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The master strategist Cllr Phil Wynne’s cunning measures to support his desperate attempt for the quick fix for St Mary’s school has failed. One thing that this planning process has done though, is to shine a light, and I quote from the planning meeting, ‘on the elephant in the room’: the Groves site.
Something does need to be done about this mess, and it would appear as if it is too complicated for the current Council leadership to sort out (unless they’re beavering away developing a cunning super-solution behind closed doors). One option that is not available, is to continue doing nothing. Unless the plan is to wait until it eventually falls down, in which case, it’s working. It is a blot on the newly emerging city status landscape. It can’t be pulled down, and it can’t be left to slowly crumble away. There’s no getting away from the fact that considerable funds will need to be spent to sort it out, Mark Drakeford in Cardiff saw to that when he re-listed it.
It looks like the 2005 “super school” plan needs to be revisited. It is plain to see that our large super schools are not coping – they’ve been in and out of Special Measures for years now. The nearest super school to the Groves, Ysgol Rhosnesni, has just been placed back in Special Measures, again. The whole super school concept was all about saving money, at the expense of our children’s education. I don’t know how today’s high school performance compares to pre-2005 as I don’t have the data, but they’re clearly under performing now. This is borne out by the comments in the new Estyn inspection report on Ysgol Rhosnesni, just released. The report states that around half of the pupils are making only limited progress, with many pupils using a narrow vocabulary. The report goes on to detail damning comments on teaching and senior leadership. The schools are just not coping, and seem in denial, by not providing governors with accurate information. Wrexham’s pupils deserve better – we have our own college and university, both of a high standard and which continue to improve, it’s just that our own pupils are being let down before they can get there. I don’t doubt that there are excellent teachers working hard in our schools. They are also being let down by ‘senior leadership’.
Perhaps what is needed is an additional high school to help alleviate the pressures under which the large, super schools are demonstrably suffering. A school with sufficient green space to facilitate a variety of field sport options. A location of sufficient size that could also accommodate a new St Mary’s school built within its confines, to share some on-site facilities. Somewhere reasonably central to help reduce school transport costs under the current Wales school transport distance qualification criteria. Somewhere with sufficient on-site bus parking and manoeuvrability needs, with access away from a busy route. Somewhere with sufficient space to accommodate staff and visitor parking. Somewhere that would avoid a costly land purchase.
A solution to this conundrum is, of course, the Groves site. With its very large green space, it could be used for both a new, much needed St Mary’s school build, and an additional separate, multi-faith high school, in the form of an upgraded existing Groves structure – to help other schools cope. I know the existing dated structure does not meet modern build standards, but surely parts of it could form the basis from which to develop – it could be converted into a fine looking educational show-piece. This has very recently worked very well at Yale College. Perhaps Mr Drakeford could provide some additional funding to assist with the development. After all, he’s had a hand in creating the problem. It just requires the political will.
For a Senior Councillor to single-out and use the siting of the new Gypsy and Traveller site to try and influence the outcome of a Council Planning Committee Vote is ethically wrong and discriminatory. Regardless of your views of this community, you cannot use negative stereotypical opinions in this way. One Councillor has said it is blackmail, well, it was certainly an act of blatant discrimination and crude manipulation. You cannot have votes cast on the use of land for housing development on the basis of preventing its use for a future Gypsy and Traveller site.
The vote can’t be whipped, so he thought this would be a good idea. This is the kind of practice we have come to expect from the Boris Johnson book of ethics.
Cllr Wynne is so desperate to influence this vote, that he thought it a good idea to invite all Councillors to visit St Mary’s School to examine the facilities on the same day as the vote. We should not need the Chair of the committee to intervene. If he has such spare time on his hands, he should get to grips with the fiasco that is the former Grove Park site. Why that can’t be used for the new St Mary’s School is beyond me. Due to it being a faith school, its student catchment area will inevitably be wider than other schools, and it has the space to accommodate the extra buses needed. It’s currently an eyesore. I hope they didn’t drive the inspectors passed there when they applied for the 2025 City of Culture bid. The money spent on its upkeep alone since it was re-listed by Mark Drakeford will be in the region of £200,000. I am sure there are areas elsewhere in Education that are in need of significant improvement and that could benefit from this sort of investment.
If the new school is not built on the Nine Acres field, then something needs to be done with that land. What’s the point of it just sitting there fenced off?
It’s always a pity to see a town centre shop close its doors these days. However, I agree (with JaneJ) that I suspect Chatwins are being less than forthright with their explanation for leaving/re-locating from Wrexham town centre. I believe their statement is disingenuous to Wrexham.
Are we to believe that a successful store would shut up shop and move because of one incident where violence or damage was threatened? Did they report the matter to the Police and was the matter investigated? Surely, between witness accounts and CCTV footage, it wouldn’t be too difficult to deal with. And the continued unsanitary discarding of rubbish in an alleyway can’t be too difficult to sort out either. A gate, a security light and CCTV should do it – I smell a rat. Have they worked with the Council and Police to formulate a plan? Indeed, have they even reported anything at all?
It’s more likely that they simply weren’t making a sustainable profit from its High Street location, given their products and pricing structure, but didn’t want to admit any failings on their part, for commercial reasons. It’s easier to lay the blame elsewhere. I do not believe the explanation has Wrexham or its residents’ interests (their former customers) at heart, at a time when Wrexham strives to invest and enhance, in its metamorphosis to meet its newly gained city status.
I think the Executive Board’s Dastardly Duo did a number on the Mayor (and the rest of us). The pair combined to expose his lack of experience as Chair of this meeting. You knew the Chair was in trouble when he didn’t understand his authority and was interrupted and ‘advised’ by the Deputy and Leader. I don’t wish to be disrespectful to the Mayor, given his obvious lack of experience in chairing a meeting of this nature, he did the best anyone could have done. And I don’t think the Monitoring Officer did him any favours. She could have fully briefed him before the meeting to ensure that he fully understood his role. She should have helped out by ensuring that Councillor Davies’ amendment to the amendment was brought in at the appropriate moment instead of sitting back watching the opportunity slip by during an embarrassing episode of utter confusion, and leaving both the Councillor and Chair looking a bit foolish and out of their depth. And all this because she was worried the caretaker was about to lock up the Guildhall and lock her in. The whole affair was a stitch-up designed solely to give the Executive Group of Ten the final say and to remove that option from the remaining 42 Councillors. This has shown the Executive Group’s desperate need for power and their desire to impose their will over a full debate of the representation of all of the people of Wrexham County. There is no point now in contacting your local Councillor about the city status bid, as the door’s been slammed shut, and they cannot influence the outcome. Some voters might feel cheated by this, and I hope they will bear this in mind in May.
I had to question my own interpretation of the point of yesterday’s farcical Full Extra-ordinary Council Meeting. It was to vote on an amendment submitted by Executive Board Members (Council Leader and Deputy) to change the final say on whether to apply for city status or not, so that it is taken by the Executive Board (of 10 Councillors) and not by the Full Council (of 42 members, not including the Executive Members). Quite rightly, in my view, this was seen by some as undemocratic. Presumably, the Executive Board were concerned that there was a risk the Full Council may vote against the city status bid, which they were in favour of. They therefore wanted to remove this risk by taking the final decision themselves.
But after a lot of verbal wrangling, confusion, legal advocacy intervention and an ad-hoc 30-minute adjournment, they had a full vote, all against a backdrop of the caretaker locking the building with minutes to spare. The result of that was an overwhelming majority voting for the amendment. Are the Executive Board so out of touch with the feeling of the Full Council that they didn’t see the overwhelming swell of opinion amongst the Councillors? And just say the result had gone the other way, and the Councillors had voted to reject the amendment, the final vote would then be taken by Full Council. And if they had voted against the amendment, they would vote against the city status bid. So what was the point of the amendment and the meeting? It just looked to me like it was a desperate attempt to try and sell it to ensure they could get their way. The kind of stunt Johnson would pull. The Mayor and Chair of the meeting seemed bemused.
One poor Councillor wanted to submit an amendment to the amendment. That threw everyone into a state of panic, as no-one seemed to know what to do. He was told that the current amendment needs to be concluded before another can considered. After it was concluded, he was told it was too late. The Chair should have brought him in, apparently, but the Chair looked confused.
Normally, I don’t watch a Council Meeting as they tend to discuss trivia and are mind-numbingly boring. After this debacle though, I will have to catch another. If the Queen’s advisors watch it however, that will put pay to any city status when they see the state of that lot.
A 17%, sorry, 16.9% pay rise is taking the michael. The independent remuneration panel for Wales say they acknowledge that there has been a slippage over the past 12 years, and so this justifies the huge pay rise now. Twelve years? What have they been doing then, it is supposed to base the annual increase on the average Welsh earnings? How much of a percentage pay rise have Councillors been awarded each year over the past 12 years, which should then be added to the 16.9% to give the true 12-year rolling percentage figure? They had 1.49% last year, and 1.97% the year before that. Will that then equate to the average Welsh earnings since the global financial crash? I don’t think so. How much rise do they think all those front-line workers in the public sector have ‘enjoyed’ over the past 12 years. Many have had pay rises frozen in recent years. A pay reduction in real terms. We have our health care workers, who have gone through hell the last two years in particular, and are still at full stretch. NHS nurses, who we have all been applauding so laudably, have had to fight tooth and nail to get a 3% rise this year, others are having to wait to see what they get. Businesses have suffered badly, the hospitality sector in particular, with some going to the wall. Many have had to diversify and innovate just to keep their heads above water. Would you have wanted to be a taxi driver over the past two years? Meanwhile, our Councillors get 16.9% for doing nothing extra, which the rest of us, with our measly, or non-existent pay rises, will have to pay for in a rise in next year’s Council Tax, which has just gone up 7%, sorry, 6.95%. If we moan about that too much, you will hear the response that the only alternative is to cut services. You won’t want that, so you stump up and shut up.
And then they claim mileage and subsistence allowances for the meetings they attend. Which is fine, but what peeves me here are those few Councillors who turn up late to said meetings, sit down, do not contribute to proceedings in any way, then get up and leave a short time later. They are marked down as having attended, get paid their allowances accordingly and their constituents think they are doing a sterling job busily representing their interests based on the high number of diverse meetings they have ‘attended’. I don’t know what other payment they may receive for rocking up at meetings like this, or maybe for not attending at all: it would depress me to find out. Of course, as has been pointed out, they could always opt for a reduced rise, but in all honesty, would you?
Sadly, there will be some people who are plain irresponsible. And the result of this is that it will prolong the community circulation of a mutating virus, which will have an impact on all our lives either directly, or in the form of extended restrictions.
However, not all the people who miss appointments will fall into this category. I know of someone for example who received a text, not a call, for an appointment at the Local Vaccine Centre set for the following day. Due to work commitments, it was physically not possible to make that appointment. She called the text number back and the appropriate number from the NHS website and either got repeatedly cut-off or could not get an answer. In any other circumstance, this would be annoying. Knowing the importance of the vaccines and of keeping appointments, she continued to take time out from work and try the numbers throughout the day. Eventually she got through and put the appointment back to a later time. I don’t know how many out of ‘the 400′ will fall into this category, I know it won’t be all of them, but it won’t help.
Far be it from me to level any criticism of the North Wales excellent vaccine roll-out effort, for which I am personally extremely appreciative of. But it was obvious from that experience that people will miss their appointments, as there must be many who, with the best of intentions, will simply be unable to re-schedule their appointments set for them in this way. And, with less than 24 hours’ notice, not everyone will even pick up their text before the appointment. I don’t know how other vaccine centres handle their appointments or how many appointments are missed, and how big a problem this is across the region?
I wouldn’t want to overburden already stretched centre staff with additional administration, but if the admin staff don’t have the capacity to actually speak to all patients, surely basic software exists whereby the text could ask the recipient to either reply ‘Yes’ to the text to confirm attendance, or give advice as to what to do if it needs to be re-scheduled, and to process the results. No-one wants to see missed appointment opportunities, or worse, wasted vaccines. This would give centres a better idea of how many extra appointments they could make to cover those who can’t attend. Having people turn up ad hoc after 5pm to fill any vacant slots for that day can’t be the best way to handle missed appointments and speed up the roll-out to everyone. Most people will want to do the right thing. For those who have failed to attend without good reason, send them an automatic communication to contact their GP, with a copy to the GP Surgery. Covid vaccines, and boosters for everyone, are here to stay. GP Surgeries seem to have a different approach, either texting asking to call back, or phoning direct (as Strathmore did in my case), or by letters.
Notwithstanding a national two-week lag in the supply of the vaccine ahead of us now, congratulations to all involved in Wales attaining the first UK-wide vaccine roll-out milestone. The WG attracted widely held criticism for a slow start (including from me) but, by the same token, credit should be given for a superb roll-out effort. It is of course a huge collaborative effort on the part of NHS staff, GP surgeries, vaccination centres, military services, pharmacies and a countless army of volunteers to name a few, who have all contributed and deserve our appreciation for their hard work. I am some way down the list yet, and am happy to continue to follow advice and wait my turn, but like many others, I am heartened to see so many people now receiving their vaccines. This means that we know our turn will come in good time.
The wearing of masks and social distancing etc. will be with us for some time yet in one form or another, but let’s keep it up to the next milestone(s). I just hope that everyone accepts their invitations to get vaccinated as there is evidence of some vaccine hesitancy, and that everyone keeps their appointments. Mass-vaccination has to be the only way to go so that we can all get our lives back. Hopefully, that will be this year.
High Streets the world over are irreversibly changing out of all recognition from how they used to be, and have been doing so with increasing vigour over the past two decades. Big-name High Street stores (excluding supermarkets) are fast becoming a thing of the past. It’s something we have to recognise, accept and respond to. Perhaps we should encourage small independent shops and restaurants instead.
I read that we are now contemplating a fresh injection of ideas into the development of the town centre. But my word, it looks like a right confusing mess. I can’t see any clear vision of outcome or destiny. All I see is a mass of protracted rhetoric. Who is driving this, who is pulling everything together, what are the clearly defined and costed stages and the final vision? Who is accountable? Maybe I’ve missed this, in which case I’d be happy to be pointed in the right direction.
Why has Wrexham Council always had a morbid fixation on spending huge amounts of scarce public funds on the use of external consultants and agents, who do not know the area, for everything they do. It’s little wonder we face such a high annual rise to the Council Tax. Never mind subsidising lost income for which the Council has written off as an unrecoverable debt, it’s the constant leaching of funds to external ‘experts’. Is it because they have no confidence in the ability of their own officers, or is it so that they can conveniently point the finger elsewhere when it fails?
I read that the latest initiative is the ‘Common Purpose’ led by Wrexham’s Civic Leadership Group. The Council are hiring an agency to develop a fresh and engaging brand identity for Wrexham. To give a further couple of examples of the meaningless ramblings, Mark Pritchard says “we are well placed to bring investment and confidence to the town centre in addition to all the other initiatives”. The Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government says “This project will not only boost sustainability, footfall and economic growth by creating jobs, homes and business opportunities but will have a beneficial impact on the wellbeing of the local community. By having a town centre first approach we can better connect our communities”. What does that even mean?
I’m all for investing wisely in our town centre, but rather than listen to the BS ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ merchants, I hope the ‘Group listen to local people and businesses, those whose future is intrinsically linked to a vibrant town. Their town.January 26, 2021 at 11:12 am in reply to: Mark Pritchard says he has done excellent to keep council tax down to 6.95% #199609
Can I just take this opportunity to remind anyone who may be interested that the Council has a fresh consultation (via yourvoicewrexham.net) on its approach to setting the budget figure for 2021/22. It’s currently open until 5th February. There is only one question, so you have to include all your views and opinions in the first box. It doesn’t take long to complete.
The article and link is also available in Wrexham.com
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