Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Council's reputation continues to nosedive!

Wrexham Council's lack of consideration and empathy towards parents of children who cannot access Welsh Medium Education for their children hits a new low as Judy Churm's letter in today's Leader demonstrates:

What is interesting here is the council's totally inept answer to the lack of openness and transparency:

"The rights of public access to council meetings are enshrined in the Local Government Act 1972, which identifies that meetings of the council i.e the full council, its committees and sub committees are open to the public...There is no automatic right of public access to any other meetings." 
Personally I think this is a perverse way of interpreting the law, just because the Local Government Act 1972, doesn't mention other meetings does it mean there is no right of access...of course not.

All meetings of the council should be public unless there is a specific reason why they should not be; there should always be a presumption towards openness and transparency and not closed meetings.

Wrexham Council's approach to citizen participation is bordering on the pedantic and 'navel gazing' rather than being inclusive and responsive.  


Plaid Cymru Press Release.


Plaid Cymru's Lord Dafydd Wigley is seeking an urgent meeting with the Secretary of State for Wales, Stephen Crabb, to clarify UK government policy on fracking in Wales.

Lord Wigley said:
"Recent developments in North West England, and the active search by fracking companies for new locations, underlined the need for total clarity that fracking can't go ahead in any part of Wales without the express permission of the Assembly. 
"The present position is muddled, and there is a dragging of feet in getting a new Wales Bill onto the statute book. 
"I am seeking an urgent meeting with the Secretary of State whom I will press to clarify the situation."

He added:
"Plaid Cymru is the only party which has consistently opposed fracking at Westminster and Cardiff Bay."

Sunday, 28 June 2015

We told you so!

This is a copy of a letter that Huw Lewis AM/AC, the Minister for Education and Skills sent to Cllr Mark Pritchard the Leader of Wrexham Council on the 18th June, regarding the lack of planning for Welsh Medium Education. This is a damning indictment of Wrexham Council and their abject failures in accurately measuring the demand for Welsh Medium Education and not providing a short term solution to a problem caused by a nearby school. 

Dear Mark, 

I have received numerous representations from AMs, parents and other key stakeholders about the inability of Wrexham County Borough Council to provide sufficient Welsh- medium reception class places, particularly in Bro Alun but also in other Welsh-medium schools in the area. It is apparent that your planning for Welsh-medium education remains ineffective despite modifications being proposed by me both in approving the original WESP and with the revised WESP.

There appears to have been an unsatisfactory use of data in establishing sound projections for places in Welsh-medium schools coupled with a lack of effective dialogue with key partners such as Mudiad Meithrin about the likely demand for such places. This has resulted in an unacceptable level of refusals for places at Ysgol Bro Alun and is causing a substantial degree of anxiety for the parents concerned.

It is particularly disappointing for me that the introduction of statutory WESPs has not led to the improvements in planning that was intended by the School Standards and Organisation (Wales) Act 2013. On the contrary, the current situation demonstrates in Wrexham displays a distinct lack of adequate planning.

I would, therefore, urge you to find a short-term solution to ensure that you can provide the extra needed places at Ysgol Bro Alun quickly and to adopt processes that will transform your collection and use of data so that adequate Welsh-medium school places can be provided.

I understand that officers from the local authority will be meeting shortly with my officials and this will give you an opportunity to outline how you have resolved these short-term issues and to indicate how you will improve your planning mechanisms in the longer term. I look forward to a positive resolution.

Yours sincerely

Huw Lewis AC / AM

Y Gweinidog Addysg a Sgiliau/Minister for Education and Skills

This letter clearly shows that complaints and concerns expressed by parents were wholly justified but which remain unanswered 

Parents and others desperate to find out the LEA's response to the Minister's letter even attended the Welsh in Education Strategic Forum last week only to be told to leave by the Chair as the Forum is not apparently a public meeting.

Furthermore parents and other interested parties requested that they be allowed to present a 700 name petition to the Extraordinary Council Meeting to be held on the 30th June 2015, only to be refused as there was no provision in the constitution which would allow this to happen in an Extraordinary Meeting. Petitioners were told they could present it at the scheduled Full Council in September. The petition calls on the Council to undertake a proper survey to measure demand for Welsh Medium Education.

As one can imagine there is considerable disillusionment amongst campaigners at the lack of co-operation by Wrexham Council in addressing the concerns and their lack of openness and transparency.

What the Minister needs to do now is to use The School Standards and Organisation (Wales) Act 2013 to initiate change at Wrexham. 

NB - The Mainstream media have had this letter for some time and for some reason have chosen to ignore it.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Sickness levels rise by 42% among council staff in just four years

Days lost to sickness at Wrecsam Council have soared by 42% over the past four years - despite a smaller workforce.
 A freedom of information request to the council established that in 2011-2 a total of 44,408 days were lost due to sickness among staff. This rose to 49,252 in 2012-3 and then rocketed to 57,015 in the subsequent year. The figures for 2014-5 are 63,260 lost days.
 That's a rise of 42.5% in three years, at a time when the council has lost at least 400 members of staff. There are currently 3,917 people working for the council, excluding teaching staff.
 Commenting on the rise, Plaid Cymru spokesperson Carrie Harper said:
 "Government imposed cuts are stretching councils to the limit. With fewer and fewer frontline staff to provide services, there's a danger workers will be over-stretched. Any organisation that sees such a dramatic and worrying rise in absentee levels would want to establish whether there is an underlying problem."
 The council refused to say how many of those days were down to stress-related problems.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Come clean on Betsi failures

Plaid Cymru AM urges Labour government to “put everything on the table”

The Party of Wales North Wales AM Llyr Gruffydd has called on the Labour Welsh Government and managers at Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board to “put everything on the table” and let people know about any on-going concerns that may be investigated.
Llyr Gruffydd outlined what he called a “catalogue of failings” at the health board, and said that the Labour Government should have acted sooner to bring an end to the failings.
The Party of Wales North Wales AM Llyr Gruffydd said:
“Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board has finally been put into special measures by the Welsh Government after the report into institutional abuse at the Tawel Fan ward came to light. But the Tawel Fan scandal was only the most recent in a long list of failures at the health board.“Since 2012, we have seen a catalogue of failings at the health board. I want to know if there are any other concerns that are being investigated. It’s time for the Labour Government in Wales to put everything on the table, and spell out what the problems are. Until patients can understand the full picture, they can’t have complete faith in the health board.“Plaid Cymru will continue to work to scrutinise the work of this government and be a strong voice for patients. But the government must be honest and transparent as it tries to raise standards of care in north Wales.”

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Parents turn the pressure up on Wrecsam Council.

At today's Lifelong Learning Scrutiny Committee, Eleri Vaughan Roberts one of the parents who cannot get her child into Ysgol Bro Alun despite living less than a mile away was invited to address the members of the Committee on behalf of her family and others affected:

We have many concerns relating to Welsh-medium provisions in Wrexham and feel the Authority should be carefully considering the following points:

1. Reviewing the admission policy to Welsh medium schools:

Changing the admission policy to consider more than proximity alone, reinstating the sibling rule along with something that proves your commitment to the language (in the same way as faith schools). Some families applied for Welsh-medium education but did not receive a place within a reasonable locality and therefore, due to work commitments had to settle for an English medium setting. Four families from the Rossett area did not even bother applying for a place in a Welsh medium setting, knowing they would never gain a place in a school within a reasonable distance because the proximity rule would fail them. There is nothing to stop the Authority from changing the admissions policy since it is one set by the Authority itself and not by the National Assembly.

2. Splitting a class:

Ysgol Bro Alun is the only Welsh medium school that hasn't exceeded their 30 child intake by splitting a class. There are ample empty classrooms in the school, and 19 families were refused a place. Bodhyfryd increased their capacity in order to accomodate those in a similar situation to myself. I'm sure it would be wiser to accomodate us within our locality in Bro Alun as an interim measure before the proposed extension to Plas Coch goes ahead.

3. Rising population:

Wrexham is an ever growing County with several large planning applications having had the green light within the catchment area for Bro Alun.
Wrexham's projected population growth ranks as the second highest in Wales with a continuous upward trend predicted from 2011-2036. With this in mind the Authority needs to act now in collating evidence-based research to predict the demand for Welsh medium provision and act upon the information before the situation escalates.

4. Strengthening ties with Welsh medium pre-school providers.

Mudiad Meithrin and Twf could give strong indications on the current trends and demand for Welsh medium education. Bro Alun has two feeder Welsh medium playgroups- one at the school itself and one in Summerhill. Every child attending Summerhill and several attending Cylch Bro Alun failed to gain a place despite living within the catchment area.

5. Responding efficiently to a rising demand:

According to a recent survey conducted by the Authority 21% of parents would like the option of sending their children to a Welsh medium school however the Authority can only cater for 11%. Shockingly therefore, the Authority is only providing for around 50% of those who would choose Welsh Medium education if it were accessible, this despite the recent rise in provision by 51%.

Of the 52 who applied for a place at Bro Alun, 17 had registered with Welsh medium pre-school provision, however at least eight of these did not secure a place at the school despite living within the catchment area. Almost 50% of those who had invested in Welsh medium pre school provisions failed by the Authority.

6. Accessibility:

There are many families having to opt out of choosing Welsh medium education. Most because they can't gain a place in a school within a reasonable distance since they will never gain a place in their closest schools, Bro Alun and Plas Coch because of the proximity rule. This is a particularly recurring theme amongst families from the Rossett-Gresford-Borras areas.
Several families have a projected journey of over 4000 extra miles per annum due to the fact that they could not secure a place in the Welsh medium schools in their catchment area. I live 0.9 miles from Bro Alun and 2 miles from Plas Coch but will have to pass both to reach Bodhyfryd at the other side of town, potentially taking up to half an hour one way in the rush hour traffic.

7. Changing Language Categorisation of Schools:

Welsh Government gave local authorities delegated powers to change the language categorisation of schools. Wrexham is one of the only authorities not to use this however consideration should be given as to whether or not changing some schools in localities such as Gresford to category 2 schools in order to take pressure off the category 1 schools.

I would like to request that the Education Scrutiny Committee conduct a review of the allocations policy and review short and long term decisions on how the Authority plan to deal with a growing demand in order to avoid a similar situation next year and in years to come.

The Committee agreed to investigate the issues and complaints. This is the first time that members of the public have come to scrutiny directly with a request that the committee look at certain issues. Hopefully many more will now follow suit.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

'Short-sighted' council chiefs slated over Welsh-medium education

Council chiefs have been branded as short-sighted and obstinate for not meeting demand for pupils wanting Welsh-medium education in Wrexham.
Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru AM for North Wales, said: 
“The council’s own Welsh in Education Strategic Plan for 2014-17 admits that about 21.7% of parents surveyed in the county want their children to receive Welsh-medium education. At present only 11% are in Welsh-medium schools and I have serious concerns that growing demand in the future will lead to greater problems if they’re not addressed now. “As the council knows, it takes time to get funding for a new school. It should be consulting now on future demand in the next five or 10 years. By 2023, when the present boom will have hit Ysgol Morgan Llwyd, it’s anticipated that there will be up to 1250 pupils there. We know large superschools can have problems and I fear that the quality of education at Morgan Llwyd will suffer unless the council starts planning now for a second Welsh-medium school in the county.“I’m aware of parents who are considering moving out of county to guarantee a Welsh-medium education for their children and others who despair at the uncertainty of it all. The council claims that this is the case as well for pupils in English-medium schools but this is a poor excuse for what is obviously a pressing problem. It doesn’t make sense that none of the children, for example, in the Summerhill Cylch Ti a Fi were offered a nursery place in their nearest school, Ysgol Bro Alun.“If the council will not alter its intransigent stance, I will be asking Huw Lewis, the education minister, to carry out an independent review of the council’s policies because of concerns raised about the failure to implement its own Strategic Plan.”
Plaid Cymru’s Wrexham spokersperson Carrie Harper said: 
“The council acknowledges demand is growing at a steady pace for Welsh-medium education in the county. It has increased the numbers of places available and Ysgol Bro Alun has opened in the past three years to meet that increased demand. That’s the good news. “However, the council is failing to plan ahead to meet future demand. All but one of the reception classes in the county’s six Welsh-medium primary schools are now full to the brim, with just four places left in Ysgol Bodhyfryd. Parents living within a mile of a school are being refused access because of demand and we know of others who aren’t even putting their names down for Welsh-medium schools because they live too far away from them.“It’s not good enough for the council to say there are places for pupils when it means splitting up families and having to be in two places at one time. That raises questions about safeguarding children that senior council officers should be aware of but they continue to refuse to act. Council officers and lead members are being obstinate and short-sighted in failing to meet demand.“There is a sensible, short-term solution while extra capacity is being built by 2018 in Ysgol Plas Coch – why not temporarily open up spare classrooms in Ysgol Bro Alun to meet demand?”

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Chwarae teg i'r Gymraeg / Fair play for Welsh in Wrecsam

Mae galw cynnyddol am addysg Gymraeg yn Wrecsam a galwn ar y Cyngor i asesu'r galw at y dyfodol drwy gynnal arolwg tebyg i un yn 2007, pan holwyd rhieni plant dwyflwydd oedd yn y sir.

Dangosodd hwn y byddai 44% yn danfon eu plant i ysgol Gymraeg pe bai o fewn dwy filltir i'r cartref. O ganlyniad codwyd Ysgol Bro Alun yn 2012 er mwyn ateb y galw ond bellach mae hwn yn llawn.

Eleni cafodd 24 o blant eu siomi wrth geisio cael mynediad i'r meithrin a dosbarth derbyn ar gyfer mis Medi ac mae Ysgol Plas Coch, sydd efo hanner yr ysgol mewn cabanau, hefyd yn llawn.

Mae rhieni am gael cyfiawnder ac yn gofyn i chi gefnogi'r galw am gynnal arolwg tebyg i 2007 er mwyn asesu'r galw heddiw. Mae angen chwarae teg i'r Gymraeg yn Wrecsam. Arwyddwch a rhannwch y ddeiseb yma os gwelwch yn dda.

We want to see fair play for the Welsh language in Wrecsam. There is growing demand for Welsh-medium education in the county and we call on the Council to assess future demand by conducting a survey similar to that in 2007, when parents of two-year-old children in the county were questioned.

This showed that 44% of parents would send their children to a Welsh-medium school if it was within two miles of their home. As a result Ysgol Bro Alun was built to accommodate the demand but it is now already oversubscribed.

Parents of 24 pupils have been disappointed not to get entry to Bro Alun's nursery and reception class this September and neighbouring Plas Coch in Rhosddu, where half the pupils are in mobile classrooms, is also full to capacity. Many of the county's other primary schools are also full.

We believe the demand for Welsh-medium education should be met by the council. Please sign and share this petition.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Where do we go from here?

As chair of Wrexham Locality of the North Wales Community Council and after the publication of the report of abuse at Tawelfan ward at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, I think we as a Community Health Council along with the Health Board and Health Inspectorate Wales need to ask the question, "Where do we go from here?" This question is particularly apt following cross party calls in the Assembly for the Health Board to be placed in Special Measures.

Following a request from BBC Cymru today the North Wales Community Health Council issued a particularly strong and robust press release:

The CHC has endeavoured to work co-operatively with the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board and provide them with assistance and encouragement to address the failings and shortcomings identified in the Joint HIW/WAO report in May 2013. Unfortunately, the Board has not progressed sufficiently rapidly to regain our confidence or the confidence of the public of North Wales and this was confirmed in the follow-up report by HIW/WAO. 
The avalanche of adverse reports over the past few months has been unprecedented in my experience of 30 years as a CHC Chief Officer. In the light of the extent of the failings and the failure to improve despite intensive help and support from Welsh Government, the CHC is now of the opinion that a greater level of external support and direction is necessary. This may include “Special Measures”. 
The CHC also supports the suggestion that Welsh Government should seriously consider the proposals for a “Fit & Proper Person” certification for NHS Managers in Wales and for enhanced powers for HIW.
I fully endorse Geoff Ryall - Harvey's statement and that now is the time to re-visit the regulatory regime that inspects health services. Both the Community Health Council's and Health Inspectorate Wales have a regulatory role but the powers of both are in my opinion totally inadequate for the work that they undertake as is their budget and resources.

I believe that both HIW and CHC complement each other, one is a full time professional inspectorate whilst the CHC have acted as the patient voice and have literally carried out over 500 visits and inspections at North Wales health settings. The 70 odd members of the North Wales CHC are all volunteers supported by full time staff.

It makes no sense whatsoever for the CHC and HIW to be separate organisations and an amalgamation of both would provide better patient outcomes and hopefully prevent another Tawelfan.

It's now over to you Minister!