Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Whitegate MUGA open for business

This was the site of an old tennis court beside the Queensway. After a failed application to get a grant to turn it into a BMEX track, a long-running campaign by local parents, youngsters and myself as the local councillor succeeded in getting a grant from Cory to transform the derelict site. Below is the before, during and after... youngsters now have a purpose-built Multi-Use Games Area. Thanks are due to Martin Howarth and Carla Hughes from Wrecsam Council for their support in making this happen, Caia Community Council for its support but mainly the local community for making sure this happened.

Friday, 27 July 2012

More heavy handed Policing

The Metropolitan Police seem to be very proud of the fact that they are arresting loads of people outside the Olympic Stadium as this recent tweet indicates:
We are currently arresting a large number of people as a result of the cycle ride.
Click on the above link for a running commentary of events on Twitter, and here for one of the first news reports and photographs.

It will be interesting to see how the mainstream press will report on this.

Guardian.co.uk - Critical Mass cyclists arrested near Olympic Stadium

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The pitfalls of Data Protection!

I've always been a little bit wary of the Data Protection Act since my days in the Police and having seen the punishments handed out for breaches of the Act. I therefore tend to take up any opportunities to attend training sessions on Data Protection, which I did yesterday morning with about 25 other County Councillors ( a good turnout for a training session).  The training session was excellent in that it left us all with food for thought about how we kept information and the legal consequences if we breached the Act. On reflection however it would seem that the training session would have been better directed at officers of the Housing and Public Protection who dropped a little bit of a clanger...
Workers at Wrexham Council were left with red faces yesterday after an email blunder saw residents’ personal information being wrongly shared. Hundreds of names and personal e-mail addresses were publicly divulged in a mail out of the authority’s annual tenant survey. It’s believed the tenant email survey  was due to be sent to multiple ‘blind carbon copy’ (bcc) addresses, where each individual recipient is unaware of who else was sent a copy. However, due to human error the ‘bcc’ was just a ‘cc’ carbon copy, so everyone was able to see who was sent the email.
Cllr Malcolm King, Lead Member for Finance, Performance & Governance, said: “We have acknowledged that a human error occurred which meant that personal email addresses were sent to a number of our tenants. This was an unfortunate error and we have apologised to everyone concerned. We have also taken steps to ensure this does not happen again.” (HT to Wrexham.com for this story)
The monetary penalties for breaches of the Data Protection can be quite severe with the Aneurin Bevan Health Board being fined £80,000 for breaches. This is money that Wrecsam Council can ill afford to pay out in fines

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Carwyn's Vision.

The closest we have come to our glorious First Minister doing the 'vision thing' is whilst he was discussing whether Dafydd Elis Thomas would be a good fit in the Welsh Labour Party:
"We would welcome anybody who shares the same values as us. We’ll have to wait and see but I’ve noticed what he’s been saying over the last few weeks. He’s somebody who I believe holds the interests of the people of Wales at heart. He is somebody who is very much a progressive in terms of his politics. All these qualities would fit in very well with Welsh Labour.”
The next obvious question to me is, "Well what are your values Carwyn?" The only thing we had off him as a vision and values at the time of the council elections was to vote Labour and send Cameron a message; an absolute gem of an ideological standpoint. As for describing DET as a progressive in his politics then that is a standpoint that seems to have passed by most people in Plaid Cymru.

I am really look forward to Carwyn elaborating on his vision and his values...oh, and by the way did  he ever get a reply to the message the people of Wales sent Cameron...no? I didn't think so; but there we are another succesful con job.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

The health minister and NHS downgrading

In November 2011 Health Minister Lesley Griffiths was adamant there would be no downgrading, claiming that no district general hospitals will close. That has never been the case – what we have seen today is some community hospitals closing, specialist services being cut and none of the safeguards she was giving last year:
“None will be downgraded,” she told BBC Radio Wales. “I don’t want to hear anything about downgrading. What we want to see is improved services right across Wales.”
 “If services are taken out of a district general hospital and put into the community or elsewhere, they have to be better services and there has to be good clinical evidence,” she added.
 Ms Griffiths said that if a patient wants a better outcome “they may have to travel that bit further and at the end of the day, surely that’s what patients want for themselves”.
 The minister said further details were expected before the end of the year. “I haven’t seen any of the plans yet. The plans will be coming to me later this month to have a look at and until then we don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.
Well, the plans have arrived and even Labour MPs like David Hanson are kicking off about the closure of Flint Hospital. Will Ann Jones and Chris Ruane speak up for Glan Clwyd losing its intensive care cots and emergency surgery?

NHS plans confirm downgrading and centralisation agenda

Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board's management have revealed plans for downgrading and centralising services in North Wales NHS. Key points: 
• If you've got a sick baby needing intensive care in N Wales you're going to end up on the Wirral. This is the thin end of the wedge as many will be transferred there as a precautionary measure as staff in N Wales are deskilled. Journey times for people from Ynys Mon and Barmouth will be horrendous. The health board report admits that the Welsh Ambulance Service haven't costed this additional work or whether they can deliver. Furthermore, each transfer costs £1500 + the extra money that will go out of the NHS in Wales to pay for care at Arrowe Park.
• 12 of the 19 community hospitals will close or be downgraded (Llangollen will close completely)
• Glan Clwyd will be left without emergency surgery provision, including emergency caesarian, which means that more mums-to-be deemed "at risk" will have to travel at least 45 minutes to the next hospital as a precautionary move.

 This is a top-down decision driven by the Welsh Govt and bureaucrats.
 There's a need to improve the NHS to make it fit the needs of our communities better, but moving emergency provision further from those communities doesn't meet that need.
 It won't even save money. By the health board's own admission, the changes will cost about £500,000 less than staying as they are BUT on top of that are the ambulance costs due to additional patient transport requirements. This has not yet been costed.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Olympic Security.

It is difficult to supress a smile of satisfaction over the predicament that G4S finds itself  being unable to fulfill their quarter of a BILLION pound contract to provide venue security for the Olympics. They are after all one of the main private sector companies in line to benefit from the outsourcing of Policing services and any predicament that these outsourcing companies find themselves in should be welcome news to those of us who are genuinly concerned about crime and disorder and community safety. Hopefully G4S's predicament will dissuade most Police Authorities and prospective Police and Crime Commissioners from experimenting with outsourced Police Services. Nothing can beat the enthusiasm and committment of highly trained and disciplined Police Officers; Surrey Police for one has already reconsidered on how it delivers services and hopefully others who were keen on handing taxpayers money over to profit motivated companies like G4S are in the process of reconsidering.

The next stage now must be the sacking of the Home Secretary, Teresa May, not only has she presided over the G4S shambles but also the undermining of the Police Service with cuts to front line policing thus making this country much more unsafe.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Gwenfro Valley venture has funding to stay open over summer

Tonight's Caia Park Community Council heard compelling evidence that the Gwenfro Valley integrated children's centre has more than £10,000 set aside in its funds to remain open as usual this summer.
 The children's play area, which is run by Labour councillor Colin Powell, has had an increase in funding from £77,125 in 2011-12 to £105,991 in 2011-2 - a 37% increase in funding.
 Because the playground is mainly used in the school summer holidays, when it opens for eight hours six days a week rather than for four hours Tuesday-Friday during school terms, there are obvious peaks and troughs in funding. With that in mind, the not-for-profit company that runs the playground has set aside £10,000 "to ensure that bills are paid on time regardless of the time of year".
 As 92% of expenditure is on staff costs, then it would be unthinkable for the playground not to continue as normal during the coming summer months. This is even more apparent when one considers that there was a surplus of more than £10,000 in the year ended April 2012.
 There is also £4,000 in a general fund that "can be used for any purpose".

 There were some worrying facts that emerged from the meeting:

• Another Labour councillor, Carole Lloyd, had resigned from the board in 2011 but the manager had failed to inform Companies House as required by law.
• The Gwenfro Valley has been under-estimating the number of children that attend, until a student counted the attendees in the past month. As the ratio of staff to under-8s is legally required to be 1:13, it is a concern that this might leave the playground open to challenge from parents or CSSIW, who inspect childcare facilities in Wales.
• Funding from Communities First to employ a deputy manager for the playground on £25,000 was mishandled. £7,796 has to be returned to Communities First as a result of not sorting out CRB checks in time. 
• The manager stressed that the project had been running for seven years and was therefore well aware of peaks and troughs in income and expenditure. This was at odds with claims by Councillor Malcolm King, who was one of eight founding members of Gwenfro Valley ICC, that additional money was needed from Caia Park Community Council to fund summer activities.

 This alleged shortfall led to a bid for £8,000 in funding from Caia Park Community Council - to be paid quarterly. This meant that, had the community council agreed to the funding, only £2,000 would have been available this summer. Clearly, the additional funding being sought from Caia Park Community Council is not a key element in Gwenfro Valley remaining open over the summer months, as alleged by Cllr King. Interestingly, Cllr Powell made no such claim.

 With that in mind, the council voted 6-4 against the funding. This allows other voluntary community groups such as Caledonian Morris Dancers and Clwb TTP after-school club (who tonight received small grants to fund their activities) a better chance to share in the council's grant funding.

 Cllr Brian Cameron asked for a recorded vote. The four who voted for the £8,000 grant (which amounts to more than a quarter of the council's entire grant allocation for the year) were all Labour councillors:
Cllr Carole Lloyd (founding member and ex-director of Gwenfro Valley)
Cllr Malcolm King (founding member of Gwenfro Valley)
Cllr Pat Williams
Cllr Brian Cameron

Cllr Colin Powell and Cllr Brian Halley, another Labour community councillor, declared an interest as the current secretary of Gwenfro Valley and did not vote.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Caia community opposed to elderly people's day centre cuts

Any plans to close a vital elderly day centre in Caia Park will be vigorously opposed by the local community.

The news that funding for the Deva House day care centre is under threat after January because of cuts in funding from the Welsh Government has prompted protests from local councillors.

Cllr Marc Jones, Plaid Cymru, who chairs Caia Community Council, said: "Deva House has a great reputation among the older people it serves because they are involved in the day-to-day running of the centre. They grow their own food, can get a hot bath and a hot meal, as well as enjoy each other's company.

"The threat to cut funding comes from decisions taken after the Welsh Government announced Caia and Hightown was to get £250,000 less funding this year for Communities First programmes. Deva House is partially funded by Communities First.

"This decision has serious implications for the care and well being of many elderly people who use the many services available at the centre. Whoever made the decision hasn't considered the bigger picture and I'm totally opposed to reducing the service provided. Nobody's discussed this matter with the people on the front line - the people who use the service and the people who deliver it, so they can't have much of an idea of what they're cutting."

His concerns were supported by Councillor Keith Gregory, of Smithfield ward, who said: "We want to encourage people to live independently and Deva House helps keep people in their homes for as long as possible. These cuts - if we let them take place - undermine the hard work done by many volunteers in the local community, especially those supported by Caia Park Partnership. It makes no sense at all to be cutting money for a much-needed day centre when there are two children's play centres within a mile of each other whose funding is untouched by these changes."

Cllr Jones, who represents Whitegate ward on the community council, added that other services were also under threat from the Communities First changes, including support for disabled people in the community. He said: "The wider community hasn't had a say in what services are cut and what services are maintained. We also need to get a clear message to those in charge of Communities First in Cardiff that these are important services they're planning to axe and we won't take it lying down.

"Caia Community Council will be meeting this Thursday and we intend to make sure these concerns are raised."

The minister, the civil servant and those "killer facts"

"We all know the status quo is unsustainable and services have to change" - Lesley Griffiths, 23 May 2012

Lesley Griffiths probably didn't expect things would go so badly wrong so soon. 
The Health minister always knew the changes Labour want to make to the health service in Wales would be unpopular. 
That was proven in 2007 when they were battered over plans to close Llanelli and Llandudno hospitals.
That year saw Plaid gain both seats and Labour slumped to 26 seats, forcing it into coalition.
This time round they were freed from the One Wales coalition with Plaid Cymru, which put the cuts on hold. 
 In 2011 Lesley Griffiths was installed in the hot seat with a brief to push through the reforms. Crucially it had to be done early in the electoral cycle or Labour would suffer at the polls again. Labour was learning lessons on how to sell unpopular reforms that involved downgrading and centralising health services.
 In May this year the BBC revealed it was engaged in a PR strategy to sell the proposals. Alongside this hard sell, Marcus Longley was hired as an "independent academic" to push the case for change.
 There is a lot to push against - doctors, nurses and the local community are up in arms over the proposed changes. In Aberystwyth, doctors passed a motion of no confidence in the health board; in Llanelli Labour AMs and MPs hypocritically joined mass protests against the downgrading.
 This time round the onus was put on the local health boards to lead on the matter - allowing lesley and labour to try to distance themselves from the unpopular decision to close or reduce local services. Coincidentally Lesley gave the boards a £12.4m cash boost in May 2012 - despite claiming in November 2011 that there would be no such bailout.
The case for change was made by strongly by Longley in his report, although he admitted there was often no evidence to back up his claims. He undermined the Welsh NHS by claiming some services were on the verge of collapse... without specifying which ones. It was not an academic report but one suited to a clear political agenda. 
 Today we saw how the report's author was desperate for "killer facts" (we're not making this up) to make the case for change. This "independent expert" admitted the facts didn't back up the case he was being asked to make. He admitted to top civil servants in Lesley's department that he didn't have enough facts to make the case for "we might have hoped for".
 In response Dr Chris Jones, both medical director of the NHS in Wales and a top Welsh Government official, asks Prof Longley to make his report "more positive if possible i.e describing a persuasive vision of how things could be better".

 Here in the North, we will soon get to hear what the changes will entail. On Thursday 17th July the proposed changes go before the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board. On the table are radical proposals that could see:
• The closure of some of the North's 19 community hospitals;
• The centralisation of certain specialist services in one of the three main district general hospitals
• The closure of all Level 3 neonatal intensive care cots in the region, with the service being provided in Arrowe Park, Liverpool.

The last proposal, which is one of two options before the board, would see high-risk maternity cases being transferred over the border - making a stressful time intolerable for many people who would have to travel vast distances to see loved ones.

In May 2011, Lesley Griffiths was elected as Wrecsam's AM. I was among the candidates she beat. After the count was announced, I asked her to ensure that she protected Wrecsam's Special Care Baby Unit and she publicly promised she would. I wonder if she'd make the same promise today.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Crocodile tears as Remploy closes

The news that Remploy is closing its Wrecsam factory is devastating for the 41 workers there. Research has shown that 85% of those Remploy workers who lost their jobs after the last round of closures in 2007 have not found work.
The only realistic solution when this announcement was made by the UK coalition government was for the Welsh Government to step in and take on the seven Welsh factories under threat.
 They could have safeguarded the Wrecsam factory, which has lost its major private contract as a result of this uncertainty. The Wrecsam factory was on the verge of securing a major contract with the local council prior to the bombshell - this would have been a long-term agreement to supply kitchen units to the council's housing stock.
 From the outset Plaid locally has called for Welsh Government intervention. There is no point in Ian Lucas MP crying crocodile tears in the House of Commons - Labour could have done something in Cardiff and they have failed. Workers deserve better than this.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Plastic bags!

It is difficult to reconcile these two stories about the use of plastic carrier bags in Wales. The Daily Post carries a story that, "Plastic bag tax sees use fall by 96%" since the introduction of the 5pence levy. The Independent on the other hand claims that,
Shoppers in the UK used 7.96 billion single-use bags in 2011, a rise of 5.4 per cent on the previous year – with each person taking 10 throwaway carriers a month. Plastic bag use rose steeply across most of the UK but in Wales, which introduced a 5p charge per bag last October, it fell by 22 per cent.
The Independent's data comes from WRAP the waste reduction body whilst the Daily Post's information comes from a Welsh Government survey.

So which is it to be?

Thursday, 5 July 2012

'Clueless' Labour.

Letter to the Editor of the Daily Post.

Dear Editor,

As an ex Police Officer I am glad that both Susan Elan Jones MP and Ken Skates AM are concerned about the injuries sustained by my colleagues in the course of their duties (900 Assaults on Police in Five Years) Post, July 5th. What I am not so clear about is whether Ms Jones and Mr Skates have any practical solutions or is their headlining just empty rhetoric. As we all know their calls on Teresa May will fall on deaf ears and North Wales Police’s budget will be cut by 20%; and the only way to protect the Welsh public is to take responsibility away from the Home Secretary and Whitehall and devolve it to the Welsh Assembly. At the same time that Skates and Jones are ‘whingeing away’ about Teresa May, their Labour Ministerial colleagues in Cardiff are rejecting Plaid Cymru’s Jocelyn Davies’ call for Policing to be devolved. This is just more evidence of how totally clueless Welsh Labour are in looking after the interests of Wales.


Cynghorydd/Councillor Arfon Jones,

Monday, 2 July 2012


Connect is Wrecsam County Borough Council's magazine, and unlike some council's output, Connect is a pretty good informative read, even this edition is good but with one notable exception... this piece of spin:
Councillors' Salaries.
We have been asked by a number of you for more information about the salaries of Wrexham’s Councillors to be included in Connect.
The councillors salaries are set by the independent remuneration Panel for Wales appointed by the Welsh government and, for the year 2012/13, the basic councillor’s salary is £13,175 with additional monies for extra responsibilities.Full details of individual councillor’s salaries for last year are published on the internet at wrexham.gov.uk as part of the Council’s Constitution document.
Now this little article misses out a lot more than what it says; what people are really wanting to know about is senior salaries, that is where the big money is!

In the last financial year the most any Councillor had (with the exception of the Leader) was approx £19,000, but the Independent Remuneration Panel increased that this year to £21,000 for 5 Committee Chairs, £28,000 for 5 Lead Members, £33,000 for the Deputy Leader and £47,000 for the Leader (same as last year).

These figures however will not appear on the Council's website until the end of this financial year by which time they hope you will have forgotten about them accepting mega salaries whilst council staff are facing another year of frozen salaries.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Confidential Reports.

When reports are presented to council committees they are either presented in the open part of the meeting where the press and public are allowed to attend and proceedings are open and transparent; or secondly they are presented in a closed session where only elected members and officers are privy to the information.

Most of the time reports in Part II of meetings are confidential for a very good reason, for example they discuss staffing issues or commercially sensitive issues. There are other reports that are put in part II  where the reasons are less clear and ambigious with the perception that some administrations will use Part II for political purposes and to avoid public scrutiny. The only process to challenge whether a report should be in Part II at the time is a vote but since the governing majority will have agreed for the report to go into Part II in the first place they are unlikely to vote for it to be taken out so a challenge is unlikely to succeed.

This was the position I found myself in recently at the Exceutive Board when I challenged a Part II report regarding a decrepid building that the previous administartion with officers support had decided was surplus to requirement and should be demolished. The new administration decided they wanted to retain the building (against officer's wishes) for a unknown purpose funded from an unknown revenue or capital source and the only part of this report that could justify it being in Part II were the demolition costs which were not necessary for a decision to be made on retention of the building!

Any attempt to have this matter discussed in open forum would have resulted in a breach of member's code of conduct on my part and a complaint to the ombudsman, so what was I to do? There was one tactic that I hadn't considered previously and it wasn't one I resort to often to get information from my own authority as it isn't normally necessary. On this occasion however I decided to test the basis to include this report in Part II by making a Freedom of Information request for this Part II report but the request was made for the report with the parts considered confidential redacted. Having removed any grounds for refusal Wrecsam County Borough Council had no choice but to provide this report in its entirety with only two figures redacted.

Can I suggest that anyone who want to see public bodies being more open and transparent should adopt similar tactics.