Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Plaid Councillor calls for more openness and transparency in decision making on Wrecsam Council.

Plaid Cymru, Wrecsam - Press Release.
Plaid Cymru Councillor for Gwersyllt West, Arfon Jones has called on Wrecsam Council to be more open and transparent in discussing major issues of public interest which are  being held in closed and secret meetings where the press and public are excluded.

Councillor Jones, "I am concerned that many important decisions are being taken behind closed doors because officers have decreed that the reports contain confidential information and should be heard in Part 2 of meetings. I believe that an increasing number of issues are being considered in this way and without public scrutiny. Amongst the important issues discussed in secret recently were Senior Officer Salaries, the Leisure Review and the Local Authority Trading Company for Cleaning Services, all of which were deserving of public consultation."

Councillor Jones went to say, "Councillors have an important job to inform the public how their money is being spent but the increasing use of Part 2 reports are like  gagging orders prohibiting us from speaking out publicly against issues which we believe may not be in the public interest. Unfortunately many  Councillors who are part of the ruling alliance  allow these Part 2 reports to be discussed without considering the public interest.  The Labour administration should produce a summary of each and every Part 2 report so that the press and public are aware of the important issues under consideration but without  disclosure of confidential information.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Who are the Welsh Deanery?

So who are the Welsh Deanery? Well that is a very good question and up to a few weeks ago I along with many others were totally unaware of their existence. Their own website describes their aims as:

The strategic aim of the Wales Deanery is to commission, quality assure and support the education and training of trainees, hospital doctors, GPs, dentists and DCPs in Wales. 
This includes the development of innovative models of education and training delivery, building training capacity and leading on postgraduate medical and educational research.
Nothing wrong in that strategic aim you would say...except that the Welsh Deanery exerts considerable influence on Health Boards from behind the scenes, an influence which is not open and transparent and neither is it scrutinised or challenged by any patient representative body. 

In fact if the Welsh Deanery tells the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board to locate its Level 2 and what is left of Level 3 Neonatal Intensive Care on one site in North Wales rather than two then move it must.

The following are minutes of a meeting held last week between the executive of the Community Health Council and the Health Board to discuss the centralisation of neonatal intensive care:

Since early 2012, the health board has been in discussions with the Wales Postgraduate Medical Training Deanery and the All Wales Neonatal Network regarding proposed changes to arrangements for medical staff training, specifically around neonatal training. The discussions with the Deanery are part of all-Wales changes to put all doctors undergoing neonatal training into Neonatal Intensive Care Units. The health board had understood that the changes affected intensive care registrar grade only. 
In March 2013 the Deanery advised the health board that it intended withdrawing the five trainees normally placed at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd from September 2013. At this stage the health board learned that the training places also included senior house officer grades. This inclusion would have an adverse effect on the rotas. 
Since that time the Health Board has worked intensively with the all-Wales Neonatal Network and the Deanery to try to resolve the issue. At the beginning of April consensus was reached that the five trainees could continue to receive all their training within North Wales. However, the Deanery and Neonatal Network would only support retention of trainees if the health board demonstrated the intention to move neonatal intensive care(for babies who are over 27 weeks gestation and who need shorter term intensive care) to one local neonatal unit (LNU) in the region and did not try to maintain this particular service in two LNUs. 
Dr Harrington explained that in order for the health board to retain these doctors, it must deliver all planned neonatal intensive care in North Wales from one LNU. Although no definitive decision has been reached, it is likely -but at this stage not certain - that the recommendation will be for the single LNU to be located centrally within the region at Glan Clwyd Hospital, the rationale being that to centralise the LNU at Wrexham Maelor would have a greater impact across North Wales.
The notes of this meeting demonstrate quite clearly that when the Deanery says jump the Health Board will just roll over and say "How high". 

Since receipt of these notes a member of the campaign group, the North Wales Health Alliance has written to Professor Gallen, Dean and Head of the Welsh Deanery at Cardiff University asking some fundamental questions regarding the role of the Deanery in configuring and delivery of Health Services in North Wales.

The following is an extract from the letter:
"... Perhaps you would be so kind as to elaborate upon the arrangements reached with the health board so that members of the public who are rightly, very concerned with the lack of transparency and openness in coming to far reaching decisions, which will affect prospective parents and to bring clarity and an end to the confusion... 
The role of the Deanery in the board's decision making process and planning its neonatal services is not well understood and, consequently, positions have been taken in strong opposition to the board's plans...
It is very disappointing that this planning 'on the hoof' has now created a spiral of decline in neonatal services afforded to north Wales residents, and people will be asking why has this been allowed to happen and the role played by the Deanery.

It would be most helpful if you could provide an authoritative explanation as to your role and that of the Deanery in contributing to the board's planning process for neonatal care, which observers conclude to be inept"
The fact that an un-elected and unaccountable University Department wields such secretive influence over the delivery of health services throughout Wales is frankly unacceptable and needs to be addressed at Welsh Government level as a matter of urgency.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Statement by the First Minister on the Review of Neonatal Services at the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board.

On the 23rd April 2013, the First Minister Carwyn Jones made a statement to the Assembly Plenary regarding the review of Neonatal Services in Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board. The statement and the subsequent debate are well worth a listen if only to watch a very uncomfortable First Minister wilting under sustained attack by North Wales AM's including one from his own party. 

The start of the statement and debate is from 1hour 6minutes 46 seconds.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Brymbo Developments Ltd.

What does the future now hold for Brymbo Developments Ltd (BDL);  the controversial owner of  redevelopment land on the site of the old Brymbo Steelworks where 500 or more houses have already been built but with little or no infrastructure to support the growing populations of Tanyfron and Brymbo.

This company has been subject of some considerable comment and interest on this site and previous blogs can be found HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE

Whilst BDL themselves are not in the news a company closely connected with them is; Scottish Coal which operated several opencast coal mines north of the border has gone into administration and made nearly 600 employees redundant. Scottish Coal is owned by a holding company Scottish Resources Group and a Colin Cornes who is also listed as a director of  Parkhill 2000 Ltd and BDL which is also a wholly owned subsidiary of Parkhill.

The big question now is whether BDL are creditworthy and whether they will be able to deliver on their most recent planning application if granted. This is due to be heard on the 6th May 2013, by Wrecsam Planning Committee.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Special Care Baby Unit: An open letter to Lesley Griffiths AM

Dear Lesley

On the night you were elected in May 2011, I asked you to safeguard the Special Care Baby Unit in Wrecsam, which we all knew was under threat.
 You gave me your word that you would do your best.
 There were developments. You became Health Minister under the new Labour Government and Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board ploughed on with its consultation on centralising local health services across the North.
 Despite clinical and popular opposition that saw thousands march and many more petition you and the health board, BCUHB ploughed on and decided to close community hospitals and move the more serious neonatal intensive care (i.e. those under 27 weeks) to Arrowe Park.
 You did nothing to retain services in the North, even after you were replaced as health minister and could speak out freely.
 This week we have had another bombshell. BCUHB has just told staff at Wrecsam SCBU that ALL intensive care is being closed down and those neonates above 27 weeks requiring intensive care will be moved to Glan Clwyd.
 This is, apparently, in respond to pressure from the Welsh Deanery who fund doctor training and want the expertise centralised in one place. Is this a result of the move to Arrowe Park? Did BCUHB not foresee the problems they were creating in not maintaining a centre of excellence in the North? At what stage does a health minister step in to ensure safe and sustainable services?
 There will be just one stabilisation cot for Wrecsam so that babies can be moved out within 24 hours. At-risk mums will be sent to either Arrowe Park or Glan Clwyd to have their babies born with all the stress and strain that causes.
 We don't know at this stage whether the Welsh Ambulance Trust has agreed to this additional work of transferring babies but let's just say it's struggling to cope with existing targets.
 Once again, you have done nothing while BCUHB steamroller this further demoralising closure through. The capital of the North, your home town, is losing a key NHS service.

 Jobs will be lost, yet the local Labour AMs and MPs are silent.
 Services will be lost, yet the local Labour AMs and MPs are silent.
 Worst still, lives will be lost. The silence is deafening.

 The NHS was once the proud creation of Aneurin Bevan, a great Welsh socialist who didn't hide or make excuses. It was created in 1947, just after the Second World War at a time of rationing and great hardship.

Today, the Cardiff Labour Government - of which you are a part - is dismantling the NHS in Wales. You have not done your best to protect SCBU or, if you have, your best wasn't very good.

I only hope that the NHS in Wales can survive the cuts being imposed on it by the Labour Government and we can improve our health service in the future under a new Plaid Cymru-led government. It certainly can't be entrusted to a Labour Government ever again. And Wrecsam should never trust a Labour AM again.


Marc Jones

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Closing of Neonatal Intensive Care Services.

At today's meeting of the Education, Safeguarding and Well-Being Scrutiny Committee, Councillors had the opportunity to question senior executives of the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board about a variety of concerns that they had regarding the provision of health care in the County Borough. The Health Board team were led by the Acting Chief Executive Geoff Laing and the Director of Public Health for North Wales, Dr Andrew Jones.

One of the questions asked was regarding further changes to Neonatal Services in North Wales:
As part of the consultation into Healthcare is Changing it was proposed that only part of Level 3 Neonatal Intensive Care would be transferred from the Maelor and Ysbyty Glan Clwyd. That part was to be the 36 or so babies that were born before 27 weeks. I now understand that the health board have quietly extended the original proposal to now transfer ALL intensive care babies from Wrexham to either Glan Clwyd or Arrowe Park; this would mean an additional 100 babies would have to be transferred from North Wales if they were to go to Arrowe Park. There has been no consultation over such proposals with service users or the Community Health Council and neither has anyone seen the revised business case. Could you please explain how this has come about and why there was no consultation on your new proposals?
In a frank and honest answer Mr Laing admitted that there were plans to locate what remained of Level 3 Neonatal Intensive Care at one site rather than the current two sites at Ysbyty Maelor, Wrecsam or Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, Bodelwyddan. Mr Laing refused to be drawn on which site would be closed but I am willing to bet a substantial amount that the unit at Ysbyty Maelor will close thus downgrading the hospital to a Level 2 baby unit consisting of just Special Care and a High Dependancy Unit. Mr Laing claimed the rationale behind this centralisation is in response to demands of the Welsh Deanery to facilitate postgraduate medical training.

I then raised a number of supplementary points of concern namely, the numbers of additional babies that would need transporting to Glan Clwyd and whether the nursing capacity, paediatric ambulances and cot availability, would meet the demand. Despite the changes moving ahead at a pace none of these questions were answered satisfactorily.

When I asked about consultation Mr Laing reassured us that the Community Health Council would be involved in the consultation but there again why consult when the deed is done?

This is yet another example of a lack of openness and transparency in the decisions of the Health Board and I wonder exactly how much the First Minister and Health Minister actually know what the Health Board in North Wales are up to?

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Bury Thatcherism, Wrecsam style

There was a militant but dignified protest against Thatcherism in Wrecsam today. The impromptu protest had fantastic publicity from local Tory dullards John Bell and Dick Wishart, who gave us a free advert on the front of the Leader.
 John Bell's moronic quote deserves a wider audience: “Without Margaret Thatcher, the people now demonstrating would have the same living standards of those in North Korea.”  Of course, John. Keep taking the tablets.

The 50-strong vigil remembered the communities and individuals devastated under Thatcherism, an ideology that favoured the rich against working-class communities. It outlived Thatcher in that both Blair and Cameron have continued her policies of increasing the gap between rich and poor. We now have the ludicrous situation where the vast majority of the UK government cabinet are millionaires while the vast majority of citizens are facing pay freezes, benefit cuts and huge insecurity in their lives.

Brymbo steelworkers and Bersham miners were in attendance to remind people of the very real devastation locally.

Many people spoke eloquently about the impact of Thatcher on their lives, including Unite activist Michael Harrison, Steve Ryan from the PCS, Peter Jones of the UCU and Marc Jones from Plaid Cymru. He said: 

"Today is the day we bury Thatcherism - the ideology that privatised our public services. It's an ideology that was backed by Blair and Cameron alike. 
"Thatcher tried to kill off our communities, but we in Wrecsam have fought back. We now own our football club, we've re-opened Wrexham Lager and Saith Seren is a community cooperative pub. Despite her best efforts, we have overcome and that's something to celebrate today."

Controversial housing application 'will open floodgates' across borough

A controversial planning application to build 150 extra houses in Tanyfron will "open the floodgates" to build on green fields across the county of Wrexham.

That's the view of local residents, who are being backed by Plaid Cymru's Wrexham branch in their campaign against the development by Brymbo Developments Ltd.

The application is identical to a previous application submitted by the company, which was turned down by the council in 2010. Although BDL contested the refusal, it was subsequently thrown out on appeal.  The site, pictured, is next door to the Brymbo Sports and Social Club. It is classed as green barrier and therefore previous development attempts have been refused due to the council’s policy of protecting such spaces. However, recent comments by the Planning Inspectorate regarding Wrexham’s next Local Development Plan have prompted the developers to re-submit the application.

Local residents now fear the Inspectorate's comments now gives BDL the green light to build at the green barrier site in Tanyfron. If approved this would mean that BDL has overseen the building of more than 700 homes in the Brymbo and Tanyfron area since it took over the Brymbo Steelworks site for regeneration more than a decade ago. 

 Plaid Cymru's Wrexham spokeswoman Carrie Harper said: “If the application by BDL were to be approved on the basis of what may or may not happen with the next Local Development Plan, it would undoubtedly open the floodgates to unscrupulous developers and put all our currently protected green barrier areas at risk. The development plan in place at the moment has specific policies to protect these sites and it would set a dangerous precedent if these were ignored.”

Local residents currently campaigning against the proposed development also voiced serious concerns. Sam Evans, of the Tanyfron Residents' Group, said: 
“Many residents are opposed to the development of housing at the Bryn Gwenfro site in Tanyfron and we are making our views known to Planning Committee members. We are well aware this application goes completely against council policy.

 “There have been ongoing issues with BDL for a number of years locally. They promised a whole host of community facilities on the back of the 550 houses that have already built on the site but many never materialised, including the completion of the much-needed spine road to link Tanyfron and the new housing to Brymbo. 

 "They claim they need to build yet more houses to fund this work but why should we lose our last piece of open space in Tanyfron for housing development that is not needed locally? The company has made a lot of money out of our area already and it should fulfil its promises to local people, without putting more pressure on our local infrastructure and environment with this unwanted development.”

 The application is due to go before Wrexham's planning committee on Monday, 6 May.


Over the last 12 months there has been much controversy over Wrexham Council's next Local Development Plan, which sets out future levels of housing development across the borough over the next decade. The Plan, which was based on two years of consulting local communities, was rejected by the Planning Inspectorate in 2012. The inspectorate said the 8,000 additional houses proposed by the council were too low and insisted on a target of 12,000 over the lifetime of the LDP. This would mean building on greenfield sites, something the council had avoided in its initial plan.

Councils across Wales - including Denbighshire and Conwy - have faced a similar situation, with Welsh Government housing projections forecasting well over 320,000 new houses across the country over the next 20 years. 

 Plaid Cymru's Wrexham spokeswoman Carrie Harper said: "Many councils fear severe overdevelopment as a result and concerns have been expressed regarding the formula used to calculate future housing demand and the lack of any genuine need for so much unaffordable development.

 The Planning Inspectorate ensured Wrecsam council’s plan was sent back to the drawing board, saying the council that green field sites would have to be considered for development in order to meet Welsh Government housing demands. This has been fiercely opposed with Plaid Cymru councillors stating the actions of the Planning Inspectorate undermined the local democratic process and would lead to the unnecessary over-development of Wrexham, with no protection for the borough's green fields. 

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Twitter Victory

It seems that Wrexham County Borough Council have finally seen sense and are set to allow press and public, including councillors who attend meetings to tweet, but a ban will still be in force for Councillors who are members of a particular committee.

The decision will be made by Wrexham Councillors at their AGM at the end of May.

This has been a long journey since wrexham.com were refused permission initially and then I was reprimanded by the leader of the council for tweeting, then closely followed by Daily Post journalist, Steve Bagnall being banned from tweeting at council meetings. This led to Alison Gow, Editor of the Daily Post to launch a 'Right to Tweet' campaign which raised the issue to such an extent that it was reported in the national press including Private Eye.

This is how I reported on our last efforts to legalise tweeting.

Since Wrexham Council has had its reputation slightly tarnished by this, and several other councils in Wales have found themselves in similar predicaments  perhaps this is an opportunity for our very own Local Government Minister, Lesley Griffiths to introduce amendments to the Local Democracy Bill, to make local government at all levels in Wales, more accountable, open and transparent which includes the use of social media.

Bedroom tax challenge to Wrecsam council

The campaign against the bedroom tax is being taken to Wrexham's council estates with Plaid Cymru producing thousands of leaflets challenging the local authority.

Plaid Cymru councillor Carrie Harper said: 
"The Bedroom Tax is hitting the disabled and sick disproportionately.  It is not, as the Tories claim, seeking to end the 'spare bedroom subsidy' otherwise they would have introduced it for pensioners too. But they know that pensioners are more likely to vote and didn't fancy dealing with that.  Public pressure has already helped win some concessions (e.g. for serving military personnel and foster families) but these affect only a few thousand of the 660,000 UK households hit."

She said an estimated 28,000 people in Wales were affected by the cuts in Housing Benefit yet research by the BBC had revealed that there were only 400 homes available throughout Wales for those wanting to downsize to a smaller property. Cllr Harper said: 
"In reality there is no choice for people but to pay what might be as much as a sixth of their income on this punitive tax."

Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales, is now calling on Wrexham Council's leader  Neil Rogers to follow other councils in  pledging not to evict people who cannot pay the extra money. The SNP-controlled council in Dundee and Green-controlled council in Brighton has already pledged to do this. Cllr Harper said: 
"Wrexham Council can do the same. It can also choose to  reclassify council housing to ensure nobody loses out. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done, Knowsley Housing Trust has done it.  For example, a bedroom that is smaller than 50 square feet - or 70 sq ft if it's for two children under 10 - can be made exempt because it can be re-classified as a boxroom. This prevents people from falling into arrears with the council or housing association and facing eviction.
 "We're aware there are some council housing in the borough where small boxrooms are being charged at the full bedroom rate. This is something we're urging people to check for themselves and get their local councillor on the case. Plaid Cymru is trying to get information to every household affected - if you need more information contact our Bedroom Tax hotline on 07747 792 441.
  "Plaid is committed to supporting people every step of the way with this punitive tax. We will show how people affected can delay and stop those imposing the bedroom tax. The challenge is for the local Labour-run council to play its part."

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Some more thoughts on Planning laws in Wales.

The following article appeared in the Daily Post on Friday 12th April 2013:

"Are our Planning Bodies too big?"

The sizes of planning committees could be pruned after Welsh Government research over how big they should be to make them work best.

Ministers in Cardiff have commissioned the work on the operation of local authorities' planning committees before they bring a White Paper by the end of the year on the future delivery of the planning system in Wales. So they have asked an independent body to examine and research the operation of planning committees in Wales to determine whether there is a link between 'efficiency and effectiveness' and 'committee size', according to a report to Denbighshire County Council's 30 - member planning committee...

I responded with this letter:

Dear Editor,

The proposal by the Welsh Government to look at the size of Planning Committees (DP April 12) is nothing more than tinkering at the edges. Planning law in Wales is in need of fundamental reform.

First of all planning law should be there to ensure that communities are sustainable and that planning consent should meet housing demands and not be geared predominantly towards the the profits of developers as is the case at present.

Secondly, Wales should have its own Planning Inspectorate not one answerable to Westminster, planning is devolved so let's take responsibility for it.

Thirdly, too much credibility is placed on housing demand numbers and viability reports produced by consultants who work hand in glove with developers.

Week in week out throughout Wales, developers are gaining consent for massive housing developments which are unsustainable and deliver a fraction of the affordable housing originally agreed, all because the Welsh Government and the Planning Inspectorate's guidance encourages corporate greed rather than to act in the public interest.

Councillor Arfon Jones,
Plaid Cymru Wrecsam.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

European Parliament Representation.

Tomorrow elections will be held in Croatia to elect 12 MEP's in readiness for the country becoming the European Union's 28th member state on the 1st July 2013, representing 4.3 million people.

In 2004, Slovenia joined the EU and now has 8 MEP's representing just 2 million people.

Wales has 4 MEP's representing just over 3 million people.

Scotland has 6 MEP's representing over 5.6 million.

And of course, unionists will argue were better together!

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Community Health Council AGM

Yesterday I had the dubious honour of attending my first Annual General Meeting of the Betsi Cadwaladr Community Health Council at Llandudno Junction. Having been to the odd Full Council meetings before I was  surprised at the high attendance of voting members; with more than half of the 72 being present

Prior to moving onto the main business of the AGM the meeting was addressed by the outgoing chair, Dr Christine Evans. I was surprised by the tone of her comments, they were abrasive and dismissive of those campaigners who tried so hard to retain services in North Wales.

Another colleague said of her speech,
The outgoing Chair - Dr Christine Evans was scornful of the campaign and said patients had always been treated in England and that for the size of our population we were fortunate to have three district hospitals!  She was strident in her viewpoint and clearly was not supportive of our cause from the outset."
An inauspicious start for sure!

The next item on the agenda was the election of chair and vice chair with three candidates, the current vice chair Ms April Harper, Gordon Donaldson, chair of Flintshire and Governor of the Countess of Chester Hospital,  and thirdly,  Pearl Roberts from Conwy.

I had emailed all three candidates with questions on their views on  the sale of neonatal intensive care to the privatised English NHS and their experience of maternity services. I received one reply from April Harper who showed a good understanding of the issues which was sufficient for me to cast my vote in her favour.

I shouldn't really have been surprised by the election of Gordon Donaldson as Chair and Pearl Roberts as Vice Chair which is explained by the high number of attendees. We must wait and see whether the CHC under their leadership can regain some of the public confidence lost by the fiasco of the Health Board reconfiguration.

Next up was the Chief Executive's report where she made mention of the resignation of three members in protest at the CHC failures, where she described the resignations as not being a big deal! Personally I think it is a big deal when democratically elected Councillors resign on principle believing that the authority of which they were members have not done their job right and that there was no other option open to them but to resign.

I then asked my one and only question about the Executive of the CHC holding meetings in private and lacking openess and transparency. I was told that the Regulations allowed for Executive Board meetings to be held in private and it was a matter for the Board to decide whether to hold their meetings in private!

So there we have it the North Wales health watchdog!

From the comments expressed by some at the meeting I really don't think the CHC have learnt any lessons from the extensive criticisms that they have been subject to over the last 6 months.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Mike Whitby Banned!

It may have taken over 2 years but ex BNP Councillor Mike Whitby has finally been banned from holding public office by the Adjudication Panel for Wales for 5 years. The Adjudication Panel found (quote):
The Case Tribunal found that former Cllr Whitby by virtue of his behaviour during the demonstration in Liverpool on 4 December 2010 and by virtue of his behaviour and arrest at Birkenhead on 7 March 2011, coupled with his court appearance and detention, bought the office of member and the Community Council into disrepute...
The Case Tribunal decided by unanimous decision that Cllr Whitby should be disqualified for 5 years from being or becoming a member of Coedpoeth Community Council or of any other relevant authority within the meaning of the Local Government Act 2000...
Previous reference to Mike Whitby on this blog can be found here and here