional funding will allow more people to obtain a decent broadband connection.
Craig Williams MP and I are now urging businesses and communities across North Powys to apply for these vouchers so they can future-proof their internet connections and be ready to reap all the economic and social benefits brought by new advances in technology.
For more information, please click here.
Our Summer Shows
While I'm waiting for final confirmation from some organisers, it is likely that most, if not all, of our summer shows here in North Powys will be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic social distancing rules and limitations on mass gatherings. I'm particularly sad about this as I try to attend all of them as it is a useful way of engaging with people and communities around Montgomeryshire. Sadly, the Royal Welsh Show later this month will also not take place. I am keen that the Welsh Government supports show organisers financially, and this is an issue which I have taken up with the relevant Welsh Government Minister.
It is good news that Llanfyllin has decided to proceed with a virtual event on Saturday August 8th as a bit of fun to keep the show going. I'm told that the virtual competitions will be launched early next week which will allow participants to take a picture or video of their entry and send it to be judged. The virtual competitions will be in the following sections: sheep, horse, cookery, craft, photography, horticulture, children’s horticulture, dog, garden and fun.
A list of the competitions will be published on the show's Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/LlanfyllinShow
Entries can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org and the winners will be announced on the day.
Pollution - River Severn
In recent weeks, I have received reports of oil polluting the River Severn at Newtown. The reports indicated a sheen of oil present on the Dolfor tributary as it flows out of the culvert under the town by the Scout hut and Police station.
Natural Resources Wales (NRW) have spoken with the oil distribution centre in Newtown who have the largest stocks of red diesel and kerosene in the town on their site on Dolfor Road and they have made checks and confirmed that they have had no leaks.
The site is regulated by Powys Council and equipped with oil loss detection equipment as well as fully bunded tanks. This was the obvious source so NRW have also made a request to local residents to help locate the source.
To help stop the oil sheen flowing from the tributary into the river Severn, NRW have placed an absorbent boom and pads in the tributary close to the Scout hut. This boom is working well to contain the oil behind it. The fire service have also helped by adding more pads in front of the boom.
NRW will continue to investigate the source and take appropriate action. If people do have any further intelligence or information, please contact my office so that I can forward information to the relevant authorities.
Meeting with Girlguiding
I was delighted to take part in a Zoom meeting with members of Girlguiding as part of their "Make Change" skills builder badge. They asked some really interesting questions and presented their views on a number of very important issues. They all seemed really engaged on current matters.
For me, it was good to spend time talking and engaging with them. Girlguiding is a fantastic charity and it’s good to see that despite our current situation, the organisation, with all its volunteers, is continuing its work in giving girls opportunities and a voice.
Support for Rural Bus Services
I have had a number of people contact me regarding the loss of bus service 72, which operated throughout the Llanfyllin and Llansantffraid areas. This I know will be of particular concern to many.
I have spoken with the Managing Director of Tanat Valley Coaches. The decision has been made by the coach company and not Powys County Council. It is therefore a commercial business decision.
Unfortunately the coach company inform us that they can no longer sustain the financial loss which this route is making as it is not subsidised by the Council so it relies heavily on the numbers of paying passengers.
However, in my discussions with the Managing Director to look at what options may be available, he agreed that it would be discussed again at a Company Board Meeting and will review the service. If they could see a way for the service to operate without a loss, possibly a weekly service, they would see if this could work. The Managing Director does not want to suspend this route but is in a difficult position as it is currently not financially viable.
I have also had a positive virtual meeting with Cllr Gwynfor Thomas and Cllr Peter Lewis along with representatives of local Town and Community Councils. Following the meeting, it was agreed that I would organise a public transport survey which will help influence what services are needed in the area and in turn will help strengthen the case when it comes to decision making.
In the meantime, please click here for a link to Tanat Valley Coaches website for alternative bus routes. I know that it is not ideal but I hope one of the alternative bus routes will provide a way for travel to Oswestry and other areas, until any further decision is made.
In the Senedd later today, I also intend to raise the need for rural bus services to be supported and highlight how the loss of this particular service is having a negative effect in our area. I am also raising this issue with Powys County Council to see what, if anything, the Council can do in order to retain this important bus service.
Funding for Roads
A significant amount of my work is taken up by a number of highway related matters. Over a number of years, issues have been raised with me relating to roads which are prone to flooding.
I’m pleased that funding has been secured by Powys County Council from the Welsh Government to take some of these solutions forward. Further details of the various works will become available as they are worked up.
A490 between A483T (Sarn Y Bryn Caled Roundabout) South of Welshpool and Forden - Drainage works to reopen the road far quicker.
A458T between Pont Sychcoed Cyfronnydd - Surface water runoff and flooding from river.
A495 Godor Farm Bends, between Llansantffraid & Meifod - Surface water run off.
B4393 Glanvyrnwy Farm, Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain - Waterlogging and flooding from the river.
B4398 South of Carreghoffa Locks, Nr Llanymynech - Waterlogging from the canal
B4381 Leighton Road Junct with B4388 Welshpool - Waterlogging from numerous watercourses on flat ground unable to flow into river Severn.
B4393 Llandrinio River Bridge towards Crew Green (also includes Back Lane) - Flooding from the river.
B4385 Dolarddyn Farm, Castle Caereinion - Flooding from watercourse.
B4385 Chapel House, Castle Caereinion - Works to reroute watercourse to greatly reduce flood threat.
B4393 Pont Talwrn & Junction with A490 - Flooding from watercourse.
Citizens Advice Cymru
My office is in touch with Citizens Advice Cymru who are offering advice to support EU, EAA and Swiss nationals who may be seeking settled and pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme in the UK.
I am in discussions with Citizens Advice Cymru about organising a joint surgery for constituents who want to hear more about the support on offer. If this is something which might impact you, please get in touch with my office to register your interest.