Ceredigion Council can be fairly proud of the progress made in narrowing the pay gap between its lowest and highest paid workers.
Despite this, Ceredigion is evidently helping to provide a small local counter-balance to the prevailing economic trend of growing social inequality.
Since the last local government elections in 2012 the Council has removed its three lowest pay bands, with a fourth due to follow in May. At the same time, a deliberate restructuring has ensured that the wage bill for senior officers has fallen considerably.
The latest figures show that Ceredigion Council now has the smallest difference in the whole of Wales (and undoubtedly beyond) between its lowest paid staff and that of the Chief Executive. Ceredigion’s ratio is 1:8.4, whereas some neighbouring authorities are at 1:12 or even higher.
Looking at the table below, one party clearly emerges as taking the issue of reducing the pay gap the most seriously. This is no accident. The present Ceredigion leadership is mindful of the Spirit Level campaign which has shown that more equal societies have far better economic, health and general well-being outcomes.
The intention is to make further progress towards the Living Wage, although this is not easy at a time of unprecedented austerity from the Westminster government. The continuing austerity agenda was supported by all the main parties in the recent House of Commons vote and, to compound this, the Welsh Government has subjected Ceredigion to the largest percentage cut of any of the Welsh Councils.
At the end of November the Welsh Government published the latest Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation. This ranks each area in Wales, 1 being the most deprived and 1909 being the least. Mererid Jones, one of five Aberystwyth Town Councillors for Penparcau, has sent me this analysis for Aberystwyth:The areas listed are as follows: -
Bronglais = as per the Council ward
Canol/Central = as per the Council ward
Rheidol 1 = the town side of Rheidol ward
Rheidol 2 = Trefechan and Greenfield Street area
Penparcau 2 = Heol Tynyfron to Southgate + Cae Job & Heol Dinas + Brynystwyth & Ty cam
Penparcau 1 = Maesheli + The Avenues + Maesmaelor
Penglais = North Ward plus the part of Faenor ward which includes Pentre Jane Morgan.
Income accounts for 23.5% of each overall score and focusses on the proportion of the population receiving benefits. Penparcau and Rheidol 2 have seen an increase in eligibility for tax credits.
Employment also accounts for 23.5% of the overall score and is mainly based on the percentage of the working age population in receipt of Employment-related benefit.
Health accounts for 14% of the overall score and looks at indicators like low-weight births, long term illness and cause of death.
Education accounts for 14% of the overall score and looks at Key Stage 4 results, absenteeism, no qualifications and not entering Higher Education.
Physical Environment accounts for 5% and includes proximity to waste tips, flood risk and air quality.
Housing accounts for 5%, and has improved in all wards with the exception of Rheidol but, given the low multiple, has not had a major impact on the score.
In April it was announced that Ceredigion and Vale of Glamorgan Councils had each won £100,000 worth of funding to run rural transport pilot projects.
In Ceredigion’s case, part of this is now being used to run Cludiant Cors Caron - a free transport scheme in the Tregaron area.
In the public transport game, £100,000 doesn’t actually buy very much and is being given in the context of an overall 25% loss of bus funding across Wales. So making the best use of resources is essential. The Council quickly recognised that there were already a number of small buses running regularly in the area specifically to transport people to social services and health venues. It made absolutely sense that these regular journeys, taking place anyway for particular client groups, should be properly timetabled and opened up to the wider community.
Cludiant Cors Caron Services are now timetabled and run for the wider community on a dial-a ride basis, with Ystwyth Community Transport Group being funded to co-ordinate the scheme.
The next pilot project, and one which will arguably have a greater effect, is the extension of child fairs on buses up to the age of 21. This will allow all young people in Ceredigion - a key group in terms of access to transport - to reach work and training more cheaply. Local buses companies, to their credit, have recognised the potential and agreed to take part and a scheme is due to commence early in the new year.
The key issue for rural areas is that, because of their relatively low population, bus services are never likely to be economically viable in the conventional sense of making a profit. And yet those services are absolutely vital for people who are unable to drive, particularly the elderly, the young and the less well-off. Without these people being able to get about, rural life would start to break down.
At a time when many public services are being cut, not least in rural areas, buses are becoming even more important for people to be able to access remaining services. Along with Bwcabus - now running across roughly half of Ceredigion - these latest pilot projects will help to inform Welsh Government’s thinking about how to target support for rural areas and, if successful, may be extended into other parts of Wales.
The Mid Wales Healthcare Study, put together by Marcus Longley on behalf of the Welsh Institute for Health and Social Care, has given a great deal of hope and reassurance to everyone who has been campaigning for Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth. These public events below will give everyone the chance to contribute further to the debate.
This is a talk I gave at the meeting in Llanfarian school on 9th October:
When surveys are run on the most important issue in different constituencies in Wales, the most important issue to people in Ceredigion is health. No surprises there. And it’s the same in many other places.
But when people are asked what's the second most important issue, in Ceredigion the answer is the environment. That’s completely different to most other places, where green issues are way down the list.
So it’s clear there's a greater awareness and interest in environmental matters in Ceredigion. And the County Council administration reflects that by placing a high importance on making a real contribution to tackling climate change.
The main plank of that is that, since getting elected to run the Council, almost two and a half years ago now, we’ve put together a new Carbon Management Plan in consultation with the Carbon Trust.
The aim in the plan is to reduce the Council’s carbon emissions by 15% over five years. And you have to bear in mind that, in normal circumstances, emissions wouldn’t just be expected to stay the same but would actually rise.
We’re now two years into this 5-year programme and we’ve achieved 7.4% - almost half. So, in other words, after 40% of the time, we’ve achieved 49% of the target.
To do this we’ve had to involve all areas of the Council and in particular we’ve had to look very closely at the Council’s operational building stock, including our schools, because they are the least energy-efficient part of the stock - 69% of the Council’s emissions are from buildings.
I’ll just highlight a few steps we’ve taken:
- The street lighting programme, of changing to LED bulbs has saved 57% of carbon compared to 2007 and Ceredigion’s lights are now one of the most energy efficient in the UK.
- We’ve invested in more efficient fleet vehicles and better ways of working with them. Those emissions have reduced by 8.7% in the past two years.
- We’ve been running Operation Energy in selected schools in the county for the past three years. This encourages individual pupils to take part in energy reduction themselves. We give a certificate to every pupil taking part and a prize to the best performing school each year. So far 24 local schools have participated.
- One of the clearest savings has been the new Evaporative Cooling System at Canolfan Rheidol. That cost £42,000 and it saves £26,000 a year in energy costs. So it pays for itself in less than 2 years. And that, of course, highlights how the carbon agenda and the massive financial cuts all councils are now being subject to can come together. Carbon savings like this do require an initial investment. And most of the financial savings take a longer than 20 months.
Although we’re making good progress, of course there’s plenty more to do. These are the kinds of things we’ve got planned for the future:
- We’ll be installing a 50Kw solar array on the roof of the Council offices at Penmorfa in Aberaeron - the county’s second highest user of energy - and a 30Kw system on Minaeron, the social services offices in Aberaeron.
- You may be aware of the biomass heating system that serves Canolfan Rheidol and the Welsh Government building in Aberystwyth. The system is housed across the railway tracks in a building in Penweddig school fields. Over the Summer holidays we dug trenches across the playing fields. And soon we’ll be making the connections to extend the biomass system to include Ysgol Penweddig and Plas Crug Leisure Centre. So that single biomass system will be servicing four large buildings. That will produce an annual RHI (Renewable heat Incentive) income of around £95,000 p.a.
- At Ysgol Bro Pedr in Lampeter we’ll be installing an SBED Solar Collector. This will bring about a carbon saving of 14 tons, and £2000 saved p.a. in gas bills.
So those are the kinds of things we’ve been doing, and will be doing in the future, to meet our carbon reduction targets
As well as that we’re embedding carbon management within the Council’s practices. For example:
- The creation of a specialist energy department within the Council.
- The installation of automatic meter reading in all our buildings so we know exactly how they’re performing all the time and have the data to know what energy issues need to be tackled.
- The creation of council structures to make sure carbon management is centrally resourced and prioritise rather than being the responsibility of just one department.
So, as well as meeting our targets in the present, we’re planning for the future. Future council administrations will find life easier in terms of reducing carbon emissions and easier financially as a result of the decisions we’re making today.
Ceredigion's Club Cosy/Clwb Clyd, first announced in March, was launched in Aberaeron last week. This is a new local initiative for people in rural areas not connected to the gas mains. It's aims are:
* To help households reduce their fuel bills through energy efficiency.
* To encourage people to get together to buy fuel in bulk to reduce their costs.
* To help people access fuel budget schemes and grants.
The initiative is an 18 month project, funded with £60,000 from the Welsh Government and being run on behalf of Ceredigion Council by Ymlaen Ceredigion. Partners include Nest / Nyth - who work to reduce the number of homes in Wales in fuel poverty - and West Wales Credit Union.
There are currently around ten formal fuel syndicates in Ceredigion:
Aberporth / Llangrannog
Ger y Gors (Pontrhydfendigaid)
Whilen y Porthmyn (Tregaron)
Cellan / Llanfair Clydogau
It's reckoned that these involve around 600 people. And there are probably many other small, informal ones. Club Cosy / Clwb Clyd will be aiming to get more people involved and provide them with support and advice.
Of course, whilst these schemes all help local people to save money and avoid fuel poverty, this doesn’t necessarily help to reduce carbon emissions. The energy conservation advice side of the scheme is therefore an important component.
Last week's successful meeting to launch the scheme included reps from most of the fuel syndicates listed, many of whom had never met before. In the next 18 months they'll be looking to grow. Anyone interested in getting involved can contact Club Cosy / Clwb Clyd on this link.
Image source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-mid-wales-26785680
Image source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-mid-wales-26785680
This is a photo (click to enlarge) of the Ysgol Penweddig playing fields, taken from Canolfan Rheidol, Ceredigion Council’s office building on the outskirts of Aberystwyth. The building on the right houses a 1.2MW biomass boiler which has been providing space heating and hot water to Canolfan Rheidol and the Welsh Government building next door since 2009.
During the school holidays the Council has been laying pipework to connect the biomass building to Ysgol Penweddig (the big white building near the middle of the picture) and to Plas Crug Leisure Centre (the white building to the left).
You can just about see the track of the filled in trenches behind the rugby posts and just to the left of the Leisure Centre.
In the next few months, the work of connecting the new pipework to the biomass boiler will be completed and the whole thing should be operational by the new year.
The new scheme will save approximately 229 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year on top of the 203 tonnes the biomass boiler is already saving.
Whenever I raise the issue of buses being able to carry bikes, local bus service providers tend to shake their heads and mumble about insurance, lack of space inside the bus and, in the case of outside racks, heath & safety. They seem to regard bikes on buses as a slightly eccentric idea that’s impractical and has little demand.
I'm certainly aware of widespread annoyance from cyclists about the lack of what, on the face of it, should be a fairly standard provision. If we’re serious about what the Welsh Government calls active travel, surely extending the range of cycling through the use of public transport should be an obvious component.
Whilst they may be an alien idea to bus companies here, there’s at least one part of the world where cycle racks on buses seems to be routine. North America hasn’t got a reputation in this country for green transport but I’ve visited two different states in the last 18 months where racks are a standard part of the bus service.
Last year I travelled down the coast of California. Buses in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego all had the same type of rack bolted to the front and I watched people routinely using them to get about those cities. This year, I’ve just returned from Toronto where I had the pleasure of using a similar kind of rack on three different buses for a bike I’d hired (see photo).
The system is quite simple. When not in use the rack is folded up against the front of the vehicle. To use it you pull a lever to release the rack and bring it down. The passenger then lifts the bike onto wheel-width slots on the rack and brings a bar round to securely grip the front wheel and prevent movement. That’s it - ready to go. Takes 30 seconds.
Drivers aren’t allowed to physically help but are happy to explain what to do. Once you’ve used one for the first time you won’t need another explanation. There’s no extra fare for taking a bike.
The only buses in Wales that I know of allowing bikes (aside from foldaways) are the Llanrwst - Cwm Penmachno 64 service run by Llew Jones and the Cardiff - Brecon bike bus which runs using a trailer on Sundays and Bank Holidays. Bike buses are apparently also being trialled at Inverness, Nottingham and Portsmouth.
It seems to me that the problem in this country isn’t so much about supposed health and safety rules but about cultural custom and practice. We’re just not used to having bikes on buses here and, if we in Wales are serious about active travel, we need to wise up.
A recent meeting of the Ceredigion Local Access Forum agreed a strongly worded paper urging bus companies to get over their conceptual hang-ups about bikes on buses. With the Active Travel Act passed by the Senedd last November, it’s time our bus services got up to speed with best practice in other parts of the world.
Before I pitch my tent firmly on the side of keeping Aberystwyth distinctive and avoiding another small step towards becoming a clone town, just a couple of caveats. Firstly, their tax affairs notwithstanding, I don’t hate everything about Starbucks. A while ago I was staying for a few days in a part of America where the burger/pizza food choices were so abysmal that, in that context, it quickly became apparent that chains like Starbucks and Subway were actually the good guys, selling the only slightly healthy food around and with at least a surface attempt at some kind of ethical policy. Starbucks reps have already started phoning local councillors here asking for ideas about how they can 'contribute to the community' - a business strategy of course, but a better one than most chains seem to muster.
I also feel a little uncomfortable about the class and educational divide I notice in talking to people about the issue. Those from the less well-off areas of town seem delighted by the prospect of Starbucks, whilst opposition seems to come fairly exclusively from the better educated sectors of the population. There's no judgement implied in saying that and, of course, it's a classic dilemma for socialists like me. In trying to resolve it, we should remember that Aberystwyth is a big enough place to contain many different communities and we should maybe recognise the need to cater for more than one of them.
Having said all those tolerant things, in the context of Aberystwyth we certainly don’t need a Starbucks and I won’t be one of their customers. We're blessed here with a plethora of absolutely superb independent cafes, to an extent that has been commented on in the London press, and which are full to overflowing at peak times of the day.
When I started to think about listing them in this piece, I realised there are just way too many. My current favourites are Agnelli's, Bach and Ultracomida. Others definitely worth a shout include MG’s, Baravin, The Treehouse, Y Siop Leol, The Olive Branch, Nick's... I could go on but there are over 25 locally-owned cafes in the town, not even including the more formal restaurants, with a character and variety that many much larger towns must envy.
The campaign against Starbucks will hopefully help to raise awareness and to solidify the stance of those who, like myself, weren’t planning to use it anyway. But If Aberystwyth’s small shops need a campaign of any kind then it’s surely a more positive one.
Traders in Lampeter, a town in a much more dire financial position, recently got together to launch a loyalty card scheme to positively encourage people to spend their money in local independent shops.
Traders in Lampeter, a town in a much more dire financial position, recently got together to launch a loyalty card scheme to positively encourage people to spend their money in local independent shops.
Here in Aberystwyth, the Chamber of Commerce has, despite the best efforts of a few individuals, struggled for years to attract anything more than a smattering of participation from shop owners. The subdued response so far to the idea of creating a Business Improvement District reflects this. And yet, as Aberystwyth grows to a size where the large chains are increasingly casting their eyes over us, local traders need to be clever if they want to benefit from the increased footfall that the chains are likely to bring.
Co-operation may not come naturally to business people who are by nature individualistic, who already feel crushed by business rates and who tend to see each other as rivals, but there perhaps needs to be a greater recognition of the power - and money - they could generate by working with each other.
Many people, like myself, instinctively use local businesses as a first preference, wherever we are. But there are many others, both local residents and visitors, who don’t think about the issues (like the independent shop owners that can be seen sipping cappuccinos in the window of Costa) and could have some of their shopping behaviour changed by a serious awareness campaign, maybe backed by Lampeter-style incentives, citing all the thoroughly good economic and social reasons why it’s better to shop local. With work due to start on Marks & Spencer and Tesco in September, now is surely the time to do it.
I hope the local cafes that are fearful about Starbucks coming find in time that they didn’t need to be worrying and that the only place whose trade suffers will turn out to be Costa. But if we’re going to combat increasing interest from multi-national companies, then Aberystwyth’s still impressive array of local shops and cafes need to take a leaf out of Lampeter’s book and start organising together.
These are photos from the recent exhibition at Aberystwyth Town Football Club of the club's planned joint development with Tai Ceredigion.
The plans include:
48 two-bedroom apartments
32 one-bedroom apartments
A 3G football pitch to replace the current grass
Bar, cafe & youth centre
A new main spectator stand
The key aspect from the club's point of view is the 3G artificial pitch which will be able to cope with more or less continuous use, enabling the club to provide for a lot more groups and activities and to earn more money which can then be re-invested. The housing will help to fund the pitch along with a grant from the Football Association of Wales who are promoting these pitches around Wales.
The exhibition was the first showing of the plans and planning permission has not yet been applied for. The images are a bit of a shock for anyone who knows this section of the Rheidol riverbank. I'm providing them here to allow people to give informed comments. Questions or comments can be sent to Tai Ceredigion at email@example.com
Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire Councils have announced the awarding of the new contract for the 40 bus service - between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen via Lampeter - to First Cymru.
The new contract will commence in the first week of August, and will be a significant improvement upon the current service:
* There will be four new return services on Sundays and Bank Holidays.
* A brand new late-night return service will be launched between Aberystwyth and Lampeter.
* There will be a new early-morning service leaving Aberystwyth at 7.40am, arriving in Lampeter by 9am.
* In addition, the 5.07pm service from Carmarthen, which currently stops at Lampeter, will now travel all the way through to Aberystwyth.
The changes have all been agreed in response to requests at public consultation events and they represent a significant improvement to the service.
Since the Arriva pull-out in December last year, the two Councils have been negotiating with more sympathetic suppliers and, despite the ongoing funding challenges to the whole of local government, Ceredigion’s bus services are now better than for several years.
Below is an announcement just released about two evidence gathering sessions to inform the future provision of health care in Central Wales. Click to enlarge. I haven't printed the terms of reference referred to for space reasons but they can be accessed through the links. The sessions are an important opportunity to influence future provision at a time when Health Board leadership is changing.
Anyone reading this blog will know that, as well as being a Plaid Cymru councillor, I'm also a keen environmentalist. So I was delighted to see the graphic below, on the Climate Action Network Europe website, which shows that Plaid's sole Member of the European Parliament, Jill Evans, has the best voting record of all the UK's MEPs on climate and energy policies.
Full details of all Jill's work can be found here and Plaid's manifesto for the European Elections is here.
The latest opinion poll shows that the race to fill Wales's four seats in the European Elections on Thursday is neck and neck. Jill is top of Plaid Cymru's list in these elections and will be re-elected again if enough people vote Plaid.
We all have one vote on Thursday. If you believe that Wales should continue to have a progressive voice in the European Parliament, make sure you use yours to vote for Jill Evans.
This is the latest plan for a renewed Bandstand on Aberystwyth Promenade. It's probably fair to say that the previous, fairly radical idea didn't enjoy universal popularity in the town. Ceredigion Council has now launched a public consultation on this new, more modest and traditional, design. It includes:
• Reinforcement and extension of the base to include a walkway around the building and
improved sea defence
• Keeping the perimeter wall of the original Bandstand as a feature enhanced by subtle
• A glass front that makes the building look more inviting
• Internal units that can be adapted for storage/toilets or for commercial use
• Internal space that can be used for events or performances
There have been claims recently that the frequently requested de-trunking* of the A487 through Aberystwyth would increase traffic through the village of Llanbadarn Fawr on the outskirts of the town. It’s been said that this is a reason not to proceed with the idea.
*De-trunking means that a main ‘A-road’, currently administered by the Trunk Road Agency NMWTRA on behalf of the Welsh Government to very stringent standards, is instead transferred to the more flexible County Council to run.
Many years ago the road signs on both the north & south sides of Aberystwyth directed through-traffic via the centre of town. Although this made no sense in terms of distance or time, it obviously influenced many people unfamiliar with the area.
That is no longer the case and hasn’t been for many years. Road signage from both north and south now directs people to bypass Aberystwyth and all the major routefinders - AA, RAC, Green Flag & Googlemaps - now send people through Llanbadarn.
So the argument that de-trunking would result in more traffic through Llanbadarn is based on the situation as it used to be. The many lorries which head into town are all making deliveries there and would not be re-routed by de-trunking. Without denying that Llanbadarn residents living on the main road suffer from traffic through their village, it’s very hard to see where any additional traffic would come from. And, with traffic levels in general currently on a plateau and not increasing, their situation is likely to stay the same regardless.
It’s worth considering for a moment what the lack of de-trunking could be costing Aberystwyth. For example:
- Mill Street - if this had been de-trunked the developer would have had more flexibility with the scheme there and very possibly wouldn’t have felt the need to demolish Glyndwr Road.
- Owain Glyndwr Square - Proposals are often heard for paving the whole of the square so it can be used as a community space at the centre of town. That cannot happen without de-trunking.
- North Parade - The strange junction half-way along the street that confuses many people won’t be changed without de-trunking
- Capel Seilo - proposals have often been heard for a roundabout at this five-road junction at the north end of North Parade. Again, nothing can change here without de-trunking.
- Cwps Corner - This very difficult junction can’t be changed without de-trunking.
Although the above are all debates in themselves, these, and numerous smaller examples, are the kinds of issues that cannot be progressed without de-trunking. It’s not just the people of Aberystwyth this costs, it’s everyone who uses Aberystwyth. And that includes the people of Llanbadarn Fawr.
Rail campaigners throughout Central Wales are celebrating after being told the campaign for an hourly train service has succeeded in bringing about substantial improvements on the line.
A major campaign started in October of distributing and collecting survey forms brought 6,700 responses throughout the region - far more than was envisaged - and has convinced the Transport Minister to provide the funding needed.
Students, like some of those pictured here with Elin Jones AM and myself after hearing about the announcement, are key users of the service to Aberystwyth.
The Welsh Government's press release reads as follows:
"New peak hourly trains between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury will be among extra services to be funded by the Welsh Government on the Cambrian and Heart of Wales rail lines, Transport Minister Edwina Hart is announcing today (Tuesday, 8 April).
"Four additional return services will operate between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury, Mondays - Saturdays, with hourly services for peak morning and afternoon times. There will also be two new return Sunday services, and an improvement to evening services on the Cambrian Coast between Barmouth and Pwllheli.
"On the Heart of Wales line, there will be extra journeys between Llandovery and Gowerton/Swansea and between Llandrindod and Shrewsbury/Crewe offering good morning commuting opportunities on Mondays – Fridays. Other return services will become more conveniently timed and the Heart of Wales Line Forum gets funding to explore the possibility of further improvements to the line.
"The new services will create 20 new train crew and depot jobs. The changes, which will be on an initial three-year trial basis, will come into place from May 2015.
"The additional services on both railways are designated for a three year trial under Section 36 of the Railways Act 2005 “experimental services” designation. The services will be reviewed after the first year and annually.
"The trial will provide 4 additional return services, in each direction, between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury Mondays - Saturdays, including hourly peak services for morning and afternoon, plus two new return Sunday services, and an improvement to evening services on the Cambrian Coast between Barmouth and Pwllheli.
Heart of Wales Line
"The trial will provide additional morning journeys Mondays - Fridays between Carmarthen and Llandovery, returning to Swansea for an arrival at 8.16, and from Shrewsbury to Llandrindod returning to Shrewsbury with a 7.58 arrival and continuing to Crewe arriving at 8.50. These services are additional to the current four return journeys along the line and provide improved commuting opportunities, and later services will become more conveniently timed with some journeys being extended to start from/terminate at Crewe.
The lead time for the recruitment and training of staff means that the additional services will commence at the earliest possible timetable change date in May 2015. "
The announcement doesn't give the full hourly service campaigned for but does provide substantial improvements at peak times and will give a solid base from which to campaign for further improvements when the franchise on the line is renewed 2018.