Wrexham.com Has Quick Q&A With Plaid Cymru Leader Leanne Wood
The Leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood, spared fifteen minutes of her day to have a quick chat with Wrexham.com, here is what she had to say…
Q: Health and the stacking of ambulances outside A&E at the Maelor is a big issue for our readers. Whilst a link between social care and hospital services is part of the solution, what else can be done to make to A&E better for the emergency patient?
The key to the question in this is staff, and the fact that we have fewer doctors per head of the population than any other country in the UK, in fact there are only three countries in the EU that have fewer doctors per head of population than we do here in Wales. It is showing itself in waiting times not just in A&E but in terms of waiting times for GP appointments, for routine surgery and things such as the the diagnosis of cancer.
This is why we have put so much effort into our proposals for reforming health and social care to make them work closer together, but also in terms of investment and recruiting and training of staff – that is our policy of 1000 extra doctors and 5000 extra nurses and also our ‘Cancer Contract’ that undertakes to ensure we get as many people as possible the all clear or a diagnosis if cancer is suspected within 28 days and a package of services around that – all designed to address that problem of growing waiting times.
Q: Wrexham’s former AM served as Health Minister for a period under the last Labour administration. How would you mark and comment on her performance?
I am not generally into singling individuals out because I think the government has to take collective responsibility for the failures in the health service.
I would like to put on record the work the staff do, they go over and above the call of duty. There are fewer of them working with greater demand. The fact is the government has not undertaken proper workforce planning over many years, including under the leadership of the former AM for Wrexham, but she is not he only Health Minister who is responsible for this, they all are and they all have to take responsibility for where we have ended up with the health service.
There has been a woeful lack of thinking through and planning. These challenges were predicted, I remember writing to Edwina Hart when she was Health Minister back around 2005/2006 when immigration rules were changed and it was predicted then there would be a shortage of doctors coming from the Indian sub continent, as that is where they traditionally come from, in terms of particular departments and ones that were predicted were A&E, Paediatrics, Radiology , and they are the areas we have been suffering shortage of staff from.
There is no excuse really, we have known ten years ago that we would end up in this place and nothing was done to prevent it.
Q: In terms of Wrexham’s geographic position, would a Plaid administration look to build on existing health links with the likes of Broad Green, Alder Hey, Wythenshawe etc?
It is vital that the residents of Wrexham have access to the very best services. I would prefer for as many of those services to be provided as locally as possible to people, and we have said as a Plaid Cymru government that we will ensure that hospital services will be available to everyone within an hours travelling distance. This is why our investment in the doctors to enable us to do that is so important.
We also recognise that there are very, very specialist services which do need a critical mass of people in order to make them work – specialist surgeons and so on and some of those services will be provided in different countries and that is fine. We need to make sure we have strong contracts between the different health areas to enable people to access those specialist services.
What I cannot accept is that people in Wales would have a second class health service compared to people in other parts of the UK. We can see already that there is some evidence that we do have a second rate service, people have had to move to England to access specialist cancer drugs for example.
We should not accept the situation in Wales whereby people have a lesser service compared to other people in parts of the UK, that is not what we created devolution for.
Q: Mentioning we are quite dull and have read all the manifestos, we noted that Plaid Cymru has a rare specific Wrexham based mention around “…support efforts to establish a Welsh football museum in Wrexham” Going further than that we asked Leanne what she would like to see happen at the oldest international stadium in the world.
Our campaigners and activists locally have been very vocal in making sure that the issues in Wrexham are being heard loudly in Plaid Cymru and they have put forward a plan to open a National Football Museum For Wales in Wrexham. They have worked closely with Wrexham Supporters Trust to take that forward. Now that the community owned football club has gained a 99 year lease on the Racecourse I think it is essential we support the creation of a ‘Millennium Stadium of the North’.
Previous governments have talked about that and its not been delivered. I think that the idea of the museum could be an integral part of that kind of development. Plaid Cymru, through our plans for investment in infrastructure, would be open to looking at all of these kinds of developments to support local communities, and also to help people come in and spend their money in towns like Wrexham.
Q: Jumping to business rates we asked about Plaid’s longer term goal or vision to radically reform them, which would include the ‘the scrapping of council tax and business rates’. We asked for detail on what method would be used to value sites in any new system, and what the main changes would be away from the current business rate system.
At the moment the council tax is one of the most regressive taxes that we have so we want to make it fairer. We want to reduce the burden on those who live in the least valuable houses the band A B C, and increase the council tax for those on the higher value properties to reflect the social situation that people are in.
With regards to business rates there is a scheme at the moment for business rate relief in operation, Plaid Cymru want to extend that so that there are more businesses able to not pay business rates at all. The reason we want to do that is because if we can free some finance up with small businesses the chance are they will either be able to take on or train extra staff. It is a way of tackling the unemployment problem.
One of the issues we want to tackle is town centre regeneration, and I understand there has been a reduction in footfall in the town centre in Wrexham. According to the Council’s own figure there has been a 28% reduction. There are many empty shops, and of course the news of BHS this week, it further threatens the viability of town centres and Wrexham is obviously a key town centre to us in the country. So we want to help more small businesses via the business rates reduction, that will allow more of them to stay open on the high street.
Another way to help regenerate town centres is to tackle the question of parking – it is not fair many out of town developments and supermarkets offer free car parking while town centres charge for parking. We want to make a fund available for local authorities to apply for to give one or two hours of free parking for people in town centre locations to try and increase the footfall and number of people going into the shops.
Q: There is a proposal in the manifesto to make public sector bodies procure 75% of their stuff from Wales. That seems to be a self evidently good thing for Welsh business, however if England brought in a similar policy border towns such as Wrexham could be affected negatively. Is it something that sounds good as a policy with potential problems, or do you think it would work both ways?
I think we have a better chance of operating it as a small country here in Wales. I think from a UK perspective there are already attempts to try and procure more UK government spending UK-wide, of course as the UK government covers Wales as well we are included within that. We need to think about how we use our public money in a more smart way. We just need to think about how we spend our public money in a more smart way. We spend about £4.3bn procuring goods and services throughout the country in various different sectors – if just some of it could be redirected to small local companies. There are ways in which we can do this – there are countries such as Germany and France procure something like 95-97% of their goods locally and Scotland are doing much better than we are they are in the range of about 50% .
It helps stimulate local economies and help people remain in work, it enables if companies have good long term contracts it helps them plan and to increase staff. There is a multiplier effect when money is spent in local communities and small local firms, they are more likely to spend it in their local town centres. It then goes further say employing the local hairdresser, the butcher, the baker and so on. Its all about trying to lock the public pound back into our Welsh communities. Yes I suppose there is a risk England could do the same, but I think it is a small risk. I think the impact as a small country we could make by making this change would be much bigger for us as Wales.
Q: A recent poll that has put you about 12 points ahead in a nicest party leader poll (ITV Wales). Such praise over niceness does not seem to translate into lots of votes, does that mean Plaid lacks some kind of substance?
*laughing* It is a difficult question to answer isn’t it, you are so nice but nobody will vote for you? I think things are changing actually, the poll you are referring to also shows the gap is closing between Labour and Plaid Cymru. On the regional lists we are on 22% and Labour are on 29%, so that shows me we are in the game to being the alternative government that I believe Wales now needs.
We have had Labour leading the government in Wales for 17 years and on all kinds of outcomes we can see why its not good to continue in that vein, and I very much hope that next Thursday people will see this as an opportunity to change course and change direction to elect a new government with a substantial manifesto.
Ours is much more detailed, it is fully costed, it has been independently verified, we have taken this whole process extremely seriously. It is a cumulation of four years work. It is more than a manifesto it is a programme of government, it is a programme of transformational change over a generation. I am really excited and proud of it. I hope that people will do like you have, and read it and read them all, and arrive at the conclusion that Plaid Cymru is best placed to be the change that Wales now needs.
Q: Two nights ago the Leaders debates were on the BBC, however here in Wrexham it’s sometimes more common to pick up BBC Northwest Tonight and even BBC West Midlands over BBC Wales. We would imagine that is reflected in most border areas… does that frustrate you and what is the answer to it?
It frustrates me immensely. So many people in Wales receive their main media from London based sources and don’t receive Welsh media at all. That makes it very difficult for a party like Plaid Cymru who are just operating in Wales. That is why I think the opportunities we had in last year’s UK elections were so valuable as I was able to communicate through the UK channels in a way we had never done before. The poll that came out last week is possibly a reflection of that increased awareness and knowledge of Plaid Cymru from an audience we were unable to reach before.
The way in which we have chosen to deal with that is not just to complain ‘oh London gets everything’ but to do something practical about it ourselves. We have built up quite good social media networks, we do a lot of work on Facebook and Twitter trying to reach out and talk to people.
It is also the face to face conversations on the doorstep, I recognise that we can’t rely on any media outlet to communicate our message for us, we have to do that directly ourselves. That’s why since becoming Leader I have put so much emphasis on community activity, face to face conversations and door knocking and making sure our people are equipped with the arguments and they understand the policies and costings behind them so they can answer questions from people about them.
Q: Roughly speaking around 18,000 people in Wrexham voted for the Welsh Assembly, since then roughly similar numbers vote each time in the elections leaving a possible 75% of Wrexham not taking part. As someone obviously passionate about Welsh democracy, whats your view on that?
It saddens me that there are not more people engaged. I think one of the reasons turnouts have been lower in Assembly elections to UK Westminster elections is that sometimes it can look like there is little differences between the parties. If you look at the polices that all of us have put out on apprenticeships or childcare, there is a differentiation between numbers, perhaps a competition between us on numbers, but in terms of substance we are all offering pretty much similar things.
That is why I have tried with this election and with our manifesto to really think outside the box and to be creative using the powers that the Assembly has got, but also trying to give some vision so that we think about if we had additional powers what we could do with those in terms of building those foundations of a successful Welsh economy instead of an economy that is stagnating and languishing at the bottom of all the league tables.
Q: Locally Wrexham historically has been a Labour stronghold in Assembly as well as Westminster, why do you think that is and do you think a Plaid win is realistic?
Many people vote for the party that has dominated Welsh politics for a century now for traditional reasons. I come from a family myself that in the past would have voted Labour because of their working class identity, and that 1950/60s mantra that it was between us and them. Labour was to represent working class people and the Tories were for posh people .
Its not like that anymore, we have more plurality in politics, a wider choice. I think the party that has relied on those traditional votes for a long time, many people are feeling now that those votes are being taken for granted and they are ready to do something different. I have been encouraged by the conversations I have had with lifelong Labour supporters who this time are switching their votes to Plaid Cymru.
I would say too all those in Wrexham who have given a lifetime of loyalty to Labour, where has it got you? Are things as good as they get? I don’t believe they are, I believe we need change now and a different direction and if you want change then vote for it and back Plaid Cymru for the change Wales needs.
Leanne Wood was speaking with Wrexham.com on the 29th April 2016.
Wrexham.com has also spoken with Labour’s Carwyn Jones and the Conservatives Andrew RT Davies. You can find our similar write up of our chat with Mr Jones by clicking here, and the one with Mr Davies by clicking here.
You can view our own candidate Q&A videos with 10 of the 12 standing in Wrexham and Clwyd South, plus full candidate lists on this link here...
Spotted something? Got a story? Send a Facebook Message | A direct message on Twitter | Email News@Wrexham.com