Statement of Gemma Louise Williams
We invited them to tell you a little about who they are, any political history and about their political leanings.
Thank you for taking the time to come and read about the candidates standing in the Wrexham County Borough Council elections.
I am 25 years of age and originally from Bristol, but I chose Wrexham and specifically Acton as my home two years ago. Come rain or shine, a leisurely stroll around Acton Lake is enough to brighten any day and I am very lucky to have such a facility in close proximity.
I graduated from the University of Cardiff with a law degree and after spending a year in France teaching English, have since been employed in a neighbouring Council within Regulatory Services. This has given me a brilliant background in a variety of areas from Private Sector Housing to Environmental Crime, which I think will greatly benefit the people of Acton.
On two nights a week, I get referred to by my 'Owl' name as I am a leader in two local Brownie packs. We provide girls with a welcoming and safe space to try new things, become independent and start making decisions for themselves. Of all my volunteering over the years, this has been the most rewarding.
I was a relatively late addition to the local Lib Dem line up and whilst I have spoken to some of you, it has not been as many as I would have hoped for -yet! So please, if you see me pounding the pavements over the next few weeks, feel free to stop and chat or alternatively contact me via email/telephone/Twitter and I promise to respond.
I hope that my background and advocacy skills will be of use to the people of Acton and if elected, I hope to represent the residents to the best of my ability.
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 main concern for people in Acton has been the recent spate of burglaries. Parking around Acton School also seems to be a common problem for both residents and motorists alike, with residents being blocked into their driveways by irresponsible parking. A simple solution like a volunteer monitoring group could help resolve this issue and ease tensions of the surrounding residents. This is on top of the pothole issues on several roads in the ward, which I would look to liaise with the Highways department on.
2. Further to the above issues you have specified, at a ward level what would you do to resolve these problems if elected?
If elected, I would work with the local police and their Safer Neighbourhood Team to combat these crimes at neighbourhood level. Social media has been a useful tool to get the message out to our neighbours if robberies have been attempted in the area. I would continue this trend with the help of the community to make others aware of incidents in the vicinity. I think it is also important to combat the fear of crime that these recent incidents may have instilled, particularly in our more vulnerable residents. From simple things such as noticing that windows are still open and checking locks on all doors, we can all make a few changes to ensure our safety and put ourselves at ease. It is also my hope to host lots of community activities so that we can get to know our neighbours.
3. As a councillor and as a member of the council what would be in your power, and your priority, to help local businesses?
Despite Acton being mostly residential, apart from our pubs, I have high hopes for Wrexham Town Centre. Whilst Eagles Meadow is a multi purpose leisure complex, the High Street and old town centre seems neglected. As a new face to Wrexham, I will admit I was a little disappointed. Business rents in the town centre are deterring both local businesses and larger companies from trying to occupy the empty units. With lower rates, I believe we can create a lively and bustling town centre full of independent shops and the high street stores that we know and love. The empty units could even be put to use by the Council to hold drop in sessions for the residents to raise any issues or for Community events.
4. How do you think adult social care in Wrexham should be funded?
Central Government has announced several reforms recently that they hope will generate millions for extra adult social care provisions, with grants being made available to local governments. On top of this, Wrexham CBC will have the ability to raise council tax bills by 3%. Whilst additional cost through the council tax system seems to be an answer to get money for a variety of matters at the moment, social care is one that I do not mind paying extra for. It is scandalous that our elderly generation are not getting the help and support they need at a time in their life when they need it most. It should be a priority of the Council to commit to finding a sustainable long term solution to the funding gap.
5. What do you think is the most urgent thing, in the power of councillors, required to improve the local education system?
Our education system has to be flexible. Pupils learn at different speeds, have different needs and are better suited to various methods of learning. In an ideal world, we would ensure that these needs are met by the teachers at every school, with enough support staff and a Board of Govenors to oversee things. However, as with all other sectors, teachers and schools are facing budget cuts, expecting them to do more work for less pay. I think the most urgent thing is to ensure the retention of teaching and support staff so that each child has a quality learning experience. Throughout all of this, the welfare of the child must remain of utmost importance, no matter how many budget cuts come.
6. What do you think should be done with the Groves school building, and the site?
The covenant attached to the land at the Groves designates that the land be used for educational purposes. Whilst it doesn't specify that the 'educational purpose' has to be a school, with rising birth rates and the same amount of school places, it would seem a natural progression to restore the Groves to its former glory as a school for local children. Either way, the fact that it has remained boarded up with metal sheets for a considerable amount of time is not in the best interests of either the Council or the Community. Whilst it is recognised that it will be a major restoration project to make the building functional again, I believe the long term benefits will offset the short term outlay in both time and money.
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?
There are thousands of empty properties in the Wrexham area and it's these we should be focusing on as opposed to building more quick and simple housing developments. I have extensive experience with empty homes strategy and enforcement and hope to put this to use as an elected councillor. Empty properties attract crime and disorder and can become a blight on the visual amenity of the area, often driving down house prices of neighbours wishing to sell. With so many of these properties in the borough, the return of these properties to family homes should be a priority of the next administration. There should be budget available to combat this problem, and numerous enforcement options are available to the Council, especially as bringing empty properties back in to use is a performance indicator of the National Assembly. The recent introduction of the mandatory registration of private landlords will hopefully drive up standards of rental properties to provide further sources of housing.
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 believe that the enforcement of litter and dog fouling should not be outsourced to a third party and should instead be regulated by enforcement officers already employed by the Council. Dog fouling is a national problem. Unfortunately, leaving dog mess on pavements or in our parks seems to be acceptable to a minority of dog owners, which puts a black mark on the group as a whole. I believe we should take a different approach to this problem. It is unlikely that enforcement officers will catch a dog owner in the act of leaving dog mess around and therefore fines will only go so far as to deter these people. We need to make these people aware of their actions by highlighting the mess they leave behind. Hopefully this will make them think twice about repeating the offence. Littering is usually pure laziness. We should review the placement of Council bins and ensure that residents and visitors take pride in the streets of Wrexham and not use our pathways and roads as litter bins.
9. Do you favour the current Executive Board system or a politically balanced system? Why?
Whilst I am standing as a party member, I believe that politics within the Executive should be relatively neutral. Yes as a local government, we are dictated to by Westminster, however a group of Councillors from various parties whom have the relevant skills and expertise should be chosen to act in the best interests for and on behalf of the people of Wrexham. There is no point pandering to party ratios if the individuals themselves are not up to the job. Despite this, the Council as a whole should have enough mechanisms to challenge any decisions by the Executive Board to ensure decisions have been made on a informed, proportional and legal basis.
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?
A by-election would be the only democratically sound and transparent option.
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?
I truly believe in training officers of the Council in a role so that they are able to make their own informed and independent decisions on cases. The trust in these officers should be enough to allow managers to simply oversee staffing issues thereby removing the need for 'middle tier management. A new pair of eyes can always bring about savings in time and money and reviewing the staffing and the work patterns of the Council could be an effective way to meet the budget cuts but still ensure our front line services are fully functional and accessible and meeting the Council's core values. We could also look to enter into partnership initiatives with other councils for departments such as IT, building maintenance and HR.
12. With the 'Reshaping' programme, which specific areas would you look to grow and create revenue streams in?
I think there are various avenues we could explore to grow revenue within the Council. Civil enforcement of parking, littering and other regulated activities could bring in much more revenue for the Council if we had more people available to do it. Instead of outsourcing to a third party take officers of the Council and train them to give out fixed penalty notices. On a rota basis, this would not drastically affect the normal working routine of the officer but would save a third party contractor from being paid to do the job. I very much welcomed the recent introduction of additional licensing scheme for HMO properties in the borough as this will create a steady stream of income. More options like this need to be explored in other areas.
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?
The Town Centre Masterplan sets out a future Wrexham town centre that is attractive, unique and accessible to all. Wrexham should be appealing to both its residents and investors in the area. We should encourage re-development of the town centre, but ensure that it remains in keeping with the visual amenities cherished by Wrexham residents, such as the old tudor style buildings. I hope to lobby for lower business rates to encourage more independent shops to set up their businesses in the hope of not only drawing people to Wrexham, but making sure that they visit time and again.
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?
The Welsh Liberal Democrats make a promise to send out regular FOCUS newsletters. Through these newsletters, I intend to keep the whole ward up to date on my actions and any relevant proceedings in the Council. I also intend to hold regular drop in surgeries on varying days and times to ensure that I am an accessible Councillor for all in Acton. As always, I will be contactable via email, telephone or social media for quicker/ shorter correspondence.
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 was lucky enough to host a journalist for the FOCUS Wales Music and Arts Festival in 2016. I spent a whole day in the town centre listening to local bands and poets and watching dancers and it was wonderful. Being a keen musician myself, I have always believed that there should be more funding for the arts and Wrexham seems to have a great variety of spaces available. From the Glyndwr Stadium which recently hosted the Stereophonics, to the Oriel Wrexham which frequently bustles with young artists I believe much more can be made of these venues to offer regular events which would entice people from the whole borough, but particularly the youth that may otherwise spend their time hanging around the town centre.
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?
Football is unfortunately the wrong shaped ball for me. However, I was one of the fans stood on the ground at the Stereophonics gig last year and the atmosphere was electrifying. Whilst I support the thousands of fans that use the ground regularly to support the Wrexham Football Team, I believe that we can host more events like music concerts and Comicon to be able to generate the necessary revenue for the club to modernise the facilities and become an entertainment hub. I feel that the fans are already well on their way to achieving this, but I would help wherever I could. I would however ensure that in these aspirations, the nearby residents are not affected by regular and sustained noise nuisance by using the ground for entertainment purposes.
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 variety of bars, restaurants and clubs in Wrexham makes it attractive to people from much further afield than our own town. However the Police and the security companies usually have some involvement with revellers that cause a nuisance. It is essential that we maintain and enforce the proper licensing regulations in all our late night premises and on the Hackney Carriage ranks and ensure that the safety of both the public and staff is paramount.
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?
I believe there are currently three PSPOs that are active in Wrexham borough and these are a useful mechanism to curb anti-social behaviour, which includes the use of intoxicating substances, smoking, urinating, littering, dog fouling and rough sleeping. Regular patrols of problem areas by police and community support officers should help to combat this behaviour somewhat, however anti-social behaviour requires input from a range of agencies, including the Council, charities and other partner organisations. I would look to set up and maintain good relationships with such partners to enable the residents of Wrexham to feel safe and take pride in their town.
19. New Psychoactive Substances are a recent well documented problem in and around town, what do you think is the solution?
Unfortunately, the negative impact of 'Spice' and other such substances seems to have blighted Wrexham recently, despite a wealth of positive news and action in the borough. A heightened police presence in the town centre has been noticeable, especially around the Bus Station, and for this, many residents I have spoken with are grateful. However, it comes down to basic supply and demand theory and criminalising possession is not going to solve the problem.That is not to say though that these incidents should be tolerated. If we can rehabilitate users to stop using and crack down on the suppliers, the problem with drugs in the town should diminish. A comprehensive approach is needed here. I understand this would be a mammoth task and would require a multi-service approach from Police, the Council, charities and other support organisations, but we need to act as opposed to merely condemning the problem and passively waiting for it to resolve.
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?
I was quite surprised to hear that all Councillors were offered iPads for work. In a financial climate where we see funding cut in so many service areas, this just seemed like a waste of resources when the whole set could have gone to a school or a community group. Nowadays, most people have a personal computer, if not access to one and this should be all a Councillor needs to fulfil their role. I would categorically not accept an iPad off the Council if I were elected. I would also not claim any further expenses than the remuneration already paid to Councillors. I would not support a rise in this either.
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?
I believe the Council should run leisure amenities within the Borough to keep activities such as swimming, tennis and 5-a-side a viable financial option for hobbies. When there is such a focus on mental well-being, it is nonsensical to be limiting these facilities. It may be that the best way to do this is to outsource the contract to an external company that is working on behalf of the Council to provide these facilities, or that the budget could be found somewhere to return these facilities to the Council.
22. What actions would you take, or support, as a councillor to encourage Welsh language use growth? Or, if you are against this, why?
Being 'English' (apologies?) I was not fortunate to be brought up bilingual and certainly did not learn languages as an infant. I have however studied both German and French to professional level and cannot stress enough my wishes to reform the education system in the whole of UK when it comes to language learning. The fact that Welsh is taught alongside English from a young age, and not just as a language, but actually as history or geography or maths is such a positive aspect of the Welsh education system and I would definitely encourage this to remain mandatory. The various evening classes offered for adults and professionals too is of priceless value. I am attempting to learn Welsh, not that I would get very far in an in depth political conversation with you, but I could at least greet you without causing any offence!
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 agree that transparency should be a top priority of any administration and would indeed welcome the webcasting system to be rolled out to cover all meetings. However, I appreciate that for data protection purposes or indeed if broadcasting such meetings would lead to a violation of Human Rights or in some way hinder a criminal investigation, that some content is not suitable for the public domain. More frequent areas of contact for residents should be made available e.g. Q&As of both Councillors and Officers. The Council needs to constantly measure its accountability and productivity against the wishes of the residents.
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 that diverse viewpoint! Take any Council, Executive Board or even the Government and the majority or the decision makers are middle aged (or above) men and I fail to see how many of these men represent my views. I fail to see how they can represent their constituents/members without the necessary diversity amongst the decision makers. Whilst I have always been interested in law and politics, many of my friends weren't, many still aren't but I really want to get younger people involved in politics. Coleg Cambria host a politics course and it would be great to set up some new initiatives in partnership to steer interested people to some work experience or placements. I also feel that if 16/17 year old pays taxes on any income earned, means that they should have a say in how those taxes are spent.
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?
Recently I have been canvassing for local opinions and spoken with different residents about their concerns in the area. I've been in touch with the PCSOs to try and come up with solutions for the spate of burglaries in the area. These are just the beginning of the actions I will take if you elect me to represent you as your ward Councillor.
In a few hundred characters to wrap this up, why should people vote for you?
Wrexham Council needs some fresh ideas and a new pairs of eyes. I am full of energy and aspirations to ensure that Wrexham Council best serves the people of both Acton and Wrexham. I will use my experience, knowledge and skills to ensure that people's voices and concerns are not just heard, but acted upon. Most of all, I do hope that the electors use their votes on the 4th May, whichever way they may vote.
Social & Web links
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