Friday, 29 November 2013

North Wales Fire service faces cuts crisis

Drastic cuts that would endanger lives and see more than 200 firefighters' jobs lost are planned in the North Wales Fire and Rescue Service's service consultation document 2014/2015

This non-devolved service has seen its budget frozen by the UK coalition government for the past three years. The document outlines plans to keep the service at the same level of cover (without cuts) by increasing the budget from all unitary authorities across the North by £1 per head of population. Unless Council Tax is increased, the following cuts will come into play to achieve £3.3 million of savings:

• close 7 retained fire stations, and therefore permanently shed 100 firefighter posts AND• remove one wholetime fire engine from service in Wrexham (the only fire station in North Wales that has two), and therefore permanently shed 28 firefighter posts 
AND• remove the retained fire appliances and therefore permanently shed 100 firefighter posts from the wholetime fire stations in Holyhead, Caernarfon, Bangor, Llandudno, Colwyn Bay, Rhyl, Queensferry and Wrecsam, leaving just one fire engine on each station.

There is a huge impact if these cuts go ahead in Wrecsam and the other stations across the north. At present there are three appliances (one retained) and 10/15 personnel can attend a major incident or split to attend three separate incidents. There would be a single appliance and just five personnel covering from Chester to Johnstown (or even further) and from Mold to Penley - a massive area for 1 appliance.

Councils are already cutting their own services - as any casual reader of this blog will know, Wrecsam Council is proposing to axe key frontline services from next April. It's unlikely they will be able to find additional funding for the fire service.

The consultation is open until 9th December and the Fire Authority will meet soon after that to decide the fate of NWFRS once they have been told by the unitary authorities if they will pay up the money needed to stand still.

Plaid Cymru in Wrecsam was out in support of the Fire Brigade Union's recent strike over pensions recently (see photo below) and will continue to fight shoulder to shoulder with firefighters to ensure a decent service.

Wrexham council terminate tenancy for councillor

Wrexham councillor Keith Gregory has been refused the tenancy on his own home following a widely publicised dispute with Wrexham council. In a letter received on Friday 29th November, Head of Housing Andy Lewis states: “I can confirm that your tenancy of 13 Colwyn Road has come to an end and the decision has been made not to grant you a new tenancy at that property”. No explanation as to why this decision was made was included with the letter.

Cllr Gregory has reported Wrexham council to the Ombudsman for maladministration and accuses the council of discriminating against him. The complaint concerns the handling of his housing case by the council after a split with his former partner.

The dispute began in October when Cllr Gregory received a hand delivered letter from the council informing him that his tenancy had ended. The letter stated he would now be classed as a ‘tolerated trespasser’ at his home in the Smithfield ward, where he is also the county councillor.

Mr Gregory and his former partner state that the council never informed either of them that by taking her name off the tenancy, she would also be ending Cllr Gregory’s part of the tenancy as well, a point already conceded by the council.

 Both state that in fact they were advised on 3 separate occasions by the council that Mr Gregory’s former partner would be allocated another property and that Cllr Gregory could remain at Colwyn Road. The 3 bedroom property has been specifically adapted for Cllr Gregory who is registered disabled and suffers from spina bifida, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and arthritis.

The council have spent over £7,000 adapting the property to date, a cost that would have to be replicated if they were to move Cllr Gregory somewhere else. In addition, the cost of removing the adaptations from Colwyn road could lead to a total bill of about £20,000. Given the reassurances from the council and the fact that the property was adapted for Cllr Gregory’s needs,  the letter received back in October stating he was no longer a tenant and was being classed as a tolerated trespasser  came as a big shock.

Regarding the latest news and the final decision not to give him the tenancy, Cllr Gregory said:

 “On the same day as receiving the decision about my tenancy, I also obtained information from an FOI request which I feel clearly shows I am being discriminated against. Of 78 cases over the last two years where one former joint tenant has requested a sole tenancy from the council, every single one has been granted that tenancy. It seems I am the only tenant in Wrexham to be treated in this way.”

“Additionally, a process that should have taken 4 weeks has taken 15 weeks and I do not believe the council has followed the relevant lettings protocol. I have also complained that the hand delivered letter I received classing me as a tolerated trespasser, appeared just hours after big articles were published in local newspapers regarding my criticism of the cost of Wrexham’s Mayor. I find this a very strange coincidence. The Ombudsman has referred my case to the council to investigate and I’m currently waiting to hear back from them."

Cllr Gregory states he will challenge the council’s decision to force him to leave his home.

“The stress from this situation has been very difficult to deal with, the way it’s been handled is disgraceful.  I will fight them all the way, they shouldn’t be treating me differently because I’ve challenged them about cutting local services and proposed they should cut the Mayor’s budget and highly paid consultants instead. I’m very much looking forward to taking this matter to court and am currently getting advice as regards the next step”.

Wrecsam Council blasted for £600,000 legal fees bill to fight Equal Pay claims

Council bosses in Wrecsam have been blasted for spending almost £610,000 in legal fees to fight thousands of equal pay claims. An FOI request by Plaid Cymru also revealed that in addition to the bill for external legal advice, the council has also used 1,133 hours of officer time fighting the claims since 2007.

The claims affect mainly female workers who have waited eight years to see the cases settled, with many expressing frustration about the ongoing delays. Both current and former council employees across Wrecsam are owed millions, with settlement agreements finally being sent out to many this week.

Cllr Arfon Jones who has been making enquiries on behalf claimants said:

“ I was stunned to see how much has been spent to avoid paying these current and former employees money they are rightly owed, clearly it is also wrong that they've had to wait 8 years for it. Many have commented to me that if they owed the council money, there is no way they’d be given 8 years to pay up. I’m sure this huge bill will come as a surprise to many councillors, I certainly had no idea as to the extent of the external legal fees which are eye watering. The truth is that the council should have faced up to its obligations on this issue.”

Carrie Harper, Plaid’s Parliamentary candidate in Wrecsam added: “This is a massive bill purely to avoid paying compensation to people who are entitled to equal money for equal work. This staggering legal bill is of course public money that in my opinion has been squandered over the last eight years on expensive solicitors, only to delay what was clearly inevitable. Unfortunately the only people rubbing their hands together with glee at the end of all this are the lawyers.”

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Scottish Independence Debate in Reverse.

HT to @Greetinfaced1 for tweeting what is without doubt Tweet of the Day even on this historic day for Scotland

Sunday, 24 November 2013

More Planning Hoooh Ha!

Today's Observer reports that Shropshire Council plans contains plans to build 2,600 houses in the county by 2026, this includes 200 luxury homes adjacent to the site of 'Old Oswestry' a 3,000 year old Iron Age on the outskirts of the town. This has led to fierce opposition from both local groups and English Heritage and opponents have collected a 6,000 name petition. Shropshire Council have admitted to the campaign group Hoooh (Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort), that; "... the 2600 figure is both arbitrary and inexact"

Now I always thought that Local authority anticipated housing numbers were based on Government population predictions. The population for Shropshire in 2031 is predicted to be 338,000 up 16.9% from 289,000 in 2006. I'm not sure how building 2,600 homes between now and 2026, will meet the need of an additional  population of 49,000, which is why I suppose the figures are described as arbitrary and inexact!

Now, let's try to apply this inexact science to the housing needs of Shropshire Council's near neighbour, Wrexham County Borough Council, which has a population in 2012, of 135,919 and a predicted population of 163,500 by 2036, an increase of  28,000. 

Now, this is where it really get's confusing because Wrexham CBC's Local Development Plan for 8,000 new homes over the next 15 years to be inadequate to meet the housing needs by the Planning Inspector who immediately cancelled the plan and ordered a new one to be drawn up to include 12,000 new homes.

I'm just glad that Wrexham Council have a meeting of their Planning Policy Panel this week, time to get some answers I think.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Gwariant ar yr Iaith Gymraeg.

Siomedig iawn oedd clywed fod Llywodraeth Cymru am dorri ei cyllideb ar hyrwyddo'r iaith Gymraeg; hyd yn oed cyn y toriadau doedd y gyllideb ddim yn ddigonol o bell ffordd.

Sylweddolais heno wrth wrando ar ddarlith Meirion Prys Jones sef Prif Weithredwr, Network to Promote Language Diversity (NPLD), yn Gwersyllt, faint mor fregus ydy'r iaith heb adnoddau digonol.

Cymharwyd Cymru a Gwlad y Basg, lle mae y llywodraeth Basgaidd yn buddsoddi rhwng 150 a 180 miliwn Ewro y flwyddyn yn hybu yr iaith. Canlyniad hynny yw fod y boblogaeth sydd yn siarad yr iaith yn cynyddu 5% bob 10 mlynedd.

Yng Nghymru mae y Llywodraeth yn buddsoddi tua £25 miliwn yn hyrwyddo yr iaith a chanlyniad hynny yw fod y nifer siaradwyr Cymraeg yn dirywio 2% mewn 10 mlynedd.

Cynydd yn gyllideb y Gymraeg sydd ei angen a ddim toriadau.

Diolch i Meirion am dynnu ein sylw at yr ystadegyn gwarthus yna; a cofiwch yrru ebost i'ch Aelod Cynulliad drwy fynd i wefan Cymdeithas Yr Iaith i brotestio y toriad yma i gyllideb y Gymraeg.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Plaid Cymru concern at increase in consultants’ costs at Wrexham Council

Plaid Cymru Press Release.

Plaid Cymru councillors in Wrexham have raised concerns at the increased spending on external consultants and legal advice by the local council.

Wrexham Council has published details of how much they spent on Consultants and on external legal advice. The details in an Information Report to members show that spending on Consultants and External Legal Advice has increase by 66% on the previous year from £1.14 million to £1.9 million.

The rise in net costs was even higher – consultants’ costs went from £478,000 to £810,000. The £1m legal experts’ fees was mainly for advice on the outstanding equal pay claim and “other major projects”.

The details are in Part 2 of the report to councillors, so not available to the public.

Gwersyllt West Plaid Cymru Councillor Arfon Jones has written to Wrexham Council asking for the report to be discussed by a Scrutiny Committee. He said: "I have written to Councillor Steve Wilson, the chair of the Customers, Performance and Resources Scrutiny Committee, asking him to list this report for discussion.

“This is a big increase in spending whilst we are having to cut back in other areas. We shouldn't be accepting these figures without some challenge and scrutiny from members. It seems perverse that we are offering redundancy and early retirement to our skilled staff whilst increasingly spending on consultants to do some similar work.

“We should also be asking why we are not collaborating with neighbouring authorities to share expertise; much of what we spend on consultants is identical to what other councils are also spending on consultants.”

Thursday, 14 November 2013

'Cut the consultants and mayor, not lollipop ladies and play areas' - community tells Labour council

Caia Park Community Council voted tonight to send a clear message to Wrecsam council - before you touch lollipop ladies, community centres, play areas and library's across Wrexham County Borough you'd better reform the role of Mayor and cut your spending on consultants.

Axeing these frontline services would save about £403,000. Plaid councillor Carrie Harper proposed that the savings from reforming the mayor's post (currently £138,000 a year) and the additional spend year on year on consultants (up £332,000 since Labour took power) was enough to make up the shortfall.

This comes on the back of Gresford Community Council sending a similarly clear message to suspend the mayoral position rather than closing their library.

More and more communities are saying "don't cut frontline services" to a Labour-run council that is opting to cut from the bottom up rather than the top down. No wonder independent councillors propping up this lacklustre regime are talking openly of jumping ship. That would leave Labour reliant on Tory support to stay in power... 

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Disbelief at Labour no show at bedroom tax debate

Dozens of Labour MPs decided to play truant at yesterdays House of Commons vote to scrap the bedroom tax. The crucial vote, arranged by Labour, failed to win a majority by a mere 26 votes. Had the Labour MPs managed to turn up, the vote would have been won. Although it would not have been binding, the vote would have clearly shown the will of Parliament.  

One of the Labour no shows, along with 5 other Welsh MPs, was Wrexham’s very own Mr Ian Lucas, despite almost 1,400 people in Wrexham being affected by the vile Tory coalition policy.

Last night’s events raise big questions about Labour’s sincerity over the bedroom tax. The party’s blundering over the issue since it came into effect has been well publicised, leading to claims that the party has been mired in confusion.

It eventually announced a commitment to end the tax if it wins the next election back in September of this year. The party’s website leads with the following quote from its leader Ed Milliband:

 ‘If we win the next election, I will scrap the Bedroom Tax. No ifs or buts

It would seem that what the party desperately needs more than anything is butts on seats, if it expects anyone to take them seriously. It is unforgivable that a key opportunity to scrap this tax has come to nothing thanks to Labour’s lack of genuine commitment.

Plaid Cymru’s MP’s attended last nights debate and voted to scrap the bedroom tax.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Council has 15 different advice services – Plaid calls for streamlining to protect frontline services

Plaid Cymru Press Release:

A Plaid Cymru councillor has challenged Wrexham council to protect frontline services by streamlining its management and bureaucracy.

Councillor Arfon Jones, who represents Gwersyllt West, called for some “blue sky thinking” on how to make savings whilst minimising the effect on front-line services.

He said Wrexham Council had failed to act on recommendations of a Welsh Government Advice Services Review published in March this year.

This report highlighted how many organisation provided advice services in Wrecsam County. Councillor Jones said, 
"I was shocked when I read this report and to find that there were over 35 organisations in the County Borough that provided advice in one form or another and that 15 of these advice services were provided by Wrecsam Council itself. “Most, if not all, of these organisations receive public money and there is a massive duplication in the management of these services provided. Why, for example, do we need three different advocacy services? These services provided by the council are all separate stand-alone services and have their own bureaucratic management structures."

Cllr Jones went on to say, 
"I wrote to Wrecsam Council back in June this year asking for them to look at the cost of these separate services but received no reply." 

Cllr Jones called for an urgent review of Advice Services within the County Borough: 
"We need an urgent review as to how much these duplicated services cost the taxpayer. All the Council advice services should come under one roof with one management structure; this would provide an expanded service for less money. We should also consider whether it is more effective and efficient to commission advice services from not-for-profit organisations like Citizens Advice and Shelter. “Whatever we do, I believe there is huge money-saving potential without affecting the actual frontline services that we provide. As an authority we should be seeking to squeeze out inefficiencies and not wholesale decimation of community services such as libraries, school crossing patrols and play areas." 

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Small minds

Please sign this... a small sign of small minds

Wrexham Council is proposing to close 3 libraries, including Rhosllannerchgrugog. This is to save £92,000 as part of the council's cuts for 2014/15. In 2008 Rhos library was awarded £100,000 grant from CyMAL to refurbish the building which is a key part of day to day life in Rhos and the surrounding communities of Penycae, Pant, Ponciau and Johnstown. The nearest library, if closure is agreed, will be in Ruabon.

Mae Cyngor Wrecsam yn bwriadu cau tri llyfrgell, gan gynnwys un yn Rhosllannerchrugog. Bydd hyn yn arbed £92,000 fel rhan o gynllun toriadau'r cyngor. Yn 2008 cafodd y llyfrgell £100,000 o grant er mwyn adnewyddu'r adeilad, sy'n rhan annatod o fywyd y pentre a chymunedau Penycae, Ponciau, Pant a Johnstown. Os bydd yn cau, y llyfrgell agosaf fydd Rhiwabon.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Plaid Cymru welcomes Silk announcement

Plaid Cymru Press Release

Plaid Cymru has welcomed the UK Government’s response to Silk Commission Part 1 recommendations.  This comes a year after the Silk Commission published its first report in November 2012.
Plaid Cymru has campaigned for the recommendations to be implemented in full since they were first unveiled, arguing that they provide key levers that will be vital to Wales’ economic future.
However the Party of Wales leader Leanne Wood has warned that the Welsh Government should move ahead as quickly as possible to devolve Income Tax powers in order to improve the Welsh economy and promote accountability for the Welsh Government.
The Party of Wales leader Leanne Wood said:
“The Welsh Government must be responsible for raising a material proportion of its revenue – following the practice of other OECD countries. Plaid Cymru broadly welcomes the announcements made this morning on financial powers for the National Assembly for Wales, albeit we would have preferred them to have gone further.
“The Party of Wales has pushed for the implementation of the Silk recommendations from the very beginning, and it is good to see that the UK Government has finally made some progress, even though they have fallen short of the full implementation.
“Borrowing powers have great potential to revive the economy across Wales, they could allow us to revolutionise our transport and communications infrastructure in all parts of the country. Broadband, the reopening of Beeching-cut rail lines, a national house-building programme, investment in school buildings and a home energy efficiency scheme are all shovel-ready schemes which will create jobs.
“Plaid Cymru has always maintained that the recommendations made by the Silk Commission in its first report promoted accountability and responsibility for the National Assembly for Wales, and to strengthen our democracy in Wales.
“We now need to move ahead, without further delay.
“We need powers over income tax to incentivise the Welsh Government to create well-paid jobs, which will radically change the landscape. This process needs to begin as soon as possible.
“I’m disappointed that the UK Government has decided not to implement the Silk Commission’s recommendations in full and we await their detailed response and further detail, which is due to be published later this year. There are many outstanding questions which will need to be addressed by the UK Government in their fuller response.
“Plaid Cymru has consistently said that Wales needs job-creating powers if we are to transform our economic fortunes and create new jobs. We must now press ahead with devolving these powers as soon as possible and I look forward to working again with all four parties represented in the Assembly to do so.”
The Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd said:
“The ball is now in the Labour Welsh Government’s court - it is vital that they don’t halt our economic recovery by delaying the referendum on income tax powers.
“Any further dithering will cast doubt over Labour’s alleged commitment to further devolution.
“We must also not underestimate the challenge of securing a legislative slot in Westminster in order to bring the process forward.
“This morning, the First Minister claimed that his party is not in favour of devolving income tax until the Barnett formula is reformed to provide fairer funding for Wales.
"Whilst we also believe in reforming the Barnett formula, let's not forget that the Labour Party had 13 years in government to do so. Now is not the time for further delay.
"Plaid Cymru is firmly in tune with public opinion in pushing for more powers and will always put Wales first."

Drug Seizures North Wales.

There has been a significant drop in drug seizures across England and Wales in 2012/13, which may well go some way to explaining the big reduction in crime that we have seen recently. The drop in North Wales Police area has been significantly more than in Wales as a whole.

The highest numbers of seizures was in 2008/09 with 2531 seizures compared to 1571 in 2012/13 a reduction of nearly 40%. Across Wales the reduction was only 10%, from 13,790 to 12,339 seizures.

What these figures don't tell us whether there have been less seizures but greater quantities seized,  but the national indications are that quantities seized by Police Forces is also down with quantities of Cannabis Resin seized down 45%.

I don't think there is anyone who believes that drug use in North Wales has reduced by 40% over the last few years so there is therefore only one answer to these significant changes and that is Policing priorities, with seizures of controlled substances no longer seen as a priority resulting in a reduction of proactive targeting of possession of drugs and consequently a reduction in crime figures.

Perhaps the Police Commissioner, Winston Roddick can explain how North Wales Police's operational policing tactics fits in with his Police and Crime Plan, where Protecting People and Reducing Harm is a Policing objective?