THE CLOSURE of banks across rural Wales continues apace as, despite evidence that loss of banking services disproportionately affects small communities and their businesses, high street banks desert towns and villages. Derek French of the Campaign for Community Banking Services (CCBS) said: “Communities are having to get used to a new environment where, following the government approved Access to Banking Protocol, which has applied to all branch closures announced after May 1, all that can be expected from engagement with the closing bank is some limited post closure provision for banking needs and early signs are that this is inadequate for many.”
28 towns and villages are now without any banks, with some people having to drive up to eight miles to their nearest branch Substantial settlements like Whitland in Carmarthenshire have seen banks withdraw and only piecemeal services replacing them. Speaking to The Herald, Labour candidate for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire in next May’s Assembly elections, said: “The decisions taken by Barclays and now NatWest to close their branches in St. Clears means customers will have to travel much further, to either Carmarthen or Narberth, for the full range of banking services. “I worry of the effect these closures will have on existing businesses in the town and the added costs local businesses will have to bear when doing their banking. “Just last year NatWest closed in Whitland, merging with St. Clears when customers were assured services would continue to be offered relatively close by. These large, highly profitable banks are turning their backs on rural Welsh communities without any form of consultation with customers or care for the effect on the wider community.” Mr Tierney concluded: “I know that the way people bank is changing. To cut costs, the banks have encouraged us to use online and phone banking which I accept is practical for some.
“But for many older people, those reliant on public transport and for local businesses the options put forward by the banks to access counter services are not a suitable alternative.” The FT notes that ‘The acceleration in the pace of bank branch closures risks hitting local retailers hard as customers without easy access to cash go elsewhere to do their shopping’. That certainly appears to have been the case in Llandovery, where banking hours have been progressively cut so that services are only part time. As a result, retail footfall in the town centre has declined. Across England and Wales, banks closed 500 branches last year — more than double the year before — and are on track for at least 650 closures in 2015. 1,500 communities have lost all the banks in their town and 840 are left with only one bank, with market towns and seaside communities the worst hit. While banks claim to carefully consider cuts to banking services in rural communities, their repeated insistence that an ageing rural population does more and more of its banking online is not borne out by individual experiences.
One bank customer, Annie Eveson, told The Herald: “I don’t have a computer, I don’t use email. I have a bank card, but nowhere accepts cheques anymore. How can I get my money out of the bank when even the Post Office has closed?” Age Cymru said having a local bank that was convenient for older people was “vital” for ensuring they did not become socially isolated. Graeme Francis, the charity’s head of policy and public affairs, said older people were at increased risk of financial abuse because of the branch closures. “We know that around one in five older people regularly give their bank card and pin number to someone else they know, often a family member or a domiciliary care worker, to get money for them,” he said. “And whilst most people would be very trustworthy in that situation, it does clearly open a risk of financial abuse up for people. “So there are real safety concerns that go along with a reduction in services.”
Labour and Plaid unveil a deal for Government
ON MONDAY (November 22), Labour and Plaid Cymru announced an agreement to stitch up the Senedd for the next three years.
Amid much self-congratulation, Adam Price and Mark Drakeford hailed their success at reaching an agreement.
Labour promises to deliver the bits of its Manifesto with which Plaid agrees and considers delivering the bits of Plaid’s Manifesto that it finds unobjectionable.
WHAT THEY SAY
A joint press release says: “The agreement is a joint policy programme covering 46 areas, ranging from the delivery of free school meals to all primary school pupils; a commitment to take immediate and radical action to address the second homes crisis, to long-term reform of the Senedd.
“This is a new form of political working arrangement. The two partners – the Welsh Government and the Plaid Cymru Senedd Group – will work together to jointly develop and oversee the delivery of the policies covered by the agreement over the coming three years.”
First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The Welsh Government has an ambitious Programme for Government, which it will deliver over this Senedd term. But we do not have a monopoly on good ideas, and we will work with progressive parties where we have shared and common interests to benefit people in Wales.
“This Co-operation Agreement brings the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru together to respond to some of the most pressing issues facing Wales today, such as climate change and the energy and cost-of-living crisis.
“We can achieve more for people in Wales by working together, and the Co-operation Agreement is both a response to the external challenges we face and a chance to build on the opportunities in our future. It will also help us secure a stable Senedd over the next three years, capable of delivering radical change and reform.
“These commitments build on our shared values of social solidarity, a sustainable planet and a vibrant democracy.”
Adam Price, Leader of Plaid Cymru, said: “Almost a quarter of a century ago, people in Wales voted for self-government for Wales, with a promise of a new type of politics.
“They placed their trust in a new democracy with an instruction to work differently – inclusively and co-operatively.
“The challenges we face require real ambition to deliver radical ideas. The fallout from leaving the European Union, the legacy of the pandemic, and the UK Government’s determination to erode the Senedd’s powers all increase the need for transformational change.
“Taken together, the bold policy pledges will unite Wales and benefit every generation, from all primary school pupils receiving free school meals to a national care service, free at the point of need.
“I am pleased this pioneering Co-operation Agreement is founded on common ground on a range of issues that will make a long-lasting difference to people’s lives.”
As part of the agreement, a publicly owned energy company for Wales could be created to encourage community-owned renewable energy generation; there will be further investment in flood defences and new measures to strengthen the Welsh language and support for young people’s mental health.
This is a bespoke agreement – it is not a coalition; Plaid Cymru Members will not be joining the Welsh Government as Ministers or Deputy Ministers. Plaid Cymru will appoint a designated lead member for the agreement. Committees of Welsh Ministers and Plaid Cymru designated members will be established to agree on issues covered by the Co-operation Agreement.
Funding has been put in place as part of the Co-operation Agreement and reflected in the draft Budget published in December.
All issues outside the Co-operation Agreement will be handled in the normal course of political engagement.
THE FALL OF ADAM:
FROM HIGH IDEALS TO BASE REALITY
Before May’s election, Adam Price spoke about his “despair” at the prospect of five more years of Labour Government, of Labour’s failures in Wales, and how Wales deserved better.
It turns out what he meant was that he was happy to support Labour in exchange for many things Labour said it was going to do anyway.
The prospect of last week’s Welsh Food Bill (supported by Plaid) ever hitting the statute book has taken a massive step backwards. Instead, there’s likely to be a continuation of the current Welsh Government strategy of discussing whether to consult before talks about holding talks.
Labour hailed its thirty seats in May’s election as a massive endorsement for its policies. Voters rejected those policies in large parts of Wales, where the fight for seats was between Plaid and the Conservatives.
Bolting strong anti-Labour sentiment in traditionally Plaid supporting areas did not end well for Plaid after the One Wales Government.
It is hard to see the crustier members of the Party of Wales reconciling themselves to backing Labour in a Senedd many of them regard as not speaking for their concerns about language, culture, and rural Wales.
Setting unionism aside, the divide between rural Plaid voters and the Conservatives is a lot narrower than Plaid in Cardiff Bay would like to accept.
However, the signs that the parties would reach an agreement have been obvious for some time, notably at First Minister’s Questions.
Over recent weeks, Adam Price’s questions to Mark Drakeford played out like a charade.
The Plaid leader repeatedly invites the Labour leader to comment about the awfulness of the Westminster Government, and the Labour leader obliges and agrees with Mr Price about how awful it is.
The searching scrutiny of the Welsh Government’s actions one might expect from the Plaid leader has been from Mr Price’s questions.
All of which suggests both he and Mark Drakeford are more concerned about what Westminster is or isn’t doing than what the party in power in Wales is or isn’t doing.
It’s all been rather like the occasion when Margaret Thatcher, faced with short-term political difficulty, was asked by Pembrokeshire’s former MP Nicholas Bennett to list her Government’s achievements.
As someone who prides himself on his command of language and speech-making, Mr Price seems to have reconciled himself to the idea that it’s better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.
When it comes to political idealism against political reality, Mr Price has shown himself a pragmatist.
With 45 Senedd members, Labour plus Plaid, the numbers stack up arithmetically to increase the number of MSs and change the electoral system.
The losers in such a change, Plaid and Labour calculate, will be the Conservatives.
Increasing the number of Senedd members has long been a Labour goal. In the last Senned term, Labour lacked the numbers to make the change: now it does.
An increase in the number of Senedd members works only if a larger Senedd gets things done and gets them done faster and better.
Labour’s record on introducing primary legislation to the Senedd is weak. For example, it is still wrangling over the scope of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act passed in 2015, two Senedd elections ago.
There is, however, an issue that might cut through any proposed enlargement: public opinion.
Plaid’s and Labour’s recent rhetoric could come back to haunt them.
For the last two years, the Labour Government has lamented the powers being stripped away from it by the Conservative Government in Westminster.
Adam Price has agreed that the Conservatives have stolen powers and breached promises over finance at every turn.
If, as Labour and Plaid claim, the beastly Westminster Parliament is stealing away its power to do anything, the question arises as to why – with fewer effective powers at its disposal – Wales needs more Senedd Members.
A larger Senedd will not hinder a Conservative majority government in London from doing what it wants, and it would be neither more nor less legitimate than the current arrangement.
The result of sixty out of eighty Senedd members complaining when nobody’s listening will be no different than forty-five out of sixty.
A larger Senedd will not mean more powers in Cardiff unless Westminster grants them.
A larger Senedd must mean smaller (and possibly fewer) County Councils.
A larger Senedd might also mean a more openly centralised approach to Wales’s shambolic and chaotic health and social care provision.
The powers the agreement allows the Welsh Government to use are ones it already has – ones a Conservative Government granted it.
Wisely, the Welsh Conservative response to the deal does not over-egg the constitutional pudding.
It emphasises priorities for the Government over the party’s too-frequent claims of ‘constitutional chaos’.
A spokesperson said: “This deal fails to deliver on the priorities of the people of Wales.
“It does nothing to address the crisis in our NHS; nothing to improve our ailing Welsh infrastructure; and nothing to fire up our sluggish economy.
“Prioritising more politicians and constitutional reform over action to secure treatment for the one in five on an NHS waiting list or improving take-home pay for the low paid is appalling.
“Yet again, Plaid has betrayed its voters with another deal that cements a failing Labour administration into power for years to come.
“The message to voters is clear; vote Plaid, get Labour, and vote Labour, get Plaid. Only the Welsh Conservatives can deliver the real change that Wales needs.”
Llanelli animal rescue centre handed grand boost
AN ANIMAL rescue centre in Llanelli has received a financial boost as it gears up for its busiest time of the year.
Many Tears Animal Rescue in Cefneithin has received a £1,000 fillip from Persimmon Homes West Wales.
The money comes as part of the housebuilder’s Community Champions scheme. Each and every month Persimmon donates up to £64,000 to good causes across the UK.
The centre rescues unwanted animals and offers life-saving treatment and operations.
Sylvia Van Atta, who founded Many Tears Animal Rescue with her husband Bill, said: “We’re delighted to receive this generous donation from Persimmon Homes.
“We give animals hope of a new life when sometimes they have only known a life of misery, neglect and cruelty.
“On average, we rescue and rehome 3,000 dogs a year, which is an incredible achievement for a small charity.
“When dogs come to us they are seen by a vet and then placed in foster homes around the country, which helps them to acclimatise into a home environment. From here, they go onto their forever home.
“Our running costs are very high so donations like this from Persimmon make the world of difference.”
Sharon Bouhali, sales director at Persimmon Homes West Wales, said: “We’re pleased to be able to support Many Tears Animal Rescue with this donation.
“The number of animals they help each year is very impressive indeed. I wouldn’t like to think what would happen to these animals otherwise as I know the council run rescue centres are under tremendous pressure.
“All of this has been exasperated by the number of people who bought dogs during various lockdowns, only to decide later on they couldn’t look after them properly.
“We wish Sylvia and her team well for the future.”
Persimmon is preparing to start work on stunning new homes on Aberavon seafront. Househunters can now register an interest by visiting www.persimmonhomes.com or calling 01639 509 055
The centre for building social action opens community food store in Burry Port
IN RESPONSE to the rising cost of living and environmental issues facing society, The Centre for Building Action (CBSA), in partnership with Pembrey and Burry Port Town Council have opened a Community Food Store on Station Road in Burry Port.
The store provides the community with weekly access to great quality, healthy food for only £3.50 pr week; food which normally retails at between £15 and £20.
The food is sourced from a variety of suppliers with a large element of it being surplus food from supermarkets that is still within its sell by date. This is supplemented by food sourced at low prices from whole sellers plus seasonal vegetables harvested from the CBSA’s own growing schemes.
As well as being a low-cost way of shopping it also offers a low impact alternative to members of the community concerned about the environmental impact of waste. It makes use of surplus food provided by FareShare and local food stores and any product that is not used is sent to CBSA’s community composting site in Machynys or used to make hot meals for donation, so there is little or no waste from the store.
Michael Theodoulou, Chief Executive of the Centre for Building Social Action said ‘As a social justice charity, it’s vital that we’re able to support communities with life’s basics and this store does just that.
It gives the local community access to great quality food at accessible prices, which is so important given prices are rising across the board and benefits are being cut, causing people a huge amount of anxiety’.
During the height of the pandemic, with funding provided by, WCVA’s Third Sector Emergency and Recovery Funds, CBSA in conjunction with the Town Council were able to roll out a food delivery scheme to people experiencing hardship and isolation. Building on this work it was delighted to receive funding from the Peoples Postcode Trust, that facilitated the move to Station Road.
Huw Thomas, the Town Clerk said ‘Pembrey and Burry Port Town Council are partners in this initiative in that they offered a home for the project during its initial set up, and we continue to support its work particularly with the recruitment of volunteers and signposting to its services’.
Deputy Mayor, Cllr Karen Morris said ‘It was important for the Town Council to partner on this project because the Store is offering something that is needed in the community; access to high quality, low cost food. Many of the families living here are concerned about making ends meet and putting food on the table, and the Store helps to alleviate those concerns. It also provides a no waste, low impact alternative to regular shopping’.
Thanks to the team of amazing, enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers that support the service, the Burry Port Community Store is open from 11am – 5pm every Tuesday and often has a queue of people waiting for it to open. Burry Port resident Paula Regler visits the store each week and said ‘The Store is a great help in making our pension money go a bit further. We take what we need to for the week and it helps us make ends meet’.
If you would like to find out more about visiting the store, or if you would like to support the Store by making in kind donations please visit the store between 11am – 5pm on Tuesdays.
The Store is located at 38 Station Road, Burry Port, SA16 0LP. Or you can call Emma on 07932 998849 for more information
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