Statement of Malcolm King
We invited them to tell you a little about who they are, any political history and about their political leanings.
I began working in Caia Park 40 years ago. Having been put in charge of Juvenile Justice Services for the Wrexham County Borough area, it very quickly became obvious that I would need to concentrate much of my efforts with children and young people from Caia Park, over half of whom were getting into trouble. I’m pleased to say only a tiny number get into trouble nowadays. During those 40 years, I started and then managed the Venture (with the help of hundreds of people!), which is now recognised as one of the leading local children, young people and family organisations in the UK. I was first elected in 1989 as a Caia Park Labour Councillor and have been hugely privileged to have been Wynnstay’s Councillor ever since. During this time, I have held many senior positions in public life including Leader of the Council and Chair of Social Services and the North Wales Police Authority. I led the campaign to uncover widespread child abuse in children’s homes in North Wales that affected many children from Caia Park and far beyond. I have uncovered lots of wrong doing in public services which has made me many enemies. However, I have gained great strength from support within our ward and from others who also believe in the importance of tackling such awful injustices. I have also led many national bodies in England and Wales, responsible for Social Services, Health, Children’s issues, Police and Community Safety. In 2007 I was awarded an OBE for services for young people in Caia Park.
The biggest issue in the area is the fact that Wynnstay ward has the third highest level of child poverty in Wales. The main reasons for this are Government policies that encourage greed and allow the rich to get even richer and the poor to get poorer. Whilst I am angry every day at this shameful injustice, the most important thing is to try to limit the damage to children and young people who grow up without having many of the chances in life that they deserve. In my work at the Venture, I have tried hard to help children and young people and their families to overcome some of the disadvanages they have faced and to give them better opportunities so they can achieve their true potential.
As a socialist I believe in equality, justice and fairness for everyone. In my view the Labour Party represents the best way to achieve the sort of society I believe in.
My wife Anne is a nurse and works with children with special needs. Our two daughters are in their early 30s but are still influenced by their time spent at the Venture. Many of the adults who live in Wynnstay, I knew as children or young people through the Venture. We’ve grown older together and I know that this is as important for many people, as it is for me. Being their Councillor is therefore very personal. A lot of my time is taken up with helping individual people and families. Over the years I have been to quite a few weddings, far too many funerals, hospital visits, prison visits, helped families starting out and older people in their last few years, including some needing palliative care, given support to people going through divorce, domestic abuse, evictions, finding and moving house, disabled adaptions, maternity care, home care, graduations, interviews, college open days, pruning trees and hedges, repairs, difficult neighbours, mending footpaths, dropping kerbs, antisocial behaviour, fly tipping and signed hundreds of passport applications.
It has been an incredible privilege to be a part, hopefully a useful part, in so many people’s lives. Not every problem has been solved unfortunately, and some issues have gone on for years before getting a result and others have proved impossible to solve. Some problems might have been solved without me, but others I know that I have made all the difference and in those cases, nothing could be more rewarding. Except perhaps being Father Christmas!!
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)
The key issues in our ward are: Drug dealing. Anti-social driving by motorbikes and cars. Bedroom tax. More parking.
2. Further to the above issues you have specified, at a ward level what would you do to resolve these problems if elected?
There needs to be a much greater effort by the Police to stop drug dealing, which is carried out so openly in our area. Although anti-social driving is mostly a policing issue, there are places, like on St David’s Crescent and St Giles Crescent, where road bumps may well help, although residents will need to be consulted first. The bedroom tax is a central Government issue and although the Council’s Housing Department has already helped many tenants to downsize, the problem will get worse over the next few years. Parking has become a serious problem in lots of roads in our area. Extra laybys have helped, but many roads don’t have enough room for them. More dropped kerbs and help with new parking in front gardens is the only answer in many places. I am developing a Community Plan to tackle local concerns, which can be used to inform discussions with residents, street by street.
3. As a councillor and as a member of the council what would be in your power, and your priority, to help local businesses?
The Labour manifesto contains a number of important ways that Wrexham Council can help local businesses. The rate relief process is going to be important and the Council will need to help to make sure each business gets what it is entitled to. The Council must also do much more about ensuring local businesses are the first priority in their procurement arrangements. The Council should, wherever it is at all possible, be buying its good and services from local businesses, not from big corporate businesses.
4. How do you think adult social care in Wrexham should be funded?
The problems associated with an ageing population are only going to get worse, with more older people suffering from inadequate services. Many older people go to hospital or get stuck in hospital unnecessarily. It wastes huge sums of money and often does them more harm than good. Although there have already been big improvements in how social care, housing and health services work together, they still need to get much better. Pooled budgets and more invested in preventing problems rather than reacting when they have already become more serious are critical. Importantly, there is simply not enough money in the system. Until the Government takes the issue more seriously, older people will not be treated with the dignity, respect and care as they deserve. We also need to protect the social care workforce, many of whom are disgracefully exploited with terrible wages and conditions. Finally we need to implement the Ethical Care Charter, which ensures fairness to everyone.
5. What do you think is the most urgent thing, in the power of councillors, required to improve the local education system?
Under this Council the education standards in Wrexham have sunk to nearly the worst in Wales - 19th out of 22 Local Education Authorities! There is also a growing problem of lack of school places. As a result many children in Wrexham are not able to achieve their best. Demand for special educational needs and counselling services for children and young people with mental health issues is rising. The new Council will need to urgently tackle all of these issues. There is a new Head of Education but Councillors will need to give much better strategic leadership. This is clearly achievable. Denbighshire’s education system went from one of the worst in Wales to one of the best in only a few years. At a local level, I have been a School Governor for most of the last 40 years variously at the Groves, St David’s, Hafod y Wern, Alexandra and Rhosnesni schools and Yale College. I am therefore very committed to supporting our local schools and the issues that they face.
6. What do you think should be done with the Groves school building, and the site?
The battle for the future of Groves School says much about this Council. What happens to the site during the next Council will also define the new Council. Having reached an agreement with Coleg Cambria, Wrexham Council reneged on the deal, which was a potential tragedy for the future shape of Wrexham. The struggle to preserve an important part of Wrexham’s heritage, much of which has already been needlessly destroyed, was led by a brave and determined group of women – ex-Groves School girls, who were truly inspirational. I absolutely loved working with them. Backed by the Labour Group, Plaid and most importantly the Welsh Government, the buildings are now saved. We now need to explore honestly and openly all the options with everyone who is interested. Most of all we need to stop the secretive, obstructive way that this Council has dealt with the issue and stop attacking anyone who dares to question their decisions, and how they made them.
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?
To its shame, the Council has had no Local Development Plan for the last 5 years, which has meant that Wrexham has been wide open to developers building wherever they like without the community having proper control over it. This must change urgently. Population growth statistics show that there is a need for another 8,500 homes to be built from 2018-2028. These should be spread across the whole area so that local services like schools are not overwhelmed. With no Local Development Plan or Education Plan, no wonder we appear aimless! The new homes also need to be a mix of private, affordable and new Council built homes. The next phase of the Bedroom Tax in 2019 will also affect many single tenants (up to 20% are estimated) and the Council needs to be as prepared as possible for another cruel Conservative policy.
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?
I am certainly strongly in favour of litter and dog fouling enforcement but I don’t believe that it has to be run by a third party or that the current arrangement with Kingdom is working well. Enforcement of dog fouling in local communities is not good, including in Wynnstay. There needs to be a more ethical approach which follows national guidance.
9. Do you favour the current Executive Board system or a politically balanced system? Why?
I have played a leading role in both executive board and committee systems over the last 28 years. I led the introduction of the executive board system in Wrexham 17 years ago, which was the only politically balanced cabinet in Wales at the time. It remained in place until the last couple of years when the Tory/Independent coalition decided to remove any voices of dissent from the executive board and Labour, the Lib Dems and Plaid were excluded. I think the cabinet system is probably better than the committee system but neither works well in the hands of Councillors who do their best to avoid debate and stop fellow Councillors and the public from asking questions. I still strongly believe that a politically balanced system is best because it gives all parties a better chance to have their say, even if this is uncomfortable at times. That is what democracy is all about, not winning by silencing the opposition.
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?
Having been a member of the Labour Party for 40 years I don’t think I’m likely to change now! Even though I regularly don’t agree with everything the Labour Party says or does, it has always been the closest to what I believe in. If we are to create a better, fairer world we need to stick to our principles, not chop and change. I am disgusted by my former Labour colleagues who left the Labour Party without renewing their mandate from their electorates. I strongly believe that if somebody leaves a political party there should automatically be a by-election and they should have to re-stand for that seat.
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?
Huge cuts have already been made which have crippled many services. If the Conservative Government in London is re-elected in June there will probably be several more years of severe cuts. The Council has already committed itself to several large outside contracts that can’t easily be changed. The cost of housing and environmental works are often far too high in my view and could be reduced. We also need to look at sharing more services with our neighbours, particularly Flintshire, which the current Council seems to want to avoid. Both Councils would make substantial savings, particularly in senior salaries. A new, Labour led Council would try to avoid the most damaging effects of reducing services if such an outcome proved impossible to avoid.
12. With the 'Reshaping' programme, which specific areas would you look to grow and create revenue streams in?
The last Labour budget that was put forward to the Council contained a range of ideas for creating income for the Council, all of which were rejected by the last Council. They covered areas such as raising income from road repairs, Councillor expenses and IT expenditure. When the Council is so short of money this was very strange. We need to develop more of our own Local Authority companies that can raise income to be used for Council services. Lots of other Councils are well ahead of Wrexham in doing this, so we need to catch up and overtake them in the years to come.
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?
Most people in Wrexham are concerned about the state of the town centre with a lot of empty shops, anti-social behaviour and less footfall into the town. The Labour Party manifesto contains a strategy for the regeneration of the town centre, which will mean working in closer partnership with local businesses and the Town Centre Forum. We must revive our town centre to ensure it is an attractive place to visit and live.
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?
I am the manager and co-founder of the Venture, which is situated in the middle of the community that I serve and represent and has provided a wide range of services to local children, young people and families for nearly 39 years. As a result, I lead the organisation of key community events and outreach work throughout the year, including the Community Bonfire and Father Christmas float. These events involve scores of local volunteers and thousands of local residents coming together. My contact details are available through my newsletters and the Council website and I am very regularly contacted by and help local residents. I also work closely with the local Tenants and Residents Association and meet regularly with local Police and Housing Officers. I am a Caia Park Community Councillor, a Trustee of Caia Park Partnership and a member of Caia Park and High Town Communities First Board, all of which bring me into contact with members of the community.
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 arts are a fundamental part of our heritage and culture in Wrexham. However, the current provision for the arts in Wrexham is in a state of limbo, with the current Arts Centre due to close and a new Arts Hub being restarted in the indoor market. Although Arts Council funding of £120k per annum has apparently been secured, the business plan needs a further £80-200k per year for the next 10 years for the plan to succeed. Having failed to create a new Arts Hub Trust, there is no guarantee that this plan will succeed. However, with more cuts on their way, it is important that essential Council services do not suffer as a result of having to make up any deficit. A new Labour-led Council will need to look urgently at the viability of the current plans.
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?
The story of Wrexham Football Club in many ways reveals the best and the worst of human nature. The long painful period of successive owners asset stripping the club as part of their own greed is thankfully over, thanks largely to the inspirational work of the Wrexham Supporters Trust and investment from Glyndwr University. The success of Wrexham Football Club is an extremely important part of the success of Wrexham as a community. The Council therefore needs to recognise this and give far more support to Wrexham Supporters Trust to enable Wrexham FC to get back to where it was when Arfon Griffiths was Manager and teams throughout England and Wales knew never to take playing against Wrexham as an easy match.
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?
The night time economy in Wrexham plays an important part in the whole economy of Wrexham but has the potential to create a large number of problems if not managed effectively. Although the existing partnerships between key stakeholders have developed well over recent years, more always needs to be done to improve the safety of local residents, businesses and people coming in to Wrexham. Pub and club owners, police, taxi firms, cafes, restaurants and the Council all have a key role to play. We also need to think more about how we can develop cafes and restaurants, which open later into the evening to keep Wrexham town centre a vibrant place into the night. This would also help to tackle some of the alcohol related issues that currently occur.
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?
The two Public Space Protection Orders are undoubtedly an important tool for the police and the Council to help to control anti-social behaviour. However, there are two key disadvantages. The first is that they can end up displacing the problems into other areas. The second but most important issue is that anti-social behaviour needs to be prevented rather than controlled. Much anti-social behaviour stems from the misuse of drugs and alcohol, which often has its roots in other social problems, including homelessness and family and relationship breakdowns. We need to take a more proactive approach, for example by tackling homelessness, addressing drugs misuse and encouraging responsible drinking so that people can feel safe in and proud of their communities and the town.
19. New Psychoactive Substances are a recent well documented problem in and around town, what do you think is the solution?
There is no easy answer when it comes to the problem of drugs. The new law last year now bans all new psychoactive substances, which gives much clearer powers to the police. As a result the police need to target drug dealers much more effectively to protect our communities. More and more of these drug users are getting very damaged often permanently, by some of the very powerful drugs that are now available, like Spice and Black Mamba. We need to provide more help and specialist support to drug users to help them get off drugs. Most of all there needs to be better education for young people about the dangers of using these drugs. Tackling the issue of drugs will also have a big impact on reducing other related crime, such as theft, burglary and anti-social behaviour. We need to look at what has worked well in other places.
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?
Councillors are elected to represent their communities. Most importantly, they are community leaders and this issue, above all, is about leadership. With so many people in Wrexham struggling with low wages and poor working conditions, it is wrong for Councillors to be receiving greater benefits than many in the general population. Throughout the last 5 years’ term of office, the Labour Group has donated its allocated rises in allowances to local charities. The recent Labour Group proposals for Wrexham Council’s budget included a plan to downgrade special responsibility allowances to the lower level allowed by the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales, for Councillors to pay for their parking, like everybody else and for ipads to be leased and paid for by Councillors. This was rejected by our fellow Councillors, who said they needed more time to think about it! A Labour led Council would implement this plan immediately.
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?
In my view, public facilities like Plas Madoc Leisure Centre, should be run by non-profit making organisations and preferably controlled by the communities they serve. In many instances this will mean Council run services, but where that proves to be too expensive, third sector bodies need to be involved. Although the creation of Splash Magic in Plas Madoc has been quite inspirational, we should not be forcing community led initiatives to struggle for their very existence. The fight they have had to gain £50,000 worth of financial support each year was mean and short-sighted by the Council, especially given that Splash Magic is now saving the Council £500,000 a year. With more and more cuts to the Council’s funding on the way, the Council needs to properly embrace the idea of working in a real partnership with third sector bodies to create a vibrant network of community led not-for-profit services.
22. What actions would you take, or support, as a councillor to encourage Welsh language use growth? Or, if you are against this, why?
Whilst I only speak a very limited amount of Welsh I do passionately believe in the Welsh language and brought both of my daughters up as Welsh speakers in first language Welsh schools. It is important for the Council to continue to support the use and growth of the Welsh language. Being bilingual brings a great many benefits not just to the individual speaker but also to the community. The Welsh language is an incredibly important part of the rich history, culture and identity of Wrexham and Wales. As a result, I support many of the actions taken to promote the use of the Welsh language, although I am keenly aware that the cost of doing this needs to be balanced against people’s need to receive services, which are being threatened by cuts due to lack of funding.
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?
I am passionately committed to openness and transparency in our democratic processes and have fought all my adult life to achieve this. Webcasting meetings is one important way of ensuring that Councillors and Council officials are held accountable to those they serve and represent. I am therefore in favour of extending the webcasting system to cover all meetings. We must also change the timescales for the public to send in questions so that they can meaningfully directly question Councillors and officials. Involving the public more meaningfully in the democratic process should start from childhood, for example, inviting schools into the Council to engage with their local representatives, so they can understand more about how democracy works. At a local level I am committed to the principles of participatory budgeting. I have now worked for many years with the Wynnstay Tenants and Residents Association where we agree together how the environmental budget for the area should be spent.
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?
I am very aware of being an older white male in a political system that locally and nationally does not demographically represent the UK population. However, I have dedicated my working life to supporting and representing those that I serve, whatever their age, race, gender, ability, sexuality or religion. I am passionately committed to supporting and empowering children and young people to have a voice and to represent them. I am strongly in favour of voting at 16 but the bigger issue is that so few young people vote. This means that their issues are not given the importance they deserve. This is profoundly unhealthy for democracy. It is also shocking that there are so few women and younger Councillors. Research around the world shows that greater diversity leads to better decision making. It is therefore crucial that we improve the situation in Wrexham. At a local level we all need to work towards supporting more diverse candidates to stand for election.
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 the local County Borough Councillor, the local Community Councillor and Manager of the Venture, every day consists of supporting local families and individuals in a host of different ways. I am a member of many local public bodies (as outlined above), which are constantly involved in developing local services, such as the Community Council’s welfare rights service and Communities First employment services. There are always a range of local environmental projects in Wynnstay ward that are in the pipeline or being undertaken that I need to manage towards a successful conclusion, such as fencing, parking, footpaths, lighting and play structures. I help individuals with college and job applications, housing transfers, nuisance neighbours and antisocial behaviour on a weekly basis. In the last few months I have unfortunately been visiting far too many ill constituents in hospital.
In a few hundred characters to wrap this up, why should people vote for you?
I have dedicated most of my life to serving our community and have worked tirelessly with the community to help improve it. Cuts in funding for public services are likely to continue for several years, which means Wynnstay ward is likely to suffer more than most. I have gained much experience over the last 40 years in how public services are run and I believe that makes me more able to defend them. With many problems on the horizon, Wynnstay needs a Councillor that it can trust to defend its interests and is experienced enough to know how to do that.
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OTHER CANDIDATES FOR Wynnstay