Statement of Sarah Atherton

We invited them to tell you a little about who they are, any political history and about their political leanings.

I am relatively new to any sort of public office but I feel that makes a refreshing change, new eyes on old issues. I have lived in Wrexham for the last 11 years. After leaving school I joined the Army, serving in the Intelligence Corps. Later, I trained and qualified as a nurse at the Maelor, finally becoming a District Nurse. After many years in nursing, I diversified and became a Social Worker, specialising in ‘Older People’s Services’. I still practice in North Wales. My decades of working in the public sector, advocating for people in crisis and challenging the system, have provided me with unique skills. A Councillor needs to be someone who has the attributes to ‘get a job done’ not necessarily a background of 'holding office'.

For the majority of my parenting life, I have brought up my son as a single parent, with the help of his Grandparents. This has enabled me to study, work and earn a living. From time to time I have needed to dip into the benefits system. So I am no stranger to hardship, personal sacrifice and fighting for what is right. I have spent all my working life caring for and supporting people within the context of the health and local government social care services. This has been no easy career but it has given me expertise, experience and knowledge of our state systems, their functions and current challenges. I get immense personal satisfaction from helping people and playing my part in society and this is why I stand as Councillor for Rhosnesni. It is time for fresh ideas and approaches.

Whilst I hold conservative values, these are values that so many of us share and strive to attain in our own lives: A strong, open and inclusive society based on the family and community; a sustainable environment; improved quality of life for all; trusting people and providing opportunities for people to better themselves. I believe everybody is responsible for themselves and how they live but I also recognise that from time to time people need a little help. We are in an age of austerity and uncertainty, with many 'just about managing'. Something we need to be sure of is that when we spend money we are receiving value for money. This is a role for your Councillors. I feel that party politics plays second fiddle to the responsibility of a Councillor to serve their community and make a difference.

I have personal interests in the care of people with dementia, supporting our ex-service personal and the homeless, of which Wrexham has many.

For me, being a Councillor is not about word games or playground tactics. I want to be measured against what I do, not what other candidates / parties have done or say. Anyone that is passionate enough to voice their concerns or get involved to help their communities, are people I admire and would like to work with, regardless of their background, beliefs or politics.

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)

Social Care - The current trend is for services to be commissioned from the private sector. Whilst this is heralded as a way to save money and is one model to meet home care needs, it is not without its problems, with residents commonly criticising the quality of such services. Borras Park Surgery – The resignation of the GP’s from their NHS contract is a concern for many registered patients. Rhosnesni High School– Further commitment is needed to improve educational standards and links with business and the local community. Social Identity – Rhosnesni is a busy, vibrant residential area but a few residents mentioned a lack of community spirit with Rhosnesni being surrounded by more ‘active’ communities. Disruption – There has been extensive disruption caused by the upgrade of Virgin Media. Whilst we all should have access to better services, this should not be disproportionately disruptive for residents.

2. Further to the above issues you have specified, at a ward level what would you do to resolve these problems if elected?

Social Care - On an individual basis, I am happy to address any issues and with my experience, I feel in a unique position to challenge the Council around their social care provision. Borras Park Surgery - I will work with AM Mark Isherwood and others to ensure that from 30th September patients continue to receive ongoing suitable general practice healthcare. Schools - I will work with the schools in Rhosnesni to ensure students, parents, Governors, PTA’s and residents concerns are addressed with the Council. Social Identity –By using Social Media I will raise my profile and listen to suggestions that residents have. If there is enough support for an initiative, then I will spearhead this with community involvement and support. Disruption –There appears little evidence to suggest any effort has been made to co-ordinate road work disruption. I will scrutinise the ‘Permit Scheme’ and the ‘Forward Works Program’ to ensure the residents of Rhosnesni get a fair deal.

3. As a councillor and as a member of the council what would be in your power, and your priority, to help local businesses?

There is a thriving commercial hub in Rhosnesni. The good experience, ease of accessibility and safety when people use these businesses, needs to be maintained and even improved. Addressing anti-social behaviour as it arises eg. dog fouling, vandalism, inconsiderate parking, will be issues that, as your councillor I will address with urgency. I will act with new enterprises located in the area to attract funding and do whatever is in my power to assist local business to thrive and serve. We all know that empty premises can soon turn into eyesores and attract undesirable attention. Through planning enforcement powers I will do my best to encourage property owners to maintain or develop empty units.

4. How do you think adult social care in Wrexham should be funded?

Care of our vulnerable and elderly is something close to my heart, with firsthand experience as a nurse and social worker. There are certain key services, which need to be funded appropriately and this is one of them. This said, efficiencies can be made but not to the detriment of quality or denial of services. The role of the Third Sector (voluntary agencies) is an area for further exploration. In addition, closer working with the Health Board is required to ensure where appropriate, jointly funded services are implemented. Many people have voiced concerns over the quality care their relatives receive at home. The current trend is for services to be commissioned from the private sector. Whilst this is heralded as a way to save money and is one model to meet domiciliary needs, it is not without its problems. On an individual basis, I am more than happy to address the issues and with my experience, I feel in a unique position to challenge the Council around their social care services

5. What do you think is the most urgent thing, in the power of councillors, required to improve the local education system?

The GwE, working closely with the Council, is responsible for the improvement of schools in close relationship with school leaders, namely the head, teachers and Governors. Rhosnesni High School has improved over the past few years but there is much more that can be done to improve opportunities for our young people. Closer links with businesses will give the young people a career edge. As a Councillor I will work closely with Governors to ensure they receive the correct support and training required to have an impact. In addition all Councillors should scrutinise reports from GwE to the Council to ensure accountability and that our schools are actually improving.

6. What do you think should be done with the Groves school building, and the site?

Groves school has brought out the passion in many people and it is good to see how the community has come together for a common cause. It is now the challenge to find a sustainable use for the building and grounds given the covenant. The use of the premises as a primary school facility has been muted alongside the extra costs now required to implement this. The use of some of the building as multi-functional educationally based service rooms, along with the grounds being used by other educational establishments, could be explored. All this requires some ‘out of the box’ thinking and determination to make it work. For me, this is an example of how the community can be strong and influential.

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 no doubt that we need more affordable housing in Wrexham. The Council seek to address this via the Local Development Plan and proposed Local Housing Strategy. There are currently a number of key sites being developed around Wrexham . These smaller scale developments can only improve the look of these areas. What I do not favour is larger developments on green field sites, which will obviously overwhelm the local areas and infrastructures. Small clusters of housing on brown field sites, offering safe, integrated, affordable and in some cases, specially adapted homes should be pursued.

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?

There is no excuse for littering and allowing dogs to foul. Certainly the 3,200 fines or so issued by Kingdom Security, for littering and dog fouling, has generated a considerable income for the Council. That is a lot of litter and dog mess off our streets. However whilst this approach has partly cleaned up our town centre, over-zealous enforcers need to be mindful not to put people off using our town centre. Further work needs to be done to ensure that Rhosnesni also benefits from whatever system is in place. The ‘devil is in the detail’ of the contract between the Council and Kingdom Security and safeguards need to be in place.

9. Do you favour the current Executive Board system or a politically balanced system? Why?

It is important that every elected member’s voice is heard. Any political system needs to be balanced, open to scrutiny and ensures minority representation does not feel marginalised. At County Council level I feel party politics plays second fiddle to serving the community, taking forward and championing the views and opinion of the people of Rhosnesni and ensuring they are firmly heard within the Council’s decision making process.

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?

I feel if someone changes political allegiance mid-term a by-election should be called. That person may have been elected based on their personality but also voted in, by some, based on their political opinions, beliefs and values at that time.

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?

This is a complex area. Nobody wants to see cuts to services but I would like to see the Council run in a more business-like manner exploring all opportunities to grow the income base for the Council. We shouldn’t be too reliant on costly external consultants but instead make sure we have the right mix of skills in-house. This is definitely an area I would like to look into.

12. With the 'Reshaping' programme, which specific areas would you look to grow and create revenue streams in?

I believe that Community Councils and local community groups may be in a good position to take on certain services which could result in savings for the council and better standards of service for the residents of Wrexham. Growing the income base of the council is really important and something any future administration should focus on. I believe there are local businesses who would like to be more involved in such sponsorship schemes which would benefit them and provide a saving to the council.

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?

This is a fantastic opportunity to make Wrexham a unique place to work, shop and play. Funding is in place but the planning needs to be correct, so as to not waste this opportunity. The public needs to be asked their vision for the future .Wrexham needs to have a mix of national chain and local stores, niche shops and boutiques. It needs to be visually appealing, easily accessible, safe and clean. A good mix of food and drink retailers combined with arts, culture, heritage and entertainment, will encourage tourists, locals and families to use the town centre day and night. I will continue to support Andrew Atkinson (Town Centre Forum and Conservative Candidate for Gresford) in his work to improve our Town centre and influence the planners on behalf of the populous.

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?

If elected I will continue to be very visible to the local community, around the streets and using local businesses. Stop me for a chat, as many have already. I would like to use the existing facebook news page but if not possible, I will set up a new facebook page so we can have quick and open dialogue. I will always be approachable via phone or email. If there are pressing issues, I will hold public meetings and individuals can approach me during local surgeries. I hope to be invited to local groups and clubs where we can chat and discuss any issues you may have. For the housebound, home visits may be arranged. Being effective as your Councillor requires good communication between us, so please highlight any issues to me, large or small.

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?

In this age of austerity, front line services deserve the priority and for many the jury is ‘still out’ over the Arts Hub. However in order to make Wrexham a vibrant and viable place to visit, a certain degree of support for the arts is necessary. Certainly festivals have proved to be great fun and increased ‘creative’ trade. History, culture and art installations enhance the enjoyment of a visit to the town, whilst music and drama are brought to us via a number of venues around the vicinity.

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 club has had a difficult time. I applaud the fans for the work they have done. This is a big concern and if elected I will work with fans to help in any way I can.

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 employs many people in Wrexham and the town has always been well know for a great night out. I would like to see more eateries attracted to the town centre to create a vibrant evening economy and to compliment our pubs, bars and clubs. The Night Safe Partnership is incredibly important as it clusters together all the relevant organisation and licensees. If elected, I will do all that I can to support the work of Night Safe and promote Wrexham as a great destination for a night out. The voluntary work of the Street Pastors is invaluable and has made a real difference. It deserves our support.

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?

PSPO have their place in removing a problem as it occurs. It is not a cure but a management tool. Residents deserve to live in a safe environment and not to feel threatened. Enforcement does need to hold some degree of deterrent in order to change behaviour but change is not done by the ‘stick’ alone. Tackling the problem at its root is a much larger endeavour involving, education, housing, health, police, trading standards agencies to name a few. There is a long way to go yet with tackling anti-social behaviour in Wrexham. We can’t allow a few to ruin it for us all.

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 solution to this blight, which is scarring the name of Wrexham. PSPO have given the police some jurisdiction to remove supplies, dealers and antisocial people from the streets but there are always others to step into their shoes. Therefore enforcement will not work alone. It has to be a multi-agency response with education playing a key role. I support the scheme adopted in Wrexham whereby known users, before abusing a substance, are given support from homeless services and misuse of substance services. However I do believe that the motivation to stop substance misuse has to come from within and cannot be forced.

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 want our elected Councillors to be able to do the job effectively and efficiently. Therefore they need to be provided with the basic tools. This does not mean a comprehensive IT system but a basic i-pad which I believe, to be appropriate. I feel Councillors should not be privileged more than their public. If the workforce has to pay for parking, so should Councillors. However it would be a futile exercise if Councillors did not pay for parking at source but then claimed the money back via their allowances.

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 endorse people taking over responsibility for their local services and this model should be supported by the Council. We have an emerging obesity problem particularly with our young people. It is more important now that they have affordable access to good quality sports facilities. Regardless of the any business model these facilities should be provide fair access for all and be financially sustainable.

22. What actions would you take, or support, as a councillor to encourage Welsh language use growth? Or, if you are against this, why?

The Welsh language (and heritage) is important to us as a nation. However the fact of the matter is that many of us, in this area, do not speak Welsh. There is a feeling that if you want to learn Welsh there are courses you can attend. These opportunities should be encouraged and promoted.

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?

People lead busy lives and can’t always access meetings therefore webcasting is one way to offer the public access to meetings. I see no reason why this should not cover all meetings, in the spirit of open-ness and transparency. However not everybody has accessibility to webcasts. In the past the Council has used focus groups, consultations and manned stalls in the town centre to gain people’s opinions but by and large people still feel they are not being listening to. If a Rhosnesni resident raises a concern or view to me, I will ensure they receive a personalised response. By doing this I will play my part in making them and their opinions feel valued.

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 have first hand experience of people who are in ill-health, poverty, personal disability and social turmoil, going through the most tragic and demanding times of their lives. As a practitioner, I listen to what people have to say, assist them to address their needs, fight their corner when they are unable to do so themselves. I am aware, more than most others, of the needs, views and opinions of our marginalized communities. Often their voice are not heard and not listened to. This is particularly relevant to our younger community members who have very specific pressures upon them. By working with the education system and local schools the valuable opinion of our young people will have a better platform in which to be heard. Age is not a limiting factor when asking me for support, so young people of Rhosnesni, I will also be your Councillor, despite your eligibility to vote.

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?

Lots of issues have been raised with me and I do all that I can to get them sorted out for local residents. I have been very active with casework and if elected I will be in a much better position to get things done for residents. Whatever happens I will still help where I can, supporting local businesses and working with Andrew Atkinson to improve Wrexham Town Centre.

In a few hundred characters to wrap this up, why should people vote for you?

If like me, you are fatigued with hearing about people who have held office for decades, done this and that for various agencies and charities but still as a society we see no change for the better, then it is time to think and vote differently. You only need to read some of the literature being produced at this time of election to be bamboozled with aggressive language and corporate jargon. When voting, people need to consider whether their Councillors have the skills and strengths to speak out and challenge opposition. I am straight talking, a confident decision maker and committed to helping people to get what is fair and right. Without exception, I will listen to what you have to say. I will be realistic about situations and accountable for my actions. If elected I will use my unique skills and expertise to work with other people and agencies to get the best deal for Rhosnesni.

Social & Web links

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