Statement from Marc Jones

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

I've lived on Gerald Street in the heart of the Grosvenor ward for 25 years. My wife is a nurse at the Maelor and our two children are now in their 20s and have flown the nest. They went to Ysgol Plas Coch, where I'm now a school governor.
I'm a journalist by trade, having worked at the Leader and Daily Post as well as producing programmes for the BBC and ITV prior to becoming a councillor.
Politically, I've been a lifelong socialist and pro-independence for Wales. The people should make decisions that affect their communities and throughout my life I've campaigned to ensure that - whether it was organising to scrap the poll tax, against apartheid and more local campaigns to keep Plas Madoc leisure centre open.
I'm a founder of Saith Seren, a community cooperative pub in the town centre that's celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and passionate about community ventures of all kinds.
I'm standing for Plaid Cymru because the Party of Wales is closest to my beliefs. We have a national and a local manifesto that puts Wrexham people first.

Questions & Answers

1. What are the three biggest issues for your ward, how do you think they need to be resolved, and what will you do to achieve it?

My ward covers a very diverse part of town - from the Walnut down to the High Street. It includes the University, Coleg Cambria and hundreds of local businesses. As a town-centre area, we face many challenges that are not just local: the lack of affordable housing and homelessness, some anti-social behaviour, parking and lack of services. 1. HOUSING The pandemic showed that it was possible to tackle street homelessness and that kind of approach must also be taken to tackle the scandal of empty properties in the ward - whether it's the derelict Printworks on Rhosddu Road or other long-term empty buildings. Families are living in overcrowded accommodation while hundreds of homes lie empty. I support bringing these homes back into use and building more affordable houses on brownfield sites. 2. PARKING - Many streets in the ward are used as car parks by people who work in town. That means residents being unable to park in their own streets at times. We need to improve public transport to enable people to leave their cars at home (local public transport is currently not fit for purpose). The previous council failed to implement a single residents' parking scheme and we should trial this as a way forward - it's not an easy fix but it would enable residents to judge whether it's a solution they want. 3. COST-OF-LIVING CRISIS Food, energy, Council Tax and fuel have all increased dramatically in recent months. People's wages and benefits haven't matched that so many people in my ward are facing a cost-of-living crisis as they struggle to make ends meet. As a group, Plaid Cymru councillors recognised this in trying to reduce the Council Tax increase and voted against the 4% rise that was supported by both the Tories, Labour and most independent councillors. We are also committed to rolling out Plaid Cymru's Free School Meals programme to include secondary-school pupils over the next five years. This would ensure every child has the option of a school meal and ease the pressure on many parents' budgets. The same is the case for Plaid's proposal for free childcare for children under two. Ultimately the cost-of-living crisis needs to be tackled with a wider response that ensures that the super wealthy 1% in our society pay a fairer share of the tax burden rather than spending it on accountants to help them squirrel it away in tax-free havens and offshore accounts.

2. What do you think needs to be done to help Wrexham recover from the pandemic and what hands-on-role can you play as a councillor ?

Buy local: Wrexham Council spends tens of millions each year on tenders and contracts - but only 16p in every pound is spent within the county. Two thirds goes to companies in England. Improving our procurement policy to ensure more of the Wrexham pound is spent locally on creating jobs and expertise is a no-brainer. Buying local is also good for reducing our carbon footprint - three quarters of the council's carbon footprint is caused by procurement.

3. As a councillor you may have the chance to take on further roles eg. Lead Member, Audit, Scrutiny. What appeals to you and what skills do you bring to that role?

My priority is to get re-elected at the moment and see what options are available afterwards. Who knows what the balance of power will be and whether there is a greater role for Plaid Cymru councillors? In terms of my skills - being a journalist has meant listening to people and their concerns as well as working with others. Most importantly, I understand the value of communicating with colleagues and the wider world. You can be doing the best job in the world but if you don't explain to people what you're doing or why, then it counts for nothing. As leader of the Plaid Cymru group of councillors, we have worked very hard to communicate our messages to the communities we represent via traditional newsletters, face-to-face meetings but increasingly through social media such as Facebook groups. As a councillor I have made myself available at all times to my residents and tried to respond quickly and positively via phone, email or social media. The latter has been particularly important during the past two years of lockdown, when we weren't able to meet or interact in person. The development of a local volunteer network during the pandemic was down to online communications and the council has to embrace this further going forward.

4. What do the words climate emergency mean to you and your ward?

Climate emergency can seem a very abstract issue as it's a global phenomenon. Plaid Cymru was instrumental in passing a motion at Wrexham Council declaring a climate emergency in 2019 and all public bodies have a key part to play in responding to climate change. I'm concerned that the practicalities haven't been addressed yet. Residents are looking to the future and understand electric cars will be commonplace but, if you live in a terraced street or flats as many people in Grosvenor ward do, how will you charge them? Neither the council, Senedd or UK Parliament have started to tackle these practicalities and it would be a priority to improve that situation if re-elected. Reducing our carbon footprint as a council also means being smart in the way we spend council money. At present 74% of our carbon footprint is created by procurement, the money the council spends with private firms through contracts and tenders. We need to build reducing the carbon footprint into our tendering process so that we buy local where possible, thereby helping local business and creating jobs in the borough as well as helping the environment. During the past five years, I've been involved locally with green schemes including planting trees in the ward on a small scale. Through groups such as Keep Wales Tidy and Incredible Edible Wrecsam, there are local initiatives to grow food in the community as well as plant trees to offset carbon emissions. It's a modest contribution but the old adage of 'act locally, think globally' is very much part of my philosophy.

5. What is the biggest thing you would have done differently from the ruling administration over the last 5 years? (Or, if you were part of the Administration - what would you have done differently?)

So many issues to choose from... The council leadership's decision to go for City Status (yet again) was symptomatic of an administration that didn't listen or care what the people thought. For the record, if the leadership had been able to make a convincing case for City Status in terms of economic prosperity, I would have given it my backing. But, even after the council commissioned a report (at an undisclosed cost despite our enquiries) that failed to demonstrate any clear economic benefits, it still decided to press ahead. That's poor judgement and bad politics. Perhaps the biggest problem with ignoring people's views on a matter like this is that people feel disengaged from the political process and cynical about ALL politicians. Worst of all, it came at the same time as the Culture 2025 bid and that confused many people. The Culture bid, which happens every five years, has a demonstrable economic, social and cultural benefit for previous areas that have won the competition such as Hull and Liverpool and I hope that Wrexham is successful in its bid.

6. Local health pressures are well documented, from delayed ambulances to issues in the hospital. How can the council help resolve those problems?

The problems facing the health service in Wrexham and the rest of Wales are complex. It's partly down to a long-term failure to fund increasing demand properly. We're all living longer and that means more pressure on health services, medical procedures have advanced and we're unfortunately not a particularly healthy nation due to obesity, poverty and a legacy of heavy industry. It's also partly down to a lack of workforce planning. Plaid Cymru has argued for the best part of a decade that we need 1000 extra doctors (GPs as well as hospital doctors) to meet that demand. We also need 5,000 new nurses but are only now seeing a North Wales medical school opened and increased nurse and allied professional training in Glyndwr University. As a consequence, huge amount of NHS funding is squandered on private agencies that supply doctors, nurses and other health professionals as well as private hospitals to carry out procedures. In addition, Betsi Cadwaladr health board has been badly managed by both its senior management and the Labour Welsh Government (who had direct control over it for six years). That's the background to what the council needs to do to help. Plaid is committed to a seamless National Care Service to complement the health service. Too many beds in hospitals like the Maelor are taken up because people can't get a decent care package at home or access a residential or nursing home. Wrexham Council no longer has its own care homes and instead commissions services from the private sector. We need to ensure there is good-quality care for people both in residential/nursing homes and in their own homes - that means treating care staff as key workers and paying a decent wage.

7. What will you do on a local level to help support people in your ward affected by the cost of living crisis?

Plaid Cymru has already organised a cost-of-living crisis surgery in Wrexham with expert advisors from Citizens' Advice and Shelter Cymru. The crisis is still unfolding with energy bills in particular shooting up. We will continue to assist where we can and we were the only political group on the council to vote against the Council Tax increase of 4% this year. For families with children, ensuring all school pupils have free school meals will also be a practical support.

8. How would you improve the local education system?

Thanks to Plaid Cymru, free school meals for all pupils in primary school are being rolled out from September onwards. Our pledge for the coming five years is to roll this out for all secondary school pupils too. Ensuring children aren't hungry is a basic start to ensuring they have a good education. As a governor at Ysgol Plas Coch and Bro Alyn, I want to see teachers have the right resources to teach. That means ensuring there's sufficient teaching assistants and other non-teaching staff to provide support as well as funding to ensure experienced staff stay on to pass on their skills to younger colleagues.

9. When the public view the Full Council meeting in June, do you envision you could be part of a Party, Group or coalition, and if so, specifically who and why?

I'm standing for Plaid Cymru - the Party of Wales as I did in 2017. People know what they'll get if they vote me back in and that's the case for my colleagues who, I hope, will also be elected. Many people say that we should keep politics out of local government but we currently have an administration where two independent groupings have worked with a political party - the Tories - without any coherent policies or commitments on a borough-wide basis. In effect, they can make it up as they go along and candidates don't declare their allegiances to either of these groupings in their literature. How can electors fairly make up their minds when this key element is kept from them? There are honourable exceptions that have remained non-aligned from all groupings and I respect that position. If the opportunity arises after the election, the Plaid Cymru group will work to make Wrexham a better place for its citizens to live, work and play.

10. This is a noteworthy election with 16 and 17 year olds now able to vote, what have you done to engage this new electorate and what do you think is the biggest issue for them locally ?

I'm old enough to know that I'll never be 'down with the kids' so I won't try to second guess what their concerns are now. But I've been heartened with recent conversations with youngsters in my ward who are politically engaged and will be voting. Many youngsters are very aware and interested in politics but don't feel it's for them. That's partly because politics at a local level has been dominated by one group of people - and that's too many older men. Only 11 of the 52 councillors in Wrexham were women (Plaid Cymru's group had 3 women and 2 men) and no people of colour. We need a better balance. That's one reason why I'm very chuffed that Plaid Cymru is fielding two teenagers as candidates - Cameron Hughes is 19 and James Holland is 18. Both are articulate and very able people who would contribute hugely to changing the look and feel of the council generally. Having more diversity in terms of age, gender and ethnicity would make the council more representative of the communities its meant to serve and hopefully make people more likely to get involved and feel its THEIR council as well. In that way, I hope the next council is better able to tackle some of the challenges young people face. They are growing up with many challenges in terms of their education, work and housing - something their parents also face. But this coming generation also faces pressures in terms of peer pressure, mental health and cyber bullying that other generations perhaps didn't face to the same degree.

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