Tuesday, 15 December 2015

The Complexities of Police Funding

This is an article from Wrexham's Leader newspaper reporting on the North Wales PCC's presentation to Flintshire Council on future cuts and my response to the article.

Dear Editor,

Police Commissioner Winston Roddick paints a rather confusing picture of what the future holds for policing in North Wales (Leader, December 14th). He firstly claims that £8 million of cuts are required in a budget of £140 million over 4 years whilst the latest Police Efficiency Report by the Inspectorate claims that the savings required is £15.5 million... which is right?

The Inspectorate of Constabulary are also critical of the Commissioner, saying that the future policing model for North Wales is not sustainable and requires improvement. It explains why: "The Police and Crime Commissioner is funding the cost of additional police officers from the currently high level of reserves; this is not sustainable."

North Wales Police had reserves of £36 million in 2014/15 but this reduced to £23 million in 2015/16, a reduction in over 33%. This is not prudent financial management and a critical comment from the Inspectorate on 'sustainability' is totally justified.

In the 6 months leading up to the next PCC elections, perhaps this is the type of public relations exercise that we should expect from the incumbent commissioner and it seems that the next Commissioner will have a Liam Byrne-type note on his desk saying ‘sorry, the money’s all gone’.

Councillor Arfon Jones.
Prospective Plaid Cymru Candidate For Police Commissioner.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Former police inspector chosen as Plaid candidate for North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner

Plaid Cymru has selected experienced former policeman Arfon Jones to be their candidate for Police Commissioner for North Wales in next May's elections.

The former police inspector retired in 2008 after 30 years' service and is now a county councillor in Wrexham as well as serving on the North Wales Community Health Council, the patients' watchdog. 

Cllr Jones, of Gwersyllt, is originally from Harlech, Gwynedd, and served in every county in the North except for Anglesey during his long career. 

He was chosen to stand by Plaid Cymru's national council in Aberystwyth on Saturday. 

Cllr Jones, a father of two, said: 

"It's a great honour to represent Plaid Cymru in next year's elections because the police in North Wales are entering a critical period in the light of UK government cuts. 
"My extensive experience of policing in North Wales means that I understand what does and does not work. I have worked as a uniformed Constable as well as a Sergeant and Inspector both in uniform and as a detective in many departments include Child Protection. This was at the time Mr Justice Waterhouse published his report into child abuse in the area, 'Lost in Care'. 
"I also served as Detective Inspector in charge of the Crime Strategy and was part of the team that transformed communications systems in North Wales Police. I had also been seconded to the Regional Criminal Intelligence Office in Manchester for four years, where I was responsible for intelligence gathering on criminals that were operating across force boundaries. I completed my career in 2008 as an operational Inspector in the Eastern Area (Wrexham and Flintshire)

 Cllr Jones also has extensive experience of other public service having been a member of the North Wales Fire Service, served on Wrexham Council's executive board for four years and currently chairs the North Wales CHC's Wrexham Committee. 

Cllr Jones said: 

"I want to work with our chief constable to ensure fairer policing in all our communities, and to include the underprivileged and vulnerable people of our society.  
"There needs to be adequate justice services for children, who need to be kept out of the system's criminal prosecution and imprisonment unless there is no alternative. Creating criminals out of children has been a big mistake and has been very costly to society, let alone ruining the life chances of children. Prosecuting children is costly both financially and socially and it's about time for us to be more flexible in our response to children who commit crimes. 
"It's also important that we treat people who have offended and have mental health problems, or who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, as victims and not as criminals specially if the offence is minor. Imprisoning the homeless and other vulnerable members of society is not a good use of resources and achieves nothing. This is a problem for the Community Safety Partners to coordinate and get a better response from our health and social services." 
 He also argued that the police needed to think through more carefully some responses to public order situations, arguing that there was a disproportionate attitude at times: 
"The attitude of the police towards environmental protests and anti-fracking campaigns recently is a good example. Heavy-handed policing of protests always creates more problems. The same goes with football games, where police response to policing the game is causing great animosity between the fans and police. The policing of the Wrexham, Chester games is totally disproportionate with thousands of well behaved football fans being treated like criminals. I also believe that the management of the Police has moved too far from the local and is managed centrally by the state. The concept of 'Policing with consent' is long gone and with it the fact that the police should be impartial when they intervene between the people and the state. We need to redress the balance between the local and the national.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Upton Blockade.

Please support the people of Upton in their campaign to prevent IGas from 'fracking' their community by visiting the camp this weekend when the eviction notice ends. If you can't visit please tweet your support using the hastags #uptonblockade and #communityfightback

‘Bring football home’ campaign launched to create Welsh National Football Museum in Wrexham

An ambitious campaign to “bring football home” to its spiritual birthplace has been launched in Wrexham.

Plaid Cymru - The Party Of Wales is proposing that a Welsh National Football Museum be developed in Wrexham, the home of Welsh football.

Wrexham is where the first international match was played in Wales, where the oldest international ground in the world – the Racecourse - is located and where the Football Association of Wales was formed. It is also home to Wrexham AFC, one of the world’s oldest football clubs.
Launching the campaign at the Racecourse, Carrie Harper, Plaid Cymru’s Wrexham candidate, said:

“Wales has a number of National Museums and Galleries but none of them are in the north-east. Creating a national football museum, similar to those in Manchester and Glasgow, would help redress that balance and emphasise the key role that the north-east and Wrexham specifically has had in the development of the game.

“It’s a great opportunity to bring together various elements of our footballing past together at a time when the future of Welsh football has never been brighter. It would also be a welcome boost for the town, attracting new visitors, creating work and providing an educational facility for youngsters.”
Mabon ap Gwynfor, Plaid Cymru’s Clwyd South candidate, said:

“This is the perfect place to locate a national football museum. The north-east has been a hotbed of footballing talent from the days of Chirk’s Billy Meredith, who played professionally with Manchester United until he was 49, to Mark Hughes and Harry Wilson, of Corwen, who is Wales’s youngest ever international player.

“The aim of our campaign is to bring together all interested parties such as the Football Association of Wales, Wrexham AFC, Wrexham Council, the Welsh Government as well as cross-party support. With Wales qualifying for the European Championships in 2016, there’s never been a better time to celebrate our part in developing the Beautiful Game. We hope that football fans from across Wales and beyond will also support the campaign by joining our Facebook page or following us on Twitter.“We are confident that, with broad support, a business plan can be put in place to secure lottery funding to build and maintain the museum – as happened with the English national football museum in Manchester.”
Harry Wilson, who in October 2013 became the youngest-ever player to play for Wales, at the age of 16 years and 207 days, has added his backing for the campaign and is attending the launch of the campaign in Wrexham:

“Wales has got a great future ahead of it as a football nation and it’s important we remember and celebrate our past achievements and efforts too. Wrexham would be the ideal place for a national football museum for Wales and I urge everyone to get behind this campaign.”

Peter Jones, Wrexham Supporters' Trust chair and club historian, also backed the call for a museum. He said:

"Wrexham is absolutely steeped in Welsh football history and it's something I'm strongly for as a football club historian. I brought it up at a trust board meeting and they feel strongly that it's something that the town needs."

To support the campaign, please complete the form below

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Welsh Language Consultation.

Wrexham Council are undertaking a consultation regarding the use of the Welsh language which ends on the 16th January 2016. In the introduction it says:
The Council is undertaking this consultation in order to try and understand why there is so little interaction with the Council's services in Welsh and why the take up of services through the medium of Welsh is low and disappointing despite the Council providing opportunities, particularly online, for people to communicate in Welsh
The full consultation can be found here

One local resident was so incensed that he wrote the following letter to the council regarding its inadequacies of the survey:

I've filled in the on-line questionnaire, but have to say that in my opinion, it’s a poor and superficial survey and does little to explore residents’ underlying feelings regarding Welsh language issues. In particular, it’s very disappointing that there’s no room for comments – I tried to input some under ‘other’ in the final question, but it appeared to delete them when ‘next’ was clicked. Please accept this therefore as a fuller response.

Personally, I believe that to understand the lack of take-up for Welsh language services from the council, we have to look at the general picture of the status of welsh in the area, and the council’s role in that.

Just by way of background, I was born and brought up in Wrexham, the son of a Welsh-speaking mother but educated entirely in the medium of English. At the time, and from a practical point of view, there was no alternative and I was only able to learn Welsh (to a fairly good level of fluency) by my own efforts, and at my own expense, as an adult.

I actually learned more Welsh while living in Shropshire and Herefordshire in my twenties than I did in Wrexham.

When I grew up, not only was the provision of welsh language education inadequate, but the council’s literature, signage and so on (its ‘public face’) was also entirely English.

Of course, things have changed since then. (My two daughters went to Ysgol Plas Coch and Ysgol Morgan Llwyd, and are fluent). But the problem is that the improvements have only ever been at a pace, and to an extent, necessary to meet the bare limits of the council’s legal obligations.

If you leave out the National Eisteddfod’s two visits to the area, in fifty years I can’t ever recall seeing Wrexham Council ever doing anything over and above that.

On the other hand, there appears to be many occasions where it has adopted a negative approach towards the language, and the overall picture therefore is that it appears to have at best disinterest in the language, or at worst disdain for it.

At a minor level it shows itself at public events – for example, at the 2015 St. David’s Day parade where during the welcoming speeches (including one by a council representative) we had to wait until a full 6 minutes before a single word of welsh was spoken – not even a ‘croeso’ or ‘bore da’!

But at a more fundamental level, and far more worryingly, it shows itself in the approach to welsh medium education – the substantial opposition among councillors to the building of Ysgol Bro Aled, the recent issues where siblings have been split between schools due to capacity problems, and the apparent absence of planning for the future, or willingness to do anything until pressured.

Add to that the cutbacks to funding for Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin, the lack of support for ventures such as ‘Saith Seren’, the lack of any official follow-up initiatives to the 2011 National Eisteddfod, and the reluctance to implement the Welsh Language Standards (and the completely inaccurate cost figures that were quoted regarding these) and the only logical conclusion any reasonable person can come to is that the council not only has no goodwill toward the language, but that it sees it as a nuisance, and is actively opposed to it.

Having said all that, I would admit that I don’t of course see everything that the council does, but if the council is doing something positive to encourage use of the language in the area, I would suggest that it needs to give its PR department a sharp kick up the backside, as it’s hard to see any evidence of it.

So against this background, why would residents be encouraged to approach the council in welsh? The assumption, quite naturally, will be that it’s unwelcome, and though there will be a few who do it to make a statement or protest, the reality is that it’s not in most people’s nature to do that. So they take the easy route, and approach the council in the only language it appears to willingly, rather than grudgingly, support.

It’s encouraging that you’re undertaking this consultation but I really do hope that you look beyond the bare statistics it produces, question your residents a bit further, and also question the council and councillors’ culture and attitudes. And recognise that changing language use towards people’s first preferences won’t be an overnight exercise, but a long-term one that will need to successfully correct perceptions acquired over half a century.

Always assuming of course that you’re not just looking for an excuse to do the bare minimum again?

I couldn't sum up the definition of 'suppressed demand' any better than that.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

No to bombing Syria

Why we're urging our Labour MP for Wrecsam Ian Lucas to vote against bombing Syria.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Health impact of fracking prompts call for review

Concerns about the potential health effects of fracking on communities have prompted Plaid Cymru shadow minister for the environment Llyr Gruffydd to call for further research into the matter.

He’s now written to the Welsh health minister asking for more information on the matter and calling for a review of existing scientific evidence.

Mr Gruffydd said:

“Many communities in Wales face the threat of fracking and drilling for unconventional gas. There is a large body of scientific evidence from around the world pointing to the health impacts of such drilling on local communities and I want the Welsh Government to examine that, especially in the light of decisions by countries across Europe and states such as New York to ban fracking.”
Mr Gruffydd’s stance has been backed by Wrexham Plaid Cymru Councillor and prominent anti-fracking campaigner Arfon Jones.

Councillor Arfon Jones, who also chairs the Wrexham Community Health Council, said: 

"The Welsh Government claims it has introduced a moratorium on fracking but the reality is even the Minister can’t guarantee he will block an application for fracking. We now need to move the debate forward to examine the vast amount of peer-reviewed literature that is available on the health effects of fracking and Public Health Wales are the best fit for carrying out the work. The last time anything like this was done was the discredited Public Health England report which was heavily influenced by the industry and dismissed health concerns.  “I believe that the Minister for Natural Resources, together with his Health colleague, needs to make a decision sooner rather than later on this important matter. I'm convinced that any literature review will reach the same conclusion as the New York State reports which concluded that there were, 'significant uncertainty of the level of risk to public health.'  “The Minister would then have sufficient evidence to make an informed decision on the future of Unconventional Gas exploration in Wales.”

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Charging for Freedom of Information requests.

Denbighshire Council are calling on the government to introduce charging for FOI requests as part of the consultation into the Freedom of Information Act:
The council is suggesting a nominal charge of £20 be made for each request, that the time limit is reduced from 18 to 10 hours and that time spent on redaction should also be taken into account. 
“It is believed that introducing these changes would reduce the burden for public authorities to a more manageable level whilst maintaining the public’s statutory rights of information access, says the report.
The following is a letter which I sent to the Daily Post in reply to the article:
Dear Editor, 
Denbighshire Council want to charge for Freedom of Information requests, (Post, Nov 14th) because council staff spend so much time processing requests. The Council quotes that requests have more than doubled since the act came in; but isn't that to be expected as people adapt to the new legislation. 
As an elected Councillor at Wrexham I have had to resort on many occasions to making FOI requests of my own council and a lot of the time they create work for themselves by jealously guarding the information to the point of pedantry and accessing it is like 'getting blood out of a stone.'

If council's in Wales want to reduce the costs of freedom of information then they should publish more of their information and there should be a presumption in favour of publication rather than "we'll only publish what we have to" which is the situation at present.

Until such time as local Council's do what is right in terms of publication rather than having to do what they have to, then an unchanged Freedom of Information Act is essential to hold public authorities in Wales to account. Any tinkering or weakening of the Act will lead to LESS openness and transparency. 
Councillor Arfon Jones.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Keep HMRC jobs in the North - petition launched

Plaid Cymru’s Carrie Harper has launched a petition to keep the tax office in Wrexham open. The move comes after HMRC yesterday announced the closure of all its tax offices, to be replaced with 13 regional centres.
 Just one will remain in Wales - in Cardiff. Staff in North Wales – where almost 400 people were based in Wrexham and Porthmadog - are expected to move to Liverpool.
 Ms Harper said:
“This centralisation will have a devastating effect on the Wrexham economy, which has seen other job losses in recent weeks. There is a high degree of expertise and local knowledge in the Wrexham tax office that will be lost if this closure is allowed to take place.
“It’s clear that HMRC claims that there are alternative jobs available for staff relocating to Liverpool are not, in fact, credible. Uniquely North Wales can provide a Welsh-language service that is well-used and respected.
“I’m therefore calling for a united front with workers, the PCS union, politicians of all colours and the wider community to fight for these jobs. We’re calling on HMRC and the UK Government to re-think its plans, to keep a regional centre in the North and maintain the Welsh-language callcentre here.”

Please sign and share the petition:

Friday, 30 October 2015

Call to tackle 2,500 empty homes in Wrexham by Plaid Cymru

These derelict buildings stand within a few yards of each other on the Rhosddu Road near Wrexham town centre. The first is in the process of being brought back into use by the local council after being empty for years. The old printworks (with the scaffolding) has had planning permission for six flats for the best part of a decade while the handsome stone building is a derelict council property lying idle.

They are typical of the many thousands of houses and derelict buildings that should be brought back into productive use in our borough, especially in light of the huge pressure to build on greenfield sites by developers.

Thousands of empty houses in Wrexham should be turned into homes rather than allowing new developments on greenfield sites, according to Plaid Cymru’s Carrie Harper.

Cllr Harper, who is Plaid Cymru’s Assembly candidate for Wrexham, said: “We asked the council for information on the number of empty homes in Wrexham and the numbers are quite staggering.

“There are 2,501 empty houses in the borough. Of those 1,191 are long-term empty and a further 1,310 are short-term. There are a further 400 properties lying empty that pay non-domestic rates, including derelict council buildings.

“It seems crazy that, at a time when large-scale housing estates are being pushed on greenfield sites, that all these houses are lying idle. We have thousands of people on waiting lists for housing yet these figures reveal that almost every community has dozens of empty houses and derelict buildings.”

She said the council was working to bring some homes back into use but that it could be painfully slow. 

Cllr Harper added: “There are Government schemes that have brought empty houses back into homes for people but we need to speed that process up. We also need to look at derelict buildings that could be converted into housing in our communities.

“Otherwise we’re going to see thousands of houses built on greenfield sites for the benefit of developers rather than local communities. I’m sure we all know of houses in streets nearby that have been empty for far too long. Rather than trashing our countryside, lets’s get these back into use.”

See which communities have the most empty homes:

• Please post pictures of empty properties in your area and let's get houses in Wrexham turned into homes.

Action needed to save steel industry after job losses in Wrexham

Action has been urged to save the struggling steel industry by Plaid Cymru's Carrie Harper.

Cllr Harper, the party's candidate for Wrexham in the Assembly elections next year, made her comments after job losses were announced in Caparo Steel in the town today.

Cllr Harper said: "Caparo Steel is a highly specialised operation and the factory in Wrexham remains profitable, despite the company going into administration. I understand the jobs have gone locally because it supplied two sister companies that have closed and short-term cutbacks were inevitable as a result.

 "It's vital that the steel industry in Wales is maintained because it is vital for the future economic growth of our country.
 "The job losses in Wrexham leave about 80 workers and I'm hopeful that it's possible to find a solution, whether that's a management buyout or another company taking over the factory, to enable us to maintain a strong manufacturing base here in the north-east."

Cllr Harper added that steel remains an important part of the Welsh economy, despite the massive job losses in the north-east in the past few decades:

 "This region lost 13,000 jobs when Shotton Steel closed in the 1980s, a further 1200 jobs when Brymbo Steel closed and, even though the jobs remaining are comparatively small, they are highly skilled and specialised. Wales cannot afford to continue losing skilled work and that's why we need urgent action rather than the do-nothing attitude of the Tory Government."

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Open Letter to First Minister, Carwyn Jones, regarding the funding of CAMU and lack of funding Saith Seren.

October 20, 2015

Rt. Hon Carwyn Jones AM
First Minister
Welsh Assembly Government

Dear First Minister

I am writing to you in your capacity as Minister with responsibility for the Welsh Language. I look forward to meeting you next Thursday, 22 October, when you attend the official opening of the Hwb Welsh language in the Workplace centre CAMU , Cambria College, Yale site, Wrexham. I am a member of the Advisory Panel of CAMU, representing the Wrexham area Welsh community newspaper, Y Clawdd (as Chief Editor of the paper), and the Wrexham Welsh Centre, Saith Seren (as a member of the Management Board).

I welcome the Government's investment of £300,000 in order to promote the Welsh language in this area, especially as I have lived here all my life, and have taught at Ysgol Morgan Llwyd, the local Welsh medium secondary school, for over two decades. The main aim of 'Camu' is to increase the numbers of people in the area who are able to use Welsh in the workplace, which is a praiseworthy objective.

However, as you know, all learners who will pass through the centre, in addition to the hundreds of young people who have received Welsh medium education here, and who generally come from non-Welsh-speaking homes, need somewhere to go to hear and use the Welsh language in the community on a regular basis, rather than within the walls of a school or college, or they will lose the language, as thousands have done so before them.

Establishing the Wrexham Welsh Centre, Saith Seren, in 2012
The Wrexham Welsh Centre, Saith Seren, opened in 2012 in order to achieve exactly this need, thereby normalizing the use of Welsh in an area that is occupied largely by non-Welsh speakers. The centre was opened with voluntary financial contributions from ordinary people with a love of the language, and an agreement with the Clwyd Alyn Housing Association, who bought the Saith Seren building (or ‘Seven Stars’ as it was) in order for us to establish the Wrexham Welsh Centre there and to rent it from them.

The centre was very successful in organising social activities through Welsh in the first few years, but financial problems came to the surface, mainly due to the high rent which was being asked by Clwyd Alyn Association. By spring 2015, despite all efforts to try to ensure some kind of grant or financial support from public bodies, the heart-breaking announcement had to be made that the Wrexham Welsh Centre, Saith Seren would be forced to close its doors for the last time in May, and six members of staff would lose their jobs.

Last nail in the coffin of Wrexham’s Welsh speaking ‘society’?

For me, this would have been the final nail in the coffin of the possibility of ​​maintaining any kind of Welsh-speaking social ‘society’ in Wrexham. The town’s chapels were instrumental in doing this in the past, but the numbers who attend them have fallen dramatically, and so the solution to maintaining the language does not lie with the chapels. I remember the time before ‘Saith Seren’, when I was a member of the entertainment committee of Menter Maelor, when we tried to organise Welsh language events in the town. We used one location after another to try to find which was the most suitable, and more often than not we were very disappointed by the numbers who attended those events. This changed with the advent of the Welsh Language Centre, as it acts as a familiar focal point for the vast majority of Welsh social activities in the town.

Fortunately, some people decided that the centre wasn’t going to die without a fight, and Aran Jones, who runs the company 'Say Something in…. (Welsh)' started an on-line campaign, asking people to sign up to a commitment of £10 per month to save the centre, and I ran the campaign in Wrexham. We needed to raise £ 3,000 per month, which is a huge sum, and there were times during the campaign when we didn’t think it was going to work. However, after three months of active campaigning, and following extremely generous donations from more than 200 people, many of whom live outside the town as well as locals, we arrived at the total that was needed to keep the centre open. This showed clearly how much importance the Wrexham Welsh Centre has in the eyes of people who understand the reason for its existence and the important role it plays.

Wrexham Welsh Centre, Saith Seren, relaunched in 2015

The newsletter which is attached is a record of some of the activities that have taken place since the centre was saved in May. As you can see there have been many successful gigs (Steve Eaves, Geraint Lovegreen, Moniars etc.) and the centre has been the catalyst for many of our learners to succeed at the National Eisteddfod. This is what people who don’t usually have the opportunity to practice using Welsh desperately need; somewhere to go to meet other learners and native speakers in a homely, social setting, and not in a classroom. This is also crucial in order to show the young people of the town that the Welsh language is alive and well, not just the language of education, media and the Eisteddfod.

The centre is now on somewhat steadier ground, and we are succeeding financially to some extent. However, we are investigating all possible sources in order to secure our future in the long term. We are fully aware that relying on voluntary donations from individuals is not a sustainable position over the long term. We are still here today, but only by a hair’s breadth, as we only narrowly managed to survive, and if we have to close in a year or two, all the effort we’ve put in counts for nothing in my opinion. I have three children, two of which are 3 and 5 years old, and I want to the Wrexham Welsh Centre, Saith Seren to exist when they will be old enough to go out and socialize in years to come.

The only way I can realistically see that happening is if we get financial support from public bodies. Ideally, we'd like to buy the building and pay a mortgage rather than wasting money on rent. Unfortunately, the price Clwyd Alyn Association is asking is very high, because they have spent a substantial amount on renovation. We are responsible for all maintenance work because of the nature of the agreement, so there is little incentive for them to sell. The Welsh Government has just given £300,000 towards the establishment of the CAMU Welsh Language in the Workplace Hub, and an additional £ 130,000 has come from other partners (Wrexham and Flintshire councils), which gives total of £ 430,000. Even a portion of this money would have enabled us to buy Saith Seren and secure the future of the Wrexham Welsh Centre for future generations.

The £ 430,000 has been spent on adapting a block of a building bloc that existed already, and I find it very hard to see where all this money has been spent. This is extremely frustrating for us in Saith Seren as was have to scrimp and save every penny. I ask you to consider on Thursday whether the government is getting value for money when considering the aims of the Bwrw Mlaen grant fund, and whether those aims would have any chance of being properly achieved without the help of Saith Seren.

Fulfilling the requirements of the grant without remuneration

When one of your officers came to visit us at the beginning of the summer, she was under the impression that we were part of the Hwb Cymraeg Cambria application, though we were not. I am sure that the college will emphasize that they are working with us, by sending their learners on us to socialize after being with them. One of the criteria of the grant was that there would be "opportunities for young people to socialize in Welsh, in the community”, and we help them to achieve this, but have not received a penny of the grant money for doing so. I realise that collaboration between agencies such as local authorities and colleges is essential in order to successfully apply for the Bwrw Mlaen grant, but there was no cooperation obtained from Cambria College or Wrexham Council in terms of sharing the grant application in our case.

Is it possible to re-consider the way in which grants are distributed in this way, so that a centre such as us could realistically win such a grant? It's great to see so many new Welsh Centres, like us, which have a strong social component, have been funded by the government, such as 'Y Lle' in Llanelli, and 'Atom' in Carmarthen etc. and I hope that these centres manage to keep the language alive in those areas. I also hope that we do not lose the vulnerable Welsh-speaking society which exists here in Wrexham at present, because the brave, sincere and valuable Wrexham Welsh Centre initiative in Saith Seren did not meet the narrow criteria that are required in order to win a this type of grant from the Government, and because it did not receive the support it deserves from the local college and council.

Even Y Clawdd receives a £1,200 annual payment, so it makes no sense to me that the Wrecsam Welsh Centre, Saith Seren doesn’t get any financial assistance, when considering the excellent work the centre does to promote the use of Welsh in the town. If we do close in a year or two, I will also finish with Y Clawdd, which will in effect bring it to an end, as in my opinion, there will not be enough of a Welsh ‘society’ in Wrexham to justify a community paper documenting its activity.

Yours faithfully

Chris Evans
Wrecsam Community Paper, Y Clawdd
Management Board Member, Wrexham Welsh Centre Saith Seren

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Address to Wrecsam Lifelong Learning Scrutiny Committee.

Below is an address by Eleri Vaughan Roberts to Wrecsam Lifelong Learning Scrutiny Committee regarding Admission Policy to Welsh Medium Education Schools.

Dear Committee,

On reading the report it is clear to see that the evidence and figures presented have been carefully placed and presented so to reflect well on the education department however there is a lot of vital information that is missing from the report, data that has been presented in a misleading manner and there is no real depth in the reports' response to data findings.

Whilst we as parents and supporters of accessible Welsh Medium Education are eager to support any gesture by the Authority to look at provision and address unmet demands for accessible provision county-wide we cannot help but feel frustrated at the Education departments firm stance of 'there are enough places available within the Borough, end of discussion,' and the general disdain at our eagerness to be involved with any consultation.

The report recognises that the Council should be ensuring that ' Welsh language and culture is promoted and supported.' Education is key in achieving these goals, the reality though, unfortunately, is that accessing WM education is a postcode lottery and not accessible for all and the Authority are currently failing many more families than available data can demonstrate, in accessing WME.

I would also like to take issue with the manner in which the report takes comfort in the knowledge that its Admissions Policy is akin with other L.A's. The population and geographical position of WCBC is very different to Denbighshire, Gwynedd and Conwy therefore the Authority are mistaken to commend themselves on having similar policies. Those Authorities have far more WM school and within reasonable distances. Whilst a 4 mile journey to school in Rural Denbighshire might take max 10 minutes, in Wrexham Town Centre it can easily take in excess of 40 minutes. This was the case for myself travelling from Summerhill to Ysgol Bodhyfryd and the reason for removing our daughter Erin from the school. Whilst comparing policies with other Counties is good practice, evaluating whether the policy best serves the Borough should be the priority. Whilst the policy may best serve the English medium schools I do not agree that it a fair method of distributing provision within WM schools.

So much vital data and statistics are missing from the report.

No statistics were given to demonstrate the following:

* number of applicants refused WM 1st/2nd choice who then opted for EM. Geographical position of these applicants.

*number of applicants who applied before the deadline who were refused 1st and 2nd WM choices.

*no data on how the steady increase in admissions at Primary level will affect Ysgol Morgan Llwyd

.*no data on projected population growth and its effect on school provisions.

* the report should include an analysis of why there is a growing demand for WM and should demonstrate evidence on whether or not it is considered that the demand will continue to grow and at what kind of rate.

*no data given on births registered within the Borough 2013-2015 compared with previous years?

*no data given on those registered as attending the Cylch Meithrin provision within the County.

*no data on the projected cost to the Authority to transport pupils to schools because their first choice was unavailable.

*no data to represent the number children who are missing out on a healthier lifestyle of walking to school because the school within a safe walking route is oversubscribed.

The report concedes that the issues relating to WME are not new issues. In fact it is easy to look back at previous reports from several years back all relaying the same information. Since those reports Ysgol Bro Alun has been built, however we are still no closer to providing enough spaces and a fair distribution of provision. The report does not investigate any new options that could provide a solution.

No recommendations are given within the report on how to tackle the problem of families having siblings at different schools. This issue has so many implications, the greatest being the safeguarding of the child yet there are no answers on how this should be addressed.

According to the report the towns' WM schools incl Bro Alun have all admitted max numbers with two taking extra pupils. Does this not demonstrate the need to increase provision?

Is the increase in provision at Bodhyfryd to 60 a permanent fixture? The admission figures relating to Ysgol Plas Coch are also misleading. Admission figures for Ysgol Plas Coch have been reduced in recent years and despite plans for an extension there are no plans for increasing the provision.

A survey is currently being conducted by FIS asking questions about school choices. Whilst this could be viewed as being a positive step, we would like to know how do Authority propose to use this data? How do they propose to ensure that enough data is collected to ensure that the data is viable for use to make decisions? When evidence from a similar survey was put to the Lead Member at an Executive Board Meeting before the Summer, Cllr Williams branded the data as unreliable since only a small percentage of the Borough's population had responded. Will this Survey also result in being a pointless exercise?

Looking ahead, we must also look at the bigger picture. Much has been said recently about the cost implications of applying the new standards set by the Welsh Commissioner however if Wrexham Council employed a bilingual workforce then the impact of such standards would be minimal. If the Authority invests in providing a healthy, accessible and successful Welsh Medium Education structure then in turn it is potentially investing in a workforce that could contribute back in the future, future bilingual civil servants who will be committed to the ethos of promoting and supporting Welsh Language and culture.

There are no proactive recommendations within this report. It has not looked at short term and long term possibilities but serves only to try to justify why the admissions policy is proximity based. The greater detail of addressing failures and moving on to provide enough provision and to plan a fair distribution doesn't feature in this report however I believe that the Scrutiny Committee need these details along with all the other data that was not given in order to evaluate the true role of the admissions policy in relation to WM education.

Many Thanks

Eleri Roberts

Some excellent points made to a bland, boring and uninformative report...Diolch i Leri am baratoi a diolch i Judith am gyflwyno.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Want to avoid forced merger with Flintshire? Vote Plaid

Plaid Cymru halts Labour’s local government reforms
People of Wales will decide future local government
Plaid Cymru has stopped Labour from forcing through its centralisation agenda for Welsh local government without a mandate.
Concessions secured by Plaid Cymru mean no work will be able to start on implementing reforms until after the next Welsh election – allowing people to choose which party’s vision they wish to see delivered after May. This has stopped Labour's plans to force through a merger between Wrexham and Flintshire without regard for the wishes of local people.
It means Plaid Cymru’s vision to retain 22 Local Authorities working together as combined regional authorities would be possible should the party form the next Welsh Government.
Plaid Cymru’s demands also mean the next Welsh Government can introduce fairer voting systems at local government level, such as STV.
Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said:
“Plaid Cymru has stopped Labour from enforcing their map for local government reorganisation through the back door before plans are put to people. Large scale changes to Local Government structures should not be decided by politicians with no mandate but should be decided by people in an election.
“The demands made by Plaid Cymru will mean that all parties can present their individual proposals in their manifestos and seek a mandate to implement them, without being bound by the current government’s preferences.
“It will allow a Plaid Cymru government to implement the changes that we want to see to the structure of Local Government, by retaining the existing 22 Local Authorities making them work together as combined regional authorities.
“Plaid Cymru has also ensured that we will have the ability to introduce proportional representation for local councils to allow for fairer voting systems like STV.
“The Party of Wales has acted in the best interests of the people of Wales, giving them the say on how they want their local councils to be elected and structured in future and halting the centralisation plans of Labour. We now seek a mandate for our proposals for localism and empowering Wales’ communities in the election to the National Assembly next May.”
The message for people in Wrexham and all other parts of Wales is simple - if you want to avoid Labour's forced mergers of councils, vote Plaid.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Let's have some honesty over housing plans

It's interesting to note that among those leading the charge against 365 new houses in Llay at last night's planning committee were a Labour councillor backed the local Labour AM and Labour MP.
 Yet it is the Labour Government in Cardiff that's insisting Wrexham Council gives permission for at least an extra 11,000 houses in the county borough over the coming decade. The very same government in which Lesley Griffiths is a minister.
 And it is Labour AM Ken Skates who is arguing for another 12,000 homes to be built in the area.
 The Labour Government's planning inspectorate rejected the council's Local Development Plan and ordered it to increase the number of houses by 4,000, which explains why the A483 corridor is now being subjected to massive housing developments such as the one in Llay.

 The people of Llay won't be fooled by the contradictions between what politicians say at one level and do on another. Labour has been running Wales for 16 years and have taken the people of Wrexham for granted for far too long. It's time...

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Sham consultation over council care home closure

A campaigner fighting to save Wrexham’s last remaining care home for the elderly has described the consultation into its future as a “sham” after it emerged staff were already being offered redeployment and retirement packages.

Cllr Carrie Harper, Plaid Cymru’s Wrexham spokeswoman, said: “The council claims it is undertaking a consultation with residents, their families and staff about the future of Nant Silyn while at the same time pushing through redeployment, retirement and redundancy for workers there.

 “It’s a sham consultation because it seems the decision has already been made, regardless of what families and staff have to say. There is a need for a wider and more honest discussion about care for the elderly in the community that involves the council, health board and voluntary groups but we’re not having that debate because the council officers are deciding things behind closed doors.

“We’ve been talking to families and staff, who are passionate about the service being provided, and the local community council has also wanted to ensure a wider community input. But if staff are already being redeployed and pensioned off, the service cannot continue, can it?

“We really do need a change to this tick-box culture of supposedly consulting people and being open to ideas, while the important decisions are all being made in private. To make matters worse, the decisions – such as closing Plas Madoc, going for city status, keeping the mayor and now this – are almost always wrong.”

Cllr Harper added that elderly care was an urgent priority with too much time and money wasted by councils and health boards in arguing over who was responsible for delivery. She added: “One key promise Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales, is making is that we would merge the health and social care budgets so that this constant bickering over funding was a thing of the past. We want a seamless service for the elderly and others needing care in the community or hospitals and merging these two pots of money would help achieve that.”

Friday, 18 September 2015

Cancer treatment to start within 28 days - Plaid pledge

“People in Wales deserve better than second-rate NHS”
Three new diagnostic centres proposed to close healthcare gap

A Plaid Cymru Government will seek to close the healthcare gap between Wales and England, the party’s Shadow Health Minister Elin Jones has declared.

Elin Jones unveiled her party’s plans to
·         establish a 28-day target for diagnoses
·         increase direct GP referral, in line with new NICE guidance
·         create three dedicated diagnostic centres in Wales in order to drive down waiting times for diagnostic tests.

She said that the centres would add to existing NHS services, and would offer a full range of diagnostic tests in order to get patients treated quicker. Her proposals come days after England’s Health Secretary committed his government to a 28 day diagnostic target for suspected cancer patients in that country.

The centres proposed by Plaid Cymru would be used as primary diagnostic centres for people referred with conditions such as suspected cancer and would be staffed by a dedicated team of specialists. 

Wales has some of the longest waiting times in the UK for diagnostic tests, with almost 52% of patients waiting longer than the target six weeks for cystoscopies, and 32.3% waiting longer than six weeks for an MRI scan.

The Party of Wales’ plans will help drive down waiting times, and help people get tested and ultimately diagnosed more quickly.

Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Health Minister Elin Jones said:

“Waiting lists for diagnostic tests in Wales are substantially longer than elsewhere. This means that people who are worried about potential illnesses are waiting too long for diagnosis.

“In England, the government says that it will ensure that patients get cancer diagnoses within 28 days. In Wales, a Plaid Cymru government would seek to match England in terms of waiting times and service.

“People in Wales deserve better than a second-rate NHS. The Labour Government has failed to deliver this. So far, the Welsh Government’s investment hasn’t dented waiting times for tests. Patients in Wales have to wait far longer for these tests than anywhere else in the UK.

“The Labour government is the only party opposed to investing more money in the NHS in Wales, despite the fact that services are crying out for cash. Labour is out of money and out of ideas. It’s time to put them out of government.”

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Plaid government would protect our NHS

Plaid Cymru will invest additional £590 million in the health service
Waiting lists to fall and more doctors to be recruited under Plaid Cymru proposals
A Plaid Cymru government would ring-fence £590 million to invest in Wales’ NHS, Elin Jones said today. The Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister said her party would invest the money to recruit 1,000 extra doctors to the NHS in Wales, integrate health and social services to drive down waiting times, and to protect local hospital services.
The money is to be allocated to areas such as Wrexham as a result of the additional £8 billion real terms investment pledged by the UK government.
North Wales AM Llyr Gruffydd, who also spoke in the debate, said the additional money would safeguard services in the North, where the local health board is currently in special measures and facing a multi-million pound deficit:
“We cannot afford another five years of government mismanagement of our public services by Labour or risk the threat of Tory privatisation. Plaid Cymru will work with health service staff to give the NHS the leadership it deserves here in the North and throughout the country.”
Elin Jones said that the money would be ring-fenced under a Plaid Cymru government to invest in improving health services in every part of Wales. She added:
“Plaid Cymru is focused on delivering high-quality public services and giving the people of Wales the health service that they deserve. The current Labour government has presided over a period of managed decline in the NHS, and Plaid Cymru is committed to reversing this trend.
“If elected to government in May, Plaid Cymru will implement our plans to train and recruit a 1,000 extra doctors, to drive down waiting times by integrating health and social care services, and by protecting local services. A Party of Wales government will ensure that a further £590 million is invested in the NHS, in order to improve services in all parts of Wales.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Free car parking plan to boost town trade - Plaid Cymru

Free car parking for a trial period to boost trade in Wrexham is among the commitments being made by Plaid Cymru as part of their mini-manifesto for the area.

 The Party of Wales is unveiling this new pilot project as part of a comprehensive package to help build the economy locally.

 Carrie Harper, Plaid Cymru's spokesperson in Wrexham, said:
 "We're determined to help small businesses thrive, particularly in hard-pressed town centres. That's why we've agreed that the next Welsh Government should fund a pilot project in Wrexham to allow free car parking for six months or a year to assess the benefits to local businesses and traders.
 "It's part of a package of support tailored to small and medium-sized businesses, including extending the current rate relief and ensuring a Plaid Cymru government in Cardiff supports enterprise throughout the country. For far too long we've seen a tired and complacent Labour Government concentrating on a small patch of the south east and delivering nothing for areas such as Wrexham and Flintshire.
 "Plaid Cymru locally wants to change that and that's why we've put together an ambitious mini-manifesto for Wrexham that we'll be unveiling over the coming weeks and months.
 "Free car parking has been something the local business community has been calling for to boost the town centre. We've listened to that locally and that's something we want to support. Having a pilot project is a tangible way to see how effective it is in terms of delivering benefits for local traders and would not see the local council lose out financially.
 "If it's successful then it's quite possible it could be rolled out further but let's see how the pilot project goes first. It would be a chance to assess the various pros and cons of such a change but we're determined to explore every avenue to help rejuvenate our town centre."

Friday, 11 September 2015

Health board ducks key questions over maternity services

This evening's health board consultation meeting into keeping maternity services in Wrexham's Memorial Hall attracted fewer than 20 people. Those who did attend heard from two health board managers who admitted to having no obstetric experience and managed to leave those present with even less faith in the board's intention to close a consultant-led maternity service in either Wrexham, Bodelwyddan or Bangor.

Under questioning Prof Matt Makin, who is driving this process for the health board, admitted that - although they had quantified the risk from continuing as they are - there was no risk assessment made of the other options. These include removing consultant-led maternity services from Wrexham Maelor Hospital, which would mean about 1,000 births moving to Chester and 1,100 moving to Ysbyty Glan Clwyd.

His claim that only about five babies each year would need an emergency transfer from Wrexham drew a sharp response from nurses and midwives working on the maternity unit who were present. They were able to describe numerous cases in the past few days that had seen perfectly normal births - just the kind that would be on a Midwife Led Unit - become an emergency. Under the health board's plans, that would mean an emergency transfer to the nearest obstetric unit in Chester or Glan Clwyd.

 Prof Makin ducked a question of whether parents could opt not to have their babies born in England. It's a valid question, especially as the 1,000 births would cost an estimated £4 million extra to cash-strapped Betsi Cadwaladr.

He also failed to explain whether staff would follow the babies, i.e. be redeployed in Chester or Glan Clwyd. His claim that Chester has the capacity begs an obvious question - if Chester can recruit enough doctors to maintain a consultant-led service, why can't Betsi Cadwaladr?

It was perhaps revealing that the Countess of Chester was described by this senior board member as "our fourth district general hospital".

Prof Makin said they had advertised 14 times in 12 months for obstetricians without adequate success, but neglected to add that this problem had been identified as far ago as 10 years and critical shortages of middle-grade doctors were known to be a problem in the past three years and yet senior management did nothing.

This is a crisis of the management's own making - they have failed to recruit and plan their workforce adequately and they seem unable to address the current shortage of doctors with any imagination.

Plaid Cymru has proposed both long-term and short-term solutions: In the long-term we need to expand the Medical School provision in the North to enable doctors to train and settle here. In the shorter term we must push for Advanced Nurse Practitioners and Advanced Neonatal Practioners to help cover middle-grade doctor shifts as well as pushing for greater cooperation between the Mersey Deanery, Wales Deanery and Welsh Government in terms of providing enough training and recruitment opportunities here.

Bizarrely, Prof Makin was able to point to an intensive GP recruitment drive that he hailed as a success. It begged the obvious question of why they hadn't thought to do similar with obstetrics.

Other questions that remained hanging were attempts to get the health board to define the term "temporary" and what strategy they had in place to end the temporary phase. 

They also failed to explain what would happen to Special Care Baby Units in the affected hospitals. Wrexham's SCBU is regularly closed to new admissions due to current pressures and a rising birthrate - if it had to take an extra 1,100 babies from Glan Clwyd, where would any of those sick babies go?

There were plenty of probing questions from those present. The only jarring note was the local MP's focus purely on Wrexham rather than ensuring that all three were maintained for the good of mothers and babies across the North.

Thanks to the staff who attended and were brave enough to challenge their senior management. No amount of platitudes convinced any of those present that the Health Board has any idea what it is doing.

PICTURED: Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru's leader, signs the petition started by Carrie Harper calling for all three maternity services to be retained. Plaid Cymru locally will continue to collect names to submit to the consultation process every Saturday under the arch by the Horse & Jockey. Please join us!

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Where there's muck there's brass - and clean energy

Right on our doorstep here in Wrecsam, there's a fantastic initiative underway to convert cow muck and waste food into renewable energy. The Lower Park Farm cooperative is developing an Anaerobic Digester similar to the one already in operation at the Lodge Farm (ironically just a few hundred metres from the anti-fracking camp).
This digester already takes food waste from Kelloggs and other places and mixes it with slurry to create electricity that is fed into the Grid as well as heating the entire farm.
They now want the community to invest in a new cooperative to build a bigger AD plant at Rossett. They're having an open day this Wednesday (9th Sept) and you can attend between 10.30-12; 1.30-3pm or 5.30-7pm.

Richard Tomlinson, a local organic farmer who's behind the Calon Wen milk brand, is so passionate and articulate about this venture that you HAVE to go to hear him. This is joined-up thinking for sustainable farming and renewable energy. He's pictured here with Plaid Cymru's North Wales AM and shadow minister for energy and rural affairs Llyr Gruffydd.
Councillor Carrie Harper, of Plaid Cymru in Wrecsam, said: 
"This is a great community venture from a group of people who are passionate about a greener, cleaner future for our town and our country. It's developing a tried and tested technology that could and should be in use on farms across Wales to provide green energy. "If you don't want fracking but want to keep the lights on - this is a no brainer."