Statement of Phil Phillips
We invited them to tell you a little about who they are, any political history and about their political leanings.
My name is Phil Phillips and I am proud to be standing as the Plaid Cymru candidate for Offa ward. I have lived in Penybryn for over 35 years with my wife Karen and our children. I have spent most of my working life in Education, Training and Social Care helping young people and adults achieve their potential. I have been able to secure over £1/4 million funding for a local charity and also successfully prevented the council from removing £35,000 of educational support for young people. I run Wrexham Town Trails which offers visitors, social groups and special interest groups an insight to the heritage and history of Wrexham. I am especially keen for young people to learn about the history of our fascinating town and the people who shaped it, and I am proud that schools and young people in their hundreds have joined us on our bespoke tours and have bought into our heritage which I am sure they will pass on.
I am a correspondent on Wrexham's history and heritage in The Leader and both myself and my wife are Tourist Ambassadors for north east Wales.
Recently I have campaigned, along with my colleagues in Plaid Cymru for 'Stop Wrecking Wrexham', to protect workers at Dee Valley against a hostile takeover bid, to save one of Wrexham's fire engines and against cuts in Social Services.
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)
While canvassing, many residents have expressed their concerns about anti-social behaviour, public drinking and urinating and open drug use in the ward. It's clearly the priority problem in the area. Although Offa is subject to a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) this has not deterred drinkers from imbibing in public and littering our roads and public areas. Not only is ths anti-social and detrimental to our community, it is also against the law. This area also has a problem with Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), both registered and unregistered. Some are well managed but others aren't and can undermine the community spirit in some streets. Some councils place a limit on the number of HMOs in a street or area and I would push for that in Wrexham.
2. Further to the above issues you have specified, at a ward level what would you do to resolve these problems if elected?
At ward level we need a multi-agency coordinated approach by the council, health board, police and the other agencies dealing with drugs, homelessness, mental health and related matters. We need our residents to buy into the whole idea of community and to take pride in our environment.
3. As a councillor and as a member of the council what would be in your power, and your priority, to help local businesses?
I support Plaid Cymru's long-standing commitment to extend rate relief for small businesses, and theTransitional Funding introduced by Plaid to mitigate the effects of the new Business Rates Evaluation which came into effect this month. Offa, despite being crippled by the failed Regeneration Scheme of 2004 which led to Penybryn being blighted, saw a rise in Business Rates.I have spoken and liased with a number of traders in Penybryn to help them come to terms with these changes and assisted them with advice on Transitional Relief and appeals. We need a good mix of shops in the town centre, particularly in the area which once housed the vegetable market which is now a ghost town. Another poor planning decision which has had a dire effect on the town centre. TheTown Centre Forum are active in promoting the town in terms of supporting new businesses and street festivals and events such as Focus Wales and Racecourse concerts are to be lauded.
4. How do you think adult social care in Wrexham should be funded?
Plaid Cymru's policy is to merge health and social care budgets so there's a seamless transition from hospital to care in the community and vice versa. Funding should come from general taxation. Cuts in social care, such as closing Nant Silyn and day care centres by the council, are a consequence of UK Government cuts and poor decisions locally. I have worked a Nant Silyn and the Day Centres and know only too well the devastating effects that the eviction of the residents had on them and their families. The closure of Nant Silyn, Wrexham's last Residential Home also meant the loss of dementia day care services and respite care and had a profound effect on the service users and their families. Some had to give up work sadly. The loss of the last two Day Care Centres at Rhos and Caia Park at a saving of £47,000 was a very poor decision given that the alternative, residential care, is much more costly. Compare these 'savings' with the cost of £31,000 for ipads and £2.1m for consultants.
5. What do you think is the most urgent thing, in the power of councillors, required to improve the local education system?
The biggest problem is juggling static budgets with rising costs. Any reduction in budgets effectively means losing staff, which is unacceptable. Many primary schools in Wrexham, especially Welsh-medium ones, are full and we need additional places to make sure children are able to go to their nearest school, which isn't currently the case. Too many children are educated in Portakabins rather than in modern schools. If elected, I would lobby Welsh Government to provide funding for new school buildings to meet the growing demand for Welsh medium education.
6. What do you think should be done with the Groves school building, and the site?
It was given to the council with a covenant to provide education. The council pulled out of a deal with Coleg Cambria at the last minute without a coherent plan to use the site, which was bizarre to say the least. The only logical use for the site is education - it could accommodate two new primary schools but that depends on funding from the Welsh Government and council. The council should also be honest about its intentions. The site is currently listed on the new Local Development Plan as a site for housing. Why?
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 is existing planning permission for about 4,000 homes in Wrexham and there are 2,500 empty properties in the borough that should be prioritised to get back into use. Wrexham needs a Local Development Plan that reflects organic growth in communities rather than huge soul-less housing estates such as those proposed for the Ruthin Rd and Cefn Rd. Building on school playing pitches and green fields is nonsensical when you have thousands of empty buildings and derelict brownfield sites available. Developers should not dictate how communities develop, the communities themselves should. Plaid councillors would back plans for new council housing to tackle the 1800 waiting list for social housing, the first time in a generation that this council has built homes. Our adjoining county, Flintshire are going down this path.This will also help meet local demand.
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?
The council's current provider is targetting discarded litter but ignoring discarded needles and more serious anti-social behaviour. I want to see cleaner streets but believe employing more street cleaners would achieve that rather than paying a fortune to a private company. Dog fouling is undoubtedly on the increase. There is some evidence of enforcement in Offa and hopefully this will deter offenders. Really there is no excuse for owners not to take responsibility.
9. Do you favour the current Executive Board system or a politically balanced system? Why?
Politically balanced - to ensure proper challenge to the ruling group and avoid some of the terrible decisions made by the council in recent years.
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?
If I was to leave Plaid Cymru and join another political party, I would trigger a by-election.
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?
If cuts are to be made, they should always start at the top. I would question all use of external consultants. I would also look to cooperate with other North Wales councils to deliver back-room services such as legal, HR, procurement etc to provide a better and more economic service in specialist areas rather than buying in external expertise. Weneed to retain or workers at grassroots level. they are often squeezed and services suffer. We need to consult with these workers to see where savings should be made. they are the experts in terms of where money is mispent.
12. With the 'Reshaping' programme, which specific areas would you look to grow and create revenue streams in?
Back in 2012, the council invested about £1m to install solar power on 3,000 council houses. This, I believe, now brings in a significant annual revenue and is a good example of prudential borrowing that reaps a long-term dividend. Council reserves are earning next to no interest at the moment and some of that could therefore be invested in revenue-raising ventures and schemes. Plaid is also committed to increasing the amount of council money spent within the area rather than buying in services and goods from elsewhere. More than £100m a year of Wrexham Council's money currently goes to England on contracts and tenders, including buying potatoes for school meals from Rochdale and bread from Liverpool. Keeping money in the local economy means local businesses employ more local workers who, in turn, are more likely to spend the money in local shops and businesses.
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?
Towns and cities across the UK are changing due to online and out-of-town shopping. The ones that succeed are the ones that offer something unique - Wrexham must do that in terms of building on its strengths. They are entertainment, sport and food and drink. Independent shops rather than the usual chain stores are a vital part of that unique mix we need to attract more people back into the town centre. As a councillor, I would promote greater investment in events, lobby for reduced rates and rents in the town centre (few town centre shops are council owned) and work with town centre businesses to reflect their needs.
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 would certainly be a visible presence in the ward and would be available whenever I was needed. I would be by phone, text, e-mail, Facebook and Twitter. I would continue to use social media and word of mouth to keep people infomed of events in Offa.
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 work done by volunteers, local artists and promoters at places like Undegun and other venues is phenomenal. If you want to find out how to develop the arts in the borough at a grassroots level, I'd talk to them. The council can support by encouraging more events that bring people into the town. I regularly attent events at Saith Seren and encourage others to do so.
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?
I am a long time supporter of Wrexham F.C and I have served as a steward. We survived by the skin of our teeth in the face of a succession of rapacious 'businessmen' who have stripped it of its asssets.The council failed to protect the club during that time. Unlike other councils in Wales, it has also failed to invest in the club, which is a cornerstone of our local identity and brings in thousands of people to the town every matchday. The club is now run efficiently and democratically by the community, it has a 99-year lease on the ground and can hopefully get out of this division next season. As a councillor, I would push for profits from the development behind the Kop to go to the club to enable that end of the Racecourse to be re-developed. Plaid Cymru also wants Wrexham to have a National Football Museum and I would work with the club, Welsh Government, council and FAW to achieve that, which could be a huge bonus for the football club. Remember, this is the home of Welsh football
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?
Liaison with pubs, restaurants and clubs is essential to find out what they need to flourish. Anything the council can do to increase footfall - through organising events, publicity, public parking and dealing with anti-social behaviour would be on the agenda.
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?
At the moment the PSPO hasn't solved the problem in Offa. The public drinking and drug taking continues unabated. We have to be more pro-active in tackling the root causes rather than having sticking-plaster solutions. The police have a role to play in dealing with crime such as zero tolerance for drug dealing, but the council, health board and other agencies are also key to providing alternatives to stop that anti-social behaviour.
19. New Psychoactive Substances are a recent well documented problem in and around town, what do you think is the solution?
We have to acknowledge that prohibition of drugs hasn't worked and won't work - it's easier to buy drugs as a teenager in Wrexham than alcohol. It's also cheaper, which is why I suspect these new substances such as mamba have taken hold. Zero tolerance of drug dealing by the police is just one aspect. We also have to look to other countries such as Portugal and Switzerland to see how they have taken on the huge problem of drugs and had far greater success than our current policy is having. If elected, I would work with the Police and Crime Commissioner to find 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?
Plaid Cymru's councillors have pledged publically not to take a pay rise nor the free iPad upgrade. In an age of austerity and cuts, councillors are not immune and the decision to spend £32,000 on iPads while closing day centres to save an equivalent sum was a disgrace. If a councillor on £13,300 a year cannot afford to buy his or her own iPad, then I question their ability to manage a £200m+ budget.
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?
Plaid Cymru campaigned to keep Plas Madoc Leisure Centre open. Leisure centres, like schools, hospitals or libraries, do not make money - that's why we pay taxes for these key services. Plas Madoc and other leisure facilities help in terms of health, self-confidence and fitness. It is also uniquely important for the disabled to access. That's why councils should fund them. Now that Plas Madoc is run by a community cooperative, the council should ensure it has enough money to function.
22. What actions would you take, or support, as a councillor to encourage Welsh language use growth? Or, if you are against this, why?
All the Welsh-medium primary schools in Wrexham are full to capacity and many families are being split up with various siblings attending different schools. This is causing problems and needs to be addressed with at least one new primary school in the borough, location to be identified by demand. There are about 1,000 adult Welsh learners in the borough - a fantastic number that demonstrates how many people value the language - and they need to see Cymraeg as more than a classroom language. As a teacher of Welsh to children and adults I support the drive to increase the use of Welsh as a living community language in the area (rather than just the language of school, chapel and the home) - this has been done by volunteers with very little council support. I would look to strengthen links between Welsh speakers, learners and the council to increase the language's visibility and profile.
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?
Plaid Cymru advocated webcasting back in 2012 and were told it was impossible. Since webcasting of meetings started, I think it has helped accountability and public scrutiny of councillors, which can only be a good thing. I would extend webcasting to all council meetings and also challenge the over-use of Part 2 meetings, which excludes the press and public. This is often to hide sensitive and/or embarrassing issues rather than confidential or personal matters.
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'm proud that Plaid Cymru is fielding a diverse group of candidates in this election. 40% are women (the most of any party), the youngest candidate in the election (just 18) and people with disabilities.. If elected, I would encourage people who are traditionally excluded from the council to have their voices heard and work to get a more balanced council in terms of females, youngsters and people from other backgrounds.
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?
Over the last couple of years I have been actively involved in the campaign to save one of Wrexham's two whole-time fire engines. We knocked doors, collected thousands of names on a petition, held street stalls, organised protests and a 500-strong march through the town to eventually force the Fire Authority to back down. That was a county-wide campaign but was as important to Offa as anywhere else. I have fought against cuts in Social Care which have affected the old and vulnerable who have paid for and deserve much better. I have also been a spokesman for 'Stop Wrecking Wrexham' a group dedicated to preserving the hritage of the town. Dadly we were to late to stop the wanton destruction of Bridge Street. Win or lose, the fight goes on.
In a few hundred characters to wrap this up, why should people vote for you?
This is an area that I feel very much a part of. Offa is where we have raised a family and enjoyed being part of a thriving community. During this time, I have been a local teacher and a training officer for hundreds of school leavers helping them gain experience and qualifications in Social Care. I have held a number of managerial roles in Training, Education, Social Care and Broadcasting and have always worked within a budget. I am appalled at the poor decisions that have led to the Bridge Street 'Regeneration' scandal and the way this has blighted Penybryn. This scheme originated in 2004 and the inertia surrounding it has had a very detrimental effect on our ward. When Wrexham Council was awarded £11m to make the town a vibrant and and viable place it spent it elsewhere. I am very concerned at the recent decisions to end Residential and Day Care in the county leaving the old and vulnerable without a voice. I will fight any cuts to essential services within the county.
Social & Web links
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OTHER CANDIDATES FOR Offa
- Green Party
- Welsh Liberal Democrats
- Welsh Conservative Party