Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Wrexham.com's Councillor's Progress Report.

This is in response to a Q&A posed by wrexham.com, our hyperlocal online news source and supposed to be published on their website today. This hasn't gone to all 52 Councillors but only to the 12 that responded to a similar exercise at the time of the May 2012 election and who were elected.

1. What was your first priority / aim for your ward prior to being elected and have you managed to achieve it? 

There were two actually, one local and one County Borough. The local one was to build a footway from Pendine Nursing Home towards Gwersyllt, this has not been achieved basically because of intransigence on the part of our Highways Dept, they list reasons as 1) No money 2) They don't own the land 3) Owner won't sell 4) Doubtful if compulsory purchase order will be successful if there is a public enquiry 5) No evidence of accidents having occurred. I haven't given up but it is proving a hard nut to crack!

My second priority was to campaign to retain the £11 million a year that we give to the Treasury every year in housing subsidy, that campaign has been won and part of this money will be retained (its complex), we campaigned for this with Jonathan Edwards MP. 

2. Since the election have you found your ward members engaged in your work, and if so what has been the main engagement tool? 

Ward members engage predominantly when they have a problem and the way they engage is varied...telephone, mobile, text, lots of E-Mail, Facebook chat and Direct messages on twitter. Many ward members are interested in my work and I have a great deal of contact following publication of a newsletter. I also have a lot of contact following a high profile campaign like the Stansty One Way campaign.

I also have a lot of public engagement in my role as a member of the Community Health Council especially around the campaign to prevent the Neonatal Intensive Care services being moved from the Maelor to Arrowe Park.

3. A post on the Wrexham.com forums stated that local democracy is healthy when councillors are pushed on issues affecting their ward members. Some have called for an open forum discussion. Do you feel you are pushed enough by the people you represent and could an open forum be a tool to achieve that? 

Absolutely, and one excellent example of this was the Stansty One Way system where local members and the lead member were put under considerable pressure by local people to scrap the project which is what happened.

 Likewise the campaign to retain Neonatal intensive care services in Wrecsam was a contributory factor to a change in Health Minister and the First Minister taking responsibility for the decision. 

Another effective grass roots campaign was the Twitter campaign against Whitbread/Premier Inn which forced an U-turn on bilingual signage at the new Premier Inn after only 3 days.

You only need to be pushed if you don't have your finger on the pulse or you are not responding to action by your constituents. The answer is to try and stay ahead of the game.

4. What one thing you have achieved over the last 15 months are you most proud of? 

Getting gas central heating into Bryn Awel Court instead of the expensive Economy 7, this will alleviate fuel poverty for many tenants some of whom were paying 40% of their disposable income in fuel costs. The sad part was that it took so long because of a lack of urgency on the part of the council and Wales and West Utilities.

I'm also very proud of what some members of the Community Health Council achieved as individuals in bringing the Health Board to account and basically changing the culture of the CHC and making it a truly  patient representative body and working with the North Wales Health Alliance

5. What do you see as the long term future in terms of Wrexham's identity and how do you think it will be achieved? 

A very pertinent question following Wrecsam's Planning Committee's decision to grant BDL planning consent to build more houses in Tanyfron; at the rate we are going Wrecsam will not have its own identity we will be identical to every other commuter town.

 We must stop developer led planning else the County Borough will be covered in concrete.

 We need Planning legislation that addresses LOCAL housing needs and LOCAL employment and LOCAL leisure opportunities.

 Building commuter estates is not sustainable we need jobs where the people are and where the houses are and we need many many more affordable homes.

Unsustainable communities without proper infrastructure do anything to reduce carbon emissions and deliver on the green agenda

A lot of work remains to be done to regain the character and identity of the town in the form of its markets. 

We have also spent too much time and money in the past on wanting to be something we are not i.e. a City 

6. Your current term in office is one where the council are implementing cuts. If you had to pinpoint one area the council should spend more in, and one area where they should spend less, what would they be? 

I firmly believe that we should 'maintain' funding at its current level within Adult and Childrens Social Care. Demands for services are constantly increasing within Childrens Services and demographic changes mean that people are living longer and there is a need to support them to live independently longer. The one area where there is potential for savings is within our mammoth pyramid management structure that we have in some of our silos (sorry departments).

It is very difficult to elaborate anymore on  this question as much of what has been discussed in this area was in Part 2 reports and I'm basically gagged from reporting my thoughts on the issue.

7. Where are your current efforts focused and what visible improvements would you like to achieve between now and the end of this term in your ward? 

County Borough wide I would like us to carry out an internal stock condition survey on our 11,000 council houses to determine which houses are in the poorest condition so we can target our resources at  the most needy tenants rather than sticking our finger in the air and seeing which way the wind is blowing, which is the way we currently allocate £15 million.

Locally I will continue to fight for this footway

8. What do you think has been the best decision taken by the council since the election? 

There has definitely been an improvement in education and school standards much of it a continuation from the previous administration. I thought this year's results at GCSE and A Level were much improved than in previous years

9. What do you think has been the worst decision taken by the council since the election? 

There have been decisions I have disagreed with but that is the nature of politics, I don't think there have been really bad or incompetent decisions, well not yet anyway, but the hard ones are to come 

Where I believe the new administration has failed is in its public relations, for example  Chief Exec's pay and School Transport, they give the impression of  forever shooting themselves in the foot and they are extremely thin skinned and defensive. 

They really need to realise that challenge and scrutiny is an essential part of a healthy democratic process and not hide behind petty personal attacks to justify their stance

10. In our Q&A at election time we asked for your best memory of the town, so would like to ask you this time around what have you been most proud of in terms of the town since you were elected? 

Since the election there has been a definite increase in grass roots political activity, with Plaid Cymru and Unite the Union leading the way.

 We have had Change Wrexham for our Future and Wrexfest, we have had days of action against Blacklisting of Union members, PayDay loan picketing and Zero Hours pickets, as well as a grudging  acceptance by Wrecsam Council of the Social media and webcasting campaigns 

The most profound change however is my conversion to Rugby League! and I was very happy to see the North Wales Crusaders win the double and get promoted to the Championship, which is one down from the Super League.

 Writing this just after the Chester game, I suppose the least I say about Wrexham FC the better.

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