Statement of Zoe Clarke
We invited them to tell you a little about who they are, any political history and about their political leanings.
I’m Zoe Clarke and I have lived in Brymbo all my life, with the exception of 2 years when I lived in the nearby village of New Broughton. My dad Bob, worked at Brymbo Steel Works for 29 years and my mum Jenny, was a foster carer for just over 19 years.
I describe myself as a ‘Practical-Realistic-Optimist’. I believe positive change is possible but I know it is only achieved through action and a lot of the time that means hard work. To be long lasting the actions need to allow for legislation, regulation, process and of course budget. The reason I remain optimistic is because I know there are many innovative, knowledgeable and hardworking people in our area. Community groups, new businesses and local events are proof of this.
My working life started as an Office Junior for a local family owned practice of solicitors. Whilst there I achieved an ONC in Business and Finance and progressed to Secretary to one of the senior partners. I worked there for 6½ years and it gave me a great career foundation. It probably played a great part in how I now think, preferring facts and evidence when making important decisions not just opinion and assumption.
I then worked for Wrexham Council for 12 years. 3½ years in the Highways department and 9½ years in the Engineering Services department. During that time I gained knowledge and experience of the workings of the council. I learned about adopted roads, some highways law and some workings of the planning department. Later I was able to gain a HNC in Civil Engineering. I worked on engineering projects ranging from the design of car parks, off-street parking and lay-bys to health and safety traffic management on school premises. I also had some involvement with the Western Gateway (the area of the hospital’s second exit and the new MoneyPenny site) and the most recently completed part of the Industrial Estate Access Road. These required me to work with other council departments e.g. Housing, Education, Economic Development and Legal Services.
When it comes to my politics, admittedly in the past I believed all elected posts would be better independent with no party politics. I now look at this as naive of me. I have realised in reality it does not work quite so well. You can end up with a situation of ‘independents’ joining forces therefore not being truly independent or with several people pulling in different directions and almost nothing being achieved. I now understand why political parties are needed. They enable core values to be a foundation so that people can work together with a common vision. Following this realisation I decided to join the Labour Party. Why Labour? Because it’s the party that puts people at its core. It was not founded to look out for the interests of big business and it does not have its focus on the independence of a country or nation. It is a democratic socialist party, made up of people, working for people. It was the Labour Party that created our NHS so that good healthcare could be available to all, regardless of wealth.
I would obviously like a Labour majority to be elected on 4th May, to enable a Labour administration but I am fully aware this might not happen. I therefore understand that if elected I will need to work with councillors of other political persuasions. I am in no doubt that I am strong enough to be an effective voice for our ward. In addition, I can also be tactful and diplomatic during the necessary debates and discussions required to achieve the desired outcomes.
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)
Colleagues and I have spent the past couple of weeks knocking on all houses in the ward, speaking to residents to find out your views and concerns. The main issues that kept coming up were:- • Lack of play and youth services • Parking issues • Speeding • Non-delivery of community facilities on the former steel works site (e.g. new school, shops and medical centre) • Dog fouling
2. Further to the above issues you have specified, at a ward level what would you do to resolve these problems if elected?
Play & youth services – firstly consult with local children/young people to hear their views and ideas, together with other residents. Then work with the community council, service providers and other organisations to improve local provision and facilities as per the consultation. Parking – ensure any planned improvements are completed. Conduct a parking review for other areas, consulting with residents. Work to get further plans drawn to enable adequate funding to be secured. Speeding – work with residents, council officers and Local Policing Services to find adequate solutions to reduce speeding e.g. traffic calming measures, local speed awareness education. Non-delivery of community facilities - work with council officers, investors, service providers and residents to ensure the promised regeneration of the site. Dog fouling – Local campaign to educate people of the health consequences to prevent/reduce the problem and work with residents and enforcement officers to catch offenders.
3. As a councillor and as a member of the council what would be in your power, and your priority, to help local businesses?
• Work with education providers to increase local skills ensuring a local workforce of the highest standard • Work with the business community and Welsh Government to create a Business Incubator Hub to support and encourage new local businesses • Encourage and support community finance alternatives e.g. Credit Unions Also see Q.13 referring to the future vision of the town centre.
4. How do you think adult social care in Wrexham should be funded?
There should be integration/pooling of Health and Social Care budgets. Further funding can come from realistic income revenue and savings made within the council, as was presented in the Labour Group’s alternative budget in February but others chose to vote against (see questions 11 & 12 for details). The Council should also look to work in partnership with Not for Profit corporations and other social enterprises.
5. What do you think is the most urgent thing, in the power of councillors, required to improve the local education system?
• Work with teachers, parents and carers to encourage a joined up approach to raising school standards. • Provide better support to our teachers. • Address the need for additional school places in Primary Schools • Work with organisations/agencies to minimise the impact of social issues on educational standards and children’s general well-being • Continue the 21st Century Schools programme and ensure the new schools are built without unnecessary delay. • Work with local business leaders to develop good quality work experience and mentoring schemes so young people are encouraged to achieve.
6. What do you think should be done with the Groves school building, and the site?
Working in partnership with local education providers, the Groves school should be used as a centre for skills and lifelong 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?
I think the current housing stock needs to be looked at to find out how many empty properties can be cost effectively restored for reuse. There is also a need for new builds but for the last 5 years there has been no Local Development Plan in place. This means there has been no link between housing need and provision so developers have been able to build solely for profit. As stated in the Labour manifesto, I would look to get a development plan in place that would cover the next two terms of office. This would include the required amount of new homes being spread throughout the county and involve building new council houses and affordable housing. It would also include the supporting infrastructure and services required for the additional housing. I would also look to ensure the rental market is better governed with the introduction of a Landlord’s Charter. With the Local Lettings Agency developed to support good landlords registered/licensed by Rent Smart Wales.
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 think the Council’s current contract of ‘zero tolerance’ is extreme. I think the contract should follow national guidelines as other public officers do and allow for ethical working practice. It is not fair that someone can get a criminal record for accidentally dropping a cigarette. The current way of working is also putting extreme pressure on our court system due to the inability of many to pay the initial set fine. I think there should be public consultation on the matter and dependent on the outcome, a review of the existing contract.
9. Do you favour the current Executive Board system or a politically balanced system? Why?
This is difficult for me to answer as I have not yet experienced the existing system. I have been told by current members that rather than the system being at fault it is more the way it is used, with debate needing to be made a higher priority in the decision making process. As someone who believes strongly in democracy I think the pros and cons of alternative systems should be looked into following the elections. There could be a completely different council dependent on who is elected. New members bring with them new ideas. However, if the current Executive Board system is kept I think it should be reduced from 10 members to 8 to allow much needed financial savings to be made.
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?
Although this is highly unlikely to happen, yes I would look to have a by-election take place. I know from speaking to people when going door-to-door during my campaign, different factors play a part when choosing who they will vote for. Sometimes it is based on the party they stand for and sometimes it is based on the individual. Therefore any political changes need the backing of the local electorate.
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?
• Reduction of Executive Board members from 10 to 8 – saving £29,803 in the first year and £35,764 in subsequent years • Street Works Permits and Fixed Penalty Notices (see Q.12 for details) enabling the Council to make a minimum of £170,000 in the savings in the ‘Reactive’ Works budget by not having to do follow up repair works to road surfaces. • More forward thinking when making changes. Whilst an organisations needs to be able to adapt to change there seems to be restructuring after restructuring within the Council. This causes uncertainty, which then causes staff low morale, which can then impact on their health and then their work. This then has a financial cost.
12. With the 'Reshaping' programme, which specific areas would you look to grow and create revenue streams in?
• Introduction of Street Works Permits to charge companies when carrying out road works – this would generate enough revenue to enable the Street Works Department to be self funding saving £41,202 and allow for increased staffing so creating jobs. It would also allow the Council to better manage any disruptions to the road networks and reduce delays. • Additional income from Fixed Penalty Notices issued for substandard/overrun road works. This revenue to be reinvested back into the road network. • As no other council in Wales has the Street Works Permit scheme Wrexham Council could lead the way, with the potential to manage schemes for them. This would raise revenue for Wrexham and create even more jobs. • Councillors paying to lease their iPads – generating £6063 p/yr meaning over the five year lifetime it would generate funding for future IT. • Councillors paying for parking – possible revenue generated £10,800 p/yr.
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?
I want Wrexham town centre to be a place we are all proud of. Our aspirations need to be channelled into actions, such as: - • Consulting with the public and working with the Town Centre Forum to look at ways to improve the town centre to increase footfall. • Devising a parking policy that works for everyone, businesses, residents, the disabled and visitors. • Secure investment in transport and work with transport providers to enable better links to encourage more people to visit the area. • Ensuring our town and surrounding areas are well-kept and desirable places to live and visit. • Working with police and other agencies to look at ways to prevent anti-social behaviour. • Using the Bus Station Information Office as a police hub so the area has a permanent police presence.
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 will hold regular surgeries where the public can come and see me. • I will compile newsletters to keep people updated. • I will make myself visible within the ward and encourage people to approach me with any queries/comments. • I will be accessible via individual meetings, telephone, email and social media.
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?
I think Wrexham has a great arts network and it should be encouraged to develop further. We have amazing art/music event organisers and I would look to fully support them in the future. This said I do have concerns regarding the future financing of the Arts Hub currently under construction. The current Council leadership failed to move this facility into Trust as was originally planned. Whilst I want to encourage and support local arts I don’t believe vital services should be cut to fund this project in the future and I therefore hope alternative financing can be achieved.
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?
My dad is a season ticket holder for Wrexham AFC so I know firsthand how much the club means to its fans. I am a strong supporter of community based organisations and see these becoming more common in the future. I therefore completely support the fans in their ownership of the club. I would look to build stronger links between the Council and the Trust and I would support and promote Wrexham AFC in securing more international games, events and functions.
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?
A lot of ways to improve this sector overlap with ways to improve the town centre and help local businesses (see Q.3 and Q.13). In addition to these I would: - • Support innovative ideas for alternative entertainment venues to encourage night time footfall to the town. • Look to balance the needs of the night-time economy, with the needs of residents and the public sector using consultation and working with local groups.
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?
Anti-social behaviour needs to be tackled at its root causes. Whilst PSPO’s may go some way to decrease anti-social behaviour they are more of a reactive measure than a preventative one. Anti-social behaviour in all its forms needs to have a coordinated approach to find the varying solutions. There needs to be collaboration between all agencies, residents, businesses and the Council with the priority being on prevention not just punishment. Punishment is only a temporary fix to this much deeper and complex problem and it will never eradicate it completely.
19. New Psychoactive Substances are a recent well documented problem in and around town, what do you think is the solution?
Again this is much more complex than just arresting and punishing users if it is to be tackled long term. It needs a joined up approach with several agencies working together such as education providers, medical experts and health professionals, the Police, charities, youth service providers and local support groups. Education is vital if we are to see a reduction in the use of these harmful substances. Just arresting people may seem the fastest solution but in the majority of cases it will be ineffective as a long term solution.
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?
Whilst no one should look to be elected for financial reasons I believe councillors should be paid. This enables a more diverse range of people to become councillors because to be a good councillor I don’t think it is possible to do a full time job at the same time. Without being paid only people that are financially secure without the need for a full time job could afford to stand. This would be unrepresentative of the vast majority of the electorate. Having said this senior councillor salaries can and should be paid at a lower level than the existing allowances, with the current Executive Board being reduced from 10 to 8 members. I think being a councillor should be treated like any other job and councillors should pay for things any other employee would pay for e.g. parking. Due to software management, licensing and data protection concerns I and the other Labour candidates believe iPads should be leased by councillors. This would then generate money for future IT equipment.
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?
Unfortunately whilst the Conservative Government in Westminster persist with their failing austerity policies, the knock-on effects will continue to be felt everywhere. The Conservatives in Westminster have cut £1.2billion from Wales’ budget that consequently means tighter budgets for local councils. Although the Council has to be looking at the longer term savings the priority should always be the continuation of the service. I think whilst austerity is forced upon us more public amenities will be shown to work better under community ownership. This is because community ownership allows for different funding avenues to be explored compared to council ownership. However, in cases where Community based Trusts/Social Enterprises take over council services, they should be supported during their start-up phase by the Council. In addition the Council can help with future running costs by providing free/low cost access to administration services e.g. legal and personnel.
22. What actions would you take, or support, as a councillor to encourage Welsh language use growth? Or, if you are against this, why?
In addition to the social and cultural benefits, recent studies are finding that being bi-lingual has cognitive health benefits including faster stroke recovery and delayed onset of dementia. So although I am not currently bi-lingual, I completely support Welsh language use and would look at ways to help people wishing to learn/practise their Welsh language skills e.g. supporting local Welsh speaking events and local Welsh teaching groups.
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, I think all meetings should be webcast to ensure complete transparency. The current council administration have used Welsh Government funding for technology to outsource the webcasting service and have limited the webcasting hours available, this needs to be changed. To involve the public more in the democratic process I think the council firstly needs to better explain how the process works. It should hold public events where people can be guided through the process, visit the council chambers, watch pretend meetings, visit information stands and ask questions. This was done partly in the ‘Be a Councillor’ event organised to encourage people to stand for election. People are more likely to be involved if they fully understand how a process works.
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?
As I’ve shown in my campaign going door-to-door and arranging informal meeting events, I believe strongly in consultation and engaging with people. This is because, I know, to find out the problems you have to communicate with people and most importantly listen to them. I will link up with local groups and ensure I am accessible to all people both in person and via digital means e.g. email and social media. I will also look to find ways to encourage local discussion and debate so that all view points are considered in the decision making process. Welsh Labour has proven its commitment to diversity in its selection of candidates. Labour’s 39 candidates are of differing genders, age range and experience.
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?
Although I have attended a few local events to show my support, I am the first to admit I haven’t been as active recently as I could have been. I got stuck in the rut of go to work, come home, sleep and repeat. This left me unfulfilled as I knew I had more to offer and as someone who believes we should do all that we can do, I realised I needed to do more. When asked if I was going to stand in the local elections I knew this was my chance to step-up and properly give back to the community I grew up in. Deciding to stand for local councillor has given me further opportunities to play an active role in my local area. I have now joined Wrexham Youth and Play Partnership, a charity looking to provide local youth and play services and I am hoping to become a trustee very soon. I am now also a member of Brymbo Community Council. I will therefore continue to play my part in the ward, no matter what the outcome of the elections.
In a few hundred characters to wrap this up, why should people vote for you?
I believe I can use my past knowledge and experience, together with my passion and enthusiasm to be a strong voice for our ward. As I have recently been confirmed as a community councillor, becoming your county councillor will allow me to link both councils to ensure greater benefits to the ward. Honesty and integrity are extremely important to me so I will never give you ‘spin’ nor make false or empty promises. I am passionate about people because it is the people that make our community. That is why I made it the priority of my campaign to knock on every door in the ward to find out your views and concerns. I know when people are engaged and empowered great things can be achieved. As your councillor I will listen and work with you to ensure your voices are heard. Let’s work together to make our community the best it can be.
Social & Web links
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