The Welsh Parliament has been in recess during August with the exception of the recall of all Members of the Senedd to debate and approve the latest Welsh Government regulations during the Covid-19 pandemic.
I usually enjoy my extended time of not having to be in Cardiff during August, as I have the opportunity of meeting local people at the many community events which take place across Montgomeryshire. It has therefore been particularly disappointing that summer fairs and events have had to be cancelled due to social distancing measures and rules around mass gatherings. I hope that these events will be back better than ever in 2021 and that everyone supports them as we look to recover from Covid-19.
However, there has been no rest for me and my office team as we continue to support people with their enquiries about the pandemic, the recovery as well as the usual issues which we deal with on a daily basis from my offices in Newtown and Welshpool. I will be back in Cardiff Bay next week for the first session of the 2020-21 parliamentary term and will provide an update on all of my work in next month's edition of the e-newsletter.
In the meantime, please do visit my website to complete my short survey on the Covid-19 pandemic. It would be great to receive your views. It can be accessed by clicking 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 email@example.com or by phone by calling 01686 610887.
Russell George MS
Member of the Welsh Parliament for Montgomeryshire
It has been rewarding for me to visit a number of frontline workers during August.
I am sure that we will all be disappointed that a local lockdown has become necessary in Caerphilly. However, it’s absolutely vital that the virus is controlled, especially with more people returning to work and schoolchildren and students returning to study. Critically, any such local lockdown must be for as short a time as possible and other parts of Wales will be watching how Caerphilly deals with this local outbreak. Hopefully any lessons learnt will be shared widely to avoid a similar situation occurring in other parts of Wales.
As we continue to deal with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, we all hope we can begin on our road to recovery and I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to all of those who work on the front line. It has been especially rewarding for me to visit a number of them throughout Montgomeryshire during the month of August.
At the end of August, the Welsh Government announced that a number of restrictions were to be eased, following its latest review of the Coronavirus restrictions but I do find it regrettable that all four nations of the UK haven't acted in a unified and cohesive way when imposing travel quarantine restrictions on residents returning home and on visitors from other countries. In my view, this has served to add to the confusion.
However, at present, up to four households are now able to join together in an extended household. This could include two existing extended households joining together, or households not already part of one to join existing or new extended households.
Limited indoor celebrations following a wedding, civil partnership, or funeral for up to 30 people will be allowed. However, indoor celebrations will be limited, and will include activities such as a meal, and must take place in a ‘regulated setting’, such as a hotel or restaurant.
Indoor visits to care homes are now allowed but are subject to hygiene and social distancing guidance, and as long as conditions remain favourable.
The Welsh Government has also proposed holding pilot schemes to trial larger outdoor events, recognising that outdoor activities have a lower risk of virus transmission.
I am pleased that the Welsh Government have listened to calls to provide people with more opportunities to see their loved ones, and to spend more time doing more of the things that they enjoy. This includes allowing visits to care homes, extending household bubbles, and enabling more people to attend events such as weddings and funerals. These measures will have a positive impact on people’s mental and physical well-being.
However, I remain disappointed that the mandatory use of face coverings has not been extended to indoor spaces where social distancing is difficult to maintain. Wales must maintain a safe and sensible approach to lifting restrictions which maximises personal freedoms while continuing to reduce the risk of the of the virus spreading. Face coverings are a useful tool to help reduce the risk of transmission, whilst giving people more confidence.
Re-opening of Schools & Colleges
From 1st September, schools and further education colleges returned from the summer break. It is planned that a mixed approach to teaching will be used, with students taught either in the classroom or using remote methods.
I did have a concern that the Welsh Government took so long to provide guidance on how schools would re-open. In my view, earlier clarity should have been given to children, parents, carers and teachers.
Powys schools have worked well with the council on risk assessments and ensuring the safe return to school for learners. I’m told all learners are expected to be back in full time from 14th September at the latest. It’s vital for the benefit of their education that we help schools and learners all we can to make up for lost time. The work of all staff involved is hugely appreciated.
However, there have been some issues with transport and I have contacted Transport for Wales after hundreds of students from Powys returning to college in Shrewsbury have been left with a much longer two-hour bus journey following the temporary withdrawal of the 7.04am train service from Machynlleth. Replacement bus services have been put in place instead of this train service but these go via Caersws, Newtown and Welshpool. I believe that a four hour round trip is unacceptable for our young people to attend A Level classes for courses such as Geology and Computer Science which aren't available in Powys so I have urged Transport for Wales to reinstate the train service as soon as possible or put on a more suitable alternative. Please do contact me if you have any experiences which you would like to share.
Covid-19 Recovery - Looking to the Future
This pandemic is about lives and livelihoods – it is a public health emergency, as well as an economic emergency. Therefore, I and my colleagues have also consistently called for a safe, flexible, and sensible approach to the easing of lockdown measures (when local circumstances allow) to help re-open the economy in order to protect both lives and livelihoods.
I am concerned that not enough is being done by the Welsh Government to promote emergency funding schemes. These include the Emergency Assistance Payments (EAP), the Economic Resilience Fund (ERF), and the Third Sector Covid-19 Response Fund – and that consequently too little is being allocated.
With some of the support schemes, there is a significant gap between how much funding has been earmarked and the amount that has been awarded so far. It wouldn’t be wise to allocate all the resources immediately, but if the funding is there, then it should be distributed as much as possible to help individuals and businesses recover from a very difficult year, and to act as a buffer to any further restrictions later down the line.
It may be an uncomfortable fact, but Covid is here for the foreseeable future, and so plans must be drawn up and implemented to deal with it. For me, a targeted approach – including, if necessary, local lockdowns (such as the one in Caerphilly) – is the way forward. Anything else, any further blanket lockdown, will again have a damaging effect on our economy, on our young people’s education, and – critically – on the health of our nation. After all, we’re already facing the ticking time bomb of missed diagnoses or failures to start treatment for cancer and heart disease.
The Welsh Government has a duty to the people of Wales to be open and transparent about the hidden thousands whose diagnoses, and life-saving operations and other treatments have been delayed. The First Minister must also give a full commitment not just to a UK-wide inquiry into the pandemic and response but also to a Wales-specific one.
In the meantime, all efforts must be channelled now at avoiding another national lockdown, and planning for the winter pressures NHS Wales faces annually while dealing with the backlog, and securing an economic recovery from the first lockdown.
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.
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.
Improving Health Services
In mid-August, England’s Chief Inspector of Hospitals published the Care Quality Commission's findings following focused inspections of the medical care and end of life care provided by the Shrewsbury & Telford Hospitals NHS Trust (SaTH) which were undertaken on 9th and 10th June.
The report said that failing leadership is perpetuating poor care at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals NHS Trust with both the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and Princess Royal Hospital in Telford rated as "Inadequate" overall. They were both rated "Inadequate" for being safe, effective, responsive and well-led. Caring was not rated as the inspection team were unable to speak with patients due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
While the Care Quality Commission recognised that services have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, in response to these findings the Trust is entering into an improvement alliance with University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust. The Trust recognised they were unable to make the changes necessary without further outside intervention.
I know that this will be concerning for patients in Montgomeryshire who receive care from SaTH. In a recent virtual meeting with the CEO of Powys Teaching Health Board and the CEO of SaTH, I asked for assurances that it will not mean that Powys patients will have to travel further to Birmingham to access their care and it won't halt plans for a new emergency care centre in Shrewsbury. Following receiving these assurances, I welcome this alliance, which will now develop and implement a new rapid improvement plan with SaTH to provide leadership expertise that will support the Trust to offer clinically safe and sustainable patient services.
It will be a time limited alliance that will enable the development and delivery of a rapid quality improvement plan. The strategic relationship will address the governance and leadership issues to make the necessary service improvements at SaTH.
SaTH faces complex and substantial challenges that cannot be solved by them alone. I welcome the targeted resource and expertise from UHB, in addition to a strengthened package of support which will enable SaTH to deliver the change necessary to improve the quality of care provided to patients including those residents in Montgomeryshire which rely on services provided by SaTH.
This will be a medium term arrangement, which came into effect from 1st September. Dr Catriona McMahon, a physician with over 16 years’ experience in pharmaceutical medicine, will take up the position of Chair at SaTH and will work with the CEO.
Electric Charging Points
Last year, I hosted an event in Newtown which brought together local people including councillors, officers from Powys County Council and representatives from the Welsh Government to discuss opportunities to progress the growing need to increase the network of charging points for electric vehicles in Mid Wales.
I'm therefore delighted that from August 17th, electric vehicle charging points are now available in a number of Powys County Council car parks. The first two locations to go live with the new electric vehicle charging points are the Mount Street Car Park in Llanidloes and the Maengwyn Street Car Park in Machynlleth.
These 'fast' charge points are capable of fully charging an electric vehicle in three to four hours, dependent on the type and number of vehicles plugged in at the time. Each car park has two charge points, each with two charging sockets, allowing four vehicles to charge simultaneously at each location.
Other locations across the county will be up and running shortly, including Church Street Car Park in Welshpool and Back Lane Car Park in Newtown.
Official Opening of Businesses in Llanfyllin
Craig Williams MP and I were pleased to join the Mayor of Llanfyllin, Cllr. Peter Lewis; Deputy Mayor, Cllr. Jane Carrington and other local Town Councillors to mark the official opening of Wyvern Wax and Vegan Goodies Wales. I also congratulate Woofterz Dog Groomers which opened earlier this year. I wish them the very best of luck during these testing times.
Earlier this week, I also had a meeting to add my support to the town of Llanfyllin in making improvements to the town centre through the Welsh Government Transforming Towns Fund.
Eat Out to Help Out Scheme
During August, I enjoyed supporting local businesses by taking part in the "Eat Out to Help Out" scheme in a number of towns and villages across Montgomeryshire.
During this period, it was particularly good to visit a newly opened business. Craig Williams MP and I also visited the newly opened 'Market Kitchen' in Newtown Market Hall (pictured above).
Like so many other businesses, the UK Government's "Eat Out to Help Out" scheme which gave diners who eat-in a benefit of a 50% discount up to a maximum of £10 per person from Monday to Wednesday seems to have been a lifeline and I'm pleased that some venues have voluntarily extended this scheme throughout September.
Eat Out to Help Out has been a huge success so it's no wonder that businesses want to adopt a similar incentive to encourage customers to dine out on a permanent basis. The scheme has helped restaurants, cafes and pubs across Wales to bounce back and I'm pleased that it's been incredibly popular.
In other news...
Abermule Bulk Recycling Facility
I have recently written to Powys County Council on this matter. A copy of my letter can be found on my website here.
Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant - Pistyll Rhaeadr
Residents have contacted me with concerns about the surge in visitors to Pistyll Rhaeadr. I have worked closely with Craig Williams MP and Cllr. Aled Davies. Please find a recent update letter to residents from Craig Williams here.
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 - firstname.lastname@example.org