Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Secret council meeting rejects Plaid motion to scrap Kingdom contract

Wrexham Council's Executive Board met yesterday and the agenda included a proposal by Councillors Marc Jones and Carrie Harper from Plaid Cymru to suspend the contract with Kingdom Security.

Kingdom is responsible for enforcing littering and has issued more than 9,000 Fixed Penalty Notices in the two years it's been operating in Wrexham.

The Executive Board decided at the last minute to hear the matter behing closed doors and has now published a one-line summary of what was decided: The motion be not adopted.

The Executive Board will have to explain for itself why it made its decision and why the need for secrecy. People will come to their own conclusions and I hope we can explain in full how this council operates very soon.

More importantly, I hope we can change the way this council operates very soon.



THIS IS AN EXTENDED VERSION OF THE ARGUMENT PUT TO THE EXECUTIVE BOARD

As councillors we want to see cleaner streets and our residents are also fed up with rubbish being flytipped and dog mess fouling our communities. That's why Kingdom was initially brought in but the evidence is clear - Kingdom does not focus on dog fouling and flytipping but instead concentrates on cigarette-related littering. This makes up 92% of all the FPNs issued. And yet, according to official stats, the number of cigarettes sold in Wales dropped by an estimated 20% (Office of National Statistics) in the past two years as vaping becomes more popular.

Wxm Council issued 6,400 FPNs in 2016-7. That's more tickets than any other council in Wales. That's eight times more than Cardiff, a city three times our population. Yet, after more than two years of Kingdom, we believe the streets of Wrexham county borough are no cleaner. Our hard-pressed Streetscene workers are seeing no benefit, cllrs are seeing no benefit, businesses large and small are seeing no benefit. Only Kingdom shareholders are seeing the benefit.

Zero Tolerance Policy and the law

The council is putting itself at significant risk as the concept of zero tolerance for litter enforcement is not mentioned at all in statute. Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, the offence of littering is only complete under the ‘..... and leave it” clause. Defra and the Welsh Government make it clear in the guidance underpinning this legislation that accidental littering should not automatically lead to a FPN, and that a person should be given the opportunity to pick the litter up first. Under a zero tolerance regime, this is not happening, and I would therefore question the legality of all FPNs issued under it.

Previously we've been told guidelines are not law.
But the case of Ali v Newham Borough Council (2012) contradicts that assertion.

This High Court ruling clearly established that a local authority has no lawful justification for departing from government guidelines. Put simply, the guidelines issued must be followed, and an offence is only committed if the litter is left. By adopting the Zero Tolerance approach for litter enforcement, something Kingdom is naturally keen to see happen, the council is at risk of significant legal action being taken to rescind and repay all illegally issued FPNs. This in turn puts WCBC residents at risk, since any financial penalties will clearly be passed on to the taxpayers.

The Council is required by the Regulators’ Code to publish their Enforcement Policy explaining how they respond to non-compliance. It is recognised as an important document for regulators in meeting their responsibility under the statutory principles of good regulation, set out in Section 21 of The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, to be accountable and transparent about their activities. In particular:

The principles of the Regulators Code apply to enforcement action carried out by local authorities. An effective environmental offences enforcement regime is one that is proportionate, consistent, targeted, transparent and accountable.
The current draft statutory guidance places strong emphasis on a proportionate hierarchical approach to litter enforcement, focussing on education, awareness and warnings as opposed to a blanket Zero Tolerance approach, whereby even accidental littering is penalised.

But Zero Tolerance is not actually council policy.

From the council's own website:
"Dog Fouling and littering impact on all members of the community therefore all should comply with the law. However consideration is given to an individual who may have difficulty picking up dog foul or who is visually impaired”.
In addition, there is some tolerance shown in not prosecuting people under 18 and for people who are described as vulnerable. So there is no policy of zero tolerance.

Defra states in the consultation document ‘Modification to the Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse: Guidance on Effective Enforcement’:
“When exercising their enforcement powers, councils are acting in a quasi-judicial capacity, and we are clear that these powers must be exercised in such a way as to uphold public confidence in a fair judicial system. Fixed penalty notices should therefore only be issued when it is proportionate and in the public interest to do so. Disproportionate enforcement activity undermines legitimate messages against littering and other environmental offences. Our policy is clear that under no circumstances should councils view the use of fixed penalty notices or civil penalty notices as a means to generate income. Where councils choose to use a third-party enforcement service, they should use an approach which is not based on the number of fines issued or revenue raised as this practice undermines public confidence in and support for a fair judicial system.”
The Government therefore makes it clear that a target approach is not in support of the fair judicial system in the UK.

Zero tolerance is fundamental to the Kingdom contract. 

Without a zero-tolerance approach, Kingdom cannot give people who drop litter accidentally or fail to pick up litter their Fixed Penalty Notices. It is a fundamental part of the company's model because, if their street operatives were to give people the chance to pick up their litter, they would not make any money.

The term 'zero tolerance' is not mentioned in Council Minutes. It's also not referred to in the governing legislation, the Welsh Government guidance or the Council's own Environmental Enforcement Policy, which has a structured approach that obliges the enforcement officer to try and achieve compliance in the first instance. This is followed by a 'hierarchy' of enforcement which begins with a verbal warning before formal enforcement procedures are considered. The implications of this are twofold:

(a) that the Council has not authorised a policy of ‘zero tolerance’  
(b) That Kingdom have failed, either wilfully or mistakenly, to adopt and apply the staged approach to litter enforcement, so that almost all steps prior to court proceedings have been ignored, with the result that many thousands of Wrexham citizens have been incorrectly or unnecessarily criminalised, where alternatives could have been applied.
Anyone who has been served with a fixed penalty notice for an environmental offence and feels that they have been treated unfairly are entitled to seek to have their case reviewed and reconsidered.

The council's chief legal officer has confirmed in an e-mail dated June 22, 2018 that the council has no 'zero tolerance' policy regarding Kingdom's contract and therefore the council has a problem.

As a result of the significant reputational and legal risk this council faces, the motion submitted calls on the Executive Board to suspend with immediate effect the contract with Kingdom.

We don't believe the council should delay on this matter - Kingdom's fines amount to tens of thousands of pounds a month and, if we wait until the Task and Finish group reports back in the autumn, that potentially means more than £100,000 extra fines - which could be contested and could see Wrexham Council taxpayers footing the bill. 

I don't want to take that chance. The question is: Does the Executive Board?


Monday, 9 July 2018

Council leaders bid to ban press and public from Plaid debate on Kingdom



Plaid Cymru councillors have condemned plans by Wrexham Council's Executive Board to hear their motion to scrap the Kingdom contracts behind closed doors.

Cllr Marc Jones, who leads the group, said:
"We were informed by email at 5:30pm tonight that the Executive Board wanted to discuss tomorrow's motion in secret. There is no justification for this - the details of the contract with Kingdom are already in the public domain and have been examined in detail by scrutiny committees that were open to the public. 
"Let's be clear, this flies in the face of the huge public interest in this contract. Each year 6,500 people are fined by Kingdom in Wrexham and they and others have every right to hear our argument about why the contract should be ended as soon as possible 
"It's up to the 10 members of the Executive Board to decide but we will challenge any attempt to hear this behind closed doors."
The Executive Board meets at 10am in Wrexham Guildhall and the meeting is open to the press and public - unless the 10 members decide otherwise.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Tidal lagoon - What's that got to do with Wrexham?

Why the Swansea decision matters to everyone in Wrexham

Guest Post by Phil Rees

Anyone who’s ever driven from Wrexham to Swansea will be very aware of the distance between us, and the decision last week by the UK government not to fund the £1.3 billion Swansea Barrage Project may not seem that relevant to us locally. But it’s symptomatic of a problem that should be of concern to us all in Wales.

The barrage scheme (to create electricity from wave power) is one the most exciting, innovative and forward-looking projects we’ve seen for a long time, not just here but in the UK, and not surprisingly it was supported by all the political parties in Wales. That though doesn’t count for much in Westminster, and it failed because the UK government didn’t see it as value for money.

The decision wasn’t an isolated one. It comes on top of last year’s decision to cancel electrification of the Great Western line to Swansea despite a strong 2015 election manifesto promise from the Tories. 

Wales will remain one of just three countries in Europe (along with Albania and Moldova) without a mile of electrified railway (although the cables on the Great Orme Railway are powered by electric, if you want to include that!)

The £5bn rail electrification project was ditched supposedly because costs had risen, but for the HS2 project (£56 billion and rising) linking Leeds and Manchester to London, and Crossrail in London and the Home Counties (£14.8 billion and rising) that doesn’t seem to be an issue.

We do get some investment here in Wales of course. We get prisons, and we get nuclear power stations - the sorts of projects the UK needs, but that nobody else wants.

But money from the UK government for projects that will improve the infrastructure and economy in Wales but that are too large for the Welsh Government’s relatively small budget (like the road from here to Swansea perhaps)? Nope. Not going to happen.

And that leaves in a bit of a hole, because those big projects are vital to the health of the economy, due to their knock-on effect. It's not just about the original investment, it’s about the way that the injection of capital filters through the local economy and re-circulates, as sub-contractors and employees of the original project spend their money in the area, and others in turn do the same down the line.

Economists argue about how much that multiplier effect is worth but it can be anything from double the original amount up to five times. It tends to be higher in a rural economy, and where an economy is not yet at capacity. So in Wales, it's likely to have a big impact. And beyond that, there can be other benefits too, because a healthy economy is then more likely to attract investment from private investors too, who want in on the action. That initial project can be the seed-corn from which everything else grows; the spark that starts a flame.

How badly do we need that sort of kick-start at the moment? Well the strength of an economy, and the standard of living of its population, is usually measured in Gross Domestic Product or GDP, per head of population. (Actually there are two measures - GDP and GVA, but let’s not go there!). And in Wales GDP per capita is just £16000 (ranging from £11,000 in Ynys Mon to £22,000 in Cardiff). 

Every region of England beats that; in South East England it reaches £25,000, and in London £39,000. Scotland is on £21,000.

Outside the UK, Ireland, similar in so many ways to Wales, but independent since 1937 has a GDP per head of around £46,000. And Iceland, with a population just the size of Leicester, is roughly the same (You may remember that Iceland was one of the countries that struggled during the banking crisis, but it was also the country that recovered quickest too). 

And every country in Western Europe, whatever their size, is performing more strongly than Wales. We need investment desperately.

So if you were managing the UK economy, and London and the South East is already the strongest region, and Wales is the weakest, where would you invest first?

The UK government clearly thinks the right answer to that is London. It has no policy to correct the huge disparity in wealth by investing in its weakest areas, and hasn't had for many years (whoever’s been in power). 

It knows, of course, that the Swansea Barrage had the potential to add around £1000 to those GDP figures just on its own (how is that not value for money?), but it chooses to use that benefit elsewhere.

Incidentally, the EU in contrast does have a policy of trying to spread wealth around. Wales has received roughly £500 million per annum from Europe (we’re a net beneficiary, after allowing for what we put in). But not only is the Conservative UK government failing to invest here, it even refuses to give a commitment that, post-Brexit, it will replace the EU money we’ll lose. It seems that’s just another opportunity for the Tories in Westminster to look after its own at our expense, and widen the gap even more.

If the United Kingdom is going to starve us of that seed-corn investment to this extent, what is the benefit of Wales remaining a member? Why continue to pay our taxes to Westminster, for them to spend on areas of the UK that are already the richest? Isn’t that like giving our pay cheque to our richer neighbour next door to manage for us, and not minding that they spend it all on themselves instead?

And here’s the thing - if our economy is already so weak, and just ticking over at a subsistence level (a kind of ‘minimum wage’) then anything we do will improve it. If we were independent from the UK, and kept our taxes here, then whatever we were able to re-invest will have a positive impact, and our standard living can only go one way. 

We can still trade with the rest of the UK, and co-operate with them in other ways, but the potential for us, when you see what other small independent countries are achieving, is enormous. The UK government are actually creating the strongest argument yet for independence. Put simply, we have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Probably as much as £10,000 each.

• GDP figures : International Monetary Fund 2017 figures and 2015 Eurostat figures (converted at 2017 & 2015 average rates)

https://discourse.scot/2017/04/10/2015-gdp-per-capita-eu27-uk/

http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/documents/2995521/7962764/1-30032017-AP-EN.pdf/4e9c09e5-c743-41a5-afc8-eb4aa89913f6

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Review of schools admission process welcomed

Clare Roberts, a Wrexham mum of three, hands in her 500-strong petition to Wrexham Council's lead member for education Phil Wynn. Her two eldest sons are in separate Welsh-medium schools.
Plaid Cymru’s shadow education secretary has welcomed news that the Welsh Government will be reviewing the schools admissions policy in the autumn.

Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s North Wales AM, said the announcement by Kirsty Williams in the Assembly’s education committee was a welcome step forward after he had previously raised concerns about admissions policies that separated siblings in different primary schools.

He said:
“I’m glad that the education secretary is reviewing the admissions policy. It’s clear from approaches I have had from parents, in particular in the Wrexham area, that there are problems that need addressing. 
"The lack of spaces in Welsh-medium schools over the past few years has meant that a small number of parents have faced the nightmare of having two primary-school children having to go to different schools – often many miles apart. Last year a petition of more than 500 names was presented to the council on the matter, asking that keeping siblings together was given a greater priority. The stress it places on families having to be in two places at one time has not been sufficiently recognised and clearly can have an impact on the children as well. 
“It’s an issue that the council hopes will sort itself out as Welsh-medium provision is expanded to meet that demand but I’d like the Welsh Government to offer clearer guidance on the matter and that’s why I welcome this announcement.”

Pressure grows to keep disability living grant

Pressure is mounting on the Welsh Government to maintain an essential grant for disabled people after 20% of AMs backed a statement of opinion.

Plaid Cymru AM Llyr Gruffydd has tabled a Statement of Opinion in the National Assembly calling for the Welsh Independent Living Grant, which allows severely disabled people to continue to live independently, to be retained. The Welsh Government plans to scrap the grant next year, transferring the responsibilities over to Local Authorities.

Nathan Lee Davies, of Wrexham, has been campaigning to keep the grant for several years, and managed to pass a motion of support for maintain the grant at this year’s Welsh Labour Spring Conference.

Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s North Wales AM, said:
“Recipients of the Welsh Independent Living Grant tell me that the system as it is now works well, and they fear that transferring the responsibility over to councils would compromise their independence. Maintaining their independence is paramount. Their dignity and right to independence should be respected.
“Scotland’s Government has maintained its Independent Living Grant and indeed invested in the scheme. It’s widely supported by disabled people, and it provides a national criteria instead of forcing a prescribed criteria locally that would result in a post code lottery for the most severely disabled people. This is what will happen in Wales under the proposals.
“I’m calling for each Assembly member to sign up to my Statement of Opinion, and urging as many people to contact their Assembly Member asking them to support it. So far 20% of Assembly Members have signed up. I would hope that Labour Assembly Members would support it, as it chimes with their own party policy that was only passed earlier this year following a strong grassroots campaign.”

Disability campaigner Nathan Lee Davies, of Wrexham, gave his backing for the Statement of Opinion:
“This is a very frightening time for disabled people with high care and support needs across Wales as they are being asked to rely solely on cash-strapped local authorities to meet their daily living requirements. The Welsh Government is quite simply washing its hands of all responsibility towards this section of society.

“Care packages were originally agreed upon by the disabled individual, local authorities and a third-party social worker who was entirely independent. Under the new system, who would disabled people be able to turn to if they did not agree with the local authority? The existing tripartite system for deciding care packages MUST be maintained.

“I should also underline the fact that I am an employer who provides work for five other people. The loss of WILG could mean that my personal assistants will be losing significant amounts of work.”

The Statement of Opinion says:

This Assembly:
1. Notes the cuts suffered by local authorities over recent years, and the squeeze on social services budgets across Wales.
2. Further notes that article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states how people with disabilities should have “choices equal to others”.
3. Commends the Scottish Government on introducing a successful Independent Living Fund that is trusted and has a national criteria.
4. Believes that the Welsh Independent Living Grant should be retained as a national funding package with a national criteria, ensuring the recipients independence, along the lines of ILF Scotland.
Anybody wanting to urge their AM to sign the Statement of Opinion should ask them to support OPIN-2018-0094 The future of the Welsh Independent Living Grant






SOP and signatories here: http://record.assembly.wales/StatementOfOpinion/94


Pressure grows to keep essential disa





Pressure is mounting on the Welsh Government to maintain an essential grant for disabled people after 20% of AMs backed a statement of opinion.

Plaid Cymru AM Llyr Gruffydd has tabled a Statement of Opinion in the National Assembly calling for the Welsh Independent Living Grant, which allows severely disabled people to continue to live independently, to be retained. The Welsh Government plans to scrap the grant next year, transferring the responsibilities over to Local Authorities.

Nathan Lee Davies, of Wrexham, has been campaigning to keep the grant for several years, and managed to pass a motion of support for maintain the grant at this year’s Welsh Labour Spring Conference.

Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s North Wales AM, said: “Recipients of the Welsh Independent Living Grant tell me that the system as it is now works well, and they fear that transferring the responsibility over to councils would compromise their independence. Maintaining their independence is paramount. Their dignity and right to independence should be respected.
“Scotland’s Government has maintained its Independent Living Grant and indeed invested in the scheme. It’s widely supported by disabled people, and it provides a national criteria instead of forcing a prescribed criteria locally that would result in a post code lottery for the most severely disabled people. This is what will happen in Wales under the proposals.
“I’m calling for each Assembly member to sign up to my Statement of Opinion, and urging as many people to contact their Assembly Member asking them to support it. So far 20% of Assembly Members have signed up. I would hope that Labour Assembly Members would support it, as it chimes with their own party policy that was only passed earlier this year following a strong grassroots campaign.”

Disability campaigner Nathan Lee Davies, of Wrexham, gave his backing for the Statement of Opinion:

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

2,000 oppose privatisation of NHS staff at Wrexham renal unit


More than 2,000 people have now signed a petition opposing the privatisation of NHS staff at Wrexham and Welshpool's dialysis units. This column by Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru's North Wales AM, explains the background:

Next week, we will be celebrating the NHS’s 70th birthday. Despite the well-publicised problems our health service faces, it is still a treasured institution and provides a wonderful service for the vast majority of people. 

It now faces new challenges and locally they come from an unexpected quarter.

For the past six months, I and my Plaid Cymru colleagues have been working with NHS staff in Wrexham and Welshpool who fear their jobs could be privatised.

The renal units at both hospitals are run by Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board and it has put the services out to tender.

The two shortlisted options currently on the table include the option to allow a private company to run the units and transfer the existing staff from the NHS to the private sector. This would be the first documented case of NHS staff in Wales being privatised in this way and has, naturally, caused anxiety and concern among staff and trade unions.

Questions to the health secretary and First Minister by myself and colleagues have raised awareness that this process was ongoing. This, in itself, was surprising given that BCUHB has been directly run by the Welsh Government for the past three years. It is inconceivable that such a critical decision woud have happened without political approval and, indeed, BCUHB’s chief executive confirmed to me that the proposal had ‘Welsh ministerial backing’.

Staff have also sought reassurances and have been told by Government ministers that “we will not support the transfer of staff between the NHS and independent renal services providers”  and “Staff terms and conditions will be protected”.

There is, however, nothing to that staff will remain as NHS employees after the tender process is complete.  After six months of uncertainty, staff have now written to the First Minister asking for that assurance.

It’s not too much to ask is it?

These are dedicated and highly skilled nurses providing a specialist service for dialysis patients among others. They have not been involved in the process that could see them moved to the private sector, patients have not been consulted and the whole thing has been swept under the carpet by ministers and health board managers alike. Nurses say they feel stressed, demoralised and undervalued by the whole process.

Despite all the promises by politicians, one of the two options on the table would see Wrexham staff transfer to a private company. In Welshpool’s case, both options mean staff being privatised.

Throughout this process, I have sought clarity from politicians and health board officers on behalf of those most directly affected. Now that the decision is imminent, it’s vital that everybody who values our NHS stands up to have their say about this dangerous development - this is privatisation by the back-door and will see the likes of Virgin Health and other large corporations creep ever further into our NHS.

We can never take our NHS for granted. It’s clear that the direction of travel in England under the Tories is for a fragmented and privatised NHS. The decision taken this summer by BCUHB may see Wales start to go down the same route under Labour. 

• The nurses’ petition – now more than 2,000 strong – can be signed at

Call to restore funding for advice service

Plaid Cymru councillors are urging Wrexham Council to reinstate long-term funding for a vital advice service in the borough ensuring sustainability for the organisation and the people of Wrexham.

The Citizens' Advice service recently received a £25,000 grant from the council for 2018-9, a cut from the £50,000 transition funding they requested to keep the service open. Citizens' Advice, prior to the council decision to cut funding, received more than £99,000 to enable support to be provided to the community. The current enquiry levels are in excess of21,000 a year, with maximised income into Wrexham through benefit applications running at over £3 million.

From 2000 to 2015 Citizens Advice received a grant from the Local Authority of just over £99,000 per year which enabled a full service to be delivered. The £25,000 will assist to keep the doors open, however restyling of the service delivery is being looked at with potential changes from September 2018.

Councillor Marc Jones, who leads Plaid Cymru group, said: 
"It's clear from meeting with management at the Citizens' Advice service that the important work they do in helping people with debt, welfare and benefits advice will be compromised by this cut.The full advice that can be provided by this organisation is from an up to date information system covering every subject possible. Sessions will be reduced and people in outlying areas will be unable to access the service locally. At a time when problems with personal debt, job insecurity, low pay and benefit changes are causing a lot of anxiety and problems, the county needs this service more than ever.
"The service has already cut its costs with staff not being replaced and people doing additional work for nothing. That's not a sustainable way to keep things going and there's a real risk that the entire service could collapse if funding isn't restored. That would be a disaster for the area with so many people reliant on the service.
"Citizens' Advice offers independent advice for the whole population and, while the council has its own Welfare Rights service, it does not cover the range of services offered by CAB. As such, the Citizens's Advice is good value for money and something the council should continue to support beyond this year."

Monday, 18 June 2018

Wrexham fire engine looks safe - for now

Today's meeting of the North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority has voted to consult on two options to maintain services:

1) Asking all six local councils to pay more
2) Ask all six local council to pay some more and also make 'internal cuts'.

This means that an earlier proposal to consult on cutting one of Wrexham's two whole-time fire engines and crew has been taken off the table. At least for the time being.

Plaid Cymru councillor Marc Jones, who spearheaded last year's campaign to save the engine, said:
"This is good news for Wrexham and the entire region. The second fire engine crews regularly cover for more rural stations as well as Wrexham and I think that's been recognised.
"It's important now that the Fire Authority is put on a more sustainable and secure financial footing. It's no good having this hand-to-mouth existence each year and that's why I'd favour moving to a separate precept as the police do. By doing that, taxpayers could clearly see what they were paying for rather than the Fire Authority having to go cap in hand to the councils each year.
"The Fire Authority's members have clearly understood the message that came from last year's campaign - Wrexham needs its fire crews and engines and the local population are behind our firefighters 100% in ensuring our town and surrounding areas are kept safe."

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Citizens' Advice service given reprieve - Tories try to claim the credit

Strange to see the Tories trying to claim the credit for a u-turn on funding for Citizens' Advice services in Wrexham. They also try to blame Plaid Cymru for not including it in an Alternative budget put forward by Labour that we supported.

The simple fact is that Plaid voted against the Tory-Independent budget and opposed the cuts in it.
The Tories voted for it and are now desperately wriggling around trying to blame others for not opposing it strongly enough!

Here's my response to the Tory letter in today's Leader:

Dear Editor
Don Sturgeon's attempts to muddy the waters on the Citizens' Advice funding are unsurprising, given that he's a Tory.
The reality is that all Tory councillors - along with the two independent groupings - voted for a budget earlier this year that cut key services including Citizens' Advice. Plaid Cymru, Labour and non-aligned councillors voted against that budget.
The subsequent change of heart and partial u-turn after only a few months owes much to the pressure put on the ruling alliance over such a vital service.
Plaid Cymru's group of councillors are glad that partial funding for the Citizens' Advice service has been agreed but it's only temporary. The ongoing and underlying problem is that Tory cuts continue to make it difficult, if not impossible, for councils and other public bodies to maintain services. Those gaping potholes and uncut grass verges, those overcrowded schools and closed community centres - the blame lies squarely with a Tory party that prioritises bailing out bankers to maintaining public services.
It's also a Tory party that is willing to spend billions on a pointless high-speed rail link from Birmingham to London and billions more on a Trident nuclear missile system while the level of poverty among children in Wales rises to a third.
 yours

Cllr Marc Jones
Plaid Cymru Wrexham

Tory councillor Andrew Atkinson also claims the £25,000 funding is enough to fund the service. This is at odds with what the manager of Wrexham's Citizens' Advice told the Executive Board - it needed £50,000 to continue as it was.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Ty Grosvenor: When is locked not secure?

The new mental health hospital called Ty Grosvenor on Grosvenor Road intends to open towards the end of this month.

The privately run unit will - according to a letter sent to the council - provide care for 34 men and women.

This is the letter sent by their architects to Wrexham Council's planning department to justify NOT applying for planning permission as a secure rehabilitation unit:

Q+A Planning Ltd act on behalf of Elysium Healthcare, the intended operator of the recently constructed development at 16-18 Grosvenor Road, Wrexham, LL11 1BU.
As you will be aware, planning application reference P/2015/0900 permitted the ‘erection of a 34-bed care home (Class C2) with provision of 14 car parking spaces’ on the 7th March 2016.
Elysium wish to respond to recent incorrect speculation that it is their intention to occupy and operate this site as a secure residential institution, for which the use would fall within Use Class C2a.
The facility will be known as Ty Grosvenor and has been designed specifically as a rehabilitation centre for both male and female adults who present with a range of complex conditions that require specialist recuperation and care prior to moving onto a more community integrated setting.
Elysium’s experienced multidisciplinary team will use a recovery-based approach which is designed to empower individuals by providing opportunity and hope through active rehabilitation programmes. Within the service that Ty Grosvenor is to provide, the overall aim will be for many of the individuals to return to their home area and family environment.
However, it is equally recognised that for some achieving greater independence within a care setting is a more realistic prospect. Care will be provided by a range of experienced healthcare professionals, whereby each individual’s needs are routinely assessed and adapted to suit.
Programmes of Care are to be individually devised with the individual’s input which focuses on their short and long-term goals whilst allowing them to build up interests such as exercise and community-based activities.
The care pathway will also allow individual’s time to participate in self-directed leisure and work experience within the community which will encourage greater independence and time for relaxation.
It is therefore clear that the Ty Grosvenor facility will continue to fall in line with its permitted residential institution C2 Use Class as defined by the Town and Country Planning (Wales) Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987.
Elysium wish to take this opportunity to categorically confirm that there have never been any intentions to operate this building as a secure hospital (Class C2a), for which it is acknowledged that a change of use planning application would be required. As a matter of relevant planning case law, I wish to draw your attention to the case of Tendring District Council, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Communicates and Local Government [2008] EWHC 2122 (Admin) whereby Mr Justice Sullivan adopted a broad approach to the classification of uses within the Use Classes Order 1987, expressing the view that there were no clear lines to be drawn between hospitals, nursing homes and residential care homes.
I trust this provides useful background information of my client’s intentions regarding Ty Grosvenor, and the necessary assurance that the building will be operating within the scope defined under the operative planning consent. 
On its website, however, Elysium continues to advertise for nursing staff to operate in Ty Grosvenor, which is described as a "male locked rehabilitation service".



This description chimes with what I was verbally told by the site manager when I visited the unit in March 2018. He said the site will be for men aged 18-65 who are leaving secure units to begin their rehabilitation. These would be men with They will be kept in the unit until assessed to be able to leave the premises under supervision and, ultimately, with supervision.

It was emphasised during the visit that such an unit would enable people from north Wales to avoid having to go out of area for such a service.

However, Betsi Cadwaladr's June 7th health board meeting heard that no mental health patients from north Wales currently go out of area for their care:
"Since the peak in May 2017, the number of patients being treated out of area was 27, this has reduced to zero as of April 2018. This has been achieved through actions to improve the patient flow, including the introduction of daily Acute Care Meetings on each site involving all the multi-disciplinary team."
This begs the question - who will be commissioning the service from Elysium Healthcare if not Betsi Cadwaladr?

I remain concerned that the vulnerable men (and, it now appears, women) who will be placed in this new unit could fall prey to unscrupulous drug dealers in the immediate area. These are already active on Grosvenor Road and are quite happy to target people with mental health problems.

Local residents and local businesses as well as the local councillor have been kept out of the loop throughout the process. Some local businesses have been invited to a pre-launch curry night on June 28th.

There are many more questions to be answered about this unit and it doesn't bode well that the company running the unit is unwilling to be more open.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Use chief executive 'windfall' to fund Citizens' Advice - Plaid





Plaid Cymru councillors have made a case to keep Wrexham's Citizens' Advice centre open - by using funds saved from not having a permanent chief executive in post over the past nine months.

Plaid group leader Marc Jones said the Citizens' Advice centre on Grosvenor Road was a huge asset to the borough and had dealt with more than 5,000 cases last year alone.

He said:

"At a time when more and more people are struggling to keep a roof over their heads, access services and get independent advice, it's vital we have the expertise and experience of Citizens' Advice available locally.

"The centre is an asset to the people but also to the council - with trustees saying it has saved the authority £200,000 last year.
"It was disappointing that the full council wasn't able to vote on this matter last month and I hope the Executive Board tomorrow will see sense and continue to fund the centre in the future. The options on the table are very modest - just £25,000 a year would make a huge difference to the service.
"This is a council that has saved around £100,000 from not employing a permanent chief executive over the past nine months, with one of our executive directors stepping up to carry out the role. This unexpected windfall could be used to benefit a valuable service."
Cllr Jones, who represents the Grosvenor ward where the service is situated, said losing the funding could see the advice centre close and put additional pressure on council officers and services.

• UPDATE: The Executive Board agreed to put £25,000 towards the service. Thanks to everyone who put pressure on the council's ruling clique to change their mind.



Monday, 4 June 2018

Call for quality housing for our town centre


Tonight's planning committee was split down the middle on a contentious plan to turn office space into a block of flats in one of the town centre's most historic streets.

The first item on the agenda was a plan to turn upstairs  space on King Street into a block of five flats while retaining a retail space on the ground floor. The Coleg Cambria end of King Street is within the Conservation Area.

Councillor Marc Jones, who represents the Grosvenor ward which includes King Street, said he was supportive of town centre living generally but stressed that it had to be done in the right way and to ensure quality housing:
"If we get this wrong we will be storing up problems for the future."
He explained that the property would be extended, losing one of two parking spaces, and the five flats could accommodate 10 people.

Cllr Jones added:
"The tenants will not have any parking facilities as the single parking space will be alloted to the retail unit. So if the landlord calls, if tradespeople need to carry out work there will not be anywhere for them to park. The only options will be to park on neighbouring office spaces or the adjoining streets of Rhosddu, which are already full to bursting.
"We're told this is a sustainable location in the heart of town but the truth is that anyone needing to get to work cannot rely on the bus services. We've seen a 20% drop in bus services in the past couple of years and our public transport system isn't working as it should."
Cllr Jones also explained that the tenants would have no amenity space - with just about enough room for five bins (one per flat) and an alleyway in which they'd be expected to dry their clothes and store any bicycles.

The officer recommendation was to allow but Cllr Jones moved to refuse on the grounds of lack of amenity. The planning committee was split down the middle - voting 5-5. The chair therefore used his casting vote in favour of the application.


Friday, 1 June 2018

'Too little, too late' - Welsh Government accused over housing developments

The Welsh countryside has been left wide open to speculative developers due to a failure to act by the Welsh Government.


That's the view of Plaid Cymru's North Wales AM Llyr Gruffydd, who said the Labour minister in charge of planning had done 'too little, too late' to stop developers building hundreds of houses on greenfield sites.


Of the 25 local planning authorities in Wales (22 councils and three national parks) only six have a sufficient supply.

This is what the consultation states: 
The monitoring of housing land supply has highlighted a shortfall in deliverable land. As at 1 April 2017 nineteen out of the twenty-five local planning authorities were unable to demonstrate a five-year housing land supply, including where LDPs have only recently been adopted. This situation has resulted in an increase in the number of speculative planning applications for housing. 

Suspending this particular paragraph in the Technical Advice Note 1 would make it more difficult for large-scale developments to take place in the open countryside. As things stand, the emphasis placed on having a five-year land supply often means developers can appeal to the Planning Inspectorate and Welsh Government to get planning permission, despite the views of local planning committees.

Llyr Gruffydd AM said: 
"Councils across Wales have seen speculative housing developments in the open countryside for some years now. The Welsh Government has been made aware of these problems by many communities but chose to support appeals by developers in the face of local democratic decisions and opposition. The minister even opposed one such development in her own constituency, where 365 homes were allowed on appeal in Llay.

"The Government is trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted. Thousands of unnecessary houses have been granted permission while ministers dawdled and delayed.  

"So, while I welcome the proposed suspension because it will provide greater safeguards for communities, it is too little, too late for many developments."


He added: 

"If the Labour government had been quicker in recognising the problem, which was apparent to all, then it would have been possible to resist many of these large-scale housing developments. As it is, large swathes of our countryside have been left defenceless." 


Thursday, 24 May 2018

Democracy denied

Citizens' Advice services under threat 


A motion to last night's full council by the Labour Group calling for £50,000 to be given to Citizens' Advice to keep it open was effectively blocked last night.
 The motion, which had the support of Plaid Cymru, was an attempt to provide funding for a vital independent advice service that is more needed than ever at a time of cuts and benefit changes. Wrexham is the only council in Wales that does not fund Citizens' Advice and there are real concerns that the service will have to close without this funding.
 The legal advice given to the chair stated that the motion involved a financial commitment and would therefore have to go before the Executive Board - the very body that decided to stop the funding in the first place.
 So we have a ridiculous situation where the 52 councillors on the full council do not even have an indicative vote on a matter that is clearly important. Their views are irrelevant while the views of 10 councillors representing barely half of all the councillors are paramount.
The only people cheering this denial of democracy will be the rogue landlords, dodgy salesmen and bad bosses - these are the people held to account by independent advice services such as Citizens' Advice when tenants, workers and customers get a bad deal.
 Had Plaid Cymru councillors been able to speak, we would have recommended the council pay the money from the tens of thousands we've saved over the past seven months by not having a chief executive officer.

Rhosddu Council calls for end to Kingdom litter contract

Councillors in Rhosddu have unanimously backed calls to end Kingdom Security's contract with Wrexham Council.

At last night's meeting they backed Cllr Marc Jones's request to write to the council calling for an end to the contract.

The meeting heard that a third of all the litter tickets issued by Kingdom throughout the borough were in just one ward - Grosvenor - in Rhosddu. Councillors told of their experience of seeing people getting off the bus in King Street being targetted and followed by Kingdom staff.

Cllr Steve Gittins said the amount of waste being prosecuted each month amounted to a bin bag of waste throughout the borough.

Cllr Marc Jones, who is county councillor for Grosvenor ward, said:
"Everyone was agreed that the community wasn't benefitting from this aggressive approach to littering. We want cleaner communities and specifically action to be taken on dog fouling and fly tipping, which are major problems in the county. Instead, Kingdom are targetting vulnerable people who can be pressurised into paying fines rather than going after the real culprits. 
"Other authorities in north Wales have scrapped their contracts with Kingdom and we want to see Wrexham Council do the same so that we can have community-friendly enforcement that works for everyone rather than a Merseyside-based private company."
Rhosddu joins Caia Community Council in opposing the Kingdom contract and Wrexham Council has agreed to carry out a review of the contract.