Friday, 18 May 2018

Nurses hit out over dialysis privatisation plans

Nurses working in a Welsh dialysis unit have challenged First Minister Carwyn Jones to comment about plans to privatise their jobs.

The nurses based in Wrexham, Bangor, Alltwen (Porthmadog) and Welshpool face being transferred from the NHS to a private company under a tendering process by the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, which runs health care in north Wales.

The health board is under the direct control of the Labour-run Welsh Government and has been in these special measures for the past three years due to a series of failings.
Plaid Cymru first became aware of this privatisation plan in January and Rhun ap Iorwerth, Plaid Cymru’s shadow health secretary, challenged First Minister Carwyn Jones on the matter on January 30th during FMQs.

His response - that he was ideologically opposed to privatisation in the NHS - was undermined by a letter from the health board confirming that the tendering process had the full backing of Welsh Govt ministers.

Nurses at the Welshpool unit, which under both options going before the health board faces privatisation, have now written to the First Minister to challenge his claims.
Dear Mr Jones As you may be aware the North Wales Renal Services across Wrexham, Bangor, Alltwen and Welshpool are being put out to tender. The satellite unit in Welshpool has been informed that no matter what happens to the units in Wrexham, Bangor and Alltwen, the Welshpool unit and staff will be outsourced.  
We have attached a letter which we have sent to the chief executive, Mr Gary Doherty, of Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board highlighting issues which are of real concern to the staff of the Welshpool unit.  
We feel this process has not been handled in accordance with policy, which has left staff feeling let down and disappointed by the management. While we appreciate the financial situation of the Health Board, the staff in Welshpool feel thay are being sacrificed in an effort to cut the Health Board's deficit.  
All staff and Unison are completely opposed to the privatisation of the Welshpool Renal Satellite Unit and we would be the first staff within renal services to be outsourced in Wales.  
As you have previously stated in the Welsh Assembly you are opposed to privatisation of any kind of the Welsh NHS, we would appreciate any help and advice you can provide to us at this extremely distressing and worrying time.  
Yours sincerely  
All staff of Welshpool Renal Dialysis Satellite Unit
Labour in Wales has been branded "hypocritical" by Plaid Cymru AM Llyr Gruffydd:
"The hypocrisy of Labour attacking the Tories for privatising the NHS in England while doing precisely the same in Wales is breathtaking. Plaid Cymru will continue to stand alongside the nurses and their unions to ensure that this back-door privatisation does not take place."

The final decision on the tender will be decided over the summer.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Plaid Cymru highlights UK Government inaction over deaths in Gaza

Jonathan Edwards MP recommends diplomatic efforts to the Foreign Office

Plaid Cymru has highlighted the UK Government’s failure to act in condemnation of the killing of 55 Palestinians by the Israeli armed forces on Monday 14th May.

The opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem  following the decision taken by President Trump saw the most violent day in Gaza for four years, with over 2,000 protesters being injured, including over 1,000 protesters injured by live ammunition.

Plaid Cymru’s Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, Jonathan Edwards MP highlighted the actions of the South African and Irish Governments in response to the conflict, with South Africa recalling their ambassador to Israel and Ireland summoning the Israeli ambassador. Responding in the urgent debate, Jonathan Edwards MP asked: “Is the British Government considering either diplomatic route?”

Commenting after the debate, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr MP, Jonathan Edwards said:

“Our thoughts are with all of those Palestinians whose family and friends have been killed and injured.

“Palestinian people have a fundamental right to demonstrate without being shot at with live ammunition. As the occupying power, it is the Israeli Government’s duty to respect the human rights of civilians.

“With the United States abdicating all responsibility for leading peace efforts, the rest of the international community must quickly determine how to fill the void otherwise violence could quickly spiral into a more prolonged and open conflict.

“The UK Government cannot continue to simply remain silent on the systematic abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories. Bold diplomatic action is required urgently.

“The British Government has a range of options at its disposal. Along with recalling the UK Ambassador to Israel and summoning the Israeli Ambassador to the UK, this government must push for a UN resolution calling for a full, independent investigation into the conflict. This is the very least the UK Government can do.

“Most importantly, this government must suspend the sale of arms to Israel with immediate effect. It is no use issuing statements condemning violence whilst simultaneously supplying the weapons to facilitate this.

“Whilst the UK-based arms companies continue to ammunition to Israel, the British Government shamelessly profits from the mass murder of Palestinians.”

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Fire service cuts unacceptable

In response to proposals to cut frontline fire services, Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s North Wales AM, said:
“Yesterday’s meeting of the North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority’s executive panel considered cuts of £1.9m to balance the books in 2019-20. One option still on the table is to reduce services. In practical terms this could involve cutting one whole-time fire engine and crew from Wrexham and reducing services in other stations across the North.  
“Firefighters now deal with much more than just fires. They will deal with road accidents, rescues and the all-important role of fire prevention.  
“The threat to one of Wrexham’s two whole-time fire engines was seen off last year after mass protests. I’m sure that will be the case again if this proposal is put to the public. It’s clear that that engine is all-important in providing the necessary back-up in any fire incident as well as providing cover for retained stations that cover a large part of the region. The Welsh Government projects a steep increase in the local population yet funding for emergency services isn’t matching that. We need more joined-up thinking from this government.  
“I accept the Fire Authority faces a difficult decision – 10 years of cuts by central government are now really starting to bite and we have to re-double our efforts to scrap austerity for the good of all our public services such as health, education, the police and fire service.  
“However, the cuts being proposed by NWFRA are unacceptable and will put lives at risk. I can’t support that and the funding has to be found to maintain existing services. “Funding for the fire services, unlike the police, comes directly from councils who are also under huge financial pressures. 
"There is a case to be made for funding to come directly to the fire service through a local precept and this would enable the Fire Authority to make decisions with responsibility for revenue raising. 
"Whatever the method, it is vital that these jobs and services are not lost. And we must remind those who continue to advocate austerity that cuts cost lives.”

Friday, 11 May 2018

Wrexham's fire engine faces new threat

Proposals to cut one of Wrexham's two whole-time fire engines are back on the table - just 18 months after a successful campaign to resist similar plans by the North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority.

Cllr Marc Jones, who coordinated the campaign to save Wrexham's fire engine in 2016, said:
"The proposal to cut Wrexham's second whole-time fire engine is still unacceptable and will put lives at risk. The crews at Wrexham regularly support other stations across North Wales and only last week were in Betws-y-Coed to ensure there was cover in the Conwy Valley.  "Losing 24 firefighters would increase the risk facing people in the largest town in north Wales and I would urge members of the Fire Authority to resist attempts to cut this service. "The Fire Authority has already had more funding from the six councils across the North but it's unlikely they will get more. Public services have faced cuts for a decade now and this is the result - we have to reject austerity because ultimately cuts cost lives."
The Fire Authority meets on Monday to discuss options to save £1.8 million that could see up to 52 staff lose their jobs.

The end of childhood: How Hillsborough politicised me

Justice for the 96

This is a guest post by our footballing correspondent Ap Dafydd.

As a young lad growing up on the Welsh border I was always Wrexham daft. Joey Jones was my hero along with Dixie McNeil, Bobby Shinton, Les Cartwright and pretty much most of those great players to wear the red shirt in the late 70s and early 80s...but Joey was special.
As a result of this, Joey acted as a sort of gateway to Liverpool FC and due to the fact that we didn't live near Wrexham when I was growing up and Liverpool were on telly from time to time (there wasn't much football on the TV in the 80s) so I therefore developed a real affection for Liverpool FC.
Kenny Dalglish was an incredible player and the team that he built when he took over with Barnes, Beardsley and Aldridge were absolute poetry, more artistic and easy on the eye than the previous Liverpool sides but still imbued with a genuine toughness at its core with the likes of McMahon dismantling teams week in week out very much in the Souness mould.
By 1989 the Wrexham side I adored and knew inside out had long broken up and we were fighting for our lives to stay in the Football League, for a 14-year-old kid the sheer drudgery of watching some of the cloggers at Cae Ras in this era was utterly soul destroying, so Liverpool was like a torrid affair with an exotic woman. We both knew it could never last.
On the day of Hillsborough the old man was in work (we watched all games together on telly, it was always a bit of an event) so the fact that I was on my own trying to take it in made it even more traumatic. I watched it unfold in front of me, disbelieving the scenes of abject horror and the spiralling figures being announced. I believe I was in shock for a long time afterwards and in hindsight I see it as the end of my childhood.
What happened afterwards was cruel beyond words and helped to politicise me from a very young age. I’m from a mining family, so a distrust of the State was in me from a young age and a strong distrust of Tories (perfectly natural for a working-class lad) was certainly a part of my DNA.
After a period of disillusionment with the game I drifted back to Cae Ras with my friends a few years later and enjoyed the brief renaissance under Brian Flynn, beating Arsenal and winning the league. Great days indeed. Home and away my cards were dealt and, just like certain diseases are hereditary and get handed down through the males in a family, so does following CPD Wrecsam.
Of course, I always kept a look out for how Liverpool were getting on and will always be happy to put anyone right who thinks they can espouse the line that the S*n put out along with other right-wing rags intimating the same slander. We know that that your average punter doesn't do his own thinking, so the majority of them always thought to themselves that ‘the Scousers were to blame’.
If you know your history, you know that the Thatcher era brought about the biggest changes to working-class life and culture in over a 100 years. We were reeling. Communities were decimated, our institutions were under attack, the systematic dismantling and deconstruction of working class life was well under way.
 Orgreave brought it to the nation, but make no mistake the Toxteth riots were not just racial, they were class riots too. Into this toxic atmosphere Liverpool as a city was despised by the establishment because of its left-wing Militant-led council and the press took every opportunity to portray scousers as thieves or idiots.
 The media/state/establishment was doing a number on the proletariat on Merseyside make no mistake and by the time Hillsborough happened it was almost a perfect storm. Don't forget that football fans were deemed ‘the enemy within’ along with the miners and Irish Republicans.
The irony of that period is that although Liverpool suffered terrible poverty and deprivation throughout the 80s, the football team swept the board year after year, dominating the domestic scene and filling the cabinet with silverware earned by hard graft across the continent.
The attempted stitch-up by Duckenfield and South Yorkshire Police was a disgrace. Subsequent enquiries immediately exonerated fans, the Taylor report immediately refuted any wrongdoing on the part of fans but, due to the nasty smear campaign of the media and Margaret Thatcher and her cronies, the legacy of Hillsborough was that the image whole swathes of Football supporters and the general population have of Liverpool supporters is that they were in some way culpable and that Scousers aren't trustworthy and are ‘never to blame’. If I had a pound for every time I heard that one I’d have Murdoch's money. If you said these kinds of things about other communities it would be a hate crime these days.
Last week thanks to the lovely people at Total Eclipse of the Sun I had an opportunity to try and put some of my own ghosts to rest and try to help educate and enlighten my fellow fans. We had got some ‘CPD Wrecsam fans against the S*n’ stickers done and decided to raise funds for an Anti Sun banner, really to show solidarity with the victims of Hillsborough and to let the world know where we stand. It meant a lot to me to do that and thankfully a lot of my comrades feel the same.
I belong to a group of fans called Partisans CPD Wrecsam, we are left Republicans and want to promote our club as progressive inclusive and as much as we possibly can push a socialist agenda and help to raise awareness amongst our fellow supporters.
The huge bonus after Partisans raised the money was Total Eclipse offering to do banners for us if we donated a certain amount. To say I was delighted would be the understatement of the year and the way things moved so quickly and effectively is a credit to the organisation and the folk involved. I worked with Ian Grimes, a man I now consider a brother, he kept me in the loop and sorted out flyers and stickers for us to distribute while showcasing our banners outside Cae Ras.
By this stage I had decided that flags were not enough. I wanted to try and engage people gently, to give them a leaflet or to have conversations. The beauty of this was that, on the day, I spoke to people who had been at Hillsborough and they were moved to tears to see that their fellow CPD Wrecsam fans had gone to such effort to promote a cause so dear to them.
Peterloo, Tonypandy, Toxteth, Orgreave, Hillsborough and Grenfell - all part of the struggle.
The day went brilliantly, we were received with warmth and positivity from our fellow fans, it was truly humbling and that night I dreamt I was with King Kenny, we were walking through Liverpool City Centre, I could see the Liver Birds but there was no one around, it was quiet. Me and King Kenny walking round in the early hours collecting our thoughts.
Love and Solidarity
Ryan ap Dafydd of Partisans CPD Wrecsam
JFT 96

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Caia Council call for WCBC to axe Kingdom

Caia Park Community council tonight voted unanimously to ask Wrexham County Council not renew its contract with Kingdom Security, who currently issue Fixed Penalty notices for littering across the Borough.

Plaid Cymru Councillor Carrie Harper who proposed the move said: “We’re all hearing some very concerning stories about the way Kingdom are operating across Wrexham, particularly in the way vulnerable people are being targeted. Several Councillors tonight shared worrying stories about complaints they’ve had from residents about the way the firm is operating, with one complaining about a resident with learning difficulties being repeatedly targeted by a Kingdom officer.”

“Councillors were also concerned about the over reliance on fining people for cigarette litter, whilst dog fouling and fly tipping complaints continue to grow. The bottom line is that this contract is not delivering against the county councils original objectives, which were about making our streets cleaner. The unintended consequences and ineffectiveness of this contract now make it unsustainable in my view. It’s now time to review the County Councils strategy in terms of littering, with Plaid Cymru run Ynys Mon and Gwynedd councils recently scrapping Kingdom, it’s time Wrexham did the same. If that can’t be done immediately we should certainly not be looking to renew their contract when it expires next year. I’m very encouraged to see this proposal get unanimous support from Caia Park Community council and thank fellow local Councillors for their support and input tonight”.

New guidance to limit HMOs passed by Wrexham Council

Wrexham's Executive Board has approved new planning guidance relating to Houses in Multiple Occupation. HMOs have become a hugely contentious issue in many parts of Wrexham town centre and that prompted six town-centre councillors to come together with the aim of strengthening planning guidance.

The new planning guidance will limit HMOs to 10% in any single locality, which will enable the planning committee to consider community needs in assessing planning permissions. Some streets and neighbourhoods already have densities far higher than this.
Councillor Marc Jones, who represents the Grosvenor ward and spoke on behalf of the cross-party group at the meeting, said: 
"We want to ensure a mix of housing - owner occupier, private rented, council housing and HMOs. The situation in some neighbourhoods and streets is that HMOs are dominating and that can add to problems in terms of transient populations, overcrowding, parking issues, litter, poor amenity space and, in a minority of situations, anti-social behaviour.
"As councillors representing those areas most affected by HMOs, we have pushed officers to strengthen guidelines. We haven't achieved what we hoped for with this guidance but it is a step in the right direction. We will review and monitor the effectiveness of the new guidance to see whether it does have the intended effect."
The group of six councillors recently met Wrexham AM Lesley Griffiths to stress the importance of Welsh Government support for new guidance and for the Planning Inspectorate, nominally under Welsh Government control, to allow local councils to make decisions affecting local communities. 

Cllr Jones added: 
"What we've seen in too many cases is that the local planning committee makes a decision, the landlord appeals to the Planning Inspectorate appeals and that is upheld. That's not local democracy at work and it undermines the whole point of having a planning committee. We need to make sure the message will get through to Cardiff that our communities are a very fragile balance and the wrong decisions can have a huge impact on streets and neighbourhoods.
 "HMOs have increased in recent years because many people don't have any other housing options and that's an indictment of how affordable homes aren't being built. Councils such as Wrexham haven't built a home for rent for a generation, although that will change later this year as the council starts to build again. These will start to replace the 10,000 council houses sold off since 1980 in Wrexham alone. Affordable homes shouldn't mean inferior accommodation."

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Councillors to debate red tape that's preventing local improvement schemes

A pot of money that has been used to fund local improvement schemes such as off road parking is due to be debated by Councillors on Wrexham's Homes and Environment scrutiny committee. Many schemes usually funded from the Environmental Improvement budget are now hitting the buffers due to a change in the way the rules are applied. The problem is a stricter application of rules which Councillors have been told state the budget can only be spent on land owned by the Housing department. With many grass verges, paths and roads coming under the jurisdiction of the Highways department, local Councillors are finding many of the schemes they're putting forward are being rejected.

Councillor Carrie Harper of Queensway ward in Caia Park who has put the issue up for debate at the council said: " This issue is causing a huge amount of frustration for residents who are desperate to see schemes go ahead for off road parking in particular. In previous years there would not have been an issue with spending this budget on these projects but that all seems to have changed and we need to know why, there is no other money available to do this work." 

"In my ward I have several schemes I can't get off the starting block because of this problem. I've been told I can't progress a scheme on the Cefn Road for off road parking to address long standing safety concerns because the verge belongs to Highways rather than the Housing department, I also can't progress a scheme to extend wild flower planting in this area either because of the same red tape. I've also been trying to close off a tunnel under a bridge that is a magnet for anti-social behaviour but have the same problem with that scheme.There is also a lack of clarity and 'grey areas' which mean we can fund things like dropped kerbs which are on Highways land but can't fund other projects, it makes no sense and I know other Councillors are equally as frustrated."

"I hear the rules were 'tightened' several years ago following one local Councillor getting a lot of publicity for a wild flower planting scheme which technically shouldn't have been funded from this budget because it was on Highways land, apparently other Councillors weren't happy and since then there has been a stricter approach. It would of course be very petty if the issues we're having now do stem from one Councillor getting good publicity for a flower project but we do need to find out exactly where the block is. This certainly wasn't a problem in previous years, so why is it now?"

The issue will now be scheduled on the work programme for the Homes and Environment scrutiny committee where it will be debated.

45 local council wards in Wrecsam have a budget known as an Environmental Improvement Budget that has in previous years been used to fund improvement schemes such as off road parking, fencing and other works. This money comes from council tenants rents and therefore any projects have to benefit council tenants in the main. The amount in the pot for each ward depends on the level of council houses in each area. The local Councillor and Estate Office usually decide how the money is spent, often based on requests from residents and local knowledge of the area.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Bank abandons north Wales

The Royal Bank of Scotland is closing its branch in Wrexham as part of a closure plan that will mean it only has one branch left in north Wales. The closure will mean 800 jobs will go in total as 162 branches are axed.

Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s North Wales AM, said: 
“The decision by the RBS to close three of its four branches in north Wales is just the latest in a long line of bank closures our communities have suffered. After years of encouraging customers to bank online they claim there is little footfall to justify these closures. "The fact is that they’ve abandoned all pretence to be community banks, despite being bailed out by taxpayers. Customers – in particular small businesses that need to cash up at the end of the week – will rightly feel abandoned as RPS effectively disappears from the North.“It shows once again that Wales needs a community bank that serves local communities and small business rather than one driven by profiting shareholders.”

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Call for council to tackle demand for Welsh-medium education

For the fourth year in succession there have been issues with admissions to Welsh-medium primary education, with some parents being refused both their first and second choices.
Some of the issues are not unique to Welsh-medium schools, but any problems parents face are exacerbated by the distances involved between the schools. So for example some parents have been unable to access either of their two nearest schools at Ysgol Bro Alun or Ysgol Plas Coch, which are both full, and have only been offered their third choice in Coedpoeth.
Applications are assessed largely on proximity to the school, which effectively means refusal for anyone living more than about a mile away and takes no account of whether the child attended reception or nursery, or whether siblings already attend the school. There are cases of parents having to send children to 2 or even 3 separate schools with all the additional pressure that entails in terms of getting both children to school on time and picking up in the afternoon.
To deal with the immediate issues Plaid Cymru county councillors are working with RhAG (Rhieni Dros Addysg Gymraeg – Parents for Welsh Education) in appealing against decisions, and pressing Wrexham Council to find a short-term solution for the children involved. But with numbers attending welsh medium education at an all-time high, and with demand in the area continuing to grow, we will continue to press Wrexham Council to properly assess demand in the area, and get ahead of the game with its provision, rather than having to constantly play catch -up.
Demand continues to grow and we know the locations of schools mean that people, for example, in the Brymbo, Gresford and Rossett areas are unlikely to even try to get their children to a Welsh-medium primary school because of local priority. So there is unmet demand that the council needs to plan for as it develops new schools.
Over the past 20 years we've seen new schools open at Plas Coch and Bro Alyn. In three years a new school is expected to open at Borras. In each case we're told it will meet demand but that has been proved not to be the case. When parents have the option of giving their child a bilingual education on their doorstep, then they are taking it.
The Plaid Cymru group will be meeting the Director of Education and lead member on Friday to discuss these matters further.

Thursday, 26 April 2018


One in 13 GPs in north Wales have quit in the past year - by far the worst performing region in Wales.

Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s North Wales AM, said: 
“The dramatic fall in GPs registered in the Betsi Cadwaladr health board in the past year is very worrying and reinforces the need to take urgent action to improve medical training here in the North. This cannot go on – we’re seeing more and more GP surgeries closing their doors for a variety of reasons and pressure mounting on those that remain.

"This alarming drop equates to one in every 13 GPs quitting in a single year.

“We’re heading off a cliff here unless the Welsh Government, which has direct oversight of the health board and has done for three years, wakes up and deals with the doctor recruitment, retention and training problem we face. Plaid Cymru will continue to campaign for extra doctors by a comprehensive programme of training and recruitment with a medical school in the region a top priority.”
The figures, released this morning, are based on an annual headcount of GP numbers, and show the number of GPs in Wales is now at 1926, a drop of 83 GPs in just one year. It is 100 fewer than the peak of 2026 GPs in 2013, and the lowest level since the headcount of 2006. This is despite a recruitment campaign launched by the Welsh Government in 2016 that Welsh Labour ministers have been claiming was a success.

The whole-time equivalent numbers have not been published since 2014 whilst Stats Wales investigate concerns over the quality of the data - an investigation that appears not to be coming to a conclusion.

Plaid Cymru has long highlighted Wales’ comparative shortage of doctors leading to longer waiting times and the removal of services from rural areas. The decline in the number of GPs will only make these problems worse, with many people struggling to access their local surgery and often turning to A+E instead.

Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health, Rhun ap Iorwerth, said the figures were a reminder of the need for a far more concerted effort to train doctors including new home grown doctors. He said: 
“Yet again we have a reminder that Labour’s failure to take doctor recruitment seriously is creating a crisis that if not addressed will jeopardise health service delivery in many parts of Wales.

"These GP shortages have been predicted for years, with the numbers approaching retirement being highlighted every year, and the stress levels that cause burnout constantly highlighted. This year’s decline could just be the start of a wider fall – it’s already showing we have fewer GPs than 10 years ago.
“The Welsh Government, on their website, are claiming that many of those who have left have become locums – as if that means we shouldn’t worry about this fall in GPs. The complacency expressed about this is breath-taking.

"Locums are more expensive than permanent staff, and are likely to be working fewer hours. It’s also going to make it difficult for people to see their GP when they need to, which creates pressure on A+E and partly explains why we’ve seen the worst performance this winter.“
“With Brexit, Burnout and Retirements putting our health workforce at risk, it’s quite clear we need a plan to train and recruit home grown doctors. Such a plan must include increasing training places and the development of Medical Training at Bangor, an initiative which Plaid Cymru is driving, which we secured money for through Budget negotiation, but to which the Labour government is being far too resistant.

"Plaid Cymru remains the only party committed to a plan to increase doctor numbers.”

Friday, 20 April 2018

It's time to talk about period poverty

Wrexham Council's Lifelong Learning scrutiny committee yesterday voted unanimously to establish a task and finish group to look at the issue of period poverty in Wrexham and the availability of free sanitary products in local primary and secondary schools.

The request, submitted by Plaid Cymru Councillor Carrie Harper and supported by Cllrs Gwenfair Jones, Dana Davies and Adrienne Jeorrette, also hopes to explore how a recently announced pot of Welsh Government funding can be best spent to maximise provision.

Cllr Harper said:
"As far as I'm aware, this issue has never been discussed by councillors. With recent studies by Plan International UK showing that 1 in 10 girls have been unable to afford sanitary wear, we have to raise awareness about this. Being unable to afford sanitary products can impact on school attendance, as well as the general health and well being of our young women and girls. 
"For low-income families with several women to provide for, this can be a real challenge, it's about basic dignity and I welcome the opportunity for Councillors to look at potential solutions. 
"I'm aware that community group Wings Wrexham are already running a trial to provide free products in one local secondary school and we're looking forward to working with them and getting their input. I'm also very grateful to fellow Plaid Cymru Councillors in Rhondda Cynon Taf who have done a huge amount of work on this which we'll also be exploring in order to learn from their experience".

Kingdom condemned by Councillors

After several hours of debate, Wrexham Councillors have recommended a task and finish group scrutinise a series of concerns regarding Kingdom Security and their current contract with Wrexham County Council.

The controversial firm came under fire from many Councillors at the Homes and Environment scrutiny committee last week, who took the opportunity to highlight concerns about the effectiveness of the contract, whether it breached the councils own Environmental Enforcement Policy with its zero tolerance approach, as well specific concerns about individual cases.

Plaid Cymru Cllr Carrie Harper who sits on the committee said: " We had a detailed report, including comments from the Chair of the councils Audit Committee Mr Jerry O'Keefe, who expressed concern regarding how the Kingdom contract breached the councils own Environmental Enforcement policy. This policy clearly recommends a staged approach to fixed penalty notices (FPN's) for littering, including informal warnings before enforcement action is take. Clearly this is not happening with Kingdom and we're all hearing complaints from local residents."

"There was also a lot of discussion about the effectiveness of the contract, Kingdom were originally engaged in response to public concerns about dog fouling and generally in order to make Wrexham's streets cleaner. Looking through the monthly figures for the issuing of FPN's, it is clear that the vast majority of fines are issued for cigarette butts, with very few for dog fouling and other types of litter. This amounts to a bin bag per month and as was pointed out during the debate, the rubbish people are fined for remains on our streets as Kingdom refuse to allow residents to pick it up."

Cllr Ronnie Prince expressed his concern about the firm targeting one local woman at a supermarket. After accusing her of littering outside of the premises, he explained how the Kingdom officer had then followed and  harassed her as she attempted to do her shopping inside the store. The woman felt intimidated, to the extent that she left her shopping in the aisle and went home in order the escape the operative.

Other Councillors also expressed their concerns about fines being issued to under 18's, the targeting of vulnerable individuals and the amount of local residents being left with a criminal record over non payment of fines.

Whilst all agreed that littering offences need to be tackled, the general consensus was that a new, less aggressive strategy was needed, in line with the needs of the county borough. Councillors felt that many of the concerns raised warranted further investigation, including looking at whether or not the current contract can be re focused on the types of litter residents are concerned about, such as dog fouling. The committee recommended a task and finish group explore these issues further and report back with recommendations.

The officers present also confirmed that a review of the contract was due to take place. 

Friday, 13 April 2018

Bus services 'falling off a cliff'

This is an article taken from the Nation.Cymru website, focussing on the crisis facing bus services in Wrexham and Wales as a whole:
The bus industry in Wales is falling off a metaphorical cliff. In just a decade, journey miles have fallen by one fifth – as have passenger numbers.
This is not the case in other parts of the UK. London has actually seen a growth in passenger numbers during the same period.
There is, of course, a crucial difference. The buses of London are part of an integrated transport strategy under the public ownership and control of Transport for London.
Thanks to that long-term certainty it is perfectly possible to make long-term strategic plans, to invest in making public transport more attractive, reliable and efficient for passengers.
As a result, those passengers to see it as a viable alternative to the car for commuting and travelling on a daily basis.
Several parts of Wales have seen bus companies disappear in the past couple of years – Express Motors in Penygroes, GHA Coaches from Corwen and D Jones and Son from Wrexham are just some in my region alone.
When they do fold, for whatever reason, they are not being replaced because private bus operators only want to cherry pick the most commercial routes and councils do not have the funds coming from the Welsh Government to increase subsidised routes.
In fact, the Welsh Government’s funding for subsidised services (the Bus Support Subsidy Grant) has been frozen on £25 million annually for all councils since 2013. This equates to a 20% cut in real terms at a time when diesel and other costs are rising significantly.
To make matters worse, having an annual subsidy makes it all but impossible to plan any kind of long-term public transport strategy for the benefit of those who currently or wish to use buses.
Among the worst affected areas is Wrexham, which has seen several bus companies disappear in the past three years with a resulting 31% drop in departures from the town’s bus station between 2015-6 and 2016-7.
The collapse of smaller bus companies has led to the emergence of an effective private monopoly by Arriva Wales, which now owns 40 of the 42 buses operating bus routes in the borough.
A vicious circle emerges of fewer bus routes, fewer evening and weekend services, reduced passenger numbers, increasing fares, and reduced reliability leading to fewer bus routes. The situation, quite simply, is unsustainable.
Following the withdrawal of services by D Jones & Son late last year, there was no bus service from the town’s industrial estate to the town centre between 5-6pm in the evening.
Despite it being regularly full and commercially viable, Arriva chose not to operate the service leaving many workers stranded without notice.
Bus de-regulation, going back to 1986, has clearly failed spectacularly to deliver promised improvements as private bus companies have cherry picked the most profitable routes and left many communities – especially those in rural areas – without public transport options.
So what are the answers? 
Taking a cue from cities such as London, we must look at integrated and long-term solutions, where public transport is seen as an effective way to get around.
We must look again at municipal bus services that work for the benefit of commuters and other passengers – so that they get people from where they are to where they want to go, rather than where bus operators want to operate. Both Cardiff and Newport have municipal bus services.
Transport for Wales as a concept is a good one but is it more than a concept? Ensuring free bus transportation during the weekends via the Trawscambria network is all well and good, but it doesn’t assist people who are trying to travel to work on a daily basis.
Neither is capital spending on shiny new transport hubs to link bus and rail if the bus services have disappeared. A Plaid Cymru government for Wales would invest in a long-term strategy for public transport.
There are wider environmental and economic implications too – car ownership in London is falling due, no doubt, to the availability of a public transport network.
It’s a choice many people in Wales would love to be able to make as well.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Labour's bus service cuts hit Wales hard

This letter from the Confederation of Passenger Transport Wales exposes the Labour
Government's failure to properly fund bus transport in Wales. The impact this
real-time cut of more than a third over the past five years can be seen in the dramatic fall in passenger journeys across
Wales in the past few years - a drop of 20% in the past decade.
Wrexham's suffered more than most, not least because the local Labour Party cut a
further £495,000 from the bus budget in 2013 - a double whammy that has led to the
largest town in north Wales not managing to have a bus service from its industrial
estate to the town centre between the hours of 5-6pm.
Next time Labour tell you they're for the many not the few, remember they've left many,
many people stranded at bus stops across Wrexham.

Cydffederasiwn Cludwyr Teithwyr Cymru
Confederation of Passenger Transport Wales

To Welsh Local Authority LeadersTo Welsh Local Authority Transportation Managers (ATCO)3 April 2018

Dear Colleagues
You may have seen some limited press coverage recently suggesting that the Welsh Government has provided a ‘boost’ or extra funding of £25m to the bus industry in Wales for 2018-19.
This is very misleading and I am writing to you to correct and clarify this unhelpful impression. You may well want to share this with your Cabinet Member responsible for transport
The funding referred to has been provided by WG to the bus industry, through our LA partners, every year since the late 1960s. Initially it was known as Fuel Duty Rebate, then as Bus Services Operators’ Grant, and subsequently, in Wales since 2013, as Bus Services Support Grant; 2013 was when WG took over this aspect of bus support from the Department for Transport and funded and administered it completely themselves from Cardiff.
There is no new or extra money or special ‘boost’ in the funding this year, as implied in some parts of the media. It is no more than the normal annual support provided for the bus industry here. Indeed, in 2013, when WG took this over from DfT, it immediately cut the amount available from £34m as in 2012-13 to £25m for 2013-14, an overnight reduction of 26%. This has been compounded since then as this funding has remained at £25m, whereas inflation over that period has totalled around 8%, so the reduction is, in effect more than one third of the level of support in 2013.
We of course recognise that there have been challenging financial conditions in recent years, but the recent highly misleading release and headlines give the wrong impression to our LA partners and  our stakeholders, and I hope this clarifies the true position.
Please do get in touch if you want to discuss this or would like any further information.
Yours sincerely
John Pockett
JOHN POCKETTCyfarwyddwr : DirectorCPT Cymru