Monday, 3 December 2018

'Universal credit is the worst thing to ever happen to me and my family' says Wrexham Mum

Emma Holland and her son Freddie
On Saturday local Mum Emma Holland, joined Plaid Cymru volunteers in the town centre to collect petition signatures against Universal Credit. The system, which was introduced by the Tory Government, is a new payment designed to replace several working-age benefits, including housing benefit and tax credits. It's currently being rolled out across Wrexham and now affects 4587 local families according to a recent council report, 40% of whom are in employment.

Universal Credit has been widely condemned because of the uneccesary hardship it causes to families due to delayed payments and a variety of other flaws in the system. Many families have reported falling behind with rent payments or having to rely on food banks to feed themselves.

Local Mum Emma Holland who helped organise the stall on Saturday due to her own experience with the system said: "I was put onto Universal Credit last December when I changed jobs. Immediately I was put into debt as I couldn’t wait 6 weeks for a payment and had to borrow £650 which I am still paying off."

"Since my changeover two major errors have been made on my claim, both resulting in financial hardship for me and my two sons. My income has also reduced overall. My biggest problem occurred in November when two separate months wages were put together to give me an artificially inflated salary. This meant that I only received £240 universal credit for the month instead of the £850 I was due to receive. Despite the fact I have appealed, Universal Credit have refused to give me the amount was entitled to, blaming my work and even me for not ringing in my earnings when I did notify them by phone. As a result myself and my children have had to rely on donated food this month."

"Universal Credit is the worst thing to ever happen to me and my family".

Plaid Cymru Cllr Carrie Harper said: "Emma's experience is one we're unfortunately hearing more of since the roll-out expanded in Wrexham last October. It's horrific that local people are having to rely on food donations because of the draconion and cold way this system has being implemented. The Tories just don't seem to care about the way the flaws in the system are impacting on people's lives. Thanks to Emma's initiative we collected hundreds of signatures from concerned residents calling for the system to be halted on Saturday and gave out hundreds more leaflets to raise awareness about what's happening."

"The way this has system been implemented is completely incompetent, with even the National Audtit Office saying the programme suffered from 'weak management, ineffective control and poor governance'. The roll out of Universal Credit should be halted immediately so familes like Emma's don't have to suffer this bodged attempt at welfare reform".

A new Facebook group has been set up for residents to share their concerns and discuss their experiences at 'Wrexham against Universal Credit'. The petition can be signed by clicking here.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Labour 'passing the buck' over Welsh rail contract

Labour politicians in Wales have been accused of ‘passing the buck’ over the problems facing the new rail franchise. The current problems have seen about 1/3 of rolling stock taken off the rails and trains cancelled from Wrexham-Bidston among many other lines. 

The Welsh Transport secretary has launched an astounding attack on the former UK Labour government, who back in 2003 agreed a “dreadful contract” with Arriva Trains Wales, in response to criticisms of the current state of the rail service in Wales.

Speaking in the Senedd yesterday, Ken Skates AM explained away the new franchise holder’s problems by saying:
“We were ready for the transfer as much as we could be ready. But I must press again the point that the contract that’s been operating for the last 15 years was a dreadful contract, with a very low base and a very low bar for them to get over. We have improved the contract considerably this time around. 
“Monitoring did take place, and Arriva Trains Wales, based on the performance matrix, was reaching an acceptable standard, but that standard, in our view, was too low. I’m on record time and time again saying that that contract dating back to 2003 was not fit for purpose. And now we are seeing the consequences of it. But, equally—equally—through the plans that are put in place, Transport for Wales, the operator and development partner, are addressing them at incredible speed, working 24/7 to make sure that as many trains get back on the rails as possible.” 
Responsibility for the rail franchise was passed on to the Welsh Government under the Railways Act 2005 and Transport (Wales) Act 2006.

Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s North Wales AM, said: 
“Whatever the shortcomings of the previous franchise, which was awarded by the UK Labour Government let’s not forget, there should have been oversight and monitoring by the Welsh Government over the past decade. It strikes me that this is passing the buck on an epic scale to say ‘nothing to do with me’.  
“Detailed work on the new franchise should have revealed any rolling stock issues that mean that so many trains are off the rails at the moment. It does not inspire confidence to see the man responsible for our transport network trying to blame someone else.”

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

‘Let’s get on with it’

Plaid calls for action on football museum report

The man who spearheaded the campaign for a National Football Museum in Wrexham has urged the Welsh Government to build on the work of a feasibility study that backed the proposal.
Plaid Cymru’s North Wales AM Llyr Gruffydd launched the campaign three years ago with local politicians and the Wrexham Supporters’ Trust at The Racecourse ground. He said the findings of the feasibilty study were important in two respects:
“Firstly it establishes the need for a national football museum and, secondly, that it should be based in Wrexham. Both are important conclusions because there was some scepticism about our campaign at the outset.  
“The report's findings are also a vindication of the campaign launched three years ago, when I and Plaid Cymru colleagues first went public alongside Wrexham Supporters’ Trust directors at The Racecourse. 
“Back then, we argued that a national football museum should be based in Wrexham, the spiritual home of the game. This is where football started in Wales and it’s still home to the oldest existing international stadium in the world as well as the third oldest football club in the world. It's also where the FA of Wales has chosen to invest in the future with a National Football Development Centre at Collier's Park.  
“Plaid Cymru made the case for a National Football Museum in its 2016 manifesto and ensured the feasibility study was funded in the 2017-8 budget by the Welsh Government.”
But Mr Gruffydd said he was expecting more from the report and would be asking more of the Welsh Government: “We need to see a timetable to make this happen as soon as possible - let's get on with it. 
“We also need to ensure it's a proper National Museum, a part of the family of National Museum Wales rather than the local museum that is advocated in this report. 
“And I have to say I'm disappointed that proposal to have it located at The Racecourse is dismissed in a single paragraph. Why? “Plaid Cymru is keen to see this development happen and will continue to press for this museum to be a catalyst for the redevelopment of The Racecourse Ground.”
Mr Gruffydd said the failure, to date, to establish a National Museum in the North-east was an historic failing that needed to be put right. He said this was a unique opportunity to right that wrong and urged the Welsh Government not to miss that chance.

He added: “Here’s a real opportunity to build on the findings of the study and make sure it happens. Let’s get on with it for the benefit of Wrexham, football and the local economy.”

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Plaid Cymru stands up for Wrexham on Local Development Plan

An unholy Labour-Tory-independent alliance has voted to back a Local Development Plan that would permit thousands of extra homes on greenfield sites. 
The 30-17 vote was only pushed through with the support of the Labour group, who were whipped to back this flawed plan. It appears they were more interested in defending the Labour Welsh Government than Wrexham communities.
 The reason is clear: This is a Local development plan in name only as it’s based on population projections from the Welsh Government.
 This is how councillors voted [click to enlarge]

Plaid Cymru was the only group to vote in a clear and united way to protect our communities.

Councillor Marc Jones, who leads the Plaid Cymru group on Wrexham council, explained why the group was voting against the Local Development Plan at a special meeting:
There are two choices before us today - to approve this plan going out for Examination by Planning Inspectors or to refuse to approve it. If we refuse, the Welsh Government will put it out to examination. 
So however we vote, this plan will have its detail examined over the coming year.
This will be our last chance as democratic representatives to have our say. So how we vote matters. Regardless of concerns you might have about individual sites, I would urge you to look at the bigger picture.
This LDP has been developed on the basis that Wrexham’s population will grow substantially in the next 20 years - five times as much as neighbouring Flintshire for example. That is not a proposal based in fact or based on the emerging evidence from latest mid-year stats. It is a population projection by the WG that is based on previous unique circumstances.
So we have to be clear this is not a 'Local' Development Plan is the sense that it's based on what we want. Allocating land to build two huge new housing estates and many other smaller ones along the A483 will suit developers. But it will reduce the quality of life for Wrexham residents. 
Our already stretched public services - GPs, schools, hospitals, roads and other key infrastructure - are already at breaking point in some aspects. How will those services manage with that extra demand?  
And to be clear, extra houses will not mean extra income - it just means the way Wrexham Council is funded under the Standard Spending Assessment from the Welsh Government is rejigged. 
As a group, Plaid Cymru councillors are not opposed to allocating land to building homes to meet need. But we are opposed to building houses that are not needed. 
Our contention is that the allocation of land for housing is flawed. This plan is, to use a Biblical analogy, a house built on sand. If we want to build better communities that are not a faceless urban sprawl extending into our countryside, then we need sturdier foundations. That's why we have to stand up and say no, we are not going to approve this plan. The Welsh Government should re-think its attempt to impose this plan on the people of Wrexham.
Councillor Carrie Harper, a long-time campaigner against speculative development in Wrexham also made an impassioned contribution that earned shouts of support from the public gallery:
8,500 houses, a population increase of 20,000 people, and tens of thousands more cars on our roads. 
The impact is huge so let’s just consider what it means. How is the Maelor hospital going to cope with an additional 20,000 people? Have you been to A and E lately? Where are the extra GP surgeries and extra doctors coming from? We can't recruit enough doctors as it is. 
How are council services going to cope with a 20% population increase? We’ll be dealing with the next council budget in this chamber in just a few weeks time and we’ll be talking about the impact of austerity and the reduced settlement from Welsh Government which makes up 3 quarters of this councils funding. We’ll be talking  about how this council has to cut millions more from its budget and how that means services have reached tipping point, how pressure is continuing to increase on services such as children and adult social care. How is increasing the population by 20% going to help that situation? Can anyone explain that to me? 
There will also be increased pressure on schools and on a myriad of other services too. Then there’s the road network, an extra 20,000 cars potentially, it’s bad enough trying to around the town now but if this goes ahead we’ll be spending half our lives in traffic jams. 
I could go on about the loss of green fields, the increase in pollution, in the production waste but you get the gist, you already know these things. The damage this plan will do is obvious but I’m yet to hear anyone outline even one benefit that even remotely offsets these detrimental impacts. 
So now we have to ask why this is even in front of us? The latest statistics tell us the local population is static so why are we even entertaining such high levels of overdevelopment? It’s here because the Labour Welsh Government are insisting on it, they want these houses built. But these houses don’t meet any local need, they’re not going to provide affordable starter homes for young families, or the bungalows for our elderly population to downsize to. This plan isn’t about providing the right type of houses in the right place to meet our local needs. These houses are for commuters, this plan is about speculative development, it’s about developers making money and it’s about turning Wrexham into a dormitory commuter town and we should fight tooth and nail against it. 
I’ve heard councillors here say that the market will dictate whether or not these houses are built. Our planning system is not there to facilitate the market or the wants of developers! We’re not here to bolster their profit margins. The planning system is supposed to be a filter, to ensure development levels are sustainable, it’s supposed to protect our local communities from unsustainable development not enable it! This plan is an abuse of our planning system. 
We’ve already had 20 years of overdevelopment in this town. Local people have told us time after time, they don’t wants this level of development to continue, they don’t want villages to merge, they don’t want us to lose our identity, they don’t want see their quality of life reduce because of increasing pressure on services and infrastructure. 
So if the Welsh Government want this plan then let them enforce it and let them be accountable for it but don’t endorse it. The planning Minister is Wrexham’s AM Lesley Griffiths, let her argue the case for concreting over our town and explain her rationale to local people. This plan is the their obsession not ours.
This council has a disconnect with local people and so many people tell me the root of that mistrust lies in so many of the bad planning decisions that have been made over the years. Decisions that have meant people feel Wrexham has been developed in spite of them, not for them. 
So how about just for once, this council makes a planning decision that local people can be proud of. That we represent what they want and turn down this disaster of a plan which has so many negative consequences and no benefits.
Don’t give the Welsh Government and developers the green light turn this town into Cheshire on the cheap, we deserve better than that, vote against this plan.

Labour bow down to Westminster and scrap law designed to protect Welsh powers during Brexit

On Tuesday this week, the Labour run Welsh Government joined with the Conservatives and UKIP to pass a motion to repeal a law put in place to protect Welsh powers in devolved areas as they are returned from Brussels after Brexit.

The Continuity Act, put forward by Plaid Cymru AM Steffan Lewis, was originally passed by Assembly Members in March. The Act was designed to ensure that standards affecting environmental protections, food standards and other rights continue to apply in Wales after Brexit. 

Plaid Cymru Councillor Carrie Harper said: "Whether you voted Leave or Remain, this law would have meant devolved powers currently operated at EU level would come to Wales not Westminster after Brexit. These are powers we've democratically voted for at two referendums. To repeal this Act is to leave Wales open to a power grab and at the mercy of UK Tories, it is a complete deriliction of duty on the part of the Labour party." 

"Whilst the Scottish Government stands firm and their Continuity Act awaits judgement in the Supreme Court, Labour, with the backing of Welsh Tories and UKIP have sold us down the river. The Labour party are clearly completely incapable of defending our interests and at a time we can least afford their incompetance."

"On the contrary to taking back control, Wales will be losing powers to London as a result of Brexit. This is a perfect example of why you do not put London based parties in charge of your country, it's unforgiveable." 

Friday, 16 November 2018

Tory donor behind plans for 600 houses in Wrexham

The housing developer behind plans for 600 new houses on the outskirts of Wrexham donated more than half a million pounds to the Tory Party in 2017.

John Bloor is one of the wealthiest men in the UK, with an estimated wealth of £1 billion. His company JS Bloor (Services) Ltd gave £120,000 to the Tories in March 2017 and topped that up with a further £400,000 just before the May 2017 election.

A subsidiary, Bloor Homes North West (sic), is involved in plans to build 600 new homes on green fields off Holt Road, Wrexham. The scheme has yet to go before Wrexham's planning committee and is currently out to consultation.

Bloor Homes may be familiar to Wrexham residents as well as the company built many of the new homes on the old Brymbo Steelworks site over the past decade.

Plaid Cymru councillor Carrie Harper, who represents the nearby Queensway ward, said:
"Council officers in recent days have talked of 'predatory housing developers' taking advantage of planning loopholes to build huge new developments. They may have been thinking of companies like Bloor Homes, who are using the planned new Local Development Plan to jump the gun without offering the level of affordable housing the LDP demands. 
"I'm not surprised this housing developer has been funding the Tories with profits made from these housing developments. The next time these developers cry about 'viability' and how they're only making 20% profits on their housing schemes, perhaps house buyers might like to consider whether they want to contribute to Tory Party coffers."
She also questioned whether local Tory councillors should be allowed to vote on the Local Development Plan if they have benefitted from central Tory HQ funding.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Plaid and Brexit: Wales needs a New Deal, not a bad deal

Plaid Cymru will not support the Tory Government’s Withdrawal Agreement

In a statement on the steps of the National Assembly for Wales, Plaid Cymru’s leader Adam Price AM and Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts MP that the party will not support the Westminster Government’s Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration as it stands.

Mr Price outlined five reasons to not support the proposals:
  1. It takes Wales on a trajectory out of the Single Market and Customs Union.
  2. Without the detail of our future relationship agreed in legal text, this is a Blind Brexit with the devil of said detail to be discovered over the next two years.
  3. Wales has been sidelined throughout the negotiations.
  4. It does not grant Wales the same privilege as the north of Ireland within the Single Market and Customs Union.
  5. The agreement does not contain provisions for a People’s Vote.
Adam Price said: 
Plaid Cymru has consistently called for the least damaging Brexit possible, where Wales is in the Single Market and Customs Union – this proposal takes us on a trajectory that would make that impossible.  
“Whilst throughout this process the European Union has acted like a genuine multinational organisation where the interests of all members are prioritised, especially those concerns of the Republic of Ireland, the British State has wilfully side-lined Wales. Far from a partnership of equals, Wales has been treated like a vassal country and this agreement has not been negotiated with Welsh interests at its heart.  
“This announcement only confirms that the Westminster Government is happy to bring about an economic act of harm on the country to appease its own backbenches. And it’s not even succeeding to do that. We are now facing a choice between a bad deal, no deal and a New Deal. 
 “Plaid Cymru says Wales needs a New Deal, put to the people, with the option to remain.”

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

90% of council tenants on Universal Credit in rent arrears

Today's Homes and Environment scrutiny committee received an update regarding the roll-out of Universal Credit in Wrecsam, with council staff commenting on the increasing pressure they face in trying to deal with tenants transferring to the new system, which went live in Wrecsam in October 2017.

A total of 4587 Wrecsam residents are now in receipt of the benefit, with almost 40% being in employment. Council officers explained that they are not given figures in terms of how many claimants are in receipt of the housing element of the benefit, meaning at present they could not estimate how many residents in private housing were also being affected by the roll-out.

Cllr Carrie Harper who sits on the committee said:
"The report explained that, although many of the tenants who had transferred had some level of rent arrears prior to going over to Universal Credit, arrears were on average 60% higher for Universal Credit recipients, with a total of £255,731 of the councils current arrears solely attributed to the new benefit. This is clearly very concerning.
"I struggle to understand the Tory Governments rationale for implementing this policy. I've seen studies which show that Universal Credit will ultimately cost more than the system it was designed to replace. I've also seen studies which point to an increased reliance on food banks as a result of this system. Far from incentivising work, this policy is pushing more and more people into poverty. The way it's been implemented has been completely incompetent."

Friday, 9 November 2018

Welsh veterans let down by two governments

Plaid Cymru calls for improved veterans’ care on Armistice Day centenary


Plaid Cymru’s Liz Saville Roberts MP has said that Welsh veterans are being let down by both the Welsh and Westminster governments.  

In September Plaid Cymru uncovered statistics that showed that across the UK 66,000 veterans* are either homeless, in the justice system or suffering with mental health conditions. The information obtained through a combination of parliamentary questions and research from military charities and academic research shows that former armed forces personnel are being let down by the Westminster Government, and are disproportionately represented compared to the general public, in homelessness, mental health and justice system statistics.

Ms Saville Roberts has also campaigned for residential veterans’ care to be made available in Wales. There is currently no residential treatment facilities for veterans in Wales. The only easily accessible facility, Audley Court in Shropshire announced at the end of 2017 that it would stop offering residential treatments.

The Dwyfor Meirionnydd MP has called on the Welsh Government to “put its money where its mouth is” and fund residential treatment facilities for veterans, which are shown to have profound benefits for treating mental health issues and helping veterans live fruitful lives following military service.

Liz Saville Roberts, who will be representing Plaid Cymru at the Cenotaph in London today, said:
“Today we remember the sacrifices made by so many in order for us to be here today. Their legacy will never be lost to history and their sacrifice should never be underestimated. “It is not just words that best honours their memory – we need actions too. Action so that their fellow servicemen and women are today treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. “It is shocking that in the UK today 66,000 veterans are either homeless, in the justice system or suffering with mental health conditions. We may not forget those that gave their lives, but for today’s suffering veterans it’s a case of out of sight, out of mind.   “With no residential care facilities for veterans in Wales, and the last facility within reasonable distance across the border closing, the Welsh Government needs to put its money where its mouth is and invest in the services that make a difference to veterans lives.   “Fundamentally, Welsh veterans are being let down by governments in Cardiff and London.”
* The information provided by Plaid Cymru suggests that some 10,000 veterans are either in prison, on parole or under the supervision of the probation service; around 50,000 are suffering with mental health conditions and a further 6,000 are homeless. 

Monday, 5 November 2018

28% of Wrexham pupil respondants missed days off school due to lack of access to sanitary products

The report from Wrexham council's Task and Finish group looking at period poverty in Wrexham has been published today and will be discussed at the Lifelong Learning commitee on Thursday 8th November, the meeting will be webcast and starts at 11.00am. The report can be viewed here.

Part of the groups work involved a survey of pupils and staff which had almost 500 responses. One of the key findings from the survey was that 28% of secondary age pupils who responded had missed days off school because they couldn't access suitable sanitary products, with 39% saying they'd missed 6 days or more. 38% of year 7 pupils who responded said they'd had to miss days in primary school.

The group are recommending that limited funding announced by Welsh Government recently be used to install shelves in as many toilet cubicles as possible to distribute free sanitary products.

The survey also highlighted that there is some sanitary provision in all local schools but that often pupils don't know how to access it, with 74% of respondants saying they either didn't know or that their school didn't provide sanitary products. It also highlights a need for more sanitary disposal bins in line with Welsh Government guidance. Other issues, such as access to toilets during the school day were also highlighted, with 50% of respondants saying they could not go to the toilet when they needed to during lessons in secondary school.

Cllr Carrie Harper who chaired the task and finish group and who will be chairing the Lifelong Learning committee on Thursday said:

" I'm very grateful to fellow councillors who took part in this work and particularly to council officers who put a huge amount of time into getting the survey up and running and analysing the results. It's the first of its kind in Wrexham and the level of response has made it very worthwhile, this is an issue people have really engaged with. We also had very honest feedback from pupils, staff, Wings Wrexham, the Nappy Library and the Senedd Yr Ifanc focus group, which has helped to inform our recommendations."

" This work clearly shows that period poverty is a serious issue for female learners in Wrexham and that we must do all we can to help tackle it. I hope the work of the group contributes to improving provision locally. The survey shows clearly that lack of access to sanitary products is impacting on school attendance and ultimately the performance of our female learners locally."

" We also heard some hearbreaking stories as part of our work, with some pupils telling us they had to use their dinner money to buy products and others having to use items of clothing because they couldn't access adequate sanitary wear. I'm glad we've been able to put this issue on the agenda and help to raise awarenss about it, with potentially hundreds of young women across Wrexham affected by this, it's vital the discussion continues."

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Betsi backs Bounty hunters

Betsi Cadwaladr health board has backed controversial firm Bounty, which has been criticised for harrassing new mothers on maternity wards.

 This is the response to a complaint by Wrexham Plaid Cymru that listed 20 separate incidents where mothers felt uneasy or unhappy about the behaviour of Bounty staff in Wrexham Maelor or Ysbyty Glan Clwyd.

 Our exposé earlier this month prompted widespread anger and comment. 

 The health board gets £1922 a year from Bounty to permit full access to the maternity wards, where they give away packs of goods, take photos and collect data that's subsequently sold on to other firms.

This is the health board's response:

Re: BountyThank you for your email of 3rd October 2018, outlining the concerns raised by a number of constituents regarding the activities of the Bounty company on the maternity wards at Wrexham Maelor Hospital. Please convey my sincere apologies to your constituents for any upset or anxiety that has been caused.The Health Board does have a contract with Bounty for the distribution of its information packs across the Health Board and for photography services in both Wrexham Maelor Hospital and Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, for which it receives a small remuneration.  This income is received into the service and spent on patient care in these areas. These arrangements pre-date the creation of the Health Board.Bounty has been providing services to pregnant women and new mothers throughout the UK for the past 60 years and their research shows a high level of satisfaction with their services. I would like to confirm that the Health Board has never received any complaints or had any concerns raised with the service from patients in respect of Bounty. Our Director of Midwifery and Women's Services, Mrs Fiona Giraud, has also confirmed that she has never received any negative feedback from staff in relation to Bounty's activities.This does make it difficult for the Health Board to investigate the claims that have been made or to establish how representative they are. If any of your constituents would like us to investigate their specific case they are welcome to contact either the Health Board or Bounty directly.

  If you'd like to send a complaint to Director of Midwifery at BCUHB Fiona Giraud contact her on and please copy in

Plaid Cymru Councillor Carrie Harper, who raised concerns about the company, said:
"The health board has ignored the many concerns raised by new mothers and health professionals about this company.
"I'm worried that mothers are being hassled at a time when they should be able to bond with their new-born babies. Being told to hurry up with their breastfeeding or ignored because their baby was on Special Care is upsetting to say the least. 
"I'm urging anyone who has had a poor experience with Bounty to contact the health board to take the matter further."

Wednesday, 24 October 2018


Plaid Cymru have requested an urgent meeting with the Welsh Government’s Finance Minister Mark Drakeford over ‘serious concerns’ about cuts to local government following the budget announcement.

Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Finance, Rhun ap Iorwerth AM said:
“I am writing to Finance Minister Mark Drakeford to request a meeting to discuss the recent Welsh Government budget.
“We have serious concerns regarding the cuts to Local Government and the devastating impact it could have on Education and Social Services. These cuts are severe and substantial and worse than anyone could reasonably have expected.
“The WLGA and council leaders have all expressed deep concerns at the cuts and Labour members, including minister Hannah Blythyn, have slammed the Labour budget. Another Minister Alun Davies chose to attack councillors, telling them to stop complaining.
“This is a Labour austerity budget. Councils are facing a situation where they will simply not be able to provide essential services to the public. This is not acceptable. I want a rethink, and for an assurance that increasing council funding will be a priority for Welsh Government should new finances become available in the forthcoming UK budget.”
Plaid Cymru and the Labour-led Welsh government entered into a budget agreement in October last year.

Don't put all our economic eggs in one very expensive nuclear basket

Plaid Wrecsam's view on the North Wales Growth Bid

Wrexham Council is part of the North Wales Growth Bid, along with other councils, universities and colleges. If it happens, it will see funding amounting to £334 million from both UK and Welsh Governments for various infrastructure projects over the next decade or so.

Nobody in north Wales is going to turn down millions of pounds worth of investment, especially when it's needed for digital infrastructure for example. However there are concerned about the thrust of the growth, which is over-reliant on one scheme – namely Wylfa Newydd.

To be clear, Wylfa sits outside of this Bid. However the concern is that nuclear power is the golden thread that is intertwined throughout the Bid, with other projects bolted on to take advantage of the opportunity. Some of those projects are already happening and therefore are not reliant on the Bid itself.

The Proposition Document lists 16 projects totalling £334m. The nuclear linked Trawsfynydd, Holyhead port and Bangor University schemes account for £200m of that.
So even though Wylfa officially sits outside of this Bid, much of this Bid would not be there if it were not for Wylfa. And, as Wylfa is a colossal £15bn project dependent on a Japanese multinational and a very favourable strike price, if it doesn't happen then there is a very real risk that this Bid will fail. If Wylfa goes ahead, why can't these other projects could not be funded through Horizon. 

Of the £3.1 billion headline figure for private and public investment, £2 billion is earmarked for the Trawsfynydd Small Modular Reactor project. A further £637m is for housing developments.

So although these are large sums, we must remember these are spread over 10-15 years and over six counties.
A North Wales Growth Bid and an over-arching regional vision is desperately needed. We need a grand vision for the region and we need better funding from both UK and Welsh Governments - so this is a welcomed development but the emphasis on nuclear-related projects suggests that too many economic eggs are being placed in one very expensive nuclear basket.

Saturday, 20 October 2018

One Council or a Gang of 10?

Secrecy, paranoia and the stifling of dissidents are the hallmarks of any autocratic regime.

It’s also becoming a commonplace theme here’s in Wrexham where the council’s nine man, one woman Executive Board routinely excludes the other 42 councillors from any meaningful debate or decision making.

Autocratic regimes also monitor and seek to close down alternative views, unable to deal with robust debate without shouting it down.

At last week's Executive Board, Plaid Cymru councillors raised concerns that £344,000 of savings in adult work opportunities (including the cafe at Alyn Waters, Le Cafe in the Cunliffe Centre, Coverall laundry services and others) would mean compulsory redundancies. An Executive Board member denounced this as a “typical Plaid Cymru trick” when in fact the report before them talked of, yes, comp redundancies. You don’t save that much money in councils unless you cut jobs but, rather than be honest, some councillors opt to play the man not the ball.

Promises on the day were made regarding the alternatives on offer but the report laid bare the fact there were no guarantees that adults with learning difficulties would have work opportunities when a new provider takes over the running of the Alyn Waters cafe.

Secrecy comes in many ways. Part 2 items on council agendas exclude the Press and public and are often justified, e.g. if discussing personnel issues or commercial confidentiality. Yet all too often this is used as cover because the Executive Board does not want to debate awkward issues in public.
That must end.

So when Plaid Cymru brought forward a motion in July to end the contract with Kingdom, the Executive Board insisted on holding it behind closed doors. No confidential commercially sensitive issues were discussed. Yet two months later the same matter was discussed openly by a scrutiny committee. 

The published proposals for next year's budget now allow us to discuss the reality of iTec's closure more fully.

The closure of this department, which had been employing 20 people and providing training inside and outside the council, will mean a £142,000 loss on the balance sheet. This is not what councillors were told in the Part 2 debate about its closure last month.

When I made a comment about this on Facebook, I was asked to meet the chief executive for a friendly chat about the councillors' Code of Conduct. Clearly the Gang of 10 are monitoring every dissident comment and want to stifle genuine debate. Why?

Another example is the dire warnings issued about confidentiality before budget workshops. These workshop discuss likely scenarios and possible cuts and, to my knowledge, details have not been leaked.

Any half-decent autocracy needs a slogan to rally the troops and the rallying cry is now One Council. This would be more accurately the Gang of 10 as the other 42 councillors are treated like mushrooms ... kept in the dark and fed manure.

One small example. On Wednesday the media was briefed about the Executive Board's budget plans and proposals for 2019-20. These are going out to consultation with the public. The proposals have a suggested Council Tax rise of either 5 or 6%. Yet the day before, at a confidential budget briefing, the 42 mushrooms were told nothing about this. I don’t believe I’m breaking any confidentiality in saying that arguments for and against a significant rise were made from the floor and yet councillors were given no indication from the leadership that a 5 or 6% was being put out to consultation the very next day.

We’re clearly not One council when the majority are excluded from meaningful and honest debate.

One final point.

When leading councillors talk of Difficult Decisions, the Gang of 10 always miraculously avoid making those difficult decisions their own positions. This has to change. 

Plaid councillors are voluntarily refusing to take any pay rise and are paying for their council iPads. As a gesture towards recognising the Difficult Decisions to be made, we believe all councillors should do the same. It's a small gesture but it would save more than £90,000 over the five-year term of this council. A written commitment by councillors to take a hit would show a willingness to share in the pain of those difficult decisions.

More immediately we could cut the current Executive Board to seven members, saving more than £40,000 a year.

The proposals now made public already reflect suggestions made by Plaid Cymru last year to reduce the senior management. The proposed savings there are estimated at £130,000 a year.

These are drops in the ocean when put alongside the cuts we face from a Tory UK government that keeps promising austerity is about to end but never stops hacking away at public services. The Welsh Government's decision to increase funding for health by 7% without addressing the underlying problems facing our health boards is perverse, especially while starving local councils. It smacks of political opportunism rather than good planning. 

The truth is that the Welsh Government is already anticipating some Welsh councils struggling and even “doing a Northampton”... effectively becoming bankrupt.

One united council is achieved through honest and open debate not secrecy and stifling debate.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Feed our school children first, tackle dinner debts later

That was the stark message from Plaid Cymru councillor Carrie Harper, who also chairs Wrexham Council's Lifelong Learning scrutiny committee. The statement follows a letter being sent to parents of primary-school children from the council's Economy department stating that "we will not serve any meals to pupils whose accounts are in debt" when a new policy is implemented on the 5th November 2018.

Cllr Harper said: "This major policy change, as it's being described by the council, means that children as young as five could now be left hungry in our schools due to dinner account debts. It's appalling, particularly so given that the school meals service makes the council an annual profit of almost half a million pounds. I'm not aware of this issue being discussed by Councillors and it hasn't come to the committee I chair for any debate. 

"There are a wide variety of reasons as to why a parent might have a debt on their account but there certainly aren't many parents who wouldn't prioritise making sure their child has a hot meal. A growing number of local families, many of whom are working, are now struggling financially thanks to low wages, benefit cuts, Tory austerity and reducing entitlements to free school meals, making balancing all budgets more and more difficult for them.

"It may also be as simple as the parents not knowing their child's account is in deficit as the councils online system doesn't allow them to check the balance, or account credits not registering for several days". 

"I'm aware this policy is emerging in other councils too but that doesn't justify it. Of course we need to address the issue of debts on accounts but the underlying causes will vary on a case-by-case basis and it's immoral to do it by refusing a child their dinner.

"Let's think about the implications of this policy for a second. Could any of us honestly look a hungry child in the eye and refuse to give them dinner whilst their friends sit around them eating? I know I couldn't do it and we shouldn't be asking our school staff to implement this either. What sort of society do we want to live in when the wellbeing of our children is dictated by a few pounds on a dinner account? This new policy takes us in a very dark direction, the letter issued was also very blunt and has caused distress to parents who have contacted me. I was also surprised to learn the policy has already been implemented in our secondary schools and have queried what the impact has been.

"Yes we need to address the issue of debt on these accounts but children going without food should not be the solution. Feed children first, tackle the issue of debt later".

Cllr Harper has written to the Children's Commissioner seeking advice on the new policy in terms of wellbeing and its potential conflict with the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, she has also written to the Head of the council's Housing and Economy department who manage the shcool meals service to set out concerns.