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. 


Supply teachers short-changed by Welsh Government policy

Supply teachers and schools are being short-changed by a failing Welsh Government, according to Plaid Cymru.

Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s shadow secretary for education and children, has called for the Welsh Government to urgently re-think its policy after revealing that a private agency is taking almost a third of supply teachers’ pay.

New Directions Education Ltd is a Cardiff-based firm that provides supply teachers to a number of schools in Wales and England. It retains about 30% of the money paid by schools for the supply teachers, money that previously went directly to the teachers. It also pays its two directors a dividend of £100,000 apiece and both shared a further £430,000 dividend from the firm's parent company.

Now, as a result of a Welsh Government agreement, more and more councils are instructing schools to only use New Directions rather than employing supply teachers directly. This has prompted concerns that money from the education budget is effectively being siphoned off to the private sector.
The company, which is owned by Jeffrey and Zoe Tune, both of Cyncoed in Cardiff, were last year responsible for employing 1300 of Wales’s 4,900 supply teachers.

Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s shadow secretary for education and children, said: 
“I’ve been approached by a number of very demoralised supply teachers, including a constituent who was earning £115 a day as a supply teacher. She’s had a letter from Denbighshire Council to say that all schools must work through New Directions, with a few exceptions, and that will mean her pay is cut to £85.

"Another is considering giving up a job he's done for 18 years because of the drastic cut in pay and lack of any personal development or pension payments. It's demoralising teachers."

Plaid Cymru has condemned the Welsh Government for failing to do more to ensure money for education remains in the system rather than backing a private company providing supply teachers throughout Wales.

Llyr Gruffydd said: “Back in 2015 a report by the National Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee agreed that a more strategic approach was needed for supply teachers, suggesting an all-Wales model based on Northern Ireland’s system or a cooperative. That decision was kicked into the long grass by the then Government and since then private agencies have flourished. This has intensified with an all-Wales agreement with a single agency, New Directions Education Ltd.

“The agreement with New Directions comes to an end in August 2018, which should provide an opportunity to deliver a new service that keeps education money in the public sector rather than private pockets. But we now learn that the Welsh Government and Kirsty Williams have decided not to introduce a new model for supplying temporary teachers until 2019. In a letter to the education committee, the cabinet secretary explains she won’t be introducing a new model because the Assembly does not yet have control over teachers’ pay and conditions.

“This, frankly, is a poor excuse for doing nothing and kicking the issue into even longer grass.

"Plaid Cymru would like to see a not-for-profit agency set up as in Northern Ireland or a cooperative for supply teachers to coordinate with schools and local authorities. This kind of model would ensure more money goes directly to the teachers, would keep money in the education system rather than spent on dividends and create a degree of flexibility for schools and teachers alike."




Monday, 2 October 2017

HMO conversions rejected by Wrexham planners

61 Regent St - application to turn offices into a HMO was turned down tonight


Tonight's planning committee lasted three hours, partly because of two contentious applications for Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in Wrexham town centre.

The two planning applications before the committee were:

45 Alexandra Road in the Offa ward. This is a three-bed terraced house that the owner wants to turn into a four-bedsit HMO.

and

61 Regent St in the Brynyffynnon ward. This is currently an office on the main road into Wrexham (opposite the Sorting Office) which the owner wants to turn into a HMO for five people.

Both local members, who are part of an informal grouping of town-centre councillors, argued passionately against the applications.

The argument against turning Regent St into a HMO was two-fold. Firstly it would disrupt an established row of offices, placing residential dwellings amid a business setting. In a fragile economic climate it was felt by many that this would not help local business confidence.

 Secondly, and crucially, the available amenity space for five people's bins, washing and relaxation space outdoors was a pathetic 10.7m2. The point was made that HMOs often cause problems because tenants are boxed in with inadequate space and not treated like human beings. By contrast, anyone looking to build a new three-bedroom house would be expected to provide a 50m2 garden or amenity space. This was essentially expecting people to "relax" in a car park.

The vote against granting planning permission was unanimous.

Alexandra Road saw similar arguments being rolled out, but Offa ward has a crucial difference - 11% of its houses are already homes with multiple persons, a slightly different definition but an indication of the pressures facing the densely packed terraces in the area. Landlords have looked to cram as many bodies in as possible to maximise profit.

 Cllr Alun Jenkins explained how 57 out of 300 homes in the Bersham Road area were already HMOs - about 20%. This is double the accepted threshold of the Welsh Government, but the council's lack of a clear policy on this makes decisive action difficult. At present the council opts for a 10% threshold within a 50m radius, which is random to say the least and often misses the 'feel' of a neighbourhood. There was also concern that many HMOs are not licensed - 'beneath the radar' or exempt from licensing because they're run by charities or Registered Social Landlords.

Opposition centred on a lack of parking - four bedsits could easily mean four cars outside a terraced house. The vote to reject was again convincing but there was a warning from chief planning officer Dave Williams that future appeals against such decisions could easily mean costs being awarded against the council.

 HMO planning applications are now a monthly occurence here in Wrexham and it appears the rate is increasing.

 This is partly because the Welsh Government insisted that any HMO with more than three people had to be licensed, whereas prior to 2016 it was six or more people. The Welsh Government also allowed local councils the power to develop their own policy towards HMOs - something Wrexham Council is still working towards. In the meantime, we continue to see Welsh Government Planning Inspectors overturning decisions made by local representatives. Something has to give.

But it's also to do with a lack of affordable housing, especially in the public sector. Councils must start building affordable homes so that people aren't forced to rent substandard bedsits at extortionate rates. This is part of Plaid Cymru's local manifesto to tackle the housing problem.

Check out where licensed HMOs are located on the register.




New hope for stranded village as rail bosses visit

Plaid Cymru AM raises community concerns

A village left stranded because of a faulty railway bridge is hoping that a high-level visit by Network Rail officials will resolve the problem.

Villagers at Sydallt near Wrexham have been left without a bus service because the Oak Alyn railway bridge connecting the village has been narrowed because of fears for the structure.

The bus being used for the service between Mold and Wrexham was too wide to negotiate the narrowed bridge and re-routed the service, leaving villagers without public transport. Some villagers have been forced to use taxis at a cost of up to £150 a month because there is no bus.

Gwersyllt Community Council took up the matter after concerns were raised by Councillor Sharon Thomas and contacted Plaid Cymru’s regional AM Llyr Gruffydd.

He, in turn, raised the matter with Network Rail’s senior management team in Cardiff, who came out on Friday to see the problem for themselves.

Llyr Gruffydd said:
“I’m glad senior managers have seen the problem for themselves and local residents were able to explain to them directly how this issue has impacted on the community. There was agreement that Network Rail needed to do some exploratory work to assess how sound the structure was and, if necessary, to re-prioritise its bridge maintenance programme.
“We were given assurances that an engineer would carry out an intrusive survey to assess corrosion on the bridge and that could see the bridge deemed safe enough to widen again. This would enable the bus currently being used for the Mold-Wrexham service to come back to Sydallt.
“I’ll be working with Gwersyllt councillors Sharon Thomas, Gwenfair Jones and Arfon Jones to make sure the promises made are kept and work begins as soon as possible on the bridge.”
Community councillor Sharon Thomas added: 
“I was thankful for the opportunity of a meeting with Network Rail and Wrexham Council on the bridge following the ongoing support of Gwersyllt Community Council, Llyr Gruffydd and Plaid Cymru on this issue. I was also keen for local residents and bus users to be directly involved and given the opportunity to have their say on this matter.
“Following the positive meeting that took place I look forward to the joint work on the bridge and surrounding area taking place between Network Rail and Wrexham Council to bring about much-needed improvements, and enable the current bus service to access Tan yr Allt again. I hope the work will commence sooner rather than later, so local residents are not inconvenienced any longer than is necessary.”

Llyr Gruffydd AM meets with local residents Percy Matthias and Gail Hughes on Sydallt's Oak Alyn bridge together with Gwersyllt community councillors Sharon Thomas, Gwenfair Jones and Arfon Jones. Others present included Roger Davies from Wrexham Council and various senior managers from Network Rail.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Calls for Wrexham Minister to "take a lead" and withdraw license for radioactive mud dump off the Welsh coast

Minister for the Environment and Rural Affairs Leslie Griffiths is facing growing calls to withdraw a license which will allow hundreds of thousands of tonnes of radioactive mud to be dumped off the Welsh coast. 

The mud, which would be brought from England when the new Hinkley Point nuclear power station is built and dumped off the Cardiff coast, is causing growing concern from experts and politicians alike. 

Plaid Cymru Wrexham spokesperson Carrie Harper said: "Experts are warning that communities along the Welsh coast could be exposed to doses of marine radio activity if this radioactive mud dump goes ahead. If that's not a good enough reason to immediately withdraw this license pending further investigation into the dangers, I don't know what is. I'd respectfully urge the Minister Leslie Griffiths to take a lead on this."

"In Wrexham, we have already experienced what it's like to be failed by Welsh Labour Minsters and used as a dumping ground. We are reminded every summer by the putrid smell of Hafod Quarry in Johnstown, which is used to dump rubbish from Merseyside despite huge local protests. One of her predecessors Carwyn Jones,  Environment Minster at the time, refused to step in and help us then. I hope the current Minister does not continue the tradition of failing Welsh communities on such a key health and environmental issue."

The license allowing the dumping of 300,000 tonnes of polluted mud off the Welsh coast was agreed in 2013, with French firm EDF energy undertaking the project.

A petition calling for the Welsh Government to direct Natural Resources Wales to suspend the license can be signed by clicking  HERE


Right to be Welsh?

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Every year I receive a household reminder form in order to check who is eligible to vote at my address. Every year the nationality of everyone in our house is listed as “British” by default. Every year I contact electoral services to request everyone at this address be registered as Welsh. This year there was an option to change it to Welsh online, great I thought, so I happily amended the details for all 3 of us. I also contacted electoral services to query why the system annoyingly defaults back to British every year. The response was as follows:


“The Electoral Commission’s advice on this is:  

Whilst individuals may choose to write their nationality on a canvass form as ‘English’, ‘Welsh’ or ‘Scottish’ their nationality should be recorded on the Electoral Registration Officer’s systems as British.

This is because the nationality that is relevant for registration purposes is ‘British’ as set out in the British Nationality Act 1981.”


So for the last several years at least, it seems I have been wasting my time , along with many thousands  of other people I’m sure across Wales, Scotland and England,  asking to be  registered under my identity of choice.  In my naivety I thought the system would be updated with this information but it would seem it is actually completely ignored because of Electoral Commission guidance. That begs the question, why give people the option to enter their own identity at all? It would seem this is just a token gesture to appease. Literally a meaningless tick box.

Does it matter anyway? Well yes I think it does. Identity is not something anyone can or should impose on someone else, it’s a choice. I respect the fact that people may choose to be registered as British, some may prefer Welsh British and that’s up to them but me, well I’m just Welsh thank you very much. Having spent some time mulling over identity issues, I came to the conclusion a long time ago that I have no idea what being  ‘British’ actually means, I don’t identify with that term and it doesn’t have meaning for me in my daily life.  For instance, one of the biggest symbols of Britishness is undoubtedly the Union Jack , Wales is not represented on that flag so what is it supposed to mean to me? In what way would I identify with it? Being Welsh however is just a given, that’s what I am, it’s who I am, however unofficial.  I suspect that many others in Scotland and England would share that sentiment.

For now at least  though, it seems  that I have no right to be registered as a Welsh person, there is no right to be Scottish or English either, a British identity will be forced on us all whether we like it or not, dictated by an act of Parliament that is almost 4o years old and an ideology going back a lot further.



Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Turkeys don't vote for Christmas...

WREXHAM COUNCIL VOTES TO KEEP HIGHER COUNCILLOR PAY

At full council this afternoon Tory, Independent and Lib Dem councillors in Wrexham voted to keep senior councillors salaries at a higher level rather than reduce it.

At a time when frontline services are being cut with much worse to come, this slippery decision will cost £41,700 every year.

Plaid Cymru voted to make the cut to senior salaries and Cllr Carrie Harper reminded council that they were paid to make #difficultdecisions.

The recorded vote revealed 31 voted for, 16 against.

VOTED TO KEEP THE HIGHER SALARIES (Tories, Independents and Lib Dems)

Bill Baldwin
Trevor Bates
Sonya Benbow-Jones
I David Bithell
David A Bithell
Mike Dixon
Alan Edwards
David Griffiths
Alun Jenkins
Dave Kelly
Geoff Lowe
Joan Lowe
David Maddocks
Tina Mannering
Mike Morris
Beverley Paterson-Jones
John McCusker
Paul Pemberton
John Phillips
John Pritchard
Mark Pritchard
Paul Roberts
Rondo Roberts
Paul Rogers
Rodney Skelland
Debbie Wallice
Rob Walsh
Barry Warburton
Andy Williams
Nigel Williams
Phil Wynn

VOTED AGAINST

Brian Apsley
Paul Blackwell
Brian Cameron
Krista Childs
Dana Davies
Mike Davies
Carrie Harper
Frank Hemmings
Kevin Hughes
Adrienne Jeorett
Gwenfair Jones
Marc Jones
Paul Jones
Malcolm King
Graham Rogers
Derek Wright

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Health bosses challenged over lack of de-tox beds

Health bosses have been challenged to step up to the mark to deal with Wrexham's drug problem.

Plaid Cymru councillors in Wrexham say the health board is failing to play its part in dealing with the ongoing problems facing the town. Plaid's group leader Marc Jones said: 
"Here in Wrexham we have Hafan Wen, a de-tox centre with 25 beds near the Maelor Hospital. Originally all 25 beds were commissioned by Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board for people wanting to get off drugs or alcohol here in north Wales. 
 "Despite rising demand, BCUHB now only commissions 13 of those beds and the result is a wait of up to five months to access the service. Given the nature of the problem facing those trying to come off drugs and alcohol that is way too long to wait.  
 "The problems caused as a result of not having quicker access to de-tox are hugely damaging for the people involved and also the wider community, which is having to live with the consequences of this very visible drug problem. 
"This is not the solution to the problems we're facing in Wrexham but it is one step to finding a comprehensive answer."
The other 12 beds in Hafan Wen are now commissioned by health authorities in England, where patients can often get a bed within a matter of weeks. 

Cllr Jones added: 
"Given the scale of the problem we're facing, it doesn't make sense to have a de-tox service in the town that people locally can't access. De-tox is the first step to rehabilitation. We're calling on health board bosses to invest in long-term solutions rather than maintaining the problem as it is."
Cllr Jones said many of the homeless in Wrexham had underlying drug and alcohol problems as well as mental health issues, which made it all the more important that the health board engaged more fully with the council, the police and other agencies in tackling one of the town's most pressing problems.

Benefit changes will increase rent arrears and reliance on loan sharks

Plaid Cymru councillors have expressed concerns about the impact of rolling out Universal Credit for council tenants in Wrexham next month. They fear tenants could be forced to turn to loan sharks if payments are delayed.

Councillor Carrie Harper, who represents the Queensway ward, said: "The full digital roll out for Universal Credit has already happened in England. In Wales, only two local authorities have had full roll out, including Flintshire. What concerns me is that since full digital roll out in April 2017, rent arrears have increased by £40,000 in Flintshire."

The situation in England is worse with 89% of council tenants on UC reporting arrears.

The changes in benefit payments mean that councils will no longer receive housing benefit payments directly and there are concerns that this will lead to an increase in arrears for both council and private tenants who are facing financial difficulties.

Cllr Harper added: "Although there are a few individuals locally already on this new benefit, from October 4th all new applicants and anyone who reports a change of circumstances transfer over to UC. So we can expect numbers to increase but there are no figures or projections in terms of how many people this is likely to affect." 

She said the uncertainty caused by the changes is a concern not just to tenants but those involved in tenancy support, advice services and estate office staff: "It's important that the right services are in places to support people otherwise we will be seeing people facing eviction for rent arrears. This next phase will put pressure on services at a time when many of these are facing financial uncertainty themselves. 

 "I think Wrexham has learned some lessons from Flintshire's experiences and I hope we can avoid a few pitfalls but there's huge uncertainty about all this. The worst aspect is the potential for payment delays - there will be a minimum six-week delay for people to get their money, the reality is probably a minimum of eight weeks I'm told.

"We've already had one eviction in Caia because of UC arrears. The chances are that every tenant who's moved onto UC will get a notice seeking possession as they'll be instantly in arrears. Staff will obviously give some leeway knowing people are waiting for payments but the letters go out regardless. Obviously it's very easy for tenants to build up arrears quickly because of the delays but also by spending their first payment because they've been waiting so long.

"It's very important that the council doesn't evict for these temporary payment problems."

She said the worst-case scenario would mean tenants being evicted, then placed in temporary accommodation but failing to get back on the housing list because they were in arrears. 

Cllr Harper added: "This is a very costly situation that ultimately costs the council a lot of money. How many instances of this we're talking about I don't know but it's a likely outcome for anyone evicted from what I can gather.

"I'm already aware of people taking expensive pay-day loans to clear arrears because of UC. The real concern will be whether people are forced to go to loan sharks to tide them over."

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

HMP Berwyn catering for English prisoners while Wrexham inmates go to Altcourse

HMP Berwyn, which opened in February, will be the largest prison in Europe when full. But Plaid Cymru’s regional AM is critical that the vast majority of prisoners from north Wales are still going to prisons across the border. Fewer than 10% of the inmates in Berwyn are currently from Wales.

Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru AM for North Wales, said:

 “HMP Berwyn was sold as a prison for North Wales. The statistics show that this is not the case.
“The vast majority of prisoners in HMP Berwyn to date are from England, just 10% are from north Wales. This is despite the fact that in June there were 228 men from north Wales being sent to HMP Altcourse. At the same time there were fewer than 40 in HMP Berwyn.
“Even prisoners from Wrexham are far more likely to end up in Altcourse than in Berwyn by a factor of 10-1. In March there were 58 Wrexham men in Altcourse and under five in Berwyn.
“I accept that the prison is still not at capacity but are the ratios likely to remain the same? If so, then Berwyn has been built to cope with overcrowding in English prisons rather than meet local needs.
“In addition, the failure to provide for young offenders and women means that both these categories are still being sent over the border. There are 200 young offenders from Wales in Stoke Heath and there is still no women’s prison in Wales. This could and should have been a part of the plan for Berwyn but the UK Government ignored Welsh needs once again.
“Prison is not meant to be easy but punishing families with extra distances to travel and maintain contact isn’t fair. Rehabilitation and resettlement is meant to play a large part in ensuring prisoners do not re-offend. How does the Ministry of Justice explain that when prisoners from both England and Wales are being sent in different directions?”

Mr Gruffydd will be raising these concerns during a debate called today by Plaid Cymru on the proposal for another new prison in Wales, this time in the Port Talbot area. He added: 
“If this is allowed to happen it will mean that Wales will be importing prisoners and still have no facilities for women and youth offenders here in the North.”

His comments were echoed by prison reformers.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said:
“These figures underline the fact that Berwyn was never built to cater for the needs of Wales in mind. A prison of this size – which will eventually hold around 2,000 prisoners – was built in response to the overcrowding crisis in English prisons.
“There is plentiful of evidence that the closer to home someone is jailed, the easier it is to maintain family contacts and return to the community safely at the end of a sentence. We would hope that wherever possible Welsh prisoners are imprisoned in Wales but the pressures of overcrowding in the system as a whole mean that prisoners are often placed where there is a space rather than in the prison that would suit them best.
“The government should take bold action to reduce prison numbers and ease pressure on the system rather than continue the failed policy of building more and more prisons, only to fill them as quickly as they are built.”

Saturday, 16 September 2017

New HMO planning application rejected

Wrexham planning committee voted 14-0 to refuse a planning application to turn a 3-bedroom terrace house at 8 Albert St, Hightown, into six bedsits. There was one abstention. The decision was welcomed by local residents in the gallery.
 This is the latest HMO to be rejected by the planning committee, where members expressed concern about the impact such housing is having on parts of Wrexham. They rejected the application on parking grounds, criticising the Welsh Government's planning guidance that treated the change from a three-bed home to six bedsits as "neutral" in terms of impact on the street.
  Plaid Cymru councillors welcomed the decision, stating that licences for HMOs needed to be reviewed and tightened due to concerns about tenants' welfare.
 They are also calling for new council houses to be built as a priority to help answer housing need in the borough, believing that too many people on low incomes are being forced into substandard or unsuitable private accommodation.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Council leader stifles debate on The Groves

21st CENTURY SCHOOLS PLAN 'A MIXED BAG'
Plans to develop and improve schools in Wrexham have been described as a "mixed bag" by Plaid Cymru councillors.

Plaid Cymru's group has welcomed Wrexham Council's bid for 21st Century funding from the Welsh Government to improve schools, including plans to open a new Welsh-medium school for Borras.

But they have also criticised the plans as "vague" and "confusing" after the council refused to consider developing the vacant Groves site. They also condemned the failure to assess need for future Welsh-medium education need, including a second secondary school in the county.

Cllr Marc Jones, leader of the group, said: 
"We're fully behind the bid for 21st Century funding from the Welsh Government to improve our schools here in Wrexham. The new Welsh-medium school in Borras is long overdue given the pressures we've seen on the other schools in this category.
"Having said that, we are concerned - like many parents are - that there's no evidence of long-term planning to meet the evident demand for Welsh-medium education that's feeding through primary level and will soon impact on Ysgol Morgan Llwyd. The school has had to create a new form in Year Seven to cope with the growing demand and this is only going to increase in future. We want the council to be planning in detail for that growth now so that it can find a suitable site for a second school."
Cllr Jones also criticised attempts by the council leader to stifle debate on The Groves site: 
"Today's Executive Board had a report before it discussing schools and education. It acknowledged the pressures facing town-centre schools and mentioned The Groves site.
"That site was withdrawn from sale to Coleg Cambria by the council in November 2015 on the grounds that it was needed to meet the county's educational needs. Yet the 21st Century Schools Plan - which takes us to 2024 - does not mention developing the site and describes the building as being 'surplus to educational requirement'. If that's the case why did the council keep hold of it?
"The leader's refusal to take questions on that matter from a number of councillors was a disgrace and undermines the whole point of having the opportunity to quiz lead members on important matters like this. We need a wider discussion on what should happen to that site and the thought of it lying idle for another seven years is scandalous."

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Public meeting to debate plans for 82 houses in Summerhill

Plaid Cymru's Gwersyllt West Councillor Gwenfair Jones has organised a public meeting to discuss plans to build 82 houses in the area.

She said: "You may be aware that developers have put in a planning application to build 82 houses on Chestnut Heights, Summerhill (Off Top Road).
 "I believe that this is an inappropriate site for housing because of the poor road infrastructure, not just on Top Road but also along the whole length of Summerhill Road with existing traffic calming exacerbating traffic problems. 
 "This land is also unstable with a large railway tunnel running underneath the site. 
 "Despite there not being a Local Development Plan in place, developers must show that there is an exceptional need to build on what is a green barrier site separating two settlements, that of Gwersyllt and Summerhill. 
 "Recent building and planning consent will, when completed, result in around 80 new units on Boozey Fields and the old Summerhill Hall site and it would therefore be difficult to justify anymore on the basis of local need.

In order to discuss the matter further I have arranged a

 PUBLIC MEETING

AT GWERSYLLT RESOURCE CENTRE,

SECOND AVENUE, GWERSYLLT,

AT 6.30pm on THURSDAY 24th AUGUST 2017.

Everyone is welcome to this meeting and if you are unable to attend, feel free to check out the application on Wrexham Council website and respond quoting reference number P/2017/0651 on planning@wrexham.gov.uk or in writing to The Planning Departement, Wrexham CBC, The Guildhall, Wrexham, LL11 1AY.

The planning officer is Matthew Phillips who is contactable on 01978 298994

To respond please get in touch with Gwenfair.Jones@wrexham.gov.uk on 07855724605.