Ceredigion - achieving despite austerity cuts

This is my speech to the Plaid Cymru Spring Conference in Newport on some of the things achieved in Ceredigion in the fields of transport, waste and carbon management:

One year into Ceredigion’s first Plaid Cymru-led administration (which began in 2012),  the Conservative & Lib Dem austerity cuts hit us. And, like every other council, we were faced with devastating cuts in our core grant from the Welsh Government - in fact over 25% of our revenue budget.

So it’s been tough - very tough - as it has been for all councils. But, from the ashes of those cuts imposed on us, we’ve managed to do some useful things.

It’s easy to be gloomy. So we started an initiative called Caru Ceredigion which encourages our residents to think positive, love where they live, take responsibility and do their bit to contribute.

For example we’ve encouraged people to get out there and do a spot of litter-picking with equipment provided by the Council. And maybe it’s no coincidence that, this year, Ceredigion has the tidiest streets in Wales, according to the latest report by Keep Wales Tidy on behalf of the Welsh Government. 

Transport’s been more difficult. Because, on top of the core cuts  to council budgets, local bus services have been subject to additional cuts to their grants from Welsh Government. Despite that, we’ve worked co-operatively with them where we can, like on the T1 and T5 Trawscymru long-distance routes through Ceredigion and the innovative Bwcabus, which provides a service on request for areas that lack the population to sustain regular services. At a time when buses are thought to be declining in popularity, all of these services I’ve mentioned have shown an increase in passengers every year.

With rail, Ceredigion took a lead, amongst others, in the successful campaign for a peak-hourly service on the Cambrian line between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury. Since this started in 2015 we’ve seen an increase in passenger numbers of an astonishing 41%. 

All this shows that if you provide quality public transport services, and properly market them, people will use them. And that’s what I expect to happen when we get an Aberystwyth - Carmarthen line.

However the thing we’ve become best known for in Ceredigion is our high recycling rate. We’ve achieved this by maintaining a simple collection system that people like and by educating and encouraging our residents to recycle rather than penalising them if they get it wrong. And the result of this is that we’re the top recycling authority, not only in Wales, but in the whole UK, with 70% of our waste being recycled. 

Early on in the administration we took a decision to invest in renewable energy and energy conservation. And we put together a carbon management plan which had a target of reducing the council’s carbon emissions by 15% within five years. 

We invested in a biomass district heating scheme in Aberystwyth whereby a single boiler using wood chips heats four large buildings. We installed hundreds of photo-voltaic cells on the roofs of our buildings around the county - 200 on one building alone. And we’ve invested in scores of smaller energy conservation measures. And so far, in the fourth year of the five-year carbon management programme, we’ve already exceeded our 15% target and we’re now aiming to go higher. 

This has saved almost 3,000 tons of carbon and, in terms of austerity, it’s on schedule to save £2.7 million pounds worth of tax-payers money - quite a feat for a small authority. That money can now go into maintaining other services that might otherwise have been lost.

There’s no question that much of what I’ve mentioned wouldn’t have happened without Plaid Cymru leading the Council and using our core values to direct council policy. That’s the difference that Plaid Cymru can make, even at the most challenging time that local government in Wales has ever known.

So the message is that despite the appalling austerity cuts that are continuing to come down from Westminster, Plaid Cymru-led councils are still finding ways to deliver exemplary services and progressive initiatives in innovative and imaginative ways. Because, despite everything we’re faced with, we’ve got the vision to take Wales forward. And we can take another big step on May 4th.


EU membership worth £57 million a year to the Ceredigion economy

In recent years the Ceredigion economy has been directly benefitting by an average of £57.6 million a year from our European Union membership, according to Ceredigion Council officers and based on figures from the Centre for European Reform.

£44 million of this is CAP payments to farmers and the rest is structural funds and research grants to our universities. The figures equate to £768 per person in the county per year. The more indirect benefits, like trade and hosting EU students are not included in these figures

Ceredigion is unusual in that our economy is much more dependent than most on a combination of agriculture and higher education, two sectors that receive considerable money from Europe. In addition we receive structural funds due to our status within the EU as a ‘less developed region’. This combination makes us particularly vulnerable if our present EU funding is not directly replaced to the same level when (if?) Brexit happens.

With the nature and economic conditions of any future Brexit in a state of extreme uncertainty at the moment, the idea of the Westminster government being in a position to simply replace all of this money - even if it wanted to - seems highly optimistic. Even if they agreed to replace three quarters of it, that would still amount to a loss of over £14 million a year to the Ceredigion economy.


Aberystwyth and Ceredigion's vote to Remain

Saturday’s demonstration at the Bandstand on Aberystwyth Promenade in support of all nationalities living in the town (above) following the EU Referendum was an impressive show of solidarity arranged with only a few days notice through social media.

Ceredigion as a whole voted 54.6 to 45.4% to remain in the EU on a 74.4% turnout and Aberystwyth’s reputation as a strongly pro-EU town is confirmed by the detail of the voting. 

The cross-party group of Remain campaigners at the count on the night of June 23rd, comprising local Plaid, Labour and Lib Dem activists, took samples, mainly quite large, of most of the ward votes across the county as they were being counted. In ordinary elections, the different parties keep these kinds of samples to themselves as useful information about where their strengths and weaknesses lie for future campaigning but, since the parties were all working together on the referendum campaign, there was no need this time. The figures given are not the actual ward results since no formal tally was made of these but, with many of the samples being half or more of the vote, they are thought to be very accurate.

The result of the sampling for Aberystwyth wards was:
Bronglais: 77% Remain
Canol / Central: 76% Remain
Gogledd / North: 75% Remain
Rheidol: 66% Remain
Penparcau: 60% Remain

This is an impressive result and fully justifies Aber’s reputation as a progressive,  outward-looking town.

Although Bronglais ward’s 77% was the highest Remain vote in Ceredigion, other areas in the north of the county were also very high. Furnace and Taliesin, heading north towards Machynlleth, voted 76% and 73% respectively for Remain whilst, to the south and east of the town, the figure for Llanfarian was 74% and Capel Seion 71%.

Looking at these figures it’s easy to wonder why the overall Remain figure for Ceredigion was not higher than 54.6%. The answer lies in the south of the county. Heading south from Aberystwyth, the first area actually returning a Leave vote was Blaenpennal on the road to Tregaron. The voting is more varied in this middle part of the county, although Remain is still in the majority.

The key divide in the county seems to be a few miles south of Aberaeron and Lampeter. If you take a line from between Aberaeron and New Quay inland to somewhere near Llanybydder (see below), the majority north of that line voted Remain whilst the majority to the south voted Leave. The Cardigan Remain vote was 46%, whilst the lowest Remain vote in the county was Tregroes, near Llandysul at 32%. 
The reason for the divide may well be found in the kind of demographics relating to age and education levels that have explained voting patterns in the rest of Wales and England. However, as can be seen in the previous post, the whole of the county is a net beneficiary of EU funding and, in time, is likely to suffer equally if we leave.

Cai Larsen’s excellent blog (in Welsh) about the results in Gwynedd can be seen here


Vote REMAIN for the sake of our local economy

Whilst there are many good reasons why we should vote to remain in the European Union on Thursday, these are being thoroughly covered elsewhere and there's probably a need to raise awareness of the stakes for us in Wales and, since I'm writing from Aberystwyth, in Ceredigion specifically.

Most of Wales is designated as a ‘less developed region’ of the EU by virtue of our low overall income in line with much of Portugal, Southern Italy, Greece and most of Eastern Europe. It often comes as a surprise to people that we are so isolated in Western Europe in terms of our poverty and on a par with these places but the map illustrates this very well (click to enlarge). 

As such, in line with those other regions marked out in yellow, we are given European funding to help us develop. As a result, Wales benefits by a net total of around £245 million a year from EU membership. 

In Ceredigion this has resulted in funding for some 80 different community and infrastructure projects in the county over the past eight years. These and other initiatives have led to the sort of gains in this graphic:

And this one...

All this is on top of around £44 million received by Ceredigion farmers each year as part of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and the tens of millions of pounds of research funding received by the county’s universities.

The benefits of all this to our local economy, culture and environment have been immense and undeniable. If we didn't receive such EU funding, Ceredigion would be a very different place, with far greater unemployment and depopulation of young people and significantly fewer community facilities. 

It defies belief that, in the event of us leaving the EU, a Westminster government would simply agree to maintain this level of funding for us, especially given the competing pressures in England and the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s recent warning of a major economic crash in the event of a vote to leave.

If you care about Ceredigion and the survival of other similar communities around Wales into the future, a strong vote to remain in Europe is essential.


Peter Edwards 1889-1983 - a forgotten medical pioneer from Aberystwyth

This is a speech I recently gave at the unveiling of a plaque to Dr Peter Edwards MBE in the grounds of Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth

Most of us first became aware of the achievements of Dr Peter Edwards when an article appeared in last May’s edition of Aberystwyth Ego magazine in which local man George Simpson was interviewed. George graphically described the positive effect Dr Edwards had had on his life and how he wanted his achievements to be properly recognised. 

Aberystwyth Town Council then took the issue on, talked to Brongais Hospital, and the result is the modest plaque in the hospital’s new garden which we’re about to unveil.

I should emphasise that Dr Edwards never worked in Bronglais Hospital - the hospital wasn’t built here until 1966 when he would have been 77. He was born just around the corner from here in the house called The Laurels in St David’s Road. He went to school at Ardwyn Grammar, then a further 150 yards away at what is now Llys Ardwyn at the end of St David’s Road, and then he went to Aberystwyth University. 

So, at that stage in his life he hadn’t gone very far from this immediate area. And I’ll come back to how his upbringing here affected the work he went on to do in his life. However, having been to Aberystwyth University, he then went to Edinburgh University and things changed from there.

He was enlisted during the 1st World War, was wounded five times and was eventually discharged in 1917 with TB. And it’s almost certainly this that led to him, having first qualified as a doctor, eventually becoming the superintendant of Cheshire Joint Infirmary which, at that time, specialised in the treatment of tuberculosis and where - I believe - he made such an impression on George Simpson. But George wasn’t the only person that he made an impression on…

I’m going to read a couple of passages that I’ve found describing him and his work which give a flavour of what he achieved and his unique style of achieving it. This one is by Ted Parton, the former head porter at the Cheshire Joint Infirmary from an article on the BBC website in 1999:

“Back in the days before anti-biotics, TB was not just a killer, it was so deeply feared that sufferers were sent away to remote sanatoria for many months and years. During the 30s and 40s, many thousands of sufferers were sent to the Joint Cheshire Sanatorium in Loggerheads in Staffordshire. The sanatorium had 300 beds - and the regime, under the direction of Dr Peter Edwards, was one of 'fresh air and rest'.

"We would wheel all the patient's beds outside into the fresh air, so that they could get the fresh air into their lungs. We would also wheel them out when it was frosty, or in the snow, and the snow would pile up on their beds - but it was thought to be good for them," says Mr Parton. "We would also put sandbags on their chests while they were lying down. Patients could be left out in the elements with sandbags strapped to their chests for hours. The object of the exercise was to give the lungs something to grapple with - to increase their strength and breathing power."

The vast site at Loggerheads was planted, at Dr Edwards' instruction, with pine trees, because he believed they purified the air (something that, we know today, has some truth to it). If the sandbags failed to do the trick, and a patient's condition continued to fail, surgery was considered.

When a patient did get better, he or she was encouraged to take one of a number of designated walks through the sanatorium's own pine forest. "One walk would take half an hour, then you would build up to three quarters of an hour and then an hour," says Mr Parton. A walking patient could take up a job in the kitchens or the grounds.

Although the regime seems fairly primitive by modern standards, it was in its time - in the years between the wars - medically revolutionary and exciting. "It was a marvellous place and its patients have very fond memories of it," says Mr Parton, adding: "In many ways it was like a golden age of looking after people.”

And then anti-biotics made their arrival at the sanatorium in the form of streptomycin. It was integrated into the treatment, and although the fresh air route to recovery was not entirely abandoned, the drug proved a more effective weapon in the fight against the lung disease.

Now, there was more to Peter Edwards’s life than the Joint Cheshire Sanatorium. He played football for Hearts, one of the top two teams in Edinburgh, and was the honorary club doctor for Stoke City. He was consultant for the International Refugee Organisation and he was awarded an MBE by King George VI. And this last short passage, giving another, slightly different, perspective on the kind of person he was, is from the autobiography of Noel Browne, a doctor who worked with Peter Edwards and who eventually became the Irish Health Minister:

“At the Cheshire Joint Sanitorium I was to learn about the imaginative, unorthodox, original diagnostic and care procedures devised by the remarkable, infinitely charming autocrat Dr Peter Edwards. Incredibly he ran a sanatorium staffed almost entirely with former consumptives (that is, sufferers of tuberculosis); everyone there, and even Peter Edwards himself, had all recovered, or were recovering, from tuberculosis. This was unheard of in tuberculosis practice at the time, but Dr Edwards had original and heterodox ideas on virtually every subject you could think of.

“As well as a considerable store of information about the care of tuberculosis, I also learned from Dr Edwards his insistence on the egalitarian values of a good radical Welshman. There was no distinction whatever in his sanatorium between the disparate roles of the hospital staff. We all contributed equally to the struggle to help and to care for our patients. “There were no titles; we all used Christian names. Technicians, nurses, doctors, porters, ambulance drivers, and administrative staff were all on equal terms and co-equal members of a fine club.” 

So, from those two passages, you get something of a feel for Dr Peter Edwards - his imaginative, highly innovative  and groundbreaking approach and his attitudes, which were undoubtedly started by his upbringing in this particular corner of Aberystwyth.


Vote positive - vote for Elin Jones in Ceredigion on Thursday

Elin Jones supporting Fairtrade at Aberystwyth Art Centre

My personal pitch for why people should vote for Elin Jones in Thursday’s Assembly election in Ceredigion isn't just about all the things she’s done for the county, nor with Plaid Cymru’s policies. Yes, Elin has done a fantastic amount of work that keeps Ceredigion firmly on the Welsh Government’s map and the Plaid manifesto is a hugely impressive and fully-costed document. But all that’s been covered elsewhere. 

No, more than that, my pitch is this:
Despite the relentless, depressing torrent of negativity and blatant fabrications pouring through the letter boxes of Ceredigion from Elin's main rival on an almost daily basis, Elin has refused to lower herself to that level and has remained relentlessly positive throughout. 

Instead of trying to convince everyone that we live in a world with lots and lots of things to be cross and worried about, Elin believes in a firmly positive vision of Wales and, despite the challenges, in working with others to put that vision forward in everything she does. 

If your glass is half full rather than half empty, if you like to focus on the best rather than the worst in people, if you prefer to think about how good things are and could be instead of how bad they are, if you basically like people and love life in Wales, then vote positive and vote for Elin Jones to continue moving us forward and representing us so well.


Plaid have a strong chance of winning the Police & Crime Commissioner election in Dyfed-Powys

To say that the Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections are the lesser of the votes taking place in Wales in the next couple of months is a considerable understatement. Nevertheless, the election for the Dyfed-Powys police area is looking more than capable of producing what may be quite a surprise to many people, in the shape of a win for Plaid Cymru’s Dafydd Llywelyn (pictured).

First, lets recap on the brief, sorry history of PCC elections. In 2012, the first PCC elections were brought in by the Conservative/Lib Dem government, to be greeted with first opposition and then utter apathy on election day. 

Only two candidates stood in Dyfed-Powys - Christopher Salmon for the Conservatives and Christine Gwyther for Labour. Other parties either consciously chose not to stand, like Plaid, or just didn’t get it together. Many actively pushed for a boycott or the spoiling of ballots. The result was a turnout of just 17%, with the Tories winning by a margin much narrower than the number of spoilt papers. More of the story of the PCC is elections can be found on this excellent blog by Cneifiwr.

The difference this time is that the PCC elections are being held on the same day as the National Assembly elections on May 5th. We can therefore reasonably expect a turnout of about the same as these, usually between 40-45%. Coupled with the fact that five parties are actually putting up PCC candidates this time, that makes it a completely different election.

There are no opinion polls for Dyfed-Powys so the first place to start looking at how we might expect things to go is to add up the voting figures in the area from the last Assembly elections. By putting together the votes for each party across the seven constituencies comprising the Dyfed-Powys area at the last Assembly elections in 2011 we come up with this:
Conservatives 52,376
Plaid Cymru 51,901
Labour 46,619
Lib Dem 32,215

UKIP and an Independent are also standing in this PCC election, but not the Greens.

Based on these voting figures, it’s very clear who the two frontrunning parties are, the difference between them in the area last time being just 475. The possibility of a Plaid win is enhanced by the latest all-Wales opinion poll, showing Plaid moving into second place ahead of the Tories.

Dafydd Llewelyn is a criminology lecturer at Aberystwyth University and before that was the Principal Crime and Intelligence Analyst for Dyfed Powys Police, managing a team of analysts and researchers. So he’s certainly the best-qualified of all the candidates, even, I suspect, the bloke who actually been doing the job since 2012, the Conservative Christopher Salmon. 

All the Plaid PCC candidates are standing on a manifesto of:
1. Strong neighbourhood policing teams that will cut crime in communities
2. Protecting vulnerable groups and supporting victims so that they aren’t just a statistic 
3. Breaking the cycle of crime to reduce future crime

Plaid PCCs will, “use these priorities to prevent and detect crimes that happen in communities, protect vulnerable groups and support people who are the victims of crime, and to work with offenders to break their cycle of offending, punishment and re-offending and thereby reduce the overall amount of crime.” 

I reckon most people would prefer that to a continuation of Christopher Salmon’s ideology-based reduction in policing resources and refusal to countenance a dedicated local police helicopter.

The point of this article is show people why it’s worth voting - and voting Plaid - in the Police & Crime Commissioner elections in the Dyfed Powys area. Apart from his extensive working knowledge of the actual issues involved in the job, Dafydd Llywelyn is the best-placed to relieve us of a Tory incumbent. Whatever else you decide to do in this round of elections, why not give him a go?


Aberystwyth traders vote Yes to setting up a Business Improvement District

As a follow-up to the story below, here's the (quite tight) result of the ballot (click to enlarge):

Chris Mackenzie-Grieve, the Chair of Aberystwyth's Chamber of Commerce, said,
"My thanks to all those who worked on getting the BID formulated, developed and across the line. It has been a long and at times a tortuous and thankless task but it is what was needed to further Aberystwyth as a town with great prospects. Perseverance pays off, lets not squander this opportunity and make this a successful 5 year period in Aber's history. The hard work now begins!"


Aberystwyth's Business Improvement District ballot

Aberystwyth businesses have this week been receiving information and ballot papers for voting on whether or not to form a Business Improvement District (BID) for the town.

The way it works is this. Every business premise with a rateable value (RV) of over £6,000 would pay 1.25% of their RV each year. For a business with an RV of £10,000 this would amount to £125 per year, for large businesses more. Those with RVs of under £6,000 are exempt.

This would generate a pot of money for Aberystwyth amounting to around £200,000 each year, or £1 million over 5 years. That's a sizeable amount of money which the businesses can themselves then use in whatever way they choose to boost business in the town. 

Ideas being put forward include collective purchasing schemes to cut costs, free wifi to encourage people to spend longer in the town, better signage so that visitors can find where businesses are, local loyalty schemes and promotion and marketing of the town.

So far eight other towns in Wales have agreed BIDS - Swansea, Merthyr, Newport, Caernarfon, Bangor, Colwyn Bay, Neath and Llanelli. More are in the pipeline. 

I reckon this opportunity for local businesses to set the direction and take some control of their area's economic future is something no self-respecting town with ambitions would turn down. All that's required now is for businesses in Aberystwyth to vote Yes by the deadline of March 15th.

Fuller details are on these links:


Nadolig Llawen o Geredigion  /  Merry Christmas from Ceredigion


Poppies and Peace

This article was recently published in Welsh and English on the Wales For Peace / Cymru Dros Heddwch section of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs website.

Aberystwyth Town Council first began laying a white poppy wreath at the war memorial in the town’s Castle Grounds on the weekend of Remembrance Day 2004. Mabon ap Gwynfor, a grandson of Gwynfor Evans, Plaid Cymru’s first MP, had become a councillor in the local elections of that year and successfully proposed a motion which was then seconded by Cllr Mark Strong. 

Like most town councils, Aberystwyth had always laid a red poppy wreath at the traditional Remembrance Day ceremony conducted by the British Legion and, with the Legion not prepared to allow white poppies at their ceremony, the proposal meant that the Council would lay different coloured wreaths at two different ceremonies.

The white poppy initiative was strongly supported by the Aberystwyth Peace & Justice Network - a co-ordination of local peace campaigners existing since 1982 - and the ceremony was conducted by local Presbyterian Minister Pryderi Llwyd. 

According to the website of the Peace Pledge Union, white poppies, “Symbolise the belief that there are better ways to resolve conflicts…(than) killing fellow human beings”. As such, they can be seen to present a challenge to traditional red poppy ceremonies which in turn can appear to represent an unquestioning acceptance of war. The British Legion’s website describes Remembrance Sunday as, “A day for the nation to remember and honour those who have sacrificed themselves to secure and protect our freedom”.

Part of the reason feelings can run high, and why many Legion members have been resistant to allowing wider perspectives into their ceremony, is that some of those attending will have been in battle themselves and seen comrades killed. Some may well have suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. Others present at the ceremony may have had close relatives or friends killed. For these people, the ceremony can be part of a grief process. It’s not difficult to see how it can feel uncomfortable to have people or groups present who carry an implied questioning of the reason for soldiers to be fighting in the first place.

Probably because of these feelings, in 2004 and until very recently, any kind of agreement with the British Legion was impossible. In Aberystwyth, despite some approaches from the Peace Network over the years, the Legion simply wanted nothing to do with white poppies. Even holding a ceremony on a different day of the same weekend was controversial. 

However, despite many town council seats changing hands at the 2008 and 2012 local elections, the Council stuck steadfastly to its balanced policy established in 2004 of supporting the laying of both wreaths. The only near hiccup was in 2008 when a vote in favour of continuing had to be decided on the casting vote of the Mayor, Sue Jones-Davies. When Pryderi Llwyd eventually retired, his role in leading the white poppy ceremony was taken over by Rhidian Griffiths from the same Presbyterian chapel, Capel y Morfa.

For many years the white poppy ceremony was held on the Saturday so as to avoid any clash with Remembrance Sunday. Eventually members of the Aberystwyth Peace & Justice Network decided they felt too sidelined by this and began holding a ceremony on the Sunday afternoon of Remembrance Day after the main ceremony had dispersed, adding their white wreaths to the red ones laid on the steps of the war memorial in the morning. 

Then, last year, after the largest ever white poppy ceremony at the memorial, attended by around 60 people, the four wreaths laid were found stuffed in a nearby rubbish bin the following day. The ensuing press publicity left a bad taste and clearly gave the British Legion cause for thought. 

In July of this year, Aberystwyth Town Council was approached informally by local Legion officers asking to talk to councillors about plans for this year’s Remembrance Day. Six councillors attended an initial meeting with the same number of Legion members in the town’s Railway Club on July 16th. This is where the offer was first made. The Legion said they wanted to give the opportunity for white poppy wreaths to be placed as part of their main ceremony. There would be no limit imposed on the number of wreaths and, importantly, they made it clear that they had consulted their hierarchy who supported the initiative. 

The condition was that there should be no political statements of any kind on these wreaths, nor on any banners or badges of those attending. This was felt by the Legion to be in keeping with the purpose of the ceremony, which was meant purely in remembrance of those individuals or groups who had died in war. Messages on wreaths were supposed to reflect this. 

‘Political statements’ included the word “Peace” (or “Hedd” in Welsh) on poppies. I knew this could be a sticking point. However the upshot of the meeting was that I would contact the Peace & Justice Network inviting them to meet with the British Legion if they felt there was a possibility of taking the offer forward. I then attended one of the Peace Network’s meetings to answer any questions and fill in any gaps. They very much welcomed the offer and, whilst there were clearly some uncertainties, quickly agreed to attend a meeting with the Legion.

The meeting between the two organisations was held on September 16th in the chamber of the Town Council. Four people from the two groups were present plus three town councillors, including Mayor Endaf Edwards, acting in the role as honest brokers. I was chairing and, after introductions (because, despite living in the same town, most mix in different circles and had never met before), it was astonishing how quickly agreement was reached.

When it was pointed out that white poppies were generally only manufactured with the words Peace or Hedd the Legion quickly relented on their original stipulation  about this and, after the Peace Network had consulted their constituent groups, the agreement was in place. 

An additional offer, which demonstrated the Legion’s seriousness, was that the Cor Gobaith - a local choir of around 20 people that sings mainly peace or political songs - were to be invited to sing at the Remembrance Day church service if a suitable song could be agreed with the Vicar.

In order to prepare people for the change, a press statement was agreed. It began, 
“Aberystwyth Town Council is delighted to announce that, following discussions between officers of the Aberystwyth Branch of the Royal British Legion and representatives of Aberystwyth Peace & Justice Network, this year there will be a single Remembrance Day ceremony at the war memorial  at which everyone will be welcome.”

Sean Langton, Chair of Aberystwyth Royal British Legion, was quoted as saying, 
“The Legion’s red poppy honours all those who have sacrificed their lives to protect the freedoms we enjoy today; including the freedom to wear the poppy of one’s choice. If the poppy became compulsory it would lose its meaning and significance. The red poppy is a universal symbol of Remembrance and hope, including hope for a positive future and a peaceful world.”

Lotte Reimer of Aberystwyth & Peace Justice Network said,
“This is what we have always wanted. Although the two ceremonies have had different emphases, we also have a great deal in common. As a local organisation that campaigns for peace in the world it is clear that we should work for peace at home and we are delighted to accept the Aberystwyth Royal British Legion’s approach”.

On Sunday November 8th, something approaching 600 people attended the Remembrance Day ceremony at Aberystwyth war memorial following the traditional march from the Old Town Hall. Attendance for the event, at what must be one of the more spectacular settings for a war memorial in the country, is normally good but this time it was augmented by around 50 people who attended specifically because of the white poppy element.

There was some nervousness on both sides. Some legionnaires, going on pre-held conceptions, were concerned that members of the Peace & Justice Network might try to stage some kind of attention-seeking protest. Some on the peace side were wondering if there might be audible unrest amongst the legionnaires. However, in practice, everyone behaved impeccably and those attending for the first time entered fully into the solemnity of the occasion.

Amongst the dozens of red wreaths, white poppy wreaths were laid by the Peace & Justice Network, Aberystwyth Quakers, Borth & Aberystwyth Women in Black and the Cor Gobaith, with a purple wreath being laid for animal victims of war.

People then filed onto the nearby St Michael’s Church where, halfway through the service, the Cor Gobaith, wearing a respectful black, sung a beautiful rendition of ‘A Song of Peace’ to the tune of Finlandia.

Despite natural uncertainties about bringing innovation into such a traditional occasion, the whole event went as well on the day as could possibly have been expected. The white poppy supporters laid their wreaths in the same respectful, understated way as everyone else and none of the fears about possible disruption materialised.

Whilst there’s no point in denying that there has been some grumbling about the principle from more conservative members of the British Legion, outside the organisational bubbles comments have been overwhelmingly positive, both locally and further afield, and respect for both groups has almost certainly been enhanced. Local press coverage a few days later was measured and no attempt was made to sell newspapers by creating controversy.

Particular tributes for the success should go to the current officers of Aberystwyth British Legion who, in contrast to their predecessors, showed real leadership and went to considerable trouble to bring their members along with them. Equally, to the Aberystwyth Peace & Justice Network who, when approached, played their part enthusiastically and conscientiously. Lastly, to Mones Farah, the Minister at St Michael’s Church who gave his full support to incorporating the initiative into his church service.

Although, objectively, the laying of a few white poppy wreaths was little more than a modest addition to the traditional ceremony, everyone who has observed the lack of progress in the debate over the years knows that, symbolically, a historic leap has taken place. It now becomes much easier for others to do the same.

Everyone will now take a pause and assimilate things. There’s a long time till next November. But, having broken the logjam, the intention of all senior figures in the organisations involved is that the historic Remembrance Day settlement in Aberystwyth should continue into the future.

The photo shows Lotte Reimer of Aberystwyth Peace & Justice Network (with Pat Richards of Borth & Aberystwyth Women in Black behind) laying a white poppy at Aberystwyth War Memorial on November 8th this year.


Elin Jones's radical proposals for the Welsh NHS

This post contains the main part of the speech made at the Plaid Cymru conference on Saturday by Elin Jones, Assembly Member for Ceredigion and Plaid's Shadow Health Minister. I'm publishing so much of it here because, apart from being typically waffle-free, it proposes the kind of radical changes  to the Welsh NHS that deserve a deeper read than that allowed by the usual online news articles:

"...My style is not to obsess over Labour’s failures. Not to dwell or rant about what’s wrong. My style is to offer solutions, to offer a vision of how a Plaid Cymru-run NHS would protect and improve services

"In the next Welsh Government Plaid Cymru will safeguard and strengthen our NHS with a 6 point plan.

"Our 6 point plan will:
     Cut waiting times for diagnosis and treatment
     Improve access to mental health
     Create a paperless NHS
     Tackle the public health threats of today
     Train a next generation of NHS workers
    Fully integrate health and social care & deliver equal care for equal need

Point 1
"We will cut waiting times for diagnosis and treatment.   Currently, 31.4% of Welsh patients are waiting over 6 weeks for a mri scan in Wales. In Scotland it’s 9.1%  and in England it’s  1.3%  Unacceptable.  Since 2011, there are 21000 more people waiting longer than 36 weeks for hospital treatment. 

·   "We’ll set up 3 Full Diagnostic Centres to provide a comprehensive range of tests and diagnosis, to enable cancer diagnosis to be confirmed within 28 days.

·   "We’ll set up dedicated Treatment Centres to undertake a very large proportion of elective, planned treatments and surgery. We’ve seen the success of the Golden  Jubilee Hospital in Scotland and how the SNP Government now intend to invest in more centres to further drive down waiting times and provide state-of-the-art effective surgical services. I want to replicate this is Wales.

·   "We would have one National Hospital Board to plan and deliver all acute and specialist hospital services. A Plaid Cymru Government next May would scrap all 8 Health Boards, and replace with 1 Hospital Board. 3 million people, fewer than 20 hospitals – we do not need 16 Chairs and Chief Execs for that job. 2 will be more than enough. We wouldn’t keep Betsi Cadwalader in Special Measures – we’d scrap it. National planning, but guaranteeing local delivery. And no community in Wales would be further than the magic hour from emergency, life-saving hospital services.

Point 2
"We would dramatically improve access to mental health services. 
Mental Health services deserve parity of esteem with Physical Health, and will not be an afterthought in a Plaid Cymru government.
"In the last 2 years, the number of children waiting longer than 4 months for their first appointment with a mental health professional has increased almost 5-fold. 50% of our most vulnerable children have to wait 4 months before they start treatment. That’s 4 months of disruption to their education, 4 months of anxiety and 4 months of waiting that can have lifelong effects. That is not acceptable.
So our priority would be to ensure no child waits longer than 4 months for mental health treatment. Our children and young people can not be allowed to be the victims of a poorly-run Labour Government.

Point 3
"We would create a modern, paperless NHS – fit for the 21st century. It cannot be right that you can go into a District General Hospital and see porters still wheeling large trolleys of patient files and notes. It can’t be right that I can book a hotel room in Buenos Aires on my smart phone from this stage right now, but I can’t use my smartphone to book an appointment or repeat prescription from my surgery just down the road.
·      We need universal electronic patient records that are accessible to every part of the NHS, wherever the patient presents at any point in time.
·      We need Skype clinics to reduce the number of patient visits and miles.

"But a modern 21st century NHS is not just about more imaginative use of IT. It is also about cutting-edge research and treatments.  I want to see more university-led medical research in Wales, also more pharmaceutical and private sector research in Wales. Our senior medics and researchers need to lead more clinical trials – for the benefit of Welsh patients. And we will bring to an end the postcode lottery of access to new treatments and drugs.  We want a NHS that is be fair and transparent in decisions that affect whether a person lives or dies.

Point 4
"Plaid Cymru will tackle the big public health challenges that face our nation.  Whilst the current Welsh Health Minister fixates on banning e-cigarettes in public places, Plaid Cymru will address the major causes of harm.  We will use new taxation powers to introduce a sugary-drinks tax. When Plaid Cymru first announced this policy 2 years ago in Aberystwyth, we were ridiculed by Carwyn Jones and Welsh Labour. David Cameron is equally set against a sugary drinks tax.

"But public health experts and medical organisations all now support a pop tax. And Jamie Oliver endorsed our policy and Plaid Cymru backs his campaign. But, a Plaid Cymru government will not introduce a poptax in Wales just because it’s backed by a certain celebrity chef. We’ll do it because the harm that is done to our children’s health by over-consumption of unnecessary sugar cannot go unchallenged.

Point 5
"Our NHS is the sum of its parts. And its parts are its staff. Without a motivated and well-rewarded staff, then the NHS crumbles. We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the staff working in our NHS and wider health and social services. They do sterling work day in, day out. And yes, Jeremy Hunt, they already work weekends and nights.  A Plaid Cymru Government would not seek to undermine the work of NHS staff in the same way as Jeremy Hunt is England – targetting the junior doctors today, and someone else tomorrow.

"We would protect today’s staff and plan for tomorrow’s staff.  It is scandal that the Welsh Labour Health Minister is shying away from any action to properly plan for the workforce. Plaid Cymru would create a National NHS Workforce Plan.  We’d start by prioritising doctors – and we’d train and recruit an additional 1000 doctors over 10 years.

 "To do so we would create financial incentives to attract doctors to hard-to-recruit areas and specialisms, but we’d also ensure more capacity in medical schools – in Cardiff, Swansea and Bangor. They would be medical and nursing schools to serve and supply the Welsh NHS and we would place a percentage quota of student places for Welsh students in our medical schools.

"Our workforce plan will start with doctors, but it will become a plan for all health and social care professionals.

Point 6
"And finally, our most ambitious plan of all. Where others talk about fully integrating our health and social care systems – we will do it.

"Two systems set up by great pieces of 1940s legislation. Two systems – health and social care – separated at birth. Health care free at the point of need and social care means-tested and assessed at the point of need.  Health care provided by the NHS, social care by Local Authorities.    
"They were systems of their time, but they are no longer in synch with the needs of today.

"Before I became Shadow Health Minister, I was the Minister for Rural Affairs, dealing with animal health matters, rather than human health. Looking back, I think I can say that there is better integration of health and social care in agriculture, than in human health and social care!  Farmers do the social care bit, and vets do the health care – and they do it in an integrated, effective way – even in times of crisis.

"Plaid Cymru will create a Community NHS – to combine GP surgeries, community nursing teams, other community health professionals and community hospitals, out-of-hours GP services and community mental health services and adult social care. 

"Local authorities would be given the lead responsibility of managing and delivering Community NHS. Services would be planned coherently and delivered seamlessly.

"However, will organisational change on its own deliver the seamless care that our elderly and vulnerable need? In the current system, the diagnosis you have in large measure determines the financial support you get to cope with its effects.

"In the 21st century, it is simply not acceptable that people with conditions that can involve very similar burdens, such as cancer and advanced dementia, can end up making very different contributions to the cost of their care.

"In Government, Plaid Cymru will end the historical divide and current inequalities between health and social care, we will ensure “equal support for equal need”

"The final barrier between full health and social care integration is the answer to the question who pays? For health care, it is the state, and for social care, it depends. For a cardiac patient it is the state, for a dementia patient, it depends. It depends on the assessment of need and on a means-assessment.

"Plaid Cymru is committing to provide free social care for all over 65s within 10 years, with clear milestones along the way.

1  "Firstly, we will introduce free personal care for the elderly within the first 2 years of Government. This would abolish all fees for non-residential care.

  "Secondly, we would abolish charges for those with a dementia diagnosis within 5years – including for nursing and residential care.

    "Thirdly, we would completely abolish all social care charges for the elderly within a second term of Welsh Government

"This a fully-costed plan and it will provide equal care for equal need. That is our pledge – equal care for equal need, so that in 21st century Wales - those people that care and those that are cared for will be guaranteed quality care and dignity of care, without financial fear or financial burden.

"For May next year, Plaid Cymru has the policies and priorities to strengthen our NHS. Labour’s poor, poor record on health can not be allowed to continue.  Labour Ministers have been unwilling to take the big decisions on the NHS and unable to get the small decisions right. 

"They have spent too much time over the past 4 and a half years blaming a Westminster Government for a lack of funds.  There should be no more excuses.  Labour should be judged on what it has failed to achieve with the powers and budget available to it, and we will be judged on what we promise to achieve within the powers and budget available to us.

"The people of Wales deserve better than to hear Labour politicians blame others for what can and can’t be achieved.  There is a change that our NHS needs. There is a change that Wales needs. Plaid Cymru is that change."