As we enter the winter months, the rise in COVID-19 cases is sadly not unexpected, and we are seeing further restrictions that affect our lives coming into force. I have set out the up to date information for our area below. I fully appreciate that the different rules for different parts of the UK, as well as different rules within Wales, can be confusing. A good source for general information is the Welsh Government's Frequently Asked Questions page which you can view here.
I hope that you find this month's e-newsletter informative and if you have any comments or issues you would like to raise, 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
This pandemic continues to be about lives and livelihoods - it is a public health emergency, as well as an economic emergency.
In Powys, the latest figure for COVID-19 is 26.4 cases per 100,000 population (based on the seven day rolling average published on 7 October by Public Health Wales). However, surveillance by the Health Board does indicate that this is continuing to rise.
Only Pembrokeshire and Anglesey have a lower cases rate than Powys per 100,000 population. In contrast, other areas (now under local lockdown restrictions) have higher cases per 100,000 of the population. For example, Merthyr Tydfil rate is 190, and Cardiff is 107 cases per 100,000 population. From my and our perspective, we of course want to keep this lower rate in our area.
However, there is a concern about the growing number of cases in Powys, in Wales and across the UK. It is of course important that measures are put in place to react to increases in the number of COVID-19 cases to protect the NHS, protect people and to reduce the need for an all-Wales lockdown, which would have a detrimental impact on lives and livelihoods. However, all measures taken to tackle the rising number of cases must be proportionate, and regularly evaluated for effectiveness to ensure that they are not in place for longer than required.
With two thirds of Wales under local lockdown, it is important in my view that the Welsh Government introduce more targeted measures in tackling the pandemic. A more hyper-local approach must be taken in order to sustainably combat the virus which will inevitably circulate again.
Here in Mid Wales. I have been pleased to see the prompt action by local agencies to tackle COVID-19 clusters and outbreaks. Powys County Council and Powys Teaching Health Board have worked closely together to establish their Test Trace Protect service, and we saw this in action during a recent cluster of cases in Welshpool. Additional mobile testing was put in place for Sidoli employees and local residents, run by Welsh Ambulance Service. Over 500 people were tested, helping the NHS and the local authority to work with the local community to prevent wider spread. This meant that, thankfully, this cluster of cases did not lead to widespread community transmission.
This is also very much due to the actions we are all taking to reduce the spread, and I would like to thank everyone across the county who is helping to ensure that additional local lockdown measures have not yet been needed in the county. However, we do have local lockdown measures in place in neighbouring counties, and I would urge everyone to follow the latest local lockdown guidance.
More broadly, I believe that it would be sensible if the Welsh Government were to release data on the number of cases on a community by community and demographic basis, so that the decision to put whole areas or counties into local lockdown can be adequately scrutinised. It’s my firm view, and one I have made to Ministers, that it would be disproportionate for a county the size of Powys to be put into a local lockdown because of an isolated outbreak in one specific area so the areas put into local lockdown must be proportionate.
I welcome the First Minister’s decision last week to allow single-adult households to form a bubble with another household in lockdown areas. The pandemic has exacerbated Wales’ mental health problem and this exception to the restrictions is welcome.
I welcome the news that the NHS COVID-19 app has been launched in Wales and England on 24th September, and urge people and businesses to use the app to help reduce the spread of the virus. The use of technology is vital to tackle the pandemic, and to help protect the NHS and save lives. I would urge you all to download it. You can do this by visiting the App Store or get it on Google Play.
Last month, it was incredibly frustrating and disappointing that those who had needed a coronavirus test, had not been able to get a test in a timely manner.
There had been some real challenges reported to me in people being able to book a test. The challenges occurred in Powys, the rest of Wales, and the UK. The testing programme has been under huge pressure due to demand. Many people had reported to me that they had an appointment and turned up for a test, only to find that no tests were available and people were being turned away, or nobody present. It was not an acceptable position but thankfully, the position has greatly improved now.
The issue was in regards to the capacity of processing tests. Of course, the Welsh & UK Governments need to continue to increase testing capacity.
The Key messages are:
- Only book a coronavirus test if you have a new continuous cough, a high temperature, or a loss of taste and/or smell.
- Do not visit your GP surgery or hospital as you may infect others.
- Self-isolate until you receive your test results.
- If you have coronavirus symptoms then the way to book a test remains unchanged:
➡️ Book a test online at www.gov.wales/apply-coronavirus-covid-19-test
➡️ Book a test by phone on 119
Resuming Health Services
Clearly a regular question in my inbox is when regular health services will resume. Many services are continuing, although with important restrictions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
However, this pandemic still means that it is very challenging for the NHS to resume some of their services, particularly as they plan for a winter with COVID.
Powys Teaching Health Board has created a new web page providing details of their plans to resume services. This is available here.
I continue to share your feedback with the health board, so that they understand the very real challenges that communities are facing.
Latest Rolling Seven Day Averages per Local Authority area published by Public Health Wales on 7 October 2020:
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.
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.
Economic Resilience Fund
The Welsh Government has announced the third phase of the Economic Resilience Fund (ERF) which will see wider support being provided to secure jobs and help businesses develop, as well as additional help for firms affected by local lockdowns.
This new phase of the ERF will see £80 million being made available to support businesses with projects. It will require co-investment from companies and a clear plan about how they will adjust to the post-covid economy.
Of this, £20 million will be ring fenced to support tourism and hospitality businesses who are facing particular challenges as they enter the winter months.
Meanwhile an additional £60 million will be allocated to support businesses impacted by local lockdown restrictions.
The rest of the funding will be used flexibly to provide additional support, for example to increase lending to Welsh businesses through Development Bank of Wales initiatives and to help companies deal with the impacts of the UK leaving the European Union.
Now, the business community – especially the SME sector – needs clarity in how to access the funds, and it’s crucial that funds get to affected businesses as soon as possible.
If you do have a question on how Government can support you or your business, I would recommend the best website to look at for a one stop place for all Government support is the Business Wales website here. You can also call them for a conversation on 03000 6 03000.
Powys County Council School Transformation Plans
Last month, Powys County Council's Cabinet gave the go ahead to start plans to reorganise education in Powys. The proposals involve new school builds, with the closure of several small schools.
The plans include the proposal for a new all-age dual stream school for Llanfair Caereinion and the building of a new facility for the all-age Ysgol Llanfyllin. That new facility at Llanfyllin could also include pupils from the Llangedwyn, Llanfechain and Llansilin areas. A new 360-place area primary school could also be built to replace Carreghofa County Primary School and Llandysilio Church in Wales Primary School, and possibly other schools in the Welshpool catchment area. Investment could also see an extension to Llansanffraid Primary School. A new Welsh-medium primary school in Llanrhaeadr-y-Mochnant is also proposed, by merging Ysgol Pennant and Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant primary schools.
It is important to note that these proposals are still at an early stage. Although ultimately a matter for Powys County Council and County Councillors, I have asked to be kept updated on proposals and I intend to make my views known to the Council, and include issues raised with me.
I recently attended a ‘remote’ update meeting with Powys County Council regarding their proposed plans where it was stated that Powys County Council will be carrying out public consultations on its proposals in due course. In the meeting, I did make the point that consultations must be genuine. I will be attending more meetings as their plans/consultations progress and I will keep you updated through these monthly newsletters.
It is so important that before final decisions are made, Powys Council takes the time to listen with all parents and schools which may be impacted by these proposals. They must ensure their proposals address the needs of all learners. I will be actively encouraging as many residents as possible to engage with the consultations once these start.
Buttington Waste Incinerator - Pre-Application Consultation
Plans to develop a large incinerator (Energy Recovery Facility) at Buttington Quarry, near Trewern, have moved one step closer. The developer, Broad Energy, has recently started its six week pre-application consultation to engage with residents. Their plans propose the development of an incinerator for up to 167,000 tonnes of waste per year. The size of the Buttington Incinerator means that Welsh Government Ministers, under the Developments of National Significance Process, will make the decision on its approval rather than Powys County Council as the local planning authority.
It is important to note that this is a pre-application consultation which is being run by Broad Energy. Broad Energy have not yet formally submitted their planning application to the Welsh Government Planning Inspectorate. The developer has to do this pre-consultation themselves to engage with the community and the responses they receive will inform their application as they will respond to the issues raised during this consultation.
The main consultation with Welsh Government decision makers will occur in the future if/when Broad Energy submit it following this pre-application consultation. This is just the first stage of the planning process. If you feel strongly about this issue then it is important that you make your points known during the subsequent Welsh Government planning consultation too – if and when that happens.
Given that the plans to develop this incinerator have been in the pipeline for some time now, the timing of the pre-application consultation in unfortunate. Whilst Broad Energy have sent out information packs in the post to many residents, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, public meetings cannot be organised by myself or Councillor Amanda Jenner in order to provide residents with wider information on what is a highly technical and emotive development. I am aware that Amanda tried to challenge the remote nature of the consultation.
Last year, I and my colleague, Councillor Amanda, called for a moratorium on all new waste incinerators in Wales. The Welsh Government is currently considering its circular waste economy strategy, and I believe it should take time to consider the current capacity and the impact of incinerators in Wales, and also consider concerns which have been expressed by those on the Welsh Parliament’s Environment and Health Committees about the long term impact of waste incinerators on air pollution and carbon emissions.
The pre-application consultation for the Buttington Incinerator started on 14th September 2020 and will run until the 29th October 2020. More information on how to engage with the consultation can be found on Broad Energy’s website - www.broadenergywales.co.uk
Ysbyty Bro Ddyfi
The updated £14.9 million full business case for the Bro Ddyfi Community Hospital Health and Well-being Project has been approved by Powys Teaching Health Board. It will now be submitted to Welsh Government for their consideration.
I have written to the Minister to ask for support from Welsh Government for the updated business case so that work on this vital, long awaited work can begin as soon as possible early in 2021 for completion by summer 2022.
As well as improving the physical environment at the hospital, this development will provide a more joined up experience of health and care for local residents. This includes bringing the medical practice into the Bro Ddyfi site, along with improved facilities for community health services, voluntary sector, local authority and mental health services.
Dozens of Powys students studying courses in Shrewsbury have had to travel a 4 hour round trip. I raised this with the First Minister, calling for a more appropriate alternative to be found by Transport for Wales.
Trial Bus Service from Llanfyllin to Oswestry
Tanat Valley Coaches has started a trial bus service on a Wednesday leaving Llanfyllin at 9.15am and then proceeding on the old route all the way to Oswestry, arriving at 10am. It will then return to Llanfyllin in the afternoon leaving Oswestry at 1.20pm. This trial started on Wednesday 16th September 2020 and will run until Christmas.
The loss of service 72 which covered the Llanfyllin and Llansantffraid areas was a particular concern to residents in North Powys. I'm pleased that Tanat Valley Coaches have re-introduced this route, albeit on a trial basis on one day a week from now until Christmas.
It will be important for the local community to demonstrate that there is a demand for this service if we are to see an increase in the frequency of services from Llanfyllin to Oswestry and if we are to see the service continue beyond the trial period into 2021.
For some time, I have called on the Welsh Government to boost the support available to bus operators to enable them to increase the frequency, sustainability and capacity of bus services for the people of Mid Wales. I will continue to press the Welsh Government to work with local authorities, in our case Powys County Council, to provide the financial support necessary to allow providers to operate an integrated bus network throughout North Powys.
Stadco to close factory in Llanfyllin
The proposal by the car part manufacturing company, Stadco, to close its operations in Llanfyllin is very disappointing. The company is intending to restructure its UK operations that would see the closure of its base in Llanfyllin at the end of next year, affecting 129 employees at the site.
During the consultation period, I will be working with my colleagues Craig Williams MP, and Cllr. Peter Lewis to make representations to Stadco and its parent company, Magna International, in an effort to safeguard these important manufacturing jobs for the Llanfyllin community.
Stadco is too important as a major manufacturing company in North Powys to allow it to close without making every effort to find a workable solution.
Fashion-Enter employ former Laura Ashley Staff
In more positive news, it is excellent that 77 highly skilled former Laura Ashley employees will be taken on by a company called ‘Fashion-Enter’ at the Royal Welsh Warehouse at the Pryce Jones Building to produce clothing for the online company, Asos and PPE for Private White VC.
Laura Ashley was an iconic part of the Mid Wales economy and employed highly-skilled and loyal staff. Over 60 years, it positioned Newtown and Powys as a leading region for manufacturing and now that Fashion-Enter have been attracted to invest in the town through a package of Government support, I hope we will see further opportunities for gainful employment at Fashion-Enter and further jobs being created.
Since Laura Ashley closed its doors, Craig Williams MP and I have liaised with both the UK and Welsh Government's to support a number of interested parties to locate in Newtown. The Royal Welsh Warehouse and the Pryce Jones Building is an important land mark in the town and has a long history. I am pleased that Fashion-Enter has been supported through funding from the Economy Future Fund to support their plans.
I am hugely grateful to Fashion-Enter and in particular to Jenny Holloway, the Managing Director, for pulling this new venture together. I have seen first-hand their passion and community ethos. I hope this will prove a very exciting new chapter for Mid Wales and that Fashion-Enter prospers at their new home at the iconic Pryce Jones building.
I would also like to extend my thanks to Potter Group of Welshpool, which has invested in the building to facilitate its use by Fashion-Enter Ltd in a very short time frame. We all look forward to a positive future as Fashion-Enter look to expand their business and take on more staff to support their full order book.
My face-to-face advice surgeries are still on hold due to Covid-19 social distancing requirements but I remain happy to have telephone conversations with residents to provide advice and support so please do contact my office to arrange a call back if you want to discuss any matter.
You can contact me by calling 01686 610887 or by email - email@example.com