Monday, 28 October 2013

Free Wi-Fi for Cardiff City Centre

It's great news for Cardiff that they have succeeded in obtaining funding to deliver high quality Wi-Fi across the city centre from the Super Connected Cities Project. The areas that will be covered will be tourist areas and the St David's Shopping Centre:

Cardiff County Council is to introduce free Wi-Fi across the city centre next month, as part of the Super Connected Cities Project.The partnership between the council and BT Wholesale will see wireless technology installed on the city’s lamp posts and other street furniture.
Cardiff’s cabinet member for finance & economic development, Russell Goodway, said: “‘hese wireless technologies will add to the huge investment in fibre broadband that BT has already made across Cardiff and give the city a real competitive edge when it comes to attracting new visitors and businesses.
‘This will also significantly improve the speed, reach, strength and reliability of 3G and 4G mobile services that is offered to mobile and smart device users.’
The WiFi service will initially cover the busiest areas for tourism, commerce and leisure, before being extended to the Cardiff Bay area in 2014. 
Plaid Cymru in Wrecsam did raise the need for free Wi Fi in the town back in June 2012, but the suggestion seemed to have been quietly shelved as nothing has been heard of the of it for quite some time.

One of the council's strategic aim in the 'Plan' is the economy and to "create a vibrant, diverse and inclusive economy;' and I'm not sure how poor connectivity will help us to achieve this aim. This is something that needs re-visiting as a matter of urgency.
 

The Tax Gap.

According to the HMRC the tax gap, which is the difference between what the Revenue reckon they should receive in tax and what they actually received is down in 2011/2012 to 7% or £35 billion a year. In other words the Revenue believe they are collecting 93% of what is owed to them.

The Revenue break down the missing billions as follows:


  • £5.4bn is lost through the hidden economy                         
  • £5.1bn through tax evasion;                                            
  • £4.7bn via criminal attacks;                                             
  • £4bn through avoidance;                                                
  • £4.4bn as a result of non-payment;
  • £4.3bn as a result of differences in legal interpretations;     
  • £4.3bn as a result of ‘failure to take reasonable care
  • £2.9bn is lost through error.
The HMRC further believe that £16.7 billion of missing tax is attributable to Small & Medium Enterprises (SME's) and only £8.8 billion from large corporations with the rest being due from individuals and criminals.

It would be interesting to find out if there has been any 'independent' research done into the 'tax gap'.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Price of electricity to double with nuclear

The price of electricity is set to double if the UK Government continues down the road to nuclear power.

George Osborne is ready to strike a deal that would see the Chinese state fund a French state-owned nuclear energy firm build a new N-power plant at Hinkley Point, just across the Severn from Cardiff.

 'The UK will be agreeing to buy electricity from Hinkley Point for 35-40 years at £93 per megawatt hour or thereabouts, according to the whisper from Westminster.That is roughly twice the current market rate for electricity, and far in excess of the £40 per megawatt hour that was airily waved around by the Department of Energy only half a decade ago.
 Nuclear power, it seems, can only be bought at a cost roughly equivalent to on-shore wind, complete with its subsidies to landowners. Maybe that is the price that has to be paid for secure low-carbon supplies, but at current energy prices, the first impact of Hinkley Point will be to add to consumers' bills, just as wind does today.
"In the long term," the chancellor continued, new nuclear should lead to "lower and more stable energy bills."
The key phrase there is "long term". The claim rests on the assumption that the costs of other sources of energy will continue to rise and make £93 appear a bargain sometime in the future. That assumption may or may not prove correct – but coming from a government that supposedly thinks fracking will revolutionise the energy market, it's a strange argument to hear.
But is £93 the real cost anyway? The devil will be in the detail of this contract – specifically, in the indexation formula for the strike price. If Hinkley Point's entire output is tied to the rate of inflation for 40 years, we could be staring at a truly astronomical cost by the end of the contract.'

This week's Private Eye also warns that the UK Government is attempting to soften the blow by allowing off-shore wind schemes to get three times the current rate for electricity with tidal lagoons - a real prospect for Wales - getting SIX times the current cost.
 All window dressing to make nuclear more reasonable.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Independent councillor joins Plaid Cymru

Councillor Keith Gregory, who represents Smithfield ward on Wrecsam Council, has joined Plaid Cymru.

 He made his announcement at a packed public meeting with Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru's leader, and spoke from the heart about his decision to join after working with Plaid Cymru locally and listening to Leanne's speech at the recent party conference in Aberystwyth.

 The meeting was part of Leanne's leader tour throughout Wales and also the opportunity to launch the Westminster campaign of local candidate Carrie Harper.

 Carrie spoke with passion about the way people can take control of their own lives and communities rather than passively accepting what is being done to them. To create a better Wrecsam and a better Wales, she said, we had to challenge the stale politics of the big three London parties.

 Leanne's pitch was more direct - if you want to change Wales for the better, join Plaid!

 Her success in recruiting Keith and a number of other new members on the night shows how successful that message is. Ymlaen!


Gresford colliery fears over fracking exploration



Fears that any drilling for Coal Bed Methane near Wrecsam could accidentally strike the flooded coal workings at Gresford colliery have been raised.
The concerns were aired by a former mining surveyor who worked at the mine before it closed in 1972 at a public meeting in Saith Seren, Wrecsam, this week. Phil Owen, of Wrecsam, explained that any drilling to extract methane from the coal seams could easily breach the old workings from Gresford, which spread close to the planned test borehole near Borras. 
 He vowed there would be mass opposition to any such move, given that there are still hundreds of bodies of dead miners interred after the 1934 explosion. 

 The meeting organised by North-East Wales Against Fracking Action was attended by about 50 concerned local residents and activists. They heard detailed opposition by Paul Mobbs, an environmentalist who also spoke in Oswestry on the same subject. For more detail on Paul's excellent analysis of the situation see Oswestryi.com's report.

Locally, energy companies are interested in extracting methane gas from deep coal seams. This is unlike the shale gas extraction more common in the US. The place to look for the history of coal bed methane extraction is Australia. Dart energy, the company owning licences to drill from Oswestry up to Wrexham, moved its operations to the UK last year when Australia tightened up its environmental regulation of the industry. The coal bed methane story is covered in a 45-minute documentary made by the Australian equivalent of Panorama (at the foot of this post).
More than 100 people signed a petition against local fracking on Saturday. 

For more information on the planned test drilling at Commonwood Farm, Borras, Wrecsam, and its implications for the whole of the area, see Paul's page.




Saturday, 19 October 2013

Summary of Important Welsh Government Consultations.

Below are a summary of important Welsh Government Consultations.

Increasing Council Tax on Second Homes.

The Welsh Government is seeking views on whether it should grant local authorities discretionary power to increase council tax on second homes and how this should work in practise. There seems to be a general consensus within Plaid Cymru that powers should be granted to increase the level of council tax to 200%. This consultation ends in 9 days. The link to the consultation is to be found  here

Designated Persons Order (No 1)

The purpose of this consultation is to determine whether public bodies are accountable enough and whether an increased level of scrutiny and challenge is required. The Consultation mentions several bodies that may be open to greater scrutiny, chief amongst them being Local Health Boards and Registered Social Landlords. I personally feel that Third Sector/Not For Profit Sector should be more accountable especially after the AWEMA scandal. I therefore believe if a Third Sector/NFP receives more than £75,000 public funding then it should be open to scrutiny and challenge.
The link to this consultation can be found here.

Former Prisoners and Priority Need Housing.

A particularly relevant consultation for Wrecsam with a 2,200 inmate Titan Prison coming here.

At present Wales is the only part of the UK that has specific legislation giving former prisoners priority for housing needs, this is carte blanche, if you are a former prisoner you will get to the top of the housing register. Clearly this is not working and the Government is recognising this as the following comment by Carl Sargeant suggests, "I am concerned at the burden on local authorities and communities that arises from the priority need status that is given to former prisoners."

The Welsh Government are considering amending this legislation to only apply to 'vulnerable former prisoners.'

If we don't get this right this may have severe implications on availability of social housing in the North East of Wales so HAVE YOUR SAY. 

The future of regulation and inspection of care and support in Wales.

This is a government White Paper who are intending to change the inspection and regulatory regime in Wales so that it is outcome based. This White Paper is welcomed and long overdue. There has long been a lack of joined up thinking around inspection within Children Services in Wales with inspectors visiting as many as 5 or 6 times a year and impacting on both front line and management of  Childrens Services. I have previously commented on this HERE, HERE and HERE.

Please take the time to respond to these consultations...they are important.


Friday, 18 October 2013

Liverpool Women's Hospital.

Whilst we await the recommendation of the Royal College of Paediatricians to our First Minister on moving Neonatal Intensive Care from North Wales to Arrowe Park perhaps we should reflect on this interesting little article from this week's Private Eye:


Once Arrowe Park's cots are full this is where our babies will go. The Care Quality Commission's most recent report in September states that improvements are required in:

  • People should get safe and appropriate care that meets their needs and supports their rights.
  • People should be cared for by staff who are properly qualified and able to do their job
  • There should be enough members of staff to keep people safe and meet their health and welfare needs 
These revelations that one of the biggest Maternity Hospital's in the UK is failing to provide adequate staffing and care MUST convince the First Minister that our babies are better off being cared for in Glan Clwyd and the Maelor rather than a failing privatised NHS system in England.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Plaid Cymru calls on council to 'flatten the pyramid'

 Plaid Cymru Councillor Arfon Jones has called on Wrecsam Council to address the top-heavy management structure in the council to contribute to the massive savings the council has to make.

 Cllr Jones, who represents Gwersyllt West, said: "We have one Chief Executive, three Strategic Directors and nine Chief Officers earning a combined total of £1.38 million a year in 2012/13 which is an increase of 4.5% on the previous year, with the lowest paid getting over £93,000 and the Chief Executive on a whopping £135,000. It begs the question if we have nine Chief Officers responsible for their departments then why do we need three Strategic Directors?"

 Cllr Jones went on to point out that, over the last two years, a total of a 151 staff had left the authority with an 'exit package'. More than a third of all staff that left with packages were made compulsory redundant with nearly all of them receiving an exit package of less than £20,000, indicating that they were low-paid staff in the main.

 There were no compulsory redundancies for staff entitled to exit packages over £40,000.

  Cllr Jones added: "What these figures show is that we are quick enough to dispose with our lower-paid frontline staff but the managers remain. It will be interesting to see a breakdown of the pay grades of the 368 staff that have volunteered for early voluntary redundancy or retirement and whether the council will let senior staff go." 


 Plaid Cymru's Prospective Parliamentary for Wrecsam, Carrie Harper: "The Labour administration in Wrecsam is going for the quick hits of salami slicing frontline services, outsourcing and increasing charges that alienate the public and hit the local economy.

 "There are senior officers in the council who spend a fortune on consultants to do their work for them; that needs to stop. We need to flatten the management pyramid in Wrecsam, it is far too top heavy." 

Friday, 11 October 2013

Caia Community Council rejects cuts agenda

If Wrecsam Council was hoping to offload its financial woes onto Caia Park tonight, it failed. The county had wanted community councils throughout the borough to take financial responsibility for community services.
Tonight Caia Park Community Council - in a show of unity - agreed to defer any decision about taking on basic community facilities such as community centres, play areas and school crossing patrols until the county council supplied more accurate financial information about the real cost.

It was telling that even Labour's own finance lead member, Malcolm King, concurred that the figures given to the community council weren't accurate after new information was received today. 

This contrasted with Cllr Brian Cameron's earlier attempt at political point scoring, in which he claimed the council had been given all the necessary information. 

 There was also a general consensus that people in Caia should not have to shoulder the additional burden through higher Council Tax to pay for services they already get. Times are already very difficult with rising bills and pay not keeping up with inflation.

 The most positive aspect of the meeting was that councillors should knock on as many doors as possible to get the views of residents in their wards on the proposals.


If you have a view on whether the community council should pay to keep Pentre Gwyn and Kingsley Circle Community Centres, 10 play areas dotted around the community and the three school crossing patrols on Holt Road and outside Gwenfro and Hafod y Wern schools - let me know on marcvjones [a] gmail.com

 The county council is saying that, unless the community council pays, it could close these services in April 2014. Plaid Cymru councillors in Caia tonight challenged that view, saying any cuts should first take place in senior council management rather than frontline services.

So have your say and make sure the Guildhall is listening.

 

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Another big U-turn by Labour in Wrecsam.

Prior to the Council elections in May 2012, Labour in Wrecsam put out this spend, spend, spend leaflet 


One of their promises was to promote Wrecsam as a place to shop etc. The previous administration had in fact reduced car park charges with the exact same aim to promote the town which was supported by Labour members of the authority.

Following his appointment as Leader, Councillor Neil Rogers was quoted in an article in the Leader newspaper as saying:
“We want to start having dialogue about the situation concerning car parks. It is high on my agenda... 
“We fought against the plans that the last administration had for new parking charges. We now want to see what we can do to make things as attractive for shoppers and residents as possible, with car parking very important in relation to that.” 
“It is important the businesses of this town are given the chance to prosper,” he said. “We value the service they are providing for the town and are keen to help them in any way we can. 

“Town centres are struggling across the length and breadth of Britain and we have to find ways we can help Wrexham town centre prosper. 

“We need to work together to find the best way forward regarding car parking.

Less than 18 months later, Neil Rogers's administration bring a report to Wrecsam's Executive Board proposing a number of parking INCREASES in the town. When Independent Councillor and local businessman, Bill Baldwin challenged the Leader's U-turn by reading out the above article, Councillor Rogers replied that he didn't realise in May 2012, how deep the cuts were going to be. That was met by gasps of disbelief and heckles at his disingenuous explanation.

They have no shame!

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Campaign mobilises to combat fracking firm




Plaid celebrate the return of millions in Wrexham tenants rent


Plaid Cymru have claimed a victory following news that a substantial part of £11.4m of rent money currently taken by the London Treasury every year, will be returned to Wrexham council. The Housing Revenue Account Subsidy Scheme – which has seen over a billion pounds of Welsh council rent money paid to the Westminster Treasury – will be reformed, leaving more money in the hands of Welsh councils.
Wrexham councils Executive Board are due to discuss the implications of the announcement, along with targets to reach the Welsh Housing Quality standard on Tuesday, with millions now being due to return to the local housing pot.
Until now, councils which raised more money from council housing rents than they spent on maintaining those properties, have had to send surplus monies to the Treasury. Money was then redistributed to councils throughout England and Wales which spent more on maintenance and refurbishment than they received in rent.
Figures obtained by Plaid back in 2010 revealed that 21 of Wales’s 22 local authorities had lost money to the Treasury ranging from over £139million in Cardiff to £110 million in Wrexham.
Plaid's Wrexham Parliamentary candidate Carrie Harper, branded the scheme as ‘the great rent rip off’ back in 2010 when campaigning against the subsidy system. In response to the ending of the scheme and the upcoming discussion at Wrexham council, she said:
“This is fantastic news for Wrexham. Although the details of the exit from the scheme have yet to be settled, we already know it will mean millions returning to the housing budget locally. This will allow Wrexham council to meet the Welsh Housing Quality standard by 2020 and hopefully permanently take the stock transfer issue off the agenda.”
“As well as using this money to invest in our local housing stock, it also opens up the possibility for the council to build new council housing for the first time in over 40 years. It is going to make a huge difference and I’m hugely proud of the role Plaid has played in remedying this injustice.”
Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards has relentlessly pursued the issue in Parliament. He first raised the ‘great rent robbery’ just two days after giving his June 2010 maiden speech. After his debate later that year, he tabled a motion to gain the support of fellow MPs for scrapping the scheme. Unfortunately, not a single Member of Parliament from Wales, other than from Plaid Cymru, supported his calls to end the unfair scheme.
Carrie Harper added: “ Plaid have continuously campaigned to raise awareness about this housing scandal both locally and at Westminster. There can be no doubt that our MP Jonathon Edwards has played a leading role in finally bringing this rent rip off to an end. The return of this money will rightly bring big benefits to council tenants both in Wrexham and across Wales.”


Shameless Labour Minister's Spin.

Dear Editor,

In their respective columns in last Friday's Leader, two Welsh Government Ministers, Carl Sargeant and Lesley Griffiths make identical points and that is to congratulate their ministerial colleague Edwina Hart on her £44 million investment in redoubling and improving the rail link between Wrecsam and Chester.

What they forgot to mention is that this was an embarrassing U-turn by Mrs Hart of a decision she made less than 3 months ago, to divert this money from the North East of Wales to her pet rail projects in South Wales.

The £44 million had initially been earmarked for the Wrecsam/Chester line by Plaid Cymru's Ieuan Wyn Jones when he was Deputy First Minister of the One Wales Government.(2007/11)

Opposition politicians in the Assembly are to be congratulated for forcing Mrs Hart into her U-turn. 

Regards,

Councillor Arfon Jones

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Think outside the box when re-shaping services, council urged


A report on Re-shaping services will be considered by the Executive Board next Tuesday. It's focus is relentlessly on cutting frontline services to save £50m over the next four years.

In response, Plaid Cymru's Gwersyllt West Councillor, Arfon Jones said: 

"This report brings clarity to what we as a Local Authority are facing in the future and its good that the report is in the public domain. Whilst I accept there is going to be less money in the spending pot, this report seems to think that the only way to reduce spending is to drastically cut front-line services. There are other ways of protecting services and one of those ways is by generating additional income by thinking outside the box. “The fact that many of our Post Offices are at risk of closure or re-locating provides the Council with opportunities. For example why don't the council bid to run Gwersyllt Post Office from the council-run Resource Centre? This would provide Wrecsam Council with much-needed income and ensure that an important community benefit business remains at the village's heart. This would be a win-win situation for the council, the Post Office and the community." 
Councillor Jones went on to say:  
"This need not be restricted to Gwersyllt but could be extended to other parts of the County Borough where threatened Community Centres could be utilised in a similar fashion and which would ensure their long term viability. I really believe the administration should consider this as an option."

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.