Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The challenge for Welsh-medium education in Wrecsam

The past few years have seen two significant advances for Welsh-medium education in Wrecsam. One was the long-overdue decision to open a new Welsh-medium primary school in Gwersyllt, which will take the pressure off Ysgol Plas Coch in Rhosddu. This school currently houses 420 pupils instead of the 210 it was built to accommodate. The new school will take pupils from Gwersyllt, Summerhill and Llay and will rapidly fill up as there is huge demand in that area.
 The other key decision in the last council was to ignore Estyn's demands for two of the Ceiriog Valley's schools to be closed due to debatable "surplus places". The technical surplus ignored the very real community benefits from having schools in Pontfadog, Llanarmon and Glyn Ceiriog rather than centralising education in the valley in Glyn Ceiriog, where pupils are already being taught in mobile classrooms.
 The previous council wisely decided to maintain all three schools.

 The new Labour-Independent coalition, with backing from the Tories, is - at best - indifferent to the Welsh language. In some cases councillors are actively hostile to meeting parental demand for more Welsh-medium education, as was seen with the long-running battle to establish the new school in Gwersyllt.

Long-term planning for education means that primary school demands eventually turn into secondary school demands. There is a compelling case for a second secondary school in the south of the county to serve the Rhosllannerchrugog/Johnstown/Penycae/Rhiwabon area specifically. It will be interesting to see whether councillors and LEA officers take up that challenge.

Equally, there are renewed calls from Estyn to deal with "surplus places". Will Labour take the easy option and decide to close two small rural schools in Pontfadog and Llanarmon, regardless of their community importance and the fact that Llanarmon is the only natural Welsh-speaking school in the entire county? The independent councillor for Ceiriog has thrown in her hat with the Labour group but it remains to be seen how much influence she has within the ruling coalition.

Perverse Decisions!

It hasn't taken the Labour led Wrecsam Council long to start making decisions which at best can be described as perverse. It concerned the granting of a lease on land to construct a stand on a public open space in Caia Park called the Dunks. The story is reported in a well balanced article by the Leader here. The stand was to allow for the so called Venture Community Football Club to progress to the Cymru Alliance League (one can only venture a guess as to how many local players from the Caia Park community will be playing for this semi professional side!).

I describe the decision as perverse for two reasons, the first is that Wrecsam Council have a policy on public open spaces which does not allow sale or development if there is a deficit of public open spaces in the ward; in this particular ward there is a deficit of space equivelant to 24 football pitches. Secondly, Wrecsam Council agreed a policy as far back as January 2012, NOT to lease council owned football pitches to clubs for the club's exclusive use as it deprives the local community of opportunities to use the pitch. No doubt the club will give assurances that it will not be for the Venture's exclusive use but walking away with the goal posts at the end of a games is not indicative of a willingness to share community facilities.

Both these policies are now discredited and should the council wish to enforce these rules against other organisations they will find it extremely difficult and legally questionable.

Finally, is it good financial management to spend 'money' (where does it come from?) on a new stand when it's right next door to the Queensway Sports Centre which is not full utilised and could quite easily accommodated the needs of the Venture Community Football Club.

A very inauspicious start to a new council.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Opinion Research Services

Mae Cyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol Wrecsam yn defnyddio Opinion Research Services (ORS) i gario allan arolwg o wasanaethau'r Cyngor sef People's Voice. Arolwg ar-lein ydy People's Voice sydd ddim ond ar gael yn Saesneg. Esgus y cyngor dros amddifadu miloedd o Gymry Cymraeg y sir oedd bod 'na ddim galw am arolwg dwyieithog ac mi fasa hyn yn ddrud ac yn anfforddiadwy. I rai ohonom sydd yn benderfynol o gwblhau'r arolwg yn y Gymraeg mae ORS yn darparu gwasanaeth ffon lle mae ymchwilydd yn gofyn y cwestiynau yn Gymraeg.  Mae hyn yn gallu bod yn chwerthinllyd o wael;  fel roedd hi heddiw lle ofynnodd yr ymchwilydd i fi fynd ar dudalen yr arolwg Saesneg ac edrych ar lun ac wedyn ateb ei chwestiynau yn Gymraeg.

Does yna 'run o'r ddwy ddadl dros beidio â darparu'r gwasanaeth yma yn y Gymraeg yn dal dŵr. Yn gyntaf mae rhywun yn gorfod cyfieithu'r arolwg i'r Gymraeg er mwyn gallu gofyn y cwestiynau, beth sydd mor gostus wedyn mewn rhoi'r wybodaeth yma mewn templed arolwg ar-lein? Mae 'na hefyd gost ynghlwm a chael person i ofyn cwestiynau ar y ffon am chwarter awr, dwi'n siŵr fod ORS heb gario allan 'cost-benefit analysis' i weld pa fodd sydd yn fwyaf cost effeithiol. Yn ail dwi di darganfod dros ugain o unigolion sydd yn barod i gymryd rhan yn yr arolwg yma drwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg, tybed pam fod cwmni proffesiynol arolygon fel ORS wedi methu darganfod digon o siaradwyr Cymraeg allan o boblogaeth o tua 15,000 o Gymry Cymraeg yn y sir

Mae'r sefyllfa yma yn gwbl annerbyniol lle mae'r Gymraeg yn cael ei thrin yn llai ffafriol na'r Saesneg a thybed faint o gynghorau sir Cymru sydd yn gneud yr un peth? Mwy o waith i Gomisiynydd y Gymraeg.

Wrexham Industrial Estate Link Road.

The £26 million Welsh Government investment to build a new road from the existing infrastructure to Wrexham Industrial Estate is nearing completion and it is a long overdue improvement to the economic development of the town and wider area. The investment was particularly welcome because various levels of government have been promising this investment for the best part of 20 years and longer, but it took a Plaid Cymru minister with responsibility for transport, Ieuan Wyn Jones to finally deliver on this long term investment. It is therefore a shame that Ieuan Wyn Jones is not the Minister that will conduct the official opening ceremony, but rather the current Local Government Minister, Carl Sargeant.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Union Jack flag on Driving Licences.

The Tories seem determined to airbrush the national identities of the Welsh, Scots and the North of Ireland off the map of these islands. The latest bit of 'imperial jingoism' is to put the Union Jack on our Driving Licences either with or without the EU flag. Obviously the No 10 spokesperson who said this gave not an ounce of thought to the views and sensibility of the Celtic nations:
"There's no reason why the British driving licence should have the EU flag but not the union flag. People in this country are proud of our national symbols. It's time that, once again, we allowed those national symbols on British driving licences."
If we are going to go down this route then there is no reason why the EU flag should not be accompanied by the Ddraig Goch, the Saltire, St Piran and the Tricolour or perhaps the Ulster flag on our Driving Licences in our respective countries.

Perhaps David Cameron would do well to realise why the Labour Government in 1997 chose to abandon the idea:
In 1996, the Conservative government was planning to put the union flag and the crest on the then-new plastic card driving licences that were shortly to be introduced.

However, the incoming Labour government reversed this decision, and the new plastic licences, first issued in 1998, had no union flag or royal crest.

One reason was that there was doubt that Catholic drivers in Northern Ireland would tolerate the union flag on their driving licence – and there is still a possibility that no symbol will be placed on cards issued in Northern Ireland
Ministers will also have to wait for the result of the Scottish referendum on independence in 2014 to know if the current union flag is to remain in existence.
David Cameron should waste no more time on this 'hair brained idea.'

So what happens to NHS Direct now?

We're all aware of the Con-Dem coalition government in England being hell-bent on privatising vast chunks of the NHS. The latest offering to their friends in the private sector is NHS Direct, the phoneline for non-urgent cases.
 Various private firms have won contracts in parts of England at the expense of NHS Direct and will be using non-medical staff to assess people's conditions. NHS Direct uses trained nurses.
 What impact will this have on NHS Direct in Wales?

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Pro-Palestinian protesters oppose Israelis in Wrecsam

Congratulations to the pro-Palestinian protesters who opposed the Wales v Israel football game at the Racecourse last night. Israel's behaviour today towards the Palestinians is similar to that of South Africa's apartheid regime towards the black population before 1990. Palestinians are being shot, imprisoned, harassed, separated from their families, stopped from working, blocked from farming their land by a ruthless military state purely on the basis of their nationality. Most noticeable is the 30' apartheid wall being built around the Palestinians, effectively the biggest open prison in the world. The picture above gives an idea of how it would look if it was here in Wrecsam - it cuts across many communities arbitrarily.
 One of the most effective weapons in the struggle against apartheid was an economic boycott. Another was the sporting boycott, which meant that South Africa couldn't pretend it was a normal society. It's equally important that Israel cannot pretend it is "normal" either to its own citizens or those of other countries. Yesterday's protest reminded both Welsh and Israeli football fans that there's nothing normal about Israel.
 When they tear down the walls and treat Palestinians as equals, they can play football in peace.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Wrexham councillor rejects harassment charge

This story appeared in today's Leader and LeaderLive

TWO newly re-elected members of Wrexham Council are involved in a bitter dispute.

A long-serving community leader is taking legal advice after being served with a harassment notice by a fellow councillor.

The action against Cllr Malcolm King, who represents Wynnstay ward on Wrexham Council,  has been taken by fellow Caia Park councillor Keith Gregory. Both also serve on Caia Park Community Council.

Cllr Keith Gregory, who represents neighbouring Smithfield ward, lodged a complaint with the police against Cllr King

Speaking last night Labour Cllr King confirmed he had been served with a harassment notice and said he would be strongly defending himself against the accusations levelled at him.

“I reject the allegations which have been made against me. The serving of this notice is ridiculous,” he said. “There has not been proper consideration of the evidence involved.

“I am taking legal advice and I will certainly have more to say on this matter at a later
date. For now I can’t add anything further.”

Independent Cllr Gregory said on May 2 he was at home in Colwyn Road, Wrexham.

It was the day before the local government elections were held.

Cllr Gregory and his family were just about to have an early evening meal. His four-year-old daughter Katie spotted some people in the front garden of the house.

“I went to investigate. There was a group of four people in the garden. One of them was Cllr King,” said Cllr Gregory.

“I was the victim of insults shouted at me. I couldn’t believe what was happening and felt I really shocked.

“My daughter was crying. This was absolutely disgraceful behaviour. No-one should have to tolerate it.”

Cllr Gregory is planning to make complaints to Wrexham Council and the Local Government Ombudsman.

A spokeswoman for Wrexham Council said the local authority had no comment to make at the moment.

In the local elections Cllr Gregory was re-elected in Smithfield with a 57 vote majority over Labour candidate Patricia Williams.

Cllr King, who founded The Venture children’s and young persons centre in Caia Park in 1978 and lives in Ruthin, had a resounding victory in Wynnstay.

He polled 337 votes compared to 57 for Plaid Cymru candidate Stephen Jones and 13 for Liberal Democrat John Smith.

He is now the lead member for policy, finance, performance and governance on Wrexham Council and is a governor of Alexandra Infants and Junior Primary School and Rhosnesni High School, both Wrexham.
 This is how we reported on this back on the 2nd May this year - Labour's Politics of intimidation

Monday, 18 June 2012

The Rangers Saga

It was Bill Shankly who said:
'Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.'
Many in Scotland and Northern Ireland would agree with that sentiment following Rangers FC's demise. All the talk now is about the 'newco', what will the the new Rangers look like and more importantly where will they play.

The situation with Rangers FC's liquidation is a crisis within Scottish Football where there are no rules for what has happened and that has led the Scottish FA to call for an amalgamation of all three Scottish Footballing bodies which are the FA the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Football League so as to create a proper pyramid system and a more equitable share of monies in the game.

Secondly, ownership of the 'newco' Rangers is far from decided with a consortium led by Charles Green being in the driving seat at the moment but the only problem being is that fans are threatening not to renew their season tickets if Green' consortium win. It seems that the fans, the manager and the players favour a consortium led by Rangers' most successful manager Walter Smith which seem firm favourites at the moment.

Which consortium wins will probably have an impact on the other 11 SPL Chairman who will decide on the 'newco' Rangers application to join the SPL.

There seems to be 3 options, the 'newco' Rangers will be allowed to join the SPL as if nothing has happened (unlikely), secondly, the compromise deal, Rangers will be relegated to the Scottish First Division where they will probably remain for one season (likely if Smith consortium win); if this happens the question is who replaces Rangers in the SPL, would it be Dunfermline who were relegated or will it be Dundee who were placed second in the SFL First Division? The third option is by far the worst option for Scottish football and in fact the Scottish economy and that would be that the 'newco' Rangers will be relegated to the Scottish Third Division and it would take them 3 years to return to the SPL.

What are the pros and cons of the options, if 'newco' Rangers go straight into the SPL it will have been unprecedented for a 'new club' to go straight into the SPL without going through the pyramid system.

The downside of 'newco' Rangers joining the SFL First Division, is the loss of income of a minimum of four Old Firm games in Glasgow and the estimated GDP value of the old Firm games to the Scottish economy is £46 million a year. The financial benefit for the other 9 clubs in the SPL of having Rangers play away is in the region of £300,000 a game, whilst the value of a 5 year Sky deal is worth £80 million and this was negotiated on the basis of 4 Old Firm games a season, how many Scots will subscribe to a Sky Sports subscription without any guaranteed Old Firm games?

There is only one advantage to Rangers not being in the SPL and that is the opportunity for the 'peripherals' or the 'nearly there' sides to get into Europe, for example Motherwell are guaranteed 4 European games next season, first of all they will play in the Champions League Qualifying Round then when they are knocked out they will then have an opportunity to play in the Europa Cup; and without being unkind to St Johnstone their presence in the Europa Cup next season was something of a surprise.

Clearly having 'newco' Rangers in the SFL whether in the First or Third Division will be a massive boost to the meagre attandences of the likes of Clyde, Peterhead and Stranraer with their 600 regular supporters increasing 5 or even 10 fold. Whilst Scottish Football may survive a 'newco' Rangers being in the SFL First for a season it is unlikely that requiring Rangers to climb through the pyramid system over 3 years will do irreperable harm to what are the Old Firm institutions and also to the Scottish economy especially those small businesses around Ibrox that rely on 50,000 Rangers fans attending Ibrox every fortnight.

This is more than about football, it is about the Glasgow economy and people's livelihood. and whether we are football fans or not we should all be concerned about the mismanagement that has allowed this crisis to happen.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Cymraeg yn y Gweithle - Cyngor Sir Wrecsam

Dyma ymateb Cyngor Sir Wrecsam i gais o dan Deddf Rhyddid Gwybodaeth am y nifer o swyddi sydd wedi ei dynodi lle mae'r Gymraeg yn hanfodol. Yn gyntaf datgelodd y Cyngor faint o swyddi sydd o fewn y cyngor sef 6513 neu 4957 o swyddi llawn amser (FTE).

Y rhifau ar gyfer pob adran ydy:

Tai a Diogelu'r Cyhoedd - 0

Gofal Cymdeithasol i Oedolion - 0

Amgylchedd - 0

Adran Corfforedig a Gwasanaethau Cwsmeriaid - 3

Lles a Datblygu Cymunedol - 2

Cyllid - 0

Asedau a Datblygu Economaidd - 1

Dysgu Gydol Oes - 9

Atal a Gofal Cymdeithasol Plant - 0

Dydy y wybodaeth yma ddim yn cynnwys athrawon mewn swyddi lle mae'r Gymraeg yn hanfodol er dwi o'r farn fod y cyfanswm swyddi yn cynnwys holl athrawon a gyflogir gan y Sir.

Er fod y rhifau yma tipyn yn well na'r sefyllfa yng Nghasnewydd a sir Fynwy er engraifft, mae'n siomedig nad oes un swydd yng  Nghofal Cymdeithasol Oedolion NA Phlant lle mae'r Gymraeg yn hanfodol a  mae hyn yn gwbwl annerbyniol.

Mae y rhifau yma fel yn nifer o awdurdodau Cymru ddim yn cyfateb i'r gyfran o siaradwyr Cymraeg sydd yn byw yn y Sir.

Siawns na fydd Safonau Iaith Comisiyndd y Gymraeg yn gwella ar y sefyllfa fel ac y mae.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Wi-fi Wrexham - Plaid Cymru calls for 21st Century town centre

A pioneering scheme to make Wrexham the first free wi-fi town in Wales has been put forward by Plaid Cymru.

Councillor Arfon Jones, Plaid Cymru councillor for Gwersyllt West, has called on Wrexham Council to make the town centre a Wi-Fi zone, where anyone with a smartphone, laptop or tablet can access the internet for free. As part of the council’s priority to make Wrexham a more prosperous place, he has called on the council to carry out a feasibility study into making Wrexham a Wi-Fi town.

Councillor Jones said: “We cannot wait forever for BT to improve broadband speeds or introduce Infinity to this part of Wales, we must grab the opportunity to introduce free Wi-Fi into the town centre. This will improve opportunities for traders and business to grow as well as meeting the needs of the rapidly expanding student population who demand the best that technology can offer.

“We don’t need to re-invent the wheel – the technology is already there and being piloted. There are towns like York and Barnsley, which have done this at no cost to the local taxpayer, we need to learn from them. There is scope for a partnership between the council, local traders, Glyndwr University, Yale college and companies that want to develop this kind of service for the benefit of the townspeople, traders and visitors.”

Clr Jones added: “I will be presenting a paper to one of the Council’s Scrutiny Committees on the subject and I very much hope councillors will support this initiative to make Wrexham a more prosperous town.”

The proposal has attracted support from local businesses. Kim Sheridan, proprietor of Wrexham Tea and Coffee on the High Street said, “This is a great initiative which would be another selling point for Wrexham in attracting new businesses.”

Plaid Cymru’s regional Assembly Member for North Wales also backed the move. Llyr Gruffydd AM said: “Access to the internet is critical both for businesses and customers. If this scheme gives the largest town in North Wales the edge in attracting people to shop in the town centre, then it has to be a good thing.

“We’re all aware that town centres across Wales in the 21st Century have to offer something extra to bring people in. Having this free wi-fi zone in the town centre is just one extra incentive to shop in Wrexham and I’m very pleased that Plaid Cymru is championing the town centre in Wrexham.”

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Torch Visit Worth £10M... How do we know?

"Torch Visit Worth £10M" was the front page headline of the Daily Post on Bank Holiday Monday and above the headline was "N.Wales Publicity Bonanza." How many saw that headline and thought wow that's good and gave it no more thought? Where did the £10M figure come from? Well it seems it came from Ceidiog Hughes, managing director of PR firm Ceidiog PR who said  
"In terms of PR it was a masterstroke taking the Olympic flame to the summit of Snowdon...Pictures of Sir Chris Bonington holding the torch aloft were beamed around the world."
But now comes the crunch,
"The exact value of this fantastic worldwide coverage is not easy to quantify - but a conservative estimate would be that it generated £10 million of publicity."
So where did Ceidiog Hughes get the £10 million quid come from? Is there a scientific basis for it and what exactly does it mean, does it mean that Visit Wales would need to spend £10 million to generate similar publicity or is it just a magical figure pulled out of thin air to create a headline for the Daily Post?

Unfortunately even the ‘worldwide coverage’ assertion doesn’t seem hold water as a search of the 'worldwide press agencies', the Press Association, Reuters and Agence France-Presse showed no hits for Sir Chris Bonington, the Olympics and Snowdon.

Let’s hope the Daily Post can show the evidence for this headline story and demonstrate that they did not accept it on face value without questioning the source and evidence to substantiate the claim.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Pot, Kettle and Black.

I wonder if Peter Black knew that the Independent on Sunday were going to publish a story about Liberal Democrat membership plummeting by 20% in the last year when he wrote his ill timed blog about the the Western Mail's campaign to undermine Plaid Cymru?

Peter Black never seems capable of learning the lesson of, "People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones."

Bilderberg Meeting

You would have been hard pressed to find any mention of the Bilderberg Meeting in any British press this weekend with the Guardian USA perhaps being the honourable exception. The European press on the other hand are not so reticent with  and Russia Today reporting on the meeting in Chantilly, North Carolina.

But first of all why should we want to know about the Bilderberg Meeting and what do they do?

The Official Bilderberg website claims that:
Bilderberg takes its name from the hotel in Holland, where the first meeting took place in May 1954. That pioneering meeting grew out of the concern expressed by leading citizens on both sides of the Atlantic that Western Europe and North America were not working together as closely as they should on common problems of critical importance. It was felt that regular, off-the-record discussions would help create a better understanding of the complex forces and major trends affecting Western nations in the difficult post-war period.
Pretty harmless stuff you would think, a bit like a G8 summit except that this is held in secret, no minutes are published and the great majority of the participants are unelected but are powerful individuals in their own right. The Bilderberg website claims that one of the biggest benefits is, "the privacy of the meetings, which has no purpose other than to allow participants to speak their minds openly and freely"

The Wikipedia description of Bilderberg would suggest it is somewhat more surreptitious than what the official website suggests:
The Bilderberg Group, Bilderberg conference, or Bilderberg Club is an annual, unofficial, invitation-only conference of approximately 120 to 140 guests from North America and Western Europe, most of whom are people of influence.About one-third are from government and politics, and two-thirds from finance, industry, labour, education and communications. Meetings are closed to the public.

...concerned about the growth of anti-Americanism in Western Europe, who proposed an international conference at which leaders from European countries and the United States would be brought together with the aim of promoting Atlanticism – better understanding between the cultures of the United States and Western Europe to foster cooperation on political, economic, and defense issues.
The UK's political delegates at this year's meeting lists the Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke MP (Steering Committee),Nick Boles MP (Cameron's inner circle!), Baron Kerr of Kinlochard and of course Peter Mandelson. Amongst others, the US's National Security Agency was well represented together with some famous faces from the US's inglorious recent past, Richard Perle and Henry Kissinger.

What is perhaps most disconcerting from an open and transparent government perspective was the presence of high profile individuals from what could kindly be described as the centre right 'establishment' press in the form of the Economist, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. As well as the movers and shakers from those news sources there were two Rapporteurs from the Economist, and we can only speculate as to what subject they will be commissioned to research for the group.

The Vigiliant Citizen has done an excellent piece highlighting the Economist's unbalanced, undemocratic  article on the Bilderberg Group and the accusation that any one who questions their methods as being 'conspiracy theorists.'

The last word to the Vigilant Citizen:
To desire open, public debates between democratically elected officials is simply crazy. Either you accept undemocratic proceedings or you’re crazy. Are you crazy? Because if you have any concerns or opinions regarding what is happening, they are surely not rational. They are crazy-conspiracy-theorist-ramblings. That’s the underlying message of the article. I love those kinds of articles.
Thank you Bilderberg-owned The Economist.