Statement from Sonia Tyger BENBOW-JONES

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

My name is Sonia or some of you will also know me as Tyger, I grew up in Cefn Bychan and some of you may remember my Dad, Walter the Pole. I have lived just off King Street on the Acrefair / Cefn border for over 17 years.
It’s been a privilege to be your Councillor in the old ward since May 2017. Many people will know me from The Community News which I edit, publish and deliver around the area. I have also been a Cefn Community Councillor for 10 years. I have done my best to keep you all informed during the last 5 years through the newsletter, Facebook, Twitter and, you being able to stop me and ask, or challenge me on the issues that matter to you. I have an open door policy and I always will as I am here, accountable and working for you.
As an Independent candidate I have no political affiliations and my philosophy is “what will be of benefit for my constituents”. I feel that local Councillors should be independent and not serve a political party, its the residents and the area they represent that are most important. I’m a proud School Governor at Ysgol Cefn Mawr and also a member of the Maelor ABC committee.

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?

The current road closure at Newbridge had been one of my biggest issues as this is my home village and has impacted everyone and I am grateful for the support given to my petition to get this repaired., I was pleased to see Welsh Governments announcement of some funding for this, now we need to see this completed. So, it is Anti-Social Behaviour, dog fouling/ fly tipping and potholes with parking a close fourth! ASB - am working with the local businesses, police, Community Council and other agencies. There are several activities already available for young people including the Community Council funded Youth Club, Scouts, local football clubs and boxing with other sporting activities available at the Leisure Centre which we can promote across the ward and as we get back to normal, we could see more activities and groups starting back. I would encourage those with ideas for activities to get in touch with the Clerk at Cefn Community Council on 01978 821298 as the Community Council would welcome their suggestions and let’s see how we can work together to stop this behaviour. The Community Council had purchased a number of dog poo bag dispensers and placed them around the wards to encourage more people to pick up, we will also be looking to get the WCBC Enforcement Officers to visit. Fly tipping needs everyone to report it quickly so it can be checked and if any details are in the rubbish, followed up with an Enforcement Officers visit. Potholes and where possible resurfacing is a priority for most of the area and I will work with the other wards to get this done. Working with Housing using the Environmental budget has resulted in many Council properties getting on-plot parking and I will continue to use the available budget to get more done in the ward. The need for general parking for many areas is a key priority and I will look to see how this can be improved.

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 ?

Wrexham is not just the town centre, our villages and small towns play an important part in the boroughs economy and well-being through their local businesses, services, farms and farm based enterprises, leisure and tourist attractions, sports and sporting facilities, we need to support them and the jobs they create. Wrexham must continue its business support as there have been so many changes to laws and guidance over the last two years, businesses are now faced with the need to look at their options for possibly diversifying, the increases to NI and core costs and changes to shopping habits and leisure activities, we must lobby Welsh Government for additional small business support. To help people of all ages access better paid jobs they need a reliable, affordable transport system especially as we are in a climate emergency. If you live out of town, you need two buses to get to the Industrial estate – none of them will get you there for an 8am start! We need to work with employers to make getting to interviews doable – hold more jobs fairs locally (we have several venues suitable and fully accessible for this) as this will help more young people get to meet prospective employers also look at how they can then get to their work, can employers consider subsidised mini-bus options? People are still cautious following the Pandemic and the increased number of cases is not helping, we do need to get back to being out and about so hopefully with the weather improving more people will visit the town centre. We need to build on the success of Wrexham Football Club – bringing people back to the town and keep the free parking to encourage more people back into town.

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?

This is something that is decided upon once the administration has been agreed, based on a politically balanced formula. I have been an active member on several committees, been vice chair of Homes and Environment, chaired EBIS – Employment, Business and Investment, was scrutiny champion for four years and recently was appointed as lead member for Children’s Services a challenging and rewarding position working with a dedicated and supportive team who take the role of Corporate Parenting, putting the needs of the child or young person at the very centre of all they do, very seriously. I have learnt first-hand how the last two years has impacted on the lives of children and their families with the complex needs this has created. which in turn puts more pressure on the team and their resources. I completed the Local Government Associations Next Generation Programme in 2019 and found this has been of great benefit. If asked I would be pleased to accept a role.

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

I have always said I live in an incredibly beautiful part of the country, our endless hills, the wildlife, the wildflowers, Ty Mawr Country Park, the River Dee and the quality of light especially now we are a post-industrial community. Our area is a place where no matter which way you look it is stunning and this climate emergency begs us all to play our part to protect it. Cefn Community Council has recently upgraded all its street lighting to LED and the difference this has made when looking at the stars across the valley is amazing as well as the cost and energy savings being made. We need to increase our Active Travel options to get people out of their cars, helping to improve their mental health and well-being and improving our air quality. We need more local charging points for electric vehicles and will work with the Community Council on this. We need to share practical information to help people look at ways they can reduce their carbon footprint and consider when doing things around the house how and where they can use materials that will help reduce carbon emissions also how to continue this in their gardens. We need good, affordable, reliable connecting bus and train services to encourage less dependency on cars especially as we are in a tourist area and less cars would make these hot spots more welcoming and enjoyable and reduce the demand for yet more parking provision. We need all local authorities in Wales to review their procurement system so locally sourced firms and materials can be considered to reduce their carbon footprint and support local jobs and economies.

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?)

The last two years have been so challenging and difficult to forecast priorities, the whole of the local authority have been incredible keeping all front-line services running and responding well to the changing rules and guidelines. Our staff deserve recognition for all their hard work. I know looking back there will always be lessons to be learnt and areas for improvement. Perhaps it is around transparency and communications that we can make improvements. The more people can be informed and understand what is happening would make a difference, the reviewing of policies and processes to embed this learning about where or what things did not work, will avoid repeating those mistakes and improve the administration.

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

Both BCHB and the Welsh Ambulance Service are not managed by the council, many Councillors have raised serious concerns about the issues especially waiting times for treatments at scrutiny meetings. They have also raised the issue that when new housing developments are being considered that additional health provision is not a material planning consideration, this needs addressing as it just increases the pressure on the existing provision both surgeries and hospital. We need to get full face to face visits back to our medical centres and look at the risks posed by the increasing mental health needs and ask how they can be treated/supported locally. Cefn needs a 21st Century Health Centre, this is something that has been campaigned on for over 5 years and the facilities it could offer would have a positive impact on the hospital demand and reduce the need for ambulances and hospital visits for non-urgent cases and routine procedures.

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

I see that all of us, families and individuals are all going to be hit with the rising energy and fuel costs with their impact on the price of food and services, with this causing more mental health/stress related problems for people, I will continue working with our existing groups to bring in community-based signposting, so it is available locally. I was successful in getting CAB back in Cefn library, I will support and promote the courses planned by our local charity – (Cefn Rhosymedre and Newbridge Community Association) on budgeting, shopping and meal planning, tasty cooking on a budget, upcycling and their Community Pantry. Work with our Estate Office team to highlight their support for Tenants, continue volunteering with our local Foodbank, support the work of our Community Agent, listen to and signpost residents as needed. The library needs to get its computes and Wi-Fi back to help families and individuals get digital access to jobs, services and information, this is another priority for me. Support keeping the Council Tax as low as possible.

8. How would you improve the local education system?

Schools are at the heart of a community and we have four primary schools in our area, children and staff have had to cope with many challenges over the last two years, some have been able to keep pace with expected academic progress and some have fallen behind with their speech and language development so the next year will see not just the new curriculum for Wales being taught but also resources needed to enable those children to reach their learning levels, helping their transition to the ‘big’ school. Our schools have been amazing in adapting to the changes creating new teaching methods and as a school governor at Ysgol Cefn Mawr I have seen how hard our Head Teacher and her team have worked and the care and support given to their children. We need to ensure they have the resources they need and that the schools are all bought up to the 21st Century Schools standard through re-building or upgrading, giving every child a positive learning environment. Some of the proposed housing developments across the wards do not have developer investment to increase pupil capacity in the schools which is a concern raised by most of the schools and this must be challenged.

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?

This is a good question, when I was elected an experienced Councillor took me to one side and said if you want to achieve anything for your ward think about joining one of the groups, as working alone will be very challenging. I considered the different groups and joined Wrexham Independents, I will always be independent and hope to continue being part of the Wrexham Independent Group of Councillors. The important thing for me as a councillor is to be an active part of the democratic process and working together with the neighbouring wards and other councillors to get the best for our communities, it is why I am here. It’s all about getting things done and rebuilding both and our own Communities and the Borough after the last two years of Covid.

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 ?

The last two years have meant they have missed so many things that are part of school life, friends, sports, the school prom, holidays and just growing up. Our young people are the future, they deserve to be treated with respect and it is a milestone moment for their generation. I would urge them to look at the people, read their leaflets, see if you can work with them and ask them questions. Deciding on their future is an issue that some have talked to me about. Would further education be helpful? Look for a job? Learn a trade? Stay home or leave home? How do I support my self going forward, if I take this job or go to collage/uni? Is an apprenticeship right for me, how do I get one? Having access to taster days at Yale and Bersham as well as advice through schools with the chance to talk to employers to learn about the world of work is essential for them as is linking in with Communities for Work Wales and the Young Person’s Guarantee. I regularly repost job opportunities on Facebook and Twitter and would like to see how we can further support them in the community to have the information they need to make good choices.

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