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fflecsi Bwcabus Service to cease as funding comes an end

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THE FFLECSI Bwcabus service will end on 31st October 2023.

The news comes after the Welsh Government confirmed that it would not be able to contribute to the scheme following the ending of the Rural Development Programme (RDP) Grant that had been supporting it until the end of June this year.

Since the RDP funding came to an end, Welsh Government has been fully funding the service.

Discussions have taken place over 18 months between officers from Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion County Councils and officials from the Welsh Government and Transport for Wales.

Welsh Government secured new buses for these services as recently as July 2023 and there was a level of optimism that things were progressing positively. The news that there is no funding available to support the services moving forward is, therefore, a surprising and significant blow to users in the most rural areas of West Wales.

The fflecsi Bwcabus (previously Bwcabus) has been operating for 14 years providing an opportunity to travel by public transport in some of the most rural areas of Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire. The service was provided in partnership between the local authorities, Transport for Wales and the Welsh Government, and had been thought to align with the Welsh Government’s vision for rural transport solutions as outlined in its transport policy, Llwybr Newydd.

Councillor Rhys Sinnett, Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Residents’ Services, said “We are saddened to see the loss of this service, and are concerned about the impact this will have on the rural north east of Pembrokeshire. We will support our neighbouring colleagues in pressing the Welsh Government to support bus service provision in this area, and also look at what workable solutions there may be for this provision.”

Councillor Keith Henson, Ceredigion County Council’s Cabinet Member for Highways and Environmental Services and Carbon Management, said “This service operates in the Ward I represent so I know how this will affect people. While we welcome the ambition and aspiration the Welsh Government has set out in its Transport Plan, Llwybr Newydd, in rural areas, as we are unfortunately seeing a loss or reduction of service because the investment simply isn’t there at the required levels to maintain services such as this. We will continue in our lobbying of the Welsh Government to ensure that rural areas get a fair slice of the cake, and that the challenges associated with accessing public transport in rural areas are recognised and that Welsh Government guarantee that sufficient resources and funding is provided to ensure that they are met.”

Councillor Edward Thomas, Carmarthenshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Transport, Waste and Infrastructure Services, said: “I’m extremely sad and disappointed at the loss of a great service that should be receiving continued support. This is extremely sad news for those who relied on these services. The service offered a level of travel opportunity by bus that could not be met by other means. The rural nature of the areas served with a low population density means that there isn’t the critical mass of people wanting to travel at the same time to the same places which means traditional bus services just don’t work. Unfortunately, it now seems that this innovative approach which aligns with the vision within Llwybr Newydd isn’t sustainable either. I would like to thank all the staff and operators involved with providing the service for over 14 years. I can only sympathise with them and the passengers who will be affected by this and can promise them that, working with the key stakeholders most notably the Welsh Government, we will continue in our endeavours to find workable affordable solutions to those affected.”

The fflecsi Bwcabus has been an innovative and national award-winning service which offered a level of travel opportunities both to local centres and as a means of accessing other bus services, most notably the TrawsCymru, at key hubs.

Community

Wales hurtling towards 10,000 care home bed deficit over next decade

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EXPERTS have warned there will be desperate shortage of 10,000 care home beds in Wales over the next decade.

The alert has been raised specialist business property adviser Christie & Co who say there is a growing need for new, “future proof” care homes to meet the need.

Their prediction comes at a time when demand is spiralling upwards, with the over 85 population set to double over the next 20 years.

According to sector champions Care Forum Wales (CFW) the “alarming figures” illustrated the need for social care to be funded properly for existing homes to survive and encourage the development of new ones.

CFW warned that Wales was “sleepwalking into disaster” because the growing shortage of care home beds would pile pressure on the beleaguered NHS when hospitals were already virtually at breaking point.

Building new care homes is a costly business as Gwynedd and Flintshire county councils have shown recently.

They have plans to build two new facilities with a total of around 100 beds between them at an estimated cost of more than £250,000 per bed.

If their figures are correct that would mean it would mean it would cost £400 million for the extra beds needed in North Wales and £2.5 billion for the whole of Wales over the next 10 years.

Worryingly, Christie & Co also revealed in the report  that 40 elderly care homes in Wales closed and only four opened between 2020 and 2023 – with no new ones in North Wales.

Among the closures in North Wales were Trewythen Hall in Gresford, Bay Court in Kinmel Bay, Gwastad Hall in Cefn y Bedd and Morfa Newydd in Greenfield with the loss of more than 160 beds.

CFW Chair Mario Kreft MBE said: “The report from Christie & Co paints a bleak picture an illustrates how the existing crisis is going to get even worse, creating a double whammy for our overstretched hospitals which have rows of ambulances queuing outside and patients on trolleys in corridors.

“Instead of being able to build more care homes to meet growing demand, we are seeing more and more care home closures.

“The cost of building new care homes and replacing the beds we are losing now is absolutely eye-watering.

“Our public finances in Wales are already under pressure so where is this money coming from?

“The way care homes are funded in Wales is a total postcode lottery with 29 variations on a theme, with most of social care being commissioned by the 22 local authorities and seven health boards.

“Within that there is a gaping North-South divide with five of the six county councils in North Wales paying the lowest fees, arrived at by a fee-fixing cartel known as the North Wales Regional Fees Group.

“The one shining exception is Conwy Council where earlier this year announced inflation-busting plans to increase fees by up to 20% after warnings that care homes were at risk of financial meltdown and closure.

“Following a long-running campaign by Care Forum Wales they have introduced fairer fees which reflect the actual cost of providing care for vulnerable people in privately run homes, including those with dementia.

“That came about because Conwy broke away from the North Wales Regional Fees Group and took our advice by  commissioning leading healthcare economists Laing & Buisson to analyse the true costs of care providers for the current year.

“It’s and internationally recognised tool to ensure that and those living and working in care homes can receive the best care, while at the same time, ensuring that the

“This is something we have been calling for over many years. All we want is fairness in line with the Welsh Government’s ‘Let’s agree to agree’ guidance.

“The fundamental issue threatening the viability of care homes is the unrealistically low fees that the vast majority of councils and health boards pay, fees that come nowhere near covering the true cost of providing care.

“Economically, it would make a lot more sense to ensure the financial security of our existing care homes instead of just relying on the forlorn hope that somebody is going to magically build enough new ones to  meet current needs and the increasing demands for social care.

“We’ve had a generation of injustice and it’s a generation where the institutional prejudice and discrimination against the private care sector in Wales has meant that those living and working in these fantastic community assets have not been valued.

“The problems we have in social care lead to the pressures in the NHS which lead of course then to extra costs being placed on the NHS which would largely be alleviated if local authorities had a more enlightened approach to social care.

“If Conwy can do it, the other five local authorities in North Wales can and should do it and of course, the money has always been there. It’s how you politically choose to spend it.

“Across the famous Foryd Bridge, which links Kinmel Bay and Rhyl, Denbighshire County Council is budgeting announced  much smaller increases of around 8% on rock bottom fees which have been immediately wiped out by inflation and the cost of living crisis.

“The vastly differing rates mean that Denbighshire will be paying £9,224 a year less per person than Conwy towards the cost of giving exactly the same level of nursing care to residents.

“It is simply an outrage. It’s an affront to the families that that bridge spanning the mouth of the River Clwyd can mean such a massive difference for vulnerable people, including those with dementia.

“The families of those people, who will often be expected to make up the difference,  need to ask why and quite frankly, it is a bridge too far.

“This is undoubtedly a stealth tax on families and quite frankly, the people making these decisions in those authorities should be utterly ashamed of themselves in the way they are betraying vulnerable people including those with profound dementia and their families.

“What this demonstrates is that there is an urgent need for us to look again at the way social care is funded.

“We need a national approach to eliminate this iniquitous postcode lottery so that the people for whom we provide care and our staff are treated fairly.

”This is too important to be left to local authorities and health boards alone – it has to be driven by the Welsh Government.”

Pictured: Mario Kreft MBE, Chair of Care Forum Wales

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Entertainment

A toadi-tastic guest at the Torch! Poop! Poop!

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IT’S not every day the Torch Theatre is graced with the company of a living, breathing toad for one of its productions. But this July, as the Torch Youth Theatre performs Wind in the Willows, it’s only fitting that a Toad should make an appearance at the Torch Theatre Box Office for all to admire!

Borrowed from Dragon Reptiles and Aquatics in Pembroke Dock, our Toad will be in full view for those attending the Torch Youth Theatre production. This fascinating amphibian won’t make a stage appearance but Toad of Toad Hall will, along with his fellow riverside and woodland friends – Badger, Ratty and Mole.

We’re also providing a bilingual fact sheet for all explaining how to look after a toad, what he eats and where he likes to live.

“POOP POOP! We can’t wait to welcome this TOAD-ely fabulous amphibian to the Torch. We’re keeping our fingers cross that this one isn’t quite as untamed as the one on stage. Come and see if we’re proven right or if there ends up being two Toads on the loose!”

Toads, of all kinds, are very popular, especially here in Pembrokeshire. Thousands have been seen on Skomer Island and many can be seen at Whitesands Bay making a qwark-qwark-qwark sound.

And as Claire Morris owner of Dragon Reptiles and Aquatics explains, she was delighted that Toad could go on holiday to his local theatre.

“I think it’s a great idea. Children will be able to relate to the main character when they see Toad in his vivarium. They are such interesting and friendly amphibians and our Toad can’t wait to travel from Pembroke Dock to the Torch for his short stay,” explained Claire.

Wind in the Willows will be on the Torch Theatre stage on Monday 22 July, Tuesday 23 July and Wednesday 24 July at 6.30pm. Ticket price: £10 / £8 concessions. The Youth Theatre will be joined by The Torch Voices Community Choir. To book your tickets or for further information, contact the Box Office on01646 695267 or visit torchtheatre.co.uk.

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BBC Cymru Wales announces new line-up of sports content

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BBC Cymru Wales has announced an exciting new fixture list of content for the forthcoming sporting season. With sports fans looking for immediate coverage of their team, keeping up to date with the latest news and analysis, the broadcaster will be introducing new content on iPlayer, Sounds and online.

Under the Scrum V and Feast of Football brands BBC Cymru Wales will be launching two new digital first, multi-platform programmes – designed for audiences to watch or listen to on their phones, tablets and laptops as well as on television or BBC iPlayer.

The multi-platform Scrum V show will feature big names talking rugby in a relaxed and no holds barred environment, presented by Lauren Jenkins.

And of course there’ll be plenty of live action as Scrum V’s first URC game of the season kicks off on Friday, 20 September when Cardiff take on Zebre. Sarra Elgan will bring all the action from the Welsh clubs every Friday evening on BBC Two Wales, following all four Welsh regions in their quest for this year’s title.  

With audiences wanting their highlights quickly, Scrum V’s evening highlights show will no longer be on Sunday nights.  Instead, highlights will be available shortly after the final whistles of all Welsh regional matches online and on Scrum V’s social channels.  These highlights will also be combined and shown as one comprehensive package on BBC Wales TV and iPlayer. And the Scrum V Podcast continues weekly on BBC Sounds with Gareth Rhys Owen.

Other new shows under the Scrum V banner this season include Scrum V Top 5s which sees Mammoth star and diehard rugby fan Mike Bubbins inviting guests to choose iconic moments and characters from the game. Among those featured in this eight-part series is Sam Warburton who reveals some very unlikely choices for his Top 5 Teammates.

Football fans also have a new multi-platform show. With a bumper autumn of international football approaching, an eight part series of Feast of Football will have unparalleled access into the national squad – capturing all the excitement and the big talking points of the Welsh game.

Presented by former Wales captain Ashley Williams, this will be a must watch for football fans and will tap into the spirit and passion of the Red Wall.  Filmed at the Football Association of Wales’s headquarters on the eve of the men’s and women’s internationals, the show will feature interviews and exclusive access to players from both camps, as well as short films from around Wales.

Ashley Williams said: “I’m really excited to be presenting Feast of Football. We’ve got great access to the squads and we’ll be giving fans a brilliant insight into Welsh football and talking about the things that matter to them. We want them to feel they’re right at the heart of the camp and part of the story.”

BBC Cymru Wales is also increasing its online sports coverage with more team topic pages and live text pages while a new BBC Radio Wales and BBC Sounds series this autumn – Iconic: The Rise of the Women in Red – presented by Wales’s most capped footballer Jess Fishlock will chart the growth of women’s football.

Carolyn Hitt, Head of Sport at BBC Cymru Wales said: “Scrum V is our iconic rugby brand and will remain at the heart of our sports coverage, with content throughout the week offering analysis and predictions, timely highlights as well as marking the remarkable moments. BBC Wales is proud to have brought Scrum V to audiences for almost 30 years and our aim is to capture the interest and imagination of a new generation of rugby fans as well as rewarding our longstanding audiences with new content.”

“As the game evolves and the way we consume sport changes, we’re looking to provide more instant coverage, courtesy of our new digital formats. Rugby and football fans can rest assured that the new offer will bring the latest news, views and analysis to their laptop, smart phone and TV.

“I’m delighted that from next season we can bring more football to fans across Wales.  Feast of Football will expand with a podcast and iPlayer and TV versions. Feast of Football will talk Welsh football in all its glory and in the slightly less glorious times. 

“It’s also true that the BBC, like other broadcasters is having to cut its cloth in line with its budgets. Increased costs across the board, as well as our ambition to cover a broader range of sport means we’re having to focus where we spend our money and ensure we’re giving our audience the sport coverage they want in the places they want to enjoy it.”

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