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Skates makes case for rail

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Rail investment inequitable: Ken Skates demands action

TRANSPORT S​ECRETARY Ken Skates has cited slow speeds, manual Victorian signalling and level crossings bringing traffic to a standstill up to 200 times a day in his call on the UK Government to make available an equitable level of funding for rail infrastructure enhancements in Wales.

In May, Ken Skates announced Cardiff University’s Professor Mark Barry would lead on the case for investment in rail infrastructure in Wales, against the backdrop of the UK Government’s £50bn investment in HS2.

The Transport Secretary summarised the case in the Senedd on Tuesday​ (Jul 17)​.

Ken Skates told Assembly Members: “The initial findings of this work are stark. Wales has not received an equitable share of UK rail investment over a sustained period, denying us the economic benefits enjoyed elsewhere in the UK.

“Network Rail’s Wales Route, which makes up 11% of the network, has received little more than 1% of total spend on enhancements in England and Wales.

“This has resulted in low lines speed on the South Wales Mainline, capacity and speed constraints along the North Wales Coast, infrequent commuter services for the Swansea Bay city region, and inadequate cross-border services in both North and South Wales.

“I continue to support HS2, but call once again on the UK Government to make the right choices to benefit north Wales, and exert pressure on them to mitigate against the probable impact of HS2 on the economy in South Wales.”

The work carried out by Professor Barry highlights the use of old, inefficient, and unreliable infrastructure constraining the number, speed, and quality of services.

“These constraints dampen demand, restrict economic growth, and increase costs to passengers and tax-payers.

“I will continue to set out a broader vision for a successful rail network. One that helps us meet our obligations to the environment, responsibilities for Well-being and Future Generations, delivers the goals of the Economic Action Plan, and meets the UK Government’s commitment to rebalance the economy.

“The work undertaken has identified direct transport user benefits of at least £2bn, generated by reducing journey times for rail passengers. Additional benefits also arise from reduced road congestion leading to environmental and safety improvements.”

James Price, Chief Executive, Transport for Wales said: “The success of the Wales and Borders rail service relies on efficient and reliable infrastructure with the ability to transport more people more efficiently. We look forward to working with the Welsh and UK governments to deliver improvements that meet the needs of passengers in Wales and across the border.”

Cardiff University Professor of Practice in Connectivity, Mark Barry said: “Wales’ railways are stuck in second gear. Long-term under-investment compared to the UK as a whole has left them unfit for purpose.

“It’s no great surprise fewer people in Wales choose to use the train than in the rest of the UK, leading to less efficient rail operations, higher subsidies per passenger and more road congestion. This is a brake on our economic growth, improvement of air quality and carbon reduction.”

Business

Easing the pressure on households with free broadband for six months

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OGI, Wales’s home-grown broadband company, has announced a new broadband and voice deal, which offers its full fibre services free for six months, in a bid to help ease pressures on household bills this winter.

The Ogi Max deal, available across the towns and villages where Ogi is rolling out its new Gigabit-capable network, provides households that sign-up to 24 month contracts with the fourth utility free for the first six months.

The broadband provider, which has also reduced its overall package prices by over 10%, fixing them until at least April 2023, estimates customers could save up to £390, depending on the package they choose.

The deal is designed to offer people Ogi’s fibre services in full, which is unique in many of its roll out areas, without immediately adding to already strained household outgoings. With strong customer satisfaction scores consistently exceeding 95% – well above the 85% industry standard – the Wales-based provider is steadily building a positive reputation for its home-grown services and customer support.

Ogi’s Chief Revenue Officer, Sally-Anne Skinner, said: “We’re all feeling the squeeze right now, and here at Ogi we want to help people manage the pressure with a no-strings-attached offer. Not only will households be saving on their broadband utility costs; but fast, reliable broadband can also drive down other household costs too: helping us work from home without having to commute; bringing us better entertainment without having to pay to go out; even enabling us to manage our electricity and heating bills through smart, connected technologies.

“Offering our services to new customers for free for six months feels like the right thing to do, and allows people to try out our services, with a peace of mind they won’t pay anything until Springtime next year. What’s more, we’re confident once people sign up, they’ll stay on board and become Ogi champions for the long run!”

Chief Executive Officer, Ben Allwright, added: “Ogi is the internet company made and rooted in Wales. We’re driving a digital revolution in communities from Pembrokeshire to Monmouthshire, embedding next-generation connectivity – and the possibilities that come with it – into the very fabric of our towns and villages.

“With other utility companies pushing up their prices, as a fourth utility provider, we’re proud to be in a position to support Welsh customers in this way, bringing a service that has the potential to make a big difference to many more people this winter and beyond.”

The catch? There isn’t one. As with all broadband providers, customers just need to enter into a 24-month contract. Once the offer period comes to an end, customers continue with a fixed rate on one of Ogi’s competitive tariffs for the duration of the agreement [18-months].

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Grand Union Trains promises five daily trains between Carmarthen and London

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A NEW train service between west Wales and London could be launched within three years.

Prospective operator Grand Union Trains (GUT) said it wants to run five daily return services between Carmarthen, south-west Wales and London Paddington from 2025.

It has applied to the regulator, The Office of Rail and Road, for permission to run the services on an open access basis in competition with Great Western Railway.

The Government issues contracts for most train services on Britain’s railways, but there are four open access operators, which do not receive subsidies from the Department for Transport.

GUT’s bid involves building a new station at Felindre – next to the M4 motorway to the north of Swansea – which would reduce journey times from Carmarthen and Llanelli to Cardiff and on to London by around 20 minutes.

A fleet of new bi-mode trains which can be powered by electricity or diesel would be used.

Passengers would benefit from “best experience in the market” with bigger seats, more legroom, increased luggage space and a buffet car on every service, according to GUT.

The project is being developed in partnership with European investment company Serena Industrial Partners and Spanish train operator Renfe.

GUT managing director Ian Yeowart said: “We have been pleased to work on promoting this important service which will, for the first time, deliver significant new infrastructure as part of the application process.

“For this goal, we have been proud to work alongside colleagues at Serena and Renfe whose vision for improved services is close to our own and has enabled us to put forward this ambitious project to the ORR.”

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Cost-of-living crisis: Workers have gone without meals or pawned posessions says Union

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Hundreds of public sector workers in Wales have pawned possessions to survive while more than 1,000 have gone without meals says UNISON

A heart-breaking survey by UNISON Cymru/Wales, which represents tens of thousands of public sector workers in Wales, has revealed the devastating impact of the cost-of-living crisis on those providing vital public services.

The news comes as the union is preparing to host a major rally against the crisis in the centre of Cardiff as well as launching a ballot of health workers for industrial action following a derisory pay award.

UNISON’s latest survey, which was completed by more than 6,000 workers including 1,555 NHS staff, found 46% of those who took part said their monthly living costs had increased by up to £300 while 1,188 people had asked for financial support from family or friends.

It also revealed 404 people had pawned possessions to survive while 1,025 have gone without meals and 274 workers had used a food bank.

UNISON heard first-hand from public sector employees facing the full force of the crisis.

Vanessa, a kitchen assistant in Torfaen, said: “My son is disabled with cerebral palsy on benefits and lives in a bungalow on his own.

“His gas and electric have gone up from £85pm to £185pm and he’s asked me when he should put the heating on.

“I am worrying how I will keep subsidising him on the money I earn. It’s not feasible. If it wasn’t for Universal Credit, I wouldn’t be able to live in my flat, but I am contemplating moving in with him.

“The government doesn’t understand the cost-of-living crisis. They don’t seem to care and are deceitful. It is heart-breaking to see my son in this position.”

Alison, a public service worker in Powys, said: “Coming towards the end of each month, I have gone without meals and made do with water, a cup of tea or hot chocolate.

“The family supermarket shop used to cost £60, now the same shop costs me £90. I’m technically disabled and I hoped to save for a bathroom adaptation, but there’s absolutely no money to put away.

“So long-term, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to stay in my home. I’m hoping for a change of government.

“The Conservatives don’t care about working class people.”

Dominic MacAskill, UNISON Cymru/Wales regional secretary, said: “Our latest survey has tragically revealed the threat of homelessness, hunger and in-work poverty is now an every-day reality for public service workers and their families in Wales.

“Thousands of UNISON-organised workers across all public services in Wales are feeling undervalued, underpaid and overwhelmed.

“We are living under a Tory Westminster government whose ‘mini’ budget overtly benefits the richest members of society at the same time as undermining the needs of the vast majority of people.

“There is now a stark division between them and us and a pressing need for a broader trade union and labour movement led socialist response.”

Wales TUC general secretary, Shavanah Taj, will be speaking at the UNISON rally and said: “Workers in Wales are facing huge uncertainty this winter.

“Hundreds of thousands of people are unsure about what their energy bills are going to look like.

“It’s more important than ever that workers stand together to defend their pay and conditions at work. Everyone has a role to play in this fight.”

Cynon Valley MP Beth Winter conducted her own survey into how the cost-of-living crisis is affecting her constituents and will also address the rally.

She said: “The cost-of-living report I completed in Cynon Valley earlier this year shone a light on the level of fear and suffering in our communities.

“Over 80% of people reported that finances were having a negative impact on their mental health while 40% of people said they are simply not going to put the heating on at all in the next year.

“One person even said they felt guilty for bringing their children into the world.

“Westminster holds the purse strings, but working people can’t afford to wait around for a Labour government to get into power, we need to organise now.”

The UNISON Cymru/Wales cost-of-living crisis rally takes place at the Radisson Blu Hotel on Thursday October 6 from 5:30pm to 7pm.

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