Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Radical plan for new housing in Wrexham

A radical housing plan to build new council homes and bring hundreds of empty properties back into use is being proposed as an alternative to building vast estates on green fields surrounding Wrexham.

Plaid Cymru in Wrexham has unveiled its housing plan ahead of the May council elections, stating that it will build new council houses to help the 1800 people on the council's waiting list. In addition, it will also work to bring some of the 2,500 properties that are currently empty in the borough back into use.

This approach is, the party says, in stark contrast to the Cardiff Labour Government and current Wrexham Council's plan to build 12,000 new homes - many of them on greenfield sites and playing fields.

Sarah Roberts, Plaid Cymru's candidate for the Brynyffynnon ward, said: 
"Wrexham Council and the Cardiff Labour Government want to build 12,000 new houses on our green fields and playing areas. This level of over development is not needed in Wrexham.

"Plaid Cymru is opposed to these plans, which will put huge pressure on already struggling local services and infrastructure. We believe that new housing plans should be sustainable and based on local need rather than speculative over development.

"Labour's plan, as it now stands, would see 12,000 homes built in the next decade or so. We've already seen developers apply for hundreds of houses at Llay and Rhosrobin, new villages comprising of thousands of houses are planned for green fields off Ruthin Road, the rugby club down Bryn Estyn Lane as well as new housing estates planned in the town centre.

"The impact of 12,000 new households - which the Welsh Government forecast will mean a 22% growth in population - on our local infrastructure hasn't been considered. It's clear this plan will have a huge impact on our hospital, GP surgeries, dentists, school places and road congestion."
Plaid Cymru's plan for housing is to scrap this unsustainable plan and invest in:
  • Building new council housing to tackle the waiting list of 1800 applications - both Flintshire and Carmarthenshire Council's are now building new council houses.
  • Bringing many of the 2,500 empty properties in the borough back into use through Empty Dwelling Management Orders and other means.
  • Talk to communities about meeting demand in the area and ensuring a supply of housing that matches local need.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Waterworld without a lift after four months

Wrexham's landmark Waterworld pool is without a functioning lift more than four months after it broke. The jacuzzi has also been closed since June 2016 due to a leaking roof and a £1 million loan to make improvements has still not been spent.

The news has prompted Plaid Cymru locally to question the effectiveness of the council's decision to outsource leisure facilities to Freedom Leisure, a Surrey-based company.

Marc Jones, of Plaid Cymru, asked questions of both Freedom Leisure and Wrexham Council after local residents raised concerns with him about ongoing problems at Waterworld.

He said: "Freedom Leisure has confirmed that there are outstanding long-term problems with the lift, which has been out of order since October 3rd, and the jacuzzi, which has been closed since June 2016 due to a leaking roof and 'significant' health and safety concerns. The lift being out of order is a real problem in terms of enabling people with disabilities or prams to access the leisure facilities. The reason given - a lack of replacement parts - doesn't excuse a four-month delay.

"My question to the council was whether it was monitoring the situation and about the £1 million loan it received from the Welsh Government to make improvements to Waterworld prior to Freedom Leisure taking control. It now emerges the £1m has not yet been spent so I would hope that getting the lift and other failures fixed is a priority.

"Handing over such an important service such as leisure to an outside firm shouldn't mean the council can wash its hands of any responsibility - which was the council's initial response to my inquiry. I hope the council and Freedom Leisure will now ensure that a speedy solution is found to enable everyone can fully access and enjoy the facilities."

RESPONSES FROM THE COUNCIL AND FREEDOM LEISURE
Lawrence Isted, Wrexham's Head of Environment and Planning, responded to the inquiry by stating: 
"The operational management of Waterworld and the conduct of staff in the building are solely the responsibility of Freedom Leisure. Consequently, I am unable to help you in this case and would suggest that you make use of their complaints procedure."




Tuesday, 17 January 2017

AMs and MPs call for Severn Trent to withdraw takeover bid

A group of Welsh AMs and MPs have written to Liv Garfield, CEO of Severn Trent, urging her to withdraw the company's takeover bid after shareholders failed to back the plan by the numbers required.

A press statement issued by Plaid Cymru's Llyr Gruffydd AM together with Labour MPs Ian Lucas, Jo Stevens and Susan Elan Jones as well as Ken Skates AM calls on Severn Trent to respect the views of the local community.

The statement goes on to read:

"The EGM to determine the fate of Dee Valley Water took place on 12 January 2017 and the results published on the Stock Exchange show that the takeover by Severn Trent will only succeed if the High Court strips the voting right from a selection of shareholders.
"These shareholders referred to as the transfers cover staff of Dee Valley Water, local customers and the community and they overwhelmingly rejected the Severn Trent offer due to loss of jobs in the area, the deterioration in service they would receive from Severn Trent and the concern about water bill increases.
"The High Court will decide on 25 January 2017 if the group’s votes will be counted, the potential that they might not represents a real threat to social justice. Due to the monopoly nature of the water industry customers have no way to choose their supplier. The transfer votes have tried to exercise their democratic voting rights by becoming shareholders to have their say on who their supplier should be, this must be taken into account.
"A group of Welsh Assembly members and Members of Parliament have written to Liv Garfield, CEO of Severn Trent asking that she respect the views of the local community and withdraw her offer."

 

Plaid launches 'The change Wrexham needs' manifesto



A Plaid Cymru-led council in Wrexham pledges to deliver a council that works for local people, through ensuring a more transparent and listening leadership along with prioritising affordable housing and improving the town centre.

The pledges were made in the Party of Wales's local manifesto for the May council elections, which is published online today in a bid to reach as many people as possible.

The manifesto promises to build new council housing in Wrexham for the first time in a generation and bring empty properties back into use. It contrasts this the present council's plans to build 12,000 houses on greenfield sites and playing fields.

Plaid Cymru's Wrexham chair Marc Jones said:

"There are just over 100 days to go before Wrexham goes to the polls to choose a new council. We're ambitious for Wrexham and we know the people of Wrexham want - and deserve - much better from their council. This manifesto has a vision for a better place to live and work, it offers a clear choice: carry on as you are and keep voting the way you've been voting or vote for a change. 
"We don't believe this is as good as it gets. We believe our council should be listening to the people, should be more open and transparent in the way it does business and shouldn't be spending so much money on consultants who - on past performances - don't deliver."
 He added that there were 1800 people on the council's housing waiting list:

"We'll start to tackle this by building new council housing that people can afford to rent. We'll increase the number of empty properties - there are about 2500 across the borough - brought back into use and we'll stop the crazy plan to build thousands of unaffordable houses on greenfield sites and playing fields."
He added that the party would focus on improving Wrexham's town centre: 
"Like many town centres, Wrexham has been hit badly by the recession, changes in the way people shop and online shopping. Poor decisions by the council have made matters worse. Trialling free parking to encourage shoppers back into town, reducing rates for small and medium-sized businesses and listening to what retailers and shoppers want are all part of a package to ensure Wrexham is the shopping capital of north Wales. 
"Creating jobs and encouraging enterprise is also at the heart of making Wrexham a more prosperous place to live and the council has a key part to play in that. 
"We'll work with the police, health board and other agencies to make Wrexham a safer place to live. We want the council to play its part in reversing the negative perceptions of Wrexham and have pride in our borough.
"This is our vision and ambition for Wrexham's council elections. We believe we can restore confidence in a council that's lost its way and provide leadership. This present council has become too reliant on consultants. We won't get everything right all the time but we'll always work in the interests of the people of Wrexham.
 
"On May 4th, voters can choose change and we're publishing our manifesto online - the first time this has happened in Wrexham - so that people can make an informed decision."
Wrexham residents are encouraged to read and respond to the online manifesto by clicking here.

http://northwalesweb-001-site8.etempurl.com/ - English version

http://northwalesweb-001-site8.etempurl.com/cymraeg/ - Welsh version

Comments are welcomed at plaidwrecsam@gmail.com









Monday, 16 January 2017

Thanks for your support

Last month's blog views hit a record 15,976 and this trend seems to be continuing in January with more than 2,000 viewing articles just today.

This blog has been going - with some pauses - since May 2008, when four Plaid Cymru councillors were elected to Wrexham Council for the first time. 

This May will see Plaid Cymru stand more candidates than we've ever done in Wrexham, in part to reflect our growing membership and the increased interest in our policies to make Wrexham a better place to live and work.

So thanks for your comments, shares and likes on social media to date. We will be upping our game because we believe Wrexham deserves better.

Thanks... and watch this space.



Thursday, 12 January 2017

Dee Valley shareholders hold key to company's future


Responding to the Dee Valley Water EGM held at the Ramada Hotel, Wrexham, this morning, Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru AM said:
“The future of Dee Valley Water and its staff hangs in the balance after this morning’s EGM. Despite the meeting, it's clear that next week's court ruling on whether new shareholders can vote on this crucial matter is going to decide matters.
"These new shareholders are, as far as I'm aware, key to the final decision. Severn Trent needs 75% of the total shares, which it obtained today through proxies. But crucially 50% of shareholders also have to agree to the bid so these new shareholders could scupper that majority if the court permits them.
"So the final decision rests with the court. I very much hope that the judge's decision will be made on the basis of fairness and equality - new shareholders are just as deserving of a vote as existing shareholders. Many workers and their families at Dee Valley Water now have a small stake in the company and they deserve a voice just as much as the large institutional shareholders. It would be a miscarriage of justice to prevent them from having a say.
"I will continue to campaign with the staff and fight for their best interests. This is about jobs, local suppliers, customer service and the economy but it's also about a vital natural resource and whether the water industry in Wales should be run from Wales or from Coventry."

Wrexham Council's waste bill rises to £419m

Back in 2014, Plaid Cymru raised concerns about the rising cost of Wrexham Council's private waste management scheme. The scheme is a Private Finance Initiative, a controversial scheme popular in the 1990s and 2000s as a way to get private money to pay for public projects.

Unfortunately, it saddled councils, health boards and other public bodies with long-term commitments to re-pay that were out of all proportion to the original capital cost.

Despite warnings, Wrexham Council signed a contract with WRG (which has now been taken over and is operated by FCC, a Spanish-based multinational company). The original capital cost for developing the Bryn Lane recycling centre and re-organising the existing waste sites was £40m and the Welsh Government provided £40m towards that cost.

But the ongoing costs are staggering and they keep going up.

In the council's 2012-13 accounts, our story revealed that the total cost of the contract was estimated to be £332m.

Just three years later we now find that the council estimates the cost will be £419m - a rise of nearly £86m - with the contract extended from 25 years to 29 years.

The cost is only estimated because the contract has no ceiling - it can vary according to fuel costs or inflation - and has continued to escalate beyond the initial projections each time we've asked.

The council says that the new costs relate to Phase 2 of the scheme. This is a re-use centre that opened in 2015 and effectively consists of a two-storey building on the Bryn Lane site.

This then prompted the question as to whether the council should consider buying out the contract rather than continue to pay up to £20m a year - about 10% of its total spending - by 2033.

However, in a response to our request for information, the council confirmed that it had not discussed a buyout of the contract and had no estimate of the potential cost and potential savings over time.

This contrasts markedly with Denbighshire Council, which decided to terminate a PFI contract on a new council building in Ruthin in December 2015.

Despite getting some stick for the enormous cost of getting out of the contract early, the long-term savings were estimated to be £575,000 a year for a PFI contract that was far smaller than Wrexham's.

At the very least, Wrexham Council should look at its options before blindly continuing to pay this ever-escalating contract, which is scheduled to cost more than 10 times the original capital costs. Of course there are ongoing annual revenue and maintenance costs but the cost is completely unacceptable and is likely to continue to rise.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The Groves - Council leader economical with the truth over costs

Wrexham Council's recent behaviour over The Groves site can be summed up in the claim by council leader Mark Pritchard that the derelict site has cost the Education budget more than £1m. In today's press release he claims:
"By the end of this financial year, the Council will already have spent more than £1million from the budget for Education on maintaining and securing the school building."
It's as economical with the truth as you can get and worth examining in detail.

Fortunately campaigners from Save our Heritage have done just that:

The £900K figure bandied about on a regular basis by Councillor Mark Pritchard, is in fact the total spend, INCLUDING the demolition and asbestos removal of the modern parts of the school back in 2012/2013. It also includes grounds maintenance and other costs which were incurred because the building was in use till 2013. The actual costs of repairs and maintenance, and security for the 10 years from 2005 till 2015 were £219601. During this time, the building was in use by several different organisations.

The actual figures are as follows (information taken from Council provided figures on Freedom of Information Request FOI5487):
ItemValueBalance
Total expenditure (from Council provided data)                  £940070
less demolition costs (2012/2013)£277753£662317
less non-attributable costs (see analysis below)£398951£263366
less income from use of building£43765£219601
Actual costs£219601


Asbestos removal and demolition of modern science block in 2012/2013 amounted to £277,753 - which was charged as Capital Expenditure - so not paid from Education Budget.

These are council figures remember.

The site is derelict today because the council withdrew it from sale to Coleg Cambria at the last minute in 2015 - after Cambria had drawn up detailed proposals to use it. The council claims to want the site for two new schools yet has not drawn up any plans for such or started any kind of consultation or discussion about what sort of schools they should be.

And yes, economical with the truth is a polite way to say that the council leader is telling porkies when he discusses the cost of The Groves.






Plaid pay pledge for councillors and top executives





'We want to lead by example'

Any Plaid Cymru councillors elected to Wrexham Council in the coming elections will refuse to take a pay rise.

The pledge was agreed at a meeting of the party's local candidates, who have agreed not to take any pay rise during their term of office.

In a statement Queensway candidate Carrie Harper said:

"We constantly hear how Wrexham Council is having to make difficult decisions due to a lack of money. If Plaid Cymru candidates are elected we've agreed not to take any pay rises so that more money can be spent on frontline services that this borough needs. Since 2012, there has been an extra £100,000 a year spent on paying councillors in Wrexham with the bulk of that going to pay the executive board members and committee chairs.
"As we see the council close day care centres to save £47,000 and cut funding for children's services, we're trying to show how we'd do things differently if we were in power. £100,000 a year can go a long way to maintaining key services."

The Party of Wales is also committed to capping highly paid executive pay. Ms Harper added:

"We want to close the gap between the highest paid and lowest paid within the council. As the council is closing down services, making staff redundant and reducing as a body, it seems right that we look closely at the amount we pay top executives. If there are cuts to have to be made, let's cut from the top down instead of constantly cutting frontline services.
"People are sick and tired of hearing how money is tight and cuts are inevitable, yet the people making those decisions never seem to suffer themselves. We want to lead by example and make sure we have a council everyone can be proud of again."

Dee Valley shareholders urged to ignore legal letters and turn up to key takeover meeting




Dee Valley Water shareholders are being urged not to be put off after legalistic letters were sent out regarding the proposed takeover of the firm by Severn Trent.

Plaid Cymru's North Wales AM Llyr Gruffydd, who is campaigning for the company to remain independent, said:
“I've been approached by people who have become Dee Valley Water shareholders - a combination of company employees, customers and local people who want to maintain the company's independence.
"They have shown me this letter and expressed concern that it is intimidating and may persuade some small shareholders to stay away from Thursday's Extraordinary General Meeting. That meeting is to vote on whether Severn Trent's offer should be accepted, which would mean Dee Valley Water being taken over and merged into the bigger company.
"The people who contacted me believe the stakes must be high if shareholders have been sent this letter from the share administrator, Capita. It's full of legal jargon, which many people will find frightening and gives just 48 hours to respond.
"The threat of legal action if the deadline is missed could mean that people do not respond and therefore their votes will be void on the day. It’s vital that small shareholders turn up on Thursday and are not frightened of exercising their democratic right to vote.”
The letter, from Capita Investor Relations, has been sent to shareholders just days before the EGM this Thursday at The Ramada hotel in Wrexham. The meeting starts at 9.30am and campaigners who support Dee Valley Water plan to rally outside the hotel.

Police commissioner's vision to tackle drugs blight


People realise that it’s a health issue and criminalising drug use is not going to just solve the problem

This article first appeared in Policing Insight:

The sight of drug addicts huddled in the shadows or of streets littered with used syringes is hardly a vision of utopia. After 30 years as a police officer, rising through the ranks to inspector, Arfon Jones, now Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales, has plenty of first-hand experience seeing the ravages of drug use on both individuals and local communities.

This experience has fuelled his belief in legalising drugs, though "only if organisations which work with drug users, such as health, are properly funded to help break the cycle, it shouldn’t all be down to the police".

Elected as PCC last year, he has also racked up experience in CID, crime strategy and child protection in the police. He retired in 2008 and was elected as a Plaid Cymru Councillor the same year, serving on the Wrexham branch of the North Wales Community Health Council, so is well-versed in both worlds.

"A lot of politicians want to stay away from the controversial stuff, they just want re-election but I saw this position as a real opportunity to stop and think about what is right, not just what is popular," says the 60-year-old, who advocates heroin ‘fix rooms’ where users can safely inject under medical supervision and where those most vulnerable to dying receive safer ‘prescribed’ medical-grade heroin in Wrexham, aimed at helping to stem a surge in drug-related deaths.

Increase in heroin deaths

The Office of National Statistics figures for the numbers of deaths related to heroin have more than doubled from 579 in 2012 to 1,201 in 2015, driven partly by availability. Users are also getting older and have other conditions including hepatitis and lung disease.

Drug use in Wrexham, the largest town in north Wales, has prompted the county council there to push for a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO), meaning anyone drinking, using intoxicating substances and urinating, among other anti-social behaviour can be hit with a £100 fine. This has solved one problem but helped fuel another; Mr Jones says it has pushed drug use out into the surrounding residential area of Rhosddu. Residents are now increasingly concerned about drug use, littering of hypodermic needles, homelessness and anti-social behaviour.

Despite his rapacious cold, Mr Jones, is audibly passionate in his condemnation of targeting and criminalising those such as homeless veterans and drug addicts who have already suffered abuses.

"You have people who have been through abuse, veterans who have fought for our country and ended up homeless so it doesn’t make sense to criminalise them. We should be targeting the organised criminals. I understand how residents feel and this is a way to try to tackle the cause," he tells Policing Insight.

Fix rooms

His solution is to call for fix rooms, providing a safe and hygienic environment, as well as multi-agency services, like health care, housing, counselling and welfare on site to try to get users back on track and out of the criminal justice system.

"The littering of needles would disappear and, instead of treating the symptoms, we would be tackling the cause," says Mr Jones.

Glasgow is already in the throes of operating a similar scheme where addicts can inject under medical supervision, following successful trials in ten European countries, including Australia, France and Switzerland to tackle drug-related deaths.

The commissioner says: "Addicts could go to their GP surgery and take prescribed ‘heroin’ under medical supervision (Heroin-Assisted Treatment or HAT), unlikely to suffer an overdose, they are not committing crime to fund their habit and don’t discard needles in the street."

He adds that "around 200 doctors in the country are already licensed to do this" but that it should be extended.

"You would only need HAT for about ten per cent of users. People who are now in their 50s and have been using since their 20s, they are the ones dying so clearly it should be those people who get that treatment. Other users can be successfully treated by methadone," he says.

Pilot

The commissioner’s next step this year is to seek out meetings with public health officials to set up a pilot of Heroin-Assisted Treatment for the most vulnerable users. He has enlisted advice and help from organisations and experts including charitable think tank, Transform, leading on drugs policy analysis and advocating reform.

Mark Polin, Chief Constable of North Wales Police, may not have been openly supportive of Mr Jones’ stance but sees it as a policy decision and will implement the plan set by the commissioner. However, Mr Jones continues to advocate the position for other PCCs, saying it reduces crime, reduces harm and risk of overdose and improves the public perception as users are not injecting on the streets.

He also supports decriminalisation of drugs where those caught for possession would be given an administrative penalty, he compares to a ‘speed awareness course’. The individual would appear before a panel including representatives from the health and social work sector.

PCC support

He is not alone in his approach, in June last year Ron Hogg, PCC for Durham, spoke out to support decriminalisation saying money would be better spent supporting users to change their lifestyles rather than on criminal prosecution and policing low-level users.

The move to introduce fix rooms in Glasgow was prompted following a swell in the numbers of HIV infections and drug-related deaths by around 15 per cent. Officials painted a similar scene to that in Wrexham with needle littering in public areas. A scheme to set up a fix room needs special approval to ensure it is compliant with the Misuse of Drugs Act (1972) or users could be arrested for using on the premises.

It would be easy to think that public perception of such a move would be negative; however, the plans to try to tackle the issue, even in fairly controversial ways have been met with support in Wales. A poll from news site, WalesOnline, found more than half, 60 per cent who voted, were in favour of the plans for fix rooms.

"I think there is a cultural change around how to treat drugs and users. What’s going on in other countries has changed. People realise that it’s a health issue and criminalising drug use is not going to just solve the problem," says Mr Jones.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Pensioner left in care home as council refuses to clean house

Wrexham Council has been accused of wasting public money in a case that saw an elderly resident 'trapped' in a care home for five weeks while the council refused to clear rubbish from her property.

Catherine Jones from Y Wern, Wrexham, broke her hip 10 weeks ago and approached the Daily Post for help in desperation after being left for weeks in a home due to her council property being deemed uninhabitable. It became clear she had struggled to keep on top of cleaning at her home in Caia Park.

The council have also been criticised for not communicating properly with Mrs Jones, adding to her distress. 

Caia Park community councillor Carrie Harper said: 
"It's quite a shocking situation that the council would choose to fork out thousands of pounds to keep Mrs Jones in a care home when the cost of cleaning the property would have been cheaper. It's money wasted and the council should investigate how and why this was allowed to happen. It's also not acceptable that they failed to keep Mrs Jones informed of exactly what was happening.
"At a time when the council claims to be short of money and has to cut front-line services, it does not bode well to hear that these sorts of mistakes mean public money is being spent unnecessarily. It also begs the question, how much more is being wasted?
"The council also needs to acknowledge that residents like Mrs Jones need our empathy and help in order to live independently in our communities, they can't simply pass the buck or treat them as a problem case on someone's desk. They are people who deserve dignity and respect. If a society is judged on the way it treats its most vulnerable members, this case is not a good sign.
"I have spoken to Mrs Jones today who tells me the council do now intend to clean the property in order for her to go home, no doubt promoted by the press coverage in the Daily Post. Although clearly there is a place for the the press to scrutinise cases like this, it should not take a news story to sort these situations out, it should simply not be allowed to happen in the first place.
"It's been heart warming to see the instant response from Caia residents online. As soon as the article went up local people were posting publicly to offer their time to help clean the property and vans to help move rubbish.
 
"We're a strong community that looks out for each other. One resident posted: 'Caia Park may not be Buckingham Palace and does have its faults but we all come out when needed".


Welsh Government urged to intervene to halt Dee Valley Water 'stitch-up'

‘Stand up for workers and the local economy’

The Welsh Government has been urged to intervene to stop an historic Welsh water company from being swallowed by a rival firm based in Coventry.

Plaid Cymru’s North Wales AM Llyr Gruffydd has written to Lesley Griffiths, the cabinet secretary responsible for the environment, urging her to intervene in the takeover of Dee Valley Water by Severn Trent plc before next week’s crucial shareholders’ meeting.

Mr Gruffydd said: 
“The decision by the Competition and Markets Authority not to carry out a full Phase 2 investigation of the proposed takeover of Dee Valley Water by Severn Trent was made in just two weeks and based on out-of-date information. This smacks of a stitch-up by the CMA and Ofwat, the water regulator, and I’m now urging the Welsh Government to intervene before it’s too late.  
“Next week’s shareholders’ meeting will decide whether to accept Severn Trent’s offer and my concern is that, once that vote it taken, it could be too late to take action.  
“Dee Valley Water is among the best-performing water companies in Wales and England when it comes to water quality, customer service and consumer satisfaction. It supplies water at a far lower price than that of Severn Trent and the takeover would result in losing jobs, local suppliers would suffer and a company that has served the Wrexham area for 150 years would disappear.  
“The evidence presented to the CMA by Ofwat is out of date and, as a result, is inaccurate and suggests DVW is performing worse than is the case. New data is available that shows DVW is among the top performing companies in the water industry. Why has Ofwat failed to provide those latest figures to the CMA and why has the CMA carried out an investigation in just two weeks based on information supplied by Severn Trent itself?  
“Dee Valley Water workers are unhappy (see letter below) with the way the authorities are behaving and they, along with the hundreds of thousands of customers who rely on Dee Valley Water, are entitled to have a strong voice to ensure fair play.  
“I and Plaid Cymru will do what we can but I also want the Welsh Government to stand up for Welsh workers, for the local economy here in the north-east and for the excellent service provided. To stand idly by while the powers-that-be fail to carry out a thorough and fair investigation would be a disgrace.”

LETTER FROM DVW STAFF TO LESLEY GRIFFITHS AM

Lesley Griffiths AM
Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs
National Assembly for Wales
Cardiff Bay
Cardiff
CF99 1NA

5 January 2017

Dear Ms Griffiths

We are writing to you on behalf of the staff at Dee Valley Water in your role as Cabinet Secretary for the Environment and Rural Affairs.  We have now read the detailed reports from Ofwat and the Competition and Markets Authority on the Acquisition of Dee Valley Water by Severn Trent Water.

We understand that this is a transaction between two private companies but we ask that you intervene in response to the poor data supplied by Ofwat to the Competition and Markets Authority that have led to the erroneous decision to grant phase 1 clearance.

  1. The Ofwat report contains numerous misstatements and uses out of date information to make its conclusions.  When finalising this report Ofwat knew that more up to date and better comparative information was readily available (such as the Discover Water website).  Why did it not use this information?

Ofwat Report

a.                   On page 13, last paragraph 1, Ofwat and Frontier Economics state that they have used PR14 data as their counterfactual.  Why, when this is as least two years out of date and Ofwat knows that DVW is now a company with completely different performance levels.  If Ofwat is genuinely interested in the customer then to protect customers it should use the latest available information.

  1. On page 14, paragraph 1, if one of the merging companies is leading or high performing in some areas.

i.                        Using 15/16 data DVW is high performing in all basic network measures, a number of SIM measures and also customer complaints.  Why has Ofwat ignored this information, which would fundamentally change the CMA review?

  1. On page 15 ranking for merging companies – again, why are only these indicators chosen why not use the most recent published data.

  1. On page 18 and pages 20 and 22.  Ofwat uses forward looking metrics but only on a small selection of measures, why have all the measures not been subjected to this analysis and again why has the latest published data not been used?

  1. On page 25, on the last bullet point Ofwat admits that there will come a point in the future when the loss of a comparator will become problematic.  Given current levels of customer performance for water Ofwat will be losing two of its top four ranked companies.  How then can the review so quickly determine that a stage 2 review is not required?

  1. On page 27 Ofwat states that SVT is a more helpful comparator on issues such as customer engagement and ODIs.  How can Ofwat make this statement when DVW outperforms SVT on the vast majority of the performance metrics?  Linked to this point, the main question for Wales and the customers in DVW’s area is how does SVT plan to improve performance so that customers in DVW’s area do not suffer a drop in performance standards?

  1. On page 28, the last paragraph and quote is regarding DVW not demonstrating best practise.  Given the most recent published data shows that DVW have a significant number of measured at upper quartile performance, how can Ofwat make this statement?

  1. On page 44 to 50 the rankings in the table are based on information that is at least two years out of date.  How can Ofwat continue to rank SVT more highly than DVW when DVW outperforms SVT on the vast majority of indicators?  Furthermore with better promotion of its vulnerable customer programmes, CCWater recognises as an industry leader on how it deals with vulnerable customers.

  1. The CMA has made no attempt to challenge the use of the out of date data.  How can the CMA approve something so quickly (in two weeks) without checking if the correct counterfactual has been used?

2.                   Severn Trent, an organisation with a vested interest in the outcome of the review, submitted out of date information to the CMA and then seemed able to predict the outcome of the CMA review on 9 December 2016, less than two weeks after the CMA had started the review.  Why did Ofwat and the CMA not request the latest information to use when making its judgements?

3.                   We are concerned by Ofwat’s impartiality as on more than one occasion representatives from Ofwat have publicly expressed their desire to see DVW disappear from the sector.

We feel that the CMA review process is flawed due to the usage of out of date information that does not effectively show the true performance of a successful small Welsh water company.  To ensure that the interests of our customers are adequately protected, we ask that you challenge the Competition and Markets Authority to carry out the review again using the latest publicly available information.

Yours sincerely

On behalf of Dee Valley Water staff



Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Dee-Day for historic water firm

A crucial meeting of an historic water company's shareholders has been dubbed "Dee-Day" by campaigners.

Plaid Cymru has urged people to join a peaceful "Dee-Day" protest outside a special meeting of Dee Valley Water shareholders in Wrexham next week.

Plaid Cymru's Wrexham spokesperson Marc Jones said:
"The 12th of January is Dee-Day for Dee Valley Water. If enough shareholders vote for the takeover by Severn Trent at that meeting, the company could cease to exist with the loss of many jobs and local suppliers. 
"We want workers, customers and everyone concerned with ensuring that Welsh water services are delivered from Wales to come along to the meeting so that shareholders are in no doubt of the strength of feeling locally.  
"Dee Valley Water has a history going back 150 years as a company supplying water in the Wrexham area and this takeover threatens to cost jobs, local suppliers as well as increase bills."
"We want workers, customers and everyone concerned with ensuring that Welsh water services are delivered from Wales to come along to the meeting so that shareholders are in no doubt of the strength of feeling locally. 
"Dee Valley Water has a history going back 150 years as a company supplying water in the Wrexham area and this takeover threatens to cost jobs, local suppliers as well as increase bills."
Plaid Cymru's North Wales AM Llyr Gruffydd, who has raised the matter in the Assembly, has added his voice to the campaign:
"I would urge shareholders to think very carefully before making a decision that would have far-reaching consequences for the water industry in Wales. I don't believe water services in Wales should be controlled by a company based in Coventry."
• The meeting starts at 9.30am on January 12th and people are invited along to the peaceful protest outside the EGM at The Ramada, Wrexham from 9am onwards.