1) Covid-19 & Learning to live with it!

In the middle of July, our Prime Minister made some public announcements intended to start the nation on the road to getting back to normal, whatever normal will eventually turn out to be in months to come. The fact that this newsletter is reaching you after a break of some 9 months or so since November of last year is one tiny part of that pattern of hoped-for normality.

Sadly, I doubt that there will be very much normality anywhere, here in our town, or across the globe of Earth for quite some time, for those many, many families, large and small, who have so far lost loved ones to this still rampaging virus. Tragically, there are local families here in Buckley who have lost loved ones to this pandemic across two or three generations young and old. As neighbours, friends and particularly relatives, we shall all need to be thoughtful, sympathetic and as supportive as we can be towards those members of our community that we may meet with who have been impacted to lesser or greater degree by the pandemic.

We shall need also to be ready to support those struggling with what is now noted as Long Covid, which has hit both young and old. Many victims of the Covid-19 virus who have fortunately survived but been unfortunate enough to be invaded by the long-term damage will need to be carefully monitored and medically supported for the remainder of their lives. That will not only burden them, but also add burden upon our hard-working NHS.
However, my concern is not only for those who have been struck down to one degree or another by Covid-19, but also for those who have managed to avoid the virus but whose everyday lives and plans have been de-railed, disrupted and financially damaged due to this pandemic.

Furlough Schemes, Job Losses and businesses folded will all leave scars, financially and mentally, for months, if not years, to come. My advice, my plea, is that if that is you, dear reader please do not simply suffer in silence. Reach out, please, for there are several sources of advice, information and support available. If you have any difficulty, now or in months ahead and cannot source necessary help yourself, feel free to contact me. I may not know the answer to your individual worry, but I am sure I can steer you to someone who will. Focus a little on the wisdom of the ages, which sensibly tells us all that it is “Good to Talk!”

2) Covid-19 &Vaccinations:-

Please do take serious note that even if you have had both jabs, that second stab in the arm is not, repeat not, a passport to freedom. Apart from the fact that it will take two to three weeks for your best level of immunity to kick in, any of us who have received both jabs can still go down with the virus, as some have already done. Fortunately, without needing to be hospitalised. We can also carry and transmit the virus. Do please keep that in mind and no matter what they get up to across the border, follow our First Minister’s directive to wear a facemask in enclosed areas such as transport and shops and remember to frequently sanitize your hands. In the battle against the virus, which will still be around by the time you read this, every little helps.

3) Will We Ever Know?

The World Health Organisation has been trying, without success, for some 15 months or more, to gain full access for its selected team of specialists, to the Wuhan Viral Laboratory in China and its records on the experimental virology activities which were apparently being carried out there, at the direction of the Chinese Government at the time when the Covid19 virus first made its presence felt in public.

For international political and public consumption, the Chinese Government has stated, frequently and loudly that it has been and still is collaborating with the international team trying to pin down the precise origin of the bug and how it came to grow into a pandemic. Against that, the UN team on the ground has found it impossible to carry out the essential task for which it was created and sent to China. That is because those Chinese technicians and scientists who were there at the critical time seem to have vanished, along with their notes, records and progress reports. The line adhered to by Beijing is that the virus made the jump from animal to human quite naturally, as viruses sometime do and that it was pure national misfortune that it occurred in China.

However, as I compile this newsletter in the second week of August, there are reports that Xi Jinping, Communist China’s leader, is on edge after US spy agencies somehow managed to secure a giant catalogue of genetic information from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. This comes as a surprise to those in China after Beijing refused to hand over any raw data to the UN investigational team earlier this year. It is thought now that access to such a huge amount of genetic information could finally reveal the true origin of Covid-19.

Despite the bland assurances from the Chines Communist Government, most right-minded people around the world are simply asking just what are the Chinese Government trying to hide?

4) Watch What They Are Up To:-

Having raised the issue of what the Chinese Communist Government are up to over the Covid-19 question, the real answer to that may perhaps be found by looking at what the Chines Government has been doing in recent years and clearly are intent upon continuing to do, which is to take control of the world. From its annexation of Tibet in the period of 1951 to 1959, to its penetration of Africa from the 1960s, via various road, rail and harbour projects in more recent years, China has been engaged on a long-term strategy of the eventual takeover of the entire world based on the gradual furtherance of its stated official policy that Western Style Democracy has failed whereas Chines Communism has succeeded.

Communist China never has recognised international laws on intellectual property, such as Copyright and Patents. That nation, when recently taken to the Court of International Arbitration over the arbitrary development and militarisation of certain atolls and coral reefs in the South China Sea and declaring them to be Chinese Territories, blandly announced that it did not recognise the jurisdiction of the Court.

Only in June of this year, Sierra Leone agreed to sell a protected beach and a 250acres (100hectares) area of rainforest for the Chinese to build, control and use as their own industrial fishing harbour. The $55m (£39m) deal struck by the government of Sierra Leone with China to build an industrial fishing harbour on 100 hectares (250 acres) of beach and protected rainforest has been criticised as “a catastrophic human and ecological disaster” by environmentalists and marine conservationists as well as landowners. It is particularly puzzling seeing that Sierra Leone was among the group of West African nations who were bitterly complaining, barely a year or two back, about the ill-effects of huge Chinese Trawlers fishing close inshore to the detriment of native fisherfolks.

Alongside of that, China, since 2006, has been wooing the sixteen Eastern European states peripheral to the EU, with secretive loan deals
amounting to billions of Euros. Montenegro, the small state directly across the Adriatic from Northern Italy, has borrowed 1.3billion Euros from Beijing, via which the Chinese will build a highway from the port of Bar to Belgrade, the capital of neighbouring Serbia. Montenegro is up to its eyebrows in debt and very likely to default on repayments of the Chinese loan. If it does default, China has the right to take possession of an apparently unspecified area of Montenegro’s coastal land.

On top of that little lot, China has very recently made advances to Portugal, offering loans, in exchange for Portugal ejecting the USA from its Airbase on Terciera Island in the Azores and handing it over to the Chinese.

In another recent unwanted interference, Chinese Diplomats have very publicly recommended to Argentina that that country should once more invade the Falklands Islands, on the grounds that the UK no longer has the military capability to repeat the successful Falklands War of 1982.

5) The Good Law Company Limited:

Readers will most likely recall that I mentioned in my newsletter of last November that the above organisation, better known as “The Good Law Project,” had successfully taken the Government to Judicial Review over the scandalous handing out of contracts for Personal Protective Equipment needed to deal with the Pandemic, to personal friends and contacts. The judges ruled that the Government acted unlawfully.

Millions of £s of public money handed out without due procurement procedure, with much of the produce having to be binned as unfit for purpose. Since then, despite the best efforts of Messrs Gove, Johnson and Co. to price the Good Law Project out of court, a couple of other rulings of unlawful activity have been obtained. Details can be found on the website “www.thegoodlawproject”.

Since last November also, the existence has come to light of the “VIP Lane” through which certain persons and companies have been promoted to the head of the queue as it were for the award of lucrative Government contracts. For those of you who may not have a computer ready to hand, the following is a brief record. P14Medical, which is a company run by a Conservative Councillor, who is also a donor to the party, was awarded a contract worth £276million for PPE items. Mellor Designs, run by David Mellor, who is a large donor to the Conservative Party and Trustee of the right-wing lobby group “Policy Exchange”, was handed more than £160million in PPE contracts. Luxe Lifestyles was awarded a £26million contract, despite appearing to be insolvent and without any employees. Finally, Clandeboye Agencies, whose registered trade activity, on Companies House is “The wholesaling of sugar, chocolate and sugar confectionaries” was awarded £108million. Government argues that Clandeboye was not in the VIP Lane, but its own internal documents tell a different story.

Early in July the Sunday Times published emails revealing that the Health Minister Lord Bethel held a “private meeting” with the Abingdon Health Company on 1st April 2020 shortly before his department awarded the company a contract worth £75million to provide rapid antibody tests for the Covid19 virus which ended up being found not fit for purpose. Government managed not to include this meeting in their required transparency data, on account of a claimed administrative error. However, the Good Law Project are heading to Court again because the allegedly updated list of meetings just happens to fail to show a meeting between Abingdon Health and the former Health Secretary Mat Hancock.

Another issue which had been since brought to light is that certain Ministers have been using private email addresses to conduct Government Business. obviously in order to avoid the process of Parliamentary Scrutiny Committees and the eyes of the public too. That is behaviour, which is clearly devious, disreputable and despicable. Could that perhaps be how our current Government is?

6) Drugs Will Screw Your Mind and Kill You!:-

Everyone appears agreed that our NHS service has been under enormous strain throughout the Pandemic. Nobody would ever accuse any unfortunate Covid-19 victim needing hospitalisation of being there due to a self-inflicted problem. Sadly, those hard-working Doctors and Nurses have also had to try to keep up with treating a growing number of patients in the 15 to 64 age-range who seem to believe that the only way they can face up to modern life is from within a drug-induced haze.

Figures available from NHS record that during 2019-2020, the NHS hospitals had to admit and treat 16,994 individual cases of self-inflicted poisoning from drugs misuse. They also had to treat a further 99,782 individuals, either attending A&E or refereed by a GP, who were suffering from drug-related mental and behavioural disorders.

As for drug-induced deaths, in 2020 England and Wales together recorded 4,561 drug related deaths. The highest total since records began in 1993. In the EU tally of drug related deaths Estonia heads the list with 132 per million, followed by Sweden with a figure of 88 and the UK and Ireland with an equal 70 per million of population. Regrettably, our UK figure is boosted by the fact that Scotland recorded 175 drug-related deaths per million of population.

Life can be hard and demanding but taking in Toxins from Cannabis upwards, encouraged by false friends, is not the way to deal with it. It will harm you, your finances, your family and ultimately kill you, soon or at least prematurely.
If any of you are having a hard time, go on to U-tube and listen to Simon & Garfunkle’s 1970s recording of Bridge Over Troubled Waters. From relatives to real friends, to councillors, counsellors and formal agencies, there are many who will lay themselves down to be your Bridge Over Troubled Waters. Don’t be afraid to use them.

7) Welsh County Councils and Funding in 2020 to 2021:-

If you feel that Flintshire has let you down in any way lately, by being slow with repairs to its own housing, or to roadways etc., do please give a thought to the fact that, in the face of rising population numbers, rising costs and rising demand, your Local Authority was not very generously treated by the Wales Government in terms of funding. In the uplift lists for the 2020-2021 financial year, your local authority received only a 3.7% increase on the previous year’s funding. Out of 22 Local Authorities, only Conwy with 3.4%, Wrexham with 3.5% and Monmouthshire with 3.0% fared worse us. In broad terms, if you wish to see who was most generously treated by the Wales Government’s financial support for the past financial year, you need to look towards the Southern counties of Wales

The Final Settlement for County Councils in Wales and the Standard Spending Assessment per head of population for 2021-2022 appeared as below.

Isle of Anglesey £148,167,730 £2,120
Gwynedd £264,635,330 £2,118
Conwy £239,224,981 £2,027
Denbighshire £215,751,600 £2,251
Flintshire £298,689,286 £1,904
Wrexham £265,412,679 £1,942
Powys £280,031,698 £2,114
Ceredigion £154,802,031 £2,165
Pembrokeshire £258,848,837 £2,055
Carmarthenshire £391,959,926 £2,074
Swansea £484,440,676 £1,949
Neath Port Talbot £306,371,571 £2,128
Bridgend £290,404,199 £1,973
Vale of Glamorgan £257,077,045 £1,908
Rhondda Cynon Taf £515,846,924 £2,130
Merthyr Tydfil £128,437,774 £2,114
Caerphilly £379,882,926 £2,089
Blaenau Gwent £151,082,921 £2,171
Torfaen £195,066,973 £2,078
Monmouthshire £167,708,755 £1,763
Newport £327,071,234 £2,084
Cardiff £697,816,329 £1,900

From that table you will be able to work out that Flintshire was 19th out of 22 for per capita funding. If one digs back into the records for 2011-2012, our per capita support for that year was £1,228, which put us at 18th out of 22.

8) What’s Going On In Buckley:-

1) Clwyd Alyn Limited, the Social Housing Provider, has put forward an outline planning proposal for the erection of give or take 140 houses on the fields on the North side of Well Street. The approach started off way back in February when the company asked FCC’s Planning Department if they put in such an application, would an Environmental Impact Assessment be required. To the amazement of many locals, knowing the history of those fields, FCC’s Planning Department provided a negative answer. Many local residents, including myself have put forward objections, on numerous grounds, including the unsuitability of the Well Street/Rose Lane roadways to handle the traffic flows likely to arise from that development. Particularly the narrows where Stanley Estate meets Well Street and the crossroads where Well Street/Nant Mawr Road/Stanley Road and Springfield Drive all meet.

2) A formal outline planning application has been submitted for the erection of a 75 to 90 bed extra care Residential Home, plus a dozen bungalows on the currently derelict land where once Lexham Green Colliery operated. That is the patch between the Tivoli Night Club and Jubilee Road and between Home Bargains Store and Manor Drive.

3) An outline planning application is also progressing, which, if successful, will see the demolishing of the old Buckley Police Station building on Mold Road, to permit the erection of a three-story high set of 10 new apartments. That application is contrary to the Town Development Plan, which has the site designated for Retail/Commercial development. When discussed at Town Council, it was pointed out that there are too few parking spaces in the plan, which would see the entry and exit point causing drivers to drive over the Bus Stop lay-by, with very limited vision.
All three of those proposed items take no cognizance of the fact that with the exception of one primary school, our schools have no spare room to accommodate additional students and our Medical Practices are already under stress.

4) I doubt that anyone in Buckley is unaware of the improvement work on Mill Lane which started on 14th June and should be completed by the middle or end of September. Quite a major piece of work, intended to eventually provide parking spaces on the Elfed School side of Mill Lane for the occupants of the houses along Taylor’s Row. On completion those vehicles will be in a parking area clear of the up and down lanes of traffic along Mill Lane. That will be quite an improvement for drivers of all vehicles using that road. However, when the work is completed, those residents of Taylor’s Row who will be parking on the Elfed School side of Mill Lane and then having to cross that busy lanes of traffic will need to do so with a certain amount of care if accidents are to be avoided, which we hope they will be.

5) Flintshire County Council has made an application under the Commonage Act to create a 3metre wide tarmac pathway for cyclists and pedestrians, which, if granted, will be sited on the edge of the common alongside Hawksbury Road. The main purpose of it is to create a safe route for access to and from the schools.

6) Ever since the closure of the Old Buckley Baths on Mold Road, in 2006, residents have been asking about the future survival and usage of this iconic Buckley building. The three Directors Cllrs. Carol Ellis, Mike Peers and Dennis Hutchinson of the private company which is tasked with the project to convert the building into a multi-use community hall have recently received a detailed Project Report from consultants funded by Cadw. The report is positive provided that the necessary funding of about one and a half million pounds can be obtained. If any reader wishes to get involved in that worthwhile project, please get in touch with one or other of the three Directors named above.

7) Planning permission has finally been given for the currently dis-used Buckley Post Office, opposite the Spar Store, to be converted into a Café/Restaurant. So far there is no indication of when conversion work will commence or when the new facility will be opened.

8) Refurbs, supported by Groundwork Trust, opened their new facility, complete with Café, in the old HSBC Bank Building on Brunswick Road at the end of May. As well as providing the opportunity for a Tea/Coffee Break, they are hoping to encourage residents to come along with their possibly repairable items, learn how to repair them and thus avoid becoming part of the dreadful “Throw-Away Culture” which manufacturers adore and encourage, to the detriment of our environment. We should all wish them success.

9) After a bit of a lengthy battle, it has now been agreed that an additional Bus Shelter will be constructed at the present bus stop on Mold Road by Bistre Close. Work is expected to start on that sometime in August. Welcome news I am sure for those who use that bus stop as we head into Autumn and Winter.

9) What Could Be Going On In Buckley?:

1) In February of this year, the Welsh Government set out a public notification of its intent to eventually lower the default speed limit in the urban areas of Wales from 30mph to 20mph. In that notification and the consultation period which ends in October, there were 8 “Pilot Areas” set down. Buckley is one of them.

Lee Waters, Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, went on record as saying: “Making 20mph the default speed limit in residential areas is a bold step that will save lives.” He continued, “We have made progress on reducing deaths and serious injuries on our roads over the 21 years of devolution, but despite our considerable efforts the highest proportion of all casualties, 50%, occurred on 30mph roads during 2018. This cannot be tolerated, so a reduction to 20mph on our residential and other busy pedestrian urban roads has to be the way forward.

Decreasing speeds reduces accidents and saves lives, and alongside this the quality of life will improve, making room on our streets for safer active travel. This helps reduce our environmental impact and has a positive outcome for our physical and mental wellbeing.”

The eight locations are:
• Abergavenny, Monmouthshire
• central north Cardiff
• Severnside, Monmouthshire
• Buckley, Flintshire
• Cilfriw Village, Neath and Port Talbot
• St Dogmaels, Pembrokeshire
• St Brides Major, Vale of Glamorgan
• Llanelli north, Carmarthenshire

If any reader has strong views, one way or another about this latest idea from Cardiff, you still have time to register your support or objections or nominate roads in the Buckley area to be 20mph or remain at 30mph. You can do this by going on to your favourite search engine and entering <https://gov.wales/proposal-reduce-speed-limit-20mph-residential-streets> That will bring up the consultation site and you can take it on from there.

In addition to that, I am advised by FCC Officers who will be concerned with getting the local Pilot Area up and running, that once the proposals for Buckley/Mynydd Isa are ready, showing which roads will drop to 20mph and which will retain the 30mph limit, there will be a 28-day public consultation exercise to enable local residents to express their support or objection, whichever.

Once all of that has been achieved, then there is the legal aspect involved in having to change roadside and carriageway markings to the changed speed limits. From that outline, readers may take it that it is not going to happen immediately, but it certainly will happen.

2) Any plan to regenerate the Brunswick Road (High Street) portion of Buckley is welcome, but will another Consultancy Exercise get us anywhere in real terms? I ask that question because The Leader newspaper of 4th August, carried a report by Liam Randall made public the fact that Flintshire County Council is now looking to start in on creating in the main shopping area of Buckley, the same kind of improvement works which have apparently been carried out already in Flint, Holywell and Mold.

According to the report the area being looked at is bordered by Brunswick Road, running from the traffic lights at The Cross down to the junction with Precinct Way and then down that road to the Aldi Store. Un-named officials from the Local Authority are reported as saying that the aim of the exercise is to boost the number of visitors to the town.

A Tender Notice has been published on the Sell2Wales procurement website. It requires Consultants to enter bids of cost estimates for a suggested design brief focussed upon increasing footfall, dwell time and to breathe new life into Buckley by engaging people with a new mix of quality street design, green space and blending with the surrounding retail and residential use.

Maybe I am too cynical, but I can recall a similar Consultation undertaken some ten years back, which resulted in the Consultancy firm Urban Practitioners becoming involved. That company displayed its plans for the town at an exhibition in January of 2011. Regrettably, Little or nothing of any practical change or improvement came out of that exercise. Let us all hope that some real advantageous change for Buckley does come about, driven by the eventual recommendations arising from this current exercise, whatever they may be.

3) Please be assured that your Town Council is fighting as hard as rules, regulations, procedures and commercial interests allow, to bring a Community Bank to Buckley. Jack Sergeant, AM and Mark Tami, MP have both offered support, but it is proving to be a far from an easy task.

10) What About Flintshire?:-

1) On 3rd August, councillors voted to approve the recommendations of a Selection Panel which has been working since April, to appoint Mr. Neal Cockerton to replace Mr. Colin Everett as CEO when that latter person retires after 14 years in position, on 31st October of this year. Mr. Cockerton will be familiar to some of you as he has been working for Flintshire for the past 18 years in a variety of posts. We can only wish him well when he takes up that new position.

2) Readers may well gain the opinion that I do not think very much of our current UK Government, nor of the Wales Government either. That has nothing to do with party politics, but everything to do with “Government of the people, for the people, by the people,” along with questions of openness and integrity and value for the public’s pennies.

Sadly, I am seeing little or nothing of those coming out of 10 Downing Street although Mr. Drakeford has done well over the matter of the Covid19 episode and deserves credit for it. What has that got to do with your county’s Local Authority you may well ask. Try the following facts:-
Because of funding reductions delivered by Cardiff over the years, the workforce employed by Flintshire C.C. has gone down from a headcount of 8,989 in 2010 to 6,060 in 2020. That is a reduction of 32.5%, or 2,929 pairs of hands no longer available to undertake the workload. Parallel to that, over almost the same period, 2011 to 2020, the population of the county has risen from 152,666 to 156,847, an increase of 2.7% or 4,181 persons, all placing demands upon the Local Authority for a variety of services and support Within that same timeframe, the Wales Government has itself only downsized from 6,110 Full Time Employees to 5359. That is a figure of 751 which represents a cut of only 12.2%. Hardly a fair share of the burden of austerity following the financial crash of 2010.

Just to make life even more difficult for all local authorities, Cardiff has passed enactments which add further significant burdens to the workload of all local authority. Particularly so in the case of the Well-being of Future Generations Act of 2015. That Act, which came into effect on 1st April 2016, requires the 44 public bodies in Wales to think about the long-term impact of their decisions, so as to work better with people, communities and each other, and to prevent persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change. The Act is unique to Wales, but it has attracted interest from countries across the world as it offers a huge opportunity to make a long-lasting, positive change to current and future generations.

In brief, its 7 Aims are:-
1) A globally responsible Wales
2) A prosperous Wales
3) A resilient Wales
4) A healthier Wales
5) A more equal Wales
6) A Wales of cohesive communities
7) A Wales of vibrant culture and thriving Welsh language

In terms of aspiration and in the long run, all of that is laudable. It also fits well with the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act of 2015, but not one single penny of funding has been provided from Cardiff, to cover the additional workload for Flintshire or for any other of the public bodies involved.

In addition, whatever small percentage pay-rises are finally agreed upon for Teachers, Social Workers and other local government employees, not a penny of additional funding is going to appear from the Wales Government. That means that some money budgeted by all local authorities this year for public services, will need to be diverted to cover the impending pay awards.

Looking ahead and in round figures, FCC’s budget for 2022 to 2023 suggests a £6million shortfall. With several other local authorities in the same shortfall boat, conversations have already started with Wales Government, whose initial response seems to be to tell us to significantly increase our annual Community Charge to residents in order to cover the shortfall. That is not something which sits well with most councillors, given just how tough and difficult the past many months have been for the average family and with thoughts in mind of Ofgem’s latest announcement on electricity and gas price increases coming in shortly which will add way above £100 to the average family’s annual energy bills.

11) Adding Insult To Injury?:-

While Local Government across the UK is facing reduced funding and paltry pay-rises are being offered to our magnificent and dedicated NHS staff, Downing Street and Central UK Government have been busy growing their own empire. Staffing costs at the Cabinet Office have rocketed by 33.9% over recent years. Staff levels have gone up from 5,304 to 6435 or 12.3%, while the pay-bill for staff, including consultants, agency staff and contractors, has risen from £25.9million to £34.7million.

Mind you, the Cabinet Office is not alone in growing its empire over recent years. The Departments for International Development, Culture, Media and Sport, Transport, Education, Treasury, Home Office and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have all seen increases in staffing levels.
When questioned, a Cabinet Office spokesman stated that the increases in staff were caused by the need to deliver government priorities and workloads arising from Brexit.

What about the needs of ordinary folks in the UK?
If you have problems and need a word of advice or support, I am always available, 24 hours of the day and seven days of the week, via my home phone number of 01244 549421. If I am out, please leave a recorded message. I will get back to you as soon as I can. I can also be contacted on email at arnold.woolley@flintshire.gov.uk and arnoldwoolley@outlook.com. You are also very welcome to visit my website at www.arnoldwoolley.com.

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