Statement from Gary Brown

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

Hi, I'm Gary, and I'm standing for Labour in the Brymbo Ward - which this time becomes a two-councillor area.

I've worked extensively in and around Brymbo for nearly 30 years, most recently as part of the heritage trust where I helped secure more than £9m of investment for our community; before that, I was part of the team that helped make Brymbo Enterprise Centre a reality.

I’ve worked in national government, local government, and with a Wales-wide range of local community organisations and charities. Most of my work has been in community development, regeneration, anti-poverty work, and post-16 education and training.

I’ve been lucky to meet and work with thousands of people along the way, passionate about their communities and helping them to thrive.

I made Brymbo my home in 2005, with my wife Karen. My daughter goes to St Mary’s school in the village, and my son went to Ysgol Clywedog and Coleg Cambria – he recently completed his degree at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts. I’ve been a parent governor at both St Mary’s and Clywedog.

I care deeply about fairness, accountability, openness and trust - things seemingly lacking in our current politics - and I believe everyone has a role to play in making our communities the best they can be.

It’s great to see the Boundary Commission recognising that the ever-expanding Brymbo ward warrants two Councillors, and if elected as one of them my main aim would be to help energise, equip and empower residents so they can lead the change in pace our ward so clearly needs after 14 years of stagnation under our ward’s current arrangements.

I believe I can bring strengths, knowledge, experience, skills and qualities that can work well alongside either of the other two candidates, and I’m standing for Welsh Labour because I believe our County Borough – and Brymbo, Tanyfron and Vron especially – can do so much better and do it so much more fairly.

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?

ISSUE 1 – Completing the long-overdue regeneration of the former steelworks site: Shaped like a donut with a big hole in the middle, our community has been promised a wholescale regeneration of the former steelworks site since the current owner bought it in 1992. I’ve been closely involved with this over the last decade and whilst I understand much of the technical complexity and interdependencies, I still struggle to understand why the constant delays to the bits that will benefit residents the most seem to go unchallenged politically. I would bring a renewed sense of urgency to ensure we finally get the new school, health centre, shops, restaurant and public open spaces we’ve been promised for decades, and ensure that residents are highly involved in the process to make sure we get the quality we deserve. I would connect Brymbo more effectively to what’s happening in Wrexham and beyond, to ensure we benefit from being part of the wider story instead of only looking inwards. ISSUE 2 – The cost-of-living crisis: Living standards across the developed world are facing challenges few of us have experienced before. Levels of absolute poverty in the UK are rising nearly as quickly as the number of millionaires. The gap widens, and people are dying younger. It needn’t be like this. Such inequalities in health are the result of policy choices taken in Westminster, only some of which can be countered through devolution in the Senedd, and only some of which can be seen through at local level by Councils and Community Councils that share the same values as our Welsh Labour-led government. Brymbo’s politics have been dominated by the need to assert difference, to stand out, and are driven by personalities, not what they stand for. Values matter more than nice photos, and values matter more now than ever as we seek to pull together to help each other through. I will help Wrexham Council to strengthen its work around the environment, the economy, poverty, and its work with young people, promoting respect, hope, influence and confidence. ISSUE 3 – Improving local services and the way they are supported: In the 14 years since Brymbo elected a Tory Councillor in 2008 we have lost our GP surgery, our library, our council-funded community centre, and we’re about to lose our biggest church too. Yes, efforts have been made in the run up to the election, but Brymbo deserves better. Brymbo Enterprise Centre was established 15 years ago under the leadership of a different Councillor with the aim of housing these and other functions - yet it stands alone in not receiving core funding like the other community resource centres in our neighbouring communities of Gwersyllt, Coedpoeth, Llay and Brynteg. I will push for a review into the funding formula to ensure the Enterprise Centre can flourish as an ever-stronger piece of Brymbo’s community infrastructure. The same goes for our green spaces, where I have loads of questions to ask: Why aren’t our spaces supported (or even run directly) by the Council – and instead left to community organisations with no help? And why is Lodge Community Centre still closed when there are options for it to be revived? If community organisations are the best way of taking these projects forward, why are the people involved so regularly facing barriers? Again, I would use my role as Councillor to ensure these questions are answered fully, and that community organisations get the championing and practical support they need to thrive.

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 ?

Every family and household has been affected by the pandemic. The negative impacts of isolation, loneliness, fear, loss and suffering have worsened our mental health, and yet there have been many examples of communities coming together to take direct action to help each other through the worst and beyond. Wrexham can do more to embrace and empower these citizen-led actions, not least by helping ensure they get the support they need to sustain themselves and remain focussed on delivering their work. A hands-on role I would hope to play in Wrexham Council would be to champion support for Wrexham’s skilled, committed and effective social enterprises. I’d help to network them further to help each other to develop, to help them better dovetail with statutory and public services, and to simplify the assessment and referral arrangements they work with to help make sure the people they support get the support they need when and where they need it most. Welsh Labour’s wider manifesto commitments around the environment, housing, transport, employment, social care and young people are focussed on supporting us all beyond the pandemic, as we look to address the economic and social impact of the cost-of-living crisis.

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?

I’ve played many roles in my professional life – chair, manager, governor, trustee, scrutineer, committee member, and so on – and I’m confident I could actively contribute to the way Wrexham Council is governed and to the soundness of the decisions it makes in the future. My professional interests around community development, citizen-led action, economic development, education and standards in public life mean that there are a range of ways I could contribute, either in administration or as part of the wider Council. But it’s not for me to decide...firstly, Labour voters need to use their vote. Secondly, if elected I'd be a member of the Labour Group, and that means I'd be part of (and subject to) a proper process of electing committee Chairs, Lead Members, etc would be conducted, where members’ experiences, knowledge and skills would be considered to help arrive at the most effective team.

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

The phrase ‘climate emergency’ is concerned with bringing to the forefront of all government policy decisions the need to arrest humans’ adverse impact on the earth’s climate. By introducing the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act in 2015, the Environment Act in 2016, and by declaring the emergency itself in Wales the Welsh Government has set out its plans to reduce our impacts and to balance them with better health, improved fairness and a strong green economy over the course of the next decade. In Wrexham this means pushing further with public works like the A483 junction improvements, air quality improving speed-limits, promoting alternatives to single person car use, better connecting our cycleways and footpaths, developing park and ride bus schemes, and investing in green energy and green technologies. There are also new obligations to consider impacts and plans at Community Council level, too, bringing the challenge of climate action to every layer of local government. For the Brymbo ward there will be opportunities to embed green tech into the regeneration programme that lies ahead, and to greatly improve the quality and feel of our network of local paths through our wonderful open spaces – where funding has already been secured and has been ready to spend since 2017 subject to appropriate land permissions. There are green energy opportunities in this mix too, with even more ahead. From Brymbo’s proud association with heavy industry a new future embracing our green credentials can emerge…and I’m ready to help make this a reality.

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?)

Wrexham’s reputation as a forward-looking County Borough is on the up: Hollywood’s buzz around our football team, resident-led projects like the amazing Yellow and Blue, a fab arts and live music scene, our vibrant heritage, and community-led play and youth projects are helping to support a generation-defining moment that lies ahead in the form of Wrexham securing City of Culture status for 2025. But how much is planned, and how much is a happy accident? Yes, we need to be flexible, opportunistic, and to ‘follow the energy’ when something brilliant appears out of nowhere…but I think we’re in danger of relying too heavily on these things when we haven’t got many of the basics right. I’m pleased that the current Council has made a series of senior officer appointments in recent years that are now starting to bear fruit in terms of improving standards in our schools and care system, but both remain under close scrutiny by the relevant standards bodies. We need to maintain these improvements and learn from each other about what works – for example by working closely with practitioners and service users, and with partners in the community sector – and then help other departments to evolve and grow too so Wrexham can be even better. Independent politics can create helpful dialogue, and I have considerable respect for individuals who continue to work effectively as independents. But it can also serve – accidentally perhaps - to erode standards in public life. Being a member of political party brings with it another level of accountability, another set of rules to follow, and another set of consequences if conduct is breached. I believe that a return to party-based administration could help restore public confidence in political debate, but irrespective of the election outcome I believe Wrexham Council could do better generally in promoting accessible, open and robust debate. It could also go further in ensuring that its Code of Conduct is adhered to. All Councillors – at community, town and County Borough level – are duty-bound to behave in certain ways to promote public confidence, but some flout these rules, and a small minority seem to act with complete contempt for them. We deserve better.

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

As one of Wrexham’s largest wards Brymbo (including Tanyfron and Vron) has nearly 3,200 people eligible to vote…and yet hasn’t had its own GP surgery for a decade. Transport barriers hinder access to services outside our community, as do outdated models of the ‘first to get through gets an appointment’ hell of redial repetition. Brymbo deserves better, and has deserved better sooner. A community health centre forms part of the steelworks’ promises…and has done for years…yet it still goes undelivered. Where is the push to get this done? I would bring fresh energy and a collaborative spirit to the engagement of our health partners – just as I have done elsewhere in Wrexham. Mental health services need to be provided as part of this model for Brymbo, and there are various partners in the private, public and community sector that can contribute to providing the right support at the right time. I’ve seen these services work brilliantly elsewhere in Wrexham – so am confident we can make this a reality in Brymbo.

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

We’re not alone in facing the cost-of-living crisis, and no-one would have wilfully chosen to go through a world-wide pandemic, nor to see a European neighbour endure the horrors of a wholly unjustified war against its people. Yet, the UK’s crisis is partly self-inflicted, in part because of Tory austerity and taxation policies that put the needs of the rich above those of the rest of us, and in-part because of the big Brexit lies that so many of us believed and trusted. The crisis doesn’t feel like it’s affecting us all equally. Wrexham Council must ensure it takes advantage of all of the support the Welsh Government is offering, and pass that as effectively as it can to residents, businesses and communities in need. In Brymbo we could do more to enable community organisations like the Enterprise Centre to provide advice services (either themselves or through others renting space). Several community councils elsewhere in Wrexham use some of their funding raised through the council tax precept to support the costs of such services, and I’m puzzled why Brymbo’s Community Council hasn’t yet committed to such a simple step in helping people out. They’ve also refused the offer from Wrexham Council to use Welsh Government funding to employ a dedicated Community Agent to provide signposting services to our over 50s. I’d pursue both of these steps as basic components of helping people get support swiftly and on their doorsteps.

8. How would you improve the local education system?

Our outcomes for children are not good enough. As a governor I know directly how our schools are facing the worst of the challenges that the pandemic has brought about. Acute mental health needs, daily suicide threats, stressed staff, heads and leadership teams under incredible pressure…and all trying to achieve the best they can for our children. The inspection system remains focussed on improving standards, and our Council should too. Wrexham continues to have schools in special measures, and the Council itself is also under scrutiny to improve the way it supports schools directly and through others. The Council has recently made a series of senior appointments which are starting to demonstrate positive impacts, and I would work to push for further and deeper improvements. I see a widening gap between children’s experiences of primary and secondary schools, and would therefore seek to renew the Council’s focus on transition arrangements – the bridge between the two education phases at ages 10-12 – to help keep children engaged, motivated and on track to achieve their potential. Food poverty amongst our children has been highlighted during the pandemic, and I’m pleased to be associated with Welsh Labour’s commitment to tackling this so very directly, ensuring free access to school meals for all primary pupils. Turning back to Brymbo, and sorry to go on about the delays to the steelworks site regeneration, but the new St Mary’s School has had a confirmed package of funding through the Welsh Government’s 21st Century Schools and the Church in Wales for years. This would provide investment sufficient to triple the current Edwardian building’s capacity. When my daughter started there as a three-year-old in nursery back in 2014 the new build was imminent, and as she leaves St Mary’s this summer there’s still no new school in sight. The staff and governors have done wonders with their cramped outdated site…and local parents of primary school children are still having to take their children elsewhere, creating wholly unnecessary pressures in other village and town schools. This is simply shameful.

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?

Welsh Labour are the only party fielding sufficient candidates to form an outright majority. Voters have the choice to influence that outcome, and of course any number of alternatives. Whether in administration with a majority, part of a coalition, or in opposition every Councillor’s duty is to do their best for the benefit of the County Borough and the people within it. Looking across at my fellow candidates it looks like the vast majority understand that duty and stand ready to work together, to build on the very many aspirations we share, and to work constructively to debate and understand our differences. Being such a large ward Brymbo has been unrepresented in many key decisions affecting the County Borough, as choices between day-to-day ward issues and those affecting Wrexham more generally have had to be made constantly. Having two Councillors from this election onwards ought to ensure that Brymbo becomes better connected with Wrexham. I believe this is good for both Brymbo and Wrexham in equal measure.

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 ?

With a young family myself and many local friends with teenagers, I understand some of the concerns our young people have. They tell me they are appalled by the absence of morals and values in our Tory UK leadership, and about the constant threat to facts and evidence in the face of populism. They’re concerned it seems that it’s ok to lie as adults, and so perhaps this is why I see behaviour levels in our schools dropping ever further, respect for teachers at an all-time low, and verbal abuse being the rule of the day. ‘Why bother getting an education, why bother trying?’ Our young people need further support to deal with these challenges and to be able to work with each other in safe spaces both inside and outside of school to develop their self-esteem and hope. Community-based youth work, and better promotion and coordination of uniform-based youth organisations, all offer vital parts of a brighter, more hopeful and kind future for the next generation of people who will lead our communities and businesses. Even putting the cost-of-living crisis to one side, young people tell me they’re worried about affording higher education, and about being able to spread their wings and get their own place. The pandemic rocked their already rocky world, and we need to prioritise support for our next generation at community level.

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