Sunday, 31 January 2016

Police should not be privatised says Plaid's Commissioner candidate - Plaid Cymru Press Release - Datganiad i'r Wasg.

Police should not be privatised says Plaid's Commissioner candidate

Plaid Cymru’s candidate has vowed that, if elected, he would not sell off any part of North Wales Police to the private sector.

Councillor Arfon Jones was speaking after campaigning against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) today:

 “This treaty is a secretive and insidious deal which, if its agreed, is likely to lead to more privatisations within the public sector from global American firms who have scant regard for our ethos of public service or employment regulations, which ensure that we have the best staff.”
Cllr Jones added: 

“As the Police Commissioner, I would be committed to ensuring that North Wales Police remains firmly a part of the public sector in Wales and is not flogged off to G4S or Serco, which is what’s happened in some Police Forces. Once these services are sold off the TTIP agreement would allow these private sector companies to sue national governments to prevent them from being taken back to public ownership, regardless of performance. That is nothing less than usurping what is left of our democracy.”

“If we allow TTIP, we will undoubtedly see the privatisation of core policing functions as well as handing over community policing to private security firms. I don’t think anyone wants to see that.

“We should do everything within our power to prevent corporate interests taking over the public interest.”

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Shining a spotlight on our council

The rushed decision by Wrexham Council to demolish the old Groves school building without any public consultation is symptomatic of a council unable and unwilling to trust the people.
 Instead they rely on well-paid officers and outside consultants, who invariably come up with the wrong solutions to the wrong problems.
 The catalogue of mistakes is growing:
• Closing Plas Madoc Leisure Centre in the teeth of huge opposition, compounding the problem by refusing to provide even basic funding for the new community-run Splash Magic; this is despite a bid to loan £1m from the Welsh Government by the council to fund improvements to Waterworld before its transferred to a private trust. Yes, you read that right - the council would rather subsidise a private trust than give a penny to the volunteers running a community cooperative in Splash.

• Closing Nant Silyn care home at a time when private providers are opening up similar provision in the town. The council says these kinds of facilities aren't needed. Really?

• An Arts Hub being located in the People's Market at an estimated cost of £4.5m, despite little evidence that either the market or the arts hub would thrive in this hotch-potch scheme in what is still essentially a car park.

• The demolition of the Groves school building with just seven days' notice, without consulation, after an abrupt change of heart by the council. Council leaders now talk of building one or two new schools on the site but have not made a case for not retaining the original girls' school building, which has many iconic features and could be a part of any educational or artistic development on the site.

• Changes facing the Bodhyfryd site - currently housing the police HQ, Waterworld, the courts and Crown Buildings on Chester Street - present a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revitalise the town centre and bring people into that part of town.
 The town desperately needs this as footfall has fallen 28% in the past five years - that's 40% more than the UK average. This site should see a flagship development and not more identikit housing.

Luckily there are a growing number of people who are getting organised to prevent the Council from Wrecking Wrexham.

Carrie Harper joins campaigners to oppose demolishing the Groves school building.

The latest twist in the Groves story is that councillors have challenged the Executive Board decision and it will now be scrutinised by a committee. Unfortunately the council's legal officer has vetoed televising the proceedings on the council's website - as Executive Board meetings are. The reasons given are pitiful:

 I understand that a request has been made through yourself to consider webcasting the Call In Meeting for the Groves next Wednesday.
I have spoken with my Committee Team and as you know there has been 10 hours committed to webcasting Scrutiny Meetings for the whole of the next year.  As yet we understand that the criteria for selection of meetings to be webcast has to be finalised and no layout or programming of the Web cameras and software has been undertaken and so it would be very difficult to operate a session on the hoof as it were.  Secondly, the public notice of this meeting has now been posted and because we did not know of this request in advance, it does not include the required warnings that the meeting will be webcast as we always do to warn the public before Council, Exec Board and Planning Committee.  Finally,  there is a Licensing meeting scheduled for immediately before the Call In meeting and it would not be feasible to undertake all the set up work between the time that Licensing Committee finishes and scrutiny begins even if there was an approved layout which as I said earlier there is not.Accordingly and regretfully, I do not think I can accede to this ad hoc request to webcast this meeting.  

The people of Wrexham deserve better than a council determined to operate behind closed doors. It needs a spotlight shining on its decisions.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Our NHS needs more doctors

Oh no they don't, say Labour

When a respected consultant at Wrexham Maelor Hospital says A&E departments across Wales are "on the edge" you tend to sit up and listen.

It chimes with Plaid Cymru's call for 1,000 extra doctors and 5,000 extra nurses to deal with shortages and demand we're all experiencing in hospitals and the community. This long-term plan to train and recruit extra NHS staff, which could involve re-starting nurse training at Glyndwr University, is pretty uncontroversial you'd imagine.

But not according to Labour's health minister Vaughan Gething, who is in denial. He denies there's a crisis, he says A&Es are doing better than last year and claims Plaid is "pulling the wool over people's eyes".

Of course, it's not surprising that the minister will want to rubbish his political opponents, especially when they have consistently highlighted his party's failings on the NHS. But it's a bit more difficult to dispute a consultant's expert view on A&E. But that's what he does.

His take on A&Es will be at odds with most people's direct experiences. Here in Wrexham many non-urgent cases, including children, are told it will take 10 hours or more to be seen. Improving?

However, it's his dismissal of a decent long-term plan to improve our NHS by raising doctor:patient ratios to that of England's that is most disappointing. Yes, it takes seven years to train a doctor and three years to train a nurse but Plaid Cymru has been arguing for more doctors for the past three years. We'd be half-way there by now if Labour had got out of first gear.

Labour has been in charge of the NHS in Wales for 17 years. It has presided over community hospital closures (e.g Llangollen), GP surgeries going into meltdown (e.g. Hightown), key specialist services such as Special Care Baby Unit and maternity services being undermined and downgraded with constant threats of closure and a culture of appointing Labour croneys to key positions on bureaucratic and unaccountable health boards. In short, it has done as much damage to our wonderful NHS as the rotten Tories are doing in England with their privatisation plans.

In 100 days we can end that 17-year misrule once and for all by voting for a party that puts the Welsh NHS at the top of the political agenda. 


Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Mark Drakeford and the junk science of safe fracking

On the 18th November 2015, Plaid Cymru Assembly Member, Llyr Gruffydd wrote to Mark Drakeford the Welsh Minister of Health asking him to commission Public Health Wales to undertake a literary review of the evidence that 'fracking' is a risk to public health following a statement in the State of New York report on fracking and public health which stated, "...significant uncertainty of the level of risk to public health."

On the 17th January 2016, Mr Drakeford replied:
Dear Llyr, 
Thank you for your email of the 18th November 2015, relating to how shale gas extraction may affect public health. I apologise for the delay in responding. 
The Welsh Government have adopted the precautionary approach towards the operation of unconventional gas in Wales. We are just beginning to understand the possible benefits and we continue to assess all the evidence - social, environmental and economic of the possible methods of extracting the gas 
Public Health Wales with the support of the, 'Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards' Public Health England are advising the Welsh Government how the extraction of shale gas may affect public health in Wales. 
In a report in June 2014, Public Health England came to the conclusion that the risks to public health in those areas where shale gas is to be extracted is low, if the extraction is properly controlled and regulated. 
Public Health Wales will continue to monitor and review the evidence with the support of Public Health England.
Mark Drakeford AC/AMMinister for Health and Social Services

Now not everyone is convinced of the competency of Public Health England in their research work and the following extract from an article published in the highly respected The BMJ journal exemplifies this (Cited as BMJ2015; 351: h5826)

Public Health England was created as an “operationally autonomous executive agency” of the Department of Health on 1 April 2013, when responsibility for public health passed to local authorities. Its function is to “protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities” by providing government, local government, the NHS, public health professionals, and the public with “evidence-based professional, scientific and delivery expertise and advice."

In the two and a half years since then, PHE has been embroiled in a series of controversies about the quality and credibility of advice it has issued on topics including fracking, NHS health checks, and the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme, raising concerns about both its competence and its supposed independence (box). It has recently been in the firing line again, accused of bowing to political pressure by initially agreeing not to publish its review of measures to reduce sugar consumption.

Fracking and other criticisms

To the astonishment of MPs and environmental groups alike, Public Health England’s priority on its formation was not to tackle one of the big bêtes noires of public health but to weigh-in on the debate over the government’s plans to encourage large scale extraction, or fracking, of shale oil and gas in the UK.

In October 2013, PHE’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards released a draft literature review of the impact of fracking, which concluded that the risks to public health were “low if operations are properly run and regulated.” The conclusion remained unchanged in the final report, published in June 2014.

An editorial in The BMJ warned that while the review had been “rigorous in its presentation of the evidence” there were “problems with its conclusions … Unfortunately, the conclusion that shale gas operations present a low risk to public health is not substantiated by the literature.”

The conclusion that Public Health England should have drawn was that “the public health impacts remain undetermined and that more environmental and public health studies are needed.”

To members of the House of Commons Health Committee, which took PHE’s leadership to task the following month, the decision to prioritise fracking over many more pressing public health issues seemed perverse.

One of the committee members suggested that PHE, nominally independent, appeared to be serving the policy agenda of a government promoting the potential of fracking “to provide the UK with greater energy security, growth and jobs.”

Duncan Selbie, PHE’s chief executive, formerly head of Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals and the first director general of commissioning for the NHS, was given a rough ride when he gave evidence to the committee on 19 November 2013.

It had been “hopelessly naive” for PHE to tackle fracking as and when it had, Barbara Keeley, the MP for Worsley and Eccles South, told him. There were “real concerns that there is not enough monitoring, in any sense, to tie in with what you have said [and] I found your report naive in the extreme.”
There was, Selbie insisted, “thought given to this, and it was very carefully examined.”

For Rosie Cooper, MP for West Lancashire, the issue placed a question mark over PHE’s “credibility. You are saying that you dealt with fracking as opposed to smoking, alcohol or a million other really important public health issues. Out of the blue, without your board deciding it, but because somebody somewhere whom you have not named decided to do it, you picked that one issue.”

Perhaps, she added, PHE was “being helpful to the government’s agenda.”

Paul Cosford, PHE’s medical director and director for health protection, said the work on fracking was already under way under the auspices of the Health Protection Agency when PHE took over its role. It was not, he said, an accurate reflection of PHE’s priorities “to say that this was our highest priority, over and above smoking, alcohol, obesity and all the other public health harms. We are absolutely passionate about addressing those.”

There was a further awkward moment during the committee’s questioning of Selbie that appeared to reinforce concerns that the organisation was not as autonomous as it ought to be.

Asked to outline “any specific [government] policies that you believe are widening health inequalities,” Selbie declined, agreeing with a suggestion that to do so would be too controversial. In its subsequent report, the committee expressed concern “that the chief executive of PHE should regard any public health issue as ‘too controversial’ to allow him to comment directly and believes that PHE should be able to address such matters without constraint.”

On fracking, the committee concluded it had been “unwise for PHE to follow through the work on shale gas extraction which had been initiated by [the Health Protection Agency] without first taking care to satisfy itself that this work reflected both the public health priorities of PHE and the research quality criteria embraced by the new organisation.”

Friends of the Earth, one of many organisations critical of fracking, said that PHE’s conclusions had been drawn “from what it admits is limited evidence” and, as Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy had pointed out, “lack of data is not an indication of an absence of harm.”

Elsewhere, public bodies had not been so quick to give fracking a clean bill of health. In November 2013, one month after PHE published its draft conclusions, the German government banned fracking until it was “clear that there are no health implications.”

In the US, where the use of fracking is much more advanced than in Europe, scientists have warned that there is a “paucity of scientific evidence looking at the public health impact … among those living in close proximity to shale gas drilling.”

Society, concluded the authors of a paper published in the American Journal of Public Health in July 2013, had a responsibility “to study the potential for harm and to mandate policies and strengthen regulations to ensure that adverse effects to the public’s health are not an unfortunate consequence of an industry’s eagerness to capitalise on this new energy boom.”

Furthermore, PHE’s reassurance in its evidence review that “in the UK strict regulatory requirements governing onshore oil and gas exploration already exist and shale gas extraction will be regulated within this framework” appeared complacent in the light of the European Commission’s cautionary observation that “Existing legislation in Europe is not fully equipped to tackle the resulting environmental impacts and risks” of a technology of which there was “very limited experience … in the EU.”

The New York State report is the acknowledged definitive report on the public health impact of fracking and the Public Health England report has no credibility and is totally discredited by its peers. Mark Drakeford should commission his own review of the literature by Public Health Wales and not slavishly believe that everything that comes out of England is true and untainted by the pro-fracking Conservative government

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

A quarter of youth justice work with placed children. Plaid Cymru's Police Commissioner candidate calls for changes to Youth Justice funding in Wales


Plaid Cymru Press Release

A quarter of Wrexham Council’s work with youngsters in trouble is with children placed in care homes who come from outside the borough.

The astonishing figure was revealed in a meeting between Councillor Arfon Jones and Wrexham’s Youth Justice Service.

Cllr Jones, who is Plaid Cymru’s Police Commissioner candidate for North Wales, expressed concern about the cost to Welsh local authorities of providing services to children who are in the care of other local authorities but who are placed in homes in Wales.

He said: "In Wrexham, 25% of the workload of the Youth Justice Service there is to children who are placed in care homes in Wrexham from outside the County Borough. This is a considerable financial burden on local authorities who have a number of private children's homes and there needs to be a system in place so that the local authorities responsible are recharged the cost of providing services."

Cllr Jones, a former police inspector, called for changes to the way the six Youth Justice Services in North Wales are funded.

"At present the Youth Justice Services are the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice and are funded via a central grant, a Welsh Government grant, Local Authority revenue and contributions from Probation, Police, Health and the Police Commissioner. Councillor Jones said, "I have met with the Youth Justice Service in Wrexham and they do excellent work in diverting young people away from crime under what are trying and difficult financial settlements not helped by the fragmented nature of the funding sources which are constantly being cut back making future planning of better services nigh on impossible."

“Youth Justice Services in Wales needs ONE source of funding and to facilitate this, Youth Justice needs to be devolved to the Welsh Government as soon as possible and it should grant fund the Local Authorities Youth Justice Services directly."

Friday, 15 January 2016

PCC candidate calls on the Police to recharge IGas Energy for cost of policing eviction.

Arfon Jones outside Police HQ Colwyn Bay.

Press Release:

The Plaid Cymru candidate for North Wales Police and Crime Commisioner has called on Cheshire Police to recharge IGas Energy for the cost of policing the eviction of the Anti-Fracking camp at Upton, Chester. He said,

"Three Police Forces were involved in keeping the peace at Upton, (including North Wales), to facilitate the High Court Bailiffs to enforce the possession order and to evict protestors.

There was substantial costs involved in protecting and facilitating a private company to recover their property by a civil order and the company IGas Energy should be recharged the Policing cost"

"Had this operation involved Chester and Wrexham football clubs the clubs would have been recharged so why not IGas?"

"I am also concerned that the Police Service, including North Wales are being used to favour one side over the other, the Police tactics on the day were clearly not impartial and favoured the corporate interests of IGas. The Police are supposed to be there to keep the peace and not to do the work of the bailiffs. Serving people with Dispersal orders and then arresting them for refusing to comply is going way over the top to what the Police should be doing and the Assistant Chief Constable in charge of policing should be held to account by the people of Cheshire."

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Blatant corporate policing against anti-frackers

I have resisted the temptation to comment about the shameful misuse of Police resources in the eviction of the anti-fracking camp in Upton until I'd had the opportunity to read all the reports including social media comments by those peaceful protesters who were affected by the presence of the Police and Bailiffs. 

Let's look at what we have here. The High Court in Manchester granted IGas Energy a possession order for land which they either lease or own in Dutton's Lane, Upton, Manchester, where they have planning consent to carry out exploratory drilling for coal bed methane (or as the protestors believe, shale gas to be extracted through the dangerous polluting process of fracking).

 For the best part of two years, environmental campaigners and anti-frackers had established a camp at the location and the possession order instructed them to leave by a certain date which they failed to do so. 

The first thing to consider here is the nature of the order; it is in fact a civil order not a criminal one which instructs High Court Bailiffs to obtain possession. Now whenever there is an eviction the Police will never be far away and as they say, they are only there to 'prevent a breach of the peace'. So when the Bailiffs turn up to enforce and to evict they were accompanied by a 'small army' of Police from three separate forces, Cheshire, North Wales and Greater Manchester headed up as a Gold Commander an Assistant Chief Constable from Cheshire (this is heavy-duty stuff). 

Now we all know that the Police are a completely impartial body (without fear or favour I think the words of the oath are!) and one would only EXPECT them to ensure that no breach of the peace took place and any other involvement would result in facilitating the work of the Bailiffs and a private company which would clearly not be impartial.

What happened was that persons present were told to disperse under the powers of Section 35 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Disorder Act 2014, which reads as follows:

A police officer of at least the rank of inspector may authorise the use of dispersal powers in a specified locality, during a specified period of not more than 48 hours.  'Specified' means specified in the authorisation.  An officer may give such an authorisation only if satisfied on reasonable grounds that the use of those powers may be necessary for the purpose of removing or reducing the likelihood of -
(a) members of the public in the locality being harassed, alarmed or distressed, or
(b) the occurrence in the locality of crime or disorder.
In authorising the dispersal power the inspector (or above) must have regard to Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights that provide for the right for lawful freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
An authorisation under s34 of the Act must -
(a) be in writing
(b) be signed by the officer giving it, and
(c) specify the grounds on which it is given.
The interesting part of the exercise of the power is that 'members of the public in the locality being harassed, alarmed or distressed' when many of the protestors live very close to the vicinity and that 85% of the people of Upton objected to the plans and at that point no crime or disorder had taken place. Personally I don't believe the senior Police managers acted impartially and the direction and control of the operation was flawed, they did far more than was required of them.

I would also challenge what right the Police had to remove people from private land not subject of the possession order as was the case here.

We now come to the question of who pays the policing costs?

 The only clarity is that Cheshire will have to pay North Wales and GMP's costs but who pays Cheshire policing costs? Now the obvious answer seems to be IGas Energy - after all Cheshire Police were facilitating their corporate business - or the High Court.

However it's far more likely that it's the poor taxpayers of Cheshire that will be footing the bill.

This is yet another example of the Police being used to put corporate interests above those of the citizens they are supposed to be protecting.

I wonder what the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire has to say about this.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Police Commissioners set to take control of the Fire Service in England.

Responsibility for the Fire Service in England has transferred from the Department of Communities and Local Government to the Home Office paving the way for Police and Crime Commissioners to take responsibility for the Fire Services following a consultation in September last year.

Thankfully the situation in Wales is somewhat different with both the Local Government Minister, Leighton Andrews and Plaid Cymru's Rhodri Glyn Thomas agreeing that giving Police and Crime Commissioners in Wales responsibility for the three Fire Authorities in Wales would be foolish.

The following is an extract from the Welsh Assembly Plenary debate on the 1st December 2015:
Leighton Andrews:... Finally, he asked about the issue of reviewing the governance of the fire and rescue authorities. Can I start off with an assurance that we will not be giving responsibility for fire and rescue to the police and crime commissioners? Therefore, we will not be following the route that is being taken in England. But, we will be giving further consideration to the issue of the governance of fire and rescue authorities, although I suspect this will be an issue for the next Assembly. 
Rhodri Glyn Thomas:Could I start with your final comment, Minister, and welcome greatly that you don’t intend to transfer responsibility for the fire and rescue service to the police and crime commissioners? Because they have a tendency to transfer some of the local assets into arrangements across the UK, and that raises big questions in terms of local accountability and the ability of the service to respond to local crises... 
Leighton Andrews:Can I start by welcoming the comments of the Plaid Cymru spokesperson in respect of my statement that we will not be following the actions of the Government in England in as far as giving responsibility for fire and rescue to the police and crime commissioners is concerned?
Clearly the Tory PCC for Dyfed Powys doesn't agree with the different approach in Wales.

From my perspective as an ex Police Officer and an ex member of the North Wales Fire Authority I concur with the decision of the Welsh Government and very much hope that the Westminster Government accept that Wales has devolved responsibility for  Fire Authorities and not try to take power back as what would happen if the Wales Bill was passed.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

No more secrecy

Councillor calls for public debate on arts hub

Plaid Cymru Councillor Arfon Jones has called on the Executive Board of Wrexham Council to discuss the controversial Arts Hub report in public rather than in closed session as initially planned.

Cllr Jones said: 
"This is not the first time for Wrexham Council to discuss controversial issues behind closed doors, but this time they have shot themselves in the foot by inadvertently releasing the confidential report on the Arts Hub so that everything is in the public domain thanks to and other local media outlets. 
"There is no doubt that the contents of this report have aroused considerable public interest and it's now only right that the public can hear the debate and decision of the 10 Executive Board members, which will affect the livelihood of market traders and other businesses in the town.

"I am therefore calling on the Leader of the Council to ensure that this debate is held in an open and transparent way and webcammed like every other Part 1 report. I would also ask that some flexibility is granted to interested parties to either ask questions or to make statements regarding the council's proposals."

Saturday, 2 January 2016

'Secretive' arts hub plan criticised

Wrexham Council’s plans to put an arts centre in the People’s Market have been described as “increasingly bizarre” by Plaid Cymru’s Carrie Harper.

Carrie, who is the Party of Wales candidate for Wrexham in May’s Assembly elections, said:
Leaked documents reveal that the council is not being open with local businesses, market traders or the wider community. There is a need for an arts centre in the town and the examples we’ve seen of voluntary grassroots hubs such as Undegun and Galeri 3B in empty shops have been a welcome boost for the town’s cultural life. Wrexham can also take great pride in its annual Focus Wales music festival. 
“But doubts remain as to whether spending more than £4 million on converting parts of the People's Market and adjoining car park into an arts hub is the best way forward. It appears to be more of an attempt to make use of an existing building rather than creative thinking and providing the best location for the arts to thrive. 
“The council has recently closed libraries, community centres and Plas Madoc Leisure Centre due to an alleged lack of funding. Yet it is now planning to spend an £1.5m on this project - in addition to £3m funding from the Arts Council and Welsh Government - as well as making a projected £390,000 loss in the first three years.

"On top of that there is an unknown amount to maintain it and the council also intends to relinquish control of the building and car park to a new trust. The leaked documents show plans to increase car parking charges to fund the arts centre at a time when local businesses are calling for lower charges to help regenerate the town centre. 
"It’s an increasingly bizarre approach that’s taking place behind closed doors without properly involving those most directly affected – the market traders, people involved with the arts and the wider community. 
“Any new centre has to feel ‘owned’ by the people if it is to work. These secret deals with, as yet, unnamed trusts do nothing to improve the council’s reputation as an authority that doesn’t listen when it consults and would rather trust consultants than the people. We’ve seen it with City Status and Splash Magic. Let’s not repeat those mistakes and make sure any new arts centre is for the people to take ownership of rather than a vehicle to get rid of the market traders. 
“Our markets give our town centre a distinctive feeling. We should be building on that distinctiveness by developing a creative arts hub rather than trying to squeeze both together. I've lived in Wrexham all my life and desperately want to see the town centre rejuvenated. I hope councillors scrutinising this plan on Wednesday will ask the right questions of officers to ensure that happens.”

Caption: Proposed exterior of Oriel Wrecsam/People's Market...
complete with cows on the roof.