Saturday, 29 August 2015

Hundreds in Wrexham sign petition to protect North Wales maternity services

Hundreds of signatures were collected today in Wrecsam town centre in response to the Health Boards consultation on the future of maternity services across north Wales. 

The petition opposes any downgrading of services at the Wrexham Maelor and also calls on Betsi Cadwaladr to retain doctor-led services in all three district hospitals.

One of the four options being considered is the temporary downgrading of doctor-led maternity services at Wrexham Maelor hospital. This option would see up to 1000 expectant mothers forced to travel to either Glan Clwyd or Chester to have their babies.

Plaid's Wrexham Assembly candidate Carrie Harper said: " There was a very strong reaction from local people today to the idea of downgrading Wrexham maternity services. Many people were horrified at the proposals and expressed their concerns about the possibility of so many local women having to travel for care and the increased risk this would pose to the health of new mothers and their babies."

" Many also expressed a huge amount of support for the staff at the Maelor and the quality of care they'd received when having their own children there.."

"Childbirth is by its nature very unpredictable, I know this only to well myself having had my son 9 weeks early, having the right level of care on hand locally was absolutely vital for us and will be for other local families. Studies have shown that an increased travel time of just 45 minutes can significantly increase infant mortality rates. The increased travel time to get to either Glan Clwyd or the Countess of Chester, along with other problems such as congestion on both the A55 and the A483 will put local mothers and babies at an unacceptable increased level of risk."

 "Plaid Cymru have consistently challenged Betsicadwaldr's plans to downgrade maternity services across north Wales. Option 1 of the current consultation would see doctor led-maternity care continue to be provided at all three district hospitals at Wrexham, Glan Clwyd and Ysbyty Gwynedd.  This is the option we need to fight for."

"To give people more information, we've also organised a public meeting in the Catrin Finch centre at Glyndwr University (Crispin Lane entrance) at 7pm on Friday, September 4th. Among the speakers will be Ruth Drake from the Cherish charity and a long-time campaigner for better baby care services locally, as well as Dr Eamonn Jessup, of the British Medical Association. I would urge people to  come along to have their say."

People can also sign the online petition which currently has over 1,800 signatures here:

Friday, 28 August 2015

Council reduces use of bailiffs

Plaid Cymru has welcomed the reduction in the use of bailiffs by Wrexham Council.

Plaid Cymru's Gwersyllt councillor Arfon Jones said research by the Money Advice Trust into the use of bailiffs by 326 local authorities in Wales and England showed Wrexham County Borough Council had "bucked" the overall trend by reducing the number of occasions they have instructed bailiffs to collect from individuals and businesses.

 The figures show the council reduced the number of bailiff involvement by 29% over 2 years, although that still meant instructing bailiffs on 2539 occasions - equivalent to 3.98% of properties in the area. 

Not all councils in Wales have reduced in the same way. Cardiff City Council by comparison has instructed bailiffs on 24,000 occasions, which is up 86% on two years previously - equal to 14.7% of their properties.

Cllr Arfon Jones said:

"I have had several conversations with Wrexham Council officials over the years where I have expressed concern about the council's use of bailiffs and I very much welcome this reduction in their use. There is however plenty of room to reduce further and I very much hope that we continue in that vein. I will also be asking officers for a briefing and understanding so we as local councillors can be aware of best practice."

Carrie Harper, Plaid Cymru's Assembly candidate for Wrecsam said: 

"I have assisted many people who have been in debt and felt pressurised by bailiffs. This has caused stress and ill health in families as charges often lead to the original debt being doubled. Bailiff use should be a last resort and I very much hope that Wrexham Council will continue to reduce the number of debtors to bailiffs even more."

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Nant Silyn: Plans to close last council care home 'flawed'

Wrexham Council's plans to close its last remaining care home for the elderly are flawed and ignore the growing need for care in the community.

That's the view of Plaid Cymru's Wrexham spokeswoman Carrie Harper after a visit to Nant Silyn in Caia Park, Wrexham.

She said the consultation paper into the closure did not explain the situation in full and raises more questions than answers.

Cllr Harper said: 
"Council officers have been trying to close Nant Silyn for the past decade. Back in 2009 my Plaid Cymru colleagues and I, when we were on the council, successfully opposed a closure plan. It's clear that the current situation, where only seven of the 29 beds are occupied, has happened due to a policy of not accepting admissions for the past year and a half. It's little wonder that the place is costing more to run if there are so few people being cared for there. With just a few more residents, it's likely the home would be in surplus.

 "The determination in certain quarters to press ahead with closure would mean residents and those who use the home for vital respite care would go to a variety of care homes in the private sector. The council says there is no demand for these services but the private sector obviously disagrees as it expands in the Wrexham area.  "Furthermore the council is making assumptions regarding future cost of these private placements without acknowledging the calls from private care providers that councils will have to pay more for care if they are to afford new minimum wage standards in the coming months and years.  "The council also talks of block booking respite care in private care, which may result in them paying up to £600 a week for an empty bed. Is this really a better way to deliver a much-needed service? "Losing Nant Silyn would also mean losing a centre of expertise and care, somewhere with skills in reablement and already delivering much-needed dementia services and day care in the community. "Families today told me that Nant Silyn is just the sort of place where they feel confident that their relatives can have good quality respite care and enable them to stay in their own homes. It is also popular with local GPs, who see it as a useful halfway house for the elderly as they leave hospital. If it goes, the danger is that we will see more bed-blocking in the Maelor because we lack community facilities." 

 She also criticised Wrexham Council's decision not to consult with the wider community on this matter, saying future users were being denied a chance to have their say. Cllr Harper added: 
"There's a petition being distributed and I would urge everyone who wants to ensure we have the best possible care for our elderly and infirm to support Nant Silyn."

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Re-thinking public funding

A visit along the Clywedog Trail today got me thinking about how public money is often squandered on projects that cannot be sustained.

The Clywedog Trail runs seven miles from Minera lead mines

along the river Clywedog to Nant Mill, Coedpoeth

past the Bersham industrial heritage centre and renovated ironworks

 before winding its way past Erddig and on to King's Mill at Abenbury.

It's a wonderful trail for walkers and has some fantastic industrial heritage sites, including what many argue is the cradle of the industrial revolution in sleepy Bersham. Iron mad John Wilkinson developed world-leading industrial processes at the site, exporting cannon disguised as water pipes to France and paving the way for the rapid expansion of the Wrecsam area as an industrial centre. 

But what the above centres - lovingly restored and re-opened to the public in the 1980s and 1990s - have in common are that they are all now closed. 

Cutbacks to council budgets have meant that non-statutory services such as leisure and library services (under which these sat) were first to go. That's a matter of great regret because our history and heritage are important. Bersham was the last to close last year - allegedly to save £58,000.

All these sites were restored at great cost through public funding - through the Welsh Office, the WDA, the EU and latterly the Welsh Government. Like so many of these projects, the funding is usually to fund building work rather than running costs and is usually time limited so that such funds run out after three years or so.

Over-optimistic business plans, often run up hurriedly to meet artificial deadlines imposed by the grant providers keen to get rid of funding before year's end, are concocted. These show inflated visitor numbers and spending in the cafe and shop paying for staff and ongoing maintenance. The tight limitations on spending often mean great extravagance on the build when some would have been better kept for running costs.

Another more recent project that springs to mind locally is the "tarting up" of King Street, with nice new lighting and paving. The limitations of the scheme - which cost £1.6 million - are apparent. Half the shops in King Street are now closed and there was no way to spend any of that money on assisting local enterprises to either stay in business or open a new business. The money had to be spent on the paving and lighting. 

By most measures, this is a waste of money and merely reinforces the view that "the Council" and/or "the Government" hasn't got a clue when it comes to spending public money. And while there's always a need to ensure that public money is spent wisely and within strict perameters, these artificial pots of money create a race among "grant chasers". This is a curious body of people that exists in councils, universities and many voluntary/charitable groups. They scurry from pot to pot trying to justify their particular projects within those strict perameters, hoping to squirrel it away.

Unfortunately there is little thought beyond the moment of attaining the prize. There is little thought of what will be the fate of King Street in five or 10 years' time because the caravan has moved on and there's another pot of money to exploited. Among them will be the Vibrant and Viable Places to rejuvenate Wrecsam town centre. At first sight, it's encouraging to see a large slice of money coming to the town - £10.5m of public money to be boosted by private finance to £25m. However the money is to be spent partly on providing new housing. The remainder will go on developing the arts sector and creating new businesses.

 It remains to be seen how that pans out - Wrecsam has a lively creative arts industry that needs a focus and help. Entertainment in its broadest sense is the way forward for the town centre as it seeks to reinvent itself in this online/out-of-town shopping era. 

But is there anyone thinking beyond the next grant pot and how Wrecsam will look in 10 or 20 years' time? Or will we see more Minera Lead Mines, Nant Mills, Bershams and Kings Mills?

* Bersham is particularly close to my heart as I worked there on a glorified YTS scheme (MSC) back in the mid 80s.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Plan proposes 1,000 babies to be moved to Chester

New proposals on closing maternity services in North Wales could mean 1,000 babies currently being born in Wrecsam being moved to Chester.
 Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board today announced it would consult on four options. The first is to maintain the current levels of consultant-led maternity services in Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, Wrecsam and Bangor.
 The other three options involve the "temporary" closure of doctor-led services at one of the three hospitals.
 In the case of Wrecsam, that would mean 1,000 babies being transferred each year to the Countess of Chester hospital. The cost to the NHS in Wales is unknown.
 A further 1,100 babies would be transferred to Ysbyty Glan Clwyd under Option 2 of the consultation document with just 600 births remaining in the Maelor" in a standalone Midwife-Led Unit. In the event of an emergency, an ambulance would take the mother and/or child to Ysbyty Glan Clwyd.
 Carrie Harper, Plaid Cymru's Wrecsam spokeswoman, said: "The health board has come up with a set of proposals that will place mothers and babies at greater risk than at present. Any decision to downgrade maternity services at the Maelor will be fiercely opposed and the idea that mothers should travel the extra distance to Chester or Glan Clwyd is a huge concern. Many people don't have ready access to a car and those that do are well aware of the problems of congestion, roadworks and regular accidents along both the A55 and A483."
 The consultation lasts until October 5th and there will be a public meetings in the following venues to discuss the options.
 Carrie Harper, who gave birth to both her children in the Maelor, said: "Please make your voice heard and make sure our local hospital is not downgraded.
 "Plaid Cymru's call for 1,000 extra doctors to be trained and recruited has never been more relevant. We need those doctors to ensure there are safe and sustainable rotas at each of our main hospitals in the North.
 "The current Labour Government in Cardiff has failed miserably to make that a priority and that's why we're seeing our NHS struggle to meet demand."

Wednesday 9th        Rhyl Town Hall, Wellington Road, Rhyl, LL18 1BA
Friday 11th               Wrexham Memorial Hall, Bodhyfryd, Wrexham, LL12 7AG
Tuesday 15th            Holyhead Town Hall, Newry Street, Holyhead, Anglesey, LL65 1HN
Thursday 17th           Dolgellau Leisure Centre, Ffordd Arran, Dolgellau, LL40 1LH
Monday 21st             The Interchange, 317-319 Abergele Road, Colwyn Bay, LL29 9YF
Wednesday 23rd       Flint Town Hall, Holywell Street, Flint, CH6 5NW
Monday 28th              Bangor FC, The Book People Stadium, Nantporth, Holyhead Road, Bangor, LL57 2HQ
All sessions will run from 1:00pm to 2:30pm and 5:30pm to 7:00pm

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Corbyn in North Wales

Last night's meeting with Jeremy Corbyn at Connah's Quay Labour Club was an insight into the potential for political change.

 Probably half of those present were curious to hear a man offering hope and a challenge to the political establishment, the rest appeared to be fervent converts to Corbynism (note the word 'socialism' wasn't mentioned once throughout the evening).

 Corbyn is refreshingly unspun. He's been an MP since 1983 and has campaigned for every unfashionable left-wing campaign since (as have many of us!). He has a consistency that has, until now, pushed him to the margins of Labour.

 The anti-Tory, anti-austerity rhetoric was good. He questioned why the rich need bonuses to perform but workers don't. He condemned Alistair Darling's call when the banks crashed to make cuts more severe than Thatcher: "Not offering an alternative to austerity is what cost us the election."

 Given his experienced Welsh campaign managers it was surprising he was so badly briefed about Wales... he mentioned re-opening the rail link from Aberystwyth to Cardiff, which got muffled applause in Connah's Quay; he attacked academy schools, ending EMA and tuition fees - which apply only in England. And, although he was spot on about privatisation and the hollowing-out of the NHS in England, his praise for the NHS under Labour in Wales cued an embarrassed silence. Nobody round here believes Labour is doing a good job of running the NHS in Wales.

A friend who was also there commented "he's the only hope Labour have" and she's right. If Labour reject Corbyn, they continue with the spin-doctored warmongering pro-austerity Labour party that has been hollowed out. 

But politics in Corbyn's world is still binary - we're Labour because we're anti-Tory therefore vote Labour. People in Connah's Quay, who had travelled from Cheshire, Prestatyn and Wrecsam to see him, could applaud that simplistic worldview but when asked by a Labour councillor if he'd work with the SNP in an anti-austerity alliance at Westminster he ducked the question.

In contrast to the earlier Llandudno meeting, there were no open questions at the end. Pre-selected Labour loyalists were invited to ask questions. It's clear that Old Labour, which never went away in places like Alyn & Deeside, is backing Corbyn to try to get rid of the parasitical New Labourites who have ruled the roost for a generation.

If Corbyn was to win, and the opinion polls all point to that, he will face a huge challenge. The backlash has already begun from Blairite loyalists and the prospect of a vicious internal civil war is very likely, not least because Corbyn wants to "re-democratise" the party.

Another Plaid Cymru member in attendance commented there was nothing he said that Leanne Wood hadn't said in the past two years and he's right. Wales already has party that is clearly offering an alternative to the Tory cuts agenda. The crucial difference is that Corbyn has yet to win over large swathes of his party to such an anti-austerity message.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Amaethwyr a Ffracio.

Dyma lythyr dwi wedi ei yrru i Olygydd Y Tir sef misolyn Undeb Amaethwyr Cymru ar y mater o ffracio ar ei tir:

Annwyl Olygydd,

Hoffwn ddiolch i staff yr Undeb am y croeso a gefais ar eich stondin yn y Steddfod a parodrwydd y staff i drafod pwnc llosg iawn oedd gen i sef safbwynt yr undebau amaethyddol ar 'ffracio'. Mae pob ymdrech i gael safbwynt polisi gan UAC ar 'ffracio' wedi dod i fyny gyda distawrwydd llethol o'ch cyfeiriad. Mae nifer fawr ohonom, ymgyrchwyr amgylcheddol yn gefnogol iawn i'ch ymgyrch dros brisiau têg a hyrwyddo cynnyrch lleol Cymreig OND mae angen i amaethwyr ddangos cefnogaeth i amrywiaeth sydd ddim yn difrodi y gadwyn fwyd os ydynt am gynyddu y gefnogaeth at ei hachos.

Mae digon o dystiolaeth o draws y byd fod 'ffracio' yn gwenwyno y dŵr a drwy hyny achosi dinistr enfawr i'r diwydiant. Pwy sydd yn mynd i brynu llaeth os mae o wedi ei lygru gan fethane?

Mae y cyhoedd yn ymddiried yn amaethwyr Cymru i amddiffyn tirwedd ein gwlad ar gadwyn fwyd; a mae cyfrifoldeb fawr arnoch i wneud hyny drwy ddatgan yn gyhoeddus eich gwrthwynebiad i ffracio.

Yn gywir,

Cynghorydd Arfon Jones.

Siawns na neith y llythyr sbarduno aelodau i ddod a chynnig o flaen cyfarfod blynyddol yr undeb i ddatgan safbwynt polisi fod yr undeb yn erbyn ffracio neu nwy anghonfesiynol i roi yr enw cywir arno.