Thursday, 21 May 2015

The House of Cards Wrexham style!

We have previously written here and here about Wrexham Council's Tory/Independent coalition's move to grab more power...and money by gerrymandering the constitution on the back of unseen legal advice.

Last night, Wednesday the 20th May 2015, the report outlining the reasons for subverting democracy was presented to the Full Council. It was a long and 'fiery' debate with the administration's plans the subject of withering attack from Plaid Cymru, Liberal Democrat and Labour Councillors.

This is what I had to say on the matter:

My fundamental objection to changing the method of governance of this council is that it is unnecessary. The claim is that we are not compliant with the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011, in fact the Wales Audit Office confirm that a political balanced ExecutiveBoard is in fact compliant. What is not compliant is the way thecouncil allocated the Chairs of Audit and Democratic ServicesCommittees back in September last year; I will say no more about that at this point as that is the subject of an internal audit complaint 
The second point I wish to make is that the constitutional change is based on counsel’s legal advice that in fact few of us have seen. How can we be expected to vote on something we have not seen? Therefusal to release this report again raises the point of for whosebenefit was this legal advice? The offer of a release of ‘relevantparts’ with conditions is not acceptable and we need to see thewhole advice to understand the whole context of the advice especially what Counsel was asked to advise on! Has anyone seenthe question posed to counsel? 
The third point I wish to make is the short time frame in which toconsult; this is a complex area and this change to the constitution should have been brought to the recent workshop on theConstitution. We can only draw our own conclusions at to why itwas not. 
The fourth point I wish to make is around what I call the ‘powergrab’. Any change from a politically balance Executive Board of 10 to a partisan coalition of 10 is nothing more than securing their ownpower base and diminishing the influence of the opposition especially as the coalition also retains 5 Chairs of Committees. In fact33 Coalition members will share 15 posts that pay a Senior Salary a 2:1 ratio whilst 19 members of the opposition will share 3 or 4 poststhat pay a senior salary, 1:5 ratio. 
Finally we have the costs involved and as you have quoted yourselves the additional cost of this constitutional change in seniorsalaries is £63,000 per annum. So what we have in this age ofausterity is council employees doing more for less and Councillorsdoing less for more. The public perception will be that were not all in this together.

The three opposition groups moved a series of amendments most of which were defeated by 29 - 14, including one NOT to pay a senior salary to the 3 extra cabinet lead members.

The main proposal to change the constitution was passed 29 - 17, with Plaid Cymru, Labour and Lib Dem Councillors voting against. The vote was recorded so we can all see who voted for more of the gravy train.

The whole debacle received extensive coverage from our hyperlocal website here and here , but we can only speculate as to why our local regional MSM printed papers 'played this whole issue down.'

Labour minister recycles old news

The Labour Government in Cardiff seems very keen on recycling – in particular recycling old news.

On Monday, Wrecsam AM Lesley Griffiths, the Communities minister, made a “significant” announcement. It was to say that £108 million was being allocated to improve social housing in Wales through the Major Repairs Allowance (MRA).

It would have been a more significant event had she not announced the MRA was £108m. Because ever since 2004, the MRA has been stuck on £108m and every year a housing minister has trumpeted this budget line.

If it had kept pace with inflation, it would now be worth £152m. Perhaps that’s the significance.

Carry on recycling!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Labour hypocrites on the picket line

Just before the May 7th elections, staff at Further Education colleges held protests outside various institutions against drastic cuts to adult education being imposed by the Labour Government in Cardiff.
 In the case of Coleg Llandrillo it was 8.8% with a 50% cut in the provision for those aged over 24 years. So much for providing the skills for future employment that so many people need and the government's ministers relentlessly trumpet.
 As candidate for Clwyd West, I joined the protest at Coleg Llandrillo in Rhos-on-Sea, along with fellow trade unionists from Unite, Unison and the lecturers' union UCU. I was also joined by Plaid Cymru's local Rhos-on-Sea councillor Phil Edwards (pictured at the centre). But imagine my surprise to see Labour candidates Gareth Thomas (Clwyd West) and Mary Wimbury (Aberconwy) join the protest - presumably in protest at their own party's policy of cutting funding for further education.
 Surely it wasn't just a cynical vote-catching exercise?!


Changes to Wrexham Council’s constitution are “subverting democracy” and will mean an extra £63,000 a year for senior councillors, says Plaid Cymru’s group leader Arfon Jones.

Plaid Cymru Councillor Arfon Jones, of Gwersyllt West, is also concerned that legal advice backing the changes have not been shared with councillors. As a result, he has been forced to utilise the Freedom of Information Act to ask for a copy of the legal advice that Wrexham Council has obtained to support a change in its constitution. The change will concentrate power in the ruling Independent-Tory coalition and mean an increased spend on Senior Salaries for councillors.

Cllr Jones said: 
"I have asked Wrexham Council to provide a copy of the legal advice on which this change of constitution is justified. They initially refused, then they offered bits and pieces of the advice in confidence which I feel is insufficient. As a result, I have made a request under the Freedom of Information Act. It is essential that changes to the constitution, which will increase one group's political influence  and diminishes other groups’ influence, is subject of full scrutiny and consultation. How can we make decisions on incomplete information? The report on Wednesday flies in the face of the concept of openness and transparency and should be deferred until we have all the information to hand."

Cllr Jones has also sent a Freedom of Information request to the Wales Audit Office as they are blamed by the Council for demanding this change in the Constitution. Cllr Jones said: 
"I was told that the Wales Audit Office had told Wrexham Council to change the Constitution as it was non-compliant with the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011. I asked for copies of letters from the Audit Office and was told there were none and that the advice was verbal between an auditor and a senior officer. I find it hard to accept that a significant change would be made on the back of a verbal conversation. " "The Plaid Cymru group believe that the changes to the Constitution are political so as to strengthen the power of the ruling coalition and they are looking for reasons to justify the change. Whoever has come up with this has been watching too much House of Cards rather than getting on with the job of making Wrexham a better place to live and work. It’s a crass attempt at subverting democracy."

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Money and Power Grab at Wrexham Council.

At next weeks's Council meeting members of the Wrexham Council's ruling coalition will seek to consolidate their power base by changing the constitution to benefit their administration by going from a 'politically balanced' Executive Board to a Cabinet system where the coalition take up all 10 cabinet positions compared to a 7 - 3 split previously.

Plaid Cymru opposes these changes and have issued the following statement:


New constitution will mean more money for ruling group councillors 

Council leaders have been accused of a “money grab” after it emerged that they will receive pay rises of £63,000 a year under plans to re-organise Wrexham council’s constitution. Plaid Cymru councillors on the council say the Independent-Tory coalition that runs the council is changing the rules to grab more power and money by taking all the seats on the ruling executive board rather than ensuring it’s politically balanced.

Plaid Cymru accusing them of “gerrymandering the constitution” to their own benefit. 

Councillor Arfon Jones, who leads the Plaid Cymru group on Wrexham council, said:

“Wrexham Council claim that they have to do this. But the current politically balanced is perfectly lawful and has worked well for the past decade. What is morally wrong is the way they the council have allocated the chairs of the various committees in a way that favours the ruling group and reduces the opportunity for opposition councillors to scrutinise and challenge decisions. 

"That’s bad enough but this change will also give the 33-strong ruling coalition 15 senior salaries - or one for every two Councillors. The remaining 19 opposition members will get 3 or 4 senior salaries.  This would mean an additional cost of £63,000 per annum, which is unjustified when council employees are doing more with less and councillors are doing less for more, 

“It’s not surprising that politicians in general are seen as greedy and self-serving when they spend so much time concocting a grubby little deal to get themselves more money rather than concentrate on the real issues in hand – delivering good services and protecting jobs. This report should be seen for what it is-  a 'money grab' and a 'power grab'. The losers in all this are Wrexham taxpayers who will see more decisions being agreed behind closed doors and going through on the nod with little or no scrutiny. For that privilege they will have to pay more. Every right and fair minded individual should oppose this.”

Monday, 20 April 2015

Providing Information on Historical Child Sex Abuse.

I am grateful to the Orkney Vole for bringing this House of Commons vote  , which seemed to have slipped under our scrutiny radar.

The vote held on the 21st February 2015, sought to introduce a new clause into the Serious Crime Bill to make it easier for those subject to the Official Secrets Act to disclose information on historical child sex abuse.

The intention was that the new clause would amend Section 8 of the 1989 Official Secrets Act, which concerns the 'safeguarding of information' and makes it an offence to disclose information without authorisation.

The proposed new clause would have provided a defence to 'unauthorised disclosure of information' if it was:

  • Germane to an official investigation of, or inquiry into, historic child abuse... and was provided to an officer of such an investigation or inquiry.
Clearly the intention here was to make it more difficult to cover up historical child sex abuse cases in future which in itself was an admirable aim.

Unfortunately most MP's on the Government benches (Conservatives and Liberal Democrats) voted AGAINST this amendment, but with some notable exceptions like Guto Bebb.


Stephen Crabb.
David Davies.
Glyn Davies.
David Jones.

Liberal Democrats.

Mark Williams.
Jennifer Willott.

The amendment was defeated by 295 votes to 233.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Complaint of bias over Communities First newsletter featuring Labour party candidate

A complaint has been submitted to Wrexham council following the distribution of the latest Communities First newsletter across the Caia Park and Hightown areas of Wrexham. The publication, which includes the logo's of the Welsh Government and Wrexham council, features no less than 5 pictures of former Wrexham Labour MP Ian Lucas, including 2 on the front page.

An official complaint has been made to Wrexham council who manage Communities First locally. The council’s legal officer Trefor Coxon has confirmed that the matter is now being investigated and that the council have instructed Communities First to stop delivering the newsletter with immediate effect whilst this investigation takes place.

Carrie Harper, Plaid Cymru Parliamentary candidate for Wrexham said: 

" With just 3 weeks to the General Election, we are currently in a pre election period. Local authorities have a legal obligation not to publish any material which appears to support a political party, people identified with a political party or that could influence voters in any way. 

"Communities First is publicly funded and is managed by Wrexham council. The leaflet in question contains numerous pictures of Ian Lucas, two on the front page, with even more inside. There are also additional pictures featuring Mr Lucas's wife and Labour county councillors. At first glance I thought it was a Labour party leaflet, the newsletter is intended to go out to thousands of local people in the Caia Park and Hightown area."

"This perceived bias towards the Labour party from Communities First is clearly inappropriate generally but especially during the election period."

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Create a North Wales powerhouse in Wrexham – Plaid Cymru

Plaid Cymru’s leader Leanne Wood has backed Wrexham to become the powerhouse of North Wales by calling for moving specific Welsh Government functions to help deliver a devolution dividend for all Wales outside Cardiff Bay.

On a visit to Wrexham this morning, Leanne Wood said: “Plaid Cymru, as the Party of Wales, wants the Assembly to work for all of Wales. That’s not always been the case with the Labour-run government, which has chosen to blow £1 billion on an M4 by-pass for Newport rather than choosing to invest in much-needed infrastructure here in the North.

 “Plaid Cymru is committed to making sure devolution works for every part of Wales, including the north-east. We want to see, for example, some functions of Welsh Government run from Wrexham so that we create a real Northern powerhouse here. Wrexham and Flintshire are already great centres of manufacturing and innovation, there are excellent colleges and Glyndwr University to back up that economic development. We need to see a real commitment from the Welsh Government to boosting Wrexham as an important centre in the North.”

Friday, 3 April 2015





Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood has today urged her party's activists to "seize the momentum" gained by success in last night's televised debate and work like never before to deliver the best for Wales.

The response to Leanne Wood's performance both on social media and by political commentators was phenomenal, with a range of analysts recognising that her message would have been well received by the people of Wales. 

Brandwatch React’s instant feedback tables showed that Plaid Cymru had the best percentage of positive to negative mentions on Twitter tonight.

The Daily Telegraph’s tracker put Leanne Wood in second place with 66% cheers, more than twice as much positive support as David Cameron and a 19% higher cheer rating than Ed Miliband.

Meanwhile, Twitter analytic experts, Blurrt UK, also agreed that Leanne Wood was consistently rated among the top performers.

In addition, there were very positive signs for the Plaid Cymru leader in the sub-samples of opinion polls. Despite being on a smaller scale, these samples indicated that people in Wales were more likely to vote for Plaid Cymru as a result of Leanne Wood's performance.

Leanne Wood said:

"We have received some great feedback for Plaid Cymru's messages which I was able to convey to the widest audience we have ever addressed as a party.

"The reaction from people not just in Wales but throughout the UK and beyond has been overwhelmingly positive, particularly on social media.

"Last night's line-up showed that the face of UK politics has changed.

"I was pleased to be able to put across Plaid Cymru's positive message that there is an alternative to cuts and that our party will give Wales the strongest voice possible in Westminster.

"This weekend, our activists will be seizing this momentum and taking this message to every corner of Wales. Street by street, conversation by conversation, Plaid Cymru is convincing people that this is not as good as it gets for Wales.

"The Westminster parties have failed our nation. With clear plans to grow the economy, create jobs and protect our public services, a vote for Plaid Cymru on May 7th will secure the best deal possible for Wales in Westminster."

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

So how many houses does Wrecsam need?

Every local council has to produce a Local Development Plan to provide a framework for the area in terms of allocating land for housing, industry, leisure etc.
 Wrecsam Council had its LDP rejected by the Welsh Government on the basis that it didn't provide enough housing between now and 2028. The Welsh Government has based housing numbers on a population projection that would see the county borough's population rise 22% by 2035 - a leap that would be unprecedented and is not mirrored in any other council area in North Wales.
 It is, quite simply, a finger in the air exercise with no scientific basis. Even if there was a logic to it, it is not a desirable outcome to see such a rapid growth in the town's population when we know that the existing infrastructure - health, education, transport and public services - are already creaking.
 The original LDP allocated land for about 8,000 new homes - a significant growth but one that was felt to be manageable and organic as the growth was spread throughout the villages and towns.

 The council is now consulting on LDP2, which generously offers three options based on Welsh Minister Carl Sargeant's population projections:

1. 13,010 new homes
2. 11,030 new homes
3. 10,100 new homes

And that's it.
 This is not a grassroots consultation to assess how many homes are needed in, say, Coedpoeth or Marchwiel in the coming 15 years. The numbers involved mean that large-scale new villages or commuter estates will be created along the A483 corridor - effectively creating an urban sprawl from Gresford to Ruabon. We've already seen developers apply for hundreds of houses at Llay and Rhosrobin, with planning permission for 319 homes granted on Monday for Ruabon. This is just the start of a process that could see huge swathes of green barrier Tarmaced in the name of progress.

 These large-scale sites do not deliver affordable homes - they are designed for commuters to get onto the A483 as quickly as possible. Now any fool knows that the A483 has already reached capacity further along at the Posthouse roundabout and no amount of rejigging there is going to end the chaos soon. Planners don't seem to do joined-up thinking because these housing developments are not connected with industry or jobs.
Any serious plan in this day and age needs to be looking at reducing carbon footprints, reducing travel by car and creating employment opportunities within communities. 

But the madness of the plan is only really exposed when you look at the amount of houses that would have to be built every year from now until 2028.

If the lowest target is approved, you're talking about 710 homes every year.
The middle target inreases that to 770 houses a year.
The highest target would mean an eye-watering 910 homes a year being built.

To put that into context, last year 215 homes were built and over the past 10 years it's been an average of 426 - that includes the massive housing boom. At its height, the boom in 2006-7 saw 945 homes built.

Council planners, under threat from a Labour Welsh Government that knows nothing and cares less about communities, are trying to railroad through a plan that can't work. What it will do though is open the floodgates for many speculative housing developments that will see more commuter estates created around the borough, putting more and more pressure on schools and health services as well as clogging up our roads.

• As an aside, the draft LDP has a "vision" that can only have been written by someone with a loose grip on reality (as well as the English language). The LDP's proposed vision states: "By 2028, Wrexham will be a place where people can live active, healthy and independent lives; our economy will be strong, resilient and responsive to our strategic location within North East Wales and in close proximity to the North West of England. Wrexham will be a place where everyone feels safe and included, which reduces inequalities and a place that positively responds to the quality and distinctiveness of our natural, built heritage and culture assets"

 The only surprise is that the work "sustainable" wasn't included, as it's almost compulsory for council officers to include it somewhere. Perhaps someone belatedly realised that the entire document isn't sustainable and will not leave communities stronger or safer.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Plaid candidate highlights alternative to austerity at party conference

Carrie Harper, Plaid Cymru councillor and parliamentary candidate for Wrecsam, has blasted the austerity consensus of the London parties, stating that ‘unfair’ cuts are hitting the poor, women and the disabled disproportionately hard,  whilst imposing unnecessary cuts to public services.
Speaking at the party’s spring conference in Caernarfon, Carrie Harper outlined Plaid’s vision of a progressive alternative to austerity, with a focus on job creation, a commitment to tackle tax evasion and avoidance and scrapping of ‘wasteful’ spending, such as £100 billion for renewing Trident nuclear weapons.
Plaid Cymru are also demanding parity with Scotland on powers and on funding. They state the current devolution settlement is third rate, and equality on funding would mean an additional £1.2 billion every year for Wales.
Carrie Harper from Caia Park said:
“ Austerity is a failure and it hasn't reduced the deficit as planned, UK debt currently stands at £1.4 trillion and it’s rising every day. Plaid Cymru MP’s will demand that austerity is abandoned for the ineffective and immoral policy that it is. We want to see prosperity not austerity.

With our sister party the SNP in Scotland and the Greens in England, we will form an Anti Austerity Alliance after this election. With a hung parliament likely, we may well hold the balance of power. We have a real chance now to make sure Wales is heard in London.

There is a clear alternative to austerity, which involves investment in infrastructure, job creation and tackling issues such as tax evasion and avoidance. It also means scrapping wasteful spending like £100 billion on replacing the Trident nuclear programme and implementing a Living Wage. We also need a more ambitious approach to public procurement in Wales to ensure more money goes to local firms.

Wales has already been hit hard by this Governments austerity agenda, and we've seen that first hand locally with cuts to public services. The London parties have all voted for more cuts over the next 5 years. Labour promise a further 1 billion in cuts for Wales, the Tories are promising almost 3 times that. Plaid do not believe that cuts or more cuts is any sort of choice for the people of Wales.
Wrecsam needs an MP who is ready to put forward a progressive alternative and who is determined to argue for re balancing wealth and power across the UK. It is simply immoral that those with the least are paying for the mistakes of the bankers, and it’s a sad reflection of the growing inequality in our society when all the London parties refuse to stand against it. 
It also can’t possibly be right that Wales is being treated differently to Scotland in terms of powers and funding, we deserve equality and only Plaid will fight for that.
I know my community does not agree with the immoral ideology of austerity, the current  self-interest of Westminster politics, or the domination of corporate interests in defining public policy. In reality what we have in London is a growing democratic deficit and an elite who couldn't care less about Wales.
If we want something different, we have to vote for it. Labour, the Tories, the Lib Dems and UKIP only promise more of the same, but in May we have a chance to make sure Wales is heard with a vote for Plaid Cymru."

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Make St David's Day a national holiday

Amser i wneud Dydd Gŵyl Dewi yn wyliau cyhoeddus

Mae Plaid Cymru wedi lansio deiseb yn galw am wneud diwrnod Gŵyl Dewi yn wyliau cyhoeddus.

Mae 15 mlynedd wedi mynd heibio bellach ers i Aelodau Cynulliad bleidleisio o blaid gwneud Mawrth y 1af yn wyliau cyhoeddus a naw mlynedd ers i arolwg barn ddarganfod bod 87% o bobl Cymru yn cefnogi’r syniad, ond does dim wedi digwydd ers hynny.

Roedd sôn y byddai’r pŵer dros wyliau yn cael ei ddatganoli nôl yn 2014 ond fe gafodd hyn ei atal gan yr Ysgrifennydd Cymru ar y pryd.

Mae Plaid Cymru yn credu bod rhaid i’r pŵer gael ei ddatganoli cyn gynted â phosib er mwyn i’r Cynulliad gael gwneud penderfyniad ar y mater erbyn 2016.

Dywedodd llefarydd Plaid Cymru ar ddiwylliant, Bethan Jenkins:

“Mi fyddai gwneud Dydd Gŵyl Dewi yn wyliau cyhoeddus yn cyd-fynd gydag ewyllys pobl Cymru ac yn rhoi hwb i’r sector dwristiaeth.

“Rydw i’n galw ar bawb sy’n cytuno â ni ar y mater hwn i arwyddo ein deiseb er mwyn gyrru neges i San Steffan mai penderfyniad i bobl Cymru ddylai hwn fod.”


Time to make St David's Day a public holiday

The Party of Wales has launched a petition calling for St David’s Day to be made a national holiday.

Some 15 years have passed since Assembly Members voted in favour of establishing a public holiday on March 1, and nine years since an opinion poll showed that 87% of Welsh people supported the idea, but nothing has happened since.

There was talk of devolving the power over public holidays back in 2014 but this was blocked by the Secretary of State for Wales at the time.

Plaid Cymru believes that the power should be devolved as soon as possible so that the Assembly can make a decision on the matter in time for 2016.

The Party of Wales’s culture spokesperson Bethan Jenkins said:

“Making St David’s Day a national Holiday would reflect the wishes of the Welsh people and would bring benefits to the tourism sector in Wales.

“I call on everyone who agrees with us on this matter to sign our petition in order to send a message to Westminster that this should be a decision for the Welsh people to take.”

Monday, 23 February 2015

Wrexham Council's Flawed Budget Consultation.

Back in October and November 2014, Wrexham Council 'consulted' on their budget proposals and as a consequence decided to drop a couple of their more controversial savings proposals (having obviously learnt some lessons from last year's Plas Madoc Leisure Centre fiasco).

This is what they've said in their budget report for Wednesday's Full Council meeting about the consultation:
Given the 942 responses to the survey, statistically this provides a 96 to 97% confidence level in these results. Generally, 95% is taken to be acceptable in most social research. Sometimes such research even uses a confidence level as low as 90%. This confidence level is how sure we can be that our results would be true if we asked another 942 people the same question. The margin of error/confidence interval with this number of people is 3% or 4% of the answers received. A 3.5% margin is statistically very good as most research would use a 5% confidence interval. 5.3 In summary, we do need to be clear that the number of responses received in this consultation surpassed what is normally used as good practice ie 95% confidence level and 5% confidence interval and therefore we can be confident in the results of the exercise.  
The consultation findings are detailed ... In summary the proposals receiving the highest levels of agreement overall were Council Tax Electronic Billing (91%agreed, 5% disagreed), Mayoral Service (87% agreed, 7% disagreed), Online processing (85% agreed, 9% disagreed), Tourist Information Centre (83% agreed, 11% disagreed), Learning Disability Service (82% agreed, 11% disagreed) and Shopmobility to Third Sector (81% agreed, 13% disagreed). The proposals receiving the lowest levels of agreement overall were Highways Planned Maintenance (24% agreed, 70% disagreed), Council Tax Rise (37% agreed, 58% disagreed), Car Parking Charges at Country Parks (43% agreed, 52% disagreed), Family Friends Contract (44% agreed, 43% disagreed), Supporting People (53% agreed, 34% disagreed) and Redesign Tapley Avenue (58% agreed, 30% disagreed)
This is a pretty good attempt at baffling the reader with science but confidence levels can only apply if the survey sample has been 'weighted' for various characteristics and demography which this survey hasn't so the results are pretty meaningless and poor justification for making such important life impacting decisions on.

Let me elaborate on what I mean, 91% of respondents were in agreement with moving to electronic billing of council tax...unsurprising when 922 of the 942 respondents to the survey completed it electronically and it makes one wonder whether the 20 who completed the paper survey were the 5% who disagreed with electronic billing?

Another example was where a high number of respondents opposed car park charges at Country Parks and changes to planned Highways maintenance. I don't think we need to be statisticians to guess that ALL who disagreed here are probably car owners, what is significant here is the 43% who agreed with car parking charges of whom many would also be car owners.

Let's now look at cuts which are demographically located like Caia Park Early Years where 70% of respondents agreed with cut and 20% disagreed. Why would respondents who live in Glyn Ceiriog or Chirk oppose a cut in an area miles away from them. If the cut doesn't affect you why should you disagree with it?

The same argument applies to another demography, that of people who desire a Welsh Medium Education. A cut of £23,000 to Mudiad Meithrin who support Welsh Nursery provision was supported by 70% and opposed by 20%. Again,why would respondents disagree with a cut to funding that doesn't affect them?

If you do a survey it must be done right!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Local Authority Service Performance 2013/14.

The Welsh Government has recently produced its Annual Local Authority Service Performance Report for 2013/14. Nineteen service performance areas are measured/assessed and colour coded with red for the bottom quartile of the 22 Welsh Local Authorities, Amber for the middle 50% and Green for the top quartile.

This report makes interesting reading especially if you are comparing the likes of Flintshire and Wrexham who are likely partners in a future amalgamation. The difference frankly could hardly be starker; Wrexham have 8 Performance areas in the red, 8 in amber and only 3 in green. In Flintshire there are only 2 in the red, 11 in amber and 6 in the green.

The only area in Wrexham which seems to excel is within housing with provision of affordable housing being an achievement.

The areas where Wrexham are in the red are:

  1. Looked after children being in education, employment or training. (22)
  2. Looked after children who have had more than 3 placements. (21)
  3. Pupils achieving Level 2 KS 4 (18)... contrast this with Flintshire where they are third.
  4. Free public swims for under 18's and over 60's (17)
  5. Roads in poor condition (21)
  6. Feeling safe in local area after dark (19)
  7. Adults physically active on 5 or more days in a week (18)
  8. Adults drinking above guidelines (17)
Whilst I don't consider league tables based on averages to be particularly meaningful, after all someone must come top and someone must come bottom, and it doesn't show where there has been improvements but where there have been greater improvements in other authorities, there must however be some investigation into the underlying data.

What would be interesting would be a comparison of the underlying data for all 19 areas for both Flintshire and Wrexham which would be a baseline as to how an amalgamated authority could be expected to perform.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Exploratory Drilling at Borras Head Farm, Borras, Wrecsam.

It's taken me a few days to get a good understanding of what exactly the Fracking Moratorium statement made jointly by Carl Sargeant and Owen Smith on the eve of the Welsh Labour Party conference really means but it looks very much what it says on the tin...The Town and Country Planning (Notification)(Unconventional Oil and Gas) (Wales) Direction 2015, actually instructs Local Planning Authorities to refer ALL planning applications for Unconventional Gas drilling to Welsh Ministers but only if they are inclined to pass the application and this is where the first anomaly comes in. The Direction makes no reference at all to the Planning Inspectorate which after all is constitutionally an agency of the Westminster Government. In the event therefore that the LPA are inclined to refuse an application there is no requirement to refer the application to the Minister but will the applicant still be able to appeal against refusal to the Planning Inspectorate and will the Direction apply to them because it is not implied in the Direction that it does.

It is striking how far the Welsh Government have moved on this issue since July 2014, when Carl Sargeant issued this uncompromising 'clarification letter' stating in conclusion that:
The guidance provided in MPPW, (Mineral Planning Policy Wales) in conjunction with this clarification letter, should be taken into account by local planning authorities in Wales when making decisions on applications for unconventional oil and gas proposals. 

There is no doubt that the sustained lobbying of the Welsh Government by many groups and individuals has had a significant effect on Ministers which was then helped along by Plaid Cymru's motion the week before this announcement and support from the government's own members for such motion. This was in striking contrast to the Labour abstentions in the moratorium amendment on the Infrastructure Bill.

The question now is, what will be the response of the industry to this 'moratorium'? UKOOG, the industry trade body were quick enough to issue a Press Release after the Scottish moratorium decision but have yet to comment on the Welsh decision; is this a good or bad sign, only time will tell.

Personally, I have some nagging doubts about how this will pan out; now from this direction it seems the Welsh Government have the planning side all covered but there is of course another angle and that is the Energy sector.

The Energy Sector in Wales is not devolved, so does that mean that Westminster or Cardiff takes precedence here or will UKOOG appeal this to the Supreme Court? It seems a possible scenario.

One will have also noted that the Direction does not say whether it applies to 'Onshore' or 'Offshore' exploration. This anomaly has already been identified by the Scottish Government in that they don't have the power to regulate offshore which could include UCG (Underground Coal Gasification). This could be a significant problem in North East Wales as Cluff Energy seeks licences for UCG for the Dee Estuary between Deeside and West Kirkby on the Wirral (which incidentally covers the wildlife and bird sanctuary on Hilbre Island). This undoubtedly will remain with the UK Government as offshore is the Crown Estates but is yet another anomaly.

For us in Wrecsam the next decision is in IGas's lap, do they proceed with their exploratory drilling at Borras Head, knowing full well that their application for extraction of gas/oil (at this moment in time) will not be allowed or do they just pull the plug on the whole project (or is that just wishful thinking on my part?)

Whatever happens, we need to continue to be alert, this is not the time to be complacent.