Friday, 28 September 2018

A solution on the horizon for the Groves?


The on-going saga to determine the future of the Groves building and site has been well documented on this blog since the debate began several years ago.

Originally the council owned site was due to be taken over by Coleg Cambria but this fell through in 2015 with Wrexham councils leadership deciding to withdraw from negotiations to sell it, a situation described at the time by Coleg Cambria’s Principle David Jones as ‘hugely disappointing and disillusioning’.

Since then Wrexham council have come under fire for trying to rush through a bid to demolish the building, ultimately leading to a campaign to save it and the Groves eventually being listed by Cadw in 2016.

Sitting within the portfolio of the Education department, it has since been declared surplus to requirements, then not surplus to requirement and most recently, surplus to requirements for Primary education but still with no clear direction outlined for it’s use.

Almost a year ago I requested that the issue be looked at by one of the council scrutiny committees in an attempt to get some clarity about the future of the building and site. That meeting eventually happened last week and came with a long overdue options appraisal to look at the potential re use of the building for a primary school and also the use of the adjacent land for a new build primary school to meet demand within the town centre for school places.

The meeting saw frustration vented from most councillors present at the seeming lack of ability of the council leadership to get to grips with the issue and find a solution, or at least outline a way forward after so much time. Kicking this issue into the long grass yet again was simply not going to be an acceptable option. Ultimately the committee decided to recommend the building was surplus to requirements for primary education but chose not to endorse the original request from the Education department to declare it surplus to requirements altogether. They also went a step further, establishing a new task and finish group to explore all the options to finally bring the building back in to use.

The situation is clear enough, we’ve arrived at this point through a series of misjudgements, missed opportunities and to be blunt political personality clashes, that have ultimately meant that nothing got done. It’s time now to draw a line under past mistakes and make sure this building does not sit empty for another decade and is brought back into use to benefit local people .That will require the council’s leadership to take on board views outside its own bubble which I very much hope its capable of, we’ll see.

There are as always solutions on the table, if the political will is there to make them a reality. This new group, not weighted down with the complications and war wounds of previous spats, may well hold the key to finally getting the right result. 

The sales reps on our maternity wards - “I said no and they still took the photos”


Betsi cadwaldr Health Board received £1922 from data marketing firm Bounty in 2016/17 to gain access to north Wales maternity wards according to an FOI published on the Health Boards website.

The firm which distributes bounty goody bags and tries to sell new parents photo’s of their newborns has received wide spread criticism from Mums and families across the UK due to its hard sell tactics at the bedside. The details of newborn babies and their mothers are harvested on the post natal ward and then resold repeatedly to a wide variety of companies.

Plaid Cymru Councillor Carrie Harper said: “ Calls to end this cash for access practise have so far been ignored and the contract between Betsi cadwaldr Health Board and Bounty is in place unitil 2020. Allowing high pressure selling on a maternity ward is completely unethical. There aren’t many people more vulnerable than women after they’ve just given birth, they should be free to recover from childbirth and to bond with their babies in peace.”

“Many parents reluctantly consent as they don’t distinguish these reps from the many medical professionals who visit them on the ward. These tactics are bad enough on the High Street but we certainly shouldn’t be allowing them on our maternity wards.”

Wrexham mother Jenny Millar recalled her experience of Bounty following the birth of her second child, she said: “A rep asked to take photo’s and I said no straight away, I turned over and tried to go back to sleep, then I heard the camera going. She came around the other side of the bed to show me the pictures and to try and persuade me to buy them, I said no again and had to repeat myself 3 times before she finally went.”

Another local mother also relayed her experience: "Three times I had to tell the Bounty rep I didn't want a picture on the maternity ward. I was struggling to establish breast feeding after a caesarean section and I really did not want to be bothered but even with the curtains closed she kept intruding. They should not be allowed near women at such a vulnerable time. They dress it up as taking a nice picture and giving free samples but in reality they are using one of the most precious times in a woman's life to dreg for data to hawk to the highest bidder. They're utterly shameless."

Carrie Harper added: “I’ll be writing to Betsi cadwaldr Heath Board for more information about this contract and to urge them to put the interests of mothers and their newborns first, the contract should not be renewed when it ends in April 2020”.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Life expectancy falling faster in Wales than anywhere in Europe

Hywel Williams MP

UK austerity to blame for Welsh life expectancy fall - Oxford Prof


Life expectancy in Wales is going backwards quicker than anywhere else in Europe, according to new data from the Office of National Statistics.

Official statistics from the ONS show that life expectancy fell by 5.72 weeks for men in Wales between 2014-2016 and 2015-2017, and by 4.16 weeks for women. The comparative figures for the other UK countries were:


  • Scotland
    • Men: -2.6 weeks
    • Women: -3.12 weeks
  • Northern Ireland
    • Men: -4.16 weeks
    • Women: +0.52 weeks
  • England
    • Men: +1.56 weeks
    • Women: +0.52 weeks
  • Wales
    • Men: -5.72 weeks
    • Women: -4.16 weeks
Oxford University Professor Danny Dorling told the BBC's World at One programme that Westminster policy was to blame, highlighting cuts to public sector services and a drop in immigration.

Speaking to the World at One, Professor Dorling said:
"We know that we have had no harsh winters since 2010 so it's not cold winters; we know it's not an influenza epidemic because we haven't had one of those. We're beginning to narrow it down to two things: The big thing is austerity and the cuts affecting the frail and the elderly in many, many ways, and the second thing is that we're no longer getting the young, healthy migrants that we were getting in the past which were actually helping boost our statistics."
Plaid Cymru MP, Hywel Williams has called the figures "scandalous", saying they reflect how Westminster austerity has disproportionately affected Wales.

Mr Williams said:
"These scandalous figures show the real impact of Westminster's policies on people's lives. This is not just people earning less, or paying more for their mortgages and groceries, it is people dying earlier than they should be.  
"For Wales - a country that is bound to one of the richest states in the world - to see life expectancy not only falling when it is rising elsewhere, but for it to be falling faster than anywhere else in Europe should send shivers down the spines of those who have forced through these savage cuts to public services. 
"It is the first time since the Second World War that the infant mortality rate has risen two years in a row across the UK and we've seen a substantial increase in the number of elderly and frail people dying two or three years earlier than normal.  
"And what have we got to show for it? Austerity continues to be driven by those who claim it is necessary to eliminate the budget deficit but the reality is that austerity has depressed economic growth, leading to less money coming in, pushing the apparent goal of a balanced budget further and further away. So we should look at who has gained, and look no further than the pampered lives of the fat cats who win on the way up - and win on the way down too. 
"It is a self-defeating prophecy and Wales cannot afford to be subjected to more of it. Those responsible in Westminster should hang their heads in shame and recognise the damage they continue to cause."


NOTES:

Full transcript of Professor Dorling's comments on the World at One:


"The immediate reasons are that more people have died - more babies have died. Last year more babies died than the year before, and the year before more died than the year before that, so the infant mortality rate has risen two years in a row in the UK. Nowhere else in Europe has that happened and the last time that happened in the UK was during the Second World War. 
"But the main increase in deaths has been elderly frail people dying two or three years earlier than normal. We know that we have had no harsh winters since 2010 so it's not cold winters; we know it's not an influenza epidemic because we haven't had one of those. We're beginning to narrow it down to two things: The big thing is austerity and the cuts affecting the frail and the elderly in many, many ways, and the second thing is that we're no longer getting the young, healthy migrants that we were getting in the past which were actually helping boost our statistics."

Labour is failing north Wales

Dear Editor

 I was intrigued to see Wrexham’s Labour MP echo Tory calls for a Minister for the North.

His reasoning is that the North has done badly from the past two decades of Labour rule in Cardiff. On that I agree. The same is true of the West of Wales, the Valleys and many other communities across our nation.

What does that say, I wonder, about the Assembly Members from his own party who represent constituencies in the North? Wrexham’s AM is a cabinet secretary. So too is the AM for Clwyd South. Delyn’s AM is also a minister.

If these are failing to stand up for the North, then it’s a damning indictment of his fellow Labour politicians and the 20 years of misrule we’ve endured under that party’s leadership.

I believe all our cabinet secretaries and ministers should be fighting for the best for the North in all their portfolios. Expecting a minister for the North to cover all aspects of Assembly responsibility – from health to education to housing and beyond – is a nonsense and I suspect Mr Lucas knows it. He attempts to deflect the blame from his colleagues with a shiny new job but the truth is that we need a change of government in Cardiff.

 A Plaid Cymru government would be one where all ministers treat all parts of Wales fairly and equally. It would be a government with an economic plan for Wales and a laser-like focus on improving the lives of people in terms of better health, education and housing.

Yours

Llyr Gruffydd AM
Plaid Cymru, North Wales




Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Frack-free pensions?

Plaid Cymru councillor Carrie Harper has challenged Welsh councils' investment in fracking firms through their pension schemes.

Denbighshire, Flintshire and Wrexham councils operate a £1.8 billion pension scheme through the Clwyd Pension Fund. After it was revealed that this was one of eight Welsh council pension funds investing in fracking firms, she wrote to the Fund's chief executive Colin Everett.




Here is that exchange:

From: Chief Executive <chief.executive@flintshire.gov.uk>
Dear Councillor Harper.

Thank you for your enquiry about the Pension Fund and our ethical investments.
We discussed this briefly at the Pensions Committee meeting last week, at which Wrexham CBC was represented, following the BBC coverage to which we contributed with a reply to a press enquiry.
By way of explanation the Fund makes investments, for a return, in a broad range of international companies through an approved investment plan and strategy. Some of these companies are active in energy and fuel production. Whilst some of these companies might be involved in ‘fracking’ they have a wide range of business activities and energy productions and not fracking alone. We do not knowingly or purposefully invest in fracking activity specifically.
The Fund meets ethical codes and guidelines for its investment plan and strategy. If you look up the Pension Fund Committee agenda and minutes from last week (5 September) on the Flintshire County Council website you will see the ethical compliance referenced in the Fund Annual Report.
We appreciate that fracking is a contemporary and a divisive issue. Welsh Government is currently reviewing its policy and legislative position as I am sure that you are aware. Should the Government take a final position which might influence the future investment choices of the eight Funds in Wales then we will of course review our strategy and the decisions our investment managers and agents make on our behalf. The Funds in Wales are not acting improperly or indeed unlawfully, as the one interview in the media coverage might have suggested. The Funds have not been called upon, until now, to review their position noting that we are fully complaint with the ethical codes and guidances.
I am sure that this will be a running issue and that there will be fuller debate over time.
I hope that this reply is helpful and reassuring.
Kind regards.
Colin Everett

========================

Hello Colin,

Many thanks for your quick reply and for pointing me to the annual report, much appreciated. I’ve copied in Nigel Williams as our representative in Wrecsam and also Ian Bancroft as our new Chief Executive.

I understand that mitigating the risk of climate change has to be incorporated into the investment strategy as a requirement under the Well-Being of Future Generations Act, can you tell me if you’ve taken any formal advice on this please? I can see reference to compliance with general codes but there is no reference to this that I could find. It would be helpful to understand how this has been considered.

I’m also unclear as to the exact amount invested in fracking firms (either directly or indirectly), could you provide any clarity on that please?

As I’m sure you’re aware there has been a moratorium in place in Wales since 2015 to prevent fracking here, the Welsh Government are proposing an effective ban on fracking, with the relevant powers being devolved in October. It is therefore a completely unethical position for Welsh councils to then profit from firms who will be fracking in other countries.

Given the last ‘light touch’ review of the Clwyd Fund strategy happened back in 2016, would it not be timely to review the strategy now given the obvious direction of travel here in Wales? I did read that Gwynedd’s Pensions Committee are at least revising their strategy to include more responsible investment principles.

Should we not be investing in a greener future for our residents, rather than investing our resources into an industry we’re opposing in Wales?

Many thanks

Cllr Carrie Harper
Plaid Cymru


==============

Thanks for the response Carrie.
Our response to BBC Wales was as follows:-
“We do not invest in companies that just undertake fracking activity. We have been advised by our global equity and emerging market equity fund managers that there are some large companies within their portfolios who may have a small proportion of income from fracking. In November 2017, the investment in these companies with some income from fracking was lower, that being £7.6m or about 0.4% of a £1.8bn fund.
“The Clwyd Pension Fund publishes an investment strategy statement which includes its policy on responsible investment and this is available on the Clwyd Pension Fund website.”
There has been no recent debate in Wales over a policy position for LGPS Funds that I am aware of – but I stand to be corrected. This will clearly be an area for policy debate over the coming months.
Kind regards.
Colin

You messed up on dog fouling



Council challenged on Kingdom contract

Wrexham Council has been accused of messing up on dog fouling after new figures showed how effective its in-house team was before it was disbanded.

Today's Homes and Environment scrutiny committee will hear recommendations that Wrexham Council ends its two-year contract with controversial litter firm Kingdom.


The recommendation, by a Task and Finish group, is to serve a 90-day notice that the contract should be terminated. If accepted by the scrutiny committee, this would mean a final decision would need to be made by the Executive Board.

The recommendation comes as Plaid Cymru councillors reveal figures showing that the council's dog fouling enforcement team was performing well until its forced merger with the Traffic Enforcement team in 2011-2.

Statistics show that Public Protection enforcement officers were issuing 100 or more tickets a year EACH in the run up to the amalgamation, mainly for dog fouling, and Wrexham was among the best performing councils in Wales.

The decision to merge the teams led to a steep decline in dog fouling tickets as the team was effectively disbanded and had to deal with traffic issues.

Councillor Marc Jones, Plaid Cymru's group leader, said:

"The justification for the Kingdom contract was that the council's in-house team was underperforming. It's clear from information we've been given that the council's dog enforcement team was among the best in Wales until it was merged.
"The failure to ensure an effective dog enforcement team in-house is entirely due to this merger and that is a decision taken by the lead member and senior officers. This opened the door for Kingdom, which has also failed to deal with the serious problem of dog fouling and concentrated instead on cigarette ends.
"From newspaper reports at the time, it's clear the council's in-house team were using intelligence received to target persistent fouling, often doing surveillance early in the morning to catch persistent perpetrators. This is time consuming and difficult (i.e. confronting people with dogs) but was done. Kingdom haven't done that.
"That botched amalgamation has since been used to justify getting Kingdom involved. An easier solution would be to return to a system that was tried and tested. We need to get rid of Kingdom as soon as possible."



Cllr Jones also challenged the council to reveal the number of Fixed Penalty Notices issued by Kingdom in August, saying the numbers issued in July showed a dramatic decline due to Kingdom's failure to recruit enough staff:

"Our understanding is that Kingdom hasn't issued a single ticket in August because it has not had staff on the streets. If that's the case, then Wrexham Council doesn't have any enforcement team to deal with dog fouling or litter."