Statement of Steve Gittins
We invited them to tell you a little about who they are, any political history and about their political leanings.
My name's Steve Gittins and I've been a resident of Rhosddu borough all my adult life, first in Garden Village and then in Stansty. I'm the proud father of two adult children. I spent all my working life in industry, with nearly 30 years at a major Japanese multi-national working in Purchasing and Supply.
I joined the Labour Party in 1992, not long after the General Election, because I was angry that the election had been stolen by the Tories. Since finishing work, I have become more active in the Labour Party and now have the honour to serve as treasurer of the local CLP.
A confirmed socialist and trades unionist I firmly believe in social justice and fairness and, if elected, will work to create a more equal society. Our society has never been more unequal, with the gap between the top 1% and the rest of us getting wider every day. This has to change so that everybody in Great Britain has an equal chance to achieve their full potential.
Please take time to read through my answers to Wrexham.com's questions.
Questions & Answers
1. Often we are told that highways, street lighting, bin collections and anti-social behaviour are some of the issues people care most about. Aside from those what are the key local issues in your ward? (The question below will ask what you think should be done)
Stansty ward has a major traffic hot-spot at the Prices Lane junction, which needs a major re-think. Any interruption to the flow (such as the current roadworks) has a very immediate effect on traffic streams in all directions. The pedestrian access under the railway bridge needs to be improved. This is a major pedestrian thoroughfare and should be treated as such. Stansty has very few green spaces left and these need to be safeguarded. We need to make Stansty a “Safe Streets” environment, given the high level of pedestrian traffic to and from our schools.
2. Further to the above issues you have specified, at a ward level what would you do to resolve these problems if elected?
All the above can be addressed with a concerted effort by the relevant Council departments and by urging local residents to make any feelings they have on these subjects known to the Council, either directly or through myself.
3. As a councillor and as a member of the council what would be in your power, and your priority, to help local businesses?
Labour’s manifesto makes clear that a top priority will be the creation of a Business Improvement District. This can be a powerful tool for directly involving local businesses in local activities and allow the business community and local authorities to work together to improve the local trading environment. Wrexham needs to work to improve the trading atmosphere for alternative business strategies such as social enterprises, workers’ cooperatives and community development corporations. All this needs to go hand-in-hand with encouraging the involvement of trades unions.
4. How do you think adult social care in Wrexham should be funded?
Adult social care has to be a priority for a new labour-led Council. The major approach, falling into line with WAG’s Health and Wellbeing Act (Wales) would be to set up partnership working with all agencies involved, including looking into pooled budgets and resources. The social care economy is not just about public money given that, unlike the NHS, social care is funded both through the public purse and charges to individuals. The political challenge is finding a sustainable balance between the two which takes account of a person’s ability to pay, their needs and what the state and tax-payer is able (or willing) to pay. The actions in Wales on capping home care charges and increasing the savings threshold for residential care reflect an attempt to reconcile these. Despite the savage cuts in funding enforced on Wales in the recent Tory budget, WAG will continue to prioritise spending on social care in Wales, and Wrexham will be standing by this commitment.
5. What do you think is the most urgent thing, in the power of councillors, required to improve the local education system?
A Labour-led Council should be supporting teachers in Wrexham in raising school standards across the Borough. The introduction of a new curriculum across Wales following the acceptance of the Donaldson report by WAG will go a long way towards this. Funding for teaching staff is crucial. I do some voluntary work in a local school and I see the knock-on effects on staff and children of short-staffing of schools. On a personal note, I will fight for increased funding for Special Needs Education in Wrexham. St Christopher’s is the largest special school in Wales, yet receives one of the lowest budgets.
6. What do you think should be done with the Groves school building, and the site?
Labour’s manifesto makes clear that a Labour-led Council will develop the Groves site into a local centre skills and life-long learning.
7. What are your thoughts on the housing supply in Wrexham, and if you feel more housing needs to be created in volume, where would that be sited and who would it be targeted at?
The absence of a Local Development Plan has been a massive failure by the current Tory-Independent coalition that runs the Council. The growth in population in Wrexham has led to a housing crisis that has to be addressed urgently in line with the needs of the community. A figure of 7500 new homes has been mooted as our target. A Labour-led Council will put forward a Development Plan to cover two terms of office, with provision for affordable housing and for the building of more council housing. WAG’s rejection of Right to Buy demonstrates the seriousness with which Labour treats housing. We will legislate to make sure that rented accommodation is of an acceptable standard and is rented at the right price. BUT we must not be building with the view to making Wrexham a suburb of Liverpool or Manchester. Local housing should benefit local people.
8. On litter and dog fouling enforcement, do you think this should be provided via a third party, and should it be enforced to the letter of the law or in a more lenient manner?
Wrexham Council need to amend their contract and follow the National Guidance, which the Police and the Council’s own Enforcement Teams work to.
9. Do you favour the current Executive Board system or a politically balanced system? Why?
The Labour Party believes in democracy and debate. The governmental system of Cabinet Executive Board works well in other Welsh Local Authorities. Wrexham’s problem has been the make-up of the Executive Board and the lack of democracy that the current leadership has imposed on the full council. This will change with the election of a Labour-led Council.
10. As has happened in Wrexham recently - if you change political allegiance from what you are currently seeking election for (eg. resigning from, or joining another party) will you trigger a by-election? If not, why not?
As a loyal member of the Labour Party, I will not be switching my allegiance. END OF. There will be undoubted differences in opinion within the Labour Group; as true democratic socialists we will work to overcome these.
11. 'Reshaping' Wrexham Council is a major theme impacting all areas of the local authority. What areas do you think could see deeper savings made and why?
As a Labour Party member and true socialist, I would not be in favour of further cuts to council services nor of further job losses within the council workforce. I would prefer to work to find solutions that maintained services and jobs, while keeping costs down.
12. With the 'Reshaping' programme, which specific areas would you look to grow and create revenue streams in?
The Labour Group on the Council put forward an Alternative Budget in February this year, which detailed possible increased revenue.
13. The Town Centre Masterplan is an aspirational document which could shape and transform the town centre over the next ten years. What is your future vision for Wrexham town centre, and how will you help achieve it?
It is an “aspirational document”, but is essentially the existing situation with flowerpots. A truly bold Masterplan would see swathes of unusable shops and retail units being regenerated into residential accommodation. Other unusable shopping areas should be completely bulldozed and turned into much-needed green and open spaces. We need less emphasis on increasing retail and more emphasis on town centres for people on a people-based scale. The 4 lane highway that separates the town centre from our residential areas needs to be rethought. The current zoning concepts need to be overturned and a mixed usage scheme put into place. Too many comparisons are made between Wrexham and Chester/Broughton/Shrewsbury and a Labour-led Council will put the emphasis back onto Wrexham as a town centre in its own right.
14. Many politicians are accused of being out of touch with voters and only surfacing before elections. What will you do to ensure you stay in touch through the coming years if you are elected?
Labour enforces a Contract on its councillors to maintain constant and relevant communication. This will be done through surgeries, street surgeries and newsletters. I will be following this principle, but I am also standing for Stansty Community Council, which needs to be revitalised to make it a fully functioning resource for the residents of Stansty.
15. What are your thoughts on the current provision and support for the arts in Wrexham, and what would you do to support the arts?
The plan for the Arts Hub is now a fait accompli and will be an expensive and ultimately difficult facility to manage. This cannot be reversed and we shall have to see how this development unfolds. Thankfully, the Library has not been handed to a Trust, but needs a significant rethink to bring it into the 21st Century. A Library next door to a College, but which is not used by the students points to there being something missing. The Little Theatre needs to be encouraged, as does The Stiwt, to give live entertainment in town. The use of the Racecourse for major concerts has been a success, both in terms of culture and revenue for the town. Despite competition, the Odeon has been a success and continues to be a lively entertainment centre. Personally, I use the Odeon, the Little Theatre and have been a regular user of the Library for over 50 years.
16. Wrexham Football Club had been let down greatly before being taken over by the fans themselves. As a councillor what action would you champion to help the club?
While not a fan of football per se, should I be elected I would join the Supporters Trust to show my support. I am a member of the Cooperative Party, and Supporters’ Trusts are seen as a vital part of the cooperative movement.
17. Wrexham's Night Time Economy employs a large number of people and generates revenue for the town. As a councillor what action would you like to see from Wrexham Council to improve that sector?
Support for the night time economy would be an integral part of the plan for a Business Improvement District. The success of a night time economy depends on people having sufficient disposable income to spend in town. Wrexham still has a long way to go to return income to levels to those enjoyed in the 70s and 80s, but there is a slow improvement. If a Masterplan includes an increase in residential accommodation in the town centre, then some compromise needs to be achieved between the needs of the economy and the needs of the residents.
18. Wrexham Council currently has two Public Space Protection Orders (PSPO) in place in the town centre and Rhosddu area. How should anti social behaviour be tackled?
This problem resulted in two very angry public meetings in Rhosddu, which I attended. At these meetings, both the police and the Council were visibly shaken and taken aback at the public response. This points to both bodies being completely out of touch with residents’ concerns. This has to change. The root causes of this issue are the increase in homelessness and cuts to local services, both of which are the consequences of 7 years of Tory-imposed austerity. These root causes are not within the Council's remit (this will only come with the election of a Labour government in 2020). A Labour-led Council will look towards a multi-agency approach to sorting this issue, with a far greater responsibility being sought from BCHT. While there is an argument that these people have human rights that should be respected, the citizens also have a right to enjoy the town centre without fear, intimidation or embarrassment.
19. New Psychoactive Substances are a recent well documented problem in and around town, what do you think is the solution?
The use of these new substances is a direct consequence of the issues raised in Q18. If people lack homes, jobs and services then they will turn to narcotics to get them through the day and to blot out the misery of their situation. Again, putting services back into place will be virtually impossible following the Tory cuts imposed on Wrexham. But this would a very big part of any solution to substance abuse. The health services and medical experts must be pressed into playing a far greater part in helping these individuals. These are the agencies with the experience in these problems, and would be involved in Labour’s multi-agency approach.
20. Councillor pay, iPads as tools for the job, and allowances have all been topics of debate over the last few years. What is your view on this?
The pay freeze and pay cuts enforced on public sector employees should be extended to councillors. Senior councillors should be forced to take a cut in allowance – in these times of Tory austerity, high levels of pay to councillors cannot be tolerated. Taking public office should be seen as a privilege and a responsibility, and not as an opportunity to line your pockets while imposing pay cuts and job losses. The level of allowances should be commensurate with the actual costs incurred by being a councillor. There are cheaper alternatives to iPads (without mentioning the tax avoidance practiced by Apple).
21. The ownership and operation of Plas Madoc Leisure Centre has been debated over recent years - where do you believe the responsibility for funding and running such public amenities should lie?
The losses incurred by the Plas Madoc facility prior to its being handed over to a Trust were unsustainable. Any such community based trust should be supported by the Council during the early years, but should at some point become self-supporting. Plas Madoc has always been a popular facility and we can only hope that the popularity continues. However, handing over the other leisure facilities to Freedom Leisure may have been a mistake. The elevator at Waterworld has been out of action for months, effectively counter to the Disability Discrimination Act. The proposed refurbishment of the gym may generate an increased revenue, but with increasing competition within the town for gym facilities, this has yet to be proven.
22. What actions would you take, or support, as a councillor to encourage Welsh language use growth? Or, if you are against this, why?
Wrexham Council has an admirable record in bi-lingual policy and this should be continued, to encourage use of Welsh in Wrexham.
23. Currently Wrexham Council webcast their Full Council, Executive Board and Planning meetings, and some Scrutiny. Would you like to see the webcasting system rolled out to cover all meetings and how else do you think the local authority could involve the public more in the democratic process?
Yes, the webcasting system should be extended. The biggest move that could be made to increase involvement in democracy would be to move Council meetings back to times that are easier to access by all citizens.
24. This will be the first time some people are old enough to vote, with that age limit possibly dropping in future. Candidates are on the whole older and male. What will you do to represent a more diverse viewpoint?
Welsh Labour has put up 39 candidates across the County. The diversity of this group represents well the diversity within Wrexham, although some communities are still under-represented in local politics.
25. What local activity have you taken part in over the last few months to improve your ward? Regardless of if you win, will you continue any such action that benefits your ward?
As a new candidate, I am unable to answer this question. But, were I elected then the people of Stansty would have a committed councillor who will be putting their interests first and who will be totally involved in implementing improvements within the ward.
In a few hundred characters to wrap this up, why should people vote for you?
Why vote for a Labour Party candidate who is both a socialist and a trade unionist and who will bring true Labour values to the Council chamber? The makeup of the Council changed when former Labour councillors crossed the floor to become independent councillors. The resulting Tory-led coalition on the Council forced through savage cuts to the Council budgets year upon year to further the Tory Government's austerity agenda. The cuts to services have hit the most vulnerable in Wrexham and we need to put a Labour Council into power in Wrexham to make sure that further proposed deep cuts are avoided.
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