Please find below my monthly e-newsletter for the month of September. During August, the Senedd was on its summer recess so it has allowed me more time to meet people in all parts of Montgomeryshire, especially now that Covid restrictions have eased.
It was particularly pleasant to visit the Berriew Show and I would like to congratulate all the volunteers which made it a success. There was a great turn out with a record attendance to see a variety of attractions including the dog show, vintage vehicles, and the male voice choir.
As always, I hope that you find this edition of the newsletter informative and please don't hesitate to contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phoning 01686 610887 if you would like to meet with me.
Russell George MS
Member of the Senedd for Montgomeryshire
With Susan Blower, the Montgomery Town Crier, at the ‘Andrew Logan Jewellery Extravaganza’ event which took place in Berriew over the show weekend.
Vaccination Update & Covid Booster Jabs
Covid rates are still very high and circulating widely at present in Powys. Due to the UK Vaccination Programme which continues to be one of the success stories of tackling the Covid-19 pandemic, the increased rates are not leading to the same rise in hospitalisation rates.
91% of adults aged 18+ in Powys have received their first dose, and 87% have received their second dose. Over 89% of those over 16 across the UK have now received their first dose of the vaccine and over 79% of those over 16 have received their full course of two vaccinations.
In my recent meeting with Powys Health Board, the CEO informed me that Powys has a particularly high take up rate in the 16 and 17 years old age group which is good news, especially given the rurality of the county. If you are aged 16+ and registered with a Powys GP and have not yet received your first dose then you can attend drop-in sessions or use the Priority Access Forms to let the health board know. Please do not contact your GP about first dose appointments, as all remaining first dose appointments are being organised via the health board.
The UK Government has procured sufficient booster vaccinations for the whole of the UK, which it will provide to the Welsh Government and NHS to distribute in Wales via our Health Boards. The Health board is already working up plans for the booster programme, but details have still not been confirmed nationally. The detailed plans for when and who will be prioritised are likely to be confirmed soon. It is expected that the most vulnerable groups will receive the booster vaccinations first.
The health board is also placing high emphasis on encouraging people to receive the annual flu vaccination. Whilst it may seem logical that a flu and booster jab occurs at the same time, this may prove to be a challenge due to supply issues and other factors.
Local Lottery Funding
I was delighted to meet with Ian Bellingham from Radiate Arts, a community interest company which is based near Llanidloes to celebrate them receiving nearly £10,000 from the National Lottery Community Fund which will allow them to continue their project, "Working with the Hard Stuff" which supports ex-service personnel in Mid Wales.
The stone carving course provides a space for ex-army veterans to experience fellowship and supports their positive mental wellbeing. The course is led by local artists, Glenn Morris and Nick Lloyd in the Creative Hub at the Llyn Clwedog Visitor Centre.
It was fantastic to see the positive impact Radiate Arts is having in the community, and how art plays an important role for physical and mental wellbeing.
I had the pleasure of speaking with the tutor for the creative workshop and it was clear to see how the focused process helps with mindfulness.
I would also like to thank the resident artist at the Creative Hub, Amy Sterly, for presenting me with one of her prints which depicts the Clywedog Dam.
Other recipients of funding from the National Lottery Community Fund in Montgomeryshire include Abermule Community Centre Association which has received £99,600 to expand its community centre by erecting a multi-purpose community room to extend social activities and engagement within the community; Celf-Able Limited which will use £10,000 to create a befriending service for disabled people who are isolated or digitally excluded, to support them to join online and face-to-face arts activities; and Dementia Matters which will use £9,432 to extend their one-to-one digital support project, which allows people living with dementia to get online during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last month, I formally wrote to the Welsh Government's Minister for Health, Eluned Morgan MS to highlight the need for travel test package tests to be affordable and equitable. If you're travelling abroad, a test must be booked via a Corporate Travel Management (CTM) – the Welsh Government’s chosen PCR test provider. The costs of these tests are generally higher than the average price for such tests in England.
Given the fact that the vaccination programme is beginning to break the link between the virus and hospitalisations, if people want to go abroad – and they feel it is right for them to do so – then it's my view that the Welsh Government should ensure an affordable and equitable testing process is in place.
Covid-19 will be with us for the long-term and we will have to learn to live with the virus both at home and abroad. It’s been a miserable 18 months and for those who want to be reunited with families or travel to ‘green countries’ for some relief and enjoyment, the Welsh Government should not make this process more difficult than it needs to be. My concern is that the current system means only the wealthiest in Wales can afford to go away. I’ve called for Ministers to look again at the process.
Ambulance Response Times
Over the last few months, I have been contacted by a number of constituents raising concerns over the time for an ambulance to arrive with a patient. In the last few weeks, I have been informed of a number of incidences of people suffering with heart attacks and strokes. For the stroke patient they waited over 4 hours, and the patient who was having a heart attack was informed by the 999 call centre that a family member had to take them to hospital as there were no ambulances available.
While I understand that there are pressures outside the control of the Wales Ambulance Service, such as waiting outside hospitals for hand-over, I am becoming more concerned and alarmed at the serious nature of the concerns and complaints being raised.
The Wales Ambulance Service has agreed to meet with me and Craig Williams MP but in the interim, they recognise and accept that the frequency and length of delays which have been experienced falls well short of the level of service which they aspire to provide for patients. They have said that they are working hard both internally and across the NHS to resolve the reasons for such delays. Some changes that will assist reside with the Wales Ambulance Service and are internal efficiencies which they need to deliver, and some reside with the wider NHS.
I have been informed that they are deploying a range of actions to grow capacity; defray activity to alternatives where it is safe to do so and to improve the efficiency of existing resources during a time when the service is busier than it has ever been. I'm pleased to hear that they are recruiting and training more people, growing all elements of their service and seeking to deliver a much improved experience for patients in Montgomeryshire.
I continue to campaign for improved broadband across Montgomeryshire. I was pleased to recently meet with representatives on the community councils of Manafon and Dwyrhiw, together with others who have been working with a company called Broadway Partners to bring an up to date fibre broadband service to both council areas. Work has been ongoing since Autumn 2020 and a local group was formed in February 2021 to bring about this service.
The plan is to use voucher grant funding which is available to all households and small businesses (including those working from home) that suffer from slow internet speeds and an unreliable service. Each household will have to register their interest to benefit from the voucher grant and the free connection and installation.
This is likely to be the only chance of bringing a proper, up to date fibre service to the area and to benefit from the funding available.
The application for and management of the voucher process as well as the installation of the network and any required routers etc. will be undertaken by the company. All householders and businesses need to do at this stage is express an interest with them.
I've had further meetings with a dedicated member of staff working at Powys County Council who supports communities in setting up such schemes. Please do get in contact with me if you want to know more.
New Housing Development in Kerry
It was good to recently visit the new housing development being developed by Wyro Green Homes in Kerry. It is very positive to hear that this scheme is going to be highly energy efficient, with some homes being 'Carbon Neutral' and achieving an 'A' Energy Performance Certificate rating. It is also great to see much needed houses being built here in Montgomeryshire. More information can be found here.
St. David Awards
The St David Awards are the national Awards of Wales. Now in their ninth year, they reflect and promote the aspirations of Wales and its citizens to be a modern, vibrant country, with a growing reputation as a confident nation, valuing innovation, community spirit and above all, its people.
There are nine publicly nominated categories, giving us the opportunity to recognise and celebrate people from all walks of life in Wales.
Please consider nominating any person or groups in Montgomeryshire that you think deserve national recognition, and to encourage others to nominate too.
Nominations close at midnight on 21st October 2021 and full details on the awards and nomination process can be found on the St David Awards website here.
The finalists in each category will be announced on 17th February 2022 and winners will be announced on 24th March 2022.