Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Tories and Independents refuse to support Plaid Wrecsam motion to pause Universal Credit roll out

Tonight Plaid Cymru's group on Wrexham Council put forward a motion to pause Universal Credit because it is a bureaucratic nightmare leading to 10-week delays in payments for the 7,000 people locally who are on this benefit (many of whom are in work).
The motion simply called on the UK Government to pause the implementation of Universal Credit.
Watch for yourself as Cllr Mark Pritchard opposes this very straightforward motion, which would have meant a letter of protest going from the Tory/Independent council to the Tory Government in London.
I've come to the conclusion that the council leader deliberately misunderstood the motion in order to vote this down. Shameful but not surprising to see the two independent groups backing the Tory government on this.
The vote was lost 34-16.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

CALL TO HALT CONTROVERSIAL BENEFIT PAYMENT

'This is not how a civilised society should be run'

Wrexham Councillors are being urged to back calls to pause the controversial Universal Credit benefit payments amid concerns that delays are causing huge hardships for thousands of people.

Universal Credit is being rolled out in the borough despite evidence that delays of up to 10 weeks are causing problems and the threat of eviction for many claimants.

It's estimated that there are up to 7,000 people who will receive Universal Credit in Wrexham.

Now Plaid Cymru's group of councillors is putting forward a motion before the full council tomorrow calling for the new system to be paused to ensure that nobody faces eviction or hardship due to administrative changes.

Cllr Carrie Harper, who represents Queensway ward, said:

"Charities and campaign groups have described the new system as chaotic and disastrous.
"The feedback we're getting from those trying to adminster the new system as well as those at the sharp end is that it's going to cause real hardship in the run-up to Christmas and beyond.
"It's clear that it's been introduced by the UK Tory Government without a real understanding of its impact on people's daily lives. Under pressure, it's introducing a five-week wait after Christmas but that's only a minor improvement. Expecting people to wait so long for a benefit to kick in is asking for trouble and we're concerned that it will be hard-pressed councils that are expected to pick up the pieces. Local organisations are already reporting a large increase in the number of food bank vouchers being handed out to bridge the gap. This is not how a civilised society should be run."

The motion to council reads as follows:'We call on the UK Government to pause the roll out of Universal Credit in order to address the substantial concerns expressed by charities, the Third Sector and others about its implementation and excessive payment delays.'

Monday, 11 December 2017

Kingdom litter fines amount to a carrier bag of cigarette butts per month


Wrexham's Homes and Environment scrutiny committee will look at the performance of Kingdom Security this week. The controversial private firm make millions in profit every year from councils across the UK through environmental enforcement, handing out fines for littering and dog fouling. They are now 6 months into a 2 year contract in Wrexham (following a 12 month pilot), with local councillors set to scrutinise their performance on Wednesday.

Councillor Carrie Harper, a member of the committee said: "Most people recognise the need for enforcement when it comes to litter and dog fouling and we all want to see cleaner streets but many people I speak to object to the methods employed by Kingdom. This company has faced reports of harassment, as well as complaints its enforcement officers have been intimidating and acted aggressively. Add to that the complaints about the firm targeting vulnerable people and handing out fines for trivial incidents such as feeding ducks or dropping orange peel and you have to question whether we want this firm operating in our town." 

"Dishing out fines like smarties may well make this firm millions in profits every year but does it actually make our streets cleaner? I’d argue it doesn’t, we can see from the monthly figures in the report (see below)  that the vast majority of fines were dished out for dropped cigarette butts for instance. When you look at the detail, which shows several hundred fines a month for cigarette ends, that amounts to a carrier bag a month at the most across the whole county borough, it’s no wonder local people say they’re not seeing a difference. "

"Kingdom are looking for easy pickings rather than genuinely tackling the issues people are worried about. To add insult to injury,  Wrexham Council gets a very small fraction of the money generated from this operation, prompting questions as to why the council hasn’t tackled this issue itself and created local jobs and an income that could be re invested into our struggling local services.”


Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Plaid Cymru responds to the UK Chancellor’s budget statement

Wales left out in the cold as Chancellor focuses on overheating South East England

Plaid Cymru’s Treasury spokesperson, Jonathan Edwards MP, has responded to the UK Chancellor’s statement, saying

“In prolonging austerity well into the next decade and sticking to the most economically damaging form of Brexit, the squeeze on living standards will only get worse.

“There was nothing in this budget to drive up wages and nothing to push down the cost of living. For the second budget in a row, economic growth, business investment and productivity have been downgraded. The result of the Chancellor’s stubborn insistence on sticking to his failed plan is ultimately felt in people’s pockets through lower wages.

“Once again the Westminster Government has delivered a City-centric budget, deliberately overheating the south east of England while Wales is left out in the cold. Our roads and railways are neglected whilst Welsh taxpayers’ money is pumped into London.

“The only way we can build Wales, drive up wages and spread prosperity, is to demand the tools to do it ourselves.”

The future of the Groves is back on the agenda

The Groves building and site are back on the agenda for discussion following a meeting of Wrexham councils Customers, Performance, Resources and Governance Scrutiny Committee today .

The council had initially planned to demolish the building but it was listed by CADW in 2016.  Since then, councillors have had contradictory information about the plans for its future use by the council leadership.
At the September Executive Board meeting, councillors were told that the Groves was 'surplus to educational requirements'. However this view had changed by the October Executive Board meeting, where the lead member for Education, Cllr Phil Wynn, said the site was now not surplus to educational requirements.

To try to clarify the situation, Cllr Carrie Harper took the matter of the site's future to the scrutiny committee to push for an options appraisal.

She said: "This topic is of great public interest and I'm glad that the scrutiny committee agreed to include it on their work programme. We don't have a clear picture in terms of the council leadership's plans for the building and site. We need further clarity in terms of how they plan to move the situation forward. It's also important that other members can input their thoughts and ideas, as well as scrutinising the decision-making process to date.

"Whatever your view on The Groves, surely everyone can agree that we need to move forward and bring this key town-centre building and site back into use. It's been in limbo for far too long as it is and we need a firm foundation to explore all the future options. That process should take place openly, through public meetings at scrutiny.

"I'm also hoping the committee will consider the potential of using outside funding for a future options appraisal. I'm aware that the Save Our Heritage group, which campaigned to save the building, has offered to explore getting outside funding from the Architectural Heritage Fund for an options appraisal.

 "So far the council leadership has dismissed this offer out of hand but, at a time when the council is having to make cuts to services and staff, I can't understand the rationale for not exploring this further. If local residents, groups and others want to input, why not let them?"

The committee agreed to accept the request and report back on a suitable date at its next meeting. It's expected the topic will be debated by the committee early next year.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

'Don't take pay rise while cutting services'

Wrexham councillors challenged to show a lead 

Plaid Cymru councillors have called on other Wrexham councillors to refuse to take a pay rise while cutting jobs and services

Cllr Marc Jones, on behalf of the Plaid Cymru group of councillors on Wrexham Council, said: 
"Plaid Cymru's councillors gave a pledge not to take a pay rise if elected and we as a group have stuck to that promise. We have not taken this year's pay rise.
 "We will not be taking the proposed pay rise for next year either on a voluntary basis. On top of that, we will continue to pay for our council iPads, which was also one of our election promises.
 "We're told time after time about difficult decisions to be made by the council to save money. Well, it's time councillors made some difficult decisions about their own incomes and allowances. If every councillor followed our lead we could save £18,000 a year* to go towards a range of frontline services that the budget proposals want to cut.
 "Over time, this amounts to a substantial saving and we should be showing a lead as councillors. The idea that councillors should get any pay rise while cutting services and jobs is frankly disgusting."
The matter will be debated in Thursday's Democratic Services committee.


* Breakdown of savings:
£100 pay rise for 2017-8 per councillor x 52 = £5,200
£200 pay rise for 2018-9 per councillor x 52 = £10,400
£60 a year for iPads (£300 over the lifetime of the council term = the cost of the iPad) per councillor x 52 = £3,120

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Demolition plan for busy community centre under fire

Budget plans need for better scrutiny

A thriving community centre has been earmarked for demolition under Wrexham Council's "Difficult Decisions" budget cuts proposals.

The error only came to light when residents in Penycae realised that their village community centre was one of three listed for demolition, despite it being home to a playgroup and other community activities.

The demolition was planned as part of budget cuts designed to save Wrexham Council money. The Difficult Decisions paper claimed the three community centres were not in use and demolishing them would save on rates.

Cllr Marc Jones, leader of Plaid Cymru's group on Wrexham Council, said:
"The Difficult Decisions proposals by Wrexham Council's Executive Board haven't been scrutinised by all councillors and many of the savings are one liners with few details.

"That's why we felt it was important that councillors had the chance to scrutinise the proposals in detail and this error vindicates that decision. I'm very glad sharp-eyed residents in Penycae realised there was a mistake and we can ensure that this cut is taken out of the budget."
Plaid Cymru councillors have successfully argued for the council's various scrutiny committees in the coming month to look in detail at the planned cutbacks.

Cllr Jones added: 
"There are other areas where we have concerns that proposals will not, in fact, deliver the savings claimed. Once we've seen the detail, upon which the Executive Board have based their decisions, we can present alternatives."

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Wrexham council leadership to be held accountable for budget cuts proposals

Plaid Cymru councillors have begun a process of summoning lead members and officers to Wrexham councils scrutiny committees, in order to challenge their cuts and savings proposals. The 'Difficult Decisions' proposals were passed for public consultation by the Executive Board in October and will potentially see significant cuts to Wrexham's school music service, parks and adult social services, amongst other areas.

The council leadership made up of Tories and Independents had planned to manoeuvre the proposals through several confidential workshops, bypassing the public scrutiny process which will allow Councillors to thoroughly assess the impacts of the cuts and savings, to challenge lead members, as well making recommendations on the proposals to the Executive Board.

Plaid Cymru have members on all 5 of Wrexham's scrutiny committees and they have officially requested that all of the committees scrutinise the areas of the budget under their remit. Two have so far agreed, with the 3 remaining committees discussing the request next week:

Cllr Carrie Harper who sits on the Homes and Environment and Lifelong Learning committees said:" With power comes responsibility and accountability and we feel very strongly that proposals to save £6.2 million next year must go through a robust scrutiny process. As new councillors in May we were surprised to discover that didn't happen automatically".

"Many of the proposed cuts and savings that have been presented to councillors to date have very little information available, with many simply having one line or a paragraph. That's not sufficient for councillors or members of the public to thoroughly assess the implications of each saving and we have therefore requested more information on each proposal. This has been met with some reluctance from lead members up to now,  who don't seem to understand why the additional information is needed. Of course seeing as they've already sanctioned these proposals going out to public consultation, we'd have hoped there'd be more information available than we've currently seen, otherwise we have to question what they've based their budget recommendations on?"

The 'Difficult Decisions' consultation is open to the public to comment on until the 30th November, it has already sparked controversy with the council Leader Mark Pritchard claiming that many of the 2000 public responses received to date were driven by political activists. He said " I would be delighted if there are more people who would make the effort and fill it in, and I am on about genuine local people who have no party politics or tricks to play".

Council leader should focus on running Wrexham instead of making wild accusations

Plaid Cymru councillors have called on Wrexham council leader to focus on running the authority rather than making wild accusations.

The call comes after claims by Councillor Mark Pritchard, leader of Wrexham Council, that only political activists had filled in a council questionnaire on proposed cuts and another attack on unnamed politicians.

He also claimed there 'would be nowhere to hide for any politician' should more web cameras be installed to cover scrutiny meetings.

Responding to claims that some councillors were saying one thing in meetings without cameras and another when they were being filmed, Cllr Carrie Harper said:
"Cllr Pritchard needs to concentrate on what he's supposed to be doing rather than blurting out cryptic and underhand rants to the press about what other councillors may or may not be saying in meetings. "One minute the leadership says it would welcome more scrutiny of the budget process, the next it throws its toys out and complains about 'political games' when its budget is dragged from confidential workshops and is taken through a public scrutiny process. This flip-flopping points to a weak and paranoid leadership, something we see as the opposition week in week out. "The more webcasts broadcasting council meetings to the people of Wrexham the better as far as I'm concerned."
Cllr Marc Jones added his voice to criticism of the council leader, who suggested that those filling in the questionnaire on the budget cuts were political activists rather than ordinary people:
"As a councillor, I welcome the fact that 2,000 people have already filled in the questionnaires about proposed savings and cuts. If the council leader believes he can dismiss these 2,000 people as political activists rather than ordinary people, then he's either psychic or incredibly insulting to those who've taken the time to answer the council's questions.
"Most people I've spoken to are unhappy about elements of the cuts and want more alternatives to the Difficult Decisions being put forward. They want to know, for example, why the difficult decisions don't extend to councillors and senior management, to the cost of the mayor and iPads. That's what's bothering Mr and Mrs Jones.
 
"If we're going to make difficult decisions, lets have all the options on the table."

Friday, 3 November 2017

EMPTY HOMES IN WREXHAM DOUBLE IN FIVE YEARS


The number of long-term homes in Wrexham has doubled in the past five years, according to a new council report.

In 2016-17 there were 419 houses that had been empty for more than six months compared with 206 in 2012/3.

A small number - currently 38 - are council properties but these include 22 due for demolition in Plas Madoc. The report proposes to ensure that no council house is empty for more than six months.

The report goes to Wrexham Council's Housing and Environment Scrutiny Committee next week.

Cllr Carrie Harper, who represents Queensway ward for Plaid Cymru, said: 
"I'm encouraged that the number of council properties lying empty is being tackled but that goes hand in hand with a dramatic increase in the number of private houses not being occupied. Some of the worst examples of housing are those that have been bought from the council but are now in a state of disrepair - we need to be able to act to bring housing in the community up to a standard.

 "That will mean accessing funds as loans to householders or even buying those houses. We need to do something different to tackle the waiting list for council accommodation and the growing pressure in the private-rented sector.

 "Plaid Cymru wants to see new council houses being built to help meet demand but getting these empty homes back into use is also important.

 "These hundreds of long-term empty properties also bring into question the numbers of extra houses that Wrexham Council is expected to allow on greenfield sites under the new Local Development Plan. It makes no sense for the Welsh Government to insist on creating huge new commuter estates when it's not providing support to get these houses in our communities back into use." 

Cllr Marc Jones, of Grosvenor ward, added: 

"My ward has a number of long-term empty properties that blight the Rhosddu area. Good work has been done to bring some back into use but we need to speed up that process and make it clear to poor landlords that they can't let houses just sit there for years on end, often becoming derelict and a nuisance to neighbours. Many of these are perfectly good homes that end up blighting a neighbourhood and the council's leadership shouldn't treat this as a Cinderella service."

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Council cuts agenda faces challenge

Plaid Cymru's three councillors on Wrexham Council are putting the Executive Board's plans to cut services and save money under the microscope.

Cllrs Gwenfair Jones, Carrie Harper and Marc Jones have asked for the savings proposals - currently out to public consultation - to go before the relevant scrutiny committees so councillors can challenge the plans more fully.

The decision was made after council leader Mark Pritchard invited councillors to scrutinise the proposals by asking for them to be put on the agenda for the various scrutiny committees.

Cllr Marc Jones said:
"Proposed savings that affect the council's economy, business and investment strategy will be looked into by that scrutiny committee next month. Other planned cuts in housing, environment, life-long learning and other departments will also come under scrutiny.
 "Councillors have been presented with some information at workshops on the budget but this has often consisted of a sentence saying X thousands would be saved by merging services with other councils or charging service users more. We need to be clear that when we vote on the budget, those figures are credible and what impacts those proposed cuts and increased charges will have.
 "That will enable us, as a group, to come up with alternatives to the 'Difficult Decisions' proposals. There are some things - for example charging councillors to park in the Guildhall carpark - that are long overdue but other cuts will have a damaging effect on the borough and will be resisted."

 

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

New bid to presume against fracking in Wales


  
Wrexham councillor Carrie Harper has welcomed news that Plaid Cymru’s Simon Thomas is putting forward a new legislative bid to ensure a presumption again fracking in Wales.
Mid and West AM Simon Thomas is moving a Member's Legislative Proposal in the Senedd today.

Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Climate Change and Rural Affairs Simon Thomas said:
Plaid Cymru is calling on the Labour Government to commit to a precautionary approach to unconventional gas activity, including opposing fracking“Next year we get the powers in the Assembly to ban fracking. I will be leading a legislative debate in the Assembly to do just that.“We don’t need fracking in Wales. We don’t want fracking in Wales. And Plaid Cymru won’t allow fracking in Wales.“Fracking is the old way of doing things. It’s time to throw out the solutions of the past.”“Instead we should amend land use planning legislation to fast track community owned energy schemes, with a presumption in favour of development.“A Plaid Cymru Welsh Government would ensure resources from Wales are used sustainably, to tackle climate change and develop a post carbon economy.“We would transform our energy policy to place the interests of Welsh communities at the heart of everything we do.”
 Cllr Carrie Harper, who met with Wrexham anti-fracking campaigners on Monday, added:
"Fracking and other unconventional gas and oil drilling is something that's been of concern to people in Wrexham since a licence was granted to test drill in the Borras area. There was strong opposition from local residents and anti-fracking campaigners that saw a camp being set up to oppose the threat to our water, safety and environment. 
 "I'm glad a Plaid Cymru AM is aiming to strengthen the legal position of the Assembly to ensure we don't see this threat emerging again."


Budget cuts proposals leave residents in the dark


Residents and councillors are being kept in the dark over Wrexham Council's planned cuts.

That's the view of Plaid Cymru councillors, who have challenged elements of the council leadership's proposed budget cuts.

Plaid Cymru group leader Marc Jones said: 
"The public consultation lasts until the end of November and local residents are being asked their views on a range of proposals that could save the council £4.2m. But the council is having to make £6.2m in savings next year so the full range of cuts have not been presented to either councillors or the general population.

"When challenged, officers stated that any shortfall would be addressed in January, but that will be too late for the public to have their say. Plaid Cymru councillors believe the public should have all the options on the table to make an informed decision rather than being kept in the dark about a significant part of any potential cuts.
"We're told this is about 'difficult decisions' and yet there is nothing in the budget cuts proposals about councillors or senior management sharing in these cuts. Councillors shouldn't be immune from the cuts, but it seems that is the situation in Wrexham.
"The emphasis in these proposals is very much on cutting frontline services and expecting the most vulnerable - the young, the old and disabled - to pay more."
The council's Executive Board agreed yesterday to consult with the public over a five-week period about a range of cuts to services and proposals to increase charges for users.

Cllr Jones said the Plaid Cymru group of councillors would be putting forward alternative proposals and said they welcomed input from council workers, service users and everyone with a positive suggestion to maintain and improve frontline services: 
"In the past, council staff have seen consultants being paid millions to state the obvious in terms of savings. If council staff and service users want to talk to us in confidence about alternatives to these punitive cuts they believe could be made, then our door is open - contact us at plaidwrecsam@gmail.com or text or call me on 07747 792441."

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Plaid Cymru slate Tories for "callous approach to welfare reform"

88% of Wrexham council tenants transferred to Universal Credit to date are in rent arrears. Those were the worrying figures given to councillors recently at Wrexham's Housing and Environment Scrutiny Committee. 

Plaid Cymru's Carrie Harper who sits on the committee and represents the Queensway ward in Caia Park said: "The figures we have to date reflect the relatively small number of claimants transferred but we expect that number to rise sharply this month following the accelerated roll out of the scheme locally. Unfortunately, looking at figures from England where there has already been full roll out, having this level of council tenants in arrears following the transfer is the norm. There is also concern about the impact on private tenants as well, who won't have access to as much help and advice."

"We estimate that approximately 7000 households across Wrexham will ultimately be affected by this. The transfer of housing benefit claimants to Universal Credit is a particular concern due to the excessive payment delays people are experiencing. People are often waiting 6 weeks or more for their claims to be processed, meaning that rent arrears increase significantly over that period, leaving many without access to any money at all. In other areas where roll out is accelerating, charities are warning about increases in food bank usage and a spike in loan sharks targeting communities. I fear we will be facing similar issues here as the Tories seem determined to plough on with this flawed scheme, despite warnings from all quarters about the detrimental impact it's having. How they can ignore the misery they're inflicting across the UK with this callous approach to welfare reform is beyond me".

"The indifferent attitude of this spiteful Tory Government to the suffering of others has unfortunately become a familiar theme. We see interview after interview of detached robotic spin from them on welfare reform, only surpassed by the vulgar displays of back patting  in the House of Commons from the likes of Ian Duncan Smith who ushered this scheme in, as he smugly claims it will be a 'great driver for change'. Rather than driving change, Universal Credit is driving people into poverty."

If you are affected by the roll out of Universal Credit and would like further advice, you can contact the Universal Credit helpline directly but please be aware calls are still charged at 55p per minute from a mobile and this will remain the case for several weeks.

Alternatively please get in touch with Contact Wrexham based on Lord Street on 01978 29200. If you're a council tenant you can also get advice from your local estate office, please see contact numbers below:

Broughton Estate office - 01978 722020
Caia Estate office - 01978 317040
Gwersyllt Estate office -  01978 722100
Plas Madoc Estate office - 01978 813000
Rhos Estate office - 01978 832500
Wrexham Central Estate Office - 01978 292062

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Labour Government blamed for nursing shortage at Maelor hospital

 
A growing shortage of nurses in Wrexham’s Maelor Hospital has been highlighted in the Assembly by Plaid Cymru’s North Wales AM.

Llyr Gruffydd AM raised his concerns with First Minister Carwyn Jones during questions in the Assembly chamber, saying that the Welsh Government should bear direct responsibility for this failure.

He said: “Latest statistics show that there are 92 nursing posts vacant in Wrexham’s Maelor Hospital at the moment with a growing number of nurses approaching retirement age.

“This shortage is leading to specialist nurses having to work on general wards and to staff being stretched to the limit. At its worst, it will mean ward closures. This is a daily and intensifying crisis in the hospital, the largest in north Wales.

“In an attempt to remedy the situation, Betsi Cadwaladr health board have used a private agency to recruit abroad, going to Barcelona and India in recent years. In both cases, the benefits have been questionable. Only four nurses from India passed the language test, for example. This is a short-term panic measure not a long-term thought-out strategy.

“Will the First Minister accept that the Welsh Government, which has been directly running Betsi Cadwaladr health board for two and a half years now, is responsible for failing to adequately plan to ensure there are enough nurses being trained and recruited here in the North for local hospitals?”

Mr Gruffydd has welcomed the fact that nurse training had re-started at Glyndwr University and praised the university for its pro-active approach to a serious problem for the NHS in north Wales. He was, however, critical of the Welsh Government and Betsi Cadwaladr for not allowing those students to go on placement to NHS settings in Wales.

He added: “We have 35 trainee nurses who are being trained in Wrexham. In a short time, they could be filling the gaps in the workforce in the Maelor hospital and elsewhere in the North. But instead of providing them with placements, obstacles have been put in their way to the extent that they are having to be placed in Chester, Telford and private nursing placements.”

Carwyn Jones's response is, to put it kindly, misleading. He conflates healthcare training with nursing degrees and his claims that there is increased training completely misses the point that much of that increase is down to Glyndwr University's new course. These trainees, of course, are the ones barred from getting placements in hospitals in Wales because of Welsh Government rules. Unless that's reversed, we will see these nurses lost to the NHS in Wales.